We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Or maybe not

The internet is awash with armchair generals (not that there’s anything wrong with being an armchair general – I am one myself) telling us that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not going according to plan. They point out that the frontlines have barely moved in the last week, that a lot of Russian vehicles have been knocked out or broken down, that the Russian air force seems to be absent and various other things (twenty-year old rations is one of my favourites.) Some are even suggesting that the Russians might get kicked out of Ukraine. 

I, and I am sure most Samizdatistas, would dearly like this to be true. But the facts don’t care about our beliefs. The truth may be very different. So, if you are looking for an antedote to the narrative I would suggest checking out Task & Purpose’s YouTube on the subject. He points out that the Russians have had victories and that during the Iraq War there was a similar narrative about the allies being bogged down when they were nothing of the sort. The thing I really like about it is that he – that would be presenter Chris Cappy, an Iraq War veteran – admits that he doesn’t know what’s going on. And that’s kind of the point.

 

Net Zero is “in Nigel Farage’s sights”

I have considerable respect for the Guardian‘s John Harris. Though a Remainer himself, he was one of the first left-wing journalists to see that the campaign to leave the European Union had popular support, particularly among the working class, and the reason he could see that while others could not was because he and his colleague John Domokos did what others did not and put in the legwork to report from “Anywhere But Westminster”.

But respect does not mean agreement. Mr Harris writes that “Nigel Farage’s hard-right faction won Brexit. Now net zero is in its sights” like that’s a bad thing.

Trump Derangement Syndrome is writing a job description for Trump and not knowing it

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the people who report to Putin to read that Westerners are outraged by what they’re seeing—outraged to the point of recklessness. Just as we’re wondering if Putin is insane, he should be wondering if we’re insane. When journalists publicly call to put the West at grave risk by escalating the conflict, they may well be proposing an insane course of action, but that is not a bad thing. A touch of insanity improves our deterrence.

We don’t, of course, want to overdo it. We don’t want to convince him we’re poised to launch a first strike. But if he thinks we’re insane enough seriously to consider a no-fly zone? Good.

And if his generals grasp that we’d be very happy to do business with them as soon as they take care of business, Czar Paul I style? Good.” (The final paragraphs of Part I of Claire Berlinski’s latest article in The Cosmopolitan Globalist; she continues her theme in Part II.)

So, what Claire thinks the west needs now is a leader who

– will strike Putin as reckless, maybe insane;

– will strike Putin’s subordinates as a guy who makes and keeps deals.

This is a job description tailored to Donald Trump. It’s very close to how he’s described himself over Russia and Ukraine. But this simply does not occur to Claire. Earlier in Part I, she says Putin interfering in US elections is one of the proofs he’s at war with us – as if Durham didn’t exist. She bewails the folly of Europeans running down their NATO militaries and running up their Russian gas bills, and (in Part II) says it proves how serious things are that Germany is reversing course on its army and its energy policy. And then she says

‘Trump could have been back in office in 2024 and then — goodbye, NATO.

It takes a special kind of TDS to praise Germany for doing what Trump told them to, damn them for doing the opposite till now, yet think Trump is the threat to NATO. (Even the BBC managed a sotto voce “as urged to by Trump” in one of their reports of the German volte-face.)

She ends,

I might be prepared to make some compromises with China right now — are you?

Compromise with Trump and his supporters? Absolutely not. To decent self-respecting cosmopolitan globalists, that is (literally!) unthinkable. Compromising with Xi, on the other hand, is distasteful – but realistic cosmopolitan globalists can and will think about it.

“If he were killing a mouse, he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.”

I offer two bits of the anglosphere’s past to help us understand two bits of the Russian present.

Firstly,

“I should like to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler. … The fact is there is something deeply appealing about him.” (George Orwell, review of ‘Mein Kampf’)

Like the media travestying Trump’s remarks about Putin’s ‘genius move’ into sounding like Trump approved Putin’s invasion, I have used omission to near-invert Orwell’s point. Here it is again, with less omitted.

“I should like to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler. Ever since he came to power – till then, like nearly everyone, I had been deceived into thinking he did not matter – I have reflected that I would certainly kill him if I could get within reach of him, but that I could feel no personal animosity. The fact is there is something deeply appealing about him. One feels it again when one sees his photographs … It is a pathetic, doglike face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs … the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrifing hero who fights single-handedly against impossible odds. … If he were killing a mouse, he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.”

The last sentence is the point; before he finally awakened dragons he could not slay, Hitler spent years being the dragon, and the Jews were not the only victims who were about as much of a threat to him as mice – who only became even a bit dangerous to him because he left them no choice. But he knew how to make it look like the opposite. He knew in terms of conscious propaganda, but it was more than that: “there is little doubt that is how Hitler sees himself”, warns Orwell.

For months, up until ten days ago when he invaded, Putin (and western elites) thought the Ukraine was a mouse that Russian tanks would race through – Biden’s handlers had so written it off they had him invite (beg) Putin to take just a piece of it. But Putin’s propagandists knew their task was to make it look like a dragon. How to explain invading Crimea under Obama, and Ukraine under Biden, and nowhere under Trump, while claiming you’re doing it because you feel threatened – threatened not by Ukraine as such (bit of a hard sell, that) but by big bad America’s use of Ukraine? Luckily for them, Putin’s narrative has an ally – Biden’s narrative. How to explain Putin doing nothing under Trump, then invading after the U.S. flees Afghanistan, while locals who’d relied on them dropped from aircraft wings? Thus it is that the two insolent, imbecile narratives – Putin’s (that he’s invading because the US looks active, not because it looks pathetically weak) and Biden’s (that he causes Putin concern, not contempt) – acquire strange echoes and overlaps from their mutual need to write Trump out of the story, to explain away why it’s happening now, not then.

Secondly, that is not the whole story. You miss something central if you think this deflection is happening only in Putin’s conscious mind. The full story (that is, what I’m guessing is the full story) is rather odd to the western mind. I hope my next historical anecdote will make it more relatable.

The Americans had friends as well as foes in Britain’s parliament during their revolution – people as highly placed as former prime minister Pitt the elder, who were ready to defend the justice of the American case, to vote for them to have assurances, rights, no taxation without representation – but not independence. Edmund Burke, MP for Bristol, told his fellow MPs they

looked at the position in a wrong point of view, and talked of it as a mere matter of choice when, in fact, it was now become a matter of necessity. … It was incumbent on Great Britain to acknowledge it directly. On the day he [Burke] first heard of the American States having claimed independency, it made him sick at heart … because he saw it was a claim essentially injurious to this country and a claim Great Britain could never get rid of.

Burke felt as strongly as any other British MP how they all disliked the idea of the American colonies ceasing to be part of the British nation – and so worked hard to resolve tensions, to maintain or restore the “rights of Englishmen” for which the rebels first fought. At celebrations of the American revolution he therefore has a slightly equivocal place. His insightful explanations help establish the justice of the American Revolution – which he tried very hard to avert by removing its cause. Only

“When things had come to this pass (which no-one laboured to prevent more than I)”

did Burke tell his fellow British MPs that American independence, was no longer a matter of choice, no longer a debating chip to be traded away in negotiations – so Britain’s true interest was no longer to refuse a thing so “essentially injurious” to the mother country, but to limit the injury by parting on as friendly terms as could be managed.

Others lacked such insight. Years later, America’s friends in parliament yielded to military necessity what they were slow to yield to Burke’s ‘necessity’.

It was a useful lesson. The better part of two centuries elapsed before the British empire had “its finest hour”, soon followed by its last (of existing on the scale that had once seen it not just a world power but the world power). Parting on good terms was now accepted as the goal – which left the UK still ready and able to punch a bit above its weight in coalitions with its friends.

Like Britain, Russia could be a great power with its empire – and a prosperous, safe, happy power without it, but not a great power bestriding the world in splendid isolation. Russia has no need to rule the Ukraine – but Imperial Russia does, and that in turn needs the Ukraine to be not a real country, not a thing innate and of itself. Putin doesn’t just lie about the Ukraine existing only as a US puppet. He has to confabulate that it is, because, in his imperial vision of Russia, the Ukraine can’t be real.

– The Ukraine isn’t a real country, so obviously the Ukraine cannot be seeking ties with NATO because Putin has been saying for years that it never really existed and must cease to exist; that’s unimaginable as the cause. So clearly, those wicked Americans have corrupted the Ukrainian government into acting against its own interests. (When the wicked American is Joe Biden, it helps that the part about causing corruption in the Ukraine is no lie.)

– The Ukraine isn’t a real country so it cannot matter that Russian rule of the Ukraine began in a word translatable as ‘serf’ or as ‘slave’, and in living memory meant Stalin, famine and purge on a scale meeting the UN definition of genocide. Russia had serfs and Stalin too, and the Ukraine, not being a separate country, cannot be acting out of a distinct, grimmer, historical memory.

Thus Putin is not simply lying when his actions show he knows the U.S. has never been weaker, yet he insists America is driving events in Ukraine. The Ukraine cannot be acting autonomously, still less from fear of the man who has so clearly explained that it’s not a real country – because the Ukraine is not a real country.

And it is by this that he has been punished. Ten days ago, he had everything whose existence he believed in sewn up: a self-prostrated US; a Europe that had chosen to be dependent on his energy; woke weakness everywhere in the west. It was the perfect time to act. What could go wrong?

In the west, we’ve said Mr Putin is wicked, we’ve renamed Chicken Kievs “Chicken Kvivs” in the shops, we’ve even expelled Russia from the Eurovision Song Contest. While cancel culture crazies loudly retarget their usual techniques to ban Dostoevsky (university of Milan), to withdraw the film Anastasia (Disney), and to clear the shelves of bottles of Smirnoff (actually made in Latvia), the World Economic Forum has very quietly scrubbed Putin from their website.

Less uselessly, we’re rethinking buying so much of our energy from him. Some NATO members are talking about meeting their treaty obligations. We’ve banned Russia from the SWIFT system. Zelensky having refused Biden’s proffered ride out (“thou thought I was even such a one as thyself”), the ammunition he demanded instead is now being supplied – and the weapons that Trump was giving them are now flowing again (from Britain and Poland – and Sweden). If you volunteer to fight for the Ukrainians, the west will let you go (and stay behind).

And we wouldn’t have done any of these things if Putin had raced through the Ukraine as fast as he, and the western smart set, thought he would. The west driving events in Ukraine? No, for the last ten days, events in the Ukraine have driven the west. Putin ramps up his narrative; Biden’s handlers scramble to reorient his; the unanticipated reality of the Ukraine drives events.

Which, alas, is dangerous to the Ukraine that Putin now dimly knows exists, since the obvious way for him to deal with this unexpected development is to decide it’s not too late to kill it. He expected to look like Hitler racing through Austria. Today, he looks more like Stalin invading Finland. He fears looking like Mussolini invading Greece. Putin will endure much before he lets that happen; so may the Ukraine.

Vlad the Mad?

I’ve seen this idea expressed a couple of times in the last day. Here’s Nigel Farage:

I always thought that we were dealing with somebody who was actually very logical. But I now begin to wonder whether he is. 

The Daily Sceptic, which is really branching out now that most Covid-related restrictions have ended – and in ways I tend to agree with – has a whole article speculating that Putin is paranoid about his health and further speculating that this has sent Putin a bit mad.

I don’t think we have to assume a lunatic in the Kremlin to explain what is going on. Imagine for a minute, you are a Russian imperialist. You have no time for this democracy crap. You have no time for this self-determination crap, or this international law crap. You regard it as Russia’s manifest destiny to rule over Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States and a few other places. You look at your opposition, the West. These are people who are bankrupt. They argue about whether men should be allowed to use women’s toilets. They have elites who despise the populations they govern and the customs and traditions that made their countries strong. They have universities that have become communist re-education camps. They fritter away their prosperity on wind farms and useless railways and welfare. They spend little on defence and when they do it is mostly on making sure that their forces embrace diversity. Almost all of them are to a greater or lesser extent dependent on your natural resources. And the “leader” of this rabble is at best a stubborn, wishy-washy, incompetent. And you say to yourself “Why shouldn’t I go to war? Who is going to stop me?” 

P.S. Having drafted this I tuned into YouTube to find that David Starkey has made much the same point but much more eloquently than I ever could.

 

The Americocentric delusion

I am seeing a phenomenon being floridly expressed today, but it is something I have observed for many years: nothing happens in the world, at least nothing good, unless the malign USA is driving it.

Yes, the United States is the richest, most powerful nation on earth and it has been since World War II. And yes, it has interfered under presidents of all stripes in pursuit of its perceived geopolitical interests. It has done this for good or ill in a great many places, sometimes benignly, other times with a breathtaking lack of judgement.

But just as the leaders of that great nation often overestimated the USA’s ability to impose its will in far away lands, many people in many places also overestimate America’s influence in world affairs. They largely deny that locals have agency, oblivious to the fact people everywhere are capable of organising politically in ways not directed and driven from an agency in Langley, Virginia. As a friend of mine who was deeply involved in the 2014 Maidan revolt in Kyiv said to me once:

“Woah! I’ve just heard we’re all CIA puppets on Washington’s payroll. There must have been an oversight as me and my friends never got a penny. You know people in America, so can you get me an address to apply for that lovely CIA money I’m apparently due?”

He was of course joking, but Maidan was a golden example of how something overwhelmingly driven and executed by Ukrainians, in Ukraine, in response to Ukrainian political and social pressures becoming intolerable, was nevertheless written off as CIA mischief-making.

And that notion was pushed hard by Russia when their pet oligarch was deposed, and it is entirely possible Putin even believes it himself. It is actually more supportive of his worldview than the notion it really happened because millions of Ukrainians loathed Putin, his Ukrainian’s puppet in Kyiv, and the malign influence of Russia generally.

But so many people seek a simpler world, a bipolar one in which everything is down to the Big Actors (with America still the biggest at the moment). Understanding that and feeding into it grants profound insight into Russian (and to some extent Chinese) propaganda. Add to that the rightly shattered confidence in Western institutions the last two years has wrought, and it is not surprising otherwise discerning folk fall for it.

Many seek to explain the world through the distorting prism of the Americocentric delusion, rather than face the complex frequently fracturing mosaic that explains the world more accurately. People do things locally for local reason; not everything is about some current iteration of the Great Game.

If the USA (and UK) have a share of blame for what is happening in Ukraine right now, it is not because they ‘provoked’ Russia: Putin has made it clear the very existence of a politically and culturally independent Ukraine is intolerable to him. No, their mistake, their toxic involvement, was when they pressed Ukraine into surrendering the nuclear weapons Kyiv inherited from the defunct USSR in return for meaningless guarantees.

Russia is not attacking Ukraine in response to actions of the USA since then, that’s an Americocentric delusion. This is not happening because Ukraine wanted to join NATO, it’s happening because they are outside NATO, which is not the same thing at all. Russia is not driven by fear of NATO strength, it is driven by perceptions of western weakness. Russia believes the cultural, military and geopolitical balance has tipped in their favour, expecting the west will respond to their invasion of Ukraine today with nothing more than official grimaces. I hope they are not correct about that but we will soon see.

Putin is motivated by oft stated imperial ambitions to Make Russia Great Again, to ‘restore’ Russia to its imperial boundaries with Moscow as the New Rome (yes, they really say that); Ukrainian rejection of that notion and assertion of their own identity is therefore intolerable. But reject ‘the Russian world’ they did, because Ukrainians do not wish to be ruled from the Kremlin even indirectly. That is why they overthrew Russia’s favoured oligarch and sought to chart their own course in the world.

That is what this war is about.

Weakness and lies beget horrors of every kind

Anyone who cares about our liberty and security (the two are deeply entwined) needs to work tirelessly to ensure the future does not belong to tyrants, be they tyrants in Russia, China, or much closer to home. Even the smallest of daily acts of defiance can add to a countervailing pressure; every little decision you make, what you say, who you spend your money with, needs to be done thoughtfully and above all bravely.

At a time when it would be nice to have at least a measure of trust in our own institutions, the last two years have made that completely impossible. Putin and his ilk are predators who sense weakness, and culturally we have been greatly weakened by enemies within our own institutions public and private.

Come to think of it, comrades, I do want Jones back

George Orwell, Animal Farm:

“Surely, comrades, you do not want Jones back?”

Once again this argument was unanswerable. Certainly the animals did not want Jones back; if the holding of debates on Sunday mornings was liable to bring him back, then the debates must stop. Boxer, who had now had time to think things over, voiced the general feeling by saying: “If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.” And from then on he adopted the maxim, “Napoleon is always right,” in addition to his private motto of “I will work harder.”

(Credit to, um, www.marxists.org actually, for providing the link.)

The Times yesterday, “Donald Trump praises Vladimir Putin’s ‘genius’ move on Ukraine”. The headline worked; there are more than a thousand outraged comments about how Trump is “supporting Putin”. I knew before I read the first line that the point he was actually making would be something along the lines of this:

He claimed that Putin, 69, would not have dared invade had he still been in the White House, rather than Biden. “This never would have happened with us,” he said, dismissing Biden as a “man that has no concept of what he’s doing”.

He told the radio show: “Had I been in office — not even thinkable. This would never have happened. But you know what the response was from Biden? There was no response. They didn’t have one for that. No, it’s very sad.”

The BBC, this morning:

BBC LIVE: Russia launches invasion of Ukraine

Epic trolling by the Czechs!

Prague renames square in front of Russian embassy after slain Putin critic Boris Nemtsov

Ok, that is pretty damn good. But this…

The Russian embassy in Prague did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the Russian Foreign Ministry comment on the move. Hřib said the embassy had not responded to an invitation to attend the renaming ceremony.

What if the Berlin Wall hadn’t come down?

I have always been interested in the What If? question that consists of asking how the world would have been different had the Berlin Wall not fallen and had the USSR just blundered onwards indefinitely, still being the USSR.

That’s a question that has long intrigued me, ever since the Wall in question actually did fall. As you can tell from how I phrase the question, I am damn near certain that the world would have been a far grimmer place than it now is, had that horrible structure not been trashed or turned into souvenir fragments. But, beyond noting with approval the way that various eastern European former Soviet possessions have become much freer and less poor, I have never taken the time to think through the details of this feeling. How might western public opinion have developed, had the Wall remained? How would the world as a whole have been different?

So, I was very interested to learn yesterday about an IEA event, which I have already signed up to attend, to be held at the end of this month:

This month sees the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, ushering in dramatic change across East and West Germany. But even now, East Germany still lags behind the West and the legacy of socialism has been hard to overcome.

So what would have happened if the wall hadn’t come down?

On Thursday 28th November, the IEA is delighted to host an intriguing discussion on that very premise. Professor Syed Kamall will chair the conversation with our own Head of Political Economy Dr. Kristian Niemietz, and historians Roger Moorhouse and Giles Udy.

Rather than just bang on with more guess-answers, I will keep this posting brief and await comments from others.

In particular, are there any ways in which the fall of the Berlin Wall has made the world worse? I’m not talking about how it has embarrassed Communists and (a tribe I particularly despise) anti-anti-Communists … like that’s a bad thing. Those are just two of many features. I’m talking about how life for regular people around the world, and perhaps also in Russia itself, may actually, in some weird knock-on effect ways, have been made worse. I can’t think of any obvious ways that anything like that has happened, but maybe someone else can.

Samizdata retort of the day

Mr Putin said people living in Donetsk and Luhansk who considered themselves Russian were entitled to Russian passports.

On Saturday, he said: “We’re considering providing a simplified procedure [of obtaining Russian citizenship] to all the residents of Ukraine.”

How did Ukraine respond? Mr Zelensky said a Russian passport provides “the right to be arrested for a peaceful protest” and “the right not to have free and competitive elections.”

I am starting to cautiously warm to Mr Zelensky.

Film Review – Hurricane

Hurricane opened recently, I went to see it with the Sage of Kettering. The film tells the story of the Polish 303 Squadron in the Battle of Britain. The film starts with Polish pilots working their way to England in the chaos of falling France. One pilot, with some Swiss ancestry, pretends to be a Swiss Swiss watch salesman, another steals a biplane from a French airforce aerodrome, a fine Czech pilot is also in the Squadron. They end up at RAF Northolt, sharing the base with a plotting station and hence a large number of WAAF personnel, with predictable consequences.

The Poles appear to be a ramshackle lot, lacking the discipline and bearing that the RAF expects. A Canadian officer is given the apparently thankless task of knocking them into what the RAF would recognise as ‘shape’, the pilots (many very experienced and some aces) are frustrated as they are kept back from action whilst they learn English and how to manage their fine steeds. There is some humour as a truculent Warrant Officer is brilliantly mis-translated by one of the pilots as he barks to his colleagues.

It should be said that whilst the Hurricane, Sir Sydney Camm’s wonderful, chubby little puncher is the nominal star of the film, with it featuring in all the fighting and airfield scenes, it hardly gets any mentions, except a passing comment that a pilot thinks it is wonderful. They start off with training flights and escorting Blenheim bombers (There is still one flying in the UK, for what those guys went through, here is a 1989 documentary). Some of the Polish pilots are sent off to bombers, despite their experience. From what I have read, at the time, RAF training didn’t include simulating combat or even gun firing for some pilots. The Poles harmonise their guns at around 150 yards, because they like to get close before firing.

After a bit of indisciplined flying (breaking mission orders by going to attack German aircraft), the squadron is declared operational and success starts to come, one pilot has the foresight to make a rudimentary chapel in an old hut. News of their success spreads, Air Chief Marshal Dowding and Sir Keith Park discuss the squadron and are pleased with it (there are no politicians in this film). They are not introduced, and the actor playing Dowding looks a bit more like Park than he does Dowding imho, but you eventually find out who they are).

The Poles have a constant awareness of the horrors being visited on their homeland, going to the Polish government-in-exile offices for invariably bad news of relatives executed, which the film shows in grim ‘flashback’, one shot by firing squad, another NKVD-style, another hanged. The contrast with the attitude of the British, who seem to regard the war almost as an unpleasantness is brought out with a trip to the Dorchester where Society ladies treat the pilots to a reception in their honour, which turns out to be an awkward occasion. A press visit to the Squadron ends with one reporter getting punched for ghoulishness. The generally good publicity leads Dowding to hope out loud that it might induce friendly volunteer pilots from overseas to turn up and help. Relations with the Poles and British crews aren’t good at the start, but they improve. May I digress? There is a little bit of a sub-plot with a passing incident of ‘domestic violence’ towards a WAAF, which may explain why there was an advert in the trailers for Women’s Aid, which to me gave the misleading impression that only men commit domestic violence, the man in the trailer hits the woman, but he vapes rather than smokes, you can’t show really bad things you know. In the film, everyone seems to smoke, well, not when refuelling.

The film suffers a bit in the depiction of aerial combat, the CGI has an old video game feel to it at times, and we appear to be seeing the same scenes over and over again. As the film goes on, they start to take casualties, some get horribly burned, some crack up and can’t get themselves to kill Germans. The film does not pretty-fy the war, it does get across the burning hatred that the pilots had for those who had destroyed their homeland. At one point, a British officer says that they will be back in Warsaw soon, and the Sage and I muttered ‘1989’ and ‘1990’.

The film skips forward to the end of the War once the Battle of Britain concludes, the characters not apparently any older 5 years on, and the Poles are excluded from Victory Parade, and they are fully aware of what Stalin is doing to Poland, and they are told that they are to be booted out and sent home, one of the Attlee government’s choicer crimes, but it turned out that many were allowed to stay or emigrate to a third country. Some of the pilots are seen in Civvy Street, one a newspaper vendor (apparently people used to buy newspapers). It cites an opinion poll stating that 56% of the British population wanted the Poles to be sent back to Stalin’s new Poland.

The film is a great tribute to those fine men and their ground crews and it’s well worth seeing if you get the chance. It’s better than Dunkirk, with its wet Bank Holiday at the seaside feel, if not as tense as Darkest Hour.

And we saw the film in Corby, after a fine carvery in Rockingham. Corby is perhaps a strong contender for the most soulless town in Britain, a riot of 1960s and newer architecture, complete with its own ‘mass hero’, the Steelworker. We go there, so you don’t have to. It does however, name a square for James Ashworth VC.