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]

Sonnets are racist says SalfordU

Salford University has banned sonnets and suchlike “products of white western culture” from its creative writing course to “decolonise the curriculum”. I say ‘banned’ but they say they merely

“simplified the assessment offering choice”

and I have to admit there is a sense in which ‘simplified’ is the mot juste.

Frequent readers of Samizdata will now be expecting Niall Kilmartin (a.k.a Bilbo Baggins) to inflict some of his own poetic doggerel on you, but as none of mine even try to be any kind of sonnet, I will instead quote Neo’s response to the news.

My grief is deep, as deep as oceans vast
But virtue has its own reward, and so
I’ll give up sonnet-writing, and the past
Can sink beneath the waves of gloom so low.
Old Shakespeare, with his bootless bootless cries
No doubt was white and certainly supreme
Let’s stamp him out, and “colonization” dies.
We’ll show fidelity to the new meme.
Oh Wordsworth, even more forlorn are we.
Bereft of your old counsel, now we stand
On their less wise and quite unpleasant lea
Without the comfort of tradition’s hand.
The poems they write today are stupid shite
And sonnets are too challenging to write.

[If you compare with Neo’s original you will see that Niall get-the-scansion-perfect Kilmartin has made a tiny change at the start of the fourth-last line; feel free to comment and/or upbraid me any who wish. I have also skipped Neo’s link to the meaning of ‘shite’, assuming British readers know it, and transatlantic ones can deduce it from the context and from a certain rather obvious homonym. 🙂 ]

Neo has not offered an example of the modern, de-colonised poem that must now be written instead. Commenters are welcome to fill the lack with genuine examples or their own spoofs, or to share much loved poems, or just to give their opinions.

It was foresighted Robert Conquest who wrote, decades ago, that alongside ‘War is Peace’, ‘Freedom is Slavery’ and ‘Ignorance is Strength’, there was another essential slogan of totalitarianism that Orwell had (surprisingly) omitted:

Rubbish is Art

and of course, its corollary: Art is Rubbish (and racist and …).

“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.


“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.

Samizdata quote of long ago versus yesterday

“The idea that you are successful because you are hardworking is pernicious and wrong because it means everyone who is unsuccessful is stupid and lazy.” Minouche Shafik (LSE director, quoted in The Observer / The Guardian, Saturday 22nd January 2022)

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11, King James Version)

I prefer the Bible’s less judgemental, more qualified take to the LSE director’s woke-sounding justification of why she wants to reset capitalism, replacing the “extreme individualism of the last 40 years” with the “shared endeavour” expressed in her book ‘What We Owe Each Other’. ‘The preacher’ did not say it was ‘pernicious’ to think swiftness, strength, wisdom, understanding and skill favour success – just that you’d be wise to understand that time and chance also play a part.

And other things too, perhaps. As recipient of a “too good to miss” offer from the LSE after several years at the World Bank and two years as (youngest ever, IIRC) number 2 at the Bank of England, Minouche Shafik’s career would be very impressive indeed if one assumed that her Egyptian ethnicity or female gender had been always and everywhere only a handicap to her.

Rising to the top – to resident of the White House, for example – may indeed not denote swiftness, strength, wisdom, understanding or skill (or even the honest counting of all and only legal votes), may indeed be compatible with stupidity and laziness. Being unsuccessful – losing a university post, for example, or not gaining it – may indeed not denote stupidity and laziness, may indeed be for failure to tolerate these attributes. Many an ‘expert’ isn’t.

There’s a pernicious idea around these days – that anyone who is unsuccessful is not so because they are stupid and lazy. If Minouche heard someone say “The idea that you are unsuccessful because you are the victim of prejudice is pernicious and wrong because it means everyone who is successful gained it solely through luck and privilege”, she’d not be so slow to see the need to tone it down. And that, I think, is why she’s so slow to see the absurdity of her ‘everyone’.

Jesus College, Cambridge, pays reparations for abolishing slavery

the college staged a fulsome ceremony, in which the statuette was handed to a descendent of the Obas of Benin, the slavers from whom it was confiscated. The British who freed the Oba’s slaves were described by the Master as having committed “a wrong that is so egregious”

The article I’m quoting from also notes Jesus College’s

embarrassing record of lucrative sycophancy towards the Chinese regime

in which

discussion of human rights has been regarded as “unhelpful”

All this “comes from the University and College administrations”, who clearly grasp that the British Empire’s duty to pay reparations for abolishing slavery follows inevitably – unavoidably – from the entire woke project, which cannot make sense without it.

However it seems Cambridge administrators are not yet finding this logic quite as easy as they expected to communicate to their own students. On 11 November (Armistice Day), at the Cambridge Union, the debate motion “This House is ashamed to be British” lost

“by a considerable majority, in a packed chamber.”

You might almost suspect an element of astroturfed collusion in the narrative of woke students forcing university administrators to do these things.

Is Omarova evil (and stupid) or stupid (and evil)?

In 1989, Boris Yeltsin visited a supermarket in Texas (in the past, such things were reported even in the NYT):

“When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people.”

Not so Biden’s candidate for comptroller of the currency, Saule Omarova. Biden chose her because she would be “the first woman and person of color” to serve in that role, but that would not be her only ‘first’. In that same year of 1989, she graduated from Moscow State University on the Lenin Personal Academic Scholarship. She thought the Soviet system superior to capitalism then, and thirty years later, she still believes:

“Say what you will about old USSR, there was no gender pay gap there. Market doesn’t always ‘know best’.” (Omarova, 2019, quoted here)

She’s also outright hostile to the idea of supply and demand determining the likes of salaries and product prices, preferring instead to see the federal government — the state — set such values.

I say ‘also’ in the paragraph above, but my question in this post is: does she know how much socialism relies on the second when ‘achieving’ the first?

“The beauty of this system was that an NKVD man could receive twelve times what a doctor did and the doctor didn’t know it. The doctor knew what the NKVD man was paid, which was the same as he was, but he didn’t know what the NKVD man could buy with it.”

You didn’t have to be in the communist secret police to discover how a state that controlled distribution could match equal pay for interrogators and doctors to unequal reward. In Stalin’s day, an earlier defector (Kravchenko, ‘I Chose Freedom’) thought that, as regards the very highest ranks of this system,

not one Russian in a thousand suspected that such abundant shops existed

but he discovered for himself that, although

as department head in the sovnarkom, I did not earn half as much as I used to earn in industry, and I received none of the administrative bonuses that factory administrators awarded themselves,

the amount he was paid meant little, because what mattered was

the shops in which you were permitted to buy.

His new post gave him access to certain additional outlets – outlets which might still have looked shabby if compared to Yeltsin’s Texas supermarket, but which would have looked as wonderful to ordinary Russians as that supermarket did to Yeltsin, had they been allowed inside.

By 1989, far more than one Russian in a thousand knew this – and so did some visiting foreigners. A women I met at Oxford had spent months on a course in the Soviet Union about five years earlier than Omarova – an unusual course where the foreigners lived like the Russian students, shopping in the same outlets. She had her Yeltsin moment upon her return: “When I went into Sainsbury’s, I burst into tears.” (her exact words).

IIUC, Omarova would have lived better on a Lenin Personal Academic Scholarship – would have had access to some of the special suppliers most Russian students had to do without – although their stipends were probably much the same in rouble terms. What I wonder is, does she know how much socialism’s on-paper ‘elimination’ of pay-gaps (gender and otherwise) depends on control of distribution, or is her enthusiasm for both simply the effect of swallowing the whole ideological package? Is she as thick as a brick (as we say in Britain), or is she as thick as two short planks (as we also say in Britain)? Is she useful, and idiotic only with the deep absurdity of desiring to be useful to such a cause, or is she a useful idiot of a shallower kind?

Merrick Garland and the Babski Bunty

‘Babski Bunty’ translates as ‘Women’s Rebellions’ – but don’t expect to find too many accounts of them in radical feminist writings. The history of an actual rebellion movement against men with guns (and considerable will to use them), by women inspired by a traditional female motive and using a female-adapted method, is not what the politically correct want US children taught – not least because the men those women resisted served the original PC movement. (The phrase ‘Political Correctness’ first arose in 1930s western intellectuals’ whitewashing of communist atrocities.)

In 1929, a complex mixture of rage, fear and folly launched the communist party on its collectivisation of Russian agriculture. They’d long planned to do it. Now they would do it quickly and completely – so they thought. The urban intellectuals who planned it knew almost nothing of how Russia’s men farmed their land – but they knew absolutely nothing of the women’s role. So they planned to take control of the grain from the fields, putting the farmers’ claim firmly second in line after the state’s – but as for the trivial additional issue of the dairy products from the cow (or there might be a couple) in the byre by the house, it never even occurred to them that there was anyone to be put second. The grain would feed the state, with the farmers getting what was left over. The dairy products would earn export capital (insofar as dairy was not ‘rationalised’ out of existence in farms whose function was ‘obviously’ arable).

In traditional Ukrainian and Russian arable agriculture, the fields were the men’s business (women helped at harvest). Any supplementing animals living by the house were their wives’ business – wives who particularly relied on the milk, butter and cheese to nourish their growing children. As the party activists were launched on their hasty campaign with its ever-increasing collectivisation targets, what had been invisible to planners in Moscow swiftly became horrifyingly visible to mothers on the farm. What enraged the men, as they saw their whole way of life replaced with one they found vastly inferior, was to their wives an immediate and direct threat not merely to their role but also to their offspring. Thus it was that the astonished and largely uncomprehending activists found themselves facing especially uncooperative peasant women.

Thousands of women were shot, or sent to the gulag from which very very few emerged alive 25 years later, but as what the activists came to call “women’s rebellions” spread from their Ukrainian origins into the Don, the Kuban and Russia proper, the scale left the communist authorities somewhat at a loss. All resistance was labelled ‘terrorism’, of course, but a few of the more perceptive activists came to understand the tactics the women were using. Women jeered and jostled the village’s activists while others undid the collectivisation structure by breaking into stores, retrieving farm tools that had been seized, etc. The men’s role was to stand back, coming to the women’s defence if and only if the activists violently attacked them but otherwise not getting overtly involved.

This tactic aimed at avoiding intervention of armed forces, and it was successful.

(It was often successful, not always.) An activist’s male pride was frequently reluctant to beg that a sizable secret police or army formation be swiftly dispatched to save him – from a crowd of loud-mouthed women. It could be hard to make these (genuinely!) mostly peaceful protests sound urgent enough to an official at the end of a phone line. The in-parallel ‘terrorist’ offences against ‘the property of the socialist state’ (i.e. people reclaiming their property that the activists had ‘collectivised’ the week before) were harder to reverse than the initial unwarned seizure had been (especially if a crowd of women was crowding round the activists who were searching for it). Thus, a non-trivial proportion of many a collectivised farm’s economy was in effect privatised again.

Thanks to a lot of brave resistance from both sexes (the women’s rebellions being a significant part), Stalin found it necessary to publish his ‘Dizzy with Success’ Pravda article at the end of March 1930, explaining (in the usual utterly-deceitful soviet style) that some activists had been ‘too eager’ and the collectivisation drive was being paused. Some activists tried hard to prevent the peasants learning of it while others wrote enraged letters to Stalin, correctly pointing out that they’d done what he’d told them to, and foolishly not realising that the methods communists eagerly applied to peasants could also be applied to communists themselves. (Some of these letters got published – 40 years later.) Women’s rebellions played an even larger role in forcing bitterly-resisting activists to let the peasants act on Stalin’s temporarily-gentler public line.

That was then, this is now. In the US, woke teacher activists are more eager to repeat this history than to teach it. Merrick Garland (Biden’s attorney general) also seems more interested in imitating it than in learning from it. Indeed, I’m not at all sure either the teacher-activists or Merrick even know it.

So now, as then, there is a need for tactics to resist the onrushing politically-correct programme. Today’s US differs a lot from communist Russia of nearly a century ago (thank God!). But I offer US citizens this distant analogy for whatever ideas it might inspire in its unduped women and in men willing to defend them.

There is a darker analogy. Stalin threw his ‘Dizzy with Success’ activists under the bus because he had belatedly realised that a much more carefully prepared attack was needed. In 1932-34, by killing enough Ukrainians to meet the UN definition of genocide (and lots of Russians and others), the communists succeeded in imposing the collective farm system. The crop shrank markedly, but Stalin saw this as an acceptable price to pay for the state’s having control of it. The quantity and quality of education is not as tangible as the size of a grain harvest – but even if it were, I don’t think the wokesters shrinking it would care. Last time, this tactic brought only a pause, not victory. A pause would be better than nothing, but Churchill warned people rejoicing over Dunkirk that wars are not won just by making your enemies pause in their advance.

Laughing apart

Ten men acting together can make a hundred thousand tremble apart.

Three weeks ago Saturday, the FBI were out in undercover force at the ‘JusticeForJan6th’ rally – and looking lonely, since everyone from Trump to the proud boys had worked out it was a false flag operation. But precisely because the ‘demonstrators’ physically present were so overwhelmingly and obviously fake, the large virtual attendance in cyberspace was much entertained, with more mirth being had at the expense of some (overt) police who were a bit slow to realise that the guy they were arresting was yet another under(not-very-much)cover Fed.

None of which alters the fact that that the right “peaceably to assemble” for political protest is bifurcating. One side knows it need only be ‘mostly peaceful’ while the other knows that assembling at all can bring speedy arrest followed by long-delayed trial.

Ten oh-so-obvious undercover FBI agents are good for a laugh, but they still made those who mocked them laugh apart. Chanting “F*** Joe Biden” (“Let’s Go Brandon” 🙂 ) in a sports stadium is one way to laugh together, but it reminds me of the chariot racing clubs in the Roman and Byzantine empires – those ancient ‘blues’ and ‘greens’ chariot fans acquired strong political overtones because assembling for an overtly political purpose was forbidden.

Critical Race Theorist literally knows nothing

“They literally know nothing” was what Obama advisor Ben Rhodes said about the Obama-worshipping journalists he fooled into repeating his Iran-deal talking points. But those guys are left standing by Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of ‘The 1619 Project’.

“it’s also hard to look at countries that didn’t have large institutions of slavery and compare them to the United States.”

Most people noticed her statement because of the immediately following sentence:

“If you want to see the most equal multi-racial democ… — it’s not a democracy — the most equal multi-racial country in our hemisphere, it would be Cuba,” Hannah-Jones said.

She knew enough to avoid (just!) going on record as calling communist Cuba a democracy – but she did not know enough to avoid talking about “countries that didn’t have large institutions of slavery” compared to the United States.

I saw from the start that some of Nikole’s 1619 rubbish merely exposed her utter ignorance of her subject. The blacks whom the Virginians bought from a Portuguese slave trader in 1619 were treated like whites – that is, they were treated as indentured servants who after 10 years were freed, given some farm tools, pointed at a plot of land and left to get on with it. (Some of them got on so well that before mid-century they were buying white and black indentured servants themselves to work their expanding acreages.)

One could justly say these early-arriving blacks were not treated exactly like poor English whites who – unless convicted of a crime – had always chosen to sign their ten-year indenture, to pay for transport across the Atlantic and survival while they found their feet. The closer analogy is to some Scottish whites. More than one clan chief sold some clansmen on indentures across the Atlantic when funds were low, and in 1707 a leading Scottish parliamentarian informed his peers that there was no need for them to fix the disastrous financial situation by accepting the English payment and voting their own abolition – Scotland’s elite could keep their separate parliament and avoid national bankruptcy by selling enough poor Scots to the Americas instead.

When the Portuguese offered to sell black slaves, those 1619 Virginians could only buy them as ten-year-indentured servants. They were still wholly under English common law and Lord Mansfield’s 1770s ruling merely echoed a two-centuries earlier ruling of Elizabethan judges that English common law knew no such state as slavery. It took the Virginians decades to start even questioning this and almost a century to unlearn it fully. As late as the 1690s, a black man who petitioned the Virginia council that his white master had made him serve not for ten years but for twelve “contrarie to all right and justice”, was freed by their order. If Nikole had called it the 1705 project, I’d have thought she at least knew something about the actual faults of the country whose history she was travestying. Only positive statute law can override English common law’s aversion to slavery, said Lord Mansfield – and 1705 was the year the Virginia legislature completed providing it. I knew from the start that Nikole was not just lying about all that, not just indifferent to the truth of all that – she was also pretty clueless about it.

But now it emerges she knows nothing about other countries either! “Countries that didn’t have large institutions of slavery”, she says. Which countries would that be, I wonder?

– Certainly not Cuba before Columbus or Cuba after Columbus (or Cuba under communism – you have to know nothing not to know that communism always reintroduces slavery).

– Certainly not Brazil before or after the Portuguese ruled it, or after it ruled itself – Brazil was the very last new-world country to abolish the slave trade (it needed an undeclared war from the Royal Navy to persuade them) and then slavery itself (they needed a bit of persuasion there too).

– Certainly not Mexico under the Aztecs, or Peru and Chile under the Incas, or any of them under the Spaniards (the absolute Spanish King could in time announce that slavery should end without needing to consult any tedious parliaments – and his unconsulted subjects in the distant Americas could pay the unvoted law little attention as they carried on buying black slaves from the Portuguese).

– Certainly not any of the western sub-Saharan African states, who sold the surplus they had left after the Dahomans had celebrated their murder spectacle, the Bemba had blinded enough singers to entertain them, the various cannibal tribes had eaten their fill, etc.

– Certainly not any of the eastern sub-Saharan African states, where the tribes raided each other and the Swahili worked for the Arabs, who found slave-raiding cheaper than slave-trading.

– Certainly not the Arab world. Historians who know what they are talking about speak of “the abolition of slavery” in the west and “the decline of slavery” (under intense western pressure) in the Arab world.

– Certainly not many other places. In 1776, Adam Smith accurately noted that slavery was almost universal, being absent only from western and parts of central Europe.

So what countries in 1619 – or a good deal later – could be giving her this problem of lacking historical “institutions of slavery” on US timescales. England? France (had serfdom for much of the period, but not slavery)? … It’s not that long a list (and it’s a bit white!). And I don’t think any of the countries she was thinking of are on it. “Ignorance is Strength”, said Orwell’s 1984. It’s certainly hers.

It’s a pity, because the real history of how the Virginians gradually retreated from a custom of freedom that they’d started with is well worth studying. And the spectacle of a community with a custom of freedom slowly losing it holds a lesson for today.

The ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ is getting harder

Idea that 2+2=4 is western imperialism

In the 1970s, the BBC screened a dramatised documentary series about the fight to abolish the slave trade. Even a year of the virus limiting new series, at a time of great BBC eagerness to talk about racism, has not made them screen it again.

– I see one reason why they have not: the series displayed sleazy white slave traders and abusive white slave owners prominently, but it also showed white people eager to end the slave trade and (much worse) black people eager to continue it. One episode included the king of Dahomey’s threat: “if you do not allow me to sell you my slaves, their fate will be a great deal worse” (a very brief scene of the Dahomey murder spectacle lent meaning to his remark). After abolition was voted, it showed a white slave trader assuring the Dahomans, as a drug dealer might his suppliers, “It is one thing for parliament to pass a law …”, hinting at the Royal Navy’s long and hard campaign to enforce it.

– Only recently did I spot another reason why they would not want to show it again – the scene in which a corrupt old white slave trader warns his young colleague that “it’s more than your life’s worth” to doubt the ability of their slave-selling hosts to count very accurately the quantity of trade goods being handed over in exchange, and to assess their quality knowledgeably. The traders well knew that Africans counted two plus two as four, just as they did. Any trader who imagined that black ability to add diverged enough from white to enable an attempt to short-change them had learned otherwise long before the 1780s.

– The southern Confederacy thought the same. Until its death throes, it forbade enlisting a southern black as a Confederate soldier because, as one Confederate senator put it, “If blacks can make good soldiers then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” (Perhaps also because even southern white Democrats realised that southern black desire to fight against blacks being freed was likely to be a very minority taste.) But there was one exception. Every regiment had its regimental band, which played to set the pace at the start and end of marches, used trumpets to signal commands in battle – and fought when other duties did not supervene. From its start to its end, Confederate law said any black could enlist as bandsman, with the same pay and perquisites as a white – a very rare example of formal legal equality. (Playing music requires the ability to count time. For the woke, ‘dismantling the legacy of the Confederacy’ apparently includes dismantling its realisation – shared by the Victorian composer Dvorak – that blacks often excelled in music so much as to overcome prejudice against black ability. Today, it’s ‘racist’ to value instrumental skill.)

‘Politically correct’ has meant ‘actually wrong’ ever since the first commissar explained to the first party comrade that it was neither socialist nor prudent to notice a factual error in the party line. ‘Structurally racist’ is PC’s modern companion. No longer are the woke content merely to imply (“mathematics is racist“, “punctuality is racist“, “politeness is racist“) that blacks can’t count, can’t tell the time and can only behave crudely. They’re starting to say it in words of fewer syllables.

So how does one avoid being a racist when cancel culture calls it ‘racist’ to expect any black man you meet to be able to add? First, decide which you would rather oppose: ‘structural racism’ or actual racism. If the latter, then decide whether you have the courage to do more than dislike it in the privacy of your own mind. The BBC series showed the voyage of the Zong, when the captain threw many slaves overboard to check a pandemic onboard – or was it just to convert them into insurance losses? The scene was directed to imply that some officers did not entirely like doing this – but it would not have helped anyone’s career to have refused. Only in a metaphorical sense will white intellectuals today throw overboard an off-message black colleague. Perhaps the Zong’s crew consoled themselves that, after all, it was only black people being thrown overboard. Perhaps woke whites today console themselves that, after all, as Joe Biden put it, if you don’t vote Democrat then “you ain’t black”. Besides, if

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” (George Orwell, 1984)

then clearly it is the duty of Critical Race Theory to ensure that is not granted.

This too shall pass. Years ago, the left decided that Stalin in Russia was “not real socialism”, nor Mugabe in Zimbabwe, nor Chavez in Venezuela – but only long after Orwell, and the year 1984, and the Soviet Union itself, had died. One day, the woke will decide that it is “not real anti-racism” to claim that black people have open minds on whether 2+2=4. Later still, they might decide it was “not real anti-racism”. But for now, just as it was once an insult to “the workers’ state” to mention how many workers Stalin killed, so we are still well into the period when asking how many black people were murdered in Ferguson or Minneapolis by the riots, or since the riots, is as ‘racist’ as classical music, mentioning the holocaust during a class discussion of racism, skiing, cheese, advising persons of colour to exercise, camping, quantum theory, acronyms, alfresco seating, grammar, beer, snow ploughs, evergreen trees, praising the fund-raising efforts of Captain Tom, individualism, interracialmarriage or questioning the existence of structural racism.

I had a very much longer list of increasingly bizarre things that exemplify structural racism – none of them repeated from my last list – but as I typed links to the structural racism of such innate features of the human condition as time and sleep, I reflected that the first was passing, and soon I should start doing the second.

[ADDED LATER: there’s no need to go to university to not-learn maths. Not-learning maths is coming to a school near you – if you live in Ontario. The Ontario Grade 9 curriculum’s “decolonial, anti-racist approach to mathematics education makes visible its historical roots and social constructions”. Education Minister Stephen Lecce says math is “subjective” and “used to normalize racism and marginalization of non-eurocentric mathematical knowledges.” This will come as a surprise to anyone who thought that teaching the use of ‘Arabic’ (actually Hindu) numbers, plus the huge Hindu invention of the zero, is the very reverse of normalising ‘eurocentric’ Roman numerals – but I guess, to the woke, II + II = IV in any other notation is just as oppressive.]

Buy Large Mansions

1909: “Socialism … It’s a grand scheme. You work for the equal distribution of property and you start by collaring all you can and sitting on it.” P.G.Wodehouse (comic author), ‘Mike and Psmith’.

2021: “I practice Marxism by getting rich and supporting my family.” Patrisse Khan-Cullors (BLM co-founder), TV Interview

Buy Large Mansions‘ was not something I expected to see added so soon to ‘Black Lives Murdered‘, ‘Bullshit Marxist Lies‘ and other clarifications of the acronym. It was obvious from the start that Chavez and his family would become stinking rich as Venezuelans starved, that Mugabe’s wealth would grow as his country’s vanished, but usually the socialists themselves say it openly only a good many years after seizing all power, not just a few months after stealing an election.

I think it was de Toqueville who said of nineteenth-century French revolutionaries: “I had the impression they were play-acting the French revolution much more than continuing it.” The same impression led Karl Marx, echoing Hegel, to write that history happens twice: “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” In that sense, Patrisse is indeed realising Marx’s vision.

She is also embodying P.G.Wodehouse’ joke. Foreseeable, avoidable tragedy is farcical. National Socialism conquered Germany, then Europe, before being pulled down by almost all the combined strength of the remainder of the world – and that was shameful, Hannah Arendt pointed out, because it was also ridiculous. The current state of the western world is less grave (as yet), but it is already shameful – because it is already ridiculous.

Kristallnacht versus BLM

Goering (shouting): “Why did you not kill 200 Jews instead of destroying so many valuables!”

Heydrich (defensively): “36 Jews were killed.”

[Words uttered during ministerial discussion with a representative of the German insurance industry after Kristallnacht.]

Kristallnacht was pretty-well the last of the Nazi’s anti-Jewish exercises that were more incentivised than directly commanded and supervised. They had learned the habit in their pre-power days. As the party court (the Uschla) reported afterwards, old party comrades understood that “certain hints meant more than their mere verbal contents”, so when told that “von Rath’s murder was a crime of Jewry as a whole … every party comrade should know what to do”, they went out and – to the great annoyance of Goering when he realised the economic impact – did a fantastic amount of property damage while only killing, by later standards, a derisory number of Jews.

BLM operate the same way. The stormtroopers broke glass and smashed things up, or had fire engines standing by, because fire could spread to ‘aryan’ properties, whereas BLM don’t care if black-owned businesses burn. But with the exception of that very peculiar way of not making racial distinctions, BLM have shown the same common tendency of an incentivised but loosely-commanded Western/European mob to do a lot of property damage for each life they take.

Inflation adjusted, I think the direct financial cost of Kristallnacht far exceeded that of all BLM’s destruction to date. On the other hand, by murdering the eight-year-old black girl Secoriea Turner, the black man David Dorn and various others, it looks like BLM can get into the ballpark of Heydrich’s figure just in killing ‘Lives That Matter (TM)’ – and if you also count lives that don’t matter then maybe they can compete with the higher number that were actually murdered during 9-10 November 1938.

However, BLM needed many nights of rioting to achieve this, whereas ‘Crystal Night’ was done in a day and a night. So I leave it to readers to decide “the point of precedence between a louse and a flea” – or to take Dr Johnson’s advice not to bother – as my focus here is on the specific similarities of technique I’ve mentioned.

(Just a ‘seasonal’ thought prompted by the time of year. I apologise to any who are distressed by the very dark humour of this ‘Godzilla versus King Kong’-style comparison.)

Samizdata socialist anniversary quote of the day

“Our task is the protection of socialist achievements. … Those who do not respect our borders will feel the bullet.” (1970s Socialist Unity Party speech to Berlin Wall guards – video excerpts shown in The Secret Life of the Berlin Wall)

The Socialist Unity Party meant that people who disrespected socialism by trying to escape it were to “feel the bullet”. So I guess there’s no point telling modern socialists that it’s socialist to make people who do not respect borders “feel the bullet” – or even just the hardness of Trump’s wall. They would reply that trying to prevent people from entering your country is ‘not real socialism’ – and they’d be absolutely right. 🙂

The Berlin Wall fell in November, 31 years ago.