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]

A Lusitanian* adventure

Last month, the Sage of Kettering and I went on another trip, this time to England’s oldest ally, Portugal. *It involved brief excursions into Spain over a raia (‘the stripe’ as it is called), one of Europe’s oldest borders, almost unchanged but still disputed many centuries after delineation in 1297, so it was an Iberian adventure. We focused on the north of Portugal, and then Lisbon.

We flew to Porto, with the least user-friendly tram system I have yet used, and made our way up north by noisy Diesel train through pleasant farmland, brushing the Atlantic coast on the way to our first stage, the fine fortress town of Valença on the Minho river, which here forms the border with Spain. Valença has a striking fortress citadel as its old town, with many layers of defences. The scale of the walls can be judged by the horses in the pictures. A drone video of the fortress, a 17th Century construction on an older 13th Century construction, is here.

→ Continue reading: A Lusitanian* adventure

Finally, an achievable socialist goal

Abolish profit is the proclaimed goal of The New York branch of Democratic Socialists of America (they would also like to abolish prisons, cash bail and borders, but abolishing profit comes first). Normally, I think that, this time, socialism won’t work – because it didn’t last time, and the time before that, and the time before that – but for once, that logic points in the opposite direction.

Sure, I’m for social insurance, medical care and the rest, provided it’s given to the people from the profits which the State, as owner and operator of the factories, makes on them – the profits that formerly were made by the capitalists – and not from the earnings of the workers themselves. In that was the gist of the revolution.

But where are your profits? Your industry and your whole economy work at a loss. And we, the citizens, are forced to cover those losses.

Revolutionary socialist Andrei Kravchenko said that to his son, communist official Victor Kravchenko, in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1936. Socialism’s ability to abolish profit was later confirmed by Mao, Mugabe and Chavez – and by a number of nationalised industries in the UK. So I believe socialism can do this.

Unfortunately, the DSA’s second goal – abolish prisons – is one that socialists have never achieved, since prisons are the means by which “we, the citizens, are forced to cover those losses.”

Russia has been horrible for a long time

Amidst some of the commentary about the recent murders – attributed by the UK government to Russian operatives – in the UK, much has been written and said about the less-than-stellar response, in the eyes of many (including those on the political left) of Jeremy Corbyn. Now, my take on Corbyn is rather like that of George Orwell on leftist intellectuals (he was one of them, mind), which is that they’d sooner be caught stealing from a church charity plate than admitting they loved their country.

Even so, it is worth asking the question of quite why certain folk on the left are so beguiled by Russia. After all, in certain respects Putin is not their kind of hero. For a start, he is quite a “man’s man”, strutting about bare-chested, holding guns and riding horses; his regime isn’t nice to homosexuals, seems to extract a lot of CO2-producing gasses, and so on. There are no “safe spaces” in Russian schools and universities, I would guess.

However, it is worth noting that there was never really a time when the situation, particularly post-1917 and up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, was better. And this Daily Mirror writer comes up with a comment so flawed that for a second I thought it was some sort of parody. For the writer (adopting a sort of pen-name) suggests that poor old Corbyn is besotted with the shining image of a glorious Soviet Union that once – in the writer’s opinion – existed in its early years before certain things, inexplicably, went wrong. It had “free” healthcare, employment “rights” and a nifty big public sector. And it was egalitarian! The writer appears to buy this rosy view of Soviet Russia (the fact that opponents of Communism were murdered from day one appears not to register). The writer does not note the most important divide of all: the split between those who have power, and those who don’t, over others. The inequality in wealth of early 21st Century America or Europe is nothing compared to the inequality between the party bosses in, say, 1950 and that which exists in wealth terms in a Western liberal democracy. Wealth and coercive power are entirely different things.

The things that went wrong in the Soviet Empire were integral the very nature of collectivism itself; failure to understand that wealth inequality is entirely different from differences in coercive power is at the root of why leftists, and collectivists of all hues, get things like the Soviet Union wrong. The project was doomed because its underlying rationale was built on sand. (Here is a new and acclaimed biography of Lenin, making the point that what was set up in Russia was evil and mad from the start.)

So far from being an incisive takedown of Corbyn, the Daily Mirror article sort of affirms his infatuation with communism and says the main problem now is that Russia is run by thugs, as if what happened from 1917 onwards was ever going to be any different. When power is centralised, what does this writer expect will happen? And perhaps it is fitting to conclude that anyone who wonders “where did the dream of Soviet Russia go wrong?” should sit down with this 1944 masterpiece by a certain FA Hayek.

The Rank(ed) Evil of Socialism

Under Ian Smith (remember him?), only 5% of the population of Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) had votes that counted (and all but one in twenty of them were white) but the other 95% of the population did eat: Mugabe inherited a country where their prosperity was rising. By 2016, only Mugabe and a few cronies had votes that counted, and Zimbabwe produced not the 300,000+ tons of grain per year that it once did, but 20,000 tons. Or, as the poet did not quite put it,

My other enemy is such
As you too should abhor:
Who justly hates white racists much,
Hates socialists yet more.

It seems so superflous to add that non-white racism (between the Shona and Ndebele tribes) was also a feature of Mugabe’s rule; he was a Shona as well as a socialist.

Some lies are long a-dying

Future historians will doubtless be wary of books on the history of the Negro in the United States when they find the word “Negro” being displaced by the word “Black” in the 1960s and 1970s – just as they are wary of books on German history in the era when the word “Aryan” became fashionable. … The history of the Negro American began to be chronicled, and was being well-chronicled, before “Black” became fashionable. … The “Black Studies” movement has tended to inflame the subject without proportionately illuminating it, and has become the Trojan Horse of a new racism.

(Daniel Boorstin, ‘The Democratic Experience’, 1973)

It’s more than 40 years since Daniel wrote this – and less than 4 since I first saw “All Lives Matter” called racist by those who shout “Black Lives Matter”.

– I’ve read minutes of meetings of tiny lefty groups in Victorian London where other members patiently explained to Karl Marx that his theories had flaws. Since then, the world has been force-fed a huge slice of socialism. You might have thought it died in the 90’s – or at least transmogrified into watermelonish (green on the outside, red on the inside) environmentalism, but Sanders and Corbyn want to put us back on the straight stuff.

– In late 1991, before the first gulf war faded and the recession kicked in, I recall a UK article explaining why the Democratic presidential hopefuls were being called (by their unhappy US media friends) “the seven dwarfs”. It listed the failings of each in turn; 5th on the list came Clinton, whose dwarfishness was because of sleaze and even more because “The Democrats know that more sleaze is coming on the Clintons.” (‘Clintons’, plural, even then, IIRC.) Well, that was true, but across-the-pond had 8 years of Clintons and just missed having a second helping.

When mainsteam media like you, your lies are long a-dying. The new racism (anti-semitic, like the old) is still on its first growth cycle. I am so ready to reach Boorstin’s future when historians will “doubtless” doubt it.

[Boorstin’s quote is on page 648 of the Pheonix Press 2000 paperback edition]

“But she knows me !”

Late one night near the start of the 1930s in Germany, Leni Riefenstahl dropped in on friends whose house she chanced to pass as she returned from the very first Nazi rally she attended. For ten minutes, she raved about the the glorious future awaiting National Socialism, the insight of Hitler  – until the expressions on the faces of her stunned-into-silence hosts finally penetrated the haze she was in and she recalled that this married couple (that she’d been friends with for years) were two of her several Jewish friends. She murmured something about how she was sure that aspect of National Socialism would not amount to anything that need concern them. Then she finished her coffee and left. She never came back. Her circle of friends changed to contain fewer Jews, then fewer still.

(Leni’s next chance to meet Jews in numbers came in the early 1940s, when she borrowed concentration camp inmates to be extras in crowd scenes in her films, returning them to the camps after their scenes were shot. The couple who gave her coffee were not among them. Before that night, they were typical intellectuals, sure that National Socialists were all very stupid self-defeating people. That a girl like Leni – clever, strong-willed, career-minded, inventive, unorthodox – could become one was incomprehensible to them, so incomprehensible that it shattered their intellectuals’ conviction that they were the ones who understood things. Therefore they fled Germany early and so they lived – long enough to tell the story of that night on a television programme I watched long ago.)

I was reminded of this by the woman named by Sarah Hoyt in a recent post. Like the rest of Sad Puppies, Sarah has been accused of every sin in the politically-correct calendar by SJWs who’ve never met her, but also, to her astonishment, by Rose Beteem, a woman who knows her, who knows her views, who knows she’s from Portugal and can look like she comes from somewhere south of it, who knows Sarah is no more plausibly accused of all these -isms and -phobias than Leni’s friends were of starting WWI. Sarah was astonished that Rose could do that since “she knows me.”

I wasn’t. Beteem’s knowledge of Sarah Hoyt is part of her experience. Beteem’s knowledge that all Sad Puppiers are vile people, guilty of every -ism and -phobia, is part of her political theory. To be politically correct is to value theory above experience. Khrushchev noted the strength of Stalin’s tendency to believe a thing if he’d read it in a book or report, whatever the counter-evidence. In C.S.Lewis “That Hideous Strength”, Mark treats a sociology report on agricultural labourers as the reality and the actual agricultural labourers he meets as irrelevant because his modernist views meant “He believed as firmly as any mystic in the superior reality of that which is not seen.”

Treating the theory you’ve been taught as a surer guide than your own experience is the essence of political correctness. SJWs don’t just refuse to learn from the past; they resist learning from their own present. If this ever changes, they become that well-known type who is a socialist at 20 but wiser at 40. Otherwise, don’t rely on their knowing you to make a difference.

[All quotations are from memory. Khrushchev’s remark is in Robert Coquest’s, “Stalin, Breaker of Nations.”]

Call that an attack on the press? This is an attack on the press

In 1917, as this cutting shows, the German navy shelled Margate and Broadstairs. Nothing strange in that, you might think, they had done much worse to Scarborough and Great Yarmouth.

The Times 27 February 1917 p6. Right click for the whole article.

However, this raid was a bit different. Far from causing general mayhem and tweaking the tail of the Royal Navy, on this occasion the target was one man: Lord Northcliffe, proprietor of The Times, The Daily Mail and – I kid you not – The Daily Mirror. Not that you would know it from this heavily censored report.

Northcliffe had attracted the ire of the German government by – apparently, I get little impression of this from The Times itself – being the main cheerleader of anti-German and pro-War sentiment in Britain. In 1918, doubtless aided by the Kaiser’s ringing, if unintentional, endorsement, Northcliffe became Britain’s Director of Propaganda.

I appreciate that in writing this article I may be giving the God-Emperor some ideas. So, Donald, if you’re reading, just remember: sailing a battleship up the Hudson, shelling the New York Times building and turning it into a smoking pile of rubble just so you can wipe the smile off the faces of a bunch of smug, arrogant, conceited, snobbish, self-satisfied, aloof, out-of-touch, blockheaded, group-thinking, bubble-dwelling, histrionic, paranoid, lying, devious, dissembling, childish, cry-baby, bitter, vindictive, divisive, conspiratorial, freedom-hating, progress-denying communists… is not nice.

It may even be wrong.

The Great War 1914-1917

Things were looking good for the Allies at the close of 1916. The French had pushed back the Germans at Verdun. The British were consistently doing much the same on the Somme. The Russians had made huge gains at the expense of the Austrians during the Brusilov Offensive. The Italians were continuing to attack and it appeared that it was finally all systems go on the Salonika Front. The only real fly in the ointment was Romania which was being invaded.

Away from the frontlines there was also plenty of scope for optimism. The British were at last getting guns and shells in sufficient quantities. The Irish rebellion had been crushed. The U-boat campaign was quiescent. Conscription seemed to be working. Even the Russians seemed to have turned the corner when it came to their supply problems.

Most importantly, the Western Allies – and particularly the French under a dashing young commander – appeared to have found the formula for winning battles on the Western Front.

Meanwhile the Germans were slowly and literally being starved by a combination of the Blockade and their own economic incompetence. Splits were beginning to appear with the communist, Karl Liebnecht demanding an end to the war. At the same time they were having to prop up their increasingly helpless allies. In Austria, the death of Emperor Franz Josef followed on the heels of the assassination of the Prime Minister by another communist in protest at the continuing refusal to recall parliament.

It must have looked like victory was just around the corner. In such situations you often find that unscrupulous politicians like to jockey for position in order to be able to take the credit. Not that such things would ever happen in Britain.

On 6 December, having out-manoeuvred his predecessor, David Lloyd George became Prime Minister.

Oh and the name of that dashing French commander – he of the formula? Nivelle. Robert Nivelle.

The Times 28 September 1916

The Times 28 September 1916

Wastage

A hundred years ago the British Army may not have been fighting a major battle on the Western Front but it was still taking casualties.

The Times 4 May 1916 p4

The Times 4 May 1916 p4

I make that 187 deaths. It represents the typical daily rate for the Western Front. How did these men die? Most would have been killed by shelling, or in trench raids or in machine-gun strafes while erecting barbed wire entanglements in no-man’s land. Others would have been killed by snipers. An unlucky few would have been killed in motor accidents or when shells exploded prematurely causing guns to explode or when grenades went off prematurely or in gas attacks or underground fights between tunnelers. Most of the Canadians would probably have been killed in German counter-attacks at St Eloi.

By the way, you will notice that some of the casualties are listed as suffering from shell shock. Obviously, this had become a recognised condition by this stage of the war and presumably didn’t incur the death penalty.

Marking Stalin’s victims in Russia

A valiant group of Russian activists, the Last Address project, have been commemorating some of Stalin’s many victims with plaques, the BBC tells us.

The rectangular plaques are small and simple. Etched into the metal there is a name, date of birth and occupation: radio technician, journalist, student.
Then come the dates of arrest and execution.

Fixed to buildings across Russia, the nameplates are gradually restoring the memory of some of the hundreds of thousands of victims of Joseph Stalin’s political repressions.

The initiative of a group of activists, it is also a direct challenge to the growing number of Russians who see the Soviet leader in a positive light.

Here is one example of a victim:

Gennrich Rubenstein was a manager on Soviet Railways, arrested as a “counter-revolutionary” in 1937 and then executed. The grainy, sepia photograph Anna holds shows a smart young man, hair carefully parted to one side.
She has just had a memorial nameplate fixed to his home.
“There are still people who don’t want to know about this,” Anna reflects, bitterly.
“Especially young people who are taught history in such a way now that these victims are justified.
“They say ‘Well, we leapt forward. We created a country of tanks from a country of ploughs. So there were victims? So what?'”

So what if after NKVD chief Gennrich Yagoda was executed, his dacha was used to dispose of 10,000 corpses?

Just a few steps into the forest off one of the main roads out of Moscow, there is an even starker reminder of why.
Kommunarka was once the summer house of Gennrich Yagoda, Stalin’s secret police chief.
After his execution, at least 10,000 purge victims were brought here by the truck-load and buried.

And should you think that Bernie’s supporters are bad, consider the disdain or hostility that these people face.

“People tell us they don’t want their buildings turned into cemeteries, that the plaques are depressing,” project-initiator Sergei Parkhomenko explains.

“Or they don’t want their children to see them, because it’s too gloomy.”But those we’re remembering are not just VIP victims. They’re ordinary people.”

And yet recent polls show that Russians increasingly see Stalin as an “effective manager” or war hero, rather than a tyrant.

Opposition activists are regularly labelled “enemies of the people” on state TV programmes and Memorial, the organisation long devoted to restoring the memory of the repressions, has been branded a “foreign agent”.
It is accused of blackening Russia’s image for Western paymasters.

They do not appear to be daunted either by that, or by the scale of the task.

But back in the city centre, the Last Address project has already installed more than 170 of their metal plaques on prominent buildings where they can no longer be ignored.
“Our aim isn’t just to put nameplates on every building in the country, although you probably could,” Sergei Parkhomenko says. “What’s important is to gather people around them. So that they explain what happened to those who don’t know, and tell their children.”

There’s hope for Russia yet, whilst there are people willing to commemorate the dead and remind the ungrateful living of what their forebears’ government did.

German border controls – things ain’t what they used to be…the ‘Dodendraad’

Recent events in Germany may have led some to ask if Germany still controls its borders. Well of course the German Federation does, it had an entire Border Police Force, the Bundesgrenzschutz to do that, and it has quietly been building a Federal Police Force by merging the Railway Police with the Border Police. However, the German Federal State does not seem to regard border control as that much of a priority.

It wasn’t always thus for German governments, we all know about the Berlin Wall, or the ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart‘, an example of German bureaucracy showing some resolve as to who crosses its borders. The Wall was of course, the weak point in the East German border, although technically it did not divide the Germanies, but the Allied Occupation Zones from the Soviet Zone and from the DDR, and for most of the time, there was no point fleeing to comradely Poland or brotherly Czechoslovakia, but that changed in the late 1980s. At the Berlin Wall, some 138 deaths have been recorded, there may have been many more.

But there was a more deadly border defence put in place by a German state, Imperial Germany, it was called the Dodendraad, a lethal electric fence, the implementation of which left, by one estimate, around 850 people killed, other reports say around 2,000 – 3,000 people were killed, including shootings etc. at the fence. You may well say ‘It doesn’t quite sound German‘, and you would be right. It wasn’t even ‘protecting’ Germany’s border, but someone else’s. The Dodendraad (Wire of Death) was put along the frontier between occupied Belgium and the Netherlands in the First World War, as a means of controlling movement over the frontier. A frontier that had two peoples with effectively one language joined by trade and family, and separated by murderous force. The Wire did not cover all of the Belgian/Dutch border, as the Kaiser did not violate Dutch neutrality by seeking to place it around Baarle-Hertog’s many borders with Baarle-Nassau.

The task facing the Imperial Army was demanding, there were no Belgian power stations to power the 2,000 Volt wires along the over 200 miles of the fence, as Belgium (we are told) had no power grid at that time.

Around the clock there was a guard every fifty up to one hundred and fifty metres. At nighttime the number of border guards was doubled, there were also more patrols. German soldiers were ordered to fire immediately after every unanswered warming. Yet they were not allowed to fire in the direction of The Netherlands. The soldiers walked from one switching cottage to the next one, returning when they met with a colleague halfways.

For the poor border Belgians, life was grim:

Placing the wire of death made it impossible to enter The Netherlands. Border traffic was reduced. For inhabitants of the border region this was a painful ordeal as their friends and relatives very often lived in both countries. All traffic to The Netherlands was forbidden or required a strict German control. Whether one could visit a relative or a friend on the other side of the border, depended on the arbitrary decision of the local commander who might – or might not – grant a written (and paid for) permit to leave the country for just a few hours or days. Belgians had to leave the country through a specific gate and had to enter again through the same gate, subject to scrutinous control and registration. If one failed to return in time from a visit to e.g. a sick relative, one simply risked having family members imprisoned or you were forced to pay a heavy fine.

So even before the Germans sent Lenin to Russia to found and then electrify the Soviet Union, they had built a model death strip that many a socialist thinking about the good old days of East Germany could have been proud of.

‘No offence’ – in Northern Ireland…

Thirteen members of a Loyalist marching band, the Young Conway Volunteers, have had their criminal convictions for ‘doing a provocative act likely to cause public disorder or a breach of the peacequashed after the Public Prosecutor agreed not to oppose their appeals.

The non-offence occurred after the marching band found themselves marching in a circle outside St Patrick’s Church (Catholic) in north Belfast, whilst playing (allegedly aggravated by hostility) a tune alleged to have been ‘the Famine Song’ with the presumably catchy refrain ‘The famine’s over, why don’t you go home?‘, but what they said was the Beach Boys ‘Sloop John B‘ (reportedly an easy mistake to make, the basic tune is widely used). How this was proved at the original trial when they presumably were playing a tune on instruments and not singing was not made clear.

Although now acquitted, the band members agreed to be bound over to keep the peace for 2 years (not a conviction but a promise of good behaviour, breach of which could lead to a 7 day jail term).

Whilst this acquittal in the face of ‘hate legislation’ is certainly a good thing for liberty, I note the apologetic tone of the response of the Orange Lodge, which presumably has some connection to the band:

In a statement, The County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast welcomed the successful appeal.

“We are glad that justice has finally been achieved for these band members who had been wrongly vilified by the media and nationalism,” it said.
“There never was an intent to cause offence.”

One might ask what on Earth were they marching for if not to ‘cause offence‘ (in the subjective sense) on 12th July by their celebration of the lifting of the siege of Londonderry? To say that there was ‘no intent to cause offence‘ appears to concede that offence was caused, rather than taken or even perhaps rejoiced in as an opportunity to throw the legal machinery of the State at the band.

Why not say that this legislation is oppressive, tyrannical and makes the law itself a politicised weapon, a sword, not a shield?

To me as an Englishman, the whole shebang seems utterly alien, the intolerance and fanaticism on both poles of the Ulster divide mark them as having more in common with each other than with insipid, fundamentally apolitical England. Whether or not that is a good thing for Northern Ireland, or for England, may in the long run be another matter.