Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
- Vote for Cheese, Get Chalk
- It’s a Silly Overclass
- Europe Flourishing Without Britain
- Forgetting Yugoslavia
Vote for Cheese, Get Chalk
“Imagine for a moment that a [US] presidential candidate made this speech:
“My fellow Americans, I’m here today to tell you about my economic plan. Each year, I will require every middle-class family across this great country to write a check. We will then pool the money and distribute it to the richest Americans among us — the top 1 percent of earners, who, because of their talent, virtue and success, deserve even more money.
“The exact size of the checks will depend on a family’s income, but a typical middle-class household will hand over $15,000 each year. This plan, I promise all of you, will create the greatest version of America that has ever existed.
“You would consider that proposal pretty radical, wouldn’t you? Politically crazy. Destructive, even. Well, I’ve just described the actual changes in the American economy since the 1970s.”[A]
That’s from an Opinion piece in the New York Times. It points out that the ‘radical’ notion of a wealth tax from the US Democrats is simply a return to what was normal before Reagan and Thatcher and the upsurge of New Right ideas. Part of a wider movement, some of it socialist and some not. Many people have realised that the current system is hurting US values.
Some people, of course, learn nothing and forget nothing. Britain’s Economist magazine remains true to its 1840s origins, when it insisted that Free Trade was vastly more important than millions of Irish starving to death. Their Official History endorsed this view.[B] It is beyond them to notice that millions of angry Irish Catholic survivors played a big role in bringing down the British Empire. The USA, though long prejudiced against them, did in the end incorporate them. And was enormously stronger because of this. But now it is the US that inflicts misery to uphold a right-wing ideology.
Moves to revive tax-and-spend are being denounced as socialist and extremist, and even as communist. Standard right-wing tactics – you’ll be surprised to learn that singer Frank Sinatra was denounced as a communist in his early and more radical years.[C] The FBI investigated this, along with gangster links that were real enough. Sinatra and his politically-active mother were in their day mild progressives within the US Democrats, but as he aged he switched to supporting Reagan. I’d suppose that he was one of many who got offended when their progressive ideas became the norm and other much more radical ideas pushed towards normality. One of many who chose just the wrong answer, helping break up the pattern of secure well-paid jobs which had been the actual basis for functional US conservatism.
What we have now is dysfunctional US conservatism. Capitalism without powerful cultural and state-imposed limits is nihilistic, just as Marx and Engels said. The Western system has survived as long as it has, because there used to be a Ruling Class that was nicely distanced from commerce and thought about long-term survival That has now faded.
It’s a Silly Overclass
Modern business people mostly know very little about the world outside of their own business. When they have to think about it, they look to experts. But which experts?
Business people – overwhelmingly business men in those days – were strongly against the 1930s New Deal. They’d not have done anything about Japan’s brutal conquest of China, if Japan’s brave but foolish rulers had not been goaded by Roosevelt into attacking the USA. And they’d have done nothing about Nazism if Hitler had not shown lousy judgement and declared war on them, when there was a sporting chance it might have remained a separate US-Japan war. The Soviet Union and Japan remained at peace till almost the end, which helped them both at the expense of both the West and Nazism.
The World War created a boom in the US economy – state spending for warfare was and is acceptable to most business people. The Military-Industrial Complex that Eisenhower denounced was the best available system in a society where ordinary people still had fantasies of independent small production as the norm. No one anywhere has come up with a political-economic package that truly preserves independent small production as the norm: many attempts to do so have flopped completely. Reagan and his heirs sounded as if this was their aim, and possibly it was: but the actuality of markets free from state control has always favoured Big Business.
The continuation of the wartime boom through to the mid-1970s is generally recognised as unusual.[D] Ayn Rand in her famous 1957 book Atlas Shrugged pretended it wasn’t happening and that the USA under intensive state interventionism was falling into decay. Surprisingly, she got a large following based on this rubbish: ideology can easily override a small thing like facts. And when the system ran into trouble, the New Right tried pretending it had never actually happened. Tried to deny that the Soviet economy had been a huge success from the 1930s to 1960s.
The Cold War is the probable reason that the boom lasted as long as it did. Business people feared to lose everything, so they tolerated Trade Union power and social radicalism as lesser evils. But that lasted only for as long as the Soviet Union was there as a credible rival.
Opposition did ensure that social radicalism from the 1960s never translated into a solid new system of Social Morality that upheld fairness and honesty and was relaxed about sex. Instead, you could be relaxed about sex because the world was full of corruption, and it all got along nicely regardless. I was recently reminded of this by a cop-comedy film called Freebie and the Bean, which is very relaxed about sex, crime and corruption. What stuck in my memory was a film-prop sex cinema with a film entitled ‘Sex is Revolting’.[E] Good jokes work because they are close to reality, and that was indeed typical of the new balance. The world is sleezy but it works and we live with it. An attitude that has since darkened into much gloomier visions, but without people learning the right lessons.
This was not what the elite wanted. But the decline of the traditional ruling class meant that a short-termist business elite dominated. Would-be right-wing pundits had to conform to their values, if they wanted to succeed. Give meaningless reassurance on most issues, including Climate Change, when the system was actually self-destructing.
David Cameron was exactly that. The elite wanted ‘marriage equality’ for its gay members, so he assured them that it was a conservative measure. I ridiculed this at the time, not being against gay marriage but predicting it would be part of a much more massive restructuring of sex, reproduction and relationships. And asking why we were not also legalising polygamy and polyandry, which have much stronger historic justification. I’d expect such a demand to surface eventually, but for now the main dispute is over transsexuals and whether women are obliged to accept them as women.
Cameron also messed up by agreeing to a referendum on leaving the European Union. It eased his problems with his own party, but an authentic conservative would have paid the price and avoided a move that is massively self-destructive.
He also missed the chance to kill it by demanding that ‘Leave’ get at least 40% of the Registered Voters. That prevented a Scottish Assembly in the 1979 vote, where ‘Yes’ got a majority but only 32.9% of the registered electorate. There were complaints ahead of the vote that registered voters who had died would count as having voted ‘No’. But the result showed this would have made no difference, unless one thought there were about 270,000 deceased ‘Yes’ voters as well as 1,230,937 living ones. This could anyway have been easily answered, by getting some neutral experts to make an estimate of the number of dead to get the correct threshold.
The Scottish Assembly happened anyway, but mostly because Scots saw government remain in the hands of parties who valued the prosperous south-east ahead of them. And because it was more favoured by the young. Brexit is based on the old feeling nostalgic for a lost world of Britain as a global power. Imposing this fantasy on the young, who don’t remember it and will pay the price for Brexit.
I admit I never thought of a 40% threshold ahead of the vote, which I expected to end with a ‘Remain’ victory. But it was not my job. It is astonishing that none of the ruling elite thought of a 40% threshold, which was reached only in England and not for the UK as a whole.
But these are shallow people. They think in sound-bites. Majority victory is seen as unbreakable, even though they also try to trick people out of using it effectively.
Europe Flourishing Without Britain
Assuming Brexit happens, it will be terrible for England. And is likely to detach Scotland from the United Kingdom. Possibly Northern Ireland also, and a loose confederation linking it with both Scotland and the Irish Republic might be a halfway house. But for Continental Europe, it has strengthened feelings of unity
Other ‘Exiteers’ must be put off by the fact that not even Britain can get the rules bent very much. A major reason for the strong stand – weakness might have caused a wave of further secessions.
As things are, the merits of unity are being remembered.
“You see, we don’t talk often enough — or at all, really, in the Anglo world — about the European miracle. But what Europe accomplished was nothing short of a modern miracle. In 1950, it was utterly ruined, destroyed, a smoking wreck. By 1970, it was rebuilt. By 1990, it had raced ahead of America and Britain — its middle class healthier, happier, longer-lived. By 2000, it had achieved the highest living standards of all — by a very long way. Think about that. Just fifty years.
“Would anyone have predicted that in the shadow of the great war? They didn’t. Mostly, Europe was written off as a failure, a has-been, laughed at, scorned. And yet it rose from the ashes to become history’s most successful society, ever, period. Again — that’s not my subjective judgment. Europeans are richer, happier, healthier, etcetera, on average, than anyone else. Sure, of course there are poor parts of Europe — Europe is not some kind of magical fantasyland. We don’t live in one, and we never will. But focusing only on its downsides —as our foolish Anglo thinkers want us to do — we fail to see the truth of the miracle.”[F]
Nazism rose to power, because of the greed and foolishness that the New Right partly revived in the 1980s. One German explained it thus:
“Until his death in the early 1990s, my grandad was a committed Nazi. Most of his elder brothers died in one night … in the first world war. In a bitterly traumatised interwar Germany, defined by hatred against foreigners, Jews and democracy as well as delusions of national grandeur, he was unemployed for most of the 1920s. He joined the Nazi party early, and volunteered to fight in 1940…
“We believe he took part in the September 1941 Babi Yar massacre, in which more than 33,000 Jewish inhabitants of Kiev were shot. Until his death he would rant about Jews, the French and the perfidious Albion. He never left the country again and he’d be in a near panic when coming close to a border.
“My maternal grandfather, meanwhile, was a teacher from Duisburg. When he went to war he left his wife, two children, his camera, his library and all hope of survival behind. He survived three years on the eastern front but never played music again, never took up photography again. He was a broken man. While he was away, my grandmother remained in Duisburg. She was ‘bombed out’ three times, meaning that her flat or house got a direct hit. Until her death, the sound of sirens would send her into a panic.”[G]
The European Union has successfully kept peace for itself. Tragically caused wars in both Former Yugoslavia and Ukraine, by selfishly backing the forces they most liked. But both those outbreaks of war happened after a long period of peace between the rival communities. Showed that existing peace is no protection against fresh war. Peace lasts, only if it has the correct political structures.
UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt was rightly mocked for supposing that Slovenia had been a ‘Soviet vassal state’. But the wider lesson was lost.
For more than four decades, the Yugoslav Communists kept the peace between a bunch of similar but distinct South Slav nations that had been at war in the past. Serbs claiming Bosnia started World War One by assassinating the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne. Suspicions of official sponsorship were very reasonable, given that the boss of the Serb security services had organised the murder of a previous Serb monarch, along with his wife, to replace them with a rival dynasty more hostile to Austria-Hungary. A demand for a proper investigation was the key demand that Serbia rejected. Russia and France and the British Empire went to war on the claim that it was their right to have refused it. Books mostly gloss over the issue.
In World War Two, Croatia was a very willing ally of Nazi Germany. Whereas most Nazi allies either handed over their Jews for supposed resettlement or else protected them, Croats were happy to kill them. And also killed vast numbers of Serbs, their main target.
Tito, with a Croat father and a Slovene mother, tried to revive the dream of Yugoslavia, which between the wars had been functionally a Serb dominion. He included majority-Serb areas within a newly defined Croatia. And also unwisely copied the Soviet Union in giving these states a right of secession, without any provision for minorities.
The European Union was naïve and greedy, when it came to absorbing this volatile mix while it was losing confidence in Yugoslavia’s anti-Soviet socialism. Free elections produced nationalists and secessionist ruling parties. Not a big problem in Slovenia, rich and with only tiny ethnic minorities. But Croatia elected a party identifying with the pro-Nazi Croat state, similar to what later happened in Ukraine. Worse, its leader was Franjo Tudjman, who had been listed as a denialist of the mass killing of Jews by Deborah Lipstadt. She also listed David Irving, who unwisely sued her and lost. Tudjman ignored her, and also very conveniently died in 1999, before it might have become a big issue.
It should have been expected that the rival nationalities might fight again, if left without outside controls. The European Union could have imposed these, since all of them wanted membership. Instead it was left to find its own balance, and that balance was a series of appalling wars.
And top Tories know nothing of this. Nor, indeed, do most leftists.
“So far 2019 has set 35 records for heat and 2 for cold…
“Mathematical models predict that in a stable climate, the number of hot and cold records should be equal, and new records occur less frequently over time.
“In 2018, 430 stations worldwide saw all-time high temperatures and 40 saw all-time lows.”[H]
As of late February, a gyrating Jet Stream brought unusual cold weather to North America, and now also for the Balkans and beyond, with snow in Libya.[I] The up-loop of this Jet Stream had brought unusually mild air to Britain, though just for now.
Feed the Rich
“Only a small, sad nation robs its people of arts and culture…
“Museums, libraries and arts festivals increasingly hollowed out by cash-strapped councils. The maths is simple: as years of austerity have left local authorities struggling to cover even their legal duties, such as social care and child protection, a growing number of so-called nonessential services such as art and culture are cut.”[J]
The ‘centrist’ defectors from Labour want more of the same, and do not dare refuse the greedy demands of the very rich. Likewise the three Tories who have joined them.
Kill Off the Old
“More than 50,000 people have died waiting for care while ministers dither over long-awaited plans to overhaul the funding of social care, a charity has claimed.
“Age UK estimated that, in England, 54,000 people – or 77 a day – have died while waiting for a care package in the 700 days since the government first said in March 2017 it would publish its social care green paper, which has since been delayed several times.”
Uncontrolled Social Media
“Let them hate me, so long as they make money for me”.
I’ve not heard any of the Social Media billionaires say this. Unlike Roman Emperor Tiberias, who was content to be hated so long as he was also feared, they do need to worry about public opinion. And no longer so scared of socialism, which has been the only force that ever really curbed such people. But given the ineffective controls we have seen so far, they might well be thinking it.
Hungary Values Itself
I recently saw a long moan in The Guardian about the European Union failing to curb a Hungarian government committed to Illiberal Democracy.[K]
At the last election, the ruling party got 49% of the votes. The main opposition with 19% is Jobbik, much further to the right and more racist.[L]
It is a very consistent left-liberal view. People must have elections with mutli-party choices. But if they make the ‘wrong’ choice, they must be thwarted.
In a similar spirit, there is left-liberal outrage at a plan to give tax advantages to mothers with four or more children. A woman has a right to do what she likes with her own body, but not if liberal opinion disapproves of it.
Previous Newsnotes at the Labour Affairs website, https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/past-issues/. Also https://longrevolution.wordpress.com/newsnotes-historic/. I blog every month or so or so at https://gwydionmw.quora.com/, and tweet at @GwydionMW.
[B] https://gwydionwilliams.com/50-new-right-ideas/430-2/, Economical With The Irish
[C] See for instance https://indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow/great-american-songbook-blacklist/
[I] https://www.libyaherald.com/2019/02/24/cold-snap-hits-western-region/, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10215785719253879&set=pcb.10215785726414058&type=3&theater