By Gwydion M. Williams
The standard Anglo view of the two World Wars was used to justify the Second Gulf War. It wasn’t true. Fascism and Hitler flourished for many years with the encouragement of Britain’s National Government. First published in the winter of 2004, at a time when the invasion of Iraq seemed to have been a big success.
Short of having Madonna Ciccone do a song-and-dance version, there was little more that the US and Britain could have done to ‘sex up’ the data they had on Weapons of Mass Destruction. I was not surprised: I’d figured before the war that Iraq was being attacked because the US knew they had little or nothing that they could send beyond their own borders. Bush had to be sure that Iraq could not kill a few hundred Israelis with missiles—I doubt Bush cares about their lives as such, but it would lose him the small but highly useful Jewish-Republican vote. The same could have been true under Bush Senior back in 1991: maybe the apparant threat to Israel and the actual missiles fired saved Saddam in First Gulf War.
In 2003, anyone looking at the facts would know that Saddam was without missiles and unable to hit Israel again. The useful term ‘weapons of mass destruction’ allows a hand-thrown gas grenade to be bracketed with a nuclear missile. Saddam had openly used poison gas for decades, and it was only when the West wanted to dump him that this became a peril to world peace.
I had kept an open mind as to whether Saddam had kept some illicit materials: he obviously could not have much. Saddam was playing for survival and was not a threat even to his immediate neighbours, never mind nuclear-armed superpowers. The case does not need to be repeated in detail: these days the mainstream media are full of accounts as to how dossiers full of rubbish were presented as solid facts.
What you don’t get from the mainstream media—owned and run by business interests doing very well in the post-Thatcher world—is that deceptions are nothing new. It’s the break-down of deference and trust that makes official lying a bigger issue than it used to be.
President Eisenhower said that the USA wasn’t sending high-flying U2 spy planes over other people’s sovereign territory, and he lied. Adlai Stephenson in October 1962 was telling the truth about Russian missiles in Cuba (though he failed to explain why they were worse than the US missiles in Turkey). But a year earlier, he had offering the UN similar ‘proof’ of the USA’s non-involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion, all of it forged. As for John F. Kennedy, the last liberal to be a world statesman, even his best friends wouldn’t call him honest.
It’s a very consistent pattern. President Johnson persuaded the US Congress that American ships had been attacked by the North Vietnamese in the Tonkin Gulf, and he lied. President Nixon told so many lies that everyone lost track, and his character was well known to the rich men who funded him in his career from California to the White House. Jimmy Carter tried honesty, the voters didn’t like him and blamed him for the loss of Iran. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bush Senior led governments of self-righteous liars, with Colonel Oliver North just the most blatant case.
When ‘Contragate’ became an issue, Reagan suffered an unexpected loss of memory about key issues: When Bush Senior succeeded him as President, he chose a Vice-President who was honest but embarrassingly inept. He must have known that the strict Constitutional rules meant that this frighteningly incompetent leader would become President if Bush Senior been impeached or forced to resign. The same would have been true had Bush died early, of course—did Bush Senior really care?
In the First Gulf War, President Bush circulated a story about Iraq stealing incubators from Kuwaiti babies, and it was a lie. Meantime Saudi Arabia was persuaded to let in US troops after being told that Iraq was massing troops on their border, and this too was a lie. None of this mattered much to US voters, it was the economy that lost him the 1992 election.
President Clinton managed to be all things to all men (not to mention Monica Lewinski). His enemies decided that the best choice of Independent Prosecutor was a committed Republican who was also a long-standing personal enemy. Clinton survived impeachment because the Democrats then controlled Congress: nothing better had been found than weak evidence of routine corruption, but facts were hardly the issue.
Clinton also presided benignly over a massive stock-market bubble, a racket in which the nominal price of shares on the stock-market was pumped up to about double the post-bubble price. This means that gigantic amounts of wealth were transferred from pension funds and small investors to super-rich speculators. The assumption was that the bulk of the US population would swallow this and not seriously protest. Both parties encourage such an attitude: there are no limits on spending on US elections, so rich people as a group get their interests well served, far better served than in Britain.
September 11th 2001 was predictable consequence of the Western habit of disrupting other societies and demanding that they conform to Western standards. In the era of European empires, it was a process that the USA participated in without having a colonial empire in the strict sense of the term. And it was something which they chose to keep in being after 1991.
We are supposed to criticise just those parts of the global conflict that harm US interests. Nearly 3000 died in New York, at least 3000 died in the other 9/11, the US sponsored coup in Chile. Vastly more than 3000 have died in Iraq over the years, and in other places where the USA has created chaos with its superpower-terrorism.
The issues were and are:
(a) Imposing a particular set of economic values on everyone—called ‘free’ but with plenty of rules.
(b) Imposing their current cultural values on everyone: things that have been eternally true since the 1960s.
(b) Keeping the Anglo heartlands supreme.
This has been true of the US throughout the modern era; Clinton was as much part of it as Bush. He might even have served it better: it’s a safe bet that extremism in almost any cause will ruin it.
The USA has lost a lot of its reputation with the Iraq War. A reputation that I never thought it deserved. But it took the Second Gulf War and the non-discovery of Weapons of Mass Destruction before large number of former admirers realise that Bush’s people lie routinely. They still don’t seem to understand that almost all US politicians lie routinely.
We are now told that Bush Junior was out to get Saddam all along, and used 9/11 as a pretext. He was persuaded to settle Afghanistan first, since that was where al-Qaeda actually was. But when this went well, a second Gulf War was arranged, to finish off Saddam Hussein. And it was a war based on untruth, undertaken with the same can-do attitude that got the US into Vietnam
Saddam was a liar, a butcher and a tyrant, obviously. But he was also a force for coherence in a state that the British imperial ruling class had assembled from incompatible parts. The Middle East before the Great War had a home-grown coherence in the shape of the Ottoman Empire, which was modernising under the Young Turks. The Ottoman Empire was kept coherent by the traditional authority of the Sultan, also seen as Caliph or Supreme Religious Authority by a majority of Muslims. This was one of three ways in which a traditional society can successfully modernise, the other two being prolonged foreign rule and a home-grown authoritarian system.
Turkey was lucky enough to be modernised by Kemal Ataturk, with the West disapproving but never actually invading after the Greek defeat in Asia Minor. Saddam tried to be another Ataturk, and seemed to be succeeding. But he got caught by the ending of the Cold War and the ignorant belief of the New Right that they could remake the world in their own image.
Even most anti-war protestors fell for the notion that Iraq without Saddam would find coherence as a modern democracy. Maybe they still believe it, despite the non-emergence of order and democracy under US occupation. But Iraq is a mix of peoples with no more common culture than a random mix of Swedes, Albanians and Belgians would have. And with an added burden of past conflicts and hatred.
A successful democracy requires a demos, a coherent identity imposed on the whole society. Saddam was doing this for Iraq: with Saddam gone, only hard-line Islamic parties based on an un-Westernised majority could serve as a cohesive force. A clear majority of the population are Shia Arabs and out to assert themselves against the Sunni Arabs who were the core of Saddam’s support.
The USA does not understand how a coherent society gets put together. In their own history, coherence seemed to happen spontaneously in the American War of Independence. But this was possible because the English colonies had established systems of self-government and self-rule; a framework created by Britain and that everyone had understood and accepted over several generations. The US Constitution is basically the British system for North America, with State Governors elected rather than appointed from London and with a Federal Government taking over from the British Empire. The essentials have never changed—Grand Juries to pre-try a serious case are an 18th century oddity that Britain later discarded, Britain and the US retain the blatantly unfair first-past-the-post electoral system because that was the custom of a system established in mediaeval times by Simon de Montfort. The solid foundations of US life were a heritage from England, something painfully built up over the centuries, within a traditional and stable framework of politics. And yet this English system had been created amidst violence and civil war in the 16th and 17th century, was still under challenge in the 18th century and never did manage to incorporate the Catholics of Ireland.
Where the various peoples of a territory have not been hammered into a demos, or where one ethnic group is not big enough to dominate, then Western-style democracy splits the society into its component parts. This has happened in most of Africa. The big exception has been South Africa, where the ANC got its political education from Communists and has functioned as a successful one-party state without the need to abolish Western formalities. No such structure exists in Iraq, where the Sunni Arabs have traditionally ruled but a majority of the inhabitants are Shiite Arabs. Shiites would probably seek a milder version of Iran’s Islamic system if they were allowed a truly free choice.
The analogy of the war against European Fascism is repeatedly drawn. But Fascism was a new development within societies that had some experience of parliamentary government. Hitler and Mussolini both came to power within constitutional and democratic systems that duly chose to abolish themselves. When the dictators fell, there was a network of existing home-grown politicians who could re-start a system that was already known to most people.
It is also not true that the majority of politicians in Britain and America set out to wage war on Fascism and Dictatorship. The two Anglo nations waged war on Germany in 1939 or 1941, for much the same reasons as they had gone to war with Constitutional-Monarchist Germany in 1914 or 1917. Germany before the Great War was more democratic than Britain, which did not extend the vote to all adult males in the British Isles until 1917, and never considered extending it to the Empire with its non-White majority. Germany and Austria-Hungary included their various subject peoples in a developing democracy, and were no more anti-Jewish than the USA in that era. Yet Britain was allied with Tsarist Russia, still autocratic and viciously hostile to Jews.
Britain’s own historic record was far from democratic. Up until 1832, the peers and a minority of the gentry had maybe 50% of the effective power. After reform they had rather less, a broader middle-class stratum was dominant, the top one-seventh of the society. But the power of this well-to-do middle-class did not mean the they wished as a class to displace or replace the gentry and aristocrats. Individuals or individual families might rise, and gentry status was the aspiration of a vastly larger number of middle-class families than could ever actually achieve it. But the middle classes also trusted the gentry rather more than they trusted their own kind, which was an entirely sound judgement. The gentry accepted that they should be generous and responsible rather than grabbing whatever they could.
In 19th century Britain, power was a complex matter. The personality of monarchs mattered a lot. George III and George IV assumed that they had a right to give orders and see them obeyed. They were limited only by the need to get agreement on some matters from the Commons and Lords, but a Monarch had vastly more influence than anyone else. This was more true than it had been in the early 18th century: Pitt the Elder could flourish despite the disapproval of George II, but no one managed it for long under George III, and Pitt the Younger was very much George III’s creation. The same was true of the Regency and Reign of George IV.
The British Monarchy only became nominal when the teenage Victoria came to the throne. Things might have gone differently if George IV’s daughter Charlotte had lived longer and had become Queen as a mature woman with a good grasp of politics. Princess Charlotte’s early death probably changed history.
Britain in 1914 was doubtfully democratic at home, autocratic and authoritatiran in the Empire. White colonies had some self-government, but non-whites were ruled by District Officers churned out by the English Public School system. There was a lot of silly imitation of Rome, but the governing class of the British Empire missed one highly effective Roman habit; Rome’s willingness to incorporate the local ruling classes if they would accept Roman culture. There were Britons who wanted to do this for the ruling classes of their non-white subjects, especially in India. But there were never enough of them, and so the Empire fell.
The USA’s global order is more like the Roman Empire than Britain’s Empire ever was. Local elites are signed up wherever possible, so long as they accept US values. But, in other ways, it has been a continuation of Britain’s global mission: a fitting task for a state that was assembled out of a collection of hived-off British colonies.
Most Europeans in 1914 assumed they were on a trip to ‘The Future’, a place of peace and high technology, but also one in which Europeans would remain dominant and non-European cultures would vanish. At the same time, there was also a belief that one breed of European must inevitably crush or dominate the rest. The predominant middle-class or Liberal view was rule or be ruled, conquer or be conquered, exterminate or be exterminated.
Britain’s two great wars in the 20th century were the death-throes of the British Empire. Britain had been the global superpower for the previous two centuries, a position won in 1759 and preserved thanks to early industrialisation. But Britain had lost its industrial dominance in the last third of the 19th century; in part because of a naïve belief in Free Trade, in part because not enough was spent on education and training. As the 20th century began, Germany was overtaking Britain economically. The USA was also growing fast and extending its interests around the world.
Rather than accept that the world had changed, the governing class got Britain involved in a ruinous war with Germany in 1914-18. Having won at enormous cost, they then refused to let Germany be dismantled, because they suddenly saw France as too strong in the new Europe that they had made.
There were few real issue of principle involved in the Great War, and definitely not the principles which are now invoked. The governments of Britain, France, Germany and Austria-Hungary as existing in 1914 had vastly more in common with each other than they had with the governments that would be ruling those territories 20 years later, or 40 years later. Britain and France were also much closer in cultural values to Germany and Austria-Hungary than to their ally, Tsarist Russia.
A useful book on the build-up to war is How The First World War Began, by Edward E. McCullough. It notes how Germany missed its best chance to smash Russia, the crisis of 1905 when Tsarist Russia had lost a war with Japan and was also at odds with Britain. A power plotting world domination would not have missed such a chance, but Germany had no such aim, just a hazy desire for more of what they already had.
All of the powers that fought the Great War were expansionist. All of them had been building up their armies and navies. Most European powers were expanding their colonies, pushing into new areas that were still independent. This included the joint French and Spanish conquest of Morocco, whereas Germany would have preferred Morocco to stay independent.
Germany acquired far less territory in the period 1871 to 1914 that the additional conquests of the British Empire in the same period. Germans did nothing comparable to Italy’s failed invasion of Ethiopia in 1896, or Italy’s successful take-over of Libya in 1911. There was no German equivalent of Britain’s invasion of Tibet in 1904, which had the long-term aim of winning a huge chunk of Tibet for the British Indian Empire.
Meantime the USA was authentically anti-Imperialist, at least for white-on-white imperialism. At the Versailles “peace” conference, they helped break up existing empires within Europe. This was a virtual guarantee for another war, since Versailles required overlapping nationalities to suddenly turn into stable nation states. The Versailles “peacemakers” also expected the Germans to be content with borders that ignored ethnic-German majorities in parts of the dismembered empires.
The US was unduly influenced by ethnic blocks from Eastern Europe. People who had fled to the New World after failed nationalist revolts kept alive the idea of their own nation-state back home. None of these states were a big success: most lapsed into some sort of authoritarian rule and several—most notably Hungary—were willing allies of Hitler in World War Two.
After World War Two, the US had learned something, though not enough. Empires based on whites dominating non-whites were still acceptable: they showed this by helping the Dutch back into Indonesia and the French back into Indochina. Racial equality was formally endorsed, but not actually believed in. At Versailles things had been even worse; the Japanese were insulted by a refusal to officially endorse racial equality and hence turned against a Liberalism that proved to be for whites only. This was also the basis for the League of Nations, which never had the UN’s commitments to the ending of racism and discrimination.
The USA at Versailles had also failed to see the usefulness of monarchies as an element of stability in political systems very different from their own—Churchill complained about their anti-monarchical sentiment that stopped dynasties from being established, and also stopped them being retained in Germany.
Italian Fascism was able to dismiss Mussolini, because Italy remained a monarchy and he was never Head of State. In Germany, Hitler was bound to become Head of State once he consolidated his power. He would probably never have risen to such power had there still been a German Kaiser. He could definitely have been removed much more quickly when the war turned against Germany.
In the 1930s, the USA was staying out of European affairs, while the British Empire played for survival as the world’s dominant military and political power. Britain’s survival as a global superpower was not then a lost cause; there were some definite successes. In Cowboy Diplomacy, I detailed how Britain between 1938 and 1940 won over anti-Jewish Poland to the Allied cause. They hoped to do the same with Fascist Italy, in the same way as Italy had joined them in the Great War. Had this happened, Fascism might have remained a ‘respectable’ ideology, as it was to most Britons up until World War Two. But Mussolini joined Hitler’s war when it became clear that France was collapsing. Like Saddam in 1990, Mussolini was retrospectively declared to have always been evil. By contrast, the rather similar regime in Poland was classified as always virtuous, though this did not save them from being included in the Soviet zone after World War Two.
It should be noted that, in pre-war Poland, Jews were seen as foreign rather than hostile. Polish objections to Jews were mostly religious and cultural. The aim was to assimilate Jews, not to exclude them, let alone wipe them out. Having been recreated as a nation at Versailles, Poland had to emphasise its reasons for existence: Slavonic as distinct from German, and Roman Catholic in contrast to Orthodox Christian. But, up until 1941, when mass extermination began under German rule, the difference between anti-Jewish Poland and anti-Jewish Germany had not seemed so critical. Both Poland and Nazi Germany were treated by a majority of Britons as potential allies in an anti-Soviet war. When Hitler offended, Poland was the obvious counterweight and Poland’s refusal to let in Jews with valid Polish passports was not a big issue. Churchill and others spoke of saving ‘Christian Civilisation’; in those days there was very little concession to other cultures.
Hitler was redefined as evil by the British media, only after Chamberlain had decided that Britain’s best interests required that he be stopped. My article ‘Cowboy Diplomacy’ showed how the Encyclopaedia Britannica Yearbook 1939, a wholly respectable and mainstream British source, showed a politeness towards Hitler that would soon become unthinkable. Nothing much was done when Germany stripped German Jews of their civil rights, or when the Nazis dumped Jews with Polish nationality back into Poland, which refused to accept them.
The actual occasion for war was slightly baffling: Britain and France had agreed at Munich that Czechoslovakia could be humiliated and stripped of the borders that it had been given at Versailles. When further land was taken away by other neighbouring states, this was not Britain’s concern. But when the minority Slovaks seceded and when Germany established a ‘protectorate’ over the Czech lands, this was seen as making war inevitable. Britain and France generated a war by means of dishonest offers to Poland, offering to support them against Hitler’s relatively modest demands for a recovery of ethnic-German Danzig. They must have known that Poland would not last long, even though the sudden collapse surprised everyone.
Czechoslovakia after the Munich Agreement was functionally a Germany possession. But Britain regarded it as a diminished national states, at least in appearance—appearances were very important in those days. It is bizarre that National-Socialist Germany and National-Government Britain should have quarrelled because of Hitler’s decision to allow the Slovaks to secede and to drop the pretence of an independent Czech state. But as I detailed in Cowboy Diplomacy, the Germans after Munich decided that they needn’t consult Britain or France any more about Eastern Europe. Britain, at least, would not concede that much without a fight.
The German take-over of the remnants of Czechoslovakia started a chain reaction that led to an Anglo-German war. It was rather stupid of them both: Chamberlain and Hitler agreed on far more matters than they disagreed. But neither man read the other correctly. Chamberlain’s idea of a guarantee to Poland may have been seen as a way of curbing Hitler while letting him still invade the Soviet Union. Hitler could have found another path to attack Soviet territory, probably through Hungary and Romania. But this would have left him horribly vulnerable to pressure by Britain, France and Poland while he was bogged down in Russia’s vastness. Or he could have stopped, rested content with having completed Bismarck’s work and reversed much of what had been lost in the First World War. But Hitler had moved in less than 10 years from being leader of a minority party to being absolute ruler of an expanded Germany: Hitler saw no reason to be modest. If the standard ‘great-man’ theory of history was correct, then he was a Great Man and must not settle for second best.
The alliance of Poland with Britain and France seemed to have boxed Hitler in, put him in a position where he must mend fences with the Anglo-French interest before he was allowed to embark on his anti-Communist crusade. But to everyone’s surprise, Hitler then made a non-aggression treaty with the Soviet Union.
It may be significant that Chamberlain was only willing to go to war against Hitler for the brief period when Hitler had apparently given up his hostility to the Soviet Union. This too gets overlooked: it’s embarrassing to admit that there was a moment when mainstream British thinkers saw Hitler as soft on Communism and hoped to curb him with the help of the more solid Fascists of Italy:
“The invasion of Poland seems to have been made against the advice of Italy. It marked the weakening, or perhaps even the breaking, of the Berlin-Rome Axis. The German-Soviet pact also proved a bitter disillusionment to Hitler. It destroyed further any faith in his sincerity, because it was a complete reversal of his whole previous policy; for years he had been denouncing the Russian Communists as the worst enemies of mankind… Hitler appears to have been duped by Stalin… The Russian dictator took advantage of Hitler’s war with Poland, France and Germany to secure imperialist advantages for Russia.” (Entry for Germany, Encyclopaedia Britannica Book Of The Year 1940.)
Hitler and Stalin in fact strengthened each other at the expense of Britain, France and Poland. Hitler was probably planning to switch back to an alliance with Britain and France in the longer run. But then his generals gave him an unprecedented victory over France, achieving in 1940 what had been tried and failed in 1914. Having become effective Emperor of Europe, he saw no need to make peace with Britain before attacking Russia: he was even sanguine enough to declare war on the USA when the US-Japanese war began.
As for Stalin, I think Stalin expected Hitler to stop for a few years and consolidate his gains. People often see too much of themselves in others and fail to fully realise how different other people’s thinking can be. Stalin may not have understood how much Hitler was a believer in the Great Man mentality, the sort of stuff Carlyle pushed. The influence of Carlyle on the Nazis was much greater than that of Nietzsche; but, after 1945, it was safer to blame a Prussian philosopher than a Scottish thinker who had been hugely popular in Britain up until then. After his triumphs in 1938 and 1939, Hitler must have felt sure that he was an authentic Great Man and would succeed whatever he did.
If Hitler and Stalin misread each other—Hitler failing to realise that the Soviet Union possessed enormous power in depth—it is still true that both gained by the brief non-aggression pact. The Anglo-American viewpoint sees it as infamous, only because they were the losers, and they are very poor losers when it comes to competitions with foreigners. Britain had been all over the place politically since signing the Armistice with Germany in 1918: first using a blockade to impose surrender when the Germans thought they’d get the USA’s 14 Principles, then stopping France partitioning Germany, then helping Hitler to rise as an anti-Communist champion, then almost going to war over Czechoslovakia, then not going to war over Czechoslovakia, then giving a guarantee to Poland, then doing nothing while Poland was overrun, then refusing peace when France fell, then switching to a Soviet alliance in 1941. All of this was British, and thus forgivable. In the same spirit, British and American dealings with Stalin between 1941 and 1945 are eminently moral, but anything except hard-line anti-Communist hostility in the years before and after this is quite unforgivable.
It was all power politics. Anti-Fascism did not come into it, and nor did any other decent principle. What counted was a British desire to remain a global superpower, entitled to be consulted and conciliated before small countries were raped by bigger neighbours.
In the 1930s, Britain and France were broadly favourable of Fascism, as indeed were many Americans. The Bush dynasty’s rise to fame and power included a lot of connections with pro-Nazi Germans: but nothing very special, it would be hard to find any international business people who didn’t have such links. Meanwhile in Spain, General Franco had tried to overthrow a democratic government, leading a mix of Spanish Fascists and right-wing nationalists. But the balance of internal forces was against him, so he had to bring in Moroccan troops from Spain’s colonial empire. Even this was not enough, so he received massive German and Italian support, while Britain and France did nothing and pretended that foreign troops in Spain was a left-wing myth. Of course General Franco never challenged Anglo-American interests, and stood neutral in World War Two. So he was left to rule a broadly fascist system for the rest of his long life.
Churchill’s role was also much less glorious than is now supposed. He had issued warnings against Germany from early on, but mostly the wrong warnings about the wrong issues. Clive Ponting’s excellent biography describes how Germany’s air build-up was nothing like as menacing as Churchill claimed. The German airforce had not planned for ‘strategic bombing’ and could have done nothing much against Britain without the conquest of France, which gave German aircraft some nearby airfields to fly from. It was the politicians whom Churchill criticised who prepared the chains of radar stations and promoted the development of the Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft that won the Battle of Britain.
It’s moot if Britain would have been better off if Churchill had become Prime Minister in 1935, say. It was easy for him to call for rearmament from the back benches, without having to worry about how to pay for it. One matter he would have handled better from a British-Tory viewpoint; he’d have avoided irritating Mussolini over the invasion of Abyssinia, and perhaps avoided the German-Italian alliance. Yet the Italians were mostly a liability for the Germans, forcing them into secondary wars that delayed their invasion of the USSR.
It was Chamberlain, not Churchill, who got Britain into a war with Germany. But, by 1940, it was clear that Chamberlain had made a hopeless mess of everything. This did not necessarily mean that Churchill would take over: many leading Tories disliked him, even some leaders of the Labour Party would have preferred Lord Halifax. As it happened, Halifax made an historic blunder by letting Churchill become Prime Minister. Halifax failed to foresee how quickly and drastically France would collapse. He was therefore not in a position to make peace and accept defeat when he strongly wished to do so.
I am not anti-Churchill; he was the last stylishly powerful politician in British politics: the last grand flourish of the old ruling class. Having become Prime Minister in 1940, Churchill remembered trade union leader Ernest Bevin as a formidable foe, and so decided to bring him into the government. How many British politicians since Churchill would have had that sort of largeness of spirit? Who, since Churchill, could understand that opponents are not always enemies? Even when talking about the Nazis, while saying that he was sure they would be appalling if they won, a new ‘dark ages’, he never used the glib rhetoric about evil. Making evil banal would not have been acceptable to Churchill’s generation, where faith was taken seriously. It is a feature of our present era of ‘Coolhearts’, politicians of small spirit and shallow beliefs.
The difference between the generations of British politicians is obvious. But comparing fat old Winston to Queen Cleopatra of Ancient Egypt must seem bizarre. Yet they have in common the fact that both were grand and interesting personalities at the end of an era of power. (It’s also an historic fact that Cleopatra was interesting rather than beautiful. No doubt she was better-looking than Churchill, but the myth of fabulous beauty came much later.)
I retain a liking for Churchill, despite his monstrous aspects. Whereas I’ve never found anything grand or sympathetic in any of the leading Nazis, except marginally Goering and maybe Heydrich. Nothing hugely fascinating either—by my understanding of history, people can acquire huge power by accident, and this was true of the odd bunch of right-wing cranks who led the Nazi Party. But if Goering had been in charge of Germany—he was the designated successor, named as such by Hitler and also the most powerful in his own right—then there would have been no world war and German Jews would not have been expelled from Germany, let alone murdered.
Hitler was brilliant on some matters, especially in playing on the weaknesses of Britain and France. But he made at least five unforced errors that hugely damaged his own cause:
a) He openly broke up Czechoslovakia and annexed the Czech part, when he could easily have got the same degree of control in some less obvious form.
b) He let the British army retreat from Dunkirk, rather than doing all he could to overrun it.
c) He left an area of ambiguity on what peace terms he wanted from Britain. All he needed was that Britain stop fighting him. He was probably not intending to demand much more than that. But this was never made clear to ordinary Britons.
d) When invading the Soviet Union, he failed to create some sort of puppet nationalist governments that would have encouraged defectors. It would not have suited his long-term plans, of course, but discarding surplus allies when the main issue was won had never bothered him before. He even purged and slaughtered his own loyal Brownshirts when they got in his way.
e) When the Japanese-American War started, Hitler chose to make it part of the European war by declaring war on the USA. Roosevelt wanted a European war, obviously. But the US Constitution meant that he could not have declared war on Germany without Congress, where the notion was unpopular.
The Second World War was a series of accidents, because of which the powers that were intending to fight each other ended up as allies, fighting wars of destruction against powers that they could easily have been fighting alongside. Japan was guilty of massive brutality to fellow-Asians, as well as the highly-publicised brutality to Westerners. But Imperial Japan also showed that East Asians could fight Europeans on equal terms and even prove superior. Mahatma Gandhi was only the most prominent of many Asians who viewed Japan as more of an opportunity than a threat. There was also an odd lack of belligerence between Japan and the Soviet Union, with the two powers remaining at peace with each other till almost the end, till after Germany’s surrender.
The war against Japan was an encouragement to Asian nationalists and a disaster for the British Empire in Asia. The real choices after 1945 were to hand over to moderate nationalist or else face guerrilla warfare from left-wing insurgents, as happened in Malaya and in the decaying French colonial empire. With a Labour government also swept to power by English enthusiasm, Britain’s ruling class were wise enough to make no serious protest as they gave up their three-century-old venture into world empire.
Ever since then, Britain has been painfully dissolving back into a collection of European nations. Three centuries is not that long a time in world history, not if you set it against fourteen centuries of Englishness and a very much longer period of historic existence for Wales, Ireland and Scotland. But there was and is a kind of Imperial afterglow gained by being a booster for the USA’s global power.
Britain in the first six decades of the 20th century had failed to hold what it had. But it managed to pass on its mission of Anglo World Domination to its cultural-ethnic offshoot in the USA. Churchill’s mother was American and he found the transfer acceptable, if not his first choice. There was even talk of a merger in the immediate post-war period, though polls taken at the time showed even more antagonism to this than there was to the United-Europe path we actually took.
Meantime also the USA was shifting away from domination by the Anglophile East Coast elite. Democratisation of politics, when rich people dominate the media, has meant dumbing-down, power passing to the ‘New Backwoodsmen’, the ignorant interior of the continent, characters with very little understanding of the world outside of the USA.
President Ronald Reagan was not a genuine ‘New Backwoodsmen’, he was just a middling Hollywood actor turned politician and playing a part that he knew the audience would like. The same game was played by Bush Senior and now by ‘Little Man Bush’. Bush Junior is glad to appear as a ‘New Backwoodsmen’, playing Reagan’s game of appearing stupid, knowing that a lot of the voters are also stupid and will sympathise with the wrong people. You couldn’t openly sell a policy that would benefit millionaires at the expense of the mainstream, so you trick the mugs into thinking they were part of the privileged ‘Overclass’. Nothing really new, advertisers had been doing it for decades, but Reagan ran it well and was also lucky with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had been happening ever since their refusal to reform in the 1960s and 1970s.
Nineteen per cent of Americans believe that they are part of the richest 1%, with a further 20% thinking that they will get there eventually. (Economist, September 6th 2003). I’ve no idea how many of them believe themselves part of the richest 10%, the people who actually gained under Reagan. Maybe a majority of voters put themselves in the top 10%, which would explain why left-of-centre arguments have failed. It’s better to talk about the dominance of an Overclass of millionaires and multi-millionaires: even innumerate Americans have to know whether or not they qualify as millionaires.
It’s not surprising that Thatcher felt at home with the ‘New Backwoodsmen’, she was part of a similar but smaller process within Britain. The ending of the traditional Tory ‘magic circle’ for appointing leaders gave power to the bigoted rank-and-file, who are now leading Toryism into a long decline. The Tory party is easily the world’s oldest party of government, a political grouping that was either in charge or the main opposition continuously since it emerged as a faction in the last quarter of the 17th century. But the things they valued about Britain are weaker after Thatcher than they were before, and the party’s future looks uncertain.
What is more surprising is that the Labour Party has swallowed the rubbishy politics of the world’s only current Superpower. This wasn’t done in the 1950s, when British survival did depend very directly on US support. But British politicians in the 1950s felt they had something worth hanging on to. Whereas today’s ‘Coolhearts’ look only to immediate power.
The present New Labour leadership are in power because they followed the ‘Radish Road’: red outside, white inside. They posed as leftists when this was the path to power, helping to defeat the authentic moderates of the Social Democrats, who were eventually absorbed by the ineffective and small-minded Liberals. The ‘radishes’ seemed very red back then; they showed their real beliefs later on.
New Labour has capitulated to New Right ideas in the way the Social Democrats never did, become enthusiasts at a time when the Tories were feeling doubts.
Lots of people have noticed that New Labour have all along been Control Freaks, more interested in being in charge than in getting the job done well. This helped them flourish under a shoddy ideology and in incoherent times. Thus, when there was every chance for a peaceful world in the 1990s, Blair showed himself more interested in pursuing a vendetta against Saddam Hussein. Tough on peace, tough on the cause of peace.
What happened in the 1960s and 1970s was a breaking-down of old social forms, plus an attempt to build new ones—an incoherent and unfinished attempt. In the days of Harold Wilson’s leadership, Incomes Policy was an attempt to extend socialisation, allow wages to be based on merit rather than ‘muscle’. The same spirit was found in Barbara Castle’s In Place Of Strife, the attempt to extending law into trade union matters. It could and should have been the next stage of socialism. But most of the left were 100% against In Place Of Strife—some because they thought it wouldn’t work, but more because they feared it would succeed.
For all of the anti-Stalin rhetoric, the bulk of the ‘Hard Left’ in Britain didn’t want to let workers run their own lives without ideological direction and without a repudiation of the evils of capitalism.
The left’s fear of ‘corporatism’ and a belief that strife would make a better world paved the way for Thatcherism and the New Right, much more at home in a world of endless strife. When Thatcher got industrial peace, she looked for other battles to fight, when a genuine conservative would have calmed things down and tried to revive the past.
Of course the ideologies that caught the imagination of the 1960s generation reflected the growing collapse of sexual and family norms. (Norms established by the first farmers back in the Neolithic.) For most families, there was no longer family land or a shop or trade to be passed on to legitimate offspring. The new social and economic situation permitted and encouraged a sexual revolution that went far beyond the once-radical notions of the 1917 Bolsheviks.
The last quarter of the 20th century has seen socialist ideas about sex and family become the mainstream, even while there were setbacks on the economic front. It was maybe a bit unlikely that both transitions could happen at the same time and in the same society: both individual anarchic choice on sexual matters and an advance of social control for socialist ends.
Unlikely is not quite the same as impossible. Feasible left-wing economic and political options did exist in the 1960s and 1970s. We had the collapse of our Neolithic cultural heritage and a restoration of older hunter-gatherer norms. With ‘respectability’ now a very doubtful concept, the traditional working class and middle class began to come together into a merged ‘working mainstream’.
Some commentators call it a triumph of middle-class or bourgeois values. This is only true if you ignore every single cultural criterion that once defined British middle-class life. Today’s ‘middle class’ depend on paid work for their living, dress in a style that gives little clue as to who they are, accept sex before marriage as normal and do not put any particular barrier between themselves and the remnants of the traditional working class. The suit-and-tie, a cut-down version of gentlemanly costume that was the quintessence of middle-class respectability, is hardly ever worn outside of work. Even among office workers, it is increasingly being discarded.
Socialists did not expect a revival of capitalist economics, and therefore went on squabbling and denouncing other socialists while it was happening. But the New Right did not expect their revival of capitalist economics to be wholly compatible with a growth in classlessness. Nor with values that were once called ‘bohemian’ becoming mainstream. Whereas Nazism was successfully restoring 19th century values up until its military defeat, the New Right found that ‘natural’ social values were not so natural after all.
If the New Right were self-destructive, a majority of socialists were inept. As the traditional working class and middle class came together to form a merged ‘working mainstream’, there was some interest in Workers’ Control and greater social consensus. But many of the same people who are now New Labour were then against a modest advance that fell short of overthrowing Capitalism. A few—most notably Arthur Scargill—have learned nothing and forgotten nothing since they helped kill Workers’ Control in the 1970s. But most have moved on and forgotten that other alternatives even existed. The future is always inevitable, even if the thing that is inevitable is changed and replaced every five to ten years.
It was bad tactics that caused defeat, plus the deep social transitions that absorbed a lot of the society’s radical energies. The major changes have now happened, and people are discovering that individual anarchic choice on sexual matters creates a host of new difficulties. I certainly don’t expect to see a return to the pre-1960s situation, nor do I wish it. But we should stop pretending that ‘stable relationships’ can work in the same way as traditional family structures. Recognise that, if individuals are free, then the state has to do a great deal more. Recognise also that it will cost tax-money.
We’ve overdosed on freedom, and need to ease up a little. I’m not looking for a return to 1950s morality, definitely not. John Major’s feeble efforts were squelched easily enough, and it was only much later that we found out that it was ‘Back To Basics, Front To Edwina Currie’. But we must establish new limits on freedom in line with what we’re now willing to enforce.
A progressive rebuilding of society is only thinkable once you have dropped the liberal-enlightenment notion that people will spontaneously fall into a particular pattern, become a contented herd of The Individual where everyone thinks the same thing without coercion. Actual living people are not inclined to be a contented herd of The Individual, nor should they be asked to. We must keep alive a ‘right to be wrong’, the option for people to be different from the perfect modern model of a modern Individualist. But a ‘right to be wrong’ also means that some will go too far, damage others as well as themselves, so some coercion is necessary.
A society can only operate by a series of compromises between people with different viewpoints. There’s no need to say that these are all equally legitimate: just that most of them have a right to exist as part of the richness of life. Richness of life is quite different from material wealth, of course, and material wealth is also quite different from money. Standardised Individualism generates wealth but impoverishes life and can leave people prosperous but deeply unhappy.
The one point of continuity among New Labour’s ‘Radishes’ has been an inability to distinguish between compromise and betrayal. This attitude was publicised by Trotskyism, but it went wider than Trotskyites. Trotsky himself had been unscrupulously ingenious when in power, though you would never guess it from his writings. But after Lenin died, Trotsky must have decided that he didn’t have it in him to successfully manage a fast-changing society in a world that did not conform to the rules of pre-1914 Marxist textbooks. He backed away from power, became more concerned with posturing in the mirror of history than actually achieving anything. And in this respect, his followers have been wonderfully loyal to him. In all of its decades of existence, with all of the talented people the movement has absorbed, what has Trotskyism actually achieved?
My own past is Maoist rather than Trotskyist, and I think it helps. The concept of ‘radishes’ is one I’ve borrowed from Maoism, and I make no apology for it. Maoism is dead now, but it was an alternative path out of 1950s politics, something that could have happened if some local struggles had done better—the anti-Revisionist Communists of South Arabia, for instance, who did successfully kick the British out of Aden. Maoism and the prospect of global revolutionary war created a social climate in which the sex-drugs-pop radicals were almost cherished as a cosy alternative to serious youth-rebellion. ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ was a notion invented by Hollywood at a time when rebels with a cause threatened America’s smooth take-over of Western Europe and its disintegrating empires. In various new flavours, rebel-without-a-cause remains a commodity that can be sold to gullible teenagers generation after generation.
Mao’s view of his ‘Capitalist-Road’ rivals was vindicated by events, except that they have successfully continued the main aim of a strong and self-sufficient China, not so far capitulating to New Right ignorance. His alternative of politicised equality could have worked: China was doing well economically under Mao, despite periods of set-back and chaos caused by mixing social and economic objectives. China under Mao grew much faster than India or the USA, somewhat faster even than France and Germany in their best period. The further acceleration under Deng is partly a product of helpful policies by America: ‘free trade’ is not imposed on people strong enough to say no, any more than it is imposed on America’s own voters. Deng’s China was boosted by vastly greater access to foreign technology, plus an accepted role as a global producer of cheap industrial goods. Much the same as the successful development of Japan and the Asian ‘tiger’ economies, and very different from what the IMF and World Bank are now imposing on those states too weak to resist them.
If the highly talented individuals who constituted the various Trotskyist sects had been Maoist instead, history would have gone differently. Only Maoists ever came close to actual revolution, in South Arabia and Peru and a continuing rebellion in Nepal, which has successfully changed the old order even if it may never actually win. Meanwhile Trotskyism remains a considerable hold-out, but can only criticise the present from the viewpoint of the past. It resists new ideas, and new ideas are essential to make sense of events since the 1960s.
But Trotskyism is just one of whole school of don’t-take-yes-for-an-answer ideologies, most of which emerged in the 1960s. Trotskyism retains elements of realism from its Leninist past, rival creeds are even more self-destructive and ineffective. Feminism has managed to discredit itself while achieving most of its original demands. Something similar may be happening right now with the Ecological or Green movement.
The New Right won power almost by default, teaming up with existing power when the left was more keen to prove its purity by refusing to compromise. Considered intellectually, New Right policies are a crazy mix of libertarian and authoritarian ideas, they should be called ‘pork-barrel libertarians’. The state should not spend money on the poor and needy, because people ought to live without state spending or subsidy. The state should spend money on weapons, prisons and bailing out rich speculators, because it is ‘pragmatically’ necessary to have the state keeping the world in order.
As a set of ideas, this is obvious nonsense. But regarding the New Right ‘thinkers’ as minor hangers-on attached to a rising Overclass, it makes reasonable sense.
In the 1980s, the old governing class thought it was restoring its traditional and ‘natural’ control. The late Dennis Thatcher was typical of British business, which was substandard in the actual process of wealth creation, but very effective at blaming everyone except themselves. Their main success while Mrs Thatcher was fronting for right-wing policies was to manage to bring Western Europe down to British and American rates of growth. Britain and America did slightly worse in the era 1975 to 2000 than they had in 1950-1975, the era of Keynesianism or ‘Democratic Corporatism’. In the age of Democratic Corporatism, the original core of the European Community had overtaken Britain and were catching up fast with the USA. Since the 1970s, they have stopped closing the gap.
US growth figures get presented in a misleading way. The USA had huge unpopulated regions and can let in large numbers of immigrants. Taking the best and brightest from overseas means that the US economy grows faster than Europe—but growth per individual is much the same. Europe could not possibly let in vast new populations in the way the USA has done, nor run the massive trade deficits and budget deficits that the US gets away with. The notion of junking ‘Old Europe’ and becoming a flourishing Almost-America is a non-starter.
On this point, New Labour might be honestly mistaken. But they ought to be aware of the way in which US wealth since the 1970s has gone to the Overclass, a top stratum of millionaires, multi-millionaires and billionaires. Under Keynesianism, wealth had been distributed fairly between rich and poor, as part of a package which persuaded a well-organised and unionised working class that they did not need socialism. Once it was clear that they had rejected socialism, they were persuaded that they did not need trade unionism either. Having abandoned both socialism and trade unionism, the traditional white working class in the USA have been treated with contempt in a way that has simply not happened in Britain, despite Thatcher.
It is not, however, a restoration of the Old Order. The New Right probably thought it was, intended it to be so, but it was not. Traditional distinctions between working class, middle class and ruling class have been eroded, and there is no longer a ruling class worthy of the name. Instead you have a rich ‘Overclass’ that borrows its culture from all over. Below them are the Working Mainstream, people who may own some property but basically depend on paid work to live. And below the Working Mainstream you may have an ‘underclass’—something that has not yet developed in Britain, though we have the beginnings.
The ‘underclass’ in the USA a mixed bunch, mostly not involved in wealth production, but including both petty criminals and people who live quietly without harming others. Its defining feature is a detachment from the society, people who are poor but have no strong self-identity. Coherent groups of poor people do also still exist, they are widespread, numerous and interesting. But all of them are under attack from incoherent ‘market reforms’. They will eventually be de-socialised or ‘lumpenised’, unless the balance of the society is changed radically.
Like the ‘underclass’, the ‘Overclass’ are detached and short on self-identity. They possess no cultural hegemony: they imitate interesting strata of the poor and the working mainstream. They retain the ruling-class right to control other people’s work, but have dropped whatever was left of social responsibility. Meantime the Working Mainstream are mostly producing a definite item that other people need, rather than deriving their power and position from controlling the work or wealth of others. This including the unpaid work of raising the next generation, which however gets defined as a ‘burden’, hence the pressure to cut back on state-funded education and a reluctance to spend more on childcare.
The wealth of a society is not defined by those social sectors that product a commercial profit. The New Right like to see life as a burden on money, ignore real material value if it is created without benefit of commercial activity. And this has led to many false values. One small example: the craze for health has led to the spread of gymnasiums and health foods, items that can be handled commercially. You do not see the same emphasis on rest and on calm, neither of which can be sold as commercial products. There is indeed a positive hatred of tranquillity and contentment: a deep desire to see everyone as restless and bustling as rats on a treadmill.
A society might theoretically slaughter its old people as soon as they stopped being productive. But the actual material wealth of a society is totally dependent on raising more people to do the work. If you assessed the process in terms of what you’d spend if people were marketable commodities, you see how fantastically wasteful the existing system is. Money spent on childcare does not generate profits, from a cost-accounting point of view. But money spent on children’s needs will result in vastly more material wealth for the whole society in the long run, quite apart from ethical requirements and gains in quality of life. It was the German and US investment in their children that ensured that they were catching up with Britain in the years before 1914. And the same pattern is broadly true today.
To the New Right, of course, wealth cannot exist except by grace of market forces. This makes it hard to understand how wealth has been created in other ways—why in the pre-industrial world, Egypt’s theocratic monarch made it the richest country in the Mediterranean region. Or why bureaucratic China was the world’s most populous state and the source of inventions such as paper, block-printing, the windmill, compass, wheelbarrow, gunpowder etc.
Civilisation is a prison we entered in order to become free. That’s the only conclusion I could come to, when I cut loose from existing ideas and tried to figure what had actually happened. The unknown societies of the early neolithic were succeeded by small states with a prototype bureaucracy. And only in those states did progress occur to a more advanced human condition, mostly under ‘enlightened despots’ who were despotic rather than enlightened when it came to defending their own privileges. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle was very satisfactory to those who lived it, is still very satisfactory to the small number who’ve hung onto it, but it could do nothing to raise people above the level of clever animals.
Trade occurred where there was a state machine strong enough to make it a sensible idea to carry a mass of valuable and stealable goods into a crowd of people who were basically strangers. Markets depend on a warlord or state power who will take a cut and then stop anyone else taking any more without payment. Trade and warfare have always been close companions, not alternatives. Some societies were warlike without an interest in trade, as the Spartans were. But none took an interest in trade without discovering that wars of conquest made lots of new customers.
The New Right story of heroic progressive merchants versus smothering state machines is no more true than the adventures of Batman or The Incredible Hulk. Various tricks are used to avoid unsuitable facts. The New Right hold both that their system has always existed, and that it has never existed till maybe the 1980s.
Some unsuccessful national economies have practiced protectionism. But so have almost all of the highly successful economies, including South Korea after World War Two, Japan since the late 19th century, the USA in the 19th century and Britain during its 1760-to-1830 Industrial Revolution. The New Right have fixed beliefs on the matter, beliefs which are used to explain away disobedient facts. Unsuccessful economies failed because of protectionism, even when they were not very protectionist. Successful economies succeeded despite protectionism, even thought there is no recorded case of a sovereign state industrialising without a period of intense protectionism and state direction of industry. It’s pure ‘Enronism’, taking a variable view of the facts according to the case you are making.
If it’s good, they’ll take the credit. If it’s bad, they’re not to blame.
Taking a variable view of the facts according to your ‘brief’ is also normal for barristers, which is Tony Blair’s background. It’s known as ‘dishonesty’ or ‘trickery’ when done in ordinary life. Within the legal profession, the same thing is deemed to be a transcendental source of justice, for reasons that are much too esoteric to be understood by anyone except a lawyer.
Applied to politics, and jazzed up with trendy populism, partisan trickery becomes ‘spin’. The particular deeds and character of particular dishonest individuals are not the important issue. Such things are a logical outcome of wider social trends. There’s also a whole school of right-wing historians ‘sexing up’ history to justify the present needs of ‘McLunatic Globalisation’. Whatever exists now is inevitable and eternal.
The pattern that has actually existed and spread since the 1960s had been a breaking down of existing social ties. Perhaps a kind of pupation, since there is much less sign than in earlier eras of a generalised breakdown, civilisation is changing rather than coming apart at the seams. The present disorder has generated a lot of cynicism, but not much violence or anger, less than you’d find in most civilised systems.
In the broader sweep of history, the New Right may end up being classed as a shoddy ideology that filled the gaps in people’s minds during an incoherent period of transition. But that’s not how they see it, of course. And to justify the current spread of Anglo values into societies that worked better without them, historians create a Bowdlerised Britishness. Of course it isn’t sex that is being removed for today’s audience. That whole part of the British heritage has been downplayed, to conceal the massive shift of the culture in the post-Imperial heritage. Past sexual repression is downplayed as far as you can without being really ridiculous.
Most non-Western societies had made arrangements that let them reproduce themselves while allowing for minority sexual interests. The position of women was bad everywhere, though often better outside of the Latin-Christian tradition than it became when Europe decided to impose ‘civilised values’. So when European Imperialists turned up with superior weapons, people with social roots older than the Classical Greeks and who had maintained a complex and satisfactory culture while Europe was sunk in its post-Roman ‘Dark Ages’ were expected to junk their own culture.
Having done this—as some did, including Ghandi as a young man—the ‘natives’ remained inferior to even the least-educated and least-intelligent member of the White Race. The refusal of clever and well-educated people to put up with such treatment was not allowed for in the Imperial vision of the future.
Another little myth is ‘Westphalianism’, the idea that the sovereign nation-state appeared suddenly with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Sovereign political entities exist for as far back as we have records, while the idea of absorbing them in a single Empire goes back at least as far as Cyrus the Persian, quite possibly further. But whereas China and Persia were quite frequently united into a single coherent state, Europe and India were normally fragmented. Alexander ruled nothing west of the Balkans: his actual complaint about ‘fresh worlds to conquer’ was the reverse of the standard version: he was upset when told about Greek philosophical idea of a plurality of habitable worlds, which might possibly contain empires even larger than his own. The world he knew was only partly obedient to Alexander, who had run up against powerful Asian states in the territory that is now Pakistan. He didn’t get far into the Indian subcontinent, which barely noticed him at the time.
The Roman Empire conquered the Mediterranean basin, and then extended itself through Gaul and as far as Britain. But it failed to conquer the Germanic peoples, ancestral to many more peoples than just the modern Germans—including the original Anglo-Saxons. The Roman Empire was eventually overrun by Germanic kings, some of whom wanted to revive the Empire. Charlemagne was the most powerful of all Germanic kings, and was awarded the title of Emperor by the Pope, which offended him because he thought he was well qualified to claim it on his own account. Papal ‘help’ ensured that the revived Roman Empire was never very coherent.
Outside of the territories Charlemagne had already conquered as King of the Franks, the ‘Empire’ was never was treated with more than formal politeness by various European kingdoms that had converted to Christianity. Kingdoms in England, Poland, Hungary, Scandinavia etc. accepted Christianity as their official religion, but kept alive their older state traditions and owed no loyalty or obedience to Charlemagne or his heirs.
When Duke William of Normandy wished to conquer England, he managed to get papal approval, which was useful but not essential. No one bothered to consult the ‘Empire’, which had become in practice an oversized kingdom extending across Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Bohemia and North Italy. And because the Emperor was elected and the succession had not been secured by any particular dynasty, this gigantic German kingdom was much more fragmented than most mediaeval realms.
The Peace of Westphalia confirmed that an entity known as The Holy Roman Empire Of The Germanic People would not develop into a single modern state. The claim that the Emperor was the supreme ruler of all Christians had long since ceased to be taken seriously, and Charlemagne’s realm was diminished the Kingdom of France emerged as a separate entity. In the 17th century, the Empire was officially the territories that are now Austria, Germany, North Italy, the Czech Republic and the Benelux countries. The Swiss and Dutch had effectively become sovereign nations. North Italy also broke free, in as far as it was not part of the Austrian Empire.
The ‘Holy Roman Empire Of The Germanic People’ was officially reconstituted as the Austrian Empire during Napoleon’s wars, at a time when Napoleon had a visibly much better claim to be Emperor of Europe. Napoleon came close to being a true Supreme Ruler in the same sense that the Roman Emperors had been. But this failed, and it was left to Prussia to conquer or unify the non-Austrian portions of Germany. This dramatic success persuaded Britain’s Imperial Ruling Class to set aside its traditional quarrels with Russian and France in the hope of stopping Germany becoming a world power superior to them all.
Let’s imagine that the various governments in 1917 had set out their objectives for the 20th century. Listed their hopes and their fears: the things they wanted preserved and the things they wanted changed. The actual state of the world in the year 2003 would be much closer to the Bolshevik agenda than to anything else that existed at the time. It would also be quite close to the pre-Blair Labour Party position, more radical on sex and family matters than mainstream Labour ever were, but Labour in 1917 were an opposition party and very far from being a government.
Most of the troubles of the 20th century come from the USA’s decision in 1917 to reverse the outcome of the European war. This in turn stemmed from the British decision in 1914 to join a European war that they were quite free to have stayed out of. Europe in the previous 50 years had been developing strongly towards peace, prosperity and democracy. The 1914-18 war reversed that, but it was Britain and the USA that guaranteed that this war would be a vastly more brutal and prolonged war than Continental Europe would have fought on its own account.
At the end of the Great War, almost all of the nations that began it were much worse off. The only possible gainers were Serbia and the United States. Serbs, despite terrible suffering and invasion, achieved for a time their ambition of Yugoslavia, an assembly of related peoples under their leadership. And the USA ended the war stronger than any European power, and with the British Empire increasingly dependent on them. The USA had been next on the list after Imperial Germany, in the minds of some conspiratorial circles within the British ruling class. A switch in viewpoint would have been no more drastic than the revised view of Germany that look place from maybe 1890. Or the later alternation of alliances between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. But in the event, Germany could not be defeated without US aid and the post-war USA was at least the equal of the British Empire, recognised as such in naval treaties.
US political leaders in 1917 did not seek multiracialism or sexual equality of the sort that has been officially established in the last quarter of the 20th century. Just the reverse: they stood for the US class system, a stratified society that was mobile only by comparison with Europe—mobile because the ‘top people’ had little beyond money to separate them from ‘bottom people’. Nazism was a barely imaginable concept in those days: if Germany had not been defeated, the elements that later came together as Nazism would never have assembled themselves as a strong political party.
Germany had sought peace in both 1915 and 1916. They’d hoped for a quick and decisive war, such as Prussia won over Austria and then France during German reunification. When this failed, they were ready to go back to the status quo of 1914. Contrary to the propaganda image, the German Empire saw no urgent need for territorial expansion, and they did see that the old order of Europe was being changed in ways that suited none of the governments that were fighting the war. Unfortunately the British ruling class saw German willingness to compromise as a sign of weakness, an indication that Germany was just about to crack. They went on believing this right up until the moment when the Tsarist Empire cracked, bringing Germany very close to a total victory.
Germany at Brest-Litovsk dismantled the Tsarist Empire, splitting it on much the same lines as it split in 1991. Brest-Litovsk gets condemned now as an annexationist abomination. But all of those territories would have faired much better under Imperial-German hegemony than they faired in the real history that stemmed from Versailles.
Until Imperial Germany collapsed, the Bolsheviks had been content to rule under German hegemony. Lenin shared power with other left-wing parties. Without US intervention, the war would certainly have ended with a peace favourable to Germany. Not that Germany wanted any part of Metropolitan France, never mind Britain. They’d have demanded some colonies, probably, but would a change of rulers have been so terrible for Third World peoples?
As well as defeating and mistreating Germany, the Allies also played about with the notion of overthrowing Bolshevism—a vastly more damaging and costly policy that the loose supervision over Lenin’s government that Imperial Germany had been imposing. Bolshevism had initially tried to rule in a tolerant and generous fashion. In the first flush of enthusiasm after the almost-bloodless takeover of October 1917, they thought that a perfect new world would come into being almost at once. There was a desire to get away from Tsarist brutalities, the system that the British Empire had been fighting to save. The death penalty was abolished by the Bolsheviks and there was an attempt to replace Tsarist autocracy with general democracy and tolerance. Extremism was acquired during the Civil War, a Civil War caused by the intervention of Western powers who backed traditional-Tsarist forces and tried to undo the whole revolution, not just its Bolshevik part. Most of what followed in the Soviet Union was a result of this botched operation, for which Winston Churchill was immediately responsible, but which most of the ruling class also wanted.
Many lies had been told to Britons in the run-up to 1914, suggesting that there was a German threat to the existence of Britain, as distinct from a threat to diminish the British Empire and the small class that existed to serve it. Not that the bulk of the non-Imperialists were unselfish anti-Imperialists: the viewpoint of the majority was in many ways narrower and more bigoted than that of the Imperial Ruling Class. But it included a willingness to let the rest of the world go its own way, so long as Britain was safe. So that there were numerous scare stories, novels like the Battle of Dorking and The Riddle Of The Sands. All of them concentrating on hostile foreigners in Britain, not the loss of overseas possessions. And there were many in Britain who were eager to join in this sponsored hatred of foreigners. Non angeli sed hooliganai, you might say. But like the modern football hooligans, the aggressive element in the working class had no great desire for anything beyond a good fight. The future of the Empire did not concern them much: it was a place to have adventures, but who cared if it was growing or shrinking? Britain withdrawing from India after 1945 produced very little popular protest.
Germany in 1914 had no interest in invading Britain: even the invasion of France was intended just to knock them out of the war and allow Germany to crush the Tsarist Empire. Germany in 1871 had taken Alsace-Loraine, border territory that was partly German in culture and language, and which by 1917 was confirmed as German. There was nothing else that France or Britain held that Germany had any real interest in.
So what was the issue? For the parochial majority in Britain, there really was no issue. But for Britain’s Imperial Ruling Class it was a fight for survival, a fight that they ended up losing. Their lives continued, for the most part, but their status as a class has ceased to mean very much.
The first half of the 20th century confirmed the decline and fall of the British Empire, despite nominal victories in both World Wars. It also confirmed that Germany would not be the successor state, which would have been the best guess of an outside observer in 1900. Britain expended its power to ruin Germany, and left the USA best placed to take over.
To break up the British Empire required two world wars and then the 1945 Labour government (which remains the only Labour government to do the sort of thing that Labour was created to do.) Both wars were British military victories, but only with US support. In real terms, the ‘victorious’ wars were more costly than a typical defeat. Britain by 1950 was left in a position that it could have had much earlier at no cost at all, had the Imperial idea not had such a grip on the ruling class.
Britain in 1945 was taken over by a working-mainstream majority who’d mostly seen the Empire as a sideshow, and were now glad to be rid of it. They wanted a decent life at home, they had lost interest in the world liberalising mission of Britain’s Imperial Ruling Class, which had been costly and rather futile.
Liberals are ‘prophets armed’, or they are nothing. Nowadays they are a bunch of nothings, but Liberalism in the Anglo context began with Oliver Cromwell, as Stuart Schama rightly observed in his recent history. Irish Nationalist Parnell had also noted this, when explaining to his followers the problems of their tactical alliance with Liberals against the Tories.
Whatever it believes itself to be, Liberalism has actually meant imposing a standard culture on everyone. In its middle period, it was able to be generous and magnanimous, since the basic standardisation seemed to be unstoppable.
Serious liberalism began with Cromwell and ended with John F. Kennedy, who nearly started a war over Cuba and took a global stance that reliably led the US into the quagmire of Vietnam. In Britain, liberalism ended with Lloyd George and the collapse of the Liberal Party as a party of government. The US is more complex: the Republicans were once the more left-wing party, which is why electoral maps show Republicans as red and Democrats as blue. But there is hardly anything left of liberal-Republicanism, while liberals among the Democrats need a non-liberal to have any hope of winning the Presidency.
The USA now has something that should be called ‘Post-Liberalism’, the traditional liberal world-view with most of the generosity and decency removed. Donald Rumsfeld was merely responding to public opinion when he turned diplomacy into ‘agromacy’, world politics by insults and aggravation. Or perhaps one should call it ‘the Darth Vader school of diplomacy’, yet it is popular for as long as the US is winning. Talk of democracy and choice is just talk. The US line—loyally backed by New Labour—is that we should be grateful to be allowed to debate, and how dare we question the competence and truthfulness of the current US administration.
Bush and Blair rely on time-sensitive moral absolutes. It was perfectly OK to have sold arms to Iraq up until 1990, and otherwise actively support the regime. It is immoral to insist after 1990 that Iraq still had the normal rights of a sovereign state. You also got insulted before the invasion if you said that Iraq would be worse off after an invasion, or that the stories about weapons were probably lies.
It looks now as if the USA planned on taking over Iraq’s Baathist state as a going concern, with just the top leaders removed. When this failed, they had no sensible back-up plan. The doubts expressed by ‘Old Europe’ have been fully justified by the lethal mess of New Iraq.
Old Europe is in any case the point of origin for almost every idea now associated with the USA—including the hamburger. Old Europe understood the problem of ruling foreign countries, America does not. In Iraq, New Right dogmas have been applied to the rebuilding of the society, which is very noticeably not being rebuilt. The vast wealth of the USA is achieving nothing, whereas Saddam after the 1991 defeat used the authority of his state machine to get a semblance of normality established quite quickly.
In modern professional football, the habit is attack your opponent if there is no other way to win. This is the context in which we should see the gross allegations made against George Galloway, the most effective Western critic of the war. A document turned up that has all the hallmarks of a forgery, probably concocted by one of the anti-Saddam forces that have had free access to the ministries. It is said that it must have been written by a native speaker of Arabic. And devised by one, I’d say, because the context is naive. It is ludicrous to suppose that a corrupt link was going to be documented among routine paperwork: high-level corruption is very unlikely to be documented at all. Nor would it be relevant to Galloway, who had been a critic of Saddam when Saddam was the West’s friend. Galloway correctly saw that the sudden daemonisation of Saddam that occurred after the invasion of Kuwait was irrational and would be bad for everyone. He’d hardly be in it for the money—vastly greater sums could be earned quite openly and legally if Galloway was to lend his considerable debating skills to nice causes like the oil companies or the tobacco barons.
The idea of a scam by one of Saddam’s intelligence officer is also ludicrous. George Galloway had regular meetings with top Iraqi officials, who’d have known of his needs and his motives. A sudden unexpected demand for payment is just the thing that would be mentioned to Saddam, with serious consequences for a secret agent if it was a scam. Much better to have pretended to have recruited someone who was officially an enemy, or at least not on speaking terms with the leadership, if a fraud was intended.
The supposed means is also ludicrous, a sale of oil in a dubious ‘grey market’ where there are many unreliable characters. The Iraqi government was not short of cash, and must have had many accounts that cannot be officially linked with them. Galloway might have got a bit muddled over the exact nature of UN supervision of oil sales, but that’s probably because he never has had anything to do with it.
The whole matter will now be going to a jury on the matter of libel. Wisely, Galloway held back from issuing a writ until the public view of the war began to shift. Had most Britons still regarded the war as a good war, Galloway could have had the best case ever and still lost. As things are, British ‘justice’ is often distinctly surreal, but it would take total incompetence or extraordinary bad luck for him to lose.
George Orwell made a general protest at the corruption of language in his time. Most of this is ignored, with just the anti-Soviet bits propagated. But he had a lot of useful stuff to say, and 1984 is as much a satire of British 1930s values as anything else. The distaste for sex in the culture of ‘Airstrip One’ is very English, and quite remote from typical Russian attitudes. But there’s an extra trick he missed, using two distinct words for a single thing, so that it seems different when used by ‘them’ or ‘us’.
I first noticed the trick in the case of submarines and U-boats, which are of course exactly the same thing. From the late 19th century, English-speakers had been talking about submarines or ‘submarine boats’. To the Germans, the same device was an Unterseeboot, an under-sea-boat. But the Oxford English Dictionary does not find U-boat in use as an English term before 1916, with a suggestion it might have been used as far back as 1913.
Britain made agreements with Germany and then went to war with the Third Reich. When Churchill spoke against what we now call the ‘Munich Agreement’, he did talk of an Anglo-Nazi pact, but this particular Churchillian phrase has not entered the language. But the Soviet Union’s agreement with Germany is never known as anything except the Nazi-Soviet Pact.
Britain’s own later agreements with Russia are known as Anglo-Soviet, even though the state is Britain, strictly the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. All their wars are ‘Anglo’, but all Britons have to fight. This would be fine if only the English had to fight in them or pay for them; I myself am half English, but I’d register my nationality as Welsh if that were the case. But the state remains both British and ‘Anglo’. Separately from this, ‘Anglo’ became a term used in the USA to distinguish people of English-speaking culture from Spanish-speakers or Latinos in the territories the USA took from Mexico.
‘Anglo’ can also be used to indicate the entire global English-using culture, which has embraced and infected many other cultures. It is this broader meaning that I am using here. English culture and language is potentially a neutral global medium which could allow a great diversity of different cultures to communicate. Potentially. But what’s actually occurring at the moment is an aggression against everything non-Anglo. A global crusade to make Anglo clones of all of the world’s different peoples, with just a bland flavour of the former distinctiveness.
A great deal of ‘Britspeak’ is generated by leaving a foreign word un-translated and not obviously identifiable with its exact British equivalent. Here are some other common examples of Britspeak (applied to various enemies and situations, and also used by the USA.)
|Our side||Their side|
|Anglo-German agreement||Nazi-Soviet Pact|
|Anti-terrorism||Violation of human rights.|
|Conscription / hard labour||Slave labour|
|Pragmatism||Inconsistency / Dishonesty|
|Strategic bombing||Cowardly terrorist attacks|
Really successful thought-control does not get classed as thought control. There are no formal rules: just a mass of media pressure towards a particular view of the world.
The spread of Hollywood films, fast-food etc. are justified as ‘consumer choice’ by the New Right. The spread of commercial sex and drug abuse are talked about in different terms, except by a few sincere and marginalised libertarians. But there is no difference in principle, and very little difference in practice. Illicit drugs should be the textbook example of a self-repairing self-regulating market. Only the existing laws distinguishes it from the widespread use of cigarettes (addictive) and alcohol (addictive and dangerous when used to excess, with excess being typical of Anglo culture and the Puritan USA in particular).
Anglo culture is not so virtuous, if you look at it as a whole. And the war record of the Anglo nations has been falsified. I spoke earlier about the astonishing changes in the way standard British sources viewed Hitler, Churchill and Chamberlain in the period 1938-1941. In particular, reading about ‘Chamberlain’s conciliatory dealings’ in the Britannica Yearbook 1940 made me wonder just what the difference was between conciliation and appeasement. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (CD-ROM 2.0), appeasement is:
The action or process of appeasing; pacification, satisfaction…
Freely used in political contexts in the 20th century, and since 1938 often used disparagingly with allusion to the attempts at conciliation by concession made by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, before the outbreak of war with Germany in 1939; by extension, any such policy of pacification by concession to an enemy.
I’d already concluded that ‘John Bull speaks with a forked tongue’ from my general knowledge of British foreign policy. The current negative overtones attached to ‘Appeasement’ may have been a genuine shift in meaning caused by popular opinion. But in other cases, you find evidence of the deliberate creation of a false split between ‘them’ and ‘us’.
Then there is the matter so-called Slave Labour. Slavery is a specific relationship, when one individual is the personal property of another. It may include various protections and rights that the owner must respect, just as people nowadays are not allowed to mistreat their pets, though they can arbitrarily kill them provided that they pay a vet to do the actual execution. Slaves mostly had some sort of legal rights, but slavery existed before civilisation. State machines tended to be equalisers, imposing duties on householders and putting some value on the lives of every inhabitant of the state.
English law derives from an 11th-century slave state, the system created by the Norman conquerors. The previous Anglo-Saxon state had also had slaves, but as a minority lower stratum who had some chance of moving up. Normans with their baronial power robbed the bulk of the population of their freedom, and they were excluded from the benefits given to ‘free men’ by Magna Carta. The term ‘serf’ only came into use in the 19th century, to put a comfortable distance between Britain’s enslavement of non-white peoples in the New World and the servile past of most ‘Freeborn Englishmen’.
Abuse of language allows commentators to fool the public and even fool themselves. It’s a common trick to use a familiar word with a substantially different meaning. If it quacks, has feathers and a beak, then it is clearly a panda.
You may suppose that you yourself would not be fooled. But even opponents of the New Right pick up and repeat phrases like ‘Free Market’. They accept without question all of the regulation and control associated with real-life markets, conceding for no good reason that this is not an infringement of freedom. Likewise people accept loaded terms like ‘Trickle-Down’ and ‘Tax Stimulus’ for policies that should be called ‘Feed The Rich’!
Britspeak has the same function as the ‘Newspeak’ of Orwell’s 1984, itself derived from the advertising jargon of the time. But rather than having a few simple words, you have a whole mass of words with much the same function. Thus vicious, cowardly, mindless etc. all mean the same as Orwell’s ‘Ungood’. As for PlusGood, this now embraces fabulous, fantastic, famous, cool, tremendous, terrific, any number of shades of meaning that no longer exist. The demands of commerce cause every possible word to be seriously over-used.
Even for relationships within Britain, the languages of power and wealth have penetrated ordinary speech to a remarkable degree. Some of it is just pretentiousness, like choosing the up-market name of ‘Estate Agents’ for those who handle the buying and selling of flats and houses. Much more remarkably, the term ‘peasant’ only applies to foreigners, we just have farmers. The term farmer began well away from the vulgar matter of growing crops and tending animals, it was originally a technical term for agents who collected rents from the actual crop-producers, “One who undertakes the collection of taxes, revenues, etc., paying a fixed sum for the proceeds.” (Oxford English Dictionary). The OED considers that ‘bore’ is not related to ‘Boer’, the standard Dutch word for farmer, despite the suspicious similarity. But it confirms that ‘churl’ was originally a name for any man, then for lower-class man and then finally an insult. Likewise Villain / Villein comes from ‘villa’, originally a working estate run by and for a rich family, with the ‘villeins’ providing the skill and work that gave it value.
Human minds have trouble handling formal logic, but are wonderfully good at analogy and association. Unfortunately we are also wonderfully good at fooling each other, and Britspeak has indeed fooled most of the people for most of the time. Experts in rhetoric can create falsehood without the need for any straightforward untruth, by misapplying existing positive or negative emotions.
In both world wars, Britain and Germany each tried to starve the other into submission by blocking trade in food and non-military necessities across the seas. The war was conducted like the classical siege of a city or fortress, but on a vastly expanded scale. And this way of waging war made the two World Wars vastly more costly to non-combatants.
Britain got much the better of it, causing millions of deaths in Continental Europe by creating famine and the consequent diseases. But since Britain dominated the surface waters, this genocidal policy did not involve many specific newsworthy incidents equivalent to the German sinking of the Lusitania. No merchant ship will be arguing with a destroyer, so that a willingness to sink offenders does not cause many identifiable deaths. Germany’s much weaker and less effective blockade involved visible deaths on the high seas. And of course Britain had submarines, while U-boats were only to be found in Germany.
The human minds works by associations, not by the formal logic that philosophers have extracted from the world. (Which itself is plagued by fallacies: tomatoes are red, these roses are red, therefore these roses are tomatoes.) Actual human thinking avoids such nonsense, but makes other sorts of error. Many years back, a television program on human thinking made a telling point with ‘The Case of the Bearded Bear-bearer’. This involved a man walking along carrying a large stuffed bear, in clear sight of a troupe of police cadets. And a lot of them reported him as having a beard, which he did not. The bare-chinned bear bearer was bizarrely bracketed as bearded.
It’s all part of the West European heritage. Most of the arguments of Socrates and his followers was a matter of sliding beyond existing definitions by small steps, each of which seems reasonable. This method would allow you to prove that the open sea is essentially the same as dry land, because where is the dividing line?
There are in fact methods of logic that avoid this. The new technique of fuzzy logic lets you get back to common sense by saying that the beach area is 50% in category dry land and 50% in category open sea. Likewise Boolean Logic recognises that even though some roses and most tomatoes are members of the set of red objects, they are still quite distinct members of that set.
But actual human thinking is based on context. It is our knowledge of the everyday world that tells us the difference between shark fishing and fly fishing, an Irish stew and a chicken stew, an apple pie and a cottage pie. Likewise we can make sense of headlines like ‘Ministers duck ID card questions’. ‘Drive To Ban Horse Whipping Mushrooms’ or ‘Iraqi head seeks arms’. When we hear that the oldest living man is a Japanese described as a ‘retired silkworm breeder’, we deduce that it is he rather than the silkworms who are retired.
Some people resort to Latin and Greek tags, in the belief that this gives precision. But when Latin and Classical Greek were spoken, they were fuzzy and had lots of shifting meanings. In science, precision sometimes does exist. Thus Basilosaurus is an exact term for a particular type of extinct whale—never mind that the name was given in the mistaken belief that the bones belonged to a gigantic sea-serpent. But outside of a few limited areas, the use of Latin and Greek terms within English has been grossly inconsistent.
The Greek ‘Barbari’ should be translated ‘foreigner’, or perhaps ‘half-human’. ‘Half-human’ is the normal English translation for similar terms used by other tribalists. But Greeks are seen as cultural ancestors to modern Anglos, and so get treated differently. The normal mistranslation as ‘barbarian’ –someone at a lower level of culture—avoids facing up to the deep chauvinism and narrow-mindedness of the actual Classical Greeks.
Other translations are no less imprecise. Phobia can be fear, or hatred, or both fear and hatred. The ‘-path’ tag may mean either sickness or healing (psychopath, osteopath). English usage has lost the original distinction between eros and philia, with philia sometimes taking on a sexual meaning which contradicts the original Greek. Thus you have philanthropists, philanderers and zoophiles, among other muddles. An arctophile is a collector of teddy-bears, but could just as easily be someone who seeks an erotic relationship with real live ursinoids.
The same inconsistency applies to the various branches of learning, sciences and arts and specialism and pseudo-sciences. Consider astronomy, astrology, biology, geology, geography, biography, bibliography, calligraphy, biometry, geometry, ecology, economics. You need specific cultural knowledge to disentangle the contradictory meanings of the tags.
‘Pseudoclassici Cloaca Est’. If your ideas mean anything, then they retain their meaning when stated in crude bald English. Especially since English has gone into lands where Greek and Latin are as unfamiliar as Sanskrit, Tang-dynasty Chinese or Church Slavonic would be to educated English people.
‘Genocide’ is another topic where fancy names have been used to promote muddled thinking. Britspeak tried to keep genocide well away from the actual history of the British Empire and applied just to the misdeeds of foreigners. But in real history, the distinction is small.
By joining the Great War in 1917, the USA started a process that ended with the death of about half of Europe’s Jews. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 gave the world another push in the wrong direction. Even before that, the USA had helped legitimise genocide as a general idea. In common with other European colonies, they arranged for and encouraged the leisurely slaughter of millions of relatively helpless hunter-gatherers, people who lived on land that the European settlers wanted to steal.
The Nazi death-camps were the high point of Europe’s attempts to reshape the world. Thereafter the process declined—in part because the bulk of the inconvenient natives had been removed or marginalised in places where European settlers wanted to live. Nowadays the global struggle is much more about ‘sociocide’, accepting people of any racial origins as raw material that can be processed into Standardised Individualists on the Anglo pattern. The global elite or Overclass still causes many deaths, but in different and less direct ways.
Since it was Anglo values rather than Spanish, German or Russian values that won out, the Overclass contains a significant minority of Jews. They are accepted only if they will junk those parts of their own traditions that don’t suit the Overclass-Anglo version of Latin-Christian values, of course. It would have been similar if French values had won out: probably more cultural chauvinism, but with less of a barrier to non-whites.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire up until the Great War had been successfully integrating a diversity of peoples, with Jews valued as promoters of Modernist values. It was the 1914-18 war which ruined this process. Not so much the start of the war, as the determination by the British ruling class to push it through to a total destruction of Germany.
Ordinary Britons supposed that they were fighting in France to keep the Germans from invading Britain, a notion that had been pushed in popular books like The Riddle Of The Sands. The rulers knew better: the German Empire wanted equal status with the British Empire: it wanted no territory from Britain, nor any part of France beyond what it had taken in 1871. But it was the demand for equality that was unacceptable and meant that Germany must be ruined and broken. The British ruling wanted a world civilisation based on Anglo values, a goal which was basically achieved in 1991.
Jews have a significant place in this Anglo order, but it was definitely not created for the benefit of Jews. They’d have done as well or better in several of the other orders that might have emerged. The industrialised killing of millions of European Jews would have been much less likely in most of these alternative histories.
Historians sometimes play a game in which history is re-enacted, but with players getting the option to do something else than actually happened in history. Now suppose you were to re-run the 20th century in this way, but gave the British and American players the secret extra objective of doing everything possible to cause large numbers of European Jews to be killed. Assuming that the players followed these instructions, they would soon discover that there was very little that they could or should do different from the pattern of actual history. Which is not to say that Britain and America had any such end in view in real history; clearly they did not. But both countries played power-political games without much concern about how many foreigners might suffer.
The break-up of Austria-Hungary was extremely bad for Jews. The splitting of a successful multi-ethnic state was achieved thanks to various ethnic blocks of Czechs, Romanians, Serbs etc. who wanted to turn their nationalities into nation-states. The Jewish economic role had been a stable niche within peasant societies, as professional and craft workers. If the Austro-Hungarian Empire been refashioned as a unified ‘Federation Of Danube Peoples’, Jews would almost certainly have continued to rise and proper within it. But that would also have meant the preservation of a large sophisticated state on a level with Britain and the USA, with a culture that was maybe superior. Much better from an Anglo viewpoint to ‘divide and rule’, split the Empire into a bunch of newly-invented nation-states whose borders trapped a lot of people on the wrong side of the border, suddenly foreigners or ‘minorities’ in places where they had lived for centuries. It kept Continental Europe weak and divided, and pleased various ethnic blocks who were useful in elections back in the USA. That was the main consideration.
In the shattered Austro-Hungarian Empire, there was no obvious place for a floating population of Jews and Gypsies. Both of them were in different ways disruptive of the new order. Jews could not easily feel at home in the new nation-states, but they occupied the ‘professional’ niche that was the normal centre of national identity when a peasant nationality modernised itself. They didn’t fit, and were the natural scapegoats for any problem with developing a new national identity in a dangerous world.
Genocide directed against non-white tribalists and nomads prepared the ground for genocide applied to cultured white Europeans. But only the Versailles Peace made it likely. Of course the idea of ‘ethnic purification’ had been widely discussed within English-speaking culture—though not, indeed, with any intention of harming the Jews, who were normally seen as ethnically suitable to be part of the Anglo-Saxon master race. The ruling class generally classed the ‘better sort’ of Jews above the lesser breeds of White Christian European, maybe above the lower sort of English person. But the eventual elimination of the inferior non-white majority of the world’s inhabitants was widely contemplated. And a ‘purgation’ of the white master-race was advocated by mainstream thinkers like Sir Francis Galton.
The British Empire did nothing as drastic as the Nazi death-camps, mainly because the British Empire thought that it had all the time in the world. Charles Darwin could complacently remark that ‘the native New Zealander is likely to go the way of the native rat’, without worrying about the details of how the Maori tribalists would actually be killed off. Removing the unwanted natives from the various British colonies could be safely left to his social inferiors: one of these was Huxley, Darwin’s ally in the debates over evolution, a man who was closer to the cutting edge and had a positive enthusiasm for wiping out Australian aboriginals.
Pioneers of modern genocide were the Spanish, who ‘ethnically cleansed’ their own Jewish minority, and also physically wiped out the original Native-American inhabitants of the Caribbean. The Conquistadors caused the deaths of millions with their conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires: the Aztecs themselves were brutal slaughterers, but the Incas were one of history’s better and gentler empires, and it made no difference. The Spanish and Portuguese also began the purchase of Black African slaves, who had done hard agricultural work in their homelands and therefore died off less quickly than the Native Americans.
After the Spanish and Portuguese came the Dutch, French and English. That was the mainstream of colonial history, there was also a small contribution by the Danes and a late but astonishingly brutal entry by Belgians in the Congo. Plus some small ventures by the German Empire after Bismarck fell from power: Bismarck had wisely avoided colonialism, but his successors began collecting territories that were left over. There was a possibility—very alarming to Britain—that this might be extended to China. The Kaiser’s loose talk about a ‘Yellow Peril’ was a logical precursor for the Germans taking over China, in the same way that Britain had taken over India.
A partition of China among the colonial empires was also discussed and might easily have happened. The decadent Manchu dynasty could not have prevented it, but Britain by then was feeling the strain and preferred to support a weak but nominally independent China. The ‘Christian Gentlemen’ of 19th century Britain had fought wars to ensure that opium produced in India continued to be sold in China. They followed this by helping to put down the rebels of the heretically Christian Tai-Ping, They also burnt the Emperor’s Summer Palace as part of a short-lived power-game, wiping out irreplaceable art works accumulated over the centuries. They prevented China from living as it had lived, prevented it from changing, prevented any other European power taking over and modernising China under Western rule as Britain had modernised India.
Britain’s policy towards China ensured that China suffered decades of misery, famine and civil war, which only really ended when Mao and the Chinese Communists took over in 1949. The pro-western Kuomintang could also have modernised and restored China, had the West properly backed them. But the West up until the 1940s did not much like the idea of non-white people governing themselves. It went against the global order that Britain had created, with themselves as rulers and non-whites as dependant subjects.
Britain’s enterprising gentry in the 18th century had manipulated various European wars so as to end up in possession of most of the weakly defended territories that were suitable for European settlement: North America, Australia, New Zealand and Southern Africa. In Southern Africa, the natives were too organised and too numerous to be cleared away completely, though white farmers were inserted along with the normal traders and colonial governors. The real context of the current crisis in Zimbabwe is native peoples taking back the land that white colonisers seized from them, something that has not so far happened in South Africa.
Elsewhere, genocide by English-speakers was so successful that it gets treated as an historic non-event. In New Zealand and Australia, the native cultures have been swamped by the newcomers, though much less violently in New Zealand than in Australia. White New Zealanders have borrowed bits and pieces of Maori culture to give themselves a distinct identity. They acted much as Lowland Scots had acted when they took up a garbled version of Highland culture a couple of generations after the ‘savages’ had been put down by the British government. This never really happened in Canada or Australia, the natives faired very badly in Australia and not well in Canada. But US independence and expansion was a far greater misfortune for Native Americans in the rest of North America: the local whites wanted the land cleared and the politicians in Washington wanted their votes. If France or Spain had retained control of the gigantic Louisiana Territory, the US would have stopped at the Mississippi and the people whose land it was would have survived much better. Likewise Texas and California would have remained part of Mexico and it would be a very different world.
What I’ve been describing was normal genocide, the sort of thing that existed up until 1941 and which most members of the ‘White Race’ saw as entirely right and proper. Only after 1945 did the United Nation proclaim a new morality: only then did different values become dominant. By extending the long-standing process of genocide to educated and articulate Jews, Hitler wrecked White Racism. By his habit of driving everything to extremes, he cut short the tentative moves towards ‘racial purification’ that had been happening within Britain and America. These might have gone much further, if the whole ideology had not been derailed and discredited by Nazism.
Nazism was a hybrid between traditional systems of racism/imperialism and the populist Fascism that had begun in Italy. Italian Fascism was not racist or anti-Jewish until the late 1930s. As Brendan Clifford has noted, Fascism was a ‘third way’ between the rival systems of the 1920s and 1930s, the old Capitalist-Imperialist order and the new Soviet system. Fascism—especially Mussolini’s version—also served as a link to Third World nationalism, giving them a modernist ideology that could function before modern ideas had been drummed into the bulk of the population. The Baathist with their Fascist origins are the last survivals of Western cultural influence in the Middle East. It the USA finished off Syria as well as Iraq, there will be no functional force that could transform the culture. (Plenty of wide-boys who’ll take stacks of dollars and tell the US what they want to hear, but such people are worse than useless.)
The Liberal-Imperialist version of Capitalist-Imperialism was remaking the world in its own image. But Britain wrecked the process with its decision to fight the 1914 war to the bitter end. In a fast-changing and uncertain world, Classical Liberalism was worse than useless, being based on an irrational belief that people would naturally adopt a highly complex pattern of behaviour that is very far from natural. Classical Liberals hung on to this belief with an honest and bewildered benevolence, and had a second innings as not-so-classical Liberalism from the late 1940s to the late 1970s, a system that could sensibly be called ‘Democratic Corporatism’.
In the 1980s, the not-so-classical Liberals were shoved aside by ‘Neo-Conservatism’—what I call Post-Liberalism. This creed still believes the worst error of Classical Liberalism, that people will naturally adopt a highly complex pattern of behaviour that is also very far from natural. They reject any suggestion that their own particular norms might seem strange to anyone else, or that these norms were imposed by highly authoritarian regimes, by the Tudor monarchs in Britain and then confirmed by Cromwell. Like Classical Liberals, the Post-Liberals are absolutely certain that their own norms are the only possible way to live. But they are untroubled by benevolence, and you can’t say much for their honesty either.
Fascism in Italy and Spain served as the engine whereby whole populations could be moulded into people able to live and flourish within the modern world. Populations able to be liberals of a sort, for as long as liberalism was fashionable and successful. In Germany, something similar was happening, but was disturbed by Hitler’s personal extremism and his exceptional power within the Nazi movement. It was one of histories’ little accidents, and something quite different could have shaped up and would seem just as much ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’ in some alternate world.
Had Hitler been assassinated, power would have passed to Goering—other people had fancy job titles, but only Goering had strong political allies outside of Nazism. Hitler did in fact designate Goering as his successor. But nothing short of death could have ended Hitler’s power, given the prestige he built up thanks to the repeated concessions that allies made to him.
When Chamberlain suddenly decided that Hitler needed to be curbed, it turned out to be too late to do this in any moderate way. It needed a full-blown war, a war which ended in initial defeat for France and Britain. But Britain refused to accept a limited defeat, and made it clear that this was a fight to the finish. Hitler blamed the Jews, naturally, and this was the context in which mass killings occurred. Though genocide was not confined to Jews, it was also anti-Gypsy and anti-Pole and anti-Serb, against anyone who did not fit the Nazi model for the future.
Germany had been accused in the First World War of atrocities that they had not committed. This led the Nazis to conclude that they’d be no worse off if they did some real atrocities this time round. That’s typical of the hidden cost of lying: like the boy who cried ‘wolf’, you are much less likely to be believed next time when you do happen to be telling the truth.
I am quite deliberately ignoring the standard way in which the Holocaust is presented. It was not a piece of unique evil that can be blamed on all Germans and kept safely away from Britons and Americans. (And I do mean the population as whole: the electors were told what the issues were and kept on electing politicians who saw Hitler as acceptable and even useful.)
Hitler’s rise from fringe politician to the most powerful leader in Europe would not have been possible without British and French complicity. Had they given the German Social-Democrats half of what they later gave Hitler, democracy would not have collapsed the way it did. But Britain under the Tories or the National Government was dubious about elected left-wing governments: they were quite happy to let a similar government in Spain be overthrown by armed force and foreign intervention. They preferred Fascism to democratic socialism. Hitler up until 1938 was maybe more popular in Britain than President Bush now is.
Nazi Germany was made possible by the choices of mainstream Britons and Americans, not just the few eccentrics who carried on supporting Hitler when their own countries were at war with him. Anglo innocence is the current myth, but it is just a myth, and we now have Sarkisyanz’s Hitler’s English Inspirers to detail just how extensive the links were. You could of course argue that no one knew in advance how far the Third Reich was going to go. But I’ll show later how widespread the idea of ‘eugenic genocide’ was in British and American Science Fiction. Science Fiction is not just escapist entertainment: Science Fiction successfully spread the ideas for many other social and technical development that have since become the norm. Perhaps it was only the accident of Germany ending up at war with Britain and the US that stopped ‘eugenic genocide’ becoming as normal as space rockets, global communication systems, planning based on scientific knowledge and freedom of sexual choice on the lines of some of the original utopian novels.
To yield to the common demand to treat the ‘Holocaust’ as unique is to relegate to subhuman status the numerous non-white victims killed by non-German systems. This was indeed the common and open West-European view before World War Two. It’s hardly extinct even now, just not something that can be said openly any more.
In the 1920s and 1930s, formal and informal discrimination against Jews was widespread. This was less true in Britain, where Britain’s ruling class had decided during the 19th century that they would admit selected Jews to their innermost ruling circles. Britain’s rulers brought the rest of society into line: there were pockets of prejudice, but nothing substantial. In the US there was no real ruling class, just some cliques of small-minded people with a lot of money, so anti-Jewish feeling was open and widespread among the WASP elite. Britain did not admit non-Christians to Parliament until the 1870s, but ethnic Jews who agreed to convert could get anywhere, including Disraeli as Prime Minister. The USA never had any formal rules, but the 2000 election saw the first serious Jewish candidate for Vice-President.
In both Britain and the USA, Nazi policies that stripped Jews of their rights as citizens did not get in the way of attempts to use Nazi Germany as a useful ally against the Soviet menace. A mass killing of Jews in Europe was not expected by anyone, but mass killings of non-white populations outside of Europe were already familiar and had provided a precedent.
Having said this, it is also true that Nazi policies involved an unusually fast and brutal process of slaughter, concentrated into the years 1941 to 1945. Before 1941, there had been widespread mistreatment of Jews, but very little killing. There were ideas for sending German Jews to some colony a long way away, but no plans whatsoever for mass slaughter. It was only after Britain decided to keep the war going that the Nazis went to extremes in their racism.
The best estimate is that eight to twelve million people were genocided by the Nazis: genocided in the sense that their death was a policy objective rather than a by-product of war. About half of those killed were Jewish, possibly more than half. Non-Jewish Poles were also a major target: some Poles were to be kept as peons, but in areas designated for German settlement they were to be exterminated. A large but unknown proportion of the other victims were Gypsies, which gets little attention. Gypsies are not articulate, are still widely discriminated against and are not valued as citizens in Britain or any other part of Europe. The numbers of Gypsies or Roma killed has been estimated at anything between 200,000 and 1,500,000, with probably 12 million alive today and still persecuted.
Another large element on the Nazi death-list were Serbs, killed off with German approval by Germany’s loyal Croat allies after Serbian resistance stopped Yugoslavia from capitulating to Hitler. The brief Serb stand against the Nazis delayed their invasion of the Soviet Union by a few crucial weeks and very possibly stopped the Nazis winning the war: hence the Nazi anger. Tito’s Yugoslavia chose to suppress open discussion of this bit of history in the interests of a fragile unity, so that there was no Western understanding of Serb feelings or Croat guilt when Yugoslavia began to break up. No concern in the west when a Croat state emerged with the same flag and symbolism as the pro-Nazi Croat state (which had killed Jews and Gypsies as well as Serbs).
Can you imagine what would have happened if reunified Germany had decided to start flying the Swastika as its symbol of revived nationalism? But Croat symbolism had exactly the same meaning for Serbs, yet was treated as normal and did not delay Western recognition of a Croat state with large majority-Serbian territories within it. Past Croat crimes were forgotten: only the fate of Jews held by German was remembered in the West.
Exact numbers are a moot point. The territories that came under Nazi control had contained 9.5 million Jews before the war. Only some 3.5 million were found there at the war’s end, still alive in labour camps or else emerging from hiding. To suggest that the surplus went to Israel is totally stupid: there are not six million Jews in Israel even today. In 1948, there were less than one million, some of Middle Eastern origin, some settled there for many years, only a few successful escapees from Hitler. The figure of six million came from a simple subtraction of Jews found alive in Hitler’s fallen empire from the much larger number of Jews who should have been there.
It turned out that there were other Jewish survivors, beneficiaries of the ‘Siberian Shunt’, the least known aspect of the Holocaust. During the brief peace between Stalin and Hitler, Stalin had moved huge numbers of East European Jews to Siberia, forced colonists in a policy of eastward expansion that Stalin had inherited from the Tsars. After the war, these Jews were given permission to leave and were filtering back into Eastern Europe; sometimes onwards to the USA or Palestine/Israel while the Nuremberg trials were happening. The Allied authorities at Nuremberg ignored them, if indeed they knew. Nuremberg was not about truth, except where truth happened to fit the needs of a fragile alliance of victorious powers. They even tried to blame the Nazis for the massacre of Polish officers at Katyn Forrest, until it was made obvious in court that the Soviet Union had done it.
The figure of Six Million Jews has been elevated to the status of Holy Writ, which is absurd. You can safely say that at least four and a half million Jews were intentionally killed: six million is a high estimate amidst a mass of uncertainty. Even living populations for various states and minority populations can fluctuate wildly, when you compare numbers from different sources. The figure of six million was publicised by the Nuremberg Tribunal, thought the prosecution were willing to concede that maybe one and a half million could be explained by miscounting or by death from natural causes during the war.
In this context, one can hardly ignore the role of David Irving, who launched a costly libel action against claims that he was a ‘denialist’. People get confused as to who was on trial: Irving was prosecuting and trying to ban a book that made a few critical comments about him: stuff that most popular historians would see as part of the normal rough-and-tumble of historic debate. Irving had successfully used the law before, helped by the odd fact that the defendants in English libel cases are required to prove their derogatory remarks as overwhelmingly likely to be true, not just a reasonable belief on the basis of known facts. People can get punished for saying stuff that was very probably true, provided only that it cannot be proven to the level of proof demanded for a criminal conviction. Camp entertainer Liberarchy got large damages after a British newspaper implied that he was homosexual, a point that was widely commented upon after his death from AIDS. More recently there was Lord Archer, victor in a libel action thanks to tactics that later got him jailed. Irving too was playing the system, and had done so before, with some success. But on this occasion, he lost comprehensively.
Irving’s target was a book called Denying The Holocaust: the growing assault on truth and memory, by Jewish-American author Deborah Lipstadt. Of course Lipstadt is herself a kind of denialist, paying very little attention to the millions of non-Jews who were also victims of the Nazi death-camps. Lipstadt’s book was not particularly good, but she had a perfect right to be heard and it was outrageous for Irving to try to use the law to silence her. And there are a few decent points in what she wrote. Croatian genocide is one non-Jewish matter that Lipstadt does discuss, including a claim that the late President Tudjman of Croatia was one of the Denialists. Plenty of Jews had a very clear memory of World War Two, when most non-Communist Croats were trying to kill them and most Serbs were on their side. This memory was passed on to the next generation, and meant that only a few Jews (most notably Madeleine Albright) went along with the mainstream Anglo decision to demonise the tradition-minded Serbs and cherish the market-orientated Croats.
Tudjman never responded to Lipstadt, as far as I know. The whole topic was kept out of arguments over the fate of Yugoslavia. Croatian ‘disco fascism’ was an occasional news item before the West decided to support Croat secession: it was never mentioned thereafter. This was made easy because the whole pro-Serb campaign was inept (and still is inept, last time I looked).
Remarkably, the Croat-Nazi connection was missed even by the magazine Living Marxism, which is now stone dead after being sued by ITN. They showed—very accurately—that the famous picture of refugees in Serbia behind barbed wire was misleading, the barbed wire didn’t confine anyone. But you could equally say that a hostile population was a much more effective prison, and there were undoubtedly some genuine atrocities and massacres. Living Marxism picked holes in ITN’s detailed story, but failed to undermine the general perception that the Serbs had been up to no good. Croat Fascism of a 1930s vintage was legally and technically irrelevant to ITN’s reporting of Serbian treatment of refugees. But in terms of actual human thinking, it was very relevant, as were Jewish denunciations of the then-President of Croatia.
I’ve no idea if Tudjman was personally innocent or guilty of ‘denialism’. (He’s dead now, which means that I could safely accuse him of Satanism and cannibalism if I felt like it: but the truth is that I’ve not investigated the matter and other tasks are more pressing.) But Croatia as a nation was blatantly and obviously guilty of having been a willing part of the Nazi war-machine and murder-machine during World War Two. Yet it is not currently seen as guilty by the West. Problems Of Capitalism And Socialism did document the whole history of the matter, but no one else took it up. The current culture means that it’s not what is said that matters, but who says it. Rubbish is praised if it comes from celebrities, and everything else ignored.
Note also that when Anglo interests were at odds with the general Israeli viewpoint, the Anglo viewpoint triumphed without much difficulty. Jewish influence is large for such a small people, less than 20 million outweighing more than 1000 million Muslims. But that’s mostly because Muslims have been moving against the general Anglo policy of globalisation, whereas most Jews go along with it to some degree. Muslims are also fragmented, and for now they are much safer to pick on than China or Japan.
Anglo interests have given whole-hearted support to Jewish condemnation of Naziism since about the 1960s; it was mostly a left-wing issue before that. The Eichman trial helped publicise the issue. And the status of Jews in the USA rose considerably after Israel’s sensational defeat of Russia’s Arab allies in the Six Day War: skill at the arts of warfare got them respect in the USA in a way that culture, science and medicine never had. So an issue that had been Jewish or leftist became mainstream, at least in its Jewish aspect. Non-Jewish victims reduce the difference between Nazi and Anglo genocide, so it suited both Jews and the Anglo mainstream to downplay that side.
Apart from getting at Tudjman—still alive and in power when Lipstadt’s book was published—Lipstadt says very little about the non-Jewish element in Nazi extermination policies. Denying The Holocaust is not a particularly good book. But on the specific matter of Irving, she turned out to be totally accurate:
“Irving, who had frequently proposed extremely controversial theories about the Holocaust, including the claim that Hitler had no knowledge of it, has become a Holocaust denier.” (Page 117, Penguin edition of 1994)
In Hitler’s War and in his other books, Irving accepted the Received Standard view of the Nazi mass killings. He had raised legitimate questions about Hitler’s role: the policy of deporting Jews was well known to everyone, but a policy of intentional killing seems to have begun among SS officials in occupied territories in the east. This happened when they had huge Jewish populations dumped on them at the same time as Hitler was blaming Jews for the war. Irving put matters in context, but didn’t seem to be going beyond that. I’d read Irving’s earlier views and had assumed that talk of denialism was propaganda. But I also carefully followed his libel action, and it became clear that his views had changed. And as far as I can see, Nuremberg: The Last Battle is where the change occurs, just as Lipstadt says.
Consider how Irving describes a meeting between the Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson and “several powerful Jewish organisations who had already made it clear to him they wanted a hand in running the trial.”
“How great were the losses? inquired Jackson, seeking a figure to use at the coming trial. ‘Six million,’ responded Dr Robinson… he had arrived at his figures by extrapolation from the known statistics for the Jewish population in 1929 and those believed to be surviving now. In other words his figure was somewhere between a hopeful estimate and an educated guess… By sad but extraordinary coincidence, the American Jewish community had raised a similar outcry about a ‘holocaust’ a quarter of a century earlier, after World War One. In a 1919 speech the governor of New York, Martin Glynn, had claimed that ‘six million’ Jews were being exterminated.” (Nuremberg: The Last Battle, by David Irving, Focal Point 1996, Page 62-3).
This last bit makes no sense, unless Irving is pandering to the ‘denialists’, the various large but futile neo-Nazi movements. Eastern Europe in 1919 was suffering famine and social breakdown, and Jews were a particular target, especially in Russia, where the Civil War was not resolved until 1921. A lot of Russian Jews were brought to the USA over the next few years. Including the late Isaac Asimov, who was the world’s most popular Science Fiction writer and a pretty good populariser of real science as well. Asimov was born in Russia in 1920 but raised in America from the age of three.
Irving’s general attitude is to rubbish the standard case without putting a coherent alternative. “[Jackson] said that the Nazis had killed an estimated 5.7 million Jews (that sounded more precise than the popular figure of Six Million.” (Ibid, p 166). What Jackson actually said was:
“‘Of the 9,600,000 Jews who lived in the parts of Europe under Nazi domination, it is conservatively estimate that 5,700,000 have disappeared, most of them deliberately put to death by the Nazi conspirators’. But the next day in opening the case for the prosecution, Mr Justice Jackson said ‘5,700,000 Jews are missing from the countries in which they formerly lived and over 4,500,000 cannot be accounted for by the normal death-rate nor by immigration; nor are they included among the displaced persons.’” (Gerald Reitlinger, The Final Solution, Sphere Books 1971, page 533).
Jackson’s figures were based on valid official estimates, comparing official figures for Jews in the various countries before the war with the number who were known to have survived it. These did indeed add up to 6 million missing out of 9.5 million. An accurate reckoning for Jews killed would need to figure the following:
a) Jews living before the war in territories the Nazis controlled during the war.
b) Jews found alive when the camps were liberated.
c) Those who hid during the war, or else concealed their Jewishness
d) Jews who left Nazi territory, legally or illegally
e) The ‘Siberian Shunt’, Jews moved to Siberia by Stalin between 1939 and 1941.
f) Jews who would have died of natural causes had the Nazis not killed them.
To put it in algebraic terms, the number dead would be
a – (b + c + d + e + f)
Jackson reckoned a=9.5 million, b=3.5 million. He lumped together (c) and (d) at 300,000, to allow for Jews had turned up in known places. From the remaining 5.7 million, he allowed for 1.2 million Jews dying of ‘natural causes’, a figure which would bizarrely high despite wartime shortages. But his wording allowed this figure to include (e), surviving Jews in the ‘Siberian Shunt’, whose existence was not publicised and who therefore were not ‘included among the displaced persons’.
However he got the figure, Jackson suggested 4.5 million intentional killings, which is about right once the ‘Siberian Shunt’ is allowed for. Rather, it is about right if the original figure of 9.5 million Jews was correct. If it were, then an independent SS estimate that they’d killed 6 million Jews by 1944 must have been inflated, especially since Jews were still dying or being murdered between then and the end of the war. I suspect that Jackson was playing safe and using a figure that he could defend even if the existence of the ‘Siberian Shunt’ had been mentioned. Oddly, it did not become an issue, as far as I know.
There also may have been more than 9.5 million Jews before the war in territories that the Nazis later controlled. Understating the number of Jews was much more likely than overstating, in states where the existence of Jews was seen as a problem. The standard estimate 6 million Jews is not definitely wrong. 4.5 million Jews intentionally killed is an irreducible minimum, with a killing total of rather more than six million if one includes the large number of non-Jews intentionally killed by the labour camps and death camps.
Irving chooses not to look at the details or try to work out how the figures were arrived at. He simply implies that the story is false because there are variances in the figures, numbers based on uncertain data. One might as well disbelieve in the Battle of Waterloo, because eye witnesses disagree about how many times the French cavalry charged the British lines. Or doubt the Battle of Gettysburg, because ‘Picket’s Charge’ was an uphill advance rather than a charge, and many sources (though not all) say that it was commanded by Lieutenant-General Longstreet rather than Major-General Pickett. Gettysburg also saw a Southern army arriving from the north and bumping into a Northern army arriving from the south. Meantime the Confederate cavalry had successfully hidden itself from both sides and only turned up when their main opportunity had passed They had ridden right round the Union army, which was tactically brilliant but strategically stupid. Real history is a messy business, and the art of historic narrative is to select the most plausible narrative in a world of exaggeration, inconsistency and faulty memories.
Having treated the ‘six million’ figure with some suspicion, Irving gives a separate non-Jewish source later on in his book. Apparent confirmation of guesses made in New York came from an SS officer called Höttl, who told the British and American investigators about a conversation he’d had in the privacy of SS inner circles of leadership:
“Eichmann had expressed the conviction that Germany had finally lost the war and that he himself was doomed since he had ‘millions of Jews’ on his conscience. Höttl claimed to have asked him how many Jews he was talking about. Himmler, Eichmann had replied, had also recently wanted to be given a precise figure, and he had drawn up a report for him. ‘In the various extermination camps,’ Eichmann had continued, according to the version written down by Höttl for the Americans, ‘they had killed around four million Jews while two million more had met their death in other ways, most of them shot to death by the task forces (Einsatzkommandos) of the security police during the campaign against Russia. ‘Himmler had not been satisfied with the report,’ Höttl’s affidavit continued, ‘as in his view the number of Jews killed should have been greater than six million’…
“By early 1946 Jackson also had the oral estimate by another of Eichmann’s wartime cronies… he would testify ‘that Eichmann in change of the whole program, had told him between 4 and 5 million Jews [were] killed.” (Nuremberg: The Last Battle, page’ 236-8).
So six million Jews was an SS figure, perhaps using the same pre-war data that went into Prosecutor Jackson’s estimates, which may explains how it became inflated. The ‘Siberian Shunt’ may have meant that local SS officials couldn’t find the expected number of Jews in their areas, and fiddled the figures instead. They could have pretended to ship additional Jews that the camps would pretend to receive and be feeding until they could be plausibly listed as dead and buried in unmarked graves. It is normal to find fiddles or ‘Enronisms’ within any organisation, managers playing up their successes and trying to cover up failures and errors. The USA did this extensively in Vietnam, claiming ‘body counts’ that were quite imaginary, as well as listing any dead male Vietnamese as Viet-Cong.
It’s not only Americans, of course. British figures for the Battle Of Britain show that they shot down considerably more than the entire German air-force, which remain formidable to the very end of the war. This doesn’t mean that the Battle Of Britain was a propaganda fiction; just that truth gets ignored when people are dying and when the future of nations is visible at stake. The SS had had a secret policy of mass extermination since 1941, which meant that local managers may have inflated the figures to include Jews that they hadn’t been able to find and who might not even have been there, but whose deaths Head Office was expecting.
Ask anyone who’s ever worked in an large bureaucratic machine, and they’ll tell you than misreporting is quite normal, and a lot of the skills of management is coping with it. I’d assume that this holds good even when the statistics relate to mass murder.
Of course uncertainty cuts both ways. Though six million Jews is a high estimate, it is not impossible if there were more Jews than had been officially counted by the pre-war governments. It might even have been more, if Eichmann was correct about the results of his program: between 4 and 5 million Jews, plus some two million more killed outside of the camps by roving murder-squads in occupied Soviet territories. That would make a possible maximum of 7 million Jews, and some uncertain millions of additional non-Jews. Still, 4.5 million is more likely and is the official result from those who have studied the matter carefully.
Even Deborah Lipstadt is quite willing to adjust numbers, “The memorial stone at Auschwitz lists the number of victims of the camp as 4 million. Research now indicates that the number of people who died in the Auschwitz/Birkenau gas chambers was between 1.5 and 2 million, of whom 85 to 90 percent were Jews.” (Denying The Holocaust, page 188). She seems muddled between the number who died and the number who were gassed, nor does she seem to grasp the significance of the number of survivors who had been moved to Siberia from territories that the Nazis later took from the Soviet Union.
I’ll not go into disputes about the actual gassing at Auschwitz/Birkenau. It may well be that particular tourist reconstructions of gas chambers are phoney, just as McPherson’s 18th century Ossian Cycle was fraudulent. But it was an attempt to reconstruct something that was well documented. Auschwitz was in fact a hybrid work-camp and death camp, which meant that there were a large number of survivors from the ‘work’ section. Even the work-camp should properly be called a work-to-death camp, since this was the intention.
The other famous names are Belsen and Dachau. Belsen had been built for Jews who had some hope of emigrating, but by the end of the war it had become a place for indirect genocide. Anna Frank was shipped there and died there of one of the camp’s numerous epidemics. Her father survived because he was left in Auschwitz at a time when direct killing had ended and it was obvious the Soviets would soon reach it and liberate the prisoners. Moving prisoners about in a collapsing society only makes sense in terms of a policy of ethnic warfare of the sort most Nazis believed in: give priority to killing off future mothers of the enemy Jewish race.
Dachau had been a brutal prison camp before the war, not concealed but openly spoken of as part of the Third Reich’s system of intimidation. The famous slogan ‘Work Makes Free’ was an almost-honest statement of the original intention. For non-Jews, a mix of religious, political, criminal and sexual offenders, the Nazis did indeed hope that labour might change them. Making prisoners work and hoping it changes the criminal or vagrant element among them is a fairly standard prison policy: they just took it a bit further than the modern Western norm. The dishonesty came in that it did not apply to Jews, who were treated worse than other inmates in the hope that they would flee the country as soon as they were release.
Dachau changed and became worse during the war. Most of its prisoners were not Jewish, Jews were generally sent on to the work camps or death camps. It was not much used for killing, though it did have a death rate that would have been shocking in any other context.
Irving says “reputable historians now generally agree that there was no homicidal gas chamber at Dachau; and there never had been.” (Nuremberg: The Last Battle, page 235.) He doesn’t explain his definition of ‘reputable historians’: it definitely doesn’t include historians whom most people see as reliable. Reitlinger says:
“Hundreds of Dachau inmates, Aryans as well as Jews, were gassed at Schloss Hartheim early in 1942… eventually every German concentration camp acquired a gas chamber of sorts, though not on Auschwitz lines. The Dachau gas chamber, for insurance, was preserved by the American occupation authorities as an object lesson, but its construction had been hampered and its use restricted to a few experimental victims, Jews or Russian prisoners-of-war.” (The Final Solution, page 141-2).
A 1950s exhibition at Dachau said that there was a ‘homicidal gas chamber’ that was labelled as a ‘shower room’. This was separate and distinct from the legitimate and undisguised chamber for fumigating clothing that confused some tourists.
This same exhibition said that the ‘homicidal gas chamber’ had never actually used, which is not the same as Irving’s claim that it never existed. Even this is disputed: some sources say that there was experimental gassing at Dachau, which was stopped because the numbers dying of hunger and disease was already using up the full capacity of the Dachau crematorium.
Irving states (page 236) that a much-publicised Dachau door saying the German equivalent of ‘Caution! Gas!’ leads just to a chamber used for fumigating prisoners’ clothing. Now obviously you don’t have photographs of doors saying “Killing Room for use in our secret program of mass extermination” (or whatever the German equivalent would be). Part of the policy was to keep the victims docile until it was too late, so there may have been no labels at all, at least not while Dachau’s relatively small gassing program was running.
Harold Marcuse’s Legacies of Dachau also deals with the gas chamber and exhibition. He explains how extermination centres like Treblinka, Sobor and Belzec had been concealed, with a pine forest planted over Treblinka. Obviously there were very few survivors from such places, only a few inmates who managed to escape. As for the Dachau gas chamber, he details how it was built, and how the later exhibition said it had never been used.
“It was indeed never used for systematic gassings, probably because the death rate at Dachau was high enough to keep the crematorium ovens running at full capacity anyway. The explanatory sign thus inadvertently supported the myth of the ‘clean’ camp…” (Legacies of Dachau, Cambridge University Press 2001, page 254.)
As for the overall process of genocide, there are numerous documents, eye witnesses and strong demographic evidence. What more does Irving want? An exact tally engraved on stone tablets and handed down by the Archangel Gabriel? (Except that Gabriel must be presumed to be Jewish, and thus not impartial.)
Alternative theories cannot rest content with oddities, history is full of oddities and loose ends. If dissenting historians are serious, they have to construct their own interpretation, using all of the known facts. Put baldly, the ‘alternative history’ promoted by Irving is that the SS went to great trouble to build a large chamber at Auschwitz that had no function at all, except to allow them to be falsely accused of gassing people. And then they demolished it, spending a lot of additional effort in a time of national breakdown so as to obscure evidence that would have exonerated them.
There is also no reason I can see why a chamber used for fumigating clothing shouldn’t also be used for mass homicide. This seems not to have happened, but it is more plausible to suppose dual-use facilities than to suppose that the widespread reports of mass killings were some sort of collective hallucination.
There are also the millions missing from the pre-war Jewish population of Eastern Europe, and the huge number of communities that suffered an 80% to 90% death rate.
In my view, David Irving—the son of a Royal Navy commander—is looking back to the viewpoint of those in the ruling class who’d have liked to preserve Imperial power in alliance with Hitler. But that’s dead history, something that might have happened and didn’t.
The ‘Holocaust’ was real enough. But it should not be separated from other cases of genocide and ‘ethnic cleansing’. While these were not as extreme, they were also well known and happened in peace time. It was much safer and easier for people to protest at Anglo genocide, and a few people did, but not many. Different standards are used, depending on who might get convicted.
Anglo culture is build around its legal system. Modestly called ‘The Law’, this system is a rag-tag of ideas that were put together by the Norman-English state in the 11th and 12th centuries. In those days England was a slave state and the ordinary English were considerably worse off than they had been under the Anglo-Saxon monarchs.
Norman Britain is not normally called a slave state, not in a society where most of the ruling class had Norman ancestry and was proud of the difference. The Victorian elite tried to convince the English masses of the wonderfulness of their heritage, so the agricultural slavery of the Normans was renamed ‘serfdom’, while ‘slavery’ was freely used about the lowest class among the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic societies. In pre-Norman Britain, slaves were indeed bought and sold, but they were not sharply separated from the free peasantry. Saxon society had its oppressive elements and class inequality, but there was nothing like the gulf the Normans created between the elite and an unfree majority.
Normans were also practitioners of genocide, in the loose sense of the term. They did not want to kill off their serf populations as a whole, but freely ‘laid waste’ huge territories that resisted their rule. The reality of mediaeval warfare was armoured knights sitting safe in castles until there was a decent chance for battle, while their rivals harried the land and often killed its defenceless serfs and small farmers. Only a strong king could stop such anarchy, and this was just what Magna Carta and similar controls were intended to prevent.
Magna Carta was useful later on to Parliamentary protestors in the very different politics of English Civil War. It could be hyped, only because people didn’t realise that ‘free men’ were a minority. Curbs on the King by barons were good for barons, but mostly bad for those under baronial rule. Still, it did establish that the English monarchy had never been absolute and that official curbs had been imposed and agreed.
In mediaeval times, the baronial idea of liberty had culminated in the destructive ‘Wars of the Roses’—itself a Victorian notion, actual badges and alignments were much looser. But wars between baronial factions and the rival royal heirs of York and Lancaster did kill off a lot of the old aristocratic families, changing the nature of the society. Marx says something about this process bringing in a mass of previously unimportant relatives with a more commercial outlook, though I’ve not got the quote to hand. Definitely, England had internal peace only after the Tudors imposed a central state and stopped the barons from having their own armed retainers.
English violence did not end, of course: it just got externalised. First against Ireland, and then as piracy against the Spaniards (who’d been even more brutal than the English to their own subject people). Success against Spanish power led on to extensive genocide in the New World, where English-speaking settlements were a tide of utter destruction as far as the Native Americans were concerned.
English law is adversarial, bearing a strong likeness to the blood-feuds and uncertain legal processes of the Icelandic Sagas. The Icelanders were one branch of the Germanic peoples who had wrecked the Roman Empire, the English were another, and similar rules applied.
Anyone who’s not familiar with the Icelandic Commonwealth and its Sagas is ignorant of a vital part of European history. The whole Viking-Norse era was a foreshadowing of Europe’s wider role, a sea-going culture where the pirate and the trader were much the same person. The Norse even had an overseas settlement where Republican ideas flourished: Iceland foreshadowed the republican governments of most European settlements, Spanish and Dutch and Portuguese as well as English. And in both 10th century Iceland and the 20th century USA, individualism and adversarial law have been taken to extremes.
Being adversarial and also dominated by professional lawyers, ‘The Law’ in England has a very strong incentive to remain vague, slow and full of contradictions. Judges are promoted from the ranks of the lawyers and so have every reason to keep things the same. An arena for rhetorical flourishes, rather than logic, and Continental law is only a little better. So I am going to ignore all of the pomposity of ‘The Law’ and the empty flourishes of the United Nations, and take a fresh look at the facts. One could define several distinct crimes:
Genocide—Direct is when there is specific killing of large numbers of people from the target community. The majority of Nazi killing of Jew and other target populations fits in this category. It includes such things as ‘death vans’ and gas chambers in the camps, as well as massive shooting sprees against conquered populations in the Nazi-occupied parts of the Soviet Union.
Genocide—Indirect is when there is no specific killing of people from the target community, but a general hope or intent that a lot of them should die. It is much more common than Genocide—Direct and was practiced by the USA against its Native Americans. Less successfully by Australians against their aboriginal population, and only rather loosely by New Zealanders against Maori and South Africans against the Bushmen. One must also not forget the genocide by Argentines against the Patagonian Indians, though the British Left did mostly forget it when they justified the invasion of the Falklands as ‘anti-colonial’.
Genocide—Manslaughter is something else again, the guilty party did not demonstrably wish or intend large numbers of deaths, but it was a foreseeable result of something that you should not have been doing. I would include in this the first Concentration Camps, those run by the British Empire in their wars of conquest against the Dutch Boer republics. Imprisoning huge numbers of civilians was very shocking at the time. The nearest precedent had been the Spanish campaign against Cuban independence, but the Spaniards put barbed wire round people’s existing community, which was nothing like as brutal as shipping them to a prison camp.
Negligent Genocide is a lesser evil, but still unacceptable. It is when large numbers of deaths were a foreseeable result of doing nothing, and the guilty party had the means to act and still does nothing. The Liberal government in power during the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s was guilty of this, if not worse. You could argue that it was really Genocide—Manslaughter, based on an appalling system of absentee landlordism that would not have survived without support from London. Even that it was Genocide—Indirect, that there was a desire to be rid of a population resistant to Liberal norms. Catholic religious practices could be overlooked where Catholics accepted the Liberal-Puritan economic agenda, as they mostly have in the USA. But the Catholic Irish were hanging on to their entire culture; religion, language and a non-commercial view of life. No wonder the Economist magazine insisted all through the famine that such people must be left to die if market forces would not feed them.
Deaths in the Soviet system of prison camps count as Negligent Genocide. Numbers are rather smaller than they were before historians got access to Soviet records. Death rates in prison and prison transport were not enormous: between 2% and 6% in peacetime, falling to less than 1% from 1950. Deaths were much higher during the Nazi invasion, when prisoners undoubtedly took a low priority while the state was fighting for its existence. These peaked at 352,560 or nearly one in four in 1942, which is excessive but which does not suggest any intent to exterminate.
Anne Applebaum’s Gulag expresses embarrassment at the smallness of the numbers derived from hard data: a total of 2.75 million between 1929 and 1953, plus 786 thousand political executions from 1934 to 1953. Political executions probably shouldn’t count as genocide; they are based on actual crimes that a particular individual is found guilty of. But if you lump the figures together and then round up a little, you still have less than the 4.5 million Jews who were undoubtedly killed by a Nazi system that was out to kill them all.
You can get a higher figure if you add in the various deaths from famine from the period of Soviet rule. But on what basis could you distinguish it from the rather larger number who died in famines in British India? Nor should you leave out the equally vast numbers who died in China under the rule of a decaying Empire that the West supported, or the warlords and Kuomintang whom the West accepted and curbed when Chinese Imperial rule finally ended.
You don’t get this from standard histories: only the Soviet famine and the final Chinese famine during Mao’s rule ever get a mention. This is known as ‘being economical with the truth’. It is in fact grossly untruthful: the difference between this and actual lying would not seem important to anyone except a lawyer, a philosopher or a theologian.
Someone should do a detailed study, assessing and comparing genocide as practiced by the Spanish Empire, the British Empire, the Dutch and Belgian empires, the USA, the Nazis, the Soviets etc. I think you’d find that Nazi crimes were extreme and intense for a mere 12 years of existence. But they’d definitely come behind both Spaniards and Britons in terms of numbers intentionally killed. As for the Russians, assessed using uniform methods and without giving privileged status to the lives of the white and middle-class, the Soviet record might look quite modest.
Note also that the Soviet prison system existed against a backdrop of several decades of vicious social struggle. A struggle which began when the Allies intervened to try to overthrow the Bolshevik government, which had started out very idealistically and mildly. After the near-bloodless success of 1917, the Bolsheviks abolished the death penalty, in keeping with the utopian future they were planning. They also released large numbers of right-wing military officers who had taken part in revolts against them. Most of these became formidable and ruthless foes in the subsequent Civil War.
Julius Caesar forgave the enemies he had defeated in his Roman civil war: they murdered him. His heir Augustus Caesar took the lesson and made sure that no significant enemies were left alive by the time his own civil war was completed. In the same spirit, the Bolsheviks began by showing mercy to their enemies, who showed no mercy in return. Thereafter they had a policy of wiping out their more formidable foes, while trying to remould the less dangerous. Troublesome or rebellious populations were shipped somewhere else, much like the British sending convicts to various colonies, at first North America and later Australia. There was nothing as drastic as the expanding USA deporting various Native American tribes regardless of whether or not they kept the peace.
I spoke earlier about the ‘Siberian Shunt’, the very large number of Jews that Stalin moved to Siberia in the months between the destruction of Poland and the Nazi-Soviet war. This particular story is barely known: it might reflect some credit on Stalin, even though most of the Jews had no wish to go, and it’s moot if anyone supposed that their lives would be in danger if they stayed where they were. More likely it was a good chance to scoop up some extra Siberian settlers, a concern of the Russian state from almost as soon as it got access to these huge cold territories. But though the facts cannot be denied, they can be ignored. One hears about it, only because individual Jews who went through the process chose to record their stories:
“Conditions were extremely tough in comparison to the central European standards we were used to when growing up in Vienna but better than millions caught up in the theatre of the World War, further west from us. I was sure that our guards did not see any problems with our position. They did not know anything better and had no patience with what they perceived as paltry complaints in the middle of wartime conditions. At the time I confronted the commandant in the camp… he commented, ‘Don’t you know there is a war going on? I don’t know where my wife and children are.” (Surviving the Nazis, Exile and Siberia, by Edith Sekules, The Library of Holocaust Testimonies, page 96-7.)
“When we stopped in a small Hungarian town a group of the local Jews came to the train to welcome us. When the women saw out children they could not believe their eyes. They all said ‘You still have children! Ours have all been killed by the Nazis’… When the Soviet troops had told us about the Nazi atrocities and how the Nazis were exterminating Jews and other groups, we were certain it was Soviet Propaganda and did not believe any of it.” (Ibid, page 120). (This happened in 1947, while the various refugee populations were still being sorted out.)
The fate of Europe’s Jews made a good propaganda point after the war. At the time it was not a major concern, nor did the leaders see any need to conciliate Jews. Jews had little choice except to support the Allies, backing people who often disliked them against people who were clearly out to kill them.
The Nazi death camps were an extreme, based on an ideological belief that Jews as such were a danger to Germany, ‘racial enemies’ in an undeclared war that had been going on for centuries. The Nazis also knew that the tide of military warfare had turned against them after 1941, which was when the mass killings started. This was distinct from other wartime atrocities, which did happen on all sides. Talking to people who’d been British soldiers in World War Two, I found that they believed that Canadians had behaved particularly badly: Germans wanting to surrender would first make sure that the allied troops were not Canadian. What the Canadians themselves would say, I’ve no idea.
US accounts of the war—works like Band of Brothers—freely admits that US troops killed German prisoners, and also refused to accept some German surrenders. This was nothing to do with Nazi war crimes: the front-line troops did not then believe the stories about death camps, which anyway did not involve the German regular army. They were offended because their enemy went on fighting when they saw the nation’s existence as the issue at stake. The demand for unconditional surrender implied a new settlement even worse than Versailles:
“Thousands of ordinary German soldiers also carried on the battle… an impressive percentage were there because they felt it was their duty… ‘The Allies’ insistence on unconditional surrender made us fight longer. If they had said, get rid of the Nazis, none of us would have objected to that. But none of the Allies said that.’” (Citizen Soldiers, by Stephen E. Ambrose. Page 452, Pocket Books edition.)
Had the allies stated publicly that the war was against Hitler and Nazism rather than Germans in general, had they declared a willingness to talk decent terms with some other authority, they might have brought about a collapse in 1943 or 1944. Just this did happen in Italy, where the government in Rome dismissed Mussolini and officially joined the Allied side for the remainder of the war.
Why did the Allies needlessly prolong a war that might have finished much sooner? Because it was a war against Germans in general, at least in the eyes of British and American political leaders. The initial idea was to prevent Germans functioning as a state ever again. There was also a policy of removing German industry—or rather removing its ‘hardware’, the true treasure was a skilled workforce, which is why a later recovery was possible. But Germany’s revival happened because the USA and USSR became Cold-War rivals, which meant that both sides tried to win over the Germans to their cause, and encouraged the re-growth of their industry.
Both World Wars were anti-German wars, begun because of a desire by Britain’s ruling class to keep their Empire and their status as a ‘Hyperpower’. In fact Hyperpower status has passed to the USA. In the First World War, the USA joined the anti-German side because they figured that they could easily build a partnership with Britain that the US would dominate, taking over Britain’s useful contacts and heritage without any overt conflict between the two English-speaking powers.
The alternative outcome—the certain outcome if the USA had stayed neutral—would have been Germany dominating Europe and Britain hurt and humbled but still in possession of its Empire. Not good for the USA!
In World War Two, Roosevelt was definitely anti-Nazi, but many other US politicians were not (including Ambassador Joe Kennedy, the father of John F. Kennedy). As I mentioned early, Roosevelt was helped by Hitler’s foolish decision to declare war after the USA had been attacked by Japan. And once the war had begun, there was general agreement within the USA that it must be won decisively and with all of their enemies humbled. That was the reality of power, and would have applied whatever sort of regime had been in charge in Germany.
It was only after the war was won that it was useful to be able to point out how Hitler and his followers had violated the ‘Segura principle’. ‘Segura principle’? You won’t have heard of it, it’s a term I am inventing to fill a gap in current thinking. I derive it from Captain Segura, a fictional policeman and torturer in Graham Greene’s Our Man In Havana, set in pre-Castro Cuba. Segura explains the rules to Mr Wormold, expatriate Briton, vacuum-cleaner salesman and fraudulent spy. Wormold is concerned at the arrest of a friend called Hasselbacher:
“‘Dr Hasselbacher does not belong to the torturable classes.’
“‘The poor in my own country, in any Latin American country. The poor of Central Europe and the Orient. Of course in your welfare states you have no poor, so they are untorturable…
“‘One reason why the West hates the great Communist states is that they don’t recognise class-distinctions. Sometimes they torture the wrong people. So too of course did Hitler and shocked the world. Nobody cares what goes on in our prisons, or the prisons of Lisbon or Caracas, but Hitler was too promiscuous. It was rather as though in your country a chauffeur had slept with a peeress.’
“‘We’re not shocked by that any longer.’
“‘It is a great danger for everyone when what is shocking changes.’”
It is typical of Graham Greene to be a shrewd observer with no effective morals. His nominal Catholicism meant little to him: he was one of a whole crowd of British intellectuals who found life futile and chose allegiance to Rome as a convenient alternative to suicide. Green does not really notice the developing revolution that was to end Cuba’s role as a brothel and gambling-haven for the USA, a place where tourists could do things that they wanted to keep strictly illegal back home. But his observation about the hollowness of official principles and of the categories of torturable and untorturable was true at the time, and still remains valid.
A few hundred aristocrats put to death by the French Revolution continues to receive vastly more attention that thousands of ordinary people killed in various counter-revolutions. The guillotine was quick, probably too quick for any pain to be felt. Britain meantime was hanging huge number of poor people for theft, using the classic style of strangulation-hanging that was intentionally painful and degrading.
That’s not all. How often is it mentioned that the French Revolution had abolished torture? In an age when brutality was the norm, the Revolutionary French never applied it regardless of circumstances. Most British histories will not even concede that most of the original principles of the French Revolution have become part of normal politics, despite the abrupt and dramatic collapse of Napoleon’s empire and the apparent restoration of the old order. Britain in 1815 had not resolved the legacy of its own revolution, where Cromwell’s regime had also collapsed in seeming failure. The long result of the British and French revolutions have gone far beyond older ideas of ‘levelling’.
There are collapses and collapses. The fall of the Third Reich has left fascism permanently damaged, unable ever to get back to the general influence and prestige that it had had in 1933. Elements of Mussolini’s fascism did get included in post-war Europe: a mix of state power, militarism, romantic nationalism, populism and welfare. But fascism had become contaminated by its association with Hitler, and by being on the losing side of the second Anglo-German War. So this mix was labelled ‘Keynesianism’ or ‘the Mixed Economy’, even though ‘Democratic Corporatism’ would have described it better. Mussolini’s Corporatism became part of the new norm, and remain so in the current era of ‘Pork-Barrel Libertarianism’.
Hitler’s extra ideas beyond the Mussolini model were racism, racial separation and planned genocide. These ideas were strong and popular in 1933, hugely damaged after 1945 and showing little sign of recovery.
I do know of the rise of racist, anti-immigrant and even neo-fascist parties in Europe. This has happened in the context of huge numbers of non-white immigrants encouraged to settle in Europe. There has also been a systematic undermining of everything that once gave the white working class a sense of pride and identity. The surprise is that the Far-Right reaction is so weak, remaining at a level where it does not threaten the interests of the Centre-Right.
Racism is marginal, notions of ‘race purification’ are essentially dead. The idea of selective breeding for humans had been growing in popularity over the decades before Hitler. The creed had been given a strong scientific justification by Francis Galton, with the support of Charles Darwin and many other prominent Britons. But after 1945, such ideas were tainted by an identification with Nazism. Without Hitler embarking on his program of ‘race purification’ and genocide, and also comprehensively losing the World War, there’s no knowing how things might have developed.
Without the inclusion of high-status groups like the Jews, the process of mass killings to remould the world might have been carried much further. Also something like South Africa’s apartheid might have become generalised wherever there was a mixed population. Far from being a pioneer of genocide, Hitler was unintentionally its terminator.
Things might have been different had someone else been running Nazism. Goering’s vision was for a right-wing political-military elite that would include no Jews: he was happy for Jews to have a cultural and economic role, under supervision. And this would not have been so different from what the elite in the USA wanted in the 1930s, and had partly imposed. Things were more complex in Britain, where the stratum that rejected Jews was only the Second Eleven and the really top people had long ago admitted Jews to their number.
Goering went along with the deportation of Jews, of course. But most Britons accepted the removal of newly arrived Jews as ‘enemy aliens’. Nuremberg found Goering guilty of being part of the genocide, which is doubtful. He was also found guilty of ‘crimes against peace’, even though everyone agrees that Goering did not want the war and did everything he could to persuade Hitler not to start it.
It would be nice if someone in the media re-staged Goering’s trial with actors. Would a modern jury uphold any of the ‘guilty’ verdicts passed on him at Nuremberg?
Though the Nuremberg judgements were biased and hypocritical, the West came under pressure over the decades to start living up to the principles that they had claimed to believe in. Racial equality has been officially and legally established, and this was far from inevitable in the 1930s.
During the 19th century, there had been a general growth in hard-line nationalism and racism. Perhaps it came from the vastly expanded role of the state, and the increasing number of people who had to think about who they were and what they valued. Industrialisation and global markets meant that large numbers of people were not living as their parents had lived. In 1800, most people were still living where they had been born, and doing much the same things that they’d seen in their childhood. This had been changing in Britain, which had begun by revolutionising rural life with enclosure. Meantime General Sherman after the American Civil War spoke frankly of waging a war of extermination against Native Americans defending their lands against the railways and settlers. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries these attitudes were coming home to Europe. Had it not been for Hitler and Chamberlain blundering into an Anglo-German war that neither man really wanted, there is no obvious reason why these trends should not have continued.
In the post-1945 world, anti-racism was proclaimed as a principle by the United Nations. It was later imposed as an official standard in the USA. It took decades to extend this to Southern Africa, where the white settler population had failed to wipe out the natives in the way other major North-European settlements had managed. Since I don’t see any inevitable historic trend away from racism and genocide and towards a one-world view, the establishment of the idea and the ideal is valuable. Even though the UN can enforce nothing, it does at least set standards that people have to pretend to agree with.
Only the most extreme forms of mass killing have stopped, unfortunately. Tobacco kills 120,000 Britons every year, and is still being actively pushed among non-smokers and light smokers. It has now been proven that nicotine is as chemically addictive as heroin. But attempts to curb tobacco ‘impinge freedom’, whereas ‘freedom’ is not impinged by the criminalisation of marijuana, even for those with a valid medical need for it. Freedom is the preservation of Wonderful Me—the person I’d like to be, even if the actual ‘me’ does not quite live up to the idea of Wonderful Me.
Foreigners are visible different from ‘Wonderful Me’, and so much lower standards of human concern are applied. At the time of writing, 23rd December 2003, Channel 4 News has made the release of a British hostage in Columbia its top story for the second night running. Eight Palestinians killed in Gaza and a mix bag of other dead foreigners comes much lower down the scale of ‘human interest’.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obvious cases of killing large number of enemy civilians, so as to save the lives of your own troops. And from the viewpoint of Western leaders, US troops were very much closer to being specimens of ‘Wonderful Me’ than were Japanese civilians. But even the lives of US troops was secondary to the plans to force Japan to make an unconditional surrender.
Both German and Japan would have surrendered much sooner, if guaranteed terms similar to what they in fact got. But they only got those terms because they were needed as allies against the Soviet Union: I don’t think that this was the intention in 1945. The strong US desire for the ritual humiliation of a major enemy must have played a part, of course, as it has with Iraq and Saddam. But there are plenty of indications that in 1945 there was no intention of letting them get back to being prosperous and independent nations.
And so it goes on, even though the choice of enemy changes. Cluster Bombs continue to be used, because they are an efficient weapon and allow a high-tech army to limit its casualties. But the typical cluster bomb will leave 10% of the bomblets unexploded, as dangerous as land-mines. The September 2003 Arms Fair in London features improved models with a mere 2% unexploded, but that still means one unexploded bomblet from each shell of 49 of them. It’s another step in the de-civilisation of war, the 20th century pattern of turning wars between armed forces into struggles to smash entire societies.
Save a soldier, kill a child. That should be the slogan under which Cluster Bombs are sold.
To get back to the matter of prison camps, the death rate was 4% for prisoners of war in German and Italian camps. It was 27% for prisoners of war in Japanese camps, and this was correctly classed as criminal. Yet there would still have been a high death rate if the Japanese had followed the Geneva-convention rule of treating prisoners as well as their own troops: ordinary Japanese were used to vastly tougher conditions of existence. In any case, Europeans had mostly believed that there were no rules ‘east of Aden’, outside of European territories. It was only when Europeans became victims that Universal Human Rights became a principle.
But even the Japanese cannot be compared to the Nazis. They were callous towards prisoners and vicious towards subject peoples—much worse things were done to other Asians than were done to Europeans. But it was part of an Imperial mission that did not include killing as an end in itself. Whereas wiping out large number of Jews and other ‘racial enemies’ was a Nazi war aim, a procedure that got in the way of winning the war itself.
Death rates in the Nazi concentration camps must have been well over 50%, counting the system as a whole and including deaths from sickness and hunger along with gassings and other deliberate slaughter. Most Jewish communities in Occupied Europe suffered 80% to 90% casualties, with many of the survivors being those who were never caught. Some communities disappeared completely and must have suffered a 100% death rate. This 100% death rate was planned as the ‘end product’ of the system. Had the war lasted another three or four years, there would have been no Jews at all left in the areas the Nazis controlled.
You could say that the British Empire killed at least as many as the Third Reich, with their deliberate decision to close the seas to Europe’s normal food supplies. This was done in both World Wars and followed the same logic as Cluster Bombs: better to kill foreign and enemy civilians than to accept deaths among your own troops and risk losing the war. But that’s not the case that David Irving makes in Nuremberg: The Last Battle. He used to be an interesting historian, despite his hard-right views. Nowadays he seems more interested in pandering to a bunch of completely useless Neo-Nazis: characters who have served as a sink of working-class militancy, useful to rampaging Global Capitalism. Small-minded people whose mentality prevents them being any more than a nuisance to the establishment. The Neo-Nazis have the ‘cadres’, the vital rank-and-file who can transmit political ideas to a wider public. But they have nothing functional to transmit. They look to the flashy gambling leadership of Adolph Hitler, who wrecked what had been a flourishing and expanding political philosophy.
It is not a defence of Nazism to say that the Nazi concentration camps only became a killing-machine when the British Empire refused to accept defeat after the Fall of France. I can’t see any reason to doubt that if Lord Halifax become Prime Minister after Chamberlain and made a negotiated peace in 1940, then millions of deaths would not have happened. You’d also have had fascism, racism and anti-Semitism dominating Europe. Probably these same sentiments would still be strong in the US and Britain, always assuming there hadn’t been a Nazi-Soviet war ending in a Soviet victory. But the decision to carry on in 1940 was based on Churchill’s reluctance to accept that the British Empire had lost the Second World War, and lost it with him as leader. Churchill was concerned with Jews only in as far as they were or were not useful to the British Empire. Churchill’s War cannot justified on the basis of mass killings that only happened because the war was continued.
Lord Russell of Liverpool’s Scourge of the Swastika tells us that when the war started, there were six concentration camps holding a total of 20,000 people (Chapter VI). And the aim was definitely not to kill them. There had separately been some killing of the sick and incurably insane among the ‘racially acceptable’ German population, but this had been stopped after behind-the-scenes protests.
Scourge of the Swastika was originally published in 1954, re-issued in 2002, and its 2002 introduction mentions the unwillingness of the British establishment to deal with such matters at the time. 1954 was a critical period in the Cold War, in which West Germany was a vital ally, so it was mostly the Left who pushed the issue. And Lord Russell’s description of Nazi atrocities is noticeably not linked with European treatment of non-Europeans over the past couple of centuries. Lord Russell seems to have been a believer in the ‘Segura principle’; only some people qualify as people.
People not qualifying as people also included the children of Iraq. Using the criteria I outlined earlier, the West is guilty of the genocide-manslaughter of half a million Iraqi children during its long anti-Saddam campaign.
‘There was no alternative’, they would probably say if you pressed them. But this was not true when Thatcher said it: she successfully reverse a drift to socialism that would probably have gone on if she’d failed, maybe by losing the Falklands War. And it was equally untrue in the 1990s.
In 1991, a lot of dictators and authoritarian rulers would have stepped down and accepted a moderation of their country’s systems, in return for immunity and security. Why was this not done? In part, I’d reckon it was because the dominant Anglo culture is still bourgeois in the proper sense of the term. It does not like to think outside of ‘envelope’ of inherited law on the West European pattern. Finding someone to blame and punish was much more important than trying to build a better world.
But there was also the Anglo desire to impose their own pattern on the rest of the world. In 1991, the non-Anglo allies of the US and Britain felt they were entitled to their share of the fruits of victory. Japan was well place to challenge US economic dominance, if the civilised norms between ‘Free World’ allies had been maintained. Which of course they weren’t.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, there were signs that Japan was being targeted as the Next Big Threat, just as Britain targeted Germany in the years before the 1914 war. I’ve always found the sudden outbreak of slump in Japan very suspicious, and a very Japanese way of dealing with such a threat. That much is speculative: the historic fact has been a switch of US fear and aggression to the Muslim world, with Muslim hard-liners like Bin Laden quite happy to play their part and undermine moderate Muslim opinion.
The mediaeval crusades were an outbreak of religious extremism among Christians. As with most hard-line movements, these ‘Christianists’ invented new traditions and discarded much that was part of the original faith. Christendom has been under pressure for several centuries from militant Islam, which was at a higher level of civilisation and wealth. Islam had conquered many ancient Christian lands, North African and West Asian territories that had played a big part in sorting out what Christian civilisation was. Under pressure, the Latin-Christian church reversed its traditional gospel-inspired dislike of war: they borrowed the idea of ‘Holy War’ or Jihad from Islamic theology. But this was no ‘historic compromise’, the borrowings were done in a mood of deep hostility against Muslims.
And against Jews.
The original Christians were a faction within Judaism. Read Acts Of The Apostles and you find that apostles like Paul and Barnabas were initially trying to win converts among Jews and among pagans who had accepted some aspects of Judaism. Acts also describes how Paul had to go against most other early Christian leaders to establish that pagans could become Christians without also accepting Jewish law. Paul of Tarsus opened the door for Christianity to extend itself beyond Jews, though his longer-term intentions are unclear. Acts breaks off quite suddenly, in the form we have it today. One incomplete document could be an accident, but there is a suspicious lack of written records dealing with the transition of a mostly-Jewish movement into a movement dominated by non-Jews. We also lack solid details about the rise to prominence of the bishops, and about whether either Paul or Peter actually died in Rome. It’s quite likely that documents which did not support later viewpoints were not copied or circulated: they would have been lost even if there was no deliberate destruction.
What we do know is that in the second Christian century, there was a parting of the ways between mainstream Judaism and those claiming prophetic status for Jesus of Nazareth. Jews had by then achieved a respectable niche within the Empire, after their various revolts had been crushed and their temple destroyed. Christians at that time were a subversive minority, and the vast majority of them did not live by Jewish law. So Jews made it clear that they were nothing to do with Christians. Some Jews had regarded Jesus as a valid preacher whose doctrines had been distorted. But this view was rejected and stamped out within Judaism, so that the split became absolute.
When the Emperor Constantine allowed a version of Christianity to take over the Roman Empire a century later, life suddenly became much more dangerous for Jews. And indeed for Christian heretics; ‘heretics’ being whichever faction was out of favour at the time. Arianism—the denial of the Trinity and a belief than Jesus was a created being rather than God—was the official Christianity at one point. Oddly, it was the attempted return to paganism by Emperor Julian that broke this up and let the rival Anastasian creed win out. But the Anastasian notion of Jesus as both divine and human caused further splits, further persecution of Christian by Christian. The rivalries weakened the Empire and helped the early conquests of Islam, where there was tolerance for all ‘peoples of the book’.
In Western Europe, one particular creed successfully suppressed its rivals among the heirs of the Western Roman Empire. Normans became the shock troops of the Papacy, imposing Rome’s severe vision of religion on the lax Anglo-Saxons. It was also to be imposed by the Anglo-Normal barons on Celtic Christians in Wales and Ireland, whose version of Christianity was older than Rome’s standardised version and was probably closer to the original creed. (Celtic Christianity was also stamped out in Scotland, but by a Norman infiltration and without being conquered. Later attempts at conquest by the English kings did not involve religion and were fiercely resisted by Scottish-Norman barons like the Bruce family.)
Normans also played a major role in recovering Sicily from the Muslims. They were part of a general expansion by Latin Christianity and European feudalism, against the remnants of European paganism in the Baltic as well as the recovery of former Christian territories and the Holy Land itself. Muslims were the main foe, certainly. But Jews were a frequent secondary target: mobs of crusading enthusiasts massacring Jewish communities who had previously been tolerated.
Given the nature of historic crusading zeal, it is decidedly odd that Spielberg should have chosen to celebrate it with Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. It’s an excellent film, but you could re-hash the grail legend without glamorising a bunch of armoured barbarians. Maybe in 500 years you’ll have a Jewish film-maker producing a film that heroises Adolph Hitler; it wouldn’t be any more bizarre. And it shows the degree to which American Jews have been absorbed within the Anglo mind-set.
Someone else who’s been assimilated is Rabbi Jonathan Sachs. Because he says some sensible things in The Dignity Of Difference, it is essential to criticise him and show how the up-front ideals are irrationally twisted into an endorsement of Thatcherism.
In Britain and America, there is now a substantial Jewish Right, equivalent to the Christian Right of the USA (most serious British Christians are liberal-left). The Jewish Right accept the bulk of Modernism and goes along with its destructiveness, so long as they think they can hang on to their own local particularisms. Of course the Jewish Right are at least the authentic continuation of archaic values, a tradition going back maybe to Moses. Whereas the Puritan-Christian ‘Fundamentalists’ are wholly a product of the 17th century religious re-mix, a hodgepodge of selected bits from the Old testament mixed with oddities inherited from Catholicism and some of their own hang-ups. The Christian Right has no serious thinkers I’ve ever heard of (C. S. Lewis was moderate-Protestant and an Anglican). But the Jewish Right is serious enough to be worth looking at closely.
Remarkably enough, Sachs partly endorses the old anti-Semitic notion of Jews as the inventors of capitalism.
“There is no specifically Jewish association with the market economy. Undeniably, though, Jews did play an important part in its development.” (The Dignity Of Difference, page 90, paperback edition.).
Jews up until their Babylonian exile were not commercial. Finance and retail markets existed well before the emergence of Jews as a distinct people; sophisticated finance would have existed before Abraham, if you treat him as a real historical individual. (The plausible narrative of Abraham’s life in Genesis is full of anachronisms; there were no Chaldeans at Ur until centuries after Abraham would have left it.)
Money’s role in human affairs probably began with trade and distribution. All human groups have systems of gift-exchange, sometimes enormously complex systems stretching across hundreds of miles. The purpose of gift-exchange is prestige and the creation of social ties, but it is quite easy for a few people to modify it and make a living out of distributing and exchanging the goods that other people produce. And while this may have begun by exchanging sheep for wood or cattle for fish, it was much easier to use precious metals as a measure of wealth.
That’s merchant capital: from this it is a small step to finance capital, lending money with the expectation of getting more back, without any goods or trade coming into it. All of this existed in the first cities of Mesopotamia, cities older than Babylon and much older than the Jews, who first emerged as marginal tribalists in the long-settled and urbanised land of Canaan. Both merchant capital and finance capital existed in areas where there were never any significant number of Jews: Imperial China pioneered paper money and Japanese systems were also highly sophisticated.
Jews in Western Europe filled a niche filled by other peoples elsewhere in the world. In much of South-East Asia, small numbers of Chinese who settled over several generations in traditionally-minded societies have achieved a concentration of wealth far beyond anything the Jews ever managed in Europe. As one Chinese writer put it:
“My family is part of the Philippines’ tiny but economically powerful Chinese minority. Although they constitute 1 per cent of the population, Chinese Filipinos control about 60 per cent of the private economy, including the country’s four airlines and almost all of the banks, hotels, shopping malls, and big conglomerates. My own family runs a plastics conglomerate and owns swathes of prime real estate – and they are only “third-tier” Chinese tycoons. They also have safe deposit boxes full of gold bars, each one the size of a chocolate bar. I myself have such a gold bar. My Aunt Leona sent it to me as a law school graduation present a few years before she died.” (Vengeful Majorities, by Amy Chau, Prospect, December 2003.)
Amy Chau’s views on ‘market minorities’ are interesting, though she confuses the matter by including settlers like the South Africans, who differ from the USA only in that they left most of the natives still alive. But she does emphasise the common experience of all human civilisations. Whereas Sachs’ view is deeply parochial.
“Western civilization has known five universalist cultures: ancient Greece, ancient Rome, mediaeval Christianity and Islam, and the Enlightenment.” (The Dignity Of Difference, p 19-20).
What about the Persians? Alexander took over the Persian Empire as a going concern and adopted their idea of a Universal Ruler, which was not a Greek concept. Why ignore non-Western universalism? Hinduism had a local focus, but did extend its cultural influence to Central Asia and Southeast Asia. Confucius devised an ‘ideal politics’ before the birth of Plato, and his system was translated into the governing philosophy of the largest and most stable pre-Industrial Empire, whereas Platonism failed hopelessly when tried as a working political philosophy. And especially one should not forget Buddhism, a universalism that was compatible with all sorts of local colour. It was these non-European exampled that led the ex-Christian thinkers of the Enlightenment to view themselves as a kindly light against the superstitious Christian darkness:
“During the eighteenth century, the wisdom of Confucius and Chinese methods of government were extolled by the philosophers of the Enlightenment, who perceived a Chinese model for their theories of ‘benevolent despotism’.” (China: A Cultural History, by Stephen G. Haw. Page 6)
Meantime the civilised Far East was unimpressed by Europe’s sea-nomads. When the Pope overturned a Jesuit compromise which would allow traditional Chinese reverence for their ancestors, a Chinese Emperor commented:
“Every country must have some spirits that it reveres. This is true of our dynasty, as for Mongols and Mohammedans… But in this Catholic faith, the Society of Peter quarrels with the Jesuits… and among the Jesuits the Portuguese want only their own nationals in their church while the French want only French in theirs. This violates the principles of religion. Such dissension cannot be inspired by the Lord of Heaven but by the Devil, who, I have heard Westerners say, leads men to do evil since he can’t do otherwise.” (Chinese Civilisation: From the Ming Revival to Chairman Mao, Yap, Yong and Cotterell, Arthur, p 83)
In its justified revolt against the narrowness of 18th century Christianity, the Enlightenment made a huge error. They supposed that ‘natural’ humans would adopt a gutted version of the Latin-Christian tradition as the one and only ‘rational’ order. On the religious and political front, the Enlighteners busily eroded existing forms and then were shocked by the sudden emergence of something very different in the French Revolution.
Radical Republicanism is another universalism that Sachs leaves out: it was very different from the Enlightenment. Most of the guillotined French aristocrats were Voltairians. Marie Antoinette was a fervent believer in her own version of Rousseau’s ideas (not quite the same version as Robespierre and the Jabobites believed in).
The Laissez-Fair economists who were Adam Smith’s friends were mostly fugitives when the French Revolution extended free-thinking from economics and religion to political matters. Smith himself was dead by then, but he had been an advisor to Townshend and Wedderburn, two of the main ministers blamed by later historians for the American rebellion. Smith himself commented:
“The ulcerated minds of the Americans are not likely to consent to any union even upon terms the most advantageous to themselves.” (Cited in my book Adam Smith: Wealth Without Nations.)
Up until the 18th century, relationships based on money was always governed and moderated by complex social rules. Jews never objected to this: their own particular set of complex social rules were central to their identity as Jews, and it was normal for them to obey other people’s rules when these didn’t contradict Jewish law. It was a faction within the Enlightenment who originated the idea that money should be allowed to break free from social limits and do what it wished.
Enlightenment principles did not survive the experience. And the results of these ‘Rights Of Money’ ideas are still being worked out.
The apocryphal Chinese student was quite right when he said in the 1930s that it was too early to assess the results of the French Revolution. Hitler at the time was trying seriously to reverse many of them, including the emancipation of the Jews. It has since been confirmed that political forms of French origin are to be the Western norm, maybe the global norm. Meantime the end-result of the older ‘Rights Of Money’ process is still very uncertain.
Between 1760 and 1830, Britain saw a change in the nature of civilised life. This happened when money got control of the means of production—more exactly, when human control and dominance started being measured in money terms. This could mean just control without any changing of production; this had been the human norm, with merchants buying land and becoming gentry within an unchanging rural way of life. But there had always been some English landowners who preferred cash incomes to the role of Squire, sweeping away villages of small farmers and replacing them with vast flocks of sheep whose wool yielded a better income for the landowner.
In the 18th century things went further, with aristocrats and gentry involved in mines and new crops and even canals, with the Duke of Bridgewater as a notable pioneer. And while rural life was being shaken up, a few industrialists of mostly middle-class origin applied new methods and newly invented machinery to mass production, creating the first factories and controlling the lives of a mass of wage workers.
In Britain, industrial capitalism was a set of local developments. Religious minorities played a role, English Nonconformists and Quakers and covert Deists, but not Jews until much later. I can’t think of a single Jew who was involved in the 18th century processes of science, invention and industrialisation.
The ideology of capitalism also involved no Jews before Ricardo, who had been excluded from Britain’s Jewish community. His position as a free-floating mind helped him to see things that English and Scottish economists turned a blind eye to. This rich stockbroker made a dispassionate analysis that led to a school of ‘Ricardian Socialists’. And it was these ideas that Marx took up and expanded, with too much confidence of the priority of economics over social factors. Marxism is often an ‘asocial socialism’, and this helps explain its disastrous crash in the second half of the 20th century.
In the late 18th century, British culture was defined by the gentry, who typically had enough property to be able live without paid employment. And gave dignity to certain types of work, such as lawyer, doctor, military officer and teacher, which were allowable for gentry even though most practitioners were middle-class.
Industrial capitalism arose in a context. Specifically the British context, where the civil wars of the 17th century had produced a strong state but no religious settlement. In England and Wales, the Church of England was officially dominant, but ideologically weak compared to the Dissenters and the surviving Roman Catholics. In Ireland the Anglican Church was the church of the ruling elite: only in Ulster was it the popular church of the English portion of the Plantation. In Scotland, a coherent Presbyterian church was connected to the mass of the society in a way the Church of England never was: it was the people. Without the English connection, Scotland might have developed much as Scandinavia did.
Industrial capitalism emerged in Britain in areas well away from London. Remarkably, a ‘lesser England’ centred on London and the size of the Dutch Republic would have excluded virtually all of the pioneering industrial areas—which helps explain why the Dutch stagnated in the 18th century after all their earlier grand achievements. Industrial capitalism developed in parts of Britain that were well away from London: ‘provinces’ that had their own identity but who could also benefit from London’s power. The British state had imposed free trade within the various parts of Great Britain, and had given all Britons a privileged access to the growing colonial empire. They also imposed strict tariffs against foreign products, while Cromwell’s Navigation Act insisted that British ships must be used when British goods were shipped anywhere.
Industrialisation happened where rich and dominant London was neither too distant nor too close. Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Bradford; the distance from London is the one common factor between these very different aspects of England. Geology also means that coal and iron were mostly found some way from London, especially in Wales. But you got the same pattern with the cloth trade and Birmingham’s specialised metalwork.
Beyond the specifics of 18th century Britain, the wider context was the rise of Europe’s Atlantic Coast to world dominance. This plus the emergence of a coherent scientific tradition within the Latin-Christian tradition was a necessary first stage in the process that gave world domination to Britain, and then to the USA.
Europe’s global expansion began from Spain and Portugal. The first motive was religious and cultural. These were portions of Latin-Christian Europe that had successfully resisted the attempt by Islamic North Africa to extend itself into Europe. Overseas voyages were begun with part of a drive by Portugal and Spain to extend their own religion and way of life. Trade was secondary, a means of financing this ‘noble cause’.
Science meantime was emerging first in Italy, but independently in several other European nations. Not in Spain or Portugal: I can’t think of a single significant scientist or scientific philosopher who came from that part of the world. Europe’s lack of unity has often allowed it to pursue a variety of separate developments that might have been too complex for a single society to undertake all by itself.
Italy produced Leonardo—whose guarded his scientific works so well that they were overlooked—and then Giordano Bruno, Galileo and some lesser but very valuable thinkers. Copernicus emerged from the ambiguous frontier between Poland and Germany, so that both nations claim him. Tycho Brahe the Dane made the essential measurements which allowed Kepler the German to finally produce an accurate model of the solar system.
Personally, I’d rate Kepler as the key man, with his notion of the planets moving in ellipses rather than being governed by some combination of circles. He also produced the first theory of the heavens that was in any way robust. French astronomer Giovanni Cassini tried Kepler’s system on the moons of Jupiter, found it worked and offered it as a solution to the problem of Longitude. Other French astronomers used it to make the first accurate measurement of the size of Europe: since Jupiter’s moons will look essentially the same from any part of the Earth, they act as a standard clock that can be compared to the time of sunrise to establish where on the globe you actually are. (The English-speaking world prefers to tell of Longitude At Sea, a tale with British heroes.)
Without Kepler, would Newton have solved the riddle of gravity and planetary movements? Newton devoted much of his life to alchemy and biblical studies of an esoteric sort. He might have wasted his time re-building Copernicus’s sun-centred epicycles to something more accurate, had not Kepler already been there with a system that was obviously much better. (Obvious to a mathematician: it was still in dispute among educated people in Newton’s time. Milton had used a pre-Copernican model of the universe in Paradise Lost.)
Descartes in France was another great thinker who might have served as dead end for European thought. He made a key breakthrough by showing that all geometry could be expressed as algebra, and vice versa. His ‘vortices’ almost anticipated the 19th century concept of ‘fields’. His world-system briefly made him another Aristotle, and he’d have been as disastrous for 17th century Europe as Aristotle was for the Classical Greeks, because his specific ideas were wrong. Luckily his theories included testable ideas that allowed Newton’s system to be checked against Descartes: specifically, the shape of the Earth. Detailed measurements showed that the spherical Earth was slightly flattened at the poles, not elongated as Descartes’ system predicted. Meantime Newton’s particle-based ideas about light had been shown to be imperfect: light showed wave-like behaviour that his theory could not account for.
That was West European culture, mainly an outgrowth of Latin-Christian ideas. Jews started getting prominent in Europe’s cultural and economic life in the 19th century. Having spent centuries adapting to other people’s societies, the ever-changing nature of the new order happened to suit them. Jews have typically been pioneers of trends that might have happened more slowly and vaguely if Latin-Christian civilisation had fully excluded its Jewish minorities.
Newcomers to a society tend to go to extremes. Rather, they opt for patterns that are extreme by the standards of the host society: they may be the norm back home. Newcomers can also be innovators and do not attach the same weight to traditions and norms, may not even understand them. In a stable world order, this need not matter much. But the instabilities generated by British and American policies created conditions in which more than half the Jews in Europe were killed. This was not the intention, certainly. But also neither Britain nor the USA was much concerned; nor did they want to take in a fresh wave of Jews with a foreign outlook on life.
Anti-Semitism is a term that gets used much too widely and loosely. The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that it was originally seen as something distinct from other forms of anti-Jewish feeling. After a couple of uses in the 1880s, it seemed to be forgotten until 1935, when Nazi influence was becoming noticeable (and the Daily Mail was praising Hitler). Anti-Semitism in the strict sense of the term was based on the wider racist views that developed in the late 19th century, which divided humanity into distinct races that were assumed to have different characteristics. Linguists had found a genuine difference between Semitic languages and Indo-European or ‘Aryan’ languages. This was assumed to reflect biological differences—but most early civilisation was found among speakers of Semitic tongues, Babylonians and Phoenicians as well as Arabs and Jews. European racists were not necessarily hostile to Jews: some were willing to accept the Semitic and Aryan ‘races’ as the two best, with no inherent antagonism. In real history, the big Greek antagonism was to the Persians, speakers of an Indo-European tongue and ‘Aryan’ in the strict sense of the term. (The word ‘Aryan’ or well-born is found only among speakers of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages.) The term anti-Semitism should indicate one variety of racism, those who supposed that ‘Aryans’ were inherently at odd with Semites.
In the wider context, it is useful to distinguish anti-Judaism and anti-Jewishness. In Shakespeare’s Merchant Of Venice, his solution is for Jews to cease to be a distinct people. You could call that anti-Judaism: the normal Latin-Christian attitude, assimilate as far as possible, in the same way as European Pagans had been assimilated. A distinction was kept among Jewish converts only in Spain, where there was a strong suspicion that they hadn’t really assimilated the lunacies of Counter-Reformation faith. This was different also from anti-Jewishness, a hostility to the cultural attitudes typical among Jews including ethnic Jews who had converted or ceased to be religious.
It is also different from being against the state of Israel, which is different again from being against Israel’s current handling of those occupied territories that were part of Biblical Israel. “Anti-Semitism” is particularly unsuitable in this context, since the dispute involves balancing the interests of Jews and Arabs, the two main surviving branches of Semitic speakers.
On the existence of Israel, imagine an analogy. Supposing some hitherto unknown people arrived from Outer Space and began to settle Yorkshire, claiming an ancient right or the basis of an authentic link with the Ancient Britons who once lived there. And then begin to drive out and evict the existing inhabitants of Yorkshire, saying that they can just as well live elsewhere in England. How do you think this would appear to Yorkshire people, or to the other English? And if other outer-space people insisted on imposing such a settlement, think of the resentment that would build up!
Local identity in the Middle East much stronger than anywhere in England. Local identity of the sort that makes you unwilling to move on or forget is also barely understood in the USA: three centuries is modern in Europe, but pretty damn old by US standards: few North American communities have anything like that degree of continuity. Whereas most Palestinians have no memory of their ancestors ever living anywhere else than where they now live, or where they lived before Israel displaced them.
Against this, you must set the needs of a huge displaced Jewish population after World War Two. In principle the USA could have absorbed them. But the USA in the 1940s didn’t want any more Jews—famous people like Einstein were welcome, but the US had already imposed quotas to try to preserve the dominance of the original North-European element. In the 1870s, there were a quarter of a million Jews in the USA, most of them of German origin and well integrated. By 1927, there were 4 million, a sixteen-fold increase. And most of these new Jews came from Eastern Europe or Russia, from a mixture of cultures unfamiliar to the USA’s older inhabitants. This included existing American Jews: there were disputes within Judaism over the legitimacy of such things as prawn cocktails. (An unclean fish, by some interpretations of Jewish law.)
Up until the late 19th century, the USA had mostly received immigrants from north-west Europe, including well-integrated Jewish minorities from those countries. The USA brought in quotas when this changed: their earlier liberalism based on the notion that they’d get what they wanted, regardless. They had already tried to keep out the Irish, but since Britain was keen to send Irish to Canada, there wasn’t any easy way to stop it. But as the Irish became more integrated, they began to be used against more recent arrivals, especially the Italians. Italians and East Europeans (including Jews) were kept out by quotas, a system that remains in place down to the present day. During the Cold War, small numbers of Soviet Jewish refugees were let in, for as long as they could be held up as examples of the superiority of the US system. But when the disintegrating Soviet system began to let out large numbers, they were redirected to Israel.
The process continued when the Soviet system collapsed. Russia’s economy went into decline and the promised new wealth was grabbed by dubious entrepreneurs—entrepreneurs who included a high percentage of Russian Jews. Most Jews got no share of the plunder, but found that life was suddenly very much harder and more dangerous and that Israel was the only place they could go. This in turn fuelled a process whereby Israel had the means and the desire to extend into territories in the West Bank that should logically have been given up.
Arafat has been an appallingly bad leader for the Palestinian cause. But there is simply no one else who could legitimise a settlement with Israel, a settlement which was expected to secure for Israel the land it held in 1967, plus a bit more. Such a solution has never actually been on offer: not a coherent Palestinian West Bank with the normal rights of states, plus an odd little enclave in the Gaza Strip. Instead the Israeli idea was for a set of ‘Bantustans’, detached Arab reservations separated by Israeli settlements and roads.
If strangers can walk right through your house, it’s not your house. It doesn’t matter if you retain 90% or even 99% if the basic coherence and integrity of the place has been undermined. Arafat can be blamed for a lot, but not for rejecting an offer that looks totally ridiculous when you see it on a map.
Israel with US support is missing the chance of a peace acceptable to Arabs and to the wider Muslims world. Acts of terrorism by Islamic hard-liners are used as a basis for escalation, a game that the USA thinks it is best place to win.
To make sense of US policy, the best place to look is probably the Book Of Revelations. Which does not have any great future for Jews unwilling to abandon Judaism and join the Christian Elect. Jews at least are supposed to have a role: other non-Christians are just damned fodder for Armageddon.
To someone outside of the Protestant branch of Christianity, it might seem impossible that men and women can be intelligent and efficient on ordinary matters of business and politics and also believe such stuff. My own background is moderate-Protestant, where the notion of God’s Love prevails over God’s Wrath and a typical view of Judgement is that ‘it will certainly come, but not I trust in our time’. In Britain, Anglicanism and other moderate-Protestant creeds have declining congregations, but are still the core of the culture. Despite being a lifelong atheist, I know pretty much what’s in the Book Of Daniel, and was surprised to find that Roman Catholics had no idea. Not a bad piece of thought-control, on reflection, those bits of the Bible are dangerous lunacy. But lunacy that is very familiar to most Britons of a Protestant origin.
That’s Britain, where the vast bulk of hard-line Puritanism vanished during the 20th century. Britons get exposed to the Bible and its rather dramatic English while we are still kids and inclined to lump it in with stuff like geometry and Latin; stuff you learn mostly so that you can pass an exam in it. The US has gone the other way: the Bible is banished from state-run schools and can therefore hit unprepared minds with the tremendous impact that has kept those particular texts alive across two millennia and several shifts between unrelated cultures.
Secular US culture tends to be empty and depressing, humiliating for anyone who can’t accumulate huge riches, not always much better for those who do manage the ‘American Dream’. Hence the gains made by hard-line Puritanism; sects where every individual member is desperately wanted so long as they’ll uphold the Creed. Industrial capitalism with all of its ugliness and misery was promoted by hard-line Puritans who already thought the world was fit only for damnation.
Yet though Puritanism is the most coherent ideology, the USA is more hedonist than authentically Puritan. The various sects offer a comfortable resting-place when you’re feeling your age and not finding sin much fun any more. In the days when the USA was fighting in Vietnam, it was serious enough in its belief to also be watching Biblical epics in the cinema and affirming the virtues of its own narrow little outlook. Nowadays it is all violence and cynicism. I’d not expect the USA to show a willingness to suffer very much in Iraq: the Resistance need only kill a handful of US soldiers every month to be almost guaranteed of an eventual US pull-out.
‘Darwinism’ has become the standard term for the aggressive attitudes shown by Europe in the period 1870-1914. This is another standard usage that must be challenged, because the actual history of life on Earth does not point to any such view. Nor does the Darwin-Wallace Theory of Natural Selection (to give scientific Darwinism its proper name). One can find exactly the same ideas among thinkers who rejected Darwin or ignored Darwin. Most notably Nietzsche, but also SF writers like John Wyndham, whose Midwich Cuckoos is built around an anti-Darwinian notion of human origins.
Let’s start with the raw facts of biology. More than once, the Earth has been inherited by the meek, with huge ‘ruling’ creatures going extinct and being replaced by the small and modest. Life on Earth began at least 3.5 billion years ago, but the animals of the ‘Cambrian Explosion’ appeared just 0.55 billion years ago, emerging suddenly from obscure beginnings in a world that had been dominated by micro-organisms. The ancestors of all birds, beasts and fishes were obscure little worm-like organisms in those days. Perhaps the small proto-Vertebrate that Stephen Jay Gould credits in Wonderful Life, but since he wrote there have been fossils found that are older and look rather more like fish. Whatever, fish did not become prominent until the Devonian period, 150 million years after the ‘Wonderful Life’ epoch. Nor was it those successful fish that ‘conquered the land’, it was a ‘Third Fish’ related to the existing Lungfish and Coelacanths, an obscure little group that went extinct in the oceans. Most modern fish are Teleosts, a group that was also obscure in the days when fish began to walk.
Dinosaurs and primitive mammals were both unimportant in the late Triassic world, outmatched by other survivors of the terrible Permian/Triassic extinction, the worst known disaster in life’s long and stressful history. A lesser extinction at the end of the Triassic left the dinosaurs suddenly free from big fierce competitors, while the early mammals remained obscure.
At any given moment in the long Jurassic and Cretaceous eras, mammals would not have looked like the ‘wave of the future’. They’d have been classed instead as wretched anachronisms, survivors of a vanished Triassic world and no match in open competition for the progressive go-ahead dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs being extinct long before our time, and not ancestral to us, the concept of ‘progressive go-ahead dinosaurs’ is not what one gets from popular education and the media. Instead this hugely successful group—triumphantly big and bossy across 140 million years—are presented as doomed and a bad example.
Big formidable species tend to go extinct with no successor species. The gap is filled by other unrelated lines. The emergence of ‘higher’ or more complex animals or plants has no obvious relation to fierce competition: it looks to be simply a function of time and chance. A lot of the basic bodily plans of animals allow little complexification and have remained basically the same. This includes the most successful group of all, the Arthropods or Jointy-Legged Creatures, a group including insects, spiders, crabs, woodlice and many more. Several types of Arthropod have moved onto land, and insects have even mastered flight. But the body plan is much the same as it was in the oceans of the Cambrian era, some 550 million years ago.
The biggest progressive development since the Cambrian comes from plants, oddly enough. In the Cambrian there were no real land plants, just some land-dwelling algae. From obscure beginnings, the land-plants evolved the enormous complexity of root and shoot, tree-trunk and flower. This was a much bigger modification than fish turning fins into legs, which is what our own very remote ancestors did after the land plants had made a habitable environment.
Biological history gets politicised in a way that is not justified by the agreed facts of biology. There is no evidence whatsoever that fiercer competition means more evolution or better evolution or a higher chance of intelligent life. It is doubtful that it even improves the chances of long-term survival.
To distinguish the politicised doctrine from the general views of biologists, I’d like to speak of ‘Vrilism’, a nasty little word for an unpleasant doctrine. The first interpreters and popularisers of the Darwin-Wallace Theory of Natural Selection were Vrilist and this coloured their understanding of historic biology and natural selection. The whole lot got bundled up and called ‘Darwinism’, a term that was already in use in connection with Charles Darwin’s famous grandfather Erasmus Darwin. But you also find non-Darwinian Vrilists, or people who mix bits of biology with ideas that biologists would see as laughably silly.
One such was Baron Lytton, originally Edward Bulwer and later Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton. He is best remembered for The Last Days Of Pompeii, but in 1871 he wrote an SF work called The Coming Race. This is about a strange type of people living in a lost world underground, but having superior powers including a type of energy called vril. (If ‘vril sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because a UK maker of beef-tea took the name to make Bovril.)
Although the way of life of the Vril-ya is peaceful, non-competitive and utopian, they are also very ready to exterminate any lesser peoples who get in their way—which will eventually include all of the surface-dwellers. The ultimate Liberal-Imperialists, in fact.
The book itself is silly and shallow. Vril-ya social organisation is borrowed crudely from Plato’s Republic, but without Plato’s occasional deep insights into life. There are also some odd additions like making the females the dominant sex—always a neat trick in fantasy novels.
If it was just Baron Lytton, it would hardly be worth mentioning. It’s actually much more widespread. Science fiction and fantasy enables people to imagine whole worlds, and what they imagine tells you a lot about their prejudices. Vrilist ideas are found in Wells, Verne, Edgar Rice Boroughs, Jack London, John Wyndham and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as more recent writers mostly known to SF fans.
Conan Doyle’s The Lost World culminates in a showdown between modern humans and ape-people, together with a celebration of past victories that modern humans are assumed to have won. Like most genocide-fantasies, it is associated with the racism that had been growing from the mid-19th century and was not fully rejected by Anglo culture until the 1960s. It’s not always an anti-Jewish flavours of racism, but you can find instances: Conan Doyle explicitly compares the defeated ape-people to the Jews in their Babylonian captivity.
Attitudes can be complex. Edgar Rice Boroughs was also a racist, and I would class him as a Vrilist. He often includes stereotyped Jewish villains in his stories, but I don’t remember anything by him that is hostile to Jews as such. Nor does he particularly advocates the removal of inferior peoples or regards race conflict as inevitable, though notions of racial superiority are routine in his Tarzan and in his novels set on an imaginary Mars. I’ve not read all his stuff, but his unrelated series of novels set on Venus definitely do have the idea of ‘race purification’; improving a superior race by killing off its own criminal or substandard elements.
Jules Verne’s stories are mostly gentle romances. And he is typically French in showing some sympathy for non-whites. His famous Captain Nemo was eventually revealed as a Hindu pursuing a vendetta against Britain, though at the time he wrote 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Verne had planned to make him a Pole pursuing a vendetta against the Russians. His publisher persuaded him to leave it hazy to avoid causing offence, so later the man’s identity was reworked. Still, there is a short story by Jules Verne in which the inhabitants of tropics and polar regions get wiped out when a climate-control experiment goes wrong. The story’s tone is flippant, certainly—but can you imagine him taking such a view of the accidental destruction of Paris?
Jack London was a racist socialist, a category that only vanished in the 1930s when radicalism was polarised between Bolshevism and Nazism. His Before Adam also features genocide among pre-humans, though he unexpectedly tells it from the viewpoint of one of the sub-humans whose genetic heritage somehow managed to sneak through. One of his short stories features a successful biological war that depopulates China, but against this must be set another story show a real sympathy with Chinese migrants as victims of White oppression and ignorance.
Wells was another Vrilist, though not really a racist. The obvious case of Vrilism in action is his War Of The Worlds, and he also has a short story in which an encounter between humans and Neanderthals results in immediate violence. Wells could be foolish, but he could also write Star Begotten, a gentle story from 1937 in which some sort of benevolent influence from Mars is causing a better sort of human to be born. A lot of the time, he seems to be protesting at the waste and futility of war. The World Set Free was published just ahead of the actual war, and perfectly anticipates the horrors of trench warfare before expanding into a limited nuclear war that brings people to their senses.
Sadly, Wells was massively wrong at the one moment when he might have done a great deal of good. Britain soon realised that the war it had merrily entered in 1914 was going to be long and terrible if it were fought to the finish. Wells’s Mr Britling Sees It Through was direct and successful propaganda in favour of a fight to the finish, as well as appealing to US opinion at a time when the USA was still neutral. Wells was not immune to the English-nationalist hysteria of the time, and did his bit to see the war through to an utterly destructive conclusion that left the victors almost as badly off as the vanquished. He then caught a dose of religion, made a fool of himself by proclaiming his own creed and then bounced back with other works of mixed significance.
Wells’s non-fiction work The Open Conspiracy reads like a manual for modern globalisation: the main difference is the lack of the libertarian rhetoric. Empty talk about Freedom helped make US corporatism and militarism acceptable to the Baby Boomers when they tired of 1960s rhetoric and found that positions of power and wealth were open to them. (One can hope for a big shift back to sympathetic-state ideas when large numbers Baby Boomers start retiring and discover what it’s like to live on an Old Age Pension and to need the services of a messed-up National Health Service.)
Another Vrilist was Mr John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Benyon Harris, who was born in 1903 and would have been at an impressionable age during the Great War. He was a pathologically negative person—an oddly common condition among British SF writers, for some reason. But he had some positive ideas to go with the negativism, and these were often much worse. His short novel Consider Her Ways is the most bigotedly nasty work ever to be written against female equality, imagining a future world in which a disease killed all the men and the women constitute themselves as an ant-like society. But Wyndham’s more general theme is genocide, with different breeds of humans fighting a life-or-death struggle, or else humans and aliens doing so. As a sub-theme, the retreat of the superior breed to an island refuge is quite common.
His most famous work is The Midwich Cuckoos, in which some strange-looking children are born in a little English village. The book’s main characters gradually deduce that these are human-like creatures placed in women’s wombs, much like a cuckoo laying its egg in another bird’s nest. The question of whether these new arrivals could or would interbreed with existing humans is never examined. Instead, in best Vrilist fashion, a struggle to the death is assumed:
“Each species must strive to survive, and that it will do, by every means in its power, however foul—unless the instinct to survive is weakened by conflict with another instinct.”
Now this is garbage. A species does not have a collective will. Only a tiny minority of biological species have members that might be self-aware enough to have any concept of survival, and it is personal. Humans, along with other mammals and also birds and some reptiles, have two separate sets of instincts, sexual and parental. Neither are wholly in harmony with what a species would will if the species could will.
Sexual feelings are not rational from a species-survival point of view. They are most commonly directed towards the opposite sex, but not always. Mostly towards someone reproductively suitable, but again not always. Humans can and do choose to be celibate, and some married couples choose not to have children, while others are unable to do so. Parental feelings can apply to unrelated children, to animals, to dolls or to fictional inventions. This tells you nothing more than that Natural Selection is a rather random process, not deserving to by hyped as Dawkins and others have hyped it. The hype is in fact a product of the culture, attitudes that biologists share with other members of their culture who may be ignorant of biology or else scornful of the standard biological picture of the world.
As for cuckoos, they exploit other bird species, and are parasites in the strict biological sense of living at the expense of another organism. Like most parasites, they have no interest in driving their host species to extinction: this would doom them as well, unless they could switch to another victim. If one were to put it in human-criminal terms, they are burglars rather than murderers. But while burglaries are far more common than murders, crime dramas are almost always about murder or grand larceny. Likewise it is hard to make a good drama out of ordinary biology; you need to jazz it up with some improbably aggression of one species against another.
In Midwich Cuckoos, children similar to those born at Midwich have been placed elsewhere, several where the fair-haired golden-eyed children are so obviously changelings that they get killed at once. This is extremely puzzling behaviour by super-aliens: real cuckoos have eggs that are a wonderfully good match for the parasitised species. Most birds are very selective about eggs and will throw out any that look wrong. Hair and eye colour are superficial features and aliens sophisticated enough to do the rest could easily produce a match. One suspects that Wyndham was more of a racist than could be expressed openly in 1957, when the book was published.
Commentators have noted that in most of Wyndham’s books, there is a nice but confused protagonist and a wise-voice advisor who feeds in a correct viewpoint, the Wyndhamite idea of wisdom. In Chapter 20 of Midwich Cuckoo, the wise-voice character answers the confused protagonist: doubts evolution while affirming racial conflict.
“‘We evolved here – but where did the Children come from?’
“‘Aren’t you taking a theory for an established fact, my dear fellow? It is widely supposed that we evolved here, and to support that supposition it is supposed that there once existed a creature who was the ancestor of ourselves, and of the apes–what our grandfathers used to call ‘the missing link’. But there has never been any satisfactory proof that such a creature existed… Can you see the whole diversity of races evolving from this one link… At first sight, climate might have some effect – until one considers the Mongolian characteristics apparently indigenous from the equator to the North Pole… Think of the number of generations we should have to go back to trace the blacks, the whites, the reds, and the yellows to a common ancestor.”
In 1957, we already had numerous specimens of the species we now call Australopithecus and Homo Erectus, creatures with a mix of ape and human characteristics, plus Ramapithicus, a more ancient ape that was then believed to be a remote human ancestor. We have since found many more hominids, including older and more ape-like Australopithecines and the ancient Homo Habilis that coexisted with Australopithecines without any sign of conflict. ‘Mongolian characteristics’ are thought to have originated among a branch of humanity that reached East Asia from Africa via Siberia. Flatter faces and narrow eyes probably originated as adaptations to the cold, much worse 25,000 years ago in the Ice Age, but have been retained by these same peoples as they moved south (well south of the equator in the case of the Native Americans). Racial differences are much more superficial than Wyndham supposes. The ‘white’ or European population is a mix of African and Asian elements, people who replaced the not-quite-human Neanderthals.
The wise-voice character, whose name is Zellaby, believes that such difference are probably due to alien experimenters:
“It is, for instance, disquieting for a good rationalist, such as myself, to find himself wondering whether perhaps there is not some Outside Power arranging things here. When I look round the world, it does sometimes seem to hold a suggestion of a rather disorderly testing-ground. The sort of place where someone might let loose a new strain now and then, and see how it will make out in the rough and tumble. Fascinating for an inventor to watch his creations acquitting themselves, don’t you think?… I don’t necessarily mean an individual, of course. More probably a team. It seems to me that if a team of our own biologists and geneticists were to take a remote island for their testing-ground they would find great interest and instruction in observing their specimens there in ecological conflict. And, after all, what is a planet but an island in space?'”
When it comes to killing off the newly introduced humans, Mr Zellaby explains:
“‘We are presented with a moral dilemma of some niceness. On the one hand, it is our duty to our race and culture to liquidate the Children, for it is clear that if we do not we shall, at best, be completely dominated by them, and their culture, whatever it may turn out to be, will extinguish ours.
“‘On the other hand, it is our culture that gives us scruples about the ruthless liquidation of unarmed minorities, not to mention the practical obstacles to such a solution… the Children ought to be eliminated at the least possible cost, with the least possible delay. I am sorry to have to arrive at that conclusion. In nine years I have grown rather fond of them.”
Most of Wyndham’s major books are variants on the same theme: an unavoidable racial war with extinction for the loser. In Midwich Cuckoos, the children are planning to withdraw to a small island when Zellaby manages to kill them and himself with a bomb he has smuggled in—the original Suicide Bomber? In The Kraken Wakes, coexistence with an alien race who live in the deep oceans is deemed impossible. In Day Of The Triffids, intelligent plants are a vicious irrational enemy. And the protagonists are part of a group that withdraws to a small island, callously abandoning the majority of fellow-Britons who have been struck blind by a weapons system that somehow went out of control. A rival faction who try to keep the blind majority alive within a crude authoritarian system are rejected as bad people.
In The Chrysalids, the viewpoint is that of the ‘New Humans’, telepaths appearing after a nuclear war who have mostly retreated to New Zealand. Most of the book follows a group of telepaths born of non-telepathic parents. They are rescued by sophisticated telepaths of ‘Sealand’, who drop a kind of web that entangles their attackers. But something that might have been humane and defensive had been made lethal, the threads contract. This is claimed as “more merciful than your arrows and spears”, which sounds unlikely.
Much stranger is the justification:
“‘It is not pleasant to kill any creature’ she agreed ‘but to pretend that one can live without doing so is self-deception. There has to be meat in the dish, there have to be vegetables forbidden to flower, seeds forbidden to germinate… we have to preserve our species against other species that wish to destroy it – or else fail in our trust…
“‘There have been lords of life before, you know. Did you ever hear of the great lizards? When the time came for them to be superseded they had to pass away…
“‘In loyalty to their kind they cannot tolerate our rise; in loyalty to our kind, we cannot tolerate their obstruction.
“‘For ours is a superior variant, and we are only just beginning. We are able to think-together… apply the composite team-mind to a problem.’”
The story is almost the inverse of the Midwich Cuckoo situation, though these telepaths do not seem as integrated into group-beings and also lack coercive powers. The Chrysalids also features unrelated mutations in all organisms resultant from a nuclear war. The community into which the telepaths are born have had a policy of killing visible mutants. In the case of human mutants, they have changed this to sterilisation and exile to the Fringes. But these Fringe people then become dangerous bandits: implicitly the policy of mercy has been an error. And the civilised sophisticated telepaths of New Zealand have decided that their long-term goal is to exterminate the standard humans, much like Baron Lytton’s Vril-ya.
None of Wyndham’s work has caused controversy among Britons; quite the reverse. The best SF reference is the Nicholls Encyclopaedia of SF, which says
“He will be remembered mainly for a brief moment in which he expressed English hopes, fears and complacency to a readership that recognised a kindred spirit… To this day his books regularly appear on school syllabuses in the UK, in part, perhaps, because they are so ‘safe’.” (1979 edition.)
‘Safe’ means without a hint of sex, I suppose. The man was narrowly English, pessimistic and rather malignant. Typical of a breed of Englishman who is often in error, but never in doubt. These characters can sound more impressive than someone who thinks about what they are saying. But England produces no more like that, thankfully—at least none with Wyndham’s powers of storytelling. Even Wyndham mellowed a little in his last major works, Trouble With Lichen and Chockey. I haven’t read everything he wrote, but I do believe that ‘Chockey’ is the one and only friendly alien in his entire SF output.
SF writer Brian Aldiss’s term for Wyndham’s work is ‘cosy catastrophie’. Genocide and the extermination of intelligent aliens is cosy, so long as it’s nothing to do with Nazism or anti-Semitism? That seems to be the logic, because looked at properly, Wyndham’s work express a cold callousness that was indeed very British. He was just a writer, but his ideas reflect what the British ruling class had been doing in Ireland and in the British Empire over the previous 150 years. Aldiss couldn’t write such stuff: he has a kind of species war in his Helliconia novels, but without any clear outcome or any indication of what he thinks about it. The man belongs to the Post-Coherent phase of mainstream British culture: people who no longer believes in the old values, but also cannot think beyond that context.
As far as I remember, Wyndham says nothing at all about Jews in any of his books. Quite possibly Zellaby is supposed to be Jewish: this is in line with normal British racism, where Jews were normally included as part of the superior white race. Dennis Wheatley was expressing a fairly standard view when he included an heroic British Jew among the recurring characters in his occult novels. Wheatley was a deeply racist writer, but racism of the British sort rather than borrowed from foreign sources. Likewise Wyndham is recognised as home-grown and is acceptable. If there had been a Johann Von Wyndham who had written such stuff for a German audience, I am sure it would have been treated quite differently in Anglo culture
Wyndham’s recurrent theme of small-superior-group-retreating-to-an-island may have been a borrowing from another Briton, Olaf Stapleton. Most notably his book Odd John, in which a group of super-humans born of ‘normals’ get together on an island refuge after talking the natives into committing mass suicide to clear the ground (could genocide ever be cosier than that?). The super-humans do also consider mass extermination of the ‘normals’, but decide it would be too traumatic and so allow their own extermination instead.
Stapleton was an interesting and highly original writer, but also a dedicated worshiper of ‘manna’, power with overtones of the supernatural. Actual Fascism or Nazism was too crude for this thoughtful and original man, but in Star Maker he plays around with fascist and communist ideas in various guises. In Last And First Men, there is never much in the way of coexistence between alternative humans. A war between humans and Martians ends with the Marian aggressors destroyed, and later the humans take over Venus and wipe out the existing water-dwelling inhabitants.
In the USA, E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith was a much cruder writer and puts similar ideas in a far more blatant form. His Skylark series includes several cases of ‘race cleansing’, improving a superior race by removing the dross and ‘criminal elements’. It also culminates in the extermination of an entire galaxy of chlorine-breathing creatures, though only because their intention is aggressive. He takes a broadly white-racist view, and like Burroughs, he is content that ‘lesser breeds’ shall have their suitably lesser place if they behave themselves. His Lensman series is milder: a superior breed of human emerges but takes a kindly view of the older sort.
Genocide—indeed specicide—is found in James Blish’s A Case Of Conscience. Aliens on another planet are found living kindly and virtuous lives without benefit of religion. The protagonist, who is both a scientist and a Catholic priest, decides that this example of godless virtue is morally subversive and must be diabolical in origin. This is the end point of the original short story: it was later expanded into a book, in which the planet is blown up and the subversively virtuous aliens wiped out. This sort of Roman Catholicism is rare among ordinary believers, but typical of the lunacy and malice that is rampant among the hierarchy and among intellectuals who get impressed by them.
Frank Herbert—’Dreamer of Dune’—was notable for his exclusion of both Christianity and democracy from his imagined future. A small surviving sect of Jews pop up for no apparent reason in the last book he finished, possible to show that he had nothing against them. Mysticism, elitism, commerce and drugs are the dominant themes. Plus a concern for nature and ecology, but a ‘green consciousness’ which admired savagery and desolate wildernesses. Herbert has no trace of Tolkien’s admiration for the small, gentle and benevolent side of life.
Herbert was also loosely associated with the whole Republican/Libertarian trend. As indeed was Robert E. Heinlein, but Heinlein also absorbed some leftist ideas and was mostly not a Vrilist. The whole thing fed into 1960s culture—Heinlein’s been blamed for an apparent influence on mass murderer Charles Manson, though I’d say he was probably innocent on that count.
In Herbert’s work, small manipulative elite are a common theme, the ‘Department of Sabotage’ in a series of not-very-good books including Whipping Star. The same idea is found in another variant in his first literary success, The Dragon In The Sea, centring on psychologists seeking covert control of their own side as well as fighting the enemy. Dragon In The Sea has been credited by some with foreseeing the oil shortage, but oil wars were part of World War Two, Hitler’s biggest strategic problem. It may even have fed into World War One, after Britain switched its ships from coal to oil and found that it had too few secure reserves within the vast empire it already held. The desire by the British elite to break up the Ottoman Empire and take places like Kuwait and Iraq may be the main reason why Britain rejected German attempts to make peace and let the war in Europe run its full destructive course from 1914 to 1919. (1919 not 1918: Britain continued the blockade of Europe and ensured that Germany was starved into a humiliating surrender when they had thought they were getting a peace on the basis of President Wilson’s idealistic principles.)
The mind is often mightier than the gun. A false idea of nature allows people to do the most abominable things without feeling too bad about it. The ideas that emerged as New Right in the 1980s had been nurtured and popularised for a lot longer than that.
‘Darwinism’ is a hodgepodge of a number of separate ideas, not all of which began with Charles Darwin, and sometimes developed after this death. People talk as if there was an automatic logic connection between natural selection, individual competition and the emergence of complex life-forms. But natural selection at the level of species is very different from conflict between individuals. While the emergence of complex life-forms happens for no clear reason and may be totally random.
Natural selection is a fact, but Darwinism is an invention. It’s as if one were to define an ‘Einsteinianism’, which mixed and muddled Einstein’s views on Religion, Relativity, Zionism, Socialism and Pacifism. People have tried to use the concept of Relativity relating to light-rays as an indicator of social values. This is silly, especially since Relativity was the established name before Einstein had much influence. He’d have preferred to call it ‘the invariant theory’, because the speed of light never varied, but the other name stuck. (See Helge Kragh’s Quantum Generations for details.)
In the case of Darwinism, ‘Darwinism’ began as a term for the world-view of Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles and a major thinker in his own right. You find this set out plainly in the full Oxford English Dictionary—but you do not find it in any of the popular books that debate what Darwinism ‘really is’. From a strictly linguistic viewpoint, Darwinism should be defined as ‘a variable collection of ideas, all of which differ significantly from the actual views of Charles Darwin’.
This is not to say that most alternative views are sensible. The “Fundamentalist” Christian view upholds the Ussherite chronology of a world younger than 10,000 years old. This is totally ludicrous; no more likely than the notion that President George Bush might wed Senator Hillary Clinton, to put the matter in terms understandable to those without a scientific education.
Archbishop Ussher’s chronology was anyway speculative, based on one particular interpretation of disputed Bible texts. The undated processes of creation described in Genesis can not be reconciled with real events on our own world: it has flying creatures before life on land, among other absurdities. One could in fact reconcile the text of Genesis with modern science by shifting radically from the mainstream understanding of the Latin-Christian tradition, as I have detailed elsewhere. But known geological forces offer an adequate explanation for the existing world, and had already done so by the mid-19th century. And the Darwin-Wallace theory of Natural Selection offers an adequate explanation for life as we see it, including human intelligence.
The ‘Creationist’ idea is totally stupid. But there have been other more serious alternatives; thinkers such as Teilhard De Chardin who accepted the standard view of biological history but suggested a different non-Darwinian interpretation. There are also fierce arguments over just what Darwinism means. It has in fact meant different things at different times. For clarity, I will split the diversity into four successive ‘major Darwinisms’:
First Darwinism was the ideas of Lamarck and Erasmus Darwin. A few ancient thinkers had wondered if life might not have begun from simple creatures, but these ideas had no connection with the formidable mass of 18th century biological knowledge. Buffon had suggested that species might change and split—perhaps all cat species came from a prototype cat, all dogs from a prototype dog. But Buffon never took the next step of wondering if cats, bears, dogs, weasels etc. were descendants of a more remote ancestor who shared their distinctive features. Erasmus Darwin deserves the credit for being the first to put this dangerous idea into print, even if it was just a few lines in a book devoted to other matters.
Lamarck went much further: risking his reputation by writing an entire book to justify the evolution of all complex creatures from simpler ancestors. And paid the price: his ideas were in fact rejected at the time, and he lost the modest reputation and status he had built up by his studies of plants and of invertebrates. He was not rejected because he believed in the inheritance of acquired characteristics; this was generally believed to be true in his day. It was the valid idea of complex creatures descending from simple ancestors that was too radical.
Erasmus Darwin suffered no such loss. His belief in evolution was forgiven as the eccentricity of a much-loved poet and scientist.
Second Darwinism was First Darwinism re-stated by the bulk of the biological establishment in Britain and Germany, and with the additional strength of the Darwin-Wallace Theory of Natural Selection. By this time it was established beyond reasonable doubt that the Earth was millions of years old. The older rocks contained some unfamiliar creatures—trilobites, dinosaurs etc. The most complex creatures were missing from the older rocks. And Natural Selection allowed scientists to justify the visible changes by a known material principle. A gap in the theory was the lack of any detailed knowledge of how new species emerged: it’s often been noted that The Origin Of The Species says very little about how species really do originate.
Wallace himself wrote a book called Darwinism and did not claim equality with Charles Darwin: there was a kind of symbiosis between the two men. Wallace’s origins were lower-middle-class, he had made a living as a collector of specimens that he sold for money. When he wrote a scientific paper very similar to Charles Darwin’s unpublished work, he must have feared that it would damage the small reputation he already had. Instead he found himself admitted to the core of Britain’s scientific establishment and found also that the well-known Charles Darwin had accumulated a mass of evidence that was obviously the product of many years patient thought, study and research.
It was Darwin’s Origin Of The Species which sparked the major war of ideas: it could be read by the general public, while scientific papers were read just by working scientists. Still, if Wallace’s paper had not been intercepted by Darwin’s friends and if he had published first, it would have been the Wallace Theory of Natural Selection. Science gives credit to those who publish first: a just reward to compensate for the risk of putting forward radical ideas that may be wrong.
Had it been the Wallace Theory of Natural Selection, the later ideological use of ‘Darwinism’ would have had to take a different form and might have been much weaker. Wallace was a socialist who later came to believe in Spiritualism. His book Darwinism asks why do we have musical and mathematical abilities, which our ancestors would have had no use for. It’s the sort of question most Darwinists dodge, though explanations are possible. Humans are the only singing ape: one of a handful of singing vertebrates. Many creatures appreciate music, but the ability to produce it is confined to humans, to the songbirds and to the cetaceans (whales and dolphins). Whales and dolphins are remarkable for the size of their brains and their apparent cleverness and ability to learn.
Mundane explanations are possible. Maths and music are rather closely associated in human interests. And both are found along-side the sort of constructive skills that would have been useful to our ancestors. Newton born 20,000 years earlier might have been a valued expert at making flint tools. Mozart might have done nothing utilitarian but still used the bone flutes of the time to make charming music. So it’s an open question, one of many.
As I said earlier, Natural Selection allowed scientists to justify the visible changes by a known material principle. But a major gap in the theory was the lack of any detailed knowledge of how new species emerged. Mendel’s work offered a possible answer, paired genes as the units of hereditary. But Mendel’s ideas were not taken very seriously at the time and Darwin never got to hear of them. Genes were rediscovered 35 years later by two or maybe three scientists. Robin Henig’s A Monk And Two Peas argues that the second re-discoverer was so irritated by the personality of the first re-discoverer that he and his friends got together and promoted the long-dead Mendel as a more agreeable scientific hero. As for the third fellow, he supported the Nazis and has been downgraded to the status of hanger-on by modern writers.
Separately from this, August Weismann had concluded that acquired characteristics were not inherited. As I said earlier, the idea had been generally believed when Lamarck used it as the basis for his evolutionary theory. Charles Darwin also accepted it. But Weismann’s ideas took a long time to be accepted (and may not in fact be true for bacteria, which are an utterly different type of life from the sort we know). Only in the early 20th century did a fusion of Second Darwinism with Mendel’s discoveries and Weismann’s theories created Third Darwinism, also called Neo-Darwinism.
Neo-Darwinism had a grand scientific feud with Neo-Lamarckism, which ended with Lamarck’s reputation damaged and his original ideas on evolution credited to Charles Darwin. Opinion became polarised between rival doctrines: genes explaining everything or genes explaining nothing. No one asked if it made a difference whether you inherited a particular gene from you father or your mother: only in the last few years has it been found that some genetic illnesses are very different depending on which parent passes on the defective gene.
Third Darwinism turned out to be nearer the truth than Neo-Lamarckism. But not the whole truth. Third Darwinism rejected the heretical notion that plants and animals were powered by symbiotic bacteria. But DNA studies proved that vital cell organelles called mitochondria had their own DNA and had more in common genetically with one particular group of bacteria than with the genes in the cell nucleus. Likewise the chloroplasts which make the green plants green are very similar to free-living organisms called cyanobacteria or blue-green algae. Life includes rather more cooperation and less competition than Third Darwinism allowed for. There was moreover a lot of evidence that life could change very suddenly and for no obvious reason, the ideas that the late Stephen Jay Gould developed as a scientist and also popularised in his book Wonderful Life. Gould and others do not deny Darwinism, and in fact insist that they are the true heirs of the best of Darwin’s ideas. So I will call this evolved doctrine Fourth Darwinism. This appreciates how diverse life is, and that there is nothing very special about our branch of it.
Professor Dawkins’s ideas about Selfish Genes are a late flowering of Third Darwinism. They sensibly popularise the way in which Natural Selection can produce drastic changes by small steps and without any overall design. But his works also fitted the greedy Thatcherite mood of the 1980s, the era of Norman Tebbit, when the Working Mainstream decided to forget about social justice and just enjoy itself. Dawkins was also lucky enough to get confused with Stephen Hawking, a genuinely superior scientist who was just coming to public attention at that time.
A ‘selfish gene’ is no more sensible than a ‘wrathful thunderstorm’. Both terms suggest consciousness and intent where it does not actually exist. Dawkins has managed to shed a great deal of darkness on matters which are not easy to understand under any circumstances.
Selfishness is a precise concept: someone understands what their social duty is, but makes a conscious decision to favour their own interests instead. Someone who just doesn’t care or understand is not selfish but amoral or ‘asocial’. So Dawkins should have talked about ‘Asocial Genes’; but such a term would not have let him link biology to the wave of selfishness that was then sweeping Western society.
As for ‘memes’, the idea of self-propagating patterns of ideas had been around for ages. There was an interesting book called Lord and Language of Schoolchildren, published in 1959 detailing how certain rhymes and customs had been preserved over the centuries
Unlike genes, ‘memes’ definitely work in a Lamarckian manner, retaining whatever they acquire. The modern retellings of the Robin Hood saga would be unthinkable without Maid Marian and Friar Tuck: yet Friar Tuck was added long after the oldest written versions, while Maid Marian comes from a separate tradition which merged.
Common words and phrases are also subject to a degree of social control. The term ‘gay’ as a code for homosexual is thought to have begun in London, got spread to the US by reports of the trial of Oscar Wilde and was re-publicised by homosexual activists asserting their rights. Other uses of ‘gay’ abruptly went extinct when the general public noticed the new usage.
‘Feminist’ was originally a term for men who supported women’s rights: you find it used so in the Forsyth Saga. Its capture by female activists represents a social shift, I suppose. Likewise ‘negro’ was once a neutral description for a distinct ethnic group—many different peoples are black. But claims that the usage was racist have been accepted by most English-speakers and its use stopped.
There are also fabrications—the ‘Ploughman’s Lunch’ was a cynical marketing ploy to make bread-and-cheese seem up-market, at least according to the 1984 film of that name. And big corporations who sack workers so as to boost profits now call it ‘downsizing’ or even ‘resizing’—the Nazis could surely have benefited from modern marketing methods.
Ideas can spread, but mostly when people see some use in them. Teenage fashions spread for no apparent reason, but one good reason is for a new generation of teenagers to assert their own identity rather than tail-ending young people a few years older than they are. So much for ‘memes’.
In talking of Selfish Genes, Dawkins was also offering nothing more than a slightly modernised version of an old abuse of biology. There is a widespread belief even among biologists that ‘natural selection’ will favour species whose members are large, fierce and competitive. Even Fourth Darwinism normally accepts this much, but it is exactly the reverse of what the fossil records show.
Among land vertebrates, creatures with bones that walk on four legs, there is a striking pattern of extinction among the big tough carnivores and the massive near-invulnerable herbivores. The BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs began by emphasising what palaeontologists had long known: dinosaurs in the Triassic era were small creatures in a landscape dominated by huge creatures that left behind no descendants at all. The remarkable giant creatures shown in Walking With Dinosaurs and Walking With Beasts have one point in common: they are ‘snuffed out and without seed’. The proto-dinosaurs of the late Triassic coexisted with early mammals, and won the race to replace the Triassic giants.
The mice shall inherit the Earth, that’s been a good rule for the past 70 million years or so. But only because random extinctions removed several other contestants in the competition among land-quadrupeds
Very recent extinctions—the last two million years or so—may be due to the spread of humans with better hunting methods. But long before there was anything resembling a human, the big and strong were regularly losing the long-term fight for survival.
Question: Which major state was the pioneer of the following aspects of modern life:
- Sexual freedom for women, including sex before marriage or without marriage.
- All existing jobs open to qualified women.
- Racial equality as an official creed.
- The state to have authority for the economic welfare of the whole society.
- The traditional difference between Upper Class, Middle Classes and Working Classes to be removed in favour of a common classlessness.
The answer to all of the above is ‘Stalin’s Russia’. But it’s not an answer that’s been heard in the past couple of generations. Which is why the New Right gets away with saying that socialism has failed.
Khrushchev’s attempts to improve on Stalin’s heritage were a disastrous failure. It’s not totally clear why, Deng Xiaoping did manage something similar in China with great success. But Deng had been an open opponent of those aspects of Mao’s rule that he demolished after Mao’s death, whereas Khrushchev was a sycophant. And Khrushchev chose to deny the legitimacy of Stalin’s rule in his ‘secret speech, whereas Deng was willing to declare himself a Maoist at a moment of crisis, if the Tiananmen Papers are genuine. Without question, Deng and his heirs have always insisted on the enormous achievements of Mao’s rule.
This last is not generally recognised in the West, so let’s look at the facts. China in 1949 was poorer than India. It was also politically fragmented, dominated by warlords whom the pro-Western Kuomintang had been unable to put down. There had been frequent famines and little industrialisation, and nothing had been done about a parasitic landlord class that consumed rent and gave nothing back. And foreigners in China had ‘extraterritorial’ status: they could live in China but ignore Chinese law, only liable to be judged by their own people.
If the Kuomintang had been supported in the way the various pro-Western states of East Asian were supported in the 1950s and 1960s, they would most probably have succeeded and made a much more pro-Western China than is ever likely to happen in real history. But the behaviour of the West since 1991 suggests that non-Communist East Asia was only treated well because Communism was there as a viable alternative. That was the era of Democratic Corporatism and of some real redistribution of wealth in favour of the poor.
The New Right have flourished thanks to the confusion generated by most of the Left referring to the Keynesian semi-capitalist system as ‘capitalist’.
The Left in the 1960s was dominated by Trotskyists, who had achieved nothing over the previous 40 years in which grand successes had been scored by their rivals in Social Democracy and Stalinist Communism. In a vengeful spirit, the Trotskyists successfully persuaded public opinion that none of the grand achievements of the rivals were real. They were less successful in persuading anyone to let Trotskyists try for any grand achievements of their own: in fact they have no success whatsoever. Talk of ‘armed struggle’ was empty, achieved nothing except to push democracies into authoritarianism or dictatorship, as in Argentina. Serious guerrilla movements came from Stalinist or Maoist sources; or else from older Nationalist traditions such as the IRA.
Yet history happens, and progress is made. The world in the 1980s was much more like the Bolshevik vision of 1917 than like anyone else’s vision as of 1917. Don’t get mislead by loose general terms like ‘democracy’ and ‘liberalism’: only the Bolsheviks and a scattering of powerless radicals wanted an abolition of colonial empires, the ending of racial and class barriers, the equality of women. But all of this success was somehow redefined as failure, since the best hopes and finest visions had not been entirely realised.
Enter the New Right. The success of various semi-capitalist systems was cited as proof of the merits of ‘capitalism’. But then McLunatic Globalisation is justified by shifting the meaning from a very broad to very narrow understanding of ‘capitalism’.
What we actually have a corporate economy: almost all wealth is created by the combination of large numbers of people who don’t know each other. Most of us do jobs that would have no meaning without a lot of other people somehow connected. Running a bus or railway would be senseless without people needing to travel. Producing electricity would mean nothing without wires to carry it and people to use it. This was different in the 18th century, when most of the world were subsistence farmers, basically growing their own food and selling some surplus or cash crops.
Adam Smith got some insight into what was happening in 18th century Britain, but his vision was highly imperfect. He raised accountancy to the status of a theology: supposed that capitalism was economics without trust. In the ideal commercial model set out in The Wealth Of Nations, he supposes a world without sympathy or love, just a self-interest that somehow made up for that. The actuality has always been something different: business people rely heavily on trust and reputation within their own business circles. The trend since the 1980s has been for more sympathy but less trust, and the loss of trust is not good for anyone.
None of this has been understood by the New Right, whose heads are full of ignorant enthusiasm. It was an American who noted that ‘it isn’t ignorance that makes you a fool: it’s what you know that ain’t so’. And such folly has a powerful grip on the USA as of now.
The trouble with British and American foreign politics is that it is typically run by hypocrites rather than cynics. A cynic can plan rationally on the assumption that today’s enemy may be tomorrow’s ally, and that your ally for today may not be a very nice person. The same view can be taken by an honourable fighter, in societies where war is viewed as normal.
The hypocrite is a different sort of animal, they have to believe that their current foes are evil, debased people, while their current allies are fine and virtuous. Thus you get so many spectacular cases of ‘Blowback’, a term of US origin describing cases where you build up an ally without considering that they have a different agenda, might become a foe, and they do in fact become a foe. As with Bin Laden and other Islamic extremists nurtured during the anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan.
The ‘New World Order’ proclaimed by George Bush Senior has turned out to be a formula for Endless World Disorder. A genuine Civilised World Order is still to come. And both the ‘war on terrorism’ and the occupation of Iraq will only make it harder to achieve.