26 February 2007

Did the Left lose its way?

In recent years we have all watched with some fascination the developing strong alliance between the Western left and Islamist right. In fact, one cannot quite call it “right” as the European political ideas do not apply to Islamism.

It has, nevertheless, been eerily fascinating to listen to left-wing feminists justifying, indeed glorifying an ideology that believes in the complete oppression of women. Organizations that preen themselves on noticing every slight to the gay community find common ground with people who believe all homosexuals should be killed, preferably in public and painfully. (All honour to Peter Tatchell, who has broken away from that mob politically.)

A much discussed book in London is “What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way” by Nick Cohen, a left-wing journalist, who has written for the New Statesman and the Observer. I have not yet managed to read the book but the Wall Street Journal has published an article by him on the topic in question.

He starts with an obvious target, Hizonner the Mayor of LondON, Ken Livingstone, whose extreme left-wing sympathies apparently do not stand in the way of creating apartheid at conferences he organizes and participates in or, as, perhaps, Mr Cohen does not know, supporting the idea of sending women into a permanently inferior separation behind the veil.

Having eviscerated Livingstone, Mr Cohen widens his aim:

Mr. Livingstone's not alone. After suicide bombers massacred Londoners on July 7, 2005, leftish rather than conservative papers held British foreign policy responsible for the slaughters on the transport network. ("Blair's Bombs," ran the headline in my own leftish New Statesman.) In any university, you are more likely to hear campaigns for the rights of Muslim women derided by postmodernists than by crusty conservative dons. Our Stop the War coalition is an alliance of the white far left and the Islamist far right, and George Galloway, its leader, and the first allegedly "far left" member to be elected to the British Parliament in 50 years, is an admirer of Saddam Hussein and Hezbollah.

I could go on with specific examples, but the crucial point is the pervasive European attitude to the Iraq catastrophe. As al Qaeda, the Baathists and Shiite Islamists slaughter thousands, there is virtually no sense that their successes are our defeats. Iraqi socialists and trade unionists I know are close to despair. They turn for support to Europe, the home of liberalism, feminism and socialism, and find that rich democrats, liberals and feminists won't help them or even acknowledge their existence.
Very true but hardly new. After all, real trade unionists in the Soviet Union were often in despair and those who are fighting for basic freedoms in China have, it seems, long ago given up on Europe and its “liberals”.

In fact, Mr Cohen does casually refer back to another era:
There were plenty of leftish people in the 20th century who excused communism, but they could at least say that communism was a left-wing idea. Now overwhelmingly and everywhere you find people who scream their heads off about the smallest sexist or racist remark, yet refuse to confront ultra-reactionary movements that explicitly reject every principle they profess to hold.
Then he goes on to explain that President Bush’s catastrophic policies (I presume he means the war in Iraq) have caused the spread of anti-Americanism in Britain and Europe.

Having more or less nodded in agreement so far, I must take issue here. The left’s love-in with Islamism has been around for a good deal longer than the war in Iraq, the war on terror or, even, Bush’s presidency. The pathological anti-Americanism and anti-westernism in Britain as much as Western Europe is also of long standing. There is no point in doing exactly what the leftish commentators on 7/7 did. Presumably, Mr Cohen thinks those bombs were Bush’s but not Blair’s.

Then there is the question of communism and support for it. I think it would be fair to say that most or, even, almost all leftish people supported and excused communism in the 20th century, pouring bile and contempt on those who tried to tell the truth about it.

The crucial phrase there, however, is “but they could at least say that communism was a left-wing idea”. Cool and casual. According to Mr Cohen calling something a left-wing idea justifies support and excuse for some of the most oppressive regimes in history.

Let us take this a little further. “Communism was a left-wing idea.” What does that tell us about left-wing ideas? A system that was built on the notion that individual freedom was wrong; that anything that was not under control of the party was wrong; that any disagreement with the ruling elite was wrong; and was prepared to implement this with as much force as it thought necessary, “was a left-wing idea”, thus making it understandable that leftish people supported and excused it.

If it is trade unions Mr Cohen is worried about then, perhaps, he ought to realize that the only difference between their fate under Communism and under Islamism is that the latter is honest about it.

To be fair to Mr Cohen, he does point out that
But if Iraq has pummeled Mr. Blair's reputation, it has also shone a very harsh light on the British and European left. No one noticed it when the Berlin Wall came down, but the death of socialism gave people who called themselves "left wing" a paradoxical advantage. They no longer had a practical program they needed to defend and could go along with ultra-right movements that would once have been taboo. In moments of crisis, otherwise sane liberals will turn to these movements and be reassured by the professed leftism of the protest organizers that they are not making a nonsense of their beliefs.
Then he goes on to specify that in Britain the left has many strong beliefs to abandon, such as multiculturalism and identity politics. The left must also accept that it is not fear that will defeat the enemies of freedom but courage to stand up to them.

In reality,of course, Nick Cohen is advocating that the left should abandon its left-wing ideas and ideology, something that neither he nor his leftish friends and colleagues can contemplate doing.

There is, after all, nothing particularly odd about the left defending tyranny; it is only because the details of Islamism are deemed to be right-wing that anybody should find it so.

Nor is it particularly helpful to equate the left with liberalism, at least in its British meaning. The left from its inception as a political force, during the French Revolution, has opposed freedom and individuality. Its obsession with management, planning, state control, can be seen to lead smoothly to identity politics. What the modern left hates is western ideas of fairness, liberty and justice, based as it is on individuals rather than groups.

The Soviet Union like Nazi Germany (also supported by many lefties until the Soviets called out imprecations against it) reversed the western notions of justice with guilt having to be proven against individuals. A member of the wrong class or the wrong race was ipso facto guilty and the left accepted and glorified this.

It is, therefore, not a particularly new idea for the left to view people solely as part of a group, which is really what identity politics is all about: a denial of individual rights to members of certain groups, for example, Muslim women. The need to see people as cogs in managed groups overrides feminism, which is not based on liberty. After all, left-wing feminists assume that any believer in equal rights for women is going to be on the left.

Left-wing warriors against racism pour out hatred against any member of an ethnic minority who breaks away from the laid down rules and declares himself or herself to be on the right – Conservative or, worse, Republican. If you don’t believe me, read some of the venomous attacks on Michelle Malkin who as a woman of Philippino descent has no right to be a right-wing commentator.

Or think of the nasty racist attacks from left-wing politicians and journalists directed at Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice or, above all, Judge Clarence Thomas. Think of Ken Livingstone’s vicious comments about Trevor Phillips, who has dared to stray from his allotted role and declare that multiculturalism was leading to ghettoization. Livingstone likes the idea of ghettoization. That way he knows where various people are.

What lies under it all is a contempt for people. The left may proclaim itself to be for the people against rulers but that is people as an abstract group. In reality, of course, they believe in all being fitted into carefully managed patterns and obeying rules as laid down by their left-wing managers, some of whom might be benevolent.

To me it seems unlikely that the Left has lost its way, despite the fact that it seems to support a political grouping that denies ferociously all the things the Left is supposed to be in favour. On the contrary, this is a logical position for them to find themselves in. There is nothing really contradictory between supporting Kim Jong-il and supporting Saddam Hussein or, for that, matter Osama bin-Laden or the Mad Mullahs of Iran.

19 February 2007

What is to be done?

For those who do not know about the history of the Russian radical movement I should explain that the title was not invented by Lenin. Very little was. This was a title given to an interminably long and boring novel by Chernyshevsky, which outlined in fictional form the ideas of radicalism. One of the great mysteries of the Russian soul is how a novel of such incredible turpitude should have become so popular in a country, which, at the time, boasted some of the greatest novelist in the world.

The title, however, is useful and can be applied to many problems that we face today, including that of the propaganda war that we, all of us, are fighting. On balance, it is hard to define who “we” are, as the war this country and its allies are engaged in is not immediately obvious to many people, as World War 2 was. Then again, we had the same problem with the Cold War, which occasionally degenerated into a fairly warm one, but mostly went on in a way that was incomprehensible to many, largely because they did not want to comprehend it.

As I have already pointed out, the fight of those who believe in liberty and other loosely defined Western values (I can see this is going to be a fun thread on the forum) is hamstrung by the public opinion created in the West some decades ago by several masters of propaganda. It is only now that we are beginning to fight back seriously, not least with the growing discussion and theories of the Anglosphere.

The front line in the battle has moved to the Middle East (apart from Hizonner the Mayor of LondON nobody has a good way to say about Hugo Chávez, after all, as the man proceeds to wreck a reasonably working economy). Al-Jazeera reports, accurately enough, that the latest summit of Condi Rice, Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert has gone precisely nowhere.

There are good reasons for this and Secretary of State Rice seems unable to grasp them. Or, maybe, those who brief her cannot grasp simple facts. The point that seems to be obscured by the mellow propaganda is that neither Hamas nor Fatah want to acknowledge Israel’s right to existence or to agree that terroristic activity should stop.

In his aptly named article “The Stink”, Bruce Thornton on the Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers sums up:
The only honest group has been Hamas, which tells us plainly that it wants to destroy Israel. But if we watch what they do rather than listen to what they say, so do a critical mass of Palestinian Arabs, including the so-called moderate Mahmoud Abbas. His disagreement with Hamas is not over whether the existence of Israel will be accepted, but over tactics and timing: Hamas thinks Israel can be destroyed sooner with more terrorist violence, Abbas thinks later with dishonest “agreements” and demography. Just listen to the so-called “condemnations” of terrorism that issue from Abbas. After last month’s murder of three Israelis by a terrorist bomber in Eilat, Abbas condemned the attack as “not in the interests of the Palestinian people” — which implies that such murder is acceptable as long as it is in the interests of the Palestinian Arabs.
Of course, their efforts to destroy Israel and murder as many Israelis as possible, as well as those Palestinians they accuse of working for the Israelis and, indeed, to harass the Christian Palestinian community out of existence, not to mention destroy historic evidence of the fact that Jews have been in Jerusalem for something like 3,000 years do get derailed by their inability to agree on anything and an ongoing desire to kill and maim each other.

It is, however, extraordinary that these very simple facts and information are so easily buried by cleverly disseminated propaganda.

We followed some of the creation of this propaganda last summer during Israel’s war against Hezbollah, when the latter seemed to be in total control of the “news” output by the MSM and only the blogs managed to speak up about the truth.

One of our complaints at the time was the little help we received from the Israeli embassy in London, from the leaders of the Jewish Community (ably and repeatedly lambasted by Melanie Phillips) and by the Israeli Defence Force.

It is completely untrue that the IDF lost the shooting war against Hezbollah and, of course, it is completely untrue that Lebanon is now happily at peace, with the Israeli forces out of the country and UNIFIL patrolling the border without any rights to disarm terrorist organizations. Hezbollah, as we have reported on numerous occasions, is still interested in destroying Lebanon rather than allow it to become a more or less peaceful, pro-Western state that is not controlled by Syria or Iran.

What the IDF and Israel lost and lost heavily was the propaganda war, largely because of their ineptitude in this field. It is hard to tell where this ineptitude comes from. It has been suggested to me that Hebrew culture is too straightforward to play “linguistic jiu-jitsu” but I find that hard to accept completely. Not that I know a great deal about Hebrew culture but I do know that some of the best propagandists of the twentieth century have been Jews and I cannot see why this talent, present in so many should not be used to Israel’s advantage.

The problem, I am happy to say, has been noticed in Israel as well, as this no-holds-barred article in the Jerusalem Post indicates.

As the author Amotz Asa-El puts it, Lt-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, new Chief of General Staff, may not put this at the top of the agenda but it really ought to be:
The problem is simple: In last summer's war, what began with Israel's portrayal as a just victor ended with its depiction as an unjust loser. It is even more perplexing considering that the IDF Spokesman's Office was reasonably budgeted, staffed and trained. In fact, the IDF's media operation had been revolutionized since the days when it saw the press as an intrusion on the battlefield.
Amotz Asa-El goes through the whole sad saga of incompetence and wrong persons being appointed. Clearly, it has not really sunk in deeply that the IDF’s media operation should be conducted by someone who knows what the media is like, how it operates, what kind of stories it likes.

Furthermore, the someone should have a clear idea of the importance of instant (and I do mean instant) rebuttal. Even Mr Asa-El seems unable to grasp what actually happened at Qana (or Kana). Perhaps we should send him a copy of the pdf so painstakingly prepared by my colleague.

As the blogs proved conclusively, at Qana and in other places, Hezbollah simply concocted news stories that were then reproduced as real by the Western media. The IDF media sector should have pounced on every single one of them, demanding explanations, evidence and independent confirmation. Instead, they apologized, then muttered about things being not quite the way they were depicted.

The Israelis should have had the world media in the northern towns and villages that had been consistently shelled for a long time before the attack, not accept the “world’s judgement” that they simply over-reacted to the kidnapping of two soldiers (not the murder of eight others, oh goodness me, no).

The trouble goes back to at least 2,000 with the Mohammed Al-Dura story, which we have written about on this blog. Terrorists blow up children with impunity. Those pictures are too horrific to show.

Therefore, the iconic picture of the way children are affected, has been the little boy of unknown provenance, unknown name and unknown destiny, crouching behind his father at one of the carefully staged “battles”. Did the Israelis demand explanations, evidence and independent confirmation? Did they heck. Just rolled over and apologized, only then muttering about it not being quite like that.

The point is that the Western media is already predisposed to creating a certain story in which Israel is the aggressor; the Jews having arrived from Eastern Europe, have taken over land that has “always” been Palestinian (whoever the Palestinians may be) and every problem in that part of the world is caused by Israeli aggression.

Hamas, Hezbollah and the others use this. Israel has been outmanoeuvred on the battlefield of propaganda. The IDF has been slow to react, unable to deal with the Western media, incapable of understanding the growing importance of the blogosphere, large tranches of which are on her side.

Of course, the problem may be rooted in even older matters. There is no need to discuss that here. We have to deal with the situation as it is.

Mr Asa-El puts blame for the latest debacle squarely on the previous Chief of General Staff, Dan Halutz, and his protégée, the lady who is still in charge of the IDF media section, Miri Regev.[The two are pictured at the top.]

With all due respect, one has to say that Ms Regev has been an unmitigated disaster and one wonders what General Halutz was thinking of in appointing her.

The lady, it would seem, does not speak English, the language of the international media. She has no interest in the international media but only in promoting her boss in the Israeli one. As if it mattered how many pictures of General Halutz appeared in Israel.
Regev's career as a press officer focused on dealing with the Hebrew press and with logistics. To her, the foreign press - the alpha and omega of that fourth arena where Israel was taking a beating, and which she was assigned to conquer - was but a sideshow. And so, rather than spend the war personally briefing the world's major media figures, she spent it behind Dan Halutz's shoulder, evidently thinking her job was to push her boss into Israeli papers, rather than get her own face on foreign TV.

At the same time, when the IDF began its frantic search for a "victory photo," Regev failed to supply it. True, this task would have been simpler had there been a victory to photograph, but the fact is that some things could have been done. For instance, after the war I learned from combatants that when surrounded, Hizbullah troops would often commit suicide, in some cases shooting themselves in the temple with pistols in the very presence of approaching Israeli troops.

I doubt this could have been photographed. Yet had this been made known immediately, it would have proven valuable to the press as a story, and to the IDF as a reminder to the foreign press that Israel's enemy was not the freedom fighter it tried to portray, but the fanatic suicide attackers who have been haunting the West from Bali to Madrid.

Why was this lost on Regev? Because she has poor English and has never been a journalist. How can she know where to lead the foreign press if she can't read an issue of The Economist or hold a serious conversation with a New York Times editor? Regev was as clueless about the foreign press as Halutz was about the ground forces.
Replacing Ms Regev with a savvy Anglophone journalist would be a step in the right direction. I suspect, more is needed by way of mentality change in the Israeli military apparatus.

Why does this matter? Why should we not simply shrug our shoulders and say, well, if they are that stupid, let them get on with it? Because, as I have said before, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, surrounded by tyrannies and terrorists, all intent on destroying it. Because Israel is fighting our battles and we need to support the country. But, hey, guys, meet us half-way.

COMMENT THREAD

17 February 2007

Do we want politicians of principle?

The discussion on what it is we are fighting for seems to be going on extremely well on the forum. There will, I expect, be a part 2 from me and, if our readers are particularly unlucky, part 3 as well.

Predictably, as soon as I posted the screed or rant I remembered many other points I wanted to raise but either forgot or found no room for. Some of them are being raised by our readers and some remain in my head until I post them on the blog.

One point, not necessarily the most important but one that is continuously brought up, is that of the personality of politicians. There is, clearly, a problem with the ones we have but does anybody really know how to solve it through personality changes?

It is, of course, very frustrating to see the political world of Westminster become packed by nothing but professional politicians. The House of Commons has virtually reached that stage, the various think-tanks are packed with young people who do not want to go out into the big bad world and the only chink of light is the House of Lords where people sit either because they have achieved something (often in politics, alas) or while they keep down other jobs and interests. For that they get abused but, as it happens, they are closer to the population of the country as a whole.

As it happens, most politicians have always been professional politicians but until they started receiving their ever higher salaries, this fact had to be disguised by private income or employment as a journalist, lawyer or, very rarely, businessman.

One must admit that the perennial cry of “we want more successful businessmen at the high levels of politics” is unmitigated tosh. Running a business is not the same as being a politician and there is no particular evidence that businessmen, however good they are at making money or, more likely, rising within the corporate structure, understand anything about politics of economics.

Think of the businessmen we have seen dabbling in politics recently: Archie Norman, Lord Sainsbury, Lord Levy. Not a very edifying spectacle for various reasons.

What of the notion that Ministers should have had experience in the field they are lording it over? The suggestion was, I believe that the Secretary for Health should have started as a nurse and gone on to doing all sorts of medical matters. Fine, though why a nurse should know anything about the health service as a whole is not clear.

But what happens when the said Secretary is shifted to transport or education? What use will the medical experience be then?

The point of our system is that it is politicians who become ministers not experts. The expertise is supposed to lie with the permanent civil service who do not change with elections and with outside advisers ministers might consult or employ. Advisers advise and ministers decide.

There are many advantages to this system and a number of disadvantages, the latter having become a good deal more important. The most obvious disadvantage is that it gives enormous powers to the civil service and as we now have governance by management not by politics, that power is almost impossible to control. Civil servants have an agenda of their own and, if in position to do so, will implement it.

Another disadvantage of government consisting of parliamentarians, that is politicians, is the poverty of the gene pool. There is no particular reason, constitutionally speaking why the Prime Minister should not allocate one of the great offices of state or important positions to someone in the House of Lords but it would be decried as being “undemocratic”, democracy being equated with elections in too many people’s minds.

Worst of all, this system does not provide us with true separation of powers or with checks and balances. Parliamentary supremacy, in effect the supremacy of the party that has won the elections to the House of Commons is little more than elected dictatorship, particularly within the flexible constitution that this country has had over the centuries.

There are other systems. The American President is elected separately from Congress and appoints his cabinet according to his own wishes (soon it may be according to her own wishes). Other countries have other ways of electing or appointing leaders. There is a good deal to be said for a Prime Minister being elected separately from the House of Commons and being able to appoint ministers outside it. But until we have such a system we are going to have Secretaries for Health who probably have never worked in a hospital or a doctor’s surgery.

As it happens when we did have a Secretary for Education who had been a teacher, the result was an unmitigated disaster in the form of Gillian Shephard. Someone who is thick with the teachers’ unions is the last person we want to run our education system. (Now that I think of it, any politician is the last person we want to run our education system.)

Then again, do we want a professional diplomat to be our Foreign Secretary?

Which brings me to my last point (for the time being) and that is the question of integrity in politicians. What do we actually want from them? To be like us or to be above us in any intellectual and moral sense?

As various stories of the DPP and the Attorney General having affairs with younger lawyers hit the papers there is a good deal of tut-tutting, often from people whose own private lives would not bear too much scrutiny. Even more tut-tutting comes from people who have somehow decided that nothing like this could have happened in the past.

The only thing that would not have happened in the past was the newspaper exposés. There was just as much infidelity and sexual misdemeanour in the past. The clothes were nicer.

In any case, does it matter that a politician or the Director of Public Prosecution has an affair? Is it not more important that these people get appointed for the dubious reasons that they are chummy with the Prime Minister’s wife or have set up chambers with her?

At this point I had better explain why I do not think the Lord Goldsmith story, about to hit the newsstands is of any importance while Ruth Kelly sending her child to private school is.

Really, it is very simple. Ruth Kelly is part of a government that actively prevents the vast majority of the population from having any choice whatsoever. To its eternal shame the Party Formerly Known As Conservative seems to share these opinions.

In those circumstances the politicians’ own behaviour does matter. Sending their own children into the private sector indicates that they do believe in individual choice – for themselves and those rich enough to afford one. The rest of us can go to hell in a handcart educationally speaking.

All right, let us limit integrity to just politics and not personal behaviour, which is still very hard to define. If we start testing people before they go into politics we really are not going to get anyone except sad dysfunctional weirdos.

In any case, integrity about what? Political parties are necessarily coalitions of several shades of opinion, often widely apart, that coincide on some basic general idea. In the process of fighting elections, possibly winning them and forming a government or fighting that government from the opposition benches, a good many compromises have to be made.

What would happen if they were not made? Nothing much. We would have a parliament that resembled nothing so much as a particularly badly behaved primary school. (Oh wait, that is exactly what we do have in the Commons quite frequently.) It would not be a political system and there are times when we need one.

Clearly, when we say political integrity we mean on a few important issues. Unfortunately, we cannot stop there. Even on those issues, integrity might not be very popular and yet we are told, often by the same people, that politicians should listen to the electors and follow their instruction. What if a particular politician is firmly convinced that the people who elected him or her are completely wrong on some important issue? Where does integrity lie then?

Let me go back to Edmund Burke, he, whose portrait graces this posting. In 1774 he was elected to be Member for Bristol, a position he loved and relished. In April 1778 he found that his strongly held principles that trade should be opened up to Ireland on the same terms as it was in England displeased his electors, the good burghers of Bristol.

During his correspondence with one of his most prominent supporters, Samuel Span, of the Society of Merchant Adventurers, he tried to persuade him that free trade would benefit Bristol as well, because it would benefit the whole of the Kingdom.

In one of the letters he outlined how he saw the role of an elected representative and it is not one that will appeal to many people even now:
Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him, their opinions high respect, their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasure, his satisfactions, to theirs – and above all, ever and in all cases to prefer their interest to his own.

But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgement, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure – no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Burke, incidentally, was a professional politician, earning his money by serving various political nobles and writing pamphlets.

I imagine many people, reading those stirring words will say that few if any of our modern politicians have unbiased opinions, mature judgement or enlightened conscience. In fact, they seem to have acquired the worst of all worlds – not having any integrity of their own but not listening carefully to the electors either.

For all of that, the problem of what constitutes politics of integrity remains. Burke, eventually found that he could not expect to win in Bristol and withdrew from the election of 1780. Luckily for him and the country, he was returned within a few months for the borough of Malton which was more or less in the Marquess of Rockingham’s gift.

It was, perhaps, the American Founding Fathers who understood the conundrum most clearly. You need people of good intent and honest politics but you cannot rely on them alone. They, too, need to be constrained within structures.

COMMENT THREAD

16 February 2007

What is it we are fighting for?

It is usually easier to define what it is one is fighting against, which is why countries who have been historically on the losing side are better at defining some kind of national identity than those who have, on the whole, been on the winning side.

Being somewhat interested in films and propaganda, I find, as I have written on various occasions (too numerous to refer to) films of various countries in the Second World War very instructive. The most interesting, though not always completely successful British ones are those by Michael Powell and Emerich Pressburger (the latter being a Hungarian) because they attempt to create a positive image of the country, society and social ideals that Britain was actually fighting for. Often these ideals are old-fashioned and, at times, there is an ambiguity about their desirability though their attractiveness is never in question.

I shall leave the question of social ideals and national identity aside for the moment, though, as I pointed out in a previous posting, the only way we can fight the various battles we are facing is by recreating those identities.

Let me concentrate on the question of democracy, for it is the lack of it that we (or some of us) so dislike in the European Union and it is because the United States and other Anglospheric countries are democracies that we want to be allied with them. Similarly, our support for Israel in the Middle East rests on the main argument that it is the only democratic country in that region at the moment.

Only people completely ignorant of history, in particular of the history of the European Union from its beginnings (ably discussed by my colleague and Christopher Booker in “The Great Deception”) think that the EU is somehow a German plot to create a Fourth Reich. Au contraire. As I pointed out before, the EU and its ideology desperately needs a suppression of German national identity in order to succeed.

So, let us go back to basics, as a certain not very successful Prime Minister is supposed to have said once. If it is democracy we are fighting for, what do we mean by it?

Elections, free and fair and a government formed by the majority. Fine. But what is a free and fair election? The Soviet argument was that theirs was the only free and fair election because it represented the people’s wishes in the selection of the only candidate in each constituency.

We, of course, do not think that and believe that opposition parties should exist and independent candidates should stand as often as possible. Errm, do we? How often do we hear people harrumphing about silly single-issue candidates simply cluttering up the ballot papers. And if those single-issue groups and candidates grow into a force possibly to be reckoned with, as the Greens did temporarily some years ago, UKIP has done recently and the BNP is threatening to do, great is wailing and gnashing of teeth from the main-stream parties.

So, maybe, we should do without parties. Just have candidates we vote for. In a way, that is the system they have had in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union and it prevents that country from developing into a mature democracy. The politics of Russia reminds one of eighteenth century political intrigues across the continent of Europe, in Britain, but above all ….. in Russia. The great leaders rise and fall, at the whim of the top man (some were women in Russia) and with them rise and fall all their followers.

One of these great men has been Anatoly Chubais, who has had many falls and many rises. (At the moment he is up, being the Chairman of the Board of the Unified Energy System of Russia and in charge of its forthcoming privatization.) After one of his falls from grace under Yeltsin he spent various of his followers to the West to drum up support. I asked the one who had been detailed to come to Britain whether there was any sign of Russian politics developing political parties, based on certain political ideas or ideologies to replace the personalized struggle. After much humming and haing, he admitted that there was not sign of that.

Years have gone by and Yeltsin is out of the limelight. But the basic problem has not been solved. Russian politics still revolves round personalities not political parties. It has since then become far less of a democracy by any standard.

Clearly, then, dispensing with parties is not really the solution and, some might argue, that the existence of parties as well as the constant formation of new ones that might or might not develop are prerequisites of a democratic system.

Some might but the leaders of the existing political parties do not. Using the pretence of fighting corruption they (Labour, Conservative and Lib-Dim) want to introduce a system of state financing for existing parties, thus ensuring that they are part of the machinery of government rather than expression of political views and opinions. Once a party is subsidized by the state, it cannot be said to be an opposition. A move of that kind would also make it impossible for new parties to emerge and grow. Would we have had a Labour Party if there had been state funding of parties in the early twentieth century?

(If we want to talk about corruption, what about the following. How do we feel about the wife of the Prime Minister setting up Chambers with a colleague who subsequently becomes the Director of Public Prosecution and gets into some trouble over surreptitious wining and dining a young and blonde colleague, in the full expectation that said PM will push through a contentious piece of legislation, to wit, the Human Rights Act?)

Well, we are getting somewhere. We need elections with a multitude of candidates and we need parties though we do not need them to be funded by the state.

What else? A free and unfettered media, probably, but here we run into another difficulty. The point of that free and unfettered media is the provision of information. What happens when out of laziness it does not bother to provide information that is hard to get or hard to analyze? What happens, furthermore, when the media has an agenda of its own?

It is only with the appearance of the blogs that it became possible to challenge a certain world view that the MSM in this country and in the United States, Australia and Western Europe assiduously propagated. What would have been the outcome of the Vietnam war and the subsequent surge of Communism throughout the world if there had been blogs in the sixties and seventies who could challenge the less than truthful or accurate “reporting” by the MSM of those years?

Let us go further then: we need a free and unfettered media but we also need a way of challenging that media, an ability to recognize that it has an agenda of its own, which may not be helpful to the country that hosts it.

Here is where we run into real difficulties. Free and fair elections, political parties, freedom of the media but also freedom of conscience and opinion (within reason, I am afraid, because even libertarians believe that other people exist and need to be taken into account). But what happens if the parties do not differ all that much from each other, do not provide any real choice at election and do not respond to the popular will between elections?

Well, no, let us go back a little. How is that popular will to be measured? I keep hearing about petitions and the disgraceful way the government ignores them and about the way Tony Blair ignored the million or so (at least half of whom were not British) demonstrators against the Iraqi war but find it hard to understand why I should get indignant.

A democratically elected Prime Minister is the person, according to the present constitutional set-up, who decides whether this country goes to war. There is a good deal to be said for changing that arrangement and ensuring that Parliament has more of a say, though Blair did actually have a debate on the Iraqi war. But what one cannot have is the notion that the foreign policy must be decided according to what the people who happen to turn out on a day to march through London want.

As I said before, the war may not have been in their name, but they were not marching in my name.

Similarly, and irrelevantly to the subject of the petition, it is hard to see why government policy should be decided according to what a large number of signatories, some of whom openly admit to signing as many times as they can, want. The problem with the road charging (yes, that is the one I am talking about) is not that the government was not paying any attention to a petition, which was still signed by fewer people than those who had voted for them, but because the Minister in question was lying in a way that is destructive of a democratic order.

As it happens, I do not believe that there is anything new about politicians lying. They have done so ever since there were politicians, going on for several millennia. One reason for that is that most people could not cope with the truth if anyone told them.

One of the truths the population of this country cannot cope with for any length of time is that eighty per cent of our legislation comes from the European Union and our elected representatives have no right to oppose it. The reason why so many of us go into denial over this is because it undermines the concept of Britain’s democracy and, above all, her independence.

NATO does not legislate in this country; the WTO draws up trading rules but does not insist on domestic legislation; the European Union is the primary source of most of our laws and regulations. That is not a happy thought and most people prefer to ignore it.

That is, at least, one reason for Douglas Alexander’s barefaced lie about road pricing. He said that there was a need for a debate and there is. But there is hardly any point in having a debate if the issue has already been decided. That kind of a debate one could have in the Soviet Union.

The truth is that what we are fighting for is not so much democracy, though that is part of it, but constitutional liberty. Individual freedom to life, liberty and justly acquired property that is protected under clear constitutional rules; the right to express one’s opinion but, also, the right to disagree, even if the expressed opinion is part of a consensus; the right to religious observance but not to repression of other people and criminal behaviour (threats of violence, honour killings, genital mutilation, kidnapping and forced marriage etc) supposedly in the name of a religion; government decided on by the majority with legitimate minority rights protected; and, above all, legislators and regulators who are accountable for their decisions.

As the Meryl Streep character says in "The Devil Wears Prada", am I reaching for the moon?

COMMENT THREAD

14 February 2007

A small boring detail

Very much on the back foot of late, transport secretary Douglas Alexander is pledging to "listen, deliberate and discuss" the issues raised by the petition on the No. 10 website urging Tony Blair to "forget about road pricing".

Standing at 1,369,970 signatures (at the time of writing), with seven days to go, the petition has proved a huge embarrassment for the government, which is having one of its main policy ideas on transport – in fact, virtually its only idea – comprehensively trashed.

The oddest thing, however, is that despite Alexander's apparent enthusiasm for a debate, ever since he announced that he intended to make satellite-based road pricing his "personal priority", in May last year, there has been almost complete silence from him on the subject. And this is despite his self professed determination to move the debate from "why" to "how".

Given how important the policy is to the government, one must look to reasons why Alexander has failed to follow through, and these are clearly evident. Essentially, the problems arise from the Department for Transport had nailing its colours to the satellite system mast, and its decision to rely on the EU's Galileo system.

Since Galileo is late, and the technical parameters for charging systems have yet to be defined, the secretary of state is not in a position to spell out exactly how the system will work.

More importantly, not only is the system is vastly over budget, the fundamental basis of the commercial model is falling apart, in a variety of ways.

And. to add even further to the EU's woes, earlier this month, the Chinese launched one of its Beidou navigation satellites onboard a Long March 3A rocket, using this moment to declare publicly that they intend to launch a full system of 35 orbiting satellites that will be as comprehensive as the Navstar system built by the United States,

On top of a resurgent Russian Glonass, suddenly this means that the sky is going to be rather crowded with competitors, yet it is only Galielo which is relying on charging for use of its signals, all the other systems being free to the end user.

That itself creates further problems, not least the fact that it is unlikely that the EU will be able to control access to satellite signals, after the codes were cracked last year.

Add to that the availability of increasingly sophisticated receivers which are capable of integrating signals from multiple systems, providing a level of accuracy which cannot be provided by one system, and the original planning assumptions on which the original Galileo operation was based are no longer valid.

All of this totally undermines the costings for Galileo. Thus, any national authority like the British government, seeking to develop a national road charging system, will have no basis on which to calculate its charges. Any system is set to stall before it even begins to get off the ground, even supposing the Galileo system does, which is looking increasingly unlikely.

But, if the technical and operational problems at a European level are multiplying, there are also home-grown factors. Firstly, the government has totally failed to get to grips with the problem of unregistered cars and, with 33 million now registered, an estimated additional two million are absent from the DVLA database. That puts potentially two million drivers beyond the charging system, creating a massive "free rider" problem and a source of continual complaint from those drivers who do have to pay.

Secondly, there is the administration of the system itself, which will require a massive computer system, larger than anything that has ever been attempted anywhere in the world. On the day that experts are warning that the government’s £20 billion NHS computer system is on the brink of failure – in the context of the government's record of implementing computer schemes being littered with failure – the chances of a successful system being devised to manage road charging are vanishingly small.

Finally, disturbing information is emerging on the flagship London congestion charging scheme which is proving so expensive to administer, at £120 million a year, that it relies not on the basic charges to break even but on the penalty charges levied on non-payers. These account for an estimated third of the total £187 million income.

A satellite-based system might have a lower default rate, as the charging scheme is largely automatic, which means that the administrators will not be able to rely so much on penalty income, which – in a UK scenario – would reflect on higher road charges.

So much for the technical and financial problems – but these are by no means the whole extent of the problems facing Mr Alexander. As people come to grips with the technology of satellite road charging, there is also greater awareness of the civil liberty implications, which are highly significant, and increasing. This was one of the central objections to the system, cited by the submitter of the anti-charging petition, Peter Roberts, who declared: "the idea of tracking every vehicle at all times is sinister and wrong."

Thus does David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, say that he has strong civil liberties concerns about the plans. "There are very real concerns that the road pricing model that the Government is looking at will allow routine surveillance of every citizen in the country ... Clearly that is not acceptable," he declared.

This was to the Independent newspaper which yesterday devoted its front page and its lead story to the issue of road charging. Headed, "the road to nowhere", it asked whether minister would back away from plans to clear the roads. Douglas Alexander was under pressure not to give way to the "populist" campaign backed by the motoring lobby and a number of national newspapers.

According to The Times, he has promised that privacy would not be invaded, perhaps unaware that the very basis of the scheme is that a record is kept of every journey made.

And, if Alexander wants to tell us that the information will be ring fenced and not released to government agencies, that is a promise he can't keep. Remember the controversy about the EU law requiring telephone and e-mail records to be kept? All it would take is for the EU member states to gang up and demand the availability of road charging records and that would be that. Once again, the EU casts a long shadow.

To then complete a long tale of woe, even Labour politicians are warning that this could be the government's "poll tax on wheels" – dubbed the "toll tax".

The idea of congestion charging, obviously, is to drive large numbers of people off the roads at certain times, and on to public transport. But what is not generally appreciated though is that public transport only takes nine percent of traffic. The rest go by private car. There simply is not the capacity to take much of the private traffic and, without a public transport alternative, people will have to grimace and pay up. Under those circumstances, according to John Spellar, a former Labour transport minister, road charging becomes a "tax on work", hitting the lowest-paid hardest.

And there we have it. Alexander is between a rock and a hard place – a good place to be for a former Europe minister. "In our country," he says, "we don't have the luxury of doing nothing if we are not to see American-style gridlock on our roads." But doing something does not have to include road charging. Spellar, for one, distrusts the big schemes so loved by politicians and officials. He argues that the way forwards is to look to the "small boring details", the cumulative effects of a myriad of small, targeted schemes.

There is though, another "small boring detail". The EU's ambitions for its Galileo satellite programme require that money is recouped through such things as road charging. Without that, member states will have to meet the multi-billion annual running costs from their own resources. The EU, therefore, needs road charging.

And that, in the final analysis, may be the deciding factor. When "Europe" calls, our politicians tend to drop everything and come running. Peter Roberts may have set up his petition in vain.

COMMENT THREAD

12 February 2007

Opportunity cost

Newspapers only have so much space and broadcasters only have so much time and, if they expend it on chasing after 15-year-old David Cameron's drug using habits, neither time nor space are available for other, more weighty issues. That is the so-called "opportunity cost". By focusing on one subject, you lose the opportunity to deal with another.

Despite the obsession with young Cameron and all things trivial, however, I fully expected at least the heavyweight end of the Sunday media to devote some time to the Nato ministerial meeting in Seville, which has been entirely ignored by the dailies. That used to be something of a speciality of the Sundays – sweeping up after the dailies, addressing some of the issues they had missed.

However, this was not to be, despite the ominous signs of trouble emanating from Afghanistan and the failure, once again, of Nato ministers to agree more troops for the region.

Nor, I suspect, are we going to see much coverage of the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, where nearly 300 security experts from 45 countries were yesterday addressed by US defense secretary Robert M. Gates. He urged Nato allies to back up their commitments to the mission in Afghanistan with money and forces, telling the gathering: "NATO is not a paper membership or a social club or a talk shop. It is a military alliance, one with very serious real-world obligations."

This was after a more emollient address on the Saturday by Nato SecGen Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. He expressed the view that the back of the insurgency in Afghanistan would be "broken" and that the country would be on the road to a long-term peace by 2009.

Gates, though, skipped the diplomacy and optimism. “NATO members are divided into two groups,” he said, those "who do all they can to fulfill collective commitments and those who do not." "Going forward, it is vitally important that the success Afghanistan has achieved not be allowed to slip away through neglect or lack of political will or resolve," he added.

The overall success of the alliance and, in particular, the success of the Nato-led mission in Afghanistan was dependent upon alliance members honouring their commitments. "An alliance consisting of the world's most prosperous industrialized nations, with over 2 million people in uniform - not even counting the American military - should be able to generate the manpower and materiel needed to get the job done in Afghanistan, a mission in which there is virtually no dispute over its justness, necessity, or international legitimacy," Gates said. "Our failure to do so would be a mark of shame."

Gates's views were echoed by Afghan national security adviser, Zalmai Rassoul, who told the same meeting that his country was facing a resurgent Taliban and an influx of foreign fighters. "While we have come far, we are standing at a crossroads in 2007 between moving forward along a democratic path and letting it slip from our grasp," said Rassoul.

US Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock added to the refrain, telling reporters before the meeting that: "you must clear, you must hold, you must build." For that, it would take more troops to conduct the combination of security and stability operations to end fighting in Afghanistan. Until then, he said, fighting will continue, since the Taleban has an enormous recruiting ground for foot soldiers among the 2 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, he said. Most of these refugees have no ideological ties, he said. They become Taliban soldiers to earn a wage to live.

Star of the show though was Senator John McCain, a Republican contender for the White House in 2008. He cut to the chase, chastising "Europe" for failing to supply the troops and money to win in Afghanistan, declaring that Nato's future was at stake.

Nato allies should to move beyond the "false debate" over security and development priorities in Afghanistan - a dispute that dominated the Nato ministers' meeting earlier this week. Instead, Europe should follow Washington's lead and put more forces and resources into the war effort, he said, declaring:

Military recommitment must begin with NATO countries providing an adequate number of troops for the fight … Yet the international community still falls far short in meeting its prior pledges and in committing the resources Afghanistan needs to avoid failure.
All this comes at a time when we hear that the Taleban have stepped up attacks in southern Afghanistan in recent days in what seems to be the opening of the fighting season.

Furthermore, they are continuing to reinforce Musa Qala. More than 1,500 villagers have fled the town in anticipation of renewed fighting, while more than 300 fighters have taken their place.

Meanwhile, the governor of Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand, Assadullah Wafa, also said yesterday hundreds of foreign Al Qaeda fighters had infiltrated his province and were behind regular attacks there. As many as 700 Al Qaeda terrorists had come to Sangeen and Kajaki districts from Waziristan (in Pakistan), he said, claiming they were mostly Chechen fighters, Chinese, Uzbeks and Pakistanis.

At least, though, German soldiers of the International Security Assistance Force seem to be on the case. They gave a demonstration of their prowess to the media at the German military base in Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, north of Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday last (pictured). At least they have some nice kit … all we need now is the determination to fight, from the German government and the other Nato allies.

Do not hold your breath, and do not expect the media even to notice as the situation goes down the pan – until, that is, we start seeing the body bags.

COMMENT THREAD

11 February 2007

The big lie or many small lies?

Here is an interesting question for all our readers? Who burnt down the Reichstag in 1933? Can you recall the name of Marinus van der Lubbe, the somewhat crazed Dutchman, who actually set it on fire? And even if you can, do you not think that there was somebody behind it all? After all, it could not be just a lone lunatic?

It would be interesting to know how many of those who read the above paragraph nodded and said: “Of course, Hitler ordered and manipulated van der Lubbe (assuming you can recall the name) and then used the fire to get rid of the opposition and to blame the Communists.”

I am willing to bet that nobody said: “Oh yes, it was the Communists and they managed to get away with it because Dimitrov’s trial (assuming you can recall that name) was unsuccessful. Hitler merely took advantage of the event.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between good and bad propaganda.

The truth is that van der Lubbe did act on his own. This has been investigated and proved by a number of historians. No evidence has been found of anybody else’s involvement. (And, please, do not remind me of such things as Kirov’s murder, in December 1934. The evidence for Stalin’s involvement is everywhere.)

Further, Hitler did take advantage of the fire to do what he had always planned to do and destroy the remnants of German democratic parliament and ban the Communist Party of which the Nazis were oddly afraid. All of that is true.

Now we come to the battle of the propagandists. Everyone, but everyone, quotes Dr Göbbels’s comment about the big lie and compares every would-be spin doctor with him. But who actually believed Göbbels? A large proportion of the German people for a time and some supporters in other countries who wanted to believe him.

As opposed to that, millions of people across the world repeat certain "truths" for which there is "full agreement" without once realizing that it is propaganda first started by that genius of spin doctoring and promoter of the Comintern, Willi Münzenberg, without even knowing his name or comparing any tuppenny-ha’penny press officer to him. Now that is propaganda. Sheer genius. Achieved by a long list of small and medium-sized lies.

Back to the Reichstag fire. It occurred on the night of February 27, 1933 and the perpetrator was not hard to find. Van der Lubbe, a supposed Communist and an unemployed bricklayer, clearly mentally disturbed (though the assumption that he was actually mentally defective comes from his obviously drugged state during the trial and a great deal of Communist propaganda), was found inside the building.

The following day the recently elected Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, went to see the President, Hindenburg, who signed an order that closed down all non-Nazi parties and banned the Communist one.

A few days later the Gestapo arrested four Communists, intending to try them with van der Lubbe. Ernst Togler was a senior member of the KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands - German Communist Party), one of those who had not managed to escape. An arrest warrant was issued for him immediately and he surrendered himself to the police, something the KPD would later hold against him.

The other three were Bulgarians: Georgi Dimitrov, Vasil Tanev and Blagoi Popov, members of the Comintern.

What the Gestapo had not realized that Dimitrov was the head of the West European section of the Comintern and, thus, a close adviser of Stalin's, one of the few people the latter would make an effort for. Normally Communist parties and their members would be sacrificed without a blink of an eyelid.

In addition, the man who had been charged to promote the cause of the Soviet Union and the Communist International through apparently innocuous publications, Willi Münzenberg was reasonably anxious to become involved.

Münzenberg was a German Communist, one of the few from a working class background. He was a deputy in the Reichstag and the owner of two newspapers and a publishing firm. He was also the most skilled propagandist the Soviet Union and its cause ever had. He did not write propaganda, he organized it, setting up hundreds of committees, using front organizations to run other front organizations, inspiring intellectuals to become fellow travellers and to manipulate other, innocent and ignorant intellectuals. In other words, he was the man who created the atmosphere in which it is considered to be normal to be on the left of the spectrum and intensely moral to support some of the worst tyrants in the world, as long as they seem to be a left-wing cause.

As Stephen Koch, author of "Double Lives" wrote in the New Criterion:
He wanted to instill the feeling, like a truth of nature, that seriously to criticize or challenge Soviet policy was the unfailing mark of a bad, bigoted, and probably stupid person, while support was equally infallible proof of a forward-looking mind committed to all that was best for humanity and marked by an uplifting refinement of sensibility.
Before 1933 he had been enormously successful in his organizational activity. His biggest achievement was the Sacco-Vanzetti case. He took the case of two obscure Italian anarchists who had been accused of robbery and murder (of which Sacco was almost certainly guilty and Vanzetti possibly innocent) and turned it into a left-wing cause célèbre, achieving two things.

The campaign pulled together disparate left-wing and well-meaning individuals and organizations under covert Communist control, in the process destroying the anarchist movement in the United States.

It countered the potent myth of the Open Door and the American Dream for immigrants, a rival myth to that of the Soviet utopia, by creating an image of America of a murderous, xenophobic society that destroys innocent immigrants if they happen to have the wrong political view.

We can date the irrational anti-Americanism so prevalent in Britain, Europe and the American left from that campaign. Münzenberg’s work lives on.

In the months leading up to Hitler taking power the entire KPD behaved with exemplary foolishness, underestimating the Nazis and concentrating on internal dissent, purges and the fight with the Social-Democrats. Münzenberg was part of that mess.

Immediately after the Hindenburg decree he fled to Paris where he began to organize a counter-offensive.

Its first aspect was "The Brown Book", followed later on by "The Second Brown Book". Münzenberg mobilized many of the West's intellectuals whom he had already enmeshed in his network or the Münzenberg Trust as it was known, to support this endeavour. Names of others, such as Albert Einstein, who protested, were simply added.

"The Brown Book" was probably written largely by Willi's henchman and probable NKVD agent, the Czech Communist Otto Katz, who may well have been involved later on in Masaryk’s “defenestration”. Subsequently, the grateful Communist government of Czechoslovakia put him on trial together with Rudolf Slánský in the great show trial of 1952. (Incidentally, the trials of the tortured and pressurized accused were filmed and shown. Their self-abasement was made public at the time and later.)

Katz, the ruthless manipulator and brilliant propaganda writer, was accused of Zionism and espionage, confessed to all his "crimes" and begged to be executed as he had no right to live. His masters obliged and he was hanged.

As Stephen Koch, author of “Double Lives” and Sean McMeekin, author of "The Red Millionaire", Münzenberg's biography, pointed out "The Brown Book" so highly praised at the time and so valued by various historians, was largely a pack of lies. In fact, the lies were not really substantiated and only self-imposed hypnosis could have made all those writers and reviewers swoon with praise at the time.

There were three parts to the book. The first one told inaccurately of the Nazi rise to power, blaming largely the Social-Democrats and, naturally enough, being rather reticent about the war the KPD waged on the SD and the Weimar democracy in general.

The second part dealt with Nazi oppression in general and was, as Sean McMeekin puts it, "intuitively correct", though short on facts. "The Brown Book" emphasised oppression as it affected left-wing parties and individuals not those dreadful people, capitalists, under which rubric came anyone who did not support the KPD.

Nor was there anything about the growing persecution of Jews. Instead of giving examples, the book and its supposed author, merely quoted Lenin's attack on rich and powerful Zionists, adding quite dishonestly, that rich German Jews had not felt any discomfort under the Nazis. In fact, there was a great deal of indignation that the Nazis accused various non-Jewish left-wing and, above all, Communist activists of being that.

How ironic that the real author of this document should have ended his life as a "Zionist spy". Communist history is full of ironies of this kind.

The third part dealt with the Reichstag fire and produced the accusations that it was organized by the Nazis, specifically by Göring. To prove this there were fraudulent charts and "photographs" produced that showed a network of subterranean passages through which the Nazis could have entered while van der Lubbe was torching the place, to give him a hand.

To top the accusations, there were clear innuendos that van der Lubbe was the SA Chief Ernst Röhm’s catamite, possibly a sexual toy boy to the SA in general.

Even at the time this was thin and has since been disproved quite categorically by, among others, Fritz Tobias in his 1964 book, "The Reichstag Fire". No other writer has produced any evidence to back the half-baked assertions of "The Brown Book" and "The Second Brown Book". They have, nevertheless, penetrated into popular psyche to quite an astonishing degree.

Münzenberg's other ploy was the London counter-trial, the template for many other subsequent "trials". It was timed to open the day the Leipzig trial of Van der Lubbe, Dimitrov and the others was to start, September 21, 1933.

The counter-trial was chaired by D. N. Pritt KC, barrister and member of the Labour Party, who was also one of the leading fellow travellers. In subsequent years he would use his standing as a barrister and a "silk" to explain why the Soviet show trials were legally entirely correct and how the guilt of the accused had been proved beyond any reasonable doubt.

The other "judges" were Maìtre Pierre Vermeylen of Belgium, George Branting of Sweden, Maìtre Vincent de Moro-Giafferi and Maìtre Gaston Bergery of France, Betsy Bakker-Nort of the Netherlands, Vald Hvidt of Denmark, and Arthur Garfield Hays of the United States.

The lawyers, except for Pritt, complained about the atmosphere in the “court room”, the pressure under which they were put by Münzenberg, the lack of evidence and the laughable testimony produced by friends of Willi wearing SA uniforms and masks.

For all of that, the counter-trial was a huge success. After a week's deliberation it came to the conclusion it started with, that the fire had been initiated by Göring and carried out by SA officers, with van der Lubbe, probably a homosexual lover of one or more of them, lined up as the fall guy. This was, astonishingly enough, accepted by all the bien pensants and many other well-meaning people.

Meanwhile, the real trial, in Leipzig was also a success for the Comintern. Dimitrov, a superb speaker, dispensed with his defence lawyer and used the four month long trial to proclaim repeatedly his and his comrades’ innocence and the Nazis’ guilt as well as the guilt of all those who did not support the Communist line.

Van der Lubbe, by now probably heavily drugged, drooling and giggling, continued to insist (in so far as he could insist anything) that he did it all by himself to call attention to the plight of the German workers.

On December 21 the trial came to an end. Van der Lubbe was found guilty and subsequently executed. The charges against the others were dismissed for lack of evidence, something that would not have happened under Stalin and did not happen at the counter-trial.

Ernst Togler was kept in "protective custody" until 1935, then released. He was purged from the KPD because of his surrender to the police, went abroad and worked in Belgium, returning later to work, according to him under duress, for the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda. He survived till the early sixties.

Dimitrov, Tanev and Popov returned to the Soviet Union in February 1934, almost exactly a year after the fire, to a hero's welcome.

Why were the charges dismissed? One theory is that the German courts were still sufficiently independent not to bow to pressure from the Nazi hierarchy. This is not impossible. And, of course, there really was no evidence against Dimitrov and the others.

Another aspect of the story is the arrest of seven German airmen who were undergoing training secretly in the Soviet Union. They were released after the Bulgarians had been acquitted and sent back to the USSR. It is hard to dismiss the notion of some agreement there. Stephen Koch thinks that the agreement went deeper and the whole Leipzig trial was a put-up job, with both Hitler and Stalin seizing the opportunity they were presented with.

Back in the USSR Dimitrov became head of the Comintern and a fervent Stalinist, though Robert Conquest mentions in “The Great Terror” that he, unusually, tried to save some of his Bulgarian comrades during the purge and may, even, have succeeded with one.

Whether he tried to save his co-defendants is unclear but, in any case, he did not succeed. Both Popov and Tanev disappeared into the Gulag, with only the first of them emerging after many years.

Dimitrov eventually became the Prime Minister of Communist Bulgaria and died in 1949 while on holiday in the Soviet Union. Rumours of him having been poisoned or irradiated have persisted ever since. It is true that Stalin had been displeased with his secret negotiations with Tito.

And what of Münzenberg, the evil genius, the man who created the modern intellectual atmosphere, who, unknown to most and working in the shadows, consolidated Western opinion about at least two crucial events?

Alas, he did not live long enough to see the network he had set up of front organizations, fellow travellers and agents of various kind achieving their biggest success of demonizing Senator Joseph McCarthy and all who were associated with him and turning the Communist agents he had tried to uncover into martyrs. That opinion, too, persists to this day, as witnessed by the completely untruthful “Good bye and good luck” made by George Clooney and despite the research of such people as Ronald and Allis Radosh, authors of “Red Star Over Hollywood” and the Yale University series of published documents about American Communist activity. Another triumph for the real propaganda.

Willi, however, had no more triumphs after 1933 though he continued to weave his spider’s web for a while. From 1935 on he watched his various friends and comrades disappear into Stalin’s prisons to reappear in show trials. He was purged from the KPD and in 1938 he broke with Stalin.

He then spent two years talking to British and French agents, explaining to them the truth or as much of the truth as he was prepared to divulge about the Soviet Union and the Comintern. He also started making plans for another propaganda campaign some time in the future, a left-wing anti-Soviet one. Many of his ideas were taken up after the war by the organizations and publications that came out under the auspices of the Congress for Cultural Freedom but Willi did not live to see that either.

He did carry out one coup against Stalin. Soon after the Nazi-Soviet Pact he published the names of 40 German Communists who had been murdered in Soviet prisons.

In early 1940 he was interned in France with all other German citizens. He had been advised to submit to that rather than try to escape by a couple of British agents he had been in touch with. Unfortunately, apart from the fact that Willi must have been watched by the NKVD, this was the period when the various British security services played unwilling host to a number of Soviet agents.

As the French surrender drew closer those in internment camps were either released or allowed to escape. Münzenberg headed off with a group southwards but reaching Montalon separated from the main group with three others, promising to return later.

None were seen again. One, Hartig, a supposed left-wing social-democrat, turned up later in Paris and worked with the Nazis. Two other young men, who had made enormous efforts to befriend Willi, vanished.

This was June 21, the day of France’s surrender. In October of that year, a body was found in the woods nearby of a man who had been hanged but as the rope had snapped, he had fallen under the tree. The body was in a very bad state of decomposition but papers in his pocket showed that this was, indeed, the former propaganda chief of the Comintern.

Some people think of it as a suicide but most assume that the two young men were working for the NKVD who wanted Willi dead and who accomplished the crime, possibly with the help of the Gestapo, who also wanted him dead.

In any case, what matters is the evil that he did, which lives on. Few people know the name of Willi Münzenberg of his henchman Otto Katz. Yet over several decades millions across the world have repeated "truths" and opinions that had been created for them by these two. Not many people believed Dr Göbbels's "big lie" but too many still believe the medium lies that were piled up by the Comintern.

As I said at the beginning of this long piece: that is propaganda. Forget the "big lie". It is the continuing small ones that matter.

We can see this with the successful propaganda coups of today. I am not, as it happens, talking about NuLab's spin machine, as unsuccessful an operation as anyone has ever seen. Every single spin is known immediately to the media and those who follow politics. What use is that to anyone?

It is a big mistake to suppose that it was the spin machine that ensured Blair's three elections. It was actually, the Conservative Party, whose own attempts at spin or propaganda are too pathetic even to discuss.

No, I am talking of the saga, we have followed on this blog – the carefully staged pictures and videos in Jenin, Gaza and Lebanon by terrorist organizations whose leaders had been trained in the Soviet Union, as it happens.

Soviet training would have included the use of propaganda as a battle tool and, on the whole, it is a pity that the Israelis have not undergone the same process. Between them Hamas (until they started fighting Fatah) and Hezbollah have shown themselves to be past masters at the game, helped, of course, by that public sphere of opinion created in the first place by Willi Münzenberg.
The question that needs to be asked is the degree of involvement on the part of the media and other agents of influence who are using the staged pictures and videos to promote the cause of the supposed victims of Israeli aggression, backed by the Americans.

When Münzenberg spun his web he distinguished for his own purposes between those who were witting and those who were unwitting accomplices. The latter he called “innocents” and referred to with great contempt. But he knew for certain that his words would not become the truth for so many if those unwitting accomplices were not active.

Was the media a witting or unwitting accomplice then and is it now? Some journalists knew exactly what they were doing, as did some lawyers, academics, writers and political activists. They may have pretended to be merely men and women of the left, often of the moderate left, but were, in actual fact, Communist agents of different kinds.

Let us recall that none of those accused by Senator McCarthy or HUAC were innocent, even if they lied when confronted. Interestingly, none used the defence that would have shown them to be genuinely well-meaning, that of freedom of speech. Many Hollywood supporters of the infamous ten were disgusted by the fact that, instead of admitting to their political views and pleading the First rather than the Fifth Amendment, they lied, continuing to play the Communist Party’s games.

Surely, nobody can possibly look at the pictures from Qana, especially the latest one my colleague has reproduced, and see the media as unwitting accomplices. How could they watch those carefully staged shots and not know that they were being manipulated into purveyors of propaganda?

Then again, few of them can believe in the cause that they are promoting, in the way Willi did to the end of his life.

One wonders what Willi would have said of them. Somehow, I suspect it would have been seriously rude.

COMMENT THREAD

10 February 2007

On the road to disaster

The Times must be congratulated for its report today on the two attacks on the British Army in Basra yesterday, one on an Army convoy and the other on the Basra Palace base (pictured).

By contrast, the Telegraph devoted the bulk of its time and space to picking at the wound of the US A-10 "friendly fire" incident and, a long "soft focus" piece on the death of Second Lt Jonathan Bracho-Cooke, the last but one soldier to die in Iraq. It gave short shrift to the attack on the Land Rover, not even bothering to report the second of the attacks.

Meanwhile, Richard Beeston and Michael Evans, defence editor of The Times, were exploring the possible effects of the attacks on the hopes of bringing home thousands of troops within the next few months.

In their story, however, they also reveal that the two attacks yesterday not only left one soldier dead but ten wounded. In the attack on Basra Palace, seven troops were injured, two "very seriously", according to an official spokesman, as well as an Iraqi employee.

The Basra base, says the paper, "comes under almost daily attack, and commanders had been expecting a missile or rocket to be fired by the end of the week." The journalists add that the base is protected heavily by concrete blast walls and sandbags, adding: "It is rare for so many troops to be hurt by a single explosion."

Rare, it might be, but not that rare. Readers will recall our report on 19 January when six British soldiers had been wounded in a series of attacks against Basra Palace camp. That time the camp had come under fire three times during the night from a mixture of mortars, rockets and small arms. One soldier was said to have been seriously injured and the five others received lesser injuries.

This was subsequently raised in Parliament by Ann Winterton and again by Gerald Howarth, both of them reflecting the increasing awareness and concern that attacks on British bases are getting more frequent and more accurate. And it is these attacks which lead Beeston and Evans to conclude that the situation is so volatile that the expected troop withdrawal could be prejudiced.

Roger Beeston, in a separate article then offers a chilling account of the reality of patrolling the streets of Basra. He starts his piece, writing:

The young British soldier never saw where the shot came from. One moment he was patrolling the streets of a seemingly quiet residential neighbourhood in Basra, shaking hands with children and greeting old ladies. Locals even came up to assure his patrol that they supported the British presence and wanted them to stay. Minutes later the soldier, from The Rifles Regiment, was fighting for his life. A bullet had pierced his body armour and entered his chest…
When the troops arrived (in 2003), Beeston recalls, they could drive in relative safety through the streets in Land Rovers. Much of their work was on reconstruction and soldiers could be seen on their days off sunbathing or fishing the waters of the Shatt al-Arab waterway that runs past the two main British bases.

Now, Beeston's soldier informant had seen comrades shot, blown up by roadside bombs or forced to fight their way out of complex ambushes that can rage for two to three hours. Life, writes Beeston, has become so precarious for the British that all movement of personnel is conducted by helicopter and at night. The main palace complex, which houses soldiers and government officials, is permanently under siege from rockets and mortars. He continues:

Every building is protected by sandbags or blast-proof concrete walls. Helmets and body armour are compulsory. Diplomats are not allowed to leave the compound. Soldiers rarely venture beyond the perimeter in anything less conspicuous than a large armoured force, usually only deployed in battle. "Calling this a peacekeeping operation is ridiculous," said one officer. "This is war."

Even mundane missions are difficult, dangerous and costly. The patrol we joined, which led to the soldier being shot by a sniper, was providing protection for a small police training unit checking on an Iraqi police station. At the cost of one near fatality and the resources of dozens of troops and two helicopters, a local police commander received money to buy mattresses for his officers.
We are told by Beeston that British commanders and officials insist (on the record) that the job is worthwhile and that progress is being made in training the Iraqi security forces. This was endorsed by one of the more fatuous Telegraph reports and we get a diet of scarcely credible propaganda from the MoD, trying to reinforce that message.

But Beeston's picture of a garrison under siege only confirms the separate intelligence we have distilled from multiple sources over a considerable period (see, for instance, here, here and here).

Worryingly, we are told that the question of withdrawal timetables is the most hotly debated subject in Basra. Several soldiers in Iraq, Beeston writes, "questioned openly whether there was any point in being here at all … Most of the violence is directed at the British. If they were to withdraw, some argue, attacks would drop off immediately."

These soldiers have a point. Without an ongoing commitment to stay until stable government is installed, and without the resources and equipment to do a proper job, it is difficult to see what is being achieved by keeping the troops in Iraq, other than to give the increasingly bold insurgents some target practice.

But, without a British presence, it is almost certain that the Iranian-backed Militias would try to seize Basra and the valuable oil resources in the province. Most likely, they would succeed, thus undermining the whole of the Iraqi economy and destroying any chance the country might have of staging a sustained economic recovery.

What, therefore, seems unsustainable is the current policy of half-in, half out… maintaining a military presence but not giving the troops the tools to do an effective job. To continue in that vein, it seems to me, puts us on the road to disaster.

COMMENT THREAD

08 February 2007

Needed: German national identity

Readers of this blog who actually bother to read the postings would have realized some time ago that I am a fervent Anglospherist. For that, however, it is essential to study and try to understand history and historical developments. That means looking beyond the last few years, even beyond the last few decades and, above all, not bouncing around with silly gung-ho prejudices that would not have seen the light of day in Boy’s Own Paper.

Having got that off my chest, let me, once again, spend half a minute reminiscing. Another thing some of our readers might know is that I spent my childhood in a place somewhat to the east of where I live now (Shepherds Bush in west London). I recall asking my father when I was at junior school why there were two Germanies when there was only one of other countries. Presumably I was not aware of the divisions of Korea and Vietnam. Ah, he said, that is the central question of modern European history and went no further.

Decades have passed and there is now only one Germany but her problems remain central to Europe and European developments. In brief, those of us who believe that the European Union is a cul-de-sac for Europe, need the development of a German national identity; we need a Germany that accepts her own history, good and bad, who is proud of her many achievements, having overcome the many serious problems and is ready to take up her role, discarded in the first half of the twentieth century, of being the central power of Europe. Only then will there be the slightest possibility of the “European project” being abandoned and some kind of a free network of democratic states created.

That would release the UK, as it seems remarkably reluctant to achieve that before the collapse of the European Union, to pursue what many of us would like to think is its destiny in the Anglosphere.

I am going to do a very brief canter through various historical events and our readers are welcome to comment. Naturally, I would prefer it if their comments, critical of what I say or otherwise, grow out of some knowledge of what they are talking about but bitter experience has made me realize that one cannot necessarily expect that.

The starting point has to be the fact that demonization of Germany is the lifeblood of the European project and the privileging of the national part of National Socialism is the sine qua non of the worship of tranzis that we have to live with and, in the case of this blog, fight against.

The truth is that the National Socialist period of German history lasted 12 years in total. (13, if you count it from the 1932 elections.) In fact, even if one accepts that the Germany of Wilhelm II was fairly aggressive in its foreign policies, the entire period of German aggression lasted from 1865 (at the earliest) to 1945. Not much more than a blip in European history.

The country that has been seriously aggressive towards her European neighbours for a considerably longer time was France, whether under the Bourbons, the French Revolution or Napoleon Bonaparte. Having been on the losing end of most wars since 1815 (not counting the Crimean War and various imperial skirmishes) France has managed to present herself as the perennial victim with Germany as the neighbour from hell. And that is why, sob, we must have the European Union. In a pig’s eye, to use a rather vulgar expression.

For those who like counterfactual history, an interesting exercise would be to discuss what would have happened if Germany had united under the liberal Diet of 1848 rather than the considerably less liberal, though hardly tyrannical, let alone totalitarian, Prussian ruler. Probably, one would come to the conclusion that the Diet was not capable of uniting anybody, even if the rest of Europe had acquiesced.

Though it was not the 1848 Diet that united Germany, the country had become the European leader in almost everything by the end of the nineteenth century. Even before that numerous English writers like Matthew Arnold and George Eliot looked to German literature, philosophy and education for inspiration.

By the turn of that century Germany led in all those as well as science, technology, art and music. The twentieth century was going to be Germany’s century and it is a huge tragedy for all that this did not happen.

As things stand, the twenty-first century is looking to be the Anglospheric one but the road to it has been hard. Anyone who thinks that the ending of World War I, let alone World War II, meant the triumph of Anglospheric ideas is seriously deluded.

There were many problems with the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 (incidentally, Margaret Macmillan writes in her superb book “The Peacemakers” that January was so warm in Paris that year, the flowers were still blooming in the parks and gardens).

On the one hand, President Woodrow Wilson brought a seemingly new idea of using fairness and justice as well as national self-determination for the creation of the new countries. On the other hand, the victorious allies wanted compensation and some kind of an assurance that nothing like that would happen again. As a result, they produced a series of documents that almost guaranteed that there would be another war fairly soon afterwards and not much peace in between.

Wilson was seriously worried about France reverting to her historical attitude towards countries on its border and ones she had been at war with. The French, on the other hand, pointed out that someone had to pay for the enormous losses, human and economic, they had suffered.

The relicts of the Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman Empires squabbled over doubtful areas and as the negotiations went on it became obvious that the principle of national self-determination, reinforced by local referenda was not going to be applied to any area where the predominant population was German, Austrian or Hungarian. Most certainly, there was not going to be a referendum in Alsace-Lorraine.

The European structure put into place was unstable and the first German experiment in democracy, faced with all the various internal and external problems, failed. Of course, the continuing instability that finally lurched into war was helped by the Soviet Union, in itself a creature of World War I.

The Middle Eastern structure, also put into place at the time, is still bedevilling the world.

This, of course, leads us to the nub of the problem. The last time German national identity was proudly proclaimed it was a travesty. The Nazi system and the Second World War were true horrors. It was essential that Nazi Germany be defeated but Anglospheric ideas did not triumph.

The one undisputed victor in Europe was the USSR and most post-1945 structures, from the Nuremberg tribunal to the United Nations were put into place either under close Soviet control or in response to it. Western Europe, including Britain, dissolved into socialism in the hopes that this would create a fairer system but also prevent a Communist advance.

To find out more about the growth of European integration in this period, one has to read “The Great Deception” but it is undeniably true that none of it could have happened if West Germany had not been forced to acquiesce in a denial of its German identity, accepting also an inferior military role (in many ways a useful option as it is rather a cheap one).

Whichever way one looks at it, this situation would have changed towards the end of the twentieth century. Even without reunification, West Germany on its own was going to be the largest and strongest country in Western Europe and there was going to be a point when France’s supremacy would no longer be assumed.

The post-Berlin Wall reunification both helped and hindered this process. On the one hand, it instantly made Germany the biggest and most important state; on the other, it caused various economic problems.

It is, however, worth recalling that West Germany’s democracy, which had already lasted for forty years, was strong enough to take in what was, in effect, another country and turn it away from its continuing undemocratic history. In other words, the twelve years of horror have long been superseded at least in the western part of the country.

What one needed was a change in German attitude to the country, to Europe, to national identity. By rights, this should have happened when Gerhard Schröder became Chancellor. Kohl’s generation had been the last one to remember the war and its immediate aftermath with any clarity and, thus, the last one to be governed by those events in its political thinking.

Someone who was a baby when the war was over, supported by growing generations of people who saw nothing wrong with being German, ought to have been able to launch into a new political era.

Unfortunately, Schröder was the weakest and least self-confident German leader since 1945 and found it impossible to break away from the French tutelage or to lead a German national revival, a necessity not just from the point of view of the European Union but also in the battle all of us have become engaged in with an enemy who is, once again, trying to destroy us and undermine our faith in ourselves.

European identity, for all the talk of “European values” is meaningless. It is not a standard round which people can rally. The EU’s fight to suppress national identity as something evil has added to the problems we are facing in the present crisis.

In particular, it was assumed for a long time that German national identity had to be suppressed, as being uniquely evil. It is no more evil than many others and it is now badly needed.

Things have changed, despite the problems with the military, as outlined by my colleague and some of the respondents to his posting. In the first place, that generational change has come. Two generations born since World War II have grown up and do not see the need to feel guilty for the actions of their grandparents or great-grandparents.

Secondly, there is the influx of the Ossies, most notable of whom is Angela Merkel, the present Chancellor. East Germany had not gone through denazification and its people had not had it drummed into them that they are uniquely evil. All guilt had been “removed” by the fact of the Communist system. But that system was probably worse than the Nazi one, if for no other reason that it lasted longer. Yet, no demands of self-abasement are made to any of the former Communist states, not even when people who had run that rather unpleasant system turn up as politicians in the new governments or the European Parliament.

Merkel may not have turned out all that she was expected to be by the media but she has not allowed herself to be bullied by Chirac either. It helps, of course, that France has a lame-duck president.

Personally, I find Anglospheric ideas the most attractive of all, be they in law, politics or constitution. I also find it interesting that many of those ideas can be traced back to the Germanic tribes of the late Roman Empire and the early Middle Ages. This brings us back to the many Germanophile pronouncements of the late nineteenth century, made by people who saw an alliance between Britain and Germany as the most natural one in Europe.

For various reasons, many of which had to do with politicking in the Foreign Office, it was France and then Russia that Britain allied herself with. So, let me end on yet another counterfactual idea: how would European and world history developed if Britain had not signed the semi-popular Entente Cordiale in 1904 or the completely unpopular Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907?