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All, I am afraid that once again we come back to the problem of Anglo-American ‘Brezhnevism.’ For four decades after the end of the Second World War, Soviet policy was shaped, with disastrous consequences, both by an obsession with preparing for a kind of rerun of that conflict, and by crude ideological blinkers imposed by a simplistic universalistic ideology Currently, both American policy, and Western policy more generally, continue to be shaped by contingency planning for a possible war with Russia, the only plausible political context for which derives from reckless policies pursued by ourselves, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. In turn, these reckless policies reflect crude ideological blinkers, the product of a universalistic ideology which is as simplistic as Marxism-Leninism. As other commenters have noted, the suggestion that the United States needs to ‘deter an emboldened Vladimir Putin’, on the basis that ‘Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014’ is premised on a grossly distorted reading of how Ukrainian civil war broke out. The problem, however, goes much deeper than that. To conceive countries like Ukraine, or Syria, as though they are made up of some kind of unitary ‘people’, or can be turned into such, is to live in a never-never land created by a kind of ideological delirium. This fuels the delusion that Putin is attempting to restore the Soviet Empire, which reveals a total failure to engage with what has happened since 1989. It may help to revert to a figure whom I have mentioned before on SST – Professor Paul Robinson of Ottawa University. I first came across him through an article he published in the ‘Spectator’ in January 2004, headlined ‘Putin’s Might is White.’ This contained the suggestion that this former KGB officer was actually ‘a typical Soviet radish – red on the outside but white on the core.’ (See .) When in October 2005 his reading of Putin was vindicated with the return of the bodies of the philosopher Ivan Il’in and the General Anton Denikin – ‘the pen and the sword of anti-communism’ – to Russia, and their reburial in the Donskoi monastery, Robinson published a description of the proceedings, again in the ‘Spectator.’ This made it clear that what had happened was very much at Putin’s personal initiative, and also that the tone of speeches at the event was ‘not of White triumph but of unity and reconciliation.’ (See .) A post in August on the ‘Irrussianality’ blog that Paul Robinson now runs is of interest in relation to Ukraine: ‘Dinner conversation at the ancestral pile in the People’s Republic of Monmouthshire: “‘Why do kids have to waste their time learning Welsh when they could be doing something far more useful? It’s getting silly.’ The person he is quoting then goes on to recall that the iron and steel industry in the Donbass was founded by the Welsh engineer John Hughes, in so doing making me think it likely that the group came from ‘Anglo’ gentry (Robinson was a contemporary at Eton and Oxford of our clown of a Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson): ‘There wasn’t anyone living in Donetsk till Hughes turned up, and then the Russians arrived to work in the mines and steel works. Just like in the valleys here – they’re all English really.’ (See .) This is in part a parochial ‘Anglo’ reading, as another story relating to Donetsk – originally Hughesovka – may bring out. In 1889 a young Welsh girl called Annie Gwen Jones, freshly graduated from University College Aberystwyth, was hired to tutor the granddaughters of John Hughes. More than fifty years later, after the Red Army had retaken what was then called Stalino in September 1943, she would produce fascinating recollections of her time there in a BBC Broadcast. (See .) Some years before, the house in which the Hughes family had lived had been visited by her son, the journalist Gareth Jones, in the course of a series of trips to the Soviet Union in which he produced what was the I think the only significant body of reporting in the Western media on what is now called the ‘Holodomor’. (See .) The spectacular, if short-lived career of Gareth Jones – he was murdered by bandits in Manchukuo in 1935 – was possible because on her return to Wales, his mother married her fellow Aberystwyth graduate Edgar Jones, who turned the County School in Barry, along the coast from Cardiff, into one of the best schools in the Principality. (My grandfather and father were both pupils, the latter following Gareth Jones as a scholarship boy to Cambridge.) Coming forward in time, when we were recording in Moscow for BBC Radio programmes on the ‘new thinking’ in February 1989 there were amply visible signs of the collapse of belief in Marxist-Leninist dogma among those who were responsible – and some indications of underlying arguments. A quite widespread and patently growing belief among many such people, at the time, was that the Cold War, and indeed the whole confrontation with the West, was an ‘own goal’, caused by the Soviet adoption of Marxism-Leninism, and specific policies adopted above all by Stalin. An alternative view was that Western Cold War attitudes were underpinned by much more deep-seated factors, which did not start with the adoption of Communism and would not end with its abandonment or indeed a comprehensive liquidation of the Stalinist heritage, in particular the attempt to control Eastern Europe. If one reads the interviews which Putin gave to Oliver Stone, it is clear that he has moved, over the years, from the optimistic view towards the pessimistic – but in no way abandoned the belief that the attempt to control Eastern Europe was a massive mistake on Stalin’s part. It might have been useful if Hillary Clinton’s husband, and many others, had reflected on some of this issue before embracing NATO expansion. Once one moves the borders of the Alliance east, one creates a situation where elements in countries left out which are strongly anti-Russian, often for very understandable reasons, think they are being consigned to a revived Soviet sphere of influence. If one however pushes the alliance further, one ends up blurring a crucial distinction. In most of the possible candidates for membership, the security guarantee is essentially redundant, in that there is no conceivable reason to think that Russia wants to reoccupy them. In others there are very substantial minorities who are pro-Russian, again often for very understandable reasons, who look to that country as protector, and whom it will defend. The Baltics, despite the presence of such minorities, comes in the former category. Key countries in the second category are Georgia and Ukraine. In both, anti-Russian nationalists are simply playing a game which has been played for centuries – in contemporary jargon, looking for ‘krysha’ from external powers to impose maximalist versions of their agendas. As the post by Robinson from which I have quoted brings out, the result of this is inevitably to produce a backlash. What he does not bring out, however, is how ambiguous the feelings of members of an ethnic group who have absorbed the culture of a larger, more powerful, and more culturally fertile group can be. From personal experience I can tell you that the contempt of Anglicised Welsh people for Welsh linguistic nationalists can be intense. (Mild irony alert: ‘Our type created the Donbass, reported on the Holodomor, built schools that could give Welsh boys an education as good as anything Eton could provide, until they were destroyed by a drunken English Labour politician. What are your type good for? – better than the ‘Banderistas’ in Ukraine perhaps, but a pretty poor lot all the same.’) Two things should have been clear to anyone who was looking at what was happening for a very long time. One is that if, having lost themselves in ideological fantasies, people in Washington and London want to back the ‘revanchist’ agendas of ethnic nationalists in Georgia and Ukraine, a good few of those who oppose these will fight, and look to Russia for support. Another is that the question of the nature of the Cold War was liable to be considered by more and more people in Russia as settled, in a way that does not suit Western interests at all. Central to the ‘new thinking’ had been Georgiy Arbatov’s humorous threat to do ‘something terrible’ – create a situation where the United States would ‘not longer have an enemy.’ It is now amply clear that Arbatov was a naive fool, as was Gorbachev. The level of hostility to Russia in the West, in the wake of the liquidation of the Stalinist legacy, is greater by orders of magnitude than it was in Brezhnev’s day. A natural conclusion quite visibly drawn by many sometime pro-Western Russians is that the sceptics were right all along, and the fundamental agendas of the West were always more anti-Russian than communist. But, for God’s sake, the natural result of this is not ‘revanchist’ attempts to reincorporate populations who never wanted to be part of Russia. It is what might be termed a ‘Byzantine’ strategy, having at its heart a decisive move towards China. Another characteristic of this strategy is extremely sophisticated diplomacy, having at its heart a successful integration of non-military and military dimensions of policy – the success in Syria being a rather spectacular case study.
Jack and Sam, I came across what seems to me a lucid formulation in an interview given in February last year by the former BIS chief economist, William White, who I think has featured in discussions of these matters on SST previously. ‘In a way, I think the economists have made what the philosophers would call a profound ontological error. They have assumed that the economy is understandable and they have therefore assumed that if they can understand it they can control it. ‘And I guess the point is – and this is the ontological error – what you can understand about a system depends upon its nature and the nature of the economy … and all the interactions between the real and the financial side are in constant change … constant evolution. Systems like that cannot be completely understood and they certainly can't be completely controlled so this is a fundamental mistake that I think the economists and modelers have made.’ (See .) I think different versions of this mistake have appeared in a range of different contexts since the end of the Cold War. Another salient example is Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ nonsense – and the concomitant assumption that it was possible to reconstruct the economic, social and political systems of a whole range of countries on the model of contemporary United States and Western Europe. This involved two assumptions which, if one thinks of it, are remarkable: that the kind of stability which had been achieved in the post-war West can be replicated in very different social situations, and that it is necessary durable in the West. An underlying recurrent feature is hubris. One result is that, starting off from a propensity grossly to underestimate the extent to which economic and social systems can break down, people have been driven into a bizarre situation where the expedients to which they end up resorting have aggravated sources of instability. A bitterly ironic result is that they may have ended up with good reasons, as well as bad ones, for refusing to own up to how unstable the system is. If indeed ‘average citizens’ grasped quite how ludicrous the current situation with negative interest rates has become, they might panic – so triggering systemic collapse. The way it is still assumed that the taboo against antisemitism can be used to ‘control the narrative’ in Western countries, in the face of challenges like that in Giraldi’s article, may also be a case of hubris run amuck. In relation to the role of influential Jews in the recent catastrophic errors in Western economic policy, as well as foreign policy, a lot of people I think actually ‘note who these people are and note their zionist sympathies’ – but simply say nothing in public; and may indeed repress their thoughts in their own minds. Unarticulated, however, I think a process is happening in the minds of other people here, which is certainly happening in mine, which I think needs to be brought out into the open. Perhaps this is best done by an attempt at humour. It is as though one heard the voice of an elderly relative from many years ago – sounding somewhat plaintive, with a hint of petulance: ‘But David, I always told you that the primary loyalty of Jews was to other Jews. And you wouldn’t listen. You thought I was an antediluvian old bigot – I know you were too polite to say so, and jollied me along, but I could read it in your face. ‘But look – they say it themselves. The two most influential Jewish journalists in the United States, they tell us, are Jeffrey Goldberg and Peter Beinart. OK, Beinart isn’t as bad as Goldberg. But do you seriously think any "goy" should trust him? Are you out of your mind? Have you read what he writes?’ (See ; .) As it happens, it remains the case that, as a general claim, the case that ‘tribalism’ is a feature of all Jews remains BS. The difficulty is that there is clearly a very significant body of Jews, and those among the whom influential, in whom it patently is a problem. Such people, moreover, clearly characteristically think that their power position is sufficient to marginalise challenges from people like Giraldi with the familiar smear tactics. It may be that this is not a case of ‘hubris.’ However, I think it would be in the interest of Jews, as well as the rest of us, if a lot of people were more aware of alternative possibilities than Goldberg and Beinart – not to speak of Dennis Ross – appear to be. The pattern common characteristic in ‘non-linear’ systems, whereby an apparent stability lasts a long time, while pressures are building up which can then produce very rapid change, which Rudiger Dornbusch so aptly characterises, can apply to systems of belief, as well as economic systems. People should have learnt more from the collapse of the Soviet system.
Babak Makkinejad, Thanks for that reference, which I read with great interest. As it is the end of a long day, I cannot immediately respond properly. However, I was interested to see that the first commenter was Stephen Shenfield. You might be interested to Google the name – he is an extremely interesting figure.
Jack, I very strongly agree with all of that. There is a lot more to be said here. One small point. In relation to central banking, I think there are complicated problems about the proper role of academics. A central banker should be able to be an effective ‘consumer’ of academic research. What should never happen is that an academic whose career has been built on a specific interpretation of crucial issues to do with the effects of monetary policy in the past is appointed to a key central banking role. Particularly as ‘counterfactual’ issues are commonly imponderable, such interpretations may provide a questionable basis for policy. But someone whose career has been built on a specific interpretation will find it difficult to rethink, because that would call the value of everything they have done into question. We end up with Bernanke putting forward absurd versions of ‘trickledown’ theories. As a way of destabilising social systems, monetary policies whose actual effect is massively to increase the wealth of the heavily ‘asset-rich’, while failing to stimulate aggregate demand, seem extremely promising. This is all the more so as people who have a limited stock of assets, on which they are dependent for their retirement, are going to be extremely afraid that Bernanke-style monetary policy simply means that, if they join in the party, it will end as it did on the two previous occasions. A further problem is that, although hardly anybody will say it publicly, very many people are conscious that not only Bernanke but a lot of other economists involved are Jewish.
Bandolero, A follow-up by Jonathan Cook to the piece to which you linked has been posted on the ‘Mondoweiss’ site. (See .) It is I think an open question whether the kind of non-Zionist Jewish identity capable of making an organisation like Jewish Voice for Labour effective is powerful enough to do so. Some time back, I was talking to old friends – the husband a gentile, the wife Jewish, with a grandfather and father who did good service to this country – about Michael Oren’s attempt to persuade David Rothkopf that all Jews shared a common ‘destiny’, and had a common ‘story.’ To anyone who has known Jewish refugees to Britain and their descendants, this is patent piffle – both because they came from radically different locations, geographically, socially, ideologically – and because people from the same location often went in radically different directions. However, there has been a strong tendency for the most interesting Jews to ‘marry out.’ In part this is because they were assimilated, or assimilating, in their own societies – a German Jew who, but for 1933, would very likely have married a pure-blooded ‘Aryan’ but managed to make it over here quite naturally marries an English girl. There are many other elements – among them, the fact that people have tended to marry partners they meet at work. A predictable consequence, however, is that one ends up with diverse groups of Jews, or part Jews, who are not in any sense simply ‘tribal’, and whose complexities do not lend themselves to political activism – and a Jewish ‘community’, which is tribal, and extremely activist. A distinct story has been the increasing tendencies, in American and British élites, towards what might be called ‘narcissistic meritocracy’ and ‘imbecile clerisy’. Unsurprisingly, like their ‘goy’ counterparts, the Jews who exercise influence tend to be ‘narcissistic meritocrats’ and ‘imbecile clerics.’ Utopian tendencies common among this group have found a natural expression in the ‘invade the world, invite the world’ agenda. The ‘secular cult of the Shoah’ has been central to it. Predictably, a backlash has been building, which the ‘narcissistic meritocrats’ and ‘imbecile clerics’ could not see coming – and cannot understand, now it has come. One manifestation of this is the attempt to blame Trump’s victory, and a lot else on Russian interference. Another is the attempt by ‘New Labour’ to exploit the taboo against antisemitism against Corbyn. To equate opposition to Zionism with antisemitism, however, is to encourage the latter. If the assertion is supposed to mean that, generally, people who oppose Zionism do so because they dislike Jews, it is, as a general statement, quite patently empirically false. If however it is supposed to mean that the definition of a Jew is as belonging to a ‘people’ whose ‘homeland’ is Israel, then it is necessarily to raise questions about the loyalty of Jews to other countries. Such questions are containable, so long as the interests of Israel as perceived by its leadership and the interests of those other countries are not seen as being in conflict. The description given by NancyK accurately reflects the situation here. In my generation – very loosely, that of the children of refugees from Germany and Czechoslovakia, and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those from the former Russian Empire – there are many who are caught in a peculiarly painful tension. An identification with Israel and the fate of fellow Jews which is hard to surrender is in tension with repugnance for what that country has become. With that situation I find it very easy to sympathise. As to kind of people who are trying to use the antisemitism taboo against Corbyn – who incidentally is not an enthusiasm of mine – they are a danger to others, and also themselves. Frankly, many of the people who write for the ‘Jewish Chronicle’ now seem to like the ‘enemy within’ – Jonathan Freedland of the ‘Guardian’, who features prominently in the second Jonathan Cook piece, being a case in point. There are many reasons why what was once a great liberal paper now operates as part of a kind of ‘Ministry of Truth’. One should not exaggerate the influence of people like Freedland. But, as with the ‘Financial Times’ and the BBC, it is part of the story. As to the younger generations, however, what I think is happening is that people who do not want to accept the kind of definition of Jewish identity put forward by Freedland and his like commonly, rather than attempting to defend an alternative version of Jewish identity, simply distance themselves.
EO, You raise a lot of relevant issues. As to Jews who returned, one I knew personally – who returned towards the end of his career, if only briefly – is interesting. In 2011, two German scholars, Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, published a study entitled ‘Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying, the Secret Second World War Tapes of German POWs.’ It is based upon the transcripts of the bugging operations carried out by the British at Trent Park and elsewhere, and the equivalent American facilities. Unfortunately I have only had time to dip into it. However, I can see that the materials are fascinating, because they provide an extended recorded of those involved both in the fighting – and also atrocities against civilians – talking among themselves, together with what looks like some very thought-provoking analysis. A crucial role in the bugging operations was played by young Jewish refugees. It is was described by a lady called Helen Fry, in a book published in 2012 entitled ‘The M Room: Secret Listeners Who Bugged the Nazis.’ In it she writes: ‘Within the confines of the basement of Trent Park in the M Room, listener Peter Ganz heard the admissions of guilt by the Generals and details of war crimes against the Jewish people.’ As it happens, I know that this is not how Peter Ganz thought, as he was the father of a schoolfriend of mine. Both I and another friend who knew the family quite well recall him saying, in moments of frustration with academic life – he became a scholar of medieval German – that he wished he had been a general. We didn’t, at the time, know the background. We did know that he had been in Buchenwald for six weeks after Kristallnacht, had subsequently made it over here by a stroke of luck, and had then been interned on the Isle of Man. As to the rest of the war, we understood he had spent it digging in the Pioneer Corps. Only after his death did I learn that he had been less than candid – and also some relevant history. His home city of Mainz, together with the other Middle Rhine cities of Worms and Speyer, housed what are among the earliest documented Jewish communities in Central and Eastern Europe, and, from the tenth century on, played an important role in shaping ‘Ashkenazi’ culture. But then, his family had taken advantage of the possibilities of assimilation opened up by the German Enlightenment. So Peter was not only an agnostic: He had been brought up as a Lutheran, his grandfather – who was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944 – having converted. His father had served with distinction in the Imperial Germany Army in the First World War. In the early part of its successor, people like him ended up wanting to fight in the forces of their country’s erstwhile enemies. But it was judged that German refugees – the group now sometimes referred to as ‘the King’s Most Loyal Enemy Aliens’ – could possibly be used as a cover for infiltrating spies: hence the internment in the Isle of Man, and the initial restriction to service in the Pioneer Corps. In some ways however this turned out to be fortunate. Those involved in the bugging operations required complete fluency in German – necessary if one was to be able to master the slangs used by soldiers, sailors and airmen – and to have a supply of such people available in the Pioneer Corps was a help. Moreover, they really were ‘loyal’ – even more than with Bletchley Park, those involved kept silent for decades. My schoolfriend’s young brother wrote a radio play, which he called ‘Listening to the Generals’, based on his father’s experiences at Trent Park, and using key sections of the transcripts. This was followed by another, ‘Nuclear Reactions’, dealing with the bugging of the German nuclear scientists at Farm Hall, which was going at the time when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in which Peter Ganz was also involved. In the first, if my memory serves me right, the character based on his Peter is telling his English girlfriend, who may have been modelled on his wife Rosemary, about arriving at Buchenwald. The utter ludicrousness of the situation lay in the fact that the Jews who were being imprisoned there had nothing in common other than some mysterious ‘blood.’ Precisely what they did not constitute was some kind of ‘people’ or ‘community’, with whom loyalties to fellow Jews were the be-all-and-end-all. Had they done so, the ‘Shoah’ would still have been unutterably atrocious – but not the simple exercise in senselessness that it was. At the end of his career, Peter Ganz went back to Germany, as Resident Fellow at the Herzog August Library at Wolfenbüttel in Lower Saxony, a massive and very famous collection of medieval and early modern texts, which is also a major centre of interdisciplinary scholarly research. With regard to the Holocaust, as is very evident from the Neitzel and Welzer study, Peter Ganz was in the odd position of having heard a great deal about it, before almost anybody else in Britain – but of course, not being able to talk about what he had heard. That said, as the study brings out, there is an enormous amount in the transcripts relating to violence against all kinds of people. There is also a very great deal about the very wide range of attitudes to Hitler among senior German officers – which included the most complete and utter contempt. Perhaps if dolts like Jeffrey Goldberg read some of the material dealing with the treatment of Soviet soldiers, and civilians, in the study by Neitzel and Welzer, they might have a little more understanding of the complexities of Ukraine. Indeed, it might be helpful if General Dunford read the book. A sentence in the conclusion to the ‘Soldaten’ study is I think to the point: ‘Modernity’s faith in its own distance from violence is illusionary.’ This bears upon the question you raised about the absence of a middle ground – which applies not only in Germany, but elsewhere. A revival of ‘blut und Boden’ politics, rather obviously, seems to me fraught with unpleasant potentialities – (mild irony alert.) But the notion that one can simply regard all the elements that went into Nazism as irretrievably compromised by the association also seems to me plain dangerous – partly for the reasons you give. And the possibility of processes of polarisation developing an unstoppable momentum is hardly restricted to Germany. Whether the fact that Peter Ganz edited the lectures ‘On the Study of History’ by Jacob Burckhardt has any relation to the history I have sketched out I cannot say. However, from the little I know of that thinker, whom I have never read, the combination of the strong sense of the value of the best things in Western civilisation, combined with an unhysterical scepticism about ‘progressive’ optimism, is much to the point. (Perhaps Francis Fukuyama needs a ‘crash course’ – it might help emancipate him from the influence of that dubiously reconstructed erstwhile fascist, Leo Strauss, who is not worthy to lick the boots of Peter Ganz, let alone Burckhardt.) But one of the things I learnt from Peter Ganz was that the notion that the Shoah is somehow a necessary and natural culmination of German, or Western, history is nonsense. And so also is the notion of some kind of cohesive Jewish ‘community’ or ‘people.’ In the piece by Paul Starobin from which I quoted, the following remarks about the attitude of Leon Wieseltier to Goldberg appear: ‘He sees Goldberg not as gatekeeper to the pro-Israel tent but as a would-be, journalistic equivalent of the mashgiah. That’s the Hebrew word for the supervisor – a rabbi or someone else of impeccable credentials – who makes sure everything going out of the kitchen at a kosher restaurant is truly kosher. “Goldberg is a little bit in the business of deciding who is kosher and who is not,” Wieseltier says. The problem, he explains, is that Goldberg fails to qualify for the role: “He’s a blogger. He’s not an analyst, he’s not a scholar.”’ The more serious problem is quite different. If Jews whose heart is in the ghetto attempt use the Shoah as a source of moral blackmail, both against the ‘goyim’ and also against other Jews who do not want to be part of a ghetto, this could end very badly.
Jack, From what I can see, there are already signs that an – eminently justified – backlash against the kind of people Giraldi is targeting is becoming less discriminate than it should be, on both sides of the Atlantic. But this really is partly a result of such people, as it were, ‘shooting themselves in the foot.’ There has been an extraordinarily dangerous, and perverse, collusion between influential Jews, and even more influential ‘goyim’, to suggest that the very definition of a Jew is someone belonging to a ‘community’, or ‘people’, which, explicitly or implicitly, is defined by a commitment to Zionism. Implicitly, they pretend to be determined to root out ‘antisemitism’, while endorsing a classic ‘antisemitic’ belief. A particularly aggravating feature of this is the complete disregard for the complexities of the historical record by such people. Some observations by and about the ineffable Jeffrey Goldberg may illustrate this. The problem is implicit in the very title of an article he published in the ‘Atlantic’ – which he now edits – back in April 2015: ‘Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?’ (See .) The surreal nature of the piece is heralded by the picture of a man with a whispy white beard and tall black hat at the top of the article. Almost equally surreal are the remarks which David Cameron apparently made to Goldberg: ‘“The Jewish community in Britain has been there for centuries and has made an extraordinary contribution to our country,” he said. “I would be heartbroken if I ever thought that people in the Jewish community thought that Britain was no longer a safe place for them.”’ This is piffle. Certainly, there has been an extraordinary contribution by Jews to this country. But by far the most significant part of this has come from refugees from the disasters of European history and their offspring – and precisely what made their contribution so fertile was that they did not belong to any kind of cohesive ‘community.’ At the end of the article Goldberg explains that his grandfather grew up in a ‘pogrom-afflicted village’, not far from Kishinev – which, as he notes, was the site of a very notable pogrom in 1903, at which time it was the capital of the Bessarabia Governate of the Russian Empire. And he concludes by saying that ‘I am predisposed to believe that there is no great future for the Jews in Europe, because evidence to support this belief is accumulating so quickly. But I am also predisposed to think this because I am an American Jew – which is to say, a person who exists because his ancestors made a run for it when they could.’ As a wet-behind-the-ears scholarship boy from a Welsh grammar school to Cambridge in the ‘Thirties, my father listened to the lectures of another Jew from Bessarabia – the economic historian Sir Michael Postan, who grew up in Bender, just down the road from Kishinev. Actually he had left not because of pogroms, but because of the 1917 Revolution. But – as nobody else was doing in Cambridge at the time – he expounded, and criticised, the work of great continental scholars, including Karl Marx, as well as Max Weber, Werner Sombart, and Marc Bloch. During the war, Postan was in charge of Russia at the Ministry of Economic Warfare. As so often, our spooks and diplomats had little understanding of Russian policy. Although passionately anti-communist, he attempted to explain that Stalin’s policy was driven by fear of Germany – which was correct. Only weeks before Hitler attacked mainstream British analysis was still convinced that all he had in mind was coercive diplomacy – Postan was one of the few who both thought this was wrong, and had the guts to say so. Reverting to Goldberg. In a profile back in 2003, entitled ‘Jeffrey Goldberg, Washington’s Most Pugnacious Journalist’, Paul Starobin wrote the following: ‘Goldberg is perhaps best understood as a “never again” journalist. IS IT POSSIBLE TO THINK TOO MUCH ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST?, a Goldblog headline asked. His reply: “No, the answer is no—it is not possible to think about the Holocaust too much.”’ (See .) But as the ‘Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?’ piece, and much else of his writing, rather conclusively demonstrate, Goldberg has never ‘thought’ about the Holocaust in any meaningful sense at all. Instead, what he has attempted to do is shoehorn the available evidence into a Zionist myth of exile-and-return. As it happens, I know something about three Jewish refugees, all from Prague, who did think about the Holocaust – and their careers illustrate the vacuity of the notion of a ‘Jewish community.’ A particular bizarre figure was Franz Baermann Steiner, who was a major influence on Oxford anthropology – and also a very fine poet. The neglect of his work is unfortunate, but perhaps unsurprising, as he was a theocratic Zionist who wrote in German. But then, his career illustrates some of the paradoxes of the Jewish refugee life in England. At the time he died of a heart attack, Steiner was planning to marry, not an appropriate Jewish girl, but a ‘shiksa’ – Iris Murdoch, of Irish Presbyterian background. So, had they had children, they would not have been Jewish. The strongest cultural allegiances of another notable anthropologist, Ernest Gellner, also a philosopher, were emphatically not Jewish, but Czech. A particular bugbear of his was his fellow philosopher Isaiah Berlin, born in Riga, who was a Zionist, whom he described as a ‘Court Jew’ and ‘the C.I.A’s J.S. Mill.’ With yet another philosopher, Sir Karl Popper, a refugee from Vienna, Popper shared a strong commitment to Enlightenment rationalism. But a great deal of Gellner’s work was devoted to showing that nationalism could not be regarded – as Popper did – as simply an atavistic collapse back into tribalism, but was an integral feature of ‘modernity.’ What Gellner also argued was that it necessarily had completely different implications in societies like France, where a single high culture could be imposed on a defined territorial space, and in the Hapsburg and Romanov empires, where it tended to be an agent of chaos, which one could only manage as well as one might. His work has rather obvious relevance to contemporary political dilemmas. A notable study called ‘Hitler: The Führer and the People’ was the work of a friend of Gellner’s, the Germanist J.P. Stern. But he was not a secularist – as was not uncommon among ‘Hapsburg Jews’, he had been brought up a Roman Catholic – and remained a kind of Jewish Christian to the end of his life. However, like Gellner he had a strong Czech identity – he served as ‘tail-end Charlie’ 311 Squadron, the Czech bomber squadron in the R.A.F, and had one of the more remarkable lucky escapes when shot down hunting U-boats. This rather long explanation is intended to bring out several points: 1. Multiple identities, and multiply loyalties, are not inherently problematic. Indeed, precisely the value of the contribution of the figures I have described to British culture – and I could name many more – was related to the fact that they did not belong to some kind of cohesive ‘community.’ Precisely because of this, such figures could bring together continental and British intellectual traditions. 2. As Stern remarks in his study, a critical point about European Jews, prior to the Holocaust, was that they did not constitute any kind of ‘community’ or ‘people.’ In particular, very many Austro-Hungarian, German, and Russian Jews had come a very long way from a world where men wore black hats – and, unlike Goldberg and his like, did not suffer from any kind of sneaking nostalgia for the ghetto. The notion of some coherent Jewish identity was the product of the opposed, but oddly complementary, myth-making efforts of Herzl and Hitler. 3. A critical part of the basis of what Babak Makkinejad quite fairly calls the ‘secular cult of the Shoah’, for people like my father and myself, related to precisely this. Identity is a complicated matter, into which all kinds of different factors – ethnicity, culture, religion – enter. But it is also, critically, related to the commitments people make, the work they are prepared to put into them and the sacrifices they are prepared to make for them. My father in his generation, and I in mine, knew well people who had regarded themselves as German, whose fathers had fought in the German Army in the First World War, and were only here because the possession of Jewish blood was supposedly a reason for persecuting them. It seemed both a moral abomination, and sheerly ludicrous. 4. Now however, we see people like Goldberg and his British equivalents producing a ‘narrative’ which in essence runs as follows: ‘We know that you “goyim” in your heart of hearts nurture a deep-seated desire to massacre us. Accordingly, we need to return to our “homeland”. However, many of us are not planning to return, in part because we do not really like it there, but also because we know that the “homeland” could not survive without your support. Instead, we intend to use moral blackmail to ensure that you “goyim” fight one catastrophic war after another to destroy the enemies of that “homeland.” And if you do not like the consequences, then “hard bananas” – it simply proves you want to massacre us, just as we said.’ If anyone really cannot see why might be a reasonably sure way of reviving anti-Semitism, it seems to me that they are, to be blunt, plain thick. 5. Another point relates to trauma. Of the figures I have listed, I do not know whether Postan or Gellner lost relatives in the Holocaust. Both Steiner’s parents died in the camps – one of his notable poems is an elegy for his father. So also did Stern’s grandparents, while his mother, aunt and uncle committed suicide. But however great the trauma was, it would never have occurred to me to regard this as calling radically into question the objectivity and sanity of Stern’s writings on literature and history. 6. The way that Goldberg and his like write, however, is – quite properly – raising in people’s minds the possibility that the empowerment of Jews in the United States has been a total disaster. Moreover, it may turn out to have been a disaster, not simply for others, but for Jews themselves. The empowerment of people like Sir Michael Postan was, quite patently, of enormous value for Britain. There are obvious analogues in the United States – Stephen F. Cohen has been talking sense about both Soviet and post-Soviet Russia for decades. If however such people are effectively marginalised, as Cohen has been, and the Jews who actually influence matters see the world through a lens distorted by trauma, as Goldberg patently does, it is a very different story. In that case, an appropriate response might not be to get angry and incensed – but simply to suggest that people like Jeffrey Goldberg, and Paul Wolfowitz and Dennis Ross, and perhaps also Richard C. Haas should be provided with the very best of medical help. But they should be removed from positions where they can influence American foreign policy asap. And the same goes for their British analogues.
Pat, EO's comment seemed to need a reply, but once again it has been put into spam. The lawsuits provoked by the dossier are getting odder and odder. The lawyers for BuzzFeed are now trying to compel key figures in the American 'intelligence community' to produce some kind of testimony. This is, ironically, a situation familiar in wars -- where there are clearly escalatory dynamics, which are hard to predict. I have been tied up with other things, but hope to produce something sensible about what is going on at some point.
Thirdeye, Sam, Anna, JerseyJeffersonian, While I think there is every reason to treat the suggestion that 'Russians planted the patently ridiculous assertions' in the Steele dossier with acute scepticism, it is not beyond the possibility that it contains a grain of truth. A conversation between a noted writer of studies of some of the more gripping episodes in British intelligence history, Ben Macintyre, and John Le Carré, which was published in the 'New York Times' on 25 August, makes clear that this is a line which is being peddled by at least some of Steele's erstwhile colleagues. When the paper's correspondent, Sarah Lyall, asked, ‘Do you think the Russians really have something on Trump?’, Macintyre replied: 'I can tell you what the veterans of the S.I.S. [the British Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6] think, which is yes, kompromat was done on him. Of course, kompromat is done on everyone. So they end up, the theory goes, with this compromising bit of material and then they begin to release parts of it. They set up an ex-MI6 guy, Chris Steele, who is a patsy, effectively, and they feed him some stuff that’s true, and some stuff that isn’t true, and some stuff that is demonstrably wrong. Which means that Trump can then stand up and deny it, while knowing that the essence of it is true. And then he has a stone in his shoe for the rest of his administration.' (See .) This looks like a desperate attempt to rescue as much as possible of the 'Siberian candidate' narrative from the problems caused by some of the more ludicrous claims in the dossier – which have now produced lawsuits from Aleksej Gubarev, the principals in the Alfa Group (which apparently Steele couldn't spell), and, most recently, Carter Page. However, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that some of MI6's 'useful idiots' are being fed, along with 'some stuff that isn't true', a certain admixture of 'some stuff that's true' by former or current employees of that organisation. It is quite clear that, from the outset, there have been divisions among the elements in both American and British intelligence agencies which have been most closely involved in the campaign against Trump about how to handle the dossier: whether to defend its author or, as it were, 'hang him out to dry.' In some early reports, the leadership of MI6 appeared to be committing themselves to the former strategy. The claims made by Macintyre's 'veterans of the S.I.S' are in tension with those by similar sources reported in a piece entitled 'Head of MI6 used information from Trump dossier in first public speech' produced in January by the Defence Correspondent of the 'Independent', Kim Sengupta. This opened: 'The head of MI6 used information obtained by former officer Christopher Steele in his Trump investigation, in a warning against Russian cyberattacks and attempts to subvert Western democracies, The Independent has learned. 'Sir Alex Younger’s briefing notes for his first public speech as head of the Secret Intelligence Service contained some of the material supplied by Mr Steele, according to security sources. Drawing on the alleged hacking carried out by Moscow in the US presidential campaign, he warned of the danger facing Britain and Western European allies, and especially to elections due to be held next year. 'Security sources stress that MI6 had extensive information, British and international, on the Russian threat apart from that of Mr Steele. But they pointed out that he is held in high regard and the contribution he provided was valuable.' (See .) As I have stressed in earlier comments, it is imperative to see what is happening now against the background of Steele's involvement in the 'information operations' in which Alexander Litvinenko and other members of the circle round Boris Berezovsky played central roles. When, following the death of Litvinenko, Steele and his collaborators were able to inveigle the Crown Prosecution Service into requesting the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi on patently bogus charges of having poured polonium into the dead man's tea, the figure they had framed also suggested they might be 'patsies' – but of Berezovsky. So in the statement he read out at the 31 May 2007 press conference where he responded to the extradition request, Lugovoi claimed that: 'Litvinenko used to say: They are total retards in the UK, they believe everything we are telling them about Russia.' He returned to the theme in the Q &A: 'I want to stress this thought, the one I mentioned in my statement. I quote – Litvinenko used to say: You can’t imagine what idiots they are and they believe everything we are telling them. I stress that.' (See .) Whether or not Litvinenko did express this total contempt for Steele and his associates – and I think it quite likely that it did – the notion of them as the 'useful idiots' of the circle around Berezovsky is clearly absolutely accurate. In the Q&A, Lugovoi also described that figure – aptly – as a 'master of political intrigue.' While people like Steele are quite out of their depth in dealing with the kind of Machiavellian strategies not uncommon in political shenanigans in the post-Soviet space or the Middle East, manipulating their fellow 'useful idiots' in Britain and the United States has been a lot easier. In the case of the Litvinenko mystery, a key reason for this is that, after it became clear that there had been a leakage of polonium in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel in 'Happy Hour', the Russian security service were no more enthusiastic about seeing the truth about how this had happened exposed than their Western counterparts. Some crucial background here has to do with the extraordinary manipulations of the record to which Steele and his associates had to resort, to sustain the patently false claim that the contamination in Berezovsky's offices – and in particular on a photocopier – dated from a visit by Litvinenko after the Pine Bar meeting. Unless this could be done, the whole ludicrous story according to which the leakage of polonium in the Pine Bar was naturally to be explained by Lugovoi and/or his associate Dmitri Kovtun pouring the substance into a teapot might just have become too incredible even for 'useful idiots' like Ben Macintyre and Kim Sengupta to swallow. However, the incompetence of Steele and his associates, even at 'information operations', is evident in the fact that the 'Chronology' provided by the corrupt judge they appointed to run the Inquiry, Sir Robert Owen, in Appendix 4, is directly contradicted by one of the 'Key documents' he lists in Appendix 8. So on page 280 of the report, as in the body of the text, the visit to Berezovsky's office and use of the photocopier are placed after the Pine Bar meeting, which is timed at 4-4.30pm. (See page 280.) Listed among the 'Key documents', on page 315, however, one finds 'Maps showing the movements of Alexander Litvinenko on 1 November 2006' – numbered as INQ018243. At several points, this contradicts the 'Chronology'. In particular, it contains an entry: ‘SECURITY GUARD AT 7 DOWN STREET OFFICES OF BORIS BEREZOVSKY STATES LITVINENKO VISITED BETWEEN 1PM AND 2.30PM.’ The evidence credited is ‘Statement S82 Stephen Brown’, and the estimated date/time given is ‘13.40 approximate.’ (See for the report. The maps are at .) That Litvinenko visited Berezovsky's office at the start of his journeys round London on the day he was supposedly murdered had been central to the 'chronology' which had been leaked by the Russian security services to 'Izvestiya'. However, this was before it became clear that the scale of contamination in the Pine Bar meeting – an event which, up until then, both British and Russian intelligence were colluding in suppressing – could not be concealed. However, challenging the bogus 'Chronology' cooked up by Steele and his associates, and disseminated by Owen, would have been impossible, without raising awkward questions about how the polonium had come to be in London in the first place. So, in essence, the Russian security services found themselves snookered, and Western intelligence agencies were able to add the – actually ludicrous – charge of having instigated the assassination of Litvinenko, in a pioneering act of nuclear terrorism, to the 'charge sheet' against Putin. One crucial lesson is that it is clear that Steele is eminently capable of simply fabricating evidence. However, it is equally important to recall what is likely to have been Lugovoi's real crime. It is quite clear that he, in conjunction with Berezovsky's partner Arkadi 'Badri' Patarkatsishvili, was playing a double game, and that he was under suspicion of h having, in essence, defected to the enemy. The criticism which has been made that Steele could not have accessed sources in Moscow is not in itself cogent. More relevant is the fact that, if he was doing so, they would almost certainly have been MI6's sources, and would have included people who had been part of the 'networks' run by Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky. It is likely that a significant number of such people have followed the same path as Lugovoi. So, suppose that your are in the FSB. You know from some of these figures that your old adversary Steele is engaged in looking for evidence to sustain the – actually fraudulent – case that the material obtained by Assange came from Russian hacking. So, why not exploit former collaborators with Berezovsky who have wanted to make their peace with you to feed Steele and the other 'retards' in MI6 'some stuff that’s true, and some stuff that isn’t true, and some stuff that is demonstrably wrong'? By doing that, it might be possible to counter the portrayal of Trump – with whom Putin hoped to be able to do business – as the 'Siberian candidate.' In addition, Steele, who had snookered them, could be, as it were, landed in it. With luck and a fair wind, the resulting lawsuits might even leave him a ruined and broken man. What I am doing is simply putting forward a possible hypothesis. But it is not easy to explain how such outlandish claims ended up in the dossier, so one needs to consider the possibility that the explanation for this is actually somewhat outlandish.
Toggle Commented Sep 22, 2017 on Whither Mueller? at Sic Semper Tyrannis
EO, I have presented evidence that Christopher Steele was never 'off the leash' in responses to 'Tidewater' on the thread provoked by the revelations of the wiretapping on Trump Tower. As to your question as to 'why is the spotlight directed only into this little corner?' It is not a difficult question to answer, if one looks at the more respectable elements in arguments about the relationship of 'democracy' and 'totalitarianism'. Involved here has commonly been a complex interplay between advocates of 'reactionary', 'liberal', and 'socialist' positions. One conclusion to which a range of very diverse thinkers were pushed is that those who transferred religious expectations onto politics were charlatans. Central here was the argument that claims to authority, and therefore power, which could be sustained if and only if the notion that a secular science could validate such claims in the way that religious beliefs had appeared to do was sustainable, were liable to end up with insoluble problems. Because the claim to understand the true and natural course of history is always epistemologically unsustainable – and this goes for Fukuyama as much as for Lenin, if not indeed even more – those who act on it have to cope with the unintended, unexpected, and uncomprehended, consequences of their delusions. To avoid the implications of their moralistic view being turned on them – and their being adjudged 'enemies of the people' – they have to find scapegoats. As both French and Russian history have amply demonstrated, those who won out in the resulting arguments about who should 'carry the can' were normally not the most intelligent, and least of all those with any kind of moral scruples. Whatever else he may have been, Stalin was not a stupid man. Those who could not cope in a world where traditional 'irrational' standards had been repudiated very often ended up either on the guillotine or with a bullet in the back of the neck. Sometimes I am tempted to think that, irrespective of whether there is a God, the empirical evidence suggests that there must be a devil. However, to make this hypothesis work, one needs to postulate a devil who is bored with us, and to find relief from boredom, tempted to indulge in bad jokes. And certainly, when I see people I thought were 'liberals', in a more traditional, old-fashioned sense, resorting to the same kind of strategies pursued by Stalin, I begin to wonder whether Satan, as it were, has been getting bored, and is producing some really bad jokes, preparatory to bringing the party to an end.
Toggle Commented Sep 21, 2017 on Whither Mueller? at Sic Semper Tyrannis
Sam and Jack, Very good questions. A short answer is that MI6 and key elements in the CIA appear to be joined at the hip, and likewise, the GCHQ and the NSA. If as I think – more on this in my second response to Tidewater – Steele was acting in cahoots with the leadership of MI6, this would give further reason to think that everything that was going on was part of a operation which was co-ordinated between both sides of the Atlantic, if rather shambolically so. As regards the agendas, a key point is that the new consensus which emerged in Britain in the Thatcher years – after in large measure 'New Labour' ideologically capitulated – was both neoconservative and neoliberal. One thing however that people like Tony Blair retained from their youthful socialist enthusiasms was the 'rainbow coalition', 'coalition of the fringes' element. While what can be called 'cultural Marxism' is part of this over here, much more has to do with what Steve Sailer, following Michael Barone, has termed 'Lennonism.' A great deal of this, ironically, was taken on board by figures like Cameron and Osborne when it was their turn to work out how to deal with successive electoral defeats. A result has been an enthusiastic cross-party collaboration with the 'invade the world, invite the world' agenda. This is I think part of the reason effective political control of the intelligence agencies has been absent, and people like Steele have been able to 'run amuck.' The supporters of this agenda were completely taken aback by the comprehensive way in which it has blown up in people's faces – which is I think one reason for the extraordinary lengths to which the transatlantic co-operation against Trump has gone.
Tidewater, Thanks for reminding me of the Helmer piece, which I had forgotten. It I think illustrates a general principle – that it is unwise to do what the MSM currently do, and divide the world into supposed purveyors of 'fake news' and reliable information. Many of the most interesting sources of information produce some invaluable material, and some which is highly questionable: Helmer being a case in point. A key figure in the Litvinenko mystery is the former K.G.B. operative Yuri Shvets – who also played a central role in the 'Orange Revolution' in Ukraine. As his Wikipedia entry makes clear, in his 2005 book 'Washington Station: My Life as a KGB spy in America', Shvets claimed to have recruited two key sources of political intelligence, whom he referred to as 'Sputnitsa' and 'Socrates.' (See .) In his book 'Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer' published the same year, Victor Cherkashin, who was case officer for two notorious Soviet spies in the United States, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, claimed that 'Socrates' was Helmer, and 'Sputnitsa' his wife Claudia Wright. However, Cherkashin also asserted that Helmer was 'never an agent or even a target' of the KGB. On the credibility of Shvets as a witness, see the 'diary' entitled 'Fact, frame-up, or fiction? – Litvinenko's “deathbed testimony”', which I and my Italian collaborator David Loepp posted on the 'European Tribune' website back in December 2012. ( .) The answer to the question raised by our title, incidentally, is now clear. One can be absolutely certain that what is supposed to be the 'deathbed testimony', the interviews supposedly recorded by Litvinenko with Detective Inspector Brent Hyatt on 18-20 November 2006, are clumsy fabrications. It seems likely, although not certain, that one of the activities in which Steele was engaged with Orbis was organising the 'industrial scale' faking of evidence apparent at Owen's inquiry. If the British authorities, and indeed Steele, want to dispute my arguments on this point, rather than relying on the credulity of the MSM, they should produce audio tapes of the Russian language originals of the interviews. What conceivable good grounds can there be for not doing so? The relevance of this in relation to Shvets is that my hunch would be that he is either simply lying about Helmer and Wright, or doing what spooks have on occasion been known to do: taking people with whom they have contact, and discuss the world, and portraying them as actual agents, or something close to it. That said, it would not particularly surprise me if on occasion Helmer was a conduit for material from Russian intelligence agencies. For one thing, it would perfectly natural if he cultivated sources in these – I certainly would, in his shoes. In relation to his claims about the dossier, however, he showed no more inclination to check what his informants told him than the MSM journalists who have simply accepted without question the kind of patently fabricated evidence about the life and death of Litvinenko provided by Steele, DI Brent Hyatt, and others. By the time Helmer's piece appeared on 18 January, it had already been reported that its subject had left MI6 in 2009, and that he had been put in charge into the investigation into Litvinenko's death. So the suggestion that the mishap over the fake rock operation, which occurred in January of that year, had any radical influence on Steele's career is patent hokum – as Helmer should have known. As it happens, ever since the story of Steele's involvement in the dossier broke, it has been clear that there have been deep divisions among Western intelligence agencies as to how to handle him: whether they should, as it were, 'hang him out to dry', or endorse and defend his work. A good example of the latter approach come a report on 15 January – three days before Helmer's piece – by the 'Defence Editor' of the 'Independent', Kim Sengupta, entitled 'Head of MI6 used information from Trump dossier in first public speech'. (See .) The approach taken here was the exact reverse of that taken by Helmer, as it unambiguously identified the head of the organisation, Sir Alex Younger, with the 'defend Steele to the hilt' school. It opened: 'The head of MI6 used information obtained by former officer Christopher Steele in his Trump investigation, in a warning against Russian cyberattacks and attempts to subvert Western democracies, The Independent has learned. 'Sir Alex Younger’s briefing notes for his first public speech as head of the Secret Intelligence Service contained some of the material supplied by Mr Steele, according to security sources. Drawing on the alleged hacking carried out by Moscow in the US presidential campaign, he warned of the danger facing Britain and Western European allies, and especially to elections due to be held next year. 'Security sources stress that MI6 had extensive information, British and international, on the Russian threat apart from that of Mr Steele. But they pointed out that he is held in high regard and the contribution he provided was valuable.' It is worth reading the full text of Younger's speech, to get a picture of quite how dismal the intellectual, and moral, quality of today's MI6 is. From his discussion of 'the increasingly dangerous phenomenon of hybrid warfare': 'In this arena, our opponents are often states whose very survival owes to the strength of their security capabilities; the work is complex and risky, often with the full weight of the State seeking to root us out.' (See .) As well as being borderline illiterate, and factually inaccurate, these remarks involve a – clearly unintended – irony. So we have it on the authority of the head of MI6 that the very survival of Russia can be attributed to the strength of the FSB, SVR, and GRU. How can any patriotic Russian do anything other than vote for Putin? A key part of the truth which underlies this drivel is actually brought out in the contemptuous remarks from Lugovoi and Kovtun I quoted, about the willingness of the British to take on trust anything claimed by Berezovsky and his associates – which brings me back to the reasons I suspect that Helmer may have been a conduit for Russian disinformation. As has been amply evident from the MSM coverage, and was made even more clear by Owen's report, this view of British credulity has been essentially vindicated. One of its more dangerous consequences is that – in common with their American counterparts – British élites have consistently both gravely underestimated the strength of Putin's position and also misunderstood his preferred 'modus operandi.' By telling the oligarchs that they could hold on to what they had looted, so long as they kept out of politics, did actually pay taxes, and a few other things, and installing his cronies as quasi-oligarchs, Putin was able effectively to isolate those who were not prepared to accept the bargain offered: above all, Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky. As the outcome of the power struggle was initially uncertain, however, a lot of people, very naturally, played both sides. However, the general pattern was a steady move to the one which was clearly winning, and which also increasingly appeared to be pulling the country back from chaos, and so could appeal to patriotism (a very evident factor with Lugovoi.) This was at the core of the events in London in October-November 2006. It seems reasonably certain that Litvinenko's supposed assassin was being used in an attempt – probably successful – to bring Berezovsky's partner Arkadi 'Badri' Patarkatsishvili back into the Putin camp. It also seems likely that Lugovoi was being used in a bid to bring his supposed victim back on side. Attempts to produce a plausible explanation of why the Russian security services could have commissioned Lugovoi to assassinate Litvinenko are, frankly, only susceptible of belief by those the former claimed the latter called 'retards.' It is very easy to see how the supposed assassin could have been used to sing a siren song. It might have gone something like this: 'Come back home, spill all the beans about Berezovsky, MI6, the CIA, etc, and go public with what of it suits Putin. Whatever his faults, he's not one to bear grudges, and if you play ball, he will be happy to let bygones by bygones, just as with me and “Badri”.' All this has a corollary: that the suggestion in Helmer's piece that, having been 'blown', Steele could not have had Russian sources may give further grounds to suspect that he was being used as a conduit for Russian disinformation. A major problem with the dossier is that different parts of it read very differently. While on many occasions I regard utter incompetence as a plausible hypothesis when it comes to MI6, I am still somewhat sceptical of the suggestion that the former head of its Russia Desk could not spell the name of the Alfa Group, one of the most significant business groups in Russia. And while parts of the dossier sound like simple fabrication, others – in particular some of those which, as Helmer notes, contradict claims by 'CrowdStrike', and also Matt Tait – sound as though they could have come from sources that existed. If this was so, however, it would have been likely that they would have been among the sources, most of them involved in one way or another with Putin's oligarch opponents, on whom MI6 had drawn. Accessing such sources would obviously have been done through indirect channels. But there is no conceivable way it could have been done without the consent of the organisation. Some of the sources might still either be genuinely identified with the opposition, or so afraid of having their activities exposed that they had to continue to collaborate. Others, however, are likely to have wanted, like Lugovoi, to liquidate their involvement in a lost cause. Such figures could easily have been happy to disseminate disinformation, either on behalf of the Russian security services, or on their own account. The first kind of situation could account for the arrests of FSB information security experts in January – which would of course imply that Steele had fed genuine sources to the wolves, one more reason for thinking him a lower form of life. The second could account for the claims which have led to lawsuits from Aleksej Gubarev, the principals in the Alfa Group, and now Carter Page. However, this could provide a further reason why elements in the Russians security services might be happy covertly to collude with those of their Western counterparts who wanted to portray Steele as a kind of kind of lone 'rogue operator.' In my view, it is likely that he was nothing of the kind.
LondonBob, Actually, on the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the evidence is now I think reasonably clear that we pushed Stalin into it. Whether a different approach could have produced an effective strategy of ‘containment’ must remain an unanswerable question, but it is reasonably clear that the policy adopted by the Chamberlain government made the pact his least worst option. A central reason is that, as so often, political leaders were trying to avoid repeating past mistakes, and so ended up making new ones. Back in 1939 the British historian Donald Cameron Watt published an article ‘1939 revisited: on theories of the causes of wars’, based in part on ‘How War Came’, the monumental study of the diplomacy leading to the outbreak of war he published in the same year. As he brought out, British decision-making was shaped by a fear of re-run of what was believed to have happened in 1914 – that is, the view of the First World War as being due to ‘a series of miscalculations, misunderstandings and fears, in which no government could face the loss of credibility involved in withdrawal.’ Moreover, it was believed that the Soviet government was deliberately trying to encourage such an outcome, by encouraging the Western democracies to confront German ‘revisionist’ demands, in particular over the Sudetenland, with promises of assistance. The plan attributed to Stalin was to exploit the lack of a direct Soviet land border with Czechoslovakia to stand aside from the war he had supposedly encouraged, and watch Germany and the Western powers destroy each in a new fratricidal war, creating favourable conditions both of direct Russian control and communism. As Cameron Watt writes, ‘covert intelligence suggested that bringing about of an Anglo-German war was a major aim of Soviet policy.’ On 15 March 1939, the assumption that Hitler’s objectives – or at least, those for which he would risk a military confrontation with Britain – were restricted to bringing ethnic Germans into a Greater German ‘Reich’ collapsed, with the occupation of the rump of Czechoslovakia. The response to this by Chamberlain was the unilateral guarantee to Poland, whose effect was to precipitate Hitler’s overtures to Stalin, which led eventually to the two dictators coming to terms. Explaining his thinking in a letter written between these two events, Chamberlain made clear that he believed the ‘covert intelligence’: ‘I must confess to the most profound distrust of Russia. I have no belief whatever in her ability to maintain an effective offensive, even if she wanted to. And I distrust her motives, which seem to me to have little connection with our ideas of liberty, and to be concerned only with getting everyone else by the ears.’ Unfortunately, while there were all kinds of problems involved in securing an alliance with the Soviet Union, the ‘covert intelligence’ has turned out to be simply wrong, as was conclusively demonstrated by the 1999 study ‘Grand Delusion; Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia’ by the Israeli historian Gabriel Gorodetsky. In addition to knowing the British archives well, he was given unprecedented access to the Soviet. From a review by the American historian Kenneth Slepyan: ‘Gorodetsky argues that Stalin consistently followed a “balance of power” policy even before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. To Stalin, the Pact was purely defensive. Rather than viewing the coming war as an opportunity to spread world revolution, he hoped to keep the militarily unprepared Soviet Union out of the conflict. To that end, he followed a policy of strict neutrality, and feared that both Germany and Britain might attempt to draw the Soviet Union into the war. If Stalin saw the war as a chance for the Allies and Germany to bleed themselves white and let the Soviets move in and pick up the pieces, as others have argued, then it is not evident in the documents. In this light, the Soviet territorial acquisitions of 1939-40 were not part of any pre-conceived plans for expansion but instead were made in response to German gains, necessary to help the Soviets secure their position in Europe (i.e. the annexation of Eastern Poland came following the German conquest of Western Poland, the annexations of the Baltic States and the seizure of Romanian lands occurred in the context of the fall of France and the Low Countries). While Gorodetsky may be right about the timing of these actions, many historians might still question his portrayal of Stalin’s motives in these cases as being primarily defensive.’ (See .) Whether Stalin might have expanded further in any case, in different circumstances, is an unanswerable question. What is reasonably clear, however, is that extra strategic depth caused by the annexation of the Baltics made the difference between success and failure in the siege of Leningrad. The ‘covert intelligence’ appears to have come from MI6 – which brings me to a coda to the story. One relevant point is that the fact that Stalin’s policy was largely driven by fear was amply apparent to competent analysts at the time. Perhaps ironically, Gorodetsky’s study is in large measure a restatement of the view of Stalin’s foreign policy held by the diplomats of the German Moscow Embassy. These people were not thugs, or fanatics, but were trying to make the best of an extraordinarily difficult situation. And indeed, one of the threads in Gorodetsky’s book is the long campaign waged by Werner von der Schulenberg, the German Ambassador at the time, to dissuade Hitler from what he and his colleagues saw as a war which was both totally unnecessary and likely to end in Germany’s destruction. In 1953, the former commercial attaché at the Embassy, Gustav Hilger would publish a memoir of those years – as collaborator he had selected Alfred Gustav Meyer, a young German Jewish refugee whose parents had been murdered in the Holocaust. Reiterating what had been the diplomats’ ‘house view’, at the time, Hilger wrote that there could be ‘not the slightest doubt that a deep fear of Hitler’s Germany was the essential guide to all Soviet foreign policy in the mid-1930’s. It led Moscow to enter the League of Nations and conduct a painfully futile struggle for active collective security against the Axis. At the same time it made the Kremlin bend every effort and strain every muscle to render the country strong politically, economically, ideologically, and militarily. A desperate race against time ensued which was carried on in a spirit of hysterical urgency.’ The view that there could be ‘no conceivable doubt’ about this was, however, clearly not shared by MI6. Moreover, their view was restated in the study entitled 1992 ‘Icebreaker’ by the GRU defector and British intelligence asset Viktor Suvorov (actual name Vladimir Rezun). As an account of conversations in Moscow in the mid-1990s in Slepyan’s review makes clear, this vesion gained quite a following in Russia at the time. The Gorodetsky study developed out his original demolition of Suvorov/Rezun in his study ‘The Icebreaker Myth’, published in Russian in 1995. Given that the Suvorov/Rezun study was essentially attempting to defend the arguments made by MI6 back in the ‘Thirties, and that it was published when John Scarlett was that organisation’s bureau chief in that country, and Christopher Steele was cutting his teeth as an operative there, interesting questions are raised as to whether it represented the organisation’s ‘house view.’ The point here is not to suggest that, as it were, Stalin was soft and cuddly – far from it. It is rather that in trying to navigate one’s way through the treacherous seas of international relations, the relevant question is not whether one should ‘trust’ or ‘distrust’ anyone – it is trying to get the best possible estimate of their capabilities and intentions, so one can anticipate how they may act, and in particular, react to one’s own actions. As we have seen time and again in recent years, with leaders one dislikes – sometimes with very good reason – it is the easiest thing in the world simply to make worst case assumptions, and also to assume that everything their opponents in or from the countries they rule say should be taken at face value. But this is not a prudent way to make policy. Today – as became very evident in the discussions at the Aspen Security Forum – many of the leaders of the Western intelligence agencies actively preen themselves on taking precisely the approach to Russia MI6 and Chamberlain took in the ‘Thirties. Now as then, there is no attempt to engage with the possibility that Russian agendas might be in large measure defensive – and the picture is painted of that country’s leaders as Machiavellian manipulators cunningly attempting to exploit ‘useful idiots’ to destroy the West. Moreover, while – to put it mildly – Putin is hardly Stalin, supposedly rational people in the West are now writing in a manner which makes Chamberlain look moderate. So, for example, in a recent piece in the ‘National Interest’ by the former director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, Graham T. Allison, we read: ‘Technology, in effect, made Russia America’s insufferable but inescapable Siamese twin. The strategic reality is even more horrific. However demonic, however destructive, however devious, however deserving of being strangled Russia is, the brute fact is that we cannot kill this bastard without committing suicide.’ (See .) This infantile drivel, however, brings one back to the need to try to get the history of the ‘Thirties right. For its counterpart, quite clearly, is an increasing reversion in Russia to accounts of that time which also oversimplify the past. Among them the view that rather than simply misreading both German and Russian policy, Chamberlain was doing what he suspected Stalin of doing: trying to get Hitler to destroy his enemies for him.
All, I would strongly recommend anyone who can find the time to read the full transcripts both of Brennan and Clapper’s exchanges with Wolf Blitzer, and of Pompeo’s exchanges with Bret Stephens. (See .) The media coverage does not do justice to gems like this summary from the current CIA director of what his agency has discovered about the threat from Russia: ‘I hearken back to something called the Gerasimov doctrine from the early 70s, he's now the head of the – I’m a Cold War guy, forgive me if I mention Soviet Union. He’s now the head of the Russian army and his idea was that you can win wars without firing a single shot or with firing very few shots in ways that are decidedly not militaristic, and that’s what’s happened. What changes is the costs; to effectuate change through cyber and through RT and Sputnik, their news outlets, and through other soft means; has just really been lowered, right. It used to be it was expensive to run an ad on a television station now you simply go online and propagate your message. And so they have they have found an effective tool, an easy way to go reach into our systems, and into our culture to achieve the outcomes they are looking for.’ As General Gerasimov was born in 1955, it is clear that he has to be one of the great strategic geniuses of history. Perhaps in some respects he is rather behind Alexander, who conquered the Persian Empire at twenty-six. But if indeed his ‘doctrine’ dates from the ‘early 70s’, by the age of twenty he must have worked out, decades before it could be implemented, the key elements of the new strategy which it seems poses as great a threat to the West as Warsaw Pact tank armies ever did, if not greater. And indeed, one might argue that the degree of strategic foresight imputed to him by the CIA gives Gerasimov a claim to be Alexander’s superior. Clearly the GRU had not only closely followed the early developments in packet networking and packet switching in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France in the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties, and Gerasimov was the man who understood the possibilities these opened up, decades before anyone in the West did. (See .) And Pompeo has now made clear to me what was actually going on, when in December 1988 the late Georgi Arbatov told a gathering of American scientists that ‘Our major secret weapon is to deprive you of an enemy.’ (See .) Behind the scenes, Gerasimov’s men had grasped that tank armies were of quite secondary relevance, and control of Eastern Europe worse than useless, in achieving the ‘grand design’ of destroying the United States, the idea of freedom, etc etc. And already, it would seem likely, not only were the full potentialities of modern ‘information technology’ anticipated, but the new generation who would exploit it were being identified and prepared. In this kind of fighting, Gerasimov appears to have realised early, women could really be more than a match for men. So, behind the scenes, Maria Zakharova, then just turned 13, and Margarita Simonyan, who was eight, were already being groomed for stardom. (See ; .) Really, I do not see how people like Brennan, Clapper, and Pompeo can be expected to cope with the threat posed by a strategic genius like Gerasimov. As for the notion that the likes of John Kirby or Mark Toner – or indeed Marie Harf of Heather Nauert – are a match for Zakharova, or Blitzer and Stephens for Simonyan: it is like watching the Polish Army trying to fight the Wehrmacht. The conclusion would seem inescapable. As with Alexander, faced with Gerasimov the only prudent course is to accept the futility of resistance and make the best terms possible for a strategically inferior power. Meanwhile, it would seem time for TTG to realise that, if you are Lithuanian, neither fight nor flight will help you. You may think you are safe in the United States, and that the likes of Brennan, Clapper and Pompeo offer protection, but the long arm of the Kremlin will get you in the end. Or perhaps I should write, the long arms of Vernadskovo Prospekt 100. (See .)
Fred, In haste, because I am about to disappear on holiday. What you suggest is essentially what I think. Much more needs to be said about this, but yes, it seems to me that we are seeing again the power of the delusion that a kind of ‘Flucht nach vorn’ into a utopian future where cultural difference and the legacies of the past do not matter is going to work. There is here also an ironic ‘twist’. As may be apparent, sympathising with Bolsheviks is not something that comes very naturally to me. But it is precisely because Liliana Riga has spent so much time looking at the dilemmas people like Dzerzhinsky faced that the parallels with what contemporary élites are doing, as it were, leap up and hit you. And a really alarming parallel is the complete inability of such people to have any understanding of the depth of resistance and resentment they engender.
dc, On all this, there is a fascinating book published in 2012 by an American scholar called Liliana Riga, now teaching at Edinburgh, entitled ‘The Bolsheviks and the Russian Empire.’ Usually, with important books, one can find reviews which enable you to see the gist of the argument in a few minutes. Frustratingly, the only reviews of her book I can find are academic ones behind a paywall. However, the thesis on which the book was based is online, and the ‘Abstract’ provides a good account of the gist of the argument: “This study concerns the sources of the revolutionary Bolshevik elite's social and ethnic origins in Late Imperial Russia. The key finding is that the Bolshevik leadership of the revolutionary years 1917-1924 was highly ethnically diverse in origin with non-Russians – Jews, Latvians, Georgians, Armenians, Poles, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians – constituting nearly two-thirds of the elite. The ‘Russian’ Revolution was led primarily by elites of the empire’s non-Russian national minorities. This thesis therefore considers the sources of their radicalism in the peripheries of the multinational empire. Although the ‘class’ language of socialism has dominated accounts not only of the causes of the Revolution but also of the sources of Bolshevik socialism, in my view the Bolsheviks were more a response to a variety of cultural, linguistic, religious, and ethnic social identities than they were a response to class conflict. The appeal of a theory about class conflict does not necessarily mean that it was class conflict to which the Bolsheviks were responding; they were much more a product of the tensions of a multi-ethnic imperial state than of the alienating ‘class’ effects of an industrializing Russian state. How ‘peripherals’ of the imperial borderlands came to espouse an ideology of the imperial ‘center’ is the empirical focus. Five substantive chapters on Jews, Poles and Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Transcaucasians, and Latvians, consider the sources of their radicalism by contextualizing their biographies in regional ethnopolitics and in relationships to the Tsarist state. A great attraction of Russian (Bolshevik) socialism was in what it meant for ethnopolitics in the multi-ethnic borderlands: much of the appeal lay in its secularism, its ‘ecumenical’ political vision, its universalism, its anti-nationalism, and in its implied commitment to “the good imperial ideal”. The ‘elective affinities’ between individuals of different ethnic strata and Russian socialism varied across ethnic groups, and often within them. One of the key themes, therefore, is how a social and political identity is worked out within the context of a multinational empire, invoking social processes such as nationalism, assimilation, Russification, social mobility, access to provincial and imperial ‘civil societies’, linguistic and cultural choices, and ethnopolitical relationships. (See .) It is a book I have not yet had time to read, but only dipped into. However, the general argument – based upon looking as closely as she could at the political evolution of the ninety-three members of the Central Committees of the Bolsheviks in the key years from 1917 to 1923, which took a monumental amount of work – seems persuasive. At the risk of putting too much of my own ‘spin’ on her argument: A key imperative of nationalism – which becomes of critical significance with the spread of industrialisation, urbanisation, mass education and ‘liberal’ ideas – is that the boundaries of culture and political sovereignty be coterminous. For precisely this reason, nationalism can be integrative in some areas – in France one can turn peasants into Frenchmen. In the vast multi-ethnic and multi-religious empires of the Hapsburgs and Romanovs, however, it was fraught with the potentiality of a kind of ‘war of all against all.’ An effect of this was to increase the attractiveness of utopian visions imported from the West, involving the notion of history as tending naturally to the triumph of a ‘proletariat’ which was not subject to ethnic antagonism, to culturally-assimilating but politically excluded members of minority groups in the ‘borderlands.’ So it is no surprise that people from identical backgrounds could take radically different routes: Dzerzhinsky ends up running the Cheka, while his brother supported the Polish Home Army. As regards Ukraine. What Stalinism represented was the absolutely subordination of everything to the imperative of turning a land of backward peasants into an an industrialised and urbanised society which, in particular, would possess the industrial base required to mass produce the weaponry required to fight modern mechanised warfare. The only on-the-ground reporting of what is now called the ‘Holodomor’ in the Western press known to me was done by the Welsh journalist Gareth Jones. His father, Major Edgar Jones, a legendary figure in Welsh education, was headmaster of Barry County School, which my father and grandfather both attended. As a talk Gareth Jones gave at the chapel where my parents worshipped in 1933 had a shaping influence on my father’s political outlook which was carried through to me, and has long been part of family legend, it was a somewhat bizarre experience actually to find the whole of his reportage up on the web. (See .) Unfortunately, the West Ukrainian nationalists have got to the family. A crucial section is headed ‘Gareth’s final visit to the Soviet Union in March 1933, exposing the Holodomor (Soviet Ukrainian Famine-Genocide).’ But this is actually directly contradicted by remarks by Gareth Jones quoted in the first article reproduced: ‘He told the EVENING POST: “The arrest of the British engineers in Moscow is a symbol of panic in consequence of conditions worse than in 1921. Millions are dying of hunger. The trial, beginning Saturday, of the British engineers is merely a pendant to the recent shooting of thirty-five prominent workers in agriculture, including the Vice-Commissar of the Ministry of Agriculture, and is an attempt to check the popular wrath at the famine which haunts every district of the Soviet Union. ‘“Everywhere was the cry, ‘There is no bread. We are dying. This cry came from every part of Russia, from the Volga, Siberia, White Russia, the North Caucasus, Central Asia. I tramped through the black earth region because that was once the richest farm land in Russia and because the correspondents have been forbidden to go there to see for themselves what is happening.’ (See ; .) What did happen was that Stalin attributed the resistance to collectivisation and requisitioning not only to capitalist ‘kulaks’ but to Ukrainian nationalism. The Ukrainian Communist Party was purged, and in 1933 a campaign of cultural Russification launched. However, these measures coincided with a scaling-down of requisitioning and arrests, and the mounting of famine relief efforts by the Soviet government. A key part of the background was the coming to power of Hitler, and the fear that, as in the previous conflict with Germany, Ukrainian nationalism would be exploited. Of course, the famine did not affect the Western Ukraine, which had never been part of the Soviet Empire, and was part of Poland, until that country was divided in the Nazi-Soviet Pact. When the Soviets retreated in front of the German onslaught, however, the NKVD systematically murdered alleged nationalists and counter-revolutionaries: 100,000 prisoners were shot, bayoneted to death or blown up with hand-grenades in prisons in the Western Ukraine alone. This is, obviously, part of the background to the Lviv pogroms of June and July 1941. Given the sheer scale of atrocities on all sides, the notion that one can construct a coherent Ukrainian identity, and particular one including Crimea, has always been, to put it mildly, problematic. What however the West Ukrainian nationalists have been doing is, to put it bluntly, trying to use the frankly mythical notion that the famine in Ukraine was primarily a Russian genocide against Ukrainians in order to bring people from further East to accept a conception of national identity based on hatred of Russia. To see the delusional imbelicity of the support given by the Western powers to this venture, I would recommend a presentation by my sometime BBC colleague Mark Laity, now Chief Strategic Communications at SHAPE. An October 2014 presentation entitled ‘Behaviour approaches to Perception management’, included the following suggestions: ‘“I am a Ukrainian” “ We have this freedom inside our hearts … ...we have this freedom in our minds ... … and now I ask you to build this freedom in our country.’ And Laity then produced a slide entitled ‘Objects of desire …’ showing glossy pictures of expensive cars. (See .) In the second series of interviews with Oliver Stone, in May 2016, Putin talked about the deal for visa-free travel then being negotiated by Ukraine with the European Union. As he pointed, people have been led to believe that they will be able to work in Europe, but this is unlikely to happen. And he went on to comment: ‘Right now, a Ukrainian’s dream is to work as a nurse or a gardener or a nanny in a European country amid the complete de-industrialization of the country. Why did they need all that? I simply cannot imagine.’ This is, I think, essentially accurate. Those who tempted Ukrainians with promises that a ‘European choice’ would produce cornucopia, in my view, deserve to rot in Hell.
TTG, Of course ‘most of those NKVD thugs were Russian.’ However, the creator of the organisation was not. As his Wikipedia entry makes clear, Dzerzhinsky’s ‘aristocratic family belonged to the former Polish-Lithuanian szlachta (nobility), of the Sulima coat of arms.’ Ironically, the manor house where he was born was destroyed, and family members, including Dzerzhinsky’s brother Kazimierz, were killed by the Germans, because of their support for the Polish Home Army. (See ) As to the incorporation of the Baltics, and other regions, in Stalin’s empire, not only was he himself a Georgian, but the NKVD chief who organised the policies used to quell dissent in the territories newly incorporated in the Soviet empire – and who originally proposed the Katyn massacre – was of course Beria, who was Mingrelian (a member of another ethnic group within Georgia.) The decisive role played by members of non-Russian ethnic groups in the Revolution and the way that a myth that everything was the fault of Russians is now being deliberately created was discussed at length by Dr Armstrong in a May 2009 post entitled ‘Airbrushing History.’ ( .) It was, as he noted, particularly ironic that a Latvian government commission had been ‘working away to produce a monetary figure to put on the losses suffered by Latvia as a result of its incorporation into the USSR from 1940 to 1990.’ And he went on to point to some of relevant history now being conveniently forgotten: ‘Where did the Bolsheviks get the force that allowed them to seize power? The most reliable and potent military force that the Bolsheviks controlled was the Latvian Rifles: this force supplied the bayonets in the Petrograd coup and the dismissal of the Constituent Assembly. Without the power of these disciplined troops the Bolshevik coup might not have happened at all.’ And indeed, it seems worth fleshing out the history. At the time of the Left SR uprising in the summer of 1918, the Revolution could have been snuffed out – among other things, Dzerzhinsky was captured. The commander of the Latvian division, Colonel Vatsetis, was summoned to the Kremlin, and Lenin asked him ‘can we hold out until morning?’ In his history of the Russian Civil War, Ewan Mawdsley observes that it was the decisive action taken by Vatsetis which both saved the Bolsheviks and saw the beginning of the one-party state. He writes: ‘There was a parallel here with General Bonaparte and the Paris riots of 1795. The “whiff of grapeshot” that broke up the Left SR uprising also made General Vatsetis’s career; Lenin had found his “General Vendémiaire.” Three days later Vatsetis was appointed commander of the new army group fighting on the Volgar River; soon he would become the first Main Commander in Chief of the whole Red Army.’ And the Latvians were there at the end – storming the Iushin line on the Crimea in November 1920, one of the last battles prior to the evacuation of General Wrangel from the Crimea. But then there is another irony. Decades later, a product of Eton and Oxford, a contemporary of our buffoon of a Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, spent the years 1989 to 1994 – when the Soviet system was collapsing – as a regular officer in British Army Intelligence. When he went back into academic life, Paul Robinson chose for his thesis a subject which might have seemed utterly irrelevant to the present day – the history of the White army in exile, in which General Wrangel played a crucial role. It turned out to be about the most relevant subject imaginable. In January 2004, an article by Robinson appeared in the ‘Spectator’ – then edited by Johnson – to which the title was given ‘Putin’s might is White.’ (See .) A key paragraph from the article: ‘While Putin is indeed an autocrat, he is no Red Tsar. He is a typical Soviet radish – red on the outside but white at the core. He is the heir not of Lenin and Trotsky, but of the White officers who fought to save Russia from communism in the civil war of 1917 to 1921. Depending on one’s view of the Whites, that may or may not be a good thing. But, to most, White is undoubtedly better than Red, and Putin’s authoritarian rule gives Russia comparatively little to fear.’ In another article in the ‘Spectator’, in October 2005, Robinson reported from Moscow on the reburial of the remains of Wrangel’s fellow commander, General Anton Denikin, and the White émigré philosopher Ivan Il’in, at the Donskoi Monastery in Moscow. (See .) Explaining the significance of Il’in and Denikin in Russian history, Robinson wrote: ‘Together, they were the pen and the sword of anti-communism.’ Now a professor at Ottawa University, from that day to this he has been attempting to elucidate to anyone who would listen the nature of Russian ‘liberal conservatism.’ The fundamental points in this argument are critically relevant to the arguments about ‘Russiagate’. It is a problem that we are dealing with a spectrum of opinions. However, a central strand in Russian ‘liberal conservatism’ – in which as Robinson has pointed out the 1909 symposium entitled ‘Vekhi’ (‘Landmarks’ or ‘Signposts’) is critical – is emphatically not hostility, in principle, to democratic ideas. What writers in this tradition very commonly argued was that there were institutional and cultural preconditions for the successful realisation of ‘liberal’ principles. If one’s society was fortunate enough to possess these, then one was lucky. If they did not, and one did not face up to this fact, the belief that destroying an unsatisfactory authoritarian system would magically turn a society like that of Imperial Russia into a replica of that of England or the United States was a dangerous delusion. A likely result would be to empower people like Lenin, Dzerzhinsky, Stalin or Beria. All this has an ironic result. Throughout the Cold War, the Soviets suffered from the fatal problem that their system depended for its legitimacy on an ideology which made it impossible to see the world except ‘through a glass darkly’. The boot is now on the other foot. As a ‘perceptual filter’ through which to try to make sense of the contemporary world, Russian ‘liberal conservatism’ has a great deal to be said for it. The ideas of Francis Fukuyama – particularly when put together with those of John Lennon – are about as relevant as those of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. And there is one bizarrely – and sinisterly – comic result of this. If one’s claim to power rests upon the claim to possess a monopoly of truth, two things characteristically happen. Commonly political actions generate unintended consequences. If however one is trying to make decisions on the basis of a ‘truth’ is grossly inadequate as a means to understand reality, these are even more unmanageable than they might otherwise be. Moreover, if one has laid a claim to possession of ‘the truth’, once these unintended consequences materialise, to prevent the total collapse of one’s claim to truth, and thereby of one’s claim to power (which can imply a threat to one’s physical survival) one has to find people to blame. Commonly, xenophobia becomes a handy tool. So it is perhaps hardly surprising that Western MSM coverage of ‘Russiagate’ more and more looks rather like the Soviet press, in the ‘Shakhty Trial.’ (See .)
Keith Harbaugh, I have no claim to be an expert on Russia – don’t know the language, never lived there. And I can’t comment on the authenticity of the settings in Valery Gergiev’s modern-day version of Boris ‘Godunov.’ His own history may, however, illuminate both his attitude to Putin and his performance of the opera. The great contemporary Russian conductor is not actually an ethnic Russian at all, but an Ossete – as also is his wife. So he is very much a man of what one might call the ‘borderlands.’ This became vividly apparent at the 2008 Georgian War, following which he emerged in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, which had been heavily attacked by the Georgians, with his Mariinsky Orchestra. They played first Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathetique’ Symphony, and then Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, the ‘Leningrad’, with the city hall as an illuminated backdrop in the gathering gloom. As I noted in a post here in October 2015, there seemed a rather clear allusion to the performance that was given in what is now again St Petersburg on 9 August 1942, the day when Hitler had intended he would celebrate the fall of the city. (See ; .) As to the transposition of ‘Boris Godunov’ to the modern day. The term ‘semibankirshchina’, coined to describe the period in the ‘Nineties when in the aftermath of Western-sponsored ‘shock therapy’ Russia was effectively ruled by seven ‘oligarchs’, comes from ‘semiboyarshchina’, the term used to describe an episode in the ‘Time of Troubles’. After the death of Boris Godunov in 1605, the boyar Shuisky, whose intrigues are central to the opera, became Tsar, but was deposed by the ‘seven boyars’ in 1610. The time of anarchy and disorder ended with the election of Michael Romanov as Tsar in 1613. An early act of the new Tsar was to institute a ‘Day of Moscow’s Liberation from Polish Invaders’, which was celebrated on 4 November through until 1917, when it was replaced by a celebration of the October Revolution. This was got rid of, and the earlier holiday reinstated as ‘National Unity Day’, by Putin in 2005. So ‘Boris Godunov’ may very well look, to Putin, like a ‘tract for the times.’ If Russians indulge their propensity for internecine strife, the Poles and Lithuanians, or whoever their modern analogues are, will come and get them. And – as Gergiev’s case makes clear – this message may have particularly resonance for those ethnic groups in the ‘borderlands’ who, traditionally, have looked to Russia as their protector. These days, those groups in the ‘borderlands’ who have commonly been associated with Russia’s enemies – be they Polish or Lithuanian nationalists, or indeed Georgian or Galician nationalists – have the massive power of the United States behind them. So Gergiev saw his own ethnic group come within a ‘hair’s breath’ of having half of its traditional territory reincorporated by Georgian nationalists determined to impose their own version of identity on it. It is no wonder he played the symphony which symbolised the will-to-resist of ‘Leningrad’ against the Germans with very visible conviction. Meanwhile, precisely Putin’s conception of ‘national unity’ is ultimately neither ethnic, nor simply religious, but cultural, he may well see Gergiev as invaluable. The Ossete has revived the Mariinsky – in Putin’s native city, from which so much modern Russian culture comes – as a great centre of opera and of concert-giving, and ‘show-cased’ the great works of the Russian musical tradition. (A performance he conducted of ‘Khovanshchina’, Mussorgsky other operatic masterpiece, is traditional in style, but also first-rate.) The theme of reconciliation is central to ‘Putinism’. In 2003, at his request, he had met with members of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in New York, and been presented with an icon of Saint Elizabeth. He talks about her life and death in the interviews with Oliver Stone, and how, in bringing the icon back to the Kremlin where she had once lived, he felt he was bringing her home. What he does not mention is that she was actually the maternal great-aunt of Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. Why she was canonised – and was also such a powerful symbol of repentance and reconciliation – is evident from here Wikipedia entry. It also describes the particularly gruesome way in which the Cheka murdered – the name of the ‘Chekist’ in charge of the operation was, apparently, Pyotr Startsev. (See–1918) This is useful background, when one comes across the claims about the DNC leaks by the former GCHQ employee Matt Tait. According to these, the presence of the name and patronymic of the founder of the man who would have been Startsev’s ultimate boss in the ‘metadata’ of the disclosures by ‘Guccifer 2.0’ proves that he was a GRU front. This is really is ironic, given that, as his Wikipedia entry makes clear, Dzerzhinsky’s ‘aristocratic family belonged to the former Polish-Lithuanian szlachta (nobility), of the Sulima coat of arms.’ Ironically, the manor house where he was born was destroyed, and family members, including Dzerzhinsky’s brother Kazimierz, were killed by the Germans, because of their support for the Polish Home Army. (See .) The claims by Tait have to me a very ‘fishy smell’ indeed – they look like part of the kind of rather crude ‘information operation’ we have come to associate with MI6.
Toggle Commented Jul 14, 2017 on Ritter on the magic 17 at Sic Semper Tyrannis
PT, There is a further lawsuit against BuzzFeed, brought by the Alfa Group oligarchs, Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, and German Khan. The summons, dated 26 May 2017 is at Also, a report on ‘McClatchy’ on 11 July, entitled ‘John McCain faces questions in Trump-Russia dossier case’, linked to the response of Steele and Orbis dated 18 May to the request by Gubarev’s lawyers for further information in response to the ‘Defence’ in the London suit to which you linked. (See .) Whether the fact that the lawyer who prepared the response, Nicola Cain, was until recently a senior barrister at the BBC is of any relevance I do not know. There is a lot in this which is not at the moment making a great deal of sense. It is absolutely basic journalistic ‘tradecraft’ to get a piece like the dossier ‘lawyered’ before publication. The question in my day would have been ‘is it a fair business risk?’ A lawyer competent in the law of defamation – as Ms Cain clearly is – would I think have almost certainly said that the memorandum on the Alfa oligarchs was in no way a ‘fair business risk.’ Moreover, it is hard to see any compelling reason why it should not have simply been omitted from the published version of the dossier – particularly as this would not have materially reduced the ‘information operations’ impact of the document. As to the reference to Gubarev, a simple redaction would have reduced the risk of his suing to zero, and again, would not have materially reduced the impact of the dossier. Indeed, even if the BuzzFeed journalists are amateurish, former WSJ journalists like those who run Fusion – and one of the company’s partners, Thomas Catan, is also a former ‘Financial Times’ journalist – should have been aware they were on a sticky wicket without needing to consult a lawyer. At the moment, both sets of legal proceedings are a hostage to fortune, for many reasons, including the possibility that they could make people for the first time actually notice that Sir Robert Owen’s report into the death of Alexander Litvinenko is a flagrant cover-up. Although the claims made about Steele’s involvement in that affair are a hopeless mess of contradictions, what would seem reasonably clear is that he was a key figure in orchestrating proceedings. (Whether Fusion were involved, at the American end, is an interesting question.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, we end up with a situation where people are stabbing each other in the back. So Steele is trying to rescue himself, by suggesting that the memoranda were not intended for publication at all, and that the reason for their publication was a violation of a confidentiality agreement by Fusion. Meanwhile, the former British Moscow Ambassador Sir Andrew Wood has already directly contradicted the ‘Defence’, claiming that, contrary to what it says, he was never an ‘associate’ of Orbis. (See .) In Britain, when the intelligence services make an unholy mess of things, it is usually possible to find the right kind of judge, or former senior official, to apply the appropriate degree of ‘whitewash’. It was Lord Hutton’s application of a lavish quantity of this substance to the Joint Intelligence Committee, MI6, and the Blair Government in his inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly which played a non-trivial role to reducing the BBC to its present status as a kind of imitation of the Brezhnev-era Radio Moscow. The acceptance of patently fabricated evidence by Owen took the ‘whitewash’ process to new heights. It would seem to me unlikely that those involved are optimistic that, by selecting the right kind of judge and organising another propaganda ‘barrage’ on the BBC and other outlets, they can contain the damage done by the lawsuits brought over the dossier. But I could be wrong.
Morongobill, There are very different kinds of intelligence. One may have finely-honed intellectual capabilities, perfectly adjusted to operating in the ‘bubbles’ of Washington DC or London – and be completely incapable of understanding the undercurrents developing at the ‘grassroots’, in the United States or United Kingdom: still less, the latent forces of fanaticism in the Middle East. One such was Peter – nor Lord – Mandelson, whom I once knew quite well. The kinds of intelligence he possessed made it possible for him to be instrumental in creating ‘New Labour.’ His lack of other kinds of intelligence is now a prime reason why ‘New Labour’ is – suddenly and unexpectedly – dead.
dc, It is actually not that tangential. Your observations raise a range of very fundamental questions, about what ‘intelligence’ means. And these are questions which are difficult actually to frame properly, as well as to answer. But, to take a ‘sighting shot’, I think that a steadily increasing proportion of our ruling ‘élites’ have come from two overlapping categories: an ‘imbecile clerisy’ and a ‘narcissistic meritocracy.’ An ‘ideal type’ example, in the United States, might be Richard Perle. (He is known as the ‘Prince of Darkness’ – but perhaps, somewhere down in Hell, Satan is saying that he cannot be held responsible for this village idiot.) As to Britain, the examples are legion.
Sam, There was a good piece by Benjamin Schwarz in ‘The American Conservative’ back in January 2016, entitled ‘Unmaking England: ‘Will immigration demolish in decades a nation built over centuries?’ (See .) Clearly, what we need to do now is think of the best available, or least worst, way of handling with the mess which has been created. But for Martin Wolf to dismiss terrorism as ‘just a nuisance’ is stupid beyond belief. One of the things which terrorists can commonly very easily do is polarise. When you have a large mass of unheeded resentment about Muslim immigration in the ‘native’ population, and a lot of disoriented second-generation immigrant young Muslims, caught between what their cultures taught them to regard as sacred and the temptations of Western society, a degenerative dynamic is very easily set in motion. Indeed, it already has been, and the question is now very much what is the ‘least worst’ way of handling the situation. To make these calculations, one needs people who have some understanding of the Islamic societies, and of the post-Soviet space: also, people who can make a serious attempt to understand how Western societies actually work. (How our societies actually work, is, obviously, rather different from how they are supposed to work in our idealised ‘butter-wouldn’t-melt-out-of-our-mouths’ self-images.) A precondition for such an understanding is an ability to grapple with military matters, and also the enduring role of religious, and quasi-religious, beliefs in human affairs. Unfortunately, ‘supermen’ – or ‘superwomen’ – who have the requisite combination of intellectual adventurousness and mundance practical experience are not easy to find. But Western ‘élites’ are materially less likely to produce some people with some of these qualities than they once were.
Sam, I agree with all of that. But there is still something that baffles me. The underlying premise of the thinking of our ‘élites’, in Britain as in the United States, is that they represent the forces of ‘enlightenment’, ‘progress’, ‘the ‘future’, against those of retrograde barbarism – the ‘deplorables.’ In fact, this is almost completely wrong. Certainly in the UK, there are an enormous amount of people who are, as it were, ‘caught in the middle.’ It is very easy, for example, to be generally well-disposed to immigrants, but to think that when 41% of inner London’s population have been born outside the UK, and 45% of Britain’s mosques, and nearly all the UK-based training of Islamic scholars are controlled by the Deobandi, we have a major crisis on our hands. In fact, the ‘mainstream’ consensus over the past decades in Britain has involved: 1. an open-door policy towards immigration, including massive immigration from for instance the Pakistani countryside; 2. blowing secular ‘nationalist’ governments in the Middle East to bits, in part in pursuit of fatuous Zionist dreams that ‘modernising’ the Middle East by military force will solve the – inherently intractable – security problems of a Jewish settler state in the Middle East; 3. collaborating with the Wahhabist ‘régime’ in Saudi Arabia, representing that strand of Islam most incapable of finding any kind of reconciliation with ‘modernity’, in using jihadists against those conceived of as our common enemies, in the breezy confidence that there is no risk of ‘blowback’. What could conceivably go wrong? When the discontents such policies produce find no spokesmen in the ‘mainstream’, unsurprisingly they end up being articulated by figures like Trump and Corbyn. And rather than actually returning to reality, the ‘élites’ head off into full Joe McCarthy mode. In this country, the ‘ruling classes’ used to have a reasonable capacity for ‘rational fear’ – imagining what might happen, if you pissed off too many of the people too much of the time. When I see the breezy insouciance with which key elements in the United States, and Britain, are attempting to destabilise Trump, I think they have gone crazy. They seem to me to how no understanding whatsoever of how unpleasant this could all get.
Babak Makkinejad, ‘The Love for Israel permeates England, France and a number of other Western Diocletian states; this is an alliance-wide phenomenon and not confined solely to US.’ If you will permit me to be slightly tongue-in-cheek, I think you are a bit like a ‘neoconservative’ back in 1989, convinced that because Soviet spokesmen ‘talked the talked’ they actually believed what they said. People do not understand that the promiscuous exploitation of the ‘cult of the Shoah’ by Zionists has led to it being ‘Sovietised.’ It is part of the 'new Brezhnevism' which has taken over both in the United States and Western Europe. What further compounds the problem is precisely the – distinctly Stalinist – suspicion of the ‘commissars’ that underneath the apparent conformity of the ‘goyim’ lie deep reservoirs of Jew-hatred. See, for example, the April 2015 article published by the ineffable Jeffrey Goldberg in the ‘Atlantic’, under the title ‘Is it Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?’, at . In fact, the disintegration of the cult is sending all kinds of people – including, crucially – Jews, in all kinds of different directions. There is a kind of complex intellectual anarchy, as people search for new self-definitions, which needs to be ‘mapped out’. But for that, a ‘rectification of names’ is indeed required. To give you an instance of the complexity: For me, whose culture is in critical respects Anglo-Jewish, when I try and locate Binyamin Netanyahu on a map of Jewish life in Britain, he looks like the kind of East End second-hand car dealer from whom, if you are once fool one to buy, you do not repeat the mistake. He has been busily smirking away the ‘cult of the Shoah.’ Moreover, one does not read the ‘Jewish Chronicle’ for intellectual stimulus. As part of ‘fieldwork’, I look at a lot of sites with whose point of view I may not particularly happen to agree. Often, doing so provides intellectual stimulus. But writers like Stephen Pollard, Jonathan Freedland, and David Aaronovitch are beyond belief pedestrian and dull.
All, As far as the UK is concerned, the neo-McCarthyite claims about Russia are to some extent boomeranging. A commenter whose observations have regularly been among the ‘Most recommended’ on the ‘Financial Times’, who uses the name ‘MarkGB’, has set up his own blog, which originally simply reproduced his comments, and now has other material. In a column yesterday entitled ‘Donald Trump’s clash of civilisations versus the global community, the paper’s chief economics commentator, Martin Wolf, described terrorism as ‘just a nuisance.’ In his response, which when I last looked received the second highest number of recommendations, ‘MarkGB’ focused on the question of the responsibility of Western governments for the phenomenon: “Terrorism is a symptom of something far bigger than you suggest. The magnitude of the violence that has accelerated over the past fifteen years is the inevitable effect of an imperialistic foreign policy that flourished under Bush & his poodle Blair, that overwhelmed Obama, that has now got Donald Trump exactly where it wants him – throwing tomahawks out of his cot, posing next to a glowing orb with Saruman, demonising Iran, and scared to engage with Russia because he is afraid of being seen as a ‘puppet’ of Putin. He is a ‘puppet’ – a neocon puppet. “Trump is weak because he hasn’t got the bottle to stand up to those people. If we want this world to be a better place, and I really get that you do Mr Wolf – we should be insisting that the US and Russia work together, insist that they stop fighting each other though proxies. Trump should say to the neoconservatives – “I’m sorry gentlemen, your profits and your delusion of exceptionalism, can both go to hell – the door’s over there” “Terrorism is not a nuisance – it is a symptom of insanity in the perpetrators – but what it says about the western governments who ‘use it’ for an imperialistic agenda, is far worse than insane – it, and they, are evil.” (See .) When in May, shortly following the Manchester bombing, Jeremy Corbyn made the argument about ‘blowback’, the Tories thought they had a god-sent opportunity. The Political Editor of the ‘Spectator’, James Forsyth, wrote: ‘Corbyn’s argument seems particularly ill-judged in the light of Monday night’s attack. The fact that a concert aimed at young women was specifically targeted is a reminder that these terrorists hate us not because of a particular foreign policy decision but because of the way we live our lives, and how our society is organised. To pretend that this is about Anglo-American policy in the Middle East is deluded. Corbyn’s failure to understand this, and his desire to find a way to blame the West for what is happening, is one of the many reasons that Corbyn isn’t fit to lead a political party, let alone be Prime Minister.’ (See .) As the remarks by ‘MarkGB’ illustrate the ‘mainstream’ – whether Tory or Blairite ‘New Labour’ had totally misjudged the mood. Very many people who have cordially disliked Corbyn all their lives, and still think his views on many things are dotty, thought that on foreign policy questions he was talking sense and nobody else was – and that the ‘they hate us because of the way we live our lives’ talk so beloved of ‘neocons’ is at best a very dangerous half-truth. The continuing failure of élites in Britain and the United States to understand the groundswell of discontent that has been building up is something I find most puzzling. And they really are not helping themselves by trying to blame everything on Putin. When people see élites who have led us from one shambles to another, both in foreign and domestic policy, refusing to take any responsibility, accept any blame, or change direction in any signficant manner, and they are told that they only object because they are Putin’s ‘useful idiots’, the effect is liable to be, to put it mildly, counter-productive.