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Friday, 7 February 2020

Let me make the subtext clear

I believe I’ve become a good judge of character in my middle age. This will come as a shock to anyone who knew me when I was a young man. When I was studying philosophy – right through to when I completed a PhD in the subject at aged 28 – I wasn’t exactly an expert in the art of being a reliable and well-adjusted person; far from it! But that was then. I’m a recovered philosopher now. And, having escaped from that inner world of arrogance, fecklessness and responsibility-avoidance, I know the terrain inside out. I believe I can spot a ne’er-do-well a mile away.
Recently I made a swift judgment on a man’s character, and, several weeks later, I was vindicated spectacularly. I met the man at an Indian takeaway, near Durham, where I work as a delivery driver. He had turned up to drive on the same shift as me; it was his first night. I introduced myself to him, asked him his name, asked him where he was from – Egypt; he was an Arab Muslim – and exchanged some small talk with him. Then the pleasantries were over.
I was standing behind the counter; he was on the other side. Suddenly he placed his elbow on the counter, flexed his fingers, leaned a little too close to me, and said:
“My arm hurts? Is it a vitamin deficiency?”
Now, I’m sure you will appreciate that this is a strange question to ask someone whom you have only just met, especially when that person is a delivery driver, not a doctor (well, not a proper doctor).
However, you may not appreciate that the question was also subtly aggressive. Or, at least, that’s how I perceived it. Based partly on the man’s in-your-face demeaner, I reckoned that he was setting out his stall, as it were. He seemed to be saying:
I am in need; you owe me; and you don’t even know what you owe me; neither of us knows; maybe I have a vitamin deficiency; maybe I don’t; all the more reason for you to attend to me; you may need to help me in any number of ways; you should stay on your toes.
Moreover, my own response compounded my feeling that I was being reeled in. I said:
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Are you OK? Maybe it’s a vitamin deficiency; I don’t know. Are you getting enough vitamins?”
The dynamic was in place: I was pandering to him. And I didn’t like it. I immediately judged him as a menace. Thankfully, at that exact moment, I was called into the kitchen by my boss, and I was temporarily extricated from the trap.
Perhaps you’re thinking that my judgement was harsh. Perhaps you’re thinking that hypochondria is a serious mental health problem that deserves sympathy not callousness. Perhaps you're thinking that the man might have had a vitamin deficiency! So let me tell you what happened in the ensuing weeks. His behaviour became increasingly obnoxious.  
The next incident occurred on a quiet night. The Egyptian and I were standing in the kitchen with the rest of the kitchen staff – a pleasant bunch of Bangladeshi Muslims, along with a cheerful young lad from Uganda who was earning some cash as a potwasher while he was studying in England. We were all chatting and joking about women, as men do. In fact, we were discussing my lack of a girlfriend; the men were giving me their advice. I cannot say that their advice was entirely politically correct, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable until the Egyptian made another strange pronouncement.
“You should go to Israel and buy a woman”, he suggested.
“I’m sorry?” I asked, genuinely confused.
He explained: “You can buy a woman for $1000 in Israel”.
Once again, I felt myself being drawn into a trap. And once again I responded too faithfully.  
“Oh, I see. So who is selling these women?”
“The Israeli government”, he replied.
Definitely a trap: this was Arab anti-Semitism of a particularly warped kind. I decided the best course of action was to try to shrug myself free of this nonsense.
“I don’t think so mate”, I ventured: “That doesn’t sound plausible to me.”
But he was adamant. His voice became strident.
“It’s true. You’ve never been to Israel. The Israeli government sells women for sex.”
He whisked his mobile phone from his pocket and started jabbing at the screen, then he thrust it in my face and said: “look at this”. It was a youtube video showing a department store where a bunch of sultry-looking women were sitting around in lingerie with price tags attached to their bare legs. The video was accompanied by a jabbering commentary in Arabic. The Egyptian declared:
“See. That’s Israel.”
Nope, no way. I just didn’t believe it.
“That’s absolute bollocks,” I said, with some needle in my voice.
And with that, the atmosphere shifted. A feeling of tension suddenly gripped us all, as though we had heard a distant scream. My boss sensed it too, because he immediately started joking around, saying that I couldn’t afford $1000 anyway. The air was cleared.
As I drove around that evening, I thought about the incident. I made a connection in my mind between the Egyptian’s hypochondria and his anti-Israel mindset. Both, I reckoned, were examples of ‘aggressive victimhood’, whereby a phoney victim tries to instil a sense of obligation in others not in the interests of justice or fairness but in the interests of control. An aggressive victim seeks to impose an agenda on others by appealing to their conscientiousness, by demanding special dispensations, special treatment. Conscientious people are made to feel that they are responsible for alleviating the plight of the aggressive victim. They feel guilt at the prospect of not being solicitous enough. They become the real victims; of their own good will, and of the manipulativeness of the aggressive victim.
I also pondered the fact that aggressive victimhood is often found in religion. Many religious people demand special treatment, whether it’s legal privileges, the right not to be offended, immunity from criticism and mockery, or just a superior reputation. And I pondered the most diva-like religion of them all: Islam. These days, any criticism of Islam, however slight, is greeted by cries of “Islamophobia” – not just from many Muslims but from some misguided Westerners too. Even when Muslims are known to have carried out despicable acts, such as vicious terrorist attacks, or the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children, you can guarantee that an angry chorus of apologists will demand that Islam itself should escape censure. Hysterical calls for ‘community cohesion’ drown out any scrutiny of Islam, as though Muslims could never be bad neighbours, and as though Mohammed’s own bad behaviour – including relentless warmongering, polygamy, endorsing sex slavery, and consummating his marriage with his nine-year-old ‘wife’ – could never explain the behaviour of people who see him as an exemplar.
In turn, I pondered the fact that aggressive victimhood goes some way to explaining the way women are treated – and allow themselves to be treated – in Islam. Women are nurturers by instinct, which makes them especially prone to being manipulated by aggressive victims. Women pride themselves on their ability to be unconditionally loving and caring; hence their consciences are bound to be pricked by any needy person, especially one who makes them feel obligated or guilty. Like insecure bullies, many Muslim men keep their women onside by consigning them to a chronic state of penitence. If you think I’m being unfair, ask yourself: how else – without paying them – might you convince someone to walk around in a Burka in the middle of summer?
Anyway, a few weeks after he made his unsavoury Israel comments, the Egyptian upped the ante, by behaving threateningly towards one of our female staff members, who was working behind the counter. I wasn’t there when the incident happened, but it was recalled to me by someone who was there: a feisty but likeable young local lad, another of our drivers. The counter girl was the local lad’s sister. She had antagonised the Egyptian by handing out three deliveries to her brother (which was perfectly correct of her, by the way: the three deliveries were going to the same area, and her brother was the next driver in line). Unfortunately, the Egyptian, being an aggressive victim, complained bitterly, and the row escalated to the point where everyone was shouting.
In the middle of all this, the Egyptian wagged his finger in the counter girl’s face and snarled:
“Women like you should be hit!”
Hearing this, the local lad went ballistic. He and the Egyptian traded a few punches, before the fight was broken up, and the local lad and his sister sped off in their car.
A few days later, my boss recounted the drama to me. He told me that the counter girl had quit, but the local lad and the Egyptian wanted to stay, because they both needed the money. The consensus among my boss and the other Bangladeshis in the kitchen was that the fight was a storm in a teacup; it would all blow over. I wasn’t convinced. I tried to explain to them that it was wrong of the Egyptian to speak threateningly to a woman. However, they just stared into space, their eyes glazed over. My words fell on deaf ears. And when I suggested that the Egyptian should be sacked, my boss just shook his head.
As I drove home that night, I realised that I had been somewhat reckless. The Bangladeshis were bound to tell the Egyptian that I had been badmouthing him. I was now his adversary. However, as it turned out, I had no reason to be concerned for myself. On my next shift, the Egyptian was friendly to me – overly, obsequiously friendly. He started complaining about Brexit, presumably because he thought I would sympathise with him. Perhaps he thought we’d find common ground by scapegoating all those so-called “thick” and “racist” leavers. In any case, just when I was on the brink of telling him he was talking bollocks again, I had to go out on a delivery, and the conversation was over.
And now I’ll never get to tell him. A few days later, he finally got himself sacked. I arrived at work one evening, where I found my boss on the telephone, looking ashen-faced. He was shaking his head and saying ‘no, no, no’ and ‘OK, OK, OK’. After he put down the receiver, he explained what had happened. One of our customers, an attractive young Zimbabwean lady, had ordered food the previous night, and the Egyptian had delivered it. Apparently, the pair of them had got chatting on the doorstep, at which point he had blurted out:
“I’ve got a big willy. Do you want to suck it?”
He then “leaned” against her door, whereupon she shut it forcefully in his face.
Obviously the girl was upset by all this. My boss said she was crying on the phone, and threatening to call the police. Having assured her that he would deal with the situation, he said to me, half-questioningly: “I don’t want the police involved; I will have to sack him; he will ruin my business.” I agreed, of course, while also pointing out that this behaviour was sackable regardless of any other considerations. My boss nodded, although he seemed predominantly worried about the police. I assured him that I would back him up if things got rowdy again.
So, a few minutes later, when the Egyptian returned from a delivery, my boss told him about the telephone call. The Egyptian responded with an avalanche of whiny protesting: “I was being friendly to the customer”, “I asked her if she was single”, “where is the proof?”, “what have I done wrong?”, “I’ve never let you down”, “she is crazy”, “I have a wife”, and so on. (A wife?!) At no point, I noted, did he actually deny the allegation. My boss, who is a mild-mannered and likeable chap, clearly wasn’t expecting a debate; he backed down immediately, saying “OK, OK”, then retreated to the kitchen. The Egyptian then turned to me and said: “She is crazy!” I was damned if I was going to continue my boss’s debate for him, so, rather pusillanimously, indeed nihilistically, I just frowned and shook my head. Then I too retreated to the kitchen.
The Egyptian continued with his shift, and I avoided him. Later that evening, I went into the kitchen and told my boss that if he didn’t sack him, I would resign, and I suggested that the local lad probably would resign too. I tried to get my boss to join the dots when it came to the Egyptian’s creepy behaviour: this latest incident was hardly out of character. But, again, I don’t think my analysis hit home. My boss’s verdict was that the Egyptian was a “pervert” because “Allah says you should only touch your wife”. This sounded somewhat ad hoc to me, but at least my boss did the right thing in the end. After I had gone home, he relieved the pervert of his duties.
On the next shift, I chatted to the Ugandan guy, who told me he had taken an instant dislike to the Egyptian. I also spoke to the local lad, who of course was relieved at the outcome. He told me something else I wasn’t aware of: that his sister had already warned our boss about the Egyptian’s creepiness. Apparently, she and the Egyptian had been colleagues in another restaurant, but she had quit because he had propositioned her crudely one evening. When he had come to work for us, she felt uncomfortable from the start, as did her brother. Clearly I wasn’t the only one. Unfortunately, our boss saw the writing on the wall too late, and it cost him. Even after the Egyptian had been sacked, the counter girl declined to return to her job because she felt that our boss had let her down.
Her brother said one final thing to me, and it summed up the whole sorry saga. He told me that, during the fight, he had shouted at the Egyptian: “We don’t say shit like that in our country, you fucking moron!” This wasn’t exactly an eloquent statement, but it wasn’t exactly not eloquent either. I laughed when I heard it, and the local lad laughed along with me. In fact, we laughed knowingly. But we were too polite, too British, to take the discussion any further. 
Let me make the subtext clear: our culture, British culture, is better than the culture that the Egyptian was practicing. No doubt there will be multiculturalists who will shake their heads at this. They will say that no culture is better or worse than another. But I will reply: the Ugandan lad wouldn’t agree with this, and nor would the Zimbabwean girl. Nor would anyone who wants to live in a nice country. British culture is one of the best cultures in the world precisely because it appeals to so many nice people throughout the world.
And let me make the subtext even clearer: the Egyptian’s culture was Islamic. He was the sort of guy who wore his Islam on his sleeve. The sort of guy who, if you offered to share your food with him, would say “no, it’s haram” instead of “no, thank you”. The sort of guy who was obsessed with the Middle East conflict. The sort of guy who sneered at women, sneered at Israel, and sneered at anyone who didn’t share his views. He was an aggressive victim, the likes of whom can be found all-too-often within Islam. Again, no doubt, the multiculturalists will shake their heads at this. They will call me “Islamophobic”. They will say: just because some Muslims behave obnoxiously, this doesn’t mean that Islam itself deserves criticism. After all, they will ask: what about the Bangladeshi Muslims in the kitchen? Not all Muslims go around harassing women, or demonising Israel. Some Muslims are pleasant characters. Islam isn’t all bad.
So – which is the ‘real’ Islam? The pleasant Islam? Or the bigoted Islam? Well, anyone who has met any real Muslims will know that the answer is: both. Islam produces plenty of pleasant characters; and Islam produces plenty of bigots. Indeed, many Muslims are somewhere in the middle: they are pleasant characters with some bigoted views. Reality is messy, but let’s clear one thing up: we need to criticise Islam for its bigotry and its bigots, just as we would criticise any belief system. We need to talk about the bigoted actions and pronouncements of Mohammed himself. We’d be fools and cowards if we only ever accentuated the positive with Islam; we’d be like those fawning cockneys who used to praise gangsters for giving flowers to their mothers. Moreover, we’d be fools and cowards if we delegated the task of criticising Islam to Muslims themselves, instead of taking on the responsibility ourselves. Muslims, as I have discovered over the last few weeks, are hardly likely to perceive and confront Islamic misbehaviour as unflinchingly as we ourselves can and must.
In the end, the warped suggestion that we should judge Islam by its best rather than its worst adherents is another instance of aggressive victimhood. When it comes to Islam, we are expected to believe that bad views and bad deeds can be whitewashed by howls of protest. Some of us are not falling for it.

Monday, 25 November 2019

Hitler’s Racist Socialism

‘Communism is not Socialism. Marxism is not Socialism. The Marxists have stolen the term and confused its meaning… We chose to call ourselves the National Socialists. We are not internationalists. Our socialism is national.’
                                                                  – Adolf Hitler

Was Hitler a socialist? On the face of it, the answer is obvious: a resounding yes.

From the start of his political career in 1919 to his suicide in 1945, all the signs were there.

You can point to the fact that the first political party Hitler tried to join was the German Socialist Party.

You can point to the fact that Hitler co-founded and led the National Socialist German Workers Party. Not the National Capitalists. Not the National Conservatives. The National Socialists.  

You can point to the fact that Hitler never tired of condemning capitalism, as Brendan Simms has documented in his masterful work Hitler: Only the World Was Enough. ‘International stock exchange enslavement’, ‘profiteering’, ‘plutocracy’, ‘interest slavery’, ‘big capital’, ‘exploitative capitalism’, ‘money-grubbing capitalism’ were just a few of the epithets Hitler used to describe the system he sought to overthrow. As for the system he sought to replace capitalism with, he declared: ‘The German National Socialist state, which pursued this goal from the beginning, will work tirelessly for the realization of a programme that will ultimately lead to a complete elimination of class differences and to the creation of a true socialist community.’

Indeed, you can point to the Nazi Party’s founding manifesto, which spoke of the ‘division of profits’, the ‘breaking of rent slavery’, abolishing ‘unearned’ incomes, the ‘expansion on a large scale of old age welfare’, overturning laws that served the ‘materialistic world-order’, adopting the principle that ‘common utility precedes individual utility’, and enacting ‘a struggle without consideration against those whose activity is injurious to the general interest’. Tellingly, the latter group included ‘usurers’ alongside ‘criminals’.

You can also point to the fact that the same manifesto declared: ‘We demand the nationalization of all businesses which have been up to the present formed into companies (trusts)’. Granted, in its first five years in power, the Nazi Party actually sold off many national industries. But Hitler did this to raise money for the government. And he sold the industries to his Nazi mates. The goal of the exercise was state control.

As Hitler explained, this nationalisation strategy reflected a general Nazi principle regarding private property:

To put it quite clearly: we have an economic programme. Point number 13 in that programme demands the nationalisation of all public companies, in other words socialisation, or what is known here as socialism… The basic principle of my Party’s economic programme should be made perfectly clear and that is the principle of authority… The good of the community takes priority over that of the individual. But the State should retain control; every owner should feel himself to be an agent of the State; it is his duty not to misuse his possessions to the detriment of the State or the interests of his fellow countrymen. That is the overriding point. The Third Reich will always retain the right to control property owners.

Hitler’s aim, he told his friend Otto Wagener, was to ‘convert the German Volk to socialism without simply killing off the old individualists’. In a similar vein, Hitler sought to convert the German Volk to socialism without killing off inequality. A social hierarchy within the framework of collectivism was in everyone’s interests, Hitler believed. And note: no other socialist regime in history has entirely dispensed with private property or hierarchies.

Most tellingly of all, you can point to the connection between Hitler’s socialism and his antisemitism. Hitler was an antisemite because he was a socialist. ‘Since we are socialists’, he explained, ‘we must necessarily also be antisemites because we want to fight against the very opposite: materialism and mammonism’. He added: How can you not be an antisemite, being a socialist?’ Invoking well-worn stereotypes, Hitler referred to the Jews as ‘this capitalistic people’. He saw capitalism as an international conspiracy conducted by so-called ‘rootless’ Jews spread throughout the world. In Germany as elsewhere, he insisted, these ‘Jewish-capitalist hyenas’ aimed at nothing less that the ‘financial domination of the entire economy’. In contrast, Hitler insisted, ‘socialism in the right sense will only be possible in nations and races that are Aryan’. He surmised:

Aryanism means ethical perception of work and that which we today so often hear– socialism, community spirit, common good before own good. Jewry means egoistic attitude to work and thereby mammonism and materialism, the opposite of socialism.

You can also point to Hitler’s belief that Germany’s war against the UK was fundamentally a battle against capitalism – albeit his parodic version of capitalism with its antisemitic twist. The war, he declared, was between ‘plutocratic-capitalist Britain’ and the German ‘welfare state’Germany was fighting against the ‘capitalist war mongers of England and her satellites’ – ‘democratic warmongers and their Jewish-capitalist backers’. The Nazis even had the nerve to link their own agenda with ‘anti-colonialism’ and with the Arab struggle against both Britain and the Jews in British-ruled Palestine.

Relatedly, you can point to the most misunderstood aspect of Hitler’s socialism. Everyone knows that Hitler hated communism – or ‘Bolshevism’, as he tended to call it. But few people know why Hitler hated communism. Hitler believed that communism was yet another Jewish-capitalist conspiracyHe spoke of the ‘intention of Jewish big capital to destroy Russia completely in order to maximize profits’. In Hitler’s view, communism, just like capitalism, was a system in which an exploitative Jewish ‘clique’ conquered a nation’s people by pitting them against each other – class against class. ‘Bolshevism is really just the general form of capitalism’, he opined.

In a passage in Mein Kampf Hitler elaborated on this bizarre theme, suggesting that Bolshevism is a precondition of capitalist exploitation. He warned that Germany was under threat from ‘Bolshevik storm troops in the service of Jewish international finance’. He warned of ‘Marxist fighting forces, commanded by international and Jewish stock exchange capital’. He explained:

Jewish finance demands not only the absolute economic destruction of Germany but its complete political enslavement. The internationalisation of our German economic system, that is to say, the transference of our productive forces to the control of Jewish international finance, can be completely carried out only in a state that has been politically Bolshevised.

Hitler claimed – it bears repeating – that only National Socialism could effect ‘a complete elimination of class differences and the creation of a true socialist community.’

Hitler’s barmy equation of communism and capitalism was echoed in the propaganda pumped out by the Nazi regime. One election poster in the early 1930s declared that ‘Marxism is the guardian angel of capitalism’. Another, promoting the 1940 film The Eternal Jew, portrayed a ghoulish Jewish figure with coins in one hand, a whip in the other, and a hammer-and-sickle tablet tucked under his arm. As for the film itself, it castigates Jews for shunning ‘useful work’; ‘these Jews don’t want to work but barter’; ‘they welcome trade eagerly because it suits their character and natural inclination’. Jewish children are shown ‘haggling’, because, the narrator explains:

These young people don’t have the idealism that ours do. With them, the egoism of the individual is not in the service of higher goals… For the Jew there’s one thing of value: money.

Later in the film, the narrator links so-called Jewish capitalism to communism, asserting that, ‘in the guise of selfless humanitarians’, the Jews ‘promised the masses castles in the sky, inciting them against civic order’. He continues, not-so-subtly merging capitalism with communism:

Unrestrained personal freedom and self-indulgence for the individual. Rejection of all ideals and higher values. Submission to the basest life of material pleasures. Criticism of all that is sacred. Revolt against everything. Incitement of the young to class warfare and terrorism. It’s no accident that this doctrine of destruction of nations sprang from the Jewish mind of Karl Marx.

Then, to emphasise the connection, the narrator adds: ‘The founder and organiser of the German Social Democratic Party was the Jew Ferdinand LaSalle-Wolfson’. Finally, the narrator surmises that, ‘despite business competition’, the Jews had ‘a common goal: exploiting the Germans’.

The implication is clear: the Nazis were not ‘far right’. The idea that they were far right is arguably the most ludicrous claim in history. They were so far left they thought even communists were capitalists. The Nazis were Very Far Left.

That’s why Hitler persecuted communists. And democratic socialists. And trade unionists, whom, he claimed, were seeking to ‘smash the economic basis of the free and independent national states, in order to destroy their national industry and their national trade as part of the enslavement of free peoples in the service of a supranational world finance Jewry.’ None but National Socialists were far left enough for Hitler.

Viewed in this light, Hitler’s animosity towards communism, and vice versa, can be seen as a kind of local rivalry on the far left of the political spectrum – the kind of rivalry that socialists specialise in. In any socialist society, a privileged elite sets the agenda for everyone else. That's why there's always so much competition between socialist factions. Whether it's Blairites and Corbynites or Communists and National Socialists, the rivalry within socialism is always fierce, even if all socialists ultimately believe in using the government to reshape society supposedly in the collective interest. Hitler told Otto Wagener: ‘What Marxism, Leninism and Stalinism failed to accomplish, we shall be in a position to achieve.’ He told Hermann Rauschning: ‘I have learned a great deal from Marxism, as I do not hesitate to admit.’ He added: “I have put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun. The whole of National Socialism is based on it.’ (Again, notice the blending of capitalism with communism: ‘peddlers and pen pushers’.)

What Hitler had put into practice was a particularly hideous version of socialism in which antisemitism was supposedly the missing ingredient in Marxism. ‘If the National Socialist movement should fail to understand the fundamental importance of this essential principle [race]’, Hitler intoned, ‘it would really do nothing more than compete with Marxism on its own ground’. He bowdlerised the language of Marxists, lacing it with racism: ‘We demand the fulfilment of the just claims of the productive classes by the state on the basis of race solidarity’. He aped the famous Marxist slogan: ‘Not proletarians of all countries unite, but antisemites of all countries unite!’ Indeed, prior to invading Russia in 1941, the Nazis went as far as agreeing a non-aggression pact with Stalin’s Marxist Russian government, without which the second world war would never have happened. In his Second Book Hitler mused that Russia might soon achieve an ‘internal change’ and become an ideological ally of the Nazis. ‘It could not be excluded that Russia’, a country which was ‘today in reality Jewish-capitalist’, would end up ‘national-anti-capitalist’. In such an event, he later predicted, Russia would abandon its internationalism and embrace ‘panslavism’.

For Hitler, racism and nationalism were equivalent: ‘To us state and race are one’, he asserted. In other words, antisemitism was the link between the ‘National’ and the ‘Socialism’ parts of National Socialism. To Hitler, racist nationalism was racist socialism, and vice versa. Alas, this proved to be a powerful electoral combination. In the early 1930s, a majority of Germans favoured socialism of one kind or another. By melding socialism with nationalism, Hitler was able to tap into an even wider pool of support, including the right as well as the left. He appealed to both camps: ‘National Socialism derives from each of the two camps the pure idea that characterizes it; national resolution from bourgeois tradition; vital, creative socialism from the teaching of Marxism.’

Hitler never wavered in his racist socialism. In 1944, in the depths of the war, when the military tide had long turned against the Nazis, he was still screeching that Germany is a ‘socialist people’s state’ engaged in a struggle against the ‘Bolshevik-plutocratic world conspirators and their Jewish wire pullers’. Even in death, he wouldn’t let it rest. His last will and testament, composed before he shot himself in a bunker in besieged Berlin in 1945, left little doubt as to the beliefs that had led him there. He railed against ‘international money and finance conspirators’ who had treated the ‘peoples of Europe’ like ‘blocks of shares’. And he prophesised that ‘The sacrifice of our soldiers and my connection with them into death’ would in the end ‘provide the seed for the achievement of a true People’s Community’.

You can point all this out. And you can point out that the Nazis weren’t the first and they won’t be the last socialists to commit genocide against a chosen group of capitalist scapegoats. Marxists killed 100 million people in the twentieth century, by various methods of mass murder that were just as murderous as gas chambers. Socialism is socialism, whether socialists attack what they believe to be a capitalist race or a capitalist class. In 1939 when the war was looming, Hitler meant every word of his deranged anti-capitalist pronouncement: ‘If the world of international financial Jewry, both in and outside of Europe, should succeed in plunging the nations into another world war, the result will not be the bolshevization of the world and thus a victory for Judaism. The result will be the extermination of the Jewish race in Europe.’ In word and in deed, the National Socialists were socialists.

You can point all this out until you’re blue in the face. Alas, today’s socialists will likely respond with a volley of outrage. Hitler couldn’t have been a socialist, they will bark, because a nationalist can’t be a socialist. Hitler, they will say, was a nationalist who merely called himself a socialist; his alliance with the nationalist right, so it goes, was the only feature of his worldview that counted. I think the socialists are protesting too much! How can an ideology become more right wing when blended with Marxism? How can the addition of anti-capitalism to right wing nationalism create a ‘far right’ ideology that is even more right wing than that of the nationalists? No such thing is conceptually possible.

And no such thing fits with the facts of Hitler’s rule. Yes, after his failed revolution of 1923 he sought electoral success by courting patriotic conservatives as well as patriotic communists. But the Nazis also denounced conservatives, using standard Marxist rhetoric: conservatives were ‘reactionary’; riddled with ‘class snobbery’; an obstacle to a ‘People’s Community’. Moreover, after Hitler had acquired power in 1933, the Nazi regime became increasingly violent towards conservatives, to the point where, as Simms puts it, there was a ‘systematic campaign’ against them. For their part, many German conservatives soon saw Hitler for the socialist maniac that he was. The businessman Alfred Hugenberg summed up the mood when he announced, just a single day after he had helped Hitler acquire the Chancellorship, ‘I’ve just committed the greatest stupidity of my life; I have allied myself with the greatest demagogue in world history’. Conservatives were prominent among the brave Germans who campaigned against Hitler’s regime. Granted, there were also plenty of socialists, communists and Christians who campaigned against Hitler. All were persecuted for their defiance. And all had one thing in common. All were to the right of the Very Far Left.

In the end, anyone who thinks that a far left regime can’t also be nationalistic hasn’t been paying attention to history. The most extreme socialist regimes of the twentieth century were all extremely nationalistic. China. Vietnam. Cuba. Albania. Romania. Cambodia. North Korea. And, yes, National Socialist Germany. Even Russia – supposedly the hub of an international communist movement – went the way Hitler predicted, with Stalin cultivating Russian nationalist fervour to fuel his Marxist objectives, both political and military.  

When you think about it, extreme nationalism is a natural consequence of extreme socialism. Socialists are enemies of trade and capital – both of which are global forces. When socialists demonise capitalism, they demonise people who are open to the world, people who are open to cultivating cooperative relationships with outsiders. In the eyes of socialists, capitalists bring the dreaded outside world in; capitalists violate the sanctum of a socialist society. In the process, capitalists become outsiders and insiders, which makes them perfect scapegoats. Viewed in this light, ‘international’ communism is not so much a genuinely international movement as an effort to convert outsiders into total insiders; to make everyone wholly ‘one of us’. And when this conversion fails, as it must, the shutters come down: the extreme nationalism of socialism comes to the fore. 

That’s why the most extreme socialist states become fortresses, their inhabitants’ grim faces pressed aggressively against the outside world. Often, indeed, the hostile nationalism of extreme socialism manifests itself in military aggression. People who are too insular to embrace capitalism become impoverished, whereupon they are apt to conclude that plunder is an appropriate vehicle for their fear and hatred. Whether as insurgents or invaders, the socialist regimes in Russia, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba and China attacked their neighbours with no less fervour than the National Socialists. And, as for Albania and Romania, neither would have become a socialist state if it were not for Russia’s military prize, the USSR.

In turn, extremely nationalistic socialism is often conjoined with racism, because race is an all-too-common means by which people label each other as outsiders. Extreme socialism has often fuelled, and been fuelled by, racism. In North Korea, the still-incumbent communist regime has encouraged its citizens to see themselves as the ‘cleanest race’. In Cambodia, the communist movement known as the Khmer Rouge committed a racially-motivated genocide that killed more people as a proportion of the population than any genocide in history. (We might also add: the racist genocide in Rwanda had socialist undertones.) And in the USSR, the Communist Party repeatedly engaged in ethnic cleansing against its perceived ideological enemies – including Jews. It’s true: in the USSR the Jews were, once again, accused of ‘rootless cosmopolitanism’ and subjected to killings and systematic persecution. The Nazis weren’t the only racist socialists in history, and they weren’t the only antisemitic socialists in history. 

If you don’t learn the right lessons from history, you can’t learn the right lessons from history. As I write, Britain is a divided country, still bitterly arguing over the 2016 referendum in which the electorate voted to Leave the EU. The bitterness is largely being generated by a minority of Remainers who are refusing to accept the result. Remoaners – as they have aptly been dubbed – are accusing Leavers of resurrecting the kind of extreme nationalism that wrought so much havoc in the twentieth century. But the accusation is preposterous. Brexit was inspired by a moderate not an extreme form of nationalism. A civic not a racist form of nationalism; Britons of all races voted for Brexit. A capitalistic not a socialistic form of nationalism; Leavers favoured a global trade policy for the UK, as opposed to the protectionism of the EU. A democratic not an authoritarian kind of nationalism; Leavers demanded the right to be able to vote for their political leaders. A patriotic not a hostile form of nationalism; Leavers didn’t express hatred for other countries, so much as love for their own. A neighbourly not an expansionist form of nationalism; Leavers believed that the EU should respect national borders, not dissolve them. Brexit was inspired by the kind of benign nationalism that defeated Nazi Germany, not the kind of extreme nationalism that characterised Nazi Germany (or any other far left nation).

The real downside of Brexit is that it is distracting the UK from a potential disaster. Socialism is riding a tide of popularity in the UK, with Britain’s Labour Party operating under its most extreme leadership ever – actual Marxists – while legions of young people are embracing socialism, having been disenfranchised by the ongoing housing crisis, and radicalised by their teachers and university lecturers. The air is thick with the nastiness of socialism, including the nastiest form of socialism. Labour has been plagued by accusations of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, to the extent that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is now investigating whether the Party has ‘unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish’. Meanwhile, another form of racism – or perhaps a broadened form of anti-Jewish racism – has become so prevalent on the left, few socialists even notice it is there, never mind challenge it. Throughout the West, many socialists now speak openly of ‘white privilege’. Capitalism, so it goes, is an international conspiracy via which rich white people oppress other races. Once again, hate-filled socialists are trying to build a broad coalition by defining their capitalist scapegoats in racial terms. 

As I said, if you don't learn the right lessons from history, you can't learn the right lessons from history. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Brexit, Working Pride, and Noblesse Oblige

“Benny I’ve just finished it I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read a book for almost 10 years but I couldn’t put it down mate really enjoyed it you should be really proud of yourself mate I didn’t realise all the sacrifices you had to make to create it, I’m really chuffed for you.”

Recently I received this heart-warming message from an old school friend of mine who had just finished reading my latest book Space to Create: A Writer’s View on the Housing Crisis. My friend is a family man who works as a black cab driver in London, where we grew up together. I don’t think he will mind me saying that he wasn't the most academically-inclined member of our friendship group. But he is no fool. Far from it: he is one of our most respected friends; I have literally never heard anyone say a bad word about him. (Well – apart from his bald patch and his support for Arsenal). The idea that someone like him enjoyed my book gives me great satisfaction.

I have also received feedback about the book from various friends who could be described as intellectuals. Curiously, one topic has kept cropping up in their feedback: social class. One friend suggested that class is an ‘issue’ that ‘looms large’ in my book. This surprised me, because I didn’t think I was interested in class – well, not anymore. When I started at university, I was a socialist firebrand with a massive chip on my shoulder, not least because of my strong cockney accent. However, by the time I had finished at university – a decade later, having completed a PhD at Cambridge – my socialist views had begun to fade, and so had my sense of inverse snobbery. I was now comfortable talking to anyone, because I was comfortable with myself. Within a few years of graduating, I was describing myself as a conservative: a long way from a class warrior.

Or so I thought. If I was surprised at people suggesting that social class looms large in my book, I was even more surprised at how I reacted: I felt slightly indignant. I soon began to wonder if I was inwardly protesting too much. After all, ever since I graduated from Cambridge, I’ve deliberately chosen to ‘slum it’ for the sake of my writing career. Space to Create documents my life as a struggling writer during the housing crisis. For a decade, I’ve funded my writing by working as a delivery driver. I’ve struggled to pay the rent in a series of cramped shared houses. I’ve lived and worked with some challenging characters. Throughout all this, I’ve gained firsthand experience of the social and economic conditions that are blighting the lives of working-class Britons today. Above all, I’ve seen the woeful effects of mass immigration. I’ve seen how the problems of overcrowding, overstretched public services and depressed wages have hit low-income Britons hardest, callously throwing their life chances to the wind. I’ve lived inside the pressure cooker that cooked up Brexit.

So, yes, I suppose it’s fair to say I still feel a sense of solidarity with the working classes. My school friend’s sympathetic response to my book, and my instinctive enjoyment of his message, indicates as much. Yet I don’t think I have reverted to being a class warrior. I don’t think my book was about class in any negative, tribalistic sense of that word. You can be proud of your class, and you can want to stick up for people in your class, without disliking people from other classes. Brexit, I think, bears this out. Though the Leave vote is often simplistically portrayed as a rebellion against the ‘elites’, I don’t think many people who voted Leave did so because they hate posh people. After all, some of the heroes of Brexit are extremely posh: for instance, Bill Cash, Daniel Hannan, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and of course Boris Johnson. Then of course there are the countless posh journalists who have championed Brexit. Indeed, the poshness of many of the leading Brexiteers hasn’t escaped the notice of left wing remainers, who have relentlessly parodied Brexit as some sort of aristocratic capitalist conspiracy against the gullible poor. Whichever way you look at it, Brexit spans the working classes and the upper classes.

What is going on here? What kind of force can meld the upper classes and working classes together so seamlessly? Moreover, what kind of force can achieve this result while still enabling working class people like me to retain a strong sense of their roots (while presumably the posh folk have retained a sense of theirs)? The solution to the conundrum can be found, I think, in a little-known fact about the character of Brexit voters. At the time of the referendum, psychologists conducted personality tests that found that Leavers tended to be more conscientious than Remainers. The dictionary definition of conscientiousness is: feeling a moral responsibility to do your work carefully and to be fair to others. This definition is extremely revealing. For a start, it explains why Leavers don’t take kindly to being bossed around by unelected bureaucrats. People who feel a moral responsibility to do their work carefully don’t need to be bombarded with rules and regulations. Bureaucratic meddling gets in the way of moral responsibility.

But most revealingly of all, moral responsibility explains the link between the upper- and working-class factions in Brexit. The British upper classes have long been animated by the concept of ‘noblesse oblige’, a French expression which translates as ‘Nobility Obliges’. According to this concept, people who are privileged – the ‘nobility’ – have an obligation to behave responsibly towards those who are less privileged. In practice, this means leading by example, and it means accepting an obligation to protect and serve. In other words: it means good leadership. Anyone who believes that hierarchies are both necessary and desirable in human affairs can appreciate that noblesse oblige is a valuable concept. Those at the top of the pile ought to behave conscientiously towards those at the bottom.  

Of course, noblesse oblige doesn’t simply mean that all responsibility falls upon society’s leaders. Quite the contrary: good leaders encourage their followers to take responsibility. The concept of noblesse oblige creates its own mirror image. In the case of the British working classes, the mirror image created by noblesse oblige is clear: there is a long tradition of working-class Britons taking pride in their work. This attitude of ‘working pride’ means not only doing one’s work carefully, but also treating one’s fellows fairly and charitably so as to cultivate the sort of cooperative atmosphere in which hard work takes centre stage. Naturally, the poorer you are, the more important it is to work hard; hence there’s no surprise that a tradition of working pride has historically been found among the poorest Britons. The result has been a virtuous circle between working pride and noblesse oblige. Leaders have felt an obligation to provide conditions in which their followers can flourish, while the followers have felt obligated to seize the opportunity to flourish.

Granted, the quaint-sounding notions of ‘working pride’ and ‘noblesse oblige’ do not imply that classes are fixed categories – castes. Within the framework of a capitalist economy, people can move between classes. Social mobility has become an important part of the system of reciprocal obligation that connects good leaders and their followers. Good leaders expect their followers to take responsibility on the promise that the followers who are exceptionally responsible and capable will advance into leadership roles. Moreover, the virtuous circle created by this arrangement is not only an important aspect of capitalism but is essential to democracy. Political leaders emerge as leaders because they have proven themselves worthy.

At least – that’s how it should be. Alas, over the last few decades, a new managerial kind of leader has increasingly come to dominate the UK, in large part thanks to our immersion within the structures of the EU. The concept of noblesse oblige has gradually been replaced by something more like: ‘abide, or else’. Instead of being told to emulate the spirit of our leaders, we have been told to slavishly conform to the letter of their pronouncements. Leading by fiat has replaced leading by example. Bureaucratic leadership has replaced responsible leadership. And, inevitably, the quality of leadership has nosedived. To put it mildly, the working classes in the UK have not been provided with conditions that are conducive to flourishing. This amounts to the breaking of a profoundly important contract. To the extent that Brexit was driven by the working classes, tribalism wasn’t the driver. The Leave vote was fuelled by the righteous fury of proud working people who had fulfilled their responsibilities while Britain’s leaders had reneged on theirs.

It is interesting to note that on the eve of the referendum, when David Cameron emerged from his limp renegotiation with the EU, he proclaimed that he had made concessions which would give the British greater control of their own welfare system. He radically miscalculated the national mood. In the eyes of the working classes who voted Leave, Brexit wasn’t all about handouts. The betrayed working classes didn’t want to give up on responsibility. They didn’t want to be patronised. They wanted responsibility and all its rewards. And they wanted responsible leaders who understood this. 

Space to Create is available from amazon.  

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Intellectual Obesity

Readers of my latest book Space to Create will be unsurprised to hear that I’m still working as a delivery driver – or, as I like to call it, operating on the intellectual black market. I am too stubborn to compromise on my right to speak freely and honestly. For the same reason, I’ve also kept up my proud tradition of antagonising difficult people to the point where they have a furious meltdown. I believe I have discovered the psychological equivalent of nuclear fission. Instead of bombarding an atom with neutrons, I bombard people who refuse to accept responsibility with reminders of their responsibility. The more persistently and focusedly I do this, the more explosive the results.

On one such occasion, one of my work colleagues, a gigantic fat lady, ended up screaming into my face “I’m going to fucking nut you!”. I managed to ward off this threat by the simple expedient of saying “OK, good luck with that” while smiling and maintaining eye contact with her, but I can’t deny that the experience was intimidating. It was like being trapped in a corner while the huge boulder from the film Indiana Jones comes rolling at you.

The worst thing is, I triggered the booby trap fully aware that it was there, and fully aware of what the consequences would be. I knew the drill like the back of my hand; I’m sure you do too. First, someone tries to blame you for their own error or wrongdoing. Second, you decide to protest. Third, they refuse to accept that they are in the wrong, precisely because they know they are in the wrong. Fourth, you succumb to a sort of magical thinking in which you allow yourself to believe that you can convince them to be reasonable by being reasonable yourself. Fifth, you begin to calmly and logically recite the facts.

And then something remarkable happens. You witness the full power of a person’s intelligence being deployed in the service of burying the truth beneath nonsense. Instead of responding to the points that you are making, your accuser deliberately obfuscates. They make random statements that have a superficial relevance to the topic but no logical relevance. They deny blatant truths, then, moments later, contradict their own denials. They draw preposterous conclusions from your words, in order to make you look unreasonable. They repeat what you are saying in a sarcastic voice. They roll their eyes. They bluster with outrage. They interrupt you relentlessly, denying you the opportunity to finish a single sentence. They abuse you personally. They swear and shout and sulk. They accuse you of attacking them. They engage in whataboutery – for instance, telling you everything you’ve ever done wrong. And they go through this repertoire on loop, repeating the same nonsense over and over, in order to make you sound repetitive while you insist on the plain truth. In sum, they reason in an irrational way so as to aggress against you: they engage in irraggression, to coin a word. Irraggresion is the means by which an unfair accusation is held in place; the tar that makes the feathers stick.

In the event that you are subjected to irraggresion, you’ll find that if you to continue to try to reason with your accuser, either of two things are likely to happen (or maybe both). On the one hand, you may become frustrated. Perhaps you will raise your voice, or offer a rebuke, or even an insult. Alas, your frustration will only serve to make you seem guilty, which is precisely the outcome you were trying to avoid. This is especially galling if there is a bystander present, who will at best draw the conclusion that you and your accuser are ‘both as bad as each other’. On the other hand, your accuser may have a furious meltdown, as my work colleague did. Their covert aggression will become overt aggression. Either that, or they will summon up a hysterical self-pitying emotional response that makes you look like a cruel bully.

I understood all this during the ‘argument’ with my work colleague. I even tried to ‘go meta’ – to explain to her what she was doing while she was doing it. I explicitly suggested that she was being ‘manipulative’, but of course she responded with more manipulation – ‘don’t use them big words on me’, she hissed. I confess that I wagged my finger at one point, whereupon she called me ‘patronising’ (I declined to mention that ‘patronising’ is itself quite a big word). I tried softening my voice, to try to make her realise I wasn’t attacking her, to which she responded, ‘you’re not my school teacher’. Then I smiled, in awe of her skilful display of evasiveness, whereupon she promptly accused me of ‘laughing’ at her. ‘You think you’re better than me, don’t you?’, she snarled. My response – ‘Well, I think I am behaving better than you’ – triggered the final showdown. As she bouldered towards me, yelling ‘Come on then! Let’s have it outside!’, she even had the temerity to add ‘… I’m not scared of you’, as though I was asking her for a fight; again, bizarrely, she was trying to pin the blame on me. All the while, her indignance was fuelled by a simple fact: she knew she was wrong.

I wish I had a transcript of the whole conversation. It was truly remarkable. By this I don’t mean that the subject matter was remarkable. Quite the contrary: the issue itself was extremely trivial – it was so boring, in fact, that I refuse to write it down. (Suffice it to say: I was 100% in the right.) The remarkable thing is that such a caterpillar of triviality could morph into such a fantastic flapping butterfly of insanity. Watching my colleague’s outburst, I began to feel like a caterpillar myself. My reasonable approach seemed woefully mechanical, like an evolutionary throwback, compared to this all-singing all-dancing irraggression against which I was powerless, other than to escalate the situation. Fortunately, another of our colleagues stepped in at the last.

Me being me, I reflected on the incident afterwards. One of my fellow drivers once described the woman as a ‘fat bitch’, which seemed a little harsh, but now I’m not so sure. I think my colleague’s fatness was indeed a relevant factor in her bitchiness. She was fat in an aggressive way: aggressively fat. By this I mean that she was fat because it made her more powerful; it supplied her with more weight to throw around. I am sure there are many other explanations for people being overweight (not least the obvious one) but I do wonder if the current epidemic of obesity in Britain is, in part, a reflection of the increasing aggressiveness of British culture. Maybe you can eat your way up the pecking order.

At the same time, my colleague was one of those fat people who complain constantly of digestive problems. She had the most severe case of hypochondria I have ever seen. Obsessed with monitoring her food intake, she would eat nothing all day, which made her stomach hurt, then she would binge on food in the evenings, which supposedly caused her even more pain. In other words: she was fat because she was fat, and vice versa. As a result, she frequently took days off sick, her income being supplemented by generous benefits from the government. Her obesity was a source of strength for her even insofar as it weakened her.

After the incident, I also couldn’t help ruminating on one specific thing my colleague said, the only comment of hers that hurt me: ‘You think you’re so clever, don’t you?’. I am sensitive about being accused of intellectual snobbery. I have a PhD from Cambridge University but I was so repelled by modern academia I decided to self-fund my career as a writer. For a decade I have worked in a succession of casual jobs, to provide me with both the money and the mental space to be creative. I also wanted to learn about real life, all the better to write about it.

In short, I have made great sacrifices to avoid being the sort of intellectual who looks down on other people. Moreover, having spent so much time among Britain’s ‘working people’, my worldview has changed to the point where I am now more detached than ever from the intellectual mainstream. Having experienced the ‘cost of living crisis’ first hand, and having seen how the establishment is ignoring the needs of working Britons, I have written in support of Brexit, and against the damaging politically correct socialist shibboleths that currently dominate almost all British institutions. In doing so, I have driven a wedge between myself and academia; I couldn’t be an intellectual snob now even if I wanted to. By hurling this epithet at me, my colleague engaged in her most exquisite piece of manipulation. She knew my views. She knew what I stood for. By accusing me of enjoying privileges that I had categorically renounced, she knew she would cause me a deep sense of injustice. I would rather she had nutted me.

Ironically, by accusing me of being an intellectual snob, my colleague was once again, albeit inadvertently, accusing me of sins of which she herself was guilty. Anyone who has ever defended capitalism or Brexit in conversation with a socialist or persistent Remainer (‘Remoaners’ as they are aptly called) will know how staggeringly manipulative these people can be in defence of their establishment privileges. As members of the establishment, they tend to be intellectuals, or at least well educated. If you dare to challenge their self-serving worldview, they engage in relentless sloganeering, dousing your every utterance with random catchphrases, which are skilfully tweaked to have a superficial relevance but no logical relevance. They bluster with outrage. They interrupt you relentlessly. They resort to whataboutery. They shut you down, by calling you a fascist or a racist or a xenophobe. And so on. Their deliberate irrationality is designed to make you feel guilty for telling the awkward truth about the EU and socialism. In other words, they engage in irraggresion, dancing around the reasonable points you make, floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee, attacking you instead of acknowledging their own wrongdoing. This strategy, after all, is how they make their living. They demand endless reparations, because as self-styled benevolent overlords, shepherds of the wayward, they believe they are entitled to nothing less.

In all of this, they are fortified by the weight of their learning, accumulated during years of education. There is nothing wrong with education, of course. But in today’s universities, especially in humanities departments, much of what counts as learning is more like loading a vessel with ballast. Many educated people carry around a blubbery hide of theories and jargon and abstraction and ideology, the main purpose of which is to intimidate. They are intellectually obese, all the better to overpower reasonable people. When you make a reasonable point to Remoaners and socialists, they will likely roll a great boulder of pointless knowledge at you, squashing you and your point of view. In addition, their pointless learning makes them strong by making them weak. They don’t know how to live, because they never bothered to learn anything so trivial; indeed, normal human life is obstructed by what they did learn. So they live off the government. Supposedly, their intellectual burden entitles them to endless solicitousness from the likes of you and me. They are philosophical hypochondriacs.

No, I am not one of these intellectual snobs. I am one of the people who are saying: enough is enough. I intend to keep telling the truth, keep insisting on responsibility. Looking around me, I can see that I am not the only one. There is a ‘culture war’ taking place, and I am on the side of the people who do not want to fight. Patiently, focusedly, resolutely, we will keep making the arguments in the face of a grotesque level of manipulation and intellectual bullying. Will we prevail? I do not know. But I do know that we are apt to be blamed whatever happens. I fear that a national meltdown is on its way. I fear that people like you and me will be caught up in a wildly aggressive showdown that we didn’t deserve, even though we ourselves provoked it by insisting on being reasonable.