Saturday, October 25, 2014

More recent history

The latest volume in the excellent Yale University Press series Annals of Communism is Secret Cables of the Comintern 1933-1943. Those cables were sent to and from the Moscow Centre of the Communist International (Comintern), its Secretariat (ECCI) and the Communications Service (CS).

The Comintern filled a rather odd position in the history of the period. On the one hand, it was an open organization (whose members and staff had a distressingly high turn-over in the mid and late thirties) that united all the Communist parties of the world and, allegedly, treated them as equals. On the other hand, it conducted secret correspondence with, sent money to and issued instructions that could not be disobeyed to specific members of those Communist Parties who, then, had to pass them on and ensure that all Communists acted according to those instructions that invariably mirrored Soviet policy of the day. Most rank and file members of the various national CPs and even a good many of the officers knew nothing about that activity and where some of the instructions came from or how they were transmitted. Nor did they know much about the large funds transferred to some people for certain purposes.

The secret cables that have become available to Western historians are only a part of those that exist and the possibility of seeing the others seem remote. But even what we have clarifies a great deal of what happened in the twenties and thirties, explains the behaviour of Communist politicians and parties and gives us a better idea of what happened.

A good many things have to be explained at the beginning of the book, not least the fact that many of the codes were extraordinarily silly and crass as well as inappropriate to the countries where they were sent as party members tried to point out to the Moscow centre. Their inappropriateness was likely to excite police attention, which, in turn, would, if made public, make it clear that the parties were nothing but Moscow's puppets.

Another problem was the fact that the national recipients seemed to have no understanding of secrecy or conspiratorial technique, refusing or forgetting to destroy telegrams after reading them, carrying messages openly in their pockets and so on.
The Comintern had good reason to worry about the security of its communications. The most serious compromise of its messages, however, did not stem from sloppy tradecraft or carelessness on the part of its employees. Instead, it was a function of underestimating just how vulnerable its radio contacts with its sections were to interception.

The British Government Code and Cipher School (GC&CS, today known as GCHQ) - responsible for collecting and trying to break ciphered communications - started intercepting a rash of messages in 1930 that was quickly determined to be between Comintern headquarters in Moscow and clandestine radio stations abroad. Several months were required to trace the British end of the operation to a house in Wimbledon owned by a British Communist, who was promptly put under surveillance in order to learn of the path through which Comintern money and instructions were passed along to the leadership of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).

GC&CS had managed to largely break the codes by 1933, enabling it to pass on to MI5, responsible for counter-intelligence, the identities of secret members of the British CP, the identities of couriers coming from and going to Moscow, the names of British and colonial Communists studying at the Lenin School in the USSR, and details about Soviet subsidies to the CPGB. The "obscurely phrased" traffic hindered full understanding of the messages - even the British Communists often did not fully understand what was communicated and had to ask for clarification.

The British decryption project, code-named Mask, collected so many messages that many were not given detailed analysis. By 1937, with messages indicating that the Comintern was seeking to moderate British Communists' revolutionary fervour as part of the Popular Front and facing a severe shortage of staff, MI5 discontinued Mask, thereby missing some obscure clues that, if followed up, would have exposed elements of the Comintern's operations linked to Soviet intelligence.
One such clue would have led them to Melita Norwood. Still, the information collected was of enormous use to Britain and, after the Second World War, to the United States.

The Comintern agents were often secret service agents as well but not always. They faced danger in their work but not always from the obvious source.
But most Comintern operative lived far more prosaic and dull lives than their intelligence counterparts did. This is not to say that they did not face dangers. Comintern operatives could and did face arrest, imprisonment, torture, and even death. Particularly for those tasked to assist local Communist parties involved in armed revolts or uprisings or assigned to countries with few or no legal protections for someone charged with political subversion, a Comintern assignment could be fatal.

Most Comintern emissaries, however, were paymasters and conduits for passing along instructions and requests, enabling Communist parties to carry out their activities in accordance with plans developed with the approval of the Soviet Union. They were the yes and ears of Moscow on the ground in New York, Paris, London, Prague and numerous other locales, a constant reminder to American, French, British, or Czech Communists that not only were their political struggles part of an international campaign, but they were also being watched and judged by people beholden to a bureaucracy in Moscow and totally unaccountable and unknown to the vast majority of the local party's members.

And for many Comintern workers the most dangerous part of their assignment was that they were very likely to run afoul not of capitalist police or executioners, but the NKVD, the sword and shield of the Soviet state. Far more Comintern employees died in the cellars of the Lubyanka Prison than abroad.
History is full of little ironies.

Show time again

Sorry about this, folks, but today is St Crispin's Day and the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. So, no escaping this clip:



Friday, October 24, 2014

Show time

Dean Martin, John Wayne and A. N. Other


Thursday, October 23, 2014

And now for something completely different

Not UKIP this time. To be honest, I am bored with the subject and with the people who spring to that party's defence or so they think.

Instead, here are links to a couple of websites that some of my readers might find interesting. I shall put the links up on the sidebar as well.

First off, is a fascinating site, called SikhPolice, a combination of Sikh philosophy, ideas about Sikh policing and some information about what is misleadingly called "Honour Based Violence". I can thoroughtly recommend it.

The other site is one about which I intend to write more at some future date. Sharia Watch is an invaluable site for anyone who is interested in the related subjects of radicalization and the creeping sharia through arbitration tribunals that have become courts administering family and criminal law. Its editors pride themselves on not publishing anything that cannot be backed by clear and acceptable evidence. There are no simple rumours here.

I cannot really say, enjoy reading these websites but I can say that they are of interest to anyone who is interested in questions of freedom.

Fun and games with UKIP

[Health warning: yes, this is another posting about UKIP but it is not entirely critical of that benighted organization or, at least, it is hightly critical of those who have attacked it recently. UKIP-bots take note.]

UKIP have managed to get themselves into the news again on two accounts, neither of which has anything to do with their policies (and that might be just as well). Both stories have caused a great deal of indignation and a certain amount of amusements. I plead guilty to the second attitude.

The first story, as British readers of this blog probably know, is about that ridiculous calypso that was written by former BBC DJ Mike Read (no, I've never heard of him before this either) and performed with a mock-Caribbean accents at some fringe event, went on YouTube and was attacked as being racist. At first, Read said that he considered the accusations preposterous and the Dear Leader called on the faithful to get the calypso to No 1 in the pop charts.

After that things became a little difficult. For one thing the words of the song were published and turned out to be astonishingly stupid. For another, people who are not completely obsessed with UKIP either pro or con (I expect I shall be accused of being one of those by some UKIP-bots but I do not think the amount of time I have spent on them over the years of writing this blog or being co-editor of EURef warrants that accusation), wondered why they should have picked on the calypso as a particularly cool, up-to-date and funky kind of music.

As it happens, I have a much loved LP (or vinyl as they are called now, having become rather fashionable again) of Harry Belafonte singing calypsos in a mock Caribbean accent, Belafonte's own accent being pure American. So far as I know there were no problems with that but I don't know for sure. The LP (vinyl) was inherited by me from my father who acquired it in the 1950s, possibly on one of his two trips to London from Budapest where we lived at the time. Does that throw any light on the strange UKIP decision? Well, yes, I think it does. This is all part and parcel of their nostalgia for that rather unpleasant decade.

The faux-outrage over the racism of the song has achieved its aim and former DJ Mike Read "has apologised for his Ukip-supporting calypso song and asked for it to be withdrawn from sale following criticism that it was racist". Stupid the idea may have been but the idea that somebody must always apologize and something must always be suppressed if anybody is offended and, particularly, if the word racist can be bandied round, is turning British politics into a specie of blancmange.

The story is not over.
Read’s song just failed to make the top 20 in the midweek rundown of the official singles chart, debuting at number 21 according to the list published on Wednesday. A spokesman said sales of the song to date would continue to contribute to the official top 40, despite Read’s decision to withdraw it.

It could mean another dilemma for the BBC over whether to include the song in its official top 40 programme on Radio 1 on Sunday, in a potential echo of the row over the anti-Thatcher protest song, Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead.
That, of course, was not withdrawn from sale as it was not racist and offended only in the matter of good taste. But it did not get to No 1 either.

Here, by the way, is UKIP's Culture Spokesman, Peter Whittle, attacking the attackers. It is not clear whether he actually liked the song but his political point is a very reasonable one. [Full disclosure: Peter is a good friend.] I would say that the faux outrage has not exactly harmed UKIP while an understanding of the silliness would have done. As it is, they can proclaim that they are victims of the modern mania for censorship of anything that can be described as racist.

Let us now turn to the other story, that of their new ally in the European Parliament. The Toy Parliament does not run on the basis of parties but groups and there are rules about how many parties and countries have to be represented in each group in order to be able to claim the handsome hand-outs for the MEPs' entertainment hard work. For a while it looked like Nigel Farage had managed to put his Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD)group together (no, I don't know what that title means either but they had to think of something and the others are not much better). Then potential disaster struck: the Latvian MEP Iveta Grigule (more here) decided to leave the group, thus making it untenable in Toy Parliament terms.

As ever, we heard accusations and counter-accusations. Nigel Farage "has accused the president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, of "effectively blackmailing" Grigule by offering her the leadership of an overseas delegation in a deliberate attempt to silence Ukip and the eurosceptic EFDD".

Ms Grigule retaliated by saying that if she had been susceptible to "blackmail" she would have taken Mr Farage up on his offer of the group's Vice-Presidency and, anyway, she had already managed to fall out with the Dear Leader over his working methods that she characterized as being rude. Nor was she impressed by the rest of the UKIP MEPs.
"In July this year I already suggested to Nigel Farage that he should change his working style. The fact that he did not take my suggestion into account this whole time is not right," she said.

"I do not find it acceptable that MEP’s turn their backs on the European anthem or the flags of member states. I do not find shouting or rude remarks acceptable during plenary sessions, or that the majority of colleagues from Great Britain do not take part in the work of committees. I warned Farage, that if nothing changes in this attitude, I will leave the group.

"Of course, this style of working may be beneficial to Farage as his popularity in Britain grows, but to other group delegations this isolationism from the other Parliamentary groups disrupts the ability to work. This was a road leading to nowhere."
The only thing I can add to that story is that it would seem that neither Mr Farage nor Ms Grigule know the difference in meaning between blackmail and bribery.

As it happens, there are always odd MEPs hanging around the Toy Parliament who can be bribed or blackmailed, depending on your use of the English language, to join a group and the Dear Leader found one: he is the Polish MEP Robert Iwaszkiewicz (more here) of the Congress of the New Right and a man who has distinguished himself by being a Holocaust denier and a supporter of domestic violence. Not a particularly prepossessing chap and neither is his party.
Korwin-Mikke [the party's leader], whose party has two remaining MEPs and received 7.5% support in Poland during May’s European parliamentary elections, is one of the most outspoken figures within the far-right groupings of parliament.

In July, he declared in English that the minimum wage should be “destroyed” and said that “four million niggers” lost their jobs in the US as a result of President John F Kennedy signing a bill on the minimum wage in 1961. He went on to claim that 20 million young Europeans were being treated as “negroes” as a result of the minimum wage. He refused to apologise and was fined 10 days of allowances for his comments.

Korwin-Mikke has also called for the vote to be taken away from women, has claimed that the difference between rape and consensual sex is “very subtle” and said that Adolf Hitler was “probably not aware that Jews were being exterminated”.
Of course, saying that Hitler was not aware that Jews were being exterminated, stupid though that is, does not constitute Holocaust denials but we can say with some certainty that the Polish party, its members and its leader are not people one wants to have much to do with partly because of their opinions and, even more, because of their level of intelligence.

The problem is that as long as we are in the EU and send members to the Toy Parliament (on a very low vote, it is true) we have to deal with people like Mr Iwaszkiewicz and Mr Korwin-Mikke, as well as people who either deny the extent of Communist crimes or consider the gulags to have been quite a good idea. We do not elect these people but others do.

The outrage over a perfectly ordinary if slightly shoddy political transaction has been deafening. I have even seen demands that UKIP should be banned in Britain. A party that has received a fair number of votes should be banned, I asked. That is your democratic suggestion? I got a lot of huffing and puffing in return and reminders that the British Union of Fascists was banned and Sinn Fein was kept off the airwaves for some years. The BUF was banned durign the war, I replied, as they were seen with some (though not total) justification as aiding and abetting the enemy. Incidentally, I added, the CPGB that was doing the same between the autumn of 1939 and June 22, 1941, actively inciting members of the armed forces to desert, was not banned. And Sinn Fein was not actually banned, merely not allowed to speak on air because they were and are closely linked to a terrorist organization, the IRA. UKIP has merely done something many of us find distasteful. It is not illegal and it cannot be described as aiding and abetting the enemy. Should all those British parties who sit in groups with well known members of Communist parties be banned? There was more huffing and puffing and, in one case, a highly ironic denial that anybody denies the gulags. There was no reference to the victims of collectivization.

But I digress.

Will the second story help UKIP? Not as much as the first one, as Mr Iwaszkiewicz, the latest addition to the EFDD group is rather unsavoury and a good many UKIPers, not to mention their supporters and quasi-supporters are embarrassed by the story. Does it matter electorally? Probably not. I have no doubt the story will be rehashed during the electoral campaign next year but there are plenty of embarrassments to be brought up against all parties in the Toy Parliament. The truth is that the overwhelming majority in this country does not care about that institution.

A far more serious story is the one produced by the Evening Standard yesterday:
Britons have turned against the idea of quitting the European Union despite the rise of Ukip, exclusive new polling reveals today.

It found that a clear majority would vote to stay in the EU in a referendum — marking a dramatic turnaround from two years ago. The findings suggest Ukip’s surge this year has less to do with anti-EU sentiment and more to do with anxieties about immigration or disenchantment with the bigger parties.

Fifty-six per cent of people said they would vote to stay in if there were a re-ferendum now, while just 36 per cent would vote to leave, according to the Ipsos MORI poll. Excluding “don’t knows”, that amounts to a clear divide of 61 to 39 per cent.

In November 2012, the same question found that 44 per cent wanted to stay and 48 wanted to get out. At the time, support for Nigel Farage’s party stood at a mere three per cent, compared with the current level of 16 per cent — a record figure for an Ipsos MORI poll. But while support for Ukip has risen by 13 percentage points over the two-year period, support for quitting the EU has dropped by 12 points.

Backing for EU membership is at its highest since 1991 — before the Maastricht Treaty which increased integration and created the European Union out of the European Community.
The turn-around is not as dramatic as all that and is probably temporary. Opinion on the subject tends to be volatile but it has never reached the sort of support for Brexit that would indicate a victory in the referendum. Whether that is despite or because of the rise of UKIP is arguable. This blog has argued for some time that the present-day UKIP is a hindrance to the cause of British exit. It has certainly not been a help.

Another conclusion that ought to be drawn but probably will not be by people obsessed with the idea of a referendum is that we are certain to lose it and should turn our attention more widely (yes, I know the Boss has been working on it) to the question of how we can win it, should it ever come about.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

We might never get rid of her

One of the few positive aspects of the routine farce that is known as the appointment and vetting (by the Toy Parliament) of the new Commissioners was the thought that at last we would be getting rid of the ineffable Cathy Ashton, really Baroness Ashton.

Not so but far from it.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will continue leading nuclear negotiations with Iran until a deal is reached, even if a November deadline is missed, she said on Monday.Br/>
Ashton's five-year term as EU foreign policy chief ends at the end of this month, and she had said she would stay on as nuclear negotiator until Nov. 24, the deadline for reaching a long-term settlement with Iran over its nuclear program.
And the chances of that agreement being reached in just over a month a precisely nil. Never fear (or, rather, be very afraid):
Asked if she would continue beyond that date if necessary, she told reporters at an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg: "I have been asked to carry on until it's done."
How is that for reassuring news?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Odd concepts are emerging in British politics

Back in the days of the numerous People's Democracies and People's Republics (one or two of which are still with us) it would have seemed bizarre to envisage a time when similar concepts would be used by a political party that claims to be serious (i.e. not one of the numerous Communist, Stalinist, Trotskyite entities) but that is exactly what has been happening. Yes, indeed, I am once again referring to our friends in UKIP or as they sometimes decribe themselves, the People's Army. Presumably, even their political strategists (a.k.a. friends and drinking cronies of the Dear Leader, Nigel Farage) shied away from the People's Liberation Army. Even without that, the naming is not, in my opinion, a happy one.

The people's this and the people's that figure largely in UKIP's pronouncements. One can only assume that knowledge of recent history is not required by its Central Committee NEC.

Not so long ago (about a week or so) I saw comments about UKIP being unique in British politics in that its policies are for the people and are created with the people in mind. I could not help recalling the great Louis Armstrong's comment in response to some dumb-fool question as to what he thought about folk songs and folk music (a big concept in popular political music in the 1960s: "All music is folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing a song." For whom do other parties create policies? Horses? Dogs? Pandas? Nightingales, perhaps, though that appears to be a UKIP policy, as Mr Mark Reckless has realized.

However, the most frightening term that has emerged recently and is being used by supporters and quasi-supporters of UKIP is the People's Will. UKIP, apparently, represents the People's Will, unlike the other parties. The argument that the other parties still get more votes than UKIP is irrelevant here because the People's Will is not to be measured in votes or support by individuals.

The history of the term is sinister. Its origin is the concept of the General Will, made popular by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and used to devastating effect by the Jacobins in the French Revolution until the General Will was turned against them. The most important and to tyrannical rulers most useful aspect of the General Will or the People's Will is that there is no appeal from it: there is nothing higher either in the state or in political morality. What the General Will or the People's Will (or, let us be clear, the Working Class) wants and requires is absolute and is to be imposed on all. It is the complete denial of democracy, which is based (however we define the details) on the concepts of individual rights, duties and liberties. Or, as far greater people than I said: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happines, all of which is denied by the concept of the General or the People's Will.

The most famous or, rather, infamous group that called itself the People's Will was a Russian terrorist organization whose greatest or, rather, worst achievement was the assassination of Alexander II on March 1, 1881 as he was about to sign a limited constitutional document, thus setting Russia's political development back by a number of decades. In fact, one could argue that the country never recovered fully from this set-back.

The expression works better in Russian as Народная воля (Narodnaya Volya) means both People's Will and People's Liberty. As it happens the group had no interest in anybody's liberty as their political, economic and social ideas were almost as oppressive as the ones imposed on that unhappy country by the Bolsheviks. Lenin was contemptuous of the idea of individual terrorism but that does not mean he disliked other aspects of the People's Will. Not least, he agreed with them and with such theoreticians as Pyotr Thachev about the need of a closely knit organization at the head of the revolutionary movement and, subsequently, the state that would interpret the People's Will (or the Will of the Working Class) with complete disregard for individual members of the People or the Working Class.

Could it be that UKIP political strategists do not know anything about this? Not anything?