Saturday, 19 April 2014

SONG: "Trouble" (Trubbel)

Original: Olle Adolphson. English translation (and rendition): Andrei Liberec

1.The fields are glistening now of all the summer flowers,
The bees are buzzing, birds are singing, everywhere,
But as the summer breeze pass through the trees' lush towers,
my garden sits here, cold and gloomy and uncared...

2. ...for, here’s as ugly, withered, overgrown and brushy,
as in my heart, just hopelessly dreary and grey,
Out there, the air smells fair of all the scents of summer,
Out there’s the summer, but in here the fall holds sway

3. I led a happy life here, with you and my felines,
A life of sin with no intention to be saved,
at peace with my character’s ease, cause I could never,
say no to anything that came along my way

4. Never denied myself whatever was on offer,
Lived life, until that day you crushed me callously,
it all began, with you running with another,
a man you claimed far more refined than plain old me

5. Our row went on for weeks, the tears mixed with the roars, and
I was thoroughly compared with your fine friend,
till you confessed, that he had just, shown you the door, then
all things fell silent in my garden here again

6. And from that day, I say, that man was du(al)ly hated,
As a pastime, he’d played around with me and you,
And yes somehow I felt I’d also been rejected,
Wanted to fight, and went to meet my Waterloo

7. I stood all set with the hammer under my jacket,
as he appeared in all silk scarf and said “'Sup?”
“Why don’t you come in for a while, for a chatter?”
I stuttered something, but I can’t remember what

8. And I was served Cuban cigars and finest brandy,
Which I just couldn’t force myself to say no to,
And as we parted, we were chums, the best of buddies,
And I brought things that you had left back home to you

9. I roam around in my Pompey, amid the ruins,
I stumble through the bits and pieces of my life,
but you shall never give me stick ‘bout things pecuniary,
And never shall you be some other man’s pastime

10. Of times gone by, we both will tie, new wreaths of beauty,
and take my felines and our life just as they are,
and ‘spite all love-lacking, and raggedness and fraying,
Thou I shall love, throughout my life, with all my heart

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The opaque casus belli of the First world war

Napoleon supposedly said that: "History is a set of lies agreed upon”. A century after his downfall, Europe was again ablaze. This time in a far more monstrous conflict, initially dubbed the Great war, today known as the First world war. 2014 marks the centenary of the outbreak of that cataclysmic event. Consequently, throughout the coming months and years we will be treated with many wars in the public sphere. That is, wars of history – between interpretations of history.

It has already started. The education minister Michael Gove recently claimed that in the First world war Britain had fought "plainly a just war", a "noble cause", intending to stop German aggression, to defend international law and small nations. Unsurprisingly, the Guardian’s in-house leftie Seumas Milne was quick to rebuff Gove’s assertions.

Milne made, as always, many valid points. Trying to sell the First world war as a pure idealistic war is of course simplified gibberish. Instead, as the true historical-materialist he is, Milne naturally drew attention to the imperialistic, power hungry greed he believed comprised the all-encompassing cause of the war. “[A]n imperial bloodbath” – that was the one and only label Milne could put on his First world war tin. He does indeed know his Lenin.

     Illustration accompanying Seumas Milne's article First world war: an imperial bloodbath that's a warning, not a noble cause 

Further, Milne judiciously pointed out the danger for the present of simplified interpretations of the past: 
"history wars are about the future as much as the past – and so long as imperial conflict is discredited, future foreign military interventions and occupations will be difficult to sell."
That sublime paragraph encapsulates the core essence of why – and how – history should be studied. Always critical, always with an eye on the present, never jingoistic, but neither nihilistic.

Milne should however be aware – which his ilk seldom is, with its deterministic theoretical schemes – that critical Marxist analyses can also constitute simplifications of history. And so I think Milne goes too far when labelling it as “simply absurd”, the ”idea that Britain and its allies were defending liberal democracy, let alone international law or the rights of small nations”.

I would beg to differ. Even if I think the imperialistic aspect comprised the principal underlying cause of the war, idealistic motives did have an important part to play. I would go so far as to argue that Britain was defending democracy, international law and small nations. But there is one crucial qualification to this. Just like Winston Churchill’s interpretation of the Atlantic declaration of 1941, Britain was basically defending said ideals with regard to European nations – and perhaps primarily western and central European nations. It is for example no coincidence that the small western European democracies followed Britain’s lead after the war, regarding Britain as the defender of their interests.

Yes, perhaps Britain would have gone to war even if Germany had not invaded Belgium. And, as stated, the imperialistic incentive was pivotal for Britain’s involvement. However, 'tis crucial to remember that if Germany had not invaded Belgium, the Labour, the Irish and many Liberal MPs would not have supported the war. Also, among the British public there was not an overwhelmingly strong inclination to go to war up till the invasion of Belgium. That was what definitely swung the public and the centre- and left strands of parliament over. To defend the right of small nations. (See especially the reasoning of the Irish Nationalist MPs, in the context of their wish to achieve Home Rule for Ireland, and of course the then Chancellor of the Exchequer – the previously anti-belligerent Welshman David Lloyd George – without whose crucial support the already depleted Liberal cabinet of Herbert Asquith would have had to resign).

Yes, materialistic and power greed in the form of imperialism constituted the undoubtedly most important explanatory factor for the war. (To be swiftly convinced, if you ever were in doubt, just throw a glance at the surreptitious Sykes-Picot agreement and its carving up of the Middle East between Britain and France; a vicious dismemberment which that region is still reeling – and very much bleeding – from). But that does not rule out that the war effort had a considerable idealistic underpinning to it. For the general public, the political centre and left, the idealistic principles of democracy, law and small nations were crucial to their support of the war and should not be underestimated. If it were to be dismissed, it would be a profound insult to the dead.

In addition, Milne reproached First world war Britain for being “allied with the brutal autocracy of tsarist Russia.” As established, Milne knows his Lenin. And it is therefore perhaps not surprising that he can reproach Britain for this alliance whilst keeping mum on Britain’s alliance with Stalinist USSR during the Second world war (which according to Milne was “a just war”). Of course, if Milne would have taken the moral high ground here as well, and slammed Second world war Britain and its leader Winston Churchill for allying itself with Stalin, Churchill would probably have retorted with the same epic reply as then: That even
"if Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons."
Winston Churchill, a colonial imperialist to the core, but an advocate and defender of European democracy. Hence, neither black nor white but a complex shade of opaque grey. Pretty much like Britain’s involvement during the First world war.

    Winston Churchill. Politician and historian who won 
    the Noble prize in literature 1953. Ten years earlier 
    he supposedly informed Stalin and Roosevelt that: 
    “history will judge us kindly, because I shall write the

Mais oui, Napoleon was correct in implying that it is impossible to write an objective account of history. But from this follows that he was incorrect in assuming the possibility to agree upon any one account of history. True, Seumas Milne, simplifying history is unworthy of any self-respecting education minister. But the same must surely go for an erudite, highly intelligent Guardianista as yourself.