Thursday, 2 March 2017

Lessons from Russia’s futile new nationalism

So, Russia’s nationalism is a terrible, horrible idea that no one with even a shred of integrity would accept, let alone support. That’s strange. Nationalism wasn’t always treated this way.

There’s also a “worrying” level of nationalism in France, Austria, Germany and the UK, not to mention in the US itself. Then again, the nationalist rebels in Syria are supposedly the good guys. It’s all very confusing.

Your mileage may vary, but in the last century what differentiated “good” nationalism from “bad” is the former had support from a major political faction in a) the colonial home country, b) the US or generally c) both. These were civil-wars-by-proxy. Whereas “bad” nationalism is, for want of a better word, reactionary. A big no-no.

It always seemed curious how nationalist movements were so similar – right down to the names of the actors – in Algeria, Indonesia and Vietnam. They certainly didn’t have anything in common that could be described as Algerian, Indonesian, or Vietnamese. What they had in common was friends and sponsors at Harvard.

This is why in so many cases – Kenya, Malaysia, Algeria and even Vietnam – in which the colonial military wins the war, its government promptly surrenders. Not exactly how the show was supposed to play out. But to the casual observer it’s basically the right story: the nationalists win.

As mentioned last week, subduing rebellions is not at all militarily difficult. Why was it simple for Russia to subdue uprisings in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland or Hungary? Did the Soviets commit genocide? Did they use nukes?

Only the Hungarian Revolution was at all bloody, and that's because the Hungarians were expecting American support. For the others, a demonstration of force was all it took. People fight because they expect to win. Period. When they know they'll lose, they surrender.

Consider how Germany and Japan were the most highly fanaticised populations in history (behind only the Palestinians). Yet they surrendered utterly and were re-educated into complete, emasculated docility. Why was there no German or Japanese guerrilla resistance to the "international community” after WWII? Because fascists have no friends at Harvard.

The nationalist revolutionaries of 1950-1980 fought because they had been educated to believe, typically in the finest American, British and French schools, that if they fought, they would win. They fought, and they won. The prediction worked! But it would be a mistake to assume they won because they fought. Quite the contrary. They won because they had sponsors.

The entire tragedy, which at the expense of tens of millions of lives destroyed the basically functional colonial world and created the dysfunctional Third World, was a project to convince the voting audience of America and Europe of the inexorable nature of this bogus causality. Is it so surprising that it succeeded?

This trick is not an American invention. The British relationship to the "independence" of Greece followed the same playbook. Britain wished to acquire Greece from the Ottoman Empire. In the old days, they simply would have sent in the navy and declared it conquered.

But George Canning had a better idea: he found a bunch of Greek bandits, declared them nationalist revolutionaries, then used the British Navy to help them achieve "independence" so he could treat the resulting free and independent Greece as a de-facto client state.

It's difficult to say the US has no interests in Russia when it has spent basically the last century arguing that, as Woodrow Wilson put it, "the American flag is the flag of humanity," and not at all infrequently acting on it – sometimes just by bribes and intrigue, occasionally with terrifying and implacable military gusto.

What’s even stranger about all this is any pushback against Vladimir Putin’s Russia would actually be an acceptable response to at least forty-seven offences that would have been considered perfectly good casae belli under the old, pre-20th-century Westphalian system of classical international law.

American author and socialist Edward Bellamy
Under that system, countries responded to infringements of their international rights with a hair trigger, because they believed, for some silly reason, that peace and stability are synonyms produced only by deterrence. Merely defaulting on a debt, for example, was all it took for military intervention back then – let alone harbouring assassins and annexing sovereign territory…

It’s a shame the international law of Grotius, Vattel and Lieber is no longer operational, and doubly unfortunate that it was replaced by self-righteous Wilsonian nonsense. Nationalism now only works if your friends are in the right places.

Did Soviet nationalism jive with Harvard? Well, American progressivism aligns remarkably well with the activities and goals of the KGB, so the answer is unequivocally: yes. The Soviet Union was pretty much a large-scale experiment of Edward Bellamy’s crew. It wasn’t exactly functional, and US intellectuals lost faith eventually, but the Soviets only survived for so long because of their Western university patrons – not in spite of them.

Back then, the Soviets made incredible efforts to maintain the support of high profile Western intellectuals such as the Webbs, Lion Feuchtwanger, Lincoln Steffens and others, surpassing any Potemkin in their “tourism as theatre” efforts.

If Russia was a client state of the American left we can understand the great Communist spies Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White. All significant institutions of the “international community” – the UN, the IMF, the World Bank – were designed by these men. They also passed American documents to Soviet military intelligence.

They didn't see themselves as betraying their country. If you told them they were Russian tools, they would have laughed you out of the room. They believed the US had nothing to fear from the Soviets and were only acting to bring the Russians into the “international community.” It’s hard to see how they failed, especially when the “good” nationalist movements of Mao, Castro, Nasser, Ho, Khomeini and Chavez were treated pretty much the same way with the same results.

But this new Russia’s nationalism won’t work because Mr Putin mistakenly believes the Soviet era represented true “Russian-ness.” He can’t see how Harvard’s fingerprints are all over the Soviet project. Mr Putin has no friends in the Ivy League. Reactionary movements are big no-no in this world. Harvard doesn’t like them one bit, no sir. And that’s going to be a problem for him.

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