Speak for the Nation

I was once told by a drunken professor,’If you can’t slice it and serve it with chips, it probably doesn’t exist.’  A very acceptable approach to metaphysics.  Let us take ‘the Nation.’  You don’t have a lot of choice in Turkey, or as one of my friends says,’Turkiya’. The Turks are very nationalist.  They know very little about the outside world. These two facts are often linked.   My friend does not want his nation named after an edible bird.  Fair enough.

The idea of a nation is comparatively recent and embedded in protectionist economic policies.  ‘Buy British’.  The Germans and the Americans both built their nations on sound economic, protectionist principles.  It’s necessary.  try opening a cotton factory off the coast of China, if you don’t believe me.  Yet, no one actually says this.  There is always mystique.

So, we have the English nation beginning with Stubb’s Charters and Anglo Saxons enjoying pastoral democracy, we have the French with the Revolution and Napoleon.  We have the Germans.  Umm, less said the better there, and we have Mother Russia, Old Ireland, Scotland the Brave and we have Turkey.

Turkey is new, though not as new, as, say, Slovakia.  Firstly, to be a successful nation you need a dodgy history, so the Turks rode out of the Altaic mountains, beat the Greeks, conquered Constantinople,  slung out the Sultan, beat the Greeks, and started the Turkish Republic.  It was a GOOD THING.  Ataturk gets my vote as probably the greatest reformer in history.  And people still worship him.  Maybe Stalin did more, but everybody hates him and always did.  As a friend of mine recently said, consider if Mussolini had abolished the Papacy, made all the Italians wear Arabic clothing and write in Arabic script and adopt Arabic names.  This is the scale of Ataturk’s achievement.  Only , the other way around.  If you see what I mean.   ‘Happy is he, who can say, I am a Turk.’  Good news if you have just lost hundreds of thousand s in a war and an Empire as well.  DNA show that only about 5% of them are anything like pure Turks, but who cares?  The Turks were freed, literacy rates sky-rocketed, education improved, and though the Turks work too hard their country is a modern secular state.  At the moment.    So Turks are Turks because they follow a metaphysical idea, and it works.  For the most part.  There are some things we don’t mention.  But we don’t mention those.  Watch this space.

We do mention the Pashtuns.  There are 43,000,000 of these at the last count, in 1979.  They are descended from Scythians with a Greek element, and some Israelis are investigating the possibility they are the lost tribe.  Still, that’s Israelis for you.  Alexander the Great called them ‘Lions’ for the bravery in battle.  They have no nation and indeed no outlet to the sea. Are they a nation?  Most certainly.  They all claim descent from the same mythical father figure. They all claim to be related to each other, which must make weddings difficult to manage.  They are united and strong and very fierce.  They have a tradition of fighting foreign invaders going back to ancient times,.  We have a new name for them.  We call them ‘students’.  Or ‘taliban’.  The Americans are fighting them as we speak, and the British, whom they have defeated at least twice in history, have gone back for more.

Watch this space.

Now, how about the Kurds.  The what?

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Tips on Retirement: the Blair Book

I never vote.  My view is, these politicians have never done anything for my career, so why should I help theirs? Politicians, especially today’s politicians, are careerists.  Few have done anything notable other than worked the system, networked, joined the right committees, and espoused acceptable views.  They have fought their way up the greasy pole.  What they do having reached the top is always a problem. Assuming they are not disgraced or assassinated, they  age with the burdens of office, become disillusioned, foresee the end and seek to manage their ‘legacy’.  They wish to set the record straight before they die.  History is all they have left.  How can they be heroes?

Churchill is said to have wept at T.E.Lawrence’s funeral, as one of the recognised paladins of British Imperialism was laid to rest.   Blair, though,  lives on. It is hard to imagine anyone other than American neocons shedding a tear at his wake.  It is hardly the end of an era. Yet, we already have his memoirs.

In 1994, the Labour Party, having endured some of its most difficult times in history, under the Thatcher and Major governments, produced a new leader who emerged promising  to lead  the country back to the promised land after so many years in the Conservative desert.  Yet, instead of taking Britain to Canaan, Blair kept us in the desert, then handed us back to the Pharaoh. Was this intentional or the result of failure? Did we expect too much? Were we seduced by the image and the promise, rather than the reality?

Though in many ways attractive, Lawrence, like most of history’s greats,  was also all form and no substance.  He basically bribed the Hashemites into backing British policy against the Ottoman Empire, which they would have followed anyway, led an exciting if probably insignificant campaign against the Turks, and set up kingdoms, none of which have stood the test of time.  He, himself, was disgusted by the Sykes-Picot treaty which partitioned the Middle East between France and Israel, and died frustrated by the influence of the Zionists.  Although is private life has remained a field of intense speculation, and, really, his achievements were temporary,  he represented the ideal of the lone English gentleman bringing enlightenment to the natives, a symbol of Lugard’s principle of indirect rule on which the Victorians based their empire.

Blair, too, is not without his appeal..  Clean-cut, charming, articulate, he represented the voice of moderation and progress in the grimy world of politics, but modern, optimistic, a lone hero.  He actually walked down the street.  He smiled.  He had a young family. He was the British Kennedy.  In the end, though, he , too, was but a symbol.  The more we get to know of Blair, and his seedy henchmen, his dodgy patrons, the less convincing he appears.  His private life is carefully managed, but ultimately, he achieved nothing, other than making the UK safer for the home counties petty-bourgeoisie by attacking the remnants of socialist principles left in the Labour Party. The lone bourgeois, isolated among the socialists, trying to serve his real leaders.

He is the friend of the bankers, and defends their bonuses.  When talking about modernisation, his guide is an eighteenth century advocate of unfettered capitalism. He is the creature of the media and has always played to it.  He had nothing new to offer in terms of policy except an aping of American ‘democratic’ values.  It was all packaging. In the end, even his greatest achievement, if it can be described as his, the Good Friday agreement, can again be seen as merely the bringing of peace, rather than the presentation of a unifying principle.  The big question of Blair’s tenure is, how did he convince so many experienced commentators.  These same writers are now turning their back on him and questioning their own Shibboleths.

So he has gone, but he won’t lie down.  His predecessor, and mentor, Thatcher kept up a volley of spin and intervention to vent her spleen on her enemies within the Conservatives. Blair, now,  is in danger of doing the same,  obviously fishing in troubled waters with his book.  He attacks Brown, whom the media never forgave for backing out of an election.  He threatens to endorse one of his creatures as Brown’s successor. They all plead with him not to.

All careers, and especially political ones, end in failure.  Thatcher has gone down in history as one of the most reviled Prime Ministers this country has ever endured.  Blair is hated by the Conservatives for keeping them from office, and for being too liberal, and despised by socialists for hypocrisy.  Lawrence’s reputation, though, remains largely intact.  Possibly, the secret is either to be truly great, like Churchill, the historic man of the moment, ostentatiously reclusive, or die young.  Blair has none of these options.

The prospect of another twenty years of him on the sidelines,  is too much to think about. He would do well to remain silent, and hope for the best. Maybe he wil run for president.  Now, there’s a thought.

Incidentally, Blair, Viktor Yushchenko, Saakashvili, and others.  What do they have in common?

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Yeah, that’s class, that is…

I have been involved in a discussion in the pages of the Independent on the nature of class.  I take the orthodox view that it depends on the nature of your relationship with the means of production.  This has clearly drawn the ire of the petty-bourgoisie, who, though mere wage slaves themselves, do not wish to be identified with the oiks on the estate.  For me the matter is simple, if you take a pay packet, you are working class.  If you own a business you are middle class, if you draw your income from rents, you are probably upper class.  How you speak or hold your cup are irrelevant.  Matters of social change do not matter whichever criteria you adopt.  An engineer in Istanbul earns about the same as me, an itinerant teacher from England.  I would call myself working class, and I would call them working class.  False consciousness is a different matter.  My interlocutor was a news reader, I guess, from what he says, and quotes ‘all the sources’ to disprove my view. Even so, he could get the elbow and be on the dole queue alongside lorry drivers, cleaners and dustmen tomorrow.  That is the key.  What happens to you in a crisis?

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A constitutional referendum will take place in September.  I am unclear on the details, but it is part of the ongoing struggle between the Islamists and the old Republicans.  The Ottoman Empire had, among other things, been a theocracy.  One of the Great Ataturk’s many reforms had severely curtailed the freedom of religous life in the new Turkey.  The guardians of this secularism have always been the army.  In 1960, they overthrew the first freely elected government in Turkey’s history, and hanged the Prime Minister, Adnan Menderez, and some of his ministers.  In 1980, following a virtual civil war between left adn right, they again stepped in, and held the ring for a couple of years till things calmed down.  Since then, they have twice intervened without leaving the barracks, to stop the formation of religious governments.

The current Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, is a wily politician, who though reviled by the secularists and trusted by few, has puuled a number of reformist mesures out of the hat.  He has tried to promote peace with the Kurds, he has brought Turkish business law into line with the EU, he has set up welfare programmes, abolished the death penalty and many more.  Yet, he still has an Islamist agenda.  He is supported by the ‘green’ capitalists, the new money, and has a wife who wears a headscarf, the symbol of the religious right.  He once tried to get adultery made illegal.  Remember, Iran is just over the border.

His party, the AKP, attracts the religious, but also a large number of fairly pragmatic Msulims.  He has achieved this firstly by emphasising ‘democracy’ and secondly by not being the CHP, the politial party founded by Ataturk, but for some years standing for nothing more than the enrichment of the old secular oligarchs.

The run-of- the mill CHP supporter definitely sees the AKP as threatening important liberties.  Moreover, stories of corruption in the AKP government is rife, especially as extensive privatisation has taken place under its rule.  Erdogan has a nasty way of locking up his opponents.  On the other hand, you meet AKP supporters and they seem perfectly decent people.  More later.

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