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Three New Reads – October

Philip Roddis

China leads the race for 5G leadership, a fact not only deeply alarming to Washington and Wall Street but with dire implications for a Europe left in the dust. Meanwhile a French Professor of Philosophy has a word or two to say on the links between liberalism and fascism. Last but not least, this month saw what would have been the hundredth birthday of the man who made “an offer he can’t refuse” a household phrase.

Now read on.

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The double decoupling (2208 words)

Last April Mike Pompeo bragged of a CIA which:

… lied, cheated and stole … we had, like, entire training courses on this. It … er … reminds you of the glory of the American Experiment.

Fifteen years earlier, Dubya’s Chief of Staff Karl Rove had jeered that:

We’re an empire now. We create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too. We’re history’s actors and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

Not that the DNC have been any less energetic. In the interim a black Democrat in the Oval Office and his female Secretary of State had bombed and laid to depleted uranium waste – and tortured and droned at will – across the middle east and beyond.

But how does the mightiest empire of all time react when an entity outside its orbit is not only rising but has in some arenas already surpassed it? In this my first read, another gamekeeper turned poacher[1] former British diplomat Alastair Crooke, gives one answer.

As the race to set 5G standards intensifies, it is not Silicon Valley but China which is forging ahead.[2] And taking Russia with it.

At first blush it seems odd that Crooke sees a parallel between the perilous situation currently unfolding, and that in the summer of 1914: the five sleepy weeks between a late June shooting in Sarajevo, and outbreak of WW1 in early August.

Diplomats of course understood that two heavily-armed alliances were potentially on a collision course, but there had been episodes of sabre-rattling for several years before, whose failure to come to a head had induced a sense that the status quo would extend indefinitely. Opinion then had been influenced by Norman Angell’s 1909 best-seller, The Great Illusion, arguing that war had become impossible, because global trade and capital flows were too closely interlinked.

What they did not understand at that earlier moment was that the circumstances of mid-1914 (the Sarajevo moment) seemed so propitious both for Germany to aspire to empire, and for Britain to believe that it could quash it utterly.  Just as circumstances are believed – by some in Washington – to be serendipitous today.

Trump et al seem convinced that the US can use its financial and trade muscle – whilst America still predominates – to crush China’s rise, contain Russia, and arm-twist Europe into tech vassalage. The Balkan war in the early 20th century locked Germany’s fickle ally Austria-Hungary into Germany’s greater fight against Russia.  And today, Pompeo hopes to lock (fickle) Europe into America’s containment of Russia. The Nordstream threats and the Navalny scam are just some of Pompeo’s ‘levers’.

NB Crooke’s piece appeared on the Strategic Culture Foundation site on October 5. Later in the month he wrote a related piece I also recommend: an 1800 worder, The Two Undersides to Geo-Politics.

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Liberalism and fascism: partners in crime (2716 words)

The widespread idea that fascism was ultimately defeated by liberalism in WWII, due primarily to the U.S. intervention in the war, is a baseless canard … 80% of the Nazis who died in the war were killed on the Eastern Front, where Germany had deployed 200 divisions (versus 10 in the West). 27 million Soviets gave their lives fighting fascism, whereas 400,000 American soldiers died. It was, above all, the Red Army that defeated fascism in WWII, and it is communism — not liberalism — that constitutes the last bulwark against fascism. The historical lesson should be clear: one cannot be truly antifascist without being anti-capitalist.

Gabriel Rockhill is a Franco-American philosopher, activist and professor at Villanova University. My first exposure paired the photo of a dashing forty-something with a prose style to make Derrida and Lacan seem models of lucidity. With inexcusable prejudice I promptly bracketed the man as the kind of faux left poseur who dazzles his adoring students with obscurantism in the day, screws them two at a time at night.

(That said, #MeToo, for all its contempt for the presumption of innocence, has – I hope – called time on those days. In any case I’m sure that M. Rockhill is the last word in academic rectitude on this front. As, indeed, was I.)

To be fair on Derrida and Lacan, it is not entirely clear to a non French speaker like me how much of their legendary opacity is due to their own shortcomings, how much to those of their translators. It may be that this applies also to Rockhill, whom I assume fluent in both languages, though that would not rule out third party translations of his French output.

Whatever the reason, subsequently read pieces – like that on les gilets jaunes and the failure of the French intelligentsia in The Philosophical Salon last April – suggest that first encounter to have been an anomaly. Mr Rockhill has a straight from the shoulder style, and grasp of both marxist theory and empirical detail, which instantly engages.

Here he uses these qualities to good effect in showing how, historically and in logic, liberalism and fascism are not opposites but two sides of one coin. And just as I recommended a second October piece by Alastair Crooke, so do I recommend that a reading of this one be followed by a second and related October piece from Gabriel Rockill. The US did not defeat fascism in WWII assembles in some detail the facts on how Washington co-opted fascists before, after – and during – “the war on Nazi tyranny”.

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He never met a real gangster, but his mafia melodrama remains timeless (2723 words)

And now for something different. Ever on the lookout for new and fresh descriptors for our capitalist ruling class – a mission sketchily discussed in a recent post, Politics and language – I’ve taken of late to calling them gangsters. Hardly original, I know, but new to my lexicon.

It happens that two of my favourite films – after Some Like it Hot, of course – are Godfathers I and II. The man who created the Corleones, Mario Puzo, was born a hundred years ago this month and is rightly celebrated in this enjoyable Independent piece from Martin Chilton.

One of many memorable Godfather scenes, in book and film both, has New York’s five Mafia families coming together, ostensibly to prevent the kind of all-out internecine war – following a failed attempt on Don Corleone’s life, and successful one on his would-be assassin’s – which is not good for business.

At a certain point in the parlay, the head of a rival family protests:

Don Corleone is too modest!

It’s not a compliment but an accusation. Its subtext is a complaint, understood by all present, that Vito Corleone downplays the extent to which he controls judges and police chiefs; judges and chiefs whose favours it is unchristian of him not to share:

… naturally he should charge a fee for these services. After all … [the plaintiff looks with  an expansive gesture around the august table to appreciative smiles from all but one] … we aren’t communists!

So too is Mario Puzo too modest when he says Francis Ford Coppola’s films are far better than his own book. Magnificent as the first two films are, they are matched by the elegance, insight, scope and story-telling genius on display in the greatest crime thriller of its century. (Thomas Harris comes a fair second with Hannibal Lecter, but lacks the Godfather’s sheer scale.)

And novels have one signal advantage, generally speaking, over drama. As their characters hold forth we are simultaneously privy to their thoughts. Since so much of the mafia’s grip on our imagination lies in the disparity between speech and thought, text and subtext – those glorious euphemisms[3] of ‘offers he can’t refuse’‘the olive oil business’‘sleeping with the fishes’ and ‘godfather’ itself – Coppola’s films, masterpieces though they are, do not and could not surpass Mario Puzo’s writing.

More to the point here, those calmly insane euphemisms, and the gangsters who deploy them, seem to me fitting metonyms for our times. Take another look at the Pompeo and Rove quotes I opened with.

Consider too the similarities between Vito Corleone’s monopoly of judges and police chiefs – at the expense of the ‘legitimate’ aspirations of the other New York families – and Britain’s 1914 monopoly of the sea lanes – at the expense of Germany’s ‘legitimate’ imperial aspirations. I’ve no need to update this analogy. Alastair Crooke has done that for me.

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NOTES:

[1] Gamekeepers turned poacher are very much a sign of our polarised times. Alastair Crooke’s name is to be added to the burgeoning list of establishment renegades – ambassadors, CIA officers, UN weapons inspectors, Reagan appointees, right wing media hosts and even one or two rogue journalists – who’ve broken ranks in disgust at the contempt in which our rulers and their media hold truth.

[2] Apart from the commercial and socio-political implications of 5G, its importance to the ‘internet of things’ enhances China’s ability to defy US military might. Reduced ‘latency’ – delay in response – on tiny chips is of huge significance to missile/anti-missile technologies.

[3] The mafia’s ‘glorious euphemisms’ are hilariously foregrounded in Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot: “friends of Italian Opera” … “something in the cake disagreed with him” … “join us” (subtext, “add yourselves to the body count in Chicago’s  St.Valentines Day massacre”) ...