26 June 2014

Strange bedfellows

In what other universe but the funhouse mirror of Europolitics could Hungary’s Viktor Orbán make common cause with David Cameron? The one being a populist Hungarian patriot in every sense of the word – including the economic sense – and the other being… well, David Cameron (who certainly talks the talk of national sovereignty but somehow manages to keep peddling slow-boil privatization)? But in this case they both seem to have a clear and relatively well-founded sense that electing Jean-Claude Juncker to the presidency of the European Commission would be a big step away from subsidiarity and from democracy within the EU.

Juncker clearly hasn’t shown that great a respect for Greece’s national sovereignty, having done his level best first to oversee the auctioning off of all of Greece’s state assets and then to discredit Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras as ‘unfit’ to lead the nation of which he is a part. Cameron and Orbán do, in this case, share a good and healthy instinct about the nature of his leadership. Tsipras’s own support of Juncker simply shows the extent to which he is an ideologically-consistent procedural democrat – including at the European federal level. However, it is clear in this case Juncker did and does not feel the same way about Greek elections as Tsipras does now about European ones.

But the alliance between Cameron and Orbán bespeaks the direness of the choice that now faces Europe. Britain has long been cautious with regard to what it sees as its national integrity, and that from a long history of balancing itself between involvement with and detachment from the European continent, going arguably all the way back to Saxon times. (Think of the massive swing toward continental involvement that was accomplished at Saxon expense – cultural and economic – beginning with the Bastard’s reign in 1066, which underwent a reversal only with Edward III’s reforms and protections aimed at preserving and promoting the commons and the English language nearly three hundred years later.)

Orbán is at times criticised in the Western press (such as the Financial Times) for hypocrisy in adopting policies of nationalisation in despite of his centre-right and anti-communist past, but these criticisms are wholly misdirected. Industrial nationalisation is not the sole intellectual property of Marxism-Leninism, and Orbán understandably does not wish to see his nation be placed again as firmly under the thumb of what he sees as an unaccountable supranational power as it was under the Soviet Union.

This being the consideration, it is understandable but nonetheless quite strange how Poland and the Baltic nations can be so cavalier about joining and participating in Euro-Atlanticist institutions given their histories. True, they may feel that NATO and the EU can help to protect them from their neighbour to the east, but do they actually believe that a commitment to the ideology of European liberalism (however contested that commitment may be in Poland, where the Catholic Church is still a powerful presence) is any true guarantor of their respective national sovereignties? It is not only because I tend to sympathise more with the Eurasianist geopolitical perspective that I feel Orbán’s skepticism on this point is far more intellectually defensible. One needs only examine the recent track record of said ideology in places like Greece, Spain, Portugal and Romania.

Britain likewise deserves the chance to express her independent foreign policy – but this chance will only come for her (as it will only come for any other European nation!) when the deep links between the patriotism attaching to national integrity and sovereignty, and economic patriotism (including in the forms of national water, mail and rail), are explicated clearly. Otherwise, national sovereignty will remain little more than an empty slogan, as it remains subverted by the private interests controlling the nation’s wealth, to which (pace Ricardo) the appeal to patriotism has never been sufficiently strong to keep expensive capital from hæmorrhaging out of the nation’s borders, or cheap labour from flooding in. This is not merely a British problem, of course. Every nation in the world seems subject to the dilemmas of such distorted politics.

Make no mistake – I find it very heartening to see Cameron leaning this way. But in the end, I am convinced that Orbán will be shown right. Only a party evincing the ideals and priorities of old-fashioned Labour politics can rightly avail itself of all the necessary intellectual and moral tools necessary to safeguard the traditions and ancient honour of the British people and nation.

23 June 2014

Modi operandi

Narendra Modi is someone to be watched with great care. Not only Pakistan, not only China and not only Southeast Asia have good reason to be wary of him. The Western world as well should take great care, and not welcome him with the enthusiasm of a warm ally (as, for example, David Cameron and Barack Obama seem to have done already).

In the Anglosphere, I feel there may be a certain kind of patronising and infantilising orientalism at play – of the same sort which makes Buddhism so popular amongst a certain segment of white suburban liberals – which surrounds Hinduism as well in the mystique of its fuzzy, deracinated ‘spiritual’ New Age permutations and refuses to take a good hard look at the elements which might not be so palatable. The extremist ideology of Hindutva encapsulates and magnifies too many of these unpalatable elements, even though the inspiration for the ideology is, in its entirety, Western.

Hindutva is essentially a deliberately militarised middle-class striving after a ‘pure’ Hindu national and cultural essence, informed by an inflated sense of past colonial grievances and of disdain or any form of cultural expression considered ‘non-Hindu’ – including Christianity and Islam. The forefather of Hindutva, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, exhorted his followers to ‘Hinduise all politics and militarize Hindudom, and resurrection of our Hindu Nation is bound to follow’. Other leaders in its first generation, in particular Bal Thackeray, praised, admired and deliberately sought to emulate the examples of Mussolini and Hitler.

The organised rapes, beatings and killings of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 (in which Modi’s personal complicity as the leader of the provincial government is still a matter of dispute) and of Christians in Orissa in and after 2008 are prime examples of the nature of this virulent and violent form of far-right political Hinduism. The three civil bodies of the Hindutva movement: Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS – in which Modi was a member) and Bajrang Dal, all took part in the violence in each case. To this day, Gujarat (in spite of its vaunted economic achievements) still shamefully retains also the highest rate of anti-Christian and anti-Muslim communal violence.

Modi himself, in the position of India’s PM, may not be able to do as much damage or as much good as either his most strident detractors or his most fervent fans tend to think. No one is well-served by turning India into a pariah state over his election. But his rise does signal a sea-change in Indian politics which has been in motion since at least 2002, channelling the country’s continuing economic frustrations into old but nevertheless virulent forms of identity politics. This heightened belligerence will also, of course, siphon over into foreign relations with his immediate neighbours like China, and into India’s internal relations, particularly those based on caste and class.

But for all their vaunted nationalism, Modi and his party seem to fail the realisation that the independence of the Indian nation is guaranteed only by the one facet of that nationalism which they do not adopt: that in the economic realm. The independence of India’s small farmers from foreign agricultural multinationals seeking to make fortunes on their backs is not an independence valued by the BJP or by the RSS – willing though they are to exploit said farmers’ frustrations and pin them on the Muslims and the Christians! Yes, great care should be taken now with India, particularly if and when the geopolitical fractures with their northeastern neighbour begin to emerge.

Speaking of which, the RSS and the VHP both continue to receive the enthusiastic support of one Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama. Famous though he is for troubles he does not and cannot make for the government in the country of his birth, and which enjoy broad support only amongst Tibetan white émigrés, unfortunately he has a great deal of clout in the West and, indeed, in India – where he stands to do great damage to the civil society.

14 June 2014

The never-ending war

The terrible news from the Levant and from Iraq keeps compounding. The people of Iraq, and particularly the Christians, are still under attack. The threat still comes from the west - but in this case, it is the jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who have routed the Iraqi defence forces and are now in control of Mosul, a city which has been Christian since the first century and which has long been considered the last refuge for Christians fleeing persecution elsewhere in Iraq. Now, it seems, this community of Christians is at risk of being eliminated entirely as residents consider fleeing to the US and Sweden for religious asylum.

We must not fail to bear in mind where the responsibility lies. Eleven years ago, this very country was invaded on a fabricated pretext of weapons of mass destruction, pushed by the American government and its British sycophants. The Bush and Blair governments had no contingency plans for the invasion, no timetable for withdrawal and no goals for the invasion other than some airy-faerie notion of imposing liberal democracy on the country. They did not stop to consider that the country was deeply divided along sectarian and ethnic lines, and failed to consider that the Iraqi Army and the Republican Guard were the only competent forces reliably committed to maintaining national integrity when, indeed, they were disbanded by Paul Bremer. In addition to setting off the slow-motion destruction of one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, the war managed to create an unprecedented opportunity for al-Qaeda to worm its way into the heart of the country, removed one of the only checks at hand on Iran’s regional ambitions, and destabilised Syria, directly paving the way for the rise of ISIS and this new wave of organised violence they’ve now unleashed against the Iraqi people. And all this was achieved at the cost of 57,000 American casualties, upwards of 500,000 Iraqi civilian deaths and practically the full balance of the moral credit of the American nation.

And now the same groups of people, sporting the same ideology which was responsible for this entire mess in the first place are already offering, without the slightest sense of irony or shame or fear of God, their usual remedy. Please pray for Iraq and raise your voices about this, and may the Lord have mercy on us, sinners all.

11 June 2014

On matters (somewhat more vaguely) relating to the fourth of June

With a hearty and thankful tip of the hat to Kaiser Kuo for the link, Molly Crabapple has an interesting article in Vanity Fair concerning the fetishisation of (foreign) dissent by the American establishment, of the sort which comes to prominent display each year on the fourth of June. Though she occasionally displays a similar sort of fetishism and in so doing falls victim to her own critique – particularly where the silly ‘music’ group with a yet-sillier name is concerned (which call themselves ‘anti-capitalist’, yet openly support the political ambitions of one of the biggest right-wing capitalist kleptocrats ever to face a criminal court) – the author makes a truly valid point that the proper focus of dissent is on the home front.

And her point is well-made that ‘cooing over foreign dissidents allows establishment hacks to pose like sexy rebels—while simultaneously affirming that their own system is the best’.

When support for dissent is removed from its native context, not only does it open itself to charges of hypocrisy (as is clearly and blatantly the case in the disgusting clownery of James Kirchick), but it also runs the risk of distorting itself into its opposite – the silencing of the very same dissent it worships. In the case of the Minyun activists so brutally dispersed and killed in the wake of 4 June 1989, the Western media have all but silenced those voices who are active in pointing out the economic disparities the CCP’s rule after Deng Xiaoping has brought.

For example, though Tea Leaf Nation sheds great fat crocodile tears on the anniversary of the event over how Tian’anmen protesters are discredited and silenced at home, they have a history of publishing articles like this one dismissing those same activists (in this case, Wang Hui) as ‘conspiracy theorists’ when they point out the ongoing inequities in treatment of domestic dissent. Dissenters meet with praise when their message coincides with the ideological goals of empire. Otherwise, the agents of that empire can be every bit as ruthless against dissent as the governments they critique. It gave no mainstream media outlet pause that Occupy Wall Street had managed to garner the support of Shen Tong and Chai Ling. The subsequent crackdown against Occupy and the imprisonment of activists like McMillan has there evoked no sense of irony or introspection.

Therefore it cannot be overstressed how valuable and needed Wang Hui’s analysis is, in part because he is in such a good position to tease apart the threads of distortion and usage of the Minyun protests, and in part because he is still willing to discuss them and provide context for them to a broader English-speaking audience (which needs that context). And his dissent comes from the solid basis of an altruistic advocacy for rural farmers and labourers, and sympathy with their struggles.

This phenomenon of Americans dismissing dissent when it ceases to be ideologically and geopolitically convenient is not confined solely to the political left, either. Indeed, the treatment meted out to Wang Hui in that corner of the Western press to which his opinion is relevant, was well-foreshadowed by that meted out to the arch-conservative Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the wake of his 1978 Harvard commencement address. Ever the consistent anti-Soviet, Solzhenistyn pulled no punches against the American media and the American political class for their cowardice and their amoral calculations, for their flattering of the wealthy and their bullying of the weak. And as a result, the intellectual elites of the American educational, cultural and policy establishments, to a man, turned their well-bred backs on him.

But it was the most natural thing of all for the dissident in his later years to oppose the American-led wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. And it was the most natural thing of all – perhaps mistaken, perhaps not, but certainly natural – for a man who loved Russia and longed, after the rapine of the Soviets and of Yeltsin, to see her loving Orthodox soul restored to her, to embrace Putin. His dissent came from a religious vision which neither the Soviet nor the American empire could co-opt with any lasting success.

I share Ms Crabapple’s utter disgust for faux-dissidents like Kirchick and Wahl who fawn with such nauseating servility over the ideological-cultural-military establishment which protects them, and show such vicious contempt for its victims. But, ‘safety or pragmatism’ notwithstanding, it is necessary, always necessary – and this applies no less to the dissidents Ms Crabapple celebrates – to understand in concrete and substantive terms what the dissidents dissent against, and thereby understand what they stand for, and work from there. This is because empires will always readily make use of those dissidents who themselves don’t know what they stand for – whether they come from our side or from theirs.

03 June 2014

On matters relating to the fourth of June

I daren’t consider myself a zhongguo tong. The fact is, I simply haven’t been here long enough, in spite of the quaking economic and cultural shifts I’ve been witness to since 2004 (when I visited the first time). I imagine, from what older China hands than myself have told me, that I never will consider myself to have ‘been here long enough’. I was not, of course, here or aware during the events of 1989 – being three years old at the time. It is, of course, incumbent upon all of us who take an interest in the topic to listen first to the voices and recollections of those who were actually there at the Minyun protests, and those who actually saw with their own eyes what happened. My teacher David Moser, who has been here a long time, takes his own recollections of Beijing in 1989 to paint a truly stunning and heartbreaking picture of what happened back then, in this post over at The Anthill.

At the same time, I have a complex relationship with Tian’anmen. Just as a heavy stone cast deep into a still pond can cause waves to echo around the pond for minutes afterward, the events of the fourth of June continue to affect how people relate to their government and to each other. Per usual, the Chinese government and its legions of official and professional critics each want to spin the movement to fit neatly into their preconceived narratives; David Moser offers a sterling example of how the Chinese government has managed to accomplish this. The demonisation and discredit of the Minyun student leaders by the government is distasteful enough, but the degree to which their cause has been self-servingly and self-righteously co-opted by the governments of the Anglosphere and Western Europe does very little credit to them either. There are, from what I can tell, three layers to the discussion over Tian’anmen that continue to have impacts. The first and most basic is what happened; the second is who is allowed (or qualified) to talk about it; and third is what the protests meant.

The third point colours each of the other two, I believe. My wife speaks for many of the Chinese people of our generation, I think, when she offers the opinion that the student protesters were brave, but at the same time quite reckless; she holds that the government leadership were originally willing to talk to the Minyun leadership, but that the same leadership was too disorganised. This is very similar to the mainstream opinion in the US, for example, regarding the Occupy protests.

It must be stressed that the two movements – the Chinese democracy movement and the Occupy movement – are very similar both in the breadth of their ideological base and in their raisons d’être; even sharing some high-profile participants (like Chai Ling and Shen Tong). Both were largely protesting an unholy marriage of government to entrenched private speculative and corporate interests. Both drew heavily upon a strong element of organised labour; notably the discontent of workers at having been left out of the benefits of a development which enriched only the well-connected ‘one percent’. Both focussed on the need for higher employment and for the social safety-net; the working-class elements of the Minyun were adamant that the institution of the ‘iron rice bowl’ be preserved.

Tellingly, the working-class element of the ‘89 Minyun was the one which suffered the heaviest reprisals in the aftermath. The first show trials and executions after Tian’anmen were those of three labourers: Xu Guoming, Bian Hanwu and Yan Xuerong. As noted above, most of the students who were arrested (like Wang Dan and Wang Hui) were sentenced to light prison sentences or re-education. Others (like Wu’erkaixi, Shen Tong, Feng Congde and Chai Ling) had the connexions and economic wherewithal to leave the country immediately, and did so. Even Chen Ziming and Wang Juntao, the alleged ‘black hands’ of the protests, were sentenced to 13 years in prison rather than to the death penalty.

As the aforementioned 1989 protester and idiosyncratic leftist intellectual Wang Hui has pointed out, this is very far from being a convenient truth for Western governments to swallow. They would prefer the protests – and indeed do all in their power to cast them – to be simple affirmations of the neoliberal democratic-capitalist worldview. The reforms get glossed as ‘democratic’, leading readers to believe that their aims were merely concerned with procedural rights and reforms rather than economic ones – a half-truth at best. In this, the Western governments are in fundamental agreement with the government of Deng Xiaoping that the protesters were advocates of ‘bourgeois liberalism’. The American government in particular seeks in the 1989 protests an affirmation of its ideology, its entire world-project. (But at the same time – speaking of rewriting history! – that same government just sent Occupy activist Cecily McMillan to gaol for having the audacity to instinctively defend herself from sexual assault by a New York police officer.)

As such, the Western treatment of the Minyun protests almost always focus on (certain of the) student leaders, as evidenced by all the attention in the Western media lavished on Liu Xiaobo – who has become just such an affirmer in his love of capitalism, (American) militarism and bigoted hatred of Muslims – and on the easily co-opted symbolism of the Goddess of Democracy. The labour element in the protests is practically always left unmentioned, not to mention the specific focus by the protesters on the socio-economic unevenness – one might even dare say rapine – of the ‘reform and opening’ policies which meet with uncritical praise from most corners of the Anglophone West. The workers’ role in the protests gets downplayed, and the fact gets completely airbrushed from mainstream Anglophone media accounts that the students and workers alike were known to sing ‘The Internationale’ and ‘La Marseillaise’ as symbols of their unity. The Western account of Tian’anmen comes off, in these cases, every bit as one-sided and self-servingly propagandistic as the official Chinese one.

Absolutely a deeper discussion of ‘what happened’ at Tian’anmen is needed, as are discussions of what the protests and the crackdown have cost Chinese society as a whole, and how the society ought to move forward from it. Even as inexperienced as I am in China, and with even as little knowledge as I have from it, I can still recognise the slow-healing wounds. But the calls from specifically American and British media to ‘remember’ Tian’anmen today ought to be greeted with particularly deep scepticism – their ‘remembrance’ smacks of smug self-congratulation and contempt. As wrong as it is to send the memories of ’89 down the ‘memory hole’, it is does an equal disservice to the participants to remember them incorrectly, for purely ideological reasons.

S. Constantine the Great

Emperor Saint Constantine the Great, Equal-to-the-Apostles

The ever-excellent Mystagogy blog has, currently, a wonderful and heartfelt tribute to one of the best, most honourable and most humble emperors of Rome! Please do give it a read. S. Constantine sadly gets a really bad rep in the West, probably for any among a number of reasons. But it cannot be denied that Christianity as we know it would not have existed if it hadn’t been for him!

Interestingly enough, the same might be said about the welfare state! Emperor Saint Constantine was apparently quite aggressive in embarking on his reforms granting a state-funded safety net to widows and orphans, as well as introducing a progressive taxation schema to help fund it! A good and honourable and humble emperor, to be sure, and clearly holding a few economic priorities which would make him unpopular amongst too many American Orthodox (and Catholics, and Anglicans) these days...