The similarities between the EU and the country of my birth are striking, and I think the EU’s name should be changed to reflect this. A government’s legitimacy in the West is traditionally derived from divine right or popular consent or, ideally, both. In the EU and its eastern precursor, it’s neither. Like the USSR, the EU is led not by a king or elected politicians but by bureaucrats (technocrats, as they are mislabelled). For Moscow read Brussels, and power in the EU radiates from the centre to the periphery, where it’s personified by obedient figureheads cordially hated by the locals. People in various provinces mostly communicate to one another in a patois bearing some resemblance to the lingua franca, in this case castrated English. Their preferences in this or anything else are ignored: the state is the machine; the people its cogs. Most important in the light of the present economic catastrophe, in the EU, just like in the USSR, politics trump economics. As long as the state hangs on, it doesn’t matter if the people are impoverished. Now for the differences, fast disappearing: 1) While the USSR had no hard currency, the EU still does — but for how long? 2) While the USSR relied on violence to hold the union together (the last time in 1989 when the sainted Gorbachev’s special forces murdered hundreds in the Caucasus and the Baltics, a tradition lovingly maintained by Putin in Chechnia), the EU uses blackmail instead — but for how long? Are we sure that when some country, say Italy, proves recalcitrant, violence won’t be used? It’s not for nothing that France has built her armed forces to a point where all three branches are bigger than ours. So do join me in the campaign for the name change. The EUSSR, anyone?
The economists are saying that, should we leave the EU or should it collapse, we’d have a tough 2-1/2 years, but everything will be coming up roses afterwards. I like precise forecasts as much as any other man, especially if they come from such a notoriously reliable group as economists. Anatole Kaletsky, my fellow Muscovite, is especially reliable: one can guarantee that, whatever he forecasts, the exact opposite will happen every time. But in this instance these chaps miss the real point, even if they are right on the economics: a tough 2-1/2 years will mean no reelection for the coalition. Can’t have that, can we? It’s much better just to stagger along, hoping to stay on the gravy train until it smashes into the buffers.
Now, is it just me or what? Two days ago HMG said we wouldn’t contribute to the bailout fund either directly or through the IMF. Now they are saying we’d be happy to pay £40 billion through that august organisation. Two days is a long time in politics, or am I missing something?
The other day a dimwitted young journalist working for a London paper owned by a KGB thug told me he liked the idea of communism, even though it went wrong in Russia. ‘Which idea would that be?’ ‘Well, everyone being equal and all that…’ ‘That, my dear friend, isn’t an idea,’ said I in my best haughty manner. ‘Similarly, saying wouldn’t it be nice not to have any disease at all isn’t an idea — it’s a pub rant. People aren’t equally able, which is why they aren’t equally successful. That’s the natural state of affairs, and it can only be distorted by unnatural means. Namely, violence — hence communism.’ I don’t know if the youngster thought about this afterwards, though I rather doubt it. But I certainly did, in relation to our economic woes. Usually, when a giant social experiment goes wrong, what’s at fault isn’t bad management but a bad underlying idea. In this instance, it’s the asinine hope that capitalist production (free markets) can accommodate socialist distribution (welfare state). It can’t, either economically or socially or morally, not in the long run. Thus the only way out is to get rid of the very concept of the welfare state and let the people work and invest their way out of trouble, while enabling private charities to look after those who genuinely can’t (as opposed to won’t) look after themselves. But of course this logical suggestion will get our ‘statesmen’ up in arms: ‘Are you bonkers? This is politically impossible!’ I hear them cry. That’s true. It is indeed impossible within a political system that these days fails, abysmally and universally, the most critical test, that of elevating to government only those fit to govern. Or giving the vote only to those fit to vote. Again, what’s at fault isn’t certain practices but the system as a whole, one that replaces democracy with spivocracy with the certainty of night following day. Well, now you see why a recent (favourable) review of my Crisis book described me as ‘a grumpy old man’. I take exception to the ‘old’ bit.
In a speech of a few days ago, Putin vowed to reconstruct the White Sea Canal. His affection for this waterway is as laudable as it is understandable: the canal was built in 1930-1932 by slave labour under the auspices of the alpha dog’s parent organisation, then known as the NKVD. Considering that about 100,000 died in the process, one hopes the dog will approach the reconstruction differently. Unless, of course, nostalgia get the better of him and he goes rabid.