Guns before butter: Putin takes his cue from the best

One should always learn from the giants, adapting their great thoughts to the current situation.

Hence the juxtaposition of guns and butter, which is a metaphorical way of describing the hard choice rulers sometimes have to make between armaments and consumer goods.

In an ideal world it wouldn’t be necessary to choose: a rich country would be able to afford both. But few countries in history have been as rich as that – most have had to establish their priorities and act accordingly.

Opting for metaphorical guns at the expense of metaphorical butter is hard even during the war – and next to impossible in peacetime.

That this is the case in the West, where people vote for their rulers, goes without saying. The philistine mentality assiduously cultivated over the last century or so makes it impossible for a politician to demand sacrifices in the consumption of metaphorical butter.

Dictators find making such demands easy, but acting on them not necessarily so. For example, as early as in January, 1936, Goebbels orated: “We can do without butter, but, despite our love of peace, not without arms.”

Yet, such pronouncements by him and other Nazi leaders notwithstanding, the Nazis didn’t dare shift the economy into war mode just yet. The Germans were ready to attend rallies and scream their Sieg Heils till their throats ached, but doing without butter was something else again.

In fact the Nazis totally militarised their economy only in 1942, by which time it was too late.

So far only one modern power has managed to sacrifice all for the sake of militarisation: Stalin’s Russia.

Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union are routinely bracketed together, and indeed the two countries had much in common. But precise definitions must always be based on differences, not similarities.

The most important difference between the Nazis and the Soviets was that Hitler wasn’t ready to wage war against his own people, but Stalin was.

Total militarisation at peacetime requires total enslavement, enforced by mass murderous terror. Hitler couldn’t do it; Stalin could – and did.

His Russian apologists, including those who write school history books, keep repeating the same mantra: “Stalin inherited a Russia with the plough and left her with the hydrogen bomb.”

That is true, but omitted from this accolade is the bill Stalin presented for his historical services. This was eye-poppingly exorbitant:

40 million Russians murdered (in addition to the 20 million or so previously dispatched by Lenin); millions of people including children starved to death; millions driven into labour camps to produce raw materials exchangeable for hard currency; the whole population reduced to the kind of slavery the world had never seen; squalor and destitution even Russia had never seen; the whole country turned into a camp, either military or concentration.

Even the Nazis, for all their empty talk about guns before butter, never inflicted this kind of nightmare on their own people.

Nazi Germany is no more, although comparisons between the Third Reich and the EU aren’t wholly unwarranted. But the Soviet Union lives on in Putin’s Russia.

This continuity isn’t yet physical, for Putin’s dictatorial powers aren’t yet a patch on Stalin’s (‘yet’ being the operative word). But metaphysically, as it were, the kleptofascist Russian state pursues the same desiderata, if with caution more characteristic of Nazi Germany circa 1936.

It’s with this in mind that the statements made by Putin and his Defence Minister Shoigu must be assessed.

Putin has just committed the country to the modernisation of over 90 per cent of its armaments by 2020, a programme for which the estimated cost of £190 billion is but the point of departure – for the moon.

Estimates for such undertakings in the West, not that the West has ever embarked on such undertakings in peacetime, can safely be doubled to arrive at a more realistic figure.

In Russia, where Putin’s and his cronies’ compulsion to skim off the top is voracious, it ought to be at least tripled.

Thus Russia must find more than half a trillion pounds over the next five years – this on top of the billions the country is already spending on its aggression against the Ukraine and related costs.

One of such related costs is the construction of the 2.8-mile Kerch Strait bridge, linking the newly conquered Crimea with the Russian mainland. In the fine tradition of Putin’s kleptofascism, the project has just been awarded to Vlad’s judo friend Arkadiy Rutenberg, who is among those who put ‘klepto’ into kleptofascism.

Since no feasibility study has been done and no cost estimates submitted, one has to assume either that Mr Rutenberg’s bid was unopposed or else that the opposition to it was discouraged by persuasion techniques accurately described in The Godfather.

The question is, where are all those billions and trillions going to come from? The Russian economy is contracting faster than you can say ‘sanctions’, the price of oil is dropping towards $40 a barrel at a time Russia can only be in the black at $100, the rouble is going down and the inflation rate up, capital is fleeing the country, borrowing vast amounts in the money markets is out of the question.

In other words, how will Putin get the guns he craves? Only at the expense of the metaphorical butter, is the answer to that. The country is too poor to afford both.

But in the quarter-century since the so-called collapse of communism, the people have developed some rotten habits. They now want their butter and, if they can’t get it in Russia, they’ll go somewhere else.

Comrade Stalin showed Comrade Putin the way out of this conundrum. The people won’t sacrifice everything, including their lives, for the sake of armament production unless they are forced to do so – that is, enslaved.

If Putin wants to restore Stalin’s Russia, he’ll have to use Stalin’s methods, it’s as simple as that. In fact, Putin’s propaganda today is eerily reminiscent of Stalin’s propaganda yesterday.

Nor are Putin’s actions far behind. He has already committed aggression against three parts of the ‘former’ Soviet Union. His nuclear bombers are already operating seconds away from Bournemouth. His warships are already threatening to penetrate the Channel. His submarines are already close to nullifying our Trident deterrent.

At a time like this we too should be making guns and, unlike the Russians, we wouldn’t have to cut butter out of our diets to achieve this. It is conceivable, however, that we’d have to reduce our appetites from Gargantuan to simply voracious.

Instead all European countries are cutting their defence budgets below the level necessary even for containing, never mind repelling, the kleptofascist dictator wishing us ill.

History has many lessons to teach, but it must be a rotten teacher. We never do learn anything, do we?

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