It’s not just about Walesa

Lech Walesa has always denied that he used to spy for Poland’s communist regime. Now those denials have led to a perjury charge, with prison a distinct possibility.

Agent Bolek at work

The current accounts of this long saga contain no mention of any new evidence unearthed since I wrote about ‘agent Bolek’ almost five years ago (

What they do contain is shoddy analysis barely scratching the topsoil and not even trying to delve deeper. Just one short paragraph from The Times illustrates this point exhaustively:

“He has long battled claims that he acted as a paid informer in the 1970s, prior to leading the formation in 1980 of Solidarity, the trade union that went on to play a key role in the fall of the communist regime. The success of Solidarity inspired similar popular revolutions in neighbouring states.”

That’s about it. The rest is simply a rehash of the evidence against Walesa, mainly the graphological analysis of the signature on secret police documents from the 1970s.

Those who pay little attention to affairs in the former Soviet bloc may or may not find such accounts mildly interesting. Others, however, may be tempted to ask some probing questions.

In that forensic spirit, let’s look at the sequence of events one can infer from the cited paragraph:

Point A, 1970s: Walesa is a paid agent of the Służba Bezpieczeństwa, the Polish branch of the KGB. Point B, 1980: Walesa inspires and leads Solidarity. Point C, late 1980s: Solidarity sets the stage for the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

The task before us is as straightforward as it can be rewarding. If we can establish a causative link between Point A on the one hand and Points B and C on the other, then we’ll debunk the established interpretation of the post-Soviet history of Russia and her former satellites.

So, did Walesa still act as an agent of the Służba Bezpieczeństwa (which is to say the KGB) when inspiring and leading Solidarity? If so, was Solidarity a KGB op? If it was, then the whole ‘collapse of the Soviet Union’ and its bloc, which, according to Francis Fukuyama, spelled the end of history, takes on a whole new dimension.

Our press isn’t equipped to answer such questions, nor even to ask them. Such inquiries would challenge the current orthodoxy, and our hacks prefer to play safe, lest they may be accused of spreading conspiracy theories.

Journos suspected of that faux pas would lose credibility at the Groucho, Garrick and every other watering hole for the media powers that be. And that fate is worse than death.

There exists, after all, some hope of coming back from the dead. But there’s no coming back from the proverbial Coventry for the poor sods losing their status in those West End clubs. Suggesting that reality may not agree with the version of it endorsed by duly accredited institutions would be breaking a gentlemen’s code, like ‘brown in town’ (wearing brown shoes in the city).

The assumption to live by is that anyone mentioning a large-scale conspiracy is away with the fairies. From there one is supposed to deduce that no real conspiracies have ever existed – they are all figments of someone’s inflamed imagination.

But that assumption is manifestly untrue. History abounds in conspiracies, including one that England is going to commemorate with fireworks tomorrow. And the whole history of communism, from Marx to Putin, is one contiguous and demonstrable conspiracy.

Communists – or, to be exact, evil forces inscribing communism on their banners – see the world as a continuous war between good (them) and evil (everyone else, but especially the West). Like the Hundred Years’ War, it ebbs and flows, going through acute and chronic periods. But it never stops.

What makes this war a conspiracy is its unilateral character. Only one side is fighting it, with the other being blissfully unaware, at least during the chronic periods. This state of ignorance must be encouraged and maintained for the communists to gain an upper hand.

That’s why they’ve always employed the tactics of the secret police tradecraft: espionage, sabotage, assassination, deception, disinformation (which Russian word of Latin origin has penetrated Western languages like a spy).

And who could use such secret police tactics better than the secret police itself? Hence the KGB, under different names and guises, always fought for supremacy against the Party.

Only the KGB had in its own estimation the subtlety to soften up the West’s resistance the better to dominate it. And presenting an image of liberalisation – what later got to be known as glasnost and perestroika – has been the KGB’s tactic from its very inception.

Practically every item in the programme associated with Gorbachev and Yeltsyn was first outlined by Stalin’s secret police chief, Beria, directly the dictator died. But Beria jumped the gun. Having found him too rash and his proposals too hasty, his Politburo colleagues killed him.

But, as the standard Soviet eulogy used to go, “our comrade is dead, but his cause lives on”. The KGB eventually triumphed when its head, Andropov, settled in the dictator’s chair. He immediately initiated the programme of deceptive liberalisation, which was carried to a logical conclusion by his disciple, Gorbachev.

Hence, rather than the ultimate triumph of liberal democracy, the collapse of the Soviet Union was merely a transfer of power from the Party to the KGB – and to the subtler methods long favoured by that sinister organisation.

That explains the subsequent events more persuasively than the cock and bull story of the Soviets suddenly seeing the light of democracy.

Loosening or even temporarily abandoning the reins in Eastern Europe was a logical aspect of that tectonic shift, and it was easy to do because the populations of those countries never wanted to be bossed by the Russians anyway.

Still, someone had to go ahead and actually do it all against possible resistance on the part of the die-hard communists and perhaps the army, never an institution in love with radical change.

Hence the KGB and its branches in the bloc set up a series of resistance groups, of which Solidarity was the most prominent. People, tired of communism, flowed in. And the communist parties hardly put up any resistance, which is why their chiefs were allowed to retire quietly.

The only exception was Romania, where Ceaușescu proved slow on the uptake. He had to be brutally murdered with his whole family for others to get the point.

The armies also might have demurred. Hence the defence ministers of five Eastern European countries suffered simultaneous cardiac arrests in the same month of 1984. KGB spy schools teach that, if coincidences number more than two, they aren’t coincidences. But Western commentators never learned that lesson.

I’ve been interpreting those events in the same vein since they were still unfolding in the early 90s. Yet too many academic and journalistic careers were being made on the remains of a collapsed Soviet Union for my, admittedly not very loud, voice to be heard.

At some point, the KGB, fronted by Col. Putin, abandoned subterfuge and openly took over the Russian government. At least 80 per cent of its current members are Putin’s hard-working colleagues – but Western commentators still haven’t cottoned on.

This isn’t just a matter of academic, or journalistic, interest. For the West may be in dire danger, made even deadlier by its own insouciance. But still our leaders (and their mouthpieces) treat Putin with sycophantic ‘understanding’ or even unbridled sympathy.

This is the subtext of the story of Lech Walesa, ‘agent Bolek’. Even if it’s mere speculation, which I’m sure it isn’t, the papers owe it to their charter at least to comment on it. Instead they indulge in the insipid reportage along the aforementioned ABC lines.

Teach science in four-letter words

This isn’t the exact instruction issued to teachers by the regulator Ofqual. But it’s as near as… well, damn.

And you too, mate

Exams, says the regulator, shouldn’t “demotivate” and “disadvantage” pupils, especially those who come from the families of migrants or council estate dwellers. And exposure to difficult words could lead to just such undesirable ends.

Difficult words may be complex, uncommon or abstract, such as “bravery” and “sarcasm”. Or else they may confusingly have two meanings, such as “present” (actually, it’s more than two, but who’s counting?). Exam papers containing such devilish traps compromise “equality”, defeating the real purpose of our education.

It’s not just texts but also contexts that may scupper the egalitarian project: “Contexts such as those related to particular types of housing, family arrangements, or social, travel or cultural experiences may advantage or disadvantage particular groups of learners.”

Chief regulator Dr Jo Saxton said exams should “enable every student to demonstrate what they know, understand and can do. It is crucial assessments are as accessible as possible for all students”. 

A singular antecedent followed by a plural pronoun makes me wonder what Jo’s doctorate is in. Equality studies? Dumbing Down? Patronising Techniques? Not English, by the sound of her. And Jo? British schools, unlike American ones, have pupils, not students.

Our educators seem to lose sight of the real purpose of education. Expressed schematically, it’s to guide pupils from Point A (current knowledge) to Point B (desired knowledge). Applying this self-evident truth to language, it’s to move people from the way they speak to the way they should speak, from the words they know to those they should learn.

Many groups of pupils do express themselves in a patois of desemanticised interjections and derivatives of four-letter words. But surely any teacher worth his salt would seek to broaden their lexical horizons? And how else can that be done if not by exposing pupils to the unmatched treasure trove of English vocabulary?

Words aren’t divided into difficult and easy, Dr Jo. They are divided into right or wrong, precise or ambivalent, elegant or crude. And English is perhaps the best language for such distinctions, what with its lexicon being much bigger than in any other European language (three times as big as in Russian, to take one random example).

The wider the vocabulary, the firmer the grasp of nuanced thought. For words designate concepts and their endless nuances. Hence teaching a pupil new words makes his mind more agile and complex, his knowledge broader, his sensibilities more honed.

The same goes for those supposedly demotivating contexts. A pupil whose quotidian reality is underpinned by crushed beer cans, discarded syringes and gratuitous violence can and should be taught to aspire to a better life, one of beauty, intellect, good manners and emotional continence.

Such aspirations won’t always be realised. Yet each time they are, our society becomes better for welcoming another member fit to live in it.

When I was a child, I and my Russian classmates lived in squalor compared to which a British council estate would have seemed a paragon of luxury. Most of us knew our lives were unlikely to change no matter what we did. They wouldn’t become freer, more interesting or less ugly.

But so much greater was the ardour with which we gobbled up books about faraway lands of knights and their fair ladies, cowboys and Indians, musketeers and cardinals, exotic animals and plants, voyages and flights. We’d then pester our nonplussed parents to tell us what all those unfamiliar words meant.

Asparagus? Parliament? Claret? Judiciary? Tuna? Abbot? My poor mother often didn’t know what some of those words meant either, but she always made a point of trying to find out for my benefit.

As a result, I’ve retained to this day a sense of gratitude every time a writer uses a word I don’t know. By either figuring out its meaning from the context or looking it up, I learn not just a new word, but a new concept or perhaps a new nuance.

That’s how pupils should be taught. They should learn to love learning, to rejoice at feeling their minds growing broader and sharper. They should pick up thousands of new words at an age when their memory is at its most grasping and retentive.

Granted, that’s no easy task for any teacher, school or regulating body. But nothing worth having ever comes easily.

Instead our educators find it simpler to turn schools into dumbed-down laboratories of social engineering, battlegrounds of egalitarianism and wokery.

That’s where the zeitgeist is blowing, and resisting it takes moral and intellectual courage, rare commodities these days. Acting as the zeitgeist’s weathercocks is easier and, in today’s climate, more rewarding.

That’s why our education doesn’t educate. It churns out herds of Mowglis unable to use or understand human speech. They communicate not in full, perfectly parsed sentences but in social media acronyms, such as LOL or FML.

The last two letters in the latter stand for My Life. The first one explains what our educators are doing to education.

Glasgow de-Rangers

If schizophrenia is loss of touch with reality, the men in white coats must be working overtime in Glasgow.

Joe Biden, expressing his unequivocal support for “whatever the f***” was being said at COP26

The proceedings at and around COP26 evoke late Fellini films at their most morbid. Lunatics aren’t just running the asylum, they are running the whole city – and tomorrow ze world.

Great Thunberg was in town, having insisted she came by train, not walked across the North Sea all the way from Sweden. That disappointed her admirers who are sure she possesses the requisite ability.

Greta, her agued eyes offset by a rather sinister smile, then proved that no formal education is needed to acquire a fluent command of a foreign language. Pointing at the conference building with a thespian sweep, Greta said: “No more exploitation, no more blah blah blah, no more whatever the fuck they are doing inside there.”

She then led her supporters in a rousing chorus of “You can shove your climate crisis up your arse!”

Greta’s impatience is understandable. Rather than wasting time on chewing the cud, all those country leaders should roll up their sleeves and expurgate every molecule of CO2 from the atmosphere. And they must do so straight away, not in decades, years or even months.

If the rebuked politicians get their collective finger out and obey the command so elegantly expressed, they are facing a tall task.

The task may also be thankless, considering that CO2 accounts for only one in 85,000 molecules of the atmosphere, with just three per cent of them anthropogenic. Yet by some unidentified magic, eliminating this tiny trace of a trace gas is supposed to save the world from being alternately shallow-fried and flooded.

The aforementioned leaders are bargaining with one another about the earliest date they can put their divine powers into effect. Boris Johnson is in the leading pack, having committed Britain to going carbon-neutral by 2050.

With his verbose flair, the PM spoke metaphorically of a doomsday device ticking away, ready to go off with an almighty bang. The world, he said, has “long since run the clock down on climate change”. The clock now shows “one minute to midnight”, he added, looking at his expensive watch for visual effect.

Mr Johnson thus went those street-corner preachers one better. Those troubled individuals bang their drums, shouting that the end of the world is nigh. But, unlike our PM, they can’t pinpoint that unfortunate demise to any particular timeframe. He can. Not only is the end of the world coming, but Mr Johnson knows exactly when.

But fear not: he also knows that Doomsday can be averted by expurgating three per cent of one molecule in 85,000, thereby selflessly destroying the British economy for the good of the planet. Every country must do her bit, even if her bit amounts to 1.1 per cent of global carbon emissions, as Britain’s does.

India’s bit is much larger, putting her in the bronze medal position, behind only China and the US, in the race towards Doomsday. That’s why Boris was disappointed with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi is aware of the approaching disaster, but his mental clock shows an earlier time than five to midnight. That’s why he’s only ready to commit his country to destroying its economy by 2070, not Britain’s more responsible 2050.

That’s not good enough, complained Boris. Couldn’t they split the difference, with India joining China in pledging 2060 as the cut-off point? No, they couldn’t, objected Mr Modi.

India is still a developing country, he explained not unreasonably. And, before an edifice can be pulled down it has to be built first. Hence India’s economy won’t be ready for destruction until 2070 at the earliest.

Mr Modi, being an infidel, thus proved he is denied direct access to God, which privilege can be institutionally claimed by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Trained to express himself in the scriptural idiom of parables, metaphors and similes, His Grace warned that the world is facing a “genocide on an infinitely greater scale” than that suffered by the Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

Failure to prevent this Holocaust Mark II would leave world leaders forever cursed, added His Grace, although he refrained from putting himself forth as the one to administer said curse ex cathedra.

Even so, his little simile upset Jewish organisations and others who feel called upon to be upset for any reason whatsoever. The outcry was so loud that the good archbishop immediately grovelled: “I unequivocally apologise for the words I used when trying to emphasise the gravity of the situation facing us at COP26,” he wrote.

He should have stood his ground with the courage and fortitude displayed by Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer, his Anglican precursors who suffered a fiery death for their Protestant beliefs.

If I were His Grace, I would have referred to them rather than the Jews, comparing global warming to the pyre outside Oxford’s Balliol College. But even the comparison with the Holocaust could have been defended on purely numerical grounds.

After all, only six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis. Global warming, on the other hand, could incinerate the entire world population that at the moment stands at 7.9 billion. And it’ll probably double by 2070, the year by which Mr Modi undertook to avert the impending catastrophe.

Messrs Xi and Putin callously saw fit to give COP a miss. They thus denied themselves the chance to hear our PM’s peroration stating that there are “no compelling excuses for our procrastination”.

He agreed with Greta that the actions taken so far amount to “drops in a rapidly warming ocean”, thus proving that the same passionate message could be delivered without resorting to obscenities.

Joe Biden could have heard the soliloquy but didn’t. He dozed off, looking peaceful and untroubled in his slumber.

What on earth is populism?

When political vocabulary becomes ambiguous, meaningless or downright misleading, the problem isn’t with the vocabulary. It’s with the politics.

Two populists for the price of one

In fact, such lexical mayhem is a sure sign of a rapidly widening gulf separating politics from reality. It’s also a sign of glossocracy, a tyranny using language as a mechanism for exerting control.

Any tyranny uses words mendaciously for, if used in their real meaning, they lose their sharp edge as weapons of crowd control.

For example, the word ‘Democratic’ prominently figures in the nomenclature of some of the bloodiest tyrannies in history, such as North Korea. Ditto the word ‘People’s’ that tends to designate countries where the people in question are enslaved.

Closer to home, ‘liberal’ means illiberal; ‘diversity’ means conformity or, better still, uniformity; ‘justice’ (variously prefaced) means injustice; ‘progressive’ means regressive; ‘equality’ means inequality, ‘fairness’ means unfairness and so on. But the word that particularly fascinates me is ‘populism’.

Generally speaking, new words are coined when the existing ones prove inadequate to the task of denoting inchoate political concepts. But this dread word, populism, seems to denote nothing of any substance at all.

The word isn’t new, but only recently did it begin to gain wide currency. It probably originated in the 19th century, when the left-wing People’s, or Populist, Party was active in the US. The term then fell into disuse, only to come back in recent times.

Its etymology suggests seeking popularity by a broad appeal to the masses, in which meaning populism seems indistinguishable from democracy. Populus means the same in Latin as demos in Greek. Hence the two terms borrow their roots from classical languages to signify something so similar as to be the same.

The second part of democracy implies not just appeal to the people but actual self-government by them. Yet we all know that’s just a figure of speech, don’t we? People in democracies don’t govern themselves. They merely elect those who do the governing in their name.

Democracy and populism thus mean the same thing in essence: appeal to the people, called either demos or populus. However, if they are identical in meaning, you’d think one of them would become redundant and fall by the wayside. Yet they both have a job to do.

For words don’t just have a semantic denotation. They also have an emotional connotation, there to convey the user’s feelings, rather than the actual meaning.

Since emotions are boundless, applying them to semantics opens up a whole new glossocratic field. And the bucketful of emotional colouring thrown at the word populism in modern democracies is mostly dark.

Democracy, especially when modified by liberal, is widely accepted as not just a virtuous political system but, according to a particularly inane strain of thought, the only possible one. Populism, however, gets nothing but bad press.

This, though we’ve established that the Latin and the Greek here converge to convey exactly the same meaning, at least in democratic countries. Populism in non-democratic countries usually serves to denote the method by which nasty characters like Hitler, Mussolini or Péron rise to power.

But what does it mean here? What job does it do that democracy can’t do?

First, the word clearly doesn’t attach to any specific set of beliefs. The populist tag has been borne in recent times by such disparate characters as Trump, Farage, Palin, Netanyahu, Zemmour, Le Pen, Zeman, Ocasio-Cortez, Tsipras, Orbàn, Berlusconi, Wilders, Walesa and even, God save us all, Boris Johnson.

If you go down this impromptu incomplete list, you’ll see that it covers the whole political spectrum from right to left and everything in between. So I must repeat the question in the title. What on earth is populism?

Clearly, its domain in Western democracies isn’t denotation but connotation. Or else it has to do with style, not with substance.

The connotation is these days strictly negative. Yes, democratic politicians seem to be saying, we and the populists try to affect the voting pattern of the same electorate in essentially the same way. But somehow the populists’ way is wrong, unfair.

How so? Well, you see, they treat with disdain all the shibboleths of the ruling elite, even if they themselves belong to it, as most do. They court mass support by talking to the masses directly, over the elite’s heads and in a crude language the masses are likely to understand.

Populists adopt for their nefarious purposes the folksy bonhomie of a bloke next door, a pint in one hand, a fag in the other, a four-letter word on his lips. I’m one of you, a populist seems to be saying, even if I went to a fancy school, have billions in the bank and a mile from my gate to the door.

Populists, in other words, are traitors to their class, or rather coterie. Hence the word is strictly pejorative in modern usage, used by the right to put down the left or, more usually, vice versa.

But if it’s merely a term of abuse, it trespasses on the territory already densely populated by thousands of derogatory epithets, differing from most of them by being lazy and unspecific.

What could be lazier than using the same word to lump together, say, Trump, Ocasio-Cortez and Johnson? I’d happily describe all of them in uncomplimentary terms, but not the same ones.

I may, for example, call Trump a loudmouthed vulgarian, Ocasio-Cortez an aspiring Bolshevik and Johnson a chameleonic lightweight, thus focusing on the salient, and unsavoury, characteristic of each one. But I’d give them all the courtesy of keeping them apart.

All things considered, populism is a parasite non-word, at least in any democratic context. Thus it has no right to exist.