Not having written anything political since the third of this month, I have to say that the last couple of days have shaken me to the core. Two heads of state, for totally different reasons, are at the point of having lost credibility – namely Mrs Theresa May and Monsieur Emmanuel Macron. The only difference is that Brexit is supposed to be a national populist movement, led by an establishment figure, and the Gilets Jaunes is a spontaneous popular movement against the establishment for reasons that go beyond fuel taxes and low wages.
I listened to the speech given by Mrs May to the Commons yesterday, the reply given by Mr Corbyn and a few hours of questions. I only heard later about the Mace representing Royal authority being picked up, which is a scandalous gesture in Parliament, akin to sacrilege in a church. How Mrs May has been able to commit several acts of contempt of Parliament is one week is beyond me. How can she as a human being take the immense pressure and stress, and persevere against the pressure to resign? She is fighting a Zweifrontenkrieg against both the leavers in her own party and the remainers in the opposition and minority parties.
Why the title of this posting. We truly reach a point that seems to be akin to the political and moral nihilism of the period preceding the Russian Revolution, therefore the novel by Dostoyevsky The Possessed (Бесы, Bésy). Something I found on YouTube has impressed me with its apparent clarity of thought, a discussion between an American and an English former lawyer and editor of a journal and website called The Duran. These two gentlemen do not hide their affinity with Putin’s Russia, another subject of obfuscation and confusion in the western world. They don’t discuss Dostoyevsky, but the associations came together in my mind. Here is the interview:
My thoughts go way beyond the romantic idealisation I entertained of the European Union to the real threats we face in what little remains of this year and 2019. What I have understood from yesterday’s debate in the Commons and this dialogue between two pro-Russian pundits is that Mrs May knows she will never get a deal through Parliament, yet she refuses to resign or come to a compromise. She kept repeating herself and evaded all awkward questions coming from the Scots or the opposition. The hypocrisy and emptiness came over to nearly all the MP’s present and us watching it from afar via television or internet. The reason given of seeking “reassurances” from the EU and European heads of state lacks all credibility. Only two possibilities remain: the hardest of hard Brexits with no preparation made for anything. If this is not a nihilist agenda, I don’t know what is. Are all those men and women in Parliament and the Government complicit to the destruction of our country and some kind of revolution we can’t yet imagine? The second possibility is that it will be a war of attrition, une guerre d’usure – bore us all to death through the hopelessness of it all, and quietly rescind article 50 and hope those who voted “leave” in 2016 wouldn’t mind too much.
Conspiracy theories are possible, namely Mrs May being an instrument of some kind of dark state consisting of bankers and all sorts of creepy people in league with the Devil. I read all that kind of stuff in association with Hillary Clinton on the other side of the Pond. I am reserved, but we would be naive to think that Mrs May is in this mess all alone with a good part of her own Party against her and then with the constant threat of a motion of no-confidence, a general election and Corbyn in power. The problem is that a motion of no-confidence at present would fail. The gridlock has rendered the political establishment incapable of acting. Of course, there will be protests and emergency debates, but there will be no answers before late January 2019. By then, only two months will remain until 29th March 2019, unless article 50 gets extended and we go Norway. That too would have to be approved by Parliament, which is unlikely.
Europe itself is in crisis. This side of the Channel, Greece is in a mess, right-wing populism is spreading and we see the spectres of Mussolini in Italy and Franco in Spain. Even Germany has its crowds of fanatics. Just after Macron promised a number of concessions to help low-earners (I am one myself) make ends meet, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, scarcely more intelligent than Peppone in the Don Camillo films, called on the Gilets Jaunes to continue their revolution next Saturday (15th December). “I believe that Act 5 of the citizen revolution in our country will be a moment of great mobilization“.
Je crois que l’#ActeV de la révolution citoyenne dans notre pays samedi prochain sera un moment de grande mobilisation. Mais bien sûr, comme tout un chacun, je m’en remets à la décision qui sera prise par tous ceux qui sont dans l’action. #macron20h #JLM20H30
At this point, more than 54% of people surveyed recently were of the opinion that Macron had given enough for the demonstrations and riots to be stopped. Marine Le Pen, president of the National Rally (previously National Front), the populist right,
accused the president’s “model” of governance based on “wild globalization, financialization of the economy, unfair competition.”
We seem to have the parallel in England with characters like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage! There is also the caricature of Lord Snooty with his top hat. Are these the ones who would make hay out of the utter failure of the political establishment like the Soviet Union in 1989?
My own certitudes have been rocked and they continue to sap my energy and creativity. It goes much further and deeper than Brexit or no-Brexit, cheap diesel to continue to be able to move around despite living in the countryside. It is the prospect of knowing that we “had it so good” (remember McMillan in the 1950’s) and that the party is over. This may be a hard time for a all, probably short of a war or something more apocalyptic. It has happened before in history and will happen again.
Dostoyevsky saw the writing on the wall in 1870 with events in Russia and the Paris Commune. They used live ammunition in those days! Communism existed long before the Russian Revolution and has changed its form. Unlike some Americans, I don’t fear a revival of Communism, neither in any European country or the EU. Maybe the EU can be influenced on more cultural and humanist lines, maybe even some notions of Christian culture, spirituality and morality. The current regime, however, is the very force Marx thought his system would conquer, that of money, capital and inequality. The Marxist system discredited itself, but some elements of all historical revolutions had genuine grievances against the wealthy elites, be they Tsars, kings or vulgar billionaires. I notice the collusion between May and Corbyn, Le Pen and Mélenchon, perhaps a new kind of populism that seeks to avoid the errors of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Hitler.
Somehow, the Kingdom of Heaven will triumph over this darkness and evil that is falling down on our world like a leaden cloak. We seem to be at the stage of France in 1789 and the Terror of 1793, the run-up to the revolution in Russia a hundred years later. Some of the Gilets Jaunes took a mock guillotine crudely made of pieces of wood to a demonstration, and a Photoshopped image portrayed a real beheading machine in a square in central Paris. The symbolism is shocking as comparisons are made. Another comparison can be made, however, that of the peaceful work of Pope John Paul II in solidarity against Communism with the shipbuilding workers of Gdansk in the 1980’s. I remember December 1989 when a university friend came to tell me that the Berlin Wall was down. Now what is collapsing is the neo-liberal capitalism that thought it was the end of history and nec plus ultra after Перестройка (perestroika) and глaсность (glasnost) Indeed, we all yearn for openness and transparency, two things we lack in my native England.
It is too early to tell what is going to happen, whether our future will be peaceful or violent, whether it is possible to bring Christ into such a confused and uncertain world, at a time when the Church is seen as complicit with the wealthy and unconcerned for ordinary people. Christianity is possible only in new ways that we have not yet learned. The alternative is Islam or Evangelical Christianity with their messages of theocracy, bigotry and simplicity to those who are unaccustomed to religious culture. Something is changing…
I stay far away from the rioting. It is pointless and shows what collective humanity does best – insane destruction and hatred. I understand the American’s need for weapons in such incertitude and fear, but I remain a pacifist. I see no point to the fighting. Maybe things will get really bad and we will lose our freedom and our homes. We can only deal with that if and when it happens. Perhaps Macron will hold out here in France and learn more about populism and the devotion we all have to our countries and cultures – pro aris et focis, for homes and hearths, as the old Romans used to say. I am more doubtful about Mrs May and her nemesis on the other side of the Clerk’s Table and the dispatch boxes. I am as much in the dark as our two pro-Russian friends who had the discussion.
As to Mrs. May et suis hoping “those who voted ‘leave’ in 2016 wouldn’t mind too much”, I wonder who among the British might come to mind after the fashion of the Gilets Jaunes, and under what circumstances?
Reading as far as ‘the spectre of Mussolini in Italy’, I wondered ,’or of Don Camillo’? – and there he was two sentences later! Writing this now, I wonder if an apt alternative to ‘the spectre of Franco in Spain’ might be that ‘of Don Quixote’? (That probably mostly shows how woefully little I know of Spanish history, or perhaps I’d think of a likely leader during the Peninsular War, or later.)
I think you have the answer to the alternative to Franco as Spain’s new spectre. How about Pope Gregory XVIII when he finishes his prison sentence?
I am not sure about TM. Preferring the simplest solution my view is she is an old-fashioned clergyman’s daughter ploughing on out of a sense of duty. The deal on the table is actually quite clever in that – as she points out it delivers on the points ‘Vote Leave’ presented in their campaign whilst trying to prevent a crash to the economy. The EU actually gave ‘equivalence’ as a way for the City to maintain its current passporting rights – I am very surprised indeed they gave in on that.
If I were a Tory MP I would feel obliged to vote for it – if the vote ever happens. However, as I am, thankfully, not in that position I am still of the view that the UK is stronger and safer being in the EU than out of it. As TM refused to answer the question put to her on LBC radio about the economic effect of the deal I have no doubt she believes that too.
A majority of MPs in the House believe the deal will make people worse off, they also believe a ‘no deal’ will be a disaster. The issue is that Brexit divides the country and political parties. The only way to avoid no deal is Parliament taking control, across party lines and having some form of unity Government to act in the national interest to protect jobs, protect working conditions and protect freedoms.
The National Government is my hope too. Perhaps Article 50 could be delayed for the time it takes to solve the political problems and reassure both leavers and remainers by giving honest answers to their/our questions. We need to find common ground with the leavers rather than take a patronising attitude (I have been guilty of this – mea culpa!) and understand the real problems of the EU. The entire world is reeling towards populism for the simple reason that neo-liberalism and mainstream politics are failing. I have a sense of foreboding, but we are still in a “pre-” phase. The Gilets Jaunes over here are becoming bloody-minded and want nothing short of Macron’s resignation and a full-blown revolution. When the blue touchpaper is lit, stand well back – as it is printed on fireworks. If it all blows, God help us!