Default Setting II.

Between 1775 and 1825, the revolts against the British and Spanish Empires in the Americas created a host of new nations.  In the minds of European leaders, formal “empire” sold at a deep discount.  However, the “empire of free trade” arose as a far more appealing idea.  If non-European countries would pursue Western economic[1] and legal[2] policies, then you could get the same benefits of empire without the costs and heartbreak.  The Western capital generated by industrialization could then safely flow toward the economic development of the rest of the world.[3]  All would benefit.

The world of international investment brimmed with challenging opportunities in the later Nineteenth Century: Latin America, the United States, the Ottoman Empire, Japan, and China for example.  However, a willingness to fulfill commitments to Western economic and legal doctrines in exchange for Western investment varied from society to society.

Russia came late to industrialization and wanted to hurry the process forward.  Russia possessed rich natural resources, but its primitive agriculture generated little wealth.  Where to find the capital for rapid industrialization?  Two solutions offered themselves.  Either the country could borrow from rich foreign lenders or the peasantry could be squeezed very hard.  Fearful of peasant unrest, Russian leaders sensibly opted for foreign borrowing.

Foreign lenders could discern positive and negative features in Russian borrowers.  On the plus side were two essential factors.  Russia’s gigantic territory housed vast amounts of minerals and other natural resources.  In the middle of the century, the Tsar Alexander II had shoved through a series of “Great Reforms” intended to begin the modernization of Russia.  Those reforms had not yet taken full hold, but they provided a foundation for further progress.  On the negative side the “Great Reforms” had compounded the turmoil inside Russia.  Rapid industrialization would intensify the strains.  Then, Russia remained an absolute monarchy.  After the death of Alexander II, the quality of leadership declined markedly.

Between 1890 and 1920 political considerations, rather than purely economic ones, exerted a growing influence over foreign investments in Russia.  First, seeking escape from the diplomatic isolation into which it had been forced by Bismarck’s diplomacy, the French government encouraged lending to the Tsarist regime.  This lending supported the eventual Franco-Russian alliance that surprised and alarmed German statesmen.  Second, during the First World War, the French and British tried to prop up their tottering ally by ample credit.  Third, the Bolshevik regime repudiated the Russian external debt.[4]  The Bolsheviks understood the Red default as a stroke against global capitalism.  It would—and, in France, did—gravely weaken the middle class savers who formed a vital support for bourgeois democracy.

At the same time, default contributed to making Soviet Russia an international pariah.  Within a decade, the Soviets turned to the alternative strategy of squeezing assets out of the peasantry.  As late Nineteenth Century leaders had foreseen, the human cost would be terrible.

[1] Raise no barriers to imports and exports; pursue “sound” money.

[2] Practice Western notions of the rule of law, especially the sanctity of contracts.

[3] See, David Landes, Bankers and Pashas: International Finance and Economic Imperialism in Egypt (1958).

[4] See: Hassan Malik, Bankers and Bolsheviks: International Finance and the Russian Revolution, 1892-1922 (2018).

Cyprus 15 May 2019.

In 1453, Constantinople—the capital of the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire—fell to the Ottoman Turks.  The Turks already had conquered most of mainland Greece, so all that remained was to conquer the outlying islands.  Cyprus fell in 1571 and Crete followed in 1669.  As part of their pacification of Cyprus, the Ottomans resettled about 30,000 Turks on the island.  From the heights of their power, the Ottomans went into a long, slow, and humiliating decline.  Barbarism and incompetence became the hallmarks of their rule.  “Inter-communal” hostilities sank deep roots.  Turks and Greeks hated each other.  In 1878, Britain got the island away from the Ottomans.

During the 1950s–when the “Empire on which the sun never sets” was having gin and tonic in the back garden as dusk advanced—Greeks and Turks on Cyprus began to strike at each other and at the British.  Both Greece and Turkey coveted the soon-to-be-independent island.  So, blood stained the Fifties and Sixties in Cyprus.[1] Then the conflict heated up again in the 1970ss and 1980s.  Vendetta became a cultural value and killers became respected men.

You wouldn’t recognize modern Cyprus.  Tourism, banking, and maritime shipping are the pillars supporting its economy.  The country has pulled in an estimated 60,000 workers from South East Asia.  They come from the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and India.  They aren’t “crazy rich Asians.”  Mostly they are poor women from counties that haven’t yet caught the tide of Capitalist progress.  Old ways die hard.  Sometimes the old intersects the new.

Mary Rose Tiburcio (c.1980-2018) grew up in the Philippines.  She got married and had a child, but her marriage did not work out.  Like many other Filipinas, Tiburcio moved to Cyprus along with her young daughter.  Most come to work as domestic help: maids and cleaning women, and waitresses.  Lonely and over-loaded with cares, she joined an on-line dating site.

In May 2018, both went missing.  Well, no big deal: the Cypriot police have 80 unsolved missing person cases that run back as far as 1990.  Perhaps they just left Cyprus for work on a cruise ship or went to some other country in search of better work.

Then, in mid-April 2019, a German tourist saw something unusual and notified the police.  The police found Tiburcio’s body in a flooded mine-shaft.  They also found another body, that of Arian Palanas Lozano (1990-2018).  Then they found more bodies in a lake.

The police back-tracked through Ms. Tiburcio’s internet connections.  One name that popped up an awful lot of times was that of a 35 year-old Army captain.  He was questioned and eventually confessed to seven murders.  No one thinks that that toll will stop there.  As a result of his confession, police found the body of a Nepalese woman buried on a military firing-range.[2]

This sad case illustrates some of the features of contemporary globalization.  Even among the rapidly-developing economies of South Asia, many people—especially women—get left out.  Huge numbers of people—many of them women from less developed areas–migrate in search of a better life.  Whether legal or illegal migrants, they perform essential, menial tasks and are prey to many kinds of abuse.  Finally, the “sending” countries have neither the means nor the inclination to protect their citizens abroad.  They are in the wind.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cypriot_intercommunal_violence.

[2] “Cyprus in Shock After a String of Killings,” NYT, 28 April 2019; Megan Specia, “Authorities in Cyprus Face Reckoning After Migrant Workers’ Killings,” NYT, 3 May 2019.

Brexit 27 March 2019.

OK, the whole Scottish Independence referendum gag left a lot of the English and Welsh bent out of shape.  Started seeing a lot of Cross of Saint George flags in place of the Union [of 1717] Jack.  I wonder what role all of this nationalist reaction played in the “Leave” vote on Brexit?

Really bad idea, not least because it will not stand for very long.  The vote was old people against young people.  So, soon enough, the old people will auger-in and the young people will want to re-apply to the EUwww!

Doesn’t mean that the old people don’t have a real grievance.  The EU is run by “Eurocrats,” not by democratically-elected politicians.  OK, democracy is flawed and lame.  Still, it’s democracy.

OK, let/push Norn Iron inna independence, boyo.  NI’s population is 1.87 million people.  Southern Iron’s population is 4.78 million people.  (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the population of Slovenia is 2 million people and change!)  Historically, the two societies have hated each other.  However, “Home Rule” no longer means “Rome Rule” as it did for most of the period of Irish nationalism.  Good thing, too.  I suppose that you can thank the Catholic Church–and all its departures from our normative behavior–for that.  The Easter Accords haven’t worked out perfectly by any means, but there have been twenty years of relative peace and prosperity within the context of the European Union.  Anyway, if the Republic were to make some kind of generous offer to Northern Ireland, then perhaps Northern Ireland would respond.  In a big hurry.  This would end the whole “back-stop” issue.  Perhaps, Eire really doesn’t want 26 + 6 = 32.  Integration would be fast and complicated.  Maybe better to just take a deep breath and let it cook.  While the most democratic society in Europe comes apart at the seams.  Leave everyone with the French, the Germans, the Italians, and the Poles.

My Weekly Reader 17 October 2018.

During the 1500s, the “Wars of Religion” that accompanied the Reformation and Counter (or Catholic)-Reformation wreaked havoc on Europe.  One response appeared in the creation of “absolute” monarchies that had the rights and resources to stamp out rebellion.  Such monarchies could spawn new conflicts, but absolutis, called out to kings who took their responsibilities seriously.  In England, the Stuart kings who succeeded Queen Elizabeth I, last of the Tudors, were convinced absolutists.  The English Parliament sought to check the claims to royal rights.  Under the second Stuart king, Charles I, push came to shove.  A civil war broke out (1644-1648).

C.V. Wedgewood chronicled the long struggle in two excellent books (The King’s War, The King’s Peace).  Here she portrayed King Charles as deceitful, even dishonest in his relationships with others (both friends and enemies).  She portrayed him as uncertain, even fearful, in pursuing the course he set out.  He comes off as a poor sort of king to lead a troubled country or to win the war that would decide that country’s future course.

His opponents were very different.  In the course of the war, power passed to a group called the Independents.  These were dissenters from the Church of England (the Protestant state church).  They rejected both the hierarchical administrative structure of the Church and many of its doctrines, which seemed to them too close to Catholicism.  In the words of Thomas Macaulay, “they knew what they fought for and loved what they knew.”  Oliver Cromwell, who rose up to be a formidable soldier and politician, came to be their “chief of men.”

Perhaps 300,000 people died in the civil war before Parliament won.  The Parliament captured the king, found him still determined to assert his claims, and had to decide what to do.  A compromise—the Treaty of Newport—had been offered to the defeated king.  He rejected the terms, which would have included the exiling of his chief supporters, a radical reform of the Church of England, and parliamentary control of the army.

The dominant faction in the Parliament, with their power rooted in the army rather than in the voters, decided to put King Charles I—“that man of blood”–on trial, to convict him, and to execute him.  This amounted to a judicial murder.  It could be justified only by a “cruel necessity” of bringing peace to the country without submitting to royal absolutism.[1]

In her third book on the subject, she focuses on the defeated king in the last, brief, stage of his life.  She portrays Charles as an in many ways admirable human being.  He remained committed to a conservative version of the Church of England and to his own understanding of the royal powers.  In his trial he refused to recognize the right of Parliament to put him on trial.  Convicted and condemned, he met death with great courage.  In sum, a better man than a king.

The trial and execution of King Charles I had ambiguous effects.  Over the short run, it consolidated the victory of Cromwell, the army, and the Independents, while laying royal absolutism in the dust.  Cromwell established what amounted to a military dictatorship.  It alienated many Englishmen, just as had royal absolutism, and scarcely survived Cromwell’s death (1658).  In 1660, the Stuart dynasty was restored to the throne and England has remained a monarchy to this day.  However, Parliament confirmed its authority and it grew with the passage of time.

[1] C.V. Wedgewood, A Coffin for King Charles (New York: Macmillan, 1964).

My Weekly Reader 21 May 2018.

It can be difficult even for diplomats and foreign policy scholars to know a foreign country.  The Soviet Union long constituted a black box to outsiders.  Censorship, propaganda, and tight police surveillance of foreigners and their Soviet contacts kept Westerners from the fuller understanding that can be achieved of an open society.  If that was true of a great power in a long period of international confrontation, it can also be true of minor states on the outer periphery of world affairs.

Take the case of Libya.  The resources needed to foster an understanding of any foreign society are—in economic terms—“scarce.”  To understand Libya, it would take learning Arabic.  There aren’t a lot of people with the ability and commitment to do this.  It would take living in the country for an extended period to develop a sense of the society.  There aren’t many people with a reason to do so: oil industry people, diplomats, journalists, and the occasional academic.  One could try to develop human contacts in such a way as to not get them killed by the regime.  That last is a matter of personality and training.

Would it even be worth the trouble?  The United States had—and has—little reason to invest scarce resources in what amount to backwaters.[1]  Libya is a geographically large country made up mostly of desert.  Only six million people live there, many of them semi-nomadic tribesmen.  It has abundant oil and natural gas reserves, but so do many other places in the Arab region.  Saudi Arabia and Egypt rank much higher than does Libya.  Then, there’s the whole Israel versus the Palestinians engouement.  Since 2003, Iraq has occupied a central place for many specialists.  All of these soaked up the attention and scarce human resources of the American foreign policy establishment.  Americans largely depended upon the expertise of other countries with a reason to care more deeply about Libya.  Chiefly this means France, whose former colonies and current pawns surround Libya, and Italy, once the colonial ruler and now just a boat-ride away from a place teeming with people who don’t want to stay there.

Occasionally, however, Libya intruded upon American attention.  From 1969 onward, Libya had been ruled by a savage dictator, Muammar Qaddafi.  In the 1980s, his malevolence got the better of his self-control.  He had meddled in a civil war in Chad; he had sponsored murderous international terrorism in the West; and he had tried to acquire nuclear weapons.  All of these initiatives had gotten Libya a series of bloody noses, with the promise of worse to come.  At this point, Qaddafi’s self-control got the better of his—international—malevolence.  He went back to persecuting his own people and left other people alone.  Libya fell off the radar screen.

Then, came the “Arab Spring”[2] of 2011.  In January 2011, anti-government protests began in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria.  In February 2011 they broke out in the eastern Libyan port-city of Benghazi.  Quaddafi vowed to drown the rebels in their own blood.[3]  “Humanitarian intervention” soon followed.  The governments of Britain and France outraged by the prospect of a massacre of “people everywhere [who] just want to be free,” wanted military intervention to protect Benghazi.  They didn’t want to send troops and they didn’t have the airborne command and control systems, or targeting drones, or air refueling capacity to make air-strikes work too well.  So they dragged on the United States to do its bit.[4]  Next thing you know, not only have the government forces headed for Benghazi been bombed to smithereens, but the Quaddafi government has been bombed out of existence.

This “success” had untoward consequences.[5]  Western experts believed that Libya had a good chance at a peaceful transition to a democratish state.  However, one now-experienced observer of Middle Eastern affairs has remarked that “the terrible men who ruled the countries of the Arab world had destroyed almost everything that might hold their societies together without them.”[6]  That proved about right—in Iraq, in Egypt, in Syria, and in Libya.  Libya came apart like a leper in a hot-tub.[7]  Islamists fought secularists, the long-suppressed regions fought each other, and gangs of criminals seized what they could.  After this failure of yet another Rodney King moment, the French, the British, and the Americans quickly threw up their hands in disgust.  One American official later characterized the change in attitude as “the hell with it.”  “Humanitarian intervention” soon ended.[8]

Other foreign powers did not.  They intervened to pursue their own interests.[9]  The criminals in coastal towns went into the migrant-export business, deluging Italy with desperately poor people who had used the Trans-African highway system[10] to reach Libya.  The flood of unwanted immigrants contributed to, but isn’t the only cause of, the rise of “populist” parties in Europe.

Could any of this have been foreseen?  Probably not, given the relative ignorance of Libyan conditions.  Still, there doesn’t seem to have been any worst-case analysis on the part of proponents of humanitarian intervention, nor any reflection on how far their own countries would be willing to go if conditions went South in a hurry.  But this is an old story.  “In his experience, premonitions of disaster were almost invariably proved false, and the road to Calvary entered on with the very lightest of hearts.”[11]

[1] The same went for Afghanistan and almost anywhere in Africa.

[2] The term alarmed many historians.  It made them think of the “Springtime of the Peoples” in the Revolutions of 1848-1849 in Europe.  These revolutions carried all before them for a time.  Then the revolutionaries, coalitions of people united only by what they were against—the current regime—fell out over what they were for.  The old guard regained control.  Firing squads, cavalry arriving in villages with coils of rope around every saddle horn, dungeons, and clipper ships packed with emigrants to America followed.  However, History is a college major in steep decline.  It offers only entertainment and the vicarious experience subjected to rational analysis that might lead one to not do something spectacularly stupid later in life.  Apparently there is no market for it.  “Viddy well little brother.”

[3] OK, that’s a cliché.

[4] Reportedly, the American military and intelligence chiefs were opposed to this intervention.  They had more wars—in Afghanistan and Iraq—than they could conveniently handle.

[5] See: “The Shores of Tripoli” and “The Hacked Election.”

[6] Dexter Filkins, New York Times Book Review, 20 May 2018, p. 24.

[7] Same as did Syria.

[8] Apparently governmental humanitarianism has a much shorter half-life than does NGO humanitarianism.

[9] Two things here.  First, Qatar supported the Islamists, Egypt and Russia supported the not-so-Islamists.  Same as in Syria.  Second, one aspect of America’s post-Cold War “triumphalism” has been the belief that other countries don’t have a right to their own foreign policy.  It should come as no surprise—although apparently it does in Washington—that other countries disagree.

[10] It’s not the American interstate system.  Still, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-African_Highway_network

[11] Pat Barker, Regeneration.  I forget the page number.

Man of Steel II.

As with Adolf Hitler (and everyone else), the question is whether Joseph Stalin’s mature self already existed in his younger self, waiting to emerge when the time was right, or did some conjuncture of experiences turn him down a particular path?[1]  His most recent biographer, Stephen Kotkin of Princeton University, seems to find for the former.[2]

Between the death of Lenin in 1924 and 1929, Stalin had mastered the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.  More than Lenin or any other Bolshevik, Stalin revolutionized Russia.  The fundamental problem facing Bolshevism lay in the vast peasant population.  In a country theoretically committed to the “dictatorship of the proletariat, there existed virtually no proletariat.  For their part, the peasants were deeply committed to their own private property and traditional, inefficient methods.  They were uninterested in industrial labor or city life.  Yet they controlled the food supply (and thus the survival of city people).  Moreover, agriculture had long provided Russia’s main export and source of foreign exchange.  The solution to Bolshevism’s problem lay in “collectivizing” millions of small farms into gigantic state farms (kolkhoz), tractoring the land to free up millions of peasants to become industrial workers, cream-off a surplus of agricultural goods for sale abroad, purchase Western machinery, and build a huge industrial base.  All this had to be done at high speed in a series of bureaucratic Five Year Plans.

The human costs of this transformation stagger the mind.  Peasants resisted both collectivization and the huge food “surplus” defined by Moscow planners by burning their crops and slaughtering their animals.  Stalin’s minions—often young idealists—both fomented strife within villages and slaughtered opponents.  Millions died in famines[3] that many believe to have been deliberately engineered and others believe to have been unintended in origin, but then responded to with cruel indifference.

While this agonizing social and economic revolution drove ahead, Stalin launched a purge of the people on the “commanding heights” of the Soviet Union.  He first slaughtered his fellow “Old Bolsheviks,” who now filled government and party offices, and the men with guns (the armed forces and the security services) who might actually evict him from power.  Then this limited purge spread outward into every aspect of Soviet society.  Ethnic minorities were hammered, but so were all sorts of ethnic Russians. Perhaps 800,000 died and millions were imprisoned in the Gulag.

Deeply suspicious of opponents within the Soviet Union, Stalin also distrusted the capitalist states.  He saw the Anglo-French policy of appeasement as turning German aggression eastward against the Soviet Union.  In August 1939, the Soviets and the Nazis struck a deal to partition Poland and the Baltic countries.  This alliance might well be regarded as adroit “realpolitik.”  Remarkably though, Stalin came to believe that he could trust Hitler.  Birds of a feather?  As a result, he ignored both the effects of German victories in Western Europe in 1940 and abundant evidence that the Germans intended to attack his country in Summer 1941.  He was, apparently, psychologically shattered by the revelation of his own self-deception.

[1] “And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg, Which, hatch’d, would as his kind grow mischievous, And kill him in the shell.”—Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene 1.

[2] Stephen Kotkin, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941 (New York: Penguin, 2018).

[3] Most famously, 3.5 million in Ukraine, but also another 1.5 million in the North Caucasus and Kazakhstan.

“Degaev steals the ball!”

“Talk is cheap” and “actions speak louder than words.”  It is an old belief[1] and one that discomfits intellectuals.

From the later 18th through the later 19th Century, European societies faced immense turmoil unleashed by rapid population growth, industrialization, urbanization, and the ideas of popular sovereignty and civil rights.  Terrified by repeated revolutions that might one day finally succeed, conservatives shanghaied[2] the cause of nationalism from the left in a desperate effort to retain control of key aspects of their power by adapting to modern times in other regards.[3]  Subsequently, the nation-states had expanded government responsibilities and powers in a host of new areas.  They also expanded the instruments of social control: soldiers, policemen, civil “servants,” charity officials, and school teachers.  This combined with the power of rising business and industry and an often smug and heartless attitude toward the working classes on the part of the middle classes.

For some critics of the new order, slow progress within the established order appeared a delusion.  Johann Most (1846-1906) figures as one of the most influential alt-left thinkers.  “The existing system will be quickest and most radically overthrown by the annihilation of its exponents.  Therefore, massacres of the enemies of the people must be set in motion,” wrote Most.  This doctrine came to be called the “Propaganda of the Deed.”

Between 1878 and 1932, propagandists of the deed attempted to kill the emperor of Germany, two kings of Italy, the tsar of Russia (twice), the king of Belgium, the king of Spain, the president of France, the Italian dictator Mussolini, an American senator, the attorney-general of the United States, John D. Rockefeller, the chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company, the judge in the Sacco and Vanzetti case, and the mayor of Seattle, Washington.  They actually did kill several tsarist officers of the secret police, Tsar Alexander II of Russia (after two failed attempts), the empress of Austria, the king of Italy, the king of Portugal, the king of Greece, the president of France, three prime ministers of Spain, the president of the United States, the prime minister of Russia, the chief of police of Buenos Aires, about sixty ordinary people killed in a wave of anarchist bombings in the United States between 1916 and 1920, and twenty Catalan Rossini enthusiasts.[4]

Most of the attacks took place in Russia or in Mediterranean Europe.  In these places, neither political liberty nor economic progress had advanced even as Western Europe and the United States had surged ahead.  Most of the attackers were people already unhinged who were driven over the edge by poverty and government brutality.  However, the chief effect of the attacks came in the expansion and intensification of government powers to combat dissidence.

It is worth asking whether this half-century-long wave of terrorism offers lessons for understanding and dealing with contemporary “jihadist” terrorism.  Both waves pose(d) a serious threat to lives, but neither pose(d) a threat to the existence of societies founded on “Western” values.  Of course, the earlier wave targeted societies with the means and the will to respond.

[1] “Let them show their love by the works they do for each other, according as the Apostle says: ‘let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.'”—St. Francis of Assisi.  Also, the Tsarina Catherine the Great instructed the “philosophe” Denis Diderot that “you write in paper while I must write on flesh.”

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGIQgjPklLw

[3] There is a useful analogy in Japan’s Meiji Restoration.

[4] For some serious books on this lurid subject, see Richard Pipes, The Degaev Affair (2005); John Merriman, The Dynamite Club (2009) and Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits (2017); and Beverly Gage, The Day Wall Street Exploded (2010).