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Letters

Vol. 39 No. 2 · 19 January 2017

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I happen to disagree

The LRB has by now published quite a lot about Donald Trump, none of it laudatory, much of it contemptuous, most recently by Jonathan Lethem (LRB, 15 December 2016). I happen to believe that Trump has three perfectly realistic ways of fulfilling his promises to his voters and ensuring his re-election. His first big idea is to build more than a trillion dollars’ worth of much needed infrastructure (including canal locks and other such things, not just highways, bridges and tunnels) on an accelerated schedule. This will generate millions of well-paid construction jobs and relaunch the global commodity cycle, in effect compensating for the Chinese deceleration, thereby increasing demand for US heavy construction and mining gear. Obama too had wanted ‘shovel-ready’ public works when he came in, but he also appointed people at the Environmental Protection Agency and elsewhere in government who were determined to study every project ad infinitum, all too ready to kill it over their concern for a rare species of frog or whatever. They also efficiently blocked everything they could block, starting with oil pipelines. Trump will not sabotage himself as Obama did: he has named someone at the EPA who will enforce the law, and no more than that. Nor will he write hundreds of executive orders as Obama did to block things that the law would allow. Simply by revoking some of Obama’s executive orders, he can create a few hundred thousand jobs on top of the millions that will be generated by his infrastructure programmes.

Trump’s second big idea is deregulation. Aside from the regulatory explosion of the Obama years, which has inflicted costly, sometimes crippling, new restrictions on industry (and even on small workshops), there is a mass of badly outdated regulations that impede economic activity. Most reflect the preferences of the privileged, for whom an infinitesimal environmental improvement is worth any number of lost jobs, but there are also consumer-protection laws that degrade the standard of living of many Americans. For example, at present more than 50 per cent of American households cannot afford a new car because of regulations that satisfy the safety-conscious affluent but also greatly add to the price. The cheapest cars in Europe can be bought for less than €8000; in the US, the cheapest cars cost $13,000.

Trump’s third big idea is that US trade policy should seek to maximise employment, instead of being an expression of religious purity in service of the Free Trade god. He has complained that the huge chronic trade deficit with China implies the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs. Trump wants some of them back, and if exhortation fails, he is willing to use his executive powers to put pressure on US companies that do their manufacturing abroad to come home. Anti-Trump columnists insistently and confidently assert that the billionaire has no intention of keeping his promises to his voters, and would therefore do nothing at all for them. I happen to disagree.

Edward Luttwak
Chevy Chase, Maryland

A General Logic of Crisis

Adam Tooze’s outpouring is material for a future anatomy of the class rhetoric of faux cosmopolitanism as it flourishes among a soul-searching urban-academic middle class in the post-Brexit moment (LRB, 5 January). Those of us who do not meet the demanding standards of universalist utopianism can find solace in the fact that when it comes to earthly matters, even the inhabitants of the moral high ground have in the past shown a sense of healthy pragmatism, for example by abstaining from calling for Britain to join the European Monetary Union or the Dublin or Schengen agreements, making one suspect that they, too, distinguish between different institutional constructions of Europeanism or globalism, and between different national needs and interests in relation to them.

While Tooze does represent some aspects of my work fairly, I am highly uncomfortable with his claim that I was asserting ‘the primacy of the nation’. (Other points, equally disturbing, I cannot address here for reasons of space.) I know this trope from discussion in Germany, where any positive reference to national borders or national sovereignty is denounced as implying ‘a return to the nation-state of the 19th century’, or even as a call for Abschottung (isolation, sealing-off in panic). I don’t know about ‘primacy’ – but when it comes to the politics of Europe today and in the next ten or twenty years, I opt for sober – British? – empiricism, everything else being highly inflammatory. In Europe the nation-state (I tend not to refer to ‘nation’, only to the nation-state, which is an institution, a political organisation, not an ethnic bloodbrotherhood) is very much alive; see the United Kingdom, but also Scotland as a nation-state in waiting. (Quite a few of my anti-Brexit British friends were pro-independence.) I cannot imagine a European Union, however it will develop in coming years, in which the historical nation-states of Europe won’t play an important, indeed a constitutive role. Europe cannot be a unitary polity, for innumerable reasons. My concern is not with ‘an assertion of the primacy of the nation’, but with how our historically inherited nation-states can be bound into a European fabric where they can live in peace with each other and with themselves – the latter meaning, to me at least, shielding themselves from powerful pressures, internal as well as external, for a neoliberal restructuring of their economies and societies. Too much centralisation is counterproductive in this respect; see the rise of anti-integrationist, nationalist parties everywhere, and the exit from Europe of a country like the UK, that was at best only marginally integrated in ‘Europe’ to begin with. The more you push for ‘more Europe’, the less Europe you get.

So much for the politics. On political economy, ‘Europe’ – that’s to say, the European Union and, in particular, its monetary union – has become a formidable neoliberal rationalisation machine. I saw this coming, and said so, beginning in the 1990s with the turn of the second Delors Commission to a supply-side economic policy. Forgotten was the ‘social dimension’, not least because of British influence – and I don’t remember today’s Remainers having had a word with their governments, Conservative or New Labour, on the need to build into a ‘united Europe’ effective capabilities to defend the European welfare state, at national or supranational level. That train has long left the station. One might think historians like Tooze should have a sense of what social scientists call ‘path dependency’. Democracy, defined as the institutionalised possibility of the unwashed reminding the washed of their existence, is to some residual extent still present at national level – see the Brexit vote – with no prospect of expansion to the elevated circles of the Junckers and Draghis, for institutional, organisational, linguistic or whatever reasons. I argue that democracy is more important than globalisation, and since global democracy is no more than a pipe dream, a little less globalisation is quite all right if it gets us a little more democracy. But perhaps that battle has already been lost.

Liberals like Mario Monti, a seasoned functionary of both haute finance and haute Europe, who promised the cosmopolitans of Europe he would turn Italians into Germans (in a newspaper interview shortly before an election that sealed his political fate), may see this differently, and Tooze is of course free to do so as well. Where it gets really dirty, however, is where he blows up my innocent analytical distinction between ‘the people of the state’ and ‘the people of the market’ into an essentialist, racist, implicitly anti-Semitic conceptualisation of politics and political economy. The relevant passages in my book are devoted to explicating two competing pressures on democratic politics in an age of high debt: pressures from the owners of passports commanding a right to vote (Staatsvolk), and from the owners of bonds and movable capital commanding a right to sell (Marktvolk). I say nothing about how the two are constituted, except to mention that voting rights are national and selling rights international (which is so). Nothing in particular on ethnicity, nowhere. Are there personal overlaps between the two ‘peoples’? Sure, and I explicitly mention them, among the rich (who are, however, today more internationally mobile than ever before in the modern era) and the less rich (those who have money in private pension funds). Tooze implies, let’s be clear about this, that my Staatsvolk is a Volksgemeinschaft and my Marktvolk is an international, probably Jewish conspiracy; this is beyond the pale, and leaves me speechless.

A final point on Europe. The Sun called Oskar Lafontaine the ‘most dangerous man in Europe’ shortly after he became finance minister in late 1998. Tooze forgets to mention that the Sun and, if I remember correctly, other British papers adorned his image with a swastika, the reason being that on his first visit to London, he had advocated tax harmonisation in Europe. (If you’re German, you find that swastikas are readily applied by anyone who disagrees with you; they can even be delivered with a Mark Antony tremolo – viz Tooze: ‘One wouldn’t wish to impute that to Streeck.’) At the time I was a member of a group created by the German chancellor’s office along with the ‘social partners’ (in German parlance: trade unions and employer associations). We were charged with devising ways to overcome what was then a deep employment crisis. (Not the Hartz reforms; they came in 2003 when our group had long been disbanded.) Roughly coinciding with Lafontaine’s London visit I gave a lecture in Amsterdam in which I touched on the way European countries attracted the headquarters of multinational companies by affording them special tax deals. In the audience was a high functionary of the Dutch Partij van de Arbeid, who in the subsequent discussion shouted at me as though I were aspiring to be the new Gauleiter for the Netherlands. I haven’t forgotten this. I learned from it how complex European politics are: so complex that the idea that it would take no more than an R2G government in Germany for national interests and obsessions to dissolve into thin air is ridiculous. Others with less grounded experience may find it hard to understand why so many in Europe perceive Habermas’s Europeanisation of Germany as a Germanisation of Europe. Universalism, however, can be imperialism; when I call for the preservation of a modicum of national sovereignty within whatever European construction will finally emerge, it is because I want Europeans to live in peace with one another, which to me requires, among other things, that countries be able to command a halfway effective capacity to defend themselves against competitive pressures and German rule, and in particular against the former imposed by the latter. High capitalism is a difficult enough fellow to fight.

Wolfgang Streeck
Cologne

Adam Tooze writes: Wolfgang Streeck accuses me of blowing up his ‘innocent analytical distinction between “the people of the state" and “the people of the market" into an essentialist, racist, implicitly anti-Semitic conceptualisation of politics and political economy’. This reading is more revealing of Streeck’s insecurities than it is of anything I wrote. But the ‘innocent analytical distinction’ is indeed deeply problematic and a brief look at the table that Streeck uses to illustrate it will show why:

StaatsvolkMarktvolk
nationalinternational
citizensinvestors
civil rightsclaims
voterscreditors
elections (periodic)auctions (continual)
public opinioninterest rates
loyalty‘confidence’
public servicesdebt service

His distinction is innocent, he insists, of any reference to ethnicity. Except of course in the headings of the two columns, where he applies the term Volk, not just to the Staat, but, in his neologism, to the market as well. Streeck prefers, he declares, to discuss the ‘nation-state’ rather than the ‘nation’, yet in his schema the first attribute of the ‘people of the state’ is their nationality. He doesn’t advocate a return to 19th-century nationalism, he insists, but in his discussion of what constitutes a national demos he refers to the constitutive role of two centuries of history, one of which presumably would be the 19th, and invokes shared ‘experiences, practices and perspectives … understandings … histories, values, aspirations and compromises’, the stock in trade of cultural nationalism. He does not mean Staatsvolk to evoke the Nazi racial community (Volksgemeinschaft). I didn’t say he did. But it just so happens that the locus of social solidarity that Streeck chooses to prioritise is the nation. And as he surely knows it was the First World War that forged a new association between the nation and the social out of which emerged the notion of a Volksgemeinschaft, the term the Nazis later appropriated and, one is tempted to add, passed down to the solidaristic corporatism of the Federal Republic. If the postwar moment occurred when the social was reified, it wasn’t just the balance of class forces that produced that effect. The logic of wartime mass mobilisation had something to do with it too, and in the German case that meant the Third Reich.

In any case the real trouble is not with the concept of the Staatsvolk, but the concept of the Marktvolk. If one takes Streeck’s table at face value, and he gives no indication that he means it in scare quotes, he is proposing that we conceive of a ‘people’ that is international, and that consists of investors who pursue claims rather than asserting civil rights, who are continuously involved in weighing the world in terms of rate of return, who care not about loyalty but about market confidence and prioritise their pound of flesh over public services. Now corporations, banks and other corporations may indeed be motivated in this way by their internal make-up and legal structure and competitive strategy. It may be convenient to talk in short-hand about ‘the market’ exerting such pressures. But what is talk of a people, a Volk, doing here? It is, indeed, characteristic of anti-Semites and other conspiracy theorists that they associate such traits with ‘peoples’. Since Streeck is clearly upset by any such association would he not be better off, instead of expostulating about accusations no one has actually made, to take some well-meant advice and reconsider his entire unfortunate schema?

Streeck objects to my use of the term the ‘primacy of the nation’. He is right. It was imprecise. What his recent manifestos assert is not the primacy of the nation but its indispensability and its unsurpassablity as a horizon of democratic politics. Streeck doesn’t like what he sees as the hostility of cosmopolitanism towards the nation. Against anti-national cosmopolitanism, he believes, the nation should be reasserted both in its ‘factual existence as moral and economic communities of shared understandings and institutionalised solidarity’ and in its ‘moral right to exist as such’.

Which brings us to the wild opening broadside of Streeck’s response. It would be unbecoming in an exchange such as this to complain about a bit of thuggery. It would, indeed, be a shame to miss out on Streeck’s outbursts. ‘Urban’, ‘middle-class’, ‘academic’, ‘cosmopolitan’, ‘faux’, ‘soul-searching’, ‘outpouring’ – the extraordinary chain of contemptuous associations with which he reduces a serious critique of his work to ‘material for a future anatomy of class rhetoric’ does at least serve one useful purpose. In a backhanded confirmation of the central point of my review, Streeck leaves us in no doubt as to the place he chooses for himself in the cultural politics of our times.

This stamp won’t stick

Jim Smyth’s stories about the suspicion he incurred visiting East Germany reminded me of the time I was arrested in Texas at the height of the McCarthy era (Letters, 5 January). I was on 24-hour leave from my ship, the SS Oslo, which was tied up in Houston. In those days merchant seamen didn’t need passports, just ID cards, but special rules applied during the McCarthy years; we had to sign and carry with us a chit, on which was written: ‘I undertake not to overthrow the government of the United States by force.’ I forgot to take mine with me when I went window-shopping in Houston, and because there were no pavements there, I was the only pedestrian, so I suppose I drew attention. To compound the crime, I was in the uniform of a foreign power (i.e. the UK), presenting a clear threat to the state.

A police car about the size of a small fishing vessel pulled up alongside me and two tall policemen got out, wearing high heels and enormous cowboy hats. They asked for my chit, which I’d forgotten, then my seaman’s card, which I’d also forgotten, and finally asked if I had any other form of ID. I did, but hesitated. Would they be more likely to jail me if I showed it, or if I didn’t? With some anxiety, I handed over my membership card for the English Folk Dance and Song Society. They reacted as if they’d swallowed scorpions. I was bundled into the car; one of the men sat close enough to shoot me if I tried to escape, but far enough away to avoid contamination. They drove me back to my ship, frogmarched me onto the gang-plank, and told me never to set foot in Texas again. I never did.

Fabian Acker
London SE22

Iris Murdoch in Winter

Colin Burrow writes of Iris Murdoch: ‘No one could read more than a couple of her novels without recognising that they usually take place in summer, often in a large house, and rarely shift their gaze significantly below the upper-middle classes’ (LRB, 11 August 2016). Yet A Word Child is about a low-level civil servant who grew up in a caravan; in The Time of the Angels, Pattie the housekeeper is the focus and conscience of the novel; and in Nuns and Soldiers, Daisy and Tom seem to live mostly on the scraps from other people’s tables. A Severed Head, which, like the other novels I’ve mentioned, is set in winter, does indeed focus on an upper-middle-class clique, which is sort of the point: there is something fatally inward-looking about this social circle, which is figuratively incestuous even before you get to the actual incestuous relationship. The book does however have a pivotal character, Georgie Hands, arguably the one sane person in the book, who, as a junior lecturer at the London School of Economics, living in a raggedy bedsit flat, is an honest member of the urban proletariat.

Suzanne Erfurth
Chicago

The Death of Municipal England

Tom Crewe notes that English local authorities are ‘encouraging business-friendly initiatives and the construction of high-value properties as the only way of increasing income’ (LRB, 15 December 2016). This will have a profound effect on the English landscape without doing much to meet housing needs or generate economic growth. The New Homes Bonus rewards councils that grant planning permission for housing, but only those in high-demand areas can take full advantage. It also acts as a perverse incentive to build in the Green Belt. East Hertfordshire District Council, for instance, stands to gain £128 million by building 16,000 homes in the Green Belt.

Another way councils are earning money is by building huge warehouses alongside roads. These are springing up all over the place. They generate lots of traffic, suck the life out of towns and create very few good quality jobs. But they are given planning permission because councils need the business rates. In the 1920s Clough Williams-Ellis described bungalows as ‘England’s most disfiguring disease’. In landscape terms, these enormous sheds are the modern equivalent.

The undermining of sound planning by money is not accidental. Anti-planning free-market think tanks were advocating ‘financial incentives’ as a way of getting round objections to new development ten years ago. They are now getting their way and their anonymous donors, who presumably stand to gain, must be very pleased. The rest of us should hope for a return to strong, democratic councils able to plan for the future of their localities.

Shaun Spiers
Campaign to Protect Rural England, London SE1

The parlous state of local authority funding has profound implications for public health. Following the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, local authorities assumed responsibility for drug and alcohol treatment, funded through the public health grant. Central government has since cut this grant, even though drug-related deaths have increased and more users of new synthetic drugs are presenting for treatment. One way local authorities manage the cut is by re-tendering services with a drastically reduced contract value. Reductions of 30 per cent are not uncommon. The addiction treatment sector has been exposed to competitive tendering for some time but price rather than quality now largely determines which provider wins the contracts. Consequently, the market is dominated by a few large third-sector providers able to operate on a national scale; local third-sector and NHS providers are unable to compete. There are no NHS-run detoxification units within the M25 and therefore no capacity to care safely for the most complex cases other than in the already over-stretched acute hospitals. There has also been an exodus of specialist staff from the sector and it is unclear how the next generation of specialists will be trained.

What’s more, it has been proposed that the public health grant should be displaced by business rates: the funding of public health initiatives will be dependent on the ability of the local authority to attract and raise revenue from business. Addiction is a proxy indicator for poverty, and poorer areas will have fewer resources to ameliorate the problems of addiction where they are also most needed. Betting shops and off-licences are often the most visible businesses in areas of high deprivation and not surprisingly there is evidence that their presence fuels excessive gambling and alcohol use. Local authorities will be in the unenviable position of relying on tax receipts from the agents that fuel addiction to fund services for the people damaged by them.

Luke Mitcheson
London SE23

Take as much as you like

‘The invasion of France was the first officially controlled use of a chemical stimulant in warfare,’ Mike Jay writes (LRB, 5 January). He and the authors of the books under review appear to have missed a drugged-up military campaign earlier in the Second World War. In the Winter War of 1939-40, four million poorly armed and largely friendless Finns used a common domestic remedy to help them stand their ground against a million advancing Soviet troops: heroin.

The historian Mikko Ylikangas, in his book from 2009, Unileipää, kuolonvettä, spiidiä. Huumeet Suomessa 1800-1950 (‘Opium, Death’s Tincture, Speed: Drugs in Finland 1800-1950’), records that Finland consumed enormous quantities of prescription heroin from the 1930s to the 1950s, chiefly in the form of two preparations for chest complaints. Amazingly, there was hardly any abuse of the drug, although morphine and cocaine were used recreationally by the upper classes and in underworld circles.

International efforts to outlaw the cheap and useful medicine in the 1930s were resisted, and opium, morphine and heroin were stockpiled in large quantities, for fear of international prohibition. With war approaching, the Ministry of Defence took positive action, ordering millions of doses of heroin tablets, as well as morphine for the use of army medics. The steady calm of the largely amateur soldiers of the Finnish Defence Forces as they resisted Stalin’s war machine is explained to some extent by the fact that each soldier on the front line was issued with a packet of 5mg heroin tablets, with plenty more available from the medics. This didn’t excite much comment at the time – the use of heroin was seen as perfectly normal for a range of common illnesses. Temperatures approached minus 50°C in January, so using a cold remedy was quite natural.

The Finnish forces killed enough of the enemy and captured or destroyed enough equipment to claim a victory, but only at the expense of the Karelian Isthmus and other territories, many dead and wounded, and a heavy psychological cost to ordinary men forced to slaughter hundreds of thousands of hapless Soviet conscripts stuck in the snow. After a respite, fighting started again in 1941. The heroin was then supplemented with Pervitin, perhaps on the German model.

Christopher Lord
Jours en Vaux, France

I too was there

Annie Epelboin writes with her own memories of Igor Sats (Letters, 15 December 2016). Of course people show different sides of themselves in different contexts. But in this case, there is an obvious explanation, not related to the revolutionary romanticism she (wrongly) attributes to me. As long as Sats was working with Alexander Tvardovsky at the journal Novy Mir, they were engaged in a struggle to make the Soviet Union a better place, closer to what they saw as the original Bolshevik spirit. That involved maintaining, perhaps to some extent also cultivating, the revolutionary romanticism of their youth. But all that changed when Tvardovsky and Sats were dismissed from Novy Mir in 1970. Igor was 67 when that happened, and he perceived it as the end not only of his hopes for the Soviet Union but also of his own ability to do something useful in the world. A photograph he sent me after the dismissal (reproduced in my memoir A Spy in the Archives) shows him totally despondent, and in the years that followed his mood only grew darker. This had an aspect of political disillusionment but also of consciousness of approaching death, about which, to me at least, he spoke equally often. Evidently Epelboin met him at this time too. But I was writing about him as he was in 1967, the year of our meeting and in the first months of intensive, almost daily conversations.

I once asked Sats why he stayed in the party, given his attitude to it in its current form. His answer was that this was the hand fate had dealt him – just the one party and the one country (odna partiia, odna strana). In other words, it was no longer a choice and he couldn’t rewrite his life. I think he kept that attitude to the end. But when I first knew him, there was pride in it, as well as a certain ruefulness. By the end, it was mainly sadness.

A brief correction to my contributor’s note for the original piece (LRB, 1 December 2016): it was based on a paper written for a conference, ‘Utopie und Gewalt’, held in Berlin on 1-2 December 2016. A longer version was published in German in Osteuropa 8-10 (2016).

Sheila Fitzpatrick
Sydney

Attlee in Wartime

Colin Kidd makes only passing reference to Clement Attlee’s wartime career (LRB, 17 November 2016). ‘As a socialist,’ Kidd writes, ‘he detested the idea of war’ but ‘thought it his duty to fight’. Unlike his elder brother, Tom, who as a conscientious objector spent most of the war in prison, Attlee was quick to sign up at the start of the First World War. He was already 31 years old. He served in 1915 with the South Lancashire Regiment in the Gallipoli campaign, but fell ill with dysentery and was invalided out to recover in hospital in Malta. He returned to his regiment in time for the final evacuation and was apparently the last but one man to leave, in December 1915.

He was then deployed to Mesopotamia and was badly wounded in the leg in January 1916 while storming an Ottoman trench at the Battle of Hanna, where some 2700 casualties were suffered on the British side. One of the few survivors to return to Britain, he spent much of 1917 training soldiers. In July 1917 he assumed command of 30th Company of the Tenth Battalion of the Tank Corps at Bovington Camp in Dorset, but didn’t deploy to France with it in December 1917. He was promoted to the rank of major. After recovering from his injuries, he was sent in June 1918 to France where, during the final few months of the war, he served on the Western Front.

As Kidd remarks, he ‘was tremendously lucky to survive the Great War in the sort of shape that would allow him to follow a political vocation’. He returned to start teaching at the London School of Economics, became involved in local politics, and in 1919 at the age of 36 was elected mayor of Stepney, where he had previously done voluntary work at a boys’ club. In 1922, a little short of forty years old, he was elected MP for Limehouse.

David Seddon
Brockdish, Norfolk

Civet

I’m slightly disappointed that the most plainly gory detail in James Ensor’s Squelettes se disputant un pendu (‘Skeletons Fighting for the Body of a Hanged Man’, 1891) isn’t mentioned by T.J. Clark (LRB, 1 December 2016). The word civet on the placard pinned to the body refers to a classic preparation of game in which the animal’s blood is used to thicken the sauce (hence the dried-up trickle): the placard is proclaiming the ultimate fate of the hanged man. Not an unexpected outcome, given how greedy, or maybe just hungry, Ensor’s skeletons are – the single pickled herring over which they fight in another of Ensor’s paintings from 1891 clearly isn’t enough.

Luc Bourrousse
Bourg-sur-Gironde, France

Wrong Stone

Adam Smyth says that Pepys celebrated the removal of a gallstone with an annual Lucullan feast (LRB, 5 January). Such invasive surgery, a cholecystectomy, was first performed in the 19th century. More likely Pepys had a bladder stone, the removal of which is called a lithotomy.

Norbert Hirschhorn
London NW6

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