Thursday 8 January 2009

Britain- Not History Yet

Our history- for us Brits- is a millstone round our necks.

Sometimes I hate it.
The fact we have it.

The fact that the rest of the world comes here expecting thatched cottages, castles, people in cloth caps and...Christ, what DID you expect?

Fifty six million people live here. Yes, we have more history then most places, more recorded history than ANYWHERE. You point to a tree on this island, we can tell you when it was planted. You can't go far without passing a building over five hundred years old. There isn't an acre of land in these isles we can't tell you every owner for the last thousand years.

But in case you hadn't clocked it, that is something most of us hardly think about. It may surprise you to realise, we MODERNISED before anyone else. The modern era STARTED HERE. The British Isles is a country of housing estates, business parks, tower blocks and motorway service stations.
Our major cities- London aside- are YOUNG.

Don't come here expecting to see history on every street corner- you'll see a higher proportion in New York.

Come to MY city. Most of it was banged up, lightspeed, in the sixties.

Now I'm not embarrassed about that. But many 'patriots' try pretend it's otherwise. They glorify our past. Not the fact that this country is a progressive country at heart. That has always been it's beauty.
And why they- perversely- hate so much of what it stands for, I love it.

Because I do. I cringe at Union Jack waving fanatics. Because of WHY they wave it. I find the flag itself embarrassing. And having a Queen? Yes, I find it embarrassing.
But what the Union Jack WAS. That's different.

And isn't this the real problem us Brits face?

Realising that nothing has changed. Not really. Britain has been a progressive culture since we cut the head off our King. And then set out to show the world that being told what to do by God-appointed tyrants was a shite idea. That there was a better way. And yes, there is a better way. What makes this culture special, is we STILL pursue it. We don't stop at a point in history.

We have learned in the UK to be a GROWN UP culture. And no one else has got here yet. God, that sounds arrogant.


I hate what the UK has come to stand for. What I take pride in is our people. The way we think. The mode of thinking the polls don't understand.
We are actually the most progressive people on Earth.

Because in our hearts, though the academics can't yet express it, we understand things in our culture on these islands that the thought and communication channels WE set up, have yet to disseminate.

And we learnt it by what we did in the WWII.

Make no mistake. Never before have so many owed so much to so few.

Yes, you do.

Six Billion people alive today owe the world of today by the deliberate decision of the world's leading Superpower to sacrifice all that.
For the World.

The US can rewrite history all it wants.
The US did not 'Save Europe'.

The US did a deal.
You help us with our war, we'll help you win yours.

If the US REALLY thinks it could have beaten Japan on it's own, it kids itself. Not without a second front. The US knows what the War was.

I think every British citizen alive knew then what in our hearts every UK citizen knows now.

WE were the difference.


This island.

And not just in how we fought, not just in how we played it, but that in every value that was GOOD in what was being fought for, was how we lived.

Bottom up government versus top down. THAT'S what we fought for. And no, the Empire wasn't perfect. But it shone a light, and in those dark hours people saw it.

We consciously threw away our Empire. We threw away our superpower status. We ruined ourselves forever.

And I'm proud to live in the culture that did that. A culture that could be moral enough to realise what really mattered. Because I think that's why we GREW UP in the sixties so much. Because we grasped higher values during that struggle. We woke up and saw that Union Jacks and Kings and colonies and blowing fanfares, Jesus, GROW UP! Does that shit DO anything for us? No it don't, but hell, we don't want a world like the Nazis do. And ordinary people grasped that. And they knew damn well they'd sacrifice the British Empire to keep freedom alive.

We didn't destroy ourselves by that. We're still here. We still lead the way. Because our culture still seems to TALK to eachother. We know when an idea is past it's sell by date.
Just as we did in the sixties.

I think this a country where we will ALWAYS have people lamenting the loss of the old way of life. Because the people here, contrary to popular belief, are actually forward thinking. More so than ANYWHERE on Earth. So we will always have those within cannot see the future that always is being whispered in BRITISH culture before it hits the streets elsewhere.
That's why I'd never leave here. Because I truly believe that no revolution on the globe can ever succeed that doesn't feel heat from the culture in the world which seems instinctively to have a nose for the future.

Because we twigged in WW2 what was wrong with Nazism. And we applied it to ourselves and said 'Shit, this Empire stuff has some issues doesn't it? When we beat these pricks, let's get rid of ours, in a way that we can still retain dignity.'

Look at the evidence. This is not a dead country. You judge it by capitalist values. You judge us by the fact we were a superpower once. And we're not now. Because guess what, Britain realised that nation states are obsolete. And doesn't care any more.
The World Cup. We're a nation then. Otherwise, we realise it's a load of crap.
But hey- even by your silly Capitalist ideas we're still the fifth 'largest economy' and fourth military power.

So our people- in spite of decades of crappy government- seem to know what to do to make things tick.

We seem to have created a culture that no government, no matter how dismal, can destroy.

What does that mean? Hey, I don't glorify that crap. It just means that even under this system, even after our supposed decline, we succeed even under markers I don't much care for.

No, the markers I REALLY care for are the ones which tell me we understand what really matters. And my viewing of how we see life, is I think we're still a good culture. One of the best. I trust the ethics of the British public. They're good. You can say what you want about living conditions, or crime rates, and yes, we're governed by tossers who want to impose a Fascist Police State.

But I grew up in the Rave Scene. And I tell you, we're good. If a culture doesn't know how to keep values alive it fails. And we know. John Locke lives and waves a glowstick.

I say, Fuck the Queen. Fuck your UK. But the British Isles? What an amazing place to live. What an amazing culture to be part of.

I often cringe a bit that people hold up 1917 or 1789 and forget 1688 as one of the crucials. And I can see why. Because it's an outdated revolution, really.

But the next one...

Let 2025 be OURS.

We can lead the way.

Marx believed in Britain. That's why he chose to live and die here.
And I believe in the Britain HE believed in.

These isles are isles of progress and revolution, not isles of history and tradition.


Anonymous said...

Crushed, I thought this was a really interesting post.

I was surprised how your comment about the war, the Nazis the empire and the US rang so close to stuff my Mother was saying... a scarily long time ago now.

One thing I would argue with you on though. I don't think the UK really does revolution if it can possibly help it, more quiet evolutions, or maybe a different kind of revolution. The subtle sort that are not quite what they look like and are easier to spot in long retrospect.

A bit like trying to watch a shell game maybe?

I think that really bugs the ones who “Want revolution and want it now!” Maybe it uses up less people though, and you come out the other side with less regrets, less of a stain?

As for Marx. I do wonder if he slightly misunderstood/misjudged what he was seeing, being at the new beginning or transition stage of a social systems. Maybe enough to throw him off a bit. I wonder what he would have made of the world as it is now and how that would have changed his writings and ideas. I

figure he was probably quite a good person, who cared about people and would have been horrified about some of the things/mistakes that have been done/made in his name.

Anonymous said...

interesting perspective on nationalism and pride. i think about that stuff too sometimes, though i'm not all that patriotic, and i'm not particularly proud of my national culture. i feel more nova scotian than canadian, more haligonian than nova scotian, more north-ender than haligonian.

one thing i don't buy: i don't think britain made a consious decision to shed its empire. it really didn't have much choice. hitler's eyes were on western europe, then the world. britain was defending itself. in the process it ran out of money. it could no longer afford its empire. yet still it faught india's independence and africa's eventual independence tooth and nail. those nations had to fight and struggle to be free of colonialism.

Anonymous said...

My house was built in the 18th century...

Anonymous said...

Where have you traveled outside of the UK?

Anonymous said...

Moggs- I have to be honest and admit that about six pints of Guiness were involved in it's composition.

There's a lot I don't agree with regarding the Second World War, I think there's a lot of spin about it. The true story remains largely written between the lines.

I don't believe that Roosevelt knew in advance that Pearl Harbour was goin to happen, but the evidence is that Churchill did. Because he wanted to create the scenario that happened 'You help us with the Germans, we'll help you with the Japs'.
What would have happened otherwise? Well, I guess that long term, Germany would still have lost, but it would have taken much longer and Japan of course would have won in the East.

Hitler never wanted a war against Britain. He himself said in Mein Kampf, war against Britain should be avoided. And in fact, the idea that we were ever really in danger of being conquered here is kind of a myth. The Battle of Britain myth. Even had the Germans got air superiority, Donitz himself said he coldn't send a fleet across. Because of the size of the Royal Navy. He compared it to a mincing machine.

The war would have gone on till one side ran out of men and materials- same as happened in the first war. And that would still have been Germany. So Churchill didn't bring the Americans into win, but to ensure that when victory came, the world wasn't a ball of ashes. It could have gone on for twenty years or something.

We have never 'done' revolutions because we have always been ABLE to evolve. We've had a knack of being responsive to the mood. Thus the 1832 reform act probably stopped a revolution in 1848. Had that act not beebn passed, I'm sure the Chaertist uprising would have been a full evolution, and we'd be a republic today.

But we've also been fairly conscious of our liberties in the past. Far more so than anywhere. And in terms of new ideas, they often seem to brew here. Look at the sixties. It was very revolutionary in social terms and we led the way, and that was reflected in legislation.

Governments here have forgotten that the only reason we're so 'nice' and unrebellious us up to now, we haven't needed to.

I think Marx would have been ashamed at how 'communists' of the twentieth century abused his ideas. He would have been their most strident critic. I guess Trotsky was as close as it got, but I think he'd have got on with John Lennon.

Benji- I like our culture here, though not thr trappings of it. I think we provide a good example of how to make a metroplitan, multicultural society work, contrary to what many think.

I agree that we didn't have much choice, but I think people knew what was at stake. I think there is a glimmer of this dim realisition in the 'finest hour' speech. To be sure, most people wanted a world in which the Empire still existed after the war. But I think we knew that what was REALLY at stake was the values we had exported.

I don't think we realised the implications of what making those values the subject of a life and death struggle was, just aas the drafters of the US consitution never thought about what their words meant for black people.

I often think India and the history of Indian Independence has some elements of a subtle compliment. It's an amazing beacon today in the world, I think. I think that often the commitment to freedom and liberty and the amazing progressiveness of movement like the anti-colonial movement in India show a positive side about the 'Empire' that is often overlooked. We did sell a vision of liberty and freedom which ultimately I guess was a paradox in the Empire, but perhaps it's ultimate tribute.

Mutley- Did the Scarlet Pimpernel kick back there on his way to Paris?

La Femme- I've been round Scandinavia, Holland and parts of Eastern Europe. I intend to go to Africa and India at some point, but it's finding time.

I do enjoy travelling to other countries, but I must admit one is ALWAYS glad to be home. And I think the main thing you miss, is our social culture.
But there are other things.

Anonymous said...

Where in Eastern Europe?

Your Mum is Swedish, so I'm sure you've traveled there. And I imagine the pull of the cafes drew you to Amsterdam.

Anonymous said...

And um hello, what about the Australians and New Zealanders fighting in the far east and pacific? Forget about them did you?

Anonymous said...

La Femme- Poland and the Czech Republic, in fact.

Yes, I do enjoy Amsterdam :)

No, I didn't forget them. However, I think at this point in history the poition of the Dominions was somewhat different. Nowadays the Commonwealth means nothing, but at that point the self governing Dominions tended to be far closer politically. Indeed, they considered themselves British in most ways. They joined the war, because the Dominions acted as one. I really don't believe that Japan would have attacked Aus or NZ if it hadn't been at war with them in the first place- a war brought to Aus and NZ by Britain, if you like. I know Aus became a Dominion in 1901, but I suppose when I say Britain in WII, I tacitly include Aus and NZ in the term Britain. Because at the time, Britain meant the Empire, which then was still felt to include the Dominions

Anonymous said...

How about you tacitly let the the people of a Country decide on how they see themselves - now or historically!

My Grandfather did not spend three years in Papua New Guinea, Borneo and Milne Bay as a British subject, he did it for Australia and for the Jewish people and innocent civilians being slaughtered around the world.

What were you doing in Poland and the Czech Republic? Why have you not traveled very much?

Anonymous said...

La Femme- That may well be so, I'm not disputing that (incidently I was almost born in Papua, but that's another story), I'm talking in terms of how global politics at the time was seen.
The dominions were at war because Britain was at war, Neutrality wasn't an option, even if on paper Doninions had acquired the right to determine their own foreign policy by the Statute of Westminster.

In fact, one consequence of this was seen in South Africa. Smuts- like all Dominion Premiers- declared war on Germany when Britain did. The Afrikaner population were deeply unhappy about being involved and part of the reason the Extreme 'Reconstituted' National Party of DF Malan won the election in 1948 was as a result of an Afrikaner backlash against the Empire.

Likewise, I think many Australians felt that WWII was a war brought to their doorstep as a result of their being a Dominion. It certainly meant that Audtralian realpolitik AFTER the war was more concerned about building an Australia that could survive alone unaided. Remember that during the war the Aus government actually considered drawing a line across Australia and withdrawing behind it, evacuating places like Darwin. Hence the 50s slogan 'Populate or die'. WWII was a major step in Australia thinking of itself as Australia and not as Britain in the Antipodes. Up until WWII I think Australia essentially looked at a world it saw through pink tinted glasses still.

Incidently, Stalin STILL after the war used the argument that the Dominions were admitted to the UN as separate states to argue that each republic of the USSR should be treated as separate states. And this point was conceded. Only two republics took it up, Belarus was one and I THINK Ukraine was the other, but I'm not sure.

I suppose the general point I'm making is national identities can alter. And of course whilst Britain is now a rather reduced entity, it realy does mean the SAME as the UK, it didn't in 1945. The UK meant something WITHIN the British identity. But the Dominions didn't see having achieved Dominion status as having meant they stopped being British, just having reached an equal rank WITHIN Britishness, to that which England had.

Classic point- Edmund Hilary planted the Union Jack at the top of Everest. The man was a New Zealander.

I suppose the best way I can put it is by comparing it to the US. Identities such as English, Scottish, Canadian, Australian were then seen as being like Floridan, Texan, Californian, New Yorker.
British meant the Empire, not the Islands. Britain in fact, isn't a real country at all. England, Scotland and Ireland are. Britain is the identity they gave to the superpower they produced.

Why did I go to Eastern Europe? To see what it was like, mainly. This was much nearer in time to the fall of the curtain, these places had sounded strange and far off- another world- when I was a kid. Strange places where secret police broke down your door at three AM. I guess I wanted to see the reality before it changed forever. Which I think it probably has now. Even then, it was becoming very much the same as Western Europe.

I travelled when I was a student. I had the time. After that?

Well, after I graduated I had to get a job. And work. And then I was engaged at 22 and we had a house and all our money seemed to go on that and all we could afford to do for hols was go to my Dad's cottage in Devon.
And when that went bad and she had an abortion, I went off the rails and for a year or so all my money went on drugs and trying to build up a place of my own, so I didn't think of travelling.
And then I ended up being charged for Possession with Intent and during the two years it took for that to get to court, I couldn't exactly skip bail. And then I spent two years actually serving my sentence for that, and then I was paroled, but still needed permission to travel until May of 2007. But since I was paroled (May 2006), I have mainly been rebuilding my life and trying to get myself established and whilst I'd like to be able to go travelling, I really don't know when I'll have the time or the funds to do it.

Anonymous said...

I would give what you say more credibility if you weren't a photocopier salesman from Birmingham that chooses to preach through a blog and not get out in the world and see it for yourself.

You can't presume that you have any understanding of the reality of what life in the "dominions" as you do not live there, have not visited there or heard the stories of relatives who live it. You merely read books and preach.

Here is an excerpt from the book, Small Island, by Andrea Levey which tells the tale of how some of the empires subjects found Britain. In particular, the men who arrived from the caribbean islands to enrol in the war:

"Let me ask you to imagine this. Living far from you is a relation that you have never met. Yet the relation is so dear a kin she is known as Mother. Your own Mummy talks of Mother all the time 'Oh, Mother is a beautiful woman - refined, mannerly and cultured'. Your Daddy tells you, 'Mother thinks of you as her children; like the lord above she takes care of you from afar '. There are many valorous stories told of her, which enthral grown men as well as children. Her photographs are cherished , pinned in your own family album to be admired over and over. Your finest, your best, every thing that you have that is worthy is sent to Mother as gifts. And on her birthday you sing song and party.

Then one day, you hear Mother calling - she is troubled, she needs your help. Your Mummy, your Daddy say go. Leave home, leave familiar, leave love. Travel seas with waves that swell around you as substantial as concrete buildings . Shiver, tire, hunger - for no sacrifice is too much to see you at Mother's needy side. This surely is an adventure. After all you have heard, can you imagine, can you believe that you will soon, soon meet Mother?

The filthy tramp that eventually greets you is she. Ragged, old and dusty as the long dead. Mother has a blackened eye, bad breath and one lone tooth that waves in her head when she speaks. Can this be the fabled relation you heard so much of? This twisted, crooked weary woman. This stinking cantankerous hag. She offers no comfort after your journey. No smile. No welcome. Yet she looks down at you through lordly eyes and say "Who the bloody hell are you? "

Don't sell stories of how gracious Britain was in giving up the empire. I've lived in the UK for five years, I've seen the poverty and the council tenements and the class divide which is as apparent there as what I witnessed in India. If you want to speak in terms that lend people to believe that your views are based on experience, study and a rigorous methodology, do so. In the meantime stop being such a condescending know it all, whose travel extends to Daddy's holiday shack.

Anonymous said...


Well, firstly, I've never sold photocopiers.

I wasn't taking about life in the Dominions, in terms of day to day existence. I was taking about political perceptions of the time. And it's interesting that often people don't notice themselves how these phasal shifts occur.

But they do. I was thinking the other day how I no longer think of Germany as two countries. Yet once I did. East Germany was a separate country to West Germany. a united Germany was something sinister.

I'm certainly not glorifying the Empire. Not in the way you seem to assume. But the fact is, that at the time British identity was a wider concept than it's now seen as. In fact, most New Commonwealth Immigrants saw themselves as coming to amother country- but like, the one they'd left, British. They didn't see coming her as MAKING them British, they were born British. Their ancestors had always BEEN British.

Incidently, my gran, who is still alive, grew up in what was then, technically, a Dominion. The Irish Free State. And I find it interesting talking to her how HER perspective has changed, even her understanding of reality.
She used to maintain for years that a certain dead relative had fought on the anti-treaty side in the civil war and in the thirties fought in Spain on the Republican side. I think she believed it to be so. But reading between the lines, he clearly fought on the other side in both conflicts. Athlone was a Free State, Blueshirt town through and through.

I'm not sure what the point about the poverty in the UK was. I'm not defending anything about the UK as it is today, nor do I think the point is relevant. For some reason you think I'm making some nostalgaic point about the glories of Empire. I'm most certainly not.

The point is actually to do with the fact that there existed at that point a geopolitical unit called the British Empire. The development of that entity is a fundamental part in the history of the Capitalism and the creation of the global society. It spread a system of values, good and bad, but which ultimately, rightly or wrongly, form the basis of many of the paradigms of the liberal democratic ideal today.

And I don't think it's false to state that WWII was a war in which the 'Empire' defeated Nazism, but was unable to sustain itself as a global superpower afterwards. Quite the significance of that, remains to be seen, I think. Not quite what most people think, I think.

But the point is what it is. No more, no less.

And yes, I know very much about poverty in the UK. And the hopelessness that exists for many people here.

Very much so.

But that wasn't relative to the post.

Warsaw is a lot further away than Salcombe.

Anonymous said...

I wont give rise to the condescending remarks that you've made in your latest response.

This is your biggest problem, you are self congratulatory little man.

I would bet my years salary that you went to Poland and Czech Republic and a bucks or lads weekend.

Anonymous said...

I figure I ought to put in a tiny word of support for Crushed, on the general sense of this one, I know I often blow holes in his arguments.

For the record I have relatives in the former dominions, we keep in touch, plus elsewhere. I am reasonably widely travelled.

I guess La Femme does raise some valid questions tho.