Jul 27, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Yes. The bit that really mattered was India and it has to be said that was handled very badly though you'd need to know more about it than me to know if the disasters were avoidable by anything the British could do. And of course some parts of the Empire perhaps wish we were still there. Well, Hong Kong I guess. Not sure there is anywhere else.

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Jul 27, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Pretty sure the fact we had a Labour government after the war wasn't the reason the British Empire dissolved. The entire (well, almost the entire) British establishment was on board with the idea.

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On Orwell's prediction that the British left-wing intelligentsia would embrace a pro-Hitler reaction, by arguing it is morally more urgent to defeat bourgeois democracy than it is to defeat fascism: This was ongoing in France at the time. In early 1941 Germany and the Soviet Union were still wary non-aggression partners. Ideologically the Soviet-approved line was that the primary enemy was to be Western imperialism and the social democratic parties enabling it, not Germany. In 04 July 1940, mere days after the fall of France, the French Communist Party newspaper L'Humanité could editorialize:

>LE PEUPLE DE FRANCE VEUT LA PAIX. Il demande d’énergiques mesures contre tous ceux qui, par ordre de l’Angleterre impérialiste, voudraient entraîner les Français dans la guerre...

>Il est particulièrement réconfortant en ces temps de malheur de voir de nombreux travailleurs parisiens s’entretenir avec les soldats allemands, soit dans la rue, soit au bistro du coin. Bravo camarades, continuez même si cela ne plaît pas à certains bourgeois aussi stupides que malfaisants ! La fraternité des peuples ne sera pas toujours une espérance, elle deviendra une réalité vivante.

>THE PEOPLE OF FRANCE WANT PEACE. They demand that energetic measures be taken against all those who, on the order of England's imperialists, would like to drag the French people back into the war...

>It is particularly comforting, in these unhappy times, to see so many Parisian workers engage in friendly relations with the German soldiers, whether it be in the street, or the neighbourhood bistro. Bravo, comrades. Keep it up, even if it upsets those certain members of our bourgeoisie who are as stupid as they are evil! The brotherhood of the people will not always be a distant hope, it will become a living reality.

So the notion that swathes of the left intelligentsia could find reasons to ally with the actual Nazis when they are literally marching down one's street, in order to fight Capitalism, was not unimaginable - it was happening across the channel. British left-wingers, both for and against, were well aware - Labour participating in the coalition National government of Churchill was a hot topic of contention.

This being said, Orwell's own line pro-democratic of attack was also not dissimilar and indeed mirrored the CPGB's own line during the period (which could not embrace anti-Englishness wholesale and instead embraced anti-National-governmentness). In The Lion & The Unicorn, he himself likewise argues for a General Election where the National government can be defeated, or otherwise a revolution from below to compel it, rather than focusing on fighting Germany. He criticizes left-wing revolutionary defeatism but himself is not optimistic, arguing (like the CPGB) that the British ruling class is simply too incompetent to win the war against fascism anyway, therefore the priority is to defeat the ruling class and achieve socialism before fighting fascism. He correctly recognizes that the key strategic ally are not any people in Axis-occupied Europe, who cannot meaningfully rebel, but instead the Americans - but in his six-point programme pushes for an alliance with the 'victims of the Fascist powers' and has nothing to say about the Americans. He recognizes that the war against Nazism is in the now, and that the urgency is to defeat it - but for solutions reaches for the (already by the 1940s) the old and tired hobbyhorse of tripartite education as a decades-long project to improve the quality of rule in Britain! Revolution to defeat the only remaining free European government, now - fight fascism in the ongoing state of war, later.

This is Orwell too insightful to really embrace the CPGB line wholesale but still too loyal, or unconfident, or intimidated, to really defy it.

Bowd, Gavin Philip. / The French Communist Party and Britain in the Second World War. In: Irish Journal of French Studies. 2014 ; Vol. 14. pp. 95-117

(I posted an earlier, lazier version of this comment which contained some factual errors; I've deleted it)

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Also I just missed this - regarding the Jacobin critique - QAnoners are actually right about a few things. You can't just wave away the entire piece just because of one line that *sounds* dumb but is actually much more nuanced upon further inspection. The idea that the Jacobin piece is an indication of the kind of lefties that will try to appease fascism is just ludicrous. (There is a subsection of "lefties" who try to appease fascists - the Jimmy Dore and Rising crowd but they are almost universally mocked apart from their own fans)

Regarding the "aloof disdain" - perhaps it is important to point out the quite baffling state of American democracy. America is virtually an outlier in its two-party solution and its mind-bogglingly complex system of electing the presidential candidates through primaries and caucuses and whatnot. As if FPTP wasn't enough, the American system also favours a winners-take-all approach for states and then there's the electoral college. What you're looking at are very real problems that disincentivize people to vote because they feel the system is obstructive and an impediment to progress. You can't just dismiss it off as some kind of smugness - American voter turnout is quite abysmal for the richest country in the world.

As to your point that Biden is turning out to be the most progressive, I'm a little skeptical although I'll admit I'm not well read on this. But it does look like he's faltering on a lot of issues ($15 min. wage, the Jobs plan which supposedly doesn't go far enough, etc). But maybe he is very progressive. A lot of people hate him because of his abysmal record. It's frankly a massive surprise that *Biden* of all people is being compared to FDR - had you told anyone that 3-4 years ago they would've guffawed right to your face. So I'm not surprised that people aren't skeptical. Plus it's important to note that the reason Biden was forced to become progressive during the election was probably due to pressure from the Sanders, and thus, the left.

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Seems to me the reason Obama's 2004 convention speech catapulted him to the White House was that it was a resounding paean to American possibility and goodness. Looking down on BHO seems to be popular on the harder left these days, but I agree with Noah on the underlying power of nationalism/patriotism.

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While I agree with you on a lot of things, it seems like Orwell was an outlier in the Left sphere - considering that a large part of modern socialist tendencies (which was dampened during the war and postwar years and slowly declined) was an explicitly internationalist tendency that was quite adamantly anti-nationstate (imo those critiques still hold). The "reflexive anti-patriotism" was derived little from hating countries and more of belittling the concept of nations to make a broader point of universal equality to envision a world where arbitrary concepts (maybe a better word would be abstract) such as a nation (nations are a modern invention) don't exist or aren't a hamper to the free expression of people. Now I am very poorly read but I believe this is more or less the essence of the internationalist socialist tendency.

It could be true that a lot of very online leftists draw this critique of the nation state without understanding the circumstances or additional context surrounding that critique, which would make it look like they are reflexively anti-patriotic (yes there are those who are genuinely anti-patriotic).

But it appears that a lot of your critique is directed against strawmen. Yes there are terminally online people with truly horrible takes and perhaps the diversity of ideologies on the Left makes it possible for leftists to have (i would argue an equal proportion of crazy hot-takers compared to other people) an impressive diversity of poor quality takes.

Regarding the idea that "anti-Americanism" is new- it's quite wrong. Eugene Debs in 1901 made a speech castigating the founding fathers on their hypocrisy (and importantly, he did appreciate the *ideals*). Noam Chomsky has made several critiques to show that the Senate is an undemocratic institution which was iirc largely created to preserve the interests of the Southern states (aka slavery). None of these critiques are new - it could be that now with the mass media and a fertile ground for the propagation of these critiques, they are gaining quick currency among leftists.

And then you caricature leftists to be apparently foolish people who "recite litanies with near-glee" of America's very real problems, and those that definitely make it an outlier among developed nations. Also citing some random BLM Utah chapter as proof that lefties hate all kinds of symbols of the country because they're nothing but reflexively anti-patriotic is just ridiculous. What's even more ridiculous is the fact that you linked a PragerU tweet (was the intent to draw focus to the replies?) You don't seem to engage with their critique either.

Nevertheless the number of people who are "reflexively" anti-patriotic as you claim them to be are certainly in the minority. Even a socialist like Eugene Debs could appreciate the ideals on which America was founded; even Noam Chomsky thinks that for all of America's flaws, it could perhaps be the freest country with its impressive protection of the freedom of speech. So the people you criticize are almost certainly in the minority - and their critique doesn't hamper the progress of a general socialist/social-democracy movement. (Correct me if I'm wrong about this one)

I really like your pieces on econ but when it comes to philosophical and political questions I'm afraid you make very little attempts to actually engage with the perceived opponent and you often tend to resort to caricatures. Keep up the good work on econ though.

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George Orwell was very much a Little-Englander socialist, who maintained (or adopted) many attitudes that were part of specifically English working class culture i.e. anti-intellectualism and opposition to feminism and birth control. His ideal would have been the working-class man going to a trade union meeting while the working-class women stayed in the kitchen surrounded by ten children while cooking up a big pot of proletarian stew.

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It seems like one of the primary impacts of the internet in general is an overall decline in patriotism. As connections and communications around the world increase, so too does empathy with those from elsewhere and a general erosion of the feeling of "special" for nations.

(However, if anything local civic pride is increasing. Especially as geographic mobility increases; people live where they want to live and are proud of it. But that is a completely different point.)

But every action has a reaction. The increasing empathy with others worldwide that the internet has enabled, that has played a part in the overall decline of patriotism is dubbed "cultural marxism" by the far right fascists. {Cultural marxism is an insidious evil that must be stopped at all costs} is one of the core driving principles of the far right, and can explain much of their worldview.

One of the most basic protests against "cultural marxism" is aggressive hyperpatriotism.

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4 years ago I bought a giant American flag and began bringing it to every rally I attended. At first the reaction was, in the immortal words of Tom Wolfe, like my "eyebrows were crawling with lice." I simply said, when queried, "We need to take this back." Then others started bringing flags... Having a US flag decal on the back hatch for my Crosstrek is simultaneously a statement and protective camouflage. . .

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> The patriotism of the common people is not vocal or even conscious…the vast majority of the people feel themselves to be a single nation and are conscious of resembling one another more than they resemble foreigners. Patriotism is usually stronger than class-hatred, and always stronger than any kind of internationalism…The only approach to [the working class] is through their patriotism.

While I rather doubt there will be a single response, I cannot help but feel that anyone grappling with this question must seriously consider the relationship between patriotism and immigration.

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Leftists need to actually absorb the story that Lin-Manuel Miranda was trying to tell in _Hamilton_, and remember that while our nation has failed, from the beginning, to live up to its ideals, it _was_ founded on some really great ideals, and we've been arguing about the details, and fitfully trying to improve, ever since. (It's a tragedy that John Laurens, who was one of the most vocal and charismatic abolitionists of the Founding generation, didn't survive to participate in the early decades of the Constitutional Republic.)

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I would disagree with the statement that decolonization wasn’t helped/harmed by British politics.

At least in the case of India, the rapid partition and disappearance of the British military played an important part in the violence that followed. With the newly formed countries of Pakistan and India having to both secure their borders in the scramble and absorb millions of refugees while British support vanished unleashed horrible amounts of violence.

Also I think the Left Wings support of decolonization bolstered socialism as the “right” economic model to follow after decolonization. Which resulted in low growth for decades in India.

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Target-rich blog post there! It's mostly Noah explaining why he disagrees with the pro-socialist parts of Orwell's essay but agrees with the anti-socialist, anti-anti-patriotic parts. Thus Noah wields last century's essay against the left of this century. I'll fire at some of the targets.

To Noah's credit, he's honest enough to show us the chart he used to decide that British nationalizations, an "experiment with socialism", "may in fact have dealt a serious blow to the country’s living standards" from WW2 into the 1970s.

But two of Noah's 3 comparison countries are France under dirigisme, and the USSR, which was more socialist than the UK and growing faster! So his low-nationalization control group isn't really a low-nationalization control group. Come on, Noah, at least look up Abadie, Diamond, & Hainmueller's papers and figure out how to run a clean synthetic control!

Noah's evidence of "some leftists [choosing] to affect an air of aloof disdain toward all of U.S. politics" is one YouTube video, "Grillpill: Explained", starring literally just one guy, Matt Christman.

And Matt doesn't affect "aloof disdain toward all of U.S. politics" in that video! Matt DOES write off sinking energy into arguing politics online, or into the Biden-versus-Trump contest as a "sterile investment" (about 8-10 minutes in), but posting and one election aren't the entirety of US politics! Matt even mocks self-styled political nihilists (jump to 14:25) and people who dismiss "electoral politics" as "done" out of sour grapes (28:14).

In my view Noah's just revealing a bias here, his own difficulty seeing ways to engage with US politics other than posting and the head-to-head quadrennial extravaganza.

Noah links a March post to renew his claim that "Biden turned out to be the most progressive president since LBJ". Fine, I'll link my March comment pointing out that Biden's basically playing a re-run of the Obama administration (https://noahpinion.substack.com/p/biden-is-triangulating-the-left/comments#comment-1496317).

"There is no endgame for this sort of smug anti-Americanism. A leftist revolution to overthrow the country and establish a new one in its place is highly unlikely. And barring that, there’s really nowhere for anti-Americanism to go". But that's a false dichotomy! At the risk of sounding like a truth-is-in-the-middle dork, America-bashing can feed into political goals that lie between "nowhere" and "leftist revolution".

Noah makes his own Orwell-style conditional prediction: "if the Right ever actually pulls its head out of its Trump-shaped ass", "people who just a few years ago were marching in the street wearing pussy-hats or yelling “defund the police” may find themselves voting Republican".

Beyond a few cranks? Nope. Highly unlikely to happen for the foreseeable future (rest of the 2020s). Either part.

Pundits like Saagar Enjeti and J D Vance can fantasize about a post-Trump realignment that sees Republicans address problems hitting the working class, but mysteriously the actual mainstream right keeps screeching about "cancel culture", the need to cancel "critical race theory", dubious medical practices (ivermectin over masks), and social media censoring the wrong people (like, um, Holocaust-denying fascist Nick Fuentes). Swing voters gonna swing, but GOP culture-war horseshit isn't gonna stop and isn't gonna suddenly attract pussy-hats and police-defunders as a bloc.

Oh yeh, and Trump's ahead in polling for the 2024 R primary.

Noah concludes that some leftists have been "removing themselves from relevance" with their skepticism, and risk "accomplishing far less" than an empire's dissolution just by being anti-patriotic. But the sort of evidence he has — a 70-year-old essay and its unchecked prediction, an over-interpretation of a podcaster's YouTube monologue, an overly generous reading of Biden's record, his own bizarre prediction — is so weak that his conclusions don't read to me as serious factual claims. They smell like wishful thinking...or a heavy-handed attempt to rhetorically discipline liberals and leftists.

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Article about Socialism, nationalizing industries, Orwell, Attlee and 40s UK politics.

Ctrl + f: "NHS". 0/0. How?

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George Orwell is one of my favorite writers and I'm thrilled that you decided to write about "The Lion and the Unicorn"!

Regarding socialism, I think for many socialists and communists, the war time mobilization of countries fighting in the world wars was an example, a model for what planning could do.

In a sense Orwell was right to the degree that the UK needed to mobilize industry if it had a chance to defeat Nazi Germany but he missed that even when he was writing the book the UK had mobilized to a greater degree than Germany.

One of the big failures of Nazi Germany and one factor that lead to their defeat was their inability to mobilize their economy to the degree that their adversaries (the UK, the US, the USSR) managed to do.

Germany's mobilization matched that of the Allies in 1944 and by then it was too late.

Regarding patriotism, that has been a weakness of the American left for a long-time though it's not just the left.

I think liberals have also failed to capitalize on the patriotism of the American people, a mistake that conservatives have not made.

Conservatives have been very good at using the symbols of American patriotism while at the same more than willing to sell out the interests of the US. I'm thinking of the Trump-Putin relationship and how many conservatives where more than willing to go along with it.

Going back to the anti-patriotism of the left, it is an issue that has hindered the growth of the left in the US and is not universal to the left in every country.

In Latin America the left and far-left is very patriotic.

One of the factors that helped Communist parties in France and Italy after the Second World War was the role they played in the struggle against the Nazis. Even in our neighbor to the north, Canada, the left often partakes in some of the symbols and themes of Canadian patriotism.

There are good reasons why the American left is so critical of patriotism. As Samuel Johnson wrote "patriotism is the last refugee of the scoundrel" . I would modify that to often (witness the conservatives I mentioned above) but not always.

Also the US as the global hegemon is perceived by the left has playing a role, maybe the leading role, in sustaining an unjust global system that the left is committed to changing.

Still, the inability of the left to combine a critique of today's injustice while avoiding the trap of knee jerk anti-patriotism will limit the growth of the left.

It also is an issue for more mainstream liberals though arguably to a lesser degree.

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Great article! If I recall correctly (it's a while since I read it), one of Orwell's points was that for the working classes to be fully invested in the war effort they needed a stake in the promised postwar order, and not a return to the status quo as happened in 1918. This was to be the socialist program suggested by Orwell and set out by the government in the 1942 Beveridge Report. Not just nationalisation but healthcare and a welfare state. Perhaps why we Brits seem to worship the National Health Service!

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