Everything Was Forever

It’s hard not to be swept up in the hyperbole and romanticism of the Ukrainian resistance, or the folk-hero status of Volodymyr Zelensky. But then as the standard of British political leadership is so dire, the temptation is obvious. Much has been made of Zelensky’s stand-up past and the contrast between Britain’s supposedly serious political elite is seriously un-funny.

As Limerick’s finest export, Blindboy has pointed out, solemnity is just performative seriousness, and Britain’s is drenched in it. Think of the institutions of the military, the church, news broadcasting and the monarchy; they all are characterised and defined by their solemnity, a condition that operates as a mask to their lack of credibility in the twenty-first century.

If the comic Zelensky gains credits on the world stage of our doom-scrolling existence he stands in contrast to Sleepy Joe and the people who nominally hold offices of power in the UK.

As we stagger further into the Hypernormalised world it seems Liz Truss is conducting her reign at the Foreign Office largely on Instagram having inadvertently triggered a step to nuclear war. She is the definition of performative solemnity posing endlessly in ‘serious’ mode, stony-faced, steely, unaware of her own ridiculousness. There’s nothing funny about Zelensky but Johnson, Sir Gavin Williamson, Patel and Truss are solemnly hilarious, but this is a comedy show you didn’t buy a ticket for and you can’t leave.

It’s only been a week but already the Russian invasion of Ukraine already feels like our new reality. Who knew this would be the new normal?

Watching the invasion unfold is traumatic for different reasons. It’s close to home. Kiev is a modern European city facing a medieval siege as other cities are bombarded. It’s uncomfortable too because we are aware of our own impotence and addicted to watching it – both scared to look away and guilty for being mesmerised. Unless there’s a miracle we are about to watch the destruction of a country in real time, over weeks and months. It feels like the world is degenerating.

As a society that has just managed to stagger out of pandemic we are now faced with a new Cold War crisis. As if the idea of ‘progress’ needed to be further undermined the one serious gain of my generation has been lost, just thrown away. In all of this the IPCC’s latest report barely gets a mention. We have too short an attention span to cope with this level of meta-crisis.

The report was described as an “atlas of human suffering” by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.

This latest update from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published last Monday, focused on the effects that climate change is having on the world. It has been described as an “atlas of human suffering” by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.

He said: “I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this. Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership. With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.”

“This abdication of leadership is criminal. The world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home. It is essential to meet the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°.”

Some of the findings in the new study are that between 3.3 billion and 3.6 billion people now live in areas that are highly vulnerable to climate change; it reports that “no inhabited region is free from its impact. The heaviest burden, however, is falling on the poorest communities that have done the least to cause it.”

This may sound familiar to many of you.

Rachel Maclean, Native Animals

Responses to the climate crisis and the Russian assault seem painfully wilfully slow and useless. But this points to another reason why watching the war unfold is traumatic. It’s not just the human suffering it’s also the reality of Russian rule mirroring British failure and corruption. As Britain’s paltry, late and slow sanctions are enacted, the much derided Carole Cadwalladr reminded us that: “In 2018, after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, NATO called an emergency summit to discuss sanctions. Johnson left it, skipped his security detail and flew to Italy where he met an ex-KGB officer whose son he later ennobled.”

In Alexei Yurchak’s book Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation , he describes the fact that everyone in the former Soviet Union knew the system was falling apart, but people were resigned to maintaining the pretense that everything was functioning just fine. Imagine ‘UK: OK’ on a much bigger scale.

Princeton University Press describe the themes of Yurchak’s book: “Soviet socialism was based on paradoxes that were revealed by the peculiar experience of its collapse. To the people who lived in that system the collapse seemed both completely unexpected and completely unsurprising. At the moment of collapse it suddenly became obvious that Soviet life had always seemed simultaneously eternal and stagnating, vigorous and ailing, bleak and full of promise. Although these characteristics may appear mutually exclusive, in fact they were mutually constitutive.”

Does that sound familiar?

If we call for sanctions against Russian Oligarchs we should call on sanctions against British ones too. If we call for a Russian peace movement to rise up we should call on a British one too. While we rightly shudder at Putin’s nuclear threat it’s worth remembering that only last year it was the British Prime Minister that lifted the cap on the number of Trident nuclear warheads it can stockpile by more than 40%. In March 2021 Boris Johnson announced the move, ending 30 years of gradual disarmament since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The increased limit, from 180 to 260 warheads paved the way for a controversial £10bn rearmament in response to perceived threats from Russia and China.

Serhii Plokhy, professor of history at Harvard University and the author of Nuclear Folly: A New History of the Cuban Missile Crisis, has written:

“What we are witnessing today has been characterised by some authors as the advent of a “second nuclear age”. But we are in a more dangerous and unpredictable world than we were during the cold war. There has been an unprecedented proliferation of nuclear weapons, with more states capable of building a bomb than at any point since the end of the cold war. Even extremely poor but determined regimes, such as the one that rules North Korea, can threaten a superpower with nuclear war.” But he adds: “While we face new challenges, we lack the fear of nuclear war developed by previous generations of political leaders and societies.”

It seems strange to suggest we “lack fear” in an era defined by it. But maybe we lack seriousness. As Britain staggers along in bloated impotence the description echoes “simultaneously eternal and stagnating, vigorous and ailing, bleak and full of promise”. Let’s remove the solemn failures that rule us and elect a comedian, that would bring the house down.

Comments (15)

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  1. Dennis Smith says:

    Obviously unintentional, but you seem to have confused Sir Gavin Williamson with the late Gavin Wallace.

  2. Robbie says:

    When you read the story about Johnson putting his Russian oligarch pal forward for a knighthood ,overcoming objections from the security services then the Queen accepting the nomination,it’s all a fucking joke ,and the Joke is on the British people.they are all just a bunch of Gangsters and that’s a fact

  3. David B says:

    A few years ago I met a Russian on a train who lived through the collapse of the USSR. He said “2 weeks before the Soviet Union collapsed we all thought it would be there forever.”

  4. Hector says:

    Jim smith for PM

  5. Ottomanboi says:

    The Russian «biznesmyeni» aka oligarchs, plutocrats pale into insignificance beside the western variety.
    Our lives are shaped by their interests, their tech, their industries, vaccines, outlets and worldviews, they are true oligarchs because they have power to subvert sovereign governments and nations and compromise and threaten freedom itself.
    iScotland will keep monarchy, trumps imperiously Mr Blackford. Love to know who he’s really working for. Plainly he is snug and comfy in his wee London nest.
    As for the current European war, just let them get on with it, as internationalization will simply prolong the agony. The wider region has changed borders frequently over the last hundred years. It is viscerally unstable. Ethnic tectonic plates are shifting. As for the comedian, not so long ago the other guy was the star of the new Russian show, his media downing will inevitably come. Anyway, ethnic minorities have generally had a rough time in the course of the centuries in old Galatia, Ruthenia etc.
    Don’t mention those Ukrainian WWII, nazi collaborators in the current Russia, Empire of Satan discourse.

    1. Niemand says:

      No doubt you also think the Ukrainians are bombing themselves like the Russians say? Jesus Christ, crawl back to Wings, you have an appreciative audience there already for your garbage.

    2. 220308 says:

      I don’t know about paling into insignificance beside Western establishments, but the Russian nomenklatura is comparable to the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised in our own societies. And you’re right; this is something from which we shouldn’t allow the current demonisation of Russia to distract us.

      The Yugoslav communist politician, Milovan Đilas, described its functionaries as the ‘new class’ that holds both private and public powers (for example, in media, finance, trade, industry, the state and its institutions) and controls and administers all the spheres of life (government, industry, agriculture, education, culture, sport, etc.); a bureaucratic elite of politicians, business executives, and civil servants that enjoys special privileges and has supplanted the earlier capitalist elites.

      I’m not convinced that the current war in Ukraine is the work of evil oligarchs rather than a systemic eruption of violence between rival bureaucracies; a turf-war, if you will. I’m even less convinced that the appropriate response to the human cost of this turf-war, in terms of the extreme hardships that ordinary men, women, and children are suffering as bystanders to this war, is to ‘just let them get on with it’. Rather, we need to do whatever we immediately can as individuals and communities to save the lives of those people, protect them from further harm, and promote their recovery from those hardships that have been visited upon them. And we need to do whatever we can in the longer term to reduce the risk of further eruptions of violence between rival bureaucracies (e.g. by democratising the matrices of official and social relations within which power is exercised in our societies).

      1. Niemand says:

        The thing is it is Russia who is bombing, killing and brutalising in the most horrible way right now and nothing Ukraine has done deserves this. And they are lying about what they are doing in the most pathetic way – they can’t even own what they are doing. Ukrainians are not the aggressors, they are the victims. This is what matters, not historical complexities of relations between Russia and ‘The Ukraine’: Ukraine is an independent state, end of. You’d think people who visit a nationalist site like this would understand the desire for sovereignty in the face of hugely powerful neighbour who wants to rule over you forever, but it seems not.

        But why does one even need to say this? Reading some of the nonsense comments written on this site about Ukraine recently is like reading people excusing Hitler and saying well the Allies caused WWII with sanctions after WWI so let Hitler get on with it because there is a moral equivalence between the Allies policy and Hitler’s ‘defense’ of the Third Reich, and anyway, his dislike of the Jews is a just a turf war and maybe they half deserve it blah blah. It’s ridiculous.

        1. 220311 says:

          The people of Ukraine are indeed the victims of all the politicking among the great powers around the borderlands between ‘East’ and ‘West’, which seems to have come to a head with the Russian invasion.

          The people of Europe (and beyond) generally were likewise the victims of the politicking of the great powers around the settlement of the Great War, which came to a head with the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Indeed, the present conflict is just the latest episode in a power politics that’s been going on in Europe and its sphere of influence for centuries

          There isn’t any value in characterising this politicking as a struggle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, ‘light’ and ‘darkness’. The global anarchy of power politics is beyond such virtue-signalling. All that counts is the respective ‘might’ of the various national interests involved, the ability of each to impose its will on its rivals.

          This isn’t a happy situation. But, without world government, it’s the situation we find ourselves in.

          1. Niemand says:

            In what way were ‘the West’ imposing their military will on Russia that is equivalent to Russia invading Ukraine? Evil, good, whatever, but it is Putin who is doing the killing so it isn’t just about ‘respective might’ and ‘virtue signalling’ it is recognising the blatantly obvious – the power that is actively using that might in Ukraine to invade, kill and destroy. And right now, this *is* ‘the dark’ and I am glad to live in the relative light.

          2. Not sure what it means to say “the people of Ukraine are indeed the victims of all the politicking among the great powers around the borderlands between ‘East’ and ‘West’?

          3. 220312 says:

            It is indeed Russia that’s resolved to invade Ukraine in pursuit of its national interest, but the context in which that action has taken place is a geopolitical rather than a moral one.

            I’m still not convinced that the current war in Ukraine is the voluntary work of ‘evil Russian oligarchs’ rather than a natural outcome of our systems of power politics. The theory of power politics in international relations contends it’s the distributions of power and changes to thos distributions, rather than moral agency, that are the fundamental causes of war and system (in)stability.

            The policy that emerges from this theory is that, rather than align with one or another of the greater powers and ascribe the moral superiority of one over the other accordingly, lesser powers should be seeking to maintain system stability by maintaining a balance of power (a perpetual ‘cold war’ if you will) between global and regional rivals.

          4. 220312 says:

            ‘…the politicking among the great powers around the borderlands between “East” and “West”…’ alludes to the matter of whose sphere of influence Ukraine is to be aligned: Russia’s or America’s. Russian doesn’t want Ukraine to ‘defect’ to the EU or (what would be even worse for Russia) NATO, whereas America would love to further extend its sphere of influence into and beyond the former Eastern Bloc.

            Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is better understood amorally, in this geopolitical context, than as the ‘malign’ actions of ‘evil’ men. A less Marvelesque narrative would also enable us to frame a less pious and more appropriate and effective response to that invasion.

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