The LSE is having its annual literary festival this week on ‘Revolutions’, basically shaped around various authors with new books out although there is much more to it. I went to ‘Was Brexit a Populist Revolution?’ (two people on the panel of four said yes but gave different interpretations). The attempt at gender balance failed even though the chair said he was trying to take questions from men and women in turn, because the panel consisted of two male professors, Simon Hix and James Tilley, who knew stuff and made definitive informative statements, and two women, Mary Dejevsky and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, who told anecdotes and gave their opinions. The anecdotes cancelled out and the opinions were often contradicted by the evidence the other panellists cited. The professors tended not to state any opinions but said when they didn’t know, didn’t have evidence or it was outside their area of expertise. Next time, LSE, try to do better and find some actual female experts if gender balance is an issue (as it often should be). They do exist.
Key takeaway points: most voters haven’t changed their minds since June 2016 and if anything there is very slightly more of a Leave majority. There has been an anti-EU majority amongst working-class voters for decades but elections haven’t reflected that as they are about so many other issues. The north-south voting divide reflected class and income divisions as much as anything.
Anne Applebaum is right at the top of my list of the experts I would recommend. She writes regularly for the Washington Post but is primarily a historian. Read or follow her for analysis of Putin’s Russia, Eastern Europe, and Putin’s strategy towards European and American institutions and policies. This week she’s in London speaking at the LSE Literary Festival. Her sessions are fully booked and I didn’t manage to get tickets (returns may still be available). Yesterday’s session on Ukraine and the Maidan revolution was, predictably perhaps, interrupted by a pro-Russian propagandist who is apparently well known for his disreputable past behaviour.
I’ve read Gulag (2003), a history of the Soviet Union’s concentration camps, and Iron Curtain (2012), on how Stalin’s Russia took control of Eastern Europe. They were hard going because of the grimness of the content but she is a brilliant writer and both these histories are based on a lot of interviews and oral history as well as written testimonies and a vast amount of archival research and official documents, in several languages. Many of these sources were inaccessible before 1989 and it must be doubtful how easy it will be in future for historians to gain access to official archives in Moscow. These books are extremely upsetting to read but filled in vast gaps in the history of the twentieth century that were never covered in my schooling. Stalin’s crimes have been systematically ignored, minimized or even defended by many (I had an example of that a couple of weeks ago when a questioner at a talk on the history of the British Left began ‘Far be it from me to defend Stalin, but…’ going on of course to mount a defence). No one who has seriously read Ann Applebaum’s or Timothy Snyder’s work could speak like that, so her opponents go for personal attacks. What makes her a trustworthy expert is her knowledge. She’s done the work. Her analyses are evidence-based and she sees through the lies of propagandists whose claims are based on ideological positions at best, and corruption at worst. It’s worth checking out her own columns and other sources she recommends such as this one, on how Europeans are trying to counter the Russian fake news onslaught.
(Added March 3: podcast of Anne Applebaum and panel discussion at LSE available here)