Thursday, 6 September 2018

Here Come the Cranks

One of the very first things I learned about radical politics (thank you Class War!) is that your enemy's enemy isn't necessarily your friend. This always comes to mind when Russia is in the news because, in a pathetic echo of the Cold War official CPGB apologias of the old Soviet Union, we find people happy to go to great lengths to prettify or explain away the activities of the Russian state. The naming of two Russian suspects for the poisoning of the Skripals is one of those occasions.

Cast your minds back to March-April time. As Sergei and Yulia Skripal lay ill in hospital, this was seized on with alacrity by a Tory government getting blown from pillar to post by its own internal difficulties. They declared to the world that the Russians were responsible when this could not have existed beyond conjecture. How do we know when we're not privy to the intelligence? Well, we've seen how the scanning of the CCTV and tracking the movements of the alleged perpetrators, and their identification has taken months to assemble. Were such information at the security services' fingertips to begin with, it would have got released pretty sharpish to make themselves - and the government - look good. However, May began with the assumption that it had to be Russia (you don't need to be a Cluedo champion to surmise the victim, motive and method point at the FSB), and they went all out on it for political reasons. Not least because it provided an opportunity to show Jeremy Corbyn up as weak on security issues. Sadly for them, because of the stance he took - and much to the grumbling of Labour's backbenches - the story quickly became entangled with the innumerable and complex ties between Russian money, the City, and the coffers of the Conservative Party. Always beware the law of unintended consequences.

Nevertheless, being distrustful of the Tories, the security services, and the convenience of alleged Russian terror doesn't mean the Russian government is blameless. The left should not simply put a plus wherever the Tories and the spooks put a minus. In all probability, this wasn't a hit ordered by Vladimir Putin. All authoritarian regimes are, paradoxically, chaotic. Even the two most extreme examples from the last century, Stalin's USSR and Hitler's Germany were marred by fractious and sometimes murderous conflicts within the ruling parties. In such chaos, a lot of organisational movement was possible because individuals and groups of people 'work toward the leader'. That is undertaking activities, often on their own initiative, designed to curry favour with the higher ups. The commissar who, at gun point, requisitioned more grain than the quota demanded. The SS corporal who set about murdering villagers and burning their homes to catch a superior's eye, it is more than possible the Skripal hit was cooked up in the bowels of the FSB to earn someone a promotion and a salary bump. Nevertheless, as Putin came up through the KGB and this is his system, whether he issued the order or not he ultimately is responsible - if this likely scenario turns out to be the truth.

Sadly there are sections of the left, and I use that term advisedly, who aren't interested in analysis, weighing up evidence or considering probabilities. Consider ex-diplomat Craig Murray, for example. He has acquired undue prominence in left wing circles for peddling conspiracy theories, which in itself is an indictment of the level of sophistication and political confidence of out movement. In this case, Murray has declared shenanigans for two reasons. One are the photos of the two suspects apparently standing in the same place at the same time, at least according to the CCTV time stamp. As Brian Whitaker points out, this can easily be explain by ... both men passing through two separate gates simultaneously. And, being the helpful sort, Brian provides photos of these short passages. Still, not being interested in fact Moscow is now parroting the same line too. Prior to this, Murray had claimed there was something fishy about the photos of the two suspects when it turned out to be a diminution of quality thanks to the Graun's own scans. Mountains and molehills, etc. And then there is his obsession with where the Skripals are located and why they're not appearing in public - it would appear he's not familiar with the idea of witness protection. These alone should demonstrate why no one on the left should give him credence and why he should be regarded as a crank.

Just because the British state is duplicitous and rotten doesn't make Putin and his works automatically virtuous. Russia is a state like any other, and one that uses its not inconsiderable lobby in Britain to deepen the distrust millions of people have in the security services following Iraq and other debacles. By accident, idiocy, or intent Murray has placed himself in that lobby, along with George Galloway, Alex Salmond and now Tommy Sheridan. I don't know about you, but the world is a messy, complex place and one which the left should try and maintain a critical distance from to try and understand it to, you know, change it. The likes of Murray do worse than hinder, they make our work more difficult. In short, these are friends the left could do without.

25 comments:

Ian Gibson said...

Couldn't disagree with you more about Craig Murray. Yes, he does sometimes shoot from the hip - as in this case - but he usually is open about the fact that this is what he was doing, and, unlike many (Vox Political, for one example) is entirely open to being contradicted. Indeed, in this case, he invited alternative viewpoints, and subsequently edited his post to acknowledge that it was an error.

What does make Murray essential reading IMO is three things: one is his insider's knowledge of how the state really works from his long career as a diplomat, which

1) allows him to offer interpretations of Government statements and actions with a degree of authority that others cannot bring,

2) his wont to free-think in ways that are not common on the left or anywhere else. As an example of this, take his essay (in the light of the G4S failures at Birmingham Prison) on the state using private companies. It didn't (as most on the left did) concentrate on the corruption of it all, in that no-one will ever be held responsible in any significant sense, but approached it from an entirely different point of view about the ethics of state violence and who properly should or should now be empowered to employ it.

3) his willingness to put himself on the line in the pursuit of what he believes to be right without thought to the cost. Yes, there's a fine line between that and slipping into quixotic eccentricity, but the world would be a poorer place without it - as long as the reader approaches their work with a suitably sceptical mind. (Note that, in the thread you reference, very few of those commenting were swayed by his argument: most of them examined his thesis for themselves and came to different conclusions.) Yes, he came to wrong conclusions here, but if everyone only put their head above the parapet on the basis of beyond-reasonable-doubt-standard evidence, we'd end up with... just the mainstream media.

He has pointed out a number of other glaring contradictions and holes in the official narratives and timelines which haven't yet been shown to be so obviously faulty (and that's an understatement: the government narrative is so manifestly false, it's like they're not even trying to make it convincing - and given the media complicity, maybe they simply no longer need to.)

Jim Denham said...

Sensible comment, Phil. But I'm not convinced about "In all probability, this wasn't a hit ordered by Vladimir Putin" why wouldn't it be? Sure, Putin will ensure that it can't be traced directly back to himself, but is it credible to believe he didn't know about it and approve it? I suppose its just possible that his henchmen simply know what will please him and go ahead and do it without explicit instructions.

You're clearly correct about cranks like Murray and dictator-lovers like Galloway and Salmond. The left should have nothing to do with them.

Speedy said...

The Novichock was used as a signature by the GRU, apparently (not FSB). It was an act of politics, not of expedience because it was inevitable there would be diplomatic fallout, indeed it was by design (hence the signature). Within this context it is highly unlikely it was carried out without the knowledge of Putin. A more pertinent question would be why?

Arguably state assassinations are the modern equivalent of gunboat diplomacy - they illustrate the powerlessness of the subject and play well at home. The UK's impotence (and the UK's strength is always over-played by hostile states from Russia to Iran) was laid bare (not even making an effort to extradite) and Russia's "strength" enhanced. Furthermore, the UK is viewed as proxy for the US (protecting Russian defectors, oligarchs) as well as "washing" Russian dirty money, the hypocrites. So it is the classic "shot across the bows".

It is worth remembering Russian self-image is all about "strength" and it will not easily forget its humiliation in the 1990s. Material measures (sanctions) are less important than cultural ones within this context, indeed, are the cheap equivalent of a war to distract from domestic issues.

I understand what you're saying about chaotic regimes, but there's chaos and there's chaos.

John Edwards said...

Good comment from Ian Gibson. It would seem certain that the two suspects have something to do with the case and were meeting Skripal. But the chronology makes it unlikely that the doorknob assassination method was employed. The four hours when the Skripals phones were switched off have never been explained but must be significant. We are aware of these discrepancies because to the work of Murray and others. And of course there is so much more we don't know about why there is a D Notice on Pablo Miller etc. To ty to get to the bottom of it all does not make anyone a crank

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with everything Craig Murray says, nor would be ever expect me to, but I'd rather read a page of his output that 100 pages of most of what you define as "Left" commentators. You're a sociologist and a local Party activist- maybe you should consider it possible that some people with different life experience might possibly know more than you? Craig Murray examines the evidence for this, and other issues that he latches onto, in forensic detail and with a deep intellect. Both qualities very much lacking on the "Left" at present. And if you really think the world isn't run by conspiracies then you need to give your head a shake.

Ken said...

If this was an essay I’d be writing, “Where’s the reference to Salmond in this band of conspiracy mongers.”
Could it be that there isn’t one and he’s here because he has a prog on RT?
Does this make Ashfan Ansari a Russian stooge as he fronts Going Underground on RT?

willwilisovsky willis said...

It's entirely possible that it was improv by the GRU, who are not the FSB incidentally, but it's equally possible that Putin ordered it. The most frustrating thing about the left conspiracy impulses is the assumption that we will ever know, that there is something that will be proved at some point.
Anyone who has spent time in Russia will get this immediately: we still don't know what happened with the Kursk, or Beslan & the theatre siege, or the Moscow metro bombings or anyone of dozens of such incidents.
The entire row is utterly futile, and yeah Putin is an enemy, just not one we can do anything about, whereas those other enemies in downing street, well we have a plan for them.

Phil said...

I'm sure Craig Murray knows a lot more than I do about lots of things. That doesn't stop him from being a crank whose first instinct is to peddle conspiracy theories.

Jim Denham said...

"and yeah Putin is an enemy, just not one we can do anything about, whereas those other enemies in downing street, well we have a plan for them": up to a point, Lord Copper.But if we're serious internationalists its important that we take a view on world events, even when we're powerless to make any difference. To much of the so-called left (especially the "anti-imperialist" variety) operate on the basis of "my enemy's enemy is my friend" and/or a muscle-memory of the USSR: hence a certain softness on Putin. As for Craig Murray: how can anyone take him seriously, given his track record of David Iycke-style conspiracy theories, false allegations (eg against the White Helmets) and thinly-disguised antisemitism

Anonymous said...

Bring on the White Helmets.

Anonymous said...

"Consider ex-diplomat Craig Murray, for example. He has acquired undue prominence in left wing circles for peddling conspiracy theories, which in itself is an indictment of the level of sophistication and political confidence of out movement."

I think you're on rather shaky ground with this little bit of circular logic. You've tarred Craig Murray with the "conspiracy theorist" brush, and then gone on to justify that assertion by strongly implying that only the intellectually inadequate believe conspiracy theories.

If by "conspiracy theories" you mean the ill-defined mass of popular delusions that can mean things like the JFK assassination but which also includes things like Bigfoot, Nibiru and the Mandela Effect, then you're probably onto something.

But a lot of very sophisticated thinkers and writers also believe that the JFK assassination was the result of a conspiracy. And there's a good reason for that.

"Conspiracy" is part of the job description for intelligence agencies, their officers, their agents, and the civil servants who are meant to oversee them In a fair number of instances, this list can be extended to include democratically-elected politicians who are susceptible to indoctrination.

If you don't think that intelligence agencies plot, counter-plot, and subvert, as a matter of course, then you ought to tell us what you think they do all day, with such huge budgets and little to no accountability.

I mean, there's an interesting side-dish of cognitive dissonance going on in this blogpost. Would you disagree, for example, with the assertion that the CIA routinely undermines foreign democracies, destabilises economies, installs puppet dictators, and sometimes murders politicians and activists who stand in the way of US foreign policy objectives? (Never mind international kidnapping and torture for the time being.)

I am confident that you, as a very avowedly left-wing writer would be outraged at the suggestion that the CIA are unjustly-maligned by such accusations.

Don't throw the baby (sensible examination of the covert work of the intelligence agencies) out with the bathwater (unfounded speculation and fantasies). If this segregation is outside your remit for the purposes of this blog, then just say so. But please don't insult those of your readers who happen to have a better grasp of such matters than you do.

Johny Conspiranoid. said...

Craig Murray acknowledges his error about the gate photos on 5/9/18 at https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/09/the-impossible-photo/

This was first spotted by https://twitter.com/bleidl Bruce Leidl.

" All authoritarian regimes are, paradoxically, chaotic" The chaos drives them towards authoritarianism.
The whole method seems very amaturish for the FSB and what is the motive? If Russia had wanted him dead they could have killed him while they still had him instead of exchanging him. Killing him later jepordises any further exchanges.

"where are the Skripals" and "the photos look funny". What's cranky about raising these two questions?
"the world is a messy, complex place and one which the left should try and maintain a critical distance from to try and understand it to, you know, change it"
How are we to do this without understanding the world's conspiracies?

Luther Blissett said...

Crank, crank, crank.

Using mental health slurs even after being asked not to by people with disabilities.

Thanks 'left'. Some solidarity you show.

Ian Gibson said...

Is it really a 'conspiracy theory'? It's matter of unarguable public record that the government's initial responses ('the substance is definitely Novichok, only Russia ever made that and only they had the capacity and motive, and we know they had a secret chemical weapons program') are falsehoods (Neither Porton Down nor the OPCW have either positively identified the substance as Novichok; we know that Iran has made it (working under the auspices of the OPCW,) and the Czecks also have; German intelligence acquired the formulae and shared them with both us and the USA: and, if we knew of a secret program, we had a legal obligation to inform the OPCW of it - instead of which, our ambassador to the UN made a statement congratulating the OPCW on its good work when it officially declared Russia free of any chemical weapons materials or program in October 2017.)

If something starts off with such a bunch of obvious whoppers, is it really so cranky to then scrutinise every subsequent development with extreme scepticism? Yes, he over-reached on those two aspects you've pointed out, but on other elements of this affair he's been foremost in exposing the obvious inconsistencies. I'd far rather have that than the completely supine mainstream media showing not even the slightest inclination to sniff out, if not the truth, then at least the untruths (with one or two individual momentary exceptions, not alas sustained.)

Marie Roget said...

What a shame that, just as you sat down to compose the above, your powers of ratiocination were sidling towards the front door and that, by the time you reached the last paragraph, were long gone down the road.
“Members of the Russian lobby claim the UK government’s version of the Skripal affair is a crock of shite. Craig Murray makes the same claim. Therefore, Murray is part of the Russian lobby.” Logic 101 would tell you that such an inference is a non-starter.
In fact, what you appear to have been groping towards was the argument: “Anybody who claims the UK government’s version of the Skripal affair is a crock of shite is a member of the Russian lobby. Craig Murray makes such a claim. Therefore, Murray is part of the Russian lobby.”
But then, your premise would have the likes of the Guardian journalist Mary Derjevsky, The Daily Shocker, Rob Slane from Salisbury and countless posters of comments on Mail-on-Line (no, scrub the last, every one of them is a Putin lover) micturating all over you, and quite rightly so.
Dr Johnson advised would-be writers to excise any passage they felt particularly proud of. That you posted this effort would suggest, then, that you were not that proud of it. I wonder why?

Marie Roget said...

What a shame that, just as you sat down to compose the above, your powers of ratiocination were sidling towards the front door and that, by the time you reached the last paragraph, were long gone down the road.
“Members of the Russian lobby claim the UK government’s version of the Skripal affair is a crock of shite. Craig Murray makes the same claim. Therefore, Murray is part of the Russian lobby.” Logic 101 would tell you that such an inference is a non-starter.
In fact, what you appear to have been groping towards was the argument: “Anybody who claims the UK government’s version of the Skripal affair is a crock of shite is a member of the Russian lobby. Craig Murray makes such a claim. Therefore, Murray is part of the Russian lobby.”
But then, your premise would have the likes of the Guardian journalist Mary Derjevsky, The Daily Shocker, Rob Slane from Salisbury and countless posters of comments on Mail-on-Line (no, scrub the last, every one of them is a Putin lover) micturating all over you, and quite rightly so.
Dr Johnson advised would-be writers to excise any passage they felt particularly proud of. That you posted this effort would suggest, then, that you were not that proud of it. I wonder why?

Blissex said...

«But I'm not convinced about "In all probability, this wasn't a hit ordered by Vladimir Putin" why wouldn't it be?»

Because it does not make any sense: as C Murray well says, S Skripal was caught and put in a russian prison for several years, and could have been "liquidated" then, or at any time thereafter. Also, as he adds, killing a spy that has been exchanged makes spy exchanges pretty much pointless, and for spies they are really quite important. Besides, carrying it out at that moment in time was a pretty bad idea for the Russia's image.

«Sure, Putin will ensure that it can't be traced directly back to himself, but is it credible to believe he didn't know about it and approve it?»

That's a conspiracy theory of amazing vacuousness. About as useless as the number of contradictory and implausible conspiracy theories that T May, the police, the secret service, the far-right media have been making up. There are simply too many absurd aspect about the "It was Putin who did it" conspiracy theories. The extreme reluctance to publish evidence instead of claims also does not lead to much trust.

Some people, but not C Murray, opine that it was a false-flag operation setup by the UK security services, but if so then it was very shoddily done, and as a taxpayer I hope that their large budgets buy some better performance than that.

My personal guess is that if some of the reported points are accurate the story fits an accident: either or both S and J Skripal were engaged in black market transactions (possibly on behalf of MI6, possibly on their own) with some gangster groups, involving also toxic chemicals, and one such transaction was shoddily done and had bad consequences, and at that point the cabinet and MI6 decided to spin it as a nerve agent attack.

The second best guess is that it was not an accident but indeed a bungled assassination attempt, but by someone else, again most likely some gang with which S Skripal or J Skripal had some dealings, and less likely by some other secret service, e.g. ukrainian, moldovan, ... Who knows how many people have a grudge against a shady ex-russian spy.

Phil said...

Since when has crank been a mental health slur?

Anonymous said...

I do not see how the term 'conspiracy theorist' can be pejorative; the definition is two or more people, meeting in secret, to plan an unlawful act against a third party.
Judges and police deal with these matters every day - all criminal investigations into conspiracies are theories, until the evidence proves them to be fact. At this point, the authorities charge the suspects with the crime.
It is clear that, since the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, at least, all pretense of adhering to due process of law has been abandoned - making the UK, literally, an 'outlaw.'

Luther Blissett said...

'Since when has crank been a mental health slur?'

I'll answer once, in the spirit of good faith.

https://twitter.com/insinerated/status/1027578488054853632

Can confirm this. Am autistic myself and have been called a crank and worse. Seeing it used offensively by comrades is disappointing. Moreso when people try to explain the offensiveness and it's dismissed.


noun - eccentric

Synonyms - weirdo or weirdie, nut, odd fish, rum customer, freak, case, flake, kook, wacko or whacko, oddball, character, screwball, queer fish.

Collins Thesaurus of the English Language – Complete and Unabridged 2nd Edition. 2002


noun - a person regarded as strange, eccentric, or crazy

Synonyms - crackpot, lunatic, cuckoo, kook, weirdie, crazy, loon, ding-a-ling, nut, weirdo, eccentric, loony, dingbat, screwball.

The American Heritage® Roget's Thesaurus. Copyright © 2013, 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

https://www.freethesaurus.com/crank

6
crank
n. a crazy person, especially someone who purports to be a scientist or inventor who has discovered the answer to some important problem facing mankind, like curing all diseases, unlimited energy, levitation, aliens, etc.

He defends his claims with the most ridiculous pseudoscientific crankisms, and claims that the government/mainstream science/experts are suppressing the truth.
Sometimes cranks are businesspeople, selling such wares as Q-ray bracelets that align your chi using q ions to give you enhanced energy.

Probably the best known internet crank is Gene Ray, for his Time Cube site.
#crackpot #kook #quack #conspiracy theorist #nut job #pseudoscience

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=crank

The slang term "crank" also appears in the following thesaurus categories:

Words meaning crazy, insane, weird, strange person

What slang words have this meaning?

The definitions of these slang words appear below the list.

basket case, crack head, crank, crazy-pants, cuckoo, ding-a-ling, doe, freak, fruitcake, funky monkey, goober, head case, j-cat, kook, loon, loony, looper, mad hatter, nugget, nut, nut job, nutter, odd duck,Old Man Jenkins, perve, psycho, psycho-bitch, quack, spaz, strange duck, wackadoodle, weirdo, whack job, yahoo.

http://onlineslangdictionary.com/search/?q=crank&sa=Search


https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/crank

https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/crank?s=t

In my experience, frequently used towards people with autism, especially when stimming, but more generally when somebody is doing a repetitive behaviour to cope with anxiety. Also used when professionals and academics want to to slur a person, but cannot get away with just calling them plain crazy.

I apologise if you had no idea, but just the other week when an article in Labour List called people cranks, and we complained, we were called disingenuous by the editor, and then the author and friends went around telling people it wasn't a slur according to the dictionary! Someone must have made some kind of official complaint, as many of the tweets were removed. It involved a lot of shouting at disabled people and telling them that they were lying.

Again, apologies for what looks to me like an unjust accusation towards yourself.






Phil said...

Fair enough. The title of the post will remain unchanged but I won't use it again.

Blissex said...

«It is clear that, since the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, at least, all pretense of adhering to due process of law has been abandoned - making the UK, literally, an 'outlaw.'»

G Williamson when he was minister of defence boasted publicly that he secretly sentences regularly to death hundreds of UK (and others) citizens, on suspicion of potentially committing future crimes, and that those so sentenced are secretly kidnapped or tortured or assassinated by junta-style MoD/MI6 death-squads. GW Bush, BH Obama and D Trump have made the same boasts.

To much celebration by the extreme far-right press and voters, and the silence of law-loving leftoids, who know how popular is the preventive assassination of suspected potential criminals. Is Paris well worth a mass?

Jim Denham said...

Blissex: "The extreme reluctance to publish evidence instead of claims also does not lead to much trus": care to reassess that statement in the light of the photographs and extraordinary amount of evidence tha HMG has now put into the public domain, Blissex?

cian said...

While not disagreeing with the main thrust of this, I don't think there's any public proof that these guys are actually Russian agents is there? I agree it seems likely, but at this point I'm not sure I trust the British state to get anything right given how they've handled this whole affair.

On Putin. I think there's a tendency in the west to greatly exaggerate his power. Russia isn't a totalitarian state and the elite doesn't necessarily move in step on all issues. Also the Russian state is quite weak, which often means the Kremlin's direct powers can be quite limited.

Not everything in Russia happens because Putin wills it, or even necessarily has much control over it. And there are also powerful people/forces/factions in Russia (like anywhere else) that Putin has to keep happy.

You see a similar thing when people analyse the US. Again the power of the president is often quite limited, while other powerful actors get little scrutiny.

Jason said...

I second the above. Murray is certainly not a crank, but rather someone who has been pushed to the margins for daring to speak out against UKG policy, for which he paid with his career. He's a sober, decent sort, and from first-hand experience is well-placed to run a skeptical eye over foreign policy/official narratives.

Murray has also stood by Julian Assange throughout his imprisonment.