Thursday, May 14, 2009

Greatness – perceived and real

From the May 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

The “Great” are only great because ruling-class historians tells us they are.

Great men and disproportionately fewer great women are defined and refined for us by those whom we deem to be worthy of lording it over us every four or five years. They stand upon manifestos that promise much but deliver little. What they do deliver, but never talk about beforehand, is war or conflict, reduced public services, cronyism, personal enrichment, self aggrandisement and the ability to write or rewrite history. “He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future!” as Orwell memorably wrote.

So, the history books of our nation-states are filled with tales of derring-do by champions of our establishment class; pages are given over to the wisdom and fortitude during times of conflict of our political leaders. Pages are dedicated to politicians and generals who, by and large, seldom or never come within range of an armed enemy. In contrast, “the poor, bloody infantry” get a line or two when mention of casualties is glossed over. Churchill stayed in London during the blitz, a political decision, to boost morale in the civil population but was in a hole so deep under the Admiralty as to warrant honorary membership of the National Union of Mineworkers, a group he had once turned armed troops upon for daring to defy the Establishment. Yet he, along with others like him, are perceived by many to be great.

Lloyd George

David Lloyd George – the “Welsh Wizard”, so named for his fine oratory and political acumen, but despised by political friend and foe alike for his deceit and cunning –became Prime Minister in 1916 having schemed the downfall of his then Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister Lord Asquith.

At the conclusion of The Great War, in opposition to former allies the US, France and Italy, he set about the punishment of what he referred to as the “deplorable Turks” by the dismemberment of Turkey and what remained of the former Ottoman Empire whilst at the same time serving Britain's imperial aims in the region. Part of his strategy was to encourage then Greek Prime Minister, Venizelos, whom Lloyd George considered “the greatest statesman Greece had thrown up since Pericles”, to attack mainland Turkey and establish a Greater Hellene Empire. In the event his strategy failed; thousands died needlessly on both sides of the conflict, animosity simmers between Greece and Turkey to this day and with the exchange of populations in 1926 formerly mixed and peaceful communities were torn apart, friends were made into strangers and enemies.

Within days of the signing in 1922 of the articles of agreement between Turkey and the British, French and Italians for full withdrawal of troops (the French and Italians were long-gone and the Greeks were defeated), Lloyd George resigned, forced out by colleagues who “[could] not afford to keep him anymore. He is too expensive.” The legacy of David Lloyd George is one of death and destruction, of double-dealing and strategic failure. And yet the casual reader of history would see him writ large as a statesman and master politician. There is page after page in the “official” history books and biographies and even a parody of a repetitious song.

Granny Ayse

Compare this with the story of Ayse (pronounced. Aysher) of Kaya village near Fethiye in SW Turkey. (I am indebted to long-term resident of Kaya, John Laughland for much of the following information contained in his moving tribute-cum-obituary)
She died on 20th March 2009, in Izmir, aged around 104, although records and registrations in those days were not punctiliously kept. As she grew older she became known as Aysenine “Granny Ayse” and she was greatly loved by those who knew her. All of her life was spent in the Kaya valley until about five years ago when infirmity dictated that she move from her tumbledown house to the care of her family in Izmir. When she married she moved from one area of this small valley to another and knew little of the world outside. Hers was the life of a village smallholder, working to provide for her family and herself. Some would say she led an unremarkable life of little note or consequence and yet her face has featured in a book that records “Fethiye Faces and Places” by Turkish photographer Faruk Akbas, poems have been inspired by her words and two renowned authors, Jeremy Seal (in Santa; A Life) and Louis de Bernieres (in Birds Without Wings) have written about her and her life and you might ask why. (de Bernieres is presently working on a screenplay for “Birds Without Wings”)

Ayse lived through and dealt with the consequences of David Lloyd George's arrogance and perfidy; she was about seventeen years old when the exchange of populations took place. When asked of her memory of those awful times, when friends and neighbours were torn apart, she responded “The cats were crying.” There were some 500 houses in what is now known as Kaya village, formerly Levissi, which remain empty to this day, and it's probable that hundreds of cats in need of food were left behind. Ayse kept in trust the wedding chest of her Greek childhood friend Maria in the belief that one day they would be reunited and it could be returned. Her integrity, honesty and trust, her faith in her fellow human beings are in direct contrast to the murderous contempt for the lives of others that is the legacy of Lloyd George.

Those who knew Granny Ayse remember her golden personality and sparkling wit that made her a pleasure to be around. Popular history through photos, poems, books and films will record her real greatness as a starring member of the human race; someone who contributed to the well of human kindness and left the world a better place for having lived. David Lloyd George on the other hand is remembered as a cunning bombast with the blood of thousands on his hands, a failure who contributed nothing of value. He may feature in the “official” histories bathing in perceived greatness but Ayse lives on in the hearts and memories of so many because she contributed so much and represented the true nature of humanity.

Newspeak

Seldom do “histories” reflect reality; in the US there lives a species known as Political Historian whose job it is to address the problems that actual recorded facts cause to the established ruling elite. No doubt they thrive in most other nation states in one guise or another drip-feeding us and our kids via schools and the media with their perceived version of reality. NEWSPEAK is alive and well all over the world. As memories of recent events fade the Political Historians will wave their wands and Bush and Blair et al will transmogrify into great leaders who saved civilisation yet again from the barbarians. Records go missing, new facts are added and repeated over and over in the spirit of Dr Goebbels and the Ministry of Truth.

As socialists we understand only too well the power of oft repeated misinformation in the minds of many people; when people understand the real nature of our philosophy as opposed to their perceived notions drip-fed to them via the establishment then the system will come crashing. Our task is to keep our own candle burning and to “make socialists” whenever and wherever we can. The values of Ayse of Kaya sustained her as she waited for the return of her friend; the values and integrity of our World Socialist Movement sustain each of us as we battle the legacy of David Lloyd George, the Establishment and the spin of the Political Historians.

Alan Fenn