Public house politics

Soviet chic and Hussein v Hitler.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics

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  • Soviet theme bars

Martin Amis’ new book, Koba the Dread, has caused a bit of a stir for allegedly belittling the horrors of the Soviet Union. Amis has also been charged with narcissism and flippancy for using his sister’s troubled life as a metaphor for the Siberian death camps.

But Koba the Dread has reawakened an old chestnut: why do we still think of Stalin as not quite as bad as Hitler? Why is the mass murder committed by the totalitarian Left not seen in the same horrific light as the barbarism and killings of the totalitarian Right?

Well, at least the Soviet Union killed millions of people for noble reasons, whereas the Nazis were avowedly beastly from day one – seems to be the unspoken explanation. For this reason, Soviet chic is acceptable, whereas Nazi chic has always been a decidedly niche market. A red, retro-football top bearing the letters ‘CCCP’ is cool, but a black retro-top with the words ‘The Third Reich’ is not a hit down Camden Market. I have yet to see a Nazi theme pub, whereas you do get Soviet theme bars.

Around the corner from Manchester’s Oxford Road Station there is a bar called ‘Revolution’, a Russian theme pub of sorts, replete with myriad choices of vodka, red stars on the wall and, when it originally opened, a painting of Lenin doing his famous pointing gesture (mimicked in recent years, incidentally, by Tony Blair). Last time I was there in February, Lenin had been painted over. This seemed a wise decision. The picture may have been guiding customers to the gents in this context, but in real life, Lenin was really saying: ‘Lads, I’ve spotted some Kulaks!’

A glorified painting of Lenin does raise questions about the desirability, or authenticity, of theme pubs. Further down the Oxford Road in Fallowfield, in the early 1990s there was a Scottish theme pub – a smart affair decked in Tartan and portraits of Highland aristocracy. Of course, a true Scottish theme pub would be quite sparse, with the odour of over-used chip fat. It would only serve sweet Tennant’s lager, its shelves would be lined with cans of soft drinks and vodka, with glue-sniffing kids playing pool in the back room.

In the past year or so, many Irish theme pubs in Britain have being playing down the in-your-face ‘Oirishness’ that was their mainstay when they first opened their doors. Finnegan’s Wake, for instance, at the top of London’s Fulham Palace Road, has recently had its walls painted white to cover up all the posters of Connemara and ‘great Irish writers’. It is barely an Irish theme pub at all now, bar a few whiskey mirrors and its name.

Yet the whole point about theme pubs is that they are not meant to resemble public houses actually found in the country in question; they are meant to be an easily understood representation of a nation’s character in general. A true Northern Irish pub would be half-Loyalist, half-Republican, with a ‘peace wall’ straight down the middle. The toilets would be on the Catholic side, enabling Protestant boozers to march ceremoniously to the bog, bellowing that it is part of their ‘heritage/cultural identity’ to have a wazz in the Catholic toilets.

A true English theme pub? There’d be no customers. After all, would you want to go for a drink in a place where the landlord greets you with the following: ‘Morning! Now what do you think it means to be English at the beginning of the twenty-first century?’

If a Soviet theme bar, then why not a Nazi theme pub? It would contain, say, a sadistic, monocled landlord listening to classical music on a gramophone, or bar ladies dressed like Helga from ‘Allo ‘Allo barking ‘What are your orders? Orders that must be obeyed’. Bad taste? Of course not. Just go on about how Hitler wasn’t a genuine National Socialist, that he actually perverted the true Nazi message. Nazism wasn’t a failure. It hasn’t been tried yet. And so on.

  • Did the French really buy this?

One of the biggest success stories in the French literary world in the past year has been the French journalist Thierry Meyssan’s conspiracy theory about 11 September. The author’s best-selling L’Effroyable Imposture argues that the attacks on Washington and New York were actually orchestrated by the US government. Twenty thousand copies of the book were sold within two hours of it going on sale on 11 March 2002.

It is not worth going over Meyssan’s argument here. Of more interest is why France has fallen for it. This tells us much more about the French character than about 11 September. The book’s popularity may be attributed to a combination of France’s weakness for anti-empirical philosophy and its traditional hostility to all things American.

France’s resentment at Anglo-Saxon ‘cultural imperialism’, from Charles de Gaulle to José Bové, is well known. Additionally, its weakness for anti-empirical philosophy has been demonstrated in recent years. This has manifest itself in the popularity of Jean Baudrillard’s 1991 essay The Gulf War Did Not Take Place: it was a spectacle, a media event, he wrote. Baudrillard didn’t deny fighting actually happened, but the title clearly excited a lot of people.

The French suspicion for Anglo-Saxon empiricism as a logocentric fallacy has now reached its apex in an orgy of postmodernist imbecility. That Foucauldian mantra, that there is no truth, only interpretation, reaches its sad conclusion with Monsieur Meyssan.

  • Historical Analogies Telephone Poll

Do you think Saddam Hussein is like Adolf Hitler? An aggressive expansionist bent on genocide, who must be stopped and his appeasers vanquished? Or do you think George W Bush resembles the Führer? An aggressive autocrat, elected to power, yet who harbours territorial ambitions of his own?

Why don’t YOU decide? Take part in the Daily Stigmatic‘s special Historical Comparison Poll.

08001 *****1 – Yes, I think Saddam Hussein is Hitler. Kuwait is clearly his Sudetenland

08001 *****2 – No, George Dubya is Hitler. Iraq is clearly his Sudetenland.

08001 *****3 – Hmmn, haven’t decided yet. Aren’t arguments based on analogy a bit lazy?

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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