What Is To Be Done?

The cover of Lenin's What Is To Be Done

Indeed, what is to be done?

Times flies … I’m surprised that it’s 10 days since I last wrote a ‘proper’ new entry. Today’s ride, with Charli, was essentially a permutation on yesterday’s route – these are reasonably quiet lanes.

There’s plenty of tree-debris around, both from the recent unusually strong winds and just as you’d expect for autumn. It can make for a tricky ride at times, not least because a pile of leaves or thick coat of beech mast and mush can easily obscure the pot-holes. The pot-holes never go away.

Over some unexceptional autumnal rides and a couple of nights away, the last few days’ thinking has been dominated by revolution. From Russell Brand being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman to the day-to-day conversations you find yourself having with friends and acquaintances, increasingly, discontent is in the air. Media figures and celebrities aside, Josephine and Joe Average aren’t happy.

I don’t know where that unhappiness might lead. I doubt there are many who genuinely want revolution in the sense of widespread unrest and violence, a real breakdown of order and social cohesion – civil war, almost inevitably. On the other hand, the need for something palpably significant to change in how we are governed in the broadest sense of that word, and thus how we feel about our lives, is increasingly strong.

‘What Is To Be Done’, as Lenin said. Spare us all the Marxism-Leninism, but, indeed, what is to be done?

Brand, Paxman and Channel Four’s Mason’s views on their meeting.

Rain and Mud

A decent length spin with Jim, because we could, because we both needed it and on my part at least because the week’s shaping up to not be great for cycling. It’s just the way the diary is working out. So it goes; I’m much more a master of my own day-to-day destiny than I might be.

Spring’s pushing through but it’s not looking lush; it’s too dry. Some traditional April showers – if they come – will sort it out.

It is odd to write “if they come” and to then ponder it. From April showers to summer sun, from a basic rule of law to doctors that take the Hippocratic Oath seriously, from money being worth something to shops that will have some stock – there are so many components of life that we take for granted, that we rely on, that we make presumptions about.

By chance, recently I read about ‘The Anarchy’ in England and the breakdown of basic law and order in the country. I gather, too, that the description of these years as ‘anarchy’ is open to dispute, but nevertheless it would do us all good to remember how fragile civilization is – all civilization. And we all need to remember that every single one of us is dependent on rain and the few inches of topsoil the covers parts of the planet. Without that, any notions of class, politics, government and most other things simply disintegrate.


Riding around the Winkfield Row, Maiden’s Green area, getting towards Windsor, there are plenty of houses that you can readily imagine belong to city types – obviously expensive, near to London, ‘nice’ area. Fine, it makes for a decent area to cycle around too – during weekday daytimes it’s amazingly quiet.

What it made me wonder about though, was about the character types of the people who own them.

The media are making a thing at the moment about emails purportedly written by Syrian President Assad and his wife which, if they’re true, seem to demonstrate very well callousness and gross self-indulgence on the part of the pair of them. In a nutshell, she’s shopping for shoes at nearly £4,000 a pair while their country seems to be sliding towards civil war. This is a woman Vogue once called the ‘freshest and most magnetic of first ladies’; Paris Match said she was a ‘ray of light’. In general the West seems to have liked to think of her as a reformer because she grew up in Acton and worked as an investment banker for JP Morgan.

What I found myself considering was whether, in fact, her career as an investment banker might instead suggest that she’s now acting true to type. I can’t think of anything about anything connected with the absolutely phenomenal bail-out of the banking industry that has brought to light any meaningful contrition on the part of bankers or has shown them to be concerned, socially aware and community-minded citizens. I can’t help but suspect President Assad’s wife is merely acting true to character, and that if there had been a clearer evaluation of the character seemingly needed to be a banker, there wouldn’t have been any false hopes about her. Nor would so much trust have been placed in bankers.

I’m not saying the character type is inherently bad. Maybe it’s needed in that professional role. All I’m saying is that that character type probably doesn’t lend itself to issues of social justice and reform, and it may well be naive to think otherwise.

And talking of types, I fail to understand why Councils employ staff who are the type of person to spend money on so-called anti-skid road surfaces when a short drive around pretty well any locale will find any number of instances where these surfaces have deteriorated to leave a pitted, pot-holed road that results in less traction for motorists and thus more danger for all road users. The net result is that they’re spending money and doing their constituents no favours. At the same time, they’re closing services like libraries on the grounds of saving money, which is also doing their constituents no favours. It makes no sense.

Oil And War

So, there I am, enjoying riding a bike around English country lanes on a decent Spring day, while military personnel are going to war in Libya, in deed if not in name, and in theory in my name. Of course this isn’t on the same scale and there are no parallels that I can think of, but all the same I’m reminded about those lovely English summer days at the start of World War Two. That must have felt even more incongruous, surely.

My grandfather fought in North Africa in the Second World War. That was a clear-cut war. Today, the British (and coalition) action against Libya doesn’t ‘feel’ right to me, doesn’t ring true. After all, the Libyan regime’s been in place for over 40 years. It might not be a model of democracy but it’s not known for its atrocities. And let’s face it, the West has been pretty happy to cosy up to it in recent years. No, it would seem to be more the case that –

  • ‘we’ had convinced ourselves that we were happy enough with Qadhafi but he’s not perceived to be the most reliable of individuals;
  • on the back of the Egyptian experience, some kind of popular revolt started;
  • ‘we’ looked at what happened in Egypt and backed the Libyan rebels;
  • the Libyan rebels started losing;
  • if they lose completely, that would leave ‘us’ with a lot of impossible-to-clean-off egg on ‘our’ faces;
  • ‘we’ end up concluding we’ve no choice but to try and help the rebels.

Qadhafi’s repression of the revolt is a pretty flimsy excuse. And no other regimes have harshly suppressed their own people? Come on – don’t insult our collective intelligence. What would a government in London do if faced with an armed mass uprising in, say, Scotland, Wales or Cornwall? Just let it happen? Civil wars can happen very, very easily. Former Yugoslavia anyone?

And of course none of this would have happened / be happening if Libya didn’t have oil. ‘We’ wouldn’t have been keen to ‘rehabilitate’ Qadhafi and cosy up to him; ‘we’ wouldn’t have been so keen on regime change as soon as there was the first whiff of it being a possibility; ‘we’ wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now.

Military Communications

Military Communications