07 July 2012

Otto von Bismarck: Krautjunker redneck hipster

From: Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947, by Christopher Clark (Penguin, 2007), Kindle Loc. 9771-9814 (pp. 518ff):
Who was Otto von Bismarck? Let us begin with a letter he wrote in the spring of 1834, when he was just nineteen years old. His school-leaving certificate had been delayed; as a result, doubts arose about whether he would be able to matriculate in the University of Berlin. In this transitional moment, forced into idleness and full of uncertainty about what the future held, the young Bismarck was moved to reflect on what would become of him if he failed to gain entry to university. From the family estate at Kniephof he penned the following lines to his school friend Scharlach:
I shall amuse myself for a few years waving a sword at raw recruits, then take a wife, beget children, till the soil and undermine the morals of my peasantry by the inordinate distillation of spirits. So, if in 10 years’ time you should happen to find yourself in the neighbourhood, I invite you to commit adultery with an easy and curvaceous young woman selected from the estate, to drink as much potato brandy as you fancy and to break your neck out hunting as often as you see fit. You will find here a fleshy home-guard officer with a moustache that curses and swears till the earth trembles, cultivates a proper repugnance to Jews and Frenchmen, and thrashes his dogs and domestics with egregious brutality when bullied by his wife. I shall wear leather trousers, make a fool of myself at the Stettin wool market and when people address me as baron I shall stroke my moustache benignly and knock a bit off the price; I shall get pissed on the king’s birthday and cheer him vociferously and the rest of the time I shall sound off regularly and my every other word will be: ‘Gad what a splendid horse!’
This letter is worth citing at such length because it demonstrates how much ironic distance there was in the young Bismarck’s perception of his own social milieu – the milieu of the East-Elbian Junkers. Bismarck often liked to play the part of the red-necked Krautjunker of the Prussian boondocks, but in reality he was a rather untypical example of the type. His father was the real thing: he was descended from five centuries of noble East-Elbian landowners. But his mother’s family carried the imprint of a different tradition. Bismarck’s mother, Wilhelmine Mencken, was the descendant of an academic family from Leipzig in Saxony. Her grandfather had been a professor of law who entered the employ of the Prussian state to serve as cabinet secretary under Frederick the Great.

It was Wilhelmine Mencken who made the key educational decisions for her sons; Bismarck consequently received a rather uncharacteristic upbringing for a member of his class: he began, not with Cadet School, but with a classic bourgeois education as a boarder at the Plammann Institute in Berlin – a school for the sons of senior civil servants. From there he progressed to the Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium, and later to the universities of Göttingen (1832–3) and Berlin (1834–5). There followed a four-year period of civil service training in Aachen and Potsdam. Bored by the monotony and the lack of personal autonomy that were the hallmarks of civil service training, young Otto retired, to the astonishment and dismay of his family, to work on his own estate at Kniephof, where he stayed from 1839 to 1845. During this long interlude, he played the Junker in heroic style; these were years of heavy eating and drinking, with epic breakfasts of meat and ale. And yet a closer examination of life at home with Otto von Bismarck reveals some thoroughly unjunkerly pursuits, such as wide reading in the works of Hegel, Spinoza, Bauer, Feuerbach and Strauss.

These observations suggest themes that are important to an understanding of Bismarck’s political life. His background and attitude help to explain the fractured relationship between Bismarck and the conservatives who were – in their own eyes at least – the natural representatives of the landed aristocracy. Bismarck was never really one of them, and they, sensing this, never really trusted him. He never shared the corporatism of the Old Conservatives; he had never been attracted to a world-view that saw the Junker interest as pitted in corporate solidarity against the state. He had little interest in championing the rights of the locality and the province against the claims of the central authority; he did not see revolution and the reforming state as two faces of the same satanic conspiracy against the natural historic order. On the contrary, Bismarck’s remarks on politics and history were always informed by a deep respect for – and even at times a crude glorification of – the absolutist state, and above all of its capacity for autonomous action. ‘When Prussia was invoked in his speeches, it was the Prussia of the Great Elector and of Frederick, never the backward-looking utopia of the corporative state that put a curb on absolutism.’

Like his maternal ancestors, Bismarck would seek his fulfilment as an adult in service to the state. But he would serve the state without being a servant. The link to the Estate was not in itself a destiny – it was too narrow and boring for that – but it represented an assurance of independence. The tie to the Estate, with the sense of mastery and separateness that it brought, was a fundamental strut in Bismarck’s concept of personal autonomy – as he explained in a letter to his cousin at the age of twenty-three, a man who aspired to play a role in public life must ‘carry over into the public sphere the autonomy of private life’. His concept of that autonomy of private life was emphatically not bourgeois; it derived from the social world of the landed estate, whose lord is responsible to none but himself.

Piedmont and Prussia: Parallels

From: Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947, by Christopher Clark (Penguin, 2007), Kindle Loc. 9621-9685 (pp. 510ff):
For nearly half a century after 1815, Prussia stood on the sidelines of European power politics, steering in the lee of the great powers, avoiding commitments and shying away from conflict. It avoided antagonizing its powerful neighbours. It acquiesced in Russian tutelage over its foreign policy. Prussia was the only major European power to remain neutral during the Crimean War (1854–6). To some, it even seemed that Prussia’s status as a member of the concert of the great European powers was obsolete. Prussia, a Times leader article observed in 1860,
was always leaning on somebody, always getting somebody to help her, never willing to help herself [… ] present in Congresses, but absent in battles [… ] ready to supply any amount of ideals or sentiments, but shy of anything that savours of the actual. She has a large army, but notoriously one in no condition for fighting. [… ] No one counts on her as a friend; no one dreads her as an enemy. How she became a great Power, history tells us; why she remains so nobody can tell.
And yet, within eleven years of this blistering appraisal, the Kingdom of Prussia had reinvigorated its armed forces, driven Austria out of Germany, destroyed the military might of France, built a new nation-state and transformed the European balance of power in a burst of political and military energy that astonished the world.

It was no coincidence that the unifications of Italy and Germany were accomplished within a decade of each other. The cultural prehistory of the German nation-state extends back into and beyond the eighteenth century, but the chain of events that made its foundation a political possibility began with the second Italian war of unification. On 26 April 1859, the Austrian Empire declared war on the north Italian Kingdom of Piedmont. This was a conflict that had been planned in advance. During the summer of 1858, the Piedmontese Prime Minister Camillo di Cavour had negotiated a defensive alliance with Emperor Napoleon III of France. In the spring of 1859, Cavour provoked Vienna by massing Piedmontese troops near the border with Austrian Lombardy. The resulting Austrian declaration of war activated France’s obligations under the secret treaty. French troops rushed southwards across the Alps in the first major mobilization by railway. Between the end of April and the beginning of July, the joint French-Piedmontese forces occupied Lombardy, winning two major victories against the Austrians at Magenta (4 June) and Solferino (24 June). Piedmont annexed the Duchy of Lombardy; the duchies of Parma, Modena and Tuscany and the papal territory of Romagna were coaxed into a union with Turin. Piedmont now controlled the north of the peninsula and things might have stayed that way, had it not been for an invasion of the south by a band of volunteers under the command of Giuseppe Garibaldi. The Kingdom of Naples quickly collapsed, clearing the way for the unification of most of the peninsula under the rule of the Piedmontese monarchy. An Italian kingdom was proclaimed in March 1861.

The Prussian monarch, William I, and his foreign minister, Alexander von Schleinitz, responded to these events with the usual Prussian circumspection. As the Franco-Austrian conflict loomed, Prussia stuck to the middle ground, adopting neither the ‘conservative’ option of an alliance with Vienna, nor the ‘liberal’ option of a partnership with France against Austria. There were the usual efforts to make incremental gains in Germany at Austria’s expense. Berlin promised, for example, to assist Austria against France, but only on the condition that Prussia be placed in command of all the non-Austrian Confederal contingents. This proposal, which recalled the security initiatives of Bernstorff and Radowitz during the war scares of 1830–32 and 1840–41, was rejected on prestige grounds by the Austrian Emperor. At about the same time, Berlin deployed heavy troop concentrations to the Rhineland to deter Napoleon III from extending the sphere of his operations to western Germany. There was nothing particularly remarkable or unexpected about these measures. In responding thus to the Italian crisis (and the accompanying French war scare), the Prussian government worked within the well-worn grooves of a tentative dualist rivalry that sought to avoid direct confrontation while embracing the opportunity to expand Prussian influence at Austria’s expense.

Yet it is clear in retrospect that the Italian war set Prussian national policy on a new footing. It was obvious to contemporaries that there were parallels between the Italian and the German predicament. In both cases a strong sense (within the educated elite) of historical and cultural nationhood coexisted with the fact of dynastic and political division (though Italy had only seven separate states to Germany’s thirty-nine). In both cases, it was Austria that stood in the way of national consolidation. There were also clear parallels between Piedmont and Prussia. Both states were noted for their confident bureaucracies and their modernizing reforms, and both were constitutional monarchies (since 1848). Each had sought to suppress popular nationalism while at the same time manoeuvring to extend its own influence in the name of the nation over the lesser states within its sphere of interest. It was thus easy for small-German enthusiasts of a Prussian-led union to project the Italian events of 1859–61 on to the German political map.

The Italian war also demonstrated that new doors had opened within the European political system. Most important of these was the estrangement between Austria and Russia. In 1848, the Russians had saved the Austrian Empire from partition at the hands of the Hungarian national movement. During the Crimean War of 1854–6, however, the Austrians had made the fateful decision to join the anti-Russian coalition, a move that was seen in St Petersburg as rank treachery. Vienna thereby irretrievably forfeited the Russian support that had once been the cornerstone of its foreign policy. Cavour was the first European politician to show how this realignment could be exploited to his state’s advantage.

The events of 1859 were instructive in other ways as well. Under Napoleon III, France emerged as a power prepared to challenge by force the European order established at Vienna in 1815. The Prussians now felt the ancestral threat from the west more keenly than ever. The shock effect of the French intervention in Italy was heightened by memories of the first Napoleon, whose ascendancy had begun with the subjugation of the Italian peninsula and continued with an invasion of the Rhineland. The Prussian mobilization of 1859 may not have been the disaster some historians have described, but it did nothing to allay the sense of vulnerability to a resurgent Bonapartist France. As for the Austrians, they had fought bitterly to keep their Italian possessions, inflicting 18,000 casualties on the Franco-Piedmontese at Magenta and Solferino. Would they not also fight to defend their political pre-eminence within a divided Germany? Prussia’s position was in some respects worse than Piedmont’s, for it seemed clear that the middling states of the ‘third Germany’ (unlike the lesser north Italian principalities) would support Austria in any open struggle between the two potential German hegemons. ‘Almost all Germany for the last forty years has [… ] cherished a hostile spirit against Prussia,’ William wrote to Schleinitz on 26 March 1860, ‘and for a year this has decidedly been on the increase.’

The Italian war was thus a reminder of the centrality of armed force to the resolution of entrenched power-political conflicts, and the view gained ground within the military leadership that Prussia would have to reform and strengthen its army if it was to meet the challenges facing it in the near future. This was not a new problem. Since the 1810s, financial constraints had meant that the size of the army had not kept pace with the growth in the Prussian population. By the 1850s, only about one-half of the young men of eligible age were being drafted. There were also concerns about the quality of the Landwehr militia created to fight Napoleon by the military reformers Scharnhorst and Boyen, as its officers were trained to much less exacting standards.

01 July 2012

Methods of Social Control in Vietnam

From: Vietnam: Rising Dragon, by Bill Hayton (Yale U. Press, 2010), Kindle Loc. 1550-88:
Since the 1990s, the ‘Cultured Families’ [gia đình văn hóa < 家庭 Ch. jiating, Jp. katei 'family' + 文化 Ch. wenhua, Jp. bunka 'culture'] campaign has become more prominent, mainly because of the failure of a more heavy-handed system. From the earliest days of communist Vietnam, the cornerstone of social control was a system of household registration called the ho khau [= hộ khẩu 户口 < Ch. hukou, like Jp. 户籍 koseki]. It still exists. Every person has to be registered in a specific place at birth. If they want to move, they need the consent of the authorities both where they're registered and where they want to go. Borrowed from China, the system was initially intended to control anti-communist resistance. Over subsequent decades, even though the central state lacked the resources to ensure it was fully implemented everywhere, it became the basis for economic planning, the provision of social services and the distribution of food and goods.

As the economy liberalised, however, it became easier for people to evade the system. The distribution of state-supplied jobs, food and housing had once been largely dependent on holding a valid ho khau, but as more goods and services became available on the open market, its power was reduced. Villagers left their villages without permission, unregistered housing sprang up in the cities and illegal traders tramped the streets. Daily life could, to a larger extent, bypass the authorities. (Hence the need to augment the ho khau with the ‘Cultured Families’ campaign.) The ho khau survives, however, because it continues to be a useful tool for the state: it reduces migration, provides useful economic data and, above all, helps the police to keep tabs on people. It's another lever in the official tool kit. Anyone without a valid ho khau is permanently at the authorities' mercy. Unregistered households have to build a life's worth of corrupt relationships simply to keep living and working in a particular place. If they misbehave, life can get very difficult.

The consequence for the unregistered can be severe. If an unregistered couple wants to get married, register the birth of their child or even be buried in the cemetery they will find it difficult, sometimes even impossible. They could return to the place where their official ho khau was registered, but if they have been absent for more than six months, they may find that their name has been removed from the register. As a result they will be officially beyond the law. Often the only way to survive is through bribery – paying local officials either to grant them a ho khau or to turn a blind eye whenever they need to do something which requires it. Their births won't be registered or their marriages licensed, their housing will be illegal and their living conditions precarious. They're not included in population statistics, poverty calculations or social services provision. More than a quarter of the babies born in 2000 weren't registered. In just one year that implies 250,000 undocumented children. As a result, the government was forced to adjust the rules to fit reality. New laws and regulations were introduced from 2004 allowing children to be registered where they are born, not where their parents' ho khau was issued. But local authorities are reluctant to regularise so many new inhabitants whom they would then be obliged to take care of. Consequently communities are growing up across Vietnam, perhaps a few million people in all, who do not officially exist.

In spite of this, and other, clear evidence of the failure of the ho khau system, there's no sign of it being abandoned. In part, this is because it continues to perform its original function, allowing surveillance of the population. In addition to its more general roles in controlling movement and guiding economic planning, the ho khau is the basis of the Public Security Ministry's system of political records, known as the ly lich [< 履歴 Ch. lüli, Jp. rireki, as in rirekisho 'curriculum vitae']. The ly lich has a long history. In its original incarnation, in the 1950s, individuals were obliged to write their life histories for the police. Those who had worked for the French, been members of non-communist political parties or were part of the landlord class, or whose parents or grandparents did so, could then be kept out of important positions or pushed down the queue for goods and services.

Today the legacies of those old ly lich continue to blight the lives of descendants, particularly among former officials of the old Saigon regime and their children. And new ly lich are still being written. The essay format continues to be used for most people applying for jobs in the public sector and for anyone wanting to join the Communist Party. But the police also compile their own ly lich on those they consider subversive or worth watching – journalists, foreigners, those who have contact with journalists and foreigners, and so on. It may no longer be a universal requirement and it's no longer such a public procedure but it continues to exist in the processes of the Ministry of Public Security. From secret police files and residency permits to neighbourhood wardens and cultured family campaigns, Vietnam has built a low-tech but effective system of near-total surveillance.

Punitive Social Work in Vietnam

From: Vietnam: Rising Dragon, by Bill Hayton (Yale U. Press, 2010), Kindle Loc. 1379-1432:
The official response to public prostitution, public drug use and public vagrancy is the same: first of all try to persuade the offender to change their uncivilised lifestyle and then, if they fail to reform, remove them from the city. Control of what the authorities still call ‘social evil’ falls, not to the police, but to the local People's Committee. Party cadres will visit uncivilised households, Women's Union activists will try to persuade prostitutes to give up their trade and local neighbourhood wardens will try to organise neighbours to fight antisocial behaviour. But if they fail then the People's Committee – not the court – will order detention. The campaign to promote civilised living has co-opted the old ways of dealing with social problems: exclusion and re-education.

From political dissidents in the 1950s, to army officers from the defeated south in the 1970s, to prostitutes and drug users now, the Party has long treated ‘deviants’ on the premise that it can change their minds and make them ‘better’ citizens. Re-education is an unsettling combination of liberalism and totalitarianism. On the one hand the regime believes that most of those with unacceptable behaviour can be ‘reformed’, but on the other it has a very rigid definition of acceptable behaviour. In practice, re-education has been far from liberal. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of former southern soldiers, officials and dissidents died from abuse and neglect in re-education camps after the war and these days the centres set up to reform cases of ‘social evil’ more often harm their inmates than help them.

Male drug users are sent to ‘06 centres’. Female sex workers, who may also be drug users, are sent to ‘05 centres’ and street children to social protection centres. These are usually in remote places and although they are managed by the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA) rather than the Ministry of Public Security, in practice they are run like prisons. There are more than 80 state-run 06 centres in the country, each holding around a thousand inmates. There are few, if any, trained drugs counsellors or social workers in the centres; staff are simply allocated to work there by the Ministry. Inmates are all treated the same; little attempt is made to understand individuals or why they might have become involved with drugs or sex work. Re-education isn't exactly stimulating. Half the day is spent memorising Party positions and the laws on crime, and chanting slogans such as: ‘The whole nation condemns social evil’. The rest is spent performing manual labour. The inmates wear blue striped pyjamas, conditions are hard and they are frequently beaten.

Unsurprisingly, the centres usually fail. They keep people off the streets for two or three years but then return them to the same neighbourhood and the same social problems, and the result is almost always the same. They're then likely to be picked up again and sent away for another spell in the camp. While the centres may give the authorities the impression that they're in control of the problem, in many ways they've made it worse. Surveys suggest that 60 per cent of the inmates of 06 centres are now HIV-positive. Though the authorities deny it, intravenous drug use is rampant and there is plenty of unsafe sex between inmates. Given that neither problem is supposed to exist, MoLISA refuses to provide them with clean needles or condoms. Maintaining the Party line has failed to change inmates' behaviour. Instead it's just increased the prevalence of HIV.

Party experts and government officials are struggling to find new ideas for ways to cope with the problems of the new society they are building. The top of the hierarchy clings to the utopian idea that socialism can solve everything. Theoreticians still argue over the legacies of social thinkers like Karl Marx, Max Weber and Émile Durkheim and their implications for solving the country's problems. The lower levels try to cope using whatever resources are to hand. Social work – once abolished on the grounds that it was unnecessary under socialism – is being encouraged again. Religious groups, including the Catholic Church, are being allowed to provide social care; ‘empathy groups’ of families of people with HIV are being allowed to organise autonomously of the Party; and international experts from the UN and other agencies are being invited to advise on new strategies. Western-trained practitioners are turning local NGOs into agencies to try to treat the problems directly.

The problems are tying the Party's ideologues up in ideological knots. For decades they argued that social evils were the result of foreign and capitalist influence, starting under the French and continuing under the Americans. Trying to explain why they have surged now, under Party leadership, has pitted theorists who hold the line that socialism has the answers against practitioners who work on the assumption that it hasn't. It seems unlikely that the old line can be held for much longer but it still has powerful supporters. They don't understand the new world they have created – they still announce strategies calling for a 90 per cent reduction in crime, for example – and for the time being it's easier to fall back on traditional ideas than seek out new ones. Other arguments are familiar from other countries. Why should money be spent on those who've abused the Party, state and nation's generosity when loyal citizens get by with less? Many people, addicts' families included, see the re-education camps as a good solution to the problem. Families have been known to imprison their own children at home or bribe the army to send them to bases on remote islands to prevent them using drugs – why should they be opposed to sending them away to an 06 centre?

Similar dilemmas exist over street children. There are few sights which offend urbanites – Vietnamese and foreign – more than seeing children living on the street. Compared with most cities in Asia, the number of visible street children in Vietnam is relatively small, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. The authorities in the two big cities take dramatically contrasting approaches. Hanoi tends to be more hard line, regularly rounding up apparently vagrant children. In Ho Chi Minh City they are more tolerant. In Hanoi shoe-shine boys have learnt not to carry the tools of their trade openly. Instead they buy a school uniform and carry the brushes and polish in a rucksack so that the police don't spot them. They also take less visible jobs, working in the markets rather than selling postcards in the tourist areas. In Ho Chi Minh City, tolerance has allowed well-organised trafficking rings to flourish. They ‘rent’ children from poor families, particularly in the centre of the country, promising to take care of their accommodation and employment. They tell the families the children will be trained and well looked after but the kids are usually put to work as cheap labour; selling flowers, cutting cloth and working in restaurants or as domestic servants. Sixteen-hour days, minimal wages and Dickensian accommodation are the norm.