Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Marx and the Princess

I thought I knew a lot about Karl Marx's life, having read several biographies detailing his genius, his carbuncles, his scrounging and procrastination. However, one event was reported in a book I have been reading recently that I had not come across before.
In 1879, Queen Victoria's eldest daughter was curious to find out more about Marx, the famous émigré living in London. Some reports suggest that she had even read Das Kapital. Rather than getting the police to drag him in for questioning, Princess Victoria used the subtle tactic of asking a British politician to check him out, the splendidly named Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff. An invitation for free drinks at the Devonshire Club in London was something Marx could not refuse, and they had a three-hour meeting on 31 January 1879.
It is hard to know how far Marx might have edited his views in such a discussion, although he was not particularly known for letting discretion be the better part of valour. Much of the talk concerned European politics, especially developments in Germany and Russia. This reflected not only Marx's interests but also those of British foreign policy. Duff reported back to the Princess the following day, noting that his impression of Marx was 'not at all unfavourable and I would gladly meet him again'. The letter is here.

Tony Norfield, 16 April 2014

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Rational Paranoia

The old joke has it that you may be paranoid, but that doesn't mean that people are not out to get you. In Russia's case, a look at the historical map of the western side of the country, especially from 1999, would show a growing group of countries aligned with NATO. This is not the only explanation for Russia's intervention in Crimea, but it puts in context their opposition to the EU's (and the US's) overtures to Ukraine.

The table shows the current memberships of NATO and the EU, each coincidentally of 28 countries. Membership overlaps are striking. Twenty-two of the EU's 28 countries are formal NATO members, five others are part of NATO's 'Partnership for Peace' programme that was set up in 1994 (shown as PfP in the table). This means that they can cooperate with NATO 'on their own terms'. In Sweden's case, for example, it means taking part in 'peacekeeping' in Bosnia and Kosovo, and in advancing 'political and economic stability' in Afghanistan. Only Cyprus is in neither group. However, there is a British military base on Cyprus ...

Tony Norfield, 2 April 2014