Tag Archives: fascism

Fascism and the far right; twenty years on

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“Saranson [had] thin flaxen hair … His eyes were sparks at the bottom of two dark wells”

Let me start with the origins of my book Fascism: Theory and Practice. I will then set out – using a deliberately old-fashioned, Marxist term – what my perspective would be if I was to think today about the same questions now.

When I wrote the book, I had gone straight from undergraduate work to a PhD and the book originated as a literature review to accompany a project of mapping out the relationship between fascism and anti-fascism in Britain in the three key periods of 1936-9, 1941-1951 and 1972-1979.

My PhD looked, in a very British History purely empirical fashion, at the second of these periods. I later published a further monograph looking at the 1970s. Whatever the merits or otherwise of my two books on the 1940s and 1970s, they were animated by a key insight, namely that the right has always had to deal with the problem of hostility from the left and that its strategies for dealing with opposition have at certain key moments been central to what the right has been.

Whether that’s Mosley’s turn to National Socialism in 1934, or his Hegelianism in the 1940s and 1950s or the BNP’s electoral strategy in the 1990s – every one of these moves, it can sensibly be argued, did not rise “from within” but principally to address the problems caused by determined opposition.

Similar thinking, of course, informs my book on fascism. Although the focus there is not on British but on generic (Italian, German and post-war) fascism.

A further idea in the book was that if war or genocide were ever to return to the most wealthiest countries of the world this could come about only through fascism. Here, I want to explore today some of the unspoken assumptions that underpinned this belief. One was an unspoken idea that countries such as the United States or Britain had made a long-term shift towards both political and social democracy. For someone who grew up, as I did, in the 1970s it was easy to tell yourself that a society which prioritised health care, pensions, etc, would never except in the very most extreme circumstances adopt a policy of inter-power war or domestic genocide. Of course, even I was a younger I was well aware that there were still wars, but these were exported to what we used to call the Third World.

That could change, I assumed, but only as a result of the emergence of political forces which called publicly for return to genocide and war. And the only political movement which had advocated these as options at any time since 1914 were fascists.

Another idea which lay behind the book was that there were structural limits to the number of political forms which were capable of becoming majority movements. In other words, capitalism gave rise to conservatism, socialism, liberalism, communism and fascism. And there the list ended.

Fascism was a recurring presence in the 1970s, in memory of the 1920s and 1930s when it had taken the feelings of bewilderment and alienation that arose in an epoch of reformist modernisation, and the perceived threat of the far-left, and sought to build against them both a counter-revolutionary alternative. But because the post-war period was an epoch of polarised near-majorities, there was a limited space for ideological diversity.

In the 1970s and 1980s, it was common for commentators to use the term “far right” as a short-hand for mimetic fascist parties formed in conscious emulation of the 1930s. In my book, I am very critical of that language.

One possibility I excluded, however, was a genuine “far right” – i.e. a series of parties, in several countries, working in more or less alliance, who were permanently at ease in a political space which was different both from traditional conservatism and fascism. A party like UKIP, in Britain. Or the victory of Donald Trump.

When I wrote Fascism: Theory and Practice I was interested in how fascist parties had been radicalised to the right. This was a phenomenon which had no other sustained counterpart at any time since the adoption of democracy. We are more than familiar with the process by which legality had tamed outsider movements of the left. IE presented with a dominant politics which was close enough to their own, the socialists had reached a rapprochement existing capitalist elites. And in the 1960s and 1970s something similar happened to the European Communist Parties, most coherently in Italy. And of course there have been several outsider movements of the right which crashed and burned and left no legacy.

Through the early post-war years fascism, irrespective of its different goals and origins, maintained a fascination partly because it had not gone through a similar process of self-domestication but had in fact radicalised in office.

The reasons for fascism’s radicalisation were in part internal, there was a tension between fascism’s popular base and its reactionary politics and in order to resolve this tension fascism had to promise ever more things to its supporters, i.e. because it couldn’t offer them social utopia it had to give them genocide and war. This was the core argument of Fascism: Theory and Practice, that a contradictory political formation might in fact draw energy precisely from its unsustainable, broken nature.

This dynamic was also in part external (and in my book I underestimate the way in which fascism was the product of relationships between rival international parties), i.e. that there was an epoch of emulation and competition in which Hitler copied Mussolini’s march on Rome, his influence over other right-wing states in Austria and Spain, etc. He took Mussolini’s victories, drew on, and overreached them.

Fascism’s energy is why its definition of fascism mattered – because if fascism could be identified, the threat of war and genocide would be averted.

Where I think the anti-fascism I argued in the 1990s was principally wrong is that I failed to see that the historical context had changed. While I borrowed from the left of which I was part the phrase that the 1990s was like the 1930s in a slow motion, there was no analysis behind that phrase, no real sense that for twenty years we had been living in a world characterised not by reforms but by their opposite.

If I was going to begin defining fascism today my starting point would be this: that the age of social reform is over. Whether it ended in 1973 (Chile) or 1979 or 1980, it has been over for an entire historical epoch.

In addition, outside an epoch of social reform, there is no structural limit to the forms of politics which are capable of winning majorities

In an age of social reform, it was possible for reformist parties to bind workers to them by passing laws to increase trade union rights or build social housing, these benefitted specific voters, who would in turn vote for that party. There was a consensus that reforms were desirable and politics was in many countries a contest between two managerial parties who converged on the aim of politics and challenged each other in the realism of competence. This meant that many political systems were in essence two-party competitions between one main social democratic and a conservative party. These was a limited space at each fringe for fascists and Communists, and no-one else.

In an epoch where reforms are being destroyed, the dominant form of voting is negative, people vote against neo-liberal parties which destroy industry, against social democracy which no longer delivers, against incumbent parties. We are no longer in a moment where the forms of politics are limited to a few main options which are reproduced internationally. Instead political forms are splintering. Indeed new forms emerge, of course, on the left as well as on the right.

In addition, the stigma against war and genocide has been radically diminished. We have had wars, Vietnam, Iraq, the constant ongoing war since 9/11. Meanwhile, although no developed country is formally at war some live under emergency regimes in response to the threat of terrorism and in others the threat of Islamism is used to justify the extension of the authoritarian state e.g. deportation regimes that would normally be sustainable only in wartime.

The monopoly of military technology by 5-6 of the richest states means that their inhabitants are never casualties of war, never saw death, and become glib about the consequence of war returning even between major states.

For all these reasons, we are seeing increasing numbers of states – not just in the periphery but also in the global core – whose political instincts are military and authoritarian. Attacks on migrants, refugees, travel bans are the new normal.

The utility of the equation “fascism = war and genocide” was that it was reversible (i.e. only fascism could returns us to an age of horrors). Outside an epoch of social reform, the equation has less use. War may come from other sources.

Fascism was only ever one form of mass, reactionary politics. And there is no particular reason why the reactionary mass movements of the future might not share some but not all of fascism’s external forms.

Moreover, because fascism’s name still has an overwhelming stigma, a future “fascism” would be far more effective if it emerged on a seemingly brand new basis, with the minimum copying in relation to the past. In consequence, the post-war history of the far right is of a series of attempts to reproduce the dynamic of fascism without needing fascism’s surface forms.

Yet, precisely because the right feels that it has escaped the past and is not vulnerable to the criticism “but you are just fascists”, you are starting to see a re-convergence between various aspects of interwar fascism and today’s non-fascist right.

Unlike the short twentieth century when the structure of the political system itself put real limits on what forms of politics were achievable, the structural limits of the present against authoritarianism are much less than they were.

The leading figures of the far right are well aware that fascism retains a considerable historical stigma and the further they distance themselves from fascism the more successful they are likely to be. Yet at the same time, they are aware that fascism was a complex and sophisticated reaction to historical opportunities. And that in so far as they want to emulate the rapid, dramatic changes that fascism once enacted, they have a motive for reassembling parts of fascist organisation and ideology.

So we see a return to executive rather than parliamentary rule, to anti-semitism, not from mere nostalgia or mimicry but because these behaviours help the non-fascist right achieve goals which are harder to win if the entire past has to be rejected.

The relationship of the non-fascist authoritarian right to inter-war fascism is therefore always of a dual character, with elements of both disavowal and re-adoption and indeed a constant shuffling between rejection and return.

The theory I am aiming towards is an “anti-fascist” theory of the far-right but I mean by that something very specific.

In the 1970s it was possible to shame a member of the National Front by calling them a fascist, by saying that they were the slaves of a leadership which was both indebted to its past and embarrassed by it. The same approach still worked, to some extent, as recently as the early 2000s. The extent of the contemporary far-right’s distancing from fascism means that this approach has lost its edge.

What is needed is a theoretical counterpart to the activist realisation that the crimes of Steve Bannon or Marine Le Pen are not the things that a different generation did before them, but what they will do in future, if only we let them.

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Hsiao-Hung Pai, ‘Angry White People’

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One way to understand the recent history of the British far-right is as a series of attempts to overcome the isolation of fascism, a form of nationalist politics, where among the prime candidates for a unifying national story is precisely the memory of a war against fascism. In the 1960s, John Tyndall tried to revive interwar Nazism, complete with uniforms and copies of Mein Kampf. After the National Front there was the British Movement, who wanted Nazism without Hitler and tried to promote Gregor and Otto Strasser as the revolutionary martyrs of the fascist victory.

The British National Party (BNP) calculated that if you could split the old fascist parties of the 1930s in two and lose the street-fighting half, the electoral remainder would be sure of a breakthrough. Indeed, so rapid was the march rightwards of the Labour Party in the 2000s that it left a space which the BNP was able to exploit, winning two MEPs and fifty elected councillors. The BNP had, however, nothing new to say about Islam or the War on Terror and its demise, as the Conservatives and UKIP filled the space available to right-wing electoral parties. This created a further opportunity, which was taken in 2010 by the English Defence League (EDL). Islamophobes with Israeli flags who sang the Dambusters tune in pubs, for a time they seemed to be much more successful than the BNP at articulating contemporary racism.

Although there are passages in Angry White People which connect the story of the far-right to that of institutional racism, and there are attempts near the end of the book to situate the EDL’s rise within a broader context, Pai’s book is essentially a study of the English Defence League between about 2010 and 2013, based on a series of interviews conducted principally in Luton, where the group was founded. Pai has spoken to EDL leaders and supporters, sometimes re-interviewing the same people repeatedly over time, and her main characters appear in the book as fully-rounded people, with lives both inside and outside the far right.

Historically, the left has lacked a coherent approach towards interviewing fascists: some writers have refused to do this at all, but are then left dependent on interviews conducted by others. Some have spoken to activists from the far right and have been bowled over by them, and the books and articles they have written about fascism have absorbed the fascist version of the history (Stephen Cullen, Robert Skidelsky’s Oswald Mosley). Others, while remaining broadly sceptical of the right, have repeated select parts of the interviews naively, as if the mere fact that Nick Griffin says something distinct about why his party developed a certain way makes it true (Matthew Goodwin).

As a result, no-one on the left has spent as much time as Pai has done interviewing and then re-interviewing the same leaders of the EDL since Christopher Husbands in the 1970s. While Husbands’ book resulted in a collective academic and sociological portrait of a different generation, Pai’s approach is a journalist’s: she listens and relates and keeps her commentary brief.

Pai is very good on Luton, the town’s poverty and its diversity. She notices a steady influx of people from white minority ethnicities (Irish, Roma) into the EDL and the tensions that arise from the positions they took.

The most interesting character Pai interviews is Darren, a cousin of Kevin Carroll, Tommy Robinson’s deputy. Darren lived in Luton and became one of the EDL’s leaders. An anti-racist in the 1970s, he was motivated to join the EDL by intense localism combined with a dislike of the Muslim controversialist Anjem Choudary, whose 2009 protests against Luton troops provided the opportunity for the EDL’s launch. Darren saw the soldiers as workers like himself; he was pro-Palestinian and anti-war, but supported the anti-Choudary protests, understanding them as Luton residents standing up to outsiders pushing them around.

Darren mentions having bought Socialist Worker once and having read articles in it against the war in the Iraq but – unlike the 1970s, where the left usually had a base in the very areas that the National Front contested – there is never a sense in Angry White People of the left being any sort of option for potential EDL joiners. The choice is either the EDL or representative politics as usual.

In Pai’s book, Darren is a good introduction to the ideological blurredness of the EDL, which in reality runs through much of the organisation. Pai mentions the last book about the EDL, the participant-memoir ‘Coming Down the Road’, but perhaps could have made more of its author’s name “Billy (i.e. the poet William) Blake” and other, incompatible heroes, Bessie Braddock (the doyenne of the old Labour right in Liverpool) and Dave Nellist of Militant.

Darren was present on many of the early EDL marches. He listened to the EDL’s anti-racist critics and felt torn. He detached himself from the EDL’s social events, but continued marching. Darren attended the protests with a “black and white unite” banner, testing how much space there would be in this new movement for the diverse group of football supporters who he had thought were its original core. Darren was disgruntled to see Carroll taking his grandfather’s wartime medals to an EDL protest, in order to wave off criticisms that he came from a Catholic (i.e. Irish) background. Carroll was lying to himself and to his supporters, Darren thought. In such clashes, you can see the working out of the kind of tensions that sociologist Satnam Virdee has talked about in his work on the “racialized other”.

The liveliest parts of Angry White People are reminiscent of Inso Hasselbach’s book Führer Ex or Matthew Collins’ Hate in describing Darren’s journey out of the far right. By the end of the book he has joined the Labour Party, only to be disappointed by their unwillingness to tackle racism directly.

The EDL’s Tommy Robinson, of course, has been going through a more public process of reinvention after his own departure from the EDL. Pai is generous about the local activists who encouraged Robinson to leave. She is, however, gently scathing about the Quilliam Foundation, which was in some financial difficulty when it met Robinson and benefitted from the publicity that accompanied his departure. By the end of her book, you doubt that Robinson can stay away from the far right for long.

The third main interviewee after Darren and Tommy Robinson is Paul Sillett of Unite Against Fascism, who is quoted repeatedly without authorial comment. Pai also speaks much more briefly to activists from Sisters Against the EDL, but it is a shame that she saw no need to interview anyone from the Anti-Fascist Network, who have after all been so much more visible than Unite Against Fascism at Dover, in Liverpool, and at many other protests for two years now.

Overall, this is an exemplary account of the working class milieu in which a version of the far right began. The main thing I will take away from Pai’s book is the failure of socialists to build in the areas where the present government’s austerity politics have hit hardest. If we are ever again going to have a left of which we can be unambiguously proud, one place it would surely have to prove itself would be in the very terraces and on the same estates where the EDL was born.

Originally published by RS21

Remembering the function of fascism

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A review of Mark Hayes, The Ideology of Fascism and the Far-Right (Red Quill Books, £14.50)

This is an important book which has not yet had the attention it deserves. Mark Hayes’ purpose is to write against an academic consensus which increasingly tends to separate the actions of fascism (i.e. what fascist parties did in history) from the analysis of fascism by political scientists. Amongst the former, there is (at least in Britain and the US) as much of an anti-fascist consensus as there has ever been. Within political science by contrast, there is a tendency to treat fascism as a set of ideas isolated from their consequences.

The first part of Hayes’ book explores the ideological components of fascism; the first chapter insists on fascism’s essential irrationality. Deeply rooted in the collective psyche of post-1918 Europe were desires to escape from a world of rationality, to return to what were said to be deeper instincts of lust, wilfulness and discipline. Thus when talking about fascism’s ideas (nationalism, authoritarian leadership, anti-communism, racism, etc), a writer cannot simply repeated fascist commonplaces (such as the common slogan: “fascism equals nationalism plus socialism” or “fascism is neither right nor left”) but understand that the terms within the equation have taken on a charged and different content. Fascists did not share the same political vocabulary opponents, or, to the limited extent that they did, they took the terms and gave them a new meaning.

The remainder of this part of Hayes’ book is in effect a thematic history of fascism showing how that ideology’s themes worked themselves out in practice. So, Hayes’ detailed account of fascist racism includes a description of Italian war crimes in Eritrea and Somaliland as well as the growing anti-Semitism (after an initial ambivalence) of Mussolini’s regime. The section on the racism of the Nazis concludes, of course, with the Holocaust. Hayes sets out the virtues of Kershaw’s synthesis of functional and intentional explanations for the Final Solution, before seeming to come down marginally in favour of the intentionalists: “Nazi ideology and the notion of socio-biological racism was (is), quite simply, lethal … There was an inexorable, sequential logic at work here, from abstract theoretical disquisition to death camp.”

The second part of Hayes’ book is devoted to British fascism, and while much of the material on pre-1979 fascism is familiar, Hayes account of the factional intrigues within the post-1979 National Front, and from there through “Rights for Whites” to Nick Griffin’s decisions first to join the BNP and then stand for its leadership, is more specific and compelling than anything else I have read on this period.

A third section returns to the mistakes of much contemporary writing about generic fascism. Hayes’ message, stated in its simplest form, is that fascism has a social function: it was and is “a right-wing counter-revolutionary ideology”, which served in a term of revolutionary upheavals to reestablish the rule of the dominant social elites. If this approach risks being labelled Marxist, Hayes accepts the tag: “The Marxist analysis certainly retains considerable heuristic value. Using an undogmatic and critical application of Marxist principles it is possible to arrive at a theory which is rooted in the analysis of social forces, acknowledges the reality of economic power and evaluates the nature of the historical process in the material world – yet is flexible enough to accommodate all that is of value in other interpretations.”

Some minor criticisms could be made. Hayes himself is a former supporter of Red Action and Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), and argues very briefly in the final pages of his book that in an era of neo-liberal hegemony and declining trade union membership AFA was an important instance not just of successful anti-fascism but also of the engagement and mobilisation of working class people. I have argued elsewhere that a positive balance sheet could be drawn up with regards to several previous waves of anti-fascist activism: by the Anti-Nazi League in the late 1970s, by the 43 Group in 1945-1951, and by the Communists in the 1930s. It is a shame that the parts of Hayes’ book which are devoted to British fascism before 1979 do not also show how fascist tactics have been repeatedly  changed out of all recognition in response to anti-fascist campaigns.

At the level of the greatest abstraction, I think Hayes takes a wrong turn in formally emphasising fascist “function” without giving equal weight to fascist methods of organisation. David Cameron, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and their many predecessors have wanted to bolster the rule of existing social elites. The point at which fascists diverged from them was in the leadership principle, their use of security teams (or in the case of the British Union of Fascists, a private army in embryo), and their willingness to use extra Parliamentary methods including a presence in the streets as the means to achieve their end. The context in which anti-fascism has historically operated has been set by the contradictions between fascist goals and fascist methods. That is why, for example, Communist tactics at Olympia in 1934 were effective, because they brought out – before Mosley’s Conservative audience – the reality that behind the high-seeming appeals to civic patriotism the fascists practised the method of the iron fist.

I am not sure whether Hayes sees the present period as one in which fascists could grow – there are a number of passages where he talks about what fascism “was/is”. If, as I suspect, he thinks we are still, to an extent, in an age pregnant with fascism, then I would have like to have seen that argued directly.

That said, I found myself agreeing with more of this book than anything similar to it published in the last decade. I enjoyed it and I hope it receives the widest possible readership.

The Longue Durée of the Far Right

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Thoughts on N. Davidson et al., The Longue Durée of the Far-Right (London: Routledge, 2015)

The most exciting idea in the book, and the one with which I will engage, is the analogy contained its title. The title alludes to the French Annales school and a way of thinking about history which is well expressed by Ferdinand Braudel’s extraordinary book The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II

Braudel’s story of the Mediterranean is organised around a distinction between three sorts of time, each of which he addresses at equal length: in the first section of his book, the time of people in relationship to their environment, as he calls it, “a history in which all change is slow, a history of constant repetitions, ever-recurring cycles … almost timeless history”

In his second section, he turns to social history, the history of economic states, and civilisations. In his third and final section, he writes on the scale of traditional history, the history of events

Now, writing about the far-right has undoubtedly suffered from an over-focus on the history of events at the expense of longer history (the longue durée). The shortness of the timescale structures the story that is written

To give an example: in 2002, I was living in the North East of England, where the British National Party was hoping to win council seats in England. I met a journalist, a left-winger, whose job was to report on the election for the national press. His newspaper ran a piece saying that the BNP was on the verge of a breakthrough – locally and nationally. After he had left, he sent me a short, kind note thanking me and other anti-fascists who he had interviewed. “I wish I could come back next year, and report the good news of the BNP being held, pushed back. But of course that would not make a story that we could publish”

He had an idea of the far-right as a perennial outsider, newsworthy only when it seemed on the verge of entering the mainstream.

You could imagine a historian of the future trying to analyse the BNP’s growth only from the snapshot-reports about its success in the mainstream press; every report would say that the BNP was growing (and yet it never achieved such a breakthrough as to become significantly larger than it always had been). Such a historian could tell that it was growing not from the content of the reports, but only from their frequency (it was only when this story became weekly or daily news that the BNP was actually in a condition of ascent).

What is true of people who write for newspapers is also true of people who write books. There is an enormous and ultimately unsatisfying literature of books which have been published over the past 30 years whose message could be simplified down to “watch out: the FN, or the FPO, or the BNP (or whoever) are coming”

Just to speak of the longue durée is already to raise the possibility of a richer way of thinking about these movements – a history which recognises their troughs as well as their peaks, the work of their opponents, the economic and social cycles that sustain or limit them

That said, there are at least two specific conceptions of the longue durée raised in the book, one of which makes me cautious, while the other I find more interesting

First, a caution: at times, at least some of the contributors write as if the longue durée is expressed in what one of the editors terms a “persistence” between the far-right of early twentieth century France and the far-right of today

France is a key case because it has both the most successful far-right party of contemporary Europe (the FN) and because it had a vibrant far-right milieu expressed in Boulangism and the Dreyfus affair (see image, above), which has immensely well mined by historians such as Ze’ev Sternhell. It is superficially a strong case of continuity; whereas if you were to start in Britain, a heroic effort would be needed to find in Edwardian politics a neat precursor to, say, Nigel Farage.

But the notion of a persistence in French or European politics between 1914 and 2014 is a sociologist’s not a historian’s comparison, which is polite way of saying simply that I distrust it.

The people of 100 years ago who seem superficially to be the predecessors of Le Pen (Peguy, Barres, Maurras…) were writers who for the most part supported Catholicism, the return of the monarchy, and the defence of the army. They were, in other words, the militant champions of conservative politics, not the harbringers of an independent politics with a hostile relationship to the existing state.

In English terms, they were not Robert Kilroy-Silk or even Douglas Carswell, rather they were noisy followers of Boris Johnson.

(And who, if you look to the Britain of 1914 for continuity was a premature Nigel Farage?)

Second, in Neil Davidson’s chapter of the book, there is a slightly more diffuse and therefore actually more compelling, use of the longue durée focussed on the key question of whether capital needed either the historic or the contemporary far-right.

Among the points he makes are these

• That some aspects of far-right politics are counterproductive to the needs of capital
• That fascism performed services for the interwar capitalist class without being a movement of capitalist or reducible to these aspects of its programme
• That, there is a wide span between the far-right groups, both within and between countries
• That within the contemporary far right there is a key distinction between parties that aim to challenge the democratic regime as such, and those that do not
• That in the contemporary world capitalism does not need, nor the far right offer, to crush the working class
• That a unifying factor within the contemporary far right is extreme social conservatism – always involving fear of immigration, but potentially with other sources; and that

His key point is that the crises of 1929 and 2008 belong to different periods in the history of capitalism, and that the movements which emerge from them are consequently different (eg in terms of the salience within their programmes of opposition to capitalism and plans for smashing the working class) in terms of their ambitions, programme, etc

Which seems just about right to me.

Re-reading ‘The Lords of the Rings’ in 2012

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The original anti-Olympic text, this book tells the story of the build-up to the 1992 summer Olympics at Barcelona. Some of the account, of course, is now dated. Reading about the gifts given to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) committee members in the bidding rounds of the late 1980s (a gardening book, Swedish handicrafts, various silk scarves), what strikes is the relative modesty of the gift-giving. The successful bid for the 2002 winter Olympics was secured by largesse on a grander scale: $3million (or roughly $30,000 per IOC delegate) in cash, “scholarships” and plastic surgery, and the scale of the graft since then has no doubt become more extreme.

A key figure in the book is Juan Samaranch, then 12 years in to a 21-year stretch as President of the IOC. Illustrated with pictures of its protagonist wearing the blue shirt of a regime loyalist, the book showed that Samaranch had spent the preceding 25 years as a middle-ranking official in Franco’s fascist regime. Jacques Rogge, the present incumbent gets a single mention in the index, as a junior figure in the Samaranch machine, promoted without distinction in 1991. Rogge lacks any of Samaranch’s malign charisma; the worst that can be said about him is that he has tolerated the return to the IOC of the very officials who were slated for taking bribes from the 2002 bid.

One episode which astonished even me was the account of Giovanni Evangelisti’s bronze in the long jump at the 1987 World Championships, achieved by judge Tommaso Aiello placing the measuring prism in the sand at a medal-guaranteeing distance of 8.38 metres before Evangelisti had jumped. This mission appears to have been carried out at the instance of Primo Nebiolo, President of the International Association of Athletics Federations, and one of Samaranch’s closest allies.

It wasn’t always this way. Evangelisti’s predecessor had been Adriaan Paulen, a former Dutch Resistance fighter who dressed frugally, and travelled as cheaply as possible. Repeatedly offered trinkets: shoes, footballs, he insisted on never taking anything. “Once you have been brought”, Paulen said, “you are never free again.” 

Particular companies recur through the story, as being especially brazen about using the Olympics to promote their brands: Coke and Adidas in particular. Simson and Jennings record than in 1968, following complaints about the commercial rivalry between Puma and Adidas, and the attempts of shoe manufacturers to keep “amateur” athletes on their payrolls, the IAAF voted that all future athletics competitions athletes would be required to compete in shoes without branding or any marks to identify the manufacturers.

The decision has clearly lapsed, judging by the announcement that British athletes will be equipped in no fewer than 70 items each of Adidas kit. Some of these athletes of course are already sponsored by rival kit manufacturers. These unfortunates will have a dilemma ahead of them: it is a condition of competing for team GB that athletes wear Adidas branded clothing on the track and (if they succeed) on the podium. Should they refuse to wear the clothing of their present sponsors, they could find themselves in breach of contracts running into the tens of thousands of pounds. Should they wear Nike (say) over Adidas, they can expect to be pursed with as much vigour as the drug cheats and banned presumably from future competitions.

A history of corruption; a future in which the global competition of brands displaces that of the athletes: Samaranch would be proud of his creation.