The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Economic indicator

You won't find this one on the business pages, but the rate of exchange of heroin for Kalashnikovs is probably a significant indicator of something. The current rate is one kilogram of heroin for 10 AK-74s or 15 AK-47s.


Actually, the price and availability of ammunition is probably more meaningful. People in that part of the world have been able to make their own knock off variants of the latest small arms from the early matchlocks, through flintlocks, Martini-Henrys, Lee-Enfields and so on down to today's assault rifles - including the AK-47. They work just as well as the originals, only they don't wear as well from not having things like chrome lining.

It seems odd that the '74 is valued more highly than the good old '47 - 7.62 short is far easier to get hold of and does give significantly more bang for the buck than the newer 5.45, which is not just in short supply, but also comes in relatively fragile GRP magazines, whereas 7.62x39 can be used in old school metal magazines.

Peshawar-produced AK47 knockoffs can be real things of beauty, incidentally - magnificent craftsmanship and you do come across some with chrome barrels as well.

RCL, those are reasons to sell more 47s than 74s, not reasons to sell 47s at a higher price. It's like being surprised champagne costs more, when there are so many more beer drinkers.

I was disappointed by the actual article, which threw numbers around but never any two numbers comparable with each other. From Ken's trailer I was expecting a nice time series graph :-)

Reasons that '74s might be more popular than '47s include the AK74 being more accurate than the AK47, and amongst the Afgan's the AK74 is thought to have poison bullets.

This is probably because the bullet tumbles about half a turn and then fragments into many pieces once it hits a person, much like the 5.56mm bullet used in the M16 does at ranges under about 80m.

This means it's almost impossible to get all the bullet fragments out of the wound, likely guaranteeing an infected wound.

I too was hoping for at least a comparison saying that last year the price was 20 Kalakov's per kilo of Heroin, and to that extent was disappointed with the article.

Scary that there are people reading this blog who know so much about small arms; would that be the libertarian tendency?

Better question would be what's the political makeup of the people who read this blog; I know there are socialists who read it, I'm more of a small 'l' liberal (On Liberty is my bible), though I do have libertarian tendencies.

I wonder where, from far left to far right, the majority of Mr. MacLeod's readers would situate themselves...

I'm fairly sure there aren't too many far-righters reading this blog, except maybe for 'know thy enemy' purposes, but I'm not sure that 'right' & 'left' really has much meaning nowadays except for the loony fringes.
I'm certainly attracted to libertarian ideas, but the idea of people being freely able to own guns makes me feel a bit queasy. This is because I'm British of course - I know many North Americans consider it a human right.
My boss just came in. I might continue this later.

Gordon, the idea (and the reality) of people notbeing 'freely able to own guns' makes me a bit queasy. The idea that being knowledgeable about small arms is 'scary' also makes me queasy.

You say you hold these views 'because I'm British'. I suggest - without wishing to get into a long argument on the matter - that you read a little on the history of how personal ownership of small arms came to be so severely restricted in Britain. This outline (PDF)is a useful starting point, as is Colin Greenwood's classic Firearms Control (1972), written when the author was a Police Superintendent.

For what it's worth, I'm exactly what my nickname suggests - a retired squaddie who enjoys Ken's books immensely. Politically neutral, but attracted somehow by the sheer mischief and contrariness of the LM/spiked tendency which we mustn't ever call the RCP any more.

In re weapons, if I had the choice, I'd schlep a 47 along every time in the sure and certain knowledge that it would just.. work, whenever and wherever needed. One of the great human artifacts.

Ken, I have to agree with you on that one; I live in Canada, where gun ownership is severely restricted and a man with a legally registred firearm walked into my college and shot 21 people. Restricting firearms accomplishes nothing other than keeping the weapons of those who're particularly determined to own them; which, as we know, can be very dangerous.

On the value of personal gun ownership, here's some personal history.

When I was a child, my family was in the Belgian Congo when it became independent, in a town then called Luluabourg. The paramilitary police ("Force Publique") mutinied and started massacring the whites - so, no help from the police, they were the ones doing it. Also, the Belgian government had issued orders to the remaining Belgian military forces not to intervene as it was an interior affair. Our lot heard in time and holed up in a block of flats for three days, defending ourselves with personal firearms. My father, according to British custom, didn't have one, which amazed the Belgians. He had to borrow an automatic.

We were lucky. The mutineers didn't find the mortars in the local armoury, and a Belgian paratroop colonel disobeyed orders and arranged a relief paratroop drop after three days. But we needed to make it that long.

Oh, and I have some oral tradition from family sources about Ireland and France not so very long ago - things like "near every man's door there grows a thorn bush", with its esoteric meanings carrying a coded tradition down the generations, one that my own grandfather applied. For the thing is, even in the most civilised and well ordered times and places we are never more than two turns of the road from such situations.

Thanks for that, P.M., I think that's without a doubt the most succint example of what I've been saying for the last two years; the event I referred to above has soured many of my compatriots against firearms and I've had to argue myself blue in the face and I still fail to make much headway.

So, sincerely, I thank you.

I'd be surprised if most of Ken's readers weren't gun rights advocates. Both conventional libertarians and the far left tend to be opposed to gun control. The proletariat must be armed in order to establish a dictatorship, after all...

Kalkin, I'd be very surprised if most readers of this blog were gun rights advocates, or for that matter far left or libertarians. In Britain (unlike the US and elsewhere) almost all of the far left are entirely in favour of popular disarmament, and entirely in accord with the prevailing view that any interest in or even knowledge of weapons is suspect.

The far left in Britain obviously never heard of the 'armed struggle' (except, presumably, during the period in the 70s when they supported the IRA - conveniently located in another country, just like the Palestinians).

How can you get the Revolution off the ground without arming the People? Just use harsh language?

'Armed struggle' (i.e. in this context, urban guerilla warfare or other such minority action) isn't contemplated by any far-left group in Britain (at least, none that I've heard of). But the possiblity of some eventual mass insurrection with elements of violent confrontation most definitely is. This is made consistent with support for popular disarmament in the here and now by various subtle intellectual arguments, such as calling anyone who disagrees with it a fascist.

Of the social variety, perchance?

Your link did make me wonder briefly how many AKs you can get for a kilo of smack in Edinburgh. Not many by the sounds of it.

Perhaps Scotland needs its own equivalent to Peshawar - the weapon shops of Inverary where connoissaurs can admire the delicate engraving on the barrels.

Actually, the knowledge about weapons, and in particular wound characteristics came from research for a roleplaying game.

I'm basically left wing. Although rich enough to be comfortable, I remember being unemployed in my youth well enough to want society to look after the people at the bottom of the heap.

I mostly read this blog because I read Ken's books. The ideas within them are fascinating on a number of different levels.

"Your link did make me wonder briefly how many AKs you can get for a kilo of smack in Edinburgh. Not many by the sounds of it."

Well, going by reported market prices (£50 a gram) a kilo would fetch £50,000 retail. An illegal handgun costs £200-£300 in London. So estimate £1000 for an AK, and thus about 50 AKs per kg.

Conclusion: the weapons trade is a far more liquid market than the drug trade.

I haven't yet got around to reading the Libertarian Alliance pamphlet you linked to Ken - I will though.
I'm not opposed to gun ownership in principle, but I just think I feel safer in a society where people feel they don't need them. I remember my Chicagoan room-mate at Uni saying how much he liked Edinburgh because he didn't have to worry about getting shot. Stabbed maybe...

re: armed struggle: didn't some radical offshoot of the SNP conduct an abortive letter-bomb campaign back in the '70s? They were fairly incompetent and just ended up setting fire to some post boxes. This may be apocryphal but I'm sure I remember my (supposedly communist) grannie talking about it - she knew some of the people jailed for it I think.
John Maclean and the Red Clydesiders were certainly in favour of violent action but were probably too open about it and were comprehensively stomped on by the government.

Actually, given the widening class divide, the recent failures of free-market capitalism, Gordon Brown's increasing authoritarian tendencies, etc, this is probably quite a good time for a popular uprising ... maybe I'm coming round to your way of thinking after all Ken...

Viva la Revolution comrades!

ps. Don't you think that statue of Hume looks like Bill Murray?

I wanted to know why the sculptor presented him as if he'd just got out of the bath...

Re: the armed struggle, in the very early 70s (1970-72), the Angry Brigade actually blew up the kitchens of minister's in Edward Heath's government. Fortunately, they didn't kill anyone. All now largely forgotten and worth remembering in view of the panic over Muslim terrorists today.

or for that matter far left or libertarians

Well, I was simply assuming that no one reads any political blogs whose authors she doesn't largely agree with. Perhaps being better known as an IRL author makes yours different, or perhaps I'm too cynical.

In Britain (unlike the US and elsewhere) almost all of the far left are entirely in favour of popular disarmament, and entirely in accord with the prevailing view that any interest in or even knowledge of weapons is suspect.

That's unfortunate.

Speaking as a woolly liberal, woollier pacifist and die-hard sci-fi fan (and British to boot), I don't think I'm the only one who is interested in small cunning devices that go bang and large things that go fast and go bang - fighter jets, for example, or space ships. Also, I think that anyone with an interest in international politics - and by extension, conflict - benefits from understanding what weapons do, where they come from and where they go.

Having said all that, I live in a country where most households own firearms and they celebrate weddings by shooting into the air - not so much queasy as bloody terrifying.

I thought the simple point about gun control was that some is (assuming we're dealing with boring old fallible humans here) useful for raising the threshold for ownership such as to reduce accidents and availability to untrained people such as teenagers and low level nutters.

A friend of mine gave up his guns when he was fed up being treated like a criminal, and that was something like 10 or more years ago. The issue is not really one of party politics, more mass hysteria and political posturing.

Besides, what use are guns when you control the means of production?
(The trick being to get to that stage without use of violence)

'Armed struggle' (i.e. in this context, urban guerilla warfare or other such minority action) isn't contemplated by any far-left group in Britain (at least, none that I've heard of). But the possiblity of some eventual mass insurrection with elements of violent confrontation most definitely is. This is made consistent with support for popular disarmament in the here and now by various subtle intellectual arguments, such as calling anyone who disagrees with it a fascist.

Oh, come off it Ken, the broad possession of the sort of arms required for a revolution requires a revolution. Were the far left to call for the serious arming of the people, that would, by the very nature of arms, force the people to use that power.

Think -- a successful revolution against an armed state would, today, entail at least the possession of everything that the Iraqi insurgency can get their hands on, as a lower bound. Now, that level of firepower in a population isn't sustainable. Therefore, we must conclude that calling for the people to be armed is functionally equivalent to deciding the time is ripe for the revolution.

Besides, the people will arm themselves when the time comes, because that's part of how you'll know the time has come.

Eschatological justifications for arms control!

I live in Canada, where gun ownership is severely restricted and a man with a legally registred firearm walked into my college and shot 21 people.

is it necessary to point out that this kind of thing happens a lot more in the US, where gun ownership is not severely restricted?

Not really, but it's happened fairly often in my city and my point was simply that no matter how much you regulate firearms, someone who is determined enough to walk into a public college and fire on 21 people will find a way to get a weapon, one way or another.

Yeah i understand your point. It's even true! I guess the fact that school shootings seem to happen less often in countries with stricter gun laws suggests that some psychopaths aren't that determined.

Anon, spree killings are very rare outside the US, including in countries where there are higher levels of gun ownership than in the US.

Keir, the British (and only British) trotskyist view that it'll be all right on the night is not as far as I know backed up by any actual examples. There's an interesting Marxist summary of past experience here (scroll down to the last two sections).

Anon, proportionally there have been more school/spree shootings in my liberal gun-control crazy province than in the entire eastern US in the last fifteen years. Usually a smaller death-toll, though.

The story I was told by the now-deceased historian of the Trotskyist movement in Britain, Al Richardson, was that the Revolutionary Communist Party (the original one, not the more recent one which, for my sins, I supported for some time) accumulated a cache of arms, but when it realised that nothing was going to happen in postwar Britain, it decided to hand them in during an official arms amnesty.

The comrade in charge of handing them in went to Harrow Road Police Station, said to the desk officer that he had some arms to hand in; when the desk officer saw the van-load, he called in Special Branch, who said: 'We didn't know you had this lot.'

Al didn't include this anecdote in his book because some of the comrades involved in looking after the arms cache were still alive, and he didn't want to put them in danger of arrest. I think that this may have been a bit over-cautious, as the event was in the late 1940s, and he was writing the book in the mid-1980s.

Well, that story certainly changes my view of Ted Grant ...

Incidentally, Dr Paul, I'd much appreciate your dropping me an email so I can send you a question that's been bugging me.

The people's weapon of choice in British political violence has been the bomb, not the gun for a very long time.

The trouble with guns is that the people who know how to use them best win - and a small volunteer army means most people don't know how to use them. So once guns start going off the government gets to win (even if the people on the thrones were on the other side a few weeks ago).

Also for all the usual reasons armies are normally more loyal to the powers that be than navies are. And in the UK the Royal Navy has typically had a lot more power and prestige than the army who till surprisingly recently were still Wellington's scum of the earth led by Ruperts. (or at any rate the infantry were and the cavalry were all Ruperts anyway - engineers and artillery were much more professional)

So in the era of mass production and the industrial working class the British industrial working class were not familiar with rifles and handguns. If they joined the military at all it was likely the navy or the professional branches of the army - not the infantry. Apart from the Great War We never had the mass participation in the line infantry warfare that they did in France or Germany or even the USA during their Civil War. (In fact IIRC even in WW1 the artillery and engineers and technical branches of the British army outnumbered the infantry)

So to oversimplify to the point of idiocy, for the British industrial working class the infantry was "them" not "us" and the rifle was "their" weapon, not "ours".

Bombs and battleships are the weapon of the aristocracy of labour :-)

... and remember the first post-Soviet wars between Armenians and Azeris were fought by citizens with privately owned firearms.

That came as a surprise to me. I'd harf fallen for the American line that guns make you free. But in some parts of the Soviet Union citizens had more guns than we did! It was all a canard.

Ken Brown - very good point about the Soviet Union. I remember being a bit baffled as a kid in high school reading in the geography textbook about a 'typical' Soviet family, with the father taking the boy out hunting with a rifle. It didn't fit my (entirely conventional) image of the SU as a '1984' society.

I'm not sure I agree about the British working class's not being familiar with firearms: Orwell speaks of 'the rifle on the wall of the labourer's cottage and the working-man flat' or words to that effect, and around 1900 or so Lord Salisbury (then Prime Minister) said he looked forward to the day when every household had a rifle (he was supporting a voluntary organization that strove to do just that). There were factory rifle clubs, etc.

And James Connolly's Irish Citizen Army was a perfectly legal workers' militia - when they marched out to launch the Easter Rising, everyone who saw them thought it was just another drill.

Serious gun restrictions in the UK were a response to the Irish and Russian revolutions and to the growth of revolutionary sentiment after WW1.

With all due respect to Ken Brown, I think he rather misses a fairly key point:

Leaving aside the issue of the British Army and its social composition and place in society, he assumes that only infantry are familiar with weapons. This is not, of course, the case. All soldiers under the British system are trained to function at least as low-grade infantry.

The ability to use a rifle is not decisive in any sort of warfare - what is decisive is the ability to plan and execute combat operations, which is not something anyone is born with; note that the Red Army of Workers and Peasants, for example, was a pretty miserably poorly-performing outfit until Tsarist officers were conscripted to command (under political supervision).

Arming the workers, without finding a way of training them to do more than shoot rifles, is a meaningless gesture (although the Darwinian pressure of then putting them up against organised military forces will deliver a very much smaller cadre of people - the survivors - with the ability to be trained at least as competent riflemen).

We can stipulate that armed workers could probably deliver a terrorist organisation capable of maintaining low-level operations more or less indefinitely, given popular support, but this would in no way threaten a State, in particular a State willing to use robust measures to contain these low-level operations.

In the British context, it's hard to imagine circumstances where an armed struggle would attract sufficient popular support to render the struggle viable.

Retired Capitalist Lackey, lack of combat skills is pretty much why the Fenians decided to address this very point. My great-grandfather drilled with them regularly in Dublin in the 1880s, and of course the Orangemen got into the same thing just before the First World War.

Roughly speaking, it takes two to three years to train a soldier fully in everything, starting from scratch, including a year working it in after formal training, and that means serious training with about 1% deaths and 2% or 3% maimed for life (which is no worse than young men typically achieve all by themselves, to put it in proportion); at that point, the ones who take it all in are all of NCO quality and could be cadres for a rapid expansion. However, you can train for limited purposes in a much shorter time, and with enough cadres around that's probably all you need (though God help you if the skipped bits turn up and you can't pick up the slack with cadres helping, as when British troops who were trained for the trenches faced open actions in the German breakthrough of March 1918 - and US forces are mostly not fully trained to conduct an orderly retreat under fire even now, let alone turn around and do a Kasserine to someone else). Also, you can cut that right down to about six months if the recruits are, as it were, precooked as reservists or prepared by the kind of upbringing that comes naturally in certain cultures. It is this that the drilling delivered, in the days before our days.

Oh, and "the secret of military discipline is that the soldiers should be more scared of their sergeants than of the enemy" (Frederick the Great, possibly quoting Montaigne).

On the other hand: "Actually, a newly raised draft 'of militia was an undisciplined mob not because
the officers called the private 'Comrade' but because raw troops are always an undisciplined mob. In practice the democratic 'revolutionary' type of discipline
is more reliable than might be expected. In a workers' army discipline is theoretically voluntary. It is based on class-loyalty, whereas the discipline of a bourgeois conscript army is based ultimately on fear. (The Popular Army that replaced the militias was midway between the two types.) In the militias the bullying and abuse that go on in an ordinary army would never have been
tolerated for a moment. The normal military punishments existed, but they were only invoked for very serious offences. When a man refused to obey an order you did not immediately get him punished; you first appealed to him in the name of comradeship. Cynical people with no experience of handling men will say instantly that this would never 'work', but as a matter of fact it does 'work' in the long run. The discipline of even the worst drafts of militia visibly improved as time went on. In January the job of keeping a dozen raw recruits up to the mark almost turned my hair grey. In May for a short while I was acting-lieutenant in command of about thirty men, English and Spanish. We had all been under fire for months, and I never had the slightest difficulty in getting an order obeyed or in getting men to volunteer for a dangerous job. 'Revolutionary' discipline depends on political consciousness--on an
understanding of why orders must be obeyed; it takes time to diffuse this, but it also takes time to drill a man into an automaton on the barrack-square."
-George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

Wobbly, what you're quoting comes under the general heading of skipped bits. Making up the rest is why the USSR provided political officers and KGB blocking regiments behind regular ones on the Eastern Front, with punishment battalions in front of regular ones (you got sent to those high risk units if you didn't do what you were told). It provided the necessary balance of fear where necessary, though of course personal motivations meant that they weren't so necessary and less effort needed to be devoted to them.

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