Happy New Year. In case you were in any doubt about what 2022 could be like, the queen should have removed it by making Tony Blair a Knight of the Garter.
This is an honour under her personal control rather than, like the more routine knighthoods and OBEs, belonging to the prime minister’s patronage.
Elizabeth Windsor is telling us that evil will continue to prosper.
The Order of the Garter was founded by her remote ancestor King Edward III during the 1340s. He is mainly remembered for starting the most terrible conflict of the Middle Ages—the Hundred Years War—by claiming the throne of France.
Edward, and most famously his great grandson Henry V, campaigned relentlessly in France, winning many battles but not the war.
The English soldiers’ killing and pillaging exacerbated the terrible suffering of the French peasantry in this era. Edward was king during the Black Death. This was the outbreak of bubonic plague in the late 1340s and early 1350s that is estimated to have killed a third of the population of Europe.
But like Covid today, this pandemic wasn’t a purely biological phenomenon. It unfolded against the background of the crisis of the feudal mode of production that broke out around 1300.
Social relations dominated by the lords’ use of military and judicial power to exploit the peasantry blocked economic growth. This gave rise to a succession of famines that made people more vulnerable to plague.
The Marxist historian Guy Bois has described what he calls “Hiroshima in Normandy”. This was no less than three catastrophes in eastern Normandy between 1348 and 1440 in which war, famine, and plague combined to kill half the population.
Blair is therefore a worthy member of the order Edward inaugurated. He was one of the main architects of catastrophe in Afghanistan and Iraq under their occupation by the United States and its allies. But, despite the exposure of his lies and culpable negligence, especially in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, he got away scot-free.
Finally forced from office after supporting Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006, Blair has swanked about since as a “world statesman”. He’s making tens of millions of pounds advising banks and tyrants.
For a while, however, he was under a shadow thanks to the anti-war movement’s opposition to the bloodshed in Iraq and to the destruction caused by the occupation.
Now Blair seems back in favour. Indeed, I think he’s become a symbol.
In the mid-1920s the German radical artist George Grosz produced a collection of caricatures called The Face of the Ruling Class. Here he drew faces distorted by greed. It included the bosses and generals who profited from world war and inflation, and murdered revolutionaries such as Rosa Luxemburg.
Blair is the face of the ruling class today. Just as in the 14th century, the poor are vulnerable to war and plague, while murderers and exploiters proclaim their good intentions.
Beneath a cool, smiling ruling class, the capitalist machinery of death grinds on remorselessly—as the Netflix satire Don’t Look Up portrays so well.
This is also a moment of particularly gross corruption at the top. The conviction of Ghislaine Maxwell has drawn attention to the evil network of the rich and famous Jeffrey Epstein wove around him. And we have in Boris Johnson a prime minister who is as unscrupulous and mendacious as Blair.
The difference is the insufferable atmosphere of virtue with which Blair surrounds himself. Maybe the queen and her advisers think the establishment needs another dose of Blair’s self-righteous posing. This is surely a sign of weakness at a time when Western imperialism is increasingly on the defensive.
Relying on Tony Blair to buff up the image of the ruling class calls to mind one of those mediaeval church paintings dating back to the Black Death.
These portray pillars of the aristocracy—a pious pope, a beautiful noblewoman, a valiant knight in armour—suddenly revealing their real face, a grinning death’s head.