Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Mummy Lives – Careers for Communist Dead Heads

“He took care of all North Korean people with his warm love.”
                                                                                        Kim Jong IL on Kim Jong IL

The body of Kim Jong Il now like that of his father, Kim Il Sung, has been suitably embalmed and ready for a post-respiratory career as a venerable mummy.  The current speculation is that the National Palace will soon become a unique historical site where visitors will be able to gaze upon the corpses-in-repose of both the Father and the Son, Kim Sr. (“our Fatherly Leader” as he was affectionately called by his hungry and malnourished subjects) and Kim Jr., who made it through sixty-nine years, it is reported in the official obituaries, never having to defecate, immaculate in his own special way.

Should the North Korean people enjoy the beneficence of a long-lived Kim Jong Eun, a mere chubby-faced lad with many years ahead to enhance the paradise bequeathed by his elders, he will no doubt have performed many miracles of his own, maybe an even longer feces-free existence than his father.  Perhaps someday the National Palace will host for the curious to behold a rosy communist Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy --- well … expectations will no doubt be high for Kim III.

All of this must be somewhat disconcerting for the keepers and groomers of Lenin, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh – but perhaps not.   How many mummies mounted in gaudy mausoleums, after all, does a properly functioning communist dictatorship need to maintain?  How many can one afford?   In China, Mao, 36 years expired, is ubiquitous.  His visage decorates the currency.  His face is everywhere, on buildings, posters, tee-shirts, ties.   Long lines of Chinese still form to stroll past his bier in the gigantic hall.  Lenin, who died at fifty-four, is only two years shy of ninety years of mummy-hood.  He gets an occasional chemical bath, I have read.  One does wonder.

One also wonders if Raul Castro might be thumbing through the Greater Havana Yellow Pages under the "embalmer" heading, readying himself to appoint soon The Master to prepare hermano mayor for eventual display.  El Lider Maximo is old and looking mighty peeked.  Pedro Ara, the Spaniard who did the nice work on Eva Peron’s mortal coil is himself long dead, unfortunately.  Unlike Moscow or Pyonyang, Havana, however, is really warm year around.   How much spare electricity on this island of notable basic scarcities will it take to keep Fidel’s withered cadaver looking, uh, revolutionarily fit?

The communist affinity for mummification of the Leader has become a comically symbolic gesture that speaks emphatically to the false and delusional nature of the system, a system that consists of everyone at every level pretending.   The Party pretends to believe in the perfection of the departed Chief, making even his corpse into an uncorrupted object for eternal contemplation and edification.  The people pretend to grieve and everyone pretends that the misery and depravation they experienced daily never ever happened under the rule of the Dearly Departed.   All is sweetness and light in the magic kingdom where the handsome Prince reigns over his happy and prosperous subjects. The mausoleum that holds his remains is constructed to remind everyone that visits of the vast goodness and unfathomable virtue of the Departed that never actually existed. 

This weird deification rite of passage for the Dead Heads was born in desperation.   In 1924 when Lenin’s brain hemorrhaged its last, the regime he imposed was floundering. The Russian people were not happy with the progress of communism. The peasants were starving and the workers were worse off than ever.  At this moment of crisis, Lenin’s determined disciple, Stalin, needed a religious-like relic, a physical, personal object of grief for the peasants and workers who had not yet grasped the impersonal nature of Marxian dialectics.  It seemed to work, and the mummy in the glass box has become one of the more curious and ironic elements of “communist culture.”
Much of the outside world now contemplates the ghastly and hideous death rituals of the North Koreans dictators with macabre amusement and scorn.  There are notable and depressing exceptions.   In a letter of personal condolence to Kim Jong Eun, our very own Fatherly Leader, Jimmy Carter, wished the new dictator “every success as he assumes his new responsibility of leadership, [and was] looking forward to another visit [to   North Korea ] in the future.”   It would be enlightening, no doubt, to know how Mr. Carter imagined the new Kim might parse these well-wishing words.    

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Where’s My Omelet? Or, Lenin versus Kant

“Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.”
                                                                  Immanuel Kant

“He [Lenin] was the only member of the local intelligentsia who not only refused to participate in the aid for the hungry, but publicly opposed it.  As one of his friends later recalled, ‘Vladimir Illich Ulyanov had the courage to come out and say openly that famine would have numerous positive results, particularly in the appearance of a new industrial proletariat, which would take over from the bourgeoisie… Famine, he explained, in destroying the outdated peasant economy, would bring about the next stage more rapidly, and usher in socialism, the state that necessarily followed capitalism. Famine would also destroy faith not only in the tsar, but in God too.’” 
                                                                     Black Book of Communism

In attempting to understand the savagery and ultimately the nihilism of Communism’s twentieth century global career, it might be helpful to juxtapose the Enlightenment’s sublime moral voice, Immanuel Kant, with the profoundly cynical calibrations of Vladimir Lenin, once he had power over the lives of others.  Lenin was Karl Marx’s supreme Man of Action, the arch revolutionary who did what Marx only dreamed of – he put the Capitalists out of business.  After that, so the theory went, life would be much better.  Well, except if you were a part of the bourgeoisie hoping for something to eat or inclined toward stupidities like faith in God.

It is difficult to conceive of a more startling juxtaposition of polarity of moral and human vision.  From Kant’s formulation of his categorical imperative each and every human being emerges not as an abstraction but as a unique person inviolate and irreplaceable, a creature whose very nature morally forbids that he become merely a means for the designs and ambitions of another.  To use another human being as a pure means is to de-humanize him, to turn him into matter.  As Kant saw it, human beings as rational creatures were bound by a moral law whose validity was tested by its universality, transcending the particularity of groups, classes, tribes, or race.  Everyone from the King to the servant was bound by the moral law, even God himself.  

Kant’s moral philosophy was one of the crowning achievements of the Enlightenment with its universality of reach and application across a rapidly emerging modern world where individuals from the entire spectrum of humanity would be becoming in some way connected with each other and in need of a moral vision that moved beyond the tribe.  Kant’s notion of an inviolate human core was articulated by Thomas Jefferson in theistic terms:  “All men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.”  

For Lenin by contrast human beings were nothing but means, things to be used, not persons. They were material, waste products in fact if they were obstacles to his plans to elevate humanity and realize his utopian abstraction – they were to be assigned to the “dust bin of history” as his colleague, Leon Trotsky, put it.  Lenin was particularly fond of de-humanizing “disinfectant” terminology when speaking of his political opposition – liquidation, extermination, etc. – applied to “insects,” “vermin,” “leeches,” anyone basically who did not embrace his transformational vision.  Human beings were not for him individuals but disaggregated pieces of warring social classes that grind against each other and produce winners who rule and losers who conform to the winners’ will or die. 

Kant understood that morality is universally binding.  Morality forces one to concede the presence of boundaries of reality that may limit or frustrate specific desires and aspirations, sometimes very powerful ones.  Lenin eschewed any limitation to his action -- Unlimited power above all law,” as he succinctly put it.  Fiercely atheistic, Lenin wanted to be God and craved unlimited power so as to remake humanity.   Almost un-human in his intellectual self-regard, his absolute self-certainty and conviction of omniscience rendered him unable to view those who opposed or resisted him as anything but human garbage to be swept aside and dumped into an abyss.  

Kant late in his life had reflected: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”  Kant’s frame was bowed and humbled by the vast reach of the universe and the deep mystery of the human heart.  Lenin, it is safe to surmise, was never awed by anything.  He was the Supreme Knower, absolutely convinced that he possessed the blueprint to restructure humanity and bring it to perfection. Kant for all the great power and breadth of his mind was intellectually and spiritually humble. Lenin was astonishingly arrogant with not a trace of humility, and his arrogance made him into one of the most ruthless individuals to ever walk the earth.  Only someone with such fanatical self-conceit could welcome a famine to sweep his land and enthuse over its “positive” effects.  This was a crisis that would not be wasted. Equally remarkable and appalling is the report of Lenin’s friend speaking of Lenin’s “courage” in announcing his pleasure over contemplating the starvation of hundreds of thousands of people.  The moral universe of the Bolsheviks was completely upside down, inhabited by men and women of the deepest immorality.      

Lenin’s had many disciples.  Stalin, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot were all cast from Lenin’s mold, supreme knowers, dedicated to the making the abstraction they called the Revolution into a lethal reality.  They excelled in breaking millions of eggs, but the omelets that were supposed to follow somehow never made it to the dish plates. Lenin was succeeded by Stalin, the consummate Leninist. It was Stalin, contrary to the wishes of Lenin’s widow, Nadezhda Krupskaya, who decided to turn Lenin’s corpse into a mummy, to make the man who served the impersonal forces of history into a very personal piece of material for his own purposes, a Communist relic for the faithful to see and remember.    

After Stalin came Khrushchev, then Brezhnev.  Murder and extermination gave way to corruption and stagnation -- from Lenin, the fanatical believer to Brezhnev, the alcoholic pretender.  Finally, the urbane, well-educated Gorbachev.  Gorbachev’s impossible task was to extract from the nihilism that inevitably engulfed a land ruled by liars and frauds a pristine, original Leninism somehow forsaken by Stalin and his progeny that might rescue the Party and produce the long promised omelet.  Alas, the only thing to be had from Vladimir Illich Ulyanov was his mummy, bequeathed by Stalin, after decades still moldering away.       

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Twenty-first Century Stalinists

Nation columnist Katrina vanden Heuvel (she will never be taken for a NASCAR follower) was in an exceptionally high dudgeon just the other day. (November 30, 2011) “We need a transformational presidency, able to smash the failed, entrenched and corrupt politics of the center. That standard isn’t some perfectionism perennially demanded by disappointed liberals. It is required by the times. And what this nation desperately needs isn’t partisan unity, but a fierce and growing movement that will challenge not just the wing nuts of the right, but an establishment in both parties that has failed the country.”

I was struck by the Stalinist style, particularly her call for someone to “smash” the old, corrupt capitalist order.  Well, she did not say “capitalist” but perhaps that was an oversight.  After all, she is writing for The Nation.   What a moralizing Pharisee this woman is.   “We need… this nation desperately needs…..”   Who exactly is the “we”?  It’s all of us, I suppose.  But only a cognitively gifted few can comprehend how really ugly things are, and more importantly, who is responsible for the mess and what action “is required by the times.”  Ah yes, she will have us know that she is not one of those whiny, disappointed, self-deluded liberals.  She has firmly grasped what is “required” (What is to be Done? as Lenin put it).  The Nation scribblers are among those immaculate few who stand far above the corruption, the greed, the failure, in sum, all that unpleasant, unnecessary stuff that you expect to accumulate when the right wingers and the centrists end up in charge.  If only they were.

What then is it that she thinks we all “desperately” need?    Someone, actually, a President, who is up for some serious smashing, a “transformational” sort of guy or gal.  The idea of a “smasher-in-chief” might make a good portion of the electorate inclined toward the “wing nuts” a bit nervous as they try to guess exactly who is going to get smashed and what it might feel like.   Many of the unenlightened might be quite happy with a modest improvement of the status quo, better employment opportunities, for example, but Ms. vanden Heuvel wants  a fierce and growing movement.”  To do what?   Challenge a failed establishment. 

Transformation” is 21st century Stalinese for “revolution.”  The old order as she notes is entrenched.   It must be overthrown, smashed, transformed.   The premise embedded in this screed is that politics is war.   One does not argue with, respect, or engage the opposition.  It is corrupt and cannot be  redeemed. This premise has always been the foundation of Bolshevik intellectuals.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

People Before Profit

Right now we say we want to move from suicidal gray capitalism to something eco-capitalism where at least we’re not fast-tracking the destruction of the whole planet. Will that be enough? No, it won’t be enough. We want to go beyond the systems of exploitation and oppression altogether. 
                                                                                           Van Jones

 Lying takes on a special and interesting dimension of moral complexity when the teller of a lie intends to achieve something he believes is good beyond his own personal gain or self-interest.  The self-imposed imperative to achieve this “good” creates an invincible rationalization that subordinates the obligation to be truthful to the obligation to achieve something noble and selfless, something that makes the world and the others in it much better off.  It is very tempting to rationalize this kind of dishonesty.
This kind of invincible rationalization will always justify a lie as a necessary means to move others toward a future good. It’s a utilitarian balance; the minimal harm of the lie against the huge benefits to be achieved. “Justified” lying has its most pernicious and persistent expression in the twentieth century utopian political ideologies.
Utopianist-ideologues envision a new and vastly improved world and embark on the creation of it.  In so doing they plunge themselves into a deep abyss of lies.  The utopian “truth” is brandished both as a pre-ordained certainty – revealed exclusively to a class of cognitive-elites – and as a moral imperative that that these special “knowers” are obligated to carry out.  They speak and act for humanity and thus are except from the “usual” normative constraints.  This truth, practically realized, amounts to a complete restructuring of human society.  It transforms the human condition.  The old limitations and shortcomings – greed, selfishness, injustice, exploitation, etc. – drop away. 
However, only a cognitively gifted few understand “What is to be Done?” – Lenin’s title for his manifesto, one that set the parameters for the revolutionary party he was leading – and as well possess the skill and determination to bring it about.  For Lenin, of course, his Party and only the members of that Party knew what to do and how to do it, a small, professional, theoretically-sound group of special knowers, and, special doers.  Lenin’s early break with the Mensheviks in 1903 was precisely over his intransigence to opening Party membership beyond this elite professional class, who, unlike the working class that they claimed to represent, knew what was best and how to make it happen.  “The role of the vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory.” [Lenin, What is to be done?, 26].   Lenin’s project, as he says here, could only be implemented by those in possession of the most specialized knowledge, accessible only to this self-selected cognitive-elite.  
 The exceptional moral stature of the cognitive-elites was marked by their steadfast determination to overthrow the corrupt order. It exempted them from the usual norms of truthfulness because the lying that they needed to resort to would get them to the final goal, the practical realization of a higher truth.  Thus the very foundation of ideologically-driven regimes is dishonesty, organized lying created and justified as mean to a higher moral good.  “Everything that is done in the interest of the proletarian cause is honest,” remarked Lenin. [Quoted from Richard Pipes, Russia under the Bolshevik Regime, 275] Here then is a wholesale reordering of both morality and reality.  Honesty no longer means conformity with truth:  it is the service of power. Reality is whatever those in power say it is. 
The “reordering” of society means that the “old order” must be swept away. Early twentieth-century utopianists called for revolution. Those in the twenty-first century speak of “transformation.”  Different language, but the same prescription: the old order is assailed as an inherently oppressive system constituted and maintained by a conspiratorial class of corrupt, malevolent individuals who are invested in and profit by the corruption.  They are directly and materially responsible for the evils that could be eliminated and completely resistant to any measures to remove them.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thinking About the Twentieth Century

I have proved by my life that I am more competent than the dwarfs, my predecessors, who bought this country to destruction.” 

                                 Adolf Hitler, 1938

The mass-murdering, war-ravaged twentieth century now rapidly recedes in its temporal distance from present times.  Those salient moments and events that are destined to be the era’s distinctive historical moments occupy the living memories of a daily diminishing few individuals.  The World War I veterans are all dead. The youngest soldiers who fought in World War II still alive are in their 80s. They are a fading, frail handful. The shots from Lee Harvey Oswald’s thirteen dollar Mannlicher-Carcano at the motorcade in Dallas, Texas that slew President Kennedy and wounded  Governor Connelly were fired nearly a half century ago. A minority now of Americans can recall that dark and horrible day.  The adolescent experience and perspectives of American university students are largely shaped and informed by the “big” events of the early, media-soaked twenty-first century – 9-11, the great recession of 2008, and the election of the first black American to the Presidency, Barack Obama.
  Relatively soon the twentieth century will be a fully completed historical epoch with all the living witnesses extinct. The vast recorded documentation, however, will remain. It will be the material culled by historians to catalogue the horrors, build their own interpretive narratives, recalculate the numbers of millions of victims, and contemplate the careers of the criminal-despots who made destitution and death the order of the day for millions across the globe. 
            The twentieth century as a historical tableau offers considerable advantages over previous periods. The extensive multi-media documentation that now exists and the tools of contemporary information technology are so much more powerful in compiling, analyzing, storing, and rapidly retrieving and delivering material from the source documentation.
            The twentieth century dawned with an abundance of optimism and confidence. Quickly it descended into chaos. August 1914 began an unfathomable, titanic conflagration.  The war, blundered into by the diplomats of the great empires, smashed a self-confident, world-dominating European civilization into pieces. It ended with millions of dead and crippled young soldiers, dismantled empires, hungry and disillusioned people and ravaged economies.  The conclusion was a mere interlude. The Great War would soon become the first World War.  No one had anticipated the magnitude of the death and destruction.
World War I also spawned two virulent ideologies. It brought to the world stage and gave vast power to some of the most brutal and despicable men who have ever walked the earth. To contemplate fully the volume of misery they created and the vast range of their destruction and to comprehend the meaning of it would test the powers of a God.  
These ideologies and the recollection of the men of great resentment who crafted and unleashed them still inflame the polemics of contemporary political debate. Their legacies and memories continue to haunt us.  Nazism and Communism were as the French historian François Furet observed, “children of World War I.” [Francois Furet, Passing of an Illusion: the Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century, Chicago, 1999, 19] 
The  seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in the world’s largest country in October 1917 stunned the outside world and immediately aroused fear and loathing. Then there followed violent opposition and reaction.  Winston Churchill, wrote David Lloyd George, then British Prime Minister, “had no doubt a genuine distaste for Communism. He was horrified, as we all were, at the savage murder of the Czar, the Czarina and their helpless children.”[David Lloyd George, Memoirs of the Peace Conference, New Haven 1937, Volume I, page 214]  The anti-Communism of Mitchell Palmer, Woodrow Wilson’s Attorney General, makes that of Joseph McCarthy, decades later seem restrained. He rounded up 10,000 “Reds” in the U.S. whom he then attempted to deport.  The Bolsheviks were “maggots” on the carcass of Russia, as one of the generals of the German High Command remarked when negotiating with Leon Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk.
The world, really, had never seen anything quite like the Bolsheviks with their sheer audacity, their messianic sense of entitlement to power, fanaticism and enmity for the old order.   “The urgency of Bolshevism created an urgency for anti-bolshevism,” wrote Furet.  [Furet, The Passing of an Illusion, 23] Indeed, these Russian Communists openly and vehemently proclaimed their intentions to take their “revolution” to the rest of the world. The captains of industry were put on notice.  Capitalism was rotten they confidently affirmed and ready to be toppled.  Russia was merely the beginning, the “weak link” in the capitalist chain. The vast ambitions, fanatical determination and ruthless methods of history’s first successful Communist revolutionaries could not help but provoke an extreme reaction and a counterbalancing fanatical opposition.  Fanatics – people who need people.  They always find each other.  They feed off of each other.
Nazism, the other virulent post-World War I ideology, was cobbled out of the festering resentment of German humiliation and defeat by embittered, disillusioned German war veterans – from generals to corporals – who sincerely believed that they had been “stabbed in the back” by German Jews and Socialists.   It was richly and intensely anti-Bolshevik even as the National Socialists imitated and admired the methods and resolve of the Russian Communists.   The Communists and the Nazi’s studied and learned from each other.  Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives impressed the always observant and calculating Stalin and perhaps provided the model for his own carefully orchestrated purges of his old Bolshevik colleagues in the wake of the Sergei Kirov murder in December 1934.  Hitler was able to take care of business with his old close associate, Ernst Röhm, and selected other inter-party rivals in the SA. Neither Stalin nor Hitler had the slightest qualms over disposing of close friends and working partners if they suddenly became suspect or obstacles to their ambition.  Neither Hitler nor Stalin ever let a crisis go to waste. 
 Communists and Nazis fed off of and stoked the violent fanaticism of one another.  Nazis and Communists fought each other, at times collaborated with each other, and copiously imitated each other.  They claimed, as Furet points out, the same enemy – bourgeois democratic liberalism – that they disparaged for different reasons. Fascism and Bolshevism were: interdependent, were mutually declared enemies, were colluding enemies, had the same enemy, rejecting that enemy for different reasons but with equal radicality.  [Furet, Passing of an Illusion, 24]
It is worth stressing that the Fascist dictators in the 1930s learned a great deal from the Bolshevik chiefs. Stalin and Lenin were role models and mentors for Mussolini and Hitler.  The historian, Stanley Payne, observed and noted the four major precedents set by the Bolsheviks that the Fascists took over: a massive manipulation of crowds with extreme and irresponsible demagoguery based upon sweeping falsehoods; a rejection of all political alternatives; a one-party dictatorship with control of all institutions; and a dictatorship based upon total opportunism. [Stanley G. Payne,  “Soviet Anti-Fascism: Theory and Practice, 1921-1945” in Totalitarian  Movements and Political Religions, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Autumn 2003), pp. 1-62, p. 2-3, italics added]   Over the course of time Nazis and Communists became increasingly indistinguishable from each other in their affinity for violence, disdain for the rule of law, the unscrupulousness of their methods and the cruel and brutal conduct administered to those they perceived as their opposition.      
Nazis and Communists organized, carried out and ideologically rationalized extensive programs of slave labor, expropriation of private property, forced deportations of entire peoples, genocide and mass murder. They physically destroyed their political opposition.  Against their own populations they practiced a pitiless terror.  Unrestrained by custom or law, they conducted mass shootings of innocent people, and bundled millions of people including women, children, the old and infirmed into concentration camps and forcefully extracted whatever labor they could from those whom they did not immediately kill. 
The twentieth century was an orgy of mass murder, human experimentation by monsters with vast power, guided by poisonous ideology.  The twenty-first century promises to be no different.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

From Joseph Stalin to Jimmy Carter

Stalin died near the mid-point of the twentieth century, eight years after the end of WWII.  In the early years of the century when the young Stalin (Koba) was making himself into a professional revolutionary and climbing into the upper reaches of the Bolshevik hierarchy there were no Communist governments anywhere, nor did there seem to be much likelihood at that time that there would soon be any. The Bolsheviks were a small, quarrelsome sect and scattered about Russia and Europe in exile.  By the time of his death Stalinism had become a permanent ideological fixture in the world’s political firmament. Communist satrapies were firmly lodged over large portions of the globe – China, North Korea, Eastern and Central Europe were all under the watchful care of men who imitated or resembled the Kremlin Chief. 
Four years later, Fidel Castro launched his own Bolshevik experiment ninety miles from the coast of Florida.  Over a half a century lie ahead for the Cubans to digest the long lectures of Fidel, absorb his wisdom and learn to love the life of penury and servitude under the Lider Maximo.  His brother, Raul, parked in the shadows, always made sure that the Cuban Gulag ran at peak capacity. No one contradicted Fidel and Raul. The Cubans people, themselves, were never given the opportunity of a free election to test just how popular the Castro brothers and their “Revolution” really were. Three years after Fidel’s triumphal march into Havana Khrushchev, Stalin’s understudy and successor, and John Kennedy brought the world to the brink of a nuclear WWIII over the Soviet missiles in Cuba that had been smuggled in and were aimed at the U.S. 
Stalin’s ideological progeny had like the master made their revolutions, installed themselves in power and obliterated the opposition.  Mao, Castro, Pol Pot – each one would display in his own unique way Stalin’s affinity for deceit, cult of personality, and homicidal rampages spoken of as war against “enemies of the people.” 
The people under the rule of each and every new Stalinist who emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century experienced harsh deprivations of all the basic human necessities, both material and spiritual, similar to those that the Russians had long come to expect from their Bolshevik masters   As well, each and every new Stalinist came to the stage with the admiration and applause of high placed adulators from the imperialist camp.  Edgar Snow produced his hagiography of Mao for American readers. Herbert Mathews and the New York Times in the best tradition of Walter Duranty were enthralled with the Caribbean Robin Hood, Fidel. Various American notables made their political pilgrimages to the lands of the newly liberated downtrodden to show them support and to show contempt for the “criminals’ back home.  [Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims:travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba, 1928-1978, New York, 1981]  Jane Fonda landed in Hanoi to enthuse over the “George Washington of Southeast Asia,” Ho Chi Minh, and to denounce American imperialist aggression. Meanwhile American soldiers were being killed by North Vietnamese Communists troops.  
The outpouring of self-congratulations in the West in 1991 that lubricated the celebration of the victory of freedom and vindication of the market when the Soviet Union self-imploded and the Eastern Block countries shook off their Communists masters was to say the least, premature.  More accurately, it was fatuous and self-deluded.  Forgotten or overlooked were: the durability and adaptability of the Chinese Communists; the massive and permanent leftward cultural drift of the Western democracies in the 1960s and 1970s; and the resilience of the Left and its ability to reinvent and reassert itself.
The Democrat Party of Scoop Jackson and George Meany in the 1950s and early 1960s, blue collar and robustly anti-Communist, by the end of the century had moved far to Left.  By the 1980s the once muscular, lunch bucket Democratic coalition of coal miners and auto workers was comprised of trial lawyers, teacher union activists, angry feminists and the Ivy League professoriate.  Former President Jimmy Carter in 2004, after a career of embracing Left-wing dictators and tut-tutting the American people for their fear and suspicion of Communism sat in a celebrity box at the Democratic Presidential convention with Michael Moore, an avowed Socialist and admirer of Fidel Castro. In 2011 after a trip to Pyongyang, Carter accused the United States and its ally South Korea of “human rights” violations in its dealings with the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea, arguably one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world, one, that as of this writing starves large numbers of its own citizens.  Our globe-trotting former President is perhaps the perfect embodiment of what Lenin described as the “useful idiot.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cannibalism, the Highest Stage of Communism

Just go and ask, and they will all tell you that they did it for the sake of virtue, for everybody’s good. That’s why they drove mothers to cannibalism.
               Vasily Grossman, Forever Flowing

China’s infallible Communist overlord, Mao, was cynical, incredulous, resistant and threatening to anyone who might dare to tell him how disastrous his utopian projects were. But he was also eager to believe the falsified, highly incredible reports of the success of his policies.  In 1958 Mao visited Henan province one of the hardest hit in China by the famine his policies had unleashed.  He had been told that grain yields had increased by at least a factor of ten, from 330 lbs. per 0.17 acres to 3,330 and at times far beyond.  Mao’s visits were choreographed by local officials who prepared the fields he visited with temporarily replanted wheat stalks close to the original ones.  When he left, they put the replanted stalks back in their original fields. Mao then announced at top-level meeting that these yields were possible everywhere in China. [Jasper Becker, Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine, New York, 1998, 122]
Mao, like his mentor Stalin, was proclaimed a genius even though he was not one.   Khrushchev sarcastically remarked of his egotism: “Mao thought of himself as a man brought by God to God’s bidding.  In fact Mao probably thought God did Mao’s own bidding.” [Becker, Hungry Ghosts, 55]   But Mao’s liege men always spoke of his infallibility.  After the disasters of the famine were too obvious to ignore in 1962, Lin Biao continued to defend the Chairman.  “The thoughts of Chairman Mao are always correct…Chairman Mao’s superiority has many aspects, not just one, and I know from experience that Chairman Mao’s most outstanding quality is realism.” [Frank Dikotter, Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962, New York, 2010, 336] Mao was not a normal human being. He could never be wrong.  But nothing could be further from the truth – the courtiers merely amplified the staggering, criminal dishonesty – and Lin Biao’s encomium is testimony to the extent to which the Chinese Communist leadership lived in a false world. Mao operated in his own delusional universe of self-perceived infallibility, unable to comprehend that his half-baked views about agriculture, industry, medicine, etc. wrought nothing but destruction and misery when they were put into practice.
Mao’s Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1962 pushed China into one of the world’s worst famines, a brutal replay, Asian style, of Stalin’s own efforts on behalf of the peasants in Ukraine three decades earlier.  History did not in this case, as Marx opined, repeat itself first as tragedy then as farce.  Communist agricultural policy was always a tragedy for the peasant farmers, whatever country they were in.  Mao in the 1950s and 1960s forced the grotesque and savage plunge into a deliberately induced mass starvation similar to what Stalin did in the 1930s.  Peasant existence whether under Stalin or Mao meant massive coercion, privation, hunger and a good chance to die of starvation.  The facts of the famine and the reports of the misery and death that abounded, however, would not fit into Mao’s epistemic framework. His theory was assured and unassailable.  “When malnourishment reached the inner recess of power in Zhongnanhai and  Zi Zhisui told the Chairman that hepatitis and oedema were everywhere, Mao quipped: ‘You doctors are just upsetting people by talking about disease. You are making it difficult for everybody.  I just don’t believe you.’”  [Dikotter, Mao’s Great Famine, 274] Mao’s colossal egotism and fundamental dishonesty, lethal and murderous in its application, was self-corrupting on a scale that made him invincible to the truth, oblivious to the consequences of massive failure of his programs and the idiocy of his ideas.  Like Stalin, Mao’s self-asserted expertise in all areas of life magically superseded those of any real expert and displaced centuries of accumulated experience, wisdom and skill. 
The Great Leap Forward, one is tempted to say, is a spectacular illustration of Communist utopianism at the best it can be. All of the essential elements for making the utopian transformation a practical reality were in place for Mao and the Chinese Communist Party.  First, China was a very large and populous country with so much raw human and material resources at hand for experiment, and so any major achievement by the planners could not be dismissed by skeptics with an argument of small scale success or limited opportunity.  Second, the Communists in 1958 in China were without serious rivals for power. They were in complete charge and could do whatever they believed was necessary. And so they did. Also, initially they had come to power in a country where the people had experienced great oppression, constant upheaval and abuse of power, and so there was considerable initial popular support for the Communists who had promised to eliminate corruption and govern to benefit a large peasant population that had been particularly hard pressed. Third, there was virtually no outside interference and considerable assistance from their Communist allies including the Soviet Union.  Fourth, the top leader, Chairman Mao, had a near mystical, god-like aura that gave him an authority and preemptive options that no leader in a western-style, constitutional democratic government could rival.   No ambitious utopian project ever began with fewer obstacles, and with such high attainment predicted. One sycophant in Mao’s close entourage, Kang Sheng composed this verse for the peasants to recite:
Communism is paradise.
The People’s Communes
are the bridge to it.
Communism is heaven.
The Commune is the ladder.
If we build that ladder
We can climb the heights.
[Becker, Hungry Ghosts, 104]
            The results of the Great Leap Forward can be credibly affirmed to be exactly what happens when Communists, without impediments and with complete power, put their theory into practice.  Given the theory and given the power at the disposal of the Chinese Communist governors for full practical implementation, the Social Workers’ Paradise would certainly come gloriously into being.  The very opposite, as it continues to be richly and extensively documented, is what transpired.  Mao’s China came to resemble about as close a picture of hell as the most darkly imaginative and talented novelist could invent – starvation, wreckage, devastation and brutality on an unprecedented scale. Chinese peasants, like the Ukrainians three decades before, experienced and reacted to Communism as it was applied to them in its most coercive, elemental form: having their grain taken away and sold to foreign markets so as to finance the operations of the regime and feed those living in the cities, with no food to eat, they began to eat rats, insects, grass, bark, dirt, and finally, each other.   The twentieth century crowning culmination of Communism in the two vast countries in which it was forcefully brought into a completed reality was … cannibalism.
            In marked contrast to the CCP’s “ladder to heaven” that would be the joyful future of the Great Leap Forward into Communism we have the reality of it reflected in one of the posting of government regulations in Fengyang where it was a massive challenge just to dispose of all of the corpses.

  1. Shallow burials are prohibited. All corpses must be buried at least three feet deep and crops must be grown on top.
  2. No burials are allowed near roads.
  3. All crying and wailing is forbidden.
  4. The wearing of mourning clothes if forbidden.
                                        [Becker, Hungry Ghosts, 138]
Because the sheer number of people dying was so great it was challenging to bury them properly as regulation number one suggests. Regulation number two became a necessity because so many people were simply dropping dead of starvation on the roads.  Numbers three and four are worth commenting on.  They show the fundamental impulse of Communism to deny and to cover up the hideous reality that it forces its people into. They also reflect fundamental cruelty of Communism – people are forbidden even to engage in any way and express their grief – and the way Communists rulers attempt to overrule reality.
            The Communist theorizing that unleashed the Great Leap Forward did not simply bring about famine and massive starvation. It overturned the old order and swept away the most elemental standards of human decency and morality – Hobbes’s “war of all against all” became the appropriate descriptor.   Humiliation, physical and psychological intimidation, and beatings became a common feature of daily life.  Families, villages and entire communities were ruptured, torn into pieces and scattered.  Resources were plundered then squandered by the planners and the Party enforcers.  Basic needs of food and shelter were stripped away leaving vast swaths of individuals destitute, alone, helpless and vulnerable. The young, the old, the infirmed were abandoned and rendered defenseless against younger and stronger who were torn away from whatever previously established structures, customs and norms that might have restrained them.   The historian Frank Dikotter in his Mao’s Great Famine writes that: “at least 45 million people perished above a normal death rate during the famine from 1958 to 1962 [during the Great Leap Forward]. Given the extent and scope of violence so abundantly documented in the party archives, it is likely that at least 2.5 million of these victims were beaten or tortured to death.”  [Dikotter, Mao’s Great Famine, 298]