Monday, October 31, 2011

Toleration, Attitude or Latitude?

That the corruption of the best things produces the worst….
                                                                                     David Hume

Banish the word “Intolerance.”   It is crudely and stupidly used. Those so fond of throwing it around are the worst offenders. What exactly is it that makes a person intolerant and, whatever it is, should we tolerate it or him?
Everyone is intolerant.   No one tolerates everyone or everything, nor should they.  Even Unitarians who pride themselves on their tolerant, open mindedness would not likely tolerate wife beaters, Hummer owners or members of the Mara Salvatrucha in their midst.   Consider, as suggested above, the paradox arising from:  “I will not tolerate intolerance.”   Tolerance by itself doesn’t go far.  Tolerance is less about attitude than latitude, that is, giving space to someone who advocates something you do not like or has beliefs that you disapprove of.  Being tolerant doesn’t mean that you cannot strongly disapprove of someone else’s politics, religion or moral views or that you cannot say that you disapprove.  It means that you must observe certain limits when you engage someone with opposing views or perspectives.   You attempt to separate your opponent as a person from his views.  You doubt his ideas, not his character.  You question his logic, not his reputation.   Ad hominem attacks and character assassination attempt to cut that “space” of toleration away.  They disqualify the critic as a person so that he or she cannot be taken seriously.   
The practice of toleration arose in the West as a way for individuals in competing and antithetical religious sects and denominations to live in proximity without violent conflict or attempts at subjugation.  It was understood that the competing sectarians disapproved of the religious ideas of each other but agreed not to attempt to infer with their mutual practice.   This initial sectarian “cease fire” over time evolved into an elaborate set of norms gathered under the umbrella of a “practice of toleration” that provided social space and compatibility for individuals with irreconcilable religious and philosophical views of reality. So, while rival sectarians might disapprove, strongly even, of each others ideas and views, they could still do business with each other and agree to rules of governance and order, including rules that governed dispute.
Over time two things emerged that shaped this practice of toleration.  First was a sense of intellectual fallibility – a realization that one’s ideas and interpretations might be flawed.  Second was the necessity to accord an appropriate level of respect to those with whom one disagreed.  Intellectual humility and a willingness to accord respect are closely linked.
Unfortunately, “being intolerant” is now widely confused with “disapproving” of someone, which is perverse.  You only tolerate what you disapprove of.   If you approve, toleration does not even come into play.   One of the greatest achievements of American political culture is that is that has made room for individuals from enormously diverse religious, ideological, political and social worlds to operate and compete in relative peace. Competing for influence and a voice are fundamentalist Christians, secular, humanistic atheists, Communists, free-market libertarians, survivalists, and so on across the entire social-political spectrum.  No one should be naive enough to think that individuals from such diverse and sometimes antithetical perspectives will be rhetorically gentle with each other.  
The Left, however, has come to embrace the equation of “disapproval equals intolerance” which they apply selectively, that is, to their critics, not to themselves.  For themselves they require admiration; for their opposition, contempt.  A few short years ago when they routinely called George W. Bush “stupid,” “a war criminal,” and a “Fascist,” they were simply stating facts and exercising their right to dissent.  After they won, the bar was suddenly lifted very high for the opposition: respect, civility, loyal opposition.  
How did this happen?  Long ago the Left lost any sense of fallibility and with it any tolerance for criticism.  For them, criticism equals intolerance and bigotry. Because they are infallible, their ideas cannot possibly be wrong or flawed. Anyone who disagrees must be defective, either intellectually or morally. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Hate Smear -- Stalinism, American-Style

 It depends on what the meaning of the words 'is' is. 
                                                President Bill Clinton 

In the late 1980s and the 1990s the polemics of the political landscape was dramatically altered by the rise of talk radio.  For whatever reason, the medium was particularly amenable to political commentary and conversation that was both conservative and populist.  This was a voice of genuine opposition carried off by characters flamboyant and at times obnoxious, and it was highly and broadly participatory giving the average person an opportunity to express his or her ideas and points of view.  But most importantly what this medium offered was an alternative political perspective that nevertheless respected U.S. political institutions and processes.  There were no calls for revolution, no threats of violence. There were no attempts at subversion or sedition.        
            In 1994 a militia fringe group with roots in rural northern Michigan group blew up the Federal building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people, including 19 children under the age of six, and injuring 680.  President Clinton, a man whose personal probity even by the contemporary standards of politicians was of a remarkably low register, declared that the “hate climate” of talk radio had produced the terrorists-bombers, a shameful and cynical move of Stalinist inspiration in two ways.
First was the outrageous, slanderous dishonesty consistent with his long history of mendacity.  There were no connections, no affinity of any kind between the bombers and the commentary coming from talk radio. 
Second, Clinton’s slur was a blatant attempt to smear his political opponents and inhibit legitimate political criticism and conversation.  Talk radio had arisen as a powerful populist force in mobilizing voters in the 1994 congressional elections. It had been a political threat to the Democrats and especially to Clinton.  The “hate” that Clinton was so eager to attribute to talk radio was legitimate criticism and disapproval, essential elements in a competitive political arena.  No one has a right to compel someone else to approve of them, and disapproval is clearly not the same as hatred.  Yet, Clinton and the Democrats were trying to convince voters that legitimate expressions of disapproval were in fact declamations of hatred.  Since no leader is perfect, criticism is healthy, and a certain level of ridicule at leadership elites, no matter what party or persuasion, is actually good as a way to reduce their oversized egos, temper their arrogance and remind everyone of their flaws and foibles. The simple fact was that Clinton feared and resented the criticism.  Rather than engage and dispute with his critics he smeared them as haters, thus attempting to put them outside the pale by asserting that they were morally complicit in an act of terrorism and mass murder. This was a page taken right out of the 1930s Stalinist agitprop manual. Stalinists do not engage their opposition. They attempt to destroy it.
The hate smear has now become a basic staple of the Left’s political analysis and commentary, an ad hominem retort resorted to almost routinely.  Consider this piece on the 2000 Presidential election by CNN political commentator, Paul Begala.  The candidate Begala had supported was Vice President Al Gore, hoping to succeed his outgoing boss, Bill Clinton. Years later, one cannot help be struck by how crude and vicious it is.  Gore’s loss, as Begala has it, was not the result of his failure to convince a sufficient number of voters of the worth of his policies, rather Gore lost because a larger number of voters in a large part of the country were bigots. It was not Gore who failed; it was the cretins from the regions of the unenlightened.    

 If] you look closely at [the electoral college map distinguishing Republican Red states versus Democrat blue states… [y]ou see the state where James Byrd was lunched – dragged behind a car until his body came apart – its red. You see the state where Matthew was crucified on a split-rail fence for the crime of being gay – its red. You see the state where right wing extremists blew up a federal office building and murdered scores of federal employees  -- its red.  The state where an Army private who was thought to be gay was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat, and the state where neo-Nazi skinheads murdered two African-Americans because of their skin color, and the state where Bob Jones University spews its anti-Catholic bigotry; they’re all red too.

This smear was a twenty-first century update to the Fascist smear of the 1930s and 1940s.   Moreover, it was crafted and launched not by a fringe political hack, but a Georgetown University professor, nationally syndicated columnist, and friend and former adviser to none other than President Clinton.  It was not an argument but a malignant diatribe worthy of Stalin’s show trial prosecutor, Andrei Vyshinskyi.  It is 21st century Stalinist political discourse from the highest levels of the Democrat party.  The hate smear is now standard operating procedure on the part of the Left.   

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Stalin's Crew

It was years before I understood the degree to which deceit, exploitation and outright fraud were inherent in the whole Stalinist system.
                                                      Dmitri Volkogonov

The behavior of the political class of the Soviet Union throughout its seventy-four year history is a study of the close junction of ideologically-motivated lying and abuse of power. The character of the men who were so essential to the perpetuation of such a perverse order is relevant in this regard. They were not simply liars. Real liars are seldom free of other vices. Lying inevitably drags the liar deep into the corruption and even disintegration of character.  Stalin’s men were the very worst sorts of human beings.  They were vicious, treacherous and corrupt.  This was not a coincidence or an accident.  Lying destroys character, and a regime of liars would be composed of just the sort of men that ended up “governing” the Soviet Union. Lavrenty Beria was known to be a rapist and a sadist. He participated personally in the torture and murder carried out by those in his command. Lazar Kaganovich presided over the Ukraine famine.  Nikolai Yezhov was a drunkard and a sadist. These were some of the most notorious of Stalin’s liege men, men very close to him who carried out his wishes. 
One of Stalin’s most notorious abusers especially worthy of comment was known as “The Jackal,” his show trial prosecutor, Andrei Vyshinski.  Roy Medvedev speaks of what a thoroughly depraved character he was.  “It is easy to understand the degeneration of Vyshinski, the Menshevik turncoat: he had apparently always been an unprincipled, cowardly person, hungry for power and fame. (Thus, it is not surprising that he persecuted first his former Menshevik comrades and later his new comrades, the Bolsheviks).” [Roy Medvedev, Let History Judge: the Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, New York, 1989, 691]  Though Vyshinski’s official role in the rigged show trials of the mid-1930s was as the government’s lead prosecutor, his real responsibility was, under strict orders from the Kremlin chief, to savage the framed and physically abused defendants and make certain that they would quickly perish under a cloud of ignominy. Vyshinski’s infamous rant in the 1937 “the Anti-Soviet Trotsky Center” trial against Stalin’s old Bolshevik comrades in arms, Radek, Piatakov, Solkolnikov and Serebriakov was a masterpiece of Stalinist-era abuse.  In his prosecutorial summation in their trial, Vyshinski poured out the invective: “This is an abyss of degradation! This is the last boundary of moral and political decay! This is the diabolical infinitude of evil!” [Quoted from Robert Tucker, Stalin in Power: the Revolution from Above, New York, 1990, 403] The hideous irony is inescapable, and the denunciations would apply most appropriately to Stalin and his cohorts.  Stalin, the seminarian, no doubt, conceived this script. Its cadence and overtones are not what one would normally expect from the High Priest of dialectical materialism. One cannot help but think of this as a subliminal self-projection, perhaps, of his public characterization of innocent men (innocent of the charges, not politically or morally innocent), of his former friends and colleagues who had aroused his jealousy and paranoia.
The violence and brutality of Vyshinski’s language captures the abusive character of the Stalinist mentality.  Consider also his call for Bukharin’s execution in the 1937 show trial, “[T]he traitors and spies who sold our motherland to the enemy [should] be shot like vile dogs.  The people demand one thing: that the accursed vermin be squashed! Time will pass. The hated traitors’ graves will become overgrown with weeds and thistles, covered with the eternal contempt of the entire Soviet people…” [Norman Naimark, Stalin’s Genocides, New Jersey, 2010, 101-02]  Again, Bukharin one of the star young Bolsheviks, a darling of Lenin, had fallen afoul of Stalin who feared him as a rival.  He had allied himself with Stalin in 1924 in the early internecine party struggles and helped Stalin to marginalize his arch-competitor at that time, Leon Trotsky.  Bukharin’s own path to destruction followed a predictable escalating pattern of lies and abuse that Stalin used to take down most of his old colleagues: no longer of use to Stalin, Bukharin’s fall began with gossip and innuendos, then accusations of doctrinal deviations, then bad faith, and finally betrayal and treason. The conclusion after a long game of ‘cat and mouse’ play by the Boss was the ultimate form of Stalinist abuse – a bullet in the back of the neck.  In many cases the bullet came after a promise from Stalin of a spared life in exchange for confession and spared family members.  Promise keeping, however, was not in Stalin’s moral repertoire.  Bukharin’s young wife too was slain. His infant son was raised under a different name, not knowing who his real parents were. Stalinist abuse washed over the victims in waves – first his chosen victims then their families, friends and associates.   Stalin had developed an expansive concept of ideological contamination. Entire families were contaminated with the virus of counterrevolution and subversion.   In the late 1930s he had arranged for forced resettlement of “wives of Enemies of the People.”  [Anne Applebaum, review of Children of the Gulag, by Cathy Frierson and Semyon S. Vilensky in the New Republic, May 21, 2010, 4]   
For his good and faithful work Vyshinski was later appointed by Stalin as the Soviet deputy foreign minister during the Nuremberg trials. For all of his shortcomings, he delivered whatever Stalin ordered.  One would be hard pressed to imagine a more revolting scenario than to watch a moral cretin like Andrei Vyshinski presiding officially in an international tribunal for war criminals.   His charge from Stalin, flushed with victory over his former partner, was to suppress any public mention of the Soviet-Nazi pact of 1939-41, particularly the secret protocols. [Naimark, Stalin’s Genocides, 18]  Stalin, of course, might have been a bit embarrassed by this historic, world-altering collaboration.  None of the Soviet’s WWII allies, however, seemed to be up for making a serious issue of this at this juncture.  And so the lying, mass-murdering, Nazi-complicit Soviets sat side by side with the Americans and British at Nuremberg in judgment of the Germans. 
One of the most shameful aspects of this proceeding to be credited to the Western governments was the failure of the judges to challenge the Soviet claim that the Nazis had murdered the 20,000 Polish officers, the cream of the Polish professional class in the Katyn Wood in 1940. Even then they suspected that it was Stalin himself who planned and authorized the killings that the NKVD carried out. [Naimark, Stalin’s Genocides, 20]  The Americans and British had guessed the truth, but were unwilling to pursue the investigation, follow the facts and confront the Soviets.  Instead they gave Stalin a pass and helped him to perpetuate the outrageous lie. No justice for the slain Polish officers – double agony for their families who then had to live under the domination of the government that had ordered and carried out the murder of their sons, brothers and husbands and was permitted to shift the blame elsewhere. [The 2007 Polish movie, Katyn, is a heart-rendering masterpiece and captures the agony of the victims' families and the savagery of the Soviets.] Winston Churchill, sliding into a colluding passive voice, later made this depressing confession: “It was decided by the victorious governments concerned that the issue should be avoided and the crime of Katyn was never probed in detail.” [Quoted from Naimark, Stalin’s Genocides, 20]   

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Stalin's Trials

 You're not Stalin and I'm not Stalin.  Stalin is Soviet Power.
                                                         Joseph Stalin to his son

One of Stalin’s more remarkable achievements was his turning of the Leninist view of modern history with its underlying theme of the triumphal ascendency of the Socialist Man into an elaborate yet flexible explanation that was an amalgam of morality play and melodrama.  In the Stalinist script, the arch enemy, the capitalist order, was emitting its dying gasps, yet in its final throws it resembled in its behavior a wounded and dangerously powerful animal.  To be complacent with regard to the capitalist enemy was equivalent to being complicit with the enemy. So while the ending to the human story was soon going to be a very happy one with Communism achieved and the imperialists vanquished, the capitalists were now unleashing every possible element of treachery and cunning in a desperate attempt to hold on to their exploitative order and to undo the revolution and deny its promise. The Soviet people were under extreme compulsion to believe and act on this invention since it was the legitimizing rationale for the entire Bolshevik enterprise. It amounted to no less than their writ for the complete dismantlement of the old order, with all of its messiness and dislocation, and the creation of the new one.  
With the treachery-of-capitalism as the controlling motif, Stalin elevated his routine mendacity and manipulation into a theatrical art form. He invented one of the twentieth-century’s unique and spectacular genres of farce and fraud, the “show trial.”  This he unrolled in the late 1920s.  The most notorious of these spectacles were performed in the middle 1930s. With these he personally stage managed the infamous railroading of his old Bolshevik comrades-in-arms:  Bukharin, Zinoviev and Radek and others.  These “trials” with no material evidence, no independent defense council, no independent judiciary, were elaborate, choreographed lies – implausible confessions of treason, conspiracy and industrial wreckage from life-long dedicated Bolsheviks – that were swallowed by Western observers like U.S. Ambassador Joseph Davies, appointed by FDR, who in spite of being a lawyer himself failed to see through Stalin’s charade in spite of all the inconsistencies and incongruities.  These elaborate deceptions fooled many observers in the West including the New York Times ace reporter Walter Duranty.
Stalin’s first show-trial victims were fifty-three engineers and technicians (“bourgeois specialists” in Stalinist parlance)  from Shakthy in the Donbas coal and steel region who in 1928, early in Stalin’s power-consolidation were tried on entirely trumped up charges of “wrecking” i.e., “economic counter-revolution.”   The Shakthy technicians were supposedly sabotaging the mining industry in collusion with foreign capitalists and financiers who were trying to thwart the advance of Soviet Communism. [Hiroaki Kuromiya, Stalin, 2005, 79-80; Black Book of Communism, 143, 169, 172]   This show-trial as did all of the subsequent ones up until Stalin’s death served a triple purpose. First, the pre-determined outcome of guilt guaranteed the elimination of individuals who were either no longer of use to Stalin – perceived rivals, or potential obstacles to his plans. The Shakthy technicians were selected victims of Stalin’s frustration with the Soviet dependence on experts from a social-political class whose loyalties to the regime might be questioned and good targets for scapegoating. [Kuromiya, Stalin, 78-79]
Second, the alleged misconduct of the defendants elaborately scripted for public consumption at the trials was Stalin’s opportunity to reinforce the legitimizing eschatological narrative with particular dramatic instances that would indeed demonstrate the occult existence of the ever-threatening conspirators who were now attempting to destroy (engaged in “wrecking,”) the regime from the inside. The Shakthy technicians were “unmasked” (a favorite Stalinist participle) as fifth-columnists, “[s]aboteurs in the pay of foreign powers.” [Black Book of Communism, 143]  Thus, blame for the persistent and inevitable economic failures of the regime could now be shifted to hidden traitors, conspiratorial forces in the pay of the capitalists, keeping the system and the Party that ran it blameless and vigilant. 
Third and perhaps most important, each and every show-trial, at its conclusion, constituted a personal vindication of Stalin himself, a confirmation of his resolution, perspicacity, sound judgment and courageous leadership in an unpredictable world of endless danger and intrigue.  The Shakthy show-trial was intended to demonstrate to the Soviet citizenry yet another dimension of Stalin’s genius:  he was able to recognize danger and treachery where others around him were na├»ve, confused or relaxed.  He, thus, was the man most fit to lead the besieged players into the end-game against the capitalists.  The show trials and their predetermined outcome were designed to be dramatic vindications of Stalin’s leadership and authority.  This in itself is a huge irony, since these events enabled Stalin to cover up the blame for his own massive failings.  [“Part of the reasons for the show trials of the 1930s was to cover up his [Stalin’s] appalling mistakes.”  Michael Curtis, Totalitarianism, New Jersey, Transaction, 1979, 46]
Stalin’s address to the Central Committee Plenum in January 1933 contains a multi-faceted message that points to successfully vanquished enemies, their insidious persistence and ubiquity, and the Manichean-like structure of good and evil that underlies his struggle.  “[T]he last remnants of the moribund classes – private manufactures and their servitors, private traders and their henchmen, former nobles and priests, kulaks and kulak agents, former White Guard officers and police officials, policemen and gendarmes, all sorts of bourgeois intellectuals of a chauvinist type, and all other anti-Soviet – have been tossed out.”   Here then is an exhaustive enumeration from the old and defeated order of the Bolshevik enemies, the entire range, from money grubbing capitalists to kulaks and priests. [Kuromiya, Stalin,  110]  And, while we know that Stalin has been as he always is, tough – has “tossed out” all of these anti-Soviet types – he now builds to the high point of his message, the theme of the ever-present enemies, their persistence and insidiousness.  “But tossed out and scattered over the whole face of the U.S.S.R., these ‘have-beens’ have wormed their way into our plants and factories, into our government offices and trading organizations, into our railway and water transportation enterprises, and, principally, into the collective farms and state farms.”  What then, having been routed by the superior and inevitable forces of advancing Socialism, could possibly motivate these scourges of the old order to persist?  “What did they carry with them into these places?  They carried with them hatred for the Soviet regime, of course, burning enmity toward new forms of economy, life and culture.” [FN, Kuromiya, Stalin, 110]  Envy and hatred were the driving motivation of the dying capitalists and explained to the Soviet people and whoever in the outside world may have wondered why these people were doing what they were doing.  This was a unique Stalinist contribution to Marxian eschatology, comparable as a theoretical move to the Ptolemaic epicycles. Into this philippic with its own clinical pyscho-pathological self-projection the General Secretary had compressed the entire Stalin-invented world drama with the capstone of his own heroism.       
 The infamous Soviet show-trials of the mid-1930s gained world attention and proceeded with this same template – a morally, economically superior system assailed by the bitter losers from the old order who were badly wounded but still dangerous. The individuals Stalin selected for elimination were his old Bolshevik comrades whom he had come to perceive as political rivals and as obstacles to the consolidation of his power. The most notable was Nicolai Bukharin, casted by Arthur Koestler as the main character, N. S. Rubashov, in his magnificent novel, Darkness at Noon.  This was a good opportunity for Stalin, always a great nurturer of personal resentments and private grudges, to take revenge and settle old scores.  Once Stalin had reached his summit of power, those unfortunate Bolshevik Party colleagues from the early years who had teased, slighted or mocked Stalin, would likely find themselves quickly accused, confessed and sent off to the Gulag or the Lubianka prison to wait for a bullet in the back of the neck.
The pragmatics of Party mobility was always a consideration for Stalin as well.  Shooting and jailing his senior colleagues also enabled him to clear out the upper ranks of the party and make organizational room to advance younger and more personally loyal Bolsheviks. [“The February—March 1937 plenum of the Central Committee was surely one of the most grotesque meetings in the history of humanity.  Two thirds of the 1,200 delegates would be dead within the next two years, yet in a frenzy they called for terror against   more enemies.” Donald Rayfield, Stalin and his Hangmen, New York, Random House, 2004, 318]
The center stage antagonist in this amazing unfolding of mid-1930s theater was Leon Trotsky, Stalin’s long-time hated rival.  Trotsky, though thoroughly vanquished, pursued across the globe and hounded by Stalin’s assassins, was cast into the large and mythic role of the treacherous Bolshevik betrayer.  In keeping with Stalin’s master narrative, Trotsky, tried in abstensia, was now a Nazi hireling, colluding and scheming along with the pinnacle of Soviet leadership to bring down the regime.  His accomplices were Karl Radek, Grigory Piatakov, and Grigory Sokolnikov, life-long Bolsheviks whose entire lives were completely antithetical to the charges. The 1930s show-trials produced, once more, Stalin’s desired story-line, one completely consistent with the triumphal narrative: with the forces of dying, but desperate capitalism working their treachery against the successful workers state; Stalin, steadfast and resolute, pushing the banner of Communism forward while his old comrades opted for betrayal.
Trotsky, however, was to play for international Communism two diametrically opposed roles. He was for Stalin, as noted above, the consummate betrayer of Bolshevism.  For the Leftists outside the Soviet Union who came to loathe the Georgian General Secretary as he turned the first successful Communist Revolution into his personal satrapy, Trotsky was the anodyne for the disillusion of the Communism that Stalin had put into place. For decades, Trotsky alive then dead became a portion of the Left’s counterfactual defense of the Bolshevik Revolution.  If, the argument went, Trotsky rather than Stalin would have succeeded Lenin, then the Soviet Union would have avoided the personalized tyranny of Stalin and his “Bonapartist” perversion of the October revolution. Trotsky’s Soviet Union presumably would have been “Socialism with a Human Face.”  But given Trotsky’s Lenin-like conviction of his theoretical infallibility, his unshakable confidence in the future of Bolshevism and his actual impressive record of brutal repression of dissent, experienced for example by the sailors in the Kronstadt Naval Yard in 1921 who had revolted against the Bolshevik’s suppression of free speech and repression of the trade unions.  The “Trotsky-alternative” is one more of many variants of second-guessing and rationalizing that followed the failures of Bolshevism throughout its dismal career.   

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Al Gore, Our Trofim Lysenko

He considered that rumors of his being very dangerous to his scientific opponents and resorting habitually to police methods and denunciations were, in all likelihood, exaggerated.  
                                  Vasily Grossman, Forever Flowing  
It seems to me that there is a remarkable resemblance between Al Gore and Trofim Lysensko.  Lysenkso was a quack Russian agronomist whose “acquired characteristics” approach to plant genetics so impressed his boss, Joseph Stalin, as to shutdown scientific debate, ruin Soviet agriculture, and put biology in the Soviet Union into a thirty year deep freeze.   Lysenko rose from obscurity to dominate life science and genetics in the Soviet Union for decades.   “He [Lyskenko] had no postgraduate  training or higher degree, no formal claim to the title of scientist, yet he aspired to the theoretical heights from which, as he told a Pravda correspondent in 1927, practical problems could be solved by a few calculations ‘on a little old scrap of paper.’” [David Jorasky, The Lysenko Affair, Chicago, 1970, 189]  Lysenko was, in sum, completely unqualified for the role he played, a fraud who “talked” science but acted as hard core ideologue and with his Party patrons intimidated critics and bullied the real scientists. To question the Lysenkoists was to be labeled a traitor, an enemy of the Soviet Union.

Al Gore and the resemblance to comrade Lysenko?   Gore fulminates regularly about the “global warming deniers” (hint: they are in the same category for Gore as holocaust deniers) and insists that the “science” of it all is “settled.” So what are Gore’s academic, scientific credentials?   He was a mediocre, C- graduate of Harvard with a degree in Government.  He went to Divinity school and Law school at Vanderbilt University -- didn’t finish either program.   He went on to be a newspaper reporter, then used his father's name to vault into politics. He became a congressman, Senator and Vice President with likely little contact with meteorology or climate science.   Yet at some point he became an authority on global warming.  Like Lysenko he talks science but is a science ignoramus, a pure ideologue who responds to reasonable  criticism and opposition with denunciation and vilification. Those who disagree are either neanderthals or  Nazi's. In recent years he compared global warming skeptics to people who believe the moon landing was actually staged in a movie lot in Arizona.   In 2007 Robert Kennedy Jr. bested Gore in  perfect Stalinist-style by saying of global warming skeptics: “This is treason. And we need to start treating them as traitors.”
Like Mr. Gore, Mr. Kennedy is politician, not a scientist.  Treason is still a capital offense in the United States.  The fact that such an outrageous comment from a mainstream politician received so little attention and push back is a depressing indication of how Stalinist the Democrat Party has become and how no one has seemed to notice it.

There Is No Such Thing as Socialism

There is no such thing as socialism, and the Soviet Union built it.
                        Martin Malia (quoted from Koba the Dread)

Joseph Stalin expanded the terror-state he had taken over from Lenin and used his quarter century of power to institutionalize the gross pathologies of his personality.  All of the vast Soviet organs of power he had stamped with a ruthlessness and dishonesty that eventually turned the USSR into a slew of cynical nihilism.  His successors he had trained well in his arts, and he had made certain that they were deeply complicit in all of his crimes – the mass shootings and starvation, the forced deportations, the torture, depredations and the betrayal of the promise to build a fair and just egalitarian society.  Like their mentor, Stalin’s successors needed not only to lie, but to “force feed” the lies, as Solzhenitsyn put it, bearing down with the entire weight of state power in order both to maintain their power and privileges as well as to avoid accountability and condemnation for their spectacular record of failure.  The twin pillars of Leninism – lying and coercion – were still in place and remained so until the end. To be promoted and to advance in this system one had to be a coward, a toady and a liar.  As Zbigniew Brezezinski  notes: “Stalin’s massive terror gave way to a more discriminating but still arbitrary use of political coercion, largely  because the ruling elite had learned through bitter experience that terror had a dynamic of its own, eventually even consuming its sponsors.” [Zbigniew Brezezinski, The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century , Charles Schribner’s Son, New York, 1989, 33]  Stalin’s heirs of power were unwilling or unable to sustain the raw terror and the mass murder of their boss, but they could not dismount the Stalinist tiger without themselves being devoured.
 The first Communist government was installed in 1917 in the disintegrating, war torn Russian empire by professional Russian revolutionaries financed by the Grandees of Ludendorff’s German war machine. When they arranged to transport Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia to destabilize the government and undermine the war effort they never imagined that the Bolsheviks would end up permanently in charge.  From the regime’s beginning it evinced two features that persisted through its entire existence, noted above – massive coercion and pervasive dishonesty – features that were the embodiment of every single Communist government that later came into being.  No Communist leader can be found anywhere in the history of the twentieth century who was not profoundly dishonest and not heavily reliant on the use of secret police and military force to maintain a single party rule. 
The Soviet Union endured for seventy-four years until its largely unpredicted implosion.  All of its original ambitious promises and lofty ideals from Lenin were washed away first in the blood, then the material and spiritual destitution that befell the people subjected to it.  From the beginning, Bolshevik rule was a cruel and vicious ordeal as the party aimed to physically exterminate the old ruling class.  As noted above, the wide-scale murdering, conducted by government organs subsided after Stalin’s death, and, as Dmitri Volkogonov notes, “policy had shifted from the physical terror of the time of Lenin and Stalin, to the spiritual and ideological control of society.” [Dmitri Volkogonov, Autopsy for an Empire: the Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Regime, New York, 1998, 335]  Stalin’s method of dealing with truth tellers was crude and elemental – kill them.  “Death solves all problems,” Stalin was to have said.  “No man, no problems.” [Quoted from Martin Amis, Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million, New York, 2003, 57]
As the world’s original “workers’ state” decomposed into stagnation, careerism, corruption after Stalin’s death, the ubiquitous terror gave way to systematic manipulation.  Skillful and persistent lying was even more essential to prop up a sclerotic regime run by opportunists, drunkards and cynics.  However, this had come to be a steep and daunting task for the Party bosses for two ugly reasons.  First, to the regime now belonged a long and staggering record of crimes, waste and brutality that it desperately needed to conceal. The sheer magnitude of iniquity meant that lies of equal and greater magnitude had to be pushed out and perpetuated to cover up the past horror and protect the reputations of the still-reigning perpetrators.  Second, after decades in power, the damming disparity between the grim reality of the actual Bolshevik performance and the happy fiction of the official propaganda was becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore or rationalize away.  The task of spiritual and ideological manipulation of a society for a regime as Volkogonov notes whose past was terror and whose present was stagnation and corruption was a very tall order.
The rapture of Western intellectuals with Stalin eventually had to give way to disillusionment before the grimness, repression and squalidness of the USSR and the Eastern-block Communist countries.  Fortunately for them the next generation of Marxist, revolutionary heroes were stepping up to sustain the romance and fill the “revolutionary” void vacated by Comrade Stalin.  The grey, drab, monotone Communism of Russia, Poland and East Germany with their stolid and robot-like white-male leaders would pass out of vogue as more colorful and exotic Third World charismatic Robin Hoods emerged to enthuse over.  The fellow travelers shifted their affection and support to the newer and sleeker Stalinists models with brand new tires and fewer miles – Mao, Castro, Ho – a fresh entourage of revolutionary romantics, full of promises – hope and change for the oppressed – invective for makers of profit.
The first Bolshevik dictatorship, and all subsequent Bolshevik franchises, were installed and managed by men and women who never hesitated to lie and deceive whenever it served their purposes. [Ideologues should always fall under suspicion as liars, as liars at the core. Sissela Bok states that:  “[t]he more dogmatic the belief that one possesses, the greater the liberties taken on its behalf with truth-telling.”  Sissela Bok,  Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, New York, Pantheon, 1978, 86] Lying and dishonesty were at the very core of the original Bolshevik experiment and the subsequent management style of command, coerce and prevaricate.  When the governing class rests its legitimacy on a fraudulent ideology it must always resort to coercion as the principle element of its rule.  Force is necessary for the ideologues because they cannot compete in a space where reasoned argument and persuasion influence political outcomes.  Free elections are opportunities for the governed for measurements of truth – did our governors do what they said they would do?  Thus, Communist governments never submit themselves to elections.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stalinism, the Utopian Wager

In Stalin's invincible time! . . .
In recent years the dove,
Peace, the wandering persecuted rose,
Found herself on his shoulders
And Stalin, the giant,
Carried her at the heights of his forehead. . . .
A wave beats against the stones of the shore.
But Malenkov will continue his work.
                        Pablo Neruda (Ode to Stalin)

Stalinists have always been obsessive utopianists. Their quest is to push the society that they impatiently and contemptuously endure from point a, the current and detestable status quo, to point b, which will be a perfectly calibrated social order free of the structural defects and the pathologies that infect the status quo.  Envisioned is not just an improved society, but a completely new society – new institutions, a new morality, new social structures, new relationships, new people.  Everything is new and immaculate…transformed.  The language used to refer to the old order and how it is to be dealt with is loaded with cleaning and disinfecting metaphors.  The old order is so thoroughly contaminated that it must be completely scrubbed with any of the remaining elements “disinfected.”   Unfortunately the “scrubbing” must be applied to large numbers of people, classes of people that is, whose links to the past make them permanent elements of potential contamination or infection. The language of newly installed revolutionaries is replete with harsh and violent terminology that emphasizes their determination to make a complete break with the past and the peoples of the past – liquidation, obliteration, complete elimination – language which predicts and then mirrors the massive violence and coercion that is inflicted on large portions of their own people.  Stalin, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot, all of these utopianists articulated and practiced this kind of social “disinfecting.”  Getting from point a to point b does not happen spontaneously nor by chance. The arrival at point b comes about only by design, the right design, and it comes about only if the people who know the design and how to make it happen have complete power.  Stalinists do not share power, except as a preliminary step towards taking it completely, and they do not voluntarily relinquish power once they have it. Witness the Castro brothers.  How many free elections have there been in Cuba since 1959?
To grasp the utopianist-ideologue’s thinking, motivation and conduct and how they relate fundamentally to the rationalization of lying in a Stalinist world, it is necessary to focus on the process by which the Stalinist discovers the detestable features of the status quo and their provenance. The defects of society that so grieve the utopianist, with the immense suffering and deprivation that result from them, are the sorts of evils, he opines, that can be completely eradicated.  The real but yet unrecognized possibility of eradication, not containment or reduction, above all else absorbs the utopianist’s energy and forges his determination to prevail.  Poverty, oppression, war, exploitation and other collectively-spawned miseries that have routinely plagued societies are by the utopianist-ideologue’s calculation, evils attributable to specific groups or institutions.
To get from point a to point b, where misery, deprivation and strife give way to harmony and bounty, the utopianist-ideologue must first identify and isolate the culprit-group or defective institution responsible for the defects and pathologies, and then  proceed to remove with force the malefactors and dismantle the institutions that create and perpetuate the misery. Once the fog and mystery deliberately blanketed by the profiteers and exploiters is cleared away, the course of action seems obvious.   In this ambitious undertaking, the utopianist-ideologue asserts himself as an exceptionally gifted creature, with an intellectual and moral superiority that exempts him from the norms and standards that apply to others.  The Stalinist-utopianist is a self-affirmed, invincible antinomian.  The norms of the corrupted society in which he lives do not and must not bind him. The Stalinist in his capacity as moralist and as revolutionary represents and acts not for himself but on behalf of an oppressed class. His guiding ideology always seeks to identify the oppressor and de-mystify his authority. [“Ideology being the theory of oppression, the ideologist speaks for the oppressed and acts in a representative capacity.” Kenneth Minogue, Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology, St. Martin’s Press, 1985, 188]  The revolutionary action of the utopianist is as well an act of heroic rescue.  In establishing an identity with the oppressed group the utopianist will be able to cover his actions under what Bertrand Russell called “the doctrine of the superior virtue of the oppressed.”  Thus, those kinds of acts committed by the oppressor class and condemned by the ideologist as murder, robbery, fraud are acts of liberation when committed by the oppressed class.
The theory specifies the source of the problem and predicts that once that source is removed the evils drop away. Marx remains the ultimate utopian theorist.  Capitalism and private property were theorized as the cause of virtually every social evil and human pathology.  War, poverty, exploitation all would end when capitalism gave way to communism.  
However, a society at point a can only arrive at point b, purified, if the theorist has sufficient power to force the move and to prevail over the inevitable resisters. At the beginning, only the theorist knows exactly what the ideal outcome will be and how to bring it into reality.  Here then is the intellectual-cognitive superiority that motivates the leaders of the entire adventure.  Everyone else at point a is ignorant, stupid, corrupt or a combination of all of these.  The purely ignorant who are members of the exploited class are salvageable through “consciousness-raising.”  Those advantaged by the status quo will be skeptical, and many more resistant and oppositional.  They are damned. They will be eliminated. In sum: an enormous but justified amount of coercion is going to be required to get everyone to point b, even though point b is where, according to the utopianist-ideologue, we all should be. 
The theorist now has to grapple with a huge additional theoretical and moral challenge. He must justify the steep human and material costs that he knows his coercion will exact in order to create that society he has already argued is far superior to the status quo. The justification amounts no less to a wager that the sum total of human suffering caused by the disruption that gets to the desired goal will be offset by the eventual total amount of happiness and well being that is attained by all of those fortunate enough to emerge in tact in the new order.  The confidence in the moral outcome of the wager derives from the confidence in the certainty of the theory, a theoretical certainty never actually tested prior to the launching of the conflict. The certainty is essential because if the theory is wrong, then the moral consequences are staggering. 

The theory did in fact turn out to be completely wrong. A large portion of the world in the twentieth century became a theater to the ghastly consequences of implementation, from the Gulags to the poverty to the repression to the physical liquidations of the resisters. The key word here in this high wager of morality and human suffering is “eventual.” The reference to the future is the moral escape valve for the utopianist.  The present misery brought about by the highly motivated “change agent”-utopianist can always be justified because, while the ultimate goodness of the new order is yet unrealized, it assuredly will be.   Moreover, the utopianist’s intentions are to bring about the new order are morally justified by the theory.  There is no consequence from his actions, no matter how dismal or destructive, for which he will admit culpability. What he intended was noble. If he does not succeed it is because of the entrenched forces of reaction.  His failure when it occurs is always either tactical or failed calibration – never cognitive, never moral. Using the Communist alchemy of self-delusion and self-rationalization, conspicuous failure transforms itself into heroism.  The motivating moralism of the utopianist-ideologue always insulates him from any culpability from his actions.  The blame he shifts to the totally debased and morally rotten agents of the status quo.  Their failure to give way only emphasizes their evil and testifies to his goodness. The willingness of the Communist to make the practical, hedonic wager – that the felicity of the promised future will justify the suffering required to get there – ultimately rests on the tautological assertion that the future Communist society is wonderful and thus justifies any present misery that moves toward it because Communism is wonderful. With this failsafe logic no current atrocities are ever sufficiently egregious for a Communist to be morally culpable; failed Communism, as it is argued, can never be real Communism because real Communism is always successful.   Eric Hobsbawm, the British historian, a life-long and long-lived Marxist and enthusiast for Communist dictators in a BBC interview with Michael Ignatieff was asked: : “What (your view) comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of 15, 20 million people might have been justified?” He replied: “Yes.” [Oliver Kamm,] Hobsbawm, it is reported, answered without hesitation. He was trapped by the failsafe logic. Real Communism was what Stalin and the Bolsheviks had put into place and so whatever was done was justified.