Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The “Progress” of Communism – Idealism to Solipsism to Nihilism

 
No profound and popular movement in all history has taken place without its share of filth, without adventurers and rogues, without boastful and noisy elements... A ruling party inevitably attracts careerists.
                               Vladimir Lenin, 1921


The Left’s most virulent incarnation is Communism.  Wherever it has been put into place it has followed the same trajectory: a degenerative procession that moves from an original idealism to solipsism and finally descends into nihilism, a depressing amalgam of the purest cynicism and shameless, shoulder-shrugging corruption.
The noble aspiration of resisting and then defeating the forces of human oppression was the originating ideal of the theorists who conceived of Communism as both an historically inevitable human attainment – a classless society suitably ordered to bring out the best in all and satisfy the needs and wants of everyone – and a mobilizing social force that would act to free mankind from its long history of domination and exploitation.  From division and bitter conflict, perfect harmony would emerge.
Contemplating the factories and slums in nineteenth-century England gave Karl Marx the material he needed to immortalize himself – to leave the world with Marx-ism, a contagious, sweeping view of the social world that both explained human misery and proposed its elimination. Marx the penurious philosopher became for his revolutionary progeny, Marx the Prophet, his work endowed with moral infallibility, assurance that however hard they had to be, all would be justified in the end.
With the industrial revolution unfolding and profoundly altering the social and political landscape of Europe, Marx believed he had isolated and identified the cause of misery and the instrument of human oppression – capitalism with its bourgeois overseers.  As well, Marx discovered in these factories and slums that wasted, exploited underbelly of humanity that he made into the requisite theoretical antipode to the capitalist oppressor – the proletariat, a historically determined force of fury and rectification that would permanently remove the practitioners and beneficiaries of oppression.
The vast and powerful mobilizing appeal of Marx’s philosophical-historical labor came from the congealing of its confident predictions of historical and scientific inevitability with the moral outrage that naturally arose from the contemplation of human suffering and misery that was attributed to the greed and indifference of the exploiters whom he had unmasked.  Marxism was at one and the same time, science and romance – knowledge harnessed to heroic action – “Arise…you have nothing to lose but your chains.”
What the theorists deeply coveted was power. The knowers possessed of real power would force the oppressor’s hand, turn the tables. The ideal would become real.  Power would not be handed to them in spite of the compelling demonstration of the historical laws initially grasped by the theorists and the spectacle of human misery produced by the exploiters.  It would have to be taken and by extreme force through a violent revolution that Marx and his followers would never cease to romanticize as the great and permanent historical solution to the deepest of moral problems – man’s inhumanity to man.
At the beginning of the twentieth century none of these ambitious theorists anywhere had power, but they would take it in countries large and small.  One hundred years later when the 20th century was history it was obvious that the fruit of the massive power wielded by the proudest and most ambitious of the Communists Lords across the globe – Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot – was not, had never been, nor ever would be a classless society. They had profoundly changed the world, but not in the way they had promised.  Communists wanted power to alleviate poverty and oppression and to eradicate every barrier of privilege that separates people into haves and have-nots .  When they got it they turned their Party into a privileged clan, their lands into ghastly prisons and their people into paupers, slaves and corpses.
In power the Communist removed the capitalists even in places where there were none or very few, like China and Ethiopia. They did this on behalf of the proletariat, also in places where they were scarce.  But it really did not matter.  “Capitalist” and the “proletariat” were quite fluid, protean categories. The world they wanted to rule over simply had to be made up of oppressors and oppressed of some fundamental sort – landlords/peasants, colonialists/indigenous peoples, imperialists/conquered peoples. The essential task was to strip away the rationalizing mask of privilege and difference, identify the oppressors behind it, crush them and then make the world far better than it had ever been.
Communists in power excelled at the crushing part of the promise but never delivered on the humanitarian side of it. It was impossible, and all of the oppressed and exploited on whose behalf Communists took power witnessed the surreptitious transposition of its mobilizing ideals into stark betrayals of principle and purpose. 
The Communist presentation of their new and wonderful society was no less than a solipsistic cocoon woven by its apologists who ignored or rationalized away every untoward intrusion of fact and reality.  The solipsist believes that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing.  Communism in power became that “Self” under its own constant modification preternaturally blind to the conspicuously brutal reality of its own failures, recognizing nothing but the invented glorious movement of its own journey to perfection.   
The twentieth-century’s great Communist figures were themselves solipsists of sort.  Leon Trotsky was said by a fellow revolutionary, Milovan Đilas, to be: “an excellent speaker, brilliant stylist and skilled polemicist, a man cultured and of excellent intelligence, was deficient in only one quality: sense of reality.”* Indeed. Convinced of his own omniscience, ensconced defiantly in his hermetic Marxist world, Trotsky spent his action-packed life using his formidable intelligence to bend reality through the prism of his own imagined perfect understanding of the world. Stalin, who turned himself into the God of the Communist world, was completely removed from the people living in workers’ paradise he was so busy making and extolling.  He never visited any of the kolkhozy, the collective farms, inhabited by the tens of millions peasants he had brutally coerced into joining, spent no time with nor associated with factory workers.  He never ventured to Ukraine in the early 1930s where he might have caught a glimpse of the families he had pushed to starvation, people driven by their savage hunger to insanity and cannibalism, individuals numbering in the millions.  When his officers brought him bad news from the German front during World War II he often had them shot.   He allowed no part of the world to intrude upon or disrupt the flow of his genius.  Stalin’s entire working world was composed of himself and the conniving sycophants he retrieved from the dregs and cycled through his entourage, a grotesque, treacherous crew. Stalin trusted only himself.  Being close to him was highly precarious and frequently lethal.
The perfection of the unreal “self” of Communism’s solipsistic stage culminates with the Cult of Personality, the elevation of a single individual, morally and cognitively complete, a ludicrous phantasm whose being becomes “the Revolution,” the full expression of the goodness and humanity that Communism had promised. The Self is complete. Nothing remains to be added – “Stalin the Great Teacher” for Russian Communism was both sufficient and necessary.   
Communist solipsism gives way to nihilism. Nothing of the original ideal is left. The nihilism so conspicuous in the final days of the Soviet Union marked the final default of the ruling ideology and signaled the moral collapse of a society whose members no longer possessed any enduring principles and defensible ideas around which to organize and make sense of their daily lives. 
In the “mature” Socialist Workers Paradise no longer does anyone pretend to believe in the system except out of fear.  The ruled-over pretend to believe to avoid harassment and punishment, mainly to be left alone.  The rulers also pretend to believe the lies because they know that their power is only sustained by the persistence of the lie. They too are afraid, afraid of the people they rule over.  Everyone knows the truth and everyone knows that everyone else knows – mutual mistrust, suspicion and loathing flow.
And cynicism – the systematic, pervasive lying which sustains Communist regimes produces the purest, rawest cynicism.  Cynicism is indiscriminate revenge taken against liars and institutions and practices that are immersed in lies.  A cynic is one who has given up on the truth.  He sees everyone as a liar, a fraud or a dupe.  The cynic, unlike the skeptic, is a believer, but can only bring himself to believe the worst of others.  He concedes the entire expanse of humanity to the liar and his dupes.  There are no other categories to envision or employ.  In the cynic’s world everyone is on his own – one does whatever one has to do. The person of integrity is a dupe and a loser; corruption rules.
Cynicism and corruption are the indelible marks of mature Communist regimes.  Some, like the Soviet Union simply collapse – too sclerotic, too tired, to incompetent to continue. Others persist, their wily and intelligent leaders not willing to relinquish their power, able to adapt, reinvent themselves and keep the fiction working.   

*Quoted from Robert Conquest, The Great Terror, A Reassessment, New York, Oxford University Press, 2008, 9.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Left and Its Enemies

We will merciless destroy anyone who, by his deeds or his thoughts—yes, by his thoughts—threatens the unity of the socialist state. To the complete destruction of all enemies, themselves and their kin!*
                                                                    Joseph Stalin, November, 1937

We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us…**
                                                              President Obama, October, 2010

From Karl Marx to the present day the modus operandi of the Left, whenever and wherever it competes for power, is not compromise with the opposition or even the defeat of the opposition, but its elimination.  Power is to be completely owned, not shared.  The ideology of the Left always drives its practitioners toward total monopoly.  Competition when it exists is disdained and when possible, disallowed.  Lenin defined the rules of political engagement from his earliest days – “Everything that is done in the interest of the proletarian cause is honest” ***– which was a remarkably honest declaration of the Leninist determination not to be bound by any rules, and in effect makes politics into a theater of total war with no quarter given to the enemy.   Lenin’s prescription of politics as war still holds for his progeny.
             The Left’s quest for a monopoly of power is and always has been inevitable because it derives from the foundational premise that every social evil comes into being and persists because the wrong people are in power. What these “wrong people” believe is delusion. What they say is false.  What they do is self-serving. What they own is undeserved.  All that matters is that they are removed: whatever means that accomplishes this is permitted.
“The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles,” as we remember from the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels.  The “final” struggle puts the right people, the proletariat, in charge, people free of false-consciousness, above personal and class interest, dedicated to creating a just society where everyone will have what they need and deserve what they get.
Opposition to the Left is defective in two fundamental regards. The first is intellectual.  Those in opposition do not recognize their own ignorance and responsibility for the corrupt status quo that produces the misery of those they exploit.  The second defect is moral.  Their ignorance lives and grows through a rationalization of their self-interest which supports their false and pernicious views of the world.  Phony, greedy and mean-spirited, not only do they benefit undeservedly from the status quo, they hypocritically rationalize it and defend it.  
            The Left in stark contrast is both intellectually and morally superior.   They see through the rationalizations and delusions of the opposition and understand the world as it really is. With the audacity of hope they do not “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment….”  Rising above naked self-interest, religious and ethnic bigotry, and sectarian small mindedness, their moral superiority comes from the altruistic purity of their motives, their unlimited benevolence and empathy for the oppressed, and the nobility of their aspirations.   
            This sense of vast superiority explains the Left’s monopolistic impulse for control – the opposition is unfit for power and should not be permitted to compete for it.  Thus, when the Left does have to compete for power they regard the opposition not as worthy opponents to engage in a respectful rule-governed contest and defeat by showing the deficiency of their ideas and programs.  Rather, they regard them as enemies and move against them as enemies.  The character, motives and personalities of the opposition are the focus of attack, a relentlessly ad hominem barrage.  The ideas and programs of the opponents of the Left do not even have to be seriously considered because they are formulated and advanced by people who are intellectually primitive, morally suspect and at times clinically deranged.    
            No norms or protocols of mutual respect, civil debate or procedural fair play will be observed by Leftist political strategists because they have no respect for those who do not share their ideological convictions or enthuse over their programs. There can be no serious debate about alternative ideas or approaches or perspectives because the truth is already settled and grasped only by those who lay claim to the gnosis of the Left.  Those who dissent or disagree are stupid and simple minded.  Or, their opposition comes from the corruption of their character and personalities. They are motivated by greed and full of hatred for those not like them.  “Republicans want dirtier air, dirtier water, less people with health care,”**** remarked President Obama recently.  Of course they do.  They are the wrong people – morally bankrupt, heartless and uncaring, servants of the rich.  They are the enemy, and if they think that they will ever be treated otherwise, they are hopeless amnesiacs. 

*Quoted from Jonathan Brent, Inside the Stalin Archives: Discovering the New Russia, Atlas, 2008, 272.

**http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/25/in-appeal-to-hispanics-obama-promises-to-push-immigration-reform/

*** Quoted from: Richard Pipes, Russia under the Bolshevik Regime, New York: Random House, 1994, 275n.
****http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2011/10/17/obama_gop_wants_dirtier_air_dirtier_water_less_people_with_health_insurance.html

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Century Twenty-one: the Desolate March*


Moral nihilism is not only the central feature of National Socialism, but also the common factor between it and Bolshevism.** 
                                                               Hugh Seton-Watson

The twenty-first century is well underway. We can readily contemplate the remarkable, socially and morally transforming effects of these powerful, intermingling forces that have come into ascendancy: personalism, a proto-modern ideological system that urges the pursuit and enlargement of the subjective self, liberated from the confines of repressive, traditional institutions; therapy, that seeks to nurture and speak reassuringly to that subjective self and that identifies what forces may impede its growth and development; and amusement (particularly in the electronic form) that conjures up for the restless subjective self, programs for stimulation, provides endless possibilities for self-expression, and  promises everyone diverse opportunities for temporary escape. The twenty-first century is the perfect time and place for the nihilist and the hedonist.
In such a volatile, connected world, with so many changes and so much uncertainty, one discovers what seems to be a persistent, devilish play of the ironic in human events. History has always been a perverse affair. It is also often cruelly ironic, as Edward Gibbon, writing of the decadence of an earlier great civilization, the Roman empire, brilliantly demonstrated over two hundred years ago. Human beings, when they come to be measured against the goodness and greatness of their Gods, can only be regarded as feeble, deluded creatures. Says Gibbon in one of his bitterest, ironic musings:

The theologian may indulge the pleasing task of describing religion as she descended from Heaven arrayed in her native purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian.  He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption, which she contracted in a long residence upon earth among a weak and degenerate race of beings.

Gibbon pits the theologian against the historian. These two classes of theorists represented for Gibbon two perennial philosophical archetypes for interpreting or understanding the deep complexities of the human condition.  Theology, understood in this context, is a theoretical dreaming, the corruption of the Christian faith by metaphysics and superstition. The “theologian” comprehends (or invents) and dwells upon the possibilities of perfection—hence perhaps the delusion-based pleasure of believing that man can achieve something approximating divinity and escape his limitations. Gibbon’s theologian was transmogrified in the twentieth into the most grotesque and dangerous of all creatures, the ideologue. The ideologue, the man of total revolution, sought to recreate society and make man perfect.
The historian by contrast is a moral pathologist, a moral philosopher, actually, grounded in the knowledge of the constraining realities of human nature. He probes reluctantly, with a “melancholy duty,” into the many human aspirations that seem to descend into folly. He measures the expressed aspirations against the actual accomplishments. In these investigations, he often discovers the processes of degradation. The historian in a way has the worst of it since what he must return to, again and again, is the stark, unavoidable reality of human arrogance, folly and corruption.
History, therefore, must often become a mocking and deeply melancholy scene. The irony of history thus is all too often cruel and wildly perverse. In the narratives of success and failure, history captures painfully the disparity between the reaches of human aspirations and the reality of their achievement, grotesque applications of the law of unintended consequence—efficiency experts who produce less work, social reformers who make peoples’ lives even more miserable than imagined, spiritual leaders who degrade their followers below the level of beasts, utopias that turn into hells. History manages to highlight the dominance of human pride and arrogance. Nowhere, I would suggest, does this observation strike with more force and vivacity than in the contemplation of the events of the twentieth century. Never has there been a time in which we have collectively possessed such immense bodies of knowledge and so much material capacity to advance it. Never before have the technologies been so powerful and so rich with potential, and the aspirations so ambitious and full of confidence. Yet with all of this, the ironic lesson is the danger of losing sight of our own limitations: and with that vital loss of moral understanding we find ourselves on a desolate march.

*Excerpted from Stephen Paul Foster, Desolation's March: the Rise of Personalism and the Reign of Amusement in 21st-America, Bethesda, Md. Academica Press, 2003.
 Complete electronic copy free on demand.

**Quoted from: Robert Conquest, Reflections on a Ravaged Century, Norton, 2000.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Of Vice and Victimhood*

“The essential feature of Conduct Disorder is a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules are violated..... The behavior pattern is usually present in a variety of settings such as the home, school, or the community.”
From: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association.


A remarkable and near complete metamorphosis of our basic understanding of moral character and personal responsibility—vice into sickness; virtue into health—has been under way for a long time and has moved at a highly accelerated pace in the last twenty years. The shifting preference for health over virtue as a conceptual framework for judging and sanctioning human conduct derives from two sources.
 The first is the cultural ascendance of the Left and the wide un-reflecting embrace of its view of individual human beings as disaggregated units of warring, conflicting groups as expressed in its program of identity politics. These conflicts, so the argument goes, are the ultimate source of all existing social evils, both the losers and the winners distinctively marked.  The winners are privileged exploiters, dehumanized by their own aggressive exploitation: the losers are impoverished and particularly vulnerable to social “pathologies,” e.g., drug addiction, criminality, and the like. Poverty, crime, drug abuse are all the result of the exploitation and domination exerted by the winners over the losers. “Pathology” in this explanatory framework no longer works as a metaphor – vice is now disease caused by a broken social system.  Disease gives way to knowledge and technique as discovered and determined by experts who require power to fix the broken system.       
The second and related source is the late nineteenth-century expansion of confidence in the capacity of science to explain, and ultimately produce the technology to manipulate and control everything, including human behavior. The ugly, seamy, corrupt sides of the human personality and the vice produced, regarded by our ancestors as the unfortunate elements of human imperfection, have come to be seen not as perennial manifestations of weaknesses or limitations inherent in human nature, but as technical problems that can be eliminated with the application of the right kind of technical knowledge. Vice has been, considered a perennial human propensity to be tamped down, but now as disease it becomes a “social problem” for which “cures” can be discovered and applied by technicians. Perhaps no better articulation of this “social problem” view of vice—curable by enlightened, empowered, informed expertise— is the following, written in the 1980s by Berkeley sociologist Neil Smelser.

[A]nother necessary part of what defines a social problem is that we believe we can do something about it.  It has to be something at which we can successfully throw resources; something we can ease by getting people to shape up; something that can be cured through social policy legislation and decisions and the application of knowledge; something that can be ameliorated. Otherwise it is seen as one of those ineradicable scars on the social body that we have to live with, a necessary evil, one of those inevitable frailties of human nature.**

Smelser’s summary of the perspective is superb—succinct but complete—not only in content but in style as well. The opening sentence puts up the Straw Man as if everyone before the author had given up on trying to make the world better.  Though Smelser’s academic residence is in the Sociology department, he fancies himself as an engineer – “shaping people up,” applying expensive tools (“successfully throwing resources”) and “the application of knowledge” to solve technical problems, otherwise known as “social problems". These social problems—he cites as examples crime, violence, alcohol, and drug abuse—are manifestations of human behavior that can either be viewed as an inevitable consequence of limitations of human nature (“frailties”) or as failures of social functions remedied with the enlightened application of “resources.” Smelser does not want to believe that there is something like “human nature” with moral and social limitations that we should recognize and work with. Containment or correction is unacceptable when the problems can, in his words, “be cured.” The medical metaphor of the “cure” he invokes, with all of its positive, healthful connotations, however, quickly gives way to the more literally-expressed means of practical application, which is political action and legal coercion, that is, “social policy and legislation.” The cure, in effect, for social problems is the right dosage of social policy: the real cure will be the direct result of incorporating social science research into law, a translation of social science theory into public policy. Coercion is to play a large part in the “cures.”  

*Excerpted from Stephen Paul Foster, Desolation's March: the Rise of Personalism and the Reign of Amusement in 21st-America, Bethesda, Md. Academica Press, 2003.
 Complete electronic copy free on demand.


**Neil J. Smelser, “Self-Esteem and Social Problems: An Introduction,” The Social Importance of Self-esteem, Andrew M. Mecca, Neil J. Smelser, and John Vasconcellos, editors, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989, 4.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Trotsky versus Trotskyism: From Real Men to Vague Villains

But there are in our country semi-Trotskyites, quarter-Trotskyites, one-eighth Trotskyites, people who help us [Trotskyites], not knowing of the terrorist organization but sympathizing with us.
          Karl Radek, 1937, Moscow Show Trial*

Leon Trotsky while sitting at his desk in his compound in Mexico City was dispatched by an assassin wielding an alpine ax.  On this desk laid a manuscript, a nearly finished biography of Trotsky’s one-time colleague, but now Bolshevik nemesis, Joseph Stalin. The paper absorbed splashes of Trotsky’s blood that spattered from the blows to his head.  The date was August 20, 1940. Ramón Mercader was the assassin, a Soviet-trained Spaniard who had seduced an American secretary in Trotsky’s entourage to gain access to his well-guarded compound. Mercader was sent by none other than the principal subject of Trotsky’s biography, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin. After twenty years in a Mexican prison Mercader was released. He made his way to Havana where he was feted by the Stalinist of the Caribbean, Fidel Castro. Then he was off to the Soviet Union where he was awarded the highest civilian decoration of the country, the Hero of the Soviet Union medal, by the head of the KGB, Alexander Shelepin.  What is note-worthy is that years after Stalin’s death and the rehabilitation of many of his victims, the Soviet leadership continued with Stalin’s fiction of Trotsky’s betrayal of Bolshevism.  Stalin as a jealous and vengeful ghost still reigned over his surviving henchmen.
By the time of his murder the person, Leon Trotsky, in the Soviet Union had been transmogrified into “Trotskyism.” Many of Stalin’s high ranking Bolshevik rivals found themselves contaminated with this lethal heresy. Trotsky, however, not so far in the past was widely regarded as the Number Two Bolshevik behind Lenin and the most likely of the Communist party leaders to take his place.  He was a writer and orator of considerable talent, and his formidable organizing and military skills greatly contributed to the success of the October Revolution, the Bolshevik’s defeat of the Whites in the ensuing civil war and the ability of the regime to consolidate its power and entrench its rule.  Trotsky from an early age to the end of his life was a Communist to the core of his being.
Trotsky, however, was less adept at political intrigue and wading through the slog of inter-Party feuds. He was also exceedingly vain and arrogant. His egotistical and contumacious personality made him many enemies within the party.  He completely underestimated his principal rival, Stalin, whom he disdained and dismissed as a “colourless bureaucratic mediocrity.”* Stalin, the consummate organization man, quickly outmaneuvered him and put him against the wall.  Almost before he realized it he was first marginalized, then vilified, and finally expelled from the Party and exiled from Russia. Trotsky spent his last years running from country to country slightly ahead of Stalin’s killers, helplessly watching them murder members of his family, including his son, Sergei Sedov. 
At this point an important aspect of Stalin’s own peculiar genius came to the fore.  Trotsky, the flesh- and-blood man, through Stalinist alchemy became “Trotskyism.”  An “ism”, of course, is an abstraction, and Trotskyism turned out to be a particularly useful one for Stalin because it enabled him to syphon off any particular details of Trotsky’s life and career and any specific attributes of personality or character that might humanize him or detract from Stalin’s official version of current events. Trotskyism, like all of Stalin’s productions for public consumption was a heavily labored falsification.
            Trotskyism reduced Trotsky-the-person to a vague and predetermined set of ugly qualities that could always be cast in strong opposition to monumental achievements and noble aspirations that Stalin now completely prescribed for the Soviet Union and a reflection of his own personal greatness and genius.  Trotskyism became shorthand, a label for a treasonous fifth-columnist and was attached to almost anyone who had fallen into disfavor with the Kremlin Chief.
                Turning people into isms was part of the Stalinist methodology of slander which worked by converting the world and its complex reality into a shifting set of simple abstractions that enabled Stalin to malign and defame whomever at the moment represented in any way an obstacle to his  interests and operations. 
Tito, who was Stalin’s faithful, obedient servant in Yugoslavia during World War II, like Trotsky, asserted and proved himself as an able Communist revolutionary, successful in gaining power through his own efforts and talents.  He finally declined to make the full bow at Stalin’s altar, and his success made him, like Trotsky, a hated rival rather than an obedient underling.  Like Trotsky, Tito, the man was turned into “Titoism,” a vague abstraction of dissonance  and deviance from the monolithic Stalinism that pervaded Russia.  
Stalin’s late-life anti-Semitism was expressed by yet another “ism” of vilification – “rootless cosmopolitanism” (безродный космополит ), used to impugn the patriotism and loyalty of Soviet Jews whom Stalin now had decided were secretly pro-U.S.  Stalin’s “ism’s” were greatly to feared, tropes that could be easily conjured and appear at any time, used to turn complex human beings into simple abstractions, making them easy to loath and deserving of extermination.    

*From:  Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tzar, New York, Random House, 2003, 211, 5.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I am the Immaculate Deception: The Dying of Dictators

“He needed to defecate…Stalin got out of the car and asked ‘whether the bushes along the roadside were mined .  Of course no one could give such a guarantee…Then the Supreme Commander-in-Chief pulled down his trousers in everyone’s presence.’  In a metaphorical commentary on his treatment of the Soviet people, and his performance as military commander, he ‘shamed himself in front of his general s and officers… and did his business right there on the road.’”  Stalin on the way back from the Front, 1943.
 (From: Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tzar, New York, Random House, 2003, 652)

The grief-extravaganza that engulfed North Korea following the recent demise of Kim Jong-Il, the first and only Communist boss to inherit from his father his own personal dictatorship and cult of personality, displayed for the outside world a curious and bizarre array of death rituals traceable back to the collective insanity in Russia that ensued after J.V. Stalin took his last breaths on March 5, 1953. 

Kim Jong-Il, like Stalin and like Mao, descended from ordinary folks but during his revolutionary travails acquired superhuman attributes – virtue, wisdom, selfless devotion – beyond the likes of any other in his midst.

Stalin, Mao, Kim – these Marxist Übermenschen ruled over lesser mortals as near perfect beings.  They are not supposed to die. But die they do, which comes as a jarring and untimely reminder of their ordinary fleshly composition.  Breathless and cold they are now just like all of those millions who were made to perish under their benevolent watch – food for the worms.  Thus the fiction of their perfection must be affirmed, first by an elaborately choreographed theatrics of universal despair and grief, with a cast of distraught thousands. Then the worms must be denied.  From the embalmer’s table the grayish corpse, transformed, moves to center stage, a rosy colored, death defying shrine. “I am the immaculate deception.”  The leader in death lives forever as an object of veneration.

The passing of a creature such as Kim Jong-Il is the kind of event that perhaps more than of any other exposes and dramatizes the absurd and fraudulent nature of Communism, an ideology whose enthusiasts have always been pleased to have us know speaks to the modernizing, progressive impulses of humanity and moves relentlessly toward the calculated improvement of the human condition.

The highly demonstrable, wide-spread grief that we see emanating from the throngs of people, crying, wailing with their faces contorted in the pain of sorrow and loss.  Why are they so distressed?  Is it genuine or feigned?    Both probably, but this hedge of an answer only serves to underlie the difficulty making sense of the collective outpouring of grief for the tyrant-turned-cadaver.   This difficulty, however, can be addressed with the maxim that: communism is the highest form of pretending.  The greatest communists are the greatest pretenders.  “Dizzy with success,” was how Stalin in the 1930s described the efforts his party underlings as they completed the forced extraction of the grain harvest from the Ukrainian farmers and then watched them starve by the millions.
  
These grief rituals for the passing of the communist bosses are the crowning absurdity of the cult of personality, the consummate achievement in the art of pretending.  They bring to culmination the life of the Dear Leader which has been long imaged to mirror the exact opposite of reality – criminality masquerading as glory, ruthlessness celebrated as genius.  The wisdom of the Leader has been folly; his benevolence, unspeakable wickedness.  Progress has been nothing more than stagnation and corruption.  The people’s highly visible anguish for the loss of the Leader is sublimated relief.  Is he really, finally dead? Everything in the worker’s paradise is the opposite of what it appears.
 
Stalin’s death was consistent with his life as a supreme communist ruler.  For the world to contemplate, his funeral in the middle days of March 1953 was a massive production out of which emanated the love, devotion and worship of the millions of Russians.  The circumstances of his death on March 5th , observed only by his family and underlings, were desperate, sordid and disgusting.  Death came from a stroke that left him lying on his bedroom floor, speech impaired, soaking in his own urine.  His assistants, terrified of him, were reluctant to call the doctors. Stalin distrusted doctors, especially Jewish doctors.  His devoted henchman – Beria, Khrushchev, Malenkov – deserted the deathwatch, fled to the office to destroy the Boss’s papers and the evidence of their criminality.

Fidel tarries.  The embalmers are anxious.