Friday, July 26, 2013

Anti-Communism, a Call for the Return**

An Anti-Communist is a dog. I don’t change my views on this, I never will.
                                                                   Jean-Paul Sartre

One would have to beat the briar patches hard these days to chase an anti-Communist out of the brambles. Sartre would not now find himself pressed to change his views; no one would suggest otherwise.  Anti-communism has been out-of-vogue for many years and for many reasons. Volumes could be written to explain why, but one obvious reason is the steady Left-ward drift of American culture since the mid-twentieth century. The Kulturkampf of the 1960s pushed America to the Left, and turned anti-Communism into a retreat for closed-minded, parochial hicks who couldn’t grasp the intricacies of French Existentialism or appreciate the new Cuba of Fidel’s making.
Communism is the Left at full throttle, at its “best.”  Communists of the twentieth century in large portions of the world had complete power over tens of millions of people.  They did what they said they would do – throw out the Capitalist exploiters. They ruled for decades over fiefdoms of equality and plenty that no one was allowed to leave.  The non-Communist Left has not only evinced no sense of shame for the history of their high-achieving Leftists cousins – Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, even Fidel – but actively and enthusiastically sang their praises all the while they were erecting the gulags, torturing and murdering the opposition, and eviscerating their economies.  The New York Times’s Walter Duranty was awarded a Pulitzer (never withdrawn) for his dishonest reporting of Stalin’s famine-handiwork; the truth-telling Malcolm Muggeridge was blackballed.  The abundant evidence of their monstrous cruelties notwithstanding, our high-culture sophisticates still prefer to ignore, downplay or rationalize them.  They remain enamored with the bearded German prophet, decrying the rapacity of profit-seekers and defending Communism’s humanistic “idealism.”  It was just that the wrong people tried to implement it.  Yale University Press recently published Why Marx was Right by Terry Eagleton, a book of no less than 258 pages, classified by the Library of Congress as social science, not fiction or humor.  Eagleton is not an economist, philosopher, political scientist or historian, but as one might guess, an English Professor, a “Distinguished” one according to his official title from the University of Lancaster. This book, its publisher and its author, taken altogether are a perfect illustration of why the humanities has become completely irrelevant outside the walls of academe.
Another reason for anti-Communism's decline is the gradual but seemingly inevitable secularization of American society. Anti-communism moves those with an affinity for the transcendent:  communists abhor the notion, the possibility that human beings might be something more than complicated configurations of molecules, understandable given the millions of living souls they made into dead bodies. But secularism tilts away from the transcendent and is much more compatible with the materialist orientation of the contemporary Left and its disdain for traditional religion. 

One is struck by the profound change in the softening of attitude of the American people over the course of the last fifty years toward Communism.  One of the Nixon-Kennedy presidential debates proceeded with these comments from the standard bearers.

Senator John Kennedy: We set a very high standard for ourselves. The communists do not.  They set a low standard of materialism.  We preach in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution, in the statements of our greatest leaders, we preach very high standards; and if we’re not going to be charged before the world with hypocrisy we have to meet those standards.

Vice-President Richard Nixon: Also as far as religion is concerned, I have seen Communism abroad. I see what it does. Communism is the enemy of all religions; and we who do believe in God must join together.

These words, forming part of the political conversation in America, near the end of 1960 must have resonated strongly with the American people. No main stream politician after 1970, with the exception of Ronald Reagan on a few occasions, would or could talk like this. Consider their striking contrast with the autobiographical musings of a current national politician:

President Barak Obama: To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students, the foreign students, the Chicanos, the Marxist Professors and the structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets….  At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz [sic] Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy. When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our stereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society's stifling constraints. We weren't indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated." [From, Dreams from my Father, 100-101]

Whatever one might think of Karl Marx, Frantz Fanon, neocolonialism and Eurocentrism, it is indisputable that the Cold War-revulsion with communism in the West has disappeared.  Still, it is remarkable that such an angry and bitterly tinged confession of Communist infatuation expressed above by our President as a young man (never apparently regretted or retracted) would never be considered as a serious issue by the electorate.    

But there are many other things now to fear and reprobate besides our President’s youthful, Marxist dyspepsia.  Still, I think, it is worthwhile to reconsider our kinder-gentler posture toward an ideology that ravaged a good portion of the planet and its people during the twentieth century.

I propose that there are at least three good reasons to launch a militant anti-Communism for the twenty-first century.  First, for much of the latter half of the twentieth century, it has been difficult to know the extent and ferocity of the slaughter conducted by Communist regimes.  Because of the vast disparity between the promises and the performance, Communists became masterful at both hiding the enormity of their iniquities and pretending to be virtuous.  Recent access gained to archives that have long been inaccessible to outside researchers has confirmed what mid-twentieth century anti-Communists knew, that the Reds in China and Russia were shooting and starving their people by the millions.*   Those who were under them suffered deeply; those who were not rightly loathed and feared them.

In spite of a century of mass-murder with its extensive documentation the self-infatuated monsters responsible for it have never been fully execrated.  The tens of millions of their victims deserve the solemn acknowledgement of their innocence and suffering.  The perpetrators richly deserved to be remembered for all that they did and be showered forever with ignominy.  

The second reason is to demolish the phony, self-glorifying rhetoric of Communism’s “anti-Fascism.”  Stalin defeated Hitler only after he colluded and connived with him and then only after he collected the generous assistance from England and the U.S. – Lend-Lease, Studebaker trucks, and a second front.  As long as we allow the bogus argument to persist that Communists have courageously advanced the values that Hitler eschewed – equality, tolerance and world peace – they will continue to peddle the howler that they are the avatars of moral rectitude and human progress.

The third, and perhaps most important reason, is the persistence of communism.   Hitler is long dead and wholly execrated by the German people. Holocaust deniers in Germany and Austria are thrown in jail.  No one pays homage to dead Nazis. However, Mao and Lenin still molder away in their mausoleums and receive veneration.  Daniel Ortega was given a second chance in Nicaragua.  Communist governments, parties and movements abound, and in some places thrive. 
Anti-Communism is needed as a counterpoise to the ambitions of the twenty-first century Marxists and their friends. They never cease to believe that with the same political ideology that shaped and inspired Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, unlike them, they can make a peoples’ revolution that is a happy-time for all, a dream rather than a recurring nightmare – Socialism with a Human Face.   

Jasper Becker, Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine, Free Press, 1996,
Robert Conquest, The Great Terror, a Reassessment, Oxford, 2007,
Frank Dikotter, Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most
Devastating Catastrophe, 1958–62, Walker & Co, 2010.   

**Dedicated to my friend, Mike Burton, who fought the communists in Vietnam.

Obama the Humorless

What is the stage that comes between Socialism and full communism?
Alcoholism. (Soviet era joke)
President Obama’s attributes have been inexhaustibly detailed by both his admirers and detractors.  Not much, however, is much said about his sense of humor.  The reason is painfully obvious: there is little humor in the man to detect.  In this regard he bears resemblance to Jimmy Carter, the grim, parson-scold who lectured the nation about malaise in the 1970s.  The humor that does emanate from the President is usually in the form of ridicule laced with sarcasm, humor at its meanest and nastiest.  One is hard pressed to find anything funny or witty in his autobiography, Dreams of My Father.  The reader takes away from these pages a picture of an angry, alienated young man immersed in self-pity and resentment.

This absence of such a fundamental human quality one might suppose derives from at least three of Barack Obama’s qualities of personality and character.

First, one cannot help be struck by the extreme vanity of this President and an almost pathological need for self-worship.  With such astronomical levels of vanity and conceit come thin skin and hypersensitivity and little room for a large and wonderful source of humor -- self-deprecation.   Devoid of modesty, he believes himself to be a person of unparalleled wisdom and rectitude – “the One, as he self-proclaimed – a fact that is evidenced by his relentless quest to impose himself, his wisdom, his superiority, pontifically.  Thus … I have spoken.  Anywhere and everywhere he goes to give yet one more speech (699 in his first term), another interview, and make still another appearance before selected fawners and sycophants.  His speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004 launched him into the national spotlight, and it was in reference to that event that his then-rival, Hillary Clinton, in the 2008 primary with desperation and frustration fumed that all he had ever done in his brief political career was “give a speech!”  Indeed, Mrs. Clinton was finally coming to grasp what was going on: the national press corps had morphed into a troupe of Mr. Obama’s star struck groupies.  By the time of his first inauguration he had become The Paraclete – Lincoln-FDR-JFK all in one, immediately festooned by the Bush-loathing Norwegians with a Nobel Peace Prize for? ...  just being Barack Obama.  Critical objectivity had given way to infatuation and adoration.  The widely proclaimed “genius” of the freshman Illinois Senator was nothing more or less than a bestowal of celebrity-hood based not on any substantive elements of past achievement or attributes of moral character but on his persona – hip, cool, cerebral, but most importantly, his race, a young charismatic man whose election promised redemption for white Americans, a post-racial U.S. of A. 

Ironically, from the countless speeches he has given over the years with the constant, predictable self-referencing and self-righteous posturing, almost nothing insightful, witty or poignant can be extracted.  Nothing he has said is particularly memorable, quotable, enduring, or funny.  His teleprompter deliveries with their unintended Bobble Head doll effect in some way or other almost always tend to be about his favorite subject, himself, and how much better we will all be because of him.  The one public forum for which he appears to have an aversion is the press conference.  In his few forays into this venue it seems that aspects of his wisdom on occasion are questioned by members of the normally docile White House press corps, an impertinence that clearly annoys him.  

Second, the absence of humor is a conspicuous mark of a jealous ideologue.  An ideologue can neither be contradicted nor questioned, and Obama, as we have come to know, cannot bear to have his wisdom disputed or challenged.  But humor, above all, contradicts – humor turns the strong into the weak, the serious into the silly and makes the somber appear ridiculous.  Ideologues when stripped of their pretentious facades are fragile and sensitive often wrapped in multiple sheaths of vanity and conceit.  Humor is the enemy of the pretentious, and ideologues are a pretentious, arrogant lot given to the constant exaggeration of their moral and cognitive superiority and their unquestioned indispensability to make the lives of the unwashed better. Thus, we observe the personality profile of our Ideologue-President who was given during his first campaign to the promise of such undertakings as “healing the planet,” “changing America and the world” and “slowing the rise of the oceans.”  In these grandiose sallies he was generously assisted by the smitten members of the Fourth Estate who proclaimed his divinity — “a sort of god standing above us” and other similar declarations of apotheosis. (Evan Thomas, Newsweek) 

Third, humor, particularly in a political context, is a coded way of speaking the truth.  Humor exposes the dishonesty and hypocrisy of the powerful, and Obama, sad to say, is a profoundly dishonest man.  His 2008 campaign of Hope and Change was a brilliant but deeply cynical ploy calculated to convince the a-political middle road American electorate that the former street organizer, tutored by an America-loathing pastor, was a sincere, wholesome wunderkind who would end the polarized politics of the Bush era.  But the post-racial, bi-partisan, transparency campaign pledges were completely feigned.  They had never been nor would ever be any part of his governing philosophy.  The real Obama emerged after his election with such bi-partisan olive branches as, “if they bring a knife, we’ll bring a gun,” and, as he told an audience in a Univision interview in 2010: “were gonna punish out enemies and reward our friends.”  Here, succinctly stated is a distillation of Obama's social instincts and the essence of his political style, very much Latin America-Caudillo, a toxic mix of garish personality cult, punish-the-rich demagoguery and union cronyism.  Obama’s politics can be summed up as the “rule of the three Cs” – Coercion, Corruption, Collusion.  His 2012 campaign was nothing like the first.  Hope and Change succumbed to defamation and demolition.  From the beginning Obama’s reelection campaign was an application of his Univision motif, a crude instrument of aggression – demonization, and character assassination, generous government handouts, and war on the wealthy.

If we conclude that Mr. Obama is not funny or humorous perhaps there is some consolation in the likelihood that his egotism and pomposity will be the source of great humor for years to come.