Archive for the '“If only Comrade Stalin knew…”' Category

18
Dec
11

Sic semper tyrannis.

Kim Jong Il is dead. Here’s hoping the Korean Peninsula doesn’t burn.

13
Aug
11

Certain ‘progressive’ authoritarian tendencies pt. 2

Reuters reports on things that wouldn’t need to be said, but for those tres chic leftists:

Berlin’s mayor said on Saturday he was appalled that some Germans were nostalgic for the Berlin Wall and supported a newly fashionable leftist view that there were legitimate reasons for building it in 1961.

At a somber ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s construction, Mayor Klaus Wowereit, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Christian Wulff paid tribute to the 136 people killed trying to get over the Wall to West Berlin.

Wowereit said the Wall, toppled in 1989, should serve as a reminder of freedom and democracy around the world. Church bells peeled while trains and traffic came to a standstill at noon across Berlin for a moment of silence for the victims.

“We don’t have any tolerance for those who nostalgically distort the history of the Berlin Wall and Germany’s division,” Wowereit said at the ceremony in front of a small section of the Wall recently rebuilt for posterity.

“The Wall was part of a dictatorship,” he said. “And it’s alarming that even today some people argue there were good reasons to build the Wall. No! There’s no legitimate reason nor justification for violating human rights and for killings.”

18
Jul
11

Kolakowski’s Ghost

Well then. I suppose it would be pointless to apologize for the long periods of silence that have characterized this blog for the last several months. One can only note, by way of explanation, that both of your humble hosts have been busy relocating themselves to far-flung corners of the country and embarking on new new endeavors, both professional and scholastic.

In any case, I, for one (and, given the fact that most of our readers have probably long since deserted us, I may be the only one), have not (yet) forgotten about the blog and, as I settle in to my new environs and routine, intend to start posting more. Unfortunately, I am for the time being largely deprived of Internet access, save through a 3g connection on my iPad, whose browser seems somewhat less than fully compatible with WordPress’s interface. So I’ll keep this brief.

I’ve just finished reading David Priestland’s The Red Flag: A History of Communism. The book started out promisingly enough, as a history of Communism as an idea and as an ideology. By the end, alas, it had transformed itself into a fairly standard narrative of the political histories of the Soviet Bloc, China, and, to a much lesser extent, Communist states in Africa and Latin America. The book was explicitly framed around the idea that, in the wake of 9/11 and the 2008 financial collapse, Marxist ideas are beginning to enjoy a sort of rennaisance. “Whilst nobody is calling for the return of the rigid Soviet economic model,” Priestland writes,

Marx’s critique of the inequality and instability brought by unfettered global capital has seemed prescient; sales of Capital, his masterwork, have soured in his German homeland.

“The history of Communism,” he goes on to write, “therefore seems to be more relevant to today’s concerns than it was in the early 1990s.”

Well, perhaps.

Having read his book, however, one cannot help but recall that nagging retort that one is inevitably confronted with when discussing the crimes of Communism with those who still hew to one brand of Marxism or another: “Well, that’s not real Marxism!” This old hobby horse comes packaged in a number of different forms, from the “Stalin corrupted everything” line to the argument that “Marx himself would never have called himself a Marxist.”

As Priestland notes in the conclusion to his book:

Everyday repression… highlighted the link between Marxism and inhumanity. This sparked an ongoing debate about Marx’s own responsibility for the apparently inherent tendency to violence his ideas provoked. Some of Marx’s ideas — especially his rejection of liberal rights and his assumption of complete popular consensus in the future — were used to justify projects of total state control and mobilization, even if that was not what he envisaged. Marx’s and Engels’ praise of revolutionary tactics at times in their careers was also used to legitimize violence. Even so, as his defenders argued, Marx himself opposed the elitist politics pursued by Marxist-Leninist parties, and would not have approved of the regimes that Communism created.

By happy circumstance, I chanced upon a book at the local used bookstore entitled Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation, published in 1977. One of the contributors is the famous Leszek Kolakowski, who died two years ago yesterday. Kolakowski’s contribution is entitled “Marxist Roots of Stalinism,” and, as one can probably glean from the title, it seeks to highlight the very real connections between a supposedly “pure” Marxism and its corrupted cousin, “Stalinism.”

I won’t try to reproduce the whole of his argument, which is, perhaps, nicely distilled by Kolakowski himself, when he writes that “the dry skeleton of Marxism, deprived of its complexity, was taken up by Soviet ideology as a strongly simplified, yet not falsified, guide to building a new society”; I simply wish to leave you with the following quote, which, I think, serves as a fair retort to the “false Marxism” argument that I have been thinking about over the last couple of days:

An example of a question that is both unanswerable and pointless is “What would Marx say had he survied and seen his ideas embodied in the Soviet system?” If he had survived, he would have inevitably changed. If by miracle he was resurrected now, his opinion about which is the best practical interpretation of his philosophy would be just an opinion among others and could be easily shrugged off on the assumption that a philosopher is not necessarily infallible in seeing the implication of his own ideas.

In short, what Kolakowski is saying, is that what Marx “would have thought” is almost wholly irrelevant. In terms of evaluating the historical legacy of Marxism, all we have to go by are the numerous example of “real existing socialism,” to steal a phrase, and the promises of those who carry on Marx’s tradition (they’re relatively easy to identify, since they tend to fancy the label “critical”) that next time really will be better.

In any case, if all of this seems a bit out of the blue, I suppose it is, prompted as it was only by my finishing Priestland’s book, the discovery of Kolakowski’s essay, and the realization that we’ve just marked the anniversary of his death.

Still, at least there’s some new content on the blog. Also, apologies for any weird formatting issues here. As I said, the iPad isn’t really the ideal platform for using Wordpad’s web interface. Maybe there’s an app for that…

* I find it interesting, at a time when scholars are busily investigating the deleterious effects of capital on African societies, that we hear little of the attempts, beginning in the 1960s, of various African leaders, specifically drawing on a rather modernist version of Marx, to forcibly industrialize and urbanize their countries. The radical social transformations wrought by Marxian leaders in Africa seems to go rather unremarked upon, at least in comparison to the deluge of scholarship treating the question of neo-liberalism and its effects in Africa.

19
Jun
11

A Sobering Map [Updated 06/21/11]

This image, courtesy of this website, is a visual representation of the roughly 40,000 people who have lost their lives as a result of drug-related violence in Mexico. According to the site,

The RED balloons are civilians. The RED balloons with a dot are politicians, and other high profile killings. The BLUE balloons are police officers and soldiers (and other law enforcement). The BLUE balloons with a dot are high ranking officers. The YELLOW suns represent car bombs while the 2 GREEN people represent mass graves.

There are a number of different views on the website itself, allowing you to select out certain time-frames, etc.

I think it’s important to note that the ongoing violence in Mexico is related in large part — though not exclusively —  to the American demand for cocaine and marijuana, as well as for other drugs such as methamphetamines, which are increasingly being produced and smuggled into the US from Mexico. Perhaps more important, however, are the effects of American government policies, such as the so-called “War on Drugs” that, just as during Prohibition in the United States, effectively cede control of lucrative markets to criminal organizations while simultaneously pouring tens of millions of dollars into the struggle against those selfsame criminal enterprises. Unless wasting millions of dollars, strengthening brutal paramilitary mafias, and filling American prisons with drug offenders is the desired result of these policies,  it is difficult to discern what the American people are supposed to be getting out of this “war,” which has already killed 40,000 people south of the border.

Moreover, it’s almost certain that many of the firearms that the Obama Justice Department allowed to be smuggled into Mexico were used in at least some of the murders depicted on this map, just as they were used to kill American Border Patrol agents. In case you’re interested, the Congressional report about the so-called “Gunwalker” scandal can be found here.

In any case, ending the “War on Drugs” makes sense not only from an economic perspective — legalization and regulation would provide both the American and Mexican governments with badly needed sources of revenue, and emptying prisons of thousands of harmless drug offenders would ease some of the pressure on already strained state budgets — but also from a humanitarian perspective. President Obama committed the American military in Libya ostensibly to prevent the senseless slaughter of innocent civilians. Would that the President — or any other politician in this country, of either party — had the courage to finally bring to an end government policies that have resulted in a civilian body count orders of magnitude greater than anything that has taken place in Libya.

Alas, it seems that we have no problem marching into Tripoli, but no one can be bothered to take seriously the humanitarian catastrophe playing out just across the Rio Grande.

UPDATE:

Surprising exactly no one, Congressional Democrats have used the “Gunwalker” scandal — which the government itself was responsible for, as a pretext to introduce new gun control laws:

While Republicans have focused on Fast and Furious, three Democrats in the Senate this week called on Congress to beef up gun laws to try to curb the violence.

“Congress has been virtually moribund while powerful Mexican drug trafficking organizations continue to gain unfettered access to military-style firearms coming from the United States,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said in a statement.

The cynicism and opportunism of these people never fails to dismay.

17
Mar
11

Protection for me, not for thee

California lawmakers would like to remind you that carrying a concealed handgun doesn’t make you or those around you any safer … unless you happen to be a California lawmaker.

Legislators in California have introduced a bill that would allow themselves to carry concealed handguns, a right not extended to the general public. Under California law, one must apply to the sheriff’s office and present “good cause” to get a CHL. “Good cause,” in this case, usually constitutes working in a dangerous job, such as bail bondsmen or a jeweler. The sponsors of the California bill apparently think they deserve special treatment because people hate them for being politicians. From the L.A. Times:

“I’ve had guys physically come up to me ready to punch me out,” said Democratic state Sen. Lou Correa of Santa Ana, co-author of a new permit proposal.

Correa, who owns a gun but doesn’t have a concealed-weapon permit, said he has received threats of violence in e-mails, some of which are filled with racial slurs. He said staffers in his Orange County district office have been spat upon, and some have felt threatened by members of the public who come into the office and scream at them because they don’t like the way the state is run.

After the Arizona shooting, one staffer requested that Correa provide a Taser for the office, something he is considering.

Sen. Rod Wright (D-Inglewood), another gun owner and co-author of the proposal, maintains that lawmakers need permits as much as other professionals who have them. Permission should be available, he said, “if you have people who might shoot you because of your occupation.”

And the hypocritical cherry on top:

Opponents of gun control note that some of the lawmakers behind SB 610, including its third author, Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani (D-Tracy), have opposed some efforts to make it easier for others to carry guns.

Wright and Galgiani voted for legislation in 2009 that limits the ability of residents in small counties to use their gun permits in big urban areas. Wright and Correa supported a Galgiani bill last year that barred people from carrying even unloaded firearms into the state Capitol or any legislative office or hearing room.

I’d like to see the look on these legislators’ faces if someone used the same arguments that anti-gun politicians and lobbyists use to keep law-abiding citizens from carrying guns at public universities. Let’s try, shall we?

It’s just plain dangerous to add firearms to a Capitol atmosphere of politics, fiery tempers and booze, and shootings like the one that occurred in Arizona are so rare that it doesn’t warrant the risk of allowing legislators to arm themselves. Second, legislators have well-trained police and security forces to protect them. There’s simply no need for self-defense. Third, it is largely a myth that legislators can effectively protect themselves with a handgun (Harrison Ford in Air Force One notwithstanding). In all likelihood, they would accidentally shoot someone else. How will police tell the difference between a real threat and a politician anyway? Finally, it would make the other legislators very uncomfortable to know their colleagues were potentially armed.

08
Mar
11

Shameless Self-Promotion

I’ve been bored. So I made a few cartoons. You can watch all three of the current episodes here. I probably be adding more of these over time, whenever I feel inspired (or bored enough) to spend the time.

Enjoy!

04
Mar
11

Oh, Hugo, you shouldn’t have. Really.

Has Hugo Chavez ever seen a gross abuse of power and human rights he didn’t like? In a kind of “Hey, bro, can I get in on that?” moment, Chavez offered his extensive expertise in crushing democracy to act as a mediator between Qaddafi and, well, the rest of the world.

Predictably, the rest of the world thought this was a horrible idea, even Qaddafi’s son, who managed to still be a giant asshole while declining Chavez’s offer:

“The Venezuelans have affirmed that they are our friends and respect and like us, but … Libya is in the Middle East and in North Africa and Venezuela is in Latin America,” said Qaddafi’s son, who then added a word of gratitude. “Thank you, we are grateful to them. They are our friends. It’s a nice gesture but we can resolve our own problems. There is no need for foreign intervention.”