David Thompson
Subscribe

Categories

Blog powered by Typepad

« Storage | Main | Sweet Moral Agonies »

May 18, 2008

Comments

Anna

Another good bit:

"Now, of course, old Nazis don't get to write for the newspapers, except perhaps by apologising at length, whereas old commies do, no apologies required — not that I think tomorrow's newspapers should be full of old commies apologising; expedient liberal contrition is rarely interesting. No, it is more interesting to observe that, with regard to barbarism, it matters more about which tribe you are in than about the degree of it. And, as I say, communism enjoys a charmed life."

David

Beatrix Campbell, a professor of women’s studies and Guardian regular, was once a subeditor for the communist Morning Star newspaper and spoke with great affection for that Stasi nightmare called the German Democratic Republic. More recently, on Australia’s Late Night Live radio programme, Ms Campbell found it in her heart to maintain that, “the victims of September 11 are also the architects of a mess of their own making.” Thus, the righteous Ms Campbell appears to believe that the men, women and children incinerated en masse, or filmed falling to their deaths, brought that horror upon themselves in some way never quite specified. Sentiments echoed, of course, by the Guardian’s comment editor, Seumas Milne - another former Communist - who saw fit to say much the same while the dust was still, quite literally, settling on New York.

The imperviousness to shame is a thing to behold.

Tim239

Tatchell:

"I was so excited by the prospect of a democratic, libertarian communism…" (!)

"Soviet-style 'barbed wire socialism' was an inhuman betrayal of the communist ideal of a compassionate, classless society." (!!)

The fantasy is strong with this one.

Peter Risdon

Yup: http://freebornjohn.blogspot.com/2008/04/charlie.html

David

I’m thinking out loud here, but it seems to me that there’s something about self-identifying as “of the left” that’s often quite unlike identification with other political positions. I know of several lefties who clearly assume, based on very little, that being a lefty is what a good person does, or ought to do, and that being “socialist” (however they define it) is by default an admirable thing. Even if their actual behaviour is by any measure bourgeois, capitalist and antithetical to their professed ideals. It seems to be something many people feel they ought to pretend, whatever the mismatch with reality.

This may be related to the tendency of some to denounce as “rightwing” whatever it is they don’t like, or feel they shouldn’t like. In Tatchell’s case, I’m thinking of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, whom he described as “rightwing” despite him being a totalitarian collectivist who feels the (Islamic) state should govern all aspects of a person’s private life. (For some – quite a few - not being perceived as “rightwing” seems to matter an awful lot, perhaps more than anything else.)

JuliaM

"This may be related to the tendency of some to denounce as “rightwing” whatever it is they don’t like..."

It always irks me to see the BNP described as a 'right wing party' simply because they are nutcase racists, when pretty much all of their actual policies are collectivist and socialist in nature.

AntiCitizenOne

On a similar wavelength...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RRZWs4G3-4

David

This is sort of relevant. Nick Cohen on Brecht and his admirers.

“Brecht… was a communist writer, not a writer who happened to support communism. The normal injunction to never judge an artist by his or her politics is an insult to his ghost because politics dominated his work. The Good Soul of Szechuan ends with the narrator asking if it is possible to lead a good life in a rotten world. The expected, indeed demanded, answer is ‘no’. Individual morality will only be possible when the collective morality of communism comes.

Nothing, not the mountains of corpses or the cults of the personality, could shake Brecht’s confidence. He preferred silence about the vast crimes of the Bolsheviks, including the murders of his friends and translators, to admitting that his god had failed. His one break from orthodoxy came when he returned from exile in America to communist East Berlin after the Second World War. In 1953 the Berlin workers rose up against their new masters. The communists duly suppressed them. A hack from the Writers’ Union declared that the masses had behaved disgracefully, and must win back the confidence of the government.”

http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/theatre/2008/05/should_brecht_be_applauded.html

Peter Risdon

This also leads to the left seeing as a series of aberrations, rather than a consistent characteristic of the left, the alliances with "right wing" extremists. David Aaronovich can write (http://www.thejc.com/home.aspx?ParentId=m12s32s35&SecId=35&AId=59889&ATypeId=1): "[alliance with anti-semites] emerges, I think, from a unique political movement, made possible by the internet and existing as an informal fusion between far-left and far-right forces; forces which regard themselves as anti-imperialist, anti-war (or, rather, since they have a regard for “resistance” fighters in Hamas, Hizbollah and the Taliban, “anti-Western”) and anti-Zionist."

He has forgotten Mosley. How? He wasn't an obscure figure. He allied with anti-semites because he believed stopping WWII was so important.

Anna

"For some – quite a few - not being perceived as “rightwing” seems to matter an awful lot, perhaps more than anything else."

Maybe that's why so many lefties won't criticize Islam. For them it's a "neocon" thing and would make them *look* bad.

Deogolwulf

Thanks, Mr Thompson.

"[T]here’s something almost surreal about one-time enthusiasts of a blueprint for violation and horror speaking of their former affiliations as if they were simply fashion gaffes or a taste for embarrassing pop music."

I think this just about sums up their shallowness and frivolity.

TDK

As an ex-lefty perhaps I can offer some explanation.

We looked at the Labour party as sell outs. The thought being that power corrupts and even the prospect of power would corrupt an MP. Reform was thus impossible because any genuinely socialist party would be destroyed by the forces of Capitalism before it could make genuine change. Only a mass movement could thus ever deliver socialism. Partly to protect the revolution and partly to prevent the leadership becoming corrupt.

Thus the Soviet Union was at best a corrupted form of Socialism (dubbed State Capitalist by Tony Cliff). This corruption had multiple potential causes: choosing Stalin in stead of Trotsky; revolution happening in a backward agrarian society rather than an advanced industrial one; worldwide revolution not following; etc.

At the time, I never saw the circularity of this argument. The believer claims an abstract ideal and fields any criticism of the reality by saying "ah but that's not socialism".

A particular blindness is that the believer consistently fails to see the inevitability of certain characteristic features. Every socialist movement has charismatic leaders who mysteriously rarely change. This isn't only restricted to ruling socialisms. Every groupiscule on the far left exhibits this tendency. If you didn't like Tony Cliff, you left to form the IMG, the RCP or the PFJ etc. You leave your groupiscule if you disagreed, you don't change the party. The same history of Mao and Lenin is exactly the same.

It's odd that the SWP, a party that believes a revolutionary vanguard can deliver socialism, can't see that a revolutionary vanguard is a mechanism for totalitarianism.

The second blindness, is seeing the history of socialism as an unbroken march towards their current ideological fixations. Thus the widespread support for Eugenics on the progressive left is neatly forgotten. Mary Sanger's support for abortion is widely trumpeted, her racist and elitist reasoning, forgotten. The triumph of identity politics is a dramatic shift in progressive politics dating back only to the 1960s, yet the advocates themselves, don't see this.

Thus Peter sees Mao as having intended to build a utopia. The fact that is isn't achieved is incidental. The fact that a study of early Mao would have shown the inevitability of a personality cult and millions of deaths can be ignored. The people reporting the dangers of Mao are ipso facto unreliable.

In contrast, the BNP member is not aiming for a utopia. He aims for a reactionary past. A generous socialist will say he believes in the "socialism of fools" but most will say he is driven only by hate.

The difference between the two, being that trying to do good and it going wrong is different from trying to do bad and it going to plan.

All bollocks of course.

David

TDK,

The belief in “true” Socialism-On-Earth seems to me much like a quest for the unicorn, or waiting for The Rapture. There’s something worryingly similar about the psychology and dynamic. Even on a theoretical level, certain obvious lines of thought have to be avoided to maintain the illusion. As you say, one has to close at least one eye in order not to see totalitarian misery as the overwhelmingly likely outcome.

As Deolgolwulf said,

“But how is it that anyone can be so brazen as to claim compassion as the very basis of his politics, and yet not bother to find out whether those politics might actually be good for others? To advocate a scheme for the whole of society, and to have made little effort to find out what effects it might have, other than that it makes one feel warm inside, is not to show compassion for others, but rather to show passion for oneself.”

But of course such details rarely occur and the opinions of others – a great many others – don’t figure too highly either. Judging by my exchanges with devout socialists and communists, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that a great many people do not share the same dream for very good reasons and would fight it vehemently. The “resistance” of which they speak would come from the guy next door, his wife, their children and many of their neighbours.

CJ

I’ve often thought that the Left’s confrontation with this horrible truth – that it was on the wrong side of the greatest struggle of the 20th century – remains one of the most glaringly unfinished tasks of the 21st century. (“The wrong side” includes taking no side.)

It hasn’t happened yet – in fact it hasn’t even started – because the forces that would start such an accounting were themselves wrong: news media, film, art, academia, etc. This is just another example of the Left not having to look at itself critically, learn from mistakes and guard against extremism. It doesn’t seem to have used the success of welfare reform as a learning opportunity. It didn’t use exposure of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s extremist ranks as a chance to explore racism and paranoia within its otherwise mainstream ranks. It watched the steady rise in fatherless children, and the virtual collapse of the black family, and shrugged at the notion that their cultural experiment had gone horribly wrong.

Maybe when Castro dies and details of his horrors come out, Communist Chic will take a hit, but I can’t say I’m hopeful. They never learn because they never have to learn.

CJ

That SHOULD be "Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s extremist rants."

David

CJ,

Re those things that aren’t thought about, this, on Professor Zygmunt Bauman, is sort of relevant:

“On what basis and to what extent does Professor Bauman imagine he has a right to ensure that society’s members optimise the quality of their lives, insofar as they’re able? How, exactly, will this feat be achieved? If some individuals fail to make the approved decisions in the approved sequence and with sufficient foresight, will those choices be made by others, and if necessary enforced? Will individuals be compensated for all of their own shortcomings, dispositions and misjudgments, or just some of them? Isn’t that what Bauman’s utopian ‘insurance’ would ultimately entail? Who is Bauman to determine what constitutes an acceptable qualitative outcome? How, exactly, will this be measured? And how far would he go to ensure those outcomes are arrived at, regardless of the cost to others who may not share his view?”

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2007/05/socialist_assum.html

Horace Dunn

CJ

"Maybe when Castro dies and details of his horrors come out, Communist Chic will take a hit, but I can’t say I’m hopeful. They never learn because they never have to learn."

But a good deal is already known about the Castro regime. From the brutal treatment of homosexuals and other people considered transgressive by Leftie poster-boy Guevara to the more recent imprisonment of journalists, the population has been kept in poverty and denied any opportunities for improving the quality of their lives. There’s also the matter of Castro’s little adventure in the 1960s that almost resulted in the wholesale destruction of the planet (and quite likely would have done had Castro got his way).

Despite this, though, the left continue to go dewy-eyed at the sight of that bearded monster and the dead-eyed thug, Guevara. I’m not even sure that TDK’s explanation tells the whole story (interesting and convincing as it was up to a point). It might be embarrassing to say “I had a teenage flirtation with socialism, but then I grew up and saw how damaging that kind of politics is…” but surely this is better than continuing to be an apologist for such viciousness and inhumanity.

CJ

Horace Dunn,
**It might be embarrassing to say “I had a teenage flirtation with socialism, but then I grew up and saw how damaging that kind of politics is…” but surely this is better than continuing to be an apologist for such viciousness and inhumanity.**

I agree Horace, and that’s why I mentioned cultural forces such as news media, film, art, academia, etc. that would make it MORE embarrassing to keep singing the same tune. These are the same institutions that ultimately decided what was embarrassing/not embarrassing when it came to a host of other controversial issues, covering race, gender, religion, etc.

Why did Barak Obama think it was safe to associate with domestic terrorists like William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn? Because to do so was the opposite of embarrassing in his Chicago community, the couple is actually well-respected. Would a candidate survive an association with a right-wing terrorist, such as Eric Rudolph? No, because The Deciders have decided, rightfully, that he’s too extreme. Same with neo-Nazis. But neo-Marxists? The agreed-to storyline seems to be that their acts, or the act of associating with such players, are at worst youthful indiscretions.

These storylines have to change. The internet might help. It was an online journalist that publicized the Obama-Ayers connection.

Guy

"The belief in “true” Socialism-On-Earth seems to me much like a quest for the unicorn, or waiting for The Rapture. There’s something worryingly similar about the psychology and dynamic."

David, I can't remember the individual but they posited a fascinating theory that many political theories follow strictly religous lines. Thus we see a chosen people (the working classes for Communists or whites for the BNP) who strive towards a judgement day (The Revolution) where their foes (capitalists/bourgeoisie and non-whites) are defeated, leading to a promised land (socialist and racially divided utopias* respectively). Feel free to make comparisons between the Ten Commandments and the various manifesto's/Das Kapital, between saints and Communist icons (Che, Trotsky etc.) and so on.

Tatachell's a loathesome old scumbag in person anyway.

*I'd argue their reactionary promised land is a utopia, if only by virtue of them not studying history.

CJ

David,
Your observation regarding Prof. Bauman cut to the cold reality of socialism and freedom: one has to be sacrificed for the other. The constant attempt to ‘level the playing field’ and rig equal outcomes requires a lot of control. A lot. It just doesn’t happen when the natural human condition is permitted to play out. Socialists are willing to turn over control to the state in an attempt to ensure that variances between outcomes are minimized, and if that means the majority have to be restrained from over-achieving, so be it.

Zygmunt Bauman: “…just as the carrying capacity of a bridge is measured by the strength of its weakest support, so the quality of a society should be measured by the quality of life of its weakest members.”

In addition to the parts of a bridge not having volition, as you point out, it should also be noted that he might was well be arguing for a bridge with equally weak components. That is, a structurally “sound” span that is able to carry very little weight.

David

CJ,

I should in fairness point out I’m not familiar with Bauman’s writing; it’s possible that somewhere he’s offered answers to at least some of the questions I raised. They are – or should be – fairly obvious things to consider. But given how tendentious, abstract and oppositional his original article is, and given the lack of practical (and thus moral) detail, I’m not exactly swollen with expectation.

Lovernios

The carrying capacity of a bridge is a number, 16 tons, 32 tones, etc. It is a quantity not a quality. It is not a function of the relative strength of its weakest support, but rather of the whole design. So Bauman's analogy fails as does his political ideology.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blogroll