David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Tag: socialism (page 2 of 3)

Russian Revolution Quotes

Some great quotes from Orlando Figes’ history of the Russian Revolution (endorsed by Communist Eric Hobsbawm, no less!).

Oh, how [the Soviet leaders of the February 1917 revolution] feared the masses! As I watched our ‘socialists’ speaking to the crowds … I could feel their nauseating fear… I felt the inner trembling, and the effort of will it took not to lower their gaze before the trusting, wide-open eyes of the workers and soldiers crowded around them. As recently as yesterday it had been relatively easy to be ‘representatives and leaders’ of these working masses; peaceable parliamentary socialists could still utter the most bloodcurdling words ‘in the name of the proletariat’ without even blinking. It became a different story, however, when this theoretical proletariat suddenly appeared here, in the full power of exhausted flesh and mutinous blood. And when the truly elemental nature of this force, so capable of either creation or destruction, became tangible to even the most insensitive observer — then, almost involuntarily, the pale lips of the leaders’ began to utter words of peace and compromise in place of yesterday’s harangues. They were scared — and who could blame them?

Mstislavsky, Five Days

‘The countryside is falling into chaos, with robberies and arson every day, while you sit doing nothing in your comfortable Petersburg office,’ one Tambov squire wrote to him in April. ‘Your local committees are powerless to do anything, and even encourage the theft of property. The police are asleep while the peasants rob and burn. The old government knew better how to deal with this peasant scum which you call “the people”.

Tambov Squire to Prince Lvov, April 1917

The terrible thing in Lenin was that combination in one person of self-castigation, which is the essence of all real asceticism, with the castigation of other people as expressed in abstract social hatred and cold political cruelty.

Peter Struve, “My Contacts and Conflicts with Lenin”

Sweet Father and Mother,
It was already clear to me about a week ago that there was no way out. Without a doubt the country is heading for a general slaughter, famine, the collapse of the front, where half the soldiers will perish, and the ruin of the urban population. The cultural inheritance of the nation, its people and civilization, will be destroyed. Armies of migrants, then small groups, and then maybe no more than individual people, will roam around the country fighting each other with rifles and then no more than clubs. I will not live to see it, and, I hope, neither will you.

Prince Lvov on the eve of his resignation, July 1917

Lenin and Trotsky do not have the slightest idea of the meaning of freedom or the Rights of Man. They have already become poisoned with the filthy venom of power, and this is shown by their shameful attitude towards freedom of speech, the individual, and all those other civil liberties for which the democracy struggled.

Gorky, Untimely Thoughts, 7 November 1917

Psychologically, the Whites conducted themselves as if nothing had happened, whereas in reality the whole world around them had collapsed, and in order to vanquish the enemy they themselves had to undergo, in a certain sense, a rebirth . . . Nothing so harmed the ‘White’ movement as this very condition of psychologically staying put in previous circumstances, circumstances which had ceased to exist. . . Men with this ‘old regime’ psychology were immersed in the raging sea of revolutionary anarchy, and psychologically could not find their bearings in it… In the revolutionary storm that struck Russia in 1917, even out-and-out restorationists had to turn revolutionaries in the psychological sense: because in a revolution only revolutionaries can find their way.

Peter Struve, 1921

Nonsense, how can you make a revolution without firing squads? Do you expect to dispose of your enemies by disarming yourself? What other means of repression are there? Prisons? Who attaches significance to that during a civil war?

Lenin, October 1917

What is man? He is by no means a finished or harmonious being. No, he is still a highly awkward creature. Man, as an animal, has not evolved by plan but spontaneously, and has accumulated many contradictions. The question of how to educate and regulate, of how to improve and complete the physical and spiritual construction of man, is a colossal problem which can only be conceived on the basis of Socialism. We can construct a railway across the Sahara, we can build the Eiffel Tower and talk directly with New York, but we surely cannot improve man. No, we can! To produce a new, ‘improved version’ of man — that is the future task of Communism. And for that we first have to find out everything about man, his anatomy, his physiology and that part of his physiology which is called his psychology. Man must look at himself and see himself as a raw material, or at best as a semi-manufactured product, and say: ‘At last, my dear homo sapiens, I will work on you.’


Words from a Capitalist

But the principles of laissez-faire have had other allies besides economic textbooks. It must be admitted that they have been confirmed in the minds of sound thinkers and the reasonable public by the poor quality of the opponent proposals – protectionism on one hand, and Marxian socialism on the other. Yet these doctrines are both characterised, not only or chiefly by their infringing the general presumption in favour of laissez-faire, but by mere logical fallacy. Both are examples of poor thinking, of inability to analyse a process and follow it out to its conclusion. The arguments against them, though reinforced by the principle of laissez-faire, do not strictly require it. Of the two, protectionism is at least plausible, and the forces making for its popularity are nothing to wonder at. But Marxian socialism must always remain a portent to the historians of opinion – how a doctrine so illogical and so dull can have exercised so powerful and enduring an influence over the minds of men and, through them, the events of history. At any rate, the obvious scientific deficiencies of these two schools greatly contributed to the prestige and authority of nineteenth-century laissez-faire.

Let us clear from the ground the metaphysical or general principles upon which, from time to time, laissez-faire has been founded. It is not true that individuals possess a prescriptive ‘natural liberty’ in their economic activities. There is no ‘compact’ conferring perpetual rights on those who Have or on those who Acquire. The world is not so governed from above that private and social interest always coincide. It is not so managed here below that in practice they coincide. It is not a correct deduction from the principles of economics that enlightened self-interest always operates in the public interest. Nor is it true that self-interest generally is enlightened; more often individuals acting separately to promote their own ends are too ignorant or too weak to attain even these. Experience does not show that individuals, when they make up a social unit, are always less clear-sighted than when they act separately.

We cannot therefore settle on abstract grounds, but must handle on its merits in detail what Burke termed “one of the finest problems in legislation,” namely, to determine what the State ought to take upon itself to direct by the public wisdom, and what it ought to leave, with as little interference as possible, to individual exertion.

John Maynard Keynes, The End of Laissez-Faire (1926)

Roberto Bolaño: Amulet

Several people asked me why, in my review of The Savage Detectives, I thought that Auxilio Lacouture was not given a convincing female voice. I didn’t know exactly why, but something about her tough talk seemed too schematic to me, as though Bolaño’s women tended to fall into the categories of wispy crazies or hard-nosed butches. So I hoped to give it some more thought with the very short Amulet, which was written a few years after Detectives and is entirely in Auxilio’s voice.

What I found, though, is that it’s less of an issue here. Amulet, far from delving more deeply into the real horror of the toothless, bitter Auxilio’s two weeks trapped in a Mexican university bathroom while the army occupies the campus, is more ruminative and abstract than her visceral narrative in Detectives. And it reads as a less gendered narrative to me, by which I mean it doesn’t seem to exist in a social space where gender is such a dominant constitutive element. (In contrast, the sex-laden Detectives puts gender front and center.) So while it doesn’t help me figure out the Auxilio of Detectives, it does clarify some of Bolaño’s thematic obsessions.

Amulet draws a much more explicit line between Auxilio and Bolaño’s fictional stand-in Arturo Belano. Belano/Bolaño goes to Chile as a teenager to help “build socialism,” but Pinochet’s coup results in his imprisonment. This event is only mentioned as hearsay in Detectives and Amulet, but Auxilio is quicker to connect the dots in the latter:

What I mean is that Although he was the same Arturo, deep down something had changed or grown, or changed and grown at the same time. What I mean is that people, his friends, began to see him differently, although he was the same as ever. What I mean is that everyone was somehow expecting him to open his mouth and give us the latest news from the Horror Zone, but he said nothing, as if what other people expected had become incomprehensible to him or he simply didn’t give a shit.

And yet Auxilio, who has been through hell herself, doesn’t feel any closer to him; she is just as alienated from him, whom she calls “a child of the sewers,” as his other friends. This is vividly demonstrated in an entertaining sequence where they both track down the dangerous “King of the Rent Boys” in the slums and Belano rather effectively threatens him into releasing his claim on one of their friends. This is the only real narrative episode in the novel, and by the end Auxilio has descended into her own personal nightmare of mythology and history. She says:

I felt as though I was being wheeled into an operating room. I thought: I am in the women’s bathroom in the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature and I am the last person left. I was heading for the operating room. I was heading for the birth of History. And since I’m not a complete idiot, I also thought: It’s over now, the riot police have left the university, the students have died at Tlatelolco, the university has opened again, but I’m still shut up in the fourth-floor bathroom, as if after all my scratching at the moonlit tiles a door had opened, but not the portal of sadness in the continuum of Time.

This is a strange passage, and on its own it’s more striking than anything in The Savage Detectives. And it gives us, I think, Bolaño’s version of historical trauma. We are given, in his works, descriptions of horrific political events experienced on the personal level. They are presented in a more or less opaque fashion. They do not, as one would think, create a shared sense of community and identity, but instead they act as a cleavage of language and self from others. Belano’s poetry, it is implied, becomes so private that it would be useless to share it. (This is, perhaps, Bolaño’s explanation for his own turn to fiction.) Auxilio and Belano do not come together despite having endured similar traumas; Auxilio’s role as the “mother of Mexican poetry” is wholly spiritual, because poetry has become private. Auxilio describes the door that opens to her only negatively: one that is not sad, one that is not in Time, and presumably the same one that Arturo Belano disappears into in Liberia at the end of The Savage Detectives. We only suffer alone and cannot explain.

Carl Schmitt

Long Sunday has been running a series of posts on Carl Schmitt. I am not at all a fan or a student of Schmitt, and I am not intimately familiar with his work. From what I have read of his work, however, I believe there is far more to learn about politics and political philosophy in the 20th century from, for example, Karl Polanyi, Richard J. Bernstein, Joseph Schumpeter, Fernand Braudel, Randolph Bourne, Benedict Anderson, Leszek Kolakowski, Barrington Moore, Alasdair MacIntyre, Michael Walzer, and Robert Musil. Conveniently for me, these thinkers are all free of the Nazi baggage with which Schmitt is saddled. While I don’t plan to participate in the discussion, I do want to examine some of the axiomatic statements that have been made, especially around Schmitt’s Nazi involvement.

Whatever their differences, there is one undoubted similarity between Schmitt and the Left (I capitalize it to distinguish its doctrinaire manifestation from the all-encompassing anti-Bush, pro-competence anti-imperialism that passes for leftism in the United States these days, on which I hope we all agree): their anti-liberalism. As I said, I think Stanley Fish’s recent op-ed is one of the more concise statements of this position. Craig picks up this thread when he says:

Perhaps, then, the fascination with Schmitt qua Nazi has more to do with the aspirations of left politics than with any real danger – at least insofar as that danger is fascist. Thus, the point in such ‘critiques’ isn’t fascism, but rather those who do not have the common sense to be decent, complacent liberals.

I.e., people who are attacking Schmitt for being a Nazi are really attacking him because he threatens their complacent liberal world-view. This is also something of an old saw, recently enshrined more convincingly in Lars Von Trier’s Dogville, which was in essence a vicious attack on those who would try to work within a rotten system to change it. It reminds me of those lyrics that Lester Bangs quotes in his review of Chicago at Carnegie Hall (probably his defining moment):

For the “preaching” vocal improvisition in the Fourth Movement of “It Better End Soon”–“We’ve gotta do it right / Within this system / Gonna take over / But within this system”–the They Got the Guns But We Got the Numbers Award.

But this is a conception of liberalism not as an ideology but as a class phenomenon, that of sheltered middle-class complicity. Interesting how the term “liberal” slides from being an ideology to that of a generalized accomplice, much as it has to the extreme right factions in this country: not liking Bush makes you a liberal. At any rate, I don’t think this criticism really flies, since there are plenty of non-Nazi anti-liberal thinkers who are being mostly ignored as well. (Herbert von Karajan was far more of a Nazi than Wilhelm Furtwangler, but I do not believe that Furtwangler is less famous than Karajan these days because he was a vastly better and more challenging conductor.) But I digress; this is more a matter of positioning.

Craig notes two black marks on Schmitt’s record:

1933 and 1945. These two years have overdetermined the subsequent reception of Carl Schmitt’s thought and influence. In 1933, as we all know, Schmitt joined the Nazi party; the same month as Martin Heidegger. In 1945, Schmitt was released from internment at Nuremberg, at which point he entered exile, never again to teach in West Germany or to hold an academic position.

Craig implies that this list covers all the big-ticket items, but it does not. To make a case for Schmitt, it would first be necessary to lay out a few other ignominious dates. October, 1936, when he declared to a convention of law professors that German law must be cleansed of the “Jewish spirit.” June, 1934, when he called Hitler’s “Long Knives” purges “the highest form of administrative justice.” September, 1936, when with much contemporary resonance, he defends the Inquisition (though not its methods of torture) as a model of justice, since it requires confessions before convictions. October, 1936 again, when he quoted Hitler: “In that I defend myself against the Jews, I struggle to do the work of the Lord.” And many of the months and years after the war in which he wrote in his journals such statements as “Jews remain Jews while Communists can improve themselves and change. The real enemy is the assimilated Jew.” Edmund Fawcett writes:

Unlike the involvement of Heidegger, who largely fell silent after early pro-Nazi encomiums, Schmitt’s engagement with Hitlerism was nevertheless lasting and open. He re-edited his publications, playing down references to Jewish or left-wing thinkers and adding anti-Semitic asides. In October 1936, he spoke at a conference on “German law in the fight against the Jewish intellect”, ending with Hitler’s words, “By fending off the Jew, I struggle for the work of the Lord”. After 1940, Schmitt lectured in Occupied Europe on Nazi legal and cultural policy.

[In his post-war journals] He derided returning exiles who “treasured their virtue like booty” and mocked the German historians who were trying to tell the truth about what had happened. Thomas Mann came in for special scorn, a hated symbol to Schmitt of high-bourgeois probity, whom he called “a reputable fraud”.

That’s not to mention 1938, in which Schmitt wrote that Jews sit around waiting for Christians to die in battle and “then eat the flesh of those killed and live off it” (The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes).

So by all means, attempt to distinguish Schmitt’s philosophy from his Nazi activities, but let’s not downplay the latter when attempting to explicate them.

Craig asks a couple of rhetorical follow-ups, which I think deserve answers. The questions are in italics.

Why, then, is Heidegger spared the assault that Schmitt has suffered? Insomuch as there can be a distinction, I too find Schmitt to have been a more vigorous Nazi and anti-semite than Heidegger (or even Celine), but I see little point in measuring sins. My answer would be that Heidegger has not been spared such an assault. In his well-written introduction to Heidegger, George Steiner looks unflinchingly at the problem of Heidegger’s Nazism and excuses nothing. Contrast it with Craig’s remarks.

What about others who were either sympathizers or full members of the party? What about them indeed? As always in life, justice was not done. People like Karajan got off far too lightly, while people like Klages and Baeumler were justly marginalized. De Man and Heidegger have suffered their share of trouble as well, as well they should. We should be more than troubled by these things.

Why is it acceptable for artists, such as Eliot and Pound, to have had fascist sympathies? Is it? The problem of fascist, anti-semitic or otherwise repellent sympathies plagues the histories of all disciplines. Pound forever will stand with Wyndham Lewis and Lord Haw-haw as one of the more nauseating British fascists. Kipling was a colonialist. Dostoevsky and Celine were anti-semites. So was Thomas Edison. Their beliefs are inscribed in their records and we read them with that knowledge.

What was so dangerous about Schmitt that he was interned at Nuremberg in preparation for trial and then prohibited an academic job after the war? I confess to not understanding this question, as this fate befell many (but not all) of those who had similar Nazi memberships and sympathies. Neither Germany seemed to want much to do with them. Some (let me bash on Karajan some more, for example) were unfairly rehabilitated.

Why does such a pariah, such a horrendous figure appeal so greatly to certain segments of the left? “The enemy of my enemy is my friend?”

I do ultimately find the Left’s tolerance for Schmitt somewhat ironic. In a Leftist arts community where there has been a litmus test of whether one’s poetry helps to establish socialism in the world today, it’s hard to imagine a litmus test that Schmitt could ever pass. Personally, I find the work of disentangling his political philosophy from his Nazi viewpoints to be unrewarding and possibly futile. Personally, I simply find Heidegger to be a far more original thinker, and I spend my time worrying about his Nazi associations rather than Schmitt’s. There is much room for disagreement on these points, but we must at least be honest about the degree and mode of Schmitt’s Nazi involvement and respect critiques based on them inasmuch as they are factual, regardless of motive. And to those who would say that my distaste towards Schmitt owing to his Nazi views has anything in the least to do with his challenging of my complacent liberalism, I cry bullshit.

Shaviro on Schumpeter

Steve Shaviro has a fantastic entry up on Joseph Schumpeter. I have to go back and reread my copy of Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy before I can respond in more depth, but Shaviro has some great points to make, and the Nietzsche connection he draws is not one I ever would have thought of.

As Shaviro mentions, Schumpeter more than gave Marx his due; he tore up widely-held generalizations about Marx and de-Hegelized him in order to isolate his general socio-economic sensibilities from the ideas of Communism. In that light, his ideas on class structure (independent of class warfare) and its impact on society become, as Schumpeter says, useful to thinkers on the economic left and right alike. Schumpeter at points appears to try to push Marx into a conservative reformist category; he is not convincing on this point, but the vaguely anarcho-capitalist politics that result share a visionary spirit with those of Marx. And like Marx, he distrusts the intellectuals.

Shaviro says that Schumpeter’s prophecy of an increasingly socialized state hasn’t come to pass and will not, because the flaws in capitalism Schumpeter identifies–the death of entrepreneurship, e.g.–are those that are caused by the triumph of capitalism, not its downfall. I’m not so sure. The one thing the radical/conservative Republican revolution has not brought back is smaller government (has there ever been an administration who did?). While people have argued over whether the religious fundamentalist leanings of the administration are real or just posturing (I would say somewhat the latter), there’s no question that the Republicans’ (and often Democrats’) “smaller government” claims are total bullshit, designed to convince people that the money for their tax refunds will be there when it comes time to pay the piper. Instead, there is the increasing consolidation of power under the executive branch, favoritism towards a select set of companies that are cronies of the administration, and a near-total dismissal of states’ rights except on conservative social issues, which is where they get the votes.

It’s not a socialized state per se, but nor is it one that would allow for Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” brought to fruition. Likewise, the administration is devoid of anything that could be reasonably called an intellectual, but it’s full of people that share the same impractical elements that Schumpeter disliked: ideologues. Schumpeter defines intellectuals as “people who wield the power of the spoken and written word. . . [in] the absence of direct responsibility for practical affairs.” Shaviro thinks this means folks like him (and I guess myself). Well, I don’t feel any power in my words, but I know some people whose words have great power and who never take responsibility for how they affect practical affairs, and do I need to say who they are? The neocons, the AEI, the Heritage Foundation, Fox News, and the Cabinet themselves. Whether this is capitalism triumphant (Shaviro’s view) or capitalism betrayed (Schumpeter’s view) is more a matter of opinion.

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