To tolerate a foreign tyrant is to make the calculation that his victims are expendable is an acceptable exchange for being able to continue with the present degree of peace and comfort in your national life.
Nations can VOLUNTARILY choose to stop tolerating another’s tyranny by willingly expending some of their blood and treasure to come to the aid of the defense of victim populations, and by considering such acts on their part to be investments in human solidarity that can help build up a worldwide solidarity that is then capable — eventually — of confronting, attenuating and even solving existential problems of global scope, such as: climate change, nuclear disarmament, providing healthcare and disease eradication globally, and the elimination of: poverty, famine and food insecurity, statelessness and refugee streams of displaced desperate and precarious populations.
Nations can also INVOLUNTARILY be driven to cease tolerating a tyrant when he attacks, invades, and inflicts war upon your nation, so then you reluctantly make common cause with his previously (and still) victimized populations.
Making the correct national policy choices for the long term requires that your nation have the most astute, finely balanced, both deliberative and decisive — as needed — as well as fundamentally moral national leaders: politically, militarily, economically and sociologically.
What we need is World Socialism with NATO-for-All: NATO4A.
People believe what they want to believe so they can feel how they want to feel. Emotional reactivity is quick, and judging is easy. Rational deliberation is slow, and thinking is hard. So, the former is the instinctive and popular choice for seeking a favorable outcome in response to a present difficulty. The use of rational analysis by logical thinking based on objective data to understand reality is not the popular choice. Using the rational method to seek universally equitable moral outcomes, in terms of individually experienced benefits and individually assumed responsibilities, is the least popular use of the rational method of engagement with reality. The elimination of existential threats of global scope, or the most effective responses to attenuate them, can only be realized by the universal acceptance of the rational method guided by an equalizing morality. The quality of an individual’s moral character, and of a collective’s politics, can be determined by which of these factors dominate its composition. — And, from all of this we generate our futures.
I grieve with you. And I grieve with you, Ukrainian widows and widowers and orphans and heartbroken lovers dropping your tears in the cold dusty blackened ruins of your invaded cities, towns and villages.
It is reported here, in the United States of America, that at least 7,000 to as many as 14,000 Russian soldiers have been killed during this first month (24 February – 24 March, 2022) of Russia’s — Vladimir Putin’s — invasion of Ukraine. So, sadly, there are now up to 14,000 more Russian families with new widows and newly heartbroken lovers grieving for their young men sacrificed in a war as the blood lubrication for the gears of the ponderous and plodding machinery tracking your would-be emperor’s ambitions of conquest and power into the fields and streets of Ukraine. And now all your young newly widowed Russian women, and newly bereft Russian mothers, are reliving the anguish and grief suffered by an older generation of Russian women whose young men were taken by the tragically disastrous Russian war in Afghanistan forty years ago, and many of those women may have been robbed of their chances to become happy grandmothers.
Who can doubt that on 24 February 2022, many Poles instantly thought of 1 September 1939, and 17 September 1939; and that many Danes, Norwegians, Belgians, Dutch and French instantly thought of April and May 1940; and that many Russians, along with Belarusians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and Ukrainians instantly thought of 22 June 1941?
The trauma of a heartless dictator’s destructive invasion of your country to subjugate it as an exploitable colony and then carry out a campaign of continuous mass murder, is not soon dissipated from the historical memory of succeeding generations of those previously conquered nations, and the hollow feeling of seeing this happen again, two to three generations later during their young and modern 21st century lives, quickly steels the youth of those countries today into a resolve to fight off the invader and preserve their national independence, and national honor, and national pride. And such resolve can make them fight to the death because they feel sanctified by history and by the truest morality that every human of any age instinctively understands.
So your poor Russian soldiers are here at a great disadvantage, because as they awaken to any degree of the truth of their situation, they will know that they can not be justified and ennobled by any moral principles, they are just being used as expendable tools to perpetrate war crimes at the service of your Caesar, Putin’s imperial ambitions.
And I grieve with you because all the foreigners sympathetic to the plight of the Ukrainians, either because of resonant echoes of painful memories from their own national histories, or from simple emotional reactions against the outrageous injustices being inflicted on Ukraine, will contribute to efforts to resupply, rearm, fortify and accept refugees from Ukraine so it can continue, and hopefully win, its defensive war against the Russian military, and against Vladimir Putin’s inhuman ideology.
And I, too, am sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause. But this then means that my sympathy, along with many others whose sympathy is expressed as military assistance, will necessarily kill more Russian soldiers and create more Russian widows, and more bereft Russian mothers, fathers, and lovers. And I grieve that such increased pain to the Russian people is impossible to avoid with any effort to relieve the massive injustice and massive pain being inflicted on the Ukrainian people. I grieve that in being sympathetic to a people afflicted with a cruel and unjust invasive war, I am inextricably guilty of adding to the increasing grief of the Russian people whose young men are being consumed in that war.
During my youthful adult years, the United States was prosecuting its own massively unjust imperialistic war — against “communism” — in Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia. The Vietnamese simply wanted to unify their country, which was briefly liberated from both the French colonizers and Japanese imperialists during 1945, and continue as an independent nation free to use its natural resources and peasant agricultural economy for the well-being of its own people, and to be free to have their own Vietnamese rulers, both the honest ones and the pocket-lining corrupt ones as exist in every government, and to fashion their nation as a “communist” one, that is to say with some degree of beneficial collectivization, and some degree of insulated hierarchical power, which power and patronage pyramids are blemishes (or gaping sores) of every government everywhere, whether it calls itself “capitalist,” “democratic,” “socialist,” or “communist.”
My country, the United States, sent a Marine invasion in 1965 to prosecute a massive land war, and helicopter war, and aerial bombardment war in Vietnam till late 1972, which was continued by the Vietnamese troops of the South Vietnamese puppet government till it collapsed in April 1975. During the 13 years or so of direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam (1962-1975, previously the U.S. had funded the French war to recolonize Vietnam, 1946-1954, after its liberation with the defeat of Japan in August 1945), the U.S. military sent in about 1 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and women nurses, whose collective work resulted in perhaps 2.5-3 million Vietnamese killed, and perhaps up to 3.5-4 million people killed in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, as sections of the latter two nations were also heavily bombarded and chemically defoliated).
Of those approximately 1 million U.S. military personnel that passed through Southeast Asia during the American war there, just over 58,000 of them were killed, and many thousands more suffered debilitating physical and psychological wounds that lasted, and are lasting, till their deaths.
The Vietnamese Communist Party, which was conducting its war of national liberation, and defensive war against American aggression against their unified communist national aspirations, was desperate to receive whatever foreign assistance it could get in the way of arms and humanitarian supplies to combat such an awesome enemy. It was “communist” Russia and “communist” China that supplied the better arms the Communist Party of Vietnam acquired to fight the Americans. The governments of Russia and China did this in part because of “communist solidarity,” but also in large part out of “superpower” — that is to say, imperialist — rivalry with the alternative capitalist empire of the Americans and their associated Western Allies.
I say “alternative capitalist empire” because both Russia and China were also basically capitalist but in the form of state-monopolized top-down command capitalism, instead of the American form of lightly regulated largely disorganized privatized capitalism that bought self-aggrandizing government influence and insulation from public responsibility and popular democracy. America’s “colonies” are foreign zones of extractive economic exploitation. The colonies of Russia’s empire — its zones of extractive economic exploitation by Kremlin leaders — were the captive nations within the U.S.S.R. (like Ukraine) as well as the captive nations within the East Bloc, behind what Winston Churchill called the “Iron Curtain.”
The Communist Party of China (its exclusive power and patronage pyramid and nomenklatura), like Russia, envisioned itself as an insular empire with internal colonies, stretching in the west from Xinjiang (with the oppressed Uyghurs, a Turkic and Islamic people) and Tibet (annexed by China in 1951, and Tibetans are a different ethnicity than the dominant Han Chinese) in Central Asia, east to the Pacific Ocean, north from what used to be called Manchuria (north of the Korean peninsula) to south with Hainan island in the South China Sea, and out to the still independent and very western-style capitalist Chinese island nation of Taiwan.
In the extremity of their situation during their thirty years of wars of national independence (1945-1975), the Communist Party of Vietnam could not concern itself with the multipolar superpower rivalries between the Chinese (whom they traditionally hated from previous centuries of conquests and oppression), the Russians who were using them as proxies to bleed the Americans in their Russian-American “Cold War,” and their own very immediate and massively destructive American invaders trying to force them to be “capitalists.” They took what arms and supplies and money they could get from sympathetic foreigners to keep their struggle for independence alive.
And such is the situation of the Ukrainians today, as it was for the Afghans during the 1980s when the United States supplied the Afghan Mujahideen with shoulder-fired anti-tank and anti-aircraft missile weapons, as the Americans sought revenge against the Russians for the very useful help (as with anti-aircraft missile systems) the Russians had rendered the Vietnamese Communists during the 1960s and early 1970s.
That United States policy for Afghanistan was initiated as a covert action by a Polish-American government official, Zbigniew Brzezinski (1928-2017), who was born in Warsaw and left Poland in 1938 as a 10 year old boy with his family when his Polish diplomat father was posted to Montreal, Canada. Brzezinski was obviously motivated by his memory of Stalin’s ravaging of his homeland, and not just by a desire to be of foreign policy service to the 1978 American government he had become a part of.
So from Stalin’s Red Army and NKVD in Poland in 1939, to Lyndon Johnson’s and Richard Nixon’s (and Henry Kissinger’s) U.S. military in Vietnam in 1962-1975, to Leonid Brezhnev’s and the Kremlin’s Russian military in Afghanistan during its war there from 1979 to 1989 (when the Berlin Wall fell), to now with the Russian-Ukrainian War, it has been tit-for-tat bleeding of each other by rival superpowers (that is to say, nuclear armed empires) using the wars of small nations struggling desperately to gain their freedom and independence. And it is the freedom and independence of those small nations that are the only morally justifiable aspects of this chained cycle of superpower vengeance by proxy, through wars of independence so cruelly destructive of and callously inflicted on the small nations that have to wage them.
While eventually the small nations, invaded and crushed by the murderous onslaughts of the huge wars prosecuted by the major world powers during the 20th century, gained varying degrees of freedom, independence, stability and prosperity, the one universal outcome of all those wars was the creation of many millions of dead, many millions of physically and mentally traumatized, and many millions of surviving widows, orphans, widowers, and bereft lovers.
That truth has been captured in many mournful songs of lament, and one that especially affects me is “High Germany” as sung by my younger daughter. Of course, it is the personal effect of hearing her lovely voice, besides just the sentiment of that Celtic ballad, that makes for such an emotional effect on me. Over a century ago, young men from Scotland, a Celtic nation conquered and absorbed by England in 1651 (and formally incorporated into the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707) were drafted into the English Army to go fight Germany during World War I. Young men from other Celtic territories earlier captured by the English (Wales, Cornwall, the Northern Counties of Ireland) were also sent a-soldiering for the British Crown. And 895,000 of those, mostly young men, from the United Kingdom died in WWI. As we know, there were also many wounded and traumatized veterans, and many grieving families and lovers of those lost, in fact a “Lost Generation.” It is the lingering heartbreak of such grief by the survivors of the powerless people sent to fight those wars by their imperial masters, that is the essence of that song.
And today those powerless pawns sent to bleed and die for their national Caesar’s ambition to reconstitute a rump insular neo-Stalinist empire by recapturing Ukraine (independent from 1991), are Russian soldiers, who like their American counterparts today are most likely in the military because of a paucity of decent good-paying civilian jobs.
The command structure of your Russian military is more attuned to Putin’s imperialistic ambitions, because like the American military command structure during the 1960s, they are careerists and have a triumphalist attitude gained by their facility at massively bombing unarmed and barely-armed civilian populations: Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian for the Americans, while Chechen and Syrian for the Russians.
Stopping these predatory wars by superpowers is so difficult because the perpetrating governments are largely immune from civilian humanitarian sentiments and popular democracy (naturally, they are empires), and only military mutinies and revolutionary changes of government can really stop their nation’s wars. Was this not so with the Russian Revolution in 1917?, and with the escalating military mutinies by U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen between about 1969 through 1972? Thoughtful Americans today are proud of their war resistors and protestors of the 1960s and 1970s, just as your thoughtful Russians will be proud in years to come of your brave war resistors and protestors today. If only such civilian resistance to their nation’s wars of choice were more effective at preventing and stopping them; and if only a greater portion of the militaries of our nations would revolt against prosecuting such wars of choice, and thus render the greatest service soldiers can render their nations’s people — the actual people.
But as with you in Russia, we here in the United States also have our thoughtless and inhuman people who define their allegiances not with humanity and its sufferings anywhere, but with their own selfish careerist ambitions couched as principled concerns for supra-human and exclusionary ideological political abstractions, which they like to imagine elevate their intellectual pretensions and ennoble their moral characters.
So among your Russians you have those who follow Vladimir Putin canard of seeking to “de-nazify” Ukraine, despite “the Putin regime’s own record of collaboration with far-right extremists. Even as Russian diplomats condemned ‘fascists’ in the Baltic states and Kremlin propagandists railed against imaginary ‘Ukronazis’ in power in Kyiv, the Russian state was cultivating its own homegrown Nazis” —
And we here in the United States have allies of that oligarchic-authoritarian anti-feminist, homophobic, White Supremacist ideology, and who have no sincere sympathy for Ukraine under attack, such as Donald Trump — our sociopathic narcissistic previous president who lauds Vladimir Putin whom he sees as mirroring his own ambitions — and the entirety of our Republic Party (and Abraham Lincoln would weep to see what has become of the party he was the first US president of).
But we here in the United States also have “leftists”and declared “socialists” who have no sincere sympathy with the Ukrainian people, because they are wrapped up in their self-delusions of themselves as highly enlightened anti-nazis, and “anti-imperialists,” by which they mean anti-US imperialism only, and that includes in their minds their idea of “NATO expansionism.” For them any “enemy of US imperialism and NATO expansion,” however despicable and murderously dictatorial they may be to their own people, such as Muammar Gaddafi was and Bashar al-Assad is, are worthy of their consideration and defense, because for them thwarting US imperialism (both actual and imagined) is always more important than forthrightly helping to relieve actual terrorized people of their murderous oppression by their tyrannical rulers.
Such ideological and thus effectively inhuman leftists myopically, and really narcissistically, see themselves as having a “higher purpose” like the journalist “Frank Pitcairn” who was a propaganda agent for Stalin during the Spanish Civil War and wrote dispatches for the Irish press that were pure lies intended to further Stalin’s campaign to betray the Socialist Revolution in Spain during 1937 in his effort to have his Communist cadres gain complete control of the Spanish Republican government. That cynical campaign by Stalin resulted in the tortures and murders by the NKVD of socialists and anarchists in Spain not controlled by Stalin, and thus sapped the strongest moral force fighting against Francisco Franco’s fascist revolt against the democratically elected Spanish Republican government.
Franco was backed militarily by Hitler and Mussolini, and economically by Great Britain. The Spanish proletarians who manned the most effective and motivated anti-fascist forces were organized as the Socialist and Anarchist militias fighting for proletarian dignity and economic independence within a projected Socialist Spain. Once the socialist national dream for Spain was violently quashed in May 1937 by the combined forces of Stalin’s organs of repression and Spanish Communist troops directed from the Kremlin, and the military forces of the anti-Francoist Spanish bourgeoisie, the spirit animating the defense of the Spanish Republic dissipated and the war ended in a terrible defeat in 1939, followed by almost four decades of Francoist dictatorship during which more Spanish anarchists, socialists, communists and republicans were executed than had been killed during the Civil War itself.
I had a grand-uncle who was a violinist with a pre-war Spanish symphony orchestra, who was jailed for a time by Franco after 1939 for being an opponent of the regime — a classical violinist! So, I have an animus to the “Frank Pitcairn” types, the self-declared and comfortable Western leftists who defend rather than decry tyrants who oppress, torture, disappear, gas and bomb their unarmed civilian populations seeking reforms against their government’s oligarchic corruption, and for their own democratic participation in charting their nation’s course, because those Frank Pitcairn types are consumed with approval-seeking (from Stalin in the 1930s and 1940s, and from like-minded internet audiences today) and burnishing their own self-delusions of having superior worthiness as politically advanced and thus presumably morally elevated “US-only anti-imperialists.” Their lovingly satisfying gazing into their own self-referential mirrors are not to be interrupted by any concerns for the sufferings of actual people being killed by dictators and regimes nominally opposed to “US imperialism,” and so those oppressed populations, by “anti-imperialist” ideologically necessary definition, “deserve it” because they are Nazis in Ukraine, and al-Qaeda in Libya and Syria.
All the arguments by these “anti-imperialists” boil down to a defense of how they wish to think of themselves, regardless of how many foreign civilians have to be murdered (by approved of foreign “anti-imperialist” potentates) to preserve that self-image. And Vladimir Putin’s organs of disinformation and propaganda gleefully use these Western “anti-imperialist” poseurs to help perpetrate his many war crimes since 2000, when he gained power, and most recently in Syria and Ukraine.
So I now find that I am more isolated politically than I used to believe was possible, because the “leftist community” that I identified with and once imagined was at least unified by some wonderful human-centered principles of solidarity by class — the “working class,” “the proletariate,” “the voters,” “the people,” as opposed to the wealth and power classes of oligarchs and “capitalists” and corporations and “nomenklatura type” politicians — a human-centered solidarity that cut across national boundaries and ethnic differences, has been vividly exposed by the war in Ukraine to be irredeemably fractured between Frank Pitcairn type rigid ideologues of very selective anti-imperialism and of inconsistent sympathy with oppressed populations, and George Orwell type inconsistent ideologues for anti-imperialism, with consistent sympathy for oppressed populations. The essence here is whether one identifies with one or another of the power pyramids engaged in the “multipolar” (one of Putin’s favorite words in his apologetics of his imperialism) rivalry between the major power pyramids, or “superpowers,” vying for greater control of world populations and their economics, or whether one identifies indiscriminately with “the workers” and the actual “ordinary” people of the world, who universally want safe, secure, decently prosperous and not exploited lives for themselves and their families in stable democratic non-contending nation-states.
What we really need in the world today is for NATO to expand globally to encompass EVERY country on Earth: every nation pledged to come to the immediate aid and defense of any nation that happens to experience a crisis or catastrophe, be it of political origins like a military invasion or a civil war brought on my dictatorial megalomania, or a catastrophe of natural origins like a tsunami, an earthquake, floods, crop failures and famine, or Climate Change.
Global Warming Climate Change (GWCC) is a pernicious geophysical positive feedback loop of negative consequences for planetary habitability, being a human caused and accelerated effect driven by emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (primarily methane) exhausted from the burning of fossil fuels used to generate the heat-energy that powers so much of “our” capitalist and militarist and imperialist ambitions. The only way GWCC can be slowed and eventually stopped before it makes organized human life — human civilization — impossible because of the heat-induced onslaught of many irreversible and catastrophic environmental changes, is for an internationally cooperative and unified and permanently sustained maximum effort to quickly abandon the use of fossil fuels everywhere, and to power all human activities from naturally sustainable sources such as by solar, wind, hydrological and geothermal power.
Such an internationally integrated worldwide anti-GWCC effort would necessarily define a new reality of World Socialism: “all for one and one for all.” The transformation of one’s own country for a Post-Carbon World, along with its assistance offered to and cooperation given with other countries engaged in their own self-transformations to the post-carbon paradigm, would necessarily be leveling socialist economic revolutions nationally and globally. Both the “communist” labeled command-capitalist oligarchies and the “capitalist” labeled corporate “free market” oligarchies would have had to fall away in favor of a broad socialism centered on meeting the human needs of Earth’s people, for a planetary anti-GWCC effort to be able to be mounted and to succeed.
And it is because I now see the emergence of such a planetary anti-GWCC world socialism as impossible that I also grieve. That “impossibility” solely exists because of the obduracy and pettiness of a vast portion of humanity’s minds, even among minds in our communities of supposedly most politically enlightened people (according to themselves): our socialists, and safely comfortable Western recreational “leftists,” people who cannot bring themselves to support the assistance — from whatever quarter possible even NATO — to small national populations struggling desperately against murderous onslaughts from their dictatorial rulers like Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and from invasive imperialistic foreign juggernauts like Vladimir Putin in Syria and in Ukraine.
If we cannot all see the moral universality of human struggles against anti-democratic oppression and against the losing of personal freedoms, of national independence, and of life itself for so many, then we will never be able to prevent our fractious selves from destroying our planet’s habitability through our competitively myopic escalation of Anthropogenic Climate Change.
So I grieve for the human pawns being sacrificed to advance tyrannical and imperial ambitions, for the many widows, orphans, widowers and bereft lovers who survive, for a while, those human pawns sacrificed on the chess boards of ambitious narcissistic potentates, and I grieve for my lost illusions about leftist communities and socialist potentialities, and I grieve for a world I think is hopelessly beyond salvation — by choice.
Believe me, I fervently wish history would prove me wrong, and soon.
And I hope Ukraine wins its defensive war, soon.
And ideology be damned: human solidarity is everything.
TWO PEOPLE ARGUE: PRO-PUTIN vs. PRO-UKRAINE or CONSISTENT ANTI-IMPERIALIST vs. INCONSISTENT ATLANTICIST
After numerous previous escalating exchanges (with faint echoes of Jean-Paul Sartre versus Albert Camus), we came to this:
ADR: What you said a while ago was that bombings/war/invasion are bad and therefore you take this as an evidence that Putin/Russia is the primary responsible for this. While you cite Chomsky as a probable author to read when it comes to politics, you carefully ignore what he said during Maidan in 2014 because you claim without any ambiguity that NATO has nothing to do with this. While bombing is bad, you seem to agree that it is legitimate to bomb Irak and Lybia. There is only one logical conclusion for this: bombing is legitimate under certain circumstances. Circumstances which you accept for Lybia, but you don’t accept for Ukraine if Zelensky/Poroschenko/Yatsenuk are viewed by Russia as their Gaddafi/Saddam. You also claim that Russia has more neo-nazis then Ukraine and said that Putin himself is a neo-nazi (+dictator+…). How does that fit with the fact that the communist party of the Russian Federation comes 2nd in parliamentary elections and that communist organisations are banned in Ukraine? That’s the inconsistence from your side!
MG,Jr.: You are absolutely right, I am inconsistent on all the points you raised. “Inconsistent” means that I do not hew to an inflexible ideological standard — the making of equivalences between the situations you point out, and which you clearly think should be treated as equivalent (Ukraine=Libya: revolutions, interventions, bombings; Zelensky=tyrant and Nazi coddler; Russia=communist not fascist, but parliamentary).
I make judgments on the basis of what I see as “right” and “wrong” in each situation, and that means that at times I think “bombing is legitimate under certain circumstances.” I make those judgements on the basis of what I think will most help the people being brutally victimized at the moment (Libya in 2011, Syria 2011-now, Ukraine 2022). I don’t care about ideological (political) consistency, or which ideological “side” is “winning.” I care about the actual people those ideological “sides” are playing with — and oppressing, torturing, disappearing, gassing, and bombing.
In all your arguments you never reference those people nor give them a voice: what is it they want? You don’t really care, do you?, they don’t matter; what is important for you is that “your” ideological “side” not be disadvantaged as compared to the Great Satan’s (=US/NATO/EU) side: if the “US” can do it then “the other side” should be allowed to do it. Hence Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad, Putin are all “anti-imperialists” and the populations they eradicate deserve it by the principle of the consistency of equivalence between ideological justifications for the application of power.
I am definitely politically-ideologically inconsistent. I see you as continuing to argue with me because deep down you know I am right both politically and morally, and that you don’t want to face that fact because all your arguments about “consistency” are about you trying to hide that you accept being inhuman by being willing to sacrifice populations being victimized by tyrants, in order to argue “consistently” against an ideological abstraction, “anti- US/NATO/EU imperialism” that you have absorbed into your self-image, as a supremely ennobling characteristic. Your arguments boil down to a defense of how you wish to think of yourself regardless of how many foreign civilians have to be murdered (by “your side”) to preserve that self-image.
Here is a little abstraction of the argument (by Zubêr Hatia) with regard to Ukraine:
Ukrainians: Putin has amassed a huge army on our borders. Fools: He won’t invade – he’s just securing his own country!
Ukrainians: Putin has started the invasion from the East, from the South and from the North. Fools: Its not an invasion – more of a temporary incursion; and he’s kindly left the West of the country open to allow those who want to leave!
Ukrainians: Putin is realising heavy losses – of soldiers lives and military equipment. Fools: Lies! A few casualties at most… and he’s posthumously awarded medals to dead peacekeepers!
Ukrainians: Putin is shelling hospitals and clinics! Fools: No! A popular vlogger who is pregnant and is spreading lies. Anyway, it wasn’t a hospital!
Ukrainians: Putin is committing war crimes against civilians. Fools: They’re not civilians – they are neo Nazis!
When forming one’s political orientation, a consistency of human solidarity and to fundamental morality is more important than any inflexible scheme of ideological consistency, purity and rigidity.
Albert Camus urged us (in Howard Zinn’s words):
“In such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.”
This last quote is an abstraction by Howard Zinn of Albert Camus’s following concluding statement from his 1940s article ‘Toward Dialogue: Neither Victims nor Executioners’:
“Now I can end. What I think needs to be done at the present time is simply this: in the midst of a murderous world, we must decide to reflect on murder and choose. If we can do this, then we will divide ourselves into two groups: those who, if need be, would be willing to commit murder or become accomplices to murder, and those who would refuse to do so with every fiber of their being. Since this awful division exists, we would be making some progress, at least, if we were clear about it. Across five continents, an endless struggle between violence and preaching will rage in the years to come. And it is true that the former is a thousand times more likely to succeed than the latter. But I have always believed that if people who placed their hope in the human condition were mad, those who despaired of events were cowards. Henceforth there will be only one honorable choice: to wager everything on the belief that in the end words will prove stronger than bullets.” — [Albert Camus, an English translation, as shown at the end in https://adamgomez.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/camus-neither-victims-nor-executioners.pdf]
Writing in the postwar France of 1955, on the theme of ‘the responsibility of the intellectuals’ as regards Stalinism, Raymond Aron wrote:
“I had had occasion… to write a number of articles directed not so much against the Communists [like the French Resistance, who shed blood in WWII to liberate people from fascist tyranny, — MG,Jr.] as against the communisants, those who do not belong to the party but whose sympathies are with the Soviet world… Seeking to explain the attitude of intellectuals, merciless toward the failings of the democracies but ready to tolerate the worst crimes as long as they are committed in the name of the proper doctrines, I soon came across the sacred words, Left, Revolution, Proletariat.” — [Raymond Aron, ’The Opium of the Intellectuals,’ 1955]
In the 1966, Noam Chomsky wrote his own famous essay ’The Responsibility of Intellectuals,’ which was about the complicity of the American intelligentsia with pro Vietnam War propaganda. Chomsky keyed his 1966 article off the late 1940s writings of Dwight Macdonald, who was “concerned with the question of war guilt”:
“He asks… to what extent were the German or Japanese people responsible for the atrocities committed by their governments? And, quite properly, he turns the question back to us: to what extent are the British and American people responsible for the vicious terror bombings of civilians, perfected as a technique of warfare by the western democracies [in the 1940s, though pioneered by the Nazis at Guernica in 1937 and Warsaw in 1939, — MG,Jr.] and reaching their culmination in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, surely among the most unspeakable crimes in history? To an undergraduate in 1945-1946 — to anyone whose political and moral consciousness had been formed by the horrors of the 1930s, by the war in Ethiopia, the Russian purge, the ‘China Incident,’ the Spanish Civil War, the Nazi atrocities, the Western reaction to these events and, in part, complicity in them — these questions had particular significance and poignancy.” — [Noam Chomsky, ’The Responsibility of Intellectuals,’ 1966]
The forerunner to Albert Camus, Dwight Macdonald, Raymond Aron and Noam Chomsky on the subject of ‘the responsibility of intellectuals’ was Julien Benda, whose 1927 book ‘La Trahison des clercs’ (The Treason of the Intellectuals or The Betrayal by the Intellectuals) “argued that European intellectuals in the 19th and 20th centuries had often lost the ability to reason dispassionately about political and military matters, instead becoming apologists for crass nationalism, warmongering, and racism.” — [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julien_Benda]
This brings me to current heated polemics about the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 21 February 2022 (or for that matter in 2014).
I have learned a new label, “campists,” for a peculiar subset of polemicists who insist that all the current war troubles (and accumulating war crimes) in Ukraine are entirely the fault of a relentless NATO (and thus U.S.) campaign of eastward expansion for the express purpose of forming an “encirclement” of Russia. What they refuse to accept about Ukraine in 2022 is this:
“[Timothy] Snyder says the focus on NATO ignores the agency of leaders in Ukraine and elsewhere who have the right to seek their own arrangements. ‘It’s very important to remember that the world isn’t just about Washington and Moscow. It’s also about other sovereign states and other peoples who can express their desires and have their own foreign policies,’ says Snyder.” — from:
Journalist Andrew Cockburn & Historian Timothy Snyder on Ukraine, Russia, NATO Expansion & Sanctions 1 March 2022 https://youtu.be/-Y8ny69uU3g
In this ‘Democracy Now’ video, Snyder has all the facts, states the reality about “Ukraine” and the international situation clearly, and has the real and useful (and morally correct) insights.
The reason the countries between Berlin and Moscow (Baltic States and the former East Bloc) have clambered to become members of NATO since 1989, despite a lack of enthusiasm by the original Anglo-American and Western European NATO members (the WWII democratic “Allies”) for such inclusion, is that those Eastern European states all too painfully remember the hell they went through under Nazi and USSR occupations, between 1933 and 1945, and their Iron Curtain experiences from 1946 to 1989-1991.
In the 1980s I learned about the “govnoed,” by reading Western-published books by dissident Soviet authors writing about the Nomenklatura: the USSR’s Communist Party power elite and patronage pyramid. The “govnoed” of the 20th century are now in an expanded category call “campists.”
I see the ~100 year genealogy of this hypocritical ideological tendency this way:
Stalinists (Comintern aligned Communists >1924):
Stalinists labeled leftist anti-Stalinists like: Trotsky, Orwell, Louis Proyect(!), as “Trotskyists” —>
Communisants (French “anti Atlanticists” like J.P.Sartre >1945):
“shit eaters,” the Soviet label for uncritically loyal Western Stalinists during the Soviet era after Stalin’s death —>
Tankies (>1956) —>
Western Stalinists cheering Soviet tanks crushing popular revolutions, 1953, 1956, 1968, etc. —>
New Leftists/Maoists (>1966):
Western only-anti-Western-imperialism leftists —>
“Campists” = Leftists who claim that all popular insurgencies against leaders who pretend to be “socialist” (and are faux anti-capitalist) and seem to oppose U.S. imperialism (e.g., Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, etc.), are incited, manipulated, or controlled by Washington. Basically, campists inflexibly favor the presumably socialist and anti-capitalist “Red Camp” of international politics in any contentious situation, without regard to the factual data about it.
“The Democratic Socialists of America’s International Committee has issued a statement on Ukraine that fails to adhere to basic socialist principles. [that statement is ‘DSA IC opposes US militarization and interventionism in Ukraine and Eastern Europe and calls for an end to NATO expansionism’, January 31, 2022, https://international.dsausa.org/statements/no-war-with-russia/]…
“The DSA-IC dismisses the Maidan Protest of 2014 as the ‘U.S. backed Maidan coup.’ It thus associates itself with others on the left – we call them ‘campists’ – who claim that all popular insurgencies against leaders who seem to oppose U.S. imperialism are incited, manipulated, or controlled by Washington. There is a degree of condescension and even racism in the notion that movements from below of ordinary Ukrainian, Chinese, Iranian, or Nicaraguan working people are U.S. puppets.
“These people are perfectly capable of standing up for themselves and fighting back, even if they do so against overwhelming odds. Do the U.S. State Department and the CIA and NATO attempt to influence and, when they can, direct such movements? Of course. It is clear, however, that the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Maidan uprising were fundamentally expressions of the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people – fed up with the brutality of their government’s treatment of protesters – and their wish for self-determination, and not because they were being directed by Washington or by neo-Nazis. The Ukrainian people seek their independence, and we should stand with them against both the United States and NATO and against the immediate threat from Russia.” — [above 3 paragraphs from]:
And this all brings me back to my fundamental point: form your political orientation on a basis of consistency in human solidarity and to fundamental morality, regardless of whatever ideological inconsistencies, impurities and pragmatic flexibility you must accept during the specific applications of your political attitudes, and in your actions, in the real world. The well-being of human beings anywhere is always more important than maintaining the rigidity of your abstract general ideas about society and its politics. Routinely reevaluate your political biases by applying indiscriminate compassion focused by intellectual rigor based on factual data.
I recommend you listen to all of Timothy Snyder’s comments in the ‘Democracy Now’ video cited above.
It is true that Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy (1938) held off WWII for a year — for Poland (1 September 1939) — and maybe a bit more for Norway, Denmark, and the Low Countries, and then France (May-June 1940); and then maybe up to two years for Britain directly if you count in the Phony War (1939 to before May 1940), and then close to three years for Russia/USSR when Hitler tore up the Molotov-Ribbentrop alliance (22 June 1941) that had initiated the joint German-Russian invasions of Poland in 1939.
Each of those time gaps allowed the countries enjoying them, before being swallowed up into military hostilities, to safely arm or rearm as they could in anticipation of the worst, which soon came to all of them. So it is easy to see some short-term tactical advantage to an appeasement policy prior to experiencing a military invasion.
This was certainly Hitler’s and Stalin’s view when each chose to enter into their Molotov-Ribbentrop alliance to carve up Poland (seen by both Hitler and Stalin then as Putin sees Ukraine today), and to keep from warring against each other (in the inevitable Fascist-Communist 1940s superpower war), and in Stalin’s case to appease Hitler’s eastward expansion without the USSR having been able to gain any Western European allies against Hitler/fascism and Japanese militarism.
The essence of the various interrelated appeasement policies of Chamberlain, Stalin and Hitler (the MB Pact being in part Hitler’s appeasement to USSR westward expansion) all shared one fundamental principle: the independence of or submission (even to the point of nonexistence) by smaller weaker countries was for the major powers to dispose of as they saw fit, and as served their plans for protecting their own political domains (empires) and for imposing their geopolitical/territorial schemes (colonization) beyond their existing borders. So, Czechoslovakia and Poland got “tossed under the bus” in 1938-1939 so the British Empire, the Third Reich, and the USSR could continue to have their pieces of the European and World pies. This reality of international relations is doubtless as old as humanity itself:
“…the standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel, and that in fact the strong do what they have the power to do, and the weak accept what they have to accept.” — [Thucydides, 416 BC].
This was how Thucydides wrote about it, in his account of the “Melian Debate” between the Athenian Empire and the leaders of the small Aegean island of Melos that Athens (the Delian League) wanted to occupy as a forward naval base against any invading Spartan (and Persian sponsored) fleet during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). Ultimately, the Athenians assaulted Melos, defeating it, killing the men and enslaving the women and their children. The lands between Berlin and Moscow suffered similar fates between 1933 and 1945.
The idea of appeasing Putin’s imperialistic ambitions, as regards Ukraine, arises naturally when he threatens to resort to nuclear weapons if thwarted in his expansionist military operations. By the same logic it seems reasonable for public safety in the United States, the European Union, Russia, and even beyond as far as China, if the 194 recognized countries of the world would accept the power principle articulated by Thucydides and let the nuclear superpowers to dispose of everyone’s national independence or dependence, submission or nonexistence, as those superpowers — empires all — saw most convenient for themselves: better that the people in the smaller weaker and poorer countries suffer and die by imperial conquest than that the people in the larger stronger richer and “safer” countries expose themselves to hazards — from the inconveniences of slowed supply chains, up to the terrors of thermonuclear face-offs — by coming to the defense of the invaded “weaklings.”
This dilemma was addressed in 1945 with the formation of the United Nations (and a subsequent variety of treaties) — a far from perfect organization but a positive step to address the problem — and the formation of NATO, also far from perfect but even so a membership in which has been avidly sought by every country occupied by Nazi Germany and/or the USSR between 1939 and 1991.
The whole point of these organizations is to prevent a reoccurrence of the political-military escalations that unleashed WWII (and similarly for WWI, earlier). By that logic the UN ‘world alliance,’ the EU economic-military alliance, and the NATO military alliance exist to resolve outbreaks of destabilizing world disorder like the Russian war in Ukraine, without sacrificing the population under assault, because by sacrificing them (again; as in 1935, and 1936-1939) the glue of trust needed to maintain such structures of mutual security dissolves and they fall apart, and we are back to Melian Sacrifices before all subsequent superpower expansions: unchecked imperialism.
“The fate of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will determine the propensity of all other countries for aggression. If it fails in turn, the effect on all global and regional powers will be one of powerful deterrence. If it succeeds, that is if Russia manages to ‘pacify’ Ukraine under Russian boots, the effect will be a major slide of the global situation toward unrestrained law of the jungle, emboldening US imperialism itself and its allies to resume their own aggressive stances.” — [Gilbert Achcar, “A memorandum on the radical anti-imperialist position regarding the war in Ukraine,” Sunday 27 February 2022, http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article61309]
So, in February 2022, it is time for our many political, government, parliamentary, diplomatic, military and economic leaders and officials to earn their pay by coordinating their actions to reign in the aggression into Ukraine by the Putin government of Russia, without being so clumsy as to set off a nuclear war. From their reported and escalating actions this week (21-28 February 2022) it seems quite clear that they are well aware of what is required, and even such rigidly neutral countries like Sweden and Switzerland have joined in that effort: an economic throttling of Russia’s money flows coupled with increasing amounts of sophisticated weaponry delivered to Ukrainians so they become more effective in fighting their defensive hot war against the invading Russian military (and maybe if Lukashenko is stupid, an invading Belarusian military as well).
Recall that in the multipolar nuclear weapons era (>1949) that both the USSR and China dampened US war-making campaigns in Korea (1950-1953) and Vietnam (1965-1975) by supplying North Korea and North Vietnam with advanced weapons (small arms like AK47 rifles and ammunition, artillery, fighter jets, anti-aircraft missile and radar systems), and by merely existing as nuclear weapons ’superpowers’ allied with the Communist forces in Korea and Vietnam. The US had wanted to use nuclear weapons (MacArthur in Korea, Westmoreland and LeMay in Vietnam), but Korea and Vietnam were politically and territorially too close to China and the USSR for the U.S. to take that kind of risk. So despite the awesome military might and malice of the United States, the Koreans and the Vietnamese bled profusely to fight through their anti-US wars but they managed to survive them as three independent states (a unified Vietnam and two Koreas).
Given the ongoing antiwar protests in Russia and even Belarus, where such protests are heavily penalized by their laws (no 1st Amendment there, 20 years in jail threatened), rather than the Russian and Belarusian people expressing obvious commitments to all fight and die for their leaders’s Ukrainian war aims, it seems reasonable to anticipate that the Putin and Lukashenko governments could be brought down by popular revolts (and military mutinies) if enough of those people became sufficiently distraught at the losses of their boys in the snows, mud and streets of Ukraine, and terrified at the possibility of themselves being subjected to American, British and French nuclear bombardment in retaliation to Putin’s most extreme possible action.
At present, I think it most likely that Putin (and Lukashenko) will be reigned in without any nuclear weapons having been used, and his ultimate military defeat will cause, or be caused by, the fall of his regime. What is to be wished is that that happen as soon as possible so as to minimize the pain, suffering, death and destruction in Ukraine. And it is important to remember that the Russian and Belarusian people are not the enemies, but the Putin (plus loyal oligarchs, and Lukashenko client regime) are.
So I do not favor an appeasement policy with regards to Putin (and too bad he was not stopped sooner as with Syria in 2014), and I also realize that the management of an internationally coordinated counter-Putin-aggression economic-military policy is a delicate matter in our nuclear superpower era of the ‘World Order.’
I think the hazy idea of a “lasting peace” in world affairs is an ‘unobtainium’ at our current level of human and societal development (unchanged for millennia, as the late -5th century Melians would no doubt say if they could see us now), and that we should see the management of “peace” as a never-ending and always imperfect effort of pragmatic political improvisations; and that we should pick as our leaders people who are honorable and astute at doing that management without sacrificing human solidarity.
It is essential reading to understand what is going on today — everywhere but especially in Eastern Europe (and Ukraine in late February 2022). Also essential to help one overcome the tendency to become a robotic mindless “anti American imperialist” who is quite happy to “virtue signal” their ideological purity and supposedly higher moral standards (from the comfort and safety of our First World ‘homelands’) by acceding to the sacrifice of any victim population (Ukrainians, Syrians, Palestinians, Libyans, Uyghurs…) that any tin pot dictator, autocrat or “power pentagon,” who promotes himself/itself as “socialist” and a stalwart fighting against “American imperialism,” wants to conquer, crush, displace and enslave economically (and even worse).
Certainly being against imperialism — American or otherwise — is to the good, but we Western safely anti-imperialists must absolutely never accept the sacrifice of another people’s right to safe national independence, in order to signal our anti-imperialist “moral purity.” NATO has expanded into Eastern Europe precisely because Eastern Europeans vividly remember how much their nations suffered under the Russians (for about a century most recently), and they want insurance policies against such catastrophes in the future, even if the insurance company selling those policies — NATO — is itself far from perfect, or “socialist” or “enlightened.”
The essential and fundamental point is to honor and protect the right of all people to safe lives within independent states of THEIR OWN choosing.
“The lands of today’s Ukraine were the center of both Stalinist and Nazi killing policies throughout the era of mass killings. Some 3.5 million people fell victim to Stalinist killing policies between 1933 and 1938, and then another 3.5 million to German killing policies between 1941 and 1944. Perhaps three million more inhabitants of Soviet Ukraine died in combat or as an indirect consequence of the war.” — [Timothy Snyder, ‘Bloodlands’, p404] — The 1939 population of the Ukraine was 32,425,000 [total morality over 11 years = 31%].
The biggest neo-nazi center in Eastern Europe today is actually Putin and his band of oligarchs, who want to recreate the Tsarist/Stalinist Russian Empire. Don’t let yourself become a useful idiot to them and others like them because you want to unintelligently and reflexively preen your “leftist” anti-capitalist, anti-imperialism-by-the-U.S., and anti-NATOism ideological purity for your own self-satisfaction. Camus said to identify with the victims, not the perpetrators, and that is the best guide to your allegiances with humanity.
27 February 2022
ON DELUSIONAL “LEFTISTS” (not the real ones like Louis Proyect):
“I really don’t understand ‘leftists’ who dance around the fact that Putin is a dangerous kleptocratic goon. Makes no sense to me. They act like what he’s doing isn’t equivalent to other imperialistic incursions.” — [my friend E.]
They are stuck in their self-regard as “anti-imperialists”, and feel “brave” because they oppose US war-making and imperialism (as am I: opposed not brave), and so reflexively “pro-Russian” (pro-Soviet) as a mental inertia from the glory days of the Russian Revolution (1917-1922, the euphoria of John Reed’s ‘Ten Days That Shook The World’ — a great book), and for the worst of them (the most pathetic) as a lingering unthinking indoctrination to Stalinism.
“To believe that great suffering must be associated with great progress is to accept a kind of hermetic masochism: the presence of pain is a sign of some immanent or emergent good. To advance this sort of reasoning oneself is hermetic sadism: if I caused pain, it was because there was a higher purpose, known to me. Because Stalin represented the politburo which represented the central committee which represented the party which represented the working class which represented history, he had a special claim to speak for what was historically necessary. Such a claim allowed him to absolve himself of all responsibility, and to place the blame for his failings upon others.” — [Snyder, ‘BLOODLANDS’, p401]
The “most pathetic” include the lunkheads who gained instantaneous engineering-physics PhD’s watching the flaming NYC Twin Towers collapse on TV (11 September 2001) and within milliseconds knew that G.W.Bush and Dick Cheney had tiptoed up and down staircases in the World Trade Center buildings the weekend before, planting cakes of C4 timed to go off (forget the planes) and let them go on to conquer the world. The “most pathetic” also include the equally turgid-minded pseudo leftists who, in the comfort of their own safe First World consumerist-internet lives, swell with righteous pride by thrilling to the rush of their inner Stalin, as above, in accepting the pain of remote anonymous “others” because there is a higher purpose known to them as vanguards of the working class, which represents history, so these cadres have a special claim (within their own minds) “to speak for what was historically necessary” and absolve themselves of all responsibility, placing the blame for the obvious failings of their delusions upon others.
In pointing all this out I am sincerely trying to be a good friend (like when calling a cab at 1 AM to prevent a buddy from driving home drunk from the bar you both favor). But, I am forthright about stating what I see as true, because otherwise I would not be a good friend. Since that independence is important to me, I accept becoming friendless, and being “unfriended.” Substance over superficiality, always.
“And this is the dearest thing that we can share: survival!” — Tadeusz Borowski.
Poverty, privation and suffering are not ennobling. The Nazi concentration camps had extensive and elaborate social pyramids and cliques in every way comparable to those in normal life, and the imprisoned and condemned in those camps were not at all immune from striving to improve their individual lives by rising to higher levels in those pyramids, by stepping on others of their kind as necessary and by working to speed along the conveyance of other unknowingly (or disbelievingly) condemned people to their deaths, and by asset-stripping the remains and leavings of those gassed and incinerated others, to seek promotional approval from the camp superiors they kept supplied with labor and with the scavenged treasures from the diverted inheritances of those ushered to the gas and crematoria.
After experiencing Stalinist repression in the Soviet Union prior to World War II, then being an inmate at Auschwitz-Birkenau during World War II, and then suffering under Stalinist repression in Poland after World War II, the Polish poet, writer and journalist, Tadeusz Borowski (1922-1951), came to realize that all survivors are guilty because securing personal survival as a morally principled innocent is impossible — then and now.
“Yes, but I think there’ll be a ghetto on the Aryan side, too” she said, casting a sideways glance at Maria. “Only there will be no way out of it.” — Tadeusz Borowski.
Borowski came to see the world as nested rings of concentration camps, like a Dante’s Inferno, with the smaller rings (of electrified barbed wire) further in and to which you might be outside of, being more and more depraved as they were more tightly concentrated; and the outer larger rings, all of which you are within, being increasingly livable as they receded from the ring of barbed and arbitrary injustices confining you.
So, how do you work for your survival? Not by selfless altruism to be sure, you work to speed along the programs of the higher powers, and you weasel, scheme with or against, steal and barter for what you need and want and to satisfy your appetites on occasion, or you fall away in a totally dispirited, catatonic depression and perish surrendered to whatever death first comes. Even when you bob and weave with the circumstances and accede to your labor being extracted for the purposes of the camp masters, you are more than likely to also be funneled into the trains to oblivion sooner of later.
That realization purges all sense of pity because pity comes out of a superior sense of security with an excess store of personal resources from which a fraction could painlessly be charitably dispensed to those being pitied. With pity purged, one easily dispatches the other condemned, in your place, without a thought and with barely even a look, whether it be directly as in pulling a tuft of bread out the feeble hand of a dying person you are stronger than, or deviously as in sabotaging a colleague’s project aimed at seeking approval from higher-ups, so you can steal their job or promotion to a more “livable” situation. Just look at the politics of your workplace, it’s all there. Survival in a demanding world is the trudging over the bodies of others thinking of them as already corpses.
In our Dante’s Inferno Concentration Camp World, or Borowski’s Inferno, that self-focussed trudging seems less and less depraved and more and more civilized the further out it occurs among the concentric concentration camp rings. But anyone can suddenly be deported inward to a deeper desperation by drawing the disfavor of the higher authorities or having the simple bad luck of sinking out of sight because of personal failures or tragedies to which society is indifferent.
“Man has a narrow range of reactions to great emotions and violent passions. He expresses them with the same ordinary, tiny responses. He uses the same simple words.” — Tadeusz Borowski.
In that way we are all prisoners forever, never to escape outside “the wire” and get past the machine gun towers, because those barriers of confinement are all projections of our attitudes, and will stand as long as human minds remain captivated by the obsessions enforcing Concentration Camp World. No one alive is innocent beyond childhood.
Dante’s Inferno was conceived of as a structure designed by an Almighty God as an organized system of punishments to be administered to the varieties of offenders against the will of the Christian God. Borowski’s Inferno is a world structured as an organized system of nested privations and punishments administered on very flawed humans (as they have always been) driven to desperation or fatalistic acceptance, by competing hierarchies of power. Borowski’s Inferno is a world distorted so the wealthy few can be further enriched by the sufferings and impoverishment of the precarious many.
The opposite of Borowski’s Inferno is a world in which governments are designed entirely for the relief of human suffering, and the elimination of poverty and desperation. Such governments would also be a nested set of units of increasing scale, from the neighborhood to the national, and then integrated internationally. The function of such governments would be to administer an equitable socialism, both as to the benefits and services provided, and to the wide distribution and popular dilution of the maintenance costs for the entire system. This would be a world of convivial equity, and without either the garishly wealthy or the desperately poor. Let’s call it Illich’s World, or Pala, or simply “Home.”
Personal survival in this world would be assured by the very structure and purposes of government, and “making a living” would be engaging in work and art that gives one personal fulfillment and whose social impact makes a contribution to interpersonal mutual support locally, and to the overall cooperative continuation of the world society.
I was brought to these thoughts by reading a new collection of Borowski stories newly translated by Madeline G. Levine, and given a historical context in an extensive Forward written by Timothy Snyder. This new book (‘Here in Our Auschwitz, and Other Stories’) is published by Yale University Press.
Borowski’s tales are the most terrifying on concentration camp life because instead of just recounting the odd incidents of uplifting honor, rebellion and self-sacrifice, or of focusing dramatically on the horrible details of tortures and abuses, so as to elicit condemnation of perpetrators and sympathy for victims, he very casually and sardonically factually describes the typical attitudes and behaviors of the inmates, and the routine incidents of camp life.
Such incidents might include a work detail (a kommando) of prisoners putting on roofing tar over unfinished women’s barracks while other men on break played soccer on the field below, and some men prisoners and some outside masons and carpenters were in those barracks having hidden trysts bought from the women with gifts of smuggled (and stolen) blankets, coffee, cigarettes, eggs or honey, and none of all these people giving much of a look beyond the inner wire confining them, to the railroad stop just beyond with trains unloading thousands of people who were marched down a road from the railroad, and past a hill and forest over which a little while later smoke rose from unseen crematoria and pyres, and then back down that road came troops of sonderkommandos (kommandos manned exclusively by Jews, but the kommando supervisor was always an SS man), with their clothes coated in soot and dripping with fat, hauling carts of clothes and other treasures (the gold jewelry and teeth being the most desirable for stealing by the kommando workers, but also what the SS masters most wanted).
In describing the routines of “normal” camp life in a matter-of-fact, nonchalant, sardonic and even at times blasé way (like de Maupassant, perhaps), Borowski illustrated the depravity of the whole system as being in its entirety an expression of universal human nature when stripped of its veneer of civilization: moral restraints and all the supports — physical, psychological, emotional — to human experience for survival, normally provided by culture, custom and civil society.
Tadeusz Borowski (1922-1951) a Polish poet and participant in Warsaw’s underground resistance to German occupation, was arrested and sent to Auschwitz in 1942. He emerged after the war as a writer of short stories that portray the concentration camp social order and, later, stories about the postwar world he reentered through a Displaced Persons camp near Munich. Borowski’s Auschwitz stories, translated from Polish into many languages, have long been recognized as literary classics.
Madeline G. Levine is Professor Emerita of Slavic Literatures at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Timothy Snyder is the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University.
Sophie Scholl, then and now:
In the summer of 1940, Sophie Scholl, a young German woman living in the throes of Hitler’s insanity, wrote:
“People should not be ambivalent themselves just because everything else is, yet one constantly meets the view that, because we’ve been born into a world of contradictions, we must defer to it. Oddly enough, this thoroughly un-Christian attitude is especially common among self-styled Christians. If it were so, how could one expect fate to make a just cause prevail when so few people unwaveringly sacrifice themselves for a just cause?” — Sophie Scholl.
Sophie Scholl and her brother, Hans, were two of the three principles in the anti-nazi White Rose Movement, and were subsequently executed by guillotines in 1943, at ages 21 and 24, respectively.
When we are young and childless we can be so incandescently idealistic, committed and even self-sacrificing (like Japan’s teenage Kamikaze pilots). But once with family: wife/husband and children, you live with fear for their safety, and you are so much more easily manipulated by that fear. Deep down in our innate psychology this is so because it is DNA programmed behavior for the propagation of the species, and we human are first and foremost primate animals, and our base programming will easily overpower abstract learned ideas about ourselves, that is to say “morals”, stored in our frontal lobes of our cerebral cortexes.
Innate altruism does exist but it is felt for those we “instinctively” feel connected to, and family comes first there, then “monkey troop” or “tribal” members next. “Society” beyond those close networks is a pure abstraction, and abstraction is easily sacrificed when “blood” is threatened and needs defending.
That “we” can feel for unknown others in “society”, as so many people throughout history have done (and many famously so), does show the emotional power that our abstract thinking can accrue, but overall I think it remains weaker — in our species as a whole — against the emotional power of fear for “family” safety.
I see the need for a growth of the emotional power of extra-familiar altruism in our species as a whole, as being essential for ever coming to grips with Climate Change (a global problem inequitably caused) and “ending war”, both of which mean actually achieving world socialism. We can only get there consciously (via John Lennon’s “Imagine” mode) because time is short and Darwinian (DNA) evolution is too slow a process to transform “us” (the human primate species) with an adaptation giving us socially-integrated instincts for the long term survival of our species (and collaterally many others).
We “all” need to wake up and realize to “live for the cause” instead of hoping to be saved by a few selfless heroes “dying for the cause.” Until then most of us fearful family people will compromise with our learned abstract “principles” when threading the needle of life with our families in mind and heart. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Other Books on the 20th Century
Viktor Frankl (‘Man’s Search for Meaning’) and Primo Levi (’The Periodic Table’, and ’The Drowned and the Saved’) were concentration camp survivors who also wrote great books on their experiences, and thus about the realities of human nature and societal death.
For the chemical scientist, Levi, survival involved the chance workings of “the grey zone,” where individuals in evil positions might behave ambiguously at times, even bordering on sympathetically helpful, to a prisoner’s survival advantage.
For the psychiatrist, Frankl, the key personal force for survival was in having some great goal — a meaning (logos) — beyond oneself, perhaps a love for someone far off, or as in his case a deep desire to write out his psychological theory (logotherapy) and see it published and used to help psychiatric patients (which he did do after the war). But Frankl also noted that regardless, the chances against surviving the camps were over 90%.
Tony Judt’s book, ‘Postwar: a History of Europe Since 1945’ is the definitive history text with which to understand how that exhausted postwar Europe of 1945 evolved over the next 60 years: through the enormous and high fatality refugee flows of the late 1940s, the emergence of Democratic Socialism in Western Europe, the descent of the Iron Curtain confining Eastern Europe within the control of Stalin’s Soviet Union, the Cold War and American “superpower” internationalism, the East German Uprising of 1952 (suppressed), the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (suppressed), the Prague Spring of 1968 (suppressed), the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the revolutions of 1989 and the fall of Soviet Communism by 1991, and the reunification of Germany and the subsequent realignments of the former East Bloc nations.
Tony Judt’s book, ‘Reappraisals, Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century’, is another classic on 20th century history. It is a series of essays on people and ideas of significance, in terms of society and of survival through 20th century fascism and Soviet-supervised communism. Among the people (intellectuals) discussed are: Arthur Koestler, Primo Levi, Manès Sperber, Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus, Eric Hobsbawm, Leszek Kołakowski, and Edward Said. The individual essays on these people are only eight of the twenty-four chapters in the book.
Tony Judt (1948-2010) was the Erich Maria Remarque Professor in European Studies at New York University and director of NYU’s Erich Maria Remarque Institute. In September 2008, Judt was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. From October 2009, he was paralyzed from the neck down. With Timothy Snyder as both interviewer and transcriber, Tony Judt completed three more books before he died.
Among Judt’s many other books, which I have read, are: ‘The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century’ (1998), ‘Ill Fares the Land’ (2010), and ‘Thinking the Twentieth Century’ (2012, with co-author Timothy Snyder). All are excellent.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to Alexander Pademelon Johnson and Jerry Steele for pointers.
Let me tell you something. You may have a wife, or husband, or somebody you’re legally married to, and maybe also parents, and children, or family people you have dependent on you, and you fret, you worry, and anticipate that they may tangle you up in another drama or crisis or legal or emotional mess, and it may drag on and on and on, and weigh you down, and suck up your time, and drain your bank account, and eat up your paychecks, and gobble up you house, and you just want to figure out how to plan for a smooth getaway without sacrificing your love of your needing ones or making you feel guilty about betraying them, and no government, or bank, or church, or relatives, or EMTs, or hospital, or friends, which don’t actually exist, are going to land johnny-on-the-spot like Superman or Batman and rescue you when the disaster finally strikes and knocks you flat, because everybody else is in the same suspended hazard as you are and has no slack in their lives to worry about anybody else, or they are filthy rich and making book on the general misery so no way are going to be sympathetic to nobodies like you, and so you ask yourself: will I and my people be okay?, will we make it smoothly all the way?, can I just get a clear sign not to worry?, can I know that all will be safe?, can I be sure that they won’t wig out? So, let me tell you the truth: everybody — is — fucking — nuts. Count on it. Best you can do is be ready to jump to it when the shit hits the fan, and to dance with the disaster without freaking out, and let go of what you’ll need to accept is being ripped off from you, and forget having anyone care about your personal emotional drama on it all, or about getting the right mood pills and needles to cocoon you in evaporating amnesias, because there’s no out from the zone for you however much you would like to think there is, and you’ll need to do all that letting go so you can keep going on and keep as much of your sanity as you can manage, without giving up. So that’s the truth: there’s no hope and don’t give up. Maybe you’ll win life’s lottery and all will be fine, just don’t plan on it. Maybe it’s all part of God’s Plan for you to bring you a deeper truth out of a world of pain, well that’s all bullshit for suckers so forget it: nothing good comes out of pain and suffering, at best there is only relief if and when it stops. And after that, recovery?, well that’s just good luck; bad luck is called “relapse,” end of parole, back in the slammer, yeah you were framed, wasn’t everybody? But aren’t some people guilty because they’re stupid? Yeah well, everybody’s stupid to some degree or other, and face it we have all decided that we have to die way sooner than we really have to because we have to stay stupid, we must, because that is who we are. We call that freedom, rights, comfort, even religion. See what I mean: stupid. So there you have it: everybody’s fucking nuts, you live in their insane asylum, there’s no way out and we’re all going to die alone together from now until the cows come home. There’s no hope, just don’t let it get you down, and don’t give up. Might as well enjoy the show. Now, can I get an “amen?” Oh, and don’t forget to “like” and “subscribe”!
White Supremacy will end with human extinction. The angry rage of conservatives and fundamentalists, in the face of godless skepticism, is really an anguished cry of: “don’t make us question our bigotry!” For working class people who can’t think better, White Supremacy is a psychological compensation for an inferiority complex. That complex is learned from infected parents, and indoctrinated into one by a capitalist class society intent to exploit and enslave people by controlling their minds with a programming for obedience to higher authority, a sense of inadequacy and neediness, and with race- and ethnicity-based prejudice, to cause disunity among the great mass of the working class. Working class white supremacists are simply abused children passing on their abuse to younger generations and lower seniority workers and employees: ignorant slaves seeking to compensate for their hidden lack of self-respect by trying to depreciate and enslave others “below them”. The capitalist upper class propagates this mass psychology illness of low self-esteem, neediness and bigotry, because it is the method by which the union of the rich few control the disunion of the poor many. “Divide and conquer” was how the Roman Empire was ruled, and so with America today. Ending White Supremacy before human extinction occurs would require a Marxist Revolution to full Communism. A first step to that political goal is Labor Union organizing so the Labor Union Movement expands to the point of controlling the national economy. Then a Social Revolution can occur, which ends all interpersonal prejudices. Such a political-social progression is the only way militarism-imperialism can be overcome, and Climate Change finally seriously confronted. Such a Paradigm Shift is deemed “impossible” by capitalist indoctrination in the Slave Mind. And it may be unlikely in your lifetime, but that does not prevent you from working toward that Paradigm Shift — The Revolution — beginning with your own transformation out of Slave Mind, and then with the activism and organizing you may choose to do. The Revolution is not merely a desired socio-political event at some time in the future during the course of human history, it is a living process carried within the individual lives of people who have freed themselves from Slave Mind, and by their living examples push back against the oppressors’s imposition of Slave Mind and its White Supremacy illness, even onto the last day of human existence if that is to be our collective fate. Be joyful in your freedom.