Some Notes on Ukraine, mostly, (21Feb-16Mar’22)

Photograph by Oleksii Kyrychenko, 10 March 2022. Portrait of his 12 year old daughter in Kyiv. The beauty of childhood and the tragedy of war, and admirable resoluteness in the midst of great injustice, all in one photo.

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Some Notes on Ukraine, mostly, (21Feb-16Mar’22)

Over the last 24 days, I have had many thoughts about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or colored by that criminal tragedy. A number of these thoughts are in response to the questions, or accusations, I have received about the opinions I have so far expressed publicly about “Ukraine.” I offer this chronological string of some of my selected “notes on Ukraine” as a snapshot of this man’s state of mind at this time, primarily to share with people like my questioners. This is not a polemic (“a verbal war”) aimed at the many who disagree with my perspectives on “Ukraine,” “leftists,” “anti-imperialism,” and all that; it is just a fragmentary personal testimony, a series of reflections during a dark time.

It is my impression that for most Americans — and perhaps for most people everywhere — that their political awareness boils down to confirmation bias and witch burning.

“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. So, a loss of 10 million people between 1933 and 1944 represents 30.8% (nearly 1 in 3) of the 1939 population (used here for comparative purposes). For just the 6.5 million people lost between 1941 and 1944, because of the WWII German invasion, then 20% (1 in 5) of “1939” Ukrainians were killed. If we reference the 3.5 million Ukrainians killed between 1933 and 1938 (pre WWII), by the combination of Stalin’s enforced Terror Famine (1932-1933) and Great Purge (many gunshot executions, 1937-1938) to the 1939 population, that mortality ratio is 10.8% (about 1 in 9). Ukrainians remain very conscious of their 20th century history, especially those Ukrainian people in their 80s and 90s, who lived through that history.

There is no justification for Putin’s Russian invasion of Ukraine whatsoever. None of Putin’s accusations and characterizations of Ukraine are true. All Russian military operations in Ukraine are by definition war crimes. All apologetics of Putin’s invasion are complicity by ideological denial of truth. (See: “Vladimir Putin’s Hall of Mirrors, the Russian president sees the world through the lens of maskirovka and provokatsiia,” Timothy Snyder, 21 February 2022, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/02/putin-ukraine-invasion-maskirovka-provokatsiia/622874/)

Why is Volodymyr Zelensky the President of Ukraine today (since 20 May 2019)? Given the history of Ukraine, and Russian actions in that country, it is not hard to imagine why an arbitrary “Russian speaker” as a presidential candidate who “looks East” (as Viktor Yanukovych did in 2004-2005) would not get elected to lead Ukraine’s government and formulate its foreign policy. Additionally, Ukrainian voters were disgusted by political corruption in the 2010s, and Zelensky was seen as a reform candidate as well as an Atlanticist — politically and economically oriented toward Europe. It is Ukrainian history, and not US lobbying, that is the driving factor in the Ukrainian public mind setting its direction “toward the Atlantic.” Putin’s invasion only reinforces this point, and also adds to the argument in favor of Ukraine becoming a part of NATO, as an elementary matter of national self-defense.

I think that the fundamental issue has always been one of trust, not economics or energy supplies, and the lesson I am sure Ukrainians have arrived at from their history (and especially today) is that they can never trust the Russians ever, and that they should always try to acquire protective alliances to shield them from Russia — when their country can act as an independent nation. Despite the imbalance of military forces today, and perhaps a temporary ‘win’ for Putin’s military this week or next, over the long term Ukraine is lost to Russia forever as a willing subject (slave) or borderland ally. Russia can act out, and invade and destroy (as in Syrian and now Ukraine), but it has lost all moral authority and welcoming agreement from others, to expand territorially, and also enlarge its influence in defining political ideas internationally.

About “Nazis in Ukraine”: There are more neo-Nazis in Russia than Ukraine, and Putin is basically one of them. The totality of neo-Nazi ultra-right parties in Ukraine only garnered 2.5% in the last parliamentary elections, and failing to break 5% gained zero seats in the parliament. The “Ukrainian neo-Nazi” trope is Russian/Putin disinformation.

“Putin absurdly claims that he must invade Ukraine to denazify it. Zelens’kyi unlike Putin is a democratically-elected president. Zelenskyi unlike Putin does not support racists and white supremacists [and homophobes — MG,Jr.] around the world. He interprets the Second World War from a Ukrainian perspective… ‘How can you call us Nazis when we gave millions of lives in the Second World War?’ It is a fair point. Ukrainian soldiers died in terrible numbers in the Red Army: more than Americans, British, and Frenchmen combined during the Second World War. He adds: ‘Tell it to my grandfather, who fought in the Soviet infantry and died as a colonel in independent Ukraine.’ President Zelensky does not mention that his grandfather’s father and much of his family were murdered in the Holocaust.” — Timothy Snyder (24 February 2022, https://snyder.substack.com/p/do-russians-want-war).

What about Climate Change? Can the nations of the world ever stop generating an endless sequence of wars — which are always wasteful fossil fuel intensive and high CO2 emission disasters — and instead unite to cooperate on an effective socio-economic response to slow the acceleration of global warming? Today, it certainly seems not.

I think Global Warming Climate Change (GWCC) will cause many societal and political problems, and that we all will never arrive at one “perfect” solution to it all, we will always have to dance with a wide variety of interrelated and conflicting situations, and much of our dances will have to be ever-changing improvisations — forever. So, it is good for us each to keep doing the good we can do, because regardless of what Nature imposes on us, the better our personal, local and global human societies are, the better equipped they will be to face those challenges from Nature. And, really, this is true even without GWCC — but GWCC does make it more pressing.

On 1 March 2022, U.S. President Joseph Biden gave the televised “State of the Union Address” to a joint session of Congress. My abstraction of the Republican Response is as follows (and was written without any need to actually listen to the televised Republican Response): ‘Look folks, if Biden gets everything he’s asked for, the billionaires and corporations we work for will make less profit that they can stash overseas, and we will have a harder time getting elected, so we can keep our high paying government jobs working for those billionaires and corporations to keep making those tax-free profits. So don’t back any of it!, and don’t vote for anyone who will! Don’t listen to Biden when he tells you that passing his bills would lower your taxes, medical costs, daycare and grocery bills, raise your wages, and make it easier for you to vote! NONE OF THAT MATTERS! We know, because WE are the ones doing what really is important!, which is preventing all of that waste!, and keeping America PURE!” Who could doubt that there are more neo-Nazis in the U.S.A. than in Ukraine?

Ukraine in 2022 is a “great revealer” of people’s political biases and orientations, in the same way that Spain was during 1936-1939. May Ukraine’s fate be much, much happier (and that happiness occur much, much sooner) than Spain’s was from 1939 to 1975-1982 (Franco’s dictatorship). The Spanish Civil War was the prelude to WWII in Europe; would that the present Russian war in Ukraine could be the final coda of that cacophony of bloody dictatorial ambition, never to be seen or heard from again anywhere in the world, because the people have united and their oppressive regimes have been burned away.

How does it feel to be propelled through the portal of eternity into the full might and fury of God exploding into you? Feierlich, misterioso, bewegt lebhaft, schnell, langsam, feierlich. I listen once again to Bruckner’s 9th Symphony, and I think of Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Warsaw, Spain, Wounded Knee, Gettysburg, Fort Pillow, Boudica, Spartacus, Melos, Troy, Cassandra, and so many more — too many more. And I am reminded not to live superficially, self-absorbed and uncaring, for that would be ingratitude for so far having been spared their fate, by the capricious currents of history. — BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 in D minor / Haitink · Concertgebouw Orchestra (https://youtu.be/K5QZrxe54gU).

“He has gone where savage indignation can lacerate his heart no more.” — Jonathan Swift (1666-1747), his epitaph for himself.

A PRIVATE WAR (2018), a very powerful movie about MARIE COLVIN, a journalist (for The Sunday Times) who covered wars in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, among them: Sri Lanka, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria. She focused on the real story: the effect of war on people: civilians, families, children. She was well aware of the “politics” behind the wars, which are pushed by the egos and ambitions of dictators and “empires,” and she went to record the truths about the desperate resistance to those murderous governmental ambitions, resistance by the people massively outgunned and fighting for their independence, dignity, and survival while living constantly with unimaginable fear because of the extreme likelihood that they would soon be visited by a very violent death. The segments on Libya and Syria were particularly good at showing the reality of what Gaddafi and Assad (later with massive help from Putin) had done and were doing to their own people to merit the revolts that rose up against them. I think back to LOUIS PROYECT in 2011, when our separate anti-dictator rage converged sympathetically, over Libya, and of his massive output of writings over the next ten years in support of the Libyans and then Syrians, despite the continuous flack he received from the idiotic “anti-imperialist” Tankies and Campists who could care less how many brown bodies were shredded by hot metal bits to be dumped and hurriedly buried in mass grave pits by their favored dictators. These comfortable Western “anti-imperialists” were merciless in their criticisms of the failings of the Western democracies but were ready to tolerate the worst crimes by their favored perpetrators as long as they are committed in the name of the “proper doctrines” (a.k.a. “anti-imperialism”). And now we have Ukraine. I wish, for our benefit, that Louis was still here to breath his righteous fire in defense of a just cause, as he was so good at doing; the only consolation I can think of to his departure last August is that maybe his generous soul can no longer be wounded by the aggravating pain of seeing another unnecessary and murderous societal catastrophe perpetrated by Vladimir Putin. What you would see in A PRIVATE WAR is not exactly like Ukraine in 2022 — but then again it really is — for the people. “A Private War Trailer #1 (2018)” (https://youtu.be/TTf0Lc5YAcc), and “Telling legendary journalist Marie Colvin’s story in ‘A Private War’” (https://youtu.be/vdOPRLykvFA).

I just started reading LIFE AND FATE, an 841+ page Russian-Jewish novel, and Vasily Grossman’s masterpiece, the 20th century’s ‘War and Peace.’ Grossman was a journalist who accompanied the Red Army (at the front) from Stalingrad (1942-1943) to Berlin (1945), was the very first to write a ‘discovery’ report about the Nazi death camps (Treblinka), and survived as a Soviet dissident author through Stalin’s antisemitic campaign (proto-purge, ~1943-1953) and Khrushchev’s spiking of too embarrassingly truthful Russian literature (1953-1964). After he submitted his typescript of L&F for publication in 1959, the KGB raided Grossman’s flat to confiscate all copies and even the carbon papers and typewriter ribbons used: “his book was arrested.” He had made copies stashed secretly with friends who did not know each other. It was eventually smuggled out (by dissidents including Andrei Sakharov — ‘Father of the Russian Nuclear Bomb’) and published in the West in 1980, after Grossman’s death (stomach cancer) in 1964; it was first published in Russia in 1988. Vasily Grossman was a Ukrainian whose mother was killed by the German Nazis there. ‘Life and Fate’ is an epic meditation on the origins and consequences of totalitarianism, Nazi and Soviet equally (an equation the Soviet authorities wanted suppressed), and told from a human experiences point of view (as was the reporting by Marie Colvin between 1985-2012, but she was writing newspaper war correspondent reports whereas Grossman’s L&F is a novel summing up all his war correspondent and postwar anti-Stalinist dissidence experiences). Through the many characters in this novel, Grossman is able to describe many types of hellish experiences people between Berlin and Moscow, the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, and in the Gulags, were subjected to between ~1930 to ~1945.

KANAL (1957) (https://youtu.be/e0P66M4bVkI)
A company of the Polish Home Army soldiers with civilian stragglers, in September 1944, is relentlessly being decimated by the Wehrmacht during the Warsaw Uprising on the west side of the Vistula River, while the Red Army was halted on the east side waiting for it to be all over before continuing west toward Berlin — shades of the formally defunct Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. For this “free” version of this amazing classic gem of world cinema, knowing Polish or Portuguese (subtitles) would help, but neither is really needed as the story virtually tells all of itself visually. Scenes like some in this movie are becoming (and have become) more familiar again in places like Syria and Ukraine.

THE BOMBARDMENT (‘The Shadow In My Eye,’ 2022, https://youtu.be/h4jVysnRisI)
This is a deeply felt, and I would say deeply philosophical, Danish movie about the human costs of Operation Carthage, the March 1945 Royal Air Force (RAF) mission to bomb Gestapo HQ in the center of Copenhagen. The movie is entirely accurate about how that mission turned out: Gestapo HQ was destroyed, but a Catholic girls school was mistakenly destroyed as well, with 125 fatalities. In terms of the visuals, sound and pacing, the movie is top notch; the acting is all “natural” and entirely believable; and the interwoven plots of the children and their young funny and existentially anguished teacher, Sister Teresa, are how this story infuses the viewer with a feeling of what war does to the human spirit (and to bodies, as well). That dispiriting effect of anguish and dread in the adults during warfare: Danish parents and RAF pilots, is also shown quite effectively. While there is certainly a good bit of tense action in this movie (with beautiful deadly airplanes), that action is at the service of the human/psychological story, and for that reason I see this as a “philosophical” movie. Maybe Danish film-makers are all imbued with Kierkegaard and steeped in Bergman movies, so a film like this has the clarity and deep perspective of slant angle sunlight in far northern slate-gray skies. In the chaos of war even goodness and self-sacrifice are tragic. What is most important at all times, theirs and ours, is to remember the human connection. This film shows that, masterfully.

Benjamin Ferencz (age 102) on Ukraine, 2022:
“Two of the 22 Nazis he prosecuted then, high-ranking members of the Einsatzgruppen, Nazi extermination squads responsible for the deaths of around two million, were architects of the massacre of Babyn Yar in Kyiv in September 1941. When he learnt Putin’s forces had blasted the mass grave of its 33,771 largely Jewish victims on Tuesday, he was crushed. However, hearing the International Criminal Court (ICC) announce this week it was already sending war crimes investigators into Ukraine, that it would hold Russian perpetrators at the highest level to account for any war crimes committed, has given him cause for renewed hope. His voice raised, shouting at times, he said: ‘The crimes now being committed against Ukraine by Russia are a disgrace to human society, those responsible should be held accountable for aggression, crimes against humanity and plain murder. As soon as they start dragging the criminals before a court the happier we will be.’ For Putin and his circle to be tried, proven war crimes would need to be linked directly to them. To enable their arrests, potentially a whole new government would need to be in place. Russia has previously quit the ICC. But Mr Ferencz is certain Putin can be jailed – maybe here, [UK] like Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic.” — [“Last surviving Nuremberg Trials prosecutor says Vladimir Putin should be ‘behind bars’” 4 March 2022, https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/last-surviving-nuremberg-trials-prosecutor-26389664]

“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”

UK Polish Leftists on Ukraine (14 March 2022, https://manuelgarciajr.com/2022/03/14/uk-polish-leftists-on-ukraine/) note:
Q: Why did Putin attack Ukraine?
A: To finish what he started when he took Crimea, and incorporate the “fake nation” of Ukraine into Russia, duh. For centuries, Russia suppressed the Ukrainian language and culture, and it’s what they are planning now. Putin’s talk about Russians and Ukrainians being ”one nation”, or about Ukraine “not being a real country” is just preparing ground for russification of Ukraine. Do you know that Ukraine used to be called Malorossiya? (Little Russia)? During Putin’s rule, he and his supporters have long peddled the idea of “ruski mir” – “Russian world” – an ideology that says Russian civilisation extends to anywhere Russians live. Do you see where this is going? Get it now??? If not, read this article that the Russian “news” outlet RIA Novosti published by mistake, that was supposed to run AFTER Russia’s “obvious” victory over Ukraine. They promptly removed it, but not quickly enough. It had already been screencapped by multiple readers, and translated into English by a Pakistani newspaper: “The new world order,” Petr Akopov (https://thefrontierpost.com/the-new-world-order/).

I FIND IT AMAZING TO HAVE TO SAY THIS, BUT:
I don’t play the “my war criminal is better than your war criminal” game. And I don’t defend any dictator, even if his purported “principles” are right (i.e., “left”). “We” (actual people) stop “them” (regimes) if we can and as we can. The inability so far to bring 20th-21st century U.S. war criminals to justice is not an excuse to allow for Putin, Assad, Gaddafi (till 2011), et. al., to continue with their crimes, if it seems possible to stop them. Lack of universal perfect justice in the world is not an excuse to accept and approve of ideologically sympathetic injustices (by ‘your’ war criminals) to compensate for the existence of ideologically antipathetic injustices (by ‘their’ war criminals). Churchill and Roosevelt (“capitalists”, “imperialists”) had no problem accepting Stalin’s Red Army (“communists”, imperialist-within-one-soviet-‘union’) fighting the larger fraction of the WWII land war in Europe against Hitler (real Nazis). And I don’t have a problem with NATO taking down dictators (like Gaddafi, Assad, Putin) who are prosecuting murderous wars today, if it is possible to take them down. Blunt weapons are far better than no weapons in catastrophic emergencies for targeted victim populations: ideology • does • not • matter — people do! “In politics, the choice is never between good and evil, but between the preferable and the detestable.”

Let me say that one main inspiration for me to express myself on politics/international relations in the way I do was historian Tony Judt’s comment in one of his later books that it was important to bring morality into political discussions, and not just let them proceed as essentially soulless exercises in gamesmanship and “realpolitik.” And that is my point of departure. My chain of logic is: people (human solidarity) –> defines morality –> thus, bend ideology (ideally leftism/socialism, though alas so far always sectarian) to fit the human-centered morality (not “interests” centered politics) –> from there construct the “politics” (the mechanics of socio-economic relations and operations). With such a “moral” outlook, it is then easy to see through ideological obfuscation (like the “my war criminal is better than your war criminal” silliness of so much self-righteous victim-ignoring virtue-signalling in the propaganda wars over “Ukraine”), and know that dictators of any stripe are bad, unprovoked military invasions are bad, bombing civilians and civilian areas is wrong and bad, and that trying to conquer, subjugate and re-colonize, and destroy the culture of, a foreign people and nation is wrong and bad. I always reference back to “the people” who are getting hammered, and so I always think the “right politics” is whatever gives them relief from that as soon as possible, and then sets them onto a safe secure national independence of a form they select by a fair and transparent process of self-determination. For me human freedom trumps (sic) ideological purity and consistency.

Political ideology is based on abstractions about national regimes, both actual and as idealized projections, without regard to human individuality. Political morality is based entirely on the realities of relations between national populations, all seen as human individuals and not as politically abstracted masses (“regimes”), and all deserving the same degree of personal experience of political freedom and human rights as described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, published by the United Nations.

National policy guided by a consistency of political ideology will often require sacrifices of the political freedoms and human rights of individuals, domestic and foreign. National policy guided by political morality will require a continuing shifting, “dance,” and sacrifice of the preferred political ideology, in order to seek for the moral center action is to be aimed at in order to preserve a materially effective international human solidarity, in the midst of the ever changing external political conditions of human civilization.

It is more work with less profit to do what is morally right than what is politically-ideologically consistent. But unless the world’s nations can collectively learn “to do what is morally right,” we will never solve the global problems of nuclear disarmament and mounting real and permanent responses and adaptations that slow the acceleration of global warming and blunt the worst effects of climate change on biodiversity and on the habitability of Planet Earth.

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Borowski’s Inferno

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Borowski’s Inferno

“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.

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’Stateless’, an Australian Television Drama about Refugee Detention

’The Trojan Women,’ a play by Euripides, was first performed in Athens 2,436 years ago at the height of the disastrous Peloponnesian War. It is considered a commentary on the capture of the Aegean island of Melos and the subsequent slaughter of its men and the enslavement of its women by the Athenians earlier that year, 415 BCE.

This play focuses on four women awaiting their fates after the fall of Troy (~1,200 BCE, in northwest Turkey near the Dardanelles): Hecuba (the wife of the slain king, Priam), Cassandra (the beautiful virginal daughter of Priam and Hecuba, who was blessed and then cursed by a lustful Apollo, with having a gift of prophesy none would listen to), Andromache (the wife of the great Trojan hero, Hector, who was slain by Achilles), and Helen (the Achaean queen and wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, who ran off with Paris to Troy, and which elopement was the purported cause for the Achaeans’s war against Troy).

The three Trojan women would all be made concubines and slaves by the Achaeans (mainland Greeks), and Helen returned to Menelaus. Because the Greeks wanted to ensure there would be no surviving male heir to the Trojan throne, they took Astyanax, the infant son of Hector and Andromache and the grandson of Priam and Hecuba, up to the high parapet of Troy and tossed him down to his death on the rocks below.

In 5th and 4th Century BCE Athens, the playwrights were known as poets and called teachers, and in ’The Trojan Woman’ Euripides was desperately and dramatically striving to teach the Athenians that the horrors of the Peloponnesian War were destroying the soul of their society, and that they should find ways of extricating their city-state from the war. His vehicle to convey that larger message to the Athenians was this dramatization of the final days in the death of the Trojan city-state eight centuries earlier (if in fact it was a single real historical event), as told in Greek myths recounted by legendary poets like Homer and his many forgotten colleagues.

’Stateless’, an Australian 6-part television series that was launched in 2020, is about a refugee and ‘illegal immigrant’ detention center, and strikes me as being similar to ‘The Trojan Woman’ as a societal teaching drama. It is both a searing depiction full of human and political insights about the current refugee crisis in Australia, as well as a close analogy for similar tragic realities along the US-Mexican border, in Libya and southern Italy, in Syria and the Greek Islands; and in other places where minorities and disfavored ‘others’ live precariously without stable statehood and are internally displaced or incarcerated, as in Syria, ‘Kurdistan’, Palestine, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The writers of ’Stateless’, Elise McCredie and Belinda Chayko have done a magnificent job. The directors, Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse have made an absorbing and compelling visual work (https://www.netflix.com/title/81206211).

How many refugees are there around the world? The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR (https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html) states that: “At least 82.4 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes. Among them are nearly 26.4 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also millions of stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and lack access to basic rights such as education, health care, employment and freedom of movement. At [this] time 1 in every 95 people on earth has fled their home as a result of conflict or persecution.”

We must add that the deleterious effects of climate change — crop failures and lack of drinking water from extended droughts, and the loss of land, housing and employment due to violent weather and flooding — has also spurred refugee streams.

Those refugee streams flow out of the tropical and sub-tropical latitudes: from Africa northward across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, up from Central America and Mexico and across the Caribbean Sea to North America, southward from Eastern Asia to Australia, and from the arid interior of the Middle East westward toward the Mediterranean Sea and Europe.

Americans, Europeans and Australians see these refugee streams as incoming waves of impoverished humanity comprised of dark-skinned people with cultures, mind frames and languages vastly different from their own, and thus a threat to American, European and Australian prosperity, and their existing ethnic balances, if too large an influx. We must realize that these refugee streams course back up along the gradients of wealth leading from the Global South to the Global North (and Australia), propelled by the pent up pressure of economic disparity created by over half a millennium of conquest and imperialism with over three centuries of slavery, by the White people of the north: the Europeans and the descendants of their American and other colonists.

The Australian television series ’Stateless’ is composed of a weave of four sub-plots, each about a person caught up in and then piteously twisted to the breaking point by the day-to-day reality of escalating crisis in the asylum-seeker Braxton Detention Center. All these stories are based on actual case histories. Threatened men and women become refugees and are driven to acts of desperation, they are victimized, families are torn apart, some eventually find sanctuary while many others languish indefinitely or perish. Low-level workers in the host countries looking to hang onto paychecks are shoved by higher level bureaucrats and policy-makers to go in and do the dirty work of “keeping a lid on” and also “making it look good for the public.” And the sanctimonious of all stripes on the outside are more often than not “virtue signaling” for their own ego boosts, than having any useful empathy for all the individuals mired in the toxic tangle of “the system.”

One story in ‘Stateless’ is based on the real case of Cornelia Rau, an Australian woman citizen who was emotionally disturbed at the time and who was inadvertently — and unlawfully — incarcerated by the Australian government’s Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), and held for 10 months during 2004-2005 under the country’s mandatory detention policy for refugees, until Cornelia was traced to Braxton by a relative, and correctly identified and released to a hospital.

Another sub-plot focuses on an Afghani family fleeing the Taliban, being cheated and robbed by criminal human traffickers in Pakistan, being separated while attempting to make the perilous sea voyage to Australia in rickety boats, with the survivors eventually finding each other at Braxton. But the effort of the Afghani father to gain entry visas for his surviving family proves to be a very heartbreaking and essentially impossible effort. Despite some commendable humanitarian impulses by Australian workers tasked with maintaining the day-to-day operations of the center, and of some right-minded procedures embedded in the immigration policy, that policy is nevertheless largely fueled by a great deal of officially mandated bigotry and prejudice.

The conflict between offering a welcoming humanitarian response to the desperation of the trapped refugees terrified of being deported back to certain death, and the politically motivated mandates from the central government to maintain this bureaucratic structure for continuing exclusion, and without arousing public attention to it, is personified by the story of the woman appointed as the new director of the center. She is emotionally torn apart by the inherent cruelty of the job, and her political expendability to the remote higher-ups.

The last of the four sub-plots in ‘Stateless’ centers on a local rural freelance mechanic who seeks to leave precarity behind and support his young family with a steady paycheck earned working as a ‘prison’ guard at the detention center — though he is instructed that it is a refugee center and not a prison since its residents, despite having no freedom of motion, have not been placed there for the commission of crimes. This individual is a good-hearted fellow who quickly comes under unrelenting strain because of his repulsion at the cruelty toward unruly refugees by a sadistic guard, and because of the numerous requirements for him to perform rough enforcement actions on people exhibiting outbursts of anger, fear and madness. Both the emotional and physical traumas sustained in doing his job while trying to thread the needle between the frayed edges of UNHCR compassionate supervision of a precarious population, and the barbed razor sharp edges of bureaucratically enforced nationalism, nearly deaden his heart and rip apart his family.

Each of the four sub-plots in ‘Stateless’ is populated with many supporting characters who enrich the presentation, and the entire ensemble presents the full spectrum of human experiences that take place in the turbulent focal point of mixing-nonmixing between Australian society and Asian refugees at the Braxton Detention Center.

The ultimate solution to the world’s refugee crisis is so far out of view: ending all wars to establish a lasting world peace, and ensuring intelligent economic development up to decent standards everywhere so that people can remain in their countries with their families experiencing physical and economic security and good health down through the generations. Achieving these conditions would obviate the need for anyone to become a refugee and seek foreign asylum.

Yes, this is idealistic (naïvely so?, impossibly?), like wanting equitable worldwide cooperation to stop anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions so as to tamp down the acceleration of global warming. But neither of these ideals is intrinsically impossible to actualize, and that is why the continuation of the refugee and climate crises are such tragedies: they are fundamentally unnecessary sorrows, open and festering wounds on the body of humanity.

What we have today is a compounded system of exploitation through tiered victimhood, a system commanded by über capitalists and nationalistic warlords living luxuriant lives, and served by hierarchical cascades of lower level petty boss bureaucrats, their functionaries, and in turn their laborers and armed enforcers. This system is so abhorrent that Nature itself has abandoned us, and is trying to burn us off the land and wash us away into the seas and oceans we have thoughtlessly poisoned with our wastes. An added cruelty to this accelerating rejection of humanity by Nature is that those who are suffering now, and first, and will suffer the most from the increasing hostility of Earth’s climatic conditions to human life are the people of the Global South (the Third World), the regions from which today’s refugee streams emerge, the poorest of Earth’s people, those who lead the most precarious lives, and those who contributed the least to the creation of the global climate crisis.

Coda: a Meditation on ’Stateless’

Must I have a stone heart to preserve a sane mind in a world of pure suffering I am luckily insulated from — for now? How does one combat compassion fatigue and empathy burnout? Does one sink into survivor’s guilt for blamelessly being born lucky?; for living in a bubble of comfort, freedom and justice that is much rarer than one had previously imagined?; and that seems to be diminishing by national policy out of view of its lucky inhabitants confident in their unawareness? But of those lucky people who do become aware, how do they survive and stay human without deadening their souls? We have become a race of monomaniacal blind cyclopses raging about our freedoms because we cannot conceive of anything beyond our own frustrated infantile selfishness. Becoming aware of the sufferings of others is the first step in the very long journey of personal redemption. That journey has many perils, and no one completes it unscathed.

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Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact 1939, and the Russian-German War 1941-1945

World War II began 80 years ago, on 1 September 1939. The following commentary is at heart a critique of ideologically-driven historical revisionism, which distorts the the truth and promotes falsehoods, and is thus a disservice to the public.

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The article by Jacques R. Pauwels, “The Hitler-Stalin Pact of August 23, 1939: Myth and Reality” (https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/08/26/the-hitler-stalin-pact-of-august-23-1939-myth-and-reality/) appeared on CounterPunch on 26 August 2019. The article described many interesting details of the political maneuverings, prior to 22 June 1941, by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Russian regime, and the British, French and Polish governments, to either protect themselves from Hitler’s evident planned aggressions, or abet and take anti-communist advantage of them. Pauwels is an enthusiastic partisan of the Russian policy of that time: “The notion that the Hitler-Stalin Pact triggered the Second World War is worse than a myth, it is an outright lie. The opposite is true: the pact was precondition for the happy outcome of the Armageddon of 1939-1945, that is, the defeat of Nazi Germany.” While an interesting article, I did not like Pauwels’s portrayal of events for the following reasons.

I never believed in Stalin’s goodness nor his infallibility, as Pauwels seems to (though a Belgian-Canadian, Pauwels is clearly an anti-“Atlanticist” ‘Communisant,’ of the type so accurately criticized by Albert Camus, Arthur Koestler, Raymond Aron and Tony Judt). I have read “Let History Judge” (Roy Medvedev), “Russia At War” (Alexander Werth), and other samizadt literature, and I think Pauwels was way too glib glossing over Stalin’s policies on: starving the Kulaks (forced collectivization in the Ukraine, 1932-1933, which Pauwels essentially denies), purging the Red Army in 1937-1938 (eliminating many capable professionals from the officer corps, and replacing them with incompetent Stalinist lackeys), and Stalin’s insistence (in 1941) that the Red Army position themselves right up to the legal limit of Russia’s western border (and/or frontline positions in occupied territories), ‘to defend every inch of Russian soil,’ instead of deploying defensive positions in depth (as the Red Army generals pleaded with Stalin to do) to be able to absorb and erode the expected Nazi mechanized army and air force invasion. These last two stupidities nearly cost Russia the war in 1941, and it was a scramble to move surviving troops (many killed, imprisoned and overrun by the invading German forces in June 1941) and industries east for regrouping.

I can easily believe that Soviet Russia did some planning in this regard prior to June 1941, but not nearly enough and not the prescient strategy that Pauwels would have you believe. Pauwels even mentions “Let History Judge,” but he certainly didn’t use it. Also, Stalin fobbed off (ignored) the incredible spying coup (the greatest ever perhaps, in this case lifting the detailed Nazi plan and schedule for the June 1941 invasion of Russia, from the German ambassador in Japan) given him by Richard Sorge’s spy ring in Japan, and even did zero to try to extract the members of that spy ring (by a prisoner exchange? diplomacy? even just a pro forma request for clemency?) from their sad executions by the Japanese military, by hanging in 1944.

Another problem with Pauwels Stalinist revisionism is that he portrays the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 (Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, 23 August 1939) as a principled diplomatic strategy by Russia to buy time to prepare for the expected eventual Nazi invasion – since Britain and France refused to form a defensive alliance with Soviet Russia against Nazi Germany. The pact was an agreement between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia not to make war on each other, and it contained secret protocols detailing the limits of the Polish territories Hitler (in western Poland) and Stalin (in eastern Poland) intended to occupy when they started the war, on 1 September 1939. For Nazi Germany the goal of this pact was to secure its Eastern Front while it would prosecute war to the west, on France, England, Holland, Belgium and Norway; for Russia the goal of the pact was to buy time before having to deal with eventual Nazi aggression, but also to enable Stalin’s imperialist ambitions regarding Poland. The Non-Aggression Pact of 23 August 1939 opened the door to World War II, contrary to Pauwels’ revisionist assertion.

Stalin’s Red Army sweep into eastern Poland on 1 September 1939 [actually 17 September 1941] was anything but an unfortunately necessary, principled as possible (to the Poles) occupation to set up a defensive buffer between Germany and Russia; it was bloody murder. Part of the secret protocols of the 1939 pact was an agreement to exchange political dissidents who had fled from the two dictatorships: German Communists who had fled to Russia, and Russian fascists and anti-communists who had fled to Nazi Germany. These dissidents were marked for death.

In the samizadt literature I have read (in the 1980s), including Roy Medvedev’s “Let History Judge,” the execution of these 150 German Communists is described. It occurred at a shipyard or large factory in Poland. The German Communists originally harbored by the Russian Revolution had been corralled by the NKVD (Russia’s secret police), and at this prisoner exchange first had their Communist Party cards confiscated. Then they were individually inspected and identified (as the fugitives sought) by the Gestapo, while the NKVD similarly inspected and identified fugitive Russian anti-communists that Germany had harbored and now the Gestapo was returning to Stalinist Russia, in this secretive prisoner exchange. Once the exchange was complete, the Gestapo and the NKVD shot their prisoners. The reason the NKVD confiscated the German Communists’s party cards (expelling these Germans from the Communist Party) was to prevent fascists from executing communists — that was the extent of principle here. Apparently the bodies were burned in furnaces at this industrial plant. That, and the execution of the Polish Army officer corps (by one Red Army colonel – later highly decorated – shooting the Polish men in the back of the head every few minutes for weeks, while Red Army troops mustered them in and disposed of the bodies in the Katyn Forrest) was the essence of the “secret protocols” of the 1939 pact. Pauwels is silent on all this.

Pauwels’ story of 1934-1941 is far too neat and pro-Stalinist ideologically pure to accurately reflect the reality of those times. Without doubt, though Stalin was a crushing amoral and sadistic dictator, there was signifiant group policy-making occurring among the Soviet elite during the Russian-German War — mainly regarding military campaigns (which included civilian mobilization and control) — coordination between military people like Georgy Zhukov, political (commissar) people like Nikita Khrushchev, and the internal security and all-around coercion people (NKVD) like Lavrentiy Beria; and such coordination within the Soviet elite resulted in many of the good moves against the Nazis, and recovery from Stalin’s dictatorial blunders where possible.

Also, in real life, human planning is never perfect, chaos always introduces disruptions especially in large fast-moving situations like modern mechanized warfare of continental dimensions. This element of chaos means that for both the Nazis and the Soviets their campaigns (military and political) were punctuated by unforeseen events, sometimes big and often small, sometimes beneficial and sometimes catastrophic. No one is always ever fully “in control.” So the “end result” was an outcome derived from an initial plan that embodied an ideology — neither as well thought-out as subsequent ideological partisans would claim — that had flowed from dictatorial cunning and delusion, was brutally massaged through group “dough kneading and pounding” coordination, and then shredded and flacked by the shrapnel of war-time chaos, leading to uncountable numbers of hasty improvisations in the field at all levels from the Generalissimo down to the Good Soldiers Schweik. That “end result” was a near pyrrhic victory for Soviet Russia (and I agree probably the greatest feat of arms in human history), and a devastating defeat for Nazi Germany and the German people in 1945.

What I dislike about Pauwels’ version of WWII history (on the Eastern Front, at least 80% of the European War in my estimation), besides its ideologically-driven inaccuracy, is that it comes across as an apologia of the “wisdom” of great far-sighted deep-thinking and keen-planning political leadership (that one is partisan to), and so justifies the immense suffering that actually occurs as a consequence of the self-serving careerism of such power elites, who always ensure they are insulated from the karma they unleash on their people (except if they lose their wars badly enough to end up being captured, facing a war crimes tribunal, and executed).

I prefer historians who detail the full spectrum of reality’s unfolding: the palace intrigues (important people in high places making plans for us all to fit in as cogs and fodder), fumbled and jumbled by group planning and implementation (courtiers and mandarins filtering the emperor’s dictates and fantasies), which are aided and/or shredded by chaotic eruptions (“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”) especially in the dynamic instability of wartime. Such realistic histories help us — as survivors for the moment — see “how we got here,” and can help us learn to leave bigger margins for error, the unexpected, as well as undisclosed elite criminality, in our collective social and political planning.

There’s no doubt that during those early decades of the 20th century that Neville Chamberlain and his Conservative Party associates were primarily concerned to maintain and protect the British capitalist class system — money; that Hitler and Stalin were each avid to expand and consolidate their dictatorial national control — power; that Poland’s leadership was more delusional than realistic about Polish military power and its international political leverage, and anti-semitism was ripe among the Catholic populace (though that did not justify the bloody destruction of Poland by both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, the latter clearly acting on more than just realpolitik to establish a defensive buffer); and that the United States was popularly allergic to European power struggles (its white supremacy types favoring the Nazis, and its working/depression underclass favoring the Communists), while its corporate elite was politically and financially supportive of the Nazi regime both for its money-making and Russian Communist-eradicating potential.

The course and outcome of the European War of 1939-1945 (or 1914-1945, if you prefer) was no subtly elegant political dance and clean-cut military masterstroke of Soviet planning, as Pauwels paints, but the mashing together of the all the schemes — whose perpetrators Pauwels identifies — and their haphazard disruptions by wartime chaos: luck.

The tragedy of human affairs, especially as regards war and politics, is that we have learned nothing since Thucydides spelled it all out 2,430 years ago in his “History Of The Peloponnesian War.” No historian since has surpassed him; and people worldwide still suffer the same types of tragedies and atrocities that Thucydides described in antiquity, because human civilization continues to perpetrate them.

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After I wrote the essay above (and sent an earlier draft to Counterpunch) a much more authoritative and much more detailed article on the subject, by Louis Proyect and Pawel Szelegieniec, was published by Counterpunch; I recommend it.

The Hitler-Stalin Pact, Reconsidered
30 August 2019
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/08/30/the-hitler-stalin-pact-reconsidered/

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For an explanation of my earlier characterization of Pauwels as (in my opinion) “an anti-‘Atlanticist’ ‘Communisant,’ of the type so accurately criticized by Albert Camus, Arthur Koestler, Raymond Aron and Tony Judt,” see the section “Raymond Aron and the Paris Intellectuals of the 1950s” in my 2011 article

Political Belief And Self Image: Aron, OWS, And Libya
7 November 2011
http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci31.html

In fact, here is that section.

Raymond Aron and the Paris Intellectuals of the 1950s

The Opium of the Intellectuals, by Raymond Aron, was published in France in 1955. This book is a sociological study of the mid 20th century intelligentsia, and a polemic against ideological fanaticism. Aron opposed the pro-Soviet views of the French intelligentsia, as exhibited by prominent personalities like Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The crux of Aron’s argument was that Soviet-style communism was not in the interests of the French public because as a 19th century conception of the organization of an industrial society it was outmoded for 20th century France, and as a political system it was devoid of the personal liberties, especially of political free speech, prized by the fractious French.

Aron advocated “politics” in place of “revolution” as the means of changing French society, arguing that a modern industrialized state would progress toward a more just political economy, more swiftly and with far fewer personal tragedies, through reformism rather than violent revolution. Aron illustrated this by comparing the lag in socioeconomic development and the achievement of political stability in France in comparison to that of England during the century from 1789 (the French Revolution to the Third Republic).

Aron’s criticism of the legitimacy of the pro-communist belief of his contemporaries was not aimed at members of the Communist Parties in Europe (the true believers), but at the “communisants,” the French fellow-travelers who did not join the Communist Party in France, nor relocate to Communist countries, but condemned post-war American influence in Europe (“Atlanticism”), praised Marxist ideology, and never criticized the Soviet Union nor its actions in Eastern Europe.

“Seeking to explain the attitude of the intellectuals, merciless toward the failings of the democracies but ready to tolerate the worst crimes as long as they were committed in the name of the proper doctrines, I soon came across the sacred words Left, Revolution, Proletariat.” (The Opium of the Intellectuals)

It is possible to interpret the communisant attitude, which Aron criticized, as a defense of wounded pride. The Fall of France (1940) was not just a national catastrophe along the material dimensions of military and economic power, political independence, and social cohesion, but a psychological catastrophe as well. The humiliation imposed on the German people by the Treaty of Versailles (1919) was avenged twenty-one years later when France was placed under the control of a German Occupation and a collaborationist Vichy Government for over four years, a period we can bracket from the occupation of Paris to its liberation: June 14, 1940, to August 25, 1944.

The liberation of France began with the invasion of Europe by Allied forces, landing on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and was completed by the end of World War II in Europe on May 8, 1945. Resistance organizations had formed themselves in every occupied country, and many of these irregular anti-Nazi fighters and agents were Communists. Immediately after WWII, the Communist parties of Western Europe had a well-deserved prestige because of the many risks taken and sacrifices made by Communist members of the Resistance.

Anyone from a country that had been occupied by the Germans, seeking some source of national pride to counter the humiliation of the occupation years, could at least look back and point to his country’s partisans.

The physical and economic ruin of Europe after WWII left the United States as the leading world power, and it applied its wealth to the rebuilding of Western Europe out of a mixture of motives: sympathy and goodwill, commercial self-interest, and a competition with the Soviet Union for political power: anti-communism. A major effort combining all these motivations was the Marshall Plan, which cycled $13B though Europe during the four years beginning in April 1948 (the U.S. had already contributed $12B in aid to Europe between the end of WWII and 1948).

Anyone who has suffered a calamity and then receives charity (which often has strings attached) can feel grateful up to the point where relief becomes overshadowed by resentment because of a growing sense of humiliation over one’s dependency. So it was with some Europeans in the early 1950s, when the United States and the Soviet Union locked horns in their Cold War and used Europe, Germany in particular, as their field of contention.

The Greek Civil War between the US-backed government and the Greek Communist Party lasted from March 1946 to October 1949. This was the beginning of US military assistance applied against the anti-Nazi partisans of the Occupation years. The Berlin Blockade, which was relieved by a NATO airlift, occurred between June 24, 1948, and May 12, 1949. Stalin died on March 5, 1953, and thwarted proletarian expectations erupted as the Uprising in East Germany on June 17, 1953. The Western European Union was founded on October 23, 1954, with the first inclusion of an independent West German state (the Federal Republic of Germany) into an economic and defense association of Atlantic Alliance (NATO) European nations, and which allowed the FRG to industrialize without restriction, and rearm. The Hungarian Uprising occurred during October 23 to November 10, 1956. Both the East German and Hungarian uprisings were ruthlessly suppressed by the Red Army and local paramilitary police troops.

In societies where there is wide public appreciation of their men and women of letters, the intellectuals belong to the elite class that interprets the nation to itself. The French intellectuals of the immediate postwar period were sensitive to the popular desire for a recovery of national pride, and also very sensitive to their own loss of importance in shaping the political narrative of their time. The centers of power affecting daily life throughout Europe were no longer Paris, London, and Berlin, but Moscow and Washington, D.C.

That the relatively unsophisticated Americans should have such wealth that they could act like a Salvation Army for derelict Western European nations; that they should have such military power that they could align their propped-up European charity cases like pawns in a geostrategic chess game with the Soviet Union; that America would gleefully spin the gears and pull the levers of politics in Western Europe and around the globe without the least thought to the wounded self-regard of France, or to the interpretations of history-in-the-making from one of the most brilliant sources of such narration in Western Civilization since the Enlightenment — the French intelligentsia — was galling to distraction, and shaped the pro-Soviet anti-Atlanticist orientation of a French intelligentsia seeking redemption and relevance.

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11 May 2021: Intense [link below]. In the 1980s I read about the prisoner exchanges in 1939 of escaped German communists (antifascists) from Russia (out of ‘asylum,’ and) given (back) to the Gestapo; and escaped Russian anticommunists (fascists) from Germany (out of ‘asylum,’ and) given (back) to the NKVD. According to the high level Russian ex-official, who wrote a book called “Nomenklatura,” (this was during the Gorbachev era, the Livermore Lab library was well stocked with the latest books on “cold war politics” and scholarship of many different slants): the NKVD took the party card away from the communist prisoners, then with a Gestapo officer present verified the identity of the individual (to check that item off the Gestapo’s shopping list), and similarly verified the identity of an anticommunist prisoner being given to the NKVD in exchange, then both the Gestapo and the NKVD led their repatriated prisoners away for executions in private. The reason the communists’ party membership cards were removed was so the Gestapo would not shoot “communists,” defined as those being members of the party in good standing. Very large gears in the machinery of power, indeed, and lubricated with the blood of lives whose identities were erased from memory. In the 2000s I met a woman who was a Spaniard born in Arkhangelsk (in West Arctic Russia), as her parents were Spanish communists who escaped Franco’s fascist Spain, on the defeat of the Spanish Republicans in 1939. Her daughter and my youngest were friends in a girls chorus in San Francisco. She said that Stalin wanted the Spanish Communists as far from Europe (western, southern, central) as possible. She was a survivor (and very Russian), and obviously did not believe in any ideology. She made it real for me, without having to say very much.

I also read “Let History Judge” by Roy Medvedev. A deep dive into the abyss of human desolation. And for that reason: instructive. All of this literature is about the victims, nearly all unnamed and long forgotten, of the successful practitioners of the Arthashastra, The Prince, and their more modern derivatives of such manuals of “statecraft.”

The Nazi-Soviet Pact: A Betrayal of Communists by Communists
[An excerpt from Bini Adamczak’s book “Yesterday’s Tomorrow: On the Loneliness of Communist Specters and the Reconstruction of the Future.”]
https://thereader.mitpress.mit.edu/the-nazi-soviet-pact-a-betrayal-of-communists-by-communists/

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Climate Crisis, Elite Panic, and Mass Exclusion

John Davis’s interesting article in Counterpunch,

Are We Moderns Or Terrestrials?
7 February 2019
https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/02/07/are-we-moderns-or-terrestrials/

Describes the idea of “social triage” practiced by a global wealth elite, to exclude the mass of Earth’s people from the finite natural bounty our planet can supply to humanity; this drive being accelerated by the obvious threats of the accelerating Climate Crisis. Davis writes:

In [the book] Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime, 2018, Bruno Latour, the French philosopher and sociologist, writes, “To the migrants from outside who have to cross borders and leave their countries at the price of immense tragedies, we must, from now on, add the migrants from inside who, while remaining in place, are experiencing the drama of seeing themselves left behind by their own countries”.

Davis’s article reminds me of earlier sallies on this topic.

The most prescient, to my mind, was Tony Judt’s essay The Social Question Redivivus, which appeared in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1997 (and is still behind a paywall) and was reprinted as the last selection in Judt’s book Reappraisals, Reflections On The Forgotten Twentieth Century (Penguin Books, 2008). Except for the mention of Climate Change, Judt’s 1997 article laid out a very detailed exposition of the same form of triage as Davis (and Latour) now describe 22 years later.

I wrote a short gloss on Judt’s books and this topic in particular as

Tony Judt, Edward Snowden, And “The Excluded”
1 July 2013
http://swans.com/library/art19/mgarci66.html

Also, on the idea of triage being practiced by the global wealth elite to separate “the excluded” from the finite bounty of the Earth, a very similar idea formed the core of Joseph Heller’s 1994 novel Closing Time (Simon and Schuster, 1994), which is both a reminiscence of their youth by WWII generation Brooklyn NY Jews, and a scathing satire of late 20th century American political attitudes. In the novel, a nitwit President of the U.S. plays a video game called Triage, which is actually a command console connected to an underground technological complex (based on the Reagan Administration idea of an underground mobile MX missile complex) for secretly controlling the day-to-day process of manipulating both selected individuals and the population as a whole, and ultimately of mass exclusion by nuclear war.

Davis notes that the basic practice by wealth elites of working hard to exclude the mass of people from prosperity, and to enslave them, is ancient. His (and Latour’s) point is that climate change is adding pressure to that elite drive for mass immiseration.

The implication of the above is that some form of serious and vigorous populist movement that successfully addresses climate change despite elite opposition (combining geo-technical strategies of direct mitigation, individual and societal adaptation, and — obviously — economic justice, a.k.a. “socialism”) is necessary for an organized human survival with decency.

We all know the problem. Our challenge (which may be tragically beyond us) is to triumph over the Climate Crisis and the elite selfishness driving it.

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Poverty Draft

B-25 (WWII medium bomber) in 1987.

I don’t think that poor young men and women should have to risk their lives to increase the fortunes of rich old men and women. The G.I. Bill of a bygone era was a just and kind gesture of gratitude by the USAmerican nation to its surviving veteran warriors. Today, that gesture has been prostituted into an unjust and dishonest baiting of the hopes-for-their-futures of our youth, to drag them down into a militarized indentured servitude – a term of slavery – with the possibility of gaining funding for a modest education if they survive to request it. A better nation would fund the education of all its youth lavishly, and fund its war industries and their speculators poorly if at all. Today, it isn’t that educational and medical costs are “high,” it is that moral standards are low.

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Tony Judt was on it (the failure of neo-liberal “globalization”) in 1997.
https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/1997-09-01/social-question-redivivus

Today’s belated admission of what has been obvious for 38 years (at least):
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/14/globalisation-the-rise-and-fall-of-an-idea-that-swept-the-world

MG,Jr. was on it (the failure of neo-liberal “globalization”) in 2003:
http://swans.com/library/art19/mgarci66.html

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Tony Judt, Edward Snowden and “The Excluded”

“If ignorance is bliss then America is paradise.”

Tony Judt, Edward Snowden and “The Excluded”
1 July 2013
http://www.swans.com/library/art19/mgarci66.html

A magnificent display of conscience goes largely unnoticed by minds conditioned for captivity with trivialities and illusions that suppress critical thinking, and atomize society.

Social Democracy: Political Movement from Personal Fulfillment

Why is there no real political Left in the United States?

What is necessary for a major democratic-socialist movement to arise here?

Political Movement Is Born Of Personal Fulfillment
31 May 2013
http://dissidentvoice.org/2013/05/political-movement-is-born-of-personal-fulfillment/

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Note added on June 1, 2013:
Out of curiosity, I made a list of my previous articles that explored some aspect of organizing a social-democratic movement in the U.S. Despite the steadily deteriorating social and economic conditions for most people in this country, I doubt an American Spring will occur in my lifetime.

Here is my baker’s dozen of articles on “organization,” from 2004 to 2013:

Political Movement Is Born Of Personal Fulfillment
31 May 2013
http://dissidentvoice.org/2013/05/political-movement-is-born-of-personal-fulfillment/

Can US Socialists Organize? (No)
13 July 2012
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2012/07/13/can-us-socialists-organize-no/

Why Don’t Americans Rise Up?
7 May 2012
http://www.swans.com/library/art18/mgarci47.html

What Next for OWS, Politics?
5 December 2011
http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci34.html

From Social Contract To Occupy Wall Street
7 November 2011
http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci32.html

The People Cry Out Against the New Great Depression,
Three Articles on the Protests Against a Failed Economy:
4 October 2011
http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/the-people-cry-out-against-the-new-great-depression/
(sendoff — Occupy Everywhere: Movements & Goals — Creating Jobs by Renewing Glass-Steagall — Reform Wall Street in Four Strokes)

American Decline
21 January 2011
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia01212011.html

Renew The Social Contract
18 November 2008
http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2008/11/renew-the-social-contract/

Time For A General Strike?
30 September 2008
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia09302008.html

Homes of the Crash-Test Dummies
25 October 2007
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia10252007.html

The Roots of Corruption (Election 2006)
9 November 2006
http://www.counterpunch.org/garcia11092006.html

Newtonian America
29 November 2004
http://www.swans.com/library/art10/mgarci26.html

Outline For Revolution
16 August 2004
http://www.swans.com/library/art10/mgarci20.html

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Looking Beyond the Dazzle of Plutocracy

I was pointed to an article in The Telegraph (UK newspaper) about police departments testing a laser rifle that temporarily (sic) blinds “rioters,” and asked to comment. When I comment on a news story about a technology development, I usually try explaining the physics being used, and then perhaps give an opinion on the politics of why the effort is being made. My response this time skipped the technical details.

Looking Beyond the Dazzle of Plutocracy
14 December 2011
http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/12/14/looking-beyond-the-dazzle-of-plutocracy/

What Next for OWS?

It is clear that OWS-type encampments cannot sustain long term occupations of public spaces; inclement winter weather and the even more hostile atmosphere of establishment reaction (e.g., police actions to deny access to port-a-potties) have dispersed many of the social democracy insurgents.

Should OWS become a political movement? Can it? What could it accomplish? How long would it take?

The endpoint or vision of OWS aspirations is probably best described in the 2010 book:

Ill Fares The Land
by Tony Judt, (Penguin, 2010).

Read this if you would prefer our future to be one of social democracy rather than corporate feudalism.

An inspiring vision is fine, but how do you get there? How do we fill in the blanks, write out the recipe? Realizing that we want to change EVERYTHING, and that we are in the minority as regards financial, physical and political power, where do we start?

I describe a suggested starting point and a procedure for advancing “a revolution,” which are fitted to each individual’s nature, and would be carried out empirically rather than dogmatically. My purpose is to encourage us all to maintain our shared social democratic vision, and to offer ideas that may stimulate your own thinking for better ways to actualize that vision. The new article making my case has just been published by SWANS:

What Next for OWS, Politics?
5 December 2011
http://www.swans.com/library/art17/mgarci34.html

You will do yourself a favor by reading Judt’s book. You would do Swans a favor by sending a letter to the editor if an article there moves you. You have already done me a favor by reading this far, but I’ll enjoy readers’ comments, too.