Σάββατο, 29 Νοεμβρίου 2014

Barnett Vincent: Understanding Stalinism (part)

Barnett Vincent, “Understanding Stalinism-The ‘Orwellian Discrepancy’ and the ‘Rational Choice Dictator’, Europe -Asia Studies, vol. 54, No 3. May 2006, pp 457-466.

It is often argued by some that Stalinism was not as ‘morally reprehensible’ as Nazism, as the stated goals of the Stalinist variant of Marxism were in the long run admirable, whereas the stated aims of Nazism were indefensible. This type of argument relies upon a notion that can be called the ‘Orwellian discrepancy’: that the stated aims of Marxism were not those realised in the Gulag, but the very opposite. Supporters of this position are giving some credit to Stalin for the apparently laudable declared aims of Marxism, even if these aims were totally distorted in practice (Wedgwood Benn, 1999, p. 156). Is this a reasonable position to take? If it is, then the same reasoning should apply to the Nazis, as a level playing field must apply to the analysis of both systems. That is, if instead of preaching racial hatred, Hitler had instead preached racial harmony, but then still attempted to eliminate all Jews in the manner recorded byhistory only as an ‘aberration’, this hypothetical Nazi regime should be regarded as less‘morally reprehensible’ than the actual Nazi regime. Does this comparison make any sense? By framing the argument in this way it is clear that this position does not make any sense whatsoever. If I kill someone in cold blood, but then claim that I was acting with some sort of long-run moral concern, is this any better than if I had killed someone simply for the fun of it? The law makes no such distinction in principle.There is another argument against the moral non-equivalence position. Let us accept, for the sake of argument, Wheatcroft’s case (which is heavily disputed by both Rosefielde and Conquest) that the Stalin regime was responsible for only one million deaths which can be directly compared with the five million that the Nazis were responsible for in terms of Wheatcroft’s category of ‘mass purposive killings’ (Wheatcroft, 1996, p. 1348). The implication might be that killing one million in this way is ‘less morally reprehensible’ than killing five million. On the face of it this comparison appears rational. However, this type of judgement is neglecting to explore the question of whether Stalin would have been willing to accept the killing of morethan one million, if he had to do so. Consider the counter-factual possibility that theStalin regime needed to order many more executions than it did, in order to achieve its aims. Is it reasonable to maintain that Stalin would have responded: ‘killing one million is morally acceptable, but killing more than one million is not, therefore I shall halt the executions at the one million level’?
This is obviously absurd, as Stalin would have been very unlikely to respond in thisway. The Stalin regime killed the one million either because this was (in Stalin’s particular mental state) the amount thought necessary to eliminate at the time, or because this was the level that circumstances at the time allowed or generated, not because there was a numerical level of mass slaughter beyond which Stalin would not go for ethical reasons. The same reasoning applies to Hitler. Assume that there were only one million Jews in existence in Nazi-occupied Europe in 1940, and that a hypothetical Hitler regime then killed all of them. Would that make him ‘less morally reprehensible’ than the actual Hitler who was responsible for killing five million?
Framing the question in this manner reveals that playing the comparative numbers game with ‘mass purposive killings’ is not something that can be done with precise moral accuracy. Wheatcroft also attempted to make a distinction in descriptive labelling between the ‘mass purposive killings’ caused by Hitler and those caused by Stalin. The following passage appeared in the conclusion to Wheatcroft’s 1996 article: «Τhe purposive deaths caused by Hitler fit more closely into the category of ‘murder’, while those caused by Stalin fit more closely the category of ‘execution’. Stalin undoubtedly caused many innocent people to be executed, but it seems likely that he thought many of them guilty of crimes against the state . . .Hitler, by contrast, wanted to be rid of the Jews and communists simply because they were Jews and communists» (Wheatcroft, 1996, p. 1348).
Wheatcroft appeared not to realise that Nazi ideology provided reasons for the elimination of Jews and communists—totally erroneous and mistaken reasons, and producing an utterly horrific and completely unjustified outcome—but reasons nonetheless. Wheatcroft’s underlying assumption was perhaps that we should allow Stalin some license for his erroneous reasons for ordering mass executions in the USSR, but not acknowledge at all that Hitler believed in his own (totally unwarranted) reasons for racial genocide. In truth, both the Nazi reasoning regarding the need to eliminate Jews and Stalin’s reasons for ordering mass executions were similarly erroneous. Unless, of course, Wheatcroft wants to argue that there was indeed a sympathetic case for Stalin’s ‘mass purposive killings’? Put still another way, does it make sense to consider a victim of Stalin’s purges thinking to themselves in the afterlife: thank goodness I was only hounded, interrogated, tortured and then executed; those poor Jews who were murdered in Germany! As correctly characterised by Michael Ellman, the mass repressions in the USSR in the 1930s were actually a ‘series of crimes against humanity’ (Ellman, 2002, p.1164).
Wheatcroft’s previously quoted attempt in his 2002 book chapter to distinguish between the Soviet and Nazi mass killings by stating that the former held to some type of legal process again holds little significance. Would anyone seriously alter their evaluation of the Nazi genocide if Hitler had ordered a more fully encompassing sham legal process that actually formally convicted Jews of conforming to the racist stereotypes that the Nazis promoted, before sending them to the concentration camps? There is still another argument against the moral non-equivalence position. Consider which enemy you would prefer to face: one that explains his or her ideology ‘honestly’ in its own terms, or one who consistently lays down a fog of moral-sounding rhetoric in order to cover up their actual base actions. It could be argued that Stalin was worse than Hitler because Stalin implemented atrocities and then justified them by reference to socialist ideals. Hitler’s justification was racist ideology. It is true that the full extent of the Nazi genocide against the Jews was a shock to some observers after 1945, but it cannot be said to be against the spirit of Fascist propaganda. And while many lies were certainly told to Jews themselves about their eventual fate during WWII, these lies were a purely practical inversion in order to ease their passage to destruction. Stalin’s use of Marxian utopianism to throw a smoke screen around an entire system of slave labour and mass murder has to be one of the most, if not the most, incongruous perversions of an initially declared egalitarian intention ever accomplished in the entire history of humanity. This is especially significant when the effect of Stalinism is considered internationally after 1945. Nazi aims died with Hitler, but Stalin was held up as a hero for socialists to follow for many years after 1945.
Consequently people who tried to campaign for socialism were frequently tarred with the brush of the Gulag, and hence opponents of socialism used the Orwellian discrepancy against progressive aims. This connects to another argument often put forward to suggest that Stalin was preferable to Hitler: Stalin sided with the Allies during WWII, and hence we should praise Stalin for his judgement in this respect. In truth Stalin did not eventually side with the Allies for moral or ideological reasons, but for purely practical and survival reasons—the USSR was invaded by Germany. We should not forget that the Nazi – Soviet pact was negotiated by V.M. Molotov and Stalin was clearly willing in principle to form an alliance with Hitler, although Stalin’s motives for this are contested. Remember also that the Stalinist variant of Marxism condemned Nazism and ‘bourgeois democracy’ to the dustbin of history, and analysed both of them as variant expressions of the same underlying forces prevalent within capitalist production.
Within this framework Nazism was (after 1941) accepted as the more immediate threat to Soviet survival, but this was a purely contingent judgement; the USSR would still have to defeat the UK and the USA in the medium term. Consequently, by trying to differentiate between the moral significance of Nazism and Stalinism, some scholars are pushed into adopting arguments that rely on paperthin distinctions that collapse on more detailed philosophical examination. In truth it is senseless to try to compare the moral depravity of Hitler and Stalin with arguments of the type ‘dictator X killed less people than dictator Y’. Of course, if Stalin had accidentally killed only 100 people, and Hitler deliberately killed five million, then there would be a clear moral distinction, but once you get into the ballpark level of millions of planned deaths on both sides, precise numerical comparison loses any underlying ethical rationale. This does not mean that historical investigation into the exact number of people killed is not a worthwhile pursuit in itself, only that such investigations cannot be used to suggest that one dictator was ‘less morally reprehensible’ than another, or to validate illegitimate distinctions between ‘murder’ and ‘execution’ in a tyrannical context.

Παρασκευή, 28 Νοεμβρίου 2014

Fotos Kyriazatis: Rain - poem

                               Φώτος Κυριαζάτης


Πέφτει βροχή. Δεν την βλέπω.
Την ακούω μονάχα να ηχεί στην τσιμεντένια αυλή
και στα καβούκια των φρουρών.
Τα πόδια μου μέσα στις κάλτσες ζεστά.
Τα παπούτσια μου έξω στο κομοδίνο του διαδρόμου με το δεσμοφύλακα.
( Λίγη λάσπη επάνω τους φερμένη μακριάθε
από τον τόπο μου, τη μέρα που με συλλάβανε.
Θα έχει ξεραθεί τώρα ).
Και η πατρίδα θα βρέχεται.
Πόσα υποδήματα θα μπάζουν νερό αυτή την ώρα !
Πόσοι άνθρωποι θα τουρτουρίζουν,
Γυρνώντας μούσκεμα από το μεροκάματο και σήμερα !

Πέμπτη, 27 Νοεμβρίου 2014

Malia Martin: What Is the Intelligentsia? (part)

Malia Martin, “What Is the Intelligentsia?” Daedalus, Vol. 89, No. 3, The Russian Intelligentsia (Summer, 1960), , MIT Press, pp. 441-458.

To blase Westerners one of the most engaging quahties of the Russian intellectuals of the old regime is the moral passion with which they attacked the great questions of the human condition, and their pursuit to a ruthlessly logical conclusion?in life no less than in thought?of the heady answers such exalted inquiry invariably brings. It is this quahty which the two giants of the tradition, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, in spite of so much that separates them, have in com mon and which gives Russian hterature of the last century its unique character and power. In lesser figures this same moral quest is often expressed just as intensely but with a na?ve, utilitarian bluntness that is conveyed by such classic titles of their works as Who Is To Blame?, What Is To Be Done?, Who Are The Friends of The Peo ple? Like Marx, whom some of them eventually followed to a shat tering outcome of their searchings, they wished "not just to under stand the world, but to change it." Still, they had first to understand, and their moral utilitarianism was ultimately founded on an exacerbated faculty of introspection.
Their initial question was always, "Who are we?"?as individuals, as Russians, as thinking men in a barbarous society. A more pragmatic way of putting the same question was, "What is the intelligentsia?" The number of works so entitled is legion, with almost as many dif ferent, ardent answers. The subject of this essay, then, is one of the classic questions of modern Russian life, yet about which it is al ways possible to say something new, since it is as rich as that life itself. The term intelligentsia was introduced into the Russian language in the 1860's by a minor novelist named Boborykin, and became cur rent almost immediately. This fact is of more than anecdotal signifi cance, for it suggests that the group so designated did not acquire full awareness of its identity until that time. Yet almost all author ities would agree that the origins of the group itself went back to the "circles" of the 1830's and 1840's, which introduced into Russia the ideological turn of mind in the form of German philosophical idealism. Still, the fact that there was a term for the group under Alexander II, whereas there was none under Nicholas I, indicates a watershed in its development that coincides with the beginning of the Great Reforms after 1855. It was Turgenev who, in his greatest novel, gave the classical terminology to describe these two stages: the aristocratic "fathers" and the plebeian "sons." Very roughly, the intellectual difference between the two was the difference between idealists and materialists; nevertheless, both were what Napoleon once contemptuously dubbed "ideologues." A third stage came after the assassination of Alexander II in 1881 with the advent of a more heterogeneous body sometimes baptized the "grandsons," or the various Populist, Marxist, and even neo-Kantian groups of the end of the old regime, who revived in different ways the legacy of their predecessors, but who remained just as thoroughly ideological. It is this primacy of the ideological that is fundamental to the group as a whole; the intelligentsia, therefore, should not be taken to mean just the revolutionary opposition. Indeed, the word ever since it came into being has had two overlapping meanings: either all men who think independently?of whom Pisarev's "critically thinking realists," or "nihilists," were only the most extreme and famous manifestation; or, more narrowly, the intellectuals of the opposition, whether revolutionary or not. "Fathers," "sons," and "grandsons," therefore, are all unmistakably intelligentsia, and might for convenience's sake be designated "classical intelligentsia." There are two other groups, however, which are candidates for inclusion under the same rubric.
Some writers on the subject would consider as intelligentsia all oppositional figures since the end of the eighteenth century, including Radishchev and Novikov under Cath erine II and the Decembrists under Alexander I. Yet here we find nothing approaching a consensus, and this in itself indicates that although these figures had certain characteristics in common with their successors, they were not yet the real thing. Because of this equivocal status, therefore, they are best considered as no more than a "proto-intelligentsia," and though some account must be taken of them here, they will not be central to the story. Finally, it is clear that after 1917 the term intelligentsia suffered a drastic change. Although Marxism makes no provision for such a class, the Soviet regime has officially proclaimed what it calls the intelligentsia as one of the three pillars of the socialist order, to gether with the proletariat and the toiling peasantry. The term, however, no longer has any connotations of "critical" thought, be cause all questions have now been answered; still less does it have the "classical" and "proto-"intelligentsias. In addition, it should be simply all those who "toil" with their minds instead of with their hands, that is, the technological, liberal-professional, managerial, administrative, or merely white-collar personnel of the state. Only the Party presents a partial exception to this definition, for, as we shall see, it has preserved something of the intelligentsia's spirit, if not of its personnel. Otherwise, the Soviet intelligentsia is so differ ent from its predecessor as to deserve a separate name?such as Trot sky's "bureaucracy" or Djilas' "new class"?and just as certainly, a different mode of analysis. This discussion, therefore, will be limited to what has been called the "classical" and "proto-'mtelligentsias. In addition, it should be said that, since the subject is complex, much simplification is inevit able. In the remarks that follow, the emphasis will be on the more radical and revolutionary elements of the intelhgentsia, who, if they were by no means the whole of the movement in the nineteenth cen tury, are a likely choice for special consideration in a general survey for the practical reason that they eventually had the greatest impact on history. The word intelligentsia itself most probably is no more than the Latin intelligentia?discernment, understanding, intelligence?pro nounced with a Russian accent.* Yet such bold use of a term for an abstract mental faculty to designate a specific group of people ob viously implies a very exalted notion of that group's importance, and its members?intelligenty, "the intelligent or intellectual ones"? are clearly more than intellectuals in the ordinary sense. Whether merely "critically thinking" or actively oppositional, their name in dicates that they thought of themselves as the embodied "intelli gence," "understanding," or "consciousness" of the nation. In other words, they clearly felt an exceptional sense of apartness from the society in which they lived. To use an old qualificative of German idealism which the intelhgentsia in its more lucid moments under stood only too well, and which in a diluted sociological meaning now enjoys a great vogue in America, they were clearly "alienated" in tellectuals of some sort.
[…] With this triumph the extraordinary fortunes of the intelhgentsia as a group came to an end, for in the new society which it created the conditions that had called it into being no longer existed. None theless, even though the body of the intelhgentsia died, much re mained of the spirit. It has often been noted that the ordinary logic of revolutions has not obtained in Soviet Russia and that for over forty years, in spite of temporary retreats, no real Thermidor has come to put an end to ?ie original ideological impetus. This remark able staying-power has not been founded, however, on the continuity of the nucleus of intelligenty who established the regime, since most of them eventually perished at its hands. Nor is this continuity wholly supphed by the equally unconventional yet real "new class" which has come into being with the Party bureaucracy. Rather, the cohesion of the Soviet regime is most clearly founded on the primacy, for all "classes" who have held power in it, of abstract principles over life, and on a ruthless will in bending reahty to the tenets of what it claims is a scientific materialism, but which, to the profane, appears as a passionate ideological vision. How and why all this should be, however, is a problem as vast and as difficult to encompass as that of the intelhgentsia itself, and one that can properly be the subject only of a separate study. Nev ertheless, there is one remarkable element of continuity between the old "class" of the intelligentsia and the "new class" of the Party which must be emphasized here. The brutal utilitarian use of the ideologi cal by the Soviets is no more than a sectarian version of the spirit of the pre-Revolutionary intelligenty carried to a nee plus ultra by the experience of power. In spite of its demise as a group, the more radical intelhgentsia is with us still as a force. Its ideal vision, what ever one may think of it, has become, in a debased but potent form, the very fabric of Russian reality.

Τετάρτη, 26 Νοεμβρίου 2014

Όσιπ Μάντελσταμ: Αιώνας


Να μην μιλήσεις σε κανένα
Για όλα αυτά που είδες,
Για το πουλί, για τη γριά
Τη φυλακή ή ό,τι άλλο.

Μόλις, σα ξημερώσει,
Τα χείλη θα σφραγίσεις
Η πρωινή δροσιά σα ρίγος
Απ' το κορμί σου θα διαβεί.

Θα θυμηθεί στην εξοχή τη σφήκα
Την κασετίνα σου την παιδική
Ή μεσ' το δάσος το μυρτίλι
Που δεν το μάζεψες ποτέ.

             (Όσιπ Μάντελσταμ)