fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
For me, personally, the final evidence of the guilt of British criminal Hanratty, of anarchist Nicola Sacco. and of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg - however different the circumstances - have been a personal shock. They are the undeniable proof that people can lie even in the face of death and eternity, that claims of innocence from the scaffold are no more reliable than from any other point. The case of Sacco's fellow-accused Bartolomeo Vanzetti seems even darker: he was probably himself innocent, but he knew that Sacco was guilty as Hell, and he deliberately died with a lie on his lips, for the sake of his imagined revolution. (And to add a further taste of futility to his false sacrifice, the historical fact is that the only party who benefited from his and Sacco's executions were the Communists, who had organized all the protests against their executions, and who were sworn enemies of Vanzetti's Anarchists and would have murdered him a good deal more nastily if he had ever fallen into their hands.) But perhaps the most significant of these is the lie of Hanratty, because that had nothing of the ideological justifications of Vanzetti and the Rosenbergs. Hanratty was not fighting for any "cause", however bad: he was a rapist and murderer with no ulterior motives. And he declared his innocence right to the point of death with a passionate intensity that deceived generations of activists including myself.

Courage

Nov. 22nd, 2012 11:34 pm
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
As a rule, I don't have much time for those artists who remained in countries ruled by criminal tyrannies and made their peace with their usurping governments. But in the case of Zoltan Kodaly, Hungarian composer and educator, I shall make an exception. An anecdote from The New York Times, 4 November 1961:

Mr. Kodaly was recently invited by the Communist officialdom to address an assembly of factory workers. The spare, 79-year-old composer accepted the invitation. He arrived at the factory carrying a battered briefcase. Officials asked Mr. Kodaly what he was going to tell the workers. He replied curtly that this concerned only him.

The composer mounted the rostrum, opened his briefcase and withdrew an old book. It was the Bible. His opening remarks were to the effect that he was not much of a hand at writing speeches and that he proposed to read what someone else had written. Mr. Kodaly then proceeded to read from the New Testament about brotherly love.
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Read more... ) Do you see, now, to what an extent we have all been bamboozled?
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It is typical of the whole spirit of willing self-deception with which the average educated person approaches the so-called Enlightenment, that the most famous quote about it is false. Voltaire never said: "I disagree with your views, but I will fight to the death for your right to hold them", and if he had he would have been a liar. Voltaire was thoroughly intolerant and spent half his time insulting, slandering and ridiculing anyone who even slightly disagreed with him, and, even worse, anyone who actually agreed with him but threatened to become a rival. As for toleration, his best-known genuine quotation - "Crush that infamous thing!" - does not promise much, and would not do so even if it was turned to any other object but the Catholic Church. To demand the "crushing" of a large religion hardly proves tolerance. (With the ignorant and often fraudulent picture that justifies this attack in the minds of those who know about it, I may deal elsewhere.) And Voltaire was not as bad as the atheist and totalitarian d'Holbach, or as the totalitarian Rousseau. Of no phenomenon as much as the so-called Enlightenment can it so truly be said that Vulgus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur; beginning with the fact that no-one - no, not even Chesterton! - has ever stopped to wonder just how arrogant and, yes, self-deceived a generation must be, to call itself "enlightened".

But if the most famous false quotation from the period at least flatters it in a humane and decent direction, one in which one would be happy to move even if it had in fact anything to do with Voltaire, the most famous true one does not. It has been repeated for 250 years with every sign of admiration, as a kind of acquired if not revealed truth, without anyone ever awakening to the kind of thing it is: a piece of brutish, adolescent cynicism, false on all but the most superficial level, that falsifies and blights a whole area of human life, pure poison to mind and to morality.

The quotation is this: It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

Why has it taken so long, why does it have to be this poor fool who writes, to point out that this is rubbish, that this is the viewpoint of business of a man who has never transacted any in his life, that it has precisely zero to do with any of the reasons why any of us work and with any of the satisfactions we look for from work? Adam Smith had never worked in a shop. I have. I know selling, if I know anything. And I can tell you this: that no technique of selling will work half as well as the tongue of a man or woman who has a good product and knows it is good. Which would please the butcher best: to squeeze his client, or to be told that he produces the best meat in town? Would the baker be pleased if he made money by selling bread so bad that he himself wouldn't touch it? What delights the brewer's heart: to count the money in his cash register, or to know that his beer is being spoken about in distant towns and that people come out of their way to taste it?

It is not mainly from the benevolence of the brewer, the baker and the butcher that we look for our daily meal; although, if we were unlucky enough to be destitute, we might hope that they have some of that natural human instinct that only Adam Smith is unable to see. It is from their own self-respect, and, even more, from their respect for their trade. People who feel that they are doing something good by preparing the food and the drink of the rest of mankind will apply themselves to the job; people who think of their own self-interest will do the least possible work and cut corners. And it follows that the person who has his own self-interest in mind will not even be as successful as the person who is willing to waste some time and some work, but wants to make sure that his work is of the best quality.

And there is yet another and deeper point. The city of Milan - one of the economic engines of the richest continent in the world, and a place where people know and have always known about wealth and success - has recently held a city-wide competition to find the best ten shop workers in town. A hundred were shortlisted, from businesses as different as fashion and flea markets, ice-cream stores and motorbike shops, butchers and goldsmiths. There were very different types: a former police sergeant who had gone on to be floor manager for a major fashion store, a Japanese man who had come to Milan apparently only out of love for male fashion design, a raspy-throated motorbike expert, a man who managed a xerox machine in the town's university quarter, a labourer in a small corner shop. A few things turned up over and over again, in spite of the immensely different fields covered: favourite shop workers worked hard, did not rush the customer, had the details of all the goods in the store at their fingertips, their advice was reliable, they did not make impecunious customers feel bad as compared with millionaires. Some made a special effort: three (including the corner shop employee) carried the shopping for elderly customers, even to their homes. Most were praised for finding solutions that would not cost too much but gave the customers exactly what they wanted; some for enthusiasm, some for restraint. But there is one feature that turned up in every one of the one hundred shortlisted, and it was summed up by the only American of the lot, a charming young lady who sells costume jewelry: "I want my customers to leave the shop happier than they came in."

Successful shop workers, shop workers who get customers to come again and again, are those who take a personal interest, who - in the words of many on the shortlist - make customers feel like friends. Buying and selling is a social business, and the whole person is engaged in it. I spoke of what delights the brewer's heart, but surely there is something even more significant - and daily - even than a reputation for excellence; and that is to see the regulars come back, smiling at you as often as not as they come, slowly growing in numbers year after year as your pub's reputation grows, chatting to each other, telling you their troubles. Money is the last consideration for any successful business; it is at best a tool for achieving all the rest - sound product pleasantly sold, a solid and growing reputation, the life of a self-respecting, satisfied worker.

Indeed, the main function of money is to serve as a tangible counter for good service and good product. Money represents value, and is given for value received. If I have been well served, I have no problem with paying a price, indeed I would feel a bit like a thief if I did not. In some trades, it is habitual to add a tip or gratification according to the satisfaction one has had in the product and service, but whether or not this is acceptable, money is the tangible evidence of the customer's satisfaction. Its main purpose, therefore, is to certify to the producer that their work and products are valued. So, to rephrase one last time Adam Smith's fallacious phrase, It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from our own gratitude and honesty in properly compensating good work well done and well offered.

Because Adam Smith was mired in the dreary, valueless world of "self-interest", he could not insert the obvious in his work. So he resorted to the obviously fallacious labour theory of value, whereby money stands for the value of the work that went into the object being purchased - and a child could answer that a jeweller and a baker can put the same amount of work and price it very differently. Indeed, the baker himself can price his own work very differently according to the quality of the bread, even though the amount of work is largely the same.

The labour theory of value is the inevitable child of Adam Smith's immature, cynical, adolescent incapacity of appreciating value as it is, an inevitably subjective reaction given objective form. The "Enlightenment" obsession with being "rational", that is with excluding from reasoning all that human beings really live on, leads to a theory that is not only emotionally unlovable but flatly wrong and disastrous in its results. When Karl Marx elaborated his theory of plus-value, he was moving straight from Adam Smith; if monetary value is only bestowed by labour - disregarding quality and desirability, for instance - then the person who does not contribute labour is a thief, and anything that adds price without corresponding labour is theft. From this one could have predicted, right from the start, the collapse of the Soviet Union: a society that does not understand quality and value is never going to be able to function properly. People will always do as little work as is in their "self-interest", and standards will remain damagingly bad. The ugly Soviet joke "They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work" is the inevitable result of Smith's theory of value; Smith is the father of Marx and the grandfather of Lenin and Stalin.
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The place of war in human affairs is overestimated. War rarely causes any great change in overall historical trends; nine times out of ten, the great trends of sociology, economics and culture have already decided which party will win, when war is joined. It is rare to find a war where historians are not broadly agreed as to the causes of success and failure, victory and defeat. War is often more in the nature of a notary act sealing an already unstoppable historical development. From the Second Punic War to the Cold War, history is full of conflicts in which the losing side "won every battle except the last", for the simple reason that the victorious side was inherently stronger in both demonstrable and intangible ways. what is more, war, in civilized communities, is only an episode, usually short in time or distant in place; the much longer space of peacetime tends to lay the premises for success or failure in the comparatively rare times of war.

Not that war is irrelevant. War tends to radicalize politics: before 1776 and Tom Paine's war pamphlet Common Sense, no serious American politician would have considered universal suffrage. Long periods of war can distract the attention of nations and devour the resources that might have been used for other important developments: the Napoleonic wars cut off most of continental Europe from England from up to 25 years, just as England was starting the Industrial Revolution, causing a cultural-economic disadvantage that, in the case of Italy, Spain and east-central Europe, lasted for centuries.

One interesting corollary is to do with the Communist movement. Socialist parties in general are very good at winning elections; from India to Sweden and to Spain, Social Democrat groupings have dominated the peaceful politics of the twentieth century. An interesting side effect is their increasingly abandonment of the rhetoric of violence, caused by an increasing confidence in their ability to achieve their goals by legal and electoral means.

Conversely, no Communist party has ever won an election outright. The unfortunate Salvador Allende, in spite of the homicidal and fabulously idiotic American reaction (c'est pire qu'un crime: c'est une betise), was a Socialist heading an incoherent, ineffective, loud-mouthed, quarrelsome left-wing minority government that was heading for the scrap-heap of history until the morons in Washington turned him into a Communist martyr, to the advantage of nobody but Moscow. Real Communists, however, are extraordinarily good at winning wars. Communists insurgencies place the enemy in the disastrous situation of having to resist by curtailing or destroying civil liberties (the trap into which Nixon and Kissinger fell), thus proving that they are exactly the kind of repressive brutes the Communists themselves claim them to be. And Communism is extaordinarily good at motivating people. As I said elsewhere, there was much to admire about the old Communists: everything, in fact, except the central issue - violence and murder. War suits Communism, one might say, because, like war, Communism "takes the best in man to do the worst."

But that is the point. Communism can win wars. Communism, in fact, is so like war that they might almost be identified, and does actually speak of itself as war - class war. But once the war is won, then what? It seemed a catastrophe to the West when Vietnam was lost; but in fact, it was a catastrophe to Vietnam alone. The country collapsed to the bottom of the world prosperity list, while the commanders and officers who had won the war covered their chest in medals and ribbons and proved wholly incapable of running a peaceful society constructively. Their sole positive achievement after 1975 was a nother war - the deiverance of wretched Kampuchea from an even more bestial brand of Communism. Meanwhile, all around them, other countries from Thailand to Taiwan prospered; even huge, messy, terrorist-ridden Indonesia proving more progressive and far more prosperous than united Vietnam.

Unlike democratic Socialism, Communism is wholly incapable of dealing with a peaceful society. Like all creeds built for war, it is not only ruinous but demoralizing when war ends. And war does end. People make compromises, accept defeats, and move on. The Cold War was nothing but one Communist victory after another; and in the end the triumphant army found itself knocking at the doors of the besieged fortress - not to enter in, but to be allowed not to starve.
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One point about the fall of the Berlin Wall is not made often enough. It used to be a historiographical commonplace that Germany was the European country where liberal revolutions had always failed. That is no longer the case. There has been a successful democratic revolution at the very core of the old Prussian authoritarian state, in a part of Germany most of which had practically never enjoyed democratic government.
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I have often found myself in the position of having to say: "You are talking nonsense. I know what Fascists are like. I have met them in considerable number since I was a child. I was born in the same country as Fascism. I have studied Fascism as a historian. [insert personal or group name] may be a detestable person, and his/her/their views may be obnoxious, but they are not Fascist. Do not cheapen real evil."

Now I am worried I may have to start saying: "You are talking nonsense. I know what Communists are like. I have met them in considerable numbers since I was a child. I was born in a country where Communism was a power in the land. I have studied Communism as a historian. President Obama may be a detestable person - or not - and his view may be obnoxious - or not - but he is no Communist. Do not cheapen real evil."

You don't believe me? http://townhall.com/columnists/LauraHollis/2009/10/21/they%E2%80%99re_all_communists
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Most of us know that ever since the bloke with the beard took over Cuba, homosexuality - associated with the island's supposed pre-revolutionary past as a haven of Yanqui degeneracy - has been suppressed, persecuted and punished by (what passes in Cuba for) law. Well, no more. Raul Castro seems to have noticed that his putative allies in the extreme left have changed their view on that little matter - and so, from one minute to the next, Cuba has turned from hell for homosexuals to San Francisco without the Diet Coke. In a few days, with the speed and efficiency of tyranny, the Cuban government has passed rules that allow the changing of one's identity, sex-change operations and the eventual legalization of homosexual unions.

Now understand me: I have absolutely no intention of making any direct comparison between the promotion of "gay marriage" and the like, and the horrors of the nineteen-thirties. However little I may like some features of this (and on sex-change operations I am agnostic), it is simply not on the same moral level as the promotion of mass murder. So I positively beg the looking-for-offence brigade not to distort what I am about to say. But this sudden and extreme change of tack by a hardened tyranny looking for support where they had previously had enemies reminds me of nothing so much as Mussolini's appalling race laws of 1938. Apart from their own native loathsomeness, which itself cries vengeance to Heaven, these vicious perversions of the concept of law were execrable because they represented a complete about-face on a matter on which Mussolini had been consistent since 1919, namely toleration and protection of Italy's Jewish population. He sold the Jews down the river, and broke his word given to them over and over again, in order to align himself to a man whom he had previously treated as an enemy and actually nearly gone to war with only four years earlier. Now countries change allies, and Italy's reasons to do so in 1938 were only too easy to see; but to change ally is one thing, and to change your whole ideology to suit your ally is another. Mussolini made himself, not the ally, but the slave of Hitler; in that one dreadful act there were the inevitable seeds of all the seven years that followed.

Of course the Cuban Communist about-face is not on the same level. It does not, for one thing, represent the State suddenly turning a hate-ridden and murderous face to a class of citizens it had always protected before. Where murderousness and inhumanity are concerned, el partido is pretty much where it has always been, not better, but not worse. What is clearly reminiscent of Mussolini is the way that a tyranny throws away decades of practice and implicit principle, however bad, not out of principle but out of transparent and undignified grovelling before an ally.
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One of the most infuriating features in current conservative Read more... )
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Alan Moore isn't an anarchist. He is, perhaps, now. Until about 1990, he was, beyond reasonable doubt, a Communist. Not just a Marxist, a Marxist-Leninist. Read more... )
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A while ago, a person with whom I no longer correspond discussed with me the role of the Church in the history of Nazi Germany. Her views led me to write a whole essay, which I think contains some good things, and I have decided to publish it. The first paragraph contains my opponent's views; the rest, mine. Because of its size, I have been forced to cut it in two parts; bear in mind that the next post on this LJ contains the second part.

Read more... )

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