November 24, 2015

Soviet military drinking in Afghanistan

Filed under: Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Mark Galeotti on what happened when you combine the legendary appetite for alcohol of soldiers with the ramshackle repression of the Soviet system:

Soldiers love to drink. Russians love to drink. No wonder that Russian soldiers can be amongst the hardest-core boozers around. If anything, this was even more the case in Soviet times when the very difficulties of getting hold of booze acted as a spur to the ingenuity for which Russians are also rightly known. The same guys who could fix a tank engine with sticky tape or make the world’s toughest rifle were formidable and innovative in their quest for a drink.

Being assigned to the ground crew on a MiG-25 interceptor, for example, was a good gig. The supersonic fighter was nicknamed gastronom — delicatessen — because its nose-mounted radar and generator were cooled by more than 200 liters of water/methanol mix, which is a ghastly brew, but as a base not much more ghastly than the murderous samogon homebrew many Soviets turned to, especially during Mikhail Gorbachev’s well-meant but ill-thought-through anti-alcohol campaign. The usual rule of thumb was a single shot a day. Any more, and your chances of going blind were good.

As it should now be clear to you, dear reader, Soviet soldiers were not that discriminating when sourcing their sauce. When I was interviewing veterans of the Soviet–Afghan War for my doctorate, many and horrifying were the accounts of parties fueled by aftershave, rosewater, and rubbing alcohol. The military hierarchy denied the enlisted men legal access to drink, yet fighting a high-stress and — in the early years, at least — officially unacknowledged war, they were nothing if not committed to the quest.

October 20, 2015

Soviet bugging technology and the US embassy’s IBM Selectric typewriters

Filed under: History, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

John Turner sent me this link on a remarkably adept (and technologically sophisticated) hack the Soviets slipped over the US government at their Moscow embassy:

A National Security Agency memo that recently resurfaced a few years after it was first published contains a detailed analysis of what very possibly was the world’s first keylogger — a 1970s bug that Soviet spies implanted in US diplomats’ IBM Selectric typewriters to monitor classified letters and memos.

The electromechanical implants were nothing short of an engineering marvel. The highly miniaturized series of circuits were stuffed into a metal bar that ran the length of the typewriter, making them invisible to the naked eye. The implant, which could only be seen using X-ray equipment, recorded the precise location of the little ball Selectric typewriters used to imprint a character on paper. With the exception of spaces, tabs, hyphens, and backspaces, the tiny devices had the ability to record every key press and transmit it back to Soviet spies in real time.

The Soviet implants were discovered through the painstaking analysis of more than 10 tons’ worth of equipment seized from US embassies and consulates and shipped back to the US. The implants were ultimately found inside 16 typewriters used from 1976 to 1984 at the US embassy in Moscow and the US consulate in Leningrad. The bugs went undetected for the entire eight-year span and only came to light following a tip from a US ally whose own embassy was the target of a similar eavesdropping operation.

“Despite the ambiguities in knowing what characters were typed, the typewriter attack against the US was a lucrative source of information for the Soviets,” an NSA document, which was declassified several years ago, concluded. “It was difficult to quantify the damage to the US from this exploitation because it went on for such a long time.” The NSA document was published here in 2012. Ars is reporting the document because it doesn’t appear to have been widely covered before and generated a lively conversation Monday on the blog of encryption and security expert Bruce Schneier.

September 21, 2015

QotD: True believers visit the Workers’ Paradise

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I have never forgotten these visitors, or ceased to marvel at them, at how they have gone on from strength to strength, continuing to lighten our darkness, and to guide, counsel and instruct us. They are unquestionably one of the wonders of the age, and I shall treasure till I die as a blessed memory the spectacle of them travelling with radiant optimism through a famished countryside, wandering in happy bands about squalid, over-crowded towns, listening with unshakeable faith to the fatuous patter of carefully trained and indoctrinated guides, repeating like schoolchildren a multiplication table, the bogus statistics and mindless slogans endlessly intoned on them. There, I would think, an earnest office-holder in some local branch of the League of Nations Union, there a godly Quaker who had once had tea with Gandhi, there an inveigher against the Means Test and the Blasphemy Laws, there a staunch upholder of free speech and human rights, there an indomitable preventer of cruelty to animals, there scarred and worthy veterans of a hundred battles for truth, freedom, and justice – all, all chanting the praises of Stalin and his Dictatorship of the Proletariat. It was as though a vegetarian society had come outwith a passionate plea for cannibalism, or Hitler had been nominated posthumously for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time, 2006.

August 10, 2015

Price Controls and Communism

Filed under: Economics, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:48

Published on 25 Feb 2015

What happens when the prices of all goods are controlled? Under communism, or a command economy, this is exactly what occurs. As a result, all of the effects of price controls become amplified: there are even more shortages or surpluses of goods, lower product quality, longer lines and more search costs, more losses in gains from trade, and more misallocation of resources. As we have seen, universal price controls destroy market coordination and create a system of planned chaos in which it becomes more difficult for consumers to get the goods and services they want and need.

August 1, 2015

Cathy Young on similarities between the social justice movement and Stalinism

Filed under: Books, History, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Cathy Young translated a passage from a Russian novel that shows rather well the similarities of modern-day social justice crusaders and WW2-era Soviet party discipline and practice:

The other day, I was re-reading Pretender to the Throne, the second book in the Ivan Chonkin trilogy by Vladimir Voinovich (the brilliant Russian writer I interviewed recently for The Daily Beast) and was particularly struck by one scene that I thought bore an uncanny resemblance to the online gang-ups on accused transgressors against political correctness that have become a common feature of the “social justice” community. The tragicomic scene, which takes place in a provincial Soviet town in the fall of 1941, shows a meeting of the district Communist Party committee which holds hearings on several cases of alleged violations of the Party code of conduct. It’s all here: the casual, innocuous remark interpreted as offensive; the demand for confession and repentance; the notion that maintaining one’s innocence or trying to minimize the “offense” compounds guilt; the escalating, absurdly ballooning accusations in which everything the accused says or does is taken as further proof of guilt; the pressure on members of the community to join the mob to demonstrate their own allegiance to the One True Ideology; the lack of human sympathy elevated to a virtue; the notion that proper “humanism” is not manifested in compassion but in “relentless war on all manifestations of hostile ideas.”

I decided to translate and post this passage (for various reasons, I wasn’t too happy with the version in the published English translation of the book) because I think it’s a remarkable demonstration of the ideological continuity between the Soviet/Stalinist version of the far left and today’s “progressive” Western version. Thankfully, minus the power to send people to the gulag.

A few explanatory notes. The action takes place several months after the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. A secondary character in the novel, collective farm chairman Ivan Golubev, attends a local Communist Party meeting for a hearing on charge of violating Party discipline. Before his own case comes up, he gets to witness the “trial” of another accused man, Shevchuk, a schoolteacher in his fifties. Presiding over the meeting is district Party chief Andrei Revkin.

Other explanatory notes are included in the text in brackets where necessary.

July 10, 2015

QotD: Robert Heinlein’s support for the Barry Goldwater campaign

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I don’t know whether Goldwater can be elected or not — or whether he can change things if elected. But I would like to see the United States make a radical change away from its present course. I’m sick of bailing out Kremlin murderers with wheat sold to them on credit and at tax-subsidized prices, I’m sick of giving F-86’s and Sherman tanks and money to communists, I’m sick of undeclared wars rigged out not to be won — I’m sick of conscripting American boys to die in such wars — I’m sick of having American servicemen rotting in communist prisons for eleven long years and of presidents (including that slimy faker Eisenhower!) who smilingly ignore the fact and do nothing. I’m sick of confiscatory taxes for the benefit of socialist countries and of inflation that makes saving a mockery, I’m sick of signing treaties with scoundrels who boast of their own dishonesty and who have never been known to keep a treaty, I’m sick of laws that make loafing more attractive than honest work.

But most of all I am sick of going abroad and finding that any citizen of any two-bit, county-sized country in the world doesn’t hesitate to insult the United States loudly and publicly while demanding still more “aid” and of course “with no strings attached” from the pockets of you and me. I don’t give a hoot whether the United States is “loved” and I care nothing for “World Opinion” as represented by the yaps of “uncommitted nations” made up of illiterate savages — but I would like to see the United States respected once again (or even feared!) … [sic] and I think and hope that the Senator from Arizona is the sort of tough hombre who can bring it about.

I hope —

But it’s a forlorn hope at best! I’m much afraid that this country has gone too far down the road of bread and circuses to change its domestic course (who “shoots Santa Claus”?) and is too far committed to peace-at-any-price to reverse its foreign policy.

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Larry and Caryl Heinlein 1964-07-19 (quoted in William H. Patterson Jr’s Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

June 20, 2015

If World War III had broken out in 1955

Filed under: History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Mark Stout looks at what a global nuclear war might have looked like merely ten years after the first nuclear weapons were used to end the Second World War:

Those of us who came of age in the late Cold War imagined that if a nuclear war came it would be The End of Everything. By contrast, those who came of age after the Cold War never thought there’d be a nuclear war at all. With Putin’s military forces on the loose in Ukraine and all around Europe, the chance of war by miscalculation, even a nuclear war is rising. What would such a war look like? With the world situation vastly different from the late Cold War and with nuclear arsenals much smaller, it would probably not be a brief nuclear exchange but something more limited, albeit still horrific.

Perhaps such a war would be like one that the U.S. government imagined in 1955. In June of that year, the government conducted a massive relocation exercise called Operation Alert in cities across the country. A British Pathé newsreel tells the story in breathless shorthand. As part of the exercise, the State Department moved key personnel to an above-ground location at the foot of the Shenandoah Mountains in Front Royal, Virginia that now belongs to the Smithsonian Institution. There, according to records held at the National Archives, they practiced how they would continue to conduct the business of the department in case of World War III.

Among other documents, the Archives holds “Situation Report #1,” issued by the State Department’s intelligence arm on D+1 of the war game. It is an interesting artifact of the time. In 1955 nuclear arsenals on both sides of the Iron Curtain were much smaller than they became later and intercontinental ballistic missiles did not exist. Thus, the Soviet ability to strike the U.S. homeland was also much more limited and the “war” unfolded much more slowly than it would have even ten years later. As a result, the imaginary war of June 1955 combined attributes of World War II as well as the World War III that haunted us in the 1980s.

June 15, 2015

The “Kitchen Debates” of 1959

Filed under: Economics, History, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

B.K. Marcus explains how ice cream was the secret weapon that won the Cold War:

Richard Nixon stood by a lemon-yellow refrigerator in Moscow and bragged to the Soviet leader: “The American system,” he told Nikita Khrushchev over frosted cupcakes and chocolate layer cake, “is designed to take advantage of new inventions.”

It was the opening day of the American National Exhibition at Sokol’niki Park, and Nixon was representing not just the US government but also the latest products from General Mills, Whirlpool, and General Electric. Assisting him in what would come to be known as the “Kitchen Debates” were attractive American spokesmodels who demonstrated for the Russian crowd the best that capitalism in 1959 had to offer.


“Don’t you have a machine,” he asked Nixon, “that puts food in the mouth and presses it down? Many things you’ve shown us are interesting but they are not needed in life. They have no useful purpose. They are merely gadgets.”

Khrushchev was displaying the behavior Ludwig von Mises described in The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality. “They castigate the luxury, the stupidity and the moral corruption of the exploiting classes,” Mises wrote of the socialists. “In their eyes everything that is bad and ridiculous is bourgeois, and everything that is good and sublime is proletarian.”

On display that summer in Moscow was American consumer tech at its most bourgeois. The problem with “castigating the luxury,” as Mises pointed out, is that all “innovation is first a luxury of only a few people, until by degrees it comes into the reach of the many.”

It is appropriate that the Kitchen Debate over luxury versus necessity took place among high-end American refrigerators. Refrigeration, as a luxury, is ancient. “There were ice harvests in China before the first millennium BC,” writes Wilson. “Snow was sold in Athens beginning in the fifth century BC. Aristocrats of the seventeenth century spooned desserts from ice bowls, drank wine chilled with snow, and even ate iced creams and water ices. Yet it was only in the nineteenth century in the United States that ice became an industrial commodity.” Only with modern capitalism, in other words, does the luxury reach so rapidly beyond a tiny elite.

“Capitalism,” Mises wrote in Economic Freedom and Interventionism, “is essentially mass production for the satisfaction of the wants of the masses.”

May 20, 2015

Scuttled Soviet submarines in the Arctic

Filed under: Environment, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

The Soviet Union had a remarkably casual approach to disposing of nuclear-powered submarines that were no longer useful in active service:

Russian scientists have made a worst-case scenario map for possible spreading of radionuclides from the wreck of the K-159 nuclear-powered submarine that sank twelve years ago in one of the best fishing areas of the Barents Sea.

Mikhail Kobrinsky with the Nuclear Safety Institute of the Russian Academy of Science says the sunken November-class submarine can’t stay at the seabed. The two reactors contain 800 kilos of spent uranium fuel.

The map shows expected spreading of radioactive Cs-137 from potential releases from the K-159 that still lays on the seabed northeast of Murmansk in the Barents Sea.

The map shows expected spreading of radioactive Cs-137 from potential releases from the K-159 that still lays on the seabed northeast of Murmansk in the Barents Sea.

At a recent seminar in Murmansk organized jointly by Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom and the Norwegian environmental group Bellona, Kobrinsky presented the scenario map most fishermen in the Barents Sea would get nightmares by seeing.

Some areas could be sealed off for commercial fisheries for up to two years, Mikhail Kobrinsky explained.

Ocean currents would bring the radioactivity eastwards in the Barents Sea towards the inlet to the White Sea in the south and towards the Pechora Sea and Novaya Zemlya in the northeast.

April 29, 2015

QotD: Dining out, Soviet style

Filed under: History, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Nowadays, of course, there’s more to get away from than the cold, the monotonous food and the frustrations of life in a backward, bureaucratic, corrupt society. Obviously you can get falling-down drunk at home, but there are no bars that serve anything stronger than beer, except in Intourist hotels, reserved for foreigners and officials. If you want to be served vodka, or any other spirit, you have to go to a restaurant and order it with your meal, which in itself can take an hour or two. So sometimes you team up with a couple of fellows at work, form a troika. (A troika can be a three-horse carriage but it’s just three of anything, a threesome.) You get hold of a half litre of vodka and what’s probably harder to come by in a socialist country, three paper cups. Perhaps the grocer will let you stand in his shop, anyway you find some place where the wind isn’t blowing and you drink the vodka, quite fast I expect, and then you go home. And that’s your night out with the lads.

In its way I find the thought of that almost as depressing as anything to do with the Gulag or mental hospitals. Remember it when the juke box in the pub is too loud or they can’t do you a Harvey Wallbanger.

Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.

April 22, 2015

Denmark’s Bornholm Island draws Russian attention

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Strategy Page, Austin Bay talks about the unusual attention paid to a Danish island in the Baltic Sea by Russian military forces:

Denmark’s Bornholm Island apparently troubles Vladimir Putin’s 21st-century Kremlin war planners as much as it vexed their Cold War Soviet-era predecessors.

More on Bornholm’s specifics in a moment, but first let’s cover one more example of Putin Russia’s aggressive wrong doing. According to an open-source Danish security assessment, in mid-June 2014, three months after Putin’s Kremlin attacked and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Russian aircraft carrying live missiles bluffed an attack on Bornholm. Though the report doesn’t provide the exact date, the bomber “probe” occurred during the three-day period the island hosted a touchy-feely “peoples festival.” The festival’s 90,000 participants were unaware they were seeking peaceful solutions on a bulls-eye.

The Bornholm faux-attack reprised Soviet Cold War “tests” of Danish defenses and is but one of a score of serious Russian military probes since 2008 designed to rattle Northern Europe. These Kremlin air and naval probes, backed by harsh rhetoric, have led Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland to reassess their military defenses. “Nordic cooperation” with an emphasis on territorial defense was the first formulation. The Nordics, however, acknowledged ties to Baltic states (and NATO members) Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Since the Crimea invasion, Denmark and Norway (NATO members) want to reinvigorate NATO military capabilities. Continued Russian aggression in Ukraine has led a few habitually neutral Swedes to voice an interest in joining NATO.

Bornholm Island (via Google Maps)

Bornholm Island (via Google Maps)

Back to Bornholm: the island’s location and geology irritated Soviet-era Kremlin strategists. Located in the Baltic Sea east of peninsular Denmark, north of Poland’s coast and to the rear of what was East Germany, Bornholm gave the Free World outpost north of and behind Warsaw Pact lines.

Soviet communications security officers despised the place. Bornholm’s electronic intercept systems, quite literally, bugged them.

As for geology, unlike Jutland’s flat peninsula, Bornholm is rock. In the 1970s, while serving a U.S. Army tour in West Germany, I heard a senior officer describe Bornholm as “sort of a Gibraltar.” His exaggeration had a point. Dig tunnels and Bornholm became a hard target for Soviet conventional weapons.

April 16, 2015

An alliance of monsters – Hitler and Stalin, 1939-1941

Filed under: Books, Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In The New York Review of Books, John Lukacs reviews a new book from Roger Moorhouse documenting the brief alliance between the Nazi and Soviet regimes:

In the vast literature about Stalin and Hitler during World War II, little is said about their being allies for twenty-two months. That is more than an odd chapter in the history of that war, and its meaning deserves more attention than it has received.

Two factors were involved in this neglect. One was that after Hitler chose to conquer Russia he did not succeed; Stalin emerged as one of the supreme victors of World War II. The other was the Western Powers’ relative lack of interest in Eastern Europe. Yet the war broke out in 1939 because of Eastern Europe, as a result of the British (and French) decision to oppose the German conquest of Poland. The political earthquake of the Nazi–Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939, nine days before the outbreak of war on September 1, did not deter Britain and France from declaring war on Germany upon its invasion of Poland. This is one of the few—very few—decisions in their favor at the time. That they were reluctant in the months that followed to wage war seriously against Germany is another story.

Three quarters of a century have now passed since 1939. A fair amount has been written about the Nazi–Soviet Pact since then, mostly by Eastern European writers and historians. The Devil’s Alliance is a good account by the British historian Roger Moorhouse of what the pact meant for Hitler and Stalin—and, worse, for its victims. Perhaps the book’s most valuable part deals with the immediate consequences of the pact in 1939. Before then, obviously and stridently, Nazism and communism were outright enemies. From the very beginning of his political rise Hitler described Judaism and communism as his principal enemies. Stalin, by that time, was less of an ideologue. Like Hitler, he was a nationalist; he had little interest in international communism.

February 13, 2015

Feeling nostalgic for Cold War-era Soviet propaganda? Don’t worry … it’s back!

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Strategy Page on the disturbing resurrection of Soviet style “news”:

Westerners in Russia, especially those who speak and read Russian, report that state controlled Russian media has seemingly reverted to stories and attitudes right out of the Cold War. It is, in short, unreal but actually happening. Russian media is full of stories of NATO aggression against Russia and anything that is going wrong in Russia is blamed on a NATO conspiracy to destroy Russia. The Russian aggression in Ukraine is described as largely a fable created by a NATO conspiracy to take over the Ukrainian government and institute a terror campaign against the ethnic Russian minority in Ukraine, especially eastern Ukraine. There, the Russian media described ethnic Russians leading a rebellion against this NATO puppet government running Ukraine and NATO soldiers pretending to be Ukrainians doing most of the fighting. No captured NATO agents are presented which Russian media describes as proof of how clever and dangerous this NATO aggression is.

The reality is that Russian soldiers are regularly captured (dead and alive) and presented on Ukrainian TV but this is ignored and dismissed by Russian media as more insidious NATO propaganda. Those Russians familiar with their own history who point out the current government propaganda in Russia is similar to what went on in 1939 and 1941 are condemned as traitors. But it is a fact that in 1939 the communist Soviet Union signed a peace treaty with Nazi government of Germany and overnight Germany went from threat to valued ally according to Soviet media. That switched again in mid-1941 when Germany broke the treaty and invaded the Soviet Union. But during the time the treaty was in force Russian invaded Poland, the Baltic States and Finland. Russia was defeated in Finland and only got control of some territory just across the border. But eastern Poland was seized (as part of the 1939 treaty, with Germany taking most of Poland) as were the three Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania)

January 12, 2015

QotD: The Soviet Union’s incredibly successful ideological warfare

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Soviets consciously followed the Gramscian prescription; they pursued a war of position, subverting the “leading elements” of society through their agents of influence. (See, for example, Stephen Koch’s Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals; summary by Koch here) This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.

Indeed, the index of Soviet success is that most of us no longer think of these memes as Communist propaganda. It takes a significant amount of digging and rethinking and remembering, even for a lifelong anti-Communist like myself, to realize that there was a time (within the lifetime of my parents) when all of these ideas would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.

Koch shows us that the worst-case scenario was, as it turns out now, the correct one; these ideas, like the “race bomb” rumor, really were instruments deliberately designed to destroy the American way of life. Another index of their success is that most members of the bicoastal elite can no longer speak of “the American way of life” without deprecation, irony, or an automatic and half-conscious genuflection towards the altar of political correctness. In this and other ways, the corrosive effects of Stalin’s meme war have come to utterly pervade our culture.

The most paranoid and xenophobic conservatives of the Cold War were, painful though this is to admit, the closest to the truth in estimating the magnitude and subtlety of Soviet subversion. Liberal anticommunists (like myself in the 1970s) thought we were being judicious and fair-minded when we dismissed half of the Right’s complaint as crude blather. We were wrong; the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss really were guilty, the Hollywood Ten really were Stalinist tools, and all of Joseph McCarthy’s rants about “Communists in the State Department” were essentially true. The Venona transcripts and other new material leave no room for reasonable doubt on this score.

While the espionage apparatus of the Soviet Union didn’t outlast it, their memetic weapons did. These memes are now coming near to crippling our culture’s response to Islamic terrorism.

In this context, Jeff Goldstein has written eloquently about perhaps the most long-term dangerous of these memes — the idea that rights inhere not in sovereign individuals but identity groups, and that every identity group (except the “ruling class”) has the right to suppress criticism of itself through political means up to and including violence.

Mark Brittingham (aka WildMonk) has written an excellent essay on the roots of this doctrine in Rousseau and the post-Enlightenment Romantics. It has elsewhere been analyzed and labeled as transnational progressivism. The Soviets didn’t invent it, but they promoted it heavily in a deliberate — and appallingly successful — attempt to weaken the Lockean, individualist tradition that underlies classical liberalism and the U.S. Constitution. The reduction of Western politics to a bitter war for government favor between ascriptive identity groups is exactly the outcome the Soviets wanted and worked hard to arrange.

Call it what you will — various other commentators have favored ‘volk-Marxism’ or ‘postmodern leftism’. I’ve called it suicidalism. It was designed to paralyze the West against one enemy, but it’s now being used against us by another. It is no accident that Osama bin Laden so often sounds like he’s reading from back issues of Z magazine, and no accident that both constantly echo the hoariest old cliches of Soviet propaganda in the 1930s and ’40s.

Another consequence of Stalin’s meme war is that today’s left-wing antiwar demonstrators wear kaffiyehs without any sense of how grotesque it is for ostensible Marxists to cuddle up to religious absolutists who want to restore the power relations of the 7th century CE. In Stalin’s hands, even Marxism itself was hollowed out to serve as a memetic weapon — it became increasingly nihilist, hatred-focused and destructive. The postmodern left is now defined not by what it’s for but by what it’s against: classical-liberal individualism, free markets, dead white males, America, and the idea of objective reality itself.

Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.

December 15, 2014

QotD: The “purity” of Marx

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

You or I, upon hearing that the plan is to get rid of all government and just have people share all property in common, might ask questions like “But what if someone wants more than their share?” Marx had no interest in that question, because he believed that there was no such thing as human nature, and things like “People sometimes want more than their shares of things” are contingent upon material relations and modes of production, most notably capitalism. If you get rid of capitalism, human beings change completely, such that “wanting more than your share” is no more likely than growing a third arm.

A lot of the liberals I know try to distance themselves from people like Stalin by saying that Marx had a pure original doctrine that they corrupted. But I am finding myself much more sympathetic to the dictators and secret police. They may not have been very nice people, but they were, in a sense, operating in Near Mode. They couldn’t just tell themselves “After the Revolution, no one is going to demand more than their share,” because their philosophies were shaped by the experience of having their subordinates come up to them and say “Boss, that Revolution went great, but now someone’s demanding more than their share, what should we do?” Their systems seem to be part of the unavoidable collision of Marxist doctrine with reality. It’s possible that there are other, better ways to deal with that collision, but “returning to the purity of Marx” doesn’t seem like a workable option.

Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Singer on Marx”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-13.

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