Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “Communist

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Vladimir Ilich Lenin in disguise, Helsinki; August 11th, 1917

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Leon Trotsky in Mexico; ca. 1940

“… whatever may be the circumstances of my death I shall die with unshaken faith in the communist future. This faith in man and in his future gives me even now such power of resistance as cannot be given by any religion.” (1940)

The Mexican president at the time was Lázaro Cárdenas, the most left-wing president in Mexican history, still very beloved by working class Mexicans for his nationalization of oil and agrarian reform programs. However, given his leftist policies at home and support for the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War, Cárdenas was often under fire for being a puppet of Stalin’s Soviet Union. Well, what’s a good way to prove you’re not under Stalin’s control? Give asylum to Trotsky.

A bit of Chapter 6: The Break , from Trotsky’s autobiography, entitled “My Life“:

In 1894 Alexander III died. As was usual on such occasions, the liberal hopes sought support from the heir to the throne. He replied with a kick. At the audience granted to the Zemstvo leaders, the young Czar described their aspirations for a constitution as “nonsensical dreams.” This speech was published in the press. The word-of-mouth report was that the paper from which the Czar had read his speech said “groundless dreams,” but in his agitation the Czar had expressed himself more harshly than he intended. I was fifteen at the time. I was unreservedly on the side of the nonsensical dreams, and not on that of the Czar. Vaguely I believed in a gradual development which would bring backward Russia nearer to advanced Europe. Beyond that my political ideas did not go.

Commercial, multi-racial, loudly colored and noisy Odessa remained, to an extraordinary degree, far behind other centres in a political sense. In St. Petersburg, in Moscow, in Kiev, there were already in existence at that time numerous socialist circles in the educational institutions. Odessa had none. In 1895 Friedrich Engels died. Secret reports were read at meetings held in his memory by student groups in the various cities of Russia. I was then in my sixteenth year. But I did not know even the name of Engels, and could hardly say anything definite about Marx. As a matter of fact, I probably had never heard of him.

My political frame of mind while at school was vaguely oppositionist, but no more than that. In my day, revolutionary questions were still unknown among the students. It was whispered that certain groups met at the private gymnasium maintained by the Czech, Novak; that there had been arrests; that Novak, who was our instructor in athletics, had been dismissed and replaced by an army officer. In the environment surrounding the home of the Schpentzers there was dissatisfaction, but the regime was held to be unshakable. The boldest dreamed of a constitution as possible only after several decades. As for Yanovka, the subject was unmentionable there. When I returned to the village after my graduation from school, bringing with me dim democratic ideas, Father, immediately alert, remarked with hostility: “This will not come to pass even in three hundred years.” He was convinced of the futility of all reformists’ efforts and was apprehensive for his son. In 1921, when he came to me in the Kremlin, after having escaped the Red and White perils with his life, I jestingly asked: “Do you remember what you used to say that the Czarist order was good for another three hundred years?” The old man smiled slyly and replied in Ukrainian: “This time, let your truth prevail.”

[…]

I faced the first crossroads on my path, poorly equipped politically even for a seventeen-year-old boy of that period. Too many questions confronted me all at once, without the necessary sequence and order. Restlessly I cast about me. One thing is certain: even then life had stored within my consciousness a considerable load of social protest. What did it consist of? Sympathy for the down-trodden and indignation over injustice the latter was perhaps the stronger feeling. Beginning with my earliest childhood, in all the impressions of my daily life human inequality stood out in exceptionally coarse and stark forms. Injustice often assumed the character of impudent license; human dignity was under heel at every step. It is enough for me to recall the flogging of peasants. Even before I had any theories, all these things imprinted themselves deeply on me and piled up a store of impressions of great explosive force. It was perhaps because of this that I seemed to hesitate for a while before reaching the great conclusions which I was impelled to draw from the observations of the first period of my life.


His great great-granddaughter is interesting. Her family suffered from severe alcoholism due to the obvious stress from the assassination attempts on Trotsky, and she became an expert on addiction.

Here’s the 60 minutes piece on her:


Vladimir Lenin, he had had three strokes at this point and was completely mute; ca. 1923

Trying to warn people about Stalin by using his eyes alone.

Trying to warn people about Stalin by using his eyes alone.


Why Stalin allowed Finland to remain independent after WWII:

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Stalin overestimated the efficacy of the Finnish Communist Party and underestimated the canniness of Finnish politicians. Starting in leverage high grade military equipment from the Germans which allowed the Finnish forces to stage a fighting retreat from Karelia in 1944. Thus in mid-1944, the Finns and the Soviets were fighting in the same ground as the Winter War. Both the Kremlin and the Red Army’s leadership were much more interested in maintaining the drive into Eastern Europe than refighting what had been a dark chapter in Soviet military history.

Urho Kekkonen, a Finnish parliamentarian and later Prime Minister, said in a 1944 radio broadcast “the Soviet Union must stand to gain a bigger advantage from an independent Finland clinging to life than from a broken Finland doomed to a dependent existence.” The cornerstone of Soviet-Finnish relations was the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance signed with the USSR in April 1948. The Treaty guaranteed that Finland would aid the Soviets against “Germany or its allies” and fostered a series of networks and political connections between the Soviets and the Finns. The Soviets initially expected the Finnish Communist Party (SKP) to make electoral gains, but the existing Finnish political establishment adroitly managed to sideline them. The Treaty and the Finnish compliance with it did not give the SKP any major issues with which to attack the existing governments. Successive Soviet governments wanted the Treaty to be expanded and pull the Finns closer into the orbit of the Soviet sphere, but the Finns were able to strategically drag their feet. For example, the language “Germany or its allies” meant that Finns were able to justify not wanting to take defense steps against NATO Norway and Denmark. At the same time, the Finns also mastered the art of not appearing to be undermining the larger issue of Soviet security; they would give way over key debates like radar stations its early warning network.

The success of the Finns looks quite intelligent and unexpected from the vantage point of 2014, it’s important to keep in mind that during the Cold War the West was quite apprehensive the Finnish policies of accommodation. “Finlandization” became a pejorative term within Western Cold War discourse and a shorthand for making concessions to gain at best temporary freedoms from the USSR.

Sources

Jakobson, Max. Finnish Neutrality; A Study of Finnish Foreign Policy Since the Second World War. New York: Praeger, 1969.

Jussila, Osmo, Seppo Hentilä, and Jukka Nevakivi. From Grand Duchy to a Modern State: a Political History of Finland since 1809. London: Hurst & Company, 1999.

Luostarinen, Heikki. “Finnish Russophobia: The story of an enemy image.” Journal of Peace Research 26, no. 2 (1989): 123-137.

Rentola, Kimmo. “From half-adversary to half-ally: Finland in Soviet policy, 1953-58.” Cold War History 1, no. 1 (2000): 75-102.


Collapse of the Soviet Union:

While the USSR itself ceased to exist, many communist politicians either remained in power or continued to play an active role in their country’s politics. The revolutions were made possible not because of external forces (the US didn’t defeat communism, as it is often claimed) but because the communist party began to lose faith in itself.

Anti-communist and anti-party movements were not entirely uncommon in the USSR, but engaging in public demonstrations carried with it severe risks. In 1956, Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary to crush the opposition movement when it became clear that Imre Nagy, a communist himself, could no longer be trusted to rule the communist party. When he declared Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union mercilessly crushed the Hungarian dissidents. Mass bloodshed was avoided at Nagy’s insistence that the Hungarian people not fight their invaders, knowing perfectly well that there was little chance of victory. Similar events were to be repeated in Prague in 1968 when Alexander Dubček sought to relax party control over public life through democratic reforms including freedom of press. While more successful than the Hungarian revolution, the Prague Spring, ultimately met the same fate as the Warsaw Pact invaded in August. Similarly, bloodshed was spared only through the insistence by Dubček that Czechoslovaks not resist their invaders.

Although the revolutions in each country of Eastern Europe took on a different quality, there was one characteristic that defined them all: they were all non-violent. Beginning with the Polish workers’ union Solidarity and later emulated by Civic Forum (Czech) and Public Against Violence (Slovak) all communist opposition from then on took a strictly non-violent approach believing that, and with good reason, any violence committed by the opposition movements would only play into the communists’ party’s hands. On the other hand, any violent response to the democratic movements now sweeping Eastern Europe would only serve to discredit the communist parties further. Had the Soviets wanted to crush these democratic movements, there is little doubt as to whether they would be successful or not. The violent repression of the Prague Spring was still vivid in the minds of many.

There are two significant differences in the political climate within which the democratic movements of the 1980s were taking place and between those that took place before them and both had to do with the communist parties themselves. Faced with unprecedented protests and a call for democracy, communist officials simply did not understand how to address the protestors. That the revolutions were successful at all, ironically, can be attributed to a series of political and strategic blunders made by communist party officials. In Poland, for example, to address a series of devastating labour strikes, the Polish communist party, for the first time in the history of the USSR, formally recognized Solidarity (the Polish workers’ union mentioned earlier). In the span of just one year, Solidarity membership had reached 9.5 million members. Witnessing its popularity and fearing for its hold on power, the polish communist party attempted to outlaw Solidarity in the 1980s through the declaration of martial law. This would be characteristic of all revolutions in Eastern Europe: the communist party would relax their control over public life only to try and regain that same control later on through greater oppression which only served to discredit further still the communist regimes.

By the late 1980s it was clear in Poland and elsewhere that the communist party had no real sense of how to address their countries’ increasingly unsustainable economic situation or the growing public unrest. In 1989, the communist party having lost all credibility agreed to sit down with Solidarity to discuss the problems now facing Poland.

Among the agreements reached at the negotiations between the communist party and Solidarity was the creation of a new elected assembly. Elections were held just two months after the round-table talks between Solidarity and the party. Although the elections to the Parliamentary Assembly were rigged to retain a communist majority, the Senate elections were to untouched. Surprisingly, though in retrospect not unexpected, Solidarity won 99 of the 100 seats in the senate and all the seats it was allowed to the Parliamentary Assembly. The communist party itself was left in an impossible situation with the only options being to accept the vote and lose power, or to ignore the vote and resign. They chose the latter, at Gorbachev’s insistence, and communist rule in Poland officially ended.

That Gorbachev himself made clear that the Polish communist party had to accept the vote is significant. It was clear that Gorbachev had no intention of upholding the USSR’s official doctrine of quelling opposition through military intervention. Indeed, stating that the growing democratic movements in Eastern Europe were “a matter for the people themselves” signified to the protestors that Russia would not intervene. This minor and seemingly innocuous remark gave the democratic movements the confidence they needed to effectively bring communist rule to an end.

Sources:

Judt, T. (2005). Postwar: A history of europe since 1945. London, England: Penguin Group.

Goldgeiger, J., & McFaul, M. (2003). Power and purpose: U.S. policy toward Russia after the cold war. Washington, D.C. : The Brookings Institution.


Joseph McCarthy

 

Senator Joseph McCarthy, was arguably, one of the most successful conspiracy theorist in American history. McCarthy was able to meticulously manipulate the Red Scare hysteria with the help of the media, the encouragement from the Republican Party, and this enabled him to pursue his agenda of combating the supposed red infestation in the State Department. Communist witch-hunts had become synonymous with the rhetoric of the period.

McCarthyism, was indeed, an opportunity for Soviet propagandists to exploit. McCarthy gave Europeans, who resented American power, a respectable reason for expressing their hostility. You just have to look at the sheer extent of the anxiety and hysteria that developed in American society. The level of blacklisting, denial of civil liberties, the witch-hunts, persecution of American citizens and the recklessness of McCarthy and his demagoguing. Many began to doubt if the country of McCarthy was a safe guardian of nuclear weapons.

He targeted the state department and the army (to his own detriment) and the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) targeted Hollywood and business organizations in an attempt to root out communists. His methods were largely counter-productive and very destructive. Anybody that pled the Fifth Amendment were immediately interpreted as an admission of guilt. I think it was similar to that folklore hysteria you hear about – reporting your hated neighbor to the police for communist activities or suspicion, and a swat team storms in and grabs them.

McCarthy did not uncover any real Soviet spies, and he was not successful in his efforts – quite the opposite. He went on an anti-communist crusade, which led to the loss of jobs for countless hundreds, destroying businesses, exacerbated Red Scare fears and left an aftermath of uncertainty and anxiety in American society.


A german soldier sitting on the head of a statue of Stalin

This is perhaps the most useful thing Stalin's ever been connected to.

This is perhaps the most useful thing Stalin’s ever been connected to.

I wonder if this was the guy who’s frozen body was turned upside down in the snow….

 


In August 1961, two young girls speak with their grandparents in East Germany over a barbed wire fence, a barricade which later became the Berlin Wall.

It's interesting to see the still battered buildings from the battle of Berlin show their scars. I know it took time for parts of Germany to recover and rebuild but pictures like this really put it into perspective.

It’s interesting to see the still battered buildings from the battle of Berlin show their scars. I know it took time for parts of Germany to recover and rebuild but pictures like this really put it into perspective.

 

 


Roza Shanina, a female Soviet sniper who fought in World War II and got 54 confirmed hits. Allied newspapers called her, “the unseen terror of East Prussia.”

“The essence of my happiness is fighting for the happiness of others. It’s strange, why is it that in grammar, the word “happiness” can only be singular? That is counter to its meaning, after all. … If it turns necessary to die for the common happiness, then I’m ready to.” -Roza Shanina

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Roza Shanina was a Soviet sniper during World War II, credited with fifty-four confirmed hits, including twelve soldiers during the Battle of Vilnius. Praised for her shooting accuracy, Shanina was capable of precisely hitting moving enemy personnel and making doublets (two target hits by two rounds fired in quick succession). She volunteered to serve as a marksman on the front line.

Allied newspapers described Shanina as “the unseen terror of East Prussia”. She became the first Soviet female sniper to be awarded the Order of Glory and was the first servicewoman of the 3rd Belorussian Front to receive it. Shanina was killed in action during the East Prussian Offensive while shielding the severely wounded commander of an artillery unit.

She was, as the Russians say, a terrifying Nazi slaughtering badass.

(Source)


In Soviet Russia, music criticizes you!

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 7 “Leningrad” 

  • It was completed December 27, 1941 and was written as a heroic symbol of resistance to Nazi totalitarianism invading Russia. It’s been criticized for its often simplistic and bombastic sounds but others argue that was Shostakovich’s way of criticizing Stalin and the totalitarianism in the Soviet Union – simple, childlike, often obnoxious, over the top, and monstrous underneath. (It was also performed in the city during the siege of  Leningrad. They shelled the German lines and then broadcast the symphony live across the wire. )
Dimitry Shostakovich as a volunteer firefighter, Leningrad 1941

Dimitry Shostakovich as a volunteer firefighter, Leningrad 1941

Life and times

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (Дмитрий Дмитриевич Шостакович, 1906-1975) is probably more popularly associated with Soviet Russia than any other composer. He was a child prodigy, but his adult career flourished during Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror, and this influenced his art very directly. In 1936, Comrade Stalin attended a performance of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District; although the opera had previously been praised by the Soviet press for its ideological correctness, Stalin quite visibly did not enjoy it. Two days later, an editorial in Pravdacalled the opera “Muddle Instead of Music” and suggested that things “may end very badly” for Shostakovich. In this first prototype of the Communist regime’s new mechanism of cultural control, critics who had previously praised Shostakovich’s work publicly revised their opinions; he lost most of his commissions and performance engagements, and several of his friends and family were soon imprisoned or executed.

Shostakovich’s response was the Fifth Symphony, which he advertised as an apology for Lady Macbeth: “an artist’s creative response to just criticism”. Thus began a series of apparently patriotic compositions to gradually restore his official favor with Stalin and the musical authorities. Most of this work is ignored today, with some exceptions like the wartime Seventh Symphony (“Leningrad”). Meanwhile, Shostakovich wrote his most personal feelings into “desk drawer” compositions, mainly piano solos and especially chamber music, not meant for public performance.

Of course the biggest event in restoring Shostakovich’s public reputation was Stalin’s death in 1953, the same day as Sergei Prokofiev’s. Shostakovich ostensibly commemorated Stalin with his Tenth Symphony, and many of his earlier works were finally premiered. In fact, he regained so much favor with the Khrushchev regime (fortunately, Khrushchev had no ear for music that he joined the Communist Party to become General Secretary of the Composer’s Union; by this point, younger composers were happily studying forbidden musical concepts like serialism, and Shostakovich suddenly seemed like an icon of conformity. It’s not clear what was going through Shostakovich’s head, even from his own conflicting accounts, but soon he wrote the Eighth String Quartet – some previous works had been dedicated to friends and family who perished under Stalin, but this one was privately dedicated to himself, a musical suicide note.

Though the quartet trailed off in a signature morendo, Shostakovich survived, turning inward to psychological pessimism and dread for his late period. Despite his conservatism, he influenced a school of younger successors, including Alfred Schnittke.

Music

Even when Shostakovich seemed to be at his most patriotic, did he really mean it? Or did the apparently simple-minded themes sit on a layer of irony, concealing deep commentary on Soviet repression? And were these messages meant to be recognized by audiences while eluding official critics? These allegations are made in a supposed memoir, but historians question its authenticity.

At any rate, Shostakovich’s music is structurally conservative and old-fashioned for the time, official Soviet policy on “formalism” notwithstanding. Nearly all his work is quite clearly and accessibly tonal, with some extensions or tidbits of chromaticism. With fifteen string quartets and fifteen symphonies, often with roughly traditional movement orders, he was certainly one of the most prolific composers of these backward-looking genres in the twentieth century. And backward he did look: he was fond of quoting melodies from other composers or himself, and channeled Bach in his own preludes and fugues. Even his most personal chamber music generally follows the same formal and tonal idioms as his symphonies meant for public consumption.

From Mahler, he took not just orchestration but the concept of the symphony as psychodrama (Boulez: “the second, or even third pressing of Mahler”). His late string quartets show an affinity with Beethoven’s, in much the same respect. He was influenced by many Russian composers, including contemporaries like Prokofiev and Stravinsky as well as the old greats like Tchaikovsky and especially Mussorgsky. Though it’s not immediately apparent to the ear, he counted the Second Viennese School among his strongest inspirations.

Some examples

  • Symphony No. 5, especially the finale, and the 2nd movement (in that order)
  • Symphony No. 10, 2nd movement (fantastic 4-minute portrait of Stalin, with the three-note motif reminding one of “KGB”)
  • String Quartet No. 8, 2nd movement (tumultuous “whole note = 120” piece with amazingly big sound with lots of DSCH and dissonance and crunchy double stops sprinkled all around, dedicated to ostensibly the victims of fascism, but really himself and his fellow countrymen)
  • Symphony no. 7 “Leningrad” (quoted as the longest orchestral crescendo, topping even Bolero, used to evoke the oncoming Nazi army into Leningrad)

But, people seem to never talk about Symphony No. 4, which is my personal favorite.

Scored for a Mahlerian orchestra and stuffed with the most jarring dissonances, it begins with a shocker and closes with a triumph that subsides into a slow death. Indeed, I believe that the ending of Symphony No. 4 is THE MOST CHILLING ending of all time. Nothing tops this… a heartbeat in the timpani + sustained floating c minor chord in the violins + undulating celeste figure that all fades away.