Category Archives: communism

George Orwell: Animal Farm

I remember being assigned Animal Farm sometime around late grade school. I also remember coming away from it knowing that it had an important message, but not necessarily grasping the full weight of its implications. Whether it was the naïveté of youth or the institutional bias of public education, the poignancy of Animal Farm was mostly lost on me at the time. After having the benefit of the passage of time, a willingness to challenge my own ideological biases and the accumulation of a bit of knowledge since then, I can unequivocally say this. If there is a more cutting and incisive critique of the entire spectrum of radical Leftism than Animal Farm, I haven’t yet read it. Concise yet sweeping in scope, Animal Farm’s sting applies just as sharply to Stalinism as it does to contemporary intersectional feminism and #SocialJustice activism. It’s hard to believe that Orwell considered himself a socialist after reading this and 1984, but as the saying goes, life is sometimes stranger than fiction. Published in 1945, Animal Farm is widely perceived to be a critique of the Bolsheviks and Stalinism, but it more than adequately covers the entire spectrum of Marxist and neo-Marxist thought since the underlying pillars of the ideology remain the same regardless of how the parameters are modified to fit the times and demographics. 

One imagines that an allegory filled with anthropomorphized animals would be geared towards kids, but I had definitely forgotten just how heavy the subject matter actually was. Besides being full of surprisingly grim detail leavened ever so slightly by some very dark humor, Animal Farm packs a lot of ideas into a small narrative space. Set somewhere in the English countryside, the animals of Manor Farm live under the occasionally negligent yet basically benign stewardship of Mr. Jones. The boar elder of the farm, Old Major, gathers the collective livestock together to share his revolutionary dream of emancipation for all of the animals living under the oppression of human ownership. Old Major proclaims all of humanity to be cruel oppressors and animals will only be liberated if they band together and rebel against their human owners. Once they’ve cast off the yoke of human ownership, they will finally enjoy a life of unimaginable plenitude and brotherly harmony. 

Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished forever.

Orwell’s ability to synthesize the core essence of Marxist and neo-Marxist thought in such a short space cannot be overstated. Despite the daunting voluminosity and aura of unfathomable depth to this vein of thought, Orwell cuts through the pretentious excesses and insufferable sanctimony and spins out its inevitable conclusions with devastating accuracy. Not only is this anti-capitalist mentality the sole article of faith for anarcho-communists, socialists, and seemingly everyone in the ranks of Antifa, you can simply add a racial component and transport the entire template over to the BLM or feminist worldview in order to have the same readymade good versus evil dichotomy. 

Old Major is essentially the Karl Marx of the animal revolution. Like Marx himself, Major had been well cared for by his human patrons. He’d lived a long life and fathered lots of children. He had suffered no cruel treatment that would warrant the creation of a revolutionary doctrine that called for the extermination of humanity. Also like Marx, he sends them off towards their revolutionary future by portraying himself as a prophet who’s been bestowed with a quasi-divine revelation. He recalls a song he heard as a young piglet the words to which he’d long forgotten. Casting away the veil of bourgeois false consciousness that had clouded his thought throughout his life, the full glory of this liberated animal utopia had returned to him in the form of a song called “Beasts of England”. 

Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland
Beasts of every land and clime
Hearken to my joyful tidings
Of the golden future time

Soon or late the day is coming
Tyrant Man shall be o’erthrown
And the fruitful fields of England
Shall be trod by beasts alone

Orwell is keenly attuned to the various tools of propaganda that are deployed by demagogues, and the inclusion of this song is one of many brilliant details which exposes the mechanics of socialism when it is implemented. The entire book is a goldmine of metaphorical and symbolic masterstrokes, but putting “Beasts of England” into the mouths of the sheep simply cannot be topped. Anyone who’s ever tweeted about “sheeple” ironically or not owes it all to Orwell. Modeled very closely off the Socialist Internationale, the invocation of “Beasts of England” throughout the novel perfectly captures how socialism reduces men to mindless bleating herds and completely short circuits the capacity for independent thought. Whether it’s the various campus outrage mobs who swarm together to shout down the slightest perception of WrongThink or the cult-like mantras of BLM activists, the contemporary manifestations of “Beasts of England” aren’t hard to find. 

The Major eventually dies, but the dream of realizing an animal utopia invigorates the minds of the Manor Farm livestock. For some, “Beasts of England” all by itself is sufficient to keep the revolutionary dream alive. After the Major’s death, his pig disciples, Napoleon and Snowball, condense his thought into a doctrine called Animalism. Not only does Animalism serve as a pitch perfect proxy for Marxism, it could easily be seen as dogmatic adherence to any set of ideas used for the purpose of manufacturing a moral consensus, enforcing ideological conformity and consolidating state power. In order to ensure that the utopian dream is fulfilled, the two pigs take it upon themselves to educate their comrades to adopt a revolutionary spirit. 

All the animals nodded in complete agreement, and the cleverer ones at once began to learn the Commandments by heart.

These two had great difficulty in thinking anything out for themselves, but having once accepted the pigs as their teachers, they absorbed everything that they were told, and passed it on to the other animals by simple arguments. 

The adoption of a revolutionary mindset requires constant education and reinforcement of dogma, so the pigs set out to propagandize their livestock comrades. To their dismay, they discover wide disparities in intelligence, interest and attention. They’re also none too pleased with animals who ask too many questions. Mollie doesn’t understand why she must prepare for the revolution if the revolution is a historical inevitability. Snowball doesn’t have time to get into the details of dialectical materialism, so he just tells her to STFU and stop thinking counter-revolutionary thoughts. Despite the fact that the doctrine of Animalism is comprised of only seven rules, this was a bit much for some. The sheep are the least able to memorize the tenets of Animalism, so the entire doctrine is reduced to one very simplistic dichotomy:

Four legs good, two legs bad!


It sounds even better if you imitate the bleating of sheep when you say the word “bad”. At the end of the day, this is all that Marxism and progressivism inculcates. Proletariat good, bourgeoisie bad! 99% good, 1% bad! Progressives good, conservatives bad! POC good, wypipo bad! Womyn good, m*n bad! Science good, faith bad! Orwell is making a supremely important point about the psychological levers that any ideology pulls. The entire apparatus of human consciousness filters the world through a moral lens of one kind or another. The success of the adoption of Animalism hinged on its ability to ascribe evil and deceit to an entire group. It doesn’t matter if it’s the bourgeoisie, the patriarchy or white supremacy. Ultimately, this mentality would be applied to anyone deemed a traitor to the Animalist revolution. Including animals themselves.

It seemed to them as though Snowball were some kind of invisible influence, pervading the air about them and menacing them with all kinds of dangers.

The revolution comes rather swiftly because they are able to exploit Jones’ drunken negligence. After a brief but violent coup d’état, the animals take control of the farm. They celebrate by destroying all artifacts and materials that were associated with humanity. This thirst for purging and destroying the relics of the Enemy is a pattern that has played out in both the French and Bolshevik Revolutions, and is mirrored today in the vandalistic rampages of ISIS, Antifa and campus Jacobins alike. 

All the animals capered with joy when they saw the whips going up in flames.

Their first act was to gallop in a body right round the boundaries of the farm, as though to make quite sure that no human being was hiding anywhere upon it; then they raced back to the farm buildings to wipe out the last traces of Jones’s hated reign.

After Snowball is driven off the farm and branded an enemy of the Animal Farm State, not only is he blamed for all their misfortune, but his historically heroic role in the Battle of the Cowshed is erased. Even worse, collaboration with Snowball, or suspicion thereof, is a treasonous act punishable by death. I had definitely forgotten just how dark Animal Farm was because I had to pick my jaw off the floor after reading the gruesome details of Napoleon’s purge of counter-revolutionaries. I don’t know which demographic Orwell had in mind when he wrote Animal Farm, but even the psychological distance of anthropomorphic animals doesn’t really diminish the sheer brutality of these scenes. But it’s both appropriate and true. Whether it’s the trial of Bukharin or the racial supremacist neo-Bolsheviks at Evergreen or the hypersensitive Yale triggerkin berating Nicholas Christakis, the Animalist pursuit of WrongThink always looks the same. The only real difference is the severity of the punishment. 

The enforcement of Animalist orthodoxy resulted in the destruction of free speech and eventually gave way to despotism. The phenomenon to which Orwell alludes is bone chilling in its ramifications; secular liberalism and the pure pursuit of equality taken to its fullest conclusion necessarily leads to totalitarianism. After Snowball is deposed, Napoleon shuts down all public debate. Under Animalism, the individual not only cannot be trusted to self-govern, but must subordinate himself to the diktats of the anointed vanguard and their emissaries. The animal proles want to contest the edict, but they lack the critical thinking skills that can only be cultivated in a system which encourages a competition of thought. Since Animalist doctrine required strict fealty to core principles in order to forge a unified consensus, post-revolution Animal Farm could not forestall its inexorable slide towards totalitarianism and absolute thought control.

The animals would still assemble on Sunday mornings to salute the flag, sing Beasts of England, and receive their orders for the week; but there would be no more debates.

The prohibition of free speech also liberated Napoleon and his cohorts to completely control information, alter the tenets of Animalism, and rewrite history itself. When Napoleon eventually declares that trade with humans must be permitted in order to procure necessities that the farm simply could not produce, it also required the abandonment of previously sacred Animalist commandments. After Napoleon changed one tenet, it was merely a matter of time until all of Animalism had been rewritten to the point where the porcine politburo had exempted themselves from every commandment they imposed on the proles. 

Among its many pointed critiques, post-revolution Animal Farm is yet another righteous kick in the teeth to the failure of economic planning. Though the animals were somewhat successful in carrying out the duties of managing Animal Farm in the beginning, the age old problems of thwarted incentives, mismanaged resources, and inadequate technology that have plagued socialist economies throughout the ages reared their ugly heads. Food shortages and rationing became a way of life for all the proles except for the porcine Kremlin and their canine goon squad. 

In addition to being throttled by the absence of price signals and normal forces of supply and demand, the revolutionary ruminants of Animal Farm had to contend with the problem of producing a harvest using a population of animals with wildly disparate skill and intelligence levels and none of the humane incentives normally cultivated under a healthy market economy. Since Animalist (Marxist) orthodoxy proclaimed humanity to be parasitic, it blinded the hidebound herd to the laws of market economics. As clever as the cloven hooved revolutionary clerisy were in fomenting animosity towards humans, what they failed to grasp was that humans possessed skills they simply did not have. Animalism had nothing to say about how exactly economic life would carry on after the revolution. It simply indoctrinated the idea that the act of comandeering the means of production by force would somehow magically bring about an era of unbounded abundance. 

The storyline pertaining to Mollie the horse offers a scathing rebuke to contemporary feminism. Mollie is a mare who likes the attention of humans (men), likes to accentuate her beauty with ribbons, and likes the indulgences (sugar) that are created by humans (men). Prior to the revolution, Orwell describes Mollie’s questions as the “stupidest” ones, but they’re only stupid to Animalist elites like Snowball who care only about submission and obedience from the herd. Mollie quite reasonably wonders about the availability of sugar and the permissibility of ribbons after the revolution. Snowball haughtily mansplains to her that neither will be permitted because they are the product of mankind and indulging either pleasure is counter-revolutionary. Mollie finds her fears of post-revolution Animal Farm confirmed when she discovers that the very creature comforts and attention she enjoyed from humans had been outlawed by the porcine politburo. Mollie defects and returns to human ownership, but her existence is never acknowledged again by the remainder of Animal Farm. 

Snowball’s dismissal of Mollie’s concern perfectly encapsulates feminism’s sheer hostility to marriage, feminine beauty and manhood itself as it is expressed through the entire “body positivity” movement. Feminists are hostile to women who are naturally attractive and physically fit. Especially towards those who allow themselves to be “objectified” by the male gaze. Mollie wants the attention and companionship of humans (men) while Boxer and Snowball treat her with suspicion and contempt for having these desires. Fat positive activists promote the idea that losing weight and exercising restraint around eating is some patriarchal conspiracy to force body size conformity, but so-called “body positivity” is simply an overt attempt to normalize a natural tendency in women to seek indulgence and remove any accountability to make themselves more attractive to men. It is also a potent reminder that, by and large, women like to beautify themselves and to be recognized for it. Even the most fat positive, pierced, tattooed, blue haired, non-binary, black lipstick wearing feminist is looking for validation of her looks even if it only comes from their personal online hugbox of sycophants. 

For anyone who thinks that Orwell belongs to the Left and his seemingly inexplicable attachment to democratic socialism somehow exonerates socialism, the joke’s on you. Over the years, many of the most trenchant critiques of leftism have come from within the ranks of the Left. The message of Animal Farm couldn’t be more explicit or urgent. If I knew why people, Orwell included, remained committed to the Left after enduring an ideological wrecking ball like Animal Farm, I certainly wouldn’t be writing this piece. Regardless, Animal Farm is happening right before our eyes. The first step towards actual liberation is recognizing that the only chains that exist are the ones that the ideology itself places within your own mind. 

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Stalker (Сталкер) (1979)

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Andrei Tarkovsky’s enigmatic, brooding and grindingly slow SF film from 1979 is a favorite among artsy film connoisseurs and tastemakers, but the praise that has been heaped upon it needs to be taken with several grains of salt. Stalker is indeed a masterfully made film, and as far as I can tell, is a fairly explicit metaphor for the crushing despair of life under socialism. It is also an extended exploration of the nihilistic mindset that gave birth to one of the most repressive regimes in the 20th century. Criterion has just released a newly remastered blu-ray, so the world can now enjoy its bleak splendor as never before. That said, I don’t know that it will appeal to anyone beyond the hardcore cinephile set due to its grim aesthetics, cerebral artiness and glacial tempo.

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Since the storyline of Stalker is fairly straightforward on the surface, the allure of the film lies in attempting to peel back the layers of metaphor and symbolism. Tarkovsky’s work invites painstaking analysis because his film lives mostly in the realm of abstraction and semiotics. Considering that Stalker alone has inspired reams of film school exegeses and an entire book which deconstructs every minute detail, it has gained a reputation of being a puzzle of infinite depth.  Despite having a reputation which verges on a near mystical reverence, I think the film is quite possibly much more straightforward than prevailing opinion suggests.

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First and foremost, the film cannot be disassociated from socialist context in which it was created. This was, after all, a Mosfilm production, and by default, a work of art made by people living under a socialist dictatorship. Art was tightly controlled under the Soviets, so no filmmaker could make anything that was too explicitly critical of the regime. Making a ponderously slow film which buries its editorial under abstractions but still lends itself to a multiplicity of subjective interpretations was perhaps the only way to attempt to say anything that wasn’t boilerplate party propaganda.

Writer: While I am digging for the truth, so much happens to it that instead of discovering the truth I dig up a heap of, pardon… I’d better not name it.

The degree to which Tarkovsky’s aesthetic was a purely organic phenomenon in contrast to the extent that it was an adaptation to the confines of Party diktats are questions which must be considered. Stalker poses questions about the nature and role of art, and the fact that this film’s emotional spectrum ranges from sadness to suffering certainly tells us something about how art was affected by the psychological strictures imposed by socialist rule. I propose that the SF premise merely provided the necessary metaphorical pretext for the underlying editorial.  Since absolute fealty to socialist orthodoxy and groupthink was a way of life, telling the truth in a direct way was a counter-revolutionary act all by itself. In this film’s case, the ponderous pace and desolate tone was likely Tarkovsky’s way of pulling you deeply into the experience of life through Soviet eyes.

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Based loosely on Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s 1971 book, Roadside Picnic, Stalker tells the story of three men who enter a quarantined area called the Zone. The Zone was declared off limits to the public as a result of some unknown incident that may have been paranormal in nature or simply an industrial accident. The big attraction of entering the Zone is the presumed existence of the Room; a place where all wishes can be granted. Two of the men, known only as the Writer and the Professor, enlist the services of the titular Stalker to navigate the Zone and lead them to the Room. Theoretically, this sounds like it could be a premise for a SF action thriller, but the film has more in common with existential theatre like Waiting for Godot or No Exit than anything in the conventional SF cinematic canon. Needless to say, the film is completely devoid of aliens, space travel, futuristic technology or any of the features we normally associate with cinema that calls itself science fiction.

The broad themes are spelled out very clearly in the first part of the film albeit in a somewhat oblique manner. As the film opens, we’re taken into the bedroom of the Stalker over the course of roughly nine dialogue-free minutes as he awakens next to his wife and disabled child. While dressing and preparing for the day, his distressed wife joins him in the kitchen and warns him that he risks returning to his old ways and being sent back to jail. Right away, Tarkovsky is revealing an important fact of life in the Soviet Union: the USSR was essentially an open air prison camp. Socialism had criminalized freedom itself, and the citizens had become complicit in their own enslavement.

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We discover in the subsequent scene that the Stalker is being enlisted to guide two other men into the Zone to find the Room. Since the Room was a place where one’s deepest wishes could be fulfilled, the Room could be viewed as a metaphor for hope, redemption, and the attainment of human dreams. In a word, freedom. No one can reach the Room without first passing through the heavily guarded perimeter of the Zone. The Zone is both an explicit metaphor for the Soviet state as well as the psychological confinement it engendered. The State had outlawed freedom, so the Stalker’s willingness to defy the State and lead others through the Zone is what makes him an outlaw. Naturally, his wife is fearful of caring for their disabled daughter without him, so she implores him not to go.

Stalker: The Zone wants to be respected. Otherwise it will punish.

Tarkovsky seems to have a view of humanity that alternates between nihilism and idealism, but tilts heavily towards the former. In one of Stalker’s monologues, he describes the Zone as an entity whose malevolence is both triggered by the appearance of people and a reflection of man’s nature.

Stalker: The Zone is a very complicated system of traps, and they’re all deadly. I don’t know what’s going on here in the absence of people, but the moment someone shows up, everything comes into motion. Old traps disappear and new ones emerge. Safe spots become impassable. Now your path is easy, now it’s hopelessly involved. That’s the Zone. It may even seem capricious. But it is what we’ve made it with our condition. It happened that people had to stop halfway and go back. Some of them even died on the very threshold of the room. But everything that’s going on here depends not on the Zone, but on us!

The Stalker eventually meets the Writer and his glamorous girlfriend at the waterfront. Stalker rudely dismisses the woman as he and the Writer climb into a car to meet the Professor. Both the Writer and the Professor are quite possibly archetypes for the artistic and academic intelligentsia who have largely been conscribed to the role of being apologists for the State. The rudeness and disdain the Stalker exhibits towards his girlfriend is easily understood when examined in this light. After a contentious rendezvous with the Professor which symbolized internecine Party squabbling, the two men reveal their motivations for undertaking this treacherous journey. The Writer wishes to recover his lost inspiration while the Professor claims pure scientific curiosity. Since the arts had been completely subordinated to service of state propaganda, it makes perfect sense that the Writer would take such a dangerous risk in order to have a taste of genuine inspiration that has been so badly thwarted by demands for ideological conformity.  The Professor’s scientific curiosity is perhaps a jab at the misplaced faith that socialist society had placed in scientism.  A Room which grants your deepest wish is already an idea that lives beyond science.  Bringing a scientific mentality to such a phenomenon is misguided at best. Their desire to reach the Room was by itself an act of faith, and by extension, Tarkovsky’s affirmation of the necessity for such leaps of faith.

Upon arriving in the Zone, the color palette switches from lifeless, desaturated browns and greys to actual color. Once they had traversed past the boundaries of allowable thought, the color and vibrancy of life was accessible to them. Despite the landscape of ruin and desolation that lay before the trio, they managed to marvel at beauty. Once again, Tarkovsky reveals his cynicism towards humanity by having the Stalker note that the beauty was the product of the absence of other people.

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The Writer’s ideological convictions are challenged as they travel deeper into the Zone. As an archetype for the artistic class, Tarkovsky lays bare the psychological schism that Marxism created amongst the creatives in one of the film’s few moments of dry levity.

Writer: My conscience wants vegetarianism to win over the world. And my subconscious is yearning for a piece of juicy meat. But what do I want?

Marxism had supplanted any notion of higher morality and placed the locus of virtue squarely within the hands of the State. Subsequently, the Writer’s desire to see vegetarianism win over was merely a metaphor for the political orthodoxy he’d been trained to uphold. He views his desire for meat as bourgeois false consciousness. Ultimately, he’s conflicted because his sense of Self had been disrupted by venturing beyond the ideological boundaries that were protected and enforced by the Zone.

When the three men reach the Room, they become suspicious of one another’s motivations. The Professor produces a nuclear bomb and threatens to detonate it because he doesn’t want the power of the Room to fall into the wrong hands. Conflict ensues and recriminations are exchanged. After some tortured confessions, the Professor disassembles the bomb and the scene grinds to a halt in a cloud of defeat and resignation. I suggest that Tarkovsky is saying something about how deeply uncomfortable and distrustful Russians were with the idea of freedom. So much so that they constructed their own ideological panopticon.

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Upon returning from the Zone, the Stalker is reunited with his wife and child. In one of the monologues delivered by Stalker’s wife, Tarkovsky is attempting to access something truly primeval within the Russian soul. Some kind of deep sadness which insists that happiness can only emerge unless there is sorrow. Yet it is a sorrow leavened ever so slightly with a tiny granule of hope. Who knows exactly from where this emanates, but it does perhaps offer an additional cultural insight into the psychological legacy of the Russian people on which Marxism so hungrily feasted.

Stalker’s Wife: You know, Mama was very opposed to it. You’ve probably already guessed, that he’s one of God’s fools. Everyone around here used to laugh at him. He was such a wretched muddler. Mama used to say: “he’s a stalker, a marked man, an eternal jailbird. Remember the kind of children stalkers have.” I didn’t even argue. I knew all about it, that he was a marked man, a jailbird. I knew about the kids. Only what could I do? I was sure I’d be happy with him. I knew there’d be a lot of sorrow, but I’d rather know bitter-sweet happiness, than a grey, uneventful life. Perhaps I invented all this later. But when he come up to me and said: “Come with me”, I went. And I’ve never regretted it. Never. There was a lot of grief, and fear, and pain, but I’ve never regretted it, nor envied anyone. It’s just fate. It’s life, it’s us. And if there were no sorrow in our lives, it wouldn’t be better, it would be worse. Because then there’d be no happiness, either. And there’d be no hope.

The resolution of the film reveals the Stalker’s daughter moving three glasses using what is apparently telekinetic power as a snatch of “Ode to Joy” surfaces. It’s enigmatic, but I believe this is the glimmer of hope that Tarkovsky is offering. Monkey represents a new generation which possesses abilities that were unimaginable to their forebears: the ability to cultivate and express joy. An ability so powerful it can only be represented as a paranormal psychic power.

Aesthetically, the film leverages the decrepit and dilapidated architecture of the USSR to create a post-apocalyptic vibe that’s easily among the bleakest natural settings committed to film.  The Zone was inspired by the 1957 Chelyabinsk incident which was both the first major nuclear accident prior to Chernobyl and third largest in history. Ever dedicated to the purity of his vision, Tarkovsky filmed the Zone at an abandoned Estonian power plant which quite possibly hastened his own demise along with two other members of the film crew resulting from exposure to toxic chemicals.

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I suspect that a large part of the allure of Tarkovsky and Stalker in particular is that it represents a manifestation of the great Holy Grail sought by artists across the world throughout the ages: a pure artistic expression unsullied by the taint of capitalistic profit seeking. Stalker is very much a film made with painstaking attention to the most minute details. Almost nothing that makes it into the frame seems left to chance. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a film that people will actually want to watch.

Stalker is a film which elicits admiration more than enjoyment. As much as I am tempted to get lost in the labyrinth of symbolic possibility that so enraptures the cinephiles, I see this as a pretty explicit manifestation of the Russian pysche’s very fragile grasp at humanity desperately laboring under the weight of emotional and physical devastation wrought by 60 years of iron fisted subjugation and state enforced social engineering. Since this is a work of art which leans very heavily on symbolism, people will extract a meaning from it which confirms their own bias and disposition. Predictably, the progressive media in America has heaped praise on it because they see it as antidote to Trumpism and a rallying cry for socialism itself. The fact that a film that’s this unremittingly dreary and downcast is perceived as some kind of rallying cry for socialism just goes to show how deeply this ideology warps the psyche and possesses the will of the individual.  If anything, Stalker should be taken as a dire warning of the inhospitable future that awaits should we allow this ideology to hollow out what remains of our souls.

Stalker is indeed a work of Serious Art® and I completely understand the cult of devotion it has inspired. Like all good works of high modernism, it contains the possibility of extracting multitudes of meaning. However, I genuinely don’t think Tarkovsky intended this film to be another occasion for endless academic navel gazing or a self-centered circle jerk for the intelligentsia. Tarkovsky was making an earnest attempt to tell the truth of the Russian experience by using a SF premise as a metaphysical allegory. John Semley’s dumb Salon piece praises the film for all the wrong reasons. Yes, the plodding pace feels radical in contrast to the engineered dopamine rushes we get from contemporary cinema, but it’s because the film conveys a deep sense of despair. Being boring is not an aesthetic virtue that is inherently good. Good art encompasses the entirety of the human experience, but most importantly, it has intention and should actually connect with its audience. Would Stalker have been funded on the free market? Probably not. Grim meditations on the human experience don’t make for big ticket sales. Especially if they’re the product of life under socialist rule. I’m deeply sympathetic to artistic expression which challenges norms and defies expectations. Most people do not share this belief, and as a result, won’t bother watching Stalker. And that’s fine. No one is required to consume art which evokes boredom and despair. In the end, that is perhaps that is the true legacy of the film. Just as millions died chasing the abstraction that Marxism represented, few will heed the subtle warning buried under Tarkovsky’s abstractions.

Stalker: Are you awake? You were talking recently about the meaning… of our… life… unselfishness of art… Let’s take music… It’s really least of all connected; to say the truth, if it is connected at all, then in an idealess way, mechanically, with an empty sound… Without… without associations… Nonetheless the music miraculously penetrates into the very soul! What is resonating in us in answer to the harmonized noise? And turns it for us into the source of great delight… And unites us, and shakes us? What is its purpose? And, above all, for whom? You will say: for nothing, and… and for nobody, just so. Unselfish. Though it’s not so… perhaps… For everything, in the end, has its own meaning… Both the meaning and the cause…

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Dark City (1998)

Alex Proyas’ 1998 masterpiece, Dark City, may draw easy comparisons to The Matrix, but it deserves to be evaluated on its own terms. Both films deal with the idea that there is a deeper reality beyond material appearances as well as the possibility that there are malevolent forces actively shaping your perception. Both films also give you a protagonist who cracks the code of the reality with his own powers which threatens the controlled order of the world he inhabits. While The Matrix was ultimately a story of the Chosen One who liberates the huddled remains of humanity, Dark City is a story of a man who discovers that the essence of his humanity that could not be controlled made him stronger than his captors. 

Playing the role of John Murdoch, Rufus Sewell awakens in a bathtub suffering from amnesia. To his dismay, he discovers a woman brutally murdered lying on the floor of his bedroom. Fleeing the scene in a panic after receiving a phone call from a mysterious Doctor Schreber, he barely escapes discovery from a trio of ghoulish looking beings known as The Strangers. When the clock strikes midnight, the entire city stops and all its inhabitants fall into a state of hypnosis except Murdoch. This state of hypnosis is induced by The Strangers using a psychokinetic power called “tuning” which allows them to reshape the city and the lives of its inhabitants. Pursued simultaneously by Inspector Frank Bumstead under suspicion of multiple murders, Murdoch is able to escape the clutches of The Strangers by tapping into his own ability to tune. Murdoch tries to recover his memories by reaching out to his torch singer wife, Emma. Murdoch’s ability to tune threatens the control The Strangers exert on the citizens of Dark City.  He seeks to return to Shell Beach, the beachside town he believes to be his home, and unravel the mystery of Dark City before The Strangers catch up with him. 

Dark City belongs to a venerable tradition of SF films which explores the essence of identity, free will versus determinism, the effect of time and memory, and the value of our connection to the past. Given the escalating tensions in neuroscience over the role of biological factors and the nature of consciousness itself, Dark City’s emphasis on the latter theme places it a notch above The Matrix. Through tuning, The Strangers possess the ability to shape time and space, but they imprint people with stolen memories in order to discover what makes humans tick. The Strangers’ mentality can be viewed as a classic representation of collectivist materialism. With Doctor Schreber’s coerced assistance, they distill human experience into chemical combinations. Despite their apparent superiority, The Strangers cling doggedly to the belief that by continuously reshaping the physical, social, and even biochemical conditions, they can mold humanity to fit their desired ends. 

The Strangers’ manipulations of reality also serve as a metaphor for the myriad ways in which globalists, social scientists, and technocrats have intervened in human affairs in the present world. Ultimately, the film is an affirmation of the existence of a sovereign individual consciousness and the ability to exercise free will, but it shows you how difficult it is to develop an awareness of Self. Not only does Murdoch struggle to recover his connection to his own past, he must work equally hard to rip away the veil of deception that has been carefully constructed all around him.

Dr. Schreber: I call them the Strangers. They abducted us and brought us here. This city, everyone in it… is their experiment. They mix and match our memories as they see fit, trying to divine what makes us unique. One day, a man might be an inspector. The next, someone entirely different. When they want to study a murderer, for instance, they simply imprint one of their citizens with a new personality. Arrange a family for him, friends, an entire history… even a lost wallet. Then they observe the results. Will a man, given the history of a killer, continue in that vein? Or are we, in fact, more than the sum of our memories?

The Strangers are one of the most chilling representations of an alien dictatorship I’ve seen on film. They share a collective consciousness, but they have no individuality. It is a society of abject servitude to the hive mind. They possess advanced scientific knowledge, but they’re so imprisoned by scientific thinking, they’re completely insensitive to the ways they’re destroying the lives of their subjects. Morality and ethics are absent from their existence. 

In contrast to the messianic nature of Neo and his quest in The Matrix, Murdoch’s heroism is purely the result of his desire to attain meaning and discover the truth of reality. By asserting his individuality and claiming ownership of his own thoughts, it had a ripple effect in the other characters. He instinctively knows that the love he shared with his wife and his connection to Shell Beach were the only things that gave his life meaning and purpose. 

Stylistically, Dark City is a visual tour de force. The film effortlessly updates Metropolis‘ German expressionism with a lush 90’s gothic film noir chic. The overall color palette is suffused with black and other dark tones, but it is not devoid of rich, vivid colors. Visual, stylistic, and thematic references to its forebears abound. Vertigo, Blade Runner, City of Lost Children, Total Recall, and The Crow can all be detected within Dark City’s DNA. 

Dark City is a film which borrows very liberally from other films, but stands alone on its own terms. We continue debate the acquisition of truth amidst a sea of self-interested media elites, the extent to which we’re influenced by our past positively or negatively, the consequences of the endless parade of would-be social scientists peddling postmodern abstraction as policy, what role neuroscience plays in shaping happiness, and what quantum mechanics suggests about human consciousness. Dark City’s themes speak to each of these issues, and its relevance has grown in proportion. Not only does it stand very tall in the SF cinematic canon, but in the annals of all film. 

Marxism: Philosophy and Economics

If it weren’t for the fact that his ideas resulted in the deaths of around 200 million people, I’d be inclined to tip a hat to the fact that Karl Marx managed to create what amounts to the world’s most durable secular religion. Because I’m old fashioned and happen to regard an amoral, genocidal and totalitarian ideology as…you know…a net negative on human welfare, I can’t really do that with a clear conscience. Marxism is so destructive, yet its appeal remains undimmed by the failure of communism. It also remains seemingly resistant to criticism. If one has any intentions of engagement in the battlefield of debate, you’re going to need to fortify yourself with heavy intellectual artillery. Since it is such a cancerous blight on humanity, opponents of Marxism are well served by understanding its architectural underpinnings. Thomas Sowell’s analysis of the entire system, Marxism: Philosophy and Economics, is an essential step toward that end.

Marxism is the apotheosis and the backdrop of the ideological Left. It is a framework which can be recycled and repurposed in order to justify any expansion of political power. More importantly, it provides a critical ballast of narrative that infuses the ideology with a sense of moral urgency and historical struggle against an omnipresent capitalist boogeyman. It can absorb and accommodate new social phenomena (e.g. transgenderism, queer and race “theory”, etc) as well as the latest pseudoscience (climate change, etc) because it is pseudoscience all by itself. Marxism is a seemingly evergreen ideology because it is a theory of history, economics, and sociology wrapped in the rhetoric of equality and justice. It bakes moral outrage into its premises, but considers all moral transgression a necessary but transitory phase in an inexorable, dialectical historical progression towards a society of classless emancipation. In other words, it possesses all the features of religion, but still maintains an appearance of intellectual depth and scientific legitimacy.

How socialists view Marx

This is your brain on Marxism.

The basic propositions of Marxism are easy to grasp, but the system itself is deeply layered. It is propelled by an emotional immediacy and a certain internal coherence that makes it especially resilient to attack. Defenses of Marxism take one of four forms:

  1. You don’t understand Marxism.
  2. (Choose communist state) wasn’t what Marx intended.
  3. Marxism (i.e. socialism/communism) has never been properly attempted.
  4. There’s nothing wrong with the ideology. It fails because of capitalism, bad people, etc.

The latter three defenses are demonstrably false, but Sowell’s book is particularly useful in rebutting the first claim. True believers ascribe a quasi-mystical depth to Marxism that is apparently unattainable to luddites who aren’t sympathetic to his thought. There is something to this claim. Besides the sheer volume of his corpus, Marx presented his work, Capital in particular, as an unfolding dialectic which would unmask the bourgeois appearance of reality and reveal its true essence. Sowell emphasizes two hurdles that this approach presents to the layman. First, Engels himself cautioned Marx that his dialectical approach would potentially be misunderstood. This is telling since his magnum opus, Capital, is an excruciating slog. Further, Marx’ own writing suggests the possibility that he never intended to be understood fully and was simply laying traps for his critics. The latter possibility should be considered since Marx enjoys a reputation among his acolytes as some kind of prophet or mystic whose depths can only be divined by dutiful study at the feet of #WOKE college professors. Any philosopher whose work produces so many fiercely divided opinions over what its True Meaning was may not have ever intended to be fully understood in the first place. The only result that mattered was that he succeeded in building a cult of personality machine for himself and for generations of followers who’ve taken up the ideology.

Oh look. We’re still debating whether or not Marxism works.

Marxism must be judged by the results it has produced in the world and the actions of its adherents. Revolution by violent means, strict demands for ideological conformity, and complete subordination of the individual to some self-appointed elite have been the consistent hallmarks of every attempt to implement this ideology. When the written record is examined, it is rather easy to see how the ideas correlate to real world outcomes. Fortunately for us, Sowell breaks down Marxism’s festering carcass so that its fetid anatomy can be examined.

Rather than delivering a polemic, Sowell spends most of the book analyzing each component of Marxist philosophy in a dispassionate, scientific manner. Lest you believe that Sowell’s political leanings have biased him against the ideology, just keep in mind that he spent 25 years working on this book and earned an advanced degree from Harvard on this very subject. By systematically stepping through each aspect and sourcing his argument from the original texts, Sowell distills Marx to his essence without building straw men. The book reveals the central pillars that bind the entire philosophy with Sowell’s trademarked clarity and precision.

Sowell analyzes the full arc of Marx’ career, and he is very honest about the many inconsistencies, failures of logic, dubious elisions, cop outs and ideas that were never fleshed out. Delineating where Marx ends and Engels begins is a problem rarely discussed by doctrinaire socialists and academic apologists, but Sowell is careful to point all of these things out while cautioning the reader to consider the larger context of his work.

PHILOSOPHIC MATERIALISM

Marxism belongs to a philosophical tradition known as materialism. It is a philosophy which posits that there is no spiritual reality and all that exists is the material world. Not only does this view consign human volition to determinism, it provides an opening for the likes of Marx to embue social and material forces with spiritual and supernatural qualities while operating under the guise of social science. Social transformation is the product of material and social forces to which the individual is completely subordinate.  

THE MARXIAN THEORY OF HISTORY

Marx’ materialist conception of the world dovetailed into his theory of history. This historical aspect of the Marxist doctrine is downplayed by modern acolytes, but deeply significant because it compounds the moral and ethical void in the entire system. Marx was a member of the Young Hegelians and developed a theory of history which closely resembled the thought of his mentor. Marx saw the transformation of one stage of society to another in a quasi-deterministic manner that was driven by changes to the material conditions and social relations rather than the movement of individuals or ideas. According to Marx, these changes naturally bred conflict because all capitalist innovation simply created new enmity and jealousy.  Marx and Engels spent much of their careers waiting for capitalism to fail and for all of their ghoulish hopes of societal collapse to come true, but they never did.  Rather than admitting error, apologists will keep moving the goalposts to validate Marx’ so called predictions.  If the development of a revolutionary consciousness was the ironclad, scientifically sound historical inevitability he claimed, calls for revolution were redundant. 

THE CAPITALIST ECONOMY

The Marxian conception of the capitalist economy was more sociological than economic. The only purpose Capital serves to the contemporary audience to confirm the prejudicial notion that capitalism is an inherently predatory and exploitative system. It does not offer a positive theory of socialism nor does it add anything to classical market economics. It’s three volumes of tortured, fallacious metaphysics layered on top of thought pioneered by greater minds. Marx completely disregarded the necessity of varying skill levels in the development of an advanced economy, and consigned the entrepreneur completely to the role of soulless predator.  

MARXIAN ECONOMIC CRISES

As is the case with most of the economic analysis in the Marxian system, Marx’ “theory” of business cycles was a half-baked hodgepodge of existing theories jerry-rigged together in order to add another layer of oppressive class struggle. Mismatches of supply and demand were evidence of a lack of proportionality in sectors and were ultimately evidence of “ever widening crises” and deepening class struggle. 

MARXIAN VALUE

The Marxian concept of value is one of the lynchpins of the entire ideology. It’s less a theory of production or consumption goods and more of a theory of social relations.  Marx leaned very heavily on the labor theory of value as articulated by Ricardo and Smith, but was distinguished by his emphasis on “socially useful labor” and the quantity of surplus value extracted by the capitalist. Somehow, contemplating all this the surplus value was a critical act of dialectical inquiry that sharpened the revolutionary consciousness. 

POLITICAL SYSTEMS AND REVOLUTION

Sowell’s treatment of the Marxian concept of proletarian revolution is proof positive of the even-handedness of his analysis.  As easy as it is to point to that one paragraph from the Critique of the Gotha Program as prima facie evidence that Marx wanted a dictatorship, Sowell takes pains to emphasize that this should be taken in context with his overall vision of the transformation of social relations and productive forces. Ultimately, these subtle nuances didn’t override the ideology’s central propositions pertaining to the predatory nature of capitalism. 

Marx was sympathetic to the Paris Commune uprising, and saw it as an exemplary model of a proletarian dictatorship. In The Civil War in France, Marx professed support for four feelgood principles to which any modern progressive would readily align himself. Universal suffrage, an open society, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and a non-militaristic viewpoint sound good on paper just like many other Marxist epigrams. The abject failure of this experiment and the support he gave it were evidence that he was giving birth to a totalitarian ideology. 

One of the most pernicious myths of the Marxian system was Marx’ claim that, unlike his utopian forebears, he had put forth a theory of “scientific” socialism. Despite the numerous flaws and inconsistencies within the system, this perception of scientific legitimacy not only persists as Belief, but abets all complementary doctrines of scientific social organization.  

MARX THE MAN

Similar to Gary North’s contribution to Requiem for Marx, Sowell gives us a portrait of Karl Marx’ life.  Rather than being the type of working class prole he claimed to represent, he was born into a middle-class family of means. Marx enjoyed a life of lavish patronage from his parents, wealthy in-laws, and his intellectual wingman, Friedrich Engels. He was notoriously spendthrift with other people’s money, and apparently, quite the party hound. He regarded university as little more than a “camping ground” in which to while away the hours. His megalomaniacal tendencies and apocalyptic visions were present in his early poetry, and were simply transferred over to his political writings later in life. Marx’ entire career was marked by failed attempts at media success, squandered wealth borrowed from others, bitter rivalries with other intellectuals, and a marriage marred by self-imposed impoverishment, financial incompetence, emotional strife and infidelity. In short, he was the very epitome of the smug, entitled, coddled, narcissistic, middle-class progressive who goes to college to end up studying Marxism or subjects informed by Marxism. 

THE LEGACY OF MARX

The endurance of Marxism’s appeal is simultaneously befuddling and tragic. Despite numerous refutations and contributing absolutely nothing of enduring value to modern economics, the basic template of Marxian proletarian oppression has been transferred over to the entire spectrum of sociology, arts and humanities. Marxism fits very neatly into the two realms of academic “science” which are the Left’s current vehicles for the implementation of Communism 2.0: gender studies and climate science. 

Even if Karl Marx never existed, the Left would have invented him. Since the Left’s true goal is absolute political dominion, it needs a secular cult of the State in order to advance its agenda. It makes perfect sense that a quasi-religious, pseudoscientific, anti-family, anti-capitalistic, atheistic paean to state power written by a pampered, sheltered academic is still the guiding light of the Left.  

Marxism enjoys an unchallenged dominion in the halls of academia. Instead of promoting intellectual curiosity, Marxism inculcates a set of prejudices against capitalism, prefab outrage, simplistic explanations for complex phenomena, and most importantly, a pretense of moral superiority.  

Marxist thought is reaching a state of peak fermentation in America and Europe after decades of gestation. True believers are beyond reason, but for those looking for intellectual ammunition to ward off the Marxist zombie apocalypse, Thomas Sowell’s book is an indispensable weapon for your arsenal. 

Much of the intellectual legacy of Marx is an anti-intellectual legacy. It has been said that you cannot refute a sneer. Marxism has taught many-inside and outside its ranks-to sneer at capitalism, at inconvenient facts or contrary interpretations, and thus ultimately to sneer at the intellectual process itself. This has been one of the sources of its enduring strength as a political doctrine, and as a means of acquiring and using political power in unbridled ways. – Thomas Sowell

Mao or Hillary?

Enable every woman who can work to take her place on the labour front, under the principle of equal pay for equal work. This should be done as quickly as possible.~ Mao Tse Tung, 1955

We hail from all corners of the country and have joined together for a common revolutionary objective…. Our cadres must show concern for every soldier, and all people in the revolutionary ranks must care for each other, must love and help each other. ~ Mao Tse Tung, September 8, 1944

Unite and take part in production and political activity to improve the economic and political status of women.~ Mao Tse Tung, July 20, 1949

By increasing women’s participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity, we can bring about a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies. ~ Hillary Clinton, September 16, 2011



Kurt Vonnegut: Harrison Bergeron

If you were to compile a list of works of speculative fiction whose predictions of the future were truly prescient, it would have to include Kurt Vonnegut’s short story masterpiece, Harrison BergeronI am hard pressed to think of any work which so perfectly captures the pathological mentality of the modern day social justice warrior so perfectly and traces out the ramifications of this mentality if it were made into public policy. Sadly, it’s a process which seems well underway.  
Vonnegut manages to build his dystopian world in one elegant paragraph: 

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

With this single paragraph, he places us in a nightmare future where the crusade for equality of outcomes has been pursued to its fullest conclusion. In this not-too-distant future, the US Constitution contains over 200 amendments, people have lost the distinction between positive and negative rights, and perverted its original intent beyond all recognition. The ideas of equality before the law, individual rights and equality of opportunity preserved by a Constitutionally limited State have been completely supplanted by an all-consuming obsession with equal results which can only be attained by destroying uniqueness, individualism and humanity itself. Equality is, of course, enforced by a government bureaucrat, United States Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers. Anyone who possesses a quality, attribute or skill that might set him or her apart from everyone else must be handicapped in order to preserve equality of outcomes. The intelligent receive a mental implant which short circuits their ability to think. The attractive are forced to hide their beauty behind masks. The physically able are forced to carry sacks of lead balls padlocked to their bodies. Those with beautiful voices are given speech impediments. And so on. 

The action centers around George and Hazel Bergeron as they watch their son, Harrison, commit the highest act of sedition possible after escaping prison at age fourteen.  Harrison sheds his handicaps and dazzles the world by dancing a ballet on live television before the world. 

One need only to look at any of the social justice jihads being carried out on campuses and in the media to discover that Vonnegut was on to something.  The decades-long feminist outrage against “patriarchal beauty standards” has culminated in the so-called “body positivity” movement which not only destroys the one objective standard present in modeling, but seemingly seeks to reprogram manhood to be attracted to overweight women. The politics of grievance have reached an apex with the never-ending quest to name and shame anyone with “privilege”. Genetic and biological traits now supersede individual rights or merit and are sufficient grounds for legislative redress or special administrative dispensation by today’s social justice jihadists. Perhaps the most pernicious of all the social justice crusades is the pursuit of gender neutrality by those who insist that gender segregation in sports somehow reinforces “harmful” gender stereotypes.  And let’s not forget the deathless claim of a wage gap between men and women which is shamelessly flogged by the political and media establishment despite being debunked several times over. 

Meanwhile, different versions of the United States Handicapper General get created in college campuses and different levels of federal and local government throughout the country. 

What other outcome is possible from this mad pursuit of “equality” if not the anesthetized, institutionalized mediocrity and servitude portrayed in Harrison Bergeron?  As Paul Gottfried and many others have argued, this therapeutic agenda being administered by the democratic priesthood and their lackeys seeks nothing more than to debilitate the population and pave the path to socialist serfdom.  The only equality one can reasonably expect to uphold as an ideal is equality of opportunity. Once you seek equality of results, you destroy the foundation of liberty upon which any possibility for real achievement rests. Speculative fiction of this nature is meant to serve as a warning against the realities of the present. The signs of the nightmare world Vonnegut portrayed are everywhere. Here’s to everyone discovering their own inner Harrison. 

Ben Mezrich: Once Upon a Time in Russia

Once Upon a Time in Russia is Ben Mezrich’s highly entertaining and informative account of the rise of the so-called Russian oligarchs who accumulated power after the collapse of the USSR. The allusion to the American Wild West is intentional since the period chronicled was nothing short of a seismic shift in Russian society. The story centers around the ascent of two of Russia’s most ambitious oligarchs, Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich, and the complex web of power they wove in order to attain their respective positions. Within this sticky mass are dueling loyalties, inverted moral expectations, and internecine turf wars within and without the government. The book is refreshing because it opens a window of insight into the rise of private industrialists in a country which was (is) highly secretive and outlawed private industry for decades. Though it was certainly not as bloody and repressive as the Bolshevik regime, it was a period filled with plenty of violence and political intrigue in its own right.  Like Mezrich’s other novels, Once Upon a Time in Russia was culled from exclusive firsthand accounts of events, but it reads like a hardboiled political thriller/gangland novel.   

Imagine being an entrepreneur attempting to obtain some semblance of security for commerce and property rights after living under the bootheel of a corrupt kleptocracy which terrorized its own population for 70 years and you get a small sense of the challenges these men faced. Some people are likely to view the oligarchs as the corrupt gangsters who destabilized and terrorized, but in my estimation, this book paints a more nuanced picture. The new, quasi-liberal order in Russia was very fragile, and the only way they could push back against the resurgent Communist Party was buy patronage from the the Yeltsin government. 

You know you’re in for a juicy tale right off the bat. The book opens with a meeting of the oligarchs hosted by Vladimir Putin at none other than Joseph Stalin’s Moscow dacha.  Dashing all hopes that they had just bought themselves a yes-man, freshly installed president, Vladimir Putin, chose an appropriate venue to send the message that the oligarchs were subordinate to the Russian government. Not vice versa.

The story kicks into gear by taking us back to the beginning of Berezovsky’s story.  An assassination attempt on Berezovsky leaves him badly burned, his driver dead and his car a bombed out slag heap. Since he couldn’t get any business done without security, he enlisted the services of FSB agent, Alexander Litvinenko, and became what’s known in Russia as a krysha or “roof”. Taking private money under the table for security work was considered illegal, but given the porous nature of the state institutions in the early days of the newly liberalized Russian Republic, people were often willing to look the other way.

With Abramovich’s partnership and protection from Litvinenko, the two oligarchs set out to consolidate ownership of aluminum, oil, and most importantly, television. The remainder of the story weaves its way through the Yeltsin and Putin regimes as the oligarchs compete for political influence in the new and very tenuous capitalist order. It’s a race for survival and economic power, but the fate of the recently freed Russian economy hangs in the balance.  

As Berezovsky’s influence grew, his ties to Litvinenko came under scrutiny of the bureaucrats in the FSB who had ties to his political enemies and commercial rivals.  Litvinenko was ultimately given an order to execute Berezovsky, but couldn’t betray his trust or patronage.  Berezovsky used his growing influence to unseat the director of the FSB and replace him with an individual he believed to be a reliable yes-man: Vladimir Putin.  How much they had to learn about this former KGB administrator.

After Putin’s election, Berezovsky grew frustrated by his betrayal, and used his own influence in the Russian television station, ORT, to undermine public confidence in Putin. Berezovsky shamelessly exploited the Kursk submarine incident and attempted to make a random military accident a referendum on Putin’s leadership. This overt act of vindictiveness and dissidence forced Putin’s hand resulting in Berezovsky selling his shares in ORT and being exiled from his home country.   

Berezovsky’s antagonism towards the Putin regime threatened the stability of Abramovich’s active interests in oil and aluminum in Russia which sets the former krysha/protege relationship on a collision course.  The escalating tensions between these former business associates culminates in a civil suit over Berezovsky’s claim on assets accumulated during the active years of their partnership. 

Mezrich’s narrative seems to stick to the facts, but he compromises his own objectivity when describing the failing Communist regime as “right-wing”.  Communism is an ideology long associated with the political Left, and the Soviet Republic was, in fact, Marxist doctrine taken to its logical conclusion.  Throughout the book, he refers to Communist hardliners as “conservatives” while describing capitalist reformers as being for “democracy”.  Besides the fact that it distorts the historical legacy of European classical liberalism (and American constitutional conservatism by extension), he’s feeding the standard Right/Left false dichotomy of American politics which places the Left on the side of virtue, reason and decency and the Right on the side of authoritarianism, thuggery and resistance to change. Lenin believed in democracy, too, and it ultimately amounted to nothing. Democracy and economic freedom do not necessarily go hand in hand, and the American Left have more and more in common with the Bolsheviks with each passing election cycle as Bernie Sanders’ campaign amply attests.

Though it’s a minor detail, Mezrich also betrays his bias in his passing mention of Litvinenko’s conversion to Islam and apparent sympathy towards the Chechen Muslim separatists.  Litvinenko’s story certainly wasn’t the focus of the novel, but given the ever increasing prevalence of Islamic terrorism as well as the intensified focus on the connection between Islamic belief and acts of terror, Mezrich missed an opportunity to anchor this story more firmly into the debates of the present.  

Minor flaws notwithstanding, Once Upon a Time in Russia is an entertaining read which shines a light on a slice of history which, like Russian Communism itself, remains largely unknown to America and the West. Highly recommended.

Yuri N. Maltsev: Requiem for Marx

Despite the epic failures of socialism throughout the world, the Left throughout the West has held fast to its perverse and irrational idolatry of the philosophy of Karl Marx.  In America, The Communist Manifesto is the most widely taught economics text in university.  The bookstores of the most elite and prosperous communities are stocked with copies of Das Kapital. Media elites openly trumpet socialism and socialist regimes in major publications without remorse. Socialists now unironically wave banners of Stalin and Soviet flags in public parades and protest rallies. But no matter how spectacularly socialism fails, the Left have mastered the art of apologia when it comes to the writings of Marx. Somehow these failures cannot be attributed to Marxist doctrine. They are handwaved away as merely the unfortunate consequences of bad actors who either misapplied principles or were just despotic malefactors to begin with. Socialists contend either that socialism has never been properly attempted or hold up the welfare states of Scandinavian countries as model societies to which to aspire with no regard for history or market economics. Even worse, Marx’ analysis of capitalism continues to be accorded unwarranted deference, and his quasi-religious promises of earthly plenitude and social harmony continue to hold sway in the consciousness of the Left.

Whatever the reasons for the maddening endurance of this doctrine, what is needed is a stern and thorough repudiation of Marxist doctrine in the court of public opinion.  Preferably, before its adherents do any more damage than they already have done. 

Though others have set out to stamp out the mental cancer of Marxism, there is perhaps no refutation more definitive than Requiem for Marx. Edited and prefaced by former Soviet economist, Yuri N. Maltsev, Requiem for Marx sets out to disassemble and dismantle Marxism root and branch. Comprised of essays by the most notable thinkers in the Austrian tradition, Requiem for Marx lays waste to every facet of this toxic, but seductive ideology. 

Mr. Maltsev’s introduction all by itself should be sufficient to disabuse the average Occupy Wall Street proponent of any fascination with socialism, but it is merely a prelude to the battering ram of truth which follows.  Maltsev describes being indoctrinated to accept Marxist principles from a very early age up to the massive abuses, widespread corruption, indifference, repression and deception he witnessed from within the highest echelons of the Gorbachev regime. While Gorbachev enjoys a reputation in the minds of the Western public as a forward-looking politician, Maltsev paints a far less charitable portrait of a party apparatchik who lacked any intellectual curiosity, and held fast to his belief in socialism despite the large scale collapse happening throughout the Soviet Republic. Most importantly, Maltsev reminds us that rather than being some misapplication of principles, the USSR was, in fact, a sincere and faithful attempt to apply and implement Marxist doctrine.  Put that in your pipe and Bern it, Occupiers.

The chapter written by Hans-Hermann Hoppe is revelatory because he illustrates the parallels between the Austrian and Marxist analysis of exploitation. Marxists and Austrians both posit the existence of a predatory ruling class, but Marxists got it completely wrong by incorrectly pointing the finger at capitalists and producers. Hoppe draws a critical distinction between those who produce and exchange through voluntary contract and the homesteading principle versus those who extract wealth through involuntary and coercive means (i.e. the State). The former are the productive classes and the latter are the parasites.  

Gary North’s examination of Marx’ personal life, spending and borrowing habits, academic output, financial dependence, and absence of any real employment history is absolutely essential because it exposes Marx as the dilettante that he was. The fact that Marx is so heavily favored by pampered, bourgeois academics is sadly appropriate because that’s exactly what Marx himself was.  Not only was he born into wealth and privilege, he married into wealth and privilege, and managed to squander a fortune that easily placed him in the 19th century 1%. Not exactly the hardscrabble life of a working-class prole. Boasting an exhaustive set of original and biographical sources, North paints a picture of a classically narcissistic and predatory personality. Marx was deeply vindictive and spiteful towards opponents both real and perceived, demanded compliance from everyone around him, lived off the patronage of Engels and spent well beyond his means, fathered illegitimate children despite having no gainful employment, and proffered no positive theory of socialism while penning volumes of seething criticism of capitalism. Most tellingly, Marx essentially stopped publishing at age 49, and North argues that this was because Marx had reached an intellectual dead end.  For someone who’s entire theory of exploitation hinged on the idea of class exploitation, the fact that he never bothered to define “class” until the third volume of Das Kapital says quite a bit about the superficiality of his thought. North delivers a stinging rebuke to the political parasites, celebrity socialists, media water carriers and academic wankers who replicate Marx’ cult of personality, venerate his toxic swill, and telegraph their phony concern for the working man while luxuriating in the confines of their gilded fiefdoms. With this chapter alone, Gary North has driven a permanent stake into the heart of the myth of Marx as a Champion of the Working Class.

David Osterfeld’s critique of the Marxian taxonomy of historical modes of production and theory of history completely annihilates the validity of any claim that Marx makes on his system of thought being a genuinely scientific framework.  Throughout his work, Marx makes repeated references to the allegedly irreconcilable contradictions of capitalism, but it appears that few true believers in Marxist doctrine examine the contradictions within the Marxist theory itself.  Among the many confused and confusing notions which emanated from his addled mind, his theory of the inevitability of socialism receives a well deserved thrashing. According to Marx, the material forces of production develop without interruption like some sentient Borg-like hive mind which simultaneously gives rise to the exploitative bourgeois superstructure, improves material conditions and immiserates the proletariat all at once. Individual initiative and innovation play no role in his theory nor does the increased satisfaction that follows from the ongoing material improvement for the vast majority of the population. He simply presents the development of a revolutionary proletarian consciousness laboring under the crushing bootheel of the capitalist machine as an unfalsifiable a priori proposition. Most importantly, Osterfeld illustrates how Marx alternates between a sociological definition of capitalism and an economic one which, if properly distinguished, would have made a clearer separation between the mercantilist interventions of the State and the voluntary nature of market transactions. 

Picking up where Gary North and Hoppe left off, Ralph Raico uncovers the classical liberal roots of the theory of class exploitation and illustrates how Marx perverted the idea and propagated a wildly distorted vision of reality.  Marx cribbed his theories of class struggle from early classical liberal thinkers, François Guizot and Augustin Thierry, but by the end of Engel’s life, the role of the individual in the development of historical materialism had been nearly erased. Through the liberal journal, Le Censeur Européen, Thierry, Charles Comte, and Charles Dunoyer developed the doctrine of Industrialisme, or Industrialism. These thinkers put commerce at the center of society and asserted voluntary exchange as the true engine of virtue, industry, and innovation.  Most importantly, these men also drew critical inspiration from fellow Frenchman and economic theorist, Jean-Baptiste Say.  At the center of the theory of Industrialism was a harsh rebuke to the intervention of the State in economic affairs. All of these theorists correctly identified the State and its enablers as the idlers, exploiters and parasites. Marx and his followers ended up turning this analysis on its head and pitting workers against capitalists while assigning an unwarranted illusion of virtue to the expropriative power of the State.  

Coming in for the coup de grâce is the late, great Murray Rothbard. Drawing from a mind boggling collection of original and secondary sources, Rothbard argues that the Marxian pursuit of Communism was, in fact, religious in nature. Rothbard argues that not only was the Marxian pretense of secular scientific rationalism a pathetic farce, but his work had roots in religious millennarian prophecy which seeks a Kingdom of God on Earth.  Just as Marx’ economic thought was built upon the foundations of British Classicism, his pursuit of communism was merely a repurposing of the work of 16th century religious zealots who also saw inequality as a moral sin and sought redress through confiscation and conscripted labor. Rothbard focuses in particular on the first large scale attempt at Communism in Europe based on the teachings of the megalomaniacial eschatological Anabaptist, Thomas Müntzer.  Though Müntzer’s initial attempt at Anabaptist Communism in the city of Muhlhausen was another abject failure resulting in mass death and his ultimate execution at the hands of the German monarchy, his ideas carried on and were implemented by others to similarly disastrous results. The zealots who picked up the torch of eschatological Anabaptist Communism eventually gravitated to the city of Münster, and under the leadership of another set of proto-Lenins, Jan Matthys and Jan Bockelson, the first major experiment in socialist dictatorship was imposed.  All the features that defined every modern Communist dictatorship were present in the Münster experiment. Private property was confiscated, labor was coerced, disobedience was met with capital punishment, and the lionshare of the produce of society was reserved for the self-appointed elites. 

Rothbard also points out that Marx was a Christian in his youth before he adopted Hegelianism as a college student and his megalomaniacal ambitions, nihilism and abject hostility to humanity were present in his early attempts at play writing and poetry. 

Among the many failures of logic in the Marxian framework is his inability to reconcile market prices to the value of labor inputs. The entire edifice of Marxism rests on the premise that market prices must reflect the value of labor inputs and that the relationship between capitalist and laborers is exploitative by nature. Rothbard neatly emphasizes that Marxists have neither adequately responded to Eugen Böhm-Bawerk’s critique of this aspect of the Marxian system nor come to grips with the insights of the Marginalists.  

Rothbard correctly observed that ideas are notoriously hard to kill even if they’re demonstrably bad ideas like Marxism.  The fact that Marxism forms the backdrop of thought for contemporary sociology, the new secular religion of the Left, is unsurprising. Predictably, the loudest advocacy for socialism is coming from the academic class via gender studies, critical race theory and other variations in postmodern social analysis. These new school socialists have simply put a new veneer on an old formula.  The New Kingdom of God on Earth will be achieved by eradicating racism and sexism. And of course, the age old gripe against inequality of outcomes must be rectified through confiscation and redistribution (aka “economic justice”). There’s no doubt these secondhand theories emanate from the same poisonous well of thought from which Marxism itself emanates.  

The debate against socialism should have been settled long ago.  Sadly, Marxism has retained its place as the unofficial religion of the Left since the Left has no firm principles and, like their Marxist forebears, have made the State their religion. The fantasy of “equality” and the yearning for a secular morality coupled with a prefab indictment of free market capitalism all conspire to keep Marxism alive. Subsequently, academic con artists, media dittoheads, and political hacks are aggrandized and their pretentious paeans to the proletariat proliferate. Aging Boomers and their patchouli soaked, non-binary, queer positive, trustafarian progeny lured by promises of “social and economic justice” and a sweet Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack regurgitate their braindead slogans like manna from heaven while what remains of the free world marches down the road to serfdom once again.  

Perhaps humanity needs to learn its lessons the hard way by repeating its mistakes a few times. It would be nice if it didn’t have to come to that. Marx and his system have been refuted many times over, and this magnificent collection of essays has earned its rightful place as the final epitaph for a philosophy that’s well past its expiration date. It’s high time that socialists pay attention. 

Live Aid: The Terrible Truth

Live Aid: The Terrible Truth

If you haven’t yet read Spin magazine’s stunning exposé of the true legacy of Live Aid, you owe it to yourself to give it a read.  Just like the other well-intentioned social justice musical venture whose legacy is equally dubious, Artists United Against Apartheid, this story proves that there is a vast difference between virtue signalling and being a champion for the expansion of human freedom and market economics. 

There isn’t much that needs to be added to this story other than to emphasize that Marxism creates misery and oppression everywhere it travels, and that the progressive narrative of an all-encompassing white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy is once again exposed for the pathetic, childish farce that it is. 

Thomas E. Woods: Bernie Sanders is Wrong

We’re living in dark times, and just about everyone can give you his version of evidence that civilization is on the brink of collapse.  For some, it’s Donald Trump. For others, ISIS.  Choose your preferred harbinger of the End Times.

For me, there is one person who’s proven that we’ve reached an absolute nadir and earned my deepest contempt.  The one man who provides the clearest evidence of a total collapse of American principles in politics and culture is the presidential candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. 

After spending his entire adult life as a political parasite espousing openly Marxist views and sympathies towards brutal Communist dictatorships, Sanders is currently enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame as The Principled Democratic Socialist Who’s Sticking It To The Fat Cats. Despite his highly dubious legislative record which includes support for Clinton’s Kosovo bombing campaign, the 1994 Crime Bill, four Iraq War appropriations bills as well as the notorious boondoggle known as the F-35, Sanders enjoys a largely unquestioned reputation as a politician of spotless virtue and courage. Fortunately, intellectual titan and all around champion of liberty Tom Woods, has assembled a collection of transcripts from his indispensable podcast which systematically dismantle Sanders’ carefully crafted edifice of would-be moral rectitude and misguided policy prescriptions.  

Sanders’ platform is not even remotely new or innovative, and if anything, is comprised merely of more expansive and bloated versions of pet projects that have been incubating within the Left for decades.  What’s actually new about the Sanders phenomenon is that he’s packaged them into a unified political agenda and is presenting them on a national stage as ideas which belong in the Democratic Party platform.  This is especially interesting and noteworthy given that Sanders has spent his entire political career in DC officially as a self-described Independent, but as a “democratic socialist” in public

Naturally, Sanders and his supporters have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from the undeniable legacy of misery, repression, and economic dysfunction that’s been the hallmark of every socialist regime in history by condescendingly handwaving away any comparison between Bernie’s vision of socialism and the repressive dictatorships of past and present. Bernie doesn’t want Venezuelan socialism, he wants the nice version of DEMOCRATIC socialism like they have in Scandinavian countries!  By invoking the welfare states of Northern Europe, Sweden and Denmark in particular, as irrefutable evidence that socialism is benign and benevolent, Sanders and his loyal Berners consistently and fallaciously argue that these are, in fact, socialist success stories AND that Sanders’ magical campaign promises will produce a comparable or greater outcome here without so much as a shred of evidence on which to base the ludicrous claim or the slightest concern for potentially adverse effects of implementing such an agenda.

Of course, these promises and glib pronouncements are either pathetic, manipulative delusions or outright falsehoods and distortions of reality.  Tom Woods’ magnificent little book walks you through his entire agenda point by point and succinctly illustrates exactly why Bernie Sanders is Wrong.

The book is divided into four sections which cover the central pillars of his agenda: Sanders’ designs on implementing European-style welfare state policies, government subsidized renewable energy, minimum wage, and income inequality. 

Woods starts off by letting out the gas in the hot air balloon of Scandinavian welfare state idolatry.  Johan Norberg lays out a century’s worth of historical context around Sweden’s economic rise which includes a period of 50 years of laissez faire policy which created the prosperity for such a generous welfare state in the first place. The decline in Sweden’s overall prosperity after the implementation of the welfare state is never mentioned by Sanders or his supporters, nor are the policies which are friendlier to business. Norberg also discusses the ways in which the advent of the welfare state destroyed cultural bonds of trust that were forged over decades of organic social cooperation and market driven policy in a country that was, in fact, a white, Nordic monoculture. A fact that’s conveniently omitted by multiculturalists.   Woods chose to limit the scope of his excerpt to Sweden’s economic history and development, but this section could have been further strengthened by some mention of the failure of immigration policies and the collapse of social cohesion which has been hastened by force feeding the population feminism and multicultural social justice politics.

Professor of Economics from Aarhus University, Christian Bjørnskov, unpacks the seemingly ubiquitous myth of Denmark as “the happiest country in the world.” Naturally, the Berners will chalk this up to the size of the welfare state and government mandated benefits, but Bjørnskov provides some sobering perspective. The benefits conferred by the welfare state do not contribute to an individual’s active pursuit of happiness, but simply become baked into the expectations of each citizen that aren’t consciously chosen. Subsequently, it breeds a higher level of entitlement amongst the population as well as a disincentive to produce. Bjørnskov makes a very interesting point about how state mandated 52-week maternity leave creates an artificial incentive for women to become mothers and often diminishes their future employment prospects. He concludes with some fascinating data about how the welfare state disincentivizes actual charity as well as some intentionally neglected liberal policies, like those found in Sweden, which are friendlier to business than the US.

Robert Bryce and Alex Epstein take a sledgehammer to the deathless progressive claims of the necessity of government investment in renewable energy.  Bryce argues that if environmental protection is a priority, then the density of the energy source must be the primary measuring stick.  Outrageous calls for a 20-fold reduction of fossil fuels are little more than a death sentence since renewable energy sources are not even remotely close to filling present or rising energy consumption needs. Epstein tackles the issue from both the moral and empirical perspective and elucidates some critical points that are absent from climate change alarmist script.  Environmentalists consistently agitate for minimizing human impact for non-human life while ignoring positive metrics for humanity that are the direct result of cheap and plentiful fossil fuels. 

Of all the progressive policy myths which have been the most durable, the minimum wage has enjoyed an extraordinarily long life.  Like everything Sanders says, it has tremendous surface appeal because it gives the illusion of expanding prosperity, but the opposite is true. Former DOL economist, Diana Furchtgott-Roth swings a wrecking ball of truth against Sanders’ flimsy claims.  The arguments against minimum wage will be familiar for those who actually investigate economics for 5 minutes, but as the appeal of Sanders attests, rationality and logic has yet to prevail. If you’re truly concerned about the welfare of the poor, then don’t criminalize work for low skill laborers whose labor isn’t worth $15 per hour, and most of all, don’t try to sell low skilled labor as a lifelong career path. The fact that Sanders is peddling minimum wage as a centerpiece of his economic platform shows how bankrupt his agenda is.  For Sanders, creating wage floors on low skill labor and subsidizing college education without regard for what a student actually studies will somehow magically create prosperity. 

Loyola University professor, Thomas DiLorenzo, adds some additional historical insight into the racist origins of minimum wage while bursting the mythology of labor unions as drivers of upward economic mobility.  Progressive era business owners didn’t want to have to compete with firms who could hire cheaper black labor, so they agitated for minimum wages to price them out of the labor market and inhibit black economic upward mobility.  By using the club of the State to criminalize non-union labor, unions make the market less competitive and only enshrine a culture of entitlement and mediocrity. 

Another gaping hole in the Sanders platform mentioned briefly in the book is his disregard for the skill gap that already exists within the US labor force.  While Sanders touts his confiscatory plans for subsidizing every art history and gender studies degrees for middle-class Americans, he ignores the 5mm jobs that are unfilled largely due to a shortage of skilled labor.  Apparently, it’s more important to subsidize college so kids can study The Communist Manifesto and agitate for safe spaces than prepare them for adulthood with marketable skills.

Among the most revelatory chapters is the interview with physician and entrepreneur, Dr. Josh Umbehr.  Dr. Umbehr runs a concierge medical practice modeled on a Netflix/Costco-style membership which covers the general practice medical services people actually need. For a monthly fee, people can gain access to any general practice medical care they need including home, office or online consultations.  He explains how opting out of the ACA’s bureaucratic straightjacket allowed him pursue a business model that lowered costs, increased access and provided a better value for all of his patients.  Just like virtually every other scientific profession, he encountered an antagonistic attitude towards business throughout his education, but ultimately rejected the false dichotomy.

Mark Perry from University of Michigan takes another swing at the seemingly indestructible myth of the so-called gender wage gap. Aside from equally laudable takedowns of this talking point by Christina Hoff Sommers, Claudia Goldin and seemingly countless others, Sanders, the feminist media/academic industrial complex and the Tumblrista Brigade won’t let this die.  It doesn’t matter that women consistently choose different career paths that are less strenuous and less remunerative. It doesn’t matter that the Equal Pay Act of 1963 is already law. It doesn’t matter that women work fewer hours in aggregate.  It doesn’t matter that motherhood plays a major role in a woman’s career choices and ambition.  Sanders flogs this meme because it sounds good and scores “Equality” points with his base. 

Scott Winship, Don Boudreaux, and Grant Phillips round out the book with some excellent discussion of free trade, inequality, and rising living standards resulting from capitalism. Sanders focuses solely on metrics that invoke outrage, greed, and envy while ignoring the affordability and accessibility of technology and consumer conveniences that were inconceivable to previous generations.  The schism between unskilled labor and the acceleration of automation is an issue that warrants further discussion and scrutiny since it tends to validate arguments for universal income and the imminent arrival of the post-scarcity economy amongst the Berners. 

Even if one sets aside all of the failures of morality and logic inherent in Sanders’ agenda, his pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination seems both deeply opportunistic and fully at odds with his carefully cultivated pretense of principled independence. Beside the fact that he’s carefully avoided throwing any hard punches at Hillary, he’s only embraced the Democratic Party after assiduously avoiding identification with the Democratic Party throughout his entire career in Congress. Why should the Democrats embrace Bernie-come-lately as the leader of their party? If he really saw himself as a political maverick, why would he hitch his wagon to the DNC unless he had no real intention of clinching the nomination in the first place? He blames it on “the structure of American politics”, but not only is this a whiny cop out, it’s contrary to his previous public statements about the necessity of a third party.  It seems he’s only interested in enjoying his cult of personality on the taxpayer dime while tilling the soil for a more overtly socialist tenor in Democratic Party politics.

Bernie Sanders’ candidacy perfectly epitomizes the classic socialist con game; lots of soaring appeals to secular morality, manipulative declamations around “equality”, and promises of bread and circuses which mask a naked hunger for power fueled by a blatant ignorance of and contempt for basic economics. Despite everything, Sanders’ reputation is seemingly beyond reproach to his loyal Berners. By carefully omitting his partisan support for the central bank, warfare and police state and maintaining rigid message discipline, Sanders has very skillfully avoided deep scrutiny from most of the media. The truth is that Sanders doesn’t have a single original idea in his policy toolkit, and his entire agenda should be called by its true name: soft Bolshevism. Thanks to Tom Woods’ excellent little book, he is exposed as the contemptible, parasitic fraud that he is.