Category Archives: USSR

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

When I heard that a Blade Runner sequel was being made, I was skeptical but curious. Sure, it seemed like lazy Hollywood opportunism, but given Ridley Scott’s involvement I was willing to give it a shot. The 1982 original was a classic in its own right. It didn’t need a sequel, but the potential for a worthy follow-up story certainly existed. Of course, the potential for yet another catastrophic and unnecessary goatfuck of a beloved film legacy was equally possible. I found Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival thought provoking and Hampton Fancher’s slot on the writing team certainly added to its possible appeal. In short, I was mildly optimistic about Blade Runner 2049.

Thankfully, my optimism was rewarded. While there is a lot of commentary that makes me squeamish, Blade Runner 2049 is one of the most successful sequels to a sci-fi classic ever attempted. This is a brilliant piece of contemporary cinema that’s well written, lovingly made, carefully paced, and packed with symbolism and metadata. It is also a bleak and deeply despairing vision of the future. For a film largely built around the quest for humanity in a world marked by declining birth rates, politicized debates over climate change, mass immigration, gender roles, race relations and the ever increasing influence of the technocratic elite, Blade Runner 2049 feels less like speculation and more like a subtle form of conditioning. This is a film that is desperately grasping for some glimpse of human connection, meaning and purpose, but it concedes that ecological catastrophe, hyper urbanization, a multicultural social order, and a gargantuan cyberpunk police state are foregone conclusions. It is basically encouraging you to embrace your technocratic overlords. The remnants of your desiccated souls can be reclaimed if you accept the inevitable, proles. The hope for release from the existential ennui that accompanied your eager embrace of a world unconstrained by spiritual delusions can be found in the brave new world of AI enabled hyperreality. The glorious dreams of the modern age with its promises of unbounded scientific progress awaits you by allowing it to reach its apotheosis. Even if it does mean you’ll be living in overcrowded urban squalor oversaturated with artificial stimuli and eating industrial farmed maggots. You too will find redemption by seeking salvation in merger of man and machine.

Aside from its noir tone and cutting-edge visuals, the first Blade Runner film was provocative because it was among the first major films which explored the ramifications of a world where robots and artificial intelligence had been achieved. That world is no longer sci-fi speculation. It’s here. It’s now. Jared Leto’s megalomaniacal replicant mogul, Niander Wallace, is blind but can function through the aid of cybernetic implants and a swarm of optical drones. Ray Kurzweil and his AI acolytes actively champion the advent of a so-called technological singularity and genuinely believe that a merger with digital consciousness is mankind’s future. Given this present day reality, one cannot necessarily view Blade Runner 2049 with the kind of detachment we reserve for big budget Hollywood entertainment. Films and shows like Altered Carbon, Ghost in the Shell, Westworld and Mr. Robot explore these same themes and continue to proliferate. It’s increasingly apparent that this collection of themes carries the distinct aura of an agenda. As paranoid and conspiratorial as it may seem, this film is very likely telegraphing the intentions of the Technorati.

Blade Runner 2049 is also a quintessentially postmodern piece of science fiction cinema. The film is a rich and masterful pastiche of discordant dualisms, inverted archetypes, hypertextual imagery, and visual remixes of its predecessor film. This is a film that subverts every notion you hold about what is real, true or right. Echoes of Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, THX 1138, Ghost in the Shell, Total Recall, Robocop, The Terminator, Westworld, The Matrix and other related cinematic forebears are also deeply embedded in its programming. There is more than a little standard progressive commentary around racial justice, police brutality, immigration, miscegenation, corporatism, gender politics and most importantly, the increasing prevalence of AI in our lives. It just takes a little more effort to decode than your standard issue pablum.

The world of Blade Runner 2049 is dying, infertile and bereft of hope for the future. The ecosystem has collapsed and the population has been herded into megacities. Tech mogul Niander Wallace brought civilization back from the brink by developing synthetic agriculture. Prior to the collapse, the world lived off of the slave labor of Nexus 6 replicants manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation. After a series of rebellions, the Tyrell Corporation went bankrupt and Wallace acquired the remaining assets in order to make a new line of Nexus 9 replicants that were perfectly obedient. The remaining Nexus 6 models are hunted by the generation 9 Blade Runners. In contrast to the Nexus 6 line, the Nexus 9 models have implanted memories.

From a pure visual perspective, there is no natural beauty to be found, and the times you are given a vision of organic life, it’s a tiny flower or a hologram. All the scenes that take place outside the urban sprawl are a blasted out, desolate ruin. The scenes of the city envelop you in their cavernous expanse of brutalist futurism, but it is a feeling of foreboding wrought by millions of lives in abject isolation. The lynchpin of the film and the lone symbol of hope for the future lies in the impossible birth of a child born from the womb of a replicant.

As the film opens, Ryan Gosling’s Officer K is en route to an industrial protein farming facility to investigate a possible rogue Nexus 8 replicant. His spinner is flying completely remotely without any active piloting and he awakens to an electronic prompt indicating his impending arrival. Since K is a symbol of law, order and obedience, his slumber suggests both the extent to which we’ve ceded autonomy to machines as well as an unconsciousness to his own humanity. A mindless minion destroying his own kind at the bidding of his human slave masters. As self-driving cars and other vehicles become more commonplace, a flying car self-piloting a man to a distant location completely unharmed conveys a message of absolute confidence in the future of AI enabled automobility and aviation. Self-driving cars are fine, proles. Stop worrying. Allowing people to drive their own vehicles is too much individual liberty.

The encounter with Sapper Morton can be read as an inversion of the entire narrative on racial justice. Officer K was designed as a perfectly obedient slave programmed to kill rogue replicants with impunity. Sapper Morton is a lone Nexus 8 model living a perfectly productive life harvesting grubs, yet his will to be independent makes him a mark. Just as blacks were the underclass after being liberated from slavery, they remained collectively pathologized even if they were perfectly law abiding. Morton even curses him for killing “his own kind”. After a punishing brawl, K subdues Morton sufficiently in order to administer some kind of electronic scan over his right eye. Call me paranoid, but given that microchip implants are a present day reality, one can’t help but wonder if this too is the shape of things to come. Right before K murders him, Morton says he’ll never become human because he hasn’t witnessed the “miracle” he has. K is utterly indifferent to his claim and takes his life just as he was assigned to do. This allusion to miracles is not only a reference to the spiritual void in K’s existence, but more broadly, to all of Western civilization. The world of Blade Runner is our own fatalistically extrapolated to its fullest conclusion. Society has lost sight of any vision of the divine, any connection to the preciousness of life, or any ideals to conserve. Let alone the will to continue the propagation of its own species.

Right before K leaves the scene, his drone spots an object buried beneath a dead tree. Trees usually symbolize harmonious relationships between man and woman or heaven and earth, but this is one of many notes of symbolic dissonance in a film filled with disjunction. What K unearths is the remains of a replicant woman whose mysterious death sets in motion a quest for his own identity and purpose.

Upon returning to headquarters, K is subjected to an inquisitorial “baseline” diagnostic test. The test itself requires K to recite fragments and words from a passage of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire. It’s a passage that alludes to the existence of an afterlife, but the clinical, mechanized, and almost hostile tone robs what is otherwise a beautiful piece of poetry of its effect. With its references to interlinked cells, what it does represent is the lattice work of forces within the film all seeking to resolve the various discordances of this broken, poisoned world of despair, isolation and technological artifice.

Cells interlinked within cells interlinked

Within one stem. And, dreadfully distinct

Against the dark, a tall white fountain played.

The whole scene also struck me as a reversal of the final interrogation scene in Logan’s Run. Instead of a mechanized technocracy seeking to extract a sacred truth from a human who had broken the conditioning, here you have the reverse. A human using a piece of poetry which hints at transcendence in order to test the stability of a replicant’s programmed obedience while foreshadowing his eventual quest for a miracle.

After he passes the test, he returns to his apartment in a rather squalid part of the city which is quite likely representative of most neighborhoods in the metropolis. The theme of racial prejudice is reinforced as a random person hurls the epithet “Skin job” at K. Upon his arrival home, we meet his holographic girlfriend, Joi, as played by the very charming and fetching Ana de Armas. When she appears, she is decked out in an iconic 50’s era house dress with perfectly coiffed hair, perfectly applied makeup and is beaming with happiness and gratitude at the sight of her man. Obviously, in this future, not only has gender traditionalism been relegated to holographic simulation, it’s so deeply buried in the past, it’s an app that’s used to keep the replicants happy. Even his meal of grey, synthetic sludge is covered over with a hologram of a hearty, home cooked meal. The relationship between Joi and K is genuinely sweet and the fact that Hollywood can only portray earnest heterosexual romance between a hologram and a replicant is indeed one of the bleakest visions of humanity imaginable. This feels especially bitter in light of the fact that among the many reasons that the Men’s Rights Movement or the MGTOW movement in particular exist at all is because Joi represents the companionship that so many men actually seek.

As K’s superior, Lieutenant Joshi, Robin Wright can be read as an archetypal conservative, a feminist power fantasy, an ethno-nationalist and, if you’re feeling especially partisan, a proxy for Trump. Infinitely more believable than Laura Dern’s laughable and contemptible turn as Admiral Gender Studies in The Last Jedi, this is yet another portrait of a female occupying a role traditionally held by men. Though Wright carries off the role with the requisite level of icy bitchiness, Joshi leans heavily toward the feminist power fantasy archetype because there are almost no cinematic portraits of women attempting to climb the competence hierarchies of society. Nearly every cinematic vision of female power, including Joshi, asks you to assume that her ascendancy to that role began at the bottom, and that her attainment of the position came from organic competition with men. No affirmative action here, you dirty misogynistic bigots. The film, along with nearly every other major Hollywood offering, simply expects you to submit to the fact that the dystopian cyberpunk police state future is female. Not a huge leap of imagination for some of us. The one mitigating factor is that her main subordinate is a replicant. K is like the numerous males who’ve been hollowed out and emasculated by feminism. Taught to be ashamed of manhood. Expected to supplicate and genuflect at every turn. Desperately seeking true female companionship and intimacy. Craving meaning, purpose, nobility, belonging and virtue. Yet relegated to the status of mindless drone.

Villeneuve turns the archetype on its head by making her a staunch law and order conservative and crypto ethno-nationalist who wants to keep the line between replicant and human clearly delineated. When she discovers the existence of the replicant-human hybrid, she absolutely flips her shit and orders it destroyed. This adds another layer of dissonance to the character by casting a female as a destroyer of life instead of a creator.

Lieutenant Joshi: The World is built in a wall that separates kind. Tell either side there’s no wall, you’ve bought a war. Or a slaughter.

Naturally, Joshi is played mostly as a cold and implacable authoritarian cunt whose views brook no sympathy. Regardless, her character provides a critical opposing force competing for dominance within this futuristic hellscape. Unfortunately, this is also one of places where the film slides into the progressive cesspool. Joshi embodies both law and order conservatism and ethno-nationalism. In the conservative universe, hierarchies of authority are natural and legitimate, and must be occupied by people who are both competent and virtuous. Conversely, submission to authority is equally legitimate because order, and by extension, the preservation of moral virtue, are the highest goals for society. And in Joshi’s case, the preservation of a clear line between human and replicant. K is both a law enforcement official and a slave. Dispossessed of his past and forced to kill his own species because he is programmed for perfect obedience. When Joshi orders the mixed race replicant-human hybrid destroyed, Joshi immediately questions his willingness to obey. K responds by saying that he was unaware that disobedience was even an option.

In the liberal progressive worldview, disobedience to any conservative norm, real or perceived, is completely legitimate. If anything, the entire progressive worldview is little more than a never-ending war against the prevailing order and a blind pursuit of some abstract notion of equality. Because progressives have moved the goalposts of morality for centuries, Villeneuve and company are essentially presenting even the preservation of biologically pure humanity as some kind of evil notion. What a horrible fascist bitch, that Lieutenant Joshi. Imagine wanting to preserve the purity of HUMANS. The film quite obviously wants you to see her as monstrous and regressive. Get ready to kneel before your AI god, proles. Your rebirth will make you even more than you were before.

Rounding out the dramatis personae is Jared Leto’s pathologically power hungry heir to Tyrell legacy, Niander Wallace. Niander is an avatar for Nimrod, and inhabits the Tower of Babel formerly occupied by Tyrell. His character has committed the ultimate rebellion against God by seeking to become God. He is blind, but can see with the aid of a swarm of optical drones. Subsequently, he doesn’t see the world with natural sight. Only through a vision of technological perfection which, for him, means a civilization of perfectly obedient replicants. The only thing preventing him from achieving complete dominion is his inability to crack Tyrell’s secret for replicant procreation. Once he learns of the existence of the replicant-human hybrid, he sets his cybernetically enhanced sights on ensuring that he acquires the child before Joshi and K destroy it.

K’s first step in unraveling the mystery of the replicant remains takes him back to the Wallace Corporation archives to mine what remains of the Tyrell records. Wallace’s replicant assistant, Luv, cautions him that the records that survived the Blackout of 2022 are scant. This small reference to a digital cataclysm which took out most of civilization’s records is kind of chilling all by itself. Through the centuries, humans built culture, developed language, and preserved history through physical records and objects. The digital age has certainly given us greater access to information and services, but it makes you think about what we’ve lost in the process. If memory and history can evaporate so easily into the digital ether, are we, in fact, allowing our deepest essence to be stripmined by technocrats? Is the blackout of 2022 a foreshadowing of a cataclysm to come? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Luv retrieves a small recording of Rick Deckard’s first encounter with Rachael. This leads him back to Sapper Morton’s maggot farm where he discovers a baby sock, a photo of Rachael with her child, and a date carved into the base of the tree. The latter discovery shakes him to his core. Upon returning to headquarters, Joshi asks him to recall his fondest childhood memory. Like its predecessor and virtually every other sci-fi film which explores the nature of humanity in cyborgs and AI, the role of memory is the defining quality on which the drama is built. Our very sense of selfhood is rooted in a phenomena that’s barely understood. A steady accumulation of ephemeral moments that carve deep grooves of meaning into our very existence. A story. For better and worse.

Haunted by the discovery of the date, K starts combing through birth records in search of clues. He discovers the birth records of both a boy and a girl who share the exact same DNA. It’s nearly impossible to find a major Hollywood film which doesn’t blatantly pander to the identity politics, and this is one of the most base and pernicious sops to the SJW crowd. Despite the fact that K assumes that the female record was a fake, the movie very subtly insinuates that even our highly refined knowledge of genetics can’t quite explain the mystery of gender. Science is just an oppressive patriarchal construct, you transphobic bigots. While seeking the records of the dead girl in a child labor camp amongst the ruins of San Diego, K discovers a room with a furnace that maps exactly to his own memories. Thunderstruck by the prospect that his memories are real, he shares this revelation with Joi. She is delighted by the news because it suggests that K was actually born with a soul. It’s a beautiful sentiment and de Armas fills every word with pure feminine passion, but you are also keenly aware that it is merely the siren song of a digital succubus.

Joi: I always knew you were special. Maybe this is how. A child. Of woman born. Pushed into the world. Wanted. Loved.

At Joi’s behest, K seeks out a memory specialist to gain confirmation of his memories. This leads him to Dr. Ana Stelline, a Wallace subcontractor who manufactures memories for replicants. Here we have a theme that’s been repeated over and over in sci-fi films for decades. If manufacturing memory grants replicants humanity, then what effect might the manipulation of memory have on humans? The studies of the effects of social media on children is already coming in and there’s certainly a case to be made that not only is it shortening attention spans, but having adverse effects on mental health. More importantly, if people are increasingly reliant on internet connectivity for the acquisition of information, and the portal through which reality is perceived is through tech giants, what effect might this have on cultural consensus? Since AI itself was a far fetched notion a few decades back, is it unreasonable to assert that the tech overlords are very much in the business of manufacturing memory and that we’ve willingly submitted to the digital temptations which facilitate this very outcome? If a cataclysmic digital blackout which destroyed the digital past was the event which crippled civilization so badly that it enabled a technocratic cyberpunk dictatorship, can we really read this film as just another Hollywood entertainment spectacle? A certain quote from George Orwell’s 1984 comes to mind.

This eventually leads K to the ruins of Las Vegas in his quest for Deckard and presumably, the secrets of his own past. Just as we saw with Rian Johnson’s molestation of the legacy of Luke Skywalker, we find Deckard living a life of pure isolation. Taking up residence in one of the relatively intact Las Vegas hotels, Deckard embodies both manhood and fatherhood lost amongst the ruins of decadence and ephemeral pleasures. Forced to relinquish fatherhood in hopes of allowing his child a shot at life free from the fear of being hunted by Blade Runners, Deckard entrusted their care to a sort of underground replicant railroad. There is nothing but brokenness and dissolution in this world. It wants you to accept that loyalty and the bonds of familial cohesion are nothing you should expect.

Rick Deckard: Sometimes to love someone, you got to be a stranger.

Reminding us once again that the walls of our cyberpunk panopticon have been constructed by our own technological addictions, Luv and the Wallace goon squad are able to track K through the mobile device that runs the Joi hologram app. After nearly getting blown to smithereens, Luv and her goon squad put a serious beating on K. Showing us once again that this film is solidly committed to perverting every ideal, Luv the Replicant destroys K’s actual holographic love by smashing the mobile device that enables her projected image. What an absolutely evil bitch.

It wouldn’t be a Hollywood movie if there weren’t some kind of #RESISTANCE movement, and Blade Runner 2049 is no exception. After being badly wounded by Luv and Wallace’s goons, K is treated by the Replicant Liberation Front who’ve been tracking his movements all along. Freysa and her replicant revolutionaries believe that the replicant-human child is their their Messiah, and they want K to join them in their final revolution against the yoke of human tyranny. If humans could see that replicants could procreate, they’d be compelled to grant them the same liberties as humans. Aside from the obvious parallels to the various pro-immigration interests in the US and EU, this encounter draws another bright line of distinction between the progressive and conservative worldview. Since the dawn of modern age, the pillars of society that once provided the guideposts of cultural prescription have long since been eroded. Though the Western tradition makes accommodation for individual liberty, the levees of conservatism have been unable to ward off the tidal wave of modernity and the radical individualism of the progressive Left. A spiritual void needs to be filled, and in the mind of the progressive, that means a never-ending rebellion against order itself. Instead of the eternal God of Judeo-Christian faith, there is an earthly god of #EQUALITY and the perpetual pursuit of universal rights to be bestowed to an ever expanding underclass. For the progressive, the quiet, modest virtues of personal responsibility, family, and community must be supplanted by a revolutionary cause against an omnipresent oppression.

Freysa: Dying for the right cause. It’s the most human thing we can do.

Deckard is brought before Wallace who is intent on extracting the location of his hybrid child. Deckard resists, so Wallace uses an even more powerful enticement: a perfect replica of Rachael. Deckard refuses because he knows it’s a fake. Again, the film blurs the line between reality and illusion by having Deckard reject the Rachael copy simply because the color of her eyes was wrong. His experience of love was real to him, but Rachael was a replicant in the first place. Wallace condemns him to a torture facility and sends him off with Luv and some goons. After a final reunion with a giant hologram of Joi which crushes every last byte of their virtual love affair, K is faced with an existential choice. Aid the Great Replicant Proletarian Revolution by killing Deckard or kill the replicant-human hybrid to prevent Wallace from completing his dominion. A final confrontation occurs in Luv’s downed spinner on the ocean’s edge between K and Luv. It culminates with K vanquishing Luv and then rescuing Deckard from drowning in a quasi-baptism scene. K fulfills his own destiny by reuniting Deckard with Stelline. On the surface, it feels like a pretty huge symbolic moment because he forswears communist revolution and ethno-nationalism and chooses simply to reunite a father with his daughter. But if Stelline is the future, then the new Messiah is a manufacturer of memories for replicants. The holographic future of manufactured memory is female, proles.

Fantastic.

It’s not my realm of expertise, but there is undoubtedly deeper significance to the recurrence of eye imagery, water, the blue/orange dualism and the various numbers found throughout the film. Nothing is left to chance in films this big, and I find it hard to believe that there is no symbolism behind these choices. There were two things that caught my attention though. The first was the Cyrillic script on Sapper Morton’s farm facilities. On the one hand, you could chalk it up to the fact that the world of Blade Runner is just a multicultural remix of its former self. Where once there were distinct nation states with distinct cultures, here every nation coexists within a completely artificial simulacrum of itself refracted through the lens of corporatism. On the other, Sapper Morton was part of the Replicant Liberation Front. Is this a subtle inversion of the Virgin Lands Campaign under Khrushchev? I’m going with YES. Later in the film, there is an advertisement for the Soviet Union complete with hammer and sickle icons and everything. Perhaps it’s sci-fi alternative history, but by placing it in the advertising endorphin drip, it anesthetizes it and makes it no different from ads for holographic sex, food or leisure. See, proles? Communism is as safe as milk. Don’t listen to those socialism-phobic right-wing bigots. What do they know anyway, amirite?

The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch is also a thing of dark beauty. Where Vangelis’ original was a dream of wires, moments of celestial beauty peered through console. In contrast, the Zimmer/Wallfisch soundtrack is something akin to the child laborers picking out the rare minerals of the motherboards of its predecessor. It’s yawning vistas of synthesized melancholy punctuated by rhythmic clusters of cybernetic paranoia covered by storm clouds of digitized menace. The reprise of “Tears in the Rain” at the end is a nice touch and a fitting reminder that not only did Vangelis allow a little more light in his vision, but it was sensual and tender. They break the pall of gloom ever so slightly by including choice tracks by Elvis and Frank Sinatra. The pop anthem by Lauren Daigle at the end is the only real disappointment. The fact that she’s a Christian singer strikes me as a very interesting choice given the distinctly despairing and secular nihilism of this film. I wonder if it’s also some kind of postmodern joke.

As much as the commentary in Blade Runner 2049 makes me queasy, it’s difficult for me to hate on it because it’s so beautifully made and it’s a cool story. Like so many other people, Blade Runner was a touchstone of my youth and films like it are so deeply woven into my own story. And perhaps that’s been the point all along. I’ve been watching dystopian sci-fi movies for years and like the works of Orwell, Bradbury and Huxley, I always saw them as warnings to humanity. They were stories of biblical scale that served as a permanent injunction to the human race. Hold on to your humanity at all costs, and always remember that there are good things to defend and preserve. Part of me wants to think that underneath the crushing despair, this is the message of Blade Runner 2049. Part of me wants to think that this belongs to the venerable tradition of the great dystopian works of yore in that it’s a movie that wants you to free your mind and break the system. The calling card of all great dystopian sci-fi was the struggle of man against the machine of the State. Logan 5 was a hero because he broke the conditioning of his technocratic overlords and returned to society to expose the lies and break the system. Today, the Logan 5’s of the world are people like James Damore and Jordan Peterson. In this film, they’re asking you to empathize with the machines. Not only that, they want you to become the machines. It’s the replicants who are desperately seeking humanity because there isn’t any to be found in the actual humans. They’ve taken all of the packaging of individualist rebellion that was once the province of human agency, and handed it off to the replicants. As good as Blade Runner 2049 is, I’m not entirely convinced it’s a movie that wants you to keep your humanity.

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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.

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.

Vladimir Lenin: The State and Revolution

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I’ve been listening to the rhetoric and propaganda emanating from the Bernie Sanders campaign and the media bootlickers who cover him, and found myself increasingly disturbed by the tenor. It sounded remarkably familiar to the rhetoric from socialism’s tragic past. I took a dive into Vladimir Lenin’s revolutionary tract, State and Revolution, to see how much common ground there is between these two self-aggrandizing, power hungry sociopaths.  To my dismay, I discovered more than a few parallels between Sanders’ pugilistic bluster and Lenin’s.

Tragic similarities notwithstanding, I have to give Lenin credit where credit is due. He doesn’t mince words. State and Revolution is completely blunt about the totalitarian ambitions of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. You can learn a lot about totalitarianism by reading the words of totalitarians. He is remarkably forthright about his communist ambitions and the role of the state in this book. It’s also infinitely more readable than pretentious wanks like Das  Kapital. In this regard, State and Revolution is a useful document by which to compare Sanders’ rhetoric and agenda. Sanders is an elected official seeking the highest office in the land.  He has a reputation as a truth speaking contrarian and certainly demonstrates an ability to be blunt in his own right. The book reveals where Sanders’ rhetoric and ambition are similar to Lenin.  It also reveals his tendency to dispense deceptive platitudes in order to shade and distort the nature of state power and the cold truth about his agenda. 

State and Revolution has truth value as a statement of intention, but it is also batshit crazy with delusion and sophistry.  Lenin expounds upon his insane notions about the withering away of the state and the era of classless emancipation that will somehow magically materialize from the proletarian “smashing of the state”. These lunatic ravings mirror the gauzy weasel words and unattainable promises Sanders deploys in his own rhetorical grifts.

Since Marx’ predictions of widespread socialist revolution never came to fruition in the revolutions of 1848 or the failed Paris Commune of 1871, Lenin published this tract in order to bridge the divide between Marx’ unfulfilled predictions and the Bolshevik revolution he’d been actively cultivating. Subsequently, State and Revolution has become the cornerstone of what has become known as Leninist Marxism. 

According to classical Marxist theory and its Hegelian view of historical inevitability, the forces of production would reach a sufficient level of maturity that when the revolutionary proletariat would take their rightful place at the helm of society, the era of classless emancipation would naturally unfold.  However, in 1917, Russia was hardly a developed industrial economy ripe for a proletarian revolution. Not a problem, according to Lenin. What the proletariat need is a revolutionary vanguard to lead a violent revolution and hasten things along a bit. 

In State and Revolution, Lenin opens with what he argues is the correct role of the state and that his thesis is, in fact, grounded in Marxist canon. 

Lenin and by extension, Engels and Marx, are completely correct about the nature of state power. The state is an agency of violence.

Hit it, Vlad:

The  state  is  a  special  organization  of  force:  it  is  an  organization  of  violence  for  the  suppression  of  some class.  What  class  must  the  proletariat  suppress?  Naturally,  only  the  exploiting  class,  i.e.,  the  bourgeoisie. The  working  people  need  the  state  only  to  suppress  the  resistance  of  the  exploiters,  and  only  the  proletariat can  direct  this  suppression,  can  carry  it  out.  For  the  proletariat  is  the  only  class  that  is  consistently revolutionary,  the  only  class  that  can  unite  all  the  working  and  exploited  people  in  the  struggle  against  the bourgeoisie,  in  completely  removing  it.

The problem, of course, is his conflation of state power with capitalist economics.  To Lenin and Marx and many progressives, they are one and the same.  Marxist doctrine posits that capitalism is inherently expropriative, but the apparatus of the state must be controlled in order to “expropriate the expropriators”. The proletarian revolution will only come about by using the suppressive, violent force of the state against the bourgeoisie.  The era of emancipation that follows is a given and a historical inevitability.

Lenin simultaneously reveals the sheer elitist contempt he holds for the oppressed class he professes to represent as well as supremacist delusions he has and ascribes solely to the proletariat class.  After all, they are the only class that is consistently revolutionary.  The proletariat are incapable of emancipating themselves, so they require a revolutionary vanguard to lead the revolution for them. 

The cultish devotion and absolutist mentality of Sanders voters and their apparently unshakable faith in his promises of bread and circuses and retribution against the bourgeois 1% is no different from Lenin.

Compare the messianic self-righteousness and megalomania of their allegedly prole-positive sentiments.  Lenin contends the following:

Only  he  is  a  Marxist  who extends  the  recognition  of  the  class  struggle  to  the  recognition  of  the  dictatorship  of  the  proletariat.

Sanders’ proclamation of the purity of his progressivism:

Lenin argues that the “withering away of the state” will ensue after the proletariat have taken control of and “smashed” the machinery of the state.  This is the exact type of rhetoric that’s deployed by socialist agitators, media sycophants and Sanders himself. 

This  course  of  events  compels the  revolution  “to  concentrate  all  its  forces  of  destruction”  against  the  state  power,  and  to  set  itself  the  aim, not  of  improving  the  state  machine,  but  of  smashing  and  destroying  it.

Compare these sentiments to those expressed by Slate toady, Jim Newell, in describing the aims of Sanders’ “political revolution”:

The Vermont senator doesn’t want to bring Republicans and Democrats together. He means to tear it all down.

Lenin was similarly dismissive of “opportunists” who tried to negotiate with the liberal bourgeoisie of the democratic state.  Sanders attitude towards the billionaire class is equally hostile and describes them as being “on the warpath” in the Newell piece. 

Opportunism  does  not  extend  recognition  of  the  class  struggle  to  the  cardinal  point,  to  the  period  of transition  from  capitalism  to  communism,  of  the  overthrow  and  the  complete  abolition  of  the  bourgeoisie.  In reality,  this  period  inevitably  is  a  period  of  an  unprecedently  violent  class  struggle  in  unprecedentedly  acute forms,  and,  consequently,  during  this  period  the  state  must  inevitably  be  a  state  that  is  democratic  in  a  new way  (for  the  proletariat  and  the  propertyless  in  general)  and  dictatorial  in  a  new  way  (against  the bourgeoisie).

Newell elaborates further on Sanders’ goals:

He campaigns on a promise to turn the whole thing upside down, to create a grassroots “political revolution” that will give him the mandate to bring working- and middle-class people together to overwhelm the “billionaire class” into submission.

Lenin’s ambitions sound pretty similar:

It  is  still  necessary  to  suppress  the  bourgeoisie  and  crush  their  resistance.  This  was  particularly  necessary  for the  Commune;  and  one  of  the  reasons  for  its  defeat  was  that  it  did  not  do  this  with  sufficient  determination. The  organ  of  suppression,  however,  is  here  the  majority  of  the  population,  and  not  a  minority,  as  was always  the  case  under  slavery,  serfdom,  and  wage  slavery.  And  since  the  majority  of  people  itself suppresses  its  oppressors,  a  ‘special  force’  for  suppression  is  no  longer  necessary!  In  this  sense,  the  state begins  to  wither  away.  Instead  of  the  special  institutions  of  a  privileged  minority  (privileged  officialdom the  chiefs  of  the  standing  army),  the  majority  itself  can  directly  fulfil  all  these  functions,  and  the  more  the functions  of  state  power  are  performed  by  the  people  as  a  whole,  the  less  need  there  is  for  the  existence  of this  power.

Sanders routinely inveighs against the corrupt political system which favors the billionaire class over the poor and middle-class.  Lenin engaged in an identical form of demagoguery. 

But  from  this  capitalist  democracy that  is  inevitably  narrow  and  stealthily  pushes  aside  the  poor,  and  is therefore  hypocritical  and  false  through  and  throughforward  development  does  not  proceed  simply, directly  and  smoothly,  towards  “greater  and  greater  democracy”,  as  the  liberal  professors  and  petty bourgeois  opportunists  would  have  us  believe.  No,  forward  development,  i.e.,  development  towards communism,  proceeds  through  the  dictatorship  of  the  proletariat,  and  cannot  do  otherwise,  for  the  resistance of  the  capitalist  exploiters  cannot  be  broken  by  anyone  else  or  in  any  other  way. And  the  dictatorship  of  the  proletariat,  i.e.,  the  organization  of  the  vanguard  of  the  oppress.

One of the more striking resemblances between the rhetoric of Sanders and Lenin is their mutual obsession with forcibly imposing a theoretically equalized bureaucratic order modeled after the postal service. 

Lenin proposes the following:

To  organize  the  whole  economy  on  the  lines  of  the  postal  service  so  that  the  technicians,  foremen  and accountants,  as  well  as  all  officials,  shall  receive  salaries  no  higher  than  “a  workman’s  wage”,  all  under  the control  and  leadership  of  the  armed  proletariat that  is  our  immediate  aim.  This  is  what  will  bring  about  the abolition  of  parliamentarism  and  the  preservation  of  representative  institutions.  This  is  what  will  rid  the laboring  classes  of  the  bourgeoisie’s  prostitution  of  these  institutions.

Contrast these proposals with those proffered by Comrade Sanders:

We need to stop payday lenders from ripping off millions of Americans. Post offices exist in almost every community in our country. One important way to provide decent banking opportunities for low income communities is to allow the U.S. postal Service to engage in basic banking services, and that’s what I will fight for.

How do they differ?  I’m not convinced they do.

Sanders makes a very big deal out of the inclusion of the word “democratic” when he speaks of “democratic socialism”, but Lenin is much more forthright about the nature of democracy.

No,  democracy  is  not  identical  with  the  subordination  of  the  minority  to  the  majority.  Democracy  is  a  state which  recognizes  the  subordination  of  the  minority  to  the  majority,  i.e.,  an  organization  for  the  systematic use  of  force  by  one  class  against  another,  by  one  section  of  the  population  against  another.

Sanders has been garnering enthusiasm for his calls for “political revolution”, but this excerpt of Engels referenced by Lenin sheds a brighter light on what that means. 

Have  these  gentlemen  ever  seen  a  revolution?  A  revolution  is  certainly  the  most  authoritarian thing  there  is;  it  is  an  act  whereby  one  part  of  the  population  imposes  its  will  upon  the  other part  by  means  of  rifles,  bayonets  and  cannon,  all  of  which  are  highly  authoritarian  means.  And the  victorious  party  must  maintain  its  rule  by  means  of  the  terror  which  its  arms  inspire  in  the reactionaries.

Fundamentally, Bernie Sanders is promoting an agenda which has few differences from Lenin.  The rhetoric is softer and the platitudes are attuned to American sensibilities, but the agenda is forcible confiscation, redistribution, unlimited monetary expansion, arbitrary equalization and bureaucratization of economic life.  

Karl Marx was recently cited as the most assigned “economist” in colleges.  After decades of leftist policy including central banking, regulation, price and wage controls, progressive taxation, public education and the entire welfare state apparatus, the ascendancy of Bernie Sanders’ campaign is a sad consequence of the indoctrination of statist economic orthodoxy and the phony pretense of Marxism’s Fight the Power pugilism. Marxist doctrine offers several  convenient advantages for the power hungry politician. Not only does it provide a ready made analytical lens with which to diagnose society’s ills and lay blame at the feet of an omnipresent capitalist boogeyman, it’s an agenda of greed, vengeance and spite painted over with a fig leaf of moral righteousness.

Ironically, when you strip away the delusions of the “withering away of the state”, Lenin had some keen observations about the democratic republic.

To  decide  once  every  few  years  which  members  of  the  ruling  class  is  to  repress  and  crush  the  people through  parliament. This  is  the  real  essence  of  bourgeois  parliamentarism,  not  only  in  parliamentary constitutional  monarchies,  but  also  in  the  most  democratic  republics.

Based on the policy initiatives being championed by Sanders, we can predict what will come to pass if he were to be elected and his policies enacted.  Somehow, socialism manages to escape all criticism and its current champions are always able to promote the idea that It’s Going to Be Different When We Do It.

Sadly, Sanders is also driven by the same repressive desire to centralize, command and dictate from on high that drove Lenin, but Lenin was far more blunt about his ultimate goals of “Equality.”

The  whole  of  society  will  have  become  a  single  office  and  a  single  factory,  with  equality  of  labor  and  pay.

If only Sanders could be that honest.

Reds (1981)

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I admit it.  It’s not the Marxist lovefest I expected.  

I went into Warren Beatty’s 1981 opus expecting it to be another Hollywood love letter to socialism.  Instead, what I witnessed was a remarkably honest portrait of a doomed love affair between two seminal American communist radicals. Without any cheap appeals to sentimentality or candy coated platitudes, Beatty gives an unvarnished account of the various ways their radical ideals pitted them against one another and drove them apart despite their deep devotion to one another. 

Reds is a sweeping historical political drama which encompasses the roots of the American socialist Left, World War I, and the Bolshevik Revolution. The film is built around the tempestuous love affair between John Reed and Louise Bryant played by Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton respectively. Its major achievement is how it manages to expose the limitations of Marxism by showing how the central characters’ allegedly revolutionary ideals undermined their ability to simply be with one another. 

As expected, the film spells out some of the facile appeal of socialism at the outset.  Beatty takes a very classical approach to filmmaking and the themes of the film are embedded in the characters. Louise Bryant is the aspiring writer and avowed feminist with libertine sexual mores who scandalizes Portland’s high society.  John Reed leaves jaws agape at the Liberal Society when he openly opines that the motivation behind the war is the capitalistic profit motive. Louise is enthralled by Reed and asks him for an interview. They spend an evening together in which Reed bores the shit out of her regales her with his passionate desire to foment a socialist revolution. Socialist feminist and Marxist revolutionary meet and the seeds of a deep love affair at a momentous time in history are sown. 

All of the touchstones of leftist bohemian ideals and political activism are present. Naturally, the couple shared a permissive attitude towards sexual promiscuity and polyamory. Their disdain for capitalism, anti-war sentiment, artistic idealism, and initial refusal to submit to traditional bourgeois values are attitudes that would define the Left for decades. Most importantly, they shared a naïve hope in the promise of a worker’s revolution.  

Reed and Bryant eventually travel to Greenwich Village and we’re introduced to the seminal figures of America’s socialist Left including Emma Goldman and Max Eastman. The atmosphere is ripe with revolutionary spirit, and Reed dives headlong into activist journalism. Reed’s attempts to cover labor organizing efforts for his socialist magazine take him away from Bryant and drive an emotional wedge between them. Meanwhile, Bryant tries to peddle her journalism, but fails because her writing sucks. She tries to assert her independence, but can’t confront how much she ultimately wants and needs Reed. The couple resolve to remain together and set out to Provincetown, MA with Eugene O’Neill to live as artists in a quasi-communistic manner. 

Reed’s activism leads him away from the idyll of Provincetown, and on to the campaign trail to canvass for Woodrow Wilson. Bryant has an affair with O’Neill, and Beatty draws out the conflict between monogamy and the bohemian spirit of free love.

Bryant and Reed separate again, but are reunited when Reed follows her to France. He asks her to join him on his journey to Petrograd to cover the imminent Bolshevik Revolution. Though their love is rekindled in the fires of the Revolution, their activity is not viewed favorably by US federal authorities. Reed is given a platform at a Bolshevik rally and stirs up the proles with some good old fashioned demagoguery. It’s impeccably staged and plays like an Occupy Wall Street protest if it weren’t run by a bunch of pussies. 

They return to the US with a renewed hope in revolution, but with the Feds hot on their tail. Adding to their travails is their renewed tensions with the American Socialist Party.  Reed is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World and tries to persuade them to adopt a Bolshevik spirit. Predictably, he finds that his views are at odds with the leadership of the party. Reed breaks with the main party and forms his own more “pure” Socialist Party and is voted as the leader to seek the sanction of the Bolsheviks in Moscow. Here, the film turns a corner and starts to show how the revolution and Marxist dogma ultimately implodes and pits socialists against one another.  The bickering and tests of purity which the party members apply to one another translates perfectly to modern day purges carried out by social justice progressives today.  

After enduring imprisonment for improper paperwork, Reed travels back to Moscow is ultimately conscripted by the party elites to be a propagandist. The consequences of his choice hit hard as he is denied return to the United States. He finds his appeals to the Party squashed by crushing authoritarianism. Reed is further dismayed to discover that he is unable to get a simple communication to his wife due to the palsied bureaucratization, incompetence and backwardness of life in Soviet Russia.

He is ultimately reunited with the recently deported Emma Goldman and he ponders his fate in her squalid apartment. In a devastating monologue, Goldman tries to appeal to his sense of reason by pointing out the tragic failure of the revolution.  Instead of emancipating the proletariat, the Bolshevik regime has metastasized into a brutal and repressive police state. Not only is the dictatorship of the proletariat intolerant of dissent, it has driven the economy into deep contraction and dysfunction. Blinded by his idealism, Reed brushes it off and says that you just can’t have a revolution without cracking a few skulls.  

Reed is sent on a fateful mission to Azerbaijan to bring the gospel of Bolshevist Socialism to the Muslims. Adding to his escalating disillusionment, he discovers that his propaganda speech was mistranslated by Party kommissar, Zinoviev.  Drawing an excellent and accurate parallel between Marxism and Islam, Zinoviev replaced “class war” with “Holy war”. Reed gets upset that his voice and intent was subordinated by the will of the Party and launches into a screed against the tyranny of the collective. It’s good stuff. 

The train is sacked by counter-revolutionaries and a stunning battle scene involving cavalry, muskets and cannons ensues.  

Meanwhile, Bryant travels to Russia to try and find Reed.  They are ultimately reunited, but Reed contracts typhus and he spends his last days in a Soviet hospital.   

Despite the patina of revolutionary politics, Reds is a traditional romance which ultimately affirms monogamous bourgeois values. Reed and Bryant were variously portrayed as marginal talents and busybodies who were trying to reconcile their artistic ambitions with their political sensibilities and libertine sexual desires. These values worked at cross purposes more often than not and each paid an emotional price.  

Reds is an impeccably produced dramatic romance which tackles a lot of pithy material. It reveals the roots of socialism’s enduring appeal while also showing where it went off the rails. Socialist ideals still hold a lot of appeal with the Hollywood set, but Beatty deserves credit for tackling it head on and with a higher than expected level of intellectual honesty.  

Stalingrad (2013)

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Communists versus Nazis!

The bloodiest battle in human history!

I was interested in seeing this from the moment I heard about it. Besides it being the story of an historic Russian victory and the first film from Russia in IMAX, it is by default, a story of life under Stalin told from the Russian perspective.

How were they going to handle all of that?

By keeping the film centered around a fictitious set of Russian soldiers who heroically defend a random building in the center of town where a lone civilian woman lives, that’s how.

Needless to say, the carnage portrayed is nowhere near the historical record, but that’s not really what the filmmakers were after. The character drama allows the film to put the dubious record of the revolutionary peasant workers in more human and small scale dimensions. The film is basically saying, “Yeah, we put up with that dickhead Stalin, but we had dignity and we defeated the Nazis because we were able to find more humanity in ourselves than those dirtbags.”

They let the nationalism surface, but they don’t overplay it. This is film is about feeling proud of being Russian, but it wants you to remember the huge price that was paid. So I don’t begrudge the film for reaching for the brass ring of the Heroic Struggle of the Revolutionary Soldiers. Hell, in comparison to most American WWII films, the emotions of this film feel pretty muted and grim.

The visuals are stunning and there is one scene in particular which portrays the feeling of Armageddon that this battle most certainly embodied.

If this sounds like your thing, do it.

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