Tag: Stalin

Forsyth namechecks Snowden

Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

What if the most dangerous weapon in the world is not a nuke in a backpack but a 17-year-old boy with a brilliant mind, “who can run rings around the most sophisticated security services across the globe, who can manipulate that weaponry and turn it against the superpowers themselves?” That’s the premise of The Fox, the new thriller from Frederick Forsyth. Born in the year of the Munich Agreement, when British, French and Italian leaders agreed to Hitler’s demand for the German annexation of the Sudetenland, Forsyth has grown up in a world that has experienced its share of evil in his 80 years. The latest manifestation, in his latest novel, is the Vozhd, a Russian word meaning “the Boss” or, in the world of crime, “the Godfather”. When Forsyth was 15, the old Vozhd, Joseph Stalin, died. The new Vozhd is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and one of his prized assets arrived in Russia in 2013, having fled from Hawaii. Snippet:

“When defector and traitor Edward Snowden flew to Moscow it is believed he carried over one and a half million documents on a memory stick small enough to be inserted before a border check into the human anus. ‘Back in the day’, as the veterans put it, a column of trucks would have been needed, and a convey moving through a gate tends to be noticeable.

So, the computer took over from the human, the archives containing trillions of secrets came to be stored on databases… Matching pace, crime also changed, gravitating from shoplifting through financial embezzlement to today’s computer fraud, which enables more wealth to be stolen than ever before in the history of finance. Thus the modern world gave rise to the concept of computerized hidden wealth but also to the computer hacker. The burglar of cyberspace.”

The Fox


Socialism with an inhuman face

Tuesday, 21 August, 2018

Declaring itself the salvation of mankind, the ideology of Marx, Lenin and Stalin once ruled one-third of the world’s population. The authority of socialism appeared indisputable; the inevitably of communism looked assured. But the ideologues ignored the old warning: “The kingdoms of men shall all pass away.”

In 1968, the Soviet Union and its allies celebrated their crushing of the “Prague Spring” with a huge military display in the city that was home to a short-lived attempt to break free from communism. Twenty-one years after this photo was taken, the “Evil Empire” collapsed and was cast into the dustbin of history.

Crushing the Prague Spring

History: The Prague Spring was a phase of political liberalization in Communist Czechoslovakia. It began on 5 January 1968 and continued until 21 August when the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country to suppress the “socialism-with-a-human-face” reforms initiated by Alexander Dubcek.


Is Margaret Atwood a bad feminist?

Monday, 15 January, 2018 0 Comments

Margaret Atwood, the celebrated author of The Handmaid’s Tale and more than 40 books of poetry, fiction and essays, asks Am I A Bad Feminist? Money quote: “My fundamental position is that women are human beings, with the full range of saintly and demonic behaviours this entails, including criminal ones. They’re not angels, incapable of wrongdoing… Nor do I believe that women are children, incapable of agency or of making moral decisions. If they were, we’re back to the 19th century, and women should not own property, have credit cards, have access to higher education, control their own reproduction or vote.”

And note her comment on the current “guilty because accused” rampage which, she says, has its roots in the excesses of the French Revolution, Stalin’s purges in the USSR, the Red Guard period in China and the reign of the Generals in Argentina:

“Such things are always done in the name of ushering in a better world. Sometimes they do usher one in, for a time anyway. Sometimes they are used as an excuse for new forms of oppression. As for vigilante justice — condemnation without a trial — it begins as a response to a lack of justice — either the system is corrupt, as in prerevolutionary France, or there isn’t one, as in the Wild West — so people take things into their own hands. But understandable and temporary vigilante justice can morph into a culturally solidified lynch-mob habit, in which the available mode of justice is thrown out the window, and extralegal power structures are put into place and maintained. The Cosa Nostra, for instance, began as a resistance to political tyranny.”

It will take brave people to fight the new Cosa Nostra.


I’m not about to defend Stalin, but…

Saturday, 2 September, 2017 0 Comments

The epitome of today’s spoiled brat is Abi Wilkinson, who types stuff of such breathtaking inanity that one wonders if she has ever read a history book. Her idiocy yesterday went beyond #PeakGuardian and the shock hackette took it to 11 with a tweet that included “Stalin” and “but”:

Stalin but...

When the monster Stalin died in 1953, those who had survived his reign of terror and had made new lives on the other side of the Atlantic celebrated. No ifs or buts, either.

Stalin is dead


The gift of the garden

Sunday, 2 July, 2017 0 Comments

Diplomat, dissident, defector, poet, Nobel Prize winner… What a life Czesław Miłosz lived. After World War II, he served as Polish cultural attaché in Paris and Washington but, disillusioned with Communism, he defected to the West in 1951. His resulting book, The Captive Mind, became a classic of anti-Stalinism writing.

From 1961 to 1998 he was professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley, and he puncutated his stay in the USA by winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. Fellow Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney described Miłosz as “among those members of humankind who have had the ambiguous privilege of knowing and standing more reality than the rest of us.” Born on 30 June 1911, Czesław Miłosz died on 14 August 2004 in Kraków.

Gift

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Czesław Miłosz (1911 – 2004)

The garden


An epitaph for an enemy

Sunday, 22 May, 2016 0 Comments

The Anglo-Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) died on this day in 1972. He was the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972, and the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis, celebrity chef Tamasin Day-Lewis and critic Sean Day-Lewis. “The poet’s inverted snobbery in dropping the hyphen in his name on his publications (beginning in 1927) has been a source of trouble for librarians and bibliographers ever since,” is how his biographer at the Poetry Foundation puts it.

Cecil Day-Lewis became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1935 and he adhered to its Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist line until the early 1950s. He renounced communism in 1960 in his autobiography, Buried Day, and his detective story, The Sad Variety (1964), is a contemptuous portrayal of doctrinaire communists and their role in the brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. While the works of his poetic friends, Auden and Spender, have endured the test of time, his own verse has faded. The visceral sentiment at the heart of Epitaph for an Enemy continues to echo, however.

Epitaph for an Enemy

You ask, “What sort of man
Was this?”
— No worthier than
A pendulum which makes
Between its left and right
Involuntary arcs
Proving from morn to night
No contact anywhere
With human or sublime —
A punctual tick
A mere accessory of Time

His leaden act was done
He stopped, and Time went on.

Cecil Day-Lewis (1904 – 1972)

The enemy


Blue Putin joke

Wednesday, 4 May, 2016 0 Comments

“Stalin appeared to Putin in a dream and told him how to rule Russia. ‘Show no mercy, comrade! Slaughter all the democrats, whack their parents, hang their children, shoot their relatives, execute their friends, exterminate their pets, and then paint your Kremlin office blue.’

‘Why blue?’ asked Putin.”

This portrait of Vladimir Putin by Reuven Kuperman is part of A Russian Tale at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The exhibition examines portrait painting by Russian-born artists of the past 120 years and includes works by masters of the Romantic, Social-Realist, Cubist and Expressionist schools, from Archipenko to Chagall to Zaritsky.

Putin


World Book Day reading: The Yid

Thursday, 3 March, 2016 0 Comments

Today is World Book Day and our recommendation for this special occasion is The Yid by Paul Goldberg, a Russian émigré to New York in 1973. His debut novel opens in Moscow in February 1953, when three goons in a Black Maria leave the “castle-like gates” of the KGB headquarters in Lubyanka Square to arrest Solomon Shimonovich Levinson, a Red Army veteran and actor at the Jewish Theatre. But Levinson performs a grandiose stage trick and escapes. So begins this absurd, deadly droll escapade in which the “Yid” and his associates attempt to assassinate Stalin before he can see through his “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. Snippet:

A Black Maria is a distinctive piece of urban transport, chernyy voron, a vehicle that collects its passengers for reasons not necessarily political. The Russian people gave this ominous carriage a diminutive name: voronok, a little raven, a fledgling.

At night, Moscow is the czardom of black cats and Black Marias. The former dart between snowbanks in search of mice and companionship. The latter emerge from the improbably tall, castle-like gates of Lubyanka, to return laden with enemies of the people.

The arrest of Solomon Shimonovich Levinson, an actor from the defunct State Jewish Theater, is routine. An old, likely decrepit Yid, Levinson lives alone in a communal flat at 1/4 Chkalov Street. Apartment 40. No hand-wringing wife. No hysterical children. No farewells. No one to hand the old man a toothbrush through the bars of a departing Black Maria.

In the parlance of state security, arrests are “operations.” This operation is easier than most: collect some incriminating rubbish, put a seal on the door, help the old man into the truck, and a little before dawn, the Black Maria drives back through Lubyanka’s armored gates.

This is wonderful stuff and it shows just how powerful the book is as a format for entertainment and enlightenment. On World Book Day, then, let us remember what John Milton wrote in Areopagitica in 1644:

“For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”

The Yid


Robert Conquest RIP

Wednesday, 5 August, 2015 0 Comments

“There was an old bastard named Lenin
Who did two or three million men in.
That’s a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
That old bastard Stalin did ten in.”

Robert Conquest, born 15 July 1917, died 3 August 2015.

“Of his many works on the subject, perhaps the most important was The Great Terror, published in 1968 and detailing the full enormity of what Stalin had done to the Russian people in the 1930s and 1940s. The Mexican writer Octavio Paz paid the most succinct tribute to this book when he said in 1972 that The Great Terror had ‘closed the debate’ about Stalinism.”

That’s a snippet from the Telegraph obituary for the late Robert Conquest, who died yesterday aged 98. In the foreword to The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, Conquest noted: “By the deeds that are recalled here, it was not 20 people per word, but 20 people per letter in this book who were killed.” And this was the ideology that was idealized by the Left?


Dreams and nightmares of a Russian imperium

Thursday, 27 February, 2014 0 Comments

“History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” That’s what James Joyce has Stephen Dedalus say in Ulysses, and looking at this morning’s news, one gets the feeling that these are Joycean times. Consider this headline: “Armed men seize Crimea parliament and hoist Russian flag.” Now why would they do that? Because of history. In 1944, Crimea’s Tatars were forcibly deported to Central Asia by Stalin as a form of collective punishment for their supposed collaboration with the Nazis. A decade late, Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukraine, making it the only region of the country where ethnic Russians dominate. In such ways is the nightmare of history, with its memories, hatreds, borders and peoples made. According to the 2001 Ukrainian census, 58.5% of the population of Crimea were Russians, 24.4% were Ukrainians and 12.1% were returned Tatars. Given the fault-lines, this this not bode well for the future.

The Third Imperium Talking of the future, The Third Imperium is a futuristic novel by the Russian oligarch Mikhail Yuriev. It’s set in 2053, a time when Russia has withdrawn from all international organizations and revoked all international treaties. Thanks to this strategy, and the wise rule of a leader who is partly of Chinese origin, it’s doing better than ever. Provoked by the United States, it launches a preventive nuclear strike — although for humanitarian reasons only sparsely populated states such as Nevada and Utah are targeted. America retaliates with a massive counter-attack but since Russia is protected by its superb anti-missile shield, this has no effect at all. The Third Imperium, with its hints of The Third Reich, is triumphant.

Footnote: At the beginning of January, Bloomberg published a story that began: “Mikhail Yuriev, a former Russian politician and businessman, said he’s quitting Russia to invest in the U.S. energy industry where cheaper financing, better infrastructure and support for foreign businesses boost returns.”

Although they’re anti-Western to the core, today’s visionary Russians prefer capitalism to communism, but like their Chinese counterparts, they dream of a world that will be a nightmare for most of its inhabitants. Just take a look at Moscow, Beijing and Crimea.


If I had a hammer (and sickle)

Friday, 31 January, 2014 1 Comment

The late Pete Seeger was a Marxist and, in his own words, a “communist with a small c”, all his life. Some, however, would differ with the singer’s use of the lower-case there. David Boaz, writing in The Guardian in 2006, went so far as to call him “Stalin’s songbird” and bolstered his case by quoting the ex-communist scholar Ronald Radosh: “Seeger was anti-war during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact; pro-war after the Soviet Union was the ally of the United States; and anti-war during the years of the Cold War and Vietnam.”

Adam Garfinkle does not ignore Seeger’s politics in “So Long, It’s Been a Bit Strange to Know You“, but he makes a case for putting the singer’s misguided beliefs in context:

“When you come right down to it, what Seeger did, probably without knowing it, was to devise a kind of new-age folk religion out of musical protest rituals. What he did made people feel good, made them feel like a part of something larger than themselves at a time when traditional means of religious communal expression weren’t working so well. The merging of environmental consciousness into the older leftist portfolio was almost too good to be true for this purpose: Lenin plus Gaia equaled countercultural nirvana. It was fine for most never to get beyond the lyrical slogans to the second paragraph of any thought about a political topic — that just wasn’t the point. Communal singing is a very powerful form of human celebration that creates and sustains spiritual connectedness; if you don’t realize that, it means you’ve never been involved in it. For all I know it probably has health benefits as well.”

Lenin plus Gaia is apt.