La Marseillaise

14 07 2011

I have a soft spot for this Berlioz rendition of La Marseillaise

Of course, now it is a reactionary, bourgeois hymn.

But never fear, the Russian workers adapted it for their own use (thanks, Wikipedia!), but changed the tune a little:

Musically, I like the French one better.

On the Maoist aesthetic

11 07 2011

Administrative note: I am busy with other projects this week, so I cannot take questions or inquiries at this time. The blog, however, will go on.

My wife and I recently saw the movie, Mao’s Last Dancer. The movie was about a classically trained ballet dancer in the 1970’s who visited and then defected to the United States, and all of the circumstances that surrounded his emergence as a professional dancer. One complaint about the movie is that the filmmaker had a bizarre tendency in the movie to “slow down” and “speed up” the ballet scenes to create the “oooh” and “awww” effect, perhaps inspired by Chinese martial arts movies. As one who has watched enough ballet both on the screen and in person to know better, this gave me a hardy chuckle. Really, ballet isn’t that exciting, at least not in “that” way.

One theme of the film, as one can tell from the title, is being a ballet dancer in the midst of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. One scene shows the ballet students performing a European classical ballet in front of a Communist Party dignitary. The only thing the dignitary could ask of the teachers is where were the guns and the revolutionary struggle in the students’ dancing. In a later scene, we see that the teachers took this to heart and choreographed Maoist propaganda in pointe shoes. The Communist Party official approved, and the one teacher who made noises concerning this obvious feat of sychophancy (the mentor of the protagonist) is hauled off in a truck never to be seen again by his students.
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More on Ayn Rand

5 07 2011

Courtesy of the egregores blog

In her own words:

In conclusion, let me touch briefly on another question often asked me: What do I think of President Reagan? The best answer to give would be: But I don’t think of him—and the more I see, the less I think. I did not vote for him (or for anyone else) and events seem to justify me. The appalling disgrace of his administration is his connection with the so-called “Moral Majority” and sundry other TV religionists, who are struggling—apparently with his approval—to take us back to the Middle Ages, via the unconstitutional union of religion and politics.

Intellectual puzzles like this fascinate me. Why do good “Christian conservatives” have to make apologies for their interest in obviously anti-Christian figures? To get in their heads a bit, I would try to make my own apologia:

Some conservative Christians seem to despise the notion that they are forced to be charitable. That is, if I choose to feed the poor, it is my choice and only my choice, and I will take from what is rightfully mine to do so. Otherwise, where would virtue be in all of it? Virtue cannot be forced. The notion that the poor have a right to not be poor is fundamentally anti-Christian. The system is built so that there are winners and losers, and if we just all accepted that, the losers wouldn’t lose as badly, and the winners wouldn’t take as many marbles home, and things would be better in general (though not “perfect” at least from the loser’s perspective). It is thus not a question of whether or not to help the losers, but how to help them. The losers are not guaranteed anything by definition because they lost. Whether or not they get fed should be up to the winners to decide, freely. That is why it is important to evangelize the winners using Opus Dei and other apostolates to the VIP’s. That is how the Gospel will really be spread.
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On the value of labor

2 07 2011

I am lazy this week, so I thought I would just re-post here a comment I made on another site. You should read the original conversation first:

I think this is an interesting dialogue, but a little academic for my taste. The points made get to the heart of what bourgeois ideologues such as Mises and Hayek criticized in socialism: that is, the inability to plan a complex modern economy and the inability to determine the value of the output of labor without a market mechanism (the law of value). I don’t think any argument I have seen so far has been able to address these points at least on the level of abstraction. One has to go into the concrete realities to find out what is really going on.

First, such bourgeois criticisms take the capitalist mode of production as an abstract, eternal category. The Marxist critique knows that capitalism produces crises, and hence, its own gravediggers. Thus, it is not possible to have these conversations in a social vacuum. It is not an issue of “what system is better”: socialism or capitalism. Capitalism will drive humanity into the ground sooner or later, and we have to address alternatives whether we like it or not.
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Notes on morality

1 07 2011

For a long time, I have not bought the argument that a god makes us more moral, or morality has to be based on an extra-human source. More often than not, the opposite has been the case, if only because religion has more of a track record in the matter than secular ideologies. Monotheistic gods in particular have a way of serving as ideological weapons against unwanted others. Often in this society, they serve as a ghostly companion backing up one’s own particular bigotry. If you are going to be a bigot, at least say that it comes from the heart, and not from heaven.

In this regard, I do not know why morality must be so stable, while the rest of society is in flux. Stability in morality may not mean that one is somehow automatically virtuous. It may just mean you can’t see your own vices. People make gulags, concentration camps, show trials, inquisitions, and so on. Ideologies do not, or one cannot simply put the blame on an ideology. Vigilance to me seems the most important thing here.

One must struggle for a morality just as one must struggle for everything else. The struggle for the morality must be a morality of struggle, or a morality in struggle. Just because you have a supposedly set-in-stone code of ethics makes you no less prone to atrocities, etc.

In that sense, I wish certain leftwing people would stop framing debates on capitalism in terms of the morality of the system. Capitalism is an intensely moral system. Everyone gets what “they deserve” and that is exactly the point. You signed on to be a wage slave, and you should get whatever you contractually signed up for. To go on and on about how “evil corporations” cheat “good middle class people” is the best way to lose the argument, because it assumes that the system will be made better precisely when people get what is “fair”. That is precisely the problem, since what is “fair” in a specific context may not be enough to put a roof over someone’s head, food on the table, etc. Capitalism is an economic problem, not a moral one. Nothing will get better when the capitalists behave themselves, precisely because the capitalists behaving themselves means screwing the workers better and with more intensity. That is not a moral issue, at least not in terms of the morality we have now.

On Anti-Stalinism

30 06 2011

Tereza recalled the days of the invasion and the girls in miniskirts carrying flags on long staffs. Theirs was a sexual vengeance: the Russian soldiers had been kept in enforced celibacy for several long years and must have felt they had landed on a planet invented by a science fiction writer; a planet of stunning women who paraded their scorn on beautiful long legs the likes of which had not been seen in Russia for the past five or six centuries.

-Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

One of the polemics on the anti-Stalinist left has concerned the nature of what orthodox Trotskyism calls, “degenerated workers’ states”. That is, the states that were self-proclaimed as socialist, and at least tried to usurp the mantle of being run by Marxist ideology. Really, such states are few and far between nowadays, and perhaps this is even more of a scholastic question as it was when the Soviet Union existed. The polemic usually divided into two camps:

1. Those who believed that while the Soviet Union and its satellites were governed by a tyrannical and counter-revolutionary bureacracy, they still maintained a “proletarian property form”, and instead of a social revolution (one where the mode of production had to be drastically changed) they only required a “political” revolution to “throw the bumbs out” so to speak. Then, real workers’ democracy would reign again (or reign for the first time, in the case of those countries where such property forms were imposed by the Soviet army). For the Trotskyists, at least, there was always the line that they sided with these countries militarily no matter who they happened to be fighting. A place where the expropriators had been expropriated was better than one where they were still in power. In other words, my father may be a dick, but he’s still my father.

2. The state capitalists, or “state caps” in the pejorative, who thought that the Soviet Union was just another capitalist country under different owners. In this case, instead of opposing the bourgeoisie, one opposed the bureacracy as the new capitalists. So they didn’t waste their time defending what was clearly broken.
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On determinisms

21 06 2011

Once again, biological determinism makes a splash, creates a wave of discussion and cocktail party chatter, and then dissipates for want of evidence. Why are we so intrigued by hypotheses of innate disposition? Why do we wish to fob off responsibility for our violence and sexism upon our genes? The hallmark of humanity is not only our mental capacity but also our mental flexibility. We have made our world and we can change it.

-Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin

When I was a young Trotskyist activist, one of my sect’s leaders was an enthusiastic reader of Stephen Jay Gould. Gould interestingly enough was no Marxist, but it appears that his father was. His politics were definitely left of center, and he cites Engels positively once in the book cited above. Beyond that, his project could not be tied to any agenda, it seems. He is adamant that evolution is not some replacement for God, that a lot of it seems arbitrary, that one cannot hang various premises one assigns to religion to modern science, and so on. As my wife is a scientist, I happen to agree. From her general behavior and outlook on life, I can tell that she has been trained to not see in science some metaphysical replacement for a personal philosophy or religion. It is a tool like any other. The work of science as the work of all knowledge must be modest since our perspective, in spite of being the most advanced animals on the planet, is still quite modest.
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Religion and revolution

8 06 2011

I recently saw a report from the BBC a couple of years ago on a shrine dedicated to St. Lazarus in Cuba. The report brings up again the rumor that many of the people who fought in the revolution were also believers in santeria. That is not surprising, as even in the films of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, one of the fathers of Cuban cinema, one often sees portrayals of popular and African religiosity, as in the montage above from his last film, Guantanamera.
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On Stalinist leader worship

2 06 2011

I saw recently an interview with Santiago Roncagliolo, author of the 2007 book, La Cuarta Espada (“The Fourth Sword”) about the life and times of Abimael Guzman, the imprisoned leader of the Maoist group, el Sendero Luminoso. According to the interviewer, senderista literature often stated that the head of “Presidente Gonzalo” (Guzman’s nom de guerre) contained 10,000 years of human history. The author then states that during the height of their guerilla war, the leader could only be represented a certain way: in jacket without tie, never with a gun, and so on. This sort of reminded me of North Korean children’s textbooks that used to state that the Great Leader Kim Il-sung had no need of going to the bathroom to discharge his waste. Of course, Lenin’s embalmed corpse and Stalin hero-worship were always the object of much Western snickering during the Cold War, and rightly so. A recent article in the Economist also speaks about the rather ironic revival in China of Maoist orthodoxy and hero worship.
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Watching the enemy at work

25 05 2011

Just so that I won’t be accused of being a closed-minded Marxist.

I know, I know, seeing the movie isn’t like reading the book. Maybe one day I will read the book. But if Hayek is just being a senile old man creating facile caricatures of his own thought, someone should step forward and just say so. But from what I saw, I will comment:

One of Hayek’s assertions is that things are just too darned complicated to be planned. And any attempt to plan them will result in the loss of freedom. One can see from here the ultimate appeal of Hayek and the Austrian school of economics to Catholic thinkers (no matter how much like dilettantes they actually are in real life). Substitute “unpredictability” for original sin, “asceticism” for competition, “grace” for the invisible hand, and “the market” for God, and you have systems that parallel each other nicely. One must have faith in Providence, oh, I mean “market forces” and competition to provide the necessary things. And no, they will not provide a utopia, but they will provide an optimum society (for who, I don’t know), and besides, as Hayek asserts, intellectuals want planning because the present order is one not of their making. But traditional structures of society (not the State) work, and they are not made by planning.
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