Saturday, May 21, 2022

How will Russia's fascist aggression end?


Ukraine has demonstrated a truly singular level of competence and commitment in its armed resistance to Russia's war since February 24. Much credit goes to President Zelenskyy. And much of the world -- including especially the NATO partners -- have been decisive and forthcoming in material support for Ukraine's ability to continue to resist, and to successfully destroy a remarkable fraction of Russia's military forces. Powerful economic sanctions are playing a key role as well, putting meaningful economic pressure on Russia for its continuing aggression and atrocious acts of violence in Ukraine.

It is plain that Russia's longterm interests have already been very badly harmed by this war. There will be greater European energy independence, reducing a major source of Russian exports; there is a greatly strengthened commitment among NATO members for collective defense -- as well as the possibility of Finland and Sweden's accession to the organization; the economic relationships that have been broken with western companies will be hard or impossible to restore; and Russia has been shamed by an almost worldwide condemnation for its atrocious and aggressive war. Russia's manufacturing sector has shown itself to be incapable of producing the high-technology components needed for its devices and weapons; and yet western sanctions are likely to make import of these components difficult for years to come. Russia is much worse off today than it was on February 23.

And yet it is difficult to see how this war will end. There is really only one satisfactory end: the withdrawal of Russian military forces from all Ukrainian territory, an end of the maritime blockade of Ukraine's ports, and permanent ceasing of air, rocket, and artillery attacks agains targets in Ukraine. Some level of reparations for war damage to Ukraine's cities would also be appropriate. Russia should not be rewarded in any way for its aggression; and Ukraine should not be forced to surrender territory to Russia to provide a face-saving exit for Russia's leaders.

However, it is all but inconceivable that Vladimir Putin would ever willingly decide to simply give up the war without some kind of military gain that can be described as a victory.

The plain truth seems to be that Putin is largely immune from pressure and consequences as a result of this war. He plainly does not care about the massive casualties suffered by his own forces -- "cannon fodder". He is content to write off the losses of tanks, artillery pieces, rockets, drones, and other materiel of war as simply the cost of pursuing important "national" goals. And Russian territory and population have been largely immune from the consequences of the war. Russia is not suffering attacks against its own cities, towns, military bases, airfields, or (with a very few exceptions) fuel depots. Russia is in a position to bring the catastrophic sufferings of war to the Ukrainian people through long-range artillery, missiles, and air strikes in a way that is without any possible reply for the Ukrainian forces. So the logic of reciprocity and deterrence does not find a foothold in this conflict: Russia's horrific actions against Kiev, Kharkiv, Mariupol, and other towns and cities have no reciprocal cost for Russia. The war does not exist for most Russian citizens, and therefore Russian citizens do not care very much about the war.

Here is the most basic point: the forces that make costly war difficult to sustain in an institutionalized democracy are entirely lacking in the contemporary Russian political and economic system. Russia is a dictatorship, and Vladimir Putin is its uncompromising dictator. (Timothy Snyder provides an accounting of the ways in which contemporary Russia is a fascist state; link.) Fundamental decisions about the war rest with Putin alone -- in fact, recent reports suggest that Putin even attempts to manage mid-level tactical decisions as well. There are no effective institutional restraints on Putin's decision-making. He appears to have secure control of the military and the security services, and there is almost no evidence of open disagreement or opposition with the military or political elites about Putin's actions. It does not seem likely that senior generals have the power to compel Putin to change course; and the political institutions of the Russian Federation plainly leave Putin entirely unfettered. Just as Hitler terrorized and dominated the senior commanders of the Wehrmacht, so Putin seems to have complete and unilateral power over his generals.

So the kinds of processes that have led to a change of direction in decisions of war and peace in other countries -- for example, President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, whose conduct of the war in Vietnam led to mass political protest and rising opposition among legislators in his own party, and who was brought down as president by these forces -- those processes of public opinion and independent centers of political power do not exist in Russia. Having crushed the institutions and organizations of civil society, Putin is unhampered in his decision-making. Russian public opinion will not end the war; independent media will not end the war; independent powerful political figures will not end the war; and it is now apparent that the oligarchs will not end the war.

So it comes back to Putin: what could motivate or incentivize Putin to make the decision to end the war and withdraw? He has plainly invested his prestige, reputation, and self-image (hyper-masculine bare-chested warrior) in being successful in this war. He is determined to be perceived as a successful historical figure changing the role of his country in world affairs. He plainly refuses the humiliation that would follow from defeat. So no considerations of "costs and benefits of continuing the war" will influence him. Rather, his decisions have to do with his own interests, property, and self-image. Putin's psychology seems to be similar to Hitler's when it comes to making decisions about war and peace.

But is there a "Godfather" strategy available? Is there any group of powerful figures in Russia, behind the scenes, who could make an offer that Putin cannot refuse? If so, then possibly we might imagine a change of direction. Here is how it might play out in the Netflix miniseries: "We have a choice for you, Vladimir. You can step down as president and keep your wealth (in the Western idiom, perhaps you are resigning to spend more time with your family); or we will depose you, prosecute you for the many acts of corruption that you have committed, and strip you of your wealth. You may even go to prison. So here is the choice: exit now and take the golden parachute; or refuse, and lose everything." We might call this the "Marcos" strategy.

The problem with this scenario is evident. It requires a coalition of individuals who are collectively more powerful than Putin, and who can credibly threaten to remove him. And at present, that seems all but impossible.

Another scenario is more feasible but grossly less acceptable: Russian forces manage to occupy and secure a larger portion of eastern and southern Ukraine; the Ukrainian government decides that the continuing suffering of its citizens must be brought to an end and therefore accepts a territorial settlement; and Putin announces a historic victory. Putin's self-esteem is saved; many thousands of Russian soldiers have been killed or maimed, and many thousands of civilians and soldiers in Ukraine have been killed; vast swaths of destruction have been inflicted on Ukraine during months of atrocious fighting; and Ukraine loses part of its sovereign territory. Not a very good outcome, from any point of view except Putin's.

Is there a third possible scenario -- unambiguous military victory for Ukraine? Given the imbalance of population and national wealth between the two countries, it is hard to see how Ukraine can continue to wage a war of attrition indefinitely, to the point where Russia is forced to withdraw unilaterally. However, there is a precedent in the Soviet Union's abrupt exit from Afghanistan. (The analogy is not entirely apt, given that the USSR was then led by Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, a figure quite unlike Vladimir Putin.) The current rate of destruction of Russian military forces is unsustainable for the Russians; so it is not entirely inconceivable that Russia would turn its positions over to friendly "militias", declare victory, and withdraw its regular military forces.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Incitement of violence by far-right media networks


The sickening tragedy of Buffalo yesterday -- the racist attack on a group of African-American shoppers and workers by an 18-year-old white supremacist man in body armor, carrying a military-style weapon -- is simply too much to absorb. This is indisputably an act of domestic terrorism; and yet our police and federal counter-terrorism agencies are still woefully behind in taking the threats of racist violence seriously. Where is Homeland Security when it comes to protecting African-Americans, Muslims, Asian-Americans, Latinos, and Jewish people against a rising tide of racist attacks? (Here is a Brookings report on the state of right-wing terrorism in America; link.) We are forced to ask ourselves, how many other "true believers" in the Great Replacement theory and other memes of white supremacy are out there, contemplating their own acts of racist violence?

But here is a question that must be confronted: how did violent white supremacy become mainstream in America? How did racist antagonism and fear-mongering become something more than shameful and marginal mutterings by fringe extremists? And more specifically, what role do Fox News and Tucker Carlson play in the shameful tragedy that took place in Buffalo this week?

The answer seems to be: a very extensive role. Carlson's advocacy of the supposed catastrophe of "the Great Replacement" has reverberated throughout this country and in other parts of the world. As the recent and rigorous New York Times study documents (link), Carlson's program is deliberate in its stoking of racial fear and hatred among its three million viewers. Here is part of the assessment offered in the Times series:

To channel their fear into ratings, Mr. Carlson has adopted the rhetorical tropes and exotic fixations of white nationalists, who have watched gleefully from the fringes of public life as he popularizes their ideas. Mr. Carlson sometimes refers to “legacy Americans,” a dog-whistle term that, before he began using it on his show last fall, appeared almost exclusively in white nationalist outlets like The Daily Stormer, The New York Times found. He takes up story lines otherwise relegated to far-right or nativist websites like VDare: “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has featured a string of segments about the gruesome murders of white farmers in South Africa, which Mr. Carlson suggested were part of a concerted campaign by that country’s Black-led government. Last April, Mr. Carlson set off yet another uproar, borrowing from a racist conspiracy theory known as “the great replacement” to argue that Democrats were deliberately importing “more obedient voters from the third world” to “replace” the current electorate and keep themselves in power. But a Times analysis of 1,150 episodes of his show found that it was far from the first time Mr. Carlson had done so. (link)

The alleged Buffalo assailant's manifesto seems to follow this script of "great replacement" and white supremacy very closely. The manifesto is explicit on these points (link). So the connection seems evident -- message disseminated, message received, violence committed.

Milan Obaidi, Jonas Kunst, Simon Ozer and Sasha Y. Kimel make a strong sociological argument for the connection between "great replacement" myths and racist violence in "The 'Great Replacement' conspiracy: How the perceived ousting of Whites can evoke violent extremism and Islamophobia" (link). These researchers document the role this meme has played in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim populism in European states:

In recent years, the “Great Replacement” conspiracy has not only gained prominence among right-wing extremists but has also found a foot- hold among right-wing populist political parties in Europe. For example, while evoking anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment, such ideas have been espoused by the former leader of the Danish People’s Party Pia Kjærsgaard, the Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán, the Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, and the leader of the far-right movement Rassemblement National Marine Le Pen (Alduy, 2017; Kingsley, 2019; Kjærsgaard, 2020). Various conservative intellectuals and far-right organizations have also utilized language that stokes fear about the decline of the “White race” and “White identity.” For instance, in an interview in the Wall Street Journal in 2006, Mark Steyn, a prominent proponent of “Eurabia” (i.e., a term coined to describe an alleged Islamization and Arabization of Europe), claimed that by the year 2025 “Europe will be 40 percent Muslim and much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive this century” (Steyn quoted in Carr, 2006; see also Steyn, 2005). Meanwhile, anti-Muslim organizations such as the German PEGIDA movement and the European White-nativist movement Generation Identity (GI) have espoused similar views. For example, GI—one of Europe’s fastest growing far-right movements that advocates for an ethnically and culturally homogenous Europe—portrays immigrants as invaders while playing a prominent role in promoting, popularizing, and disseminating the “Great Replacement” conspiracy (Cox & Meisel, 2018; Feder & Maplestone, 2019). (link)

Based on their survey-based study, they find that there is a causal connection between perceived replacement and willingness to act violently against members of the other group.

Perceived replacement of the autochthonous population was positively correlated with willingness to violently persecute Muslims, violent intentions, Islamophobia, as well as symbolic and realistic threat perceptions (see Table 1). Moreover, both types of threats were related to Muslim persecution and Islamophobia. However, only symbolic threat was associated with violent intentions. (link)

Now--back to America. Tucker Carlson now finds it expedient to use the "Great Replacement" meme to crystallize the fears and antagonisms of his followers -- again, a finding well documented in the New York Times series cited above. It seems all too obvious that this is a potent causal factor in the rise of activist white supremacist individuals and organizations. And, coincidentally, our country is witnessing a horrifying rise in violent attacks on people of color.    

What are some of the means available to those who care about democracy and equality for combatting this resurgent white supremacy and the violence it so recklessly engenders? Electing politicians who demonstrate their commitment to our democratic values is one response, but not a very rapid or targeted cure.

Is there another possibility deriving from civil liability? Is it possible to make use of civil lawsuits against the purveyors of false and hateful theories that inspire other individuals to commit acts of violence? In the Lawfare blog Alexander Vindman raises the possibility of using civil lawsuits to prevent the harms purveyed by right-wing media and personalities, including defamation and (one might speculate) encouragement of violence (link). Consider the example of the lawsuit successfully undertaken by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1981 against United Klans of America for the murder of Michael Donald by two klansmen. Success in this lawsuit led to bankruptcy and dissolution of this branch of the Ku Klux Klan (link).

Can the victims and their survivors of the Buffalo atrocity hold Tucker Carlson and Fox News at least partially responsible for the racist murders committed on May 14? Would $1 billion be an appropriate civil damage finding for the harm done by this reckless and immoral racism on a highly influential media channel? Would Fox News then find it prudent to eliminate the racist hatred it channels on its network if it were faced with such a judgment?

And what about the advertisers who continue to provide millions in ad revenue to Fox News? Can these companies at last be brought to recognize the shame of their support for racist hate mongering, and withdraw their support? If not, should not consumers look at these companies as complicit in the rising tide of racist violence in America? Here is a call for "defunding Fox News" (link) that identifies the top advertisers on Fox: GlaxoSmithKline, Liberty Mutual, General Motors, Procter & Gamble, Intuit, NortonLifeLock, Nestle, Kraft Heinz, Progressive, Charles Schwab, Toyota, and Subaru. GM, P&G, Subaru -- do you really want to align yourself with racism and anti-democratic lies and the rising tide of violence that accompanies these pathologies?

(Here is a New York Times article on the background of segregation in Buffalo; link.)


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Злі наслідки тоталітарних ідеологій

[This entry provides Ukrainian and Russian translations of a recent post on totalitarian evil offered as a gesture of support for potential Ukrainian readers. The translation is based on Google Translate. If you are in Ukraine or Russia, please comment if you can!]

Очевидно, що люди створюють зло; але людьми часто керують тоталітарні ідеології, які роблять можливим велике зло.

Однією з таких ідеологій минулого століття був сталінізм — погляд, що успіх радянського комунізму є найвищим благом; будь-яка жертва виправдана; тих, хто стоїть на заваді, треба знищити; і ті, чия жертва може допомогти досягненню комунізму, також будуть принесені в жертву. Це головне уявлення Кестлера «Тьма опівдні». Кестлер розкрив моральну «логіку» московських показових процесів через свою розповідь про допит і суд над лояльним революційним функціонером Рубашовом, а також викривлену логіку зізнання, провини, брехні та жертви, яку включав допит Рубашова.

Тепер ми знаємо, що Сталін був великим політичним злочинцем, зосередженим на поширенні й утриманні абсолютної влади та застосуванні насильства та терору для розширення своєї влади. Але як щодо його попередників, Леніна та Троцького? Суд історії висуває звинувачення обох лідерів. У своїй дуже хорошій книзі «Людство про походження зла» Джонатан Гловер стверджує, що погляди Сталіна сягають Леніна і Троцького, а також задовго до успіху більшовицької революції:

Була байдужість до окремих людей, які можуть бути знищені новою політикою. Таку думку виходив із Леніна, який писав у 1908 році, що Паризька Комуна зазнала невдачі через «надмірну щедрість» пролетаріату, який «повинен був знищити своїх ворогів», а не намагатися «вчинити на них моральний вплив». У 1917 році, коли Ленін виступав проти скасування смертної кари для дезертирів на фронті, Троцький процитував його слова: «Дурниці, як можна зробити революцію без страт?» ... Це помилка, неприпустима слабкість, пацифістська ілюзія тощо» (255)

Головне розуміння Гловера полягає в тому, що пропаганда та віра в ідеологію призводять до звірства. Він стверджує, що значна частина пропаганди, мови та поведінки радянської держави була заснована на систематичній брехні, покликаній знищити моральні інстинкти простих радянських громадян. Він підкреслює використання радянськими пропагандистами принципово дегуманізуючих термінів, які використовуються для позначення «ворогів» соціалізму: «дармаїди», «брудні собаки», «гади», «куркулі». Це своєрідне моральне виховання — створення «нової радянської людини», виховання готовності миритися з приниженням і вбивством «ворога». Важливо зафіксувати точну паралель між цими словами та нацистською пропагандою та поведінкою.

Гловер чітко пояснює, що брехня є інструментом тоталітаризму, а відданість спробам побачити і висловити правду є одним із «моральних ресурсів», які формують і захищають нашу людяність.

Так що з брехнею? Ось важливий приклад. Журналіст New York Times Уолтер Дюранті був апологетом Сталіна протягом 1930-х років і впливовим лідером думок про Радянський Союз у Сполучених Штатах. І, на жаль, Дюранті приховав і виправдав масові злочини Сталіна перед широкою громадськістю в Сполучених Штатах через свою позицію в New York Times. У 1932 році Дюранті опублікував у New York Times вірш під назвою «Червона площа», який містив рядки:

Росіяни можуть бути голодними, їм не вистачає одягу та комфорту

Але ви не можете приготувати омлет, не розбивши яйця.

«Омлет не приготуєш, не розбивши яєць» .... Ця фраза принципово одіозна і дегуманізує. Вона в кількох словах виражає моральний переворот, представлений тоталітаризмом: замість суспільства, яке існує для свободи та добробуту громадян, громадяни існують як сировина для успіху держави. І справді, цю фразу мали часто вживати прихильники Сталіна і, зрештою, прихильники Великого мореплавця, голови Мао.

Василь Гроссман фіксує кожен аспект цих особливостей сталінського тоталітаризму у своєму останньому великому романі «Все тече» (1961), і цей роман більш відвертий і проклятий про ГУЛАГ та інші злочини Сталіна, ніж це можна було вважати можливими за життя Сталіна. У романі зображено становище простих радянських громадян, які стикаються з моральними дилемами і важким вибором між співучастю, ідеологічними переконаннями, особистими інтересами, чесним визнанням фактів і соромом. Ось роздуми комфортного вченого Миколи Андрійовича:

Він згадав, як у 1937 році на зборах, скликаних у зв’язку з московськими процесами, він голосував за смертну кару для Рикова і Бухаріна. Він не думав про ті зустрічі сімнадцять років...

Але тепер — тепер Микола Андрійович згадав, що був сумнів; його впевненість у винності Бухаріна була прикиданою. ...

Зрештою, він вважав, що соціалістичне суспільство, суспільство без приватної власності, було побудовано вперше в історії, і що соціалізм вимагає диктатури держави. ...

Чи може це бути справді соціалізм — з таборами Колими, з жахами колективізації, з канібалізмом і мільйонами смертей під час голоду? Так, були часи, коли зовсім інше розуміння проникало в межі його свідомості: що терор справді був дуже нелюдським, що страждання робітників і селян були справді дуже великими. (29-33)

Олександр Солженіцин так само описує психологію простих людей за сталінського тоталітаризму:

Найм’якшою і водночас найпоширенішою формою зради було не робити нічого поганого безпосередньо, а просто не помічати приреченого поруч, не допомагати йому, відвертати обличчя, відступати. Вони заарештували сусіда, вашого товариша по роботі чи навіть близького друга. Ти мовчав. Ви поводилися так, ніби не помічали. ГУЛАГ, 25

Тут є дві ключові думки. По-перше, «тоталізаційні» ідеології, які переконують звичайних людей у ​​вищій моральній важливості держави, є плідними каталізаторами великого зла. «Справжньо віруючі» готові чинити жахливі вчинки зі своїми побратимами, особливо коли від цього залежить їхня кар’єра та добробут. А по-друге, вирішальна важливість розкриття правди про звірства. У цьому світлі останній пост Тімоті Снайдера про документування України є важливим і своєчасним. Нинішні звірства Росії в Україні – навмисні, жорстокі та смертельні – не можна вибачити. І, як стверджує Снайдер, важливо задокументувати ці дії держави проти невинних цивільних. Історія має судити Володимира Путіна та його російських правителів за звірства, які вони замовили та вчинили.

RUSSIAN TRANSLATION

[This entry provides a Russian translation of a recent post on totalitarian evil offered as testimony of the evil being committed by the Russian military in Ukraine today. The translation is based on Google Translate. If you are in Russia, please comment if you can...]

Злые последствия тоталитарных идеологий

Очевидно, что люди творят зло; но люди часто руководствуются тоталитарными идеологиями, которые делают возможным великое зло.

Одной из таких идеологий прошлого века был сталинизм — представление о том, что успех советского коммунизма является высшим благом; любая жертва оправдана; те, кто стоит на пути, должны быть уничтожены; и те, чья жертва может помочь достижению коммунизма, также должны быть принесены в жертву. Это центральное понимание «Тьмы в полдень» Кестлера. Кестлер раскрыл моральную «логику» московских показательных процессов через свой отчет о допросе и суде над лояльным революционным функционером Рубашовым, а также извращенную логику признания, вины, лжи и жертвы, которые были включены в допрос Рубашова.

Теперь мы знаем, что Сталин был главным политическим преступником, сосредоточенным на расширении и сохранении абсолютной власти и использовании насилия и террора для расширения своей власти. А как же его предшественники Ленин и Троцкий? Суд истории обвиняет обоих лидеров. В своей очень хорошей книге «Человечество» о происхождении зла Джонатан Гловер утверждает, что взгляды Сталина восходят к Ленину и Троцкому и задолго до успеха большевистской революции:

Было равнодушие к отдельным людям, которые могли быть уничтожены новой политикой. Это мнение исходило от Ленина, который писал в 1908 году, что Парижская Коммуна потерпела поражение из-за «чрезмерной щедрости» пролетариата, который «должен был истребить своих врагов», вместо того, чтобы пытаться «оказывать на них нравственное влияние». В 1917 году, когда Ленин выступил против отмены смертной казни для дезертиров на фронте, Троцкий процитировал его слова: «Ерунда, как можно совершить революцию без расстрелов? ... Это ошибка, недопустимая слабость, пацифистская иллюзия и т. д.» (255).

Главный вывод Гловера состоит в том, что пропаганда и вера в идеологию ведут к зверствам. Он утверждает, что большая часть пропаганды, языка и поведения советского государства была основана на систематической лжи, призванной разрушить моральные инстинкты простых советских граждан. Он обращает внимание на использование советскими пропагандистами принципиально дегуманизирующих терминов, используемых для обозначения «врагов» социализма: «тунеядцы», «грязные псы», «гады», «кулаки». Это своего рода нравственное воспитание — создание «нового советского человека», воспитание готовности мириться с унижением и убийством «врага». Важно отметить точную параллель между этими словами и нацистской пропагандой и поведением.

Гловер ясно дает понять, что ложь — это инструмент тоталитаризма, а стремление увидеть и выразить правду — один из «моральных ресурсов», составляющих и защищающих нашу человечность.

Так что насчет лжи? Вот важный пример. Журналист New York Times Уолтер Дюранти был апологетом Сталина в 1930-е годы, а также влиятельным мыслителем Советского Союза в Соединенных Штатах. И, к позору, Дюранти скрывал и оправдывал массовые преступления Сталина перед широкой общественностью в Соединенных Штатах через свою позицию в New York Times. В 1932 году Дюранти опубликовал в New York Times стихотворение «Красная площадь», в котором были строки:

Россиянам может быть голодно, им не хватает одежды и комфорта
Но нельзя приготовить омлет, не разбив яиц.

"Не разбив яиц, омлета не сделаешь".... Эта фраза в корне одиозна и бесчеловечна. В нескольких словах он выражает моральный переворот, представленный тоталитаризмом: общество существует не для свободы и благополучия граждан, а граждане существуют как сырье для успеха государства. И действительно, эта фраза часто использовалась сторонниками Сталина и, в конечном счете, сторонниками Великого мореплавателя, председателя Мао.

Василий Гроссман запечатлел каждый аспект этих черт сталинского тоталитаризма в своем последнем крупном романе «Все течет» (1961), и этот роман более откровенен и изобличает ГУЛАГ и другие преступления Сталина, чем можно было бы предположить при жизни Сталина. В романе отражено положение простых советских граждан, столкнувшихся с моральными дилеммами и трудным выбором между соучастием, идеологическими убеждениями, личным интересом, честным признанием фактов и стыдом. Вот размышления удобного ученого Николая Андреевича:

Он вспомнил, как в 1937 году на собрании, созванном по поводу Московского процесса, голосовал за смертную казнь Рыкова и Бухарина. Он не думал об этих встречах семнадцать лет...

Но теперь — теперь Николай Андреевич вспомнил, что было сомнение; его уверенность в виновности Бухарина была притворством. ...

Он ведь считал, что впервые в истории построено социалистическое общество, общество без частной собственности, что социализм требует диктатуры государства. ...

Неужели это и есть социализм — с колымскими лагерями, с ужасами коллективизации, с каннибализмом и миллионами смертей от голода? Да, были времена, когда на окраинах его сознания пробиралось совсем другое понимание: что Террор действительно был очень бесчеловечен, что страдания рабочих и крестьян были действительно очень велики. (29-33)

Аналогичным образом Александр Солженицын описывает психологию простых людей в условиях сталинского тоталитаризма:

Самая мягкая и в то же время самая распространенная форма предательства заключалась в том, чтобы не делать ничего дурного прямо, а просто не замечать обреченного рядом с собой, не помогать ему, отворачивать лицо, отшатываться. Они арестовали соседа, вашего товарища по работе или даже вашего близкого друга. Ты промолчал. Ты вел себя так, будто не заметил. ГУЛАГ, 25

Здесь есть два ключевых вывода. Во-первых, «тотальные» идеологии, убеждающие обычных людей в высшей моральной важности государства, являются плодотворными катализаторами великого зла. «Истинно верующие» готовы делать ужасные вещи по отношению к своим ближним, особенно когда от этого зависит их собственная карьера и благополучие. А во-вторых, решающее значение имеет раскрытие правды о злодеяниях. В этом свете недавний пост Тимоти Снайдера в «Документировании Украины» важен и своевременен. Нынешние зверства России в Украине — преднамеренные, жестокие и смертоносные — непростительны. И, как утверждает Снайдер, крайне важно задокументировать эти действия государства против невинных гражданских лиц. История должна судить Владимира Путина и его коллег-российских правителей за совершенные ими зверства.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Evil consequences of totalitarian ideologies


It is evident that human beings create evil; but human beings are often driven and dominated by totalitarian ideologies that make great evils possible.

One of those ideologies of the last century was Stalinism — the view that the success of Soviet Communism is the highest good; any sacrifice is justified; those who stand in the way must be destroyed; and those whose sacrifice may aid the achievement of Communism shall be sacrificed as well. This is the central insight of Koestler's Darkness at Noon. Koestler revealed the moral "logic" of the Moscow Show Trials through his account of the interrogation and trial of the loyal revolutionary functionary Rubashov, and the twisted logic of confession, guilt, lies, and sacrifice that Rubashov's interrogation involved.

We now know that Stalin was a master political criminal, focused on extending and maintaining absolute power and using violence and terror to extend his power. But what about his predecessors, Lenin and Trotsky? The judgment of history indicts both leaders. In his very good book Humanity on the origins of evil, Jonathan Glover argues that Stalin's views extend back to Lenin and Trotsky as well, and long before the success of the Bolshevik Revolution:

There was indifference to the individual people who might be destroyed by the new policies. This view came from Lenin, who had written in 1908 that the Paris Commune had failed because of the ‘excessive generosity’ of the proletariat, who ‘should have exterminated its enemies’ instead of trying ‘to exert moral influence on them’. In 1917, when Lenin opposed the abolition of capital punishment for deserters at the front, Trotsky quoted him as saying, ‘Nonsense, how can you make a revolution without executions? ... It is a mistake, impermissible weakness, pacifist illusion, and so on.’ (255)

Glover's central insight is that propaganda and faith in an ideology drive atrocity. He argues that much of the propaganda, language, and behavior of the Soviet state were based on systematic lies, designed to destroy the moral instincts of ordinary Soviet citizens. He highlights the use by Soviet propagandists of fundamentally dehumanizing terms used for the "enemies" of socialism: “parasites”, “filthy dogs”, “reptiles”, and “kulaks”. This is a kind of moral education — creation of “new Soviet Man”, and cultivation of a willingness to countenance the humiliation and murder of the "enemy". It is important to register the exact parallel between these words and Nazi propaganda and behavior.

Glover makes it plain that lies are the tools of totalitarianism, and a commitment to trying to see and express the truth is one of the “moral resources” that constitutes and defends our humanity.

So what about the lies? Here is an important example. New York Times journalist Walter Duranty was an apologist for Stalin during the 1930s and an influential thought-leader about the Soviet Union in the United States as well. And, shamefully, Duranty obscured and justified Stalin's massive crimes to a broad public in the United States through his position at the New York Times. In 1932 Duranty published a poem called ‘Red Square’ in the New York Times, which included the lines:

Russians may be hungry and short of clothes and comfort
But you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

"You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs" .... This phrase is fundamentally odious and dehumanizing. It subsumes in a few words the moral reversal represented by totalitarianism: rather than society existing for the freedom and wellbeing of the citizens, the citizens exist as raw materials for the success of the state. And indeed, the phrase was to be used frequently by Stalin’s supporters and eventually those of the Great Navigator, Chairman Mao.

Vasily Grossman captures each aspect of these features of Stalinist totalitarianism in his last major novel, Everything Flows (1961), and this novel is more explicit and damning about the Gulag and Stalin's other crimes than would have been thought possible during Stalin's life. The novel captures the situation of ordinary Soviet citizens faced with moral dilemmas and difficult choices between complicity, ideological conviction, personal self-interest, honest recognition of the facts, and shame. Here are the reflections of the comfortable scientist, Nikolay Andreyevich:

He remembered how in 1937, at a meeting called in connection with the Moscow Trials, he had voted in favor of the death penalty for Rykov and Bukharin. He had not thought about those meetings for seventeen years....

But now—now Nikolay Andreyevich remembered that there had been doubt; his certainty of Bukharin’s guilt had been a pretense. ...

He believed, after all, that a socialist society, a society without private property, had been constructed for the first time in history, and that socialism required the dictatorship of the State. ...

Could this really be socialism—with the labor camps of Kolyma, with the horrors of collectivization, with the cannibalism and the millions of deaths during the famine? Yes, there were times when a very different understanding had found its way into the borderlands of his consciousness: that the Terror really had been very inhuman, that the sufferings of the workers and peasants had been very great indeed. (
29-33)

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes the psychology of ordinary people under Stalinist totalitarianism in similar terms:

The mildest and at the same time the most widespread form of betrayal was not to do anything bad directly, but just not to notice the doomed person next to one, not to help him, to turn away one’s face, to shrink back. They had arrested a neighbour, your comrade at work, or even your close friend. You kept silence. You acted as if you had not noticed. Gulag, 25

There are two key insights here. First, "totalizing" ideologies that persuade ordinary human beings of the supreme moral importance of the state are prolific catalysts to great evil. "True believers" are willing to do atrocious things to their fellow human beings -- especially when their own careers and wellbeing depend upon it. And second is the crucial importance of revealing the truth about atrocities. In that light, Timothy Snyder's recent post on Documenting Ukraine is important and timely. Russia's current atrocities in Ukraine -- deliberate, cruel, and deadly -- are inexcusable. And, as Snyder argues, it is essential to document these actions of state against innocent civilians. History must judge Vladimir Putin and his fellow Russian rulers for the atrocities they have ordered and executed.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Tolstoy's characterization of Napoleon (Putin)


One of Leo Tolstoy's characteristic beliefs about history in War and Peace is the idiocy of the notion of "great men" who make history. In this light his characterization of Napoleon as a lawless, aimless, and murderous brigand is revealing. And his description is oddly striking when we consider the current world's tinpot Napoleon seeking dominion over a European country -- Vladimir Putin. This extended passage is taken from the first epilogue of War and Peace. I will simply highlight the passages that seem apt today in application to Putin. 

A man without convictions, without habits, without traditions, without a name, and not even a Frenchman, emerges—by what seem the strangest chances—from among all the seething French parties, and without joining any one of them is borne forward to a prominent position. 

The ignorance of his colleagues, the weakness and insignificance of his opponents, the frankness of his falsehoods, and the dazzling and self-confident limitations of this man raise him to the head of the army. The brilliant qualities of the soldiers of the army sent to Italy, his opponents' reluctance to fight, and his own childish audacity and self-confidence secure him military fame. Innumerable so called chances accompany him everywhere. The disfavor into which he falls with the rulers of France turns to his advantage. His attempts to avoid his predestined path are unsuccessful: he is not received into the Russian service, and the appointment he seeks in Turkey comes to nothing. During the war in Italy he is several times on the verge of destruction and each time is saved in an unexpected manner. Owing to various diplomatic considerations the Russian armies—just those which might have destroyed his prestige—do not appear upon the scene till he is no longer there. 

On his return from Italy he finds the government in Paris in a process of dissolution in which all those who are in it are inevitably wiped out and destroyed. And by chance an escape from this dangerous position presents itself in the form of an aimless and senseless expedition to Africa. Again so-called chance accompanies him. Impregnable Malta surrenders without a shot; his most reckless schemes are crowned with success. The enemy's fleet, which subsequently did not let a single boat pass, allows his entire army to elude it. In Africa a whole series of outrages are committed against the almost unarmed inhabitants. And the men who commit these crimes, especially their leader, assure themselves that this is admirable, this is glory—it resembles Caesar and Alexander the Great and is therefore good. 

This ideal of glory and grandeur—which consists not merely in considering nothing wrong that one does but in priding oneself on every crime one commits, ascribing to it an incomprehensible supernatural significance—that ideal, destined to guide this man and his associates, had scope for its development in Africa. Whatever he does succeeds. The plague does not touch him. The cruelty of murdering prisoners is not imputed to him as a fault. His childishly rash, uncalled-for, and ignoble departure from Africa, leaving his comrades in distress, is set down to his credit, and again the enemy's fleet twice lets him slip past. When, intoxicated by the crimes he has committed so successfully, he reaches Paris, the dissolution of the republican government, which a year earlier might have ruined him, has reached its extreme limit, and his presence there now as a newcomer free from party entanglements can only serve to exalt him—and though he himself has no plan, he is quite ready for his new role. 

He had no plan, he was afraid of everything, but the parties snatched at him and demanded his participation. 

He alone—with his ideal of glory and grandeur developed in Italy and Egypt, his insane self-adulation, his boldness in crime and frankness in lying—he alone could justify what had to be done. 

He is needed for the place that awaits him, and so almost apart from his will and despite his indecision, his lack of a plan, and all his mistakes, he is drawn into a conspiracy that aims at seizing power and the conspiracy is crowned with success.

He is pushed into a meeting of the legislature. In alarm he wishes to flee, considering himself lost. He pretends to fall into a swoon and says senseless things that should have ruined him. But the once proud and shrewd rulers of France, feeling that their part is played out, are even more bewildered than he, and do not say the words they should have said to destroy him and retain their power. 

Chance, millions of chances, give him power, and all men as if by agreement co-operate to confirm that power. Chance forms the characters of the rulers of France, who submit to him; chance forms the character of Paul I of Russia who recognizes his government; chance contrives a plot against him which not only fails to harm him but confirms his power. Chance puts the Duc d'Enghien in his hands and unexpectedly causes him to kill him—thereby convincing the mob more forcibly than in any other way that he had the right, since he had the might. Chance contrives that though he directs all his efforts to prepare an expedition against England (which would inevitably have ruined him) he never carries out that intention, but unexpectedly falls upon Mack and the Austrians, who surrender without a battle. Chance and genius give him the victory at Austerlitz; and by chance all men, not only the French but all Europe—except England which does not take part in the events about to happen—despite their former horror and detestation of his crimes, now recognize his authority, the title he has given himself, and his ideal of grandeur and glory, which seems excellent and reasonable to them all.

...

Paris, the ultimate goal, is reached. The Napoleonic government and army are destroyed. Napoleon himself is no longer of any account; all his actions are evidently pitiful and mean, but again an inexplicable chance occurs. The allies detest Napoleon whom they regard as the cause of their sufferings. Deprived of power and authority, his crimes and his craft exposed, he should have appeared to them what he appeared ten years previously and one year later—an outlawed brigand. But by some strange chance no one perceives this. His part is not yet ended. The man who ten years before and a year later was considered an outlawed brigand is sent to an island two days' sail from France, which for some reason is presented to him as his dominion, and guards are given to him and millions of money are paid him.

Napoleon, according to Tolstoy's telling, was a lying, opportunistic, amoral, and phenomenally lucky tyrant who by massive misadventure was empowered to play a role in producing continent-wide mayhem. He was not a strategic and tactical genius, manipulating the pieces on the face of Europe like a chess grand master, but more like an Inspector Clouseau bumbling through a collapsing building and miraculously avoiding destruction. And this sounds a great deal like Vladimir Putin, except Putin has an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

But perhaps the comparison to Napoleon -- even Tolstoy's amoral, bumbling outlaw Napoleon -- does not quite hit the mark. The better comparison is to one of Putin's most important role models, Joseph Stalin, in his conduct of the war against Germany. Stalin was a murderer without scruples -- like Putin -- and was responsible for the massacre at Katyn Forest of over 20,000 Polish officers and prisoners of war at the hands of the NKVD -- the very Soviet secret police organization that eventually became Putin's training ground as a KGB officer. It now seems likely that the innocent civilians killed in Ukraine exceeds the number of murders at Katyn Forest in 1940. Putin's war crimes begin to approach the magnitude of those committed by Stalin. And Stalin presents an apt comparison to Putin in another way as well: Stalin's mismanagement of military strategy was a great disaster for the Red Army in 1941 and 1942, leading to massive unnecessary deaths and encircled armies. Eighty years later, Putin's misperceptions of the determination and strength of his foe have led to similar military disasters.

What will it take for the Russian people to remove this dangerous, murderous, and isolated zealot from power?