Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Revolutionary Ramblings and Doom Sayings

Warning the below post is a lengthy criticism of a Youtube Vlogger, if this doesn't interest you then I suggest skipping this post entirely.

I was blessed to receive a Youtube recommendation of a video from the #1 Marxist on Youtube. The eponymous Maoist Rebel, Canada's Chairman of internet agitprop, Jason Unruhe. There is dire news from the Revolutions cyber centre and angry commentator cadre are bombarding the head quarters. And I promise to knock off the Mao speak jokes.

Full disclosure, I've followed Jason for many years on and off, usually several months will go by before I come across him again, and each time I'm surprised by how different he is. The man knows how to reinvent himself, its a shame each iteration is more odious than the last. So this rambling video about the dire state of "Marxism" rattling off a diverse group of misdeeds and guilty parties. Its starts off alright, he condemns the CPRF's homophobia but he tells his audience this news as if its a surprise, that a "Marxist-Leninist"(ML) party is homophobic, which means he's unaware that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union made homosexuality punishable by time in a Labour camp. Kinda of a worrying oversight for Youtubes No 1 Marxist hey?

Then he goes on to warn about a trend of ML parties turning to Fascism, and cites the use of antisemitism amongst the regions that broke away from the Ukraine. However annoyingly he doesn't give a specific example or a link to establish what exactly he's referring too. This is frustrating since the issue of antisemitism is rather confusing in this area. It's definitely being used by someone but both sides accuse the other and plead innocents, the infamous episode of anti Jewish leaflets shows how murky and prevalent `The Socialism of fools` is in the region.

And he offers no real substantiation for his claim that ML parties are trending towards Fascism. Though the evidence of some of them flirting with it isn't hard to find, in Eastern Europe they're known as Red-Brown alliances. Indeed the CPRF itself is part of such alliances,But again vague wording and a refusal to cite sources or give examples mean is impossible to tell how accurate Jason is. He also briefly states ML parties in the US are putting out Fash statements but he doesn't say which parties or which statements are Fascistic, meaning its impossible to tell if he's correct and nearly impossible to look up.

Then things get a bit weird, we go from ML's becoming Fash, to Maoists (in the first world mind) doing something with a gender bandwagon, which is bad because....? It just is. I honestly have no idea what he's talking about here, Maoists in the first world is somehow even vaguer then his previous statements. Talking about Gender apparently won't lead to Revolution, okay, I guess we have to take Jason's word for this since he doesn't elaborate at all. But taking Jason at his word, Maoism would also be bankrupt. The ideology of Maoism hasn't led to a successful Revolution since 1949 in China, and that was made possible thanks to the inherent instability of the Chinese state after the 1911 Revolution, and the weakness of the KMT. Everywhere else Maoist tendencies have tried to seize control through force of arms, what Mao called People's War they failed, Jason even brings up an example of this failure later in the video. The closest a Maoist group has come to a successful "revolution" was the downfall of the King of Nepal, but the King was defeated by a mass alliance of seven political parties and the new Maoist government has been vigoursly denounced by Maoist organisations throughout the world, from Afghanistan to the USA.

He then links these two seemingly completely separate trends (ML Fash, and Maoist Genderists) with a common cause, lack of relevance to the working classes. Here Jason is sorta correct, the Maoists and ML's and Trotskyists (whom Jason doesn't mention) are declining in influence and numbers. Well at least in Britain and Ireland and the USA from what I've heard from American friends. Jason tells his audience to look at the numbers, but doesn't show the numbers, apparently Jason wants his audience to do his work for him. But it is correct anecdotely speaking these groups used to be fairly prominent at Mayday demonstrations and Trade Union marches, but their presence has decreased at each march I attended, and several organisations have collapsed over the years. But I doubt this has much to do with gender fixation or Fascist leanings. For a start this Gender stuff is apparently a new trend but Maoism has never had a big presence in the British Labour movement, in America they were more noticeable, but they peaked in the 70's. Most of the Maoist groups shrunk and collapsed in the 80's and 90's which is before this Gender stuff became fashionable, I assume. I'm also not convinced that gender is alienating the working masses from embracing interpretations of 1940's era Chinese politics. But I can't be sure because I don't know what he's talking about*.

The closest we get to a piece of evidence actually seems to contradict his own assertion. Jason brings up the Revolutionary Communist Party of Canada, but then says they're small and marginal despite downplaying gender. This would suggest that the relative decline of Maoist parties would have little at all to do with Gender then would it not? Apparently not, it seems the Canadians flaws lay elsewhere. Now I'm going to give Jason the benefit of the doubt and assume he knows warfare pre-dates the existence of firearms and that what he meant to say was that its fraudulent for Canadian Maoists to claim to be fighting a People's War without some sort of armed wing. Seems reasonable, but looking up the RCPC program's section on People's War, it states that the RCPC is preparing for People's War and that it sees this war as being protracted and long and that it will first involve a lot of work, building their movement, boycotting elections, boycotting the state etc, and only engaging in insurrection when they believe the time is right. Apparently Jason must think the time is right for the insurrection and the establishment of the Toronto Commune, right now. Basically Jason is advocating that a small group of students get some guns and then get themselves killed. Unless Jason honestly believes a Guerilla army can topple the Canadian state -in which case he should be busy trying to start his own band of freedom fighters, surely?- right now, this complaint is petulant and potentially very dangerous. I have no love for Maoism but what Jason is (I hope accidentally) doing here is trying to shame a group of people into getting themselves and other people killed, in a fight they couldn't possibly win.

Now Jason isn't well known as a competent speaker, he's often incoherent and his seeming inability to cite his sources or back up his statements often kills what little sense you can scrape out of his more baffling statements. Here I can only surmise that he is advocating an insurrection this very second, since he doesn't criticise the doctrine just the RCPC's lack of progress in building their own Red Army. This is simply a shocking level of callousness, and I honestly hope the explanation for such a statement is his own intellectual laziness. It also raises another question, does Jason believe that an insurrection, by nature a clandestine affair waged primarily in the wilderness, led by students would be more appealing to the Canadian proletariat? Are Canadian workers really itching to live in wilds being hunted by Canadian security forces?

Actually there is a silver lining of a sort here, it seems clear that Jason a self described Maoist, doesn't actually understand what Protracted People's War means. Mao's lecture which were compiled in 1938 as On Protracted War, were about China's military situation resisting Japan, since the army of the Empire of Japan was superior to the Republic of China's armies and the Communist partisan units Mao argued against conventional large scale battles in favour of smaller skirmishes and ambushes. Which honestly strikes me as simple common sense really. If you don't regiments and a well supplied and coordinated logistical wing, don't plan to fight like a General with a battle line. He also argued against a weapon centric attitude to conflict in favour of a people centric view.

48. This is the so-called theory that "weapons decide everything", which constitutes a mechanical approach to the question of war and a subjective and one-sided view. Our view is opposed to this; we see not only weapons but also people. Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive factor; it is people, not things, that are decisive. The contest of strength is not only a contest of military and economic power, but also a contest of human power and morale. Military and economic power is necessarily wielded by people. If the great majority of the Chinese, of the Japanese and of the people of other countries are on the side of our War of Resistance Against Japan, how can Japan's military and economic power, wielded as it is by a small minority through coercion, count as superiority?

Basically what he's getting at is that a war involves more than a clash of arms, and requires political and economic actions. I'll say this for the RCPC their statement on Protracted War is far closer to Mao's speeches when stripped of their references to the Chinese resistance to Japan.

Moving on Jason claims that Marxism globally is weak and laments that we don't live in the area of Soviet tanks and Maoist Guerrilla's, showing how little Youtube's number one Marxist understands Marxism, and basic history. Not only were the regimes of Eastern Europe not Marxist, they differed from Social Democracy and the Paris Commune both movements Karl Marx did endorse, but they also failed, that's probably the most important thing to remember, the Soviet Union was a global superpower, and it failed utterly in all of its aims. It didn't manage to transition to Communism, it didn't hold back Western Imperialism, it didn't a free and open society for its citizenry and it didn't survive as a political system. Maoism did not sweep Asia in the 60's it failed outside China, the only successful "Communist" movements in Asia, (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) owed their success to the collapse of America and France in the region, and massive handouts from the Soviet Union and the PRC. Laos and Vietnam were very close to the Soviet Union, and Cambodia remained tied to China for support against its neighbour Vietnam, none of these regimes were Maoist in a sense that means anything. Same was true of Latin America, the only successful resistance movements of note, the Sandinista's and Castro's 26th of July Movement weren't Maoists, neither were most of the other groups that grew powerful enough to worry their governments. The only exception were the Peruvian Shining Path, and they failed. And probably a good thing that they did too, given how brutal they were in their `Revolutionary base areas`

And as for Europe, the Soviet Union et alls brutal repression of its own working classes  ensured a collapse in support for the Communist parties in the East and a mass Exodus in the West. Hungary 56, and Czechoslovakia 1968 where the most obvious examples but there was no shortage of them. It also didn't help that the populations of Europe were on the receiving end of Soviet military posturing. It's hard to recruit amongst the workers when your best example is pointing missiles at their families.

Moving on again, we now get a list of reformist movements that didn't lead to an uprising, despite the claims of some. Mixed in with some admissions that third world Guerilla armies haven't toppled the pyramid of imperialism and are actually exhausting themselves. I guess that means grabbing guns and going off into the wilderness to fight the running dogs of the bourgeoisie isn't so effective hey? He continues to equate revolution with fighting in the bush and lamenting the decline of it. The revolution is not the army, historically People's armies have a very poor record in military terms, and the few revolutionary regimes they manage to put in power turn out to be not very revolutionary at all.

If this is Marxism (and for the record it isn't) I say let it die. Thankfully it isn't, and the class struggle continues to be waged and will continue to ebb and flow until its finally solved once and for all.

Jason is quite welcome to waste his time "updating" things, I just hope that when he's doing crafting his Unruhist party program he'll stop referring to himself as a Marxist and a Communist. He should also stop calling himself a Maoist but I won't lose any sleep if he doesn't. 

Oh and I find it very amusing that his patreon link flashed on the screen when he was castigating his viewers for not doing anything, accident or well timed plug?

*A bit of an aside, at around 02:30 in his video lamentation about Maoism, Jason mentions that in addition to not being able to reach "the workers" (tm) these groups also can't reach the "black masses". This is a bizarre remark, surely the black masses, like the masses and the people include non proletarian black people, like black businessmen, so why on earth would any Revolutionary group even try to appeal to a group to initiate a Revolution when it includes non revolutionary classes and sections of society?

Friday, 11 December 2015

Is This Memes yet?

I realise the USA hasn't had to come to grips with a large Socialist movement since the time of Eugene Debs and the first generation of Wobblies, but still this is really embarrassing. Below is a political "meme" that's neither politically informative or funny. So just like 90% of them. An American friend shared the below image, and, well the phrase give them enough rope and they'll hang themselves comes to mind.

The entire image and every word on it stems from the -rather common in America-
 socialism=government/state fallacy.  If you're curious the definition of socialism is the control of the means of production by the workers themselves. If Socialism meant the state/government, then this would make every world leader a Socialist, because they all used government institutions. Thatcher's Poll tax was still a tax and the money was being spent on things like the police and military, so I guess she counts as a Socialist.

Emperor Hirohito must of been a Socialist too, given that his nations brief prosperity was built by that bastion of workers rights the Imperial army, whom bravely brought socialist government control to the fringes of China and Korea. And lets not forget the Mujahedeen coalition whom ousted the rival Socialist Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan, and then engaged in a four year (1992-96) factional fight over which group was the most Socialistic of the bunch. They were of course out Socialised by the Taliban.

They all used government services and paid for them with taxes and tithes so the group Socialists for Bernie Sanders should be very happy regardless of who becomes the next President since to my knowledge no ones running on an abolition of the state and make America disappear platform.

But to get more specific I'll address a few of the more egregious examples.

  1. Call the Police: This is just bizarre, the modern police force was invented to protect property aka capital, from the majority of the population that had none. To quote that well known Marxist Adam Smith (he might as well be considering what's being listed above)

    “Laws and government may be considered in this and indeed in every case as a combination of the rich to oppress the poor, and preserve to themselves the inequality of the goods which would otherwise be soon destroyed by the attacks of the poor, who if not hindered by the government would soon reduce the others to an equality with themselves by open violence.”

    The famous Cop Riot of Chicago 68
  2. Support the military, CIA or FBI: Okay, when I first saw this meme this was the part that stood out to me. I honestly believed this was a joke, but they seem to be a genuine supporters group. I hope they were joking and I just didn't get it because this is just absurd. You cannot be a Socialist and support a national military (any nation's military) because by supporting an army you are supporting the divisions of the working class, as well as aiding in the misery and destruction of other "foreign" sections of it. And usually they can be deployed against the natives too. To quote Mother Jones

    The above image depicts American troops with bayonets bared at members of the Industrial Workers of the World during the Lawrence textile strike of 1912. Mother Jones herself was no stranger to being menaced by soldiers in her struggles to help the Miners of America (Immigrants and citizens) organise for a better life. Any "Socialist" who supports an army (any army) is a fool whom supports his own executioners.

    Now onto the CIA, if the American military is the club that smashes American workers, the CIA is the blade that terrorises the International working class. To quote former CIA officer John Stockwell

    "It is the function of the CIA to keep the world unstable. And to propagandise and teach the American people to hate. So we will let the establishment spend any amount of money on arms."

    There is no excuse here, the CIA is infamous for its bloody intrigues and campaigns against any an all attempts for working class organisations whether tied to a Communist party or not. I guess Chile's socialists should of rallied round Pinochet and his comrades from the CIA?

    And how can I forget that beacon of Socialism the Shah of Iran? Or the support given to oppressed Nicaraguan socialists during the Sandinista period? I could go on all day, but what's the point?

    Now for the FBI, again, this must be a joke, the FBI and its predecessor the Bureau of Investigation were directly responsible for breaking up and suppressing the original Socialist Party and the early Wobblies. The Federal raids of  October 1917 targeted the headquarters and power bases of both organisations. Eugene Debs was later imprisoned for calling for resistance to the ongoing war and militarisation of American society. Over a 165 key organisers for the IWW were also imprisoned.

    And of course in 1920 there occurred the Palmer Raids, named after the head of the Bureau of Investigation and spearheaded by a young J.Edgar Hoover, whom made membership of the Communist Party or the rival Communist Labor Party grounds for arrest. Over 10,000 activists for various organisations were arrested, and over 500 were deported.
  3. Send your children to public school/ visit a state or city zoo/ visit a museum/ use a public library/ use public beaches: I've lumped these together because they're all the same, access to something. The problem here is it mistakes public use for public ownership. A public park is not owned by the public nor is it run by the public, they're owned by the local government, and it is the local government that determines who can and can't access it.

    For example in racist societies members of the public from minority communities often found there access to public utilities heavily restricted. This was the whole purpose of the Jim Crow legislation, denying sections of the population (the black population) access to state and municipal amenities.

For "public ownership" to really mean publicly owned it's administration has to be accountable to the population as a whole. Palming off responsibility to a lower rung of the governmental apparatus (city and local councils) doesn't count even if they manage to make a few decisions that are genuinely popular.

What about Social security and Medicare then? That's an insurance policy provided by the state instead of a private insurance or medical company. In the UK we the bulk of our welfare provisions are paid for through a system that's called National Insurance, because that's what it is insurance through the government. There's no fundamental difference between the two, its just that the US government has access to more revenue streams then a typical insurance company and so has little or no desire to maximise profitable investment and is better insulated from market fluctuation. A corporate monopoly could afford to operate in much the same way, though it probably wouldn't.

So in conclusion, we have a self described socialist being championed by a group of self described socialists with a meme list about socialism that contains no socialism. Lovely.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Feeling the Bern?

With a 2:1 dislike to like ratio its clear the Real News audience doesn't like this video.Its not hard to see why, Social Democratic reformers seem to be in vogue again all over the world. Jeremy Corbyn has made waves with supporters and opponents falling over themselves to trot out absurd accusations and comments. And the reception SYRIZA in Greece received when it first formed a government in Leftist circles in Europe was so enthusiastic you'd think they'd formed the Athenian Soviet.

Hell I can remember people getting worked up over Francois Hollande's Presidential victory, (that seems so long ago now doesn't it.) The problem is that this all stems from a lack of understanding of how political systems work. Even in Presidential systems the individual personality isn't as important as its media coverage would suggest. The video makes some good points about the role of political party leaderships in determining the `candidate/leader`and I know from my own personal experience that much of what he says is accurate.

A few years ago I and some friends went to Liverpool for the Labour Party conference, it was a sham. If you've watched news coverage of a party conference (there really all the same once you look past the placards and colour schemes) you'll have seen enthusiastic applause, and a lot of people fighting over the chance to ask a question or make a suggestion to the leadership. I saw the delegates in the front rows jumping up and down, waving their arms and walking sticks, it was all very dramatic and it was all a farce. The conference staffers had already selected who would be picked and called out ahead of time. That was just a show to make it look open and fair. The side meetings as well weren't much better. They were generally interesting but nothing of importance went on, you just turned up to listen to a bunch of experts and media personalities give some speeches and lectures on a topic. They aren't even effective canvassers for support. All that decision making stuff was done behind closed doors and by networking.

There was an example of this in Britain not long ago. During the Labour party conference they were due to discuss Trident and Nuclear weapons in general, the party leader Jeremy Corbyn is against them but quite a few polls suggested a majority of the membership is for them. This meant that if there was a discussion then it was likely that the leader would be on the losing side, so the party heads panicked and killed the discussion.

But the real issue goes beyond parties, it involves the entire political and economic system. In Britain for the past few decades much of the discussion surrounding the Labour party has been about the infestation of the Blairites, a group of pro market, pro war, types who've helped shift Britain into a right wing political climate.

But here's the problem, even when we had left wing Labour governments they were also quite willing to chuck principal out the window in the name of the "national interest". Labour governments have actively opposed strikes (like the 1966 Seamen's strike), and gone to war (the war in Malaya in 1948 to keep control of a British colony. And of course the Korean War 1950, and Harold Wilson's government deployed the British Army in Northern Ireland in 1969), and generally did their utmost to maintain control of the Empire. Ramsay Macdonald's second Labour government 1929-35 once tried to get the Indian National Congress to accept limited autonomy in exchange for renouncing the desire for independence. In WWI Labour party politicians like their comrades in the German Social Democractic Party and the French Section of the Workers International (AKA The French Socialist Party) turned their collective backs on decades of hard work supporting each other and trying to prevent war, by joining National Unity Governments, taking positions in those governments and helping to slaughter millions of working men, all in the name of the national interest.

SYRIZA also went through this process, they were elected on an anti-austerity platform and opposition to the EU troika and ended up capitulating because it couldn't stomach any of the alternatives. Just like how European Social Democrats in the era of Empire had no alternative but to keep business as usual in the few times they rose to power and influence. They couldn't stop war and colonies because the system they lived and operated in depended upon them both. This is why the Imperial system had to wait until after WWII to collapse. Europe was devastated and exhausted and could no longer suppress the nationalist aspirations of its colonised peoples, and so had to make concessions and bit by bit let go, or risk losing everything. The European powers didn't like this which is why they tried to cling onto as much as they could salvage, hence Britain's conflict in Malaya, Frances war in Algeria, and Britain and Frances war on Egypt to maintain control of the Suez, or the Belgians intervention in the Congo. It didn't make much difference whether the party in control of Presidencies and parliaments were left wing or right wing.

Bernie even if he does get the nomination and does win the subsequent election(both big if's) will be no different, he'll talk a good game but will not alter the United States in any fundamental way. Maybe he'll expand welfare programs and strengthen environmental regulation, and maybe he'll resist the temptation to intervene in one regional conflict or another, but fundamentally it'll be the same.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Hate America Month came early this year

Years it appears that once again I'm late to the party, the month long struggle against American imperialism party, I assume my invitation was lost in the post. The gala was once again graciuolsy hosted for the thirtieth time in Pyongyang by the Kim family. Still fortunately we have the Real News to give us some highlights, with a new guest commentator Brian Becker.

I'm a supporter of the Real News, but I have some criticisms, they seem internet illiterate, they don't really know how to use youtube, they frequently have a series of interviews and reports but no easy way to find individual parts. And they're over reliant on academics, and frequently don't have much to say to follow up or counter what these academics say even if its factually disputed or even contradictory. This interview with Becker is an excellent example of the latter problem.

Note: For some daft reason, the Real News has decided to disable video embedding on its youtube channel, effectively limiting its ability to reach a wider audience. Hence my uploading via blogger, to see the original video click here.

Minor note: The host and most people talking about inter Korean relations mentions that the Korean war `ended` with a temporary ceasefire.  The ceasefire has lasted over fifty years now can it really still be said to be temporary?

Well  that was certainly something. I'll give Becker credit for downplaying the significance of that naval dispute and for pointing out that sporadic outbreaks of tension and brief fire fights between Northern and Southern forces happen fairly often. Every other media outlet not focussed on the Korean Peninsula either ignores them or acts like World War III has just been declared. As happened recently in the last days of August. But it all goes downhill from there.

Becker shows his bias immediately by singling out the US for criticism even when he's acknowledged that other nations were culpable in the things he condemns. For starters its a myth that the US split Korea alone. The partition of Korea was decided at Potsdam between the US, UK and USSR, Becker admits this but apparently struggles to follow through. This means that Korea was split by three nation states not just mean old Uncle Sam. Just days after partition was agreed the Soviet Union  had troops in the Korean peninsula having smashed the Japanese army in Manchuria. So really they ample opportunity to continue south but didn't because Uncle Joe favoured good relations with the Western powers. And of course Britain wouldn't lose sleep over arbitrary drawing of lines all over oriental lands.  They were more occupied trying to keep control of the bits of the world map they coloured in.
Soviet and American military personnel meet in Seoul in 1945

So really the blame should be shared between the three. But that's just a starter, the main course starts at 05:03 when the host brings up the North Korea is a Dictatorship, allowing Becker to respond in a way that's all too familiar.

Well to be fair again he starts off well, bringing up the surprisingly obscure fact that South Korea was Dictatorship (and quite a brutal one at that) until the 1980's when the regime collapsed. But here's the problem though the regime did collapse despite heavy US backing, and the US had to accept it. That's not really a strong case for continued occupation, at least not after the collapse of the dictatorship in the 80's. Yes there are a large number of US military and intelligence officials in South Korea (approximately 30,000 plus troops in neighbouring nations like Japan) but that's true of many nations around the world including the UK. And yet we don't often see claims that Western Europe is occupied by America, except perhaps from the extreme fringe of the Anti-Nato crowd. The presence of foreign troops on national soil in peace time is not an indication of an occupation regardless of size. To occupy something means to maintain control of it via force, and is the United States currently doing this in South Korea? The answer is no, could the US start doing this? Yes it could, but that's speculation not fact.

Speaking of facts, yes the South Korean dictatorship was very reliant on the United States when it was founded, but the same was true of the North Korean dictatorship and its patron the Soviet Union. And yes the United States (with the backing of the UN including combat troops from many nations in large numbers) bombed and invaded North Korea... after North Korea bombed and invaded South Korea.  Why is one ok and not the other?

Then he blathers on about North Korea being a "socialist government" which is odd since that's impossible. Socialism is the working class controlling the means of production, how does that apply to governance? He doesn't explain but then he goes on about one party rule which is just hilarious, since A) That has no bearing on Socialism or the lack of socialism, B) Isn't officially true the Korean Workers Party works with two other parties the Social Democratic Party, and the Chondoist chongdu party a religious group. They also have representatives from the Korean residences in Japan. So he's going off message here.

But apparently that doesn't matter because North Korea has free education, free housing, free health care,  guaranteed employment and no income taxes! wait what? Actually to be fair the Becker this is technically true North Korea officially abolished income taxes in 1974. Unfortunately its not actually true in the sense that taxes were genuinely abolished. All that changed was the method of collection. Here's an account of how taxation works in North Korea (made be pay walled) by a former North Korean. Basically they replaced income deductions with an obligation for free labour and payment in kind. Now to really stick the needle in Becker, this is the point where even a sympathetic listener should wake up and ignore him. Not only is what he said not true, it doesn't even tally with what he just said microseconds before. If North Korea genuinely has no taxation system in any shape or form then how on earth does it pay for that free housing? how do the schools and hospitals run? Even if the staff work for free they'll still use resources which need replenishing. And how can the State guarantee employment when it apparently has no financial reserves?

How does it pay for the Japanese website that hosts the Korean Central News Agency? Does the association of Korean residents of Japan foot the bill? And what about those embassies in other countries?
Property in London isn't cheap you know

There are really only two options here, either the North Korean government was using semantics to make itself more popular and impressive looking, what we call spin and PR in the west, and does have a taxation system of some sort, and as an alleged expert on North Korea Becker should be aware of this.

Or North Korea has made the transition from a capitalist economy  into one based on needs, and everyone works to fulfil collective needs in the knowledge that the rest of the community will reciprocate with their own strengths and skills. But that can't be the case since North Korea has a currency system and a powerful state that employs everyone and is in charge of allocating resources for the benefit of the nation state, with little or no autonomy or decision making power available to the local populations. Oh and it allows private business to work and operate within its borders.

He then goes onto to bring up Saudi Arabia and Israel and other nations that the US quite likes that are quite horrible, to drum up the old charge of hypocrisy. But here's the problem is it not equally valid to call Becker a hypocrite too, since he also condemns some nations with terrible records but supports others? One thing I noticed was that he never really refuted the question about North Korea's darkside, he just shifted the conversation onto other topics, the US, South Korea, the US again, and only returned to the North so he could sing the praises of the regime.

This chat encapsulates an endemic problem with alternative media, the dependence on talking heads who can be very shady. Just because someone offers an opposing view to the mainstream narrative does not automatically give them credibility. What annoys me is that Becker had some valid points (about 40 seconds) but this was either buried in his ode to the leader, or undermined by his rhetorical tricks.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Jackboots on Whitehall: AKA British Robot Chicken

Jackboots on Whitehall (henceforth known as Jackboots) is a really strange film. The quote on the poster compares it to Team America but both its production method and style of humour owes more to the American show Robot Chicken. Its also a film that's been in production for years, it finally came out in 2010 and didn't exactly make a splash. Wikipedia tells me the film was released in cinema's but I don't remember seeing any trailers or promotional posters. In fact I only saw it because it was recommended as a Netflix algorithm.

Plot Synopsis:
Its World War II and the Nazi's invade, things look bleak for a bit until Churchill can rally the troops with a speech and a last minute rescue thanks to our plucky young hero. And that's about it.

Jackboots as the title makes abundantly clear is part of the WWII film subgenre were Hitler actually invaded Blighty. A bit like Churchill the Hollywood years, similar premise similar lack of impact. Its also a puppet show though most of the puppets appear to be Barbies and action men, which means most of the `supporting cast` have the same dopey grins stuck to their faces regardless of situation or dialogue. It's also a comedy supposedly. The jokes are what expose just how old the film really is because they've mostly disappeared nowadays because our society has realised they're no longer funny*. Take for example a very early joke about a WREN style group set up with the Acronym
 FANY. Which means we have plenty of lines from the Barbies talking about their FANY. It's like Mr Humphrey's and all the others from Are You Being Served are huanting us from the bleak never world of the 1970's.

Translators note: In the UK Fanny is a euphemism for Vagina.

But it gets worse better, there's a very weird running gag about Nazi crossdressers. The first time this joke pops up is shortly after FANY graces us with its presence.  The Hindenburg shows up (always a good idea to use a lazy reference to a tragic event to kick off a wacky comedy) and starts bombing things, during the fire-fight one of the Nazi airmen dresses up as an old woman. At first I thought this joke was going to be built on the old WWII myth that Nazi paratroopers had infiltrated Britain disguised as Nuns and the like, but no. It doesn't build on anything he's just dressed as an old woman. Later on we see Hitler in Buckingham Palace (just like in Churchill the Hollywood Years) dressed as Queen Liz the 1st, now in context the senior Nazi's (you know the usuals, Himmler, Goebbels, Goering etc.)  are having a Fancy Dress party so I thought `ok let's see where you're going with this`. That turned out to be nowhere, its just Hitler in a dress, and then later after the party he's still wearing the dress, so the joke is just Hitler in a dress.

You know what's really sad? this still image is a lot more funny then the animated scene.
And of course we have sexy Nazi SS women. I think I speak for most red blooded males when I say that thinking about extreme racism and genocide gives me both a smile and an erection. Though to be fair this is a really common occurrence in these types of story. I've seen it in videogames, exploitation films and the like though the justification for their existence is that these women -since actually Nazi's pushed a traditional role for women underpinned by the three K's (no not Ku Klux Klan) Kinder(children) Kuche(kitchen) and Kirche(church)-  are that these women represent  the elite. This is makes it something of a meta joke since they don't actually seem to do anything remotely elite in Jackboots. Though credit were credits due I did find them funny since they are basically Barbie dolls in SS uniform.

More like the Phwoarth Reich, right lads?
Oh and before I forget these Nazi chicks are part of a rape joke, yes a rape joke in a film made (well released) in 2010. I guess since she's a Nazi we're supposed to think well (quite literally) `fuck her`. If you're wondering no Jackboots isn't one of those shock comedies, in fact its overall rather tame, the jokes about FANY is an innuendo gag which was done even more explicitly in the dusty old show Are You Being Served? and others.

There's two more running jokes that stick in my mind, ones about Scotland but its just very obvious stereotyping so y'know. The other joke is character related, now in comedy most characters have their own quirks, Chris are plucky farmboy hero -who I haven't mentioned before nor will again-
 character gimmick is that he's tormented by having giant hands, and by giant hands I mean they look slightly larger when the camera focuses on them. The character who stuck out most to me was one Billy Fiske American hero. Billy is another joke that seems to pop up quite a bit in modern British World War II films, he's an obnoxious American action hero whose dialogue is dripping with self awareness. Again like in Churchill the Hollywood Years.

Look at that, he's so self aware he knows I'm writing about him right now.
Billy is a gun toting victory or death red bashing Cold Warrior whose ten years premature. He hates the Commies and thinks the Nazi's are Communists and yes he brings this up every time a fire fights about to break out. This character is a bitter cynical response to the tendency of Hollywood films to paint America as the sole saviours of WWII, and as we all know every light hearted wacky comedy could do with a big serving mean spirited cynicism. The character type is wretched and their existence is petty and childish they need to go away. If you don't like the Americans then don't make them characters in your film.

That's it for the running jokes how about the one offs? Well they mostly fall flat, to take just one example for brevity's sake have you heard the one about the Polish Telephone pole repairman? No, well it goes like this, a Polish telephone repair man climbs up a telephone pole to repair it, he's so focussed on fixing this telephone pole that even though a battle breaks out in the street he's on, he stays up there to finish his job -badum tish-.

Production values were a bit up and down, some set pieces look really well done and others look like a child playing with his toys with his arms just out of shot. Some characters have articulation, others just rock back and forth with the same expression plastered onto their faces. There's a minor character whose a Vicar and I thought he was going to be a baddie  because he's default expression is an evil grin, but no he's just he father of the attractive love interest.

So yeah, that's Jackboots a confusing mess of a film. 

*And there's good odds they never were.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Chapter 20

THERE were funerals and celebrations. They dug up the hardened earth of the Field of mars in order to lower red coffins, covered with ribboned wreaths and borne on gun carriages, into wide common graves. From atop the granite ramparts, the President of the Executive affirmed the immortality of the working class. A scarlet banner suspended above the mounds crackled in the cold wind. ETERNAL COMMUNIST MEMORY FOR THOSE WHO FELL. Johann Appolinarius Fuchs found this Elzevirian inscription, on which he had worked for three days, rather beautiful. The oppressive cadences of the funeral marches marked the rhythm of the passing troops. The morning was damp; an invincible gloom came out of the earth.  The victors marched past. They didn’t appear to be passing into glory but rather to be returning, exhausted, from regions of misfortune. The men saw war naked, without parades and lies, as it appears to those who fight and want no more of it. Yet they would march with the same firm step to the end of the earth in order to put an end to it. Four thousand men filled the white-and-gold hall of the Opera that evening.
A bitter smell of warmth earth rose up from their grey ranks toward the white goddesses of the vaulted ceiling who held garlands out into the smoky blue. The hands of four thousand men were draped over the armrests of loges and balconies – hands of Riazan farmers, Bashkir shepherds, northern fishers, weavers who had become machine gunners. These clumsy hands knew nothing of eloquent, refined gestures; they were happy to be doing nothing and to possess things peacefully at last for one evening. The stage was brilliant, with a beautiful golden backdrop of painted cardboard. Chaliapin appeared in tails and white gloves, just as he had before the Emperor not long ago, greeting this audience as he had the other (the audience which had passed before the firing squad) with a deep bow and the smile of a masterful charmer. Voices cracked through the hall: “The Knout! The Knout!” Love songs are beautiful, doubtless, but what this audience, this army crowded into a concert hall, likes is “The Song of the Knout.” They know the Knout! Its taste on your back, its taste across your face; and also how to apply the knout, the capitalists know a few things about that! Sing us that one, comrade, and you’ll hear bravos the like of which that other audience- the one that will never return, the one you miss perhaps deep down in your soul, the other audience with its low-cut dresses and its monocles- never gave you! Hands which have moved stones, earth, manure, metals, fire, and blood will applaud you! – And the perfect voice sang out “The Song of Knout.” That’s a song, brothers!
The singer was bowing his way out, wreathed in luxuriant smiles. Encore! Encore! He was about to return to the front of the stage and to give in again to the enthusiasm of the crowd when, from out of the wings, a simian hand grabbed his arm. “Wait, comrade.” With a flick of the wrist, he repaired the crease in his cuff, crumpled by the ungainly grasp of this little, faceless, sunburned old soldier whose eyes were nothing more than dull brown spots. The surprised hall saw a little man dressed in the long coat of the Bashkir Division appear in the place of the great actor. Someone exclaimed: “Kara Galiev!” The soldier advanced upstage with a heavy tread and stopped at the prompter’s box. There, he raised his arm; at its end the hand was wound with white bandages. He was muddy to the waist. It never occurred to him to remove his cap, which was scrunched down as far as his eyebrows. He shouted:
What now?  Another disaster?
“… Gdov is ours!”
A new acclamation burst from the warm darkness of the hall. On the stage the handsome singer reappeared behind the messenger from the front. Bowing slightly, sparkling with whiteness, ebony blackness, grace and smiles, he too applauded this obscure victory snatched from the mud of the Esthonian border.
Snow covered the fresh graves which were already half forgotten. Life is for the living and they have trouble staying alive. Once again the long nights seemed reluctant to abandon the city. For a few hours each day a grey light of dawn or dusk filtered through the dirty white cloud ceiling and spread over things like the dim reflection of a distant glacier. Even the snow, which continued to fall, lacked brightness. This white, silent, weightless shroud stretched out to infinity in time and space. By three in the afternoon it was already necessary to light the lamps. Evening darkened the snow with hues of ash, deep blue, and the stubborn grey of old stones. Night took over, inexorable and calm: unreal. In the darkness the delta reverted to its geographical configurations. Dark cliffs of stone cut at right angles lined the frozen canals. A kind of dark phosphorescence emanated from the broad river of ice.
Sometimes the north winds blowing in from Spitsbergen and farther still- from Greenland perhaps, perhaps from the pole by way of the Arctic Ocean, Norway, and the White Sea- gusted across the bleak estuary of the Neva. All at once the cold bit into the granite; the heavy fogs which had come up from the south across the Baltic vanished, and the denuded stones, earth and trees were instantly covered with crystals of frost, each of which was a barely visible marvel composed of numbers, lines of force, and whiteness. The night changed its aspect, shedding its veils of unreality. The North Star appeared, the constellations opened the immensity of the world. The next day the bronze horsemen, covered with silver powder on their stone pedestals, seemed to step out of a strange festival; from the tall granite columns of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to its pediment peopled with saints and even to its massive gilded cupola- all was covered with frost. The red granite facades and embankments took on a tint of pink and white ash under this magnificent cloak. The gardens, with their delicate filigree of branches, appeared enchanted. This phantasmagoria delighted the eyes of people emerging from their stuffy dwellings, just as millennia ago men dressed in pelts emerged fearfully in wintertime from their warm caves full of good animal stench.
Not a single light in whole quarters. Prehistoric gloom.
The red flags over the gates of the old palaces were turning black. Ryzhik no longer kept track of the time. His day had neither beginning nor end. He slept whenever he could, by day, by night, sometimes at the beginning of meetings, when the speaker was longwinded. – Toward midnight, Justas he was getting worried, a hushed voice in the ear trumpet of the telephone communicated to him the results of the Aronsohn raid. “Hello, Ryzhik? That you, Ryzhik? Raid over; picked up three bundles of letters and documents; seized twelve pounds of butter, seventy pounds of floor, two dozen cakes of soap…. Wait a minute, what else, yes, photos, and cans, eighteen of them… - No, no arrests. The bastards flew the coop. they fired a few shots….
- Xenia/ Xenia got two bullets in the belly…” These last two words took on their full meaning in his mind only slowly. They exploded and went out. They lit up again in the depth of his consciousness like the little blue safety lamps in boiler rooms which sometimes indicate that the pressure has gotten too high; danger – then there was the carnal image of a wounded belly. Ryzhik went down to the library. His jaw was rigid, his eyes vague.
Two soldiers were chatting by the light of a night lamp next to the big Dutch earthenware stove. Ryzhik, his back against the stove to let the heat penetrate him, closed his eyes. The night reigned, magnificently silent, over the snow, the ice, the city.
“You look awful, Ryzhik,” said one of the men. “I’m beat myself. Flour was up to one hundred rubles today.”
In the silence which followed, Ryzhik heard bells ringing – bells, bells, bells- jangling, far off, grating, hectic, exasperating, comforting… He ought to say that Xenia… but he didn’t want to say it, and he lent his ear to the bells, the bells…
“We’re in bad shape, with these prices,” continued the heavy voice which had just spoken. “Listen to what this guy’s telling, Ryzhik.”
They listened without seeing each other, for their eyes fixed involuntarily on the flame of the night lamp: a little wick floating in oil in a tin trefoil….. The other man, a foreigner, spoke the mutilated language of an ex-prisoner of war; and he was saying mutilated things, too, of another age, another world. Europe, comrades…. The silent dead factories of Vienna, the poor quarters swarming with rachitic children, the crippled decorated veterans selling matches outside nightclubs on Kaerntnerstrasse. And the execution of the Hunchback, no, not in Vienna, in Budapest, between the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, a celebration just as brilliant for which they fought over invitations… Ah, the Hunchback was magnificent! Even the newspapers said so. The others sang as they waited their turn, you could hear them easily, they didn’t dare shut them up. The society people gave the executioner an ovation. Here.
The man got up and looked inside his tunic for a shapeless billfold from which he removed a piece of paper on which was written a single pencilled line.
“Here’s one of the last lines written by the Hunchback:
“Ich gehe mit einer Alle umfassenden Liebe in das Nichts [I enter with an immense love into the night].”
Ryzhik said harshly:
“Too lyrical. Everything is much simpler. It’s easier to die than…”
And he walked out. He was suffocating. The freezing night cooled his face. Crystal-like bells continued to jingle in the distance, far off. Ryzhik said aloud the three magic words: “It is necessary. It is necessary.” The bells covered them. It is necessary. It is necessary… the world was empty like a great glass bell.
That night only twenty-one carloads of food supplies arrived in the city (three of them were pillaged). Just as long as we hold out until spring! The European proletariat….
Martyshkino, Leningrad, Moscow

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Chapter 19

WHAT MAKES things turn out the way they do? A thousand events comprising in turn a million lesser events all add up without anyone knowing how; the wave attack advancing confidently is broken up by machine guns which it expected to knock out without any trouble as on the day before and the day before that; men who were fleeing turn around, stop fleeing, discover their own ferocity, spring back into action; those who were pursuing them stop, spent, discover their own exhaustion, turn around, flee.

The workers at the Great Works laboured in grey darkness, without electricity, in order to mount artillery pieces on trolley-car chassis for street fighting. The workers at the Izhorsk and Schlusselburg factories formed battalions of volunteers. They were consumptive, near-sighted, worn-out men of forty-five, wretched-looking soldiers in threadbare overcoats marching into the cold wind with backs bent and shoulders sloping under the weight of cartridge belts. Many of them fell in the muddy fields of Pulkovo and Ligovo; but the sight of officers dressed English-style going elegantly into battle with revolvers in their fists made the fight like mad dogs. The Bashkirs ran away in one place and fought furiously to hold another. The Siberian battalions fought in a spirit of bored solemnity as if they were working at some heavy, unpleasant job. A rough job – let’s face it- killing men while trying to not get killed yourself; but the sooner it’s done the sooner you get to go home, which is the real goal, for the earth is waiting. It doesn’t always wait; it also receives a man without delay, as soon as he extends his watchful face six inches beyond the protective cover of a tree trunk at an unexpected angle.
There was also the heroism of the sailors, for newspaper headlines. They went into battle with such dash, as if going to a party! All these dance-hall Casanovas with women’s names, hearts, and braids tattooed on their chests! Nonetheless, a hundred reported sick before the battle; and half of them were thrown into the brig (most of these happened actually to be sick quite by chance) -on charges of malingering. Wounds in the hand and foot, numerous during the first engagements, became rare after a few summary executions to set an example. No matter. The sailors were splendid; for they would have paid dearly in case of a defeat. The blood of the admirals and captains “sent West” to satisfy the fleet’s sense of justice proved to be a valuable incentive. It came to pass that the Commander in Chief of all Republic’s armies, a great statesman but a rather poor horseman,[1] leaped onto the nearest horse in order personally to lead a bunch of disordered runways back into combat. They were astounded at the sight of the formidable, confident man, whose picture was posted everywhere, looming among them, looking strangely like himself, extraordinarily natural yet larger than life. They saw him, they heard him. With a blond energetic gesture he pointed to the little copse crackling with gunfire from which everyone was fleeing; a little copse which was no more terrible than any other, in reality. Why were they fleeing, in fact? The runaways took off again in the opposite direction, shouting the “hurrahs” of the charge. The Commander wiped the sweat off his brow. Ouf! He had almost lost his pince-nez. On the other side of the noisy little copse, which was thus retaken by some brawny lads from Kaluga, where they drawl their a’s, stood (in the first version of the story) the crack troops of Prince Bernet outfitted with German equipment, who were immediately routed; according to the second version, there was nothing there, the enemy having retreated from their side in time; according to the third version, the copse was only a screen of trees; according to the fourth, invented ten years later, the copse didn’t exist and nothing of the kind ever happened.
The city was bristling with barricades made up of heavy armour plates, paving blocks, and stacks of cordwood, situated so as to rake the main arteries with gunfire. Cannon planted perfidiously in deep ditches pointed their muzzles along the level of the pavement. Others were concealed behind the iron gates of gardens. An empty bazaar, its windows piled with sandbags, prepared to resist a long siege. Trenches dug by civilians, dragged from their homes for this nigh time duty, surrounded statues, cut across squares, and formed labyrinths in front of churches. Genuine bourgeois, albeit impoverished ones, accomplished their labours on the earthworks with simulated goodwill. The defeated party announced that it was mobilising three dozen of its members for the defence of the Revolution, an elite corps commanded by Fanny herself; she got lost between the lines, lived off the peasants for two weeks, gloriously seized a cannon abandoned by the Germans during the 1918 offensive, and left behind her – in unknown hamlets where no other carriers of ideas had been seen since the Lutheran ministers came from Sweden in the seventeenth century- the seeds of a heretical socialism. A corps of anarchist partisans volunteered to defend the institutions of the dictatorship. Their services were accepted. Two days later it was decided to disarm them, the worst danger having passed. They refused to go along with the idea. The decision was reversed, the situation having worsened… The simple face of victory was at last rising into the light. The anarchists wondered if they were not playing a fool’s game. The Special Commission sent in bogus converts to study them. Stassik favoured the idea of a fruitful “expropriation”; Uvrarov, a clandestine departure for the Ukraine; Gorin, an alliance with the Party. The result was three splits. The ones who got the worst of it were the unity men, whose sole desire was to oppose splintering, a tendency which obviously showed their most contemptible lack of principles.
Posted on every street corner, newspapers printed on dirty-green paper with muddy ink suddenly proclaimed such incredible news that people first thought it was false. Detskoe Selo Taken. (“- you see, they really were there!”) Krasnoe Taken (“So it was true!”), the city has been saved. “Soldiers, sailors, workers, Communists, commanders, commissars! In spite of everything, forward, forward! Decapitate the hydra! Victory! Victory! Victory!” Signed: The President of the Revolutionary Council for War. The Red Army of Siberia telegraphed the taking of Tobolsk. A telegram from the Revolutionary Soviet of the Southern Front announced the taking of Voronezh, which no one knew had been lost. Victory on every front. We will live. Future, you are ours until the end of the centuries- or until the spring; that’s almost as beautiful and much more probable. In the windows of the Telegraph Agency huge coloured cartoons, drawings, and captions of the Futurist Mayakovsky showed Lloyd George and Clemenceau crestfallen. The squadrons of Shkuro and Mamontov, tainted with the odour of massacres, were in flight before the Red Cavalry. In the rear of the White Army Nestor Makhno paraded his carts bristling with unseizable machine guns through the villages of the Ukraine, working the fields in the intervals between combat. How many lost children you have, Revolution, ready to shoot each other in your name! Their hands reach out to each other from Obi to the Dnieper: Mongolian faces, singing Cossacks, rude countrymen, idealistic ex-cons, bandits dreaming of cities of the future, proletarians giving their last strength to repair the last locomotives, illiterate proletarians scrawling their crude signatures on orders written out by defeated ex-generals who have learned to say “comrades,” proletarians on horseback leading Kazakh nomads to the conquest of Turkestan, proletarians bent over piles of statistics measuring hour by hour the death of industry, engineers dreaming of the electrification of a future “America” without gold seekers; for the real gold has been found (it lies in the heart, the brain, and the muscles of man). We will have more of it than all the vaults of the Federal Reserve Bank. Think of all those cellars filled with yellow metal: what a strange aberration! We will have a hundred million, two hundred million free men; two hundred fifty million Europeans will see themselves in us as they never have been. We will awaken India: three hundred million oppressed people, the oldest wisdom on earth, fallen low, extremely sick, but we will bring it health; we, a West repudiating the cannon, we who through machines will liberate man from the machine! We will awaken China: four hundred million men… A billion Asians will hear our call, Shanghai and Bombay will see strikes and insurrections holding aloft our emblems, applying our methods. Millions, hundreds of millions of men on the march, this is what we are. Today, here, we have arrived. What else matters?
Rain washes over newspapers freshly glued to the walls. COUNTERREVOLUTIONARIES, SPIES, AND CRIMINALS SHOT. This column, single-spaced in 8-point type, with the names set off in bold, is the one people read the most attentively under the dreary, piercing rain. “List of counterrevolutionaries, spies, criminals, blackmailers, bandits, and deserters executed by order of the Special Commission.” Thirty-four numbered names. Artiushkin, Losov, Kaufman, Aga Oghol, Kasparov, former general, “1. Vadim Mikhailovich Lytaev, university professor, known counterrevolutionary, affiliated with the Right Centre organisation, convicted of having harboured a White agent….” Paramonov, ex-officer. Ma Tsiu-dey, laundryman, convicted of several murders. “15. X, known as Nikita, counterrevolutionary. 16. Nicholas Orestovich Azin, alias Danil petrovich Gof, 25 years old, member of the Right Centre organisation, courier for the Whites. 17. Olga Orestovna Azin, 28 years old, his accomplice. 18. Arkadi Arkadievich Ismailov, 34 years old, member of the Special Commission, guilty of corruption. 19. Kik, Beliaev, Smolina… 27. Yegor Ivanovich Mateev, known as Yegor, 30 years old, ex-sailor, bandit…” Ivanov, Fokin, Sacher…. Names take strange shapes on this list, coming to life, then bizarrely dying out before eyes which once saw flesh-and-blood beings moving through a universe in which nothing remains of them but these little characters traced in ash. People who don’t know them move their lips spelling them out. Dead, dead, executed, heads  gaping, buried no one knows where… “When, then?” “Read the date: on the night of…” “We slept peacefully that night, is it possible!” Nothing different on the street, the world is ordinary. Yet there comes a moment, long and brief like a swirling fall. Abyss. And the man reading these names thinks of himself: a double within him, who would never admit his own existence, substitutes his name for these names, his age for these ages, his live for these extinct lives.
Among the crowd assembled in front of the poster stands an old woman and a couple. The woman seems very old because of her old fashioned dress and her grey lips; she must have aged all at once. She is reading; and suddenly the little aluminium pot hanging in her hand falls to the pavement. The old woman hears nothing. A little girl in a red beret picks up the little pot and hangs it back onto the inert hand, which seems paralyzed. “Auntie,” says the little girl, “hold on to your pot or you’ll drop it again.” The old woman answers nothing. She straightens up a little, which makes her look funny, for her normal carriage has recently become stopped. The black-braided bonnet sitting on her grey hair has slipped down onto the back of her neck; she looks like a madwoman; you might think she is about to laugh, scream, break out sobbing, or fall. But she walks away mechanically through a desert of frozen lava. An unimaginable silence surrounds her. – A young blonde with deep eyes like sparkling blue water leaning on the arm of her lover, who wears the uniform of a vanished school, runs over the list distractedly. “Two women,” she thinks, “28 years old, 31 years old…ah!” She herself is twenty. It’s nothing but a ripple which quickly disappears over shallow water. They walk away with swinging strides. “Georg,” she says, “I have become much more conscious…”
Johann Appolinarius Fuchs, painter, had been worried for some time that something bad had happened to the girl next door. Strangers armed with a Housing Order had moved into the absent girl’s apartment without bothering to remove her personal effects. A new born baby was now squalling in there, and a redheaded woman with a square chin was wearing Olga’s dressing gowns. Whenever they met, Fuchs lowered his eyes so as not to look at her face, but then he discovered her hands, which were huge. He winced when he recognised her step in the hall and the brutal way she flushed the toilet. He was living miserably from the sale, for paltry sums, of the last of his racy eighteenth-century books. This very day a new drop in the value of the ruble had reduced his purchases to some poor quality black bread and rotten fish. At random he walked into the General Information Bureau of the Commissariat of Public Education (LEARN! INFORM YOURSELF!) and found a little ageless woman explaining to two peasant women that the authority of the Bureau did not in any way cover arbitrary confiscations of furniture in the countryside. Fuchs was able to snatch the day’s papers without any problem, which put him in a good mood. The sky had cleared, autumnal sunlight spread in tawny shimmering pools along the sidewalks of the central prospect. A rider was galloping toward the station down the middle of the street – which was deserted for two miles in a straight line- on a Siberian pony with long dirty hair the colour of yellow bricks. The rare passers-by didn’t even turn around at the sight of this Scythian tearing along at a full gallop between two rows of tall modern buildings, noble churches, severe ornamented palaces, theatres, and libraries.
Prostitutes were walking up and down in pairs in front of the monumental buildings of the former Eliseev fancy-food store. Fuchs reflected that half of his food supply corresponded more or less to their current asking price. Lyda, grown thinner, a tall pales girl with a small face lighted by timid grey eyes, was there as usual, walking arm in arm with a girlfriend. The year had gone by for her without any other events than bad colds, long waits in front of the pawnshop, the fear of diseases, and bad times with some rough customers. “Nothing will ever change for us,” she would say, “it will always be the same or worse.” It was in her room, sprawled across a narrow single bed with a bolster supporting two little white pillows, that Fuchs opened the newspapers. “…17. Olga Orestovna Azin… 17.  Olga Orestovna…17. Olga, Olga, Olga…” The tiny dried-ash characters danced before his eyes; and he also glimpsed a blond head which seemed to have captured light, hands folded over a blue dressing gown; he heard a living voice: an all of this mixed up with terrifying shadows and the constant, obsessive, insurmountable, vertiginous sensation of that blond head suspended over the abyss, of her terrified expectation, of a horrible wound- of a horrible wound…
“What’s the matter, Johann, do you feel ill?”
A pale, bony, brunette head with mascaraed eyes hovered over him in worried concern. This head too; why not? All heads are alike, there is only one kind of suffering, one death, one life, it’s obvious.
“Johann, Johann!”
The sound of his name reached him through half-words after the passage of eternal seconds.
“It’s nothing, honey. It’ll pass. It’s the t-t-t-times.”
He was shaking from head to foot. “Do you know someone on this list, Johann?” Lyda didn’t recognise anyone. “Lie down, Johann my friend, don’t think about it anymore. Relax…” She rubbed his temples and forehead like a child’s.

Next Chapter
Previous Chapter

[1] The man is none other than Trotsky. – Trans.

Search This Blog

#blog-pager { display: block !important; float: none!important; } .blog-pager-older-link, .home-link, .blog-pager-newer-link { background-color: #FFFFFF!important; }