Posts Tagged ‘Communism’


Fidel Castro

 

by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

It’s time to speak ill of the dead.  It’s been time for nearly a century. Since 1918, the left in both the U.S. and Europe has had a dictator-worship problem. First it was Lenin; then it was (yes) Stalin; then Mao; most recently the dictator of choice has been Fidel Castro.

To illustrate the depth and nature of this problem, let me recount an incident from Cuba in the 1960s. In the 1970s, a maoist friend told me about his experiences there as part of a Venceremos Brigade a decade earlier. (Venceremos Brigades were bands of American leftists who traveled to Cuba to work in the cane fields in support of “the revolution.”) At one point, Fidel himself showed up where they were working in the fields. My friend told me that the reaction of his fellow brigadistas was like that of 14-year-olds at a Beatles concert.

Anarcho-Syndicalist ReviewSince then, the American left in large part has continued to idolize Castro and his Stalin-admirer cohort, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, overlooking their  crimes. We’ll get to those crimes shortly, but let’s first speak of Castro’s, and his “revolution’s,” achievements. During his half-century reign, Fidel Castro and the Cuban Communist Party achieved the following:

  • The literacy rate in Cuba in Cuba went from approximately 70% (figures vary) in 1959 to an estimated 96% today, thanks to the Cuban government’s literacy campaigns and universal education for those aged 6 to 16.
  • Cuba has universal, free medical care. One example of its success is that infant mortality in Cuba fell from 37.3 per 1,000 live births in 1959 to 4.3 per thousand today. (In contrast, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. is 5.8 per 1,000 live births today.)
  • Higher education in Cuba is free for most Cubans.
  • There is remarkably little street crime in Cuba.
  • Every Cuban adult is guaranteed a low paying job, with pay averaging about $20 a month.
  • The Castro regime did show that a Latin American regime can defy the United States government (and the corporations it serves) and survive.

Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Well, consider this:

  • Freedom of speech does not exist in Cuba, nor do the other freedoms listed in the U.S. Bill of Rights. Since its inception, the “revolutionary” Castro regime has jailed opponents for exercising their freedoms of speech and assembly. Human Rights Watch notes: “Many of the abusive tactics developed during his [Fidel Castro’s] time in power – including surveillance, beatings, arbitrary detention, and public acts of repudiation – are still used by the Cuban government.”
  • All media outlets (newspapers, magazines, book publishers, radio stations, television stations) are controlled by the Castro regime, and access to the Internet is tightly restricted.
  • Cuba is a one-party state.
  • In its first four-plus decades in power (ending in 2003), the Castro regime executed hundreds if not thousands of its political opponents. Amnesty International estimates that that regime executed 216 political opponents between 1959 and 1987. Other estimates run up well into the thousands.
  • The Cuban government maintains a surveillance network in every neighborhood in Cuba, the so-called Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs — more accurately, Committees for the Defense of the Regime), which not only spy upon residents, but have considerable control over their lives. As an example, The CDRs can ban political dissidents from even applying to institutions of higher learning.
  • One of the first things the Castro regime did when it took power was to destroy independent unions, either jailing or driving into exile unionists who opposed its takeover. For over half a century, all unions in Cuba have been controlled by the government. (See Cuban Anarchism: The History of a Movement, by Frank Fernández. Full disclosure: I translated and edited the book.)
  • There is no workers’ control, no workplace democracy in Cuba. All workplaces are tightly controlled by government apparatchiks.
  • The Cuban government denies its citizens the right to travel, the right to emigrate. Since 1959, over 1.5 million Cubans have fled the country (current population 11 to 12 million). At least hundreds of thousands fled on rickety boats and rafts, and at absolute minimum thousands of men, women, and children died in the crossing. The actual figure is likely well up into the tens of thousands. No one really knows.

Since Castro’s death last week, the American left has, by and large, continued to sing Fidel Castro’s praises. To cite but one example, a few days ago Amy Goodman, on her generally excellent “Democracy Now” broadcast, devoted a full hour (bar the first few minutes devoted to news) to Castro. There were a few seconds (considerably under a minute) near the start devoted  to generalized mention of the repressive nature of the regime, but there was no mention whatsoever in the rest of the hour of any of the crimes listed above. It was largely a love letter to Castro.

One might mention that many antiauthoritarian Latin American leftists and anarchists deeply resent the largely uncritical support given Castro (and until his death Hugo Chávez in Venezuela) by the American left. They see it as a betrayal of principles — and themselves — and consider it utterly hypocritical, especially when coming from those who loudly proclaim their allegiance to human freedom, human rights — in the United States, but not Cuba (or Venezuela). They believe that the typical leftist refrain, “Well, we wouldn’t want that repressive system here, but the Cuban people are better off for it,” is grossly patronizing to those who are the victims of repression and those who struggle against it.

They have a point. If you believe in human freedom, in civil liberties, you believe in them everywhere, and you support all those struggling against repression. You’re either for freedom of speech or against it. You don’t make excuses for repressive regimes because you know “what’s best” for the people in those countries, because you know better than the Cubans (or Venezuelans) struggling against repression. If you make excuses for authoritarian regimes, if you don’t stand against repression everywhere, please don’t pretend that you have principles, please don’t pretend that you’re anything but a political apologist, a political hack.

If you think a one-party state, suppression of civil liberties, government control of the media, suppression of independent unions, replacement of capitalist bosses by “Communist” bosses, secret police, prisons, executions, a network of neighborhood informers, militarism, and a personality cult are a good tradeoff for the Cuban people in exchange for free health care, free higher education, and a guaranteed low-paying job, by all means support the Cuban dictatorship, and continue to sing Fidel Castro’s praises.

 

 


We cover(We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, 1924)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937) was already a twice-exiled (to Siberia) “old Bolshevik” when the Russian revolution broke out in 1917, even though he was only 33 at the time. He was also one of the first Bolsheviks to understand the totalitarian nightmare the Soviet Union was to become.

Remarkably, he understood this in the first years after the revolution, in 1920/1921. Even though anarchists and members of the Social Revolutionary Party had understood this even earlier on, those in the privileged class–the Bolsheviks–almost universally didn’t. Except Zamyatin, who projected his fears in the form of science fiction.

We was the first novel proscribed (in 1921) by Communist Party censors, though it was published in English three years later by Dutton in the U.S.  Shortly after that, the CP censors proscribed all of Zamyatin’s works. In 1931, probably thanks to his friendship with Maxim Gorky, Zemyatin approached Stalin and  remarkably was allowed to self-exile, rather than being murdered or sent to a gulag by Stalin. Zamyatin ended up in Paris and died there in 1937.

As for the novel itself, We is not typical of sci-fi books of the Gernsback era — which for the most part were horribly written “gee whiz!” stories about the technological wonders to come, or pulp Westerns set in space.  Rather, it falls into two much more modern science fiction categories: social science fiction (concerned with social and political trends) and dystopian science fiction (concerned with the downfall of civilization and its aftermath).

We is set in the far future, in the wake of a 200-year war in which over 99% of humanity died.  The specific setting is an enclosed city (“OneState”) which is the sole outpost of technological civilization, and which is a tightly regimented, totalitarian society under the thumb of a dictator (“Benefactor”–always capitalized) and his thugs (“Guardians”–again, always capitalized).

The story itself concerns one of the city’s citizens (“Numbers”), D-503, the head designer of “The Integral,” OneState’s first spaceship, his attempted recruitment by a resistance movement, and the results of that attempted recruitment.

The resistance movement is possible because, unlike in 1984, surveillance is not all pervasive. It’s close, but not all pervasive, as there are no omnipresent TV cameras and listening devices. Instead of cameras and microphones, OneState relies upon Numbers informing on each other, having all buildings made of specially toughened transparent glass, and cradle-to-grave indoctrination. Given how early this novel was written, the relative looseness of the surveillance system is quite understandable.

The other aspects of the novel bearing on technology are the weakest part of We. Zamyatin was no scientist, and even for the time his grasp of science was weak. The descriptions of The Integral, the spaceship, for example, are ludicrous. But one shouldn’t make too much of this. We is social and political projection, not a technological tale.

And there, Zemyatin was remarkably prescient. The political/social developments described in We largely came to pass in short order in the Soviet Union: a dictator with a pervasive personality cult; the use of euphemistic propaganda terms to disguise the nature of the dictatorship; mass surveillance; mass informing by citizens, one upon the other; state control of all means of communication; execution of dissidents; and constant indoctrination to produce “Numbers” who participate in their own oppression.

Another very strong point of We is the narration. Once you get past the nearly unreadable first two pages, concerning The Integral and written in the third person, the remainder of the narrative is written in the first person by D-503 and is poetic and haunting. It’s a remarkable psychological self-description; it chronicles D-503’s well ordered world being up ended by the resistance member who tries to recruit him, and the turmoil her new ideas bring as they challenge his indoctrination. It’s a sad and revealing self-portrait, and a very good illustration of the psychological results of indoctrination.

We‘s strengths far outweigh it’s weaknesses. It’s a great dystopian novel and is still well worth reading for both students of history and students of science fiction.

Recommended.

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Those interested in the devolution of the Russian Revolution to “communist” tyranny–during which time Zamyatin wrote We–should see the following: Maurice Brinton’s The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control (now part of the AK Press Brinton collection, For Workers’ Power); My Disillusionment in Russia, by Emma Goldman;  My Further Disillusionment in Russia, by Emma Goldman; The Bolshevik Myth, by Alexander Berkman; The Unknown Revolution 1917-1921, by Voline (E.K. Eichenbaum); and The Guillotine at Work: The Leninist Counter-Revolution, by G.P. Maximoff.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel and on an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals front cover

 

 


Australian science fiction writer George Turner

The Political, Social, and Economic Concepts in George Turner’s Science Fiction Novels

by Zeke Teflon

There are three central socio-political-economic assumptions in George Turner’s sci-fin novels. One is that advanced society can’t exist without coercive authority. The second is that human beings will continue to reproduce willy nilly in all social conditions. Turner has Nick, one of the narrators, state this quite directly in Drowning Towers. The third is that there’s so little wealth to go around that it would make essentially no difference if it were more fairly distributed. Again, Turner makes this assumption explicit in Drowning Towers. (It’s always risky to extrapolate a novelist’s views from statements his characters make, but I strongly suspect that Turner wouldn’t have had his characters expound on these beliefs in book after book if he didn’t hold them.) A fourth, much less important assumption is that conventional religions will wither away over the coming decades, leaving only fringe cults.

Turner full well realized the hopelessly corrupt and corrupting nature of capitalism and government, but he could see no way out. He could see no alternative to them, and says so openly in the opening pages of The Destiny Makers, where policeman Harry Ostrov, the protagonist, remarks that socialism, communism, and anarchism have all been tried and found wanting. This largely accounts for the dark tone of Turner’s novels, because he saw the evils of capitalism and government, yet could see no viable alternatives.

But Turner is overly pessimistic. In the case of communism, the only varieties of it ever attempted on a mass scale were under the auspices of dictatorial states, which gave lip service to the concept, but in practice had distinct privileged classes that wielded power (the party, the government apparatus–what Milovan Djilas termed “the new class”), and dispossessed, nearly powerless masses. As Emma Goldman put the matter in My Disillusionment in Russia: “True Communism was never attempted in Russia, unless one considers thirty-three categories of pay, different food rations, privileges to some and indifference to the great mass as Communism.”Drowning Towers by George Turner, cover

As for socialism, what most people think of when they hear the word is the socioeconomic systems of the Scandanavian countries. This is not socialism. More accurately, it’s welfare-state capitalism, in which corporations and economic elites continue to control society, but in which some of the damage caused by capitalism (hunger, homelessness, lack of opportunity, etc.) is papered over by reformist measures.

The other common variety of “socialism” is endemic to the third world, and is characterized by corrupt authoritarian regimes imposing it in top-down manner. To the limited extent that socialism has succeeded in these countries (overall, it hasn’t), it’s succeeded due to decentralization and democratic local control. (For further discussion, see African Anarchism: The History of a Movement and Venezuela: Revolution as Spectacle.)

As for anarchism, by all accounts it was successful during the only time it was tried on a mass scale for a period of years, in Catalonia and other regions of eastern and southern Spain during the Spanish Civil War. It was eventually crushed by the combined forces of German, Italian, and Spanish fascism, but during its existence it was viable as a socio-economic system. (For further information, see Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell, Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, by Gaston Leval, and The Anarchist Collectives, by Sam Dolgoff.)

Interestingly, the one place in Turner’s sci-fi novels where he describes a functional, though small-scale, alternative political/social system–among the “genetics” in Genetic Soldier–that system is based upon distinctly anarchist concepts and practices: decentralization, lack of a central coercive authority (i.e., government), voluntary cooperation, and mutual aid. That Turner didn’t see these as attributes of anarchism doesn’t negate the fact that they are.

Turner’s Malthusian belief that human beings will mindlessly reproduce no matter what their circumstances is simply wrong, as Turner should have known. The evidence disproving this bleak assumption was already available when Turner wrote Drowning Towers (published in 1987).

For instance, in the article “Fertility in Transition,” in the Spring 1986 issue of World Focus (journal of the American Geographical Society), James L. Newman traced the causes of the decades-long decline in fertility in the European countries. He concluded that there were three reasons for a decline in the birth rate. One was industrialization: “Out of it came the public health discoveries that reduced mortality, followed by a new lifestyle which no longer necessitated large families. . . . Whereas on farms and in cottage industries children contributed their labor to the family enterprise, in the city they became consumers. Only a few offspring could be afforded if the family was to maintain or . . . improve its standard of living.” The second reason for the decline in fertility, according to Newman, was birth control. It “was the answer to these new social and economic realities.” And the third element in lowering the birth rate was the relative emancipation of women–the greater the status and freedom of women, the lower the birth rate. (A corollary of this, of course, is that patriarchal religions which demean women contribute to population growth–just look at the birth rate among Mormons.) If Turner had done even minimal research in this area, he should have known all of this.

TurneBrain Child by George Turner, coverr’s third bleak socio-economic assumption, that there’s simply not enough wealth to go around and that the wealth and privileges of the rich make little difference to the lives of the poor, is also simply wrong. Australia (the setting for all of Turner’s novels) and the U.S. are similar in terms of living standards and per capita wealth, and the very unequal distribution of wealth in the U.S. is approaching that depicted in Drowning Towers. In 2013, the U.S. population was approximately 316 million and total net worth was approximately $66 trillion, with the top 1% owning 35% of net worth (and 42% of financial–non-home–worth), the next 4% owning another 28%, and the bottom 95% of the population owning 37% of net worth, with almost all of it concentrated toward the top. This situation is even worse than it appears, because the bottom 40% of the population, approximately 125 million people, have “negative net worth”–in other words, their debts exceed their assets.

Crunch the numbers (divide total net worth by population) and you end up with average net worth of over $208,000–which is what individual net worth would be if wealth were divided equally.
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So much for Turner’s assumption that there’s not enough to go around and that a more equitable distribution of wealth would make little difference to those on the bottom.

Ultimately, Turner’s faulty social, political, and economic assumptions boxed him in. They made it impossible for him to even conceive of constructive solutions to the ecological and scientific/technological problems he so well describes. But describe them he did–beautifully and memorably. That’s a major achievement.

The one place where Turner was overly optimistic is in his assumption that conventional religions will wither away over the next few decades, even under the horrendous conditions he describes, leaving only fringe groups. Religion normally thrives in conditions of poverty, illiteracy, and hopelessness–just look at the American South, since the 19th century the poorest, least literate, and most religious part of the country. The same holds in the Muslim world — its poorest and least literate parts, such as Afghanistan, tend to be the most religious. So there’s no reason to think religion would have mostly withered away in the horrible conditions Turner describes in his novels. But this is a relatively minor matter.

As for the rise of murderous cults, Turner was on the money. In 1995, the year after publication of Genetic Soldier, in which Turner describes in some detail a cult biological attack on the entire world, the Aum Shinrikiyo cult attacked the Tokyo subway system with Sarin nerve gas. When they busted the cult following the attack, Japanese authorities discovered that the cultists had also been trying to manufacture biological weapons. More recently, it appears that Muslim fanatics were responsible for the Sarin attack in Damascus in 2013. One shudders to think what religious fanatics are cooking up in clandestine labs today.
A Final Note

All of George Turner’s science fiction novels are beautifully written, and the best of them are masterpieces that serve as still-pertinent warnings about the dangers of climate change and genetic experimentation.

Turner’s best novels are Brain Child and Drowning Towers. Both are easy to find in used bookstores. Check ’em out.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of  Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and DystopiaHe’s currently writing the sequel.

Free Radicals front cover

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REVOLUTION, n. As used by apologists for the Castro dynasty, “regime.” As in “protecting the revolution” and “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.” As regards the latter, and as is obvious, nothing is more revolutionary than networks of neighborhood informers reporting to government police agencies.

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–from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, the best modern successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary