Did post-Marxist theories destroy Communist regimes?

But the Soviet Empire gave way almost entirely peacefully and without a fight. How did that happened?

.. The key conclusion of Suraska, enounced in italics in the last chapter, is that the break up is due to “the general failure of communist regimes–their inability to build a modern state” (p. 134). It is “the state weakness, rather than its omnipotence [that] stalled communist project of modernization and, most notably, Gorbachev’s perestroika”

.. the arbitrary nature of Communist state, overseen by the Communist party, prevented it from ever developing a responsible and impersonal machinery of Weberian bureaucracy. Such a machinery that follows well-known and rational rules cannot be established if the power is arbitrary. And without such a machinery, the project of modernization is doomed.

.. When Gorbachev tried to recentralize decision-making in order to promote his reforms, he was obstructed at all levels and eventually figured out that without the republican support he could accomplish nothing. This is why, as Suraska writes, at the last Party congress in 1991, he outbid his competitors (Yegor Ligachev) by formally bringing all  regional party bosses into the Politburo and thus effectively confederalizing the Party and the country. But even that proved too little too late as the largest unit, Russia under Yeltsin, became, together with the Baltic republics, the most secessionist.

.. Suraska rightly adds to this vertical de-concentration of power the ever-present wariness and competition between the Party, the secret services (KGB) and the Army. The triangular relationship where two actors try to weaken and control the third contributed to the collapse.

.. Andropov’s positon (according to the transcripts of the Politburo meetings) that “even if Poland falls under the control of “Solidarity” …[non-intervention] will be” (p. 70) was grounded in the belief that every Soviet foreign intervention (Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968) reinforced the power of the Army and thus, if KGB were ever come on top, Army must not be in the driver’s seat.

.. In perhaps the most original insight, Suraska deals with the ideology of Gorbachev and the first entirely Soviet-raised and bred generation that came to power in the mid-1980s. They were influenced by post-Marxist thinking where democracy or its absence were simple external (or non-essential) features: democracy was a sham since the “real power” resides elsewhere. “Armed” with this belief and the 1970 ideas of convergence of the two systems plus (in my opinion) millenarian Marxist view that Communism represents the future of mankind, they began to see no significant contradictions between the two systems and trusted that even the introduction of democracy would not affect their positions. Thus, in an ironic twist, Suraska, who is thoroughly critical of both Marxist and post-Marxist theories,  credits the latter (p. 147) for bringing to an end the Marxist-based regimes.

.. Suraska discusses Communist rejection of the state and its rules-bound procedures (which make Communists ideological brethrens of anarchists) and compellingly argues for the complementarity of  “council (“soviet”) democracy and central planning.  Both eviscerate the state, take over its functions, impose arbitrary decision-making, and do away with the division of powers. Anarchic and despotic features are thus shown to go together, moreover to be in need of each other.

Is It Time to Call Trump Mentally Ill?

So while it would be unethical for a psychiatrist to say that President Trump has narcissistic personality disorder, he or she could discuss common narcissistic character traits, like grandiosity and intolerance of criticism, and how they might explain Mr. Trump’s behavior. In other words, psychiatrists can talk about the psychology and symptoms of narcissism in general, and the public is free to decide whether the information could apply to the individual.

.. Besides, even if you posit that a president has a mental disorder, that in itself may say little about his fitness to serve. After all, Lincoln had severe depression. Theodore Roosevelt was probably bipolar.

..

According to a study based on biographical data, 18 of America’s first 37 presidents met criteria suggesting they suffered from a psychiatric disorder during their lifetime: 24 percent from depression, 8 percent from anxiety, 8 percent from bipolar disorder and 8 percent from alcohol abuse or dependence. And 10 of those presidents showed signs of mental illness while they were in office.

A Brief History of Facts

The rise of ‘the fact’ during the 17th century came at the expense of the power of authority. Could the digital age reverse how we decide what is true and what is not?

David Hume (1711-76) was the first ‘philosopher of the fact’. Hume argued that facts belonged in a separate category from ‘necessary truths’. It is necessarily true, for example, that all the angles of a triangle add up to two right angles. Facts, on the contrary, are contingent rather than necessary: that is, they could be otherwise.

My name is ‘David’. My parents could have called me ‘John’, so it is a fact that I am called David.

.. You can have alternative theories and hypotheses, but not alternative facts. Facts that are successfully disputed cease to be facts, while theories that are successfully disputed continue to be theories.

.. The key point about facts is that they trump authority: President Trump saying that the crowd at as his inauguration was the largest ever, cannot make it true.

.. Indeed, before the invention of the fact, what we would regard as entirely illegitimate arguments regarding contingent true statements were held to have some validity. Thus, under Roman law, rumor and fama might help to prove guilt: gossip, hearsay and reputation could be introduced in court and could determine the outcome. The value of your evidence depended on who you were as well as what you knew

.. The impact of the printing press drove this new scepticism, with vast amounts of information available for the first time. Sources could be accurately cited and new, accurate information could displace old, inaccurate information.

.. Lawyers for the government said it was inappropriate to use newspaper articles to contest an executive order made by the president. The judges asked if the government intended to introduce evidence to show the newspaper articles were false. They did not. They wanted simply to brush them aside. They wanted the court to be confined to the text of the executive order and insisted it should not look beyond that text. They wanted an appeal to the facts to be ‘trumped’ by an appeal to authority.

.. the truth becomes (once again) something you assert, not something you prove. It used to be a peculiar characteristic of totalitarian regimes that they made the facts fit their purposes; now it seems this can happen in a functioning democracy. As the court pointed out in its judgement on February 9th, the government had repeatedly asserted that national security was at stake and that this was why its order should not be stayed, though it had produced no evidence to support this assertion. The courts appear to be trying to preserve standards of reliability and evidence that are being undermined in the digital age.

The Captive Aliens Who Remain Our Shame

But he goes back to 1775, when the American Revolution turned into the Revolutionary War, to locate the origins of racial exclusion in the society that would become the United States of America. It was during these days, Parkinson says, that patriot leaders made a fateful choice. They embarked upon a specific and concerted plan to place blacks and Native Americans—no matter what their condition, whether they believed in the patriots’ ideals or not—firmly outside the boundaries of America’s experiment with democratic republicanism.

.. “Men like Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and Washington,” Parkinson writes, “developed a myth about who was and was not a part of the Revolutionary movement; about who had an interest and who did not.” Other esteemed advocates of the Revolution, such as Thomas Paine and the Marquis de Lafayette, joined the effort. According to Parkinson, these men chose to prosecute the American war for independence in a way that put race at the heart of the matter. They used—actually helped foment—racial prejudice as the principal means of creating unity across the thirteen colonies in order to prepare Americans to do battle with Great Britain. The base sentiments they promoted for “political expediency” survived the fighting, and the “narrative” that dismissed blacks and Native peoples as alien to America—and conflated “white” and “citizen”—“lived at the heart of the republic it helped create for decades to come.”

.. Effective war stories were definitely required because despite the colonists’ complaints about tyranny and being reduced to—of all things—“slavery,” they were “the least taxed, most socially mobile, highest landowning, arguably most prosperous people in the western world.”

.. Eloquent words about abstract rights would not do. History has taught the sad lesson that fear and contempt are the most predictably powerful motivators for galvanizing one group to move against another.

.. They tied blacks and Indians and, for a time, Hessian mercenaries to George III, labeling them as his “proxies.” They were all to be considered “strangers,” even though blacks (enslaved and free) had lived among white Americans for years and, in spite of the many conflicts with Native peoples, whites and Indians did not only meet in battles.

.. British overtures to Indians and blacks were, according to Benjamin Franklin, enough to “dissolve all Allegiance” with the Mother Country.

.. Franklin made up stories about groups being used by the British—proxies—and worked with Lafayette to prepare a book (never published) with illustrations for “children and Posterity” detailing British abuses of Americans. Of the twenty-six proposed illustrations—we have Franklin’s suggested twenty and Lafayette’s six in their own hands—many revolve around proxies. Lafayette suggested an illustration showing “prisoners being ‘Roasted for a great festival where the Canadian Indians are eating American flesh.’” He also proposed a scene depicting “British officers” taking the “opportunity of corrupting Negroes and Engaging them to desert from the house, to Robb, and even to Murder they [sic] Masters.”

.. By “the summer of 1775,” the “majority” of the stories on the inside of colonial newspapers were about “the role African Americans and Indians might play in the burgeoning war.” While historians have focused much attention on George Washington’s going to Cambridge to head the Continental Army, the real story of 1775, Parkinson says, was the “hundreds of smaller messages” that were pushed through colonial newspapers about the threat that blacks and Indians, allegedly under the total control of the British, posed to patriot lives.

.. The offer of Lord Dunmore, governor of Virginia, to free men enslaved by patriots in return for their military service inflamed white colonists and brought scores of blacks to the British side. And some Native Americans, long accustomed to playing European power politics, sided with the British. Patriot leaders “worked assiduously to make this the foundation of why colonists should support resistance [to the British] and, eventually, independence.” They did so despite the fact that other blacks and Indians fought alongside white patriots, and more would have done so had the patriots been willing to put more of them in uniform.

.. Parkinson shows, however, that the newspapers did not circulate stories about black and Indian patriots:

Unless Americans watched the army march by, they had scarcely any idea that there were hundreds of African Americans and Indian soldiers serving under Washington’s command. Even though the Continental Army would be the most integrated army the United States would field until the Vietnam War, most Americans had little knowledge of their service in fighting for the common cause.

.. After Washington soundly defeated them at the Battle of Trenton, these white men were gradually transformed into sympathetic victims of the British. Eventually they were offered permanent places—land—in the new country they had tried to prevent from coming into being. There would be no redemption for their fellow “proxies.”

.. the patriots’ rhetoric of the common cause exploited fears about the “proxies” of George III, it is likely because of Jefferson’s recitation, at the end of the Declaration of Independence, of the monarch’s “long train of abuses.” These included “transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death,” inciting “domestic insurrections amongst us,” and endeavoring “to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages.” Parkinson sees that language, and the other grievances, as central to the patriots’ cause. In his view,

the Declaration was an effort to draw a line between friends and enemies, between “us” and “them”—or…between “we” [the Americans] and “he” [the King].

It is the “first assertion of an ‘American people.’”