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Stalin and the birthers

Several things, connected only the thread of “Russian history,” have been on my mind of late. I’m not sure how to tie this all together, but I’ll try. First off is this poem called “October” (named after the October 1917 revolution) by Anatoly Marienhof, translated by Babette Deutsch. Note the euphoric and optimistic language of the repressed minority getting control.

OCTOBER

We trample filial obedience,
We have gone and sat down saucily,
Keeping our hats on,
Our feet on the table

You don’t like us, since we guffaw with blood,
Since we don’t wash rags washed millions of times,
Since we suddenly dared,
Ear-splittingly, to bark: Wow!

Yes, sir, the spine
Is as straight as a telephone pole,
Not my spine only, but the spines of all Russians,
For centuries hunched.

Who makes a louder noise on earth now than we?
You say: Bedlam–
No milestones—no stakes–
Straight to the devil____. On the church porch our red cancan is glorious.

What, you don’t believe? Here are hordes,
Droves of clouds at men’s beck and call,
And the sky like a woman’s cloak,
And no eyelash of sun.

Jesus is on the cross again, and Barabbas
We escort, mealy-mouthed, down the Tverskoi Prospekt. . . .
Who will interrupt, who? The gallop of Scythian horses?
Violins bowing the Marseillaise?

Has it ever before been heard of, that the forger
Of steel bracelets for the globe
Should smoke his rotten tobacco as importantly
As the officer used to clink his stirrups?

You ask—And then?
And then dancing centuries.
We shall knock at all doors.
And no one will say: Goddamyou, get out!

We! We! We are everywhere:
Before the footlights, in the center of the state,
Not softy lyricists,
But flaming buffoons.

Pile rubbish, all the rubbish in a heap,
And like Savonarola, to the sound of hymns,
Into the fire with it. . . . Whom should we fear?
When the mundiculi of puny souls have become—worlds.

Every day of ours is a new chapter in the Bible.
Every page will be great to thousands of generations.
We are those about whom then will say:
The lucky ones lived in 1917.
And you are still shouting: They perish!
You are still whimpering lavishly.
Dunderheads!
Isn’t yesterday crushed, like a dove
By a motor
Emerging madly from the garage?

imageI can just imagine the attitude of released pent-up repression expressed in that poem in a birther’s reverie, imagining the final overthrow of the usurper, their final vindication, and assumption of power that no one can take away from them. “Yes! We were right! No more saying ‘get the hell out you stupid birther.’” Of course, the October Revolution did not work out the way this poem anticipated. Rather than a breath of freedom lasting for centuries, repression on an almost unimaginable scale resulted with literally millions killed and millions sent to forced labor camps, what became known as “the terror” under Stalin.

Revolution is a strange animal. Sometimes it leads to freedom, as in the United States, but most of the time it leads to the dictatorship of the thugs. I think it has to do with who’s running the revolution.

There were many causes of privation in the Soviet Union under Stalin, not the least of which was the failure of Soviet agriculture. Two of the causes1 of this failure can be laid, I think, at the feet of the Dunning-Kruger effect (a biased view of ones own competence). The Soviet bosses2 thought they knew more than they did, and they ignored educated advice, substituting political theory, in the forced collectivization of the farms, leading to plummeting crop yields. A second cause was ignoring the science of genetics in favor of the crank ideas of Lysenko. Stalin himself decreed genetics at odds with Marxist theory, and supported Lysenko in suppressing the science that led to the green revolution in the West. In the same way, birthers elevate cranks because they like their conclusions for political reasons.

Communism under Stalin is a window on what the United States would be like if the birthers ruled.


1Also mass migration to the cities, bad weather, and the devastation following World War II, much of which was fought on Russian soil.

2While I talk about Stalin in this article, he is by means not the only Soviet leader who I think fell prey to Dunning-Kruger.

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24 Responses to Stalin and the birthers

  1. avatar
    Julius B Censor June 30, 2013 at 4:21 pm  (Quote) #

    At least I have to give you credit for being so proud of your brazen stupidity.

  2. avatar
    Julius B Censor June 30, 2013 at 4:24 pm  (Quote) #

    Birthers are for freedom and accountability.
    Socialist societies end in tyranny.
    It’s deliciously hilarious that you misspelled “one’s” in a passage on competence.

    And lawyers don’t need to hide evidence that doesn’t harm their case.

  3. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG June 30, 2013 at 5:13 pm  (Quote) #

    Lookit, Doc!
    Another sock puppet!

  4. avatar
    misha marinsky June 30, 2013 at 6:03 pm  (Quote) #

    Julius B Censor: At least I have to give you credit for being so proud of your brazen stupidity.

    Да з’равствует Ленин!

  5. avatar
    Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter June 30, 2013 at 6:36 pm  (Quote) #

    OH, I like the poem!!! As far as the perpetual crop failures, I suspect the reason the problem was probably this:

    “So long as the bosses pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work.” This joke persisted essentially unchanged through the 1980s.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_political_jokes

    Plus, Misha- it is no fair writing in acrylic!

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter.

  6. avatar
    misha marinsky June 30, 2013 at 7:09 pm  (Quote) #
  7. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 30, 2013 at 8:15 pm  (Quote) #

    For example the, government required crop rotation with grasses, rather than legumes (that would fix nitrogen in the soil). Also the central planning favored heavy machinery over light industry, like chemicals (i.e. fertilizer).

    The “war economy” grain requisitions under Lenin also caused collapse in agricultural production.

    Khrushchev was criticized at home for talking to American farmers when he made his tour of the US. He took home some good ideas and considered himself a agricultural “expert” but then wasted tremendous resources in an abortive effort to grow corn in an unsuitable climate. I have a very old memory that says that Khrushchev was called “kukuruznik” meaning “cornball” and perhaps this is why.

    Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter: OH, I like the poem!!! As far as the perpetual crop failures, I suspect the reason the problem was probably this:

    “So long as the bosses pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work.” This joke persisted essentially unchanged through the 1980s.

  8. avatar
    Monkey Boy July 1, 2013 at 12:03 am  (Quote) #

    I am under no illusions concerning the Bolsheviks; they were tyrannical brutes that went to extremes to get and keep power.

    However, I find that most of us, here in the US, don’t give them credit for what they achieved–if at a terrible price.

    But, the truth is that imperial Russia under the Tsars were a hot mess before the revolution. Slavery (serfdom) had ended just 40 years previously, and like in the US, emancipation did not result economic justice. Malnutrition, overwork and low productivity was the norm before Lenin. Mostly because since the peasantry existed at a subsistence level, there was no incentive to increase labor productivity in agriculture or industry; workers were cheaper than machines. There was a similar set of circumstances present in China before the Twentieth Century.

    The workers regarded the commissars as another set of slavedrivers to exploit them, so they did as little as they could get away with since they were convinced that they wouldn’t share in the fruits of their labors.

    The Bolsheviks took an essentially cantankerous, illiterate and effort-averse horde and molded a military superpower with trained scientists, engineers and administrators within two generations (1920-1960). Despite the horrendous destruction of two wars and rumours of new wars. Consider that the effects of slavery is still felt here, in the US, more than eight generations later.

    The constant military threat from abroad forced the government to devote an inordinate amount of resources to the “Red Army” at the expense of consumer goods. Whether or not, the leadership would have paid more attention to consumer needs and desires if those threats didn’t exist, I admit, is not clear to me.

  9. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy July 1, 2013 at 12:22 am  (Quote) #

    One of the reasons for this success is that Stalin didn’t politicize physics like he did biology. Indeed scientists were privileged with their own towns well-stocked with consumer goods and largely (although not completely) not victims to Stalin’s murderous purges. For the workers, killing people right and left is a good motivator.

    Monkey Boy: The Bolsheviks took an essentially cantankerous, illiterate and effort-averse horde and molded a military superpower with trained scientists, engineers and administrators within two generations (1920-1960). Despite the horrendous destruction of two wars and rumours of new wars. Consider that the effects of slavery is still felt here, in the US, more than eight generations later.

  10. avatar
    Monkey Boy July 1, 2013 at 3:48 am  (Quote) #

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    One of the reasons for this success is that Stalin didn’t politicize physics like he did biology. Indeed scientists were privileged with their own towns well-stocked with consumer goods and largely (although not completely) not victims to Stalin’s murderous purges. For the workers, killing people right and left is a good motivator.

    Certainly, “killing people right and left” is a motivator of sorts, but I find that usage gratuitously inflammatory, inasmuch, as you’d be hard pressed to find a major world power that hasn’t killed “…right and left.” For instance, the French in Indo-China and Algeria, the British all over the world, Kaiseresque Germany in Southwest Africa and Belgium in the Kongo under Leopold, are some in our time.

    The Bolsheviks were bloody and arbitrary, but killing was generally–in their minds–preemptive to protect the state and government. Not unlike the present and past governments in Washington, DC.

  11. avatar
    Lupin July 1, 2013 at 6:35 am  (Quote) #

    I feel I’m not knowledgeable enough to discuss the merits of Stalin, who according to some records was also a terrible commander in chief, but looking at the Russian people as a whole, there is no doubt that they were the decisive factor in winning WWII. Even vis vis Japan, it was reportedly the USSR’s invasion more than the atom bomb(s) that shook the regime and drove them to surrender. IMHO some in the West haven’t acknowledged enough the huge debt we all owe the Russian people for defeating the Nazis (although i understand why such an opinion was unpopular during the Cold War).

    To an outsider, the quote from Nietzche about “looking into the abyss” for too long is acquiring a certain irony these days as both Russia and the USA are willy nilly growing closer to resembling each other more and more. John Le Carré, always prescient, wrote the same thing in one of his novels a few years ago, but I can’t remember which one.

    A fanciful conspiracy notion would be to imagine that the white-cat-stroking oligarchs who pretty much rule both countries have made the GOP into such a loathsome party on purpose so that reasonable people have no choice but to vote for the “reasonable” Obama who is, in almost every aspect ,pursuing a pro-business, hawkish, center-right on social issues policy.

    In Rusia, you have the choice to vote for Putin, a friend of Putin, or one amongst 4 or 5 lunatics. Of course Putin (or those allied with him) win every time. I wonder if the same thing isn’t happening in the US — and the UK, I might add. The notion of “Potemkin democracy” appears on the rise.

  12. avatar
    Lupin July 1, 2013 at 6:36 am  (Quote) #

    Julius B Censor:

    Socialist societies end in tyranny.

    Tell that to the Swede or the Germans or the Italians or the French or… Well, you get my drift.

  13. avatar
    US Citizen July 1, 2013 at 6:39 am  (Quote) #

    I think Arpaio and Zullo must be related to that guy in the photo, because if anybody is stalin, it’s those guys.

  14. avatar
    misha marinsky July 1, 2013 at 6:47 am  (Quote) #

    Julius B Censor:Socialist societies end in tyranny.

    Lupin: Tell that to the Swede or the Germans or the Italians or the French or…

    …the Israelis or the kibbutzim.

  15. avatar
    realist July 1, 2013 at 8:03 am  (Quote) #

    Stalin would be very proud of Orly Taitz.

  16. avatar
    misha marinsky July 1, 2013 at 9:12 am  (Quote) #

    realist: Stalin would be very proud of Orly Taitz.

    Exactly what I was going to say.

  17. avatar
    Kiwiwriter July 2, 2013 at 12:13 pm  (Quote) #

    Well, as I always say:

    “I never say anything bad about lovable Uncle Joe Stalin…because if I do, he’ll kill me, my whole family, and everyone on the block.”

    His paranoia is an interesting model for many paranoids in our society. The only person Stalin ever trusted betrayed Stalin in the end…Adolf Hitler.

  18. avatar
    Thomas Brown July 2, 2013 at 1:49 pm  (Quote) #

    Julius B Censor: Socialist societies end in tyranny.

    And Political Parties based on fiction and stupidity end up like the Know-Nothings and Whigs.

    Birthers are not defending the truth, they simply deny it. They are fools and idiots. And anyone who calls the American System “Socialism” is exhibit A.

  19. avatar
    Daniel July 2, 2013 at 1:56 pm  (Quote) #

    Kiwiwriter:
    Well, as I always say:

    “I never say anything bad about lovable Uncle Joe Stalin…because if I do, he’ll kill me, my whole family, and everyone on the block.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXjrMU0jpAE

  20. avatar
    Casino July 2, 2013 at 3:29 pm  (Quote) #

    The “birthers” are not a political party, and have no agricultural policy whatsoever.

    The don’t seek power. They want to see some proof.

    But there’s no need for such simple concepts get in the way of someone who can’t stop trying to show off his “intellect.”

  21. avatar
    Daniel July 3, 2013 at 10:26 am  (Quote) #

    Casino:They want to see some proof.

    Actually they don’t want to see proof. That’s already been given to them in spades. They want to invent an issue where there is none, and get a “do-over” for being sore losers.

    Those are the simple concepts.

  22. avatar
    Majority Will July 3, 2013 at 11:07 am  (Quote) #

    Casino:
    The “birthers” are not a political party, and have no agricultural policy whatsoever.

    The don’t seek power. They want to see some proof.

    But there’s no need for such simple concepts get in the way of someone who can’t stop trying to show off his “intellect.”

    You’re not making any sense.

  23. avatar
    Kiwiwriter July 3, 2013 at 11:17 am  (Quote) #

    Majority Will: You’re not making any sense.

    Like all the other birthers…

  24. avatar
    Thomas Brown July 3, 2013 at 3:48 pm  (Quote) #

    Birfoons’ only interest in proof is that it be provided so they can squawk that it’s faked.

    Doesn’t matter how sound. They’ll say it’s fake. That’s why we gave up on people like Oily Taintz asking to see the “Original File Copy.” Why? She’d just say she saw it, and was an obvious fake. No matter how real, they’d just say it’s fake. And their idiot flock will believe it.

    Liars, fools and con artists. That’s all Birfoons are.

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