Posts Tagged ‘Chechnya’

Tolstoy’s The Law of Violence and the Law of Love

January 24, 2016

Tolstoy Law Love

(Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, no date)

As well as being one of the great titans of world literature, Leo Tolstoy was a convinced anarchist and pacifist. The British philosopher and writer, Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his book, Russian Thinkers, states that Tolstoy’s anarchist beliefs even informed his great work, War and Peace. Instead of portraying world history as being shaped by the ideas and actions of great men, Tolstoy’s epic of the Napoleonic Wars shows instead how it is formed by the actions of millions of individuals.

The writer himself attempted to put his own ideas into practise. He was horrified by the poverty and squalor, both physical and moral, of the new, urban Russia which was arising as the country industrialised, and the degradation of its working and peasant peoples. After serving in the army he retreated to his estate, where he concentrated on writing. He also tried to live out his beliefs, dressing in peasant clothes and teaching himself their skills and crafts, like boot-making, in order to identify with them as the oppressed against the oppressive upper classes.

Tolstoy took his pacifism from a Chechen Sufi nationalist leader, who was finally captured and exiled from his native land by the Russians after a career resisting the Russian invasion. This Islamic mystic realised that military resistance was useless against the greater Russian armed forces. So instead, he preached a message of non-violent resistance and peaceful protest against the Russian imperial regime. Tolstoy had been an officer during the invasion of Chechnya, and had been impressed by its people and their leader’s doctrine of peaceful resistance. Tolstoy turned it into one of the central doctrines of his own evolving anarchist ideology. And he, in turn, influenced Gandhi in his stance of ahimsa – Hindu non-violence – and peaceful campaign against the British occupation of India. Among the book’s appendices is 1910 letter from Tolstoy to Gandhi. I also believe Tolstoy’s doctrine of peaceful resistance also influence Martin Luther King in his confrontation with the American authorities for civil rights for Black Americans.

Tolstoy considered himself a Christian, though his views are extremely heretical and were officially condemned as such by the Russian Orthodox Church. He wrote a number of books expounding his religious views, of which The Law of Violence and the Law of Love is one. One other is The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Tolstoy’s Christianity was basically the rationalised Christianity, formed during the 19th century by writers like David Strauss in Germany and Ernest Renan in France. In their view, Christ was a moral preacher, teaching devotion to a transcendent but non-interfering God, but did not perform any miracles or claim He was divine. It’s similar to the Deist forms of Christianity that appeared in the 18th century in works such as Christianity Not Mysterious. While there are still many Biblical scholars, who believe that Christ Himself did not claim to be divine, such as Geza Vermes, this view has come under increasing attack. Not least because it presents an ahistorical view of Jesus. The Deist conception of Christ was influenced by the classicising rationalism of the 18th century. It’s essentially Jesus recast as a Greek philosopher, like Plato or Socrates. More recent scholarship by Sandmel and Sanders from the 1970’s onwards, in works like the latter’s Jesus the Jew, have shown how much Christ’s life and teaching reflected the Judaism of the First Century, in which miracles and the supernatural were a fundamental part.

In The Law of Violence and the Law of Love, Tolstoy sets out his anarchist, pacifist Christian views. He sees the law of love as very core of Christianity, in much the same way the French Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon saw universal brotherhood as the fundamental teaching of Christianity. Tolstoy attacks the established church for what he sees as their distortion of this original, rational, non-miraculous Christianity, stating that it’s the reason so many working people are losing their faith. Like other religious reformers, he recommends his theological views, arguing that it will lead to a revival of genuine Christianity. At the same time, this renewed, reformed Christianity and the universal love it promotes, will overturn the corrupt and oppressive rule of governments, which are built on violence and the use of force.

Among the other arguments against state violence, Tolstoy discusses those, who have refused or condemned military service. These not only include modern conscientious objectors, such as 19th century radicals and Socialists, but also the Early Church itself. He quotes Christian saints and the Church Fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, who firmly condemned war and military service. For example, Tertullian wrote

It is not fitting to serve the emblem of Christ and the emblem of the devil, the fortress of light and the fortress of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters. And besides, how can one fight without the sword, which the Lord himself has taken away? Is it possible to do sword exercises, when the Lord says that everyone who takes the sword shall perish by the sword? And how can a son of peace take part in a battle.

Some scholars of the Early Church have argued that its opposition to military service was based on opposition to the pagan ceremonies the soldiers would have to attend and perform as part of their duties. As believers in the only God, these were forbidden to Christians. Nevertheless, despite his condemnation, Tertullian admits elsewhere that there were Christians serving in the Roman army.

Other quotations from the Church Fathers make it clear that it was opposition to the bloodshed in war, which caused them to reject military service. Tolstoy cites Cyprian, who stated that

The world goes mad with the mutual shedding of blood, and murder, considered a crime when committed singly, is called a virtue when it is done in the mas. The multiplication of violence secures impunity for the criminals.

Tolstoy also cites a decree of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 proscribing a penance to Christians returning to the Roman army, after they had left it. He states that those, who remained in the army, had to vow never to kill an enemy. If they violated this, then Basil the Great declared that they could not receive communion for three years.

This pacifism was viable when the Church was a small, persecuted minority in the pagan Roman Empire. After Constantine’s conversion, Christians and the Christian church entered government as Christianity became the official religion. The Church’s pacifist stance was rejected as Christians became responsible for the defence of the empire and its peoples, as well as their spiritual wellbeing and secular administration. And as the centuries progressed, Christians became all too used to using force and violence against their enemies, as shown in the countless religious wars fought down through history. It’s a legacy which still understandably colours many people’s views of Christianity, and religion as a whole.

This edition of Tolstoy’s book is published by the Institute of World Culture, whose symbol appears on the front of the book. This appears from the list of other books they publish in the back to be devoted to promoting mysticism. This is mostly Hindu, but also contains some Zoroastrian and Gnostic Christian works, as well as the Zohar, one of the main texts of the Jewish Qabbala.

Pacifism is very much an issue for your personal conscience, though it is, of course, very much a part of the Quaker spirituality. Against this pacifist tradition there’s the ‘Just War’ doctrine articulated and developed over the centuries by St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other theologians and Christian philosophers. This examines and defines under which circumstances and for which reasons a war can be fought, and what moral restrictions should be imposed on the way it is fought. For example, combatants should not attack women, children and non-combatants. Despite this, the book is an interesting response to the muscular Christianity preached during the days of the British Empire, and which still survives in the American Right. Many Republicans, particularly the Tea Party, really do see Christianity as not only entirely compatible with gun rights, but as a vital part of it. Bill O’Reilly, one of the anchors on Fox News, has stated that Christ would fully approve of the shooting of violent criminals, even in circumstances others find highly dubious. These include some of the incidents where teh police have shot unarmed Blacks, or where such resistance from the suspect may have been the result of mental illness and the cops themselves were in no danger. In the Law of Violence and the Law of Love, you can read Tolstoy’s opinion of the official use of lethal force, and his condemnation of the capitalist statism O’Reilly and Fox stand for.

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William Blum’s Awkward Questions for Obama on Foreign Policy

December 20, 2015

William Blum is a writer and campaigner against America’s barbarous and brutal foreign policy. As well as writing a series of books, he also produces the Anti-Empire Report on the web. In the latest issue, 141, he puts a series of awkward questions that should be asked of Obama regarding his foreign policy in the Middle East, but which won’t. Several of these are about the way America is determined to punish Syria, but does nothing about Saudi Arabia, which has done far more to support Islamist terrorism. He also points out just how much aid Turkey gives to the Islamists.

Which is most important to you – destroying ISIS, overthrowing Syrian president Assad, or scoring points against Russia?

Do you think that if you pointed out to the American people that Assad has done much more to aid and rescue Christians in the Middle East conflicts than any other area leader that this would lessen the hostility the United States public and media feel toward him? Or do you share the view of the State Department spokesperson who declared in September that “The Assad regime frankly is the root of all evil”?

Why does the United States maintain crippling financial sanctions and a ban on military aid to Syria, Cuba, Iran and other countries but not to Saudi Arabia?

What does Saudi Arabia have to do to lose its strong American support? Increase its torture, beheadings, amputations, whippings, stonings, punishment for blasphemy and apostasy, or forced marriages and other oppression of women and girls? Increase its financial support for ISIS and other jihadist groups? Confess to its role in 9-11? Attack Israel?

What bothers you more: The Saudi bombing of the people of Yemen or the Syrian bombing of the people of Syria?

Does the fact that ISIS never attacks Israel raise any question in your mind?

Does it concern you that Turkey appears to be more intent upon attacking the Kurds and the Russians than attacking ISIS? And provides medical care to wounded ISIS soldiers? Or that ISIS deals its oil on Turkish territory? Or that NATO-member Turkey has been a safe haven for terrorists from Libya, Chechnya, Qatar, and elsewhere? Or that last year Vice President Biden stated that Turkish president Erdogan’s regime was backing ISIS with “hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of tons of weapons”?

In the previous issue, 140, Blum points out how much aid the Western nations, as well as the Gulf states, have given ISIS, al-Qaeda and the other Islamist terrorists, and how they have used them against secular regimes. Like Gaddafi’s in Libya. He also suggests that the real reason for the attack on Syria is partly over control of another strategic oil pipeline.

The mainstream media almost never mentions the proposed Qatar natural-gas pipelines – whose path to Europe Syria has stood in the way of for years – as a reason for much of the hostility toward Syria. The pipelines could dethrone Russia as Europe’s dominant source of energy.

He also states that the real reason for the US’ hostility to Assad isn’t because he’s a vicious dictator, but because he’s independent and does not do what Washington tells him.

The United States, I suggest, is hostile to the Syrian government for the same reason it has been hostile to Cuba for more than half a century; and hostile to Venezuela for the past 15 years; and earlier to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; and to Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Chile; and so on continuing through the world atlas and history books.

What these governments have had in common can be summarized in a single word – independence … independence from American foreign policy; the refusal to be a client state of Washington; the refusal to be continuously hostile to Washington’s Officially Designated Enemies; insufficient respect and zeal for the capitalist way of life.

They’re at http://williamblum.org/aer/read/140

Go and read what’s really behind America’s and the Tories’ Middle Eastern policy; and http://williamblum.org/aer/read/141

Young Turks’ Item on Pentagon Censoring Internal Reports Showing War Not Working in Iraq & Syria

November 25, 2015

This is another video from The Young Turks, which is as relevant over this side of the Atlantic as it is in America. A group of intelligence analysts at the Pentagon have made a complaint to the Inspector General complaining that their superiors in CentCom – Central Command – are censoring and altering their reports. The analysts’ report make clear that there is no easy military solution in Iraq and Syria, due to the deep political and religious divisions in those nations’ societies. This, however, has been altered and edited out.

Other items, which have also been altered, have been rewritten to disguise what is obviously a military defeat, if not an utter debacle. Remember when the insurgents in Iraq routed the Iraqi army so thoroughly, that the troopers left the uniforms in the street as they fled for their lives? This was altered so that the Iraqi army didn’t retreat. It ‘redeployed’.

Other parts of the report that have also been altered include those on the effect of bombing in Iraq. Air strikes by the allied forces were supposed to weaken the insurgents’ resistance and allow us to take the cities more easily. But we lost them instead, and had to retake them using ground troops. Now we’re being told that a new bombing campaign will somehow allow us to defeat ISIS and the other Islamist butchers again.

This report is now being supported by the Republicans, as it appears to show the duplicity and tactical incompetence of the Obama administration. But the Turks comment on the Repugs’ hypocrisy on this matter. The analysts’ complaints today are very much like those they made a decade ago under George Dubya. They complained then that Dubya had made all these plans to invade Iraq with a small force, but had no idea of how to administer the country or keep the peace afterwards.

The Turks also warn that in a little while, the Republicans will start to go quiet on these reports of military failings and the falsification of intelligence on the orders of their paymasters in the American defence industry. War is good business for them, and they will tell their paid mouthpieces in Congress and the Senate to stop criticising the war and its conduct, and present a more upbeat, optimistic view of the West’s chances of winning.

Here’s the video:

Part of the reason I’m reblogging this, is that it actually bears out what Mike has been saying about Corbyn’s cautious approach to the war and the bombing of Iraq and Syria. Mike has written several article over at Vox Political stating that Corbyn’s entirely correct, and what is most important is to break the cycle of hate.

Of course, this has got right up the noses of the Conservatives and their media shills, who are all crying out that Corbyn is some kind of anti-British quisling traitor, and demanding that we bomb the people of Iraq and Syria back into the stone age. Our country’s own experience during the Second World War should tell us that bombing civilians will not make the Iraqi or Syrian people more inclined to support us, or weaken support for ISIS. Rather, it is likely to do the opposite.

Hitler thought that he would break British resistance during the Blitz, when the Luftwaffe deliberately targeted cities that had no military function or value. The opposite was true: the British people were outraged at the slaughter of civilians by the Nazis, and so became even more determined to resist the jackboot. And I don’t doubt for a second that it was the same in Germany when the RAF hit civilians, rather than military centres. Such attacks might have had far more effect in stiffening German resistance than Nazi propaganda. After all, one of the underground jokes told during the Third Reich was a rather Nerdish one likening Goebbels’ propaganda to a scientific unit: ‘The Goeb is the minimum amount of energy required to turn off 100,000 radio sets.’ So much for Nazi propaganda posters showing wholesome German families dutifully listening in raptures to the Fuehrer’s broadcasts. The opposite was no doubt true. Many of them were probably listening to the other side to the terrible decadent, corrupting music of ‘Negro’ jazz from the American networks.

Bombing also had the opposite effect on British morale during the IRA’s long campaign in Britain. Instead of weakening the British public’s resolve to hold on to Northern Ireland, the killing of unarmed civilians in bomb outrages and assassinations actually strengthened the determination of the British public not only to keep Ulster British, but to crush the IRA. In doing so they also marginalised those on the British Left that were sympathetic to the real plight of Roman Catholics in Ulster. I can remember talking to people in the 1980s, who despised ‘loony left’ Labour because so many of its politicians appeared to support the IRA or Sinn Fein. Part of Maggie’s popularity was that she projected a belligerent image than reassured the British public that she would crush the IRA and related terrorists, while secretly holding peace negotiations with them.

As for Putin and his bombing campaign, my guess is that this will also increase support amongst ordinary Syrians and Iraqis for the Islamists, and further alienate western Muslims. One of the reasons for the prolonged terrorist campaign in the Caucasus was the bitterness left over from Putin’s war in Chechnya. The country had gained its independence from Moscow had successfully fighting off Russian attempts to maintain absolute control over that former province of the Soviet Empire. Resentment at this defeat festered, and when Islamist terrorists led by ‘the Black Arab’, a Saudi, committed atrocities in neighbouring South Ossetia after crossing over the border from Chechnya, Putin seized the opportunity to use it as a pretext for a new invasion. The resulting war saw a series of extremely bloody massacres, such as that of the civilian population of the town of Grozny. There have also been reports of the horrendous torture and human rights violations of Chechen prisoners by Russian troops, including being sodomised with broom handles. One American journalist interviewing a Chechen Islamist leader was told flatly that the Chechens would continue fighting, especially after such extreme humiliation, as they could not live with themselves after being so raped.

The same author also interviewed Russian troopers and generals, some of whom had developed severe alcohol problems because of the pressures and horrors of the war. These included a senior Russian officer, who had done everything he could to make sure his son was posted away from the conflict. When questioned, he stated quite clearly that ‘Nobody wanted the war.’

Our media and the Tories are baying for renewed bombing in Iraq and Syria after the Paris atrocity. They’re right, in that ISIS deserves to be hit, and hit hard. They’re an offence to human, and specifically Islamic civilisation. But there is no easy military solution. So far the West has spent just about the last decade and a half fighting wars in the Middle East, and there seems to be no end in sight. It looks like the bombings the Tories are demanding, and which the French and Putin have already begun, will just prolong it even further.

Corbyn is right. We must break the cycle of hate, if we are to have peace.

Tolstoy’s Prediction of the First World War

April 27, 2014

As I’ve mentioned before, this is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, and already the BBC has put on a season of programmes commemorating the conflict. I’ve blogged on Michael Gove’s criticism of the negative view of the First World War, which he feels denigrates the courage and patriotism of the soldiers. He attacked the Beeb’s comedy series, Black Adder Goes Forth, as an example of this, and compounded his argument with knee-jerk Tory anti-intellectualism by claiming that the view was promoted by ‘Left-wing intellectuals’. A number of bloggers have attacked this diatribe, including Mike over at Vox Political. It has also provoked a response from the creators of graphic novels, who are putting together several albums presenting the horrific reality of the conflict as a response to Gove’s Right-wing patriotic view of the War.

Many people in Europe in the late 19th and first decade of the 20th centuries were very much aware of the looming threat of world conflict. One of those who foresaw it and its mass carnage was the great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy. As well as a writer, Tolstoy was a pacifist Anarchist. He hated the horrors of modern, industrial society and the state that oppressed the Russian poor. He saw the solution in the abolition of the state and traditional peasant society, to the point where he gave up much of his life style as a Russian aristocrat to live, dress and work like a peasant. As a young man, he had, like many other noblemen, been a soldier and had fought in the wars to conquer Chechnya and the Caucasus. He had been highly impressed by ideas of a Chechen Sufi leader, who, when his nations’ attempts to resist the Russians through armed force were repeatedly suppressed, rejected violence and advocated instead a policy of non-violent civil disobedience. Tolstoy himself rejected violence, and took up the Sufi leader’s ideas. In turn, Tolstoy’s advocacy of the policy influenced Gandhi in his own campaign against British rule in India.

Tolstoy also campaigned on behalf of the Doukhobors, a heretical Russian Christian sect, that also rejected violence. It was due to Tolstoy’s support and that of British Quakers that the sect emigrated from Russia to settle in Canada.

He promoted his Anarchist and pacifist ideals in a series of books, What Then Must We Do?, The Kingdom of God is Within You and The Restoration of Hell. They also influenced his magnum opus, War and Peace. This was written to show that history was not made by a few great men, but by the actions of millions of ordinary people. Lionel Kochan discusses Tolstoy’s ideas, his criticisms of contemporary society, and prediction of the coming War in his Russia in Revolution (London: Paladin 1970). Tolstoy attacked just about every aspect of contemporary society, including science, the press, religion, state education, and the state as a system of organised crime itself. Kochan writes:

Tolstoy, no doubt, showed little, if any, awareness of the deep-rooted complexity of the evils he stigmatized; no doubt, also, his positive doctrine was thin enough – the gospel of universal love, undogmatic Christianity, sexual abstinence, non-resistance to evil, the renunciation of tobacco and alcohol – for all that his later work constitutes an anarchist programme of profound strength. His unbridled criticism of society and its values, his corrosive and derisive scepticism, made him an anarchist more anarchic, a nihilist more nihilistic and a revolutionary more destructive than any whom Russia had yet brought forth – far more consistent and humanistic than Bakunin, far more hard-headed than Kropotkin.

What is science? He asked. Had it done anything of value to human life in determining the weight of Saturn’s satellites? What was universal suffrage? A means whereby the prisoners elected their own gaolers. Had industrialism raised the standard of living? Then look at the slums and doss-houses of Moscow. Tolstoy derided division of labour as a device for turning men into machines, book-printing as a medium for communicating ‘all the nasty and stupid things that are done and written in the world’, and reform for teaching people ‘that though themselves bad they can reform bad people’. What did the church do but maintain idolatry ‘in the most literal sense of the word – worshipping holy relics and icons, offering sacrifices to them and expecting from them the fulfilment of the worshippers’ wishes’? What did compulsory education do but ‘teach the savage superstition of patriotism and the same pseudo-obligation to obey the state’? What was the press but a means for ‘exciting feelings of mutual hostility between the nations’? What were the governments of the time, despotic and liberal alike, but – and her Tolstoy quotes Herzen’s phrase – ‘Genghis Khans with telegraphs’? The modern state was a mechanism so interlocked and interdependent that it became impossible to discriminate between the guilty and the innocent: ‘Some people demand the perpetration of a crime, others decide that it shall be done, a third set confirm that decision, a fourth propose its execution, a fifth report on it, a sixth finally decree it, and a seventh carry out the decree.’ Tolstoy’s apocalyptic vision of a state given over to destruction culminates in an anticipation of the imminent First World War:

‘The bells will peal and long-haired men will dress themselves in gold-embroidered socks and begin to pray on behalf of murder … The editors of newspapers will set to work to arouse hatred and murder under the guise of patriotism and will be delighted to double their sales. Manufacturers, merchants, and contractors for army stores will hurry about joyfully in expectation of doubled profits … Army commanders will bustle here and there, drawing double pay and rations and hoping to receive trinkets and crosses, stripes and stars, for murdering people. Idle ladies and gentlemen will fuss about, entering their names in advance for the Red Cross and getting ready to bandage those whom their husbands and brothers are setting out to kill – imagining they will be doing a most Christian work thereby.’

Kochan criticises Tolstoy for not understanding how enthusiastic and patriotic Russian servicemen initially were for the War. However, he then goes on to quote the great writer’s prediction of the condition of the soldiers in the War’s later stages, men who

‘will trudge where they may be driven, stifling the despair in their souls by songs, debauchery and vodka. They will march, freeze, suffer from hunger, and fall ill. Some will die of disease, and some will at last come to the place where men will kill them by the thousand. And they too, without knowing why, will murder thousands of others whom they had never before seen, and who had neither done nor could do them any wrong.’

For Tolstoy, the coming world war would ‘devour in a year more victims than all the revolutions of a century’. (pp. 157-8).
I strongly disagree with most of Tolstoy’s criticisms of contemporary society. He was, for example, wrong about science not benefitting humanity. it clearly has and had, most obviously in the improvements in medicine, that appeared in the 19th century. And printing and the press have increased knowledge and much good around the globe, despite the fact that they can often be used for evil. Having said that, he does have a point with the Sun, Daily Mail, and Express.

It will, however, be interesting to see if the BBC or anyone else, in their programmes on the Great War, mention Tolstoy’s prediction.

As a pacifist Anarchist, Tolstoy’s political views were strongly disapproved by Paul Johnson in the Spectator. In one of his articles in that journal he described the great novelists as somehow – I’ve forgotten quite what he wrote – being responsible for the Russian Revolution and Stalin’s tyranny. He never described how this was so. He simply asserted it, and went on. The only thing Tolstoy had in common with Stalin is that they were both radicals, who revolted against the Tsarist state. And possibly that they both had military careers. Apart from that, Tolstoy hated everything that Stalin stood for – militarism, an oppressive, coercive state, brutality and murder. And Tolstoy himself was far from unique in wishing to see a radical reform or overthrow of contemporary society. By 1905 the Tsar’s reluctance to establish any kind of constitutional reforms had pushed most sections of the Russian society in opposition. Even the Union of Unions, made up members of the liberal profession – doctors, lawyers, vets, scientists, engineers, teachers, university professors – not the usual bomb-throwing nutters – were advocating the use of violence if all else failed. There was another writer called, Tolstoy, Alexey, who survived into the Stalin era to write pieces praising the dictator. It looks like Johnson confused the two due to the same surname. But Leo Tolstoy would have been utterly opposed to the old thug.