Posts Tagged ‘christopher hitchens’

Reichwing Watch on Hillary Clinton as the Republican Democrat

November 15, 2016

The world was shocked last week by the election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States. The news showed footage of Clinton and her supporters weeping at the result. Yet as this documentary from Reichwing Watch shows, Clinton herself was no liberal. They describe her as a Republican Democrat. The description is accurate. As this documentary shows and concludes, she is like her Republican opponents a corporatist militarist, backing powerful companies, the military and the armaments industry against ordinary Americans, the environment, and the smaller nations of Latin America and Iraq, which have had the misfortune to feel the boot of American imperialism. And far from a supporter of women and ethnic minorities, the documentary also shows how she cynically sponsored the punitive legislation that has seen the mass incarceration and denial of federal welfare support to Blacks, defend truly horrific rapists and cover up Bill’s affairs and sexual assaults. All while claiming to be a feminist. The documentary also shows how Hillary was also extremely cynical about gay marriage, opposing it until the very last minute when it was politically expedient.

The documentary is divided into several chapters, dealing respectively with imperialism, Black rights, the gun lobby, the war on women, LGBT rights and corruption. It begins with a quote from Christopher Hitchens urging people not to vote for Hillary, as it is a mistake to support candidates, who are seeking election for therapeutic reasons. He then cites her husband, Bill, as an example.

Chapter 1: Building an Empire

This chapter begins with Killary’s support for the Iraq invasion, despite admissions from other members of the US Congress that the full scale industrial equipment needed to produce weapons of mass destruction was not found, and opposition to her and the invasion from Congressmen Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, Gravett, and the liberal news host, Jon Stewart. It also shows clips of Obama and Christopher Hitchens stating that she had the support of the Republicans for her stance on the Iraq invasion, including Henry Kissinger. Kissinger is rightly described by one of the speakers in this documentary as ‘the greatest unindicted war criminal in the world today’. It discusses how the US supported coup in Ecuador recalls the Kissinger sponsored coup in Chile that overthrew Salvador Allende in favour of the Fascist dictator, General Pinochet. It also mentions Killary’s sponsorship of the military coup in Honduras and the assassination of the indigenous rights leader, Berta Carceres. After the coup, Killary ensured that the regime received American aid, including military, in return for which American corporations also received lucrative contracts, especially in the construction of the dams. This section of the documentary also shows how Killary is absolutely ruthless and single-minded when it comes to pursuing her own projects, even at the possible expense of her husband’s interests. When Bill Clinton was finally considering intervening in Bosnia in the 1990s, Killary refused to support him until the very last minute as she was also afraid that this would affect her own healthcare reforms. She was also a firm supporter of No Fly Zones in Syria, despite the view of many others that these would lead directly to war with Russia.

Chapter II: Black Lives Matter

The title of this section of the documentary is highly ironic, considering that for much of her career, Shrillary hasn’t been remotely interested in Black rights, and indeed began her political involvement actively opposing them. She herself freely admits that when she was in college, she was a Goldwater Girl, supporting the segregationist Republican candidate Barry Goldwater. When Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas, he and Hillary continued to celebrate Confederate Flag Day along with the rest of the reactionaries. There’s also a clip of her describing the threat of urban ‘super predators’ connected to the drug gangs. This was a term that at the time was used almost exclusively to describe Black men. There’s a clip of Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, about contemporary legislation designed to marginalise and impoverish Black America, denouncing the extremely punitive legislation Killary and Bill introduced as part of the war on drugs. These deny federal welfare aid to those convicted of drug offences for going to college, access to public housing and even food stamps. This was part of the Clinton’s strategy to win back swing voters, who had voted for Reagan and the Republicans. Clinton herself continued her strategy of appealing to White voters at the expense of Blacks. In 2008 she credited White voters for supporting her against Barack Obama. She also at one point discussed the assassination of Bobby Kennedy when answering a question about how long she planned to continue her campaign against Obama. She was viciously attacked for this by Stewart, who was outraged that she should mention this at a time when Obama was receiving death threats because of he was a Black man aiming at the presidency. Hillary was also herself extremely cynical in mentioning Obama’s Muslim background and upbringing. Without ever quite saying that he was a Muslim, and therefore shouldn’t be president, she nevertheless reminded people that he had been, thus reinforcing their prejudices.

Chapter III: The Gun Lobby

This begins with Hillary denouncing the armaments industry. However, once in power, she approved $122 million in sales for the gun firms, many of which produced the weapons used by Adam Lanza to shoot his mother and the other children at Sandy Hook school. She also managed to raise American armament sales abroad by 80 per cent over her predecessor, Condoleeza Rice, approving $165 billion of armaments sales in four years. These companies then invested part of their profits in the NRA, which sent lobbyists to Washington, several of whom, including representatives of Goldman Sachs, then went and attended a fundraising dinner for the Clintons.

Chapter IV: The War on Women

This concludes with a clip of Madeleine Albright urging women to vote for Clinton as ‘there is a special place in Hell for women, who do not help other women’. Yet Clinton’s own feminism and support for women is extremely patchy. This part of the documentary begins with her making a speech about how women’s rights are human rights, and vice versa. Which is clearly true. However, it then goes on to play a recording of her talking in 1975 about how she successfully defended a monstrous rapist, who had attacked a 12 year old girl. The girl was left in a coma for several months, needed considerable therapy to help her back on her feet afterwards. She has been on drugs, never married or had children. Her life has been ruined because of this monstrous assault, by a man Clinton knew was guilty, but successfully defended. Due to plea bargaining, he only served a derisory two months in prison.

This part of the documentary also shows how Hillary covered up for Bill’s affairs, and his sexual assault of Juanita Broderick. Broderick, then married, was a nurse at a nursing home, who had done some campaigning for the Clintons. They visited the home, during which Clinton sexually assaulted her in one of the bedrooms. Afterwards Killary approached her, caught her by the hand, and said that they appreciated how much she meant to her husband. Broderick clearly, and not unreasonably, considers this to be a veiled threat, and states that Killary frightened her. The section concludes with a piece about her support for another Democrat, Cuomo, and how this candidate was really another Republican in the guise of a Democrat, who believed in trickle-down Reaganite economics.

Chapter V: LGBT Rights

This begins with a clip from an interview with a gay serviceman, stating how it was very difficult initially in the navy when his sexuality was first known about. This section of the documentary shows how she actively opposed gay marriage until she thought there was votes in supporting it. She is seen supporting her husband’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy towards gays in the military as a progressive position, despite the fact that Bill himself said it was only a compromise. It then shows her making speeches declaring that she believed marriage should only be between a man and a woman, and that New York State should not recognise gay marriage.

Chapter VI: Corruption

This part begins by discussing how the Clinton’s took money from Tyson’s, one of the major poultry producers in Arkansas, and one of the agri-businesses credited with polluting 3,700 miles of the states’ waterways. Clinton passed laws setting up a task force to looking into the problem, while ensuring that about a third of the seats on this quango went to Tyson’s. Tyson’s were an important contributor to the Clintons’ campaign funds, in return for which Bill passed laws favouring the firm, and allowing them to grow into the state’s biggest poultry firm.

And the corruption didn’t stop there. It goes on to show how Killary did absolutely nothing to challenge Walmart’s ban on trade unions when she was on their board, and the company still lags behind others in promoting women to important positions. She was also hypocritical in her ‘Buy American’ campaign to persuade Americans to buy domestically produced goods. While she was at Walmart, the company continued to sale imported goods, some of which were even misleadingly labelled as ‘made in America’. This included clothing made in factories in Bangladesh which employed 12 year old girls.

Elsewhere, Killary also campaigned against a bankruptcy bill promoted by the credit card companies in their favour, in a reversal of her previous policy. The also made $675,000 from three speeches to Goldman Sachs, speeches which she refused to release.

She has also been duplicitous in her support of the NAFTA and TPP free trade agreements. She accused Obama during his election campaign of supporting NAFTA, while secretly reassuring the Canadians that she really backed it herself. There is also a clip of Elizabeth Warren, another Democrat politician, attacking the TPP. Warren states that this free trade deal isn’t about developing commerce, but in giving more power to multinational companies at the expense of national governments and hard-working ordinary Americans. America already had free trade deals with very many of the countries included in the treaty. And about half of the TPP’s 30 chapters are devoted to giving more power to the companies.

This section of the documentary also includes a clip of Mika Brzezinski, the daughter of Carter’s foreign policy advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, talking about how Killary has no personal convictions of her own, and will say anything to get herself elected. This is followed by the veteran radical, Noam Chomsky, stating that Clinton’s Democrat party is really that of moderate Republicans. President Truman, who warned about the threat of the military-industrial complex, is by their standards now far to the Left. It also has a clip from an interview with one of the multibillionaire Koch brothers describing how they liked Bill Clinton over many Republicans. This one is, admittedly, rather more hesitant when it comes to whether he’d support Killary. There’s then footage from a speech by Bill Clinton promoting small government and how there isn’t a programme for every problem. This is followed by footage of Hillary herself stating that she isn’t dogmatically Republican or Democrat. The documentary ends with the description of her as the worst of the two defects of the American political system. She is both a militarist, and a promoter of corporate power.

Donald Trump is a monster, and his election has brought fear to many millions of ordinary Americans, particularly those from ethnic minorities. The Beeb yesterday reported that 300 racially motivated incidents had been recorded since he was elected last week. Non-white children have been bullied at school, racist slogans sprayed on Black and ethnic minority people’s property and vehicles, and the Nazis from Alt-Right have crawled out from their pits to spew hatred against the Jews. Trump’s even appointed Steven Bannon, a racist and anti-Semite executive from the right-wing news organisation, Breitbart, his ‘chief strategist’. America and the world are facing the prospect of a Nazi in the White House.

But Hillary herself is no angel. She’s a corporate, militarist monster, who supports the very big businesses that are bringing poverty to working people in America by lowering wages, denying union rights, polluting America’s great natural environment, and shipping jobs overseas.

And abroad, her pursuit of American imperial power, as expressed in the American military complex’s own jargon of ‘full spectrum dominance’ – in other words, absolute military power over the rest of us – has threatened to plunge the world once again into a Cold War and the prospect of nuclear annihilation. And her embrace of Henry Kissinger should be a mark of shame to any decent human being. This is the man, whose firm support of dictators in Latin America and Asia, and whose conduct of the Vietnam War, brought death and torture to tens, if not hundreds of millions of innocents.

And Killary herself has blood on her hands through her support of the Iraq invasion, and the coups in Ecuador and Honduras.

Quite frankly, considering the millions she’s threatened with torture, assassination, disappearance and the Fascist jackboot, I really honestly don’t have any sympathy with her weeping over her election defeat. She’s lucky. She didn’t get to be president, but no-one will be rounding her or her husband up to be raped or tortured by the secret police, before being murdered in a concentration camp. She doesn’t have to worry about Chelsea being murdered by a death squad. She gets to live, and enjoy her very privileged life as a major politico and businesswoman. The people she and the rest of the administrations she served and supported, who’ve had their lands invaded and governments overthrown, haven’t been so lucky.

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UKIP, Islamophobia and the Loud Atheism Website

April 18, 2015

On Thursday, Hope Not Hate published a piece UKIP’s Stretford & Urmston Candidate Thinks Islam is “Despicable” reporting that Kalvin Chapman, the UKIP parliamentary candidate for Stretford and Urmston, Kalvin Chapman, had posted a comment on the ‘Loud Atheism’ Facebook page attacking Islam. He described it as a ‘despicable’ and ‘f***ed up’.

The article’s at http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/ukip/ukip-s-stretford-urmston-candidate-thinks-islam-is-despicable-4397, if you want to see it.

Now I have the impression that this is pretty much par for the course for much of the ‘New Atheist’ movement. This is the form of organised atheism that emerged in late decade, led by Richard Dawkins, Sue Blackmore, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel C. Dennett. The movements critics have pointed out that by and large the New Atheism didn’t have any new arguments, except perhaps an extension of Darwinian theory to try and explain religious belief. In the case of Sue Blackmore and Daniel C. Dennett, it had an extremely reductive view of human consciousness that saw it as being nothing more than a series of biological computer programmes. Sue Blackmore in particular took this to its most logically absurd extent and denied consciousness actually existed.

If the arguments were largely the same, traditional arguments used against religious belief and organised religion, the presentation was quite different. It was much more vicious, vitriolic and intolerant. Atheist movements in the past have persecuted organised religion. Religious belief in the former Communist bloc was severely limited and fiercely persecuted, with religious believers killed or sent to forced labour camps. In the former Soviet Union the penalty for holding a religious service in your own home would see you arrested and your house demolished.

The older, atheist tradition in the West could be much more genteel. Angry revolutionaries like the Surrealist film-maker Bunuel and his counterparts could and did make blasphemous films and art attacking organised religion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular. In the 1950s they held a mock trial of the Roman Catholic church in a disused church just outside Paris, while the Surrealists’ leader, Andre Breton, wrote an article denouncing recent attempts to combine surrealism with Christianity, entitled ‘To Your Kennels, Curs of God’.

Against this, there were atheist intellectuals like A.J. Ayer and Ludovik Kennedy, who were much less personally abusive. Kennedy when he appeared on Mark Lamarr’s chat show, Lamarr’s Attacks, in the 1990s, was courteous and polite. A.J. Ayer became friends with a Jesuit priest after having a Near Death Experience choking on a piece of fish in hospital. It didn’t make him become a religious believer, but the incident does show that people of differing and opposed religious views needn’t be personal enemies.

The New Atheism, by contrast, was much more aggressive, with a far greater use of invective. Rather than merely being attacked intellectually, religious and religious belief should be actively discouraged and given much less tolerance. Richard Dawkins has been quoted by his critics as saying that religious believers should be humiliated and shamed into abandoning their beliefs.

The result of this is that some atheist websites have a reputation for abuse and invective, like P.Z. Myers’ The Panda’s Thumb, set up to defend evolution from creationism, and Raving Atheism. I was warned off the latter by a friend, who said it was just atheists being extremely blasphemous and abusive for the sake of it.

To be fair, this approach has its critics from within the atheist movement, many of whom are genuinely shocked at how extreme and bitterly intolerant the New Atheist rhetoric is. A few years ago one atheist writer published an article in one of the papers actually saying that Richard Dawkins’ made him ashamed to be an atheist. And within the last couple of years in particular a strain of Islamophobia has emerged within the New Atheist movement. Again, this has been exemplified by Richard Dawkins, who become the subject of further controversy because of his posts and tweets attacking Islam, particularly the low status of women in Islamic countries and Female Genital Mutilation. Chapman’s comments about Islam are part of this strand of New Atheism.

And the fear of Islam, or at least radical Islamism, may have been one of the catalysts of the New Atheism from the start. I was talking to a friend of mine a while ago about the origins of the New Atheism. I thought it was a reaction to the growth of Creationism and Intelligent Design, which recognises the emergence of new species over time, but claims this is due to the intervention of intelligent agencies, rather than the mechanism of random mutation and natural selection, suggested by Neo-Darwinian theory. I also wondered if it was also due to the accession to the Presidency of George ‘Dubya’, an Evangelical Christian, and the increasing power and influence of the Christian religious right in American politics.

My friend took a different view. He believed it was a reaction to 9/11 and the rise of aggressive Islamic terrorist movements, like al-Qaeda, and radical and aggressive Islamic political movements within the largely secular West, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir. He stated that some of Atheists’, Agnostics’ and Secularists’ Societies set up on university campus in practice were little more than anti-Islam societies.

Now I don’t know how true this is. The AAS at Bristol University did not seem to be particularly interested in Islam, only in attacking religion in general. The events and lectures it organised seemed generally disrespectful, such as a social evening in which members were encouraged to dress up as their favourite religious figure. One of their lectures was a general account of traditional, religious beliefs about the creation of the world from antiquity onwards.

Now I do believe that if you are going to criticise religion, then this should extend to all religions, rather than just Christianity as the former majority, mainstream religion of the West. However, in the case of Islam at the moment, such criticism has become extremely dangerous. It can easily lead to the persecution of innocents, including racist attacks and the demonization of Islam generally because of the atrocities committed by the Islamist militants. This in turn may fuel the alienation and resentment in Muslim communities, and further the Islamists’ goal of their further radicalisation.

In the case of Chapman, I’m not surprised that his post against Islam was particularly splenetic, given the title of the website on which it was posted. What is worrying is that it comes from a prospective parliamentary candidate for a party that has developed a reputation for racism and a bitter hostility to Islam.

Stalin, The Gulags and Christianity

January 11, 2008

Wakefield Tolbert, one of the great commentators on this blog, has pointed out here at https://beastrabban.wordpress.com/2008/01/05/rrs-kelly-rants/#comment-597 that Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens have blamed Stalin’s Eastern Orthodox upbringing for the atrocities committed by his regime. Now I’ve already blogged explaining how Hitler wasn’t a Christian, and the genocide of the Nazis was not based on Christianity. Now also I’ve heard from a number of other people who’ve come across the same assertion that Christianity is somehow responsible for Stalin’s atrocities. This is demonstrably untrue, and deserves rebuttal.

Religious Nature of Communism

It is true that many researchers and scholars of Communism have noted a strong religious quality within the movement itself and the devotion it aroused in its adherents. Of 221 former Communists studied by one sociologist, almost half came from homes where religious interests were important. 1 Marxism can be seen ‘as a modern prophetic movement, proclaiming the way to justice’. 2 The search for ‘an overwhelmingly strong power’  on which the individual can rely may lead people to God can also lead others to embrace the Communist party. In the West, many of the recruits to Communism in the 1930s were highly sensitive and bewildered by modern social confusion. These idealists sought a programme that would solve the problems of modern society they felt so keenly. ‘They found in the authoritative program of communism and in its seeming dedication to justice an ‘escape from freedom’ that gave them both a sense of belonging and a sense of power. They were no longer the alienated; they had a ‘home’ and a program’. 3 Thus some of the scholars studying former Communists, concluded that the rejection of their parents’ religion by those with a devout religious background was not an antireligious statement, ‘but a redirection of interest to a movement that was embraced with religious fervor.’ 4

Stalin himself added a religious element to Soviet Communism. His oration at Lenin’s funeral was modelled on the Eastern Orthodox liturgy, and included the response ‘We vow to be faithful to they precepts, O Lenin.’ Lenin’s held the orthodox Marxist view that the individual has no importance in history. This caused him to reject any cult of personality around himself through the belief that if he had hadn’t led the revolution, it would have occurred anyway under someone else. Stalin, in opposition to this, created a distinct cult around Lenin through the establishment of Marxism-Leninism as the official Soviet ideology, and Lenin’s mausoleum as a public monument and site of pilgrimage.

Inadequacy of Religion as Explanation for Stalinism

Despite this, I have to say I’m not impressed by the argument as it’s too close to some very similar assertions I’ve come across which are very clearly wrong. Jack Chick in one of his rabidly anti-Roman Catholic comics claimed that Stalin’s regime was all a Roman Catholic plot, because Stalin had been a Roman Catholic priest. Er, no. Stalin was Georgian Orthodox, and did intend study for the priesthood, but got kicked out of the seminary for reading Adam Smith and Charles Darwin. The fact that many Communists were idealists and came from a religious background does not necessarily mean that the atrocities committed by Stalin were due to his religious upbringing. Communism is a highly idealistic political system, even if this idealism expresses itself in a brutally utilitarian attitude to human life and political strategy. The membership of people from religious backgrounds in the Communist simply shows that the type of idealistic individuals who traditionally sought meaning in religion then sought it in Communism. The religious trappings around the cult of Lenin don’t demonstrate an innate religiosity in Stalin so much as a cynical appreciation of the way the collective, corporate aspects of religion by a traditionally religious people could be used to provide a sense of community and collective purpose amongst them. However, this is a tactical development, and does not demonstrate any deeper continuity in ideology or outlook between Communism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

Communist Persecution of Orthodox Christians and Other People of Faith

 As a convinced Communist, he was certainly not a Christian. Furthermore, as Timothy Ware points out in his book on Orthodoxy under the Communists, the Soviet regime was militantly atheist, and had no compunction about killing and torturing Orthodox clergy long before Stalin came to power. In 1918 and 1919, the Communists killed 28 bishops. From 1923 to 1926 fifty more were martyred. By 1926, 2,700 priests, 2,000 monks and 3,400 nuns had been killed. It has been estimated that from 1917 to 1964 12,000 priests alone had been murdered by the regime, or died of illtreatment at their hands. And this is only Orthodox clergy.  5 It does not include the laymen and women.

Similar massacres of laypeople and clergy were also experienced by other faiths long before Stalin. Just before Christmas, for example, Channel 4 screened a fascinating programme of very early colour documentary film shot by a French traveller to China, India and Mongolia about the time of the First World War. It was excellent material documenting these nation’s way of life before the turmoil of the succeeding decades. What was particular poignant was the footage of Buddhist monks in a Mongolian lamasery. When the Communists took power, these were closed down and the monks martyred. About 15,000 were killed by the Communists. Now part of Mongolia was indeed annexed by the Soviet Union, but this also occurred in the independent part. So, Stalin was clearly not responsible, or not wholly responsible, for the atrocities committed there.

Middle Eastern Ethnic Violence and the Genocides of Stalin

In fact, some historians do consider that Stalin’s cultural background did play a role in the horror of the Gulags. The crucial factor here, however, is not his religious background, but the clan and tribal orientation of Georgian culture and society, and indeed through the peoples of the Caucasus. The Caucasus has been called ‘the mountain of tongues’ because of the wide variety of languages and dialects spoken there. There has been a history of fierce nationalist violence between the various peoples of the Caucasus. Stalin’s began his revolutionary career as a Georgian nationalist, taking the codename ‘Koba’ after the Georgian people’s great national hero, who fought for their country against the invading Turks. It’s been suggested that Stalin’s slaughter of whole families, and even whole nations, comes from this background in nationalist violence, in which clan feuding, and the slaughter of the relatives of one’s enemies as part of the feud, was practiced. Stalin applied this tactic of clan violence at the level of whole nations.

In fact state action against, including the exile and extermination of opposing subject nations, had been a policy of the Turkish and Persian Empires that dominated the area. The Turkish conquest of the Balkans in the Middle Ages included the mass deportation of the Turks subject peoples. This use of mass exile was a distinctive feature of the absolute nature of Turkish rule: ‘Equally characteristic of absolutist rule was the employment of mass deportation. Albanians, Serbs and Greeks were transferred in vast numbers to Anatolia and – after 1453 – to Constantinople, while Anatolians (often nomads) were transplanted to Thrace, Bulgaria and the border zones of the Balkans.’ 6 The great Persian historian, Muhammad-Kazim, in his Name-yi ‘Alamara-yi Nadiry, the Book of the World-Ruling Nadir, documents various pogroms against and the exile of various ethnic groups, such as the Tatars in Merv c. 1725-6. 7 This use of mass terror against subject nations continued into late 19th and early 20th century, when it culminated in the Armenian massacres of 1915, when 750,000 to 1.8 million Armenians were murdered by the Ottoman Turks in 1915. 8 The inaction of the European powers and their complete lack of interest in protecting the Armenians convinced the Nazi leadership that the great powers would also be completely indifferent over the fate of the Jews when they planned the Holocaust. Given Stalin’s own background in the Caucasus, it’s possible that the Armenian atrocities similarly convinced him of the effectiveness of genocide as an instrument of state policy.

Lenin as Founder of Communist Tyranny 

Hitchen’s and Harris’ assertion that Stalin’s atrocities came from his Eastern Orthodoxy is also similar to the Marxist and Trotskyite claim that the brutality and repression of institutional Soviet Communism was solely the result of Stalin’s psychology, rather than the product of Communism. According to this view, Lenin was the great hero who brought freedom and equality to the Soviet people, until his ideas and system was corrupted by Stalin. The socialist state created by Lenin was then twisted into a ‘state capitalist’ dictatorship.

The problem with this is that, while Lenin wasn’t the monster that Stalin was, he was certainly no democrat. Lenin established the policy of ‘democratic centralism’ which severely curtailed democratic discussion in the Communist Party, made the former Soviet Empire a one-party state, and began the creation of the labour camps that expanded so rapidly under Stalin. Contrary to the depiction of the Russian Revolution presented by the brilliant Russian cinematographer Sergei Eisenstein in his film October, the 1917 revolution wasn’t a mass uprising. It was a military coup against a democratically elected government, led by Kerensky. The biggest party in the duma – the Russian parliament – at the time were the Kadets, or Constitutional Democrats. They stood for the extension of the franchise to the ordinary people, and improving conditions for the workers and peasants, as well as welfare reforms. They were liberals, or left liberals, but not Marxists. During the coup, the Communist troops surrounded the duma and prevent the delegates from taking their seats, thus seizing power. The use of force to seize and legitimate power was thus a feature of the regime from its foundation.

Lenin also deliberately curtailed freedom of speech within the Communist through the institution of ‘democratic centralism’. This meant the process by which the free discussion of ideas on a particular topic was only possible when the leadership invited it, such as when a particular problem needed addressing, but no policy had yet been formulated to tackle it. Once the leadership made a decision, however, no further discussion was permissible. Lenin created this policy in order to centralise power in the Communist Party, and prevent the factionalism that had divided the Socialist Revolutionaries. These had been the main Russian revolutionary movement. They were agrarian socialists, rather like the Populist Party in America but without the racism. However, despite their use of violence and assassination, the Socialist Revolutionaries were deeply divided. Lenin felt this had hampered their effectiveness as a revolutionary organisation. To prevent the nascent Communist party suffering the same fate, Lenin established democratic centralism to ensure a rigid party discipline.

As for the labour camps, these too were a creation of Lenin. After the Revolution Soviet Russia experienced a famine. As an emergency measure, the government began requisitioning supplies of food. Hoarders were strictly punished. A group of 100 peasants were found guilty of hoarding food, and sentenced to imprisonment in a labour camp in the Russian north. This marked the beginning of Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Gulag Archipelago’.

Pre-Communist Origins of Soviet State Propaganda and Secret Police

Other authoritarian features of the regime were taken over from Kerensky’s government. Kerensky himself was well aware of the propaganda value of the cinema. Indeed, his government created a system of mobile cinemas that travelled the country showing propaganda movies for his regime. Lenin took this over, similar fashioning Soviet cinema as the instrument of state propaganda. Kerensky’s regime had also included a secret police, ultimately derived from the Tsarist secret police, the Okhrana, led by Felix Dzherzinsky, whose job was to guard the regime from counter-revolutionary activity. Lenin took this over too, and made Dzherzinsky the head of the new, Soviet secret police. Thus the instruments of repression Stalin used were inherited from previous regimes, including Lenin’s.

Constitutional Weakness of Pre-Fascist and Communist Nations 

Historians examining the rise of the Communist dictatorship in Russia have noticed parallels with other dictatorships, including the Fascist tyrannies of Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. These common features are considered to be the crucial elements in the creation and perpetuation of these regimes. Common to both the Communist and Fascist dictatorships was the use of military force to seize power. Both Germany and Russia were constitutionally very weak, with very little democratic tradition, thus enabling the nascent democracies in those nations to be overthrown by its determined enemies. Stalin’s soviet dictatorship was thus the product the country’s general consititional weakness and the use of military force by secular regimes to enforce their power, rather than just the grotesque psychology of Stalin himself.

Authoritarianism and 19th Century German Constitutional Theory

One can also trace the authoritarianism of Soviet Communism back to Marx himself and the 19th century German political philosophy. Political philosophers have suggested that there is a difference between British and German philosophical views on constitutional theory. British political theory tended to view the state as a system of checks and balances to prevent one element in the state gaining too much power at the expense of the others, thus preserving their freedom. German political philosophy, on the other hand, is held to view the state as an administrative machine, and is less concerned with preserving the freedom of its citizens than with the efficient operation of that machine in governing society. This view is probably overstated, however. 19th century German constitutional theory certainly believed in the separation of power in the state, and the operation of checks and balances characteristic of British and American constitutional theory. This system was, however, limited by the power of the Wilhelminian monarchy, a fact brilliantly sent up by the German radical, Adolf Glasbrenner, in his satirical essay, Konschtitution. Deliberately written in the Berlin dialect as a father’s explanation of the German constitution to his son, the piece satirises the situation with the statement ‘Constitution, that is the separation of power. The king does what he wants, and the people, they do, what the king wants.’ 9 Nevertheless German 19th century political theory didn’t quite see the state as the monolithic governmental machine as some have considered it did.

There were also strongly authoritarian tendencies within the German Social Democrats in the 19th century. Historians of German socialism in this period have noted the strongly authoritarian nature of Ferdinand Lasalles leadership of the party. However, by the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th the German Social Democrats were far less rigid in their party discipline. Lenin, with his absolute insistence on the revolutionary struggle, could not understand how the notorious reformist, Eduard Bernstein, retained his party membership. When, during a visit to Germany, the German Social Democrat’s leading political theorist, Karl Kautsky, explained to him that they allowed dissent and discussion even of fundamental issues like that in the German party, Lenin went berserk, hurling a string of invective at him. Before then, Lenin had had great admiration for the German Social Democrats. Afterwards he had very little to say in their favour. Arguably, this shows the origin of the dictatorial nature of Russian communism as due less to the nature of German socialism, and more to the rigid and doctrinaire attitude of Lenin.

Revolutionary Leader as Strong Man 

In fact you can also see in Lenin as well as Stalin the insistence that the ruler should be personally a strong man of iron constitution. Stalin was an assumed name, meaning ‘man of steel’. Stalin’s real name was Iosip Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. He took the name ‘Stalin’ as a deliberate statement of his personal strength and to symbolise his strong leadership. Lenin similarly believed that the true revolutionary was a man of iron following the dictum of earlier Russian revolutionaries that the true revolutionaries should physically toughen himself, metaphorically recommending that he should sleep on a bed of nails.

Sense of Personal Inadequacy Cause of Stalin’s Brutality

In fact some psychiatrists and historians have also seen the origin of Stalin’s brutality in a sense of inferiority, supposedly shared by other dictators who were similarly less than physically imposing. Stalin, like Hitler, Mussolini and Napoleon, was short, though he attempted to disguise this by wearing great coats too large for him, and selective camera work in photographs. Mussolini similarly tried to disguise his lack of height by a variety of tricks, and literally stood on soap boxes when haranguing the crowd during Fascist rallies. These were then airbrushed out in official photographs of the occasion. Stalin was also physically disabled – he had a withered arm. The German psychiatrist Adler considered that Stalin’s dominating urge to power came from a sense of ‘organ inferiority’ due to his disability and short stature. Stalin’s ruthless acquisition of power and massive destruction of human life was an attempt to compensate for this feeling of inferiority. The crucial factor in the creation of Stalin’s authoritarian and dominating personality was his sense of personal inadequacy, not his religious upbringing.

Genocide in Writings of Marx and Engels

However, one can go further and see the genocidal elements of Stalin’s regime in some of the very writings of Marx and Engels. Marx and Engels, as Hegelians, saw the dialectical process as leading society from lower levels of culture and civilisation to successively higher stages of development before culminating in socialism and finally world communism. Although bitterly critical of capitalism, they enthusiastically embraced as a liberating force from feudalism. They also took over Herder’s notion of ‘historic states’. True states were only those which had a history behind it. Thus, Marx and Engels were supportive of the desires of Polish revolutionaries to gain independence for their country, as Poland had had a history as an independent nation. Engels in his 1847 speech commemorating 17th anniversary of the Polish revolution of 1830 stated ‘German princes have profited from the partition of Poland and German solideries are still exercising oppression in Galicia and Posen. It must be the concern of us Germans, above all, of us German democrats, to remove this stain from our nation.’ 10

They were, however, bitterly opposed to the national aspirations of some of the other Slavonic peoples, whom they saw as not possessing a historic identity and thus excluded from the process of historic development towards higher stages of civilisation. These nations, like Scots Gaels and the Celtic Bretons in France, represented a lower stage of civilisation that should rightly become extinct as they were absorbed and assimilated into more advanced peoples. ‘There is no country in Europe that does not possess, in some remote corner, at least one remnant-people, left over from an earlier population, forced back and subjugated by the nation which later became the repository of historical development. These remnants of a nation, mercilessly crushed, as Hegel said, by the course of history, this national refuse, is always the fanatical representative of the counter-revolution and remains so until it is completely exterminated or de-nationalized, as its whole existence is itself a protest against a great historical revolution.

In Scotland, for example, the Gaels, supporters fot he Stuarts from 1640 to 1745.

In France the Bretons, supporters fo the Bourbons from 1792 to 1800.

In Spain the Basques, supporters of Don Carlos.

In Austria the pan-Slav South Slavs, who are nothing more than the national refuse of a thousand years of immensely confused development.’ 11 

Engels himself was vehemently opposed to the nationalist campaigns by these Slav peoples during the turmoil of 1848, the ‘year of revolutions’. He saw them as constituting a threat to true revolutionary socialism, because of what he viewed as these societies’ socially backward nature, and urged their suppression in chilling, even genocidal terms. He considered that the Slav nationalist campaigns in 1848 would lead to a global war which would exterminate the Slav nations utterly: ‘The general war which will then break out will scatter this Slav Sonderbund, and annihilate all these small  pig-headed nations even to their very names.

The next world war will not only cause reactionary classes and dynasties to disappear from the face of the earth, but also entire reactionary peoples. And that too is an advance.’ 12

‘We reply to the sentimental phrases about brotherhood which are offered to us here in the name of the most cuonter-revolutionary nations in Europe that hatred of the Russians was, and still is, the first revolutionary passion of the Germans; that since the revolution a hatred of the Czechs and the Croats has been added to this, and that, in common with the Poles and the Magyars, we can only secure the revolution against these Slav peoples by the most decisive acts of terrorism. We now know where the enemies of the revolution are concentrated: in Russia and in the Slav lands of Austria; and no phrases, no references to an indefinite democratic future of these lands will prevent us from treating our enemies as enemies … Then we shall fight ‘an implacable life-and-death-struggle’ with Slavdom, which has betrayed the revolution; a war of annihilation and ruthless terrorism, not in the interests of Germany but in the interests of the revolution!’ 13 Thus Engels himself advocated a policy of genocide in the interests of the revolution, a policy which Stalin ruthlessly implemented in his regime of terror.

Scientific Socialism and the Rejection of Moral Sentiment

One factor which may have facilitated the acceptance of this policy amongst Stalin’s colleagues in the Communist party was the ‘scientific’ nature of Marxism and its rejection of moral theory as the basis of revolutionary action and sentiment. Many of the non-Marxist European radicals and socialists had come to their views from a profound sense of moral outrage at the poverty, squalor and oppression experienced by the poor in the Europe of the time, rather than from any commitment to a philosophical or economic theory. The great British Socialist and leader of the Arts and Crafts movement, William Morris, told an interviewer that he had absolutely no interest in Marx’s theory of surplus value. Russian Marxists, on the other hand, like Lenin, saw Marxism as superior to the other forms of socialism because it was based on what they saw as objective fact – economic laws and the dialectic of history – rather than moral sentiment, and sneered at those socialists who did base their socialism on a moral critique of society. This is not to say that they didn’t have a moral sense, but it was circumscribed by their sense of the impersonal movement of history, economics and society that legitimated the revolutionary struggle aside from or against moral concerns. This sense that they were acting from entirely objective, ‘scientific’ principles, principles which would inevitably lead to a better society, acted to suppress their moral instincts that revolted at the horrors they inflicted.

Conclusion 

Thus, despite the superficial trappings of religious ritual around Lenin, the atrocities of the Stalin era had their basis in the authoritarian nature of the Russian Communist party created by Lenin; an apparatus of state repression and propaganda inherited from Tsarism and Kerensky; a history of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe and the Middle East; the establishment of the true revolutionary as a physically strong man, complemented by Stalin’s own ruthless urge to power through a sense of personal inadequacy; and an advocacy of genocide by one of the founders of Marxism, Friedrich Engels himself, coupled with a notion of scientific objectivity that rejected morality in favour of impersonal societal forces as the basis for political action and commitment. This was further exacerbated by a political ideology that saw individuals as unimportant and which viewed the collective group or interest – the working class and the nation as a whole – as the centre of moral concern to whose interests the individual could be ruthlessly sacrificed.

Rather than Stalin’s atrocities arising from Christianity, they came from the brutal tactics of secular rulers in the Middle East, and authoritarian, genocidal ideologies within Russian Communism itself, based on the ideas of that ideology’s founder, magnified to truly horrific levels by Stalin’s own personal paranoia and brutality. The irony here is that Marx declared himself to be a Humanist, and Soviet Communists viewed Marxism as the only true Humanism.  

Notes

1. J.M. Yinger, ‘Secular Alternatives to Religion’ in Whitfield Foy, ed., The Religious Quest: A Reader (London, Routledge 1978), p. 548.

2. Yinger, ‘Secular Alternatives’, in Foy, Religious Quest, p. 547.

3. Yinger, ‘Secular Alternatives’, in Foy, Religious Quest, p. 547.

4. Yinger, ‘Secular Alternatives’ in Foy, Religious Quest, p. 548.

5. Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London, Penguin Books 1964), p. 156.

6. Daniel Waley, Later Medieval Europe: From St. Louis to Luther (London, Longman 1985), p. 166.

7. N.D. Miklukho-Maklaya, ‘Introduction’, in Muhammad-Kazim, Name-yi ‘Alamara-yi Nadiry (Miroykrashayushaya Nadirova Kniga), volume 1, (Orientalist Institute of the Soviet Academy of Science, Moscow 1960), p. 6.

8. ‘Armenia’ in Andrew Wilson and Nina Bachkatov, Russia Revised: An Alphabetical Key to the Soviet Collapse and the New Republics (London, Andre Deutsch 1992), p. 17.

9. Adolf Glasbrenner, ‘ Konschtitution’ in Florian Vassen, ed., Die Deutsche Literature in Text und Darstellung: Vormarz (Stuttgart, Philipp Reklam 1979), p. 230. (My translation).

10. David Fernback, ed., Karl Marx: The Revolutions of 1848 (Harmondsworth, Penguin 1973), p. 100.

11. Friedrich Engels, ‘The Magyar Struggle, in Fernbach, ed., Karl Marx, p. 222.

12. Engels, ‘Magyar Struggle’, in Fernbach, Karl Marx, pp. 225-226.

13. Engels, ‘Democratic Pan-Slavism’, in Fernbach, ed., Karl Marx, p. 244.