Tag Archives: Stalin

Obamacare is politically correct


One of the marvels this amateur historian has found musing over intellectual trends through a long life is how concepts float back and forth, as often as not taking on new meaning about which their contemporary utilizers haven’t a clue.

An interesting example: Back in the early 1930s, worldwide Communism had a serious dilemma. It wanted to exploit well-known adherents, especially in the non-Soviet world. But some of these brightest stars were artists or intellectuals whose work was anathema to Josef Stalin, the monster who had taken over the Soviet Union. Zigzagging intellectually, with the Moscow Trials Stalin had finished off rivals as “saboteurs” and “foreign agents”. The incredible complexity of this travesty was best illustrated in Arthur Koestler’s roman a clé, Darkness at Noon, about victims who remained loyal to “the movement” to their bitter end.

During his long reign, Stalin’s slightest whim became the order of the day. His prejudices on any issue replaced the early revolutionaries’ wildly gyrating experimentation. That intellectual ferment was something; again, they had inherited, even from the tyrannical Tsars, but Stalin called a halt to anything but his “Party line”.

Still, a quintessential instance of Moscow’s problem was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Crispiniano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz Picasso. A virtual lifelong émigré, especially after the defeat of his [adoptive] Catalan nationalist comrades, and their allies, the Republicans, in the Spanish Civil War [1936-39], Picasso dominated world plastic arts for a good part of the 20th century. But whatever else Picasso was, he was an incredible innovator. His unparalleled profusion [50,000 items or more] of painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawings and prints made him an enormous celebrity. But after an initial youthful period of “academic realism”, Picasso’s creations were anything but “realistic”.

Stalin, on the other hand, anointing himself as an art critic as well as the high panjameter of everything else, only accepted “realistic” painting, ironically the sort Americans were to honor in Norman Rockwell. So “Soviet realism” was the order of the day through his years as supremo.

Picasso, in Paris’ Bohemian art world, like so many other interwar artists and intellectuals, drifted into Communism. Whatever Moscow’s political “line”, no matter its incredible turns and inconsistencies, he remained a loyal member of the French Party.

Moscow’s conundrum was how to reconcile using this incredibly valuable weapon, Picasso’s popularity, in the war against Western democracy, particularly during the post-World War II Cold War, yet alongside Stalin’s “Soviet realism”? [That even reached into music where the Soviet’s most talented composer, Dimitri Shostakovich, “disappeared” for a time, a victim of Stalin’s ire against innovation.]

For the Communists, Picasso was too valuable a propaganda commodity to be trashed.  Even when they wandered off the reservation with their work as did Picasso and other vedettes [for example, British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell], they followed the world Communist movement’s general instruction.

            That’s how, in the fullness of time, one of the world’s most successful propaganda campaigns got a gigantic boost. Picasso’s father, José Ruiz Blasco, an art teacher and painter himself, was a passionate bird lover, particularly of doves and pigeons, and passed this sensitivity on to his son. So in 1949 after Picasso’s reputation as an artist – and a Communist – was long established, Louis Aragon, a more disciplined if inferior French Communist journalist and poet, went begging. He was looking for a symbol for one of the endless Communist “peace” conferences advocating unilateral Western disarmament. Picasso offered a lithograph of a Milano dove which the artist later simplified into a line drawing

That little dove became universally iconic, the Communist symbol for its on-and-off “peace campaign”. On and off, because after the 1939 Nazi attack resulting in the third Polish partition between the two totalitarian powers, World War II, was “an imperialist struggle” which good Communists should eschew. But when Hitler smashed the September 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact two years later attacking the Soviets with his Operation Barbarosa, the same war became a crusade to save “the Socialist motherland”

Meanwhile, Picasso, whatever his politics, had a certain artistic integrity. Of Aragon’s choice, he said: “The poor man!  He doesn’t know anything about pigeons! And as for the gentle dove, what a myth that is!  They’re very cruel.  I had some here and they pecked a poor little pigeon to death because they didn’t like it. They pecked its eyes out, then pulled it to pieces. It was horrible.  How’s that for a symbol of Peace? “

How, then, were the Communists to cover all these indiscretions, contradictions and outright lies? Always inventive, clandestinely swapping propaganda tricks with their arch-rival Hitler’s genius propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, Moscow came up with a dodge. Picasso – as with similar problematic stars of the Western Communist world – however much through their work or thought defying Stalin’s peccadilloes, were to be labeled acceptable. These luminaries became Communist tools. [Vladimir Lenin, Stalin’s predecessor and mentor, called them nash — “ours” — and others in the Italian Communist hierarchy called them “useful idiots”.] They were excused from the Party’s full panoply of “discipline”, dubbed by Moscow as “politically correct.” For whatever their indiscretions, they were loyal to “the cause”.



Obama discovers American exceptionalism

Obama discovers American exceptionalism

            Among the welter of ironies concerning Pres. Vladimir Putin’s op-ed for The New York Times on the zig-zaggingSyria crisis is that Ras’ ghostwriter has however haphazardly touched on the fundamental issue. Given the arguments and syntax, I suspect the ghost’s first language was American, not Russian, something I will leave to future political exegesis. But one of the things this propagandist does by indirection is to identify Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s utter intellectual confusion.

There is certainly no reason why the mediocrity who now has through the vagaries of history slipped into the throne of the tsars would know. But the question of “American exceptionalism” played a role in the arguments leading up to Josef Stalin’s becoming the Soviet Union’s bloody dictator and arbiter of the powerful international Communist movement.

Before the Moscow Trials of the mid-30s when Stalin settled all political scores by reducing his enemies by a head as he once joked, when there were still convoluted arguments over international Marxism inside the Communist world, American exceptionalism was an issue. In 1929 Jay Lovestone took off for Moscow to plead his sudden dismissal as U.S. Party chairman. At a meeting of the Comintern, the supposedly independent directorate of world Communism,. Lovestone argued that Communism would not come in the U.S. through revolution. Given his independent character and living standard, Lovestone argued, the American worker was not of the European, Asian and African “proletariat” whom Karl Marx’ had promised would be “the gravediggerers of capitalism and forerunner of The Revolution”.

But Stalin was having none of it. In fact, as Lovestone told me, he barely escaped Vladimir Lenin’s self-appointed heir. Only through the assistance of the American Communist capitalist Julius Hammer, father of his more famous son Armand Hammer who with Soviet assistance became an international oil figure after World War II, Lovestone sneaked out of Russia. He came back to the U.S. to found, briefly, the American Revolutionary Communist Party. How he escaped assassination as was the fate of so many of Stalin’s enemies, even those abroad, is a bit mysterious. But decades later Lovestone went on to become collaborator with George Meany, the old plumber who headed the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations. Together with the infant Central Intelligence Agency, they broke the hold of Moscow’s International Federation of Trade Unions on Western European labor trade unions at the outset of The Cold War, crucial in bringing the European Social Democratic parties, particularly the West German SPD, into the anti-Communist alliance.

It is very unlikely that Putin, a quintessential Russian secret police thug, knows much of this history. He was an unknown foreign agent until Russian Pres. Boris Yeltsin plucked him from obscurity to protect Yeltsin’s corrupt “Family” of hangerons when that old drunkard exited power. [Markus Wolf, lifelong legendary head of Stassi, the enormous network of informers and enforcers who kept the East German state alive in The Cold War, quipped: “If he [Putin] spent 15 years [as liaison between the Soviet NKVD/KGB and Stassi at their joint training school] in Dresden, and I didn’t know him, he couldn’t have been much”.]

In America, Lovestone’s sectarian argument was never settled over how to gain influence for the miniscule American Communist Party camouflaging their more important espionage for Moscow. The argument, like the American Communists themselves, was victim of the gyrations of the “Party line”, subservient to Moscow’s international strategy including Stalin’s brief alliance with Hitler that brought on World War II. For a short period when Stalin was “Good Old Uncle Joe” in FDR’s Washington, the essential ally against the Nazis, the American Party under Earl Browder preached gradualism. [These stories never end: Browder’s grandson now wages a bitter argument with Putin over seizure of his extensive investments in Yeltsin’s Russia and the murder of his Moscow lawyer and collaborator.]

But American exceptionalism is framed in more elegant terms as a part of the intellectual life of The Republic over its two centuries. For, singularly. unlike other nation states organized under the aegis of the Westphalian System [Treaty of 1648], the U.S. has no claim to a long history, a common race or ethnicity or even language characterizing the state. [Benjamin Franklin, horrified at the cacophony of German Anabaptist voices on the streets of Philadelphia during the hot summer of 1781 when the U.S. constitution was being framed in secret, toyed with the idea of writing in English as the official language of the new Republic.]

The U.S. was, from its outset, an ideological construct, an original — if heavily borrowing on what The Founders as children of the European Enlightenment saw as the heritage of the democracies of Greece and Republican Rome. It did not celebrate a unified cultural ethos as did France, even the “United” kingdom, and later Italy and Germany. Instead, the American Republic was and is a political concept to insure the rights and privileges of a truly multicultural people to whom, unlike the European nation states, it ultimately owed its genius and power.

That complicated concept has been from the earliest days of The Republic the essence of “American exceptionalism”, the idea that because of the formation and nature of the country, it was different from other nation states in a fundamental way. This distinction has given a sense of mission to the American Republic – not the “gloire” of France, for example, but The Republic’s obligation by its very nature to espouse a new kind of national and international morality.

From the days of its earliest religious minorities seeking tolerance in The New World, Americans have always thought themselves “special”as Puritan lawyer John Winthrop proclaimed in 1640 aboard the Arabella enroute to Massachusetts:

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.

Or whether it was the Deist Thomas Jefferson, writing in the Declaration of Independence:

[A]nd accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Or Abraham Lincoln presiding over the greatest American crisis, in his famous Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Or Ronald Reagan, the 20th century statesman bidding goodbye to public life:

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life…. And how stands the city on this winter night? … After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true to the granite ridge, and her glow has held no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

In a sense, it does not matter whether, indeed, the U.S. were “the New Jerusalem”. More important perhaps is that American leaders throughout their history have accepted the concept that The Republic was “different” from other countries, and therefore had a mission that went beyond the simple pursuit of its existence as a nation.

It was perhaps inevitable, if there is such a thing as inevitability, that when the U.S. emerged from the near suicide of the West in two bloody world wars as the overwhelmingly most powerful country with its vast economy and population, the concept of exceptionalism would be applied to international relations. Indeed, however unsuccessfully, three generations earlier Pres. Woodrow Wilson had proclaimed U.S. entry into World War I as “the war to end all wars” and his formulation of the concept of the League of Nations to settle international disputes was part of that American “mission”.

Again, ironically, despite the fact they drew much of their inspiration from Wilson’s “progressivism”, part and parcel of Obama and his supporters’ credo in pursuit of their ambition “to transform” the nation was rejection of  “exceptionalsim”. In one of his too many casual public statements, Obama dismissed it out of hand. At the NATO Summit in Strasbourg, France, in 2009, he said sarcastically:

I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.

But on Sept. 10, only four years later, in his address to the nation on the Syrian crisis, Obama reversed that view as he floated in and out of issues:

My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security.  This has meant doing more than forging international agreements — it has meant enforcing them.  The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them.

In all the rapid permutations of the Syrian Crisis, it has taken [Ras] Putin’s numskull ghost writer to recognize that Obama, too, has come around to recognizing “American exceptionalism” — for better or for worse.


The limits of personal diplomacy

The limits of personal diplomacy

Back in prehistory, during The Cold War, students of arcane Kremlinology – the science and art of trying to unravel what Winston Churchill called “a riddle wrapped in an enigma” – identified a dangerous heresy. “Mirror-imaging”, it was called, defined as attributing to Moscow our own motivations, rather than understanding Soviet Communist leadership lived in a completely different world and dreamed different dreams.

In a sense it was what Sigmund Freud called “projection”, a psychological defense whereby an individual “projects” his own thoughts, motivations, desires and feelings onto someone else. In the Soviets case, the West collectively – hoping against hope – often tried to see Moscow’s actions as an expression of a common desire for peace and stability. Alas! that was rarely the case, especially after Josef Stalin’s failed mid-30s self-serving maneuvers to block Nazi Germany.

All this came to mind with a recent Obama Administration “leak” announcing Vice President Joseph Biden would take “the China portfolio”. Insiders said Mr. Biden would channel multifaceted China relations, ultimately lifting issues from secretaries of state, treasury, and defense. It didn’t take long for the lickspittle camp followers of the huge U.S. China trade lobby who apparently flew this kite to bring it to earth. No, Mr. Biden, hasn’t quite become the [however controversial] “assistant president” of Mr. Richard Cheney in the Bush II Administrations, and would not he be taking over “China”, just kibitzing.

But one couldn’t help speculating on the origins of this little Washington circus.

For some months it’s been clear with continuing Middle East disasters – admittedly much of the debris inherited from earlier times and administrations – the Obama White House wanted the country to look further east for its major foreign policy initiatives. A fawning media fell in line. That was despite echoes of growing disappointment in Pres. Obama’s earlier Muslim outreach, the escalating Iranian crisis, unanticipated subversion of “The Arab Spring”, troubled relations with major ally Israel, and the messy withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still, China looms ever larger. Not only are there huge unresolved economic issues in a time when the economy takes front and center – Beijing’s still growing dollars hoard, the unresolved yuan’s value, billions in stolen American intellectual property, blocking of American imports. But increasing bellicosity of Chinese military – and a lashing out against the U.S. by Le Keqiang, now scheduled as China’s next prime minister — all point to what might well be America’s number one longer term foreign policy concern.

With cavalier aplomb – given what’s generally perceived as U.S. over commitment and a gaping treasury – Sec. Clinton added to all this when she threw down the gauntlet in Southeast Asia. With “Vietnam Syndrome”long forgotten, Mrs. Clinton announced Washington would back China’s Southeast Asian neighbors in attempting to fend off Beijing’s outrageous claims to South China Sea oil and gas and dominance of one of the world’s most strategic waterways. Yes, it was only a restatement of America’s post-World War II Western Pacific hegemony and renewing the U.S. Navy’s pledge to maintain freedom of the seas. Still …

As best one can calculate – motivation is always the most dangerous speculation – some Administration geopolitical genius latched on to the coincidence Mr. Biden was the U.S. vice president, and China’s Vice President, Xi Jinping, is supposedly tapped in this fall’s succession to succeed Pres. Hu Jinbao. So, wouldn’t it be jolly for our vice president to get to know their vice president, establish a personal relationship, leading to understanding and cooperation, as we set off into the sunset? Kumbaya!

But Beijing’s politics are, if anything, more Byzantine than Washington’s – and far more opaque. Mr. Xi has repeatedly stumbled despite his “lips and teeth” relationship to Pres. Hu in his scramble for the triple throne of Party, military and government No. 1. And despite Mr. Biden’s claims to proletarian origins, they hardly match “princeling” Mr. Xi’s background — son of a Communist Party founder who incurred Mao Tsetung’s wrath that ondemned his teenage son to seven years “exile” at hard labor in a poverty-stricken semidesert village.

Whatever their vitae, dreaming up a buddy relationship as solution to the troubled U.S.-China relations almost certainly ahead, is, indeed, preposterous. The little soap opera proves, were it not already self-evident, the “lessons” of the Cold War lie buried somewhere in the Library of Congress — with no remnant at CIA, one surmises.