Friday, 30 September 2005

Doves of Prey

In consideration of the recent “anti-war” protests in Washington, Christopher Hitchens decries the involvement of militant leftist groups that portray themselves as pacifists, and he castigates the press for being complicit in this description:

To be against war and militarism, in the tradition of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, is one thing. But to have a record of consistent support for war and militarism, from the Red Army in Eastern Europe to the Serbian ethnic cleansers and the Taliban, is quite another. It is really a disgrace that the liberal press refers to such enemies of liberalism as ‘antiwar’ when in reality they are straight-out pro-war, but on the other side [1].

Of these groups, Mr Hitchens censures in particular the Answer Coalition, a front-organisation of the Workers’ World Party, which, he tells us, is “the product of a split within the Trotskyist movement . . . the ones who felt that the Trotskyist majority, in 1956, was wrong to denounce the Russian invasion of Hungary” [2].
.....Mr Hitchens describes himself as an ex-Trotskyist, though judging by his recent hagiography of the eponymous “old man”, one should not assume that this self-description amounts to a full apostasy from the faith. With such intimate knowledge as he possesses, therefore, Mr Hitchens should not be surprised to find that Trotskyists pursue their ends by any means – whether by terrorism, war or the watchword of peace; for they follow the example as set by their founder:
[T]he revolution does require of the revolutionary class that it should attain its end by all methods at its disposal—if necessary, by an armed rising: if required, by terrorism [3].

The watchword of peace undoubtedly played an enormous part in our struggle; but precisely because it was directed against the imperialist war. The idea of peace was supported most strongly of all, not by the tired soldiers, but by the foremost workers, for whom it had the import, not for a rest, but of a pitiless struggle against the exploiters. It was those same workers who, under the watchword of peace, laterlaid down their lives on the Soviet fronts [4].
Mr Hitchens gives us to understand that there is a wholly different tradition of opposing war and militarism, at odds with this Trotskyite sham, namely that of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht; for they too directed their energies against the “imperialist” First World War; and if we were to be lured by the words of Mr Hitchens, we should think this opposition was in the spirit of principled pacifism and jolly picnics. It was not so, however:
Karl Liebknecht: Seize the quarters of your officers; disarm them immediately. Make sure that your officers sympathize with you. In case they do so, let them lead you. Shoot them immediately in case they betray you after they have declared themselves supporters of your cause.
.....Soldiers and marines! Fraternize! Take possession of your ships. Overpower first your officers. Place yourselves in communication with your comrades on land and seize all harbours and open fire, if necessary, on loyal groups [5].

Rosa Luxemburg: It is only the overcoming of war and the speediest possible enforcement of peace by the international militancy of the proletariat that can bring victory to the
workers' cause [6].
Being against war and militarism in this tradition appears little different from being thereagainst in the tradition of the Trotskyists; for both traditions use pacifism as an expedience towards the fulfilment of the socialist state, and both are prepared to use ruthless militancy towards this end, should circumstances allow it. To paraphrase Mr Hitchens, I should say that it is a disgrace of definition that anyone could refer to such enemies of liberalism as “antiwar” when in reality they are straight-out pro-war, but on the other side.
.....It is no wonder that these traditions appear as one, however; for they are but strands in the poisonous tangle of Marxism, in whose very roots the meanings of peace, terror, militancy and principle are twisted. Engels, for instance, tells us that “[a]n end to wars, peace among the nations, the cessation of pillaging and violence - such is our ideal”[7], but also that “[t]he war of the poor against the rich will be the bloodiest ever waged” [8] and that “[t]he 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” [9]. Marx tells us that “there is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terrorism” [10]. Lenin, for his part, is quite plain about the need for Marxists to be open to all expedient means by which socialism might be attained:

Marxism differs from all primitive forms of socialism by not binding the movement to any one particular form of struggle. It recognises the most varied forms of struggle; and it does not “concoct” them, but only generalises, organises, gives conscious expression to those forms of struggle of the revolutionary classes which arise of themselves in the course of the movement. Absolutely hostile to all abstract formulas and to all doctrinaire recipes, Marxism demands an attentive attitude to the mass struggle in progress, which, as the movement develops, as the class-consciousness of the masses grows, as economic and political crises become acute, continually gives rise to new and more varied methods of defence and attack. Marxism, therefore, positively does not reject any form of struggle [11].

It troubles me, therefore, that while Mr Hitchens finds it disgraceful for the liberal press to be complicit in false descriptions, he finds no similar disgrace in describing Leon Trotsky, Marxist-Leninist, founder of the Red Army, butcher of Kronstadt, and apologist for terrorism, as a “prophetic moralist” [12]; moreover, that he feels no shame in trying to slip us the lie that Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht stand in a different tradition. It is no wonder that Mr Hitchens wakes up every day “to a sensation of pervading disgust” [13]; for the stench of his own hypocrisy must be quite strong.
——————
[1] Christopher Hitchens, “Anti-War, My Foot: The Phony Peaceniks who Protested in WashingtonSlate. 26th September 2005.
[2] ibid.
[3] Leon Trotsky, Dictatorship versus Democracy: A Reply to Karl Krautsky, 1922. Chapter 4. (English Translation of the Workers Party of America. Published online at The Leon Trotsky Internet Archives.)
[4] ibid., Ch. 7.
[5] Karl Liebknecht, “Call for Revolution” 1st November 1918, Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni, 1923. Online at FirstWorldWar.com (Primary Documents)
[6] Rosa Luxemburg, “The War and the Workers”, The Junius Pamphlet, 1916.
[7] Friedrich Engels, Letter to August Bebel, London, 13th Sept. 1886, Marx & Engels: Collected Works, Vol.47, p.487. Quoted online at the website of the Communist Party USA.
[8]. Friedrich Engels, The Conditions of the Working Class in England, Leipzig 1845 (Panther Edition, 1969, from text provided by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, Moscow), online at Marxists.org. Ch. 13.
[9] Friedrich Engels, “The Magyar Struggle”, Neue Rheinische Zeitung, No. 194, 13th January 1849. Online at Marxists.org.
[10] Karl Marx, “The Victory of the Counter-Revolution in Vienna”, Neue Rheinische Zeitung, No. 136, 6th November 1848.Translated by the Marx-Engels Institute. Online at Marxists.org.
[11] V.I. Lenin, “Guerrilla Warfare”, Proletary, No. 5, September 30, 1906. Republished in Lenin: Collected Works, Vol. 11. Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965. p. 213. Online at Marxists.org.
[12] Christopher Hitchens, “The Old Man”, The Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2004.
[13] Christopher Hitchens, Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays, Atlantic Books, 2004.

Thursday, 29 September 2005

Fewtril #29

If the weight of intellectual advocacy were taken into account, the scales of justice would come down on the side of tyranny.

Tuesday, 27 September 2005

Fewtril #28

That the modern “non-judgmental” and “tolerating” species of man spends much of his time in raging denunciation of views that might upset his own, should tell us enough about his character to leave us wondering which of his other avowed principles hide their opposites.

Friday, 23 September 2005

The Simpleton's Sage

If you have ever awoken in the morning and thought, “in order to be an active subject, I have to get rid of — and transpose onto the other — the inert passivity which contains the density of my substantial being”, then most likely you are an inveterate gobshite or a professor of sociology; — though it would take a man of rare perspicacity to tell the essence of the one from the other.
.....The words quoted are those of Slavoj Žižek (“The Interpassive Subject”, online at the European Graduate School, n.d.), the Slovenian philosophunculist and windbag-professor of sociology. His biography at the European Graduate School describes him as “an effective purveyor of Lacanian mischief” and claims that “he has an encyclopedic grasp of political, philosophical, literary, artistic, cinematic, and pop cultural currents — and . . . has no qualms about throwing all of them into the stockpot of his imagination — [which is why] he has dazzled his peers and confounded his critics for over ten years.” Consider this dazzling mischief, for example:
The pure multiple of Being is not yet a multitude of Ones, since . . . to have One the pure multiple must be ‘counted as One’; from the standpoint of the state of a situation, the preceding multiple can only appear as nothing, so nothing is the ‘proper name of Being as Being’ prior to its symbolization.
(Slavoj Žižek, “Psychoanalysis in Post-Marxism: The Case of Alain Badiou” The South Atlantic Quarterly; Spring 1998. Published online at the European Graduate School.)
Now, if I might venture here upon an expression of my own view, I should say that professor Žižek is a purveyor of ugly, senseless and frivolous tat – in other words, everything one expects from a celebrated intellectual fraudster – and that reading his dumbfounding works is the closest one is ever likely to get to an armchair lobotomy. Moreover, if encyclopaedic knowledge is to be mentioned in connection with him at all, then I should think it more appropriate to mention it only in terms of a children’s pictorial encyclopaedia in which some young tyke had augmented the pictures of the monkeys with doodled genitalia. I hardly need add, therefore, that he is the philosopher of choice amongst film students.

Wednesday, 21 September 2005

Fewtril #27

One of the greatest wonders of the world is that a man can lie to himself and get away with it.

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

A Monument of German Stupidity

“The public had been forced to see [in Kant] that what is obscure is not always without meaning; what was senseless and without meaning at once took refuge in obscure exposition and language. Fichte was the first to grasp and make vigorous use of this privilege; Schelling at least equalled him in this, and a host of hungry scribblers without intellect or honesty soon surpassed them both. But the greatest effrontery in serving up sheer nonsense, in scrabbling together senseless and maddening webs of words, such as had previously been heard only in madhouses, finally appeared in Hegel. It became the instrument of the most ponderous and general mystification that has ever existed, with a result that will seem incredible to posterity, and be a lasting monument of German stupidity. ”
(Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, (Tr. E.F.J. Payne) Dover, 1966. p. 429.)

Friday, 16 September 2005

The Bash of the Buffoons

It should gladden our hearts and behope us all that blackguards can put aside their differences long enough to identify their shared blackguardry. When, for instance, in May of this year, George Galloway described Christopher Hitchens as “a drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay”, he spoke with unwonted verity; and when Hitchens retorted with, “You're a real thug, aren't you?”, the words rang forsooth. (Quoted in “Galloway and the Mother of all Invective”, The Guardian, 18th May 2005.)
.....On Wednesday night the two great self-regarding buffoons met again to swap insults in front of an audience at Mason Hall in New York. In an article written on the eve of battle, Mr Hitchens began to skirmish:
He says that I am an ex-Trotskyist (true), a “popinjay” (true enough, since its original Webster's definition means a target for arrows and shots), and that I cannot hold a drink (here I must protest). In a recent interview he made opprobrious remarks about the state of my midriff, which I will confess has—as P.G. Wodehouse himself once phrased it—“slipped down to the mezzanine floor.” In reply I do not wish to stoop. Those of us who revere the vagina are committed to defend it against the very idea that it is a mouth or has teeth. Study the photographs of Galloway from Syrian state television, however, and you will see how unwise and incautious it is for such a hideous person to resort to personal remarks. Unkind nature, which could have made a perfectly good butt out of his face, has spoiled the whole effect by taking an asshole and studding it with ill-brushed fangs.
(Christopher Hitchens, “George Galloway is Gruesome, not Gorgeous”, Slate, 13th September 2005.)
The opportunity of providing a solution to the meaning of the cryptic – and some might say disturbing – reference to vaginas, I shall forgo; and I shall pass straight onto noting how in the space of one paragraph, Mr Hitchens goes from an aloofness from stooping to insults, to stooping to insults in a most entertainingly stooping way. As for Mr Hitchen’s reply to Mr Galloway’s earlier insult, I must point out that the ex-Trotskyist can still get dewy-eyed about old Leon, whom he recently described as a “prophetic moralist” about whom a “saintly penumbra still emanates”. (Christopher Hitchens, “The Old Man”, The Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2004.) I find it a little odd, however, that he should feel it desirable to concur that the word “popinjay” does indeed apply to him, though only in Webster’s etymology (“so called from the popinjay or figure of a bird shot at for practice”) and not in Webster’s primary definition (“a vain and talkative fellow”); but then perhaps he is so vain and talkative that he cannot resist stating that the word does in some way apply to him. With the accusation of being “drink-soaked”, he makes no contention, unless a feeble miscontrual counts.
.....Come Wednesday night, when battle commenced, Mr Hitchens was still rankled by the May-time insult, and fell foul of a misplaced modifier: “I believe it is a disgrace that a member of the British House of Commons should . . . insult all those who try to ask him questions with the most vile and cheap guttersnipe abuse”. (Quoted in David Usbourne, “Hitchens vs Galloway: The Big DebateThe Independent, 16th September 2005.)
.....Mr Galloway for his part was as willing as ever to trade insults, telling Mr Hitchens that he had “fallen out of the gutter and into the sewer”. (ibid.) And on Hitchens’ change from Trotskyite peacenik to Trotskyitish war-supporter, he averred that, “What you have witnessed is something unique in natural history - the first ever metamorphosis of a butterfly back into a slug”. (Quoted in James Bone, “Galloway and Hitchens get down and very dirty”, The Times, 15th September 2005.)
.....By all accounts, it was a night of splendid entertainment; but if you had expected more in the way of enlightenment, then I ought to tell you that you should not have placed your trust in a puffed-up popinjay or in a thug with a face like an arse.

Thursday, 15 September 2005

Fewtril #26

A modern totalitarian rarely makes so crude an Orwellian statement as “freedom is slavery”. His is a beclouded and garrulous soul, and he would rather say instead, “Freedom is an ideological mask for the protection of existing structures of domination”. He has been to university after all, and would like to show it.

Wednesday, 14 September 2005

Fewtril #25

In explaining the vast improbability of our existence, we have tended to settle on one of two unprovable propositions: either that this is one universe amongst an infinite number of universes; or that there is a God. The first has the explanatory virtue that it does without God. The second, that it does without an infinity of universes.

Tuppence for England

“There’ll always be an England”, sang some short-sighted fellow, and though he may have reckoned with foreign nations seeking its destruction from without, he may not have reckoned with the acquiescence of the English to the wishes of those foreigners within who seek its banishment; and if it now seems to you that an Englishman’s home is unconscionable, you have a soul mate in the shape of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who in a customary leap of opinion, believes that, “If the cricket is won, many more white Britons will give up on Britain and take refuge in England”. (Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, “My hopes of progress are turning to ashes”, The Independent, 12th September 2005.)
.....How dare we! In our own land too! It must seem regrettable to Ms Alibhai-Brown that an English nation existed long before the political union of this island, and it must seem no less deplorable that on this island there are still Englishmen living in a place called England that has not yet been forgotten.
.....I am of course swimming against the tide; for we must now be good little boys and give the place up at the behest of mean-spirited foreigners who wouldn’t give tuppence for it.

Tuesday, 13 September 2005

Pax Exanima

It is hard to estimate just how much perfidy, cowardice and moral decrepitude is hidden in pacifism. If we were to take into consideration only principled pacifism, we should find sufficient source for condemnation: not only in that it is a luxurious sentiment dearly paid for by others, which yet deplores those same for the force by which the security of its own existence is won, but also in that it is a doctrine of indifference that implores all to a spiritless acceptance of whichever circumstances should obtain. On the latter point, consider the callous fatuity of this statement by Mahatma Gandhi:

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction [of war] is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?

To the dead it makes none; for if there is one thing at which the dead excel, it is at indifference. But to the living, including those homeless orphans who are of such use in providing us with emotive spuriosities, the form of life under which we live should make all the difference. If we were indifferent to good and evil, freedom and slavery, worth and worthlessness, then we might as well be dead; for life would not be worth living.
.....Surely it could not have been a matter of indifference to Mr Gandhi whether the country from which he would seek independence was Britain and not Germany; for if the former had been indifferent to the latter, and the latter had assumed control of India, then Mr Gandhi’s pacifism would have been as futile as a hunger-strike in Sachsenhausen. As George Orwell pointed out: “Despotic governments can stand ‘moral force’ till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force” (“Pacifism and the War”, Partisan Review, August/September 1942). It must not have escaped Mr Gandhi’s notice, however, that the land from which he won independence was not Germany but Britain, against whose sons pacifism as a moral principle was such an effective weapon. I do not think it excessively cynical to wonder whether behind this vaunted and sacred principle of peace lies a grubby and worldly exigence; and that had the circumstances been different, Mr Gandhi would now be known for his conversion to the principle of the slaughter of tyrants.
.....If the case of Gandhi is unclear, and is due the benefit of the doubt as a guard against excessive cynicism and defamation, we should be in no doubt that the utility of pacifism has not gone unnoticed by scoundrels, to whom it is a tactical device in the disarming of enemies. And thus, on the question of genuine principle or exigent utility, I’ll go so far as to wager that for every principled pacifist who wouldn’t hurt a fly, even if it were chewing his leg off, there are a thousand pretenders who would have the whole of fly-kind swatted out of existence come the revolution.
.....This is ably illustrated by the words of Leon Trotsky, founder of the Red Army and a blood-thirsty tyrant if ever there was:
In such [adverse] conditions [before the the communist seizure of power], we had only one way out: to take our stand on the platform of peace, as the inevitable conclusion from the military powerlessness of the revolution, and to transform that watchword into the weapon of revolutionary influence on all the peoples of Europe.
(Leon Trotsky, Dictatorship versus Democracy (Terrorism and Communism): A Reply to Karl Krautsky, 1922. Chapter 7. (English Translation by the Workers Party of America.) Published online at the Leon Trotsky Internet Archives.)
And this is what we must contend with today: that behind every avowed moral principle lurks a host of scoundrels who would make armchairs out of one another’s grandmothers given half the chance and a bagful of stuffing.

Monday, 12 September 2005

Fewtril #24

The superiority of ignoramuses in view of the absurd beliefs of their ignorant forebears is such that they are able to ask: “How could they have believed something so obviously absurd?”. Yet these same ignoramuses have nothing but reverence for their own contemporary absurdities, which are so obvious that even their ignorant descendents, no longer compelled to believe in them, will be able to ask: “How could they have believed something so obviously absurd?”

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

Fewtril #23

A scholar who has come to rue the loneliness that is marked by the rift between his scholarship and the indifference of the people thereto is not unlikely to soothe this feeling by saying stupid but popular things.

Fewtril #22

He who would like the simple truth of a matter to be shrouded hits upon the simple trick of describing as simple-minded those who utter it.

Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Fewtril #21

One ought to consider whether the conditions necessary for decent society are too delicate to survive the protestations of the people.

Thursday, 1 September 2005

A Spot in the Limelight

I should not like to sully these pages with mention of so lowly a creature as Julie Burchill, whose name time will obliterate, leaving no more trace on culture than a spot leaves on skin after its passing, were it not that she represents something of a modern phenomenon, namely, the success that may be had through ignorance, stupidity, vulgarity and the celebration thereof; and thus I feel obliged to mention her for that reason only, and not, you understand, because she herself is worthy of any intellectual attention. For she poses no problems in intellectual terms, except in the way that the blathering of a child or the drone of traffic can disturb concentration.

As I have intimated, she is one spot amongst a rash, and I single her out only because she is a salient example of that disease of post-modern fatuity. Now, it could not be said that I take a positive view of journalists, but I must say in their favour that I can think of few who are able to gallivant with so great an abandon through so many subjects as her without ever happening upon sense. Few can boast so great a distance between talent and success. Few can be as predictable and insensible in their contrariness. And few are so desperate to evince their brattish desire to shock – and so artless in its application – that they cannot be bothered even to find any pretence for doing so.

That someone as ill-educated, talentless, idiotic and without any redeeming virtue as she could attain celebrity in this land says much about what its people think is worth celebrating; for she could not fare well were it not that society is degraded to the point of an “open-minded and inclusive” toleration of degradation. But I have said enough; for the less said about her, the better, lest one leave a trace.

Fewtril #20

A man who doubts everything is a fool who does not wish to be caught out again.