Political biography, current to 2004, with hasty postscript regarding 2006 election.
Writers work for one of the opposition newspapers, but the text is...morePolitical biography, current to 2004, with hasty postscript regarding 2006 election.
Writers work for one of the opposition newspapers, but the text is not a demonology. It does try to strike a faux balance in Fox News sense, such as when they suggest that both sides have a point when opposition accuses Chavez of “encouraging class conflict” and Chavez says “the nation had previously been living under the false illusion of harmony” (260). It’s hard to sympathize with authors and the opposition when they suggest that lying about harmony is a good thing and commenting on existing class conflict is a bad thing.
Volume does have its uses, such as a succinct background on Chavez, the 1992 coup, the 1998 election, the numerous elections thereafter (which authors do not assert to be fraudulent, and note an opposition accusation of electoral fraud on only one occasion), the April 2002 coup & countercoup.
Some chapters are ineffective. E.g., the introduction sets the tone with “in the long run his economic policies will surely hurt the material well being of most Venezuelans, and his authoritarian behavior is clearly eroding the basic political freedoms that the country enjoyed for decades” (xix)--gotta love naked dogmatism at the outset. Late chapters on Chavez’s sex life and family troubles are simply salacious gossip, and I am surprised that the authors included it, because now I think that they’re fit to write for fashion magazines and scandal rags, rather than serious work. Another late chapter is about Chavez’s use of the media, which is half gossip, half analytical, but of little importance. Because authors are part of the media, they overemphasize the importance of their industry.
Chavez’s ideology is hard to pin down. By 2006 he was talking about “Bolivarian socialism” and “twenty-first century socialism” (293). No idea what the content of that might be. Though he enacted land reform upon first being elected, which is one thing that pissed off the rightwing initially(145), he otherwise governed to “use protectionist capitalism to generate social balance” (149). He apparently lost leftwingers because “despite his invective against savage capitalism and globalization, Chavez opened the telecommunications, gas, and utilities sectors to foreign investors and continued to follow the guidelines recommended by the IMF” (148-49). Some accused “you haven’t touched a single hair on the ass of anyone in the economic sector” (id). So, yeah, not really seeing the far left content.
Authors don’t know what to make of any of that, nor do they present controversial statutes for analysis, merely mentioning that a statute on oil or censorship or whatever was passed, and that many people did not like it. Well, no shit that the ox doesn’t like getting gored. The question on each gored ox is whose, how, and why, which this volume passes over. Authors main concern is that Chavez wants power, “more power,” “always power,” and so on. It’s a wearisome refrain, as though pursuit of nebulously defined “power” is something that they bother to mention regarding anyone else.
Volume also, unforgivably, passes over in near silence the US involvement in the 2002 coup, mentioning only that Chavez accused the US of involvement.
Probably a decent introduction to Chavez, overall. (less)
Coverage of the development of the art of war from Charlemagne through the Burgundian wars, with focus on occidental processes and only incidental app...moreCoverage of the development of the art of war from Charlemagne through the Burgundian wars, with focus on occidental processes and only incidental appreciation of oriental contributions, including the ill-fated Byzantines. Volume is concerned with how those groups that destroyed the Roman Empire had themselves become pacified and therefore vulnerable to renewed assaults by nomads, neo-barbarians, and so on--and because of the vulnerability, what steps were taken--and because of the steps, what results obtained.
Continues the technique of the first two volumes of interrogating source documents with rigor. There is virtually no quoted figure of army strengths, for instance, that is not dismissed as legendary or fantasy. It is conceded that some battle reports need no expert authority to preserve incredulity: the Poles at Tannenburg were reported to have brought 5.1 million guys, "thereby exceeding even the numbers given by the Father of History for Xerxes' army" (523).
Considers, likewise, the recurrent narrative, in accounting for a defeat, that some faction or other committed treachery, typically by untimely withdrawal, to be part of "the series of traitor stories that have been common since Marathon" (575); his discussion of Falkirk, contra Braveheart, notes in this connection that the Scottish knights fled (no treachery noted) and the Scottish foot, a reported 30,000 ("grossly exaggerated"), was exhausted by English archery and broken by English knights (not cavalry) (392-93).
Some cool antecedents noted: the ancient oath of the Germanic warrior transforms into an oath of personal loyalty of all males to the monarch (as it happens, Charlemagne) (27). We see then that the wehrmacht's oath of personal allegiance to the Fuhrer was not created ex nihilo (cf. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, II.7 at 247). We also see that the old carlovingian scara looks like a feudal SS--though of course Delbruck did not live to make the association (53-54). The sections on Charlemagne really shine overall because of the substantial appendix of military regulations captured for analysis. But there's plenty else of value: Italian statelets, Germanic imperials, Teutonic knights, Hussite war wagons.
Some oddities: decides that "the history of weapons and the construction of strongholds," originally part of the book's plan, must be left on the cutting room floor (635). The dialectic of weaponry and anti-weaponry in the period is interesting stuff, but Delbruck considers it to be not intrinsic. In a perceptive but brief chapter on the Turks, I was floored by one moment of casual dismissal: "Even before the Crusades had ended, the oriental world was overrun by the Mongols under Genghis Khan. But despite his mighty military deeds and those of Tamerlane, who followed in his footsteps, we can pass over both of them in our present context" (473).
The kindly reader will benefit immensely from a thorough historical knowledge of the German and French monarchies; Delbruck refers casually to regimes and persons, expecting readers to keep up. Much labor expended usefully here in tracing the development of knighthood as a military arm (as opposed to cavalry), and thereafter the shift from knight service to money payments, which meant that mercenaries arose to fight wars, rather than vassals. Subsequently, mercenaries remained after the conclusion of the war, so standing armies became necessary to deal with them. Whole thing ends, not because of gunpowder (which is treated in Volume IIII), but with the development of true infantry, within the meaning of Roman legions and Greek phalanxes, by the Swiss in their mountain fastnesses, and through whom the wheel is come full circle.
We find that the Arab and Turkish systems had developments similar to occidental feudalism, with knight service and property tied together and consequent pacification of the great mass of the toiling population, leading to the relative worthlessness of peasant levies and infantry falling into desuetude.
One of the best details, what I mentally noted as "regime insurance": "With the passage of time, there developed as a link between the feudal military system and the mercenary system the practice of concluding definite monetary agreements between great powers. [...] Henry I of England, son of William the Conqueror, concluded the first treaty of this type in 1103, with Count Robert of Flanders, who obligated himself to provide for the king 1,000 knights with three horses each, in return for 400 marks of silver annually. It was not valid against Robert's suzerain, the king of France. The count was to have his knights ready forty days after receiving notification" (316). One wonders which court had jurisdiction over disputes on these types of contracts.
Otherwise, thoughtful coverage of many famous battles: Courtrai, Crecy, Agincourt, Nikopol, Sempach, Bannockburn, Pillenreuth. (less)
Philistine journalist account of the ouster of Somoza and beginnings of the Sandinista regime, published in 1985 prior to the full measure of woe rega...morePhilistine journalist account of the ouster of Somoza and beginnings of the Sandinista regime, published in 1985 prior to the full measure of woe regarding Iran-Contra was known. As a for instance, consider this passage, the only mention in the text of Col. North:
"Subtle word also went out from the White House encouraging supporters of Ronald Reagan to provide help in time or money. Working from a small office on the third floor of the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House, an outgoing marine Corps lieutenant named Oliver L. North spoke to everything from conservative women's groups to gatherings of establishment lawyers and wealthy individuals. As a member if the National Security Council staff, he would show videotapes of the FDN at war and still photographs of the combatants that he took during his frequent visits to FDN camps. Tears often welled in his eyes as he spoke of the determination of the fighters and their suffering for lack of boots, medical transport and other things" (365).
So, yeah, it's that kind of douchey scumbaggery.
Volume is hostile to the Sandinistas, but makes a decent presentation in its first third of the movement against Somoza. Whitewashes the US, of course. Almost a gossipy level of detail on some interactions--a kind of missing the forest for the trees. Very much pro Contras. Credits every opposition report against the regime, but presents sceptically complaints about the Contras and other opposition figures. Attempts to suggest that the Contras grew spontaneously or organically--but as we now know, however: Iran-Contra. Sandinistas are not trying to build a better world, but rather "their goal was to assure themselves the means to control nearly every aspect of Nicaraguan life" (374). There is of course no evidence for this inference, other than rightwing fantasy. Has the decency to admit at least that the US mined the Nicaraguan harbors and instructed the contras to assassinate Sandinista civilian officials--but of course draws no inferences about the capitalist insurgents, former somocistas therein, or their US paymasters. Enough said: it's blinkered bullshit.(less)
Political biography, with attention to the evolving ideology of maximum leader. Written during the period in which the Soviet empire was disintegratin...morePolitical biography, with attention to the evolving ideology of maximum leader. Written during the period in which the Soviet empire was disintegrating, and revised during the Clinton years, but prior to the financial crises of 1997-98. Volume concludes in acknowledgement of nezaversennost, reflecting that it "can have no concluding chapter" (175), that Cuba's "hundred-year-old, and still unfinished, struggle for independence and development" (182) continues.
Overall a relatively favorable portrait of Castro, though not hagiographic. Takes a moment in a bibliographic note to pooh-pooh previous volumes written by cold warriors from the United States, "so relentlessly hostile towards Castro that they fail to convince" (184), which are nonetheless qualitatively distinguishable from the writings of rightwing Cuban exiles in Miami, who produce mere "demonologies" (186).
Places Castro simultaneously in the regional tradition of Bolivar and Marti (8-11) as well as in the conjunctional current of "Nasser, Nkrumah, Nyerere, and Ben Bella" (175).
Presents much of the agitation in Cuba, including Castro's, as partaking of "redemptionist rhetoric" (26), "nationalist regeneration" (28), "inspired by heroic and violent myths" (34), invoking "political models of Chibas, Gaitan, Peron, and even Mussolini" (id.), a belief that "what was important was not the individuals involved but conviction" (89) (cf. RSB!), a "militaristic distrust of ideological or cultural pluralism" with "a strong vein of prudishness" (93), along with "voluntarism" (177), as well as private armies drawn from "marginal social groups" (26), a lumpenized uprising, which later manifested as marginal lumpen-peasants during the time in the Sierra Maestra (49)--all things that make me nervous.
As much as those items suggest rightwing politics, we also see some stalinist deviations from left politics, such as zhdanovism, show trials, a cult of personality, "socialism in one country" policy, eventually a Cuban-styled perestroika, termed rectification. Some of the stalinist items occur in the 1970s, during the so-called "sovietization" of Cuba, a result of trade & military agreements struck with the Warsaw Pact and Comecon, which Castro had previously resisted.
Overall, though, Castro is presented as an earnest, bona fide custodian of the revolution, who regarded himself as a trustee of the state until such time as the citizenry was educated enough and the economy sufficiently developed to resist neocolonialism. I can imagine that this should set off apoplectic fits among rightwing exiles, which makes me smile.
Despite the above and foregoing, author notes that Castroism substitutes nation for class, as the Cuban experience can't be "squeezed into the mold of European revolutionary socialism," the "result of class struggle" with an "organized working class" (76), reverses stalinism by insisting that "the New Man would be forged in order to raise the productive forces" (80), and prioritizes "a somewhat idealized peasantry" over "the urban proletariat" (49), all significant distinctions from marxism. The first item "belonged to a different tradition" than marxism's "self-emancipation of the working class," and forefronts "anti-colonial, nationalist regeneration," in which "radical reform and nationalisation were, in theory at least, compatible with a modified capitalism" (42). The second distinction envisioned "new virtues" of "austerity, discipline, selflessness, and comradeship" in order to overcome "centuries of colonialism, sixty years under neocolonialism" (80). The last is linked specifically with the narodnik tradition and maoism, and "articulated above all by Che Guevara," presumably in the foco theory (49).
None of that is to suggest that the property basis of the economics was not leftwing: there were waves of progressive expropriations, begininng in the Sierra Maestra. Probably it was consistent with populist land reform, but eventually resulted in the founding of cooperatives and state industries, mass public ownership, and progressive prohibition of private enterprise, down to the least petit bourgeois shoppe-keeper.
Curious dialectic regarding the repeated process of the out-group shaking down exiles in Miami for a coup or insurrection, back to Batista at least.
Author generally is careful to distinguish Castro's policy from Soviet policy, one of the major analytics of the book. There were times when Castro followed Soviet orders, such as the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, the 1979 Afghanistan invasion, the Horn of Africa mess, and so on, generally at cost to his international prestige, which was otherwise well developed. Safe to say that author does not regard Cuba generally as a catspaw of the Russian Empire.
Because the account attempts to be favorable, it often generates some humorous euphemisms, such as "The Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia on 21 August 1968 gave [Castro] an unusual opportunity to begin rebuilding bridges with Moscow" (94). I should think so! Writer appears on occasion to adopt hegelian, if not necessarily marxist analysis, such as when pre-Castro regimes are described as failing because of "the contradiction engendered by Cuba's uneven and dependent development" (60).
Chronicles otherwise the changing constitution of Cuba, typically in response to economic circumstances, as well as the relationship with the United States, always a villain in this narrative, and always more important than the Soviet Union.
Recommended for unreconstructed cold warriors, wealthy Miami exiles, and those who shakedown wealthy Miami exiles for coup d'etat funds.
Short & sweet. Likely best for someone who has no exposure to the subject matter (i.e., like me).
First half is very broad strokes regarding the r...moreShort & sweet. Likely best for someone who has no exposure to the subject matter (i.e., like me).
First half is very broad strokes regarding the revolutionary context in Latin America, Bolivar as military officer, statesman, political theorist. The military history of the independence war is briefly presented, touching only the major initial reversals, then the five major battles that each appear to have liberated a state, thence descending into sectarian civil war after the Spanish Empire was ejected.
Second half is a collection of documents, including memoir excerpts, essays by Humboldt, and--the core of the book--Bolivar's four key statements: the Cartegena Manifesto of 1812, the Jamaica Letter of 1815, the Angostura Address of 1819, and the Bolivian Constitution of 1826.
1813 brought about guerra al muerte, a response to unrestricted imperial reprisals, in which pronouncement Bolivar spoke candidly: "Spaniards and Canary islanders, you will die, though you be neutral" (139). This position would eventually be loosened--but Bolivar in Jamaica estimates that the civil wars and liberation struggles up to 1815 cost Venezuela 25% of its population, and a total of one million persons died in all of New Spain, an eighth overall (154), in what he terms a "war of extermination" (158).
By the time we get to Angostura, he is proposing a new constitution, with a life president, and a tricameral legislature consisting of life senators, termed tribunes, and life censors. The terms are Roman and he's not kidding about that. The Bolivian constitution later makes this all manifest. The point is to have a popular, representative system with centralizing & permanant features.
Nutshell: a mix of five-star primary reportage & archival work with one-star reckless inferences & commentary.
Text is like Solzhenitsyn's The...moreNutshell: a mix of five-star primary reportage & archival work with one-star reckless inferences & commentary.
Text is like Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago insofar as it is an indictment, proceeding from the position of internal critique, written by an author as yet subject to the jurisdiction of the accused state. It is therefore written at the writer’s dire risk, and should be regarded as proof of the author's integrity and boldness.
Unlike Solzhenitsyn, however, this is no "literary investigation," stylized, ironic, or otherwise non-journalistic. Both Yang and Solzhenitsyn rely heavily on an accumulation of anecdotes, backed with statistics. In itself, the accumulation of anecdotes, the parade of horribles, can't be overemphasized. The statistics drawn from internal archives make this point all the more persuasive. This isn't to say that the anecdotes aren't an attempt at naked manipulation; recitation of individual tragedies, amidst the deaths of millions of persons, is a sort of micro-theatre, part and parcel to the genre of anti-communist literature. That doesn't make it wrong, of course--just obvious in its antecedents. I would nevertheless not deny the writer the moral force of his particularized evidence--and that evidence exerts irresistible force: what else might be said of numerous cases of anonymous cannibalism, patricidal cannibalism, pedophagia, up to and including the eating of one’s own minor children?
This volume is also, on the one hand, unlike The Black Book of Communism, which is an external critique that masks the local political goals of French anti-communists. On the other hand, Yang partakes of some of the standard anti-communist sleights of mind, such as indicting "communism" grossly (technically a reference to an economics), while focusing at times on carceral injustices, trifling ideological mass movements, want of parliamentary procedure, monopolization of education, police state thuggery, and so on. My criticism does not exhaust this book, however, as 1) Yang is also indicting "totalitarianism" at times, which sweeps up the items mentioned, and 2) Yang does focus on the economics of the Great Leap Forward, which is something that does not get much attention in some standards of the anti-communist genre.
Translated text was much longer in its original publication; translation is heavily edited, containing only "four of the original 'provincial' chapters, the six 'central,' or 'policy,' chapters, and five (instead of eight) 'analysis' chapters" (xiv). Includes a chronology of major events, extensive notes, bibliography, index. There’s also a provincial map included, but this volume should likely be read with an atlas on hand, as the included map does not break out prefectures, counties, cities, towns--and the narrative is sufficiently detailed to involve very local micro-detail (a great virtue).
The translated provincial chapters detail Henan, Sichuan, Gansu, and Anhui. Three of these are the top three in terms of highest unnatural deaths from the famine and within the top four regarding highest unnatural mortality rate, whereas the fourth has the eighth highest death toll and is the fifth highest death rate (see handy chart at 395-96). The chapters are well selected, then, to maximize the propaganda effect for the English-speaking audience. By contrast, Shanxi province had the seventh highest death rate, but the lowest death toll (~60,000 human persons) during the famine.
Author presents numerous calculations for overall death and birth rates, and settles on "36 million unnatural deaths" and "shortfall of 40 million births" (430) for the years 1958-62. Though author's preferred toll is on the high end of the range of estimation, I feel no need to dispute his numbers.
Similarly, author here avoids the normal anti-communist cliche, as one finds in Richard Pipes, say, that all of this commie stuff was just a waste, with no accomplishments. Author, rather, is willing to admit certain accomplishments, such as the precipitous rising of capital construction, which pulled laborers from the fields (90) or a brief list of “necessary and successful“ irrigation canals (125). I don't endorse the make-big-omelet/break-million-eggs approach to totalitarian development projects, but will merely insist that the famine paid a price that needn't've thereby been paid later. We see how that might work in The Political Economy of Hunger, by Dreze & Sen, who compare post-war India & China, noting that the Chinese regime caused the deaths of over 30 million human persons during the Great Leap Forward, whereas India's parliamentary system did not suffer any such massive, concentrated loss. However, China's post-war policies added 10-15 more years than India's to life expectancy, a result of medical care, infrastructure development, and so on. Outside the Great Leap Forward, the Chinese lead in life expectancy meant that "every eight years or so more people in addition die in India--in comparison with Chinese mortality rates--than the total number that died in the gigantic Chinese famine."
We might also call attention to Sen's work in Poverty and Famines, which develops the definitional work at issue in discussing famine: "Starvation is a normal feature in many parts of the world, but this phenomenon of 'regular' starvation has to be distinguished from violent outbursts of famine" (39). Poverty "can reflect relative deprivation as to absolute dispossession," and can "exist, and be regarded as acute, even when no serious starvation exists" whereas "starvation does imply poverty" (id.). Famine in 1958-62 aside, Sen notes that the "elimination of starvation in socialist economies--for example China--seems to have taken place even without a dramatic rise in food availability per head, and indeed, typically the former has preceded the latter" (7).
Yang doesn’t mention "British refusal to ban rice exports from famine-affected Hunan" in 1906 or from Changsha in 1910 (Sen 161). This latter omission is particularly salient, as Yang argues that “With official priority placed on feeding the burgeoning urban population and importing machinery in exchange for grain exports, grain was all but snatched from peasant mouths” (19).
The Chinese state exported substantial grains in order to generate the currency necessary to purchase industrial equipment abroad. This is no mere incidental, but rather was intrinsic to the Great Leap Forward: industrializing as quickly as possible to catch the UK, the US, the USSR. Chapter 9 lays out the numbers in several succinct charts, regarding the amount of grains grown, procured, exported, and so on (320-49). It is no defense to suggest that someone else is guilty of one’s own crime--however, it suggests that sale of foods on the international market by the Maoists is the issue, rather than the property forms or the political despotism. We note that the same mechanism was in place during the Ukrainian famine of the early 1930s: “at the beginning of the thirties, grain production decreased, bread was in short supply, and millions of peasants were starving,” and yet “Stalin insisted on exporting great quantities of grain” (Medvedev, Let History Judge, at 69). The common theme of the British exports, the Chinese exports, and the Soviet exports is that they are global market participation for profit without regard for the livelihood of the workers who produced the grain. The problem, then, is insufficient workers’ rights--that is, insufficient socialism.
The practice of imposing hardship on the working population in order to procure exportable crops reminds one rather of IMF austerity programs; Zhou boasted afterward that China “not only did not borrow one yuan in foreign debt, but we also repaid nearly all of our past foreign debt” and also contributed “aid to socialist and nationalist countries” (458). (Author cites this language as evidence that China’s foreign debt was not a proximate cause of the great famine. I’m inclined to agree that repayment of the debt was not the primary or even a major cause.) Export is maximized, services to internal population minimized, debts repaid. This is violation of the basic Marxist principle of providing for the producers; instead, the state expropriated the producers, the standard for capitalist economics: “intolerable is the fact that while China’s people starved, the government continued to export large quantities of grain” (Yang 450).
Even though author cites Sen otherwise for the proposition that "no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press" (16), the passages that I‘ve quoted above are not mentioned in this translation. Author continues with Sen: "China, although it was in many ways doing much better economically than India, still managed (unlike India) to have a famine" (id.). Given Sen’s other work, I find this usage of Sen to be at best manipulative.
Top rate is the presentation of memoranda, speeches, and other official statements by Mao, Zhou, Liu, and so on, regarding policy, ideological struggles, and the famine. These details are fascinating.
It is nevertheless the synthesis of the anecdotes/archives with the political memoranda/speeches that reveals author's recklessness. For instance, it’s routine to quote some memoranda from the government, and then note, post hoc ergo propter hoc that many deaths followed thereafter. So, Wu Zhipu, Henan’s governor at the pertinent time, is called out on the carpet for finding “grievous rightist errors” in the population and setting impractical, unrealistic industrial and agricultural targets (see e.g. 72-73 et seq.), leading inexorably to three millions dead in Henan (83). This process of quoting dumb commietalk and then highlighting deaths is pedestrian in the genre. Now, lest I sound like a scumbag defense attorney, the plaintiff lawyer in me counter-argues that it is a case of res ipsa loquitur: given the state monopoly over procurement and distribution, as well as the carceral institutions that compelled work and dictated residence, what other cause is even possible, let alone plausible? There can be no serious objection, as far as I’m concerned, that state policy is a proximate cause of the great famine--but the attempt to isolate policy as the sole cause, or, further, to isolate remote-seeming commietalk as the cause, is woefully inadequate. Famine historically is a political occurrence, with policy roots.
Another type of reckless inference is a repeated insistence that “no one dared speak the truth” (119, 191, &c.)--because of repressive techniques of the carceral apparatus--regarding exaggerated grain yields, overinvestment in steel production, failures of capital projects, food shortages, death tolls. While it is certainly fair to state that repressive techniques caused a chilling effect among those who knew that problems existed, it is inconsistent, page by page even, to suggest that no one dared speak the truth. We are, in fact, treated to many discussions of central committee members, local cadres, provincial officials, non-party members, and so on requesting relief, making grievances, filing oppositional memoranda, even taking arms against the state. Liu himself authored a tract against “rash advance” in industry and agriculture, for which he endured censure and underwent self-criticism. Zhou spoke out of turn and was disciplined. So, when Communist ideas are said to be “etched into every soul” (495), it can hardly be taken seriously, if there exist “right deviationists,” “right opportunists,” “left adventurists,” “left opportunists,” bourgeois peasants, degenerate elements, feudal remnants, and so on. We have, that is, an extraordinarily good presentation by author of the multi-layered debates that occurred at all levels during the great famine--but then we get categorical inferences that bear little relation to the evidence presented in the text, and arise instead out of the febrile clichés of the anti-communist genre.
The reckless inferential chains never become dishonest--except for the refutation of the official thesis that weather caused a natural disaster, leading inexorably to famine (452). Author contends, first, that the state “blamed it all on Mother Nature” (id.). The very next paragraphs, however, quote Liu for the proposition that “natural disaster was not the chief cause” and that the famine was “three parts natural disaster and seven parts man-made disaster” (id.). Author, second, contends that “the three years of the famine” were “in no way exceptional” (453). Analysis of rainfall and temperature thereafter follows, with several useful charts (453-56). Author suggests that some years during the famine were flood years, but only moderately, not worse than other years with no famine, whereas some years in the famine were drought years, each less severe than other times with no famine. Also, “divergence in [temperature productivity] for the years 1958-61 is not the largest for the forty-year period” (456). How weasely is that? The problem with the analysis is that each year is examined in isolation from other years. So, 1960 had a moderate drought, “less serious than in 1955, 1963, 1966, 1971, 1978, 1986, and 1988” (453), whereas 1959 and 1961 had less flooding than 1954, 1973, and so on (id.). Ergo, no weather problems! The chart helps visualize the effect: 1956-57 are normal, then 1958 has moderate drought, 1959 moderate flood, 1960 moderate drought, 1961 moderate flood--1962 is back to normal range (454). Cursory review of the other years cited for drought or flood are bordered by normal years on at least one side. The great famine sits astride four straight years of abnormality, alternating drought and flood. The aggregate effect, however, is not considered in author’s analysis.
Davis, in Late Victorian Holocausts, has considered this aggregation: “the ‘strong’ El Nino of 1957-59, which also produced a famous famine and nearly a million refugees in the Brazilian sertao was the likely culprit responsible for the onset of drought in 1958-59” (251). Davis passes along that “for the first time in human memory, people could actually wade across the Yellow River” (id.). Further review of the literature produces the conclusion that “‘the weather was the main cause of the enormous grain-yield losses in 1960 and 1961,’ but that the communes could still have survived the crisis without mass mortality if Beijing had not stupidly reduced its own sown acreage in 1959 (to divert labor to public works and backyard steel-making) and criminally enforced confiscatory procurement quotas in 1959-60,” the latter a reference to the export of grains (id).
The ultimate political thesis here is that the cause of 76 million aggregate human losses was "a ruthless suppression of political dissent with a highly centralized planned economy to produce a system that Mao Zedong himself characterized as 'Marx plus Qin Shihuang,'" a "combination of Soviet-style autocracy and ancient Chinese despotism" (17). The system at fault, therefore, is a palimpsest of the very ancient bleeding into the most modern, much as Pipes himself has described regarding the Russian Empire, a "peculiar type of political authority, blending native and Mongol elements, which arose in Moscow once the Golden Horde began to lossen its grip" (Russia under the Old Regime at 57). At the other end of the spectrum, Medvedev considers, then rejects, the popular thesis that "to explain Stalinism we have to return to earlier and earlier epochs of Russian history, very likely to the Tartar yoke"(Medvedev at 359)--but also concurs that "for centuries the cult of the tsar, the ideology of absolutism, had been ingrained in Russia" (Id., at 364). Those "centuries," we find, are long, as "the Novgorod Chronicle began referring to the new ruler not only as Khan Batu of the Mongols, but also as Tsar Batu, a title that literally meant Caesar Batu, signifying a new united rule over the many warring princely families of Russia," Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (150). Mao's reference to Qin Shihuang summons a ghost greater than a millennium more ancient than the Mongols in Russia, in view of which I am genuinely staggered. Mao accordingly became "the most powerful emperor who had ever ruled China" (17).
One very interesting late chapter addresses the issue of why, when “the Great Famine of the 1960s was unprecedented in scale,” did it not "give rise to major social turmoil?” (465). We are thereafter treated to a roll call of uprisings that did occur, as well as an approved list of totalitarian social controls that prevented rebellion. Uprisings “were more likely in the ethnic minority regions” (id.). A number of the uprisings described occur in and around Yunnan, which borders Burma in part. Author doesn’t get into it, but we know from Blum’s Killing Hope US Military and CIA Interventions that many of Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalists took unlawful refuge in Burma and, organized and supplied by the CIA, began making incursions into Yunnan in the 1950s (Blum, at 23-24). The nationalists raided across the border and developed opium production in the Golden Triangle (25). So, some real subversion, omitted by Yang.
Text devolves from there, erecting a “communist fundamentalism” conceit (492-93), later to become “Marxist fundamentalism” (520), leading into the hackneyed suggestion that Mao gave us Pol Pot (521). An lengthy quotation of Herr Hayek (486) late in the volume seals it.
Last, an early admission reveals that the famine during the Great Leap Forward is different in degree, but not in kind, from prior Chinese famines: "most severe famine previously recorded occurred in 1928-30 [...] broke all previous records, but still killed only 10 million people" (13). Also, in 1920 through 1936, crop failures took the lives of 18.36 million people" (id.). These are crass statements, and reveal that this volume is, in part but not in whole, a hit piece, a concept assassination. "Only" 10 million? “Crop failures”? Famine is always already a political event. The point, of course, is that there is an interest here in minimizing prior famines, suppressing other parades of horribles, in order to effect a hayekian policy preference. This last is damning, in my not-at-all humble opinion.
All that said, a most substantial book on a most important subject. Highest recommendation.(less)
If this is the worst book that I read in 2013, it'll be a very good year.
Very much a people's history, but more in the original tradition of Morton's...moreIf this is the worst book that I read in 2013, it'll be a very good year.
Very much a people's history, but more in the original tradition of Morton's People's History of England, with broad strokes regarding class relations, social forces, conflicting ideologies, imperialist power, and so on (there's even mention on occasion of dialectics and contradiction, so, yaknow, overtly marxist), rather than the more colloquial and personal demarginalization of resistance voices that one might find in Zinn's People's History of the United States. The distinction is that the former presents the establishment version of history from the perspective of critique, along with an authoritative, centralizing narrative of resistance tendencies, whereas the latter is pleased to decentralize the narration, forefronting the counter-narrative in fragmented form through the direct discourse of contemporary interlocutors. Both traditions have their respective values. Those conversant with marxist theory will note oblique references to Althusser, quotations of Gramsci, and citations to Poulantzas; explicit references to Herr Marx appear--but the analysis is dominated, appropriately, by Fanon & Cabral.
Writer is Congolese, in on the ground floor with the decolonization and resistance movements described. Despite the passionate attachment of the author, the writing is sober. The book is familiar with Horschild, and seems generally supportive of that work.
Chronicles the initial seizure of the Congo by the Belgian monarch, who ruled it as a personal possession, rather than under the auspices of the Belgian state. The death toll for the 23-year period of personal rule is ten million human persons, attributable to market mechanisms and the behavior of concessionaire corporations from around the capitalist world. The first state to recognize Leopold's claim, incidentally, was the United States in 1884 (Chester Arthur FTW!), prior to the Berlin Conference of 1885, which resulted informally in the cementing of the claim (16).
Thereafter the volume presents the neocolonial situation, then Mobutu's crazed tenure, and then the post-Mobutu rule of poppa Kabila and the commencement of baby Kabila's reign. The post-Mobutu period is characterized by the Congo wars (perhaps too quickly presented, and somewhat bewildering), which resulted in the deaths of over 5 million persons. The surplus extraction of Congolese labor was sufficient for Belgium to fund its participation in both world wars: during its stay in London in WW2, e.g., the Belgian government in exile did not borrow any moneys and did not deplete its gold reserves, even while funding its military and diplomatic corps (29).
At each of the four stages of Congolese history, Nzongola-Ntalaya is careful to examine the opposition: primary resistance against Leopold, resistance to occupying colonialism proper under both personal rule and as the Belgian "Congo Free State," resistance to neocolonialism, resistance to Mobutu, resistance to the current state of affairs. Each separate resistance group in each period is critiqued for its failures--even Lumumba, generally lionized as a national hero, is revealed to have blundered politically and been complicit in crimes against humanity. Author accordingly appears to be a passionate supporter of Lumumba's programme, but is no brainwashed follower. More significant are the failures of the local proxies of imperialist powers.
Though the volume denies that Mobutu is a fascist, on the basis that the regime was authoritarian rather than totalitarian (165), it nonetheless lays out the case that the regime relied on an "ideology of authenticity" (149), which is one of the relevant precursors detailed in Herf's Reactionary Modernism, and is therefore something that I now mark out.
And there are many crimes against humanity beyond the 15 millions already mentioned. One thing that stands out is the analysis of the Rwandan genocide, which cannot be separated analytically from Congolese history. While Lumumba was attempting and failing to establish the independent state, ethnogenetic genocides were being commited in Rwanda in the late 1950s and early '60s; 1994 therefore did not arise ex nihilo.
The text really shines in the discussions of the constitutional developments in the 1990s, during Mobutu's last seven years (189-208), wherein the drafters failed to confect a permanent settlement, for reasons of their own inabilities and because of the pressures of internal pro-Mobutu forces and external imperialist interference.
Such failure is the overarching theme: in each period, the resistance fought, initially won a substantial victory, but ultimately went down in ruin. A quick bit of reading elsewise on the history of the Congo in the ten years since this volume appeared only confirms the pattern.
Standing behind all of this is the spectre of the US cynicism. Leopold's claim became legitimate because of the US recognition. Lumumba was ultimately deposed and assassinated on US orders. Mobutu was a CIA thug before he launched his first coup d'etat; his second and third coups were US-supported. The post-Mobutu crimes are characterized by thorough US complicity--all generated by geostrategic concerns and avarice for the Congo's mineral wealth, including fissionable materials, which were used in constructing the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan (29).
Very strong presentation of the Weimar rightwing and its transition into the NSDAP.
The study proceeds from Frankfurt School assumptions, and develops...moreVery strong presentation of the Weimar rightwing and its transition into the NSDAP.
The study proceeds from Frankfurt School assumptions, and develops a lukewarm critique of Adorno & Horkheimer by book's end. In disagreeing with the general conclusion of Dialectic of Enlightenment, Herf opines that the German rightwing suffered not from too much Enlightenment, but too little, noting the lack of a liberal tradition in Germany, which industrialized without a bourgeois revolution on behalf of the industrialists.
Attempts to explain the NSDAP as romantic anticapitalism from the perspective of medieval pastoral idealism--(i.e., the market is too progressive, too liberal, too international), finding capitalism filled with parasites (foreigners, Jews, bankers, the unemployed, &c.), ugly materialism, ludicrous libertarianism & egalitarianism--but wedded to a dangerous technophilia that normal pastoral conservatives did not possess. NSDAP explained as expressly irrationalist or antirationalist, unable to make means-ends calculations, relying instead on mystical doctrines regarding the will that arose out of idealist philosophy.
Interesting that the German rightwing position, inclusive of the NSDAP, was that marxism is merely an extension of "Manchester Liberalism," with a simple change in the law of property to distinguish them. NSDAP anticapitalism would undo all of liberalism's gains, but would not change the ancient property law on which German authoritarianism rested--keep your large estates, keep your means of production in private hands, and so on. The NSDAP accordingly allows the wealthy to maintain their assets and class position, even while denouncing capitalism's other benefits, which the NSDAP equated with marxism. (That is, anyone who draws an equivalence between marxist international socialism and German national socialism is manifestly erroneous.)
Meat of the volume are the specific readings of Weimar figures, then Junger, Sombart, Heidegger, Schmitt, Spengler, inter alia, as well as of German engineering professional journals, rounding out with NSDAP theorists. Very well accomplished, overall.
Draws out some noteworthy principles: rightwing anticapitalism rests upon a producerist distinction between producers and parasites. Entrepreneurs are producers, as are working workers. Merchants, bankers, the unemployed--all parasites. Rightwing anticapitalism employs Weber's politics of absolute ethics rather than a politics of responsibility--wherein political praxis abhors bargaining, negotiating, governing, and is beneficial simply to the individual, who might demonstrate the authenticity of one's own convictions. Watching the teabaggers drive the US off the alleged fiscal cliff, I can't help but be reminded of Weimar rightwing romanticism.
Also of note: Benjamin's thesis that fascism aestheticizes politics is fully borne out by this text. Technology is seen, in the eponymous sythesis of rightwing romanticism with technophilia, as part of the long tradition of German volkish artisanal efforts; engineers are aesthetic workers, in touch with the pure germanic soul; technology is an immaterialist expression of the Volk; &c. &c. &c. It's all fairly nauseating, but laid out in both gross form and in particular examples.
Although Herf does not make the association explicit, this text allows us to shoehorn the NSDAP into the "true socialism" described in the Manifesto of the Communist Party (in section III.1.C).
There's plenty more that might be said here, but I leave off with: Highly Recommended.(less)
The basic argument here is that Thukydides may well be decently reliable in his reportage, but that his interpretation of the events reported is subje...moreThe basic argument here is that Thukydides may well be decently reliable in his reportage, but that his interpretation of the events reported is subject to challenge on numerous counts, such as the causes of the Peloponnesion War, the effectiveness of Pericles, the meaning of Athenian democracy, the scope of the conflict, and the responsibility for the Sicilian disaster (i.e., Kagan makes a decent case that Thukydides' favorite, Nicias, should be cast in judgment).
The fundamental tool of analysis is that Thukydides is a revisionist, even though he is the first true historian in the modern sense (Herodotos doesn't count for Kagan), which nicely renders all history as revisionism. The target of revision was, for Kagan, the conventional opinions of Athenians at the time of Thukydides' writing; Kagan does not fail to point out that Thukydides is himself not exactly sympathetic to Athens after his exile during the war.
The text is short and sweet, and though I may prefer de Ste. Croix's reading of Thukydides, this is certainly worthwhile for ancient history nerds, art of war geeks, Alcibiades epigones, and Peisistratid apologists.(less)