total depravity


I have been discussing the Danish election results with Christina this afternoon. For a small country, the results may not seem important, but they may be read as harbingers of the situation in Scandinavia more generally. Initially, the results may seem depressing for anyone with sympathies vaguely on the Left. The ‘blue block’ seems to to have won the election with the slimmest of margins, 90 seats to the ‘red block’s’ 89 seats. Why depressing? The Danish People’s Party (DF) has won more than 21 percent of the vote, becoming Denmark’s second largest party in the Folketing (parliament). This is the party that has campaigned on three issues for the last 20 years: anti-Muslim propaganda, a wider xenophobia and a rhetoric of watching out for the ‘little people’ who are ‘suffering’ from the EU’s policies. This party has now become the king-maker, nominating Lars Løkke Rasmussen of the centre-right Ventre Party as Prime Minister.

But let us look a little deeper into the election results. The Social-Democrats actually improved their standing, cementing their position as Denmark’s main party. They now command about 27% of the vote. However, their various allies in a conventional bourgeois democratic system did not get enough votes to get the ‘red block’ coalition over the line. The second most popular party is the Danish People’s Party (as I mentioned, with more than 21% of the vote), a kind of neo-fascist bunch with a populist appeal. The two main parties would seem to be the antithesis of one another. But at a deeper level, they have much in common. Both have played the xenophobia card. The Social-Democrats have pointed the finger at ‘Eastern Europeans’ as the bane of Denmark, while the People’s Party likes to target Arabs, Muslims and people with obvious skin colouring that is not white.

Why are they so close to one another? I suggest it has to do with the infamous Scandinavian welfare state. The Social Democrats have been the architects of the welfare state in Denmark (and also with similar parties in other Nordic states). The catch is that the welfare state can only function by means of strict controls as to who is eligible for its benefits. The boundaries have always been clear. The Danish People’s Party plays on that theme: they promise to care for those who have been disadvantaged by aggressive EU policies aimed at bringing in cheap labour to undermine the very structure of welfare state. In that sense, the Danish People’s Party is the child of the welfare state, laying bare its incipient xenophobia.

The upshot: the natural alliance should be between the Social Democrats and the Danish People’s Party, since the latter is the child of the former. In that way, they could easily form government (at more than 48% of the vote) with one of the other minor parties.

As I work through the material concerning the industrialisation and collectivisation drives of the 1930s (actually starting in the late 1920s), it is becoming clearer that it this period and its enormous upheavals were crucial for Stalin’s rethinking of Marxist theories of human nature. During those intense periods of extraordinary reconstruction – literally unleashing the forces of production in a way not seen before (no ‘Great Depression’ in the USSR) – there were many who were wildly enthusiastic about the process. This was the time of the ‘foi furieuse’, of Stakhanovism, of mass enthusiasm and emulation. But there were also many losers, since it was a profoundly disruptive time. Many lagged, were doubtful and came actively to oppose the process. This is when what I would like to call a ‘materialist doctrine of evil’ really comes into its own. Ultimately, Stalin would come to see that such evil was deeply internal, within the collective drive, within the party and within each person (himself included). On the way to seeing this stark reality, he can certainly call up word-pictures like the following:

People look for the class enemy outside the collective farms; they look for persons with ferocious visages, with enormous teeth and thick necks, and with sawn-off shotguns in their hands. They look for kulaks like those depicted on our posters. But such kulaks have long ceased to exist on the surface. The present-day kulaks and kulak agents, the present-day anti-Soviet elements in the countryside are in the main “quiet,” “smooth-spoken,” almost “saintly” people. There is no need to look for them far from the collective farms; they are inside the collective farms, occupying posts as storekeepers, managers, accountants, secretaries, etc. (1933, Works, volume 13, p. 235).

Stalin was not averse to taking the piss out of trendy Bolshevik talk. As part of his typology of useless Bolsheviks, he speaks of the bureaucrat, the red-tapist, the big-wig and the wind-bag. Here is the characterisation of the windbag:

I have in mind the windbags, I would say honest windbags (laughter), people who are honest and loyal to the Soviet power, but who are incapable of leadership, incapable of organising anything. Last year I had a conversation with one such comrade, a very respected comrade, but an incorrigible windbag, capable of drowning any live undertaking in a flood of talk. Here is the conversation:

I: How are you getting on with the sowing?

He: With the sowing, Comrade Stalin? We have mobilised ourselves. (Laughter.)

I: Well, and what then?

He: We have put the question squarely. (Laughter.)

I: And what next?

He: There is a turn, Comrade Stalin; soon there will be a turn. (Laughter.)

I: But still?

He: We can see an indication of some improvement. (Laughter.)

I: But still, how are you getting on with the sowing?

He: So far, Comrade Stalin, we have not made any headway with the sowing. (General laughter.)

There you have the portrait of the windbag. They have mobilised themselves, they have put the question squarely, they have a turn and some improvement, but things remain as they were. (Works, vol. 13, pp. 378-79)

For those not in the know, Scott Morrison is one of the head-kickers in the increasingly hated Liberal-National government of Tony Abbott (in Australia). Morrison has made a name for himself as former immigration minister, actively victimising asylum seekers for his own political gain. In the process, he has moved Australia further and further away from internationally agreed conventions concerning asylum seekers, refugees, human rights and so on. The crunch came when he asserted that some people can forego their human rights and be treated accordingly – as in the case of a man who had been convicted of womanslaughter for killing his wife, served his prison term and was now to be freed. Not so, said Morrison, since he had abrogated his human rights.

How can this be? Said many. Did not Morrison, the pentecostal Christian from Shorelive Church, once quote the words of Jeremiah, in his inaugural speech in parliament:

I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things, declares the Lord.

Morrison went on to explain:

From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others.

And then, quoting Desmond Tutu:

we expect Christians … to be those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked, and when that happens, then Christians will be trustworthy believable witnesses.

And so:

My vision for Australia is for a nation that is strong, prosperous and generous … generous in spirit, to share our good fortune with others, both at home and overseas, out of compassion and a desire for justice.

Hypocrite, opportunist, betrayal … all these and more are levelled at Morrison. How can one who espouses such beliefs, who claims to be a true liberal, be so cruel to asylum seekers and refugees?

It is actually perfectly consistent with a liberal position. Morrison does not offer compassion, kindness and justice to everyone. The ‘poor’ in question are not all the poor, for liberals consistent limit the definition of the ‘all’ to whom their principles apply. The majority are actually excluded. For Morrison and his ilk, the excluded can be treated like dirt, since God doesn’t care for them.

Morrison is very much in the mould of John C. Calhoun, vice-president of the United States in the mid-nineteenth century and champion of liberalism. Calhoun was an impassioned champion of liberty, which should be defended at all costs. His favourite targets were concentrations of power, ‘fanaticism’ and the spirit of ‘crusade’, against which he upheld the rights of minorities. Which minorities? They clearly did not include slaves. For Calhoun, slavery was a ‘positive good’ and the opponents of slavery were ‘blind fanatics’. In other words, tolerance, justice, compassion are for a select few, for those who count as human. The rest need not apply.

So there is no inconsistency in Morrison’s position. He is a good liberal, with Christian principles. In fact, he would make an excellent slave owner.

The other day, when I was strolling through the local shops, I came across a big screen full of graceful Chinese dancers prancing about. Intrigued, I stopped to ask the smiling man about them.

‘Shen Yun,’ he said, ‘traditional Chinese dance’, he said. ‘We have two shows in Sydney coming soon’.

‘What a shame’, I said, ‘I’ll be in China then’.

The smile disappeared. ‘You can’t see this in China’, he said.

‘Why not?’ I said.

‘The Chinese government won’t allow it?’ he said. ‘They won’t allow any traditional culture or religion in China – Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, all forbidden’.

Puzzled, I said: ‘But I have been to Confucian congresses, Daoism research centres, and Buddhist temples – plenty of those all over China’.

‘They are all fake’ he said. ‘It’s a sham perpetrated by the Chinese communist party. Only Shen Yun, or Divine Performing Arts, presents the truth of 5,000 years of civilisation‘.

Genuinely surprised, I asked, ‘So where is Shen Yun based?’

‘New York’, he said.

Then it hit me: ‘Genuine Chinese culture is found only in New York?’ I asked. ‘What about Disneyland?’

‘Anywhere, except in China’, he said.

I pondered this dialectical possibility for a while, and then the light bulb slowly went on: ‘You wouldn’t be supported by Falun Gong by any chance?’

‘Yes!’ he said, and pointed to some tiny print on the back of a flyer. He seemed to feel the message was getting through.

‘That’s a very impressive con job‘, I said with genuine admiration.

While the Newcastle rail saga now has more twists than a bad Russian novel (let’s say, Dostoevsky), it has also been able to produce a new term for terrorism.

The context:

1. Deeply corrupt government decision to cut railway line for the last 2.5 km into Newcastle and replace with light rail – at cost of $500,000.

2. Snobby Sydney people thinking that the locals don’t know what’s good for them.

3. Sneaky effort by state government to avoid scrutiny and the need for an act of parliament to cut the line. They plan to cut the line on 26 December (when no one is looking).

4. Save our rail succeeds in gaining a Supreme Court injunction on cutting the line – on Christmas Eve. Court rules any cutting of line requires act of parliament, which state government would lose.

5. State government appeals decision.

6. While awaiting appeal proceedings, line lies in limbo, neither cut nor used.

7. Awabakal Land Council submits a land claim. Legal opinion thinks they may succeed, since they can claim land held by the state but not used for any purpose.

8. Redefinition of terrorism is made.

Let me explain. The government is able to stop services while court proceedings are under way, but not cut the line. So they have put some temporary fencing.

IMG_6676 (320x240)

Such fencing now requires an official sign to indicate the possibility of terrorist attack:

IMG_6677 (320x240)

Four levels apply: low, medium, high …

IMG_6682 (320x240)

and yes, immenent:

IMG_6679 (320x240)

Terrorist attack is not imminent, not even immanent (which is little more intriguing), but immenent.

I have been puzzling over the philosophical implications. Is ‘immenent’ the third term of the dialectic, which overcomes the initial opposition and draws the whole situation up to another level. If so, does that mean we can be in a situation where it feels as though an attack has occurred, even if it has not?

In response to a question from workers’ delegates to the Soviet Union, concerning the charge that Stalin was really a counter-revolutionary, Stalin replies:

We must assume that it is true. We must assume that the Comintern and the C.P.S.U.(B.) are betraying the working class of the U.S.S.R. wholesale to the counter-revolutionaries of all countries.

More than that. I can inform you that the Comintern and the C.P.S.U.(B.) recently decided to bring back to the U.S.S.R. all the landlords and capitalists who have been driven out of the country and to restore their factories to them.

Nor is that all. The Comintern and the C.P.S.U.(B.) have gone even further and have decided that the time has come for the Bolsheviks to become cannibals.

Finally, we have decided to nationalise all women and to make it a practice to violate our own sisters.

(Works, vol. 10. p. 224)

PS. (General laughter. Several delegates: “Who could have asked such a question?”)

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