Home > Politics (general) > The Winter Palace, and after (crossposted at CT)

The Winter Palace, and after (crossposted at CT)

October 17th, 2005

Now seems as good a time as any to mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1905. This upsurge of revolt against Czarism was the occasion of some of the most tragic and inspiring scenes in the revolutionary drama: the “Bloody Sunday” march to the Winter Palace, Trotsky’s leadership of the St. Petersburg Soviet and the Potemkin mutiny. The revolution seemed likely to prove successful when the government agreed to a parliamentary constitution (October 17 in the Julian calendar), but once the threat was over, the autocracy reasserted itself, and the Duma was reduced to a talking shop. Less than 10 years later, the Czarists took Russia into the Great War, leading directly to nearly two million deaths and indirectly to many more.

The lesson drawn by many was that peaceful reform was hopeless: this inevitably pushed the most determined revolutionaries, Lenin and the Bolsheviks to the fore, and for much of the 20th century, they appeared to many to have history on their side. After 100 years, however, it is as clear as any historical fact can be that Bolshevism (or, perhaps more accurately, Leninism) has been a complete and catastrophic failure.

The failure of Leninism is obvious enough in Russia and in the other countries where Communist parties came to power (and in the case of China still hold it). Nothing much is left of the Communist era except decay and corruption. Inequality and economic injustice are far more prevalent than in countries that never experienced “actually existing socialism”.

But the Leninist legacy has been little better in the rest of the world. From 1917 until the end of the Cold War, Communism was an albatross around the neck of socialist, social-democratic and progressive movements around the world, causing division and strife everywhere. Admittedly, Communism attracted some of the brightest and most idealistic opponents of capitalism, and Communist parties often took brave and idealistic stands while mainstream labour parties dithered and temporised. But this only increased the damage that was done when these talents and ideals were used to serve the interests of totalitarian regimes and ideologies.

Meanwhile, those on the Left who rejected Communism were forced into unpalatable choices, between splitting the labour movement and handing victory to the other side, or working with the Communists, accepting the resulting opprobrium and running the risk of being left high and dry by a shift in strategy (until the 50s mostly arising from a change in the Comintern line and after that from the internal vicissitudes of revolutionary politics).

Even more lasting damage has been done by the rhetoric of revolution itself. The idea that a single violent irruption, followed by a (supposedly temporary) revolutionary dictatorship, can break unending cycles of oppression, and achieve permanent change for the better is intuitively appealing and gains support daily from the failures of more modest attempts at reform, from the peaceful protest march to the Winter Palace in 1905 to the shoddy compromises of day-to-day democratic politics (and particularly in this context, social-democratic politics).

Yet the appeal of revolution is an illusion. Most attempts at revolution fail, leaving the participants and the oppressed worse off than before. Even where revolution is successful, attempts by the revolutionary party to hold on to power usually lead to reactionary dictatorship in short order. The French Revolution, the model on which Marxist analysis was based, lasted five years from iberation of the Bastille to Thermidor, and ten years to the 18 Brumaire seizure of power by Napoleon. The Bolshevik revolution lasted four years until the adoption of the New Economic Policy and seven years before Stalin’s rise to power.

The successful revolutions have mostly been those where the ancien regime collapsed under its own weight, and where those who came to power did not try too hard to hold on to it when, inevitably, the wheel of public support turned against them[1]

At a deeper level, the appeal of revolution has a substantial residue of aristocratic sentiment. In the course of the last 200 years, and even allowing for the defeats of the past 20 years or so, the achievements of the Left have been impressive, starting with universal suffrage and secret ballots, going on the creation of the welfare state, continuing with progress towards equality without regard to race, gender and sexuality, preserving the environment from the disastrous impact of industrialism and so on. Yet most of this progress has been achieved in a thoroughly bourgeois fashion, through long agitation, boring committee reports and so on. Gains that are ground out in this way are not noble enough for an aristocratic sensibility: far better to fail gloriously.

As far as the main body of the left is concerned, this has ceased to matter: the appeal of revolution is pretty much dead, and the symbols of Bolshevism are more likely to appear in vodka advertisements than in progressive pamphlets these days. But the appeal of revolution is independent of ideology, and there has always been a steady stream of converts from the revolutionary left to the radical right, reversing most of the signs but maintaining Leninist styles of argument and an attraction for the violent assertion of power. In the 1920s and 1930s, beginning with Mussolini, converts of this type mostly went over to Fascism. In the 1950s and 1960s, ex-Communists supplied much of the firepower of McCarthyism and its variants. In the 1970s and 1980s, the same tendency (frequently moving via Trotskyism) became neoconservatism. Most recently, the membership of the “decent left” is drawn largely from those on the left who have never given up on the appeal of revolutionary violence, and now see George Bush as the agent of revolution.

I’ve made some pretty broad generalizations above, and there are plenty of exceptions. Sometimes peace is not the answer: there are just wars, and necessary revolutions. But the great problem in politics has almost never been inadequate willingness to resort to violence[2]: rather it has been an excessive belief in the potential of war and revolution to achieve desirable goals.

fn1. The February 1917 revolution might perhaps have turned out like this, if only the Kerensky government had been willing and able to extricate Russia from the bloodbath of the Great War.

fn2. Since it will undoubtedly be raised, let me concede in advance that the Allies should have gone to war against Hitler in September 1938 rather than waiting until September 1939. Against this example, there are the vast numbers of cases of decisions to go to war in which neither side was justified, most importantly the Great War beginning in 1914 (and, arguably, continuing in one form or another until 1989) which set off the whole tragic story of the 20th century.

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  1. Dogz
    October 19th, 2005 at 10:33 | #1

    Proper grown-up historians tend to avoid the temptation for indulging in self-congratulatory moral superiority…

    Let me guess Katz, you count yourself amongst those “proper grown-ups”? Now there is a self-congratulatory and superior statement if ever I read one. You really should apply your own character assessments to yourself sometime.

    Dogz, why would you expect today’s “would-be Lenins� to be any less interested in learning from history than the original?

    I don’t. What I said was:

    However, I disagree that “analysis that indicates failure rather than moral precept is a more efficient deterrent against anyone trying Lenin’s methods in the future�. I doubt would-be Lenins study history and choose a different course – they just don’t get anywhere today because the lessons have been absorbed into the institutional, social, moral, and cultural fabric of society. Pretty hard to start a totalitarian revolution in an educated, wealthy, modern country like Australia.

    The key clause is: “I doubt would-be Lenins study history _and_ choose a different course”. So I doubt they do both. That doesn’t mean I doubt they study history. I am sure they do. To borrow some of your patronizing air Katz, its logic 101: “A _and_ B” is true if and only if A is true _and_ B is true. So “not A _and_ B” can mean anyone of three things: A is true but B is false, A is false but B is true, or both A and B are false. Confused? Draw yourself a diagram.

    “If indulging those dreams requires treating state-sponsored terrorism by unelected governments as legitimate, then I disagree�

    Are we to infer from this comment that you believe that state-sponsored terrorism executed by elected governments is somehow more legitimate than that sponsored by unelected governments?

    Yes, but I would put it in the double negative: if people vote for terrorism against themselves then that is less illegitimate than if they never got to vote at all. But neither case is legitimate.

  2. gordon
    October 19th, 2005 at 10:43 | #2

    I suppose this is Prof. Quiggin’s little contribution to the war on terror. I don’t think retreat to legitimism under the aegis of a new Holy Alliance in which the USA plays the role of Tsarist Russia could be seen as much of an advance from any sort of “social-democratic perspective”.

    Prof. Quiggin is careful to avoid mention of the English Revolution of the 1640s, the US’ own Revolutionary War, the revolutionary struggle for Italian independence and nationality, the revolutionary wars of independence in South America in the 19th Century, the Chinese revolution or the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions. Less overtly violent revolutionary movements such as the campaign for Indian independence and more recent mass movements in pursuit of democracy and self-determination in Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Ukraine are ignored. Nor does Prof. Quiggin raise the problem of the distortion of revolutionary movements in response to foreign hostility.

    Prof. Quiggin is talking through his hat.

  3. Katz
    October 19th, 2005 at 11:31 | #3

    “I doubt would-be Lenins study history and choose a different course – they just don’t get anywhere today because the lessons have been absorbed into the institutional, social, moral, and cultural fabric of society. Pretty hard to start a totalitarian revolution in an educated, wealthy, modern country like Australia.”

    Your additions and elaborations make your statement more absurd than the abbreviation I dealt with in a previous post.

    1. When did Australia ever have a would-be Lenin? There is no evidence at all of left-wing paramilitary and terrorist activity and formation underground cells. Most Australian marxist-leninists were nothing more than armchair revolutionaries. You’ve created a fantasy version of Australian history that is laughable in its ignorance of the world of facts.

    2. Even if we concede that there might be some would-be Lenins lurking out there today (have you looked under your bed Dogz?) do you believe that they would be impervious to the knowledge that Australians are overwhelmingly happy with present arrangements? What odd proto-Lenins they must be: both cunningly ruthless and almost unbelievably stupid.

    Give it up Dogz.

  4. Dogz
    October 19th, 2005 at 12:43 | #4

    Katz, your original statement was:

    … analysis that indicates failure rather than moral precept is a more efficient deterrent against anyone trying Lenin’s methods in the future.

    Who is being deterred? “anyone trying Lenin’s methods in the future”. Your words. Describing such people as “would-be Lenins” (my words) seems pretty faithful to your description, yet you serve me with this:

    1. When did Australia ever have a would-be Lenin? There is no evidence at all of left-wing paramilitary and terrorist activity and formation underground cells. Most Australian marxist-leninists were nothing more than armchair revolutionaries. You’ve created a fantasy version of Australian history that is laughable in its ignorance of the world of facts.

    I merely coined “would-be Lenins” as a shorter term to describe “anyone trying Lenin’s methods in the future”. So any fantasy version of Australian history somehow implied by that coinage, must also be implied by your original description. Needles to say, the implication fails regardless of the name you use.

    Then this:

    2. Even if we concede that there might be some would-be Lenins lurking out there today (have you looked under your bed Dogz?) do you believe that they would be impervious to the knowledge that Australians are overwhelmingly happy with present arrangements? What odd proto-Lenins they must be: both cunningly ruthless and almost unbelievably stupid.

    That was pretty much my point. Originally it looked as though you were claiming that part of the value in analysing history is that it teaches would-be Lenins to follow a different course. My point was that it doesn’t matter whether the would-be Lenins study history or not – they’re not going to get very far inciting a revolution in modern societies today, and a big part of the reason is that the lessons of history have been absorbed into the culture – our institutions, education, democracy, etc.

    Or to put it another way, my argument is that the value of historical analysis is not as a direct deterrent to the nutcases amongst us – after all, the nutcases are going to do crazy things no matter what you right about history – but the buttressing of society as a whole against such nutcases.

  5. Paul Norton
    October 19th, 2005 at 13:15 | #5

    gordon, the various “revolutions” which you cite, and which you accuse JQ of deliberately ignoring, either:

    (a) predate the emergence of the modern liberal-democratic state which (as Engels and later Gramsci noted) is not susceptible to overthrow by the revolutionary methods employed in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, but which (as Engels and also Marx noted later in their lives) is susceptible to capture and transformation for social-democratic purposes by non-violent and democratic means; or

    (b) can be criticised, in terms of their human consequences and the forms of societies which they produced, on similar grounds to the Bolshevik Revolution; or

    (c) were not revolutions, but synergies between mass social movements and reforming initiatives from within the regimes.

    Democratic and progressive social change in advanced capitalist democracies like Australia has (and will have) some affinities with (c), as it results (and will result) from the interplay between the radical and reforming initiatives and demands of mass social movements such as feminism, environmentalism, etc., the programs and policies of reforming governments, and the accumulation of changes at the “molecular level”, i.e. the day-to-day decisions and practices of people’s lives. But (a) and (b) have little to offer progressive movements in our current context, except (in the case of (b)) examples of what is *not* to be done.

  6. Katz
    October 19th, 2005 at 13:25 | #6

    Nutcases don’t learn from history. I agree.

    But whatever else Lenin was, he wasn’t a nutcase.

    To pathologise Lenin’s talents is to utterly misunderstand and to trivialise both his accomplishments and the nature of the threat that he posed to long-standing social, political and economic arrangements.

    He was a brilliant fanatic who analysed with clear-eyed precision the weak-points of his opponents and then ruthlessly exploited them. And his understanding of history served as a basis for this precision of understanding of his enemies.

    Thus, to return to the salient point about any “would-be Lenins” (i.e., persons who are brilliant and ruthless, but NOT nutcases: they’d look at the facts on the ground in a place like Australia and say, “Jeez, it doesn’t matter how much I learn about the failings of the Decembrists and the Narodniks, these lessons don’t seem to apply to Australia. Maybe I’ll become an investment advisor instead.”

    Indeed the real Lenin said something like that about Australia in 1913. Here’s an extract:

    “Australia is a young British colony.

    “Capitalism in Australia is still quite young. The country is only just beginning to take shape as an independent State. The workers, for the most part, are emigrants from England. They left England at the time when Liberal-Labor politics held almost unchallenged sway there and when the majority of the English workers were Liberals. Even up to now the majority of the skilled factory workers in England are Liberals and semi-Liberals. This is the result of the exceptionally favorable, monopolist position England occupied in the second half of the nineteenth century. Only now are the masses of the workers beginning to turn toward Socialism.

    “And while in England the so-called “Labor Party” represents an alliance betwen the socialist trade unions and the extreme opportunist Indendent Labor Party, in Australia, the Labor Party represents the purely non-socialist trade unionist workers.

    “The leaders of the Australian Labor Party are trade union officials, an element which everywhere represents a most moderate and “capital-serving” element, and in Australia it is altogether peaceful, and purely liberal.

    “In Australia the Labor Party has done what in other countries was done by the Liberals, namely, introducing a uniform customs tariff for the whole country, a uniform Education Act, a uniform land tax and uniform Factory Acts.

    “Naturally, when Australia is finally developed and consolidated as an independent capitalist State the conditions of the workers will change, as also will the Liberal Labor Party which will make way for a Socialist Labor Party. Australia serves to illustrate the conditions under which exceptions to the rule are possible. The rule is: A socialist Labor Party in a capitalist country. The exception is: A Liberal Labor Party which only arises for a short time as a result of the conditions which are abnormal for capitalism.”

    Case closed.

  7. Roberto
    October 19th, 2005 at 13:37 | #7

    On the point of the Danes’ new little royal sprog, (Denmark is next to Germany!) why are so many Australians doing cartwheels in celebration.

    ‘Our’ Mary volunteered to marry into this family of Viking remnants, and coverted to Lutheranism (leave it to others to comment) renounced her citizenship (Australia), and then renounced future custodial care over any future sproggies in the event of the dissolution of the marriage.

  8. October 19th, 2005 at 14:48 | #8

    Paul Norton Says: October 19th, 2005 at 10:19 am

    is there anyone out there who, after watching this morning’s TV programs and reading this morning’s papers, does not regret that the Danes haven’t got around to the revolutionary overthrow of their monarchy?

    I dont regret the persistence of the Danish monarchy. It shows that they care for their constitutional lineage and national identity. Australian republicans, by contrast, mostly peddle warmed over anglophobia to titillate the unreconstructed Feinians and/or are making a crude attempt at status climbing by the Big End of Town/Smart Set.

  9. jquiggin
    October 19th, 2005 at 15:07 | #9

    Paul has largely anticipated my response to Gordon, but let me explicitly say that I regard the Chinese and Cuban revolutions as Leninist disasters and the Nicaraguan revolution as an example of the failure of the revolutionary party to relinquish power when the time came to do so . I haven’t got on top of the current deal between the Sandinistas and the rightist Aleman, but it is regrettably par for the course.

    As Paul says, the regime collapses in Poland, Ukraine and Czechoslovakia were synergies between mass social movements and reforming initiatives from within the regimes – revolutions in the pre-Leninist or maybe pre-1789 sense of the term, but not in the sense it’s commonly used today.

  10. October 19th, 2005 at 15:37 | #10

    Katz Says: October 18th, 2005 at 6:06 pm

    I’m no apologist of Lenin,

    I believe Katz means this when he says it. Its just that all his arguments so far have been apologetics for Bolshevik misbehaviour, based on the moral equivalence supposition. But this is exactly what the critics of Bolshevism in particular, and totalitarianism in general, reject.

    Moreover, Katz’s position is in contradiction to Solzyenitsen’s argument, that the Bolsheviks were always totalitarian, from the moment they were formed until Brzhenev died. Stalin was not an aberration, he was the Bolshevik “Full Monty”.

    1. Russia’s so-called democracy lasted one day in 1918 and died without friends.

    No. The Constituent Assembly sat for one day. But Russia’s first democratic regime lasted for two months. The CA had plenty of friends amongst the non-Bolshevik majority.

    A total of 703 candidates were elected to the Constituent Assembly in November, 1917. This included Socialist Revolutionaries (299), Bolsheviks (168), Mensheviks (18) and Constitutional Democratic Party (17).

    The Bolsheviks were bitterly disappointed with the result as they hoped it would legitimize the October Revolution. When it opened on 5th January, 1918, Victor Chernov, leader of the Socialist Revolutionaries, was elected President. When the Assembly refused to support the programme of the new Soviet Government, the Bolsheviks walked out in protest.

    Later that day, Vladimir Lenin announced that the Constituent Assembly had been dissolved. Soon afterwards all opposition political groups, including the Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and the Constitutional Democratic Party, were banned in Russia.

    Bolsheviks do not like it because they return the wrong result ie not “all power to the Soviets”.

    3. Churchill was associated in the minds of the world with total war tactics.

    No. Churchill was associated in most minds with the attempt to avoid total war and attrition. Thus the Gallipoli adventure was an attempt to circumvent the Western Front and “knock over the props” of the Central Powers. And in WWII he was always trying to “attack the soft underbelly of the Axis” through Italy, never get any where near the Eastern Front, delay the Second Front etc.

    4. On a single day in Moscow in August 1918, the first head of Cheka was assassinated and Lenin took an assassin’s bullet in the neck, which he carried until his dying day….

    …It was only after those outrages that Lenin unleashed the Red Terror. Lenin and the Bolsheviks perfected the totalitarian MO, but under provocation. Dzerzhinsky became Head of Cheka because of the events of that day.

    No. The Bolsheviks were committed political terrorists and totalitarians from the word go ie 1903. That was the issue on which they split from the Mensheviks ie dictatorial revolution or democratic evolution.

    Lenin’s committment to state terrorism and repression only deepened after that. He realised that the Bolshevik aims were so extreme that they could only be pursued by massive repression.

    We must proclaim from the house-tops the need for a bold offensive and armed attack, the necessity at such times of exterminating the persons in command of the enemy,

    “We would be deceiving both ourselves and the people if we concealed from the masses the necessity of a desperate, bloody war of extermination, as the immediate task of the coming revolutionary action.

    Excerpts from V.I. Lenin, “The Lessons of the Moscow Uprising� (1906).

    Lenin was already prepared for a Red Terror well before the assasination attempt. Why else would he create a Secret Police force in the first place? The Bolsheviks had already set up proto-GULAGs in late 1917.

    Lenin was fighting for his life and for his life’s work, and at enormous cost he won. He won because millions of Russians preferred the Bolsheviks to everything else that was on offer.

    Yes and No. Yes, Lenin’s repressive actions were definitely done fighting for his lifes work. But his life’s work was so repugnant – the forceful abolition of Russian society in favour of a totalitarian despotism – that they required unprecedented repression. Which is why the stakes were so high.

    No, Lenin won because of his more ruthless use of state terror not because “millions of Russians preferred the Bolsheviks to everything else that was on offer.” His brutal policy repulsed many more millions of Russians than it attracted. He denied Russians a democratic political choice and employed massive terror to effect that denial.

    As the situation in the ME shows, a small bunch of violent fanatics will tend to prevail over a large number of less violent moderates. Where terrorist totalitarians are concerned, one counts balls, not heads.

  11. wilful
    October 19th, 2005 at 17:02 | #11

    [blockquote]Australian republicans, by contrast, mostly peddle warmed over anglophobia to titillate the unreconstructed Feinians and/or are making a crude attempt at status climbing by the Big End of Town/Smart Set.[/blockquote] What an insulting load of utter tripe. Republicanism is motivated by Austrophilia not anglophobia. The crown is a relict of a bygone age that says nothing to the vast majority of Australians. It well acknowledged that about 90% of Australians are in favour of a republic, it’s only the mechanism that’s in question. Monarchists are dinosaurs that don’t think Australia is grown up enough to have it’s own head of state.

  12. Katz
    October 19th, 2005 at 18:38 | #12

    At the nadir of Bolshevik fortunes during the Russian Civil War, anti-Bolshevik forces controlled seven-eighths of Russian territory. The country was in turmoil. The way was open for many who had a mind to vote with their feet to desert the Bolshevik cause. Yet Bolshevik support remained firm. This behaviour may seem odd, contrary, and even “immoral” in our eyes, having gained so much acuity by our knowledge and innate wisdom. Yet this is what happened.

    A high proportion of these supporters were peasants who had just been given land by the Bolsheviks in accordance with the “Peace! Bread! Land!” slogan. The White forces made themselves obnoxious by telling these peasants that they intended to give the land back to their legal owners, the Russian aristocracy.

    Lenin didn’t live long enough to participate in the dispossession of these peasants. Perhaps he would have done exactly wha Stalin did. We don’t know. Perhaps Lenin could exculpate himself by proclaiming that the “Land!” bit wasn’t a core promise.

    To return, once again, to the point of controversy. The question is: “What actions taken by a totalitarian dictator can ever be said to be “justified”?

    Some might say that even his decision to feed himself so that he can continue with his beastly work is “unjustified”. If one is determined to take moral arguments back to the past, one is compelled to draw the line somewhere. None of my interlocutors has come close to defining a position on this necessary question.

    To state my position one more time: success or failure is a much more important matter for analysis than attempting to measure the precise measure of evil entailed in the actions and motives of an historical actor.

    Perhaps Lenin didn’t require as much terror as he meted out in order to survive, but how would he know in the midst of the emergency he faced in 1918?

    Note also that I draw a distinction between the terror used to ensure survival and the terror that became routine after the civil war emergency ended. Note that this policy was a remote cause of the erosion of legitimacy of the Soviet regime. The Russian people eventually stopped believing in a system that required their oppression in order to survive. Terror could no longer be justified as a successful mechanism for social control, and by the end of the 1980s and because of the erosive effects of terror, there were no other ways in the Soviet Union of inviting compliance from the Russian masses.

  13. Katz
    October 19th, 2005 at 22:22 | #13

    Biographers of Hitler and historians of the Nazi rise to power often follow the same methodology as I outlined above. They swallow their distaste for their subject matter to the extent that is required to analyse such matters as:

    How Hitler took control of and transformed the fledgling Nazi Party.

    How Hitler shaped and honed his public persona, which he recognized correctly to be his major political asset.

    How Hitler tailored his appeal to major capitalist backers.

    How Hitler tricked the Right into thinking that he was their useful idiot.

    How Hitler concocted a terrorist scare to abolish parliamentary democracy.

    All of these achievements were signal successes. As one historian of the Nazi spy service observed, “every success I discuss represents a disaster for humanity”. But this historian recognises that 400 pages of ranting about how evil Hitler and the Nazis were tells us nothing.

    Rather, David Kahn in “Hitler’s Spies: German Military Intelligence in World War II” dispassionately demonstrates how Hitler’s megalomania and Nazi racist ideology so poisoned the spy service that it was rendered almost completely useless.

    Thus, mirroring the points I made above about Lenin, the very features of Nazism that made it so successful as a political force — Hitler’s charisma and the Nazi appeal to German racism — proved to be the achilles heel of the German espionage service when it was tasked with discovering, among othe things, the Allies’ plans for D-Day.

    This is an example of excellent history that avoids the temptation to indulge in moral preening.

    I hope I won’t be accused of being an apologist of Hitler if I show, in his quest for political leadership of Germany, how justified Hitler was in his belief in his own charisma and in his belief in the pervasive racism of the German people.

  14. October 20th, 2005 at 12:41 | #14

    Katz Says: October 19th, 2005 at 6:38 pm

    To return, once again, to the point of controversy. The question is: “What actions taken by a totalitarian dictator can ever be said to be “justified�?

    Some might say that even his decision to feed himself so that he can continue with his beastly work is “unjustified�. If one is determined to take moral arguments back to the past, one is compelled to draw the line somewhere. None of my interlocutors has come close to defining a position on this necessary question.

    I will attempt to “define a position on this necessary question”. The problem that Katz addresses is a real one, the statesman’s Machiavellian problem: how bad far means may be used to achieve good ends. It never really goes away, as disputants on the morality of Iraq attack understand more or less.

    The debate was formalised in post-Enlightenment philosophy, as articulated by Kantian deonotological “autonomism” and Millian teleological utilitarianism. But these differning ideological positions typically collapse into the same institutional practices when push comes to shove.

    Weber addressed the key problem in “Politics as Vocation” with his distinction between the “ethic of responsibility” and “ethic of ultimate ends”, which was designed to update Machiavelli for the totalitarian age. He drew this distinction with the problem of the Bolsheviks/Spartakist revolutionaries very much in mind.

    Popper suggested a solution that seems plausible to me. Ideological revolutionaries (such as Lenin, Hitler) and theological reactionaries (such as Khomeni or Bin Laden) use a form of mythological historicism to justify the crimes they commit in the name of their eschatological futurist political vision.

    The political ethic of “historicist-futurists” is by definition immoral. The supposed laws of history that they invoke is bogus. And the vision of a future state that they imagine will always exist only in a utopian never-never land.

    Katz is free to speculate on the real politics of Orwellian “police statesmen”. But he is wrong to put them on a morally equivalent plane to the Machiavellian “civil statesman”.

    This just opens the door to a perverse Darwinian world where “survival of the nastiest” ensures that “the worst always get to the top”. The agencies of the Closed Society, following that historicist-futurist logic, will unleash total war within society on spurious grounds: the unconscionable doing the unspeakable in pursuit of the unattainable.

    The institutions and ordinances of the Open Society deliberately constrain elites from using totalist methods. This prevents social conflict from degenerating into an uncontrollable war of the top-dog elites against the under-dog populus.

    This is the political ethic that guides “ethico-logical” reformers to solve real problems in the here and now, in accordance with democraticly sampled social norms. And this requires the use of the scientific method to engage in partial, rather than general, social engineering.

    Dr Knopfelmacher argued that the statesman defending the Open Society’s meta-institutional interests is allowed, pace Machiavelli, “some slippage” from the norms prescribed by intra-institutional civil morality (a la Kant or Mill).

    There is no precise quantum of moral slack that can be cut to the crafty politician seeking to protect national security and cultural identity. His very job always involves “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. Roosevelt was prepared to nuke Berlin, so one presumes quite a bit of moral slippage is permissable.

    Dr K. (con Strocchi) suggest that the economy of force that the civil Machiavellian may use should always be proportionate to the:

    – proximity and scale of the threat being projected
    – durability and viablity of the Good Society being protected

    The key point to remember is that the interests being defended are “actual and existing” not potential and imaginary. And the instruments being used should be proportionate to threat.

    Russia in the early part of the 20th C was certainly not a perfect society. But it was evolving towards a better state, under the inluence of industrial capitalism, democratic socialism and liberal nationalism.

    That benevolent potential was swept away when Lenin decided to import the totalist methods of inter-state conflict (per the Great War) to prosecute the partisan problems thrown up by intra-state conflict (per the Class War). This was the moral logic behind his slogan “Turn an imperialist war into a civil war”.

    Lenin coined this slogan well before anyone decided to put a bullet into him. Indeed, this slogan was very much the reason why so many people wanted to knock him off.

  15. Katz
    October 20th, 2005 at 13:51 | #15

    Most thoughtful Jack.

    “This just opens the door to a perverse Darwinian world where “survival of the nastiestâ€? ensures that “the worst always get to the topâ€?.”

    However, I take issue with this generalisation. The world did go through a nasty totalitarian patch during the “Short Twentieth Century”. The biggest international war in history was required to get rid of fascist regimes, the second most pervasive of those totalitarianisms. The most pervasive, Communism, collapsed from internal sclerosis and erosion of legitimacy. Apart from the bullets that terminated the Ceausescus, hardly a shot was fired.

    Memory of the consequences of those regimes, it can be argued, has innoculated citizens of countries around the world against acceptance of totalitarian “solutions” to class, race, or national problems.

    (Of course, some people never learn, or don’t want to learn. Hence German neo-nazi skinheads, etc. But in the West these are pathetic fringedwellers. And Islamic exceptionalism does appear to be a rising passion.)

    And among the most potent agents of that knowledge of the consequences of totalitarianism are historians. And their message is: “Once upon a time intelligent people hoped and believed that totalitarianism would work to satisfy the legitimate needs of the people. It didn’t work.”

    With that memory so firmly implanted in the collective memory, the nastiest still might get to the top, but they are unlikely to be as nasty as Lenin, Stalin, or Hitler.

  16. Katz
    October 20th, 2005 at 14:21 | #16

    Jack’s discussion is an interesting exercise in clarifying what we should think about totalitarian dictators, but I doubt that the arguments would impress the dictators themselves very much.

    Let us indulge in a little thought experiment.

    Suppose Jack was able to transport himself back through time to lecture Lenin on the inherent evils of his closed ideology, it is likely that Lenin would still argue that he had no choice but to act as he did for the reasons of eschatalogical necessity outlined by Jack. In other words, dictators are likely to be impervious to moral suasion, and they are likely to be contemptuous of moral positions that they would see as spineless.

    Suppose, on the other hand, that an historian was able to transport herself back to Lenin’s side with proof positive of the disastrous consequences of soviet communism. I believe that Lenin would be more amenable to practical argument. He might even resolve to redouble his efforts and be still more ruthless in the application of his methods, on the understanding that post-Stalin Soviet leaders were just big softies.

    This is a roundabout way of saying that what we think about the moral status of actors in the past contributes little to an understanding of how they decided on one course of action rather than all other courses of action.

    Moreover, that knowledge is the sine qua non of any interpersonal understanding, whether between epochs, or between individuals sharing the same time and space.

  17. Rob
    October 20th, 2005 at 16:38 | #17

    Troglodite said: It is my belief that the welfare state in the west was a direct result of having communist countries in the east.

    I don’t think that’s quite right. My understanding is that the roots of the modern welfare state, at least in Britain, lie in an examination of socieity undertaken in the UK during WWII. It was called the Beveridge Report (sp?). The whole idea was to determine what social conditions had led to the rise of Nazism in Germany, and to configure British society such that they could not take hold there and provide fertile soil for the rise of similar totalitarian idologies. This study led to the post-war construction of the British welfare state.

    Such is my understanding, anyway. I may be wrong.

    Great post, JQ.

  18. gordon
    October 20th, 2005 at 16:58 | #18

    Prof. Quiggin and Paul Norton seem to believe that the modern social-democratic National State could have emerged without the French Revolution, and that working class political influence (including parliamentary representation) could have come about without that revolution (and others), and without the long tradition of egalitarian/socialist and revolutionary thought in which Marx participated and which might be traced at least as far back as the English revolution of the 1640s. These are some of the “ifs” of history; we must note that as a matter of fact the social-democratic National State and working-class political influence emerged after these things (and after an industrial revolution).

    Prof. Quiggin and Paul Norton may believe that some other processes would have occurred which would painlessly, and maybe even more quickly, have brought about the social amelioration we have seen since, say, 1789. If so, bully for them. Maybe they could collaborate on an alternative history. But such an alternative history had better be clearly labelled “fiction”.

    Actually, Prof. Quiggin has already made a start on this project, by lumping the many and varied participants in securing “the achievements of the Left” all together. I wonder what the philosophical radicals of the early 19th century in England, later 19th century Christian Socialists, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, French and German socialists of all colours, Karl Marx, Trade Unionists, Malcolm X, Teddy Roosevelt, and the hundreds of thousands of anonymous individuals who have had their heads broken, been sent to prison, and died for the “achievements of the Left” would all find to say to each other? It wasn’t a smooth, coordinated process, you know. Then we could add in Garibaldi and his Thousand, and Bolivar and his gangs of cutthroats…

    In his comment of Oct. 19, Paul Norton tries to redefine “revolution” in ways which he thinks would undermine my previous comment. I think Paul Norton really only want to talk about the Russian revolution of 1917. But the original post was framed in terms of revolution in general, so I’ll just quote some relevant remarks from the Introduction to Brinton’s “The Anatomy of Revolution” (Vintage, 1965):

    “But our focus is on drastic, sudden substitution of one group in charge of the running of a territorial political entity by another group hitherto not running that government. There is one further implication: the revolutionary substitution of one group for another, if not made by actual violent uprising, is made by coup d’etat, putsch, or some other kind of skulduggery” (p.4).

    Brinton also reminds me to mention the Irish revolution.

  19. Dogz
    October 20th, 2005 at 18:45 | #19

    Rob says:

    Troglodite said: It is my belief that the welfare state in the west was a direct result of having communist countries in the east.

    I don’t think that’s quite right. My understanding is that the roots of the modern welfare state, at least in Britain, lie in an examination of socieity undertaken in the UK during WWII.

    Hmm, my (folk) understanding has always been that industrialization followed by the depression kick-started the welfare state. Industrialization moved everyone off the land into the cities so they could no longer feed themselves without jobs, and then the depression took most of the jobs away.

    I doubt Roosovelt would have had much chance at getting the New Deal or Social Security through Congress without something like the depression fresh in everyone’s mind.

  20. Katz
    October 20th, 2005 at 19:43 | #20

    The search for “causes” of the emergence of the welfare state may well prove to be futile.

    “Conditions”, “middle class paternalism”, “fabianism”, “fear of the left”, “fear of the right”, “emulation by one nation of another” all make up part of what may well prove to be a Melbourne Cup field.

    One thing is true: its emergence was protracted and piecemeal, sometimes led by the Left, sometimes championed by the Right.

    Just about anything you can say about the emergence of the Welfare State is correct in some place at some time.

  21. Tracy
    October 22nd, 2005 at 14:08 | #21

    I hate to say this, but I think John (and most of these posts) have missed the main point about revolutions. Locke was right; humans will put up with bad governments almost indefinitely. But not indefinitely. Carl Oglesby had the sequence right a long time ago. Revolutions take place because people find their backs to the wall and their way of life under threat. In some situations like this, the sequence of events allows an opportunity for change. It is usually seized. When you are in Hell, any alternative looks like a good one. I might add that Oglesby very astutely points out that the Lenin’s of the world usually come on stage after the real business has started; indeed, after it is to all intents already over. When they do arrive, people will put up with them, even if things don’t work exactly as they please. The reason for this is straightforward: the new regime is usually better than what they left behind. Admittedly, this sometimes isn’t the case and the USSR under Stalin is probably the best example. Still, as I tell people like John who point out that revolutions are violent and can lead to authoritarian governments that the revolutionaries didn’t anticipate, “tell that to the people in Hell.” There will always be revolutions because we will always create Hells and sometimes the only way out of them is to recombine societies through war.

    I wish this wasn’t the case, but human history argues that it is. I doubt that the changes we’ve seen in the last 20 years have altered that. We need to come to terms with the role of violence in societal reform, not argue that it is of no use or that it has been rendered obsolete. Those are two propositions that we can be sure will not be sustained over the long term.

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