Tuesday, November 14, 2017

10 February 2017

OS: There’s been quite a lot of activity  the last few months. My country, America has had an election.

VP: I congratulate you on that.

OS: Donald Trump won. This is your fourth president, am I right? Clinton, Mr. Bush, Obama, and now your fourth one.

VP: Yes, that’s true.

OS: What changes?

VP: Well, almost nothing.

OS: Is that your feeling? In between all of the four presidents or do you think . . .?

VP: Well, life makes some changes for you. But on the whole, everywhere, especially in the United States, the bureaucracy is very strong. And bureaucracy is the one that rules the world.

OS: The bureaucracy rules the world. IN all countries?

VP: In many countries.

OS: You said this to me last time – there was a system, we call it the military industrial security complex in America.

VP: Yes, we’ve got a similar system – such systems exist everywhere.

OS: Some people call it the Deep State.

VP: Well, you can call it different names, but this doesn’t change the essence.

OS: Is there any possibility, a hope of change with Mr. Trump?

VP: There is always hope. Until they are ready to bring us to the cemetery to bury us.

OS: [smiles] Wow, that’s very Russian. Very Dostoyevsky. The election has been heavily criticized and the narrative written by the West has now become that Russia interfered in this election to the benefit of Mr. Trump.

VP: You know, this is a very silly statement. Certainly, we liked President Trump and we still like him because he publicaly said that he was willing, he was ready to restore American-Russian relations.*  And when journalists from different countries were asking questions about that, they were trying to catch me, so to speak, I was always asking back, “Are you against good relations between the US and Russia? All the journalists were saying, “Yes, we want good relations between these two countries. We support that.” Well, that would simply be ludicrous in Russia not to welcome that, certainly we welcome the re-establishment of relations. And in this sense we are glad that Donald Trump has won. Certainly, we’ve got to wait and see how, in reality, in practice, the relations between these two countries are going to develop. He was talking about a re-establishment of economic ties, of a joint fight against terrorism . Isn’t that a good thing?

OS: Yes, so why bother to hack the election then?

P: We were not hacking the election at all. It would be hard to imagine that any other country – even a country such as Russia- would be capable of seriously influencing the electoral campaign or the outcome of the election. And some hackers indeed revealed problems that existed within the Democratic Party, but I don’t think that it has influenced in any serious manner either the electoral campaign or its outcome. Yes, these unrecognized  hackers, they have brought to light the problems that existed, but they didn’t tell any lies, they were not trying to deceive or fool anyone. And the fact that the chairwoman of the executive committee of the Democratic Party has resigned testifies to the fact that she admitted it’s true – everything that has been said. So hackers are not the one’s to blame. These are internal problems of the United States. These are people who tried to manipulate  public opinion shouldn’t have tried to create an image of an enemy in the face of Russia. They should have apologized to the electorate, but they didn’t do that. But that is not right, that is not the main problem. Judging from everything, the US people have been waiting for some serious change.

I refer in particular to security-related matters, to the fight against unemployment and the need to crate new jobs in the country. I refer to the protection of traditional values, because to a great extent, the US is a Puritan nation, to a great extent. Well, at least in the hinterland. And Donald Trump and his team have been very wise in running their electoral campaign. They knew, they understood where their voters were located. The states where the concentration of electors was.  And they knew what people living in those states required. They knew how to get the majority of electors to win. When I watched his speeches during the campaign, I thought he went a little bit too far from time to time. But it turned out he was right. He knew the fiber in the souls of the people. He knew how to play to win their hearts. And I think that no one is going to be able to challenge the outcome of this election. Instead, those who’ve been defeated should have drawn conclusion from what they did, from how they did their jobs, they shouldn’t have tried to shift the blame on to something outside. And I think that Obama’ outgoing team has created a minefield for the incoming president and for his team. They have created an environment which makes it difficult for the new president to make good on the promises that he gave to the people. But in reality, we’re not waiting for anything revolutionary. We are looking forward to the new administration when it has been completed, when they are willing to launch a dialogue with Russia, with China, with Asia, with all the other countries. So that we can finally understand when the new administration addresses the key issues on the international agenda, and our bilateral agenda as well.

OS: But, you know, even Trump has said the Russians hacked the election – that was a quote.

VP: I do not understand what he means when he says, “Russia hacked the election.” I’ve heard different statements of his saying that any hacking attacks, given the current level of technologies, can be produced by anyone anywhere, by a person who lies on his bed somewhere and has a laptop. And you can even make it seem as if the hacker attacks are coming from another place, so its very difficult to establish the original source of attack.

OS: Well, this all seems to me still historically  enormous – I’ve never seen where the two leading political parties, Democrat and Republican, the intelligence agencies, FBI, CIA, NSA, and the political leadership of NATO believe this story that Russia hacked the election. It’s enormous.

VP: This is not exactly how it is. Well, I think you’ve read the documents related to that, the analysis that have been published.

OS: Have you read the 25 page report?

VP: Yes, I have. One intelligence service says that there is a great probability that Russia has interfered. Another intelligence service says that the probability, the certainty is not that great. They make some conclusions based on the analysis that they had conducted. But there is nothing concrete. Nothing clear-cut. You see? I don’t know if that is proper. It reminds me of an ideology, kind of a hatred for a certain group like anti-Semitism. If someone doesn’t know how to do something, if someone turns out to be incapable of addressing this or that matter, anti-Semitists always blames the Jews for their own failure,. They blame the Jews. Those people have the same attitude towards Russia, they always blame Russia for anything that happens. Because they do not want to recognize their own mistakes and they are trying to find someone to shove the blame on, on our side. . .

OS: Russia has been accused of enormous treachery now. Now this is a major charge and the media repeats and repeats it, and it seems to have entered the lexicon in the United States – it’s just taken for granted. You can say Russia hacked the election, and many people say Trump is in the Kremlin’s pocket, has a debt to the Kremlin. So, you see where this leads. It makes it impossible to correct relations with Russia. Very difficult for Mr. Trump if he indeed intends to do so, to reset relations.

VP: As I said, and can say it again – any talk about influencing the outcome of the election in the United States, all these are lies. But we that see this campaign of manipulating the information has a number of goals. First, they are trying to undermine the legitimacy of President Trump. Second, they are trying to create conditions that preclude us from normalizing our relations with the US. Third, they want to create additional weapons to wage an internal political war. And the Russian-US relations in this context are a mere instrument, a weapon in the in the internal  political fight in the US. . . .we do not want to get mired in that. Many in the US think that all these claims about hacker attacks are fraudulent and we are glad that there are people like that. However there are people who promote this idea and express this insane notion because they want to use it as an instrument of political attack, and our refutation is not going to stop them from doing that. They are only going to use our refutation in order to continue using new instruments. We know all their tricks.

* From Putin’s point of view these relations foundered on several key issues. The U.S. reneged on the ABM treaty and has enplaced several of these systems in Eastern Europe, under the now hollowed out pretext of protection from Iran’s nuclear program; U.S. support for the coup d’etat  in Ukraine and the economic price that both Russia and Ukraine are expected to pay for that, as well as failure to insist on the Minsk agreement to end the civil war there: failure to respect the wishes of the people of Crimea to become part of Russia though the had previously granted Kosovo that privilege; blaming Russia for the aggressive attack of Georgia’s president Mikheil Saakashvili on  Abkhazia and South Ossetia; covert support for Islamic radicals in  Chechnya and Syria.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Phantom Generation by Lydia Ginzburg

[The generation that was born @1900,  in Russia, young adults at the time of the Revolution, lived through the purges of ’37 and ’38, the  Patriotic War during which Ginzburg endured and survived the blockade of Leningrad in which a million starved to death. These are excerpts from the ‘Theoretical Section’ of her story “Otter’s Day.” They were drafted between 1943-45, published posthumously in 2011.

There is opaque quality to much of Ginzburg’s writings, a circling around without fully landing. It is not simply a matter of the difficulty of translating the beautiful colloquialisms of Russian into English, or ironic play.  These notes were  stowed away in the drawers of her desk. There was a moment of great risk for her, during the purge against “The Jewish Doctors’ Plot” but Stalin fortuitously died, the prosecutions ended and she survived.]

History has devoted an interval of time to proving  the impossibility and horror of an egotistic sense of life. With every means at its disposal it has reiterated and hammered home that the singular person has no value. It has repeated again and again – woe to the egoists and the hedonists: there is nothing in the world more defenseless and fragile than egoists and hedonists.

Open and masked forms of history’s lessons. Under the masked forms people made use of many benefits and escaped many calamities – for a time. But they received the most terrible in full. Even more than their share, because they were decidedly unprepared for it.

A second ordeal cannot elicit a reaction like the previous one. History has proven the futility of this reaction. For a normal thinking person it necessarily elicited the reaction of disgust at egoism, which had condemned a person to the greatest helplessness and misfortune. This ordeal had to generate longing for a severe civic sense of life, which accepts the fact of death and accepts the burden of life, understood as connectedness. In this way a new consciousness must be born, which creates new culture. For in the area of the culture of philosophy and the humanities, the subjective consciousness of the twentieth century already long ago lost its ability to create anything fruitful.

Two great illusions have been destroyed – here, the illusion of humanistic socialism; there [in the West], the illusion of humanistic individualism.

Thus, only now has the historical fate of this phantom generation and the symbolism of its fate become comprehensible. The first ordeal elicits an extremely individualist-hedonistic reaction; the second proves the unfoundedness of this reaction. The combination of both these acts within the bounds of a single generation is important, because humanity comes to know the truth only on the basis of its own experience, never on the experience of other generations.

In order to prove to a generation the futility of humanism, its incapacity to solve the contemporary tasks of life and the tragic doom of egoism, it was necessary to completely turn a generation into mincemeat. And history made it into mincemeat. The generation turned out to be the experimental material of history. And history burned and disemboweled it and turned it into a bloody mess. The end results were inevitable; the only discussion could be about the forms were opened or masked.

In its open form fascism turned people into slaves, condemned them to eternal burdens and deprivation in the name of Leviathan’s interests, subjected them to systematic extermination and systematic moral decay. It deprived them of human dignity, their very human likeness, and placed them in front of the spectacle of their own baseness, decay and disgrace. And people understood. That is, for now certain people have understood, and the majority has inwardly matured to the point of understanding that egoism as the measure of human behavior is similar to death, that hedonism, individualism and humanistic socialism are untenable, and this on account of two factors that have been revealed emphatically – the illusory nature of individual existence and the ineradicability of social evil.

Those who were condemned to physical annihilation and moral decay lost, more easily than others, the illusion of the absolute value of the individual consciousness (soul). Perhaps at last they will realize that everything valuable in a person, the very idea of value  belongs only to the basis of the community. Culture is a phenomena of connection. The word is the condition of the spiritual life of a person – it is a factor of association. The absolute value of a singular consciousness is an illusion, a psychological aberration of individualism.

The new method of examination corresponds to the new (at this point still predominantly negative) concept of a person. The psychological novel of the 19th century arose on the great illusions of individualism. Now the examination of the person as a closed, self-sufficient soul has a sterile, imitative quality. The contemporary understanding is this: not a person, but a situation. The intersection of biological and social coordinates, from which the behavior of a given person is born, the way this person functions. A person functions as this intersection. This dismal analytic method does not occur to me as valid for all times, but as the most adequate for the negative concept of a person that exist at the present moment.

The second discovery of the anti-hedonistic order is the discovery of the ineradicability of social evil. Together with the refutation of the value of the single individual it separates, to the highest degree, the people of the 20th century from the people of the 19th. The latter piously believed in the eliminability of social evil by social means – this was the very premise of humanistic socialism.

It turns out that social evil cannot be eradicated – only replaced. That is, in the place of the evil that has been eliminated, another rises up quickly and dialectically (concrete examples include freedoms, the mutual displacement of higher and lower cultures, families, women, etc.) The question lies only in the historical dialectic of choosing the more suitable evils, the lesser evils.

It is not a matter of extirpating social evil, for this is impossible – it is a matter of finding a relationship to it. A relationship is a defense; otherwise evil collapses on the naked egoist like a crushing hammer. A salutary relationship (the acceptance of necessity) can be found only in ascetic citizenship. In the condition of open forms, a generation lost important motivating illusions of the 19th century; beyond that, it lost all possibilities of the kind of (creative) activity that takes initiative of one’s own; lost the inertial forms of everyday life, lost even the substitutes for material goods.

But at one time they started to prime this generation for these substitutes, in order to furnish it with some kind of content for their lives. But the pre-war economy and politics could not sustain this. This had to be stopped short and replaced by the slogan of preparedness for mobilization. This was the last blow. The generation lost everything, including a human image and likeness.

In the interval this generation’s position was horrible, worse than it could even have expected. The second ordeal gave its existence a kind of historical meaning. The meaning was that of a terrible, catastrophic denouement of the one-and-a- half-century-long epic of the individualistic consciousness (there was no one to think about this. If there were people who could think, then they would have thought about this).

During the time of the greatest unfreedom the generation attained the semblance of inner freedom and independence through the awareness of the fact that the difference between open and masked forms [of evil] is unimportant. Does it make any difference whether such-and-such people didn’t take advantage of certain rights and benefits, if the result was one and the same? And it even happened that the greater the rights and benefits – the worse the result (again there arises the problem of the replaceability of social evil).

Within the open form, the difference between winner and losers turned out to be even less significant. And the losers who were in the most unpleasant circumstances received satisfaction from this. Where are the careerists and the establishments where they were making their careers? Here stand their empty, looted apartments. And their owners tossed about along the roads [of war]. What difference is there between published and unpublished books, if there are neither authors nor readers? For people belonging to the generation doomed to extermination, the definition of success was not to die.

These people who had skipped over the offenses  and calamities that had oppressed them quickly accommodated themselves to new ones.

In the relative stabilization of reality there is both strength and weakness. The difference between East and West, generally speaking, is greatly exaggerated. But in regard to the present discussion, there is a difference. The West, with its masked forms and hedonistic illusions, turned out to be psychologically unprepared. The East, in contrast, for decades (and in the sense of historic tradition, from time immemorial) was raised in the spirit that [as the saying goes] “our planet is badly equipped for merriment”. This sense worked out a great number of qualities that are useful in such circumstances as these – a relative indifference to life, patience, endurance, habituation to calamities, and the conviction that calamities are what make up the normal form of existence. All of these are characteristics of armies of serfs, which, however, were cancelled out by another of its attributes – lack of initiative. These qualities, however, formed the basis of a sui generis (passive) heroism. Thus is the psychological essence of a peasant heroism. People will withstand calamities, because nothing else remains for them to do. And at that people will withstand them rather calmly, because they are indifferent, capable of endurance, and accustomed to calamities.

But the weakness is in the fact that what has taken place is only a quantitative strengthening, an amplification. No new quality was born that would bring with it enthusiasm and new initiative. With its habituation to calamities the East provided an average level of behavior (the ability to stand firm), whereas not being habituated, the West provided either disintegration, collapse (France) or an upsurge (England). For the Englishman the circumstances where they send him to dig trenches or dispatch him up to the roof is exotic, a factor belonging to a dizzying, new, unrecognizable  reality, for him these are completely new demands by the Motherland, which are therefore exciting. But . . .. take a fascist person, for whom all this is a still more unpleasant continuation of the habitual compulsions – to which he reacts with the habitual attempt to evade them, and in the case of failure – with passive endurance. In contrast to the first case, this material life does not turn into an ideological value and, therefore, does not serve as a condition for realization – that says it all. . .

[ The great myth about Eichmann was that he was, in a sense, passive, a mere cog in a machine, following orders which he could neither resist or evade, whereas the truth was that for a Nazi he was exceptionally active and innovative and therefore proved himself of inestimable value in implementing the holocaust.  Others suited themselves as Ginzburg describes here, worked evasively, sloppily, passively enduring an unpleasant continuation of habitual compulsions, fulfilling ‘abstract duties’ an comforting themselves as ‘ good family men’ see: http://johnshaplin.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-sessen-interviews-by-bettinna.html. Soldiers of the Wehrmacht  followed orders unquestioningly- to degree that shocked their opponents in the Red Army. See: http://johnshaplin.blogspot.com/2017/09/chronicles-of-war-by-jochen-hellbeck.html ]

Passivity (lack of initiative) is hyperbolically underscored by the fact that everything happening presses on and crushes a person, but he himself does not participate in anything, until the Leviathan extends its tentacles in order to grab him and use him to its advantage. If in stagnant conditions he has not become needed by the Leviathan, then he is doomed to the kind of idleness that, probably, is how they punish sinners in Hell. He is in the midst of everything, everyone is next to him (the building blocks), he suffers everything, but he himself does not participate, does not do anything. He does not know or see this idleness, though it threatens him with annihilation at any moment. He is closed in his circle and runs along the circle, purposely repeating uniform movements next to others who ae running along the same circles that do not intersect with his: the ring of the blockade, the circle, the day.

The psychology of the slave, that is of a person who has no values, who does not even present himself to himself as a value, whom nothing touches and who is directed by desires that are straightforwardly egotistical, the urges close to hand. In given situations this psychology became manifest to an exaggerated degree. A fashionable illness (dystrophy) brought it to a symbolic clarity. It’s basic features are: a beastly clinging to the pursuit of the most petty egotistical goals , and the loss of feeling of all immaterial values, including one’s own, which leads to indifference to life and death that is strangely combined with this petty clinging to life, which ends up as an easy death (from starvation).

The point is that tenacity is only stimulated by the unmediated impulses of suffering and pleasure – a return to an animal state.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Marching to the Remainder by Simone Weil


To imagine that we can switch the course of history along a different track by transforming the system through reforms or revolutions, to hope to find salvation in a defensive or offensive action against tyranny and militarism – all that is just day- dreaming. There is nothing on which to base even the attempt. Marx’s assertion that the regime would produce its own gravediggers is cruelly contradicted every day; and one wonders, incidentally, how Marx could ever have believed that slavery could produce free men. Never yet in history has a regime of slavery fallen under the blows of slaves. The truth is, to quote a famous saying, slavery degrades man to the point of making him love it; that liberty is precious only in the eyes of those who effectively possess it; and that a completely inhuman system, as our is, far from producing beings capable of building up a human society, models all those subjected to it – oppressed and oppressors alike- according to its own image.

Everywhere, in varying degrees, the impossibility of relating what one gives to what one receives has killed the feeling for sound workmanship , the sense of responsibility, and has developed passivity, neglect, the habit of expecting everything from the outside, the belief in miracles. Even in the country, the feeling of the deep-seated bond between the land which sustains man and the man who works the land has to a large extent been obliterated since the taste for speculation, the unpredictable rises and falls in currencies and prices have got country folk in the habit of turning their eyes towards the towns. The worker has not the feeling of earning his living as a producer; it is merely that the undertaking keeps him enslaved for long hours every day and allows him each week a sum of money which gives him the magic power of conjuring up at a moment’s notice ready-made products, exactly as the rich do. The presence of innumerable unemployed, the cruel necessity of having to beg for a job, make wages appear less as wages than as alms. As for the unemployed themselves, the fact that they are involuntary parasites, and poverty-stricken into the bargain, does not make them any less parasites. Generally speaking, the relation between work done and money earned is so hard to grasp that it appears almost accidental, so that labor takes on the aspect of servitude, money that of a favor.

The so-called governing classes are affected by the same passivity as all the others, owing to the fact that, snowed under as they are by an avalanche of inextricable problems, they have long since given up governing. One would look in vain, from the highest down to the lowest on the social ladder, for a class of men among whom the idea could one day spring up that they might, in certain circumstances, have to take in hand the destinies of society; the harangues of the fascists could alone give the illusion of this, but they are empty.

As always happens, mental confusion and passivity leave free scope to the imagination. On all hands one is obsessed by a representation of social life which, while differing considerably from one to class to another, is always made up of mysteries, occult qualities, myths, idols and monsters; each one thinks that power resides mysteriously in one of the classes to which he has no access, because hardly anybody understands that it resides nowhere, so that the dominant feeling everywhere is that dizzy fear which is always brought about by loss of contact with reality. Each class appears from the outside as a nightmare object. In circles connected with the working-class movement, dreams are haunted by the mythological monsters called Finance, Industry, Stock Exchange, Bank etc.; bourgeois dream about other monsters which they call ringleaders, agitators, demagogues; the politicians regard the capitalists as supernatural beings who alone possess the key to the situation, and vice versa; each nation regards its neighbors as collective monsters inspired by a diabolical perversity. One could go on developing this theme indefinitely.

In such a situation, any log whatever can be looked upon as king and take the place of one up to a certain point thanks to that belief, and this is true, not merely of men in general, but also in that of the governing classes. Nothing is easier, for that matter, than to spread any myth whatsoever throughout a whole population. We must not be surprised, therefore, at the appearance of  ‘totalitarian’ regimes unprecedented I history. IT is often said that force is powerless to overcome thought; but for this to be true, there must be thought. Where irrational opinions hold the place of ideas, force is all-powerful. It is quite unfair to say, for example, that fascism annihilates free thought; in reality it is the lack of free thought which makes it possible to impose by force official doctrines entirely devoid of meaning. Actually, such a regime even manages considerably to increase the general stupidity, and there is little hope for the generations that will grow up under the conditions it creates. Nowadays, every attempt to turn men into brutes finds powerful means at its disposal. On the other hand, one thing is impossible, even if you were dispose of the best public platforms, and that is to diffuse clear ideas, correct reasoning and sensible views on any wide scale.

It is no good expecting help to come from men; and even if it were otherwise, men would none the less be vanquished in advance by the natural power of things. The present social system provides no means of action other than machines for crushing humanity; whatever may be the intentions of those using them, these machines crush and will continue to crush as long as they exist. With the industrial convict prisons constituted by the big factories, one can only produce slaves and not free workers, still less workers who would form a dominant class. With guns, aeroplanes, bombs, you can spread death, terror, oppression, but not life and liberty. With gas masks, air-raid shelters and air-raid warnings, you can crate wretched masses of panic-stricken human beings, ready to succumb to the most senseless forms of terror and to welcome with gratitude the most humiliating  forms of tyranny, but not citizens. With the popular press and wireless, you can make a whole people swallow with their breakfast or their supper a series of ready-made and, by the same token, absurd opinions –for even sensible views become deformed and falsified in the minds which accept them unthinkingly; but you cannot with the aid of these thing as arouse so much as a gleam  of thought. And without factories, without arms, without the popular press you can do nothing against those who possess all these things. The same applies to everything. The powerful means are oppressive, the non-powerful means are inoperative.

 Each time that the oppressed have tried to set up groups able to exercise a real influence, such groups, whether they went by the names of parties or unions, have reproduced in full within themselves all the vices of the system they claimed to reform or abolish, namely, a bureaucratic organization, reversal of the relationship between means and ends, contempt for the individual, separation of thought and action, the mechanization of thought itself, the exploitation of stupidity and lies as a means of propaganda, and so on.

The only possibility of salvation would lie in a methodical cooperation between all, strong and weak, with a view to accomplishing a progressive decentralization of social life; but the absurdity of such an idea strikes one immediately. Such a form of cooperation is impossible to imagine, even in dreams, in a civilization that is based on competition, on struggle, on war. Apart from such cooperation, there is no means of stopping the blind trend of the social machine towards increasing centralization, until the machine itself suddenly jams and flies into pieces. What weight can the hopes and desires of those who are not at the control levers carry, when, reduced to the most tragic impotence, they find themselves the mere playthings of blind and brutish forces. As for those who exercise economic or political authority, harried as they are incessantly by rival ambitions and hostile powers, they cannot work to weaken their own authority without condemning themselves almost certainly to being deprived of it. The more they feel themselves to be animated by good intentions, the more they will be brought, even despite themselves, to endeavor to extend their authority in order to increase their ability to do good; which amounts to oppressing people in the hope of liberating them, as Lenin did. It is quite patently impossible for decentralization to be initiated by the central authority; to the very extent to which the central authority is exercised, it brings everything else under its subjection.

Generally speaking, the idea of enlightened despotism. Which always has a Utopian flavor about it, is in our day completely absurd. Faced with problems whose variety and complexity are infinitely beyond the range of great as of limited minds, no despot in the world can possibly be enlightened. Though a few men may hope, by dint of honest and methodical thinking, to perceive a few gleams in this impenetrable darkness, those whom the cares and responsibilities of authority deprive them of both leisure and liberty of mind are certainly not of that number.

In such a situation, what can those do who still persist, against all eventualities, in honoring human dignity both in themselves and in others? Nothing, except endeavor to introduce a little play into the cogs of the machine that is grinding us down; seize every opportunity of awakening a little thought wherever they are able, encourage whatever is capable, in the sphere of politics, economics or technique, of leaving the individual here and there a certain freedom of movement amid the trammels cast around him by the social organization. That is certainly something, but it does not go very far. On the while, our present situation more or less resembles that of a party of absolutely ignorant travelers who find themselves in a motor ca-car launch at full speed and driverless across broken country. When will the smash-up occur after which it will be possible to consider trying to construct something new? Perhaps it’s a matter of a few decades, perhaps of centuries. There are no data enabling one to fix a probable lapse of time. It seems, however, that the material resources of our civilization are not likely to become exhausted for some considerable time, even allowing for wars; and, on the other hand, as centralization, by abolishing all individual initiative and all local life, destroys by its very existence everything that might serve as a basis for a different form of organization, one may suppose that the present system will go on existing up to the extreme limit of possibility.

To sum up, it seems reasonable to suppose that the generations which will have to face the difficulties brought about by the collapse of the present system have yet to be born. As for generations now live, they are perhaps, of all those that have followed each other in the course of human history, the ones that will have to shoulder the maximum of imaginary responsibilities and the minimum of real ones. Once this situation is fully realized, it leaves a marvelous freedom of mind. . .

Only fanatics are able to set no value on their own existence save to the extent that it serves a collective cause; to react against the subordination of the individual to the collectivity implies that one begins by refusing t subordinate one’s own destiny to the course of history. In order to resolve upon undertaking such an effort of critical analysis, all one needs is to realize that it would enable him who did so to escape the contagion of folly and collective frenzy by reaffirming on his own account, over he head of the social idol, the original pact between the mind and the universe.

Unchanged Forever by Vasily Grossman

He was alone in his room, but in his mind, in his thoughts, he was talking to Anna Sergeyevna”:

Do you know? At the very worst of times I imagined being embraced by a woman. I used to imagine this embrace as something so wonderful that it would make me forget everything I had been through. It would be as if nothing of it had ever happened. But it turns out that it’s you that I have to talk to, that it’s you I have to tell about the very worse time of all. . .

It was a conversation  in a prison cell, at dawn, after an interrogation. One of my cell mates – he’s no longer alive, he died soon after – was called Aleksey Samoilovich. I think he was the most intelligent man I’ve ever met. But he frightened me, I found his mind very frightening. Not because it was evil – an evil mind is not really frightening. His mind wasn’t evil, but indifferent and mocking; he mocked faith. He appalled me but, more important, he also attracted me. It was if I were being sucked in, and I could do nothing about it. I couldn’t make him share my faith in freedom.

His life had gone badly for him, but there was nothing special about it. It was no different from the lives of many other people. He had been accused of spreading anti-Soviet propaganda – Article 58, Section 10, the most common accusation of all.

I was brought back from my cell after being interrogated. What a list one could make of techniques of violence; burning at the stake, today’s prison fortresses the size of a provincial capital, and the labor camps themselves. The original instruments of capital punishment were a hemp rope and a club that crushed your head; nowadays, though, an executioner just turns on the master switch and does away with a hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand people. There is no need to raise an axe. Our age is an age of supreme violence on the part of the State – supreme violence against the individual human being. But in this lies our strength and hope. It is the twentieth century that has shaken  Hegel’s principle of the rationality of the world historical process, of the rationality of everything that is real. After decades of troubled debate, nineteenth-century Russian thinkers came to accept this principle, but now at the height of the State’s triumph over human freedom, Russian thinkers in padded jackets are overturning Hegel’s principle and proclaiming this supreme principle of universal history; ‘All that is inhuman is senseless and useless.’

Yes, yes, yes, at this time of total triumph of inhumanity it has become clear that everything created by violence is senseless and useless. It exists without a future; it will leave no trace.

This was my faith and with it I returned to my cell. I am lying half dead on the bedboards, and the only thing alive in me is my faith: my belief that human history is the history of freedom, of the movement from less freedom to more freedom; my belief that the history of life – from the amoeba to the human race – is the history of freedom, of the movement from less freedom to more freedom; my belief that life itself is freedom. And this faith gives me strength, and I keep turning over in my mind a precious, luminous, and wonderful thought that has been hidden in our prison rags. As if with my hands, I keep exploring this thought; ‘All that is inhuman is senseless and useless.’

Aleksey Samoilovich hears me out, half alive as I am and says “That’s just a comforting lie. The history of life is the history of violence triumphant. Violence is eternal and indestructible. It can change shape, but it does not disappear or diminish. Even the word ‘history,’ even the concept of history is just something people have dreamed up. There is no such thing as history. History is milling the wind; history is grinding water with a pestle. Thinkers mistake  its constant chaotic transformations for evolution and search for its laws. But chaos knows no laws, no evolution, no meaning, and no aim. Man does not evolve from lower to higher. Man is  as motionless as a slab of granite. His goodness, his intelligence, his degree of freedom are motionless; the humanity in humanity does not increase. What history of humanity can there be if man’s goodness always stands still?”

And, you know, it felt as if nothing in the world can be worse than all this. I’m lying on the bedboards and, dear God, I start to feel an anguish that is more than I can bear – all from talking to one very clever man. It feels like death, like an execution. Even breathing feels more than I can bear. I only want one thing: not to see, not to hear, not to breathe. To die. But relief came from a quite unexpected direction. I was dragged off again to be interrogated. They didn’t give me time to get my breath back. And I felt better, I felt relieved. Freedom, I knew again, is inevitable. To hell with the troikas that fly, thunder and sign death warrants. Freedom and Russia will be united!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Excerpts from an Interview with Leo Lowenthal


I was a rebel, and everything that was then oppositional, that is, to quote Benjamin, on the side of the losers in world history, attracted me as if by magic. I was a socialist, a supporter of psychoanalysis and of phenomenology in neo-Kantian circles. I took a job that brought me in contact with Eastern European Jews, something that, for example, was extremely embarrassing for my father and for Adorno's. . . . It was nothing short of a syncretic accumulation in my brain and heart of aspirations, tendencies, and philosophies that stood in opposition to the status quo. I still vividly remember reading Lukács's Theory of the Novel and his indictment of "the infamy of the status quo." This formulation summed up my fundamental feelings—namely, to hate and reject as "infamous" all elements of the status quo. This was deeply rooted in me. 

Well, then, in [my] everyday life it really made no difference if one was a Jew or not. One could go into practically any hotel, join almost any club. We always laughed about the fact—precisely because it was such a phenomenon of the fringe—that the island Borkum didn't allow any Jews. I only learned about a kind of anti-Semitism—that which made it impossible for one to go to certain restaurants, hotels, or clubs—here in America. To be sure, I had heard about this already in Germany, but I couldn't believe it.

 Believe it or not, in W.W.I, I ended up in a workers' regiment made up of sons of proletarians and poor peasants. Poor devils, rough, sometimes brutal, uneducated men. We had to live in the barracks and eat the horrible swill there; we weren't allowed to have our own uniforms but were given the sweat-covered uniforms of previous "grunts." Besides drilling and shooting (which I was really not good at—the rifle butt would almost always recoil and hit me on the cheek), we were mainly kept busy loading rails for railroad tracks. Once a rail fell on my fingers; you can still see my crooked fingernail. I was the constant object of mockery. At that time I experienced the potential anti-Semitism and anti-intellectualism of the German proletariat and peasants.

It was an awful time. I tried everything to get out of there. I volunteered for the front; I would have preferred to die. I was rejected. I then applied to become a cadet officer so that, as an officer, I could escape those circumstances. Refused. All of this was for me—and I am not exaggerating—a kind of anticipatory concentration-camp experience. It certainly contributed to the strengthening of my alleged elitist arrogance as an intellectual. As you know—we've discussed it often enough—I don't consider the accusation of elitism an insult, but rather praise. We felt that the war was already lost, and that we were thus involved with a fundamentally meaningless business. Sometime I'll show you a couple of pictures of me as a soldier in 1918 along with my company. Looking at these photos, one might say that I should demand a veteran's pension from the American government! I was really the epitome of a "sad sack," a personal representation of the "stab-in-the-back" legend, so to speak.
But enough of that.

I attended lectures on philosophy: that was part of the Marxist tradition—it was necessary to be educated philosophically if one wanted to be a young nonconformist, a revolutionary thinker. I should remind you once again that I was fundamentally imbued with the conviction—don't forget, this was 1920, 1921—that the world revolution was around the corner and that this whole bourgeois lecture business would soon be done with.

We always perceived ourselves in opposition to the status quo; we were radical nonconformists. We didn't want to play along. Probably if we hadn't done that, we wouldn't have survived. Ultimately the thought of the disasters that resulted from "playing along" never left us. Everything we did later in the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt (already at that time it was known in the academic community as "Café Marx") was tinged with this radical conviction. The whole atmosphere of the Institute, not just the influence of Max Horkheimer, allowed me to further develop my view of the world, of nature, and of life. Of course, the basis for this was already there, characterized essentially by a concern for independence. This is best captured by our slogan of nicht mitmachen, not playing the game.

So, I came to America in 1934, and in 1935 I wanted to take a vacation with my wife for the first time. We went for advice to a very elegant travel agency in Rockefeller Center. They gave me the addresses of some twenty hotels and resorts to which I then wrote, always adding at the end, "Please tell me whether Jews are welcome." I had been advised to do this by friends who had already lived some time in America. Of these twenty letters—and you have to keep in mind that this was 1935, at the high point of the depression in America—at least half weren't answered at all. Some of the others wrote that they generally rented to older people, which was quite ridiculous, since I hadn't mentioned my age at all. And others wrote that of course they had nothing against Jews but that we might feel "uncomfortable" with their other guests. So, in short, we suddenly discovered that something like a real everyday anti-Semitism did exist here and that as a Jew one couldn't freely take part in all social spheres. That was a nasty disappointment. That hotels and clubs, even whole professions, were simply closed to Jews—that didn't yet exist in Germany to such an extent. German anti-Semitism in relation to other European varieties of anti-Semitism is still an issue. Look, Jews were driven out of England, France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Turkey, and who knows where else. That sort of thing was quite rare in Germany until Hitler came. To be sure, then he drove the Jews straight into the gas chamber.

Dubiel: During the early 1930s, when you all defined your theoretical direction still as materialistic, you still considered yourselves, at least morally, part of the labor movement. This definitely changed in 1936 (I mention this date because of Horkheimer's classic essay). Since then you have considered yourselves as, in Adorno's apt description, a Flaschenpost [a message in a bottle]—a lonely, marginal group critically examining the course of the world.
Lowenthal: I agree with that.Here, as well as in most of Western Europe, the so-called proletariat is now a petit-bourgeois group with a massive interest in the status quo. Soviet Communism is a perversion of a theory, a moral system, and a style of thought that are essentially good. Hitler's fascism, in contrast, is bad for the very reason that its basic conception of man is inhuman. At the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s a metaphysical and basically antihistorical reaction occurred in Germany: Husserl and his followers, the materialist metaphysics of Nicolai Hartmann, Max Scheler, Jung's psychology, Ludwig Klages, and a whole configuration of new "perennial philosophies." Early Nazi ideology was also an ahistorical, pseudo-metaphysical play with history and society. Our group attempted to trace the historical self-consciousness that had been achieved; to heighten critical historical consciousness was our theoretical agenda. Is this what you are after?

When I took a walk with Horkheimer in the summer of 1934, he said that fascism in Germany had one positive effect, namely the politicization of society. This had never occurred so extensively, throughout the entire population. People now found that what happened in the political sphere concerned them directly, and this meant an end to public apathy as a characteristic of German political life—a topic about which I have written frequently. Such a politicization of the population is contrary to the interests and ideology of big capital.
Dubiel: This is only a marginal note: Is it not surprising that this apathy should, immediately after 1945, reappear more strongly than ever before in German history?

Lowenthal: This only proves our thesis that fascism creates a new political context characterized by the total mobilization of society, where everyone is a fellow prisoner, fellow culprit, and conscious fellow traveler of the political order. When this authoritarian and totalitarian terror apparatus disappears, the society falls back into public apathy—everywhere, not only in Germany. Fascism has not succeeded in politicizing the American nation; during World War II the population here was as unpolitical and uninvolved as ever. Dubiel: So, we could reformulate: Developed capitalist societies produce the socioeconomic conditions under which fascism can develop. But when the political apparatus of the society organized by capital has fallen into fascist hands, that system takes on a new quality no longer compatible with the interests of finance capital.
Lowenthal: This is exactly what I meant. This was our theory.

Let me repeat: this economistic interpretation is one-sided. We surely would not have feared to remain in Switzerland merely because big capital was in power. We feared that a specifically fascist political culture would arise in Europe and that the inner and outer realms of one's life would no longer be secure.

We anticipated of the decline of the Weimar Republic and the preparation of our flight abroad, along with our conviction, at that time, that the spread of fascism was more likely than a world war. We had left for the United States and built there an island of German radical intellectuals. This in itself was rather significant. If I were to elaborate on all of this in detail it would add up to a unique fusion of intellectual talent, worldwide political perspectives, and a far-ranging imagination molded by an upper-class Jewish lifestyle. None of us believed that all this would be confirmed by the reputation earned by the Frankfurt group. Nor could I say with certainty that I am happy about all this, because I am not sure whether this "integration" isn't also part of this society's ability to integrate and thereby defuse everything. But there it is. First of all, it was a miracle we survived and were able to overcome all the obstacles to emigration, to rise eventually from the ashes from the 1950s onward. For we really have become an ineradicable part of Western intellectual life and, in a certain sense, of political life. I recall having heard in intellectual and personal conversations the reproach that one could not always be critical, that sometimes one should also be constructive. We were always scandalous troublemakers. You are familiar with the famous reproach to Erich Kästner: "Herr Kästner, and what about the positive aspects?" Well, it is exactly the negative that was the positive: this consciousness of not going along, the refusal. The essence of Critical Theory is really the inexorable analysis of what is.

Although I do not agree with Horkheimer's excessively religious symbolism during his last years, when he defined the "completely other" of this society by referring to the name of a God who must not be named, this reticence points to something that unites us. What man can do in freedom should not be anticipated, and one must always say no to what is happening because it is not happening in freedom. We cannot escape from Hegel's antithetical position. How could we really do so? After all, the synthesis is to be made by the subjects themselves. We are the involved collaborators of the negative phase of the dialectical process. It was this belief that held us together and gave us so much strength. It helped us avoid seduction by reality, which is not to say that we do not, on occasion, enjoy the good things life has to offer. Yet none of us has ever succumbed to the Faustian warning: "If ever I say to any moment: “Linger, you are so wonderful."

 To put it in even stronger terms: art teaches, and mass culture is learned; therefore, a sociological analysis of art must be cautious, supplementary, and selective, whereas a sociological analysis of mass culture must be all-inclusive, for its products are nothing more than the phenomena and symptoms of the process of the individual's self-resignation in a wholly administered society.

The utopian-messianic motif, which is deeply rooted in Jewish metaphysics and mysticism, played a significant role for Benjamin, surely also for Ernst Bloch and Herbert Marcuse, and for myself. In his later years, when he ventured—a bit too far for my taste—into concrete religious symbolism, Horkheimer frequently said (and on this point I agree with him completely) that the Jewish doctrine that the name of God may not be spoken or even written should be adhered to. The name of God is not yet fulfilled, and perhaps it will never be fulfilled; nor is it for us to determine if, when, and how it will be fulfilled for those who come after us. I believe that the essential thing about practical socialism that so shocked us is the idea that one is permitted to plan for someone else. The notion of something perhaps unattainable, perhaps unnameable, but which holds the messianic hope of fulfillment—I suppose this idea is very Jewish; it is certainly a motif in my thinking, and I suppose it was for my friends as well—but quite certainly it was for Benjamin a shining example of the irrevocable commitment to hope that remains with us "just for the sake of the hopeless."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

President Impeached by Hans L. Trefousse

It was bad enough that during 1866 Mid-term elections President Johnson toured the nation giving speeches in favor of various candidates. Presidents traditionally refrained from doing that; once elected to the highest office they were supposed to be ‘above the fray.” President Johnson’s careless pronouncements- in speeches or interviews with the press- also caused him such great trouble that even Senator Doolittle bemoaned Johnson’s extemporaneous speeches: “He falls into the great error of supposing it possible to lay aside his official character and speak as a private citizen about public affairs.” His lawyers were determined to prevent such pitfalls during the impeachment itself and they succeeded: discretion prevailed, Johnson followed the advise of counsel, however extraordinarily difficult it was for him to do so.

What irked the President most was his conviction that proceedings against him were unfair. There were no ‘high crimes or misdemeanors’ in any of the nine articles of impeachment.  In the case of his supposed violation of the recent Tenure of Office Act even the radicals understood that their objections wouldn’t stand for one-half hour before the Supreme Court, even under the chiefdom of the highly partisan Salmon Chase. They did everything they could to prevent a test case from getting before the Courts.

In view of the difficulties, it may be asked why Congress ever started the impeachment proceedings in the first place. After all, the moderates had long been opposed to the trial; why did they now join with their radical colleagues in an all-out effort to oust the president?

The answer to these questions must be sought in the Republicans concern about Reconstruction. As long as Johnson remained in the White House, Republican hopes for a reformed South with a modicum of rights for the freedmen seemed endangered, and his latest actions – the changes in the commanding generals and the bestowal of patronage on Southern conservatives – heightened this apprehension. Then, by challenging the Tenure of Office Act  (sacking Stanton as Secretary of War), the president frightened moderates as well as radicals, and they became convinced of the necessity of removing him. There was widespread concern, that, by drawing a combination of Southern and Northern Democrats to his side Jackson might endanger future Republican successes.

Their case was weak and the impeachment was not managed well. They were ‘poor judges of human nature and poor readers of human motives”, according to the Chicago Tribune. One could hardly call Johnson a “great” criminal as they did. Butler, who vowed to try the cases he would a horse case, appeared aggressive and offensive. By trying to prevent the cabinet from testifying, he merely raised doubts in various senators’ minds. Nor did Boutwell’s violent abuse do much good. It disgusted even faithful Republicans. Because the managers had a poor case, they took refuge in various legal devices, a tactic seen as a confession of weakness. For instance, their refusal to allow a vote on the first article, which they knew was offensive to Senators Sherman and Howe, could only increase the impression that the entire proceeding was nothing but a political maneuver.

In addition, there was widespread apprehension about  Speaker Ben Wade. His clearly expressed ideas on inflation, protection, women’s rights, and justice for the workingman frightened many moderate and conservative Republicans.. Should Wade move into the White House, it was likely that he would receive the next vice presidential nomination. ” the gathering of evil birds around Wade (I mean tariff robbers) leads me to think that a worse calamity might befall the Republican Party than the acquittal of Johnson, wrote the journalist Horace White.. Chief Justice Chase also disliked his fellow Ohioan. James A. Garfield warned that conviction meant the transfer of the presidency to “a man of violent passions, extreme opinions and narrow views; a man who had never thought thoroughly or carefully on any subject except slavery  . . .surrounded by the worse and most violent elements of the Republican Party.”

Others thought that if successful, impeachment would, logically, have been the destruction of the Executive Department of Government- hypothetically, Congress, under the Tenure of Office Act, would  obtain absolute control over all Presidential appointments. As Senator Trumbull said:

Once set the example  of impeaching the President for what, when the excitement of the hour shall have subsided, will be regarded as insufficient causes . . .no future President will be safe who happens top differ with a majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate on any measure deemed by them important, particularly if of a political character . . .what then becomes of the checks and balances of the Constitution, so carefully devised and so vital to its perpetuity? They are all gone.

The short time left of Johnson’s term was also a factor:

To convict and depose a Chief Magistrate of a great country while his guilt was not made palpable by the record, and for insufficient, reasons would be fraught with greater danger to the future of the country than can arise from leaving Mr. Johnson in office for the remaining months of his term.

Nor did Republicans think conviction would be any help to Grant, whom they had already chosen as their next candidate for President.

In the meantime, as the trial stretched-on, though silenced by his lawyers, Johnson was by no means inactive in his own defense. In keeping with the political skills he had learned in Tennessee, despite his frequent disavowals of any deals to secure acquittal, he did in fact engage in various maneuvers to win over doubtful senators. He appointed General John M. Scholfield- who sought guarantees that Johnson would drop his opposition to Reconstruction before he accepted- as Secretary of War.   Wavering senators persuaded him to transmit the radical constitutions of South Carolina and Arkansas without delay. Senator Grimes of Iowa was given assurances that  henceforth Johnson ‘would be guilty of no indiscretion, commit no rash act, and consult with his cabinet.”

While Johnson had always believed that the gap between himself and the moderates, particularly on the problems of Reconstruction and the future of the freemen, was too large to be bridged, now he felt the time was ripe for an accommodation. He had done all he could to frustrate congressional efforts at Reconstruction; his conviction would be of no help to the South, while acquittal might well be a signal for the turning of the tide. At any rate, as a practical matter, Republicans in Congress held a veto-proof majority.

The final result was 35 to 19, exactly one vote short of the required two-thirds for conviction.

What had the president accomplished by his victory? Above all, he had succeeded in preserving the Constitution that he admired so much [he had preserved the separation of powers, defended State’s Rights and the prerogative of the rebels to reconstitute their governments as they saw fit] . AS his old collaborator in East Tennessee put it : We now feel that you, with the Constitution in your right hand (holding it aloft) have made a most complete & overwhelming triumph. We now have abiding faith in the perpetuity of Republican institutions - & that Mongrel Radicalism is dead! dead!” “THE TIDE TURNING”, proclaimed a big headline in the Richmond Whig, which expressed the conviction that a conservative change was in progress in every direction. Already partially  on the run, the mortality  Southern Unionists were everywhere threatened.

Thaddeus Stevens sensed the dimensions of the defeat. His life had been a failure, he complained. “With all this great struggle of years in Washington, and the fearful sacrifice of life and treasure,” he declared, “I see little hope for the Republic.” He was especially despondent about the future of the freedman. Johnson had evidently restored hope to the South, and probably he had so undermined the process of Reconstruction that it could not succeed afterward. To be sure, it was not until after the acquittal that the new constitutions of Southern states with their provisions for black enfranchisement went into effect, and after the election of General Grant, black suffrage was guaranteed by the fifteenth amendment. However, Republican rule in the South proved ephemeral. It could not be established on a permanent basis, no matter many force acts sought to guarantee it. Johnson’s adamant opposition at a time when,( in the midst of the devastating  aftermath of the War), radical measures might have succeeded, laid the foundation for failure. From Johnson’s point of view, therefore, he had not been unsuccessful. He had preserved the South as a ‘white man’s country’.

[ ‘What might have been’ is a silly game but it still seems doubtful that if Johnson had been convicted the outcome would have been any different. All politicians seek to divine the will of the majority and to vindicate the conclusions they come to. In this case, Johnson seems to have succeeded. The predominant mood in the country- North and South- favored white supremacy, though perhaps not exactly his Jefferson-Jacksonian brand of it. .  .  but that’s a longer story.]

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Logos Club by Laurent Binet

They enter a magnificent room constructed entirely in wood, designed as a circular amphitheater, decorated with wooden statues of famous anatomists and doctors with a white marble slab at its center where copses used to be dissected. At the back of the room, two statues of flayed men, both in wood, support a tray holding a statue of a woman in a thick dress that Bayard supposes to be an allegory of medicine but who if she had her eyes blind-folded could also be justice incarnate . . .

It is gone midnight. The session begins: a voice rings out. It’s Bifo who speaks first, the man from Radio Alice who set Bologna ablaze in ’77. He quotes  a Petrarch canzone that Machiavelli used in the conclusion of The Prince:
Virtue against fury shall advance the fight,
And it in the combat soon shall put to flight:
For the old Roman valor is not dead,
Nor in the Italians breasts extinguished.

The melody of a patriotic anthem arises within the circular amphitheater. Bifo draws the first subject, a line by Gramsci:

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new can not be born.”

The two candidates stand either side of the dissecting table, below the audience, as at the center of an arena. Standing, it is easier for them to turn around and address the whole room . . . the marble table glows supernaturally white.

The first candidate – a young man with an Apulian accent, open-shirted, big silver belt buckle begins.

If the dominant class has lost consentement – in other words if it is no longer dirigeante [management] but merely dominante and the only power it holds is of coercition – this signifies precisely that the great masses are detached from traditional ideologies, that they no longer believe in what they believed before . . . it is precisely this interregnum that encourages the birth of what Gramsci called a great variety of morbid symptoms.

The young duelist rotates slowly, declaiming to the whole room. We know exactly what morbid phenomena Gramsci was alluding to. Don’t we? It is the same one that menaces us today. He leaves a pause. He shouts “Fascismo!

By leading his audience to conjure the idea before he pronounces the word, it is as if, at this instant, he delivers the thought of all his listeners telepathically, creating a sort of collective mental communion by the power of suggestion. The idea of fascism crosses the room like  a silent wave. The young duelist has at least achieved one essential objective: setting the agenda of the debate. And, into the bargain, dramatizing it as intensely as possible: the fascist danger, the still fertile womb, etc.

And yet there is a difference between the situation in today and Gramsci’s era. Today we no longer live under the threat of fascism. Fascism is already established in the heart of the government. It writhes there like larvae. Fascism is no longer the catastrophic consequence of a state in crisis and a dominant class that has lost control of the masses. It is no longer the sanction of the ruling class but its insidious recourse, its extension, designed to contain the advance of progressive forces. This is no longer fascism supported openly but a sinking, shadowy, ashamed fascism, a fascism not of soldiers but shifty politicians, not a party of youth but a fascism of old people, a fascism of secret, dubious sects made up of aging spies in the pay of racist bosses who want to preserve the status quo but who are suffocating Italy inside a deadly cocoon. It is a cousin who makes embarrassing jokes during dinner but who we still invite to family meals. It is no longer Mussolini, it is the Freemasons of Propaganda Due.

There are boos from the audience. The young Apulian need only wrap up now: Incapable of imposing itself completely, but sufficiently established in every echelon of the  state machinery to prevent any change of government (he wisely says nothing about the historic compromise), fascism in its larval form is no longer the menace hovering over a never-ending crisis, but is the very condition of that crisis’s permanence. The crisis that has mired Italy for years will be resolved only when fascism is eradicated from the state. And for that, he says, raising his fist, “La lotta continua!”[the struggle continues!]


Although his opponent will offer a strong defense of the negrienne idea that the crisis is no longer a passing or possibly cyclical moment, the product of a dysfunctional or exhausted system, but the necessary engine of a mutant, polymorphic capitalism obliged to keep moving forward under pressure, citing as evidence the election of Thatcher and the imminent election of Reagan, he will be defeated by two votes to one. In the audience’s opinion, the two duelists will have put on a high quality show, justifying their rank of dialectician (the fourth of the seven levels.) But the young Apulian will certainly have drawn some advantage from speaking against fascism.

It’s the same thing for the next duel : “Cattolicesimo e marxismo.” (a great Italian classic.)

The first duelist talks about Saint Francis of Assisi, about mendicant orders, about Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Saint Mathew, about worker priests, about liberation theology in South America, about Christ driving the money changers from the temple, and concludes by making Jesus the first authentic Marxist-Leninist.

Uproar in the amphitheater. Bianca applauds noisily. The scarf gang lights a joint. Stefano uncorks a bottle that he brought with him just in case.

The second duelist can talk all he wants about the opium of the people, about Franco and the Spanish Civil War, about Pius XII and Hitler, about the collusion between the Vatican and the Mafia, about the Inquisition, about the Counter-reformation, about the Crusades as the perfect example of an imperialist war, about the trials of Jan Hus, Bruno, and Galileo. But its hopeless. The audience is impassioned. Everyone gets to their feet and starts singing “Bella Ciao,” even though this has no connection with anything. With the crowd fully behind him, the first duelist wins by three votes to zero.

The next duel pits a young woman against an older man; the question is about soccer and the class struggle; Bianca explains to Simon that the country has been rocked by “Totonero,” a match-fixing scandal involving the players of Juventus, Lazio, Perugia . . . and also Bologna.

Once again, against all expectations, it is the young woman who wins by defending the idea that the players are proletarians like other workers and that the club bosses are stealing their hard work.

The night wears on, and the time is come for the digital duel. The silence of the statues – Gallienus, Hippocrates, the Italian anatomists, the flayed men, and the woman on the tray- contrasts with the agitation of the living. People smoke, drink, chat, eat picnics.

Bifo summons the duelists. A dialectician is challenging a peripatetician.

A man takes his place next to the dissecting table. It’s Antonini. And facing him, stiff-backed and severe with her immaculate bun, Luciano’s mother walks down the steps to the dissecting table.

Bifo draws the subject: “Gli intellettuali e il potere”. Intellectuals and power. It is the prerogative of the lower-ranked player to begin – the dialectician.

In order for the subject to be discussed, it is up to the first duelist to problematize it. In this case, that’s easy to work out: Are intellectuals the enemies or the allies of those in power? It’s simply a question of choosing. For or against? Antonini decides to criticize the caste to which he belongs, the caste that fills the amphitheater. Intellectuals as accomplices with those in power. Cosi sia.

Intellectuals: the functionaries of the superstructures that participate in the construction of the hegemony. So, Gramsci again: all men are intellectuals, true, but not all men serve the function of intellectuals in society, which consists in working for the spontaneous consent of the masses. Whether ‘organic” or “traditional,” the intellectual always belongs to an “economic-corporative” logic. Organic or traditional, he is always in the service of those in power, present, past, or future.

The salvation of the intellectual, according to Gramsci? Becoming one with the Party. Antonini laughs sardonically. But the Communist Party itself I so corrupt! How could it provide redemption for anyone these days? Compromesso storico, sto cazzo! Compromise leads to compromised principles.

The subversive intellectual? Ma fammi il piacere! He recites a phrase from another man’s film: “Think about what Suetonius did for the Caesars! You start with the ambition to denounce something and you end up an accomplice.”

Theatrical bow.
Prolonged applause.
It’s the old lady’s turn to speak.
“Io so.”

She to begins with a quotation, but she choses Pasolini. His now-legendary “J’accuse,’ published in the Corriere della Sera in 1974.

“I know the names of those responsible for the massacre of Milan in 1969. I know the names of those responsible for the massacre of Brescia and Bologna in 1974. I know the names of the important people who, with the aid of the CIA and the Greek colonels, and the Mafia, launched the anti Communist crusade, then tried to pretend they were anti-fascist. I know the names of those who, between two Masses, gave instructions and assured the protection of old generals, young neo-fascists, and ordinary criminals. I know the names of the serious and important people behind comic characters and drab characters. I know the names of serious and important people behind the tragic young people who have offered themselves as hired killers. I know all these names and I know all the crimes – the attacks on institutions and massacres –of which they are guilty.”

The old woman growls and her trembling voice rings out in the Archiginnasio.

“I know. But I have no proof. Not even any clues. I know because I am an intellectual, a writer, who strives to follow everything that happens, to read everything that is written on this subject, to imagine all that is unknown or shrouded in silence; who puts together disparate facts, gathering the fragmentary, disordered pieces of an entire, coherent political situation, who restores logic where randomness, madness, and mystery seems to reign.”

Less than a year after that article, Pasolini was found murdered, beaten to death on a beach in Ostia.

Gramsci dead in prison. Negri imprisoned. The world changes because intellectuals and those in power are at war with one another. The powerful win almost every battle, and the intellectuals pay with their lives or their freedom for having stood up to the powerful, and they bite the dust. But not always. And when the intellectual triumphs over the powerful, even posthumously, then the world changes. A man earns the name of intellectual when he gives voice to the voiceless.

Antonini, whose physical integrity is at stake, does not let her finish. He cites Foucault, who says we must “put an end to spokespeople.” Spokespeople do not speak for others, but in their place.

So the old woman responds straight away, insulting Foucault as senza coglioni: didn’t he refuse to intervene, here, in the parricide scandal that shook the whole country three years ago, just after publishing his book on the parricide of Pierre Riviere? What is the point of an intellectual if he doesn’t intervene in a matter that corresponds precisely to his field of expertise?

In response, Antonini says that Foucault, more than anyone else, has exposed the vanity of this posture, this way the intellectual has of (he quotes Foucault again) “giving a bit of seriousness to minor, unimportant disputes” Foucault defines himself as a researcher, not an intellectual. He belongs to the long-term goals of research, not to the agitation of polemic. He said: “Aren’t intellectuals hoping to give themselves greater importance through ideological struggle than they actually have.”

The old woman gasps. She spells it out: Every intellectual, if he correctly carries out the work of heuristic study for which he is qualified and that ought to be his vocation, even if he is in the service of those in power, works against the powerful because, as Lenin said (she turns around theatrically, her gaze sweeping the entire audience), the truth is always revolutionary. “La veritas e sempre rivoluzionaria!”

Take Machiavelli. He wrote The Prince for Lorenzo de Medici: he could hardly have been more of a courtesan. And yet . . . this work, often regarded as the height of political cynicism, is a definitive Marxist manifesto: “Because the aims of the people are more honest than those of the nobles, the nobles wishing to oppress the people, and the people wishing not to be oppressed.” In reality, he did not write The Prince for the Duke of Florence, because it has been published everywhere. By publishing The Prince, he reveals truths that would have remained hidden and reserved exclusively for the purposes of the powerful: so – it’s a a subversive act, a revolutionary act. He delivers the secrets of the Prince to the people. The arcana of political pragmatism stripped of fallacious divine and moral justifications. A decisive act in the liberation of humankind, as all acts of de-consecration are. Through his will to reveal, explain, expose, the intellectual makes war on the sacred. In this, he is always a liberator.

Antonini knows his classics. Machiavelli, he replies, had so little concept of the proletariat that he couldn’t even consider its condition, its needs, its aspirations. Hence, he also wrote: "And when neither their property not their honor is taken from them, the majority of men live content.” In his gilded age, he was incapable of imagining that the overwhelming majority of humankind was (and still is) absolutely lacking in property and honor, and could therefore not have them taken from them . .

The old woman says that this is the very beauty of the true intellectual: he does not need to want to be revolutionary in order to be revolutionary. He does not need to love or even know the people in order to serve them. He is naturally, necessarily Communist. .

Antonini snorts contemptuously that she will have to explain that to Heidegger.
The old woman says that he would do better top reread Malaparte.

Antonini talks about the concept of cattivo maestro, the bad master.

The old woman says that if there was a need to make clear with an adjective that the maestro is bad, that is because the maestro is essentially good.

It is clear there will be no knock-out in this bout, so Bifo whistles to signal the end of the duel.

The two adversaries stare each other,. Their features are hardened, their jaws tense, they are sweating, but the old woman’s bun is still immaculate.

The audience is divided, indecisive.

Bifo’s two fellow judges vote, one for Antonini, the other for Luciano’s mother.
Everyone waits for Bifo’s decision
Bifo votes for the old woman
Monica Vitti turns pales.
Sollers smiles.
Antonini does not flinch.
He places his hand on the dissecting table. One of the judges gets to his feet: a tall, very thin man, armed with a small, blue-bladed hatchet.

When the hatchet chops off Antonini’s finger, the echo of the severed bone mingles with that of the blade hitting marble and the director’s scream.

Monica Vitti bandages his hand with her gauze scarf while the judge respectfully picks up the finger and hands it to the actress.

Bifo proclaims loudly : “Onore agli arringatori.” The audience choruses: Honor to the duelists.
Luciano’s mother returns to sit down next to her son.

As at the end of a movie when the lights have not yet come back up, when the return to the real world is experienced as  a slow, hazy awakening, when the images are still dancing behind our eyes, several minutes pass before the first spectators, stretching their numb legs, stand up and leave the room.

The anatomical theater empties slowly. Bifo and his fellow judges gather pages of notes into cardboard folders then retire ceremoniously. The session of the Logos Club dissolves into the night.