Analysis of ‘Richard III’

Richard III, though called “The Tragedy of King Richard the third” in the First Quarto, is a history play written by William Shakespeare in the early 1590s. It’s the last play in a tetralogy on British kings, the first three being parts I, II, and III of Henry VI, which are among the earliest plays the Bard is known to have written.

While Henry VI, Part I is considered one of Shakespeare’s worst plays, and thus is also believed to be a collaboration (these same two assessments have been made of another early Shakespeare play, Titus Andronicus), Richard III is the Bard’s first great play. It is also his second-longest play (after Hamlet).

Richard III is great literature, but it isn’t good history: essentially a propaganda play, it vilifies its namesake in order to justify his usurpation by Henry VII, the first monarch of the House of Tudor (Elizabeth I, contemporaneous with Shakespeare, being the last Tudor monarch). While the theory–that Richard III was responsible for the deaths (or, rather, disappearance) of the princes in the Towerseems the most probable one to explain the fate of the two boys, it is by no means proven; accordingly, the Ricardians are trying to rehabilitate Richard III‘s reputation.

Here are some famous quotes from Richard III, and from plays associated with it:

“Why, love forswore me in my mother’s womb;/And, for I should not deal in her soft laws,/She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe/To shrink mine arm up like a wither’d shrub;/To make an envious mountain on my back,/Where sits deformity to mock my body;/To shape my legs of an unequal size;/To disproportion me in every part,/Like to a chaos, or an unlick’d bear-whelp/That carries no impression like the dam./And am I then a man to be belov’d?/O, monstrous fault, to harbour such a thought!/Then, since this earth affords no joy to me/But to command, to check, to o’erbear such/As are of better person than myself,/I’ll make my heaven to dream upon the crown,/And, whiles I live, to account this world but hell/Until my mis-shap’d trunk that bear this head/Be round impaled with a glorious crown./And yet I know not how to get the crown,/For many lives stand between me and home,/And I, like one lost in a thorny wood,/That rends the thorns, and is rent with the thorns,/Seeking a way, and straying from the way,/Not knowing how to find the open air,/But toiling desperately to find it out,/Torment myself to catch the English crown;/And from that torment I will free myself,/Or hew my way out with a bloody axe./Why, I can smile, and murther while I smile,/And cry ‘Content!’ to that which grieves my heart,/And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,/And frame my face to all occasions./I’ll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall,/I’ll slay more gazers than the basilisk;/I’ll play the orator as well as Nestor,/Deceive more slyly than Ulysses could,/And like a Sinon take another Troy./I can add colours to the chameleon,/Change shapes with Protheus for advantages,/And set the murtherous Machiavel to school./Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?/Tut, were it farther off, I’ll pluck it down.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Henry VI, Part III, Act III, Scene ii, lines 153-195

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York
;
And all the clouds, that lour’d upon our house,
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums chang’d to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visag’d war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, — instead of mounting barbed steeds,
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,—
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, — that am not shap’d for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty,
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable,
That dogs bark at me, as I halt by them,—
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Richard III, Act I, Scene i, lines 1-31

“Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
I’ll have her; — but I will not keep her long.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Richard III, Act I, Scene ii, lines 227-229

“I cannot tell: the world is grown so bad,
That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch:
Since every Jack became a gentleman,
There’s many a gentle person made a Jack.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Richard III, Act I, Scene iii, lines 70-73

“But then I sigh, and, with a piece of scripture,
Tell them that God bids us do good for evil:
And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With odd old ends, stol’n out of holy writ;
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.” –Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Richard III, Act I, Scene iii, lines 334-338

“O momentary grace of mortal men,
Which we more hunt for than the grace of God!
Who builds his hope in air of your fair looks,
Lives like a drunken sailor on a mast,
Ready, with every nod, to tumble down
Into the fatal bowels of the deep.” —Hastings, Richard III, Act III, Scene iv, lines 98-103

“O bloody Richard! —miserable England!
I prophesy the fearfull’st time to thee
That ever wretched age hath look’d upon. —
Come, lead me to the block; bear him my head:
They smile at me who shortly shall be dead.” –Hastings, Richard III, Act III, Scene iv, lines 105-109

“I must be married to my brother’s daughter,
Or else my kingdom stands on brittle glass: —
Murder her brothers, and then marry her!
Uncertain way of gain! But I am in
So far in blood, that sin will pluck on sin.
Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye.” –King Richard, Richard III, Act IV, Scene ii, lines 62-67

King Richard: I am not in the giving vein to-day.
Buckingham: Why, then resolve me whe’r you will or no.
King Richard: Tut, tut, thou troublest me; I am not in the vein. —Richard III, Act IV, Scene ii, lines 120-122

“The sons of Edward sleep in Abraham’s bosom,
And Anne my wife hath bid the world good night.” –King Richard, Richard III, Act IV, Scene iii, lines 38-39

“Is the chair empty? is the sword unsway’d?
Is the king dead? the empire unpossess’d?” –King Richard, Richard III, Act IV, Scene iv, lines 470-471

“Despair and die!” –The Ghosts of Edward, Prince of Wales; Henry VI; Clarence; Grey; Rivers; Vaughan; Hastings; the boy Princes; Anne and Buckingham, Richard III, Act V, repeatedly throughout Scene iii

“Give me another horse! — bind up my wounds!
Have mercy, Sweet Jesu!” –King Richard, Richard III, Act V, Scene iii, lines 177-178

“I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die!
I think there be six Richmonds in the field;
Five have I slain to-day instead of him.” –King Richard, Richard III, Act V, Scene iv, lines 9-12

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” –King Richard, Richard III, Act V, Scene iv, line 7, then again at line 13

“Inter their bodies as becomes their births.
Proclaim a pardon to the soldiers fled,
That in submission will return to us;
And then, as we have ta’en the sacrament,
We will unite the white rose and the red: —
Smile heaven upon this fair conjunction,
That long have frown’d upon their enmity!
” —Henry, Earl of Richmond, Richard III, Act V, Scene v, lines 15-21

“Off with his head; so much for Buckingham” –King Richard, Colley Cibber‘s 1699 adaptation of Richard III

“Richard’s himself again!” –King Richard, Colley Cibber’s adaptation of Richard III

Because Richard III is part four of a tetralogy, which Shakespeare assumed his audience had seen in its entirety, he makes allusions to the first three parts that would be lost on audiences who’ve only seen the last part. (Colley Cibber tried to solve this problem with his 1699 adaptation.) Hence, to understand Shakespeare’s play, one must give a précis of the first three plays; I refer mostly to those parts relevant to understanding Richard III.

Henry VI, Part I

Henry V has passed away, way before his time, meaning his son, the child Henry VI, must be the new king. Squabbling and mismanagement of the kingdom under the Lord Protector and other nobles, as well as rebellions led by Joan of Arc, have lost England the French territory won under Henry V’s rule. Factions in King Henry’s court choose to side either with the White Rose of York or the Red Rose of Lancaster. Suffolk‘s plan is for Henry VI to marry Margaret of Anjou, as against the advice of the Lord Protector, so Suffolk can control the king through her.

Henry VI, Part II

The king marries Margaret. Bickering between the two factions leads, by the end of the play, to the Wars of the Roses. The Lord Protector; Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, has been imprisoned for treason and killed by hired murderers. The Duke of York, claiming the right to the throne, fights against Henry VI’s Lancastrian faction. The king, too meek and pious to fight, will let his wife, Queen Margaret, lead the Lancastrians.

Henry VI, Part III

The Duke of York briefly gains the upper hand and is made king, but the Lancastrians regain power, put a paper crown on York to mock him, then kill him. Henry VI is king again, but not for long, as the Yorkists get the upper hand again, and York’s eldest son is made King Edward IV. Hunchbacked Richard, Edward’s youngest brother, is made Duke of Gloucester; he lusts for the crown, but in a soliloquy (see first quote above) speaks of how he doesn’t know how to get to it; he compares his difficult quest for power to cutting through a “thorny wood” to get to a clearing. During the ongoing civil war, Warwick is killed by King Edward, as is (in the Battle of Tewkesbury) the Lancastrian Prince of Wales by all three of York’s sons, Edward (the king), George, and Richard, the last of these three later killing imprisoned King Henry VI, who prophesies that the Earl of Richmond will be king after the future King Richard III’s reign. The Yorkists win, Margaret is banished, and the Yorkists celebrate.

Richard III

Only Richard, Duke of Gloucester, doesn’t celebrate with the others, for he is still scheming to eliminate his rivals to the crown. In a soliloquy (see second quote above), he speaks of the great change that has just occurred: from war to peace, from “the winter of our discontent” to “glorious summer by this sun of York” (that is, the Yorkist badge of the sun, or, son of the Duke of York, Edward IV). Instead of making war, the people are making love.

This soliloquy introduces the theme of vicissitudes, or continually revolving changes in condition or fortune (especially from good to bad luck, for as we will see, Gloucester hates this shift from killing to copulating). The theme is established clearly by repeating, over and over again, how bellicosity has changed to such things as “the lascivious pleasing of a lute”.

Gloucester, however, is too ugly to be a lover. No woman would want this hunchback, who has been “Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,/Deform’d”, with one leg longer than the other. So, since he “cannot prove a lover”, his emotional rejection, combined with his ambition, has him “determined to prove a villain”. He is determined by fate and by his resolve to become king.

Through Gloucester’s scheming, his elder brother George, Duke of Clarence, is being sent by Brackenbury to the Tower because a prophecy says that “G” (George, apparently, but actually Gloucester) will kill King Edward’s heirs. Thus we see the vicissitudes of Clarence’s fortunes, traded with those of Hastings, who has just been freed from the Tower, a change to ill fortune only in the eyes of his enemies, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan.

To help secure him on the throne, Gloucester must wed Anne Neville, who hates him for having murdered her father, Warwick, her husband, the Prince of Wales at Tewkesbury, and his father, Henry VI. Getting her to change her attitude to Gloucester will be a formidable task for him, but he succeeds within one scene of fiery dialogue with her: he feigns both repentance and love for her, even offering either to have her stab him with his sword or to kill himself. She agrees, amazingly, to marry him by the end of the scene. Vicissitudes follow each other so closely, they’re like a pair of feet stepping on each other’s toes.

Indeed, immediately after she leaves, Gloucester has gone from imagining himself too repellent to woo women, to being a “marv’llous proper man”, and he wants to go out and buy himself some fashionable clothes and gaze on himself in a looking glass.

The nobles have changed from celebrating their victory to squabbling among each other. Elizabeth, Edward IV’s queen, knows how dangerous Gloucester is to her family. He stirs up more rancour among the nobles by comparing the rise in power of her family to how “wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch”. He claims that, in his opinion, lowly people like her family have become gentlemen, while truly noble people like himself have been abased. More vicissitudes, both real and imagined.

Speaking of abased nobles, Margaret of Anjou, former queen to Henry VI, has defied her banishment and walks among the, in her opinion, “every Jack [who] became a gentleman” and curses them for causing her ruinous vicissitudes. They all scoff at her curses (her curse at Gloucester seeming to be sent back to her by him–Act I, Scene iii, lines 216-234), but by the end of the play, they’ll be weeping or dead, and she will be seen as a prophetess (Act I, Scene iii, lines 299-303–more on the theme of curses, i.e., self-inflicted ones, later).

Gloucester has hired two murderers to kill Clarence in the Tower. He warns them to be quick about it, for if they let his brother speak, his clever words will surely dissuade them from doing the murder. Indeed, his words almost do, and only one of the murderers actually kills Clarence by drowning him in a malmsey butt of wine, presaged in a dream Clarence has had of being knocked off a boat by falling Gloucester, and drowning in the sea while seeing the horrid ghosts of all those Lancastrians Clarence killed (Act I, Scene iv, lines 9-23, then lines 43-63).

Act II begins with ailing Edward IV pushing the squabbling nobles to be reconciled with each other, getting forced exchanges of love between Hastings and Rivers, Buckingham and Queen Elizabeth, etc. All would seem well in the eyes of the smiling king, until Gloucester shocks everyone with the announcement of Clarence’s death. More vicissitudes come when the king dies of grief, causing, in turn, the mourning of the queen, Clarence’s children, and the Duchess of York, the mother of the dead king, Clarence, and Gloucester (Act II, Scene ii).

Though preparations are being made for Edward IV’s elder son, Prince Edward, to become King Edward V, Gloucester, as the Lord Protector, is making preparations to get rid of the twelve-year-old boy and his younger brother, Prince Richard of York.

Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan are to be executed on a trumped-up charge, causing lamentations in Elizabeth over “the ruin of [her] house” (Act II, Scene iv). As the three condemned men bemoan their vicissitudes, they remember Margaret’s curses not only at them, but at their enemies, Gloucester, Buckingham, and…Hastings, too! Now they can go to their deaths with a kind of gloating solace (Act III, Scene iii).

Elizabeth has her nine-(ten?)-year-old son, Prince Richard, Duke of York, put in sanctuary for his protection from Gloucester and Buckingham. The boy’s vicissitudes turn sour when Buckingham argues that he’s too young to understand, and therefore merit, the Church’s protection (Act III, Scene i, lines 44-56); so he’s taken out of sanctuary and into Gloucester’s ‘protection’ with his older brother, the boy who would be king…if not for Gloucester.

Though Lord Stanley warns Hastings of a bad dream he’s had presaging Hastings’s death at the hands of Gloucester (the boar), Hastings dismisses the danger, riding high on the news of the execution of his enemies, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan (Act III, Scene ii). Catesby asks Hastings if he’ll support Gloucester over the two boy princes as the next king; Hastings says he’ll give up his own head before he’ll allow that. Vicissitudes lead to his head, indeed, being chopped off, and what a dramatic swing in fortune do we see when Hastings’s smile is so quickly changed to a frown, all from having said “If“.

So soon after the two princes’ rise in power do we see their vicissitudinous fall, first into the gaping mouth of the Tower, then to being slandered as bastard sons of lascivious Edward IV (Act III, Scene v, lines 72-94), then to their murder by men hired by Tyrell, who at first craves financial gain from just-crowned King Richard III (Act IV, Scene ii, lines 32-41), then quickly switches to remorse upon the sight of the smothered innocents in their bed (Act IV, Scene iii, lines 1-22).

The new king, fearing losing his power, is disappointed with Buckingham, who flinches at the idea of approving of the killing of the princes in the Tower. Buckingham has thus switched from being the king’s loyal friend–who had until now been crucial in helping Richard’s rise to power–to being his enemy. Irked at how the king “Repays…[Buckingham’s] deep service/With such contempt”, Buckingham changes his allegiance to Richmond.

Richard III has undergone vicissitudes, too: he’s gone from being a gleeful villain, who “can smile, and murder while [he] smile[s]”, to a paranoid tyrant who no longer has “that alacrity of spirit/Nor cheer of mind that [he] was wont to have”, and who increasingly hates himself, knowing no one–not even his mother, the Duchess of York–loves him (Act V, Scene iii, lines 177-206).

He’s had his queen, Anne, killed, and he feels the only way he can secure his kingdom is to marry the daughter of the former Queen Elizabeth, who naturally would abominate such a foul marriage, preferring an alliance of her daughter with Richmond. The king tries to charm Elizabeth into allowing the marriage as he did with Anne, but vicissitudes mean he hasn’t the success he had with Anne (Act IV, Scene iv, lines 196-431).

Indeed, the only way Richard can get even the semblance of an agreement from Elizabeth for him to marry her daughter is to curse himself if he ever proves false to her (Act IV, Scene iv, lines 397-417). Since he’s already proven false to that family (as well as to his own) so many times before, he doesn’t need to prove himself false to his would-be bride; so his pretend curse on himself comes true.

This unwitting curse on oneself is not unique to Richard. Anne Neville has cursed any future wife of his, not knowing “his honey words” would make her that accursed future wife (Act IV, Scene i, lines 66-86). Richard Gloucester turns one of Margaret’s curses on herself (Act I, Scene iii, lines 216-240), though this doesn’t stop her curses from having effect on the Yorkists. Buckingham curses himself if he ever proves unfaithful to Queen Elizabeth, saying his own friends, Gloucester et al, should likewise prove untrue to him (Act II, Scene i, lines 32-40)…and this curse, as we know, comes true (Act V, Scene i, lines 12-29).

These self-inflicted curses are made because Anne, Buckingham, and Richard are overconfident, not provident enough to consider how quickly vicissitudes can turn good fortune into bad.

Indeed, with the rise in Richmond’s power and decline in Richard’s, we see a perfect illustration of this trade in fortune in their shared dream, that of Richard’s victims (the Prince of Wales slain in Tewkesbury, Henry VI, Clarence, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan, Hastings, the princes in the Tower, Anne, and Buckingham) cursing the tyrant to “Despair, and die”, then wishing success to Richmond in the upcoming Battle of Bosworth Field (Act V, Scene iii, lines 118-176).

During that battle, Richard fights bravely, but before his death, he despairs so greatly that, limping on the grass, he would trade the kingdom that has meant everything to him…just for a horse, so he can escape from his enemies.

From craving rule of the kingdom, craving it so much that he would kill anyone standing in his way (family, his wife, even children), to achieving it; then willingly trading that coveted kingdom for a mere horse: such extremity of vicissitudes.

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The Ouroboros of Dialectical Materialism

Marxism is based on the idea of historical materialism, that everything in our world is properly understood in terms of its material basis. Any people in their history have had the kind of culture and belief systems they have because of the prevailing material conditions in their world (Eagleton, pages 128-159).

Are they a wealthy nation, prospering, and with most of their people doing well, as in the Scandinavian countries? Then it’s likely they’ll be mostly a gentle, tolerant people. Are they a poor people, oppressed by Western imperialism, like those in the Islamic world (peoples often much more liberal and modern before war and imperialism tear their worlds apart)? Their religion, for example, will probably have more militant members (though even with that, still a small minority of all believers) than there are in developed countries. Are they a First World country, but with terrible wealth inequality, as in the US or the UK? Well, there will be lots of discontent, plus lots of division over what is considered the hated establishment, as well as a lazy, complacent attitude towards revolution.

Another important factor in Marxism is dialectics, not the idealist version of Hegel and Zižek, but the materialist version of Marx and Lenin. As Mao said, everything is made up of conflicting contradictions; furthermore, there is a yin and yang-like unity with all contradictions. One cannot have one thing without contemplating or observing its opposite.

How can we interpret the relationship between one opposite and the other? In ‘On Contradiction,’ Mao gave some good examples of that relationship. For example: “…at every stage in the development of a process, there is only one principal contradiction which plays the leading role.” (Mao, page 157) Also, ‘Why is it that “the human mind should take these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, transforming themselves into one another”? Because that is just how things are in objective reality. The fact is that the unity or identity of opposites in objective things is not dead or rigid, but is living, conditional, mobile, temporary and relative; in given conditions, every contradictory aspect transforms itself into its opposite. Reflected in man’s thinking, this becomes the Marxist world outlook of materialist dialectics.’ (Mao, page 166)

I would like to offer my own ideas of how all contradictions relate to each other, as well as give examples from history as to how my ideas have manifested themselves. I mean the below ideas as only a guideline as to how the events of history can be seen, though, not as a prescription of how these things must be seen every time. The following is only a contribution to dialectical materialism; it’s not meant as any kind of dogma. Anyway, here’s my idea: I see opposites as on the ends of a continuum that is coiled into a circle, like the ouroboros, normally a symbol of eternity. For me, it symbolizes the dialectic.

Imagine, at the top of this coiled continuum, the snake’s head biting its tail. There we have the two extreme opposites meeting. At the bottom, the middle of the snake’s body, is the moderate, middle point between the extremes; and of course, everywhere on the snakes’s body approaching the head is a movement toward the one extreme, and movement toward the tail is an approaching of the other extreme.

To give a simple example, imagine the ouroboros as the political spectrum, the head as Fascism and the tail as Communism. Do not confuse this with the horseshoe theory: the biting head and bitten tail are not to be understood as similar, but as one opposite phasing into the other as a result of the aggravation of class struggle.

When the Russian Revolution shook up the world, and (failed) attempts at Communist revolution happened in Germany, Hungary, and Italy from about 1918 to the early 1920s, the capitalist class got nervous, and Fascism arose to divert the working class’s attention from class issues to scapegoating such targets as foreigners, Jews, Communists, etc. Hence, broadly speaking, Communism led to a Fascist reaction–the serpent’s bitten tail to its biting head.

In the particular case of Germany during the 1920s, though, the move from an attempt at Communism to the rise of Naziism went in the other direction, since the progressive policies of the Weimar Republic, though irritatingly insufficient for the far left, were enough to bring Germany from the tail to the bottom middle of the ouroboros’s body. Then, the Nazis manipulated their way into power through the very democratic process they would soon destroy from within. From the bottom middle, Germany slid up to the serpent’s head.

Then, the rise of Fascism in Italy, Naziism in Germany, and imperialism in Japan led to the USSR’s crushing of Naziism and the defeat of imperial Japan by the protracted war in China, the victors there being a coalition of Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists, the latter ultimately ousting the former from China in 1949 and establishing Communist China. Similarly in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany led to the creation of the Eastern Bloc. Fascism led to a Communist reaction–head to tail.

Now, consider the middle of the tail, to which most ‘liberal democracies’ gravitate. Here, we’ve usually seen a moderate level of social liberalism mixed with a ‘free market’: in other words, the class structure of the bourgeoisie is firmly intact, while lip service–and usually not much more than that–is paid to acknowledging the rights and needs of people of colour, LGBT people, and to attaining equality of the sexes (hence, the ‘ideal’ of being ‘socially liberal’ and ‘fiscally conservative’). The swaying between Democrats and Republicans in US elections reflect this swinging of the pendulum from ‘moderate left’ to ‘moderate right’. This is a sliding back and forth along the middle of the serpent’s body at the coil’s bottom…indeed, it is the lowest of the low, for it is a terrible state of affairs where little substantive change ever happens. As awful as the threat of Fascism is, at least–theoretically–it could prompt real change, one hopes, in the form of a socialist reaction to it, as it did in the bloody aftermath of WWII.

Most people prefer the moderatism of that middle of the serpent’s body, where things are ‘stable’. People are scared of instability, and thus are willing to endure a number of injustices as long as their whole familiar world doesn’t get torn apart before their horrified eyes. The capitalist class thrives on our complacency.

The Cold War era brought about an interesting development, though, where we found ourselves in the area of the back half of the serpent’s body: not quite at the bitten tail, but in that hind area, approaching the bitten end. The Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, North Korea, and North Vietnam together posed a formidable threat to the capitalist West, so much so that even they made a number of left-leaning concessions to their citizens–higher taxes for the rich (high enough, at least, to curb greed), a welfare state, strong unions, and the like, coupled with Keynesian economics–in spite of their long-standing imperialism.

The ruling class soon grew weary of all this growing social justice, and they recruited the aid of right-wing economists like Milton Friedman, who advocated a return to classical liberalism and the ‘virtues’ of the so-called ‘free market’. The seductive appeal of that hack writer, Ayn Rand, was also used. (The Canadian rock band, Rush, whose otherwise brilliant music was progressive only in the musical sense, fell under her Siren song back in the 1970s; to be fair to drummer/lyricist Neil Peart, though, he later saw the error of his youth, and has since renounced Rand’s ‘virtue of selfishness’.)

When even Keynesian economics couldn’t fix the economic crises of the mid-1970s, the stage was set to ‘relax’ government influence over the market economies of the West, starting with Carter. Then, Reagan and Thatcher came along with their talk of ‘smaller’ government (translation: a strengthening of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, through a weakening of unions, plotting–if not yet succeeding–to cut social welfare, and cutting the taxes of the 1%). We began moving from the hind half of the serpent to the front half…and we’ve been inching closer to the head ever since.

Right-libertarians, imagining they understand economics far better than they actually do, are living in a fool’s paradise if they think that unfettered capitalism will lead to a horn of plenty for everyone. Unregulated capitalism produces less growth, it rarely makes poor countries rich (Chang, pages 62-73), and it doesn’t reduce government interference in the world (consider the bloated US military budget, all in the service of capitalist imperialism); it merely gives the rich more power over everyone, by allowing them to keep the money (profits) that they steal from their overworked, underpaid workers, who increasingly have been in outsourced operations in Third World countries.

The notion of the ‘free market’ as creating a level playing field, where all businesses, big or small, can compete fairly, is a chimera. Capitalists eat each other up all the time, without apology. As Karl Marx said, “…as soon as the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet, the further socialization of labour and the further transformation of the soil and other means of production into socially exploited and therefore communal means of production takes on a new form. What is now to be expropriated is not the self-employed worker, but the capitalist who exploits a large number of workers.

“This expropriation is accomplished through the action of the immanent laws of capitalist production itself, through the centralization of capitals. One capitalist always strikes down many others.” (Marx, Capital, Volume One, pages 928-929).

Capitalism is competition, but it isn’t a sport: there are no rules, and regulation-hating right-libertarians should know this better than everyone else. The purpose of rules is to create fairness, and to keep monopolistic capitalism from destroying itself via its own contradictions; capitalists hate regulations, because they hate fairness, and they refuse to contemplate the consequences of their own rapaciousness. Capitalists cheat all the time.

The only law in capitalism is the need for endless accumulation. Regulations limit profits and accumulation, hence right-libertarians feel ‘fettered’ by rules. They speak of the ‘freedom’ that capitalism supposedly brings, but their ‘freedom’ is really just licence, and it’s used for selfish ends. Talk to the labourers in sweatshops in Third World countries, people who slave away for minuscule amounts of money, about the ‘freedom’ of capitalism.

The whole point of capitalist competition is that somebody wins, and everyone else loses.  In capitalism, the winners keep a maximum of wealth and profits (thanks to all those tax cuts), and this extra money is used to buy political power. It is naïve to assume that most of this wealth will be reinvested to grow their businesses and strengthen the economy. We know from such scandals as the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers that huge amounts of this wealth is put into offshore bank accounts, not that many of us didn’t already know about that.

Much of the money is also used to buy political influence: just watch how those two ‘libertarians’, the Koch brothers, have been wooing (and bankrolling) right-wing causes for decades. It’s not about ‘less’ government; it’s about more bourgeois government. The ‘less’ government myth is a lie to suck in the petite bourgeoisie.

Right-libertarians’ fantasy about a return to the simpler capitalism of 19th century laissez-faire, without all these foreign wars, the cronyism, and government favouritism to the multinational corporations, is also anachronistic. The deregulation of the 1990s and 2000s, ironically (and dialectically), led to the cronyism of today–the bitten tail of the ‘free market’ leading to the biting head of the Big Government that we now have. There will be no movement back in the other direction.

Imperialism, with its monopolies, finance capital, and corrupt banks, is a natural outgrowth of its opposite, the free competition of the 19th century, a move from the serpent’s tail to its head. Imperialism is not only the ineluctable reality of today’s late-stage capitalism, but has been that reality for the past one hundred years or so. Lenin wrote about it, and he would be horrified to see how much imperialism (i.e., US imperialism) has metastasized by now.

Other examples of the ouroboros of dialectical, historical materialism can be seen in the shifting from feudalism to capitalism, then from the latter into socialism. Consider the terrible state of poverty in late feudal France and China, which was one of the factors that led to their bourgeois revolutions in 1789 and 1911 respectively. Extreme want and powerlessness (the bitten tail), as well as the contradiction between the aristocracy and the rising bourgeoisie, led to a seizing of power (the biting head).

Similarly, the want of the Parisian workers at the end of the Franco-Prussian War led to the proletariat protecting themselves with cannons and declaring the Paris Commune (Marx/Lenin, pages 47-48). The threat that this thrilling proletarian experiment posed to the European bourgeoisie led, in turn, to a brutal suppression two months later. From tail to head, then back to tail again.

Decades later, the repressive tsarist autocracy was pushing the Russian proletariat ever closer to the biting head of the serpent; then a kind of reprieve happened with the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and the creation of the Provisional Government in early 1917. But the new state’s refusal to pull out of the most-unpopular First World War pushed things along the length of the tail all the way back to the head again, with angry demonstrations that summer, and the seizing of power by Lenin and the Soviets in November (New Style). From biting head to bitten tail.

The capitalist class never tolerates a communist revolution, regardless of whether the ruling class is in the form of the relatively progressive Weimar Republic, Mussolini’s Fascists, or the White Army, the last of these having invaded Russia in 1918 and starting the Russian Civil War. The pressure this put on the Bolsheviks forced them to go to the authoritarian measures they went to (i.e., top-down decision-making, instead of Soviet egalitarianism).

Let’s superimpose the ouroboros–with the biting head to the right of the bitten tail, and both extremes at the top, as we conceived of it earlier in this essay–on top of the four-way political compass, not only with the self-explanatory left and right, but with the top representing authoritarianism and bottom indicating libertarianism. Thus, the top left box would be for the Marxist-Leninists, the bottom left the anarchists, the bottom right the ‘free market’ fetishists (including the ‘anarcho’-capitalists), and the top right everything from the Trump-lovers to the idolizers of the likes of Pinochet, Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler. The neo-con, neoliberal Clintons, Obamas, and Bushes would be near the bottom-middle-right.

Another reality must be considered before we go on: there is a natural tendency to slide counter-clockwise, from the tail, along the middle of the body, and up towards the head of the serpent. We saw how free competition led to imperialism a century ago (then to the rise of Fascism); then how the post-war combination of Keynesian economics with a strong welfare state gave way to the ‘free market’ and deregulation, which in turn has led to the aggravated imperialism of the ‘war on terror’, as well as to Trump and the rise of the alt-right. It all goes round and round, a cycle of increasing suffering.

Capitalist accumulation leads to exacerbated class conflict and internal crises, which in turn lead to more right-wing authoritarianism and imperialism, as noted above. This problem, exacerbated by the capitalist class’s machinations (i.e., their attempted or successful coups of socialist states, or of those otherwise opposed to US interests; their sabotage, spying, and propagandizing against leftist governments, too), means that countries like the USSR, the Eastern Bloc, Mao’s China, and the DPRK were and are forced to take a hard line against reactionaries and revisionists.

In the language of the ouroboros, this means one must aggressively counteract that tendency to slide counter-clockwise from the tail around to the head, a kind of vomiting up of the snake’s past. Revisionism is regurgitation of capitalist hegemony. To keep socialist society on the left side, one must push back clockwise and keep it in the top left, to be safe, for as long as capitalism continues to exist.

Such is the true meaning of the aggravation of class struggle under socialism; such was the real intention of Stalin, Mao, and the Kim dynasty. Doing things the left-libertarian way would have resulted in a swaying to the right, and thus a wasted communist revolution. Stalin’s and Mao’s ‘excesses’, on the other hand, meant a swaying from the tail to the bottom left corner–in other words, a success.

Only once all capitalism has been wiped off the face of the earth can the Marxist-Leninist states relax their control over everything. Then the state can wither away, and we’ll naturally incline toward the middle-to-hind area of the serpent, the libertarian bottom left.

To create a world where all production is for the sake of providing for everyone, we have to do more than just remove the political and economic obstacles (the ruling class and their bourgeois state): we also have to wean ourselves from old, bad habits, i.e., production for profit, exploiting labourers, hoarding food, etc. If these bad habits aren’t broken, the libertarian left of the hind half of the serpent will slide towards the ‘libertarian’ right of unfettered capitalism, the front half of the serpent.

Stalin’s push for rapid industrialization, collectivization,  ruthless punishing of grain-hoarding kulaks, execution of traitors, spies, and other enemies within the USSR, as well as defeating the Nazis and building up of a nuclear arsenal, were all needed measures to keep the USSR from slipping from the hind area of the ouroboros to the front half. The same can be said of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the DPRK’s development of nukes, a perfectly reasonable reaction to the US bombing of the Korean Peninsula, Iraq, and Libya.

The fact that, ultimately, both Russia and China backslid into capitalism doesn’t invalidate Stalin’s and Mao’s efforts: it proves, all the more, the urgent necessity of those efforts. More of that effort was needed, not less.

The error of liberalism is assuming that an easy-going acceptance of the moderate bottom middle of the ouroboros will result in the world staying there. Nothing stands still forever; all things flow. Our material conditions won’t stay in the bottom middle: they will slide from there to the front half of the serpent, and continue to slide up to the head, as they have for the past forty years. It’s easy to see how Reagan, the Bushes, and Trump have contributed to this trend, but many remain willfully ignorant as to how Carter, the Clintons, and Obama have contributed to it.

The ‘free market’ policies began under Carter, who–under Brzezinski‘s influence–also provoked the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which was a major factor leading to the USSR’s weakening and collapse (to say nothing of the provocation of contemporary Islamic terrorism). I have, in previous posts, gone over many of the egregious things the Clintons did: NAFTA, the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, repealing the Glass-Steagall legislation, the Telecommunications Act, etc., and right-wingers claim the Clintons are ‘left-leaning’! That ‘socialist’ Obama not only continued Dubya’s evils, but expanded them; small wonder liberals are nostalgic about Bush Jr. these days.

And look at our world today, with Fascist tendencies taking root again, and Trump’s excesses are just the tip of the iceberg. Consider the UKIP’s influence on Brexit, the neo-Nazis in the Ukraine, Fascism in Austria, the Front national almost winning in the French elections, Golden Dawn in Greece, nostalgia for Franco in Spain, and the far-right marching in Poland.

We can go in either of two directions to fix these evils, and neither will be pleasant. We could go insane with accelerationism to the right, leading to a violent reaction against extreme Fascism, which–assuming a left-wing victory–we would hope in turn will lead to Marxism-Leninism (from the serpent’s head to its tail); but will we be able to live with the horrors we’ll have allowed to happen? Or we could engage in a kind of protracted war against the bourgeoisie, an adapting of Mao’s tactics (those against imperial Japan in the 1930s) to our present struggle against neoliberalism (go along the length of the ouroboros from its head to its tail); but will we have the stomach and the patience to see it through?

We have a tough choice ahead of us, don’t we?

Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2011

Mao Zedong, Selected Works of Mao Zedong, Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, 2014

Karl Marx [Ben Fowkes (Translator)], Capital, Volume I, Penguin Classics, London, 1990

Ha-Joon Chang, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, Penguin Books, London, 2010

Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, The Civil War in France: The Paris Commune, International Publishers, New York, 2008

Analysis of ‘Salem’s Lot

‘Salem’s Lot is a vampire horror novel written by Stephen King and published in 1975. It’s his second novel, as well as his personal favourite of all of those he’s written. There have been two made-for-TV adaptations: the 1979 one starring David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, and Bonnie Bedelia; and the 2004 adaptation starring Rob Lowe, Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer, and James Cromwell. While the first adaptation took many liberties with King’s novel, he felt no animus against it, unlike his reaction to Stanley Kubrick‘s version of The Shining.

Here are a few quotes:

“…the Lot’s knowledge of the country’s torment was academic. Time went on a different schedule there. Nothing too nasty could happen in such a nice little town. Not there.”        –Chapter 2, 4 (page 44)

“The town knew about darkness.

“It knew about the darkness that comes on the land when rotation hides the land from the sun, and about the darkness of the human soul.” –Ch. 10, 1 (page 321)

“These are the town’s secrets, and some will later be known and some will never be known. The town keeps them all with the ultimate poker face.

“The town cares for devil’s work no more than it cares for God’s or man’s. It knew darkness. And darkness was enough.” –Ch. 10, 1 (page 327)

In the Prologue, part 3, we come upon a newspaper article, ‘GHOST TOWN IN MAINE?’, referring to two ghost towns: Jerusalem’s Lot and Momson (page 8; also, pages 594-5). Some kind of evil has emptied both towns of their residents. By the end of the story, Ben Mears has started a brush fire as the only way to rid ‘salem’s Lot of its vampires. A fire to rid a city of its evil; two cities laid in desolation by some horrible evil; ‘Salem and Momson seem redolent of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Indeed, ‘salem’s Lot sounds like a pun on ‘Sodom’s Lot’. Is Ben Mears the ‘Lot’ of Jerusalem’s Lot? A fiery destruction is certainly ‘salem’s lot (i.e., fate). What’s more, ‘Salem sounds like fairly nearby Salem, Massachusetts, where the infamous witch trials took place.

Jerusalem is a most holy city (the fighting and controversy over it notwithstanding), as opposed to most unholy Sodom. ‘Salem’s Lot comes off as a quaint, wholesome town…on the surface. The Marsten House (a pun on monster, and almost an anagram, phonetically) is a magnet for evil, having been the home of a murder/suicide before housing master vampire Kurt Barlow and his human assistant, Richard Straker.

Is the contraction, ‘salem, removing Jeru (a pun on Jesu?), meant to indicate a removal of the outer veneer of goodness, leaving only evil? Indeed, the horror of this novel, as with The Exorcist and The Omen, lies in the presence only of evil, and the absence of good.

Jerusalem was originally the name of a pig that escaped the confines of its owner, Charles Belknap Tanner, then ran wild into a forest. Tanner then called the forest (part of his property), ‘Jerusalem’s Lot‘, and warned kids not to go into it, lest they be killed by the wild pig. The town was later named after the forest. The history of the town included a cult that practiced witchcraft and amoral sexuality, including inbreeding. Hence, we can easily see how the town has always been associated with outright bestial evil; hence, in turn, my association of ‘salem’s Lot with Sodom.

Before I go further into my comparison of ‘salem’s Lot with Sodom, let’s consider the story of Lot in Sodom. He was accommodating two angels, in the guise of men, when all the men of Sodom crowded around Lot’s house, demanding he bring the two men out so they could “know” (yada’) them, i.e., gang rape them (Genesis 19:5).

The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah included flagrant inhospitality, overweening pride (Ezekiel 16:49-50), and most controversially, male homosexuality (though it is only male-on-male gang rape that is explicitly dealt with in this story, not that that makes any difference to bigoted Bible fundamentalists, who use this story to justify intolerance of LGBT people).

Lot, demonstrating his duty to be hospitable to the angels, refuses to bring them out for the sexual sport of the Sodomites, who then try to force their way into Lot’s house. The two angels blind the Sodomites and warn Lot to take his family out of the city while the angels destroy the cities with fire and brimstone.

To show the parallels between the Bible story and ‘Salem’s Lot, I must start by pointing out how eroticism is all over the place in vampire fictionCarmilla and Dracula are two well-known early examples of this. Those phallic fangs’ biting into flesh and sucking out blood powerfully suggests sexual predation, and many, if not most of the significant vampire attacks (including attempts) in this novel are male on male, symbolic of male homosexual rape.

Remember that no victim of a vampire bite consents to it, and I’m not at all agreeing with the Bible-beating bigots’ notion that consensual gay sex between adults is a sin (I don’t even believe in God). I’m not trying to moralize about gay male sex, but rather my concern is with the novel’s vampirism as symbolic typically of (attempted or successful) male-on-male sexual assault, which is every bit as indefensible as male-on-female rape, or any other kind of rape.

I’m just seeing an interesting parallel between the Sodomites wanting to get into Lot’s house to rape the angels, on the one hand, and the vampire Danny Glick biting Mike Ryerson, Randy McDougall (page 327), and Jack Griffen, and wanting to get Mark Petrie to open his bedroom window, so he can enter Mark’s room and bite him (pages 367-371). Petrie, of course, scares Danny away with a crucifix, just as the angels thwarted the Sodomites’ plan to push their way past Lot’s doorway and gang-rape them.

In this connection, remember also the Glick boys’ fear of “preeverts” while passing through the woods on the night Ralphie goes missing (pages 119-121). Remember also Hank Peters and Royal Snow wondering about the two new residents of the Marsten House: ‘Hank…looked up toward the Marsten House, which was dark and shuttered tonight. “I don’t like goin’ up there, and I ain’t afraid to say so. If there was ever a haunted house, that’s it. Those guys must be crazy, tryin’ to live there. Probably queer for each other anyway.”…”Like those fag interior decorators,” Royal agreed.’ (page 143)

Now, the homophobia of Hank and Royal aside, whatever Barlow and Straker are doing in the privacy of their own house is no one’s business but theirs; but their vampirism on the males and females of the whole town (a symbolic sexual predation), including such female victims as Marjorie Glick (pages 331-335) and Susan Norton, will be a major worry for Ben Mears. The vampire victim is hypnotized (or at least an attempt is made to hypnotize: pages 316-318) into allowing the vampire to bite him, just as a rape victim may be ‘hypnotized’ by alcohol or drugs into allowing a sexual predator to enjoy him or her.

What is of far greater importance, though, for the sake of my comparison of ‘Salem’s Lot with ‘Sodom’s Lot’, is how the blatant inhospitality in Sodom and Gomorrah was due to the excessive pride and arrogance of the inhabitants of those two sinful cities (i.e., their refusal to help the poor); for the vampirism of ‘Salem’s Lot can be seen as symbolic of narcissism.

Narcissists can be inhospitable in the extreme. Bullies by nature, they try to manipulate and control their victims (like vampires getting their victims to look in their eyes, to hypnotize them), even to the point of controlling their victims’ finances. They lure a victim in with fake, superficial charm (like the suave Barlow and Straker, with their charming furniture shop), then they idealize, devalue, and discard their victims (as Barlow does with Susan Norton after biting her, not caring at all that his ‘bride’ will be staked in the heart by the man who truly loves her…Ben Mears! [The Lot IV, 15, pages 514-520]).

Matt Burke notes several times that Barlow has a big ego (pages 525-527). Narcissists don’t necessarily brag overtly, however: having mastered their craft at manipulating others, they learn to present a False Self of goodness to the world (of the sort that Straker shows everyone [page 249], that he and Barlow are just business associates), while hiding their egotistical True Self, even from themselves (as Barlow must be hidden, sleeping during the day, and coming out only in the shadows at night).

This sleeping in the day, and coming out only at night, suggests that the day represents the conscious mind, while the night represents the unconscious. Heinz Kohut wrote of how narcissists will either repress their grandiose self (push it down into the unconscious) or disavow it (split it away vertically–Kohut, page 185).

Straker can thus represent this False Self: ‘”Mr. Straker?…Well, he’s quite charming,” [Susan] said. “Courtly might be an even better world…”…”Did you like him?” Matt asked, watching her closely… [Susan said] “I’ll give you a woman’s reaction. I did and I didn’t. I was attracted to him in a mildly sexual way, I guess. Older man, very urbane, very charming, very courtly.” […but,] “I think I sensed a certain contempt under the surface. A cynicism. As if he were playing a certain part, and playing it well, but as if he knew he wouldn’t have to pull out all the stops to fool us. A touch of condescension…And there seemed to be something a little bit cruel about him.” (pages 306-308)

Narcissists need narcissistic supply to be regularly provided. The vampires’ hunger for blood represents this craving for narcissistic supply. This supply, which feeds the narcissist’s ego, comes at the expense of the victims, who are drained of self-worth and energy, just like Barlow’s and Danny’s victims. Remember how sick Mike Ryerson feels after his bite at the graveyard (Chapter 7, part 3, pages 252-258).

If a narcissist feels threatened, that is, if his False Self is exposed as such, thus revealing his True Self, he’ll react with narcissistic rage and injury. When Barlow discovers Mark has infiltrated his house and killed Straker, the head vampire vows revenge (pages 510-512). He doesn’t bite Mark’s parents: he kills them by cracking their skulls together before the boy’s eyes (pages 535-539). When a narcissist feels a wound to his ego, his only way to feel better is to inflict pain on others.

Barlow has a special way of disposing of Father Callahan: he makes the priest drink his blood (page 542). By making the priest into a vampire of sorts, having Callahan drink his devilish blood, Barlow projects his evil onto him. Again, narcissists are known to project their vices onto the victims of their abuse. The tainted priest can no longer enter a church (pages 549-550).

Barlow enjoys having humiliated the priest, having stripped him of his ability to be a man of God. Similarly, the Sodomites’ wish to gang rape the angels may have had more to do with the desire to rob them of their holiness than to satisfy homosexual lust; indeed, when (often straight) men rape other men, it’s often to humiliate their victims, rather than just to get off. Narcissists humiliate and abase as just another way to get narcissistic supply.

Examples of narcissistic abuse can be seen on a normal, human level in the everyday lives of the people in ‘salem’s Lot, before they’ve even been attacked by the vampires. Consider Richie Bodden, the school bully, whose proud mother wants everyone to know “what a huge young man her son was” (page 83); then Mark Petrie puts him in his place (pages 86-7).

Then there’s hunchbacked Dud Rogers–the custodian of the Lot’s Town Dump–whose grotesqueness and strength remind me of that “dog”, that “elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog”, that “bottled spider”, that “poisonous bunch-back’d toad” (I, iii), the Duke of Gloucester, the hunchbacked Richard III, a man who “cannot prove a lover”, and so is “determined to prove a villain” (I, i, lines 28, 30); in Shakespeare’s play, the duke’s narcissistic ambition drives him to kill his way to the throne.

Dud gets his jollies firing his .22 target pistol at rats (pages 88-92); but when he encounters Barlow, whose “hypnotizin'” eyes are “like dark pits ringed with fire, pits you could fall into and drown in”, the vampire assumes correctly that “The girls laugh at [Dud]…They have no knowing of [Dud’s] manhood…[and] strength.” (page 233) And when Barlow bites him (page 234), Dud is as determined to be a villain as the duke was.

Also, there’s Mabel Werts, the town gossip (page 122)…and narcissists are notorious gossips. Susan Norton’s mother, disapproving of Ben (page 188), has a relationship with her daughter bordering on dysfunction (page 395). As an example of this troubled relationship, Mrs. Norton prefers “That nice boy, Floyd Tibbits” to Ben…and Floyd “put Ben in the hospital” (page 301).

Then there’s Sandy McDougall’s irresponsible treatment of her and Roy’s baby Randy (pages 71-73, 224-227, and 327-330), who ultimately dies, having not only Danny Glick’s vampire bite on his neck, but also Sandy’s bruises. Again, narcissistic mothers are known for putting their own needs before those of their children, and Sandy is the epitome of narcissistic inhospitality, before the vampires have even struck.

Back to Ben. The author has returned to ‘salem’s Lot, his childhood hometown, to “exorcise all his demons” (page 648) by writing about them in a new book. When he was nine, his friends dared him to go inside the Marsten House and take something from it, as initiation into their club, the Bloody Pirates. Inside the house, he saw the hanging corpse of Hubie Marsten, whose eyes opened for the boy (pages 56-58, 221, and 310)!

Young Ben stole a glass snow globe from the house, and has kept it as a memento until the end of the novel (pages 636-7), when, after seeing his own face in it (implying his fear that he, too, embodies the evil of the house), he destroys it, along with burning the manuscript of his book on the Marsten House. The only way to get rid of his trauma is to destroy it.

Another trauma of Ben’s is the death of his wife, Miranda, in a motorcycle accident, one for which, we sense, he blames himself (pages 482-484). Since I consider Ben to be the Lot of (the Sodom that is) ‘salem’s Lot, I find it apposite at this point to remind us of Lot’s own guilt. Lot offered his two virgin daughters (Genesis 19:8) to satisfy the lust of the Sodomites (making nonsense of John Boswell‘s claim [1980] that the Sodomites merely wanted “to ‘know‘ [another meaning of yada’] who [the two angels] were”, which in itself would hardly be a heinous sin for the Sodomites to have committed; the point in the Biblical narrative of offering, and rejecting the offer of, the daughters is to emphasize the Sodomites’ taste for male-on-male rape over male-on-female rape).

Though Lot and his family were saved from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looked back on the burning cities, then turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). Lot must have imagined himself to be, on at least some level, guilty of her death (as Mears must have blamed his carelessness on his motorcycle for the death of Miranda), having incurred God’s wrath for the offer of his daughters (as Robert Alter believes: Alter, page 85, note 8).

Lot must have incurred the girls’ wrath, too, since they later shamed him by getting him drunk and having sex with him (Genesis 19:31-38), to impregnate them and bear the ancestors of the despised Moabites (Mo-ab, “from the father”) and the children of Ammon (see also Alter, page 90, note 30-38). Lot’s daughters’ sexual predation is like vampiress Susan’s attempt to bite Mark (Ben’s double: more on that later) at his bedroom window (pages 449-451).

Evil occurs in cycles throughout ‘Salem’s Lot. Ben’s book on the Marsten House is “about the recurrent power of evil” (page 181). First, there was the evil, sexually perverse cult of James Boon back in the 18th century, as well as the myth of the dangerous wild pig, Jerusalem, in his “Lot”, the forest within Tanner’s property. Then there were the Hubie Marsten crimes in the house. Next came Straker, Barlow, and the vampires.

Other cycles include Mears’s traumas: first, his seeing Hubie’s ghost and its opening eyes; then, Mears’s return to the Lot, only to find himself battling vampires. Then, he returns again, with his double, Mark, to burn down the whole town in a brush fire. First, Ben accidentally killed Miranda; then, he’s forced to destroy the vampire version of his next love, Susan.

One of Mark’s traumas is watching Barlow smash together the heads of the boy’s parents, killing them (page 535). Earlier, Mark went into the Marsten House with Susan, only to find himself tied up by Straker (pages 438-440) and, failing to protect her (as Mears failed to protect Miranda by failing to turn a non-fatal corner–page 483: “in some parallel world he and Miranda had taken a left at the corner one block back and were riding into an entirely different future.”), Mark has let her be turned into a vampiress. Mark kills Straker (pages 445-6), Barlow’s presentable double (as Mears, of whom Mark is the innocent double, destroys Barlow), then runs out of the Marsten House (page 448) in a repeat of nine-year-old Ben’s frantic escape from the house twenty-four years earlier.

A fire occurred in 1951 (page 326), spread by the winds to incinerate so much more; then, Ben starts a fire to destroy the Lot at the end of the novel.

There are two pairs of destroying visitors, the younger of each pair either more innocent or more presentable than the older: good Mark and Ben, and evil Straker and Barlow, paralleling doubles of each other. A good casting choice was made in the 1979 adaptation, with Lance Kerwin (Mark) and David Soul (Ben), both actors possessing a conspicuous blond youth, to emphasize how the boy is a cyclical repeat of the man.

Straker, similarly, has an urbane suaveness like Barlow’s in the novel, though you wouldn’t see that in the 1979 adaptation, with James Mason (Straker) contrasted with the Nosferatu version of Barlow. On the other hand, during the scene of Barlow’s confrontation with Mark and Father Callahan, Mason’s Straker speaks for the snarling Nosferatu (instead of Barlow speaking for himself, as he does in the novel), thus showing how the servant (the False Self–see above) is the double of his master (the True Self).

Mears’s guilt feelings, and demons to be exorcized by writing about his childhood trauma, make him wonder if that magnet of evil, the Marsten House, has attracted him in the same way as Barlow (David Soul’s Ben asks this of Lew Ayres‘s Burke in the 1979 adaptation). Is Ben a double of Barlow? In destroying Barlow, is Ben killing the evil in himself (i.e., that exorcizing), or at least trying to?

Victims of narcissistic abuse often ask themselves if they, too, are narcissists. Have they themselves been infected by the disease of their victimizers? When Barlow’s hiding place has been discovered, he has to find a new one: the basement of Eva Miller’s boarding house…where Ben is staying. Rather than equate Barlow thus with Ben, we can see this move as symbolizing Barlow’s introjection into Ben’s psyche, something narcissists do to their victims.

The Marsten House symbolizes the narcissistic psyche, with its evil hidden in the unconscious id of its shadows. The boarding house can be seen as representing Mears’s psyche, the hiding vampires in the basement representing Mears’s repressed, unconscious trauma–Barlow’s introjections into him. Mark’s house is his own psyche. (Lot’s house can be seen as his own psyche, too.) Evil (be it in the form of vampires or Sodomites) infects all of these places by forcing its way in (or at least trying to), traumatizing its victims.

Even when Ben and Mark have gone as far away as “a small California town on the Mexican border” (page 3), they’re still affected by their trauma. They must go back to ‘salem’s Lot, and finish the town off for good. In the end, both ‘salem’s Lot and Momson, like Sodom and Gomorrah, are left in desolation, just as those psychological vampires known as narcissists leave their victims in a state of emotional desolation.

Stephen King, ‘Salem’s Lot, Anchor Books, New York, 1975

Absence Makes the Mind Go Fonder

When King Lear was reunited with Cordelia, having realized the dreadful mistake he’d made of alienating himself from her affections by disowning her, he asked her forgiveness and, finally knowing himself, called himself a “very foolish, fond old man.” (IV, vii, 60) By ‘fond’, Lear meant ‘foolish, stupid, mad’ (Crystal and Crystal, p. 181). That’s how I’m using the word fond in this post.

Narcissists are notorious for having low Emotional Intelligence (i.e., a low EQ). Their lack of empathy for others and their lack of insight into their own personality problems, because their False Self blinds them to their True Self, are examples of this lack of understanding that most people have.

Consider Trump’s disastrous decisions, and how neither he nor any of his supporters acknowledge the folly of their actions. Instead, his ambassador to the UN made a public display of his narcissistic injury in a speech condemning the international community’s condemnation of his team’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The foolishness of narcissists in power can be seen to have its roots in childhood trauma, often from narcissists in the family. I’m convinced that my late mother’s probable narcissism stemmed from the traumatic loss of her father when she was a child, this kind of loss being one that Heinz Kohut observed in his narcissistic patients. “Traumatic deprivations and losses of objects up to and including the oedipal period…, and traumatic disappointments in them, may…interfere seriously with the basic structuralization of the psychic apparatus itself.” (Kohut, page 44)

I believe my siblings experienced traumatic disappointments in our not-so-healthy parents, childhood traumas that led to their helping my mom emotionally abuse me. Her lack of empathy for me (and for them, by extension) led to their lack of empathy for me, and their lack of insight into themselves is similar to her lack of such insight. I will now demonstrate how foolish their collective narcissism has always been, and how it was the main driving force to their having lost me forever.

I’ve already gone over countless times how my brothers R. and F., and my sister J., bullied me throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood; then after I moved to East Asia, they took a few shots at me here and there when the opportunity arose for them, with my mother conniving at it the whole time. (You see, the only reason they weren’t doing any of this nastiness to me, on the almost daily basis that they had before I’d left Canada, is because I’d left, depriving them of the maximum of opportunities they’d once had, not because of a change in their natures; at best, they merely mellowed with age.) I’ve already explained my mother’s outrages against me (Part VII: Conclusion) over the decades.

Now let’s consider the utter stupidity of what they did.

They did what they did, not, as they’d have everyone believe, because I deserved it (of course I didn’t! Being mad at me for doing bad things needn’t require an abusive reaction, and much of what they did wasn’t even out of anger with me, but done rather for the sheer fun of tormenting me), but because they were getting away with it, all thanks to our mother’s winking at it, and rationalizing it at my expense.

When I’d moved to Taiwan, they never seemed to give much consideration to how easily I could disown the whole family. All I had to do was not buy airplane tickets, and stop communicating with them. All they had to do was give me a strong enough reason to give up on all of them.

I find it safe to assume that the family gave little, if any, thought to what a bad foundation they’d made of their relationship with me by the time I’d left Canada. They never seemed to reflect on how their constant bullying, belittling, gaslighting, and other forms of emotional abuse had not only built up resentment in me, but also ensured I’d feel little, if any, affection for them.

When such a shaky foundation for a relationship is established in a family, and the family member with whom this foundation has been made moves far away, it’s a bad idea to reinforce bad feelings with him in any way if you want to keep alive a bond with him.

So, here’s the question: did my family not care about having a good relationship with me, or were they being just plain stupid?

After a few months of living here in Taiwan (in the fall of 1996), I hadn’t written a letter to Mom, or anyone else in the family. She wrote to me, saying at the beginning of her letter, “You’re going to get it!” (i.e., for having not written to them). She meant this in a jesting tone, but anyone who knows about psychoanalytic interpretations of joking around, as well as my history of being controlled and manipulated by my mother, will know that–at least unconsciously–there was more to her words than mere jocularity.

She didn’t stand in the way at all of my moving to Taiwan (and restricting the victim’s movements is a typical form of emotional abuse); but she understood I’d wanted to stay in Taiwan only until I’d finished using my English-teaching job to pay off my student loan, then I’d return to Canada. She also had the good sense to understand that my student debt was not something I’d want to be saddled with for the rest of my life. So she didn’t fear losing me at the time. The thing is, within a year of living here, I changed my mind and chose to stay here for life.

A year or so later, my sister J. wrote to me, expressing a worry that I’d marry a local girl, and J. would never see me again. Did she not realize that she, who’d eagerly joined in on all the bullying and belittling of me during my youth, provided me with a perfect way to hurt her back with relative impunity? Did she, who rarely empathized with my fears, actually think I’d empathize with hers?

When I was dating my then-girlfriend Judy, and on my first visit to Canada (in 1999), I feared not being able to get back to Taiwan because of a problem with my passport. J. learned of my worries, and of Judy and me missing each other; soon after I’d got back to Taiwan with no problems, J. sent me a letter, having written it in a petulant, almost bullying tone, of how the family ‘missed’ me, and showing no sympathy for how Judy and I had missed each other. J. didn’t like the idea that I missed Judy more than missing the family. (Well, J., you see, there actually is affection between Judy and me, unlike with…)

Now, we had missed each other for only two weeks, as opposed to the family’s ‘missing’ me for three years (though I’d just satisfied their wish to see me again, which had surely cancelled out their ‘missing’ of me, at least for the moment); but Judy and I were in love, and we naturally had such gushing feelings for each other, whereas J. et al were just demonstrating a controlling attitude, as they always have. Judy was as annoyed by J.’s letter as I was.

I’m sure J. has forgotten all about her letter, though I haven’t forgotten it at all.

I mentioned in this post (Part VI: J.’s Dissing of Judy) how J. made it pellucidly clear that she didn’t like the idea of me marrying Judy. What did J. think I was going to do? Call off any plans of marrying the woman I love, out of a fear of displeasing my sister? J. calls her attitude ‘missing’ me, but it’s really about how she and the rest of the family consider me merely an extension of them, rather than an individual in my own right, with my own rights, feelings, and strivings.

But here’s the point that needs to be made: when a family member living on the other side of the world has already been estranged from the rest of you from childhood, and if you want him to continue to be a part of your lives, DON’T PISS HIM OFF!!!!

Of course, the crowning achievement in my family’s stupidity was my mother’s bringing up [<<<the last seven paragraphs of Part I] Asperger syndrome (AS), claiming, without any psychiatric authority whatsoever, that I have the disorder. Did she think I was going to thank her for talking about that?

My resistance to her nonsense was gentle and tactful at first [<<<Part VI of the link], but she simply wouldn’t take the hint. If she had just left it alone, my visits to Canada, my sending of birthday and Christmas cards, and my general communication with them (including phoning Mom regularly) would have continued as normally…

…but Mom just had to fuck all of that up.

As I said above: when a family member living on the other side of the world has already been estranged from the rest of you from childhood, and if you want him to continue to be a part of your lives, DON’T PISS HIM OFF!!!!

As I said earlier in this post, deep down, I never felt any strong affection for those five people I shared a home with during my youth (they, of course, would blame me for my lack of affection, rather than take responsibility for alienating my affections during my crucial, identity-forming adolescence); this means that, whenever I contemplated the future deaths of my parents, I dreaded the obligation of flying back to Canada to attend their funerals (read this, Part IV: Rationalizing Irrational Behaviour, to know why I find family funerals traumatizing).

I imagined how difficult it would be to make excuses to avoid attending funerals. The funny thing is, though, Mom was making it increasingly easy for me to avoid the family, with how much she was upsetting me.

Her revival of the whole autism thing (which, had she just kept her dumb mouth shut about it, wouldn’t have led me to deduce that the whole thing had been a lie) was one thing, though: her use of AS to justify rejecting my plan to make a visit in the mid-2000s, to see J. and her terminally-ill husband, was something else, and it was the last straw (Part VII: No Good Intent Goes Unpunished).

I had always made my visits to Canada on the assumption that the family missed me, and therefore would always be glad to see me, every time. (Absence makes the heart grow fonder, doesn’t it?) With Mom’s rejection of my plan to visit J. and her husband, though, with her claiming that J. and the rest of the family agreed that my not visiting was a good idea, she compromised the whole notion of the family’s ‘missing’ of me. And in so doing, she made my wish to stop visiting all the easier: perhaps I should thank her for that.

By the 2010s, I’d put all the pieces together (‘my autism’, the family’s constant emotional abuse, Mom’s impenitence, and what it all really meant), and realized that not only was Mom’s labelling of me with AS a lie, but so was her original labelling of me with infantile autism! (see Part 3: The Dawn of Realization)

Yet she always acted as if she’d never done anything wrong.

This lack of responsibility goes triple for my siblings, of course.

You see, after I’d complained about Mom’s attitude in emails back in the mid-to-late 2000s, even explicitly warning that I’d stop visiting if Mom and the family continued to show me no respect (i.e., never apologize for rejecting my plan to visit, continue labelling me with AS), instead of the family complying with my demands, J. wrote me a snotty email, demanding that I “let this go” (what “this” was depended greatly on how Mom had portrayed “this” to J., doubtlessly a trivializing of my pain, making Mom seem innocent and me the bad guy), and that I not write back to J., thus silencing my ability to tell my sister my side of the story.

Again, the refrain is worth repeating: when a family member living on the other side of the world has already been estranged from the rest of you from childhood, and if you want him to continue to be a part of your lives, DON’T PISS HIM OFF!!!!

Still, my mother made one of her many feeble attempts at reconciliation with me in an email, and I, in good faith, went along with it, and decided to give the family one last chance. I visited in 2008, getting a chance to see my father one last time before he died (he, in spite of doing virtually nothing to stop Mom and her BS about ‘my autism’, when he believed it no more than I did, was nonetheless the closest I had of anyone in the family [apart from my cousin S., up until he lost his mind…more on that later] to being a friend).

And during my visit, members of my family showed me they were the same people they’d always been, thus showing my Mom’s email promise of them all ‘changing their attitude’ to be as hollow and empty as any profession of love that I’d ever heard from them previously. During a family get-together, R. mocked my speech on two occasions. F.’s son, when asked by his dad if he remembered his uncle, looked me in the face impudently and said, “No!”

This latter incident was one of many that made me assume, with perfect safety (Part 4: Abusing My Cousins), that the family was bad-mouthing me regularly behind my back; for my nephew hardly knows me well enough for me to have given him bad feelings myself; a mere absence in one’s life isn’t by itself enough to justify rudeness. I’m one of his two uncles, not his father: it’s not as if I’d abandoned him when he desperately needed me.

These slights of R. and my nephew were minor, though. My mother’s promise to change her attitude was broken in her continued prating about AS, even after I’d repeatedly told her to shut up about it. She even had the audacity to buy me a book on AS, to drill her gaslighting into my head further, all with that sanctimonious smile on her face!

Over the 2010s, I gave the family the cold shoulder, little by little (unlike them, I can take responsibility for my actions). They felt it, to be sure: no more birthday or Christmas cards, or acknowledgements of them by email, no adding them as Facebook friends (this last one especially worried them); but did they ever admit that they could have provoked my iciness? No, of course not. They just acted as though I alone had the problem. Any reasonable family would have contemplated the possible role they themselves had played in the growing distance between us.

Again, sheer stupidity and insensitivity on their part.

It takes collective narcissism on a colossal scale for them not to remember how mean, spiteful, and contemptuous they had been to me my whole life; how Mom’s perpetuating of her autism lies, her gaslighting, her condescension and victim-blaming were somehow not going to bite her in the ass one day.

They all fancy themselves a ‘good family’. Social groups all over the world kid themselves into thinking they do good for others, when in fact they do the opposite. This applies to religious groups as well as political parties. Trump and his clique of Zionists and evangelicals think that by making Jerusalem the capital of Israel, they’ve promoted…peace? The First World thinks that, by bombing the Arab Third World, they’re ending terrorism instead of perpetuating it. Capitalists think they’re lifting the Third World out of poverty instead of exacerbating it. But, I digress…

That ‘good family’ of mine thinks that bad-mouthing my cousins and me, something Mom inspired in them, is a good idea. She loved sowing division in our family, and she is now considered by the family to be a few rungs below sainthood!

My cousin S., only a few months after I’d told him my frustrations about my family (about seven years ago), began lashing out at me online, accusing me of all kinds of things, all without a shred of proof; not even a plausible motive had been offered by him, for he’d been my best friend here, and someone in whom I’d confided about my family and many other personal things, so why would I ever want to cross him?

He’s had a history of substance abuse (beyond regular drinking and smoking of marijuana and hashish, in his youth he did quite a bit of LSD), and this has probably played a large role in his mental instability (his accusations of me seem to be largely hallucinations); but since his online rants began only a few months after I’d told him of my decision to disown my family, I assume he told my mom about this (with the good intention of re-establishing family harmony); and she, reacting with narcissistic injury, may well have squirted some of her poison in his ears against me (as she had doubtlessly done in the ears of my siblings), thus arousing–or at least aggravating–his paranoia about me.

Whatever she may have said to him, she certainly nurtured the division between S. and me once I’d forwarded to her one of his email rants, a decision I now deeply regret (and that’s a stupid on me…stupid! Stupid! Stupid!) She obviously used this email as gossip fodder, and forwarded it to my sister J., at least, if not to the entire family. Mom did this not to alert the family to a serious mental health issue we needed to combine our efforts against and find a solution to (as I’d hoped, in all foolishness, she would); she did it to malign her nephew’s reputation, as she’d been doing to his brothers for decades.

When I mentioned S.’s problem to J. in an email exchange, she only said she was “dismayed”, having realized she was mistaken that S. was the one “normal” cousin we have. Note how her only concern was his lack of normalcy, not his ill health or unhappiness. His ‘screwiness’ in the head was another blot on the family’s reputation, apparently. Oh, dear…

J. then forgot all about S. and the urgency of his issues, and in her email reply asked about me making a visit. Naturally, I had no wish even to discuss that, preferring to go on at length in my email reply about S. (another one of my “over-the-top” emails, of course, though remember: I’ve never written in such a way to my aunt [Part 5: More Elaborate Lies]!) Since J. never replied to this message, I assume she (under Mom’s influence, probably) thought I was being as crazy as S. in my ramblings.

In any case, it was clear that neither she nor Mom were willing to lift a finger for S. Once again, they–the only two family members who ever showed an interest in my continued participation in the family–chose to alienate me even further from them. Here was a perfect opportunity for them to redeem themselves, at least in part, and they muffed it. Sheer stupidity on their part.

The family had been preaching to me for decades about the importance of setting aside one’s selfish interests for the good of others; they used this preaching to justify their smug sense of ‘superiority’ over me, and to bully and shame me whenever I failed to measure up to their expectations. Now, here we had an opportunity for them to practice what they’d been preaching: help S. They didn’t have to succeed. I didn’t expect my aging mother, or any of them individually, to take on the burden alone.

I did expect them to try, at least. They didn’t even do that.

In fact, my mother was adamant about not helping. When I asked her in an email if anything was being done to help S., she replied, “I haven’t talked to your aunt [about S.] and I will not. Knowing what he said about you in that email rant, I’ll get too upset to talk to her about it.” Funny how my mother never got upset about the awful things R., F., and J. used to say to me, almost daily, during my youth. What a convenient excuse Mom had not to help S.

This just made it all the easier for me to disown the family.

Indeed, I emailed another blunt warning to her about her attitude to S., saying he “isn’t acting the way he is because he’s a ‘bad person’: he’s acting that way because he’s ill, and he needs help. If this family just sits idly by while he continues to blunder about in his mental illness, there’s going to be a big regret…” etc., etc. [emphasis in the original email]

Yes, another of my ‘over-the-top’ emails…to my mother, not to my aunt.

And once again, Mom refused to heed my warnings.

So many opportunities to repent and prevent my disowning of the family, all wasted. So many deliberate choices to alienate me from them, yet they never faced up to what they’d done.

Instead, what was their choice method to warm me up to them? Sending me family photos, for fuck’s sake! As if seeing the faces of the people who’d hurt me so many times would ever kindle any love in my heart! They’ve really deluded themselves into thinking they were nothing but loving to me, all on the basis of a few favours done me here and there, and fulfilling the normal family obligations of feeding, housing, and clothing me; while conveniently forgetting about lying to me about a mental disability I don’t have; bullying and humiliating me, and getting explosively angry with me, usually over relatively minor offences; rejecting my own offers of love; and bad-mouthing me and our cousins behind our backs; and refusing to help the one family member who’d been my friend.

And they think I’m mentally ill? They think I’m the stupid one?

Oh, yes: during my youth, they called me “retarded” and “moron” (Mom, when I was around the ages of 9-12), “asshole!” (R., F., and J., many times during my teens), a “little shit!” (R., when I was about 14), “dip(stick)” and “dork” (R., F., and J., many times over my teen years), and a “wimp” (all of them, during my teens). Many of these names were shouted with a vicious or sneering facial expression that is the opposite of love, all during crucial, identity-forming years in my adolescence.

Mom and my siblings acted the way they did the whole time I’ve been in Taiwan, and instead of even asking what they’d done, or could have done, to make me not want to talk to them anymore, my mother complained in an email of how “hurt and annoyed” she was that I’d “given up on this family”, as if I’d just impulsively decided to turn my back on them for no reason.

To be sure, I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, too…but the Dunning-Kruger effect seems to have affected the family, because they as a group have done so many stupid things to facilitate my permanent estrangement from them, and they, so full of themselves, don’t even know it, or refuse to admit it to themselves, at least.

Though I can’t say for sure, I’m fairly convinced my late mother was narcissistic on a clinically significant level. She was a sick woman, and her sickness compelled her to do the irrational things she did to me, and to the family. As her flying monkeys, my siblings absorbed some of this narcissism, a group narcissism, and that would explain the irrationality of their actions.

When Erich Fromm wrote about group narcissism in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, he was writing essentially about such things as nationalism and fascism, but I believe his ideas can be applied to smaller groups, like narcissistic parents and their golden children, too:

‘When, in group narcissism, the object is not the individual but the group to which he belongs, the individual can be fully aware of it, and express it without any restrictions. The assertion that “my country” (or nation, or religion) is the most wonderful, the most cultured, the most powerful, the most peace-loving, etc., does not sound crazy at all; on the contrary, it sounds like the expression of patriotism, faith, and loyalty. It also appears to be a realistic and rational value judgment because it is shared by many members of the same group. This consensus succeeds in transforming the phantasy into reality, since for most people reality is constituted by general consensus and not based on reason or critical examination.’ [Note also Fromm’s note to this last sentence: “Sometimes this consensus even of a small group suffices to create reality–in the most extreme cases even the consensus of two (folie à deux).”] (Fromm, page 230)

It isn’t reason that inspires my siblings (“the team” that they’d always “score another point for”–Part 4, third paragraph) to see themselves as wiser, stronger, more mature, more loving, and more giving than I am. If R., F., and J. had had a fraction of those virtues, they’d have developed suspicions as to our mother’s motives, and made a decent attempt to rescue their relationship with me (and at least try to help S.). All they had to do was listen to my side of the story with an open mind, and show as much skepticism to Mom’s version of events as they were showing mine. I don’t expect to be believed without any critical thought, but I do expect the same consideration as they were giving their oh, so charismatic leader.

By failing to do these critically important things (and as a group of at least three, their combined efforts would have made things easier for each other), they failed me, they failed S., and they failed as a family. R., F., and S., like our late mother, have been as vain, and as “old and foolish” (IV, vii, 85) as Lear, who lost everything.

Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Picador, New York, 1973

David Crystal and Ben Crystal, Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion, Penguin Books, London, 2002

Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971

Analysis of ‘A Christmas Carol’

A Christmas Carol is a novella written by Charles Dickens and published in 1843. Considered one of the greatest Christmas stories ever written, it is about the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old miser who scoffs at Christmas and alienates all those around him in London. Many theatre, TV, and film adaptations have been made of the story over the years, including the much-loved version of 1951 (Scrooge) with Alastair Sim in the title role, An American Christmas Carol with Henry Winkler as the miser, a musical version (Scrooge) with Albert Finney in the title role, and a motion-capture version with Jim Carrey as Scrooge and the three Christmas ghosts.

As with many Dickens stories, A Christmas Carol is a searing indictment of the deleterious effects of 19th-century industrial capitalism in England; however, Dickens presents a sentimental, bourgeois liberal solution to the problem of Scrooge’s miserliness by changing him into a ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalist, giving generously to the poor, instead of proposing a more radical and lasting solution to class conflict, of the type Marx and Engels would propose by the end of the 1840s.

Here are some famous quotes:

Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. –narrator

“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!”

“Merry Christmas! [<<<a wish popularized in this novella] What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.” –Scrooge
“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

“God bless us, everyone!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!”

“Now, I’ll tell you what, my friend,” said Scrooge, “I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,” he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again: “and therefore I am about to raise your salary!”

The novella is called A Christmas Carol because Dickens conceived of the story as song-like, its five chapters called “Staves”. The staves of a song tend to have a rather cyclical quality, in how the end of one stave leads into the beginning of a new one. This phasing of the old into the new will be a motif in the story.

The story begins with the emphatic declaration of the death of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s old business partner. This is significant in how Christmas, traced back to its origins as a pagan holiday based on the December solstice, is all about ‘out with the old, and in with the new’.

The winter solstice happens around December 20-22, and the European pagans believed that, because the Northern hemisphere faces furthest away from the sun at that time of year, the sun-god was dead, soon to be reborn, with the shortest days of the year to be followed by longer and longer ones. Replacing the sun-god with the Son of God, the Church replaced such festivals as Yule, and possibly Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, with Christmas on December 25.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Marley, Scrooge’s double, is gone. Scrooge is about to be reborn, as it were. As miserly as Marley was, Scrooge is too cheap even to paint over his partner’s name on the sign of their office (page 2). When visitors address Scrooge by either his or Marley’s name, Scrooge answers as if no mistake were made in calling him ‘Marley’; hence, the two money-loving businessmen are virtually indistinguishable.

Dickens compares the importance of Marley’s death at the beginning of the story to that of Hamlet’s father at the beginning of Shakespeare’s play: without that death, “nothing wonderful can come of the story” (page 2); the Danish king and prince have the same name, Marley and Scrooge have the same nature; and the death of the one begins the chain [!] of events leading to the delayed, but ultimately achieved, final heroic acts at the end of both stories.

The sun-god must die before he can be reborn, then gradually grow and warm the Northern Hemisphere in the next spring and summer. Life is a cycle of contradictions, the primary and secondary aspects of which change places in the development of all things. “We often speak of ‘the new superseding the old’. The supersession of the old by the new is a general, eternal and inviolable law of the universe…In each thing there is contradiction between its new and its old aspects, and this gives rise to a series of struggles with many twists and turns. As a result of these struggles, the new aspect changes from being minor to being major and rises to predominance, while the old aspect changes from being major to being minor and gradually dies out. And the moment the new aspect gains dominance over the old, the old thing changes qualitatively into a new thing.” (Mao, page 158). The contradiction between greed and generosity will also result in a swapping of aspects, as will happen with Scrooge by the end of the story.

Scrooge is “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” (page 2). He keeps the coals to himself in his office (page 4), so poor Bob Cratchit, his over-worked, underpaid clerk, has barely a glowing coal or two at the fireplace by his desk. This is on Christmas Eve, seven years to the day of Marley’s death, and when the Northern Hemisphere is facing the farthest away from the sun, the sun-god dead and yet to be reborn.

Part of Scrooge’s meanness is his general misanthropy, reflected in his contempt for his cheerful nephew Fred, who insists on inviting Scrooge to his Christmas party, in spite of knowing his uncle will refuse to attend (pages 5-8). Next, Scrooge refuses to give to two portly charity collectors (pages 9-11), preferring to support the workhouses and other austere government-provided institutions, like the debtor’s prisons, the Poor Law, and the Treadmill.

Such government provisions are the worst kinds that the bourgeois state has to offer, and Scrooge won’t even give to charity, another bourgeois form of pity. The most charity he can muster is to allow Cratchit to have a paid day off on Christmas, and Scrooge does this only with a grudging scowl (page 13).

When Scrooge gets home, a suite of rooms once owned by Marley, he encounters the ghost of his old partner (pages 15, 19-27). This ghost could be said to be a parody of the risen Christ, for Scrooge is like a doubting Thomas believing he is hallucinating at the sight of Marley’s ghost from having eaten bad food. Only the ghastly sight of screaming Marley’s broken jaw, falling to his chest after his having removed a bandage wrapped around his head, frightens Scrooge into believing in Marley; this is like Thomas seeing  the stigmata and spear-wound in the side of the risen Christ before finally believing. Marley, like Christ, has harrowed Hell, and suffers from it.

Marley’s ghost is also like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, who has suffered in Purgatory, a temporary Hell: both ghosts tell the respective protagonists of the difficult but necessary things they must do to redeem themselves and their world. Scrooge, like Hamlet, is rich, and therefore, powerful; he’s also a reluctant hero, like the Dane, with a long list of personality flaws, yet with much potential for good.

Marley tells Scrooge of the three ghosts that will visit him, three ghosts that will effect the redeeming transformation in him–beginning, middle, and end, a kind of Trinity, or Trimurti, in themselves (more on that later). Then the ghost goes to a window, Scrooge following (pages 27-28). They both watch the pitiful spectacle of a homeless mother holding her baby, trying her best to keep it warm. Ghosts of men like Marley are out there, too, trying in vain to redeem themselves for their lifetimes of avarice.  One of them, one Scrooge is familiar with, cries at being unable to assist the woman and her child. “The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.” (page 28)

That is the end of Stave One. Stave Two begins with the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past, a paradoxical-looking character, both young and old-looking at the same time (page 32). A bright light glows about his head, yet he has a large candle extinguisher for a cap. As a ghost of the past, he represents the old brought back new again; his is a light that has been snuffed out before, and will be snuffed out again. The old must die for the new to be born. This ghost, showing the creation and growth of the miser in Scrooge, is Brahma just after the leaving of Śiva.

As the ghost shows Scrooge the shadows of his Christmases as a boy and a young man, we see how Scrooge came to be the miser that he is. His father seems to have been cold and unloving to him, so he’s been a lonely schoolboy; and only on the Christmas of the first shown memory has his father finally warmed up to him, to have him come home (page 41). It is plain to see that a negative father imago has already been built up in young Ebenezer’s psyche, with his little sister, Fan, as his only good object relation for the time, to compensate for the psychological damage his father has done to him. Still, she will die after bearing Fred, and Scrooge will repeat the same cold relationship with his nephew as his father had with him. This harsh relationship is more fully developed in the 1951 movie.

Scrooge prefers wealth and gain over “dowerless” Belle, his girlfriend from a poor family; though he’s never said it to her, his preference is too obvious to her to ignore, so she chooses to “release” him, knowing a “golden…idol has displaced” her (pages 50-51). This preference, of the pleasure of owning money, over people is an example of failed object relations (i.e., ‘object‘ = a person other than oneself), as Fairbairn once observed: “…from the point of view of object-relationship psychology, explicit pleasure-seeking represents a deterioration of behaviour…Explicit pleasure-seeking has as its essential aim the relieving of the tension of libidinal need for the mere sake of relieving this tension. Such a process does, of course, occur commonly enough; but, since libidinal need is object-need, simple tension-relieving implies some failure of object-relationships.” (Fairbairn, p. 139-140)

When we fail to get the love we truly need and crave, we replace it with the shoddy substitutes of money, drugs, sex, pornography, alcohol, etc. Scrooge’s rage and regret over discovering Belle’s marriage to another man, as well as their large litter of children, a rage expressed in his snuffing out of the light of the Ghost of Christmas Past, underscores the reality that, deep down, it’s love and relationships, not money, that Scrooge has longed for so badly.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, “a jolly giant” in a green robe with a holly wreath around his head, is seen by Scrooge in a room full of “turkeys, geese, game, poultry,…sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings”, chestnuts, apples, oranges, pears, etc. (page 59). All of this plenty, food that preserves and maintains life, represents the living reality of now; as the previous Christmas ghost was Brahma, this one is Vishnu. He shows Scrooge the lives of ordinary, working class people, including a miners’ cottage (pages 78-79), sailors during a storm at sea (pages 79-80), and, of course, the Cratchit family (pages 67-77). Scrooge is touched to see the love in this family.

He is especially moved by Tiny Tim, a sweet boy one couldn’t dislike if one tried, one who is a sick cripple. When his parents show their fear of him dying, Scrooge feels an emotion he surely hasn’t felt in years: compassion. All those US politicians who refuse to allow single-payer healthcare could do well to see the millions of faces of the sick proletariat who can’t afford the healthcare they need, all those Tiny Tims who are being ignored.

At the end of Scrooge’s time with the Ghost of Christmas Present, two filthy, emaciated children are discovered to be hiding under his robe, sitting at the ghost’s feet. The boy is Ignorance, the girl is Want: Scrooge is warned to beware of both, but especially to beware the boy.

How many of us fetishists of commodities fail to beware the boy? We eagerly buy the latest smartphones, electric cars, etc., ignorant of how the cobalt needed to make them is found; this cobalt has been mined by children “in the bowels of the earth” in the DRC. The corporations that exploit this labour either claim ignorance of how they get their cobalt, or claim they’re taking measures to solve the problem: should we be buying their claims of innocence?

Dickens was decrying the evils of 19th century industrial capitalism in England, and how these evils were causing suffering among the British working class, especially children. The contemporary equivalent of this problem is capitalist imperialism, which is exploiting the global proletariat, the millions of people who live in Third World countries like the DRC.

Dickens’s proposed solution in this novella was to have ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalists. This might be acceptable, to some extent at least, in First World countries; but it solves nothing for the Third World, where suffering was plenty acute even when Keynesian capitalism, coupled with better social welfare programs, was ‘kinder and gentler’ for the white Western world from 1945-1973.

The Ghost of Christmas Present actually ages and ‘dies’ at the end of the day (pages 89-91). This is appropriate, given he represents the living now of the current Christmas, a preserving Vishnu. The end of the current Christmas means the end of his existence.

Immediately after his demise appears his successor, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, a mute spirit shrouded in deathly black who communicates only with hand gestures. As the previous ghost was of the living present (Vishnu), the final ghost is of a future of death and destruction…Śiva. Indeed, death looms throughout the shadows presented to an increasingly terrified Scrooge.

In the first of these shadows, some businessmen are seen discussing a recently deceased, rich old man (pages 94-96). None of them shows any sadness over his death. Typical capitalists: they have no more pity over the falling of a rival member of the ruling class than they would over the deaths among the proletariat. The more and more repentant miser clings, with an ever-loosening grip, to the hope that this spoken-of dead old man, one whose death is–if anything–celebrated rather than mourned, isn’t himself.

Another microcosm of capitalism is shown in Old Joe, a fence who profits off of stolen items, in this case stolen from the despised old man (pages 98-103). The capitalist meets his karma among the cackling leeches who get money from Joe for such items as stolen bed curtains and blankets.

In contrast to the apathy felt toward the dead old man, Tiny Tim’s death is profoundly mourned by the Cratchits (pages 107-112). Scrooge has no family to grieve over him: Fred and his wife are missing among the shadows shown to Scrooge; has the miser done something to end the patience of his long-suffering nephew?

Finally, Scrooge sees his austere-looking gravestone in an uncaring graveyard at night: his corpse lies there as lonely as the boy in that classroom in the first of the shadows the Ghost of Christmas Past showed Scrooge. Fan’s spirit won’t come to comfort him now. Terrified into repentance, he promises to change his ways, and as we know, he grows into a generous man, buying a huge turkey for the Cratchit family, promising a large donation (including “back-payments”–page 121) to one of the charity-seeking portly gentlemen from the beginning of the story, and finally appreciating family and relationships by attending Fred’s party (pages 122-123).

After raising Bob Cratchit’s salary (page 124), Tiny Tim is given the medical help he needs, and Scrooge is now known to be “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.” (page 125) Kinder, gentler capitalists: this, apparently, is Dickens’s proposed solution to the socio-economic ills of “the good old world”.

In the parlance of our time–peak liberalism.

One wonders if the ‘generosity’ of the Bill Gates Foundation, or the Clinton Foundation, or anything Trump or Jeff Bezos are doing, is in any way helping the millions of people who die of vaccine-preventable disease or malnutrition each year, in a world where we’ve been producing more than enough food to feed the whole planet. Lots of money is spent on the military, to kill people, but not so much to help people.

Then again, Christmas is just a celebration of the birth of Christ, as opposed to his salvific  death. The day of the birth of Sol Invictus is only the beginning of the light, the birth of the coming warmer days. That Christmas Day of the redeemed, ‘reborn’ Scrooge is just the beginning of his new goodness, the ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalist who, it is to be hoped, will inspire others in power to help the poor.

‘Kinder, gentler’ capitalists of this sort are far from enough, though, if social justice is something we are truly committed to. Eisenhower’s administration demanded higher taxes from the rich, but the US imperialism of the time also helped with the ouster of Mohammad Mosaddegh; then there was the coup d’état in Guatemala. LBJ wanted to build the Great Society, but early in his administration, the Gulf of Tonkin incident fraudulently involved the US in the Vietnam War, which would lead to bad feeling against him. “We [were] all Keynesians” under Nixon, whose administration used the CIA to replace Salvador Allende with Pinochet, and bombed the Hell out of Cambodia.

More will be needed to help the global poor than Keynesian capitalism with a strong welfare state (of the post-WWII sort inspired by the USSR and other socialist states of the 20th century), of the sort that existed from 1945-1973, and which helped only the First World proletariat. The Tiny Tims, and Ignorance and Want wretches, of today won’t be saved by the generous Scrooge of social democracy: perhaps a spectre (like the one that once haunted Europe) or two, or three or four–ghosts from the past to inspire new ones in the present and future–will replace all the Scrooges and Marleys, be they stingy or redeemed, with workers’ co-ops of Cratchits; maybe those spectres will bring that newborn baby of a sun of winter to a bright, warm sun of spring and summer, from the baby Christ of December to the Saviour in April.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Puffin Books, New York, 1843

Mao Zedong, Selected Works of Mao Zedong, Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, Lexington, KY, 2014

WRD Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, London, 1952

Analysis of ‘The Omen’

The Omen is a 1976 supernatural horror film written by David Seltzer (who also wrote the novelization), directed by Richard Donner, and starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, and Harvey Stephens. It is about a (secretly-adopted) five-year-old who, it turns out, is the Antichrist. Considered one of the scariest movies ever made, it spawned two not-so-well-received sequels, then an even worse-received made-for-TV attempt at a revival of the franchise, and finally, a competent but tepid remake of the original movie.

The soundtrack of the original trilogy, by Jerry Goldsmith, garnered especial praise, particularly with its use of the choral singing of a kind of Satanic (but ungrammatical) Latin liturgy. “Ave Satani” was nominated for the 1976 Best Original Song.

Here are some famous quotes:

Latin (as in the soundtrack) Correct Latin English translation
sanguis bibimus sanguinem bibimus We drink the blood
corpus edimus corpus edimus We eat the body
tolle corpus Satani tolle corpus Satanae Raise the body of Satan
ave, ave Versus Christus! avē, avē Antichriste! Hail, Hail Antichrist!
ave Satani! avē Satana! Hail Satan!

“I don’t know if we’ve got the heir to the Thorn millions here or Jesus Christ Himself.” –Keith Jennings

“Look at me, Damien! It’s all for you!” –young nanny, before hanging herself (Considered one of the scariest moments in horror movie history)

“Have no fear, little one. I am here to protect thee.” –Mrs. Baylock, to Damien

“When the Jews return to Zion / And a comet rips the sky / And the Holy Roman Empire rises, / Then You and I must die. / From the eternal sea he rises, / Creating armies on either shore, / Turning man against his brother / ‘Til man exists no more.” –Father Brennan

“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666.” Book of Revelation Chapter 13 Verse 18 (last title card)

The focus for understanding this movie shouldn’t be on the Devil, demons, or spiritual/Biblical issues, but rather the material and political concerns that the religious elements symbolize.

A Brief Digression…

The Biblical Antichrist was, most likely, Nero–the most powerful man in the Graeco-Roman world at the time when the members of the early Church were writing the New Testament manuscripts–a man who persecuted Christians and was believed to be still alive when the Revelation was written. (For more information, see Mays, general ed., the commentary on Revelation chapter 13, page 1197.)

Even the early Church fathers could “count the Number of the Beast,” and with gematria calculated 666 through Aramaic, using Hebrew letters to render (the Greek version of his name as) Neron Kesar, or Nron Qsr in transliterated Hebrew:

Resh (ר) Samekh (ס) Qoph (ק) Nun (נ) Vav (ו) Resh (ר) Nun (נ) Sum
200 60 100 50 6 200 50 666

If you remove the Nun final, of numerical value 50, to spell Nro Qsr (‘Nero Caesar’), you get 616, an alternative version of the Number of the Beast, as given in some of the early manuscripts of the Revelation, which were acknowledged even by Irenaeus, though he preferred 666, and considered 616 to be a textual error.

Then, there was Robert Graves‘s idiosyncratic method of arriving at Nero (or Domitian, who was persecuting Christians around when the Revelation was written), as is found in The White Goddess, pages 342-348: DOMITIANUS [or DOMITIUS] CAESAR LEGATOS XTI [i.e., ‘Christi’] VILITER [or VIOLENTER] INTERFECIT. (i.e., DCLXVI, or 666) “Domitian [or Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus >>> Nero] Caesar basely [or violently] killed the envoys of Christ.”

One shouldn’t need to point out the validity of the preterist interpretation of Revelation, as over the futurist one, except that today’s Christian fundamentalist religious kooks like to link current problems with the Revelation’s cryptic verses.

There are so many interesting reasons why the futurist approach to interpreting the Book of Revelation is so tenacious and popular, though, in spite of how ludicrous it really is. One reason involves how self-absorbed futurists are in thinking everything in the Bible is about their world (in, for example, the US today), rather than about events in the Mediterranean and Middle East from about 1,920-1,950 years ago, when the Revelation was actually written (i.e., written about what the writers were concerned about at the time). I believe another reason for futurism’s popularity is a psychological one, based on an impatient need to believe God will come down and right the wrongs one is suffering right now, including all those modernists who laugh at and scorn the fundamentalists.

…Back to The Omen

I’d rather treat The Omen as an allegory of today’s political world in different ways than the fundamentalists do with the Books of Daniel and Revelation. The Latin text of “Ave Satani”, sung at the beginning of the movie and repeated throughout it, parodies the receiving of the Eucharist. Note the materialist focus: “We drink blood, we eat flesh, raise the body of Satan–hail!” It’s all about the body, not the spirit.

This Satanic parody of the Church represents the connection of the Church with evil (i.e., Church corruption). Such a connection continues with Father Spiletto and the nuns in the Italian hospital giving Robert Thorn (Peck) the baby Damien in place of his dead baby son, whom the priests and nuns have murdered. Spiletto tells Thorn, “God has given you a son.” (Seltzer, page 14)

The implied identifying of God with Satan should tell you something about the Church as understood in this movie. The fact that Fathers Spiletto and Brennan (the latter is Tassone in Seltzer’s novel), as well as Mrs. Baylock (B’aalock, as she’s also called in the novel), are Satanists shows the corruption in the Church (Seltzer, pages 130-131).

One key to understanding the political, materialist meaning of the movie is the poem Brennan/Tassone recites to Thorn (Seltzer, page 140): the Jews have returned to Zion (the creation of the state of Israel); the Holy Roman Empire rising is understood to be the Treaty of Rome and the establishment of the European Common Market, which would evolve eventually into the EU, which, as a capitalist entity, cannot be a good thing; for the EU in turn has gone hand in hand with US/NATO imperialism. (Speaking of US/NATO imperialism, one connection of the CIA with western Europe has been Gladio, a ‘stay-behind‘ organization in Italy that arose during the Cold War to help defend against possible attacks from the Warsaw Pact, but also could have been responsible for many terror attacks in Europe.)

From the eternal sea, the Antichrist rises (‘he’ representing all that is evil in “the Eternal Sea”, the world of politics. “The Sea that constantly rages with the turmoil and revolution…The Devil’s child will rise from the world of politics.” (Seltzer, page 188) This child will be “creating armies on either shore”, like the buildup of NATO, its armies on one side of the North Atlantic Ocean, and the US army on the other side.

Now consider how, over thirty-five years since the original Omen trilogy was filmed, those “armies on either shore” are even bigger, more numerously manned, and more powerful than ever, with no more substantial ‘communist threat’ for the US/NATO to worry about. Yet we are in a new Cold War with Russia, with a NATO buildup on the Russian border. These tensions–along with the threat of war with North Korea, Iran, and China, and all of this added to the unending “War on Terror” that has destroyed lives in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria–could very well lead to WWIII.

“Turning man against his brother/’Til man exists no more.”

Seltzer’s story is a true omen.

I argue that this movie is a political story, using Biblical prophesy as an allegory for a real warning of what will happen if we don’t change the direction our world is going in. It isn’t a religious prophesy; it’s an artistic prediction based on the material conditions of our world, the spiritual and supernatural being mere metaphors.

Consider Father Brennan’s entreaty to Robert Thorn when they meet in Thorn’s office: Brennan emphasizes drinking Christ’s blood and eating His flesh; the priest means for Thorn to take Communion, of course, but note the implications of emphasizing it in graphic language that sounds like cannibalism. Sanguis bibimus, corpus edimus. This is a materialist salvation, the doctrine of the Real Presence, in stark contrast to the non-denominational emphasis on salvation by grace through faith, and the symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist, which are much more spiritual. Similarly, Brennan speaks of wanting to save Thorn, so Christ will forgive him: this is salvation by good works (material action), instead of by faith (spirituality).

So the battle between Christ and Antichrist in this movie is a material battle, not a spiritual one. The material battle between contradictions, one that has occurred throughout not just Biblical history, but history in general, is the basis of dialectical materialism. Marx said, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. According to Mao Zedong, everything is made up of contradictions, and Lenin pointed out the paradoxical unity of contradictions.

Note the association I implied, in the paragraph preceding the last one, between Satanist and Christian cannibalism (bearing in mind how Romans from Nero’s reign and onward persecuted Christians because of, among other things, the pagans’ too-literal interpretation of “…eat; this is my body…Drink,…This is my blood.”). Then remember Spiletto telling Thorn that God, rather than the Devil, gave him a son. Then there’s Jennings the photographer (Warner), who–at Damien’s fifth birthday party–says he’s not sure if they have “the heir to the Thorn millions here or Jesus Christ Himself.” Are God and the Devil being, in a sense, equated in this film?

Brennan’s death is just outside a church, where one would think he’d have at least some protection from God: a lightning rod from the top of the church falls and impales him. This is during a brief thunderstorm, suggesting that a sky-father-god (a pagan one, like Zeus), in concert with the invisible demons chanting, “Versus Christus! Ave, Satani!”, has caused the priest’s death. Is the sky-father punishing Brennan for abandoning Christ, or Satan? Is it revenge for successively abandoning both?

Six is the number of the Devil, for it is incomplete, whereas seven is complete–hence the seven daggers of Megiddo, which Carl Bugenhagen gives Thorn to kill Damien. There were six days of physical Creation, and a holy, or spiritual, seventh day of rest–the Jewish Sabbath (Friday evening to Saturday night), or the Lord’s Day (Sunday). Six days of Creation without a day of rest suggest the Demiurge rather than the Biblical God; the Demiurge fashioned the physical world, and the physical is associated with evil, as opposed to the crucially missing spiritual world. In an evil world of class war (masters vs. slaves, as in the ancient world of Nero and the other Caesars; feudal lords vs. peasant serfs; and the bourgeoisie vs. the proletariat), the poor work and work, never resting (i.e., no Sabbath day). Did the Demiurge kill Brennan?

What makes this movie so horrifying is the seeming absence of the good, Christian God: Damien (Stephens) is given plenty of help, but what spiritual forces help those humans who recognize the boy’s evil? Killing Damien requires the use of the seven daggers; there is no sense of Christ doing battle with the Antichrist in this movie. As in The Exorcist, this is a world of only devils and no angels, of only Satan and no God, of only matter and no spirit.

The three sixes represent the diabolical Trinity: Devil, Antichrist, and false prophet. The Demiurge, though seen as benevolent according to Plato’s Timaeus, is pervasively seen as malevolent in Gnosticism, and thus could be equated with the Devil in this film; and the Demiurge is associated with physicality in how He created the material world. Damien (a pun on ‘demon’) is most physical, born of a jackal, and the dagger that extinguishes his physical life is, according to Bugenhagen, the most important one. The Holy Spirit’s Satanic counterpart is the false prophet, again, a physical being. The Omen‘s world is essentially material.

The materialism of conflicting opposites is symbolically clear in the gory, violent nature of each death. Thorn’s biological son, a newborn baby, is killed with blows to the head with a rock (Seltzer, page 133), smashing a hole in his skull. Damien’s first nanny hangs herself with a loving smile for the boy. Brennan is impaled. The fetus in Kathy’s womb is ‘aborted‘ by Damien making her fall from a balcony. Thorn and Jennings are attacked by Rottweilers in the cemetery, Thorn injuring his arm on a spike on the gate. Kathy (Remick) is thrown from a hospital window by Mrs. Baylock. Jennings is decapitated by a sheet of glass. None of this is overtly supernatural; but it’s all ever so materialistic.

In Seltzer’s novelization, more attention is given to the political issues allegorized with all the Biblical imagery. Thorn’s wish to postpone his trip to Saudi Arabia, just before Brennan/Tassone (Seltzer, pages 78-79) meets him in his office, is expanded on. His staff have worked hard to make the arrangements, and they are annoyed with the ambassador’s sudden changing of his mind. They remind Thorn of how important the US’s relationship is with the Saudis (all that oil!–see also page 107: “…the Arabs, with their oil, were now too powerful for anyone to stand against.”), and a postponement (or outright cancellation) would be seen as an insult.

The importance of the US/Saudi political relationship has become even more evident since the release of the movie; consider how Saudi Arabia, exporter of Wahhabism and home to 15 of the 19 men who hijacked the airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, is never fought with in the “War on Terror”. Instead, the US and UK have sold the Saudis billions worth in weapons, and thus with the UK have aided the Saudis in the war in Yemen.

Elsewhere in Seltzer’s novel, Jeremy Thorn (as he’s called in the novel, not Robert) is giving a speech on the issue of world poverty, and a communist heckles him, asking why he doesn’t give of his own enormous wealth to feed the poor (pages 112-115). Liberal-leaning Thorn can’t help but agree with the communist (page 122), though he’d never want to be called a ‘commie’ by the press. Here we see the real, materialist basis of evil and political corruption symbolized by the rise of the Antichrist and his war with God: the material contradictions between the ruling class and the poor–capitalism.

As capital is accumulated, there is a fear that the tendency of the rate of profit to fall will endanger the survival of one’s business; therefore, business must expand, and markets must be sought out in foreign countries when the ability for capital to be accumulated in one’s own country dries up. Accumulating capital in foreign countries (which includes getting cheap, non-unionized labour) leads to imperialism, hence all this warmongering in the Middle East…for oil. The Biblical fundamentalists (who tend to be apologists for capitalism), instead of trying to prove that the Revelation’s prophesies are of things in today’s world, would do well to focus on such verses as this: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

And as for those pro-Trump idiots who think that that lecherous narcissist is in any way religious: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25) Finally, consider what, according to Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus considers to be true Christian behaviour.

Being a good Christian ought to be about helping the poor, downtrodden, and unfortunate, rather than engaging in speculative nonsense about relating Biblical prophesy to today’s world; yet, in the opinion of far too many conservative Christians, helping the poor and disadvantaged is mere “socialism,” the ‘tyranny’ of the state (as if there were no such thing as unaccountable corporate tyranny). They speak of ‘voluntarily‘ helping the poor, but one wonders how often these people actually give this voluntary help, when they often propagandize against such moderate leftism as social democracy.

The conspiracy of devils in The Omen is symbolic of the machinations of the bourgeoisie and the state that protects their interests; in the real world, we needn’t (nor, in the case of the more bigoted manifestations, should we) believe in ‘Illuminati, NWO, Jewish, or Masonic conspiracies’ to see the great evil in the world today, and throughout history. Ignore the spiritual claptrap, and look at the material conditions of the world: whoever has the money, has the power; and whoever hasn’t money is powerless. The conspiracy theorists, again, all too often apologists for capitalism, distract us from the material contradictions that Christian dualism (God vs. Satan, good vs. evil, spirit vs. flesh) represents in the movie.

To give yet another example of the unity of opposites given allegorically in the film and novelization, consider what’s written on the headstones of the graves of the jackal and Thorn’s practically still-born baby son, “Bambino [Scianna in the movie] Santoya…In Morte et in Nate Amplexrantur Generationes…In death…and birth…generations embrace.” (Seltzer, page 203) Death and birth unite in the embrace of generations (just before being killed herself [pages 132-133], the jackal gave birth to baby Damien in the same moment as Thorn’s newborn baby was murdered), as do God and Satan unite, the flesh and spirit unite, and good and evil unite. All material contradictions embrace, and are one.

In the novel, when Thorn meets Bugenhagen in Megiddo (associated with the word “Armageddon”), it’s pointed out that there have been many apocalypses in history (page 241); so the current one with Damien is merely the latest one (remember when Nero was the Antichrist, and it was believed that Nero would return, as Jesus is expected by Christians to return, even though He said all the events leading to and including the end of the world would pass by within His listeners’ own generation in the first century!)

The evil dealt with in The Omen is a banal, earthly one, not the grandiose one of the Revelation. Still, our mundane, materialist evil is a serious one that could lead to the end of all life here (i.e., global warming, often denied, ironically, by fundamentalist Christians and conspiracy theorists who fear a One-World Government, rather than warily watch the rapacious late-stage capitalism of the real globalists, the sovereignty-defying multinational corporations that, with the help of the bourgeois state, are quite possibly pushing us all [outside of mere fear-mongering to sell weapons and create jobs in the US military] to the nuclear brink of World War Three).

Damien’s birth is supernatural, but also most physical, as was Christ’s birth. Remember that The Omen‘s Satanism parodies every Christian dogma (Three sixes as a parody of the Trinity; the jackal’s name is Maria Scianna–Maria Avedici Santora in the novel [page 203]; “Ave Satani” parodies “Ave Maria” and the rite of Communion, etc.).

The Orthodox Church rejected as heresy Gnosticism’s insistence on Christ being pure spirit for soteriological reasons; for Christ to die for our sins, He had to be God and man, to have a body, his literal, physical blood washing away our sins. The Church is materialist; Satanism is materialist; the war between the two is materialist.

Dialectical materialism and class war: that’s the moral war that The Omen, however allegorically, is warning us about.

David Seltzer, The Omen, Signet, New York, 1976

Robert Graves, The White Goddess, Faber and Faber, London, 1948

James L. Mays, general editor, HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Harper, San Francisco, 1988

No Empathy

I: Introduction

Narcissistic mothers are notorious for having, among other vices, a lack of empathy, or at least a deficiency in it. While, as I’ve said before, I don’t know for sure if my late mother had narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), she definitely lacked sufficient empathy, as I’ll try to demonstrate in the following paragraphs.

When my mother was dying in a hospital from a metastasized breast cancer, and everyone else in my family in southern Ontario, my eldest brother R. in particular, was there with her, doing all they could to comfort her and love her during her painful last moments on this earth, I–living on the other side of the world in East Asia–showed no empathy whatsoever.

If you didn’t know my story, you’d probably be thinking of me as heartless and unfilial. If you do, on the other hand, know my story–as R., my other brother F., and my sister J. might have known, had they not been so willful in their ignorance of what had really been going on between Mom and me, from the 1970s right up to the 2010s–then my lack of empathy would be properly understood as nothing more than a reaction to Mom’s lack of empathy for me all those years…her own bad karma, finally thrown back into her face.

The family’s main complaint against me, which is also their rationalization for bullying me during my whole childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood before I left Canada, is that I never show any caring towards them. But caring is a two-way street, and bullying is the opposite of caring. The ‘caring’ Mom and J. showed me was more apparent than real (at least R. and F. were honest in their total lack of concern for me).

As I have explained in previous posts (links above), my mother rationalized almost all my siblings’ bullying, minimized its impact on my life (loss of confidence, anxiety, depression, anger issues, social withdrawal, etc.), and invalidated my complaints to her about R., F., and J., almost every time the bullying occurred (my siblings, of course, did the exact same rationalizing, minimizing, and invalidating of their own–and Mom’s–bullying of me). Mom’s own gaslighting of me, which happened throughout my life–right up to her death!–only more thoroughly showed not only her lack of empathy for me, but, if anything, her outright antipathy for me.

I’ll now give you a number of examples of this callousness.

II: Early Abuse, Stimming, and Being Grabbed

In my first post about my family, aptly called Emotional Abuse, I mentioned a vague memory from back when I was about three or four years old, being confined in my bedroom at night. I remember at least two occasions of this: one time, I was locked in my room; the other time, the door was roped closed so I couldn’t get out.

OK, I understand that locking a child in his or her room is far from universally condemned by parents, and sometimes it’s considered necessary in extreme cases; but roping the door shut? What if there’d been a fire? It would have been difficult to untie in an emergency, so the pros and cons–i.e., preventing me from wandering around the house and accidentally injuring myself, vs. being in a fire, or not being able to use the bathroom–could have gone either way. The jury is still out on whether my parents were being in any way deliberately abusive, or just finding the simplest way to keep me out of trouble; but given what I know of my mother later in life, I find that the pendulum tends not to swing toward the latter explanation.

I don’t know whether it was my father or my mother who confined me on those early nights, but I do know that it was my mother who justified doing that to me, bizarrely claiming (remember, from my previous posts, her habit of fabricating indulgent, even elaborate, mendacities) that I had a habit back then of crawling outside and playing in the middle of the street (Could I have actually been going into my parents’ room and disturbing them in their sleep?)! She didn’t seem to care that confining me in my room undoubtedly traumatized me (if she didn’t care about all the later emotional abuse, why would she have cared about how I felt, a three/four-year-old isolated and locked up in my room?).

Indeed, unable to sleep, as has been typical of me for most of my life, I knelt in front of my locked bedroom door and rocked back and forth, frowning and rhythmically chanting, “Open up the doorrrr…” over and over again. This rocking back and forth was a childhood habit of mine, one of a few examples of stimming (self-stimulating) that I used to do.

Now, stimming is typically associated with (but by no means exclusive to) autistics, and if you read my other posts (links above) on my emotionally abusive family, you’ll recall that I proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that when my mother claimed I have an autism spectrum disorder, she was lying through her teeth.

In fact, I recently did the Empathy Quotient, designed by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, who’d helped devise the Autism Spectrum Quotient test I did, on which I got a score [13] far lower than the minimally autistic level [26-32]; as for the empathy test, I scored 41 out of 80, comfortably above a score of 30 or lower, which indicates an autistic lack of empathy; so even with my relatively low empathy, it’s once again confirmed that I don’t manifest even the mildest of autistic symptoms.

It would be more valuable to determine my purpose in stimming than guess if it indicates autism or not. Many people do it as a form of emotional regulation (e.g., relieving stress, overcoming boredom or fatigue, etc.). I believe I rocked back and forth (not all that often) as a child to soothe and calm myself, as I had those nights when my bedroom door was locked or roped shut. As a kid, and up through my adolescence, I lay in bed and hit my head against my pillow over and over until I fell asleep. I believe this was a ritual to help me deal with my sleeplessness, which shouldn’t be too hard to believe, given my early confinement in my bedroom, and the trauma I experienced from that.

The difference between autistic and non-autistic stimming is the severity of it, and whether or not it interferes with one’s day-to-day life. My stimming, which all ended more or less when I’d become an adult, couldn’t possibly have been all that severe or frequent, for if it had been, I would have a plethora of painful childhood memories of being mocked by my classmates and other people.

I recall only one time when a classmate mocked my habit, at the time, of excessive blinking. Only that one time. Had I been blinking or rocking much more often, people would have made fun of me for it regularly. They didn’t.

Furthermore, when I was seeing those two psychotherapists (who, as I explained in previous posts, said they saw no signs of autism in me), I must have been stimming at least a bit; so whatever stimming I’d been doing in front of them, they must have deemed it non-autistic.

The more typical autistic stims, such as hand-flapping, I never did. My more moderate stimming was a kind many non-autistics have been noted as having done throughout their childhoods and adolescences, until early adulthood. My mother would have had to look elsewhere than stimming to prove I have an autism spectrum disorder.

Her claiming I had such problems was not a reflection of her ‘loving’ solicitude over my well-being, as she and the family would have had me believe; rather, they were a reflection of her wish to stigmatize me as “different” and somehow ‘behind’ everyone else. Such is not an empathetic attitude. A truly loving mother wants all her children to feel loved and included in their family and society. Mother was aiming at the opposite for me. It was always tacitly understood in my family that ‘autism’, or ‘Asperger’s syndrome’, is a clinical-sounding euphemism for fuck-head.

One thing she used to do when I was a little kid was grab me by the chin and say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” Years later, she claimed that a woman working at the West End Creche, a kind of pre-school/nursery school (Mom spoke of the place as one for autism therapy, a dubious assertion if you ask me) I’d gone to during those early years, recommended using such firmness with “autistic” me (I have no memory of anyone other than Mom grabbing my face like that). Why any reasonable childcare worker would recommend such rough treatment for a toddler, merely because he was inattentive, is beyond me.

(Mom claimed that when the childcare worker asked her how I was doing at home, Mom growled that I was “a little brat!”, because I no longer had the preferred docile, compliant attitude I’d had before the childcare worker had been ‘treating my autism’ [which I’m convinced the childcare worker wasn’t doing at all]; the woman apparently was delighted to know of my defiance of my mom. I find it safe to assume that my mother was just trying to cajole me into reverting to a state of docility to please her. Note also the contradiction between Mom’s claiming the childcare worker had, on the one hand, recommended grabbing me by the chin and demanding I obediently give Mom my undivided attention; and had, on the other, approved of my ‘bratty’ defiance of Mom. Lies, lies, and more lies, Mother dear.)

Placed within the context of her autism lie, Mom’s grabbing me by the chin, and commanding me to look at her when she was talking to me, was really just another exercising of her dominance over me. She often projected her fabrications and manipulations of me onto other people (e.g., it was a psychiatrist, rather than her, who said I ought to have been locked away in an asylum; my aunt said I’d sent her “over-the-top emails” and claimed I must have been a “burden”, rather than Mom saying all that herself), so I find it easy to believe she’d ‘self-recommended’ handling me roughly and angrily ordering me to pay attention to her, rather than a childcare worker whom I remember, if vaguely, as being a much nicer lady than that.

Speaking of grabbing, my mother did quite a bit of that over the years. On one occasion, when I was about eight or nine years old, I was being bullied by some of the kids among our neighbours; I was standing before the front door of our townhouse as these kids were yelling and laughing at me, and my mother could hear the racket.

What was her way of dealing with the problem?

Did she come out and stick up for me?

Of course not.

She grabbed me by the arm and yanked me into the house.

Those kids must have gotten a good laugh out of that.

I sure as hell didn’t.

In a previous post, I mentioned her tendency to grab me by the ear and lead me wherever she wanted me to be. One time, when I was a teen, she did it because she was angry with me for being late for work in our restaurant and, instead of starting right away with washing the pile-up of dishes, I’d helped myself to some breakfast. Two other times, she grabbed my ear, with lots of people there to see my humiliation, for her sheer amusement. Note her interest in controlling my body (locking me away, grabbing me) as a parallel to controlling my mind (locking me away in an asylum for ‘my autism’, or locking me away in a psychological prison of self-doubt).

III: Stifling My Growth and Confidence–Mother’s Mind Games

Indeed, the whole point of the autism lie was to control me. When she first started talking about ‘my autism’ with me, I was starting to get As in school. I would have been about nine or ten years old. I was just starting to build confidence in my intellectual abilities, and her idea of congratulating or encouraging me was to say what a “miracle from God” it was that I’d pulled out of an extreme state of “autistic” mental incompetence to become a reasonably intelligent child! Talk about the backhanded compliment of the century.

As a kid, I’d been going to elementary school with normal kids for as long back as I can remember (i.e., all the way back to primary school): I never shared a classroom with mentally retarded kids at any time during my early childhood (those kids were always in special ed classrooms, rooms separate from mine); but my mom claimed I’d been examined, for a mere five minutes, by a psychiatrist who supposedly gave me an IQ test I’d scored poorly on (anybody who knows anything about IQ tests, especially psychiatrists, knows they don’t carve your intelligence in stone), so I, apparently, was deemed retarded.

She spoke as if she believed this mythical shrink’s evaluation of me, then claimed a “miracle” pulled me out of it, instead of surmising the obvious…that I’d never been retarded to begin with. How does the following exemplify the attitude of an empathic, loving mother: telling me it was doubtful ‘if I’d make a good garbageman’; that the shrink recommended ‘locking me away in an asylum and throwing away the key’ (something no sensible psychiatrist would have said of an autistic in the 1970s, after such therapies as Applied Behaviour Analysis had already been developing); or wondering how my aged parents would be able to take care of “a forty-year-old moron”? Even if such an implausible early childhood of mine had actually occurred, an empathetic mother would never say such things, let alone repeatedly, and in so graphic and vivid a way.

On other occasions, she spoke of how she knew I was intelligent even back then, thus flatly contradicting her pessimistic assessment of my childhood intelligence; this changing of her story, which often happened over the years, indicates not just the possibility, but the probability, that she’d been lying to me.

She wasn’t the only family member to discourage me from doing my best at school: my envious brother, R., also did. In his early 20s at the time, R., the “more mature” bully (as my mother deemed him) had a totally childish attitude to my then-growing academic success. His belittling of me (remember the ‘dork’ jokes I constantly had to endure during my teen years) was based on his resentment over our father favouring our sister J. and me over him, because we’d gotten better grades at school than he (R. used to berate her, too). He confessed his motive to me in a rant one afternoon after I, about fourteen, stood up to him for going too far with his bullying. (Remember: going too far was a habit with these people.)

His contention that those who get high marks are “absolute idiots” (i.e., in everything other than doing well at school), an obviously biased ego defence against the apparent family belief that he was “the idiot of the family” (Did Mom ever tell you, R., about my mythical IQ score?), had a most harmful effect on my already-fragile self-confidence at the time…I, an impressionable teenager who had been enduring our Mom’s BS about autism, as well as bullying from the family, the neighbourhood, and school.

My motivation to study hard dropped, and so did my grades. Granted, I have to take some responsibility for letting my grades slip a crucial 5-10% on average, but R.s snark was hardly a help to me. And my siblings wonder why I want nothing to do with them.

One thing Mom used to do, back in the late 70s when I was about 7-9 years old, was present a bag of something she’d bought for me while shopping. She’d look me in the face with wide eyes, make a backwards “Whoosshhhh” sound, as if she’d bought me something wonderful, like a toy, then she’d take what she’d bought out of the bag.

It was a pair of pants.

Naturally, my expression of hopeful excitement would change to a slouch of disappointment. Granted, one should be thankful for anything one’s mother has bought, but why the need for that build-up (and inevitable let-down)? Was Mom expecting narcissistic supply in the form of histrionic thanks? Or was she just trying to play mind games with me for her personal amusement, then my (deliberately provoked) look of disappointment would be narcissistic injury for her, giving her a pretext to want to get back at me…with such things as…the autism lie?

IV: Excuses Never to Empathize with Me…Even Fabricated Ones

One notable incident with my mother was one time, when I was ten, I’d been riding my new bike with a few friends; then, approaching a descending slope to a park, I lost control, went down the hill and fell off the bike.  I went home crying. Mom treated my cuts, to be sure (a nurse, she always took excellent care of physical problems), but she explicitly said she wouldn’t give me any sympathy because, apparently, I’d been “showing off” on the bike (she typically exacerbated emotional problems).

Oh, really, Dear Mother? Were you there, an eyewitness to the accident (no), or were you at home, blocks away from it, and therefore with no possible way of knowing whether or not I’d been “showing off” (yes!)?

Her “showing off” excuse for feeling no empathy for me was a complete fabrication, an out-and-out lie. She didn’t give me any sympathy because she didn’t want to. (Remember: during those years, she’d given me “the most love”, as she told me on R.’s cellphone [Part 6, ‘Is My Mother Dead?’] while she lay on her deathbed…with R. sitting by her and hearing, and believing, her bullshit.)

I’d had to argue and argue with her that I never tried to impress my friends on my bike before she finally relented. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I had been showing off when I fell and hurt myself: why would I not be deserving of sympathy? I was just a kid! Kids do foolish things from time to time, they let their pride get the better of them, and bad things happen; but when they make these mistakes, shouldn’t their parents tell them that it’s a lesson to be learned, instead of shaming them?

All my mother was doing was trying to justify why she’d refused to give me love: treating my cuts was just a chore for her. As was so often the case, I was just a job to be done. (But remember, she gave me the most love!)

This “showing off” fabrication of hers, along with the lie she told–about 8-10 years later–about my having “told off” my cousin G. for swearing in our restaurant, was one of the incidents that made me begin to suspect that indulgent, needless, and malicious lying was a habit of hers.

V: No Empathy Leading to Lots of Antipathy

I’ve already mentioned, in previous posts, her lack of empathy for me on almost every occasion when R., F., and J. went out of their way not only to bully me and verbally abuse me (usually only over minor things I’d done to annoy them), but also to ridicule me, belittle me, and humiliate me, all for the sheer fun of making my life miserable. I believe her lack of empathy spilled over into outright antipathy…not just for me, but for them, and for others in the family, too.

As I’ve mentioned before (Part 4–Abusing My Cousins), I have good reason to believe Mom not only bad-mouthed me (in virtually the same way she’d trash-talked my cousin G.), to R., F., and J., but also aroused jealousy in them by lying that she preferred me to them (an absurd idea, given J.’s golden child status, as well as the moderate golden children R. and F. were to Mom), thus giving them a motive to bully me. That isn’t just a lack of empathy in Mom…it’s outright malevolence.

Mom got a kick out of stirring up hate and conflict in our family. I saw evidence of it in her bashing of my cousins, first L. and G., then S., the very second she had proof of the latter’s mental instability from an email rant he’d sent me, of his paranoia of me supposedly gossiping behind his back to our former teacher friends here in Taiwan (my forwarding of his email to Mom, naively hoping she’d want to help him, but really just aiding her in her gossiping, is something I now deeply regret, for ironically, it means I had, however unintentionally, helped people bad-mouth S.!). Mom didn’t want S. to be my friend, so she made not even the slightest effort to help him get the psychiatric help he needs; she preferred the idea of him going through the rest of his life, blundering about in his delusions, to the possibility, however small, of him getting better and being my friend again.

She not only tried to nurture the bad blood between S. (up till his breakdown, my one good friend here where I live) and me, but also tried to stir up bad feeling [Part 5–More Elaborate Lies] between my aunt and me when I tried to get S.’s mother to help him. More fool me. Sowing division in our family was Mom’s modus operandi.

She knew my brothers and sister were bullying me. With her authority in the family, the respect she commanded from all of us, a commanding that could make our legs shake, she could have nipped my siblings’ bullying of me in the bud, in the blink of an eye. Had she truly loved me, truly empathized with me, she would have stopped the bullying. She didn’t. It’s not that she couldn’t have: she didn’t want to.

If autism had really been at the root of my social problems, those that were so ‘frustrating’ to everybody, she would have sympathetically explained this to R., F., and J. (“Mawr has a mental condition! He can’t help it. Go easy on him.”) I’m convinced that not only had she never thus explained my problems to them, instead, she described my faults in the most unsympathetic language imaginable. That’s how she talked about G., whom she also speculated had Asperger’s syndrome; why would it have been any different with me? She bad-mouthed me to my face a number of times, as, of course, my siblings did; doing so behind my back would have been all the easier. R., F., and J. would have eagerly contributed to this bad-mouthing me behind my back, as I’m sure their kids do, too. F.’s son mouthed me off to my face at one point during my 2008 visit; the boy barely knew me (I’d moved to Taiwan when he would have been too young to remember me, and after that, I’d made only a few brief visits.)…all he knows about me is what the family has told them.

“Mawr’s ‘autistic’, so he’s selfish. He’s ‘autistic’, so he’s going to be a real burden to take care of. He’s ‘autistic’, so he’s irritating and annoying. He’s ‘autistic’, so he’s an idiot,” etc. These quotes are speculations, of course. I don’t know exactly what words she used, because she made sure I was never in the room to hear her smear campaigns against me.

But however it was said, that was the message she must have conveyed to the family, starting from my early childhood, for my mere boyish awkwardness alone couldn’t have been enough to inspire so much contempt from people who supposedly loved me, in spite of my faults.

To be fair to her, there were a few occasions when she came to my aid: she once told off a bully in the neighbourhood who used to chase me around, shouting, “Leave him alone!” two or three times after he denied doing anything to me (I was 8 or 9); at about the same age, I accidentally caused F. to spill his hot tea on his lap, and he threw the rest of the scalding tea on my back as I ran away, making me scream and cry, and Mom scolded him, saying, “You could have burned him!”

Consider, however, how extreme F.’s behaviour had to be before she’d stand up for me, as she had on another occasion when he stole my wallet when I was about 20 years old. He did this in reaction to my ‘inconsiderate’ behaviour during R.’s wedding (not using my own toothbrush when I was staying at someone else’s home, not buying a gift for R. and his bride [I was hardly making enough money at the time for that], and not making myself available, as a member of the wedding party, for the wedding photo [J. took me away in her car from the party to lecture me about ‘being considerate’ to others {i.e., my lack of a gift}, so my unavailability was hardly my fault!]). When F. gave me back my wallet, he proceeded to lecture me about the importance of thinking about other people. I’m not sure that stealing my wallet did much to inspire selflessness in me, F.

Speaking of the need for selflessness, consider how, normally, older brothers are supposed to help their younger siblings against bullies, something neither R. nor F. ever did, not even once; and I was getting bullied at school regularly, too, just as I was at home. Of course they had no interest in helping me with that problem; for if they had, my growing confidence and assertiveness would have caused the five people I grew up with to lose their power over me. Why would bullies at home want to help you against bullies at school?

Mom’s lack of empathy wasn’t limited to her attitude towards me. I’ve already mentioned her contempt for all my cousins, and even her wish to turn me against my aunt. In this post, I speculated about the hand she must have had in driving then-teenage R. to leave home, due to an otherwise mysterious escalation of his fighting with Dad over something as relatively trivial as his bad academic performance.

I often found it striking how emotionless she seemed over things painfully affecting people, either me or others. One time, she mentioned how her mother had married my step-grandfather, not out of love, but just to have someone to provide for her (this would have been back in the 1940s/1950s). I wonder how he’d have felt if he knew; I don’t think my mother ever wondered, for she showed no disapproval whatsoever for my grandmother’s attitude.

On the other hand, Mom would sometimes have a twinkle of happiness in her eyes at inappropriate times, too. She had such a look on her face one day, when the subject of my large book collection was raised. I was in my early 20s, I think. She said, “[J.] says you have all those books on your shelves to look impressive to everybody.” Apparently, I was “showing off” again.

Whether J. really said that (she is enough of a snotty bitch to think that of me), or Mom was making things up again (projecting her shitty attitude onto others again), I do not know. It’s pretty clear to me now that she probably told me in order to stir up more resentment between J. and me. That look in her eye: she enjoyed telling me that.

VI: Mom’s Non-empathetic Prating about Asperger’s Syndrome

The following was her most recent, and among her worst, non-empathizing with me.

When she’d been prating on and on about “my Asperger’s” syndrome, I tried to impress on her, during a 2003 visit to Canada, how awful it feels to go through life being stigmatized as abnormal; she reacted as if I’d said nothing. I got the same blank reaction five years later, during my next…and last…visit to Canada when I said that, if I’d never moved to East Asia and she’d pinned the Asperger’s label on me, without having developed my self-confidence as an English teacher and as a married man, I’d probably have committed suicide.

Later, during the same 2008 visit, I’d been having some difficulties with my wife, who’d been visiting with me, and who was also mad at me about something, and thus giving me the silent treatment. I felt helpless in trying to make her feel better, and so I went to my mother in the hopes that she’d have advice for me. When I approached her, instead of seeing a frown of motherly concern and empathy for her son, I saw that old Cheshire Cat smile again, that inappropriate twinkle in her eyes. She seemed happy to see me all emotionally needy, and therefore dependent on her. She had control over me again…or so she thought.

Victims of narcissistic abuse often complain of how frustrating it is to have to explain to their narcissistic boy/girlfriends, spouses, or parents, what empathy and common decency are; but this was just the frustration I’d been going through trying to get my mother to stop ramming Asperger’s syndrome (AS) down my throat. When she first brought it up in an email message, I dealt with it gently.

But she wouldn’t stop bringing it up.

Soon after, she’d sent me an online article about a young man with AS, his experiences of having been bullied, and how he perceived the world “differently” (I know my mom interpreted “differently” as wrong, for that’s how she and the family always ‘interpreted’ my perception of the world). I sensed that she meant for me to believe that the awkward man in the article was a double of me. Naturally, I resented that.

I again replied as gently as I could, but also firmly, saying I wished she’d stop discussing AS with me, for it “makes me unhappy”. I wanted to stop focusing on my past, and look into the future instead.

She stopped…for a little while.

One way I tried–subtly–to get her to stop it, was to stop my, at the time (early 2000s), almost weekly phone calls home to her. She never took the hint, though, and continued looking for opportunities to bring up AS again.

When I reminded her about the two therapists I’d seen back in the mid-90s, the ones who told me they saw no autistic symptoms in me at all, she dismissed their professional opinion as if her amateurish one was much better informed. Those psychotherapists made me feel freed from the stigma of mental abnormality…and Mom was trying to take that liberation away from me.

When J.’s husband was discovered to be terminally ill with cancer, and Mom rejected [Part VII: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished] my wish to go over to Canada and visit, that was the last straw: you don’t make a family member feel as though he were persona non grata, even if he puts his foot in his mouth occasionally (Did I even put my foot in my mouth?); you gladly invite his visit, but tell him to watch his words, instead.

My furious response was to try to get her to understand how much it hurt to know that the family regarded me as “an incomplete human being, an overgrown child with stunted emotions.” That email, and others sent during the mid-to-late 2000s, involved my strenuous attempts to get her to understand how hurt, alienated, and lonely I’d always felt from her constantly making me feel “different” (her word, cooed with utter condescension on the phone one time).

I never needed to get her to understand, though. She knew how I felt. She’d always known.

She just didn’t care.

Remember, she often smiled when talking about ‘my autism’. She liked making me feel alienated.

After I’d complained repeatedly about her attitude, she complained to J. about mine. Naturally, J., the golden child, Mom’s number one flying monkey, took her side 100%, then sent me a blunt email, telling me to “let this go.” She also made sure to tell me not to respond to her email.

Now, I can understand J. not wanting to read a long email rant from me, explaining my side of the story (as I inevitably would have responded, had she allowed it), but the point is that, in any family dispute, it’s only fair to hear both sides of the story. Remember that my siblings have no more empathy for me than our mother had; that’s why they can’t reasonably expect me to empathize with them any more than I pitied Mom when she was dying. Empathy is a two-way street.

VII: Conclusion

Apart from what I’ve repeated here from my other posts on my family, what I’ve said above may not sound all that bad. Just remember these ‘minor’ offences in the context of my mother’s eight outrages, as I call them:

  1. The original autism lie, with all the melodramatic nonsense of my ‘infantile retardation’;
  2. Mom’s indulging and winking at my siblings’ bullying of me;
  3. Her explosive anger, usually over minor offences of mine;
  4. Her perpetuation of the autism lie, through her fabrication of Asperger’s (AS);
  5. Her rejection of my wish to visit Canada when it’s ‘inconvenient’ for the family, coupled with the family’s demand that I be involved with the family when it is convenient;
  6. Her bad-mouthing of G. behind his back, and saying he has AS, implying she bad-mouthed me in the exact same way;
  7. Refusing to help S. get psychiatric help, even if his mental instability could lead to him attacking me or my wife;
  8. Her string of seven lies to me, the summer before she died, about S. and my aunt, all to work me up, sow division between the two of them and me, and all so Mom could get narcissistic supply…and then never admit to any of it while lying on her death-bed.

Forgive me, Dear Reader, if I seem guilty of “keeping score of others’ wrongs”, as it says in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13, verse 5, or of ‘injustice collecting‘. I am far from perfect myself; indeed, I do have a lot of faults that were legitimately irritating to all of my family, including my late mother. I’m often a selfish prick who tries people’s patience, but a person’s right not to have to endure emotional abuse needn’t be dependent on his having a minimal, insignificant number of flaws. As for any flaws of mine that seem to go beyond what’s reasonable for most people, well, refer back to Mom’s eight outrages above, and consider their impact on my development as a human being.

I don’t fault my family with being angry with me…as they often had good reason to. I do fault them with consistently dealing with their frustrations in the most abusive way possible. (My wife, who is often mad at me about all kinds of things, usually just gives me the silent treatment–she virtually never yells at me, let alone shouts cruel four-letter slurs at me. This is proof that flying off the handle is not the only way to deal with me.) Also, as I’ve said before, while my family was far from always bad to me, it’s just that their good sides weren’t enough to compensate for the bad.

I call my provocations of their anger minor, not because I never really did anything bad, but because their reactions to my faults were so often totally out of proportion with what I’d done (e.g., R. shouting “Asshole!” at me, a teen, for accidentally hurting our dog, instead of just telling me firmly to be careful when playing with her; F. stealing my wallet, as described above; on another occasion, when I was about 17 or 18, F. verbally abused me twice–shouting four-letter word after four-letter word at me, and even threatening to throw me outside in the snow–for having neglected to let our cat in the house over a freezing cold winter night, even though I checked for myself the next day, and the cat was fine, not even sick.), that it makes you wonder what their real motives were for getting so infuriated.

And if I’ve been immature, so were all of them…quite often. There’s nothing mature about bullying a little kid, through his adolescence and young adulthood, hurling insults and put-downs at him, almost every day, just for fun…a fun they often gleefully admitted was their motive.

The worst thing of all–and this applies to recent years–is how R., F., and J. uncritically accepted every piece of nonsense Mom told them about me and everyone in the family, including always taking her side when I was having my arguments with her, starting in the early 2000s, right up to her death.

And a mother who lies to her family, not just a few times out of expediency, but as a way of life, has given up all moral authority over her family, as her all-too-credulous flying monkeys, my siblings, have given up all of theirs over me.

That’s why I grew so cold to her the last five to six years of her life.

Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it, Mother?

The Patient Anarchist

I: Introduction

With the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik takeover of the Russian government having just passed, I would like to share my thoughts on the relationship between the state, capitalism, and communism. There is a lot of propaganda floating around that treats the state and capitalism as mutually-exclusive opposites, and on the other hand, that treats the state and communism (and/or socialism in general) as so synonymous that they would seem indistinguishable.

I hope to cut through all this propaganda, and to explain the true relationship between these three, one that neither dichotomizes nor identifies any of the three in an absolute sense. Rather, capitalism is entirely enclosed within the state (contrary to the fantasies of the right-libertarians), that is to say, the bourgeois state; and there is some overlap between other aspects of the state (i.e., the proletarian state) and the socialist transition from capitalism to full communism, which involves–through the complete annihilation of capitalism–the replacement of class differences with the notion, “from each according to his (or her) ability, to each according to his or her need”, the withering away of the state, and the replacement of money with a gift economy.

What I’m saying now does not contradict what I’ve said elsewhere about the state and capitalism always being together; rather, what I’m saying now clarifies and refines what I said before. For me, the ultimate goal is still anarcho-communism, but I have grown more patient in my wish for all the world to achieve this goal.

II: Getting from A to Z

I still regard the transitional phase between capitalism and stateless communism to be the state capitalism complained about by George Orwell and Milovan Djilas; I just consider state capitalism to be necessary, and thus a good thing (or at least a necessary evil), an unavoidable part of the transition between today’s neoliberal nightmare and the socialist dream. To get from hell to heaven, one must pass through purgatory.

Anarchists typically complain of the ‘back-stabbing’ of Bolsheviks during such difficult times as the Kronstadt Rebellion, Lenin’s turning against Makhno, and Stalin’s meagre helping of the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. Many anarchists fail to grasp that, for the revolution to succeed, it must be global, not just local; at the same time, local victories must be defended in the most organized way possible, and not have their defence diluted in the name of disorganized and weak ‘permanent revolutions’.

Revolution can’t and won’t be achieved all in one fell swoop; there will be many small revolutions whose gains must be protected while other revolutions are attempted elsewhere. And the danger of counter-revolution mustn’t be trivialized: much, if not most, of the ‘oppression’ of the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s can be attributed to the difficulties and pressures caused during the aftermath of the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921, rather than to Lenin’s supposed ambition.

It is not only wrong-headed, but absurd, to think that we can go from A, a neoliberal capitalism led by an idiot man-child in the Oval Office, to B, full communism, with every business fully collectivized, no more money, and no more state. To achieve our goals, we can’t just go from A to B, but from A to Z, with every intermediate step of B, C, D, etc., fully considered, planned, and worked through. The B of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP), openly acknowledged by him as ‘state capitalism’ (as stated in ‘On Cooperation’, Tucker, pp. 707-713), or the B of China’s “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics“, must be acknowledged. (I just wish the CPC would move on to C, D, and E some time soon [contrary to those leftists who think it has moved on]: even Job’s patience had limits.)

In the cases of such socialist states as the USSR and Cuba, though, that movement to C, D, E, F, and quite a few steps beyond, definitely happened. In the 1930s, Stalin moved past the NEP and collectivized agriculture, which, granted, was fraught with such problems  as the selfish hoarding of the kulaks (and selfishness is regarded with bizarre admiration by right-libertarians), especially troublesome during bad harvests (a peasant resistance that was from a much smaller part of the population than is usually assumed), forcing the Stalinist regime to suppress them as ruthlessly as it did. In industrializing the Soviet Union, however, and protecting it from such counter-revolutionaries as the Nazis (whom his Red Army defeated, and thus he deserves the lion’s share of praise for saving the world from fascism), as well as building a nuclear arsenal to defend the USSR against that other genocidal monster, the US war machine, he transformed Russia from a backward, agrarian society into a superpower in a matter of a few decades–no mean feat.

The USSR and Cuba created free healthcare, free education, and other social services. They also aided national liberation movements in Third World countries around the world. Similar benefits could be found in other socialist states, such as those in the Eastern Bloc, North Korea, and China during Mao’s rule. We may see states in these countries, and a not-yet-fully developed communism, but by any reasonable measure, their efforts showed remarkable progress towards Z.

Cuba, a Third World country with a US-imposed economic embargo stifling its growth for over fifty years, has almost 100% literacy and superbly-trained doctors that often go to other poor countries to help the sick there. Impressive.

Contrast these achievements with the truly backward movement of the US over the past thirty years. Reagan (as well as Thatcher in the UK) started our neoliberal nightmare with union-busting, deregulation, and tax cuts to the rich. Bill Clinton gave some crippling blows with the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, which essentially took away the social safety net; and his repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act is believed by many to have lead to the 2008 financial crisis, in the aftermath of which George W. Bush and Obama helped only the super-rich.

Today, consider all of Trump’s cuts to education (and poor quality US education/student performance is nothing new), the arts, etc., while the already bloated US military budget got a further bloating, thanks to support not only from the GOP, but the Democrats, too! Then there’s Trump’s brilliant (<<<sarcasm) idea to have, for every one new regulation, deregulation of two things…not that it’s a particularly workable idea, of course.

As if the situation weren’t bad enough, we have right-libertarians who delude themselves that our current neoliberal mess is somehow not at all capitalist, merely because of the existence of a state and some regulations; therefore, the solution is apparently to deregulate all the more! These right-wing ideologues fail to see how the “free market” creates the monopolies that result in the very crony capitalism they imagine to be the opposite of ‘true’ capitalism; thus capitalism can enlarge the state, rather than exist as its antithesis. They achieve this ideological sleight-of-hand by imagining that the state exists more or less in one form–some variation on socialism–rather than acknowledge how the state can serve the rich, or serve the people.

III: The Bourgeois State vs. the Proletarian State

In The State and Revolution, which opened my eyes and my mind to Leninism in ways nothing else could, Lenin clearly distinguished two kinds of government, either of which involves one class dominating the other. The wealthy and powerful will use the state to rule over the workers, or vice versa. The wealthy will never annihilate the workers, because they need workers to provide their wealth; but the workers could eventually obliterate the bourgeoisie, which would result in the withering away of the state. Anarchists must be patient in waiting for this end result.

Only a worker’s state is a socialist one: all others are properly understood to be variations on the bourgeois state. The neoliberal American state, as well as all those countries that bow to US interests (including Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, the countries of the EU, the UK, and the puppet governments in Brazil, etc.), are all bourgeois states. The social democrat states of the Nordic model are market economies with some concessions to the people (i.e., strong unions, welfare, free education, and universal healthcare), but are still bourgeois. And fascist, or quasi-fascist, states like Italy under Mussolini, Nazi Germany, Francoist Spain, and Chile under Pinochet, were bourgeois, not socialist.

What must be emphasized is not whether there is a state or not, but rather whose interests are served by that state: the rich, or the people? Countries with free healthcare and education, near 100% employment and nearly 0% homeless are clearly head and shoulders above countries whose states contribute to wealth inequality, and finance war and corporate welfare instead of healthcare, education, and a social safety net for the poor.

When the poor are oppressed, I feel every sympathy for them; when capitalists in socialist states are taxed appropriately, so the poor are provided for, I feel no sympathy for the ‘poor rich’. The issue of taxation is the next point I need to address.

IV: Two Needful Considerations Regarding Taxes

We often hear right-libertarians complain, “Taxation is theft!”, while giving no consideration to how the overworking and underpaying of workers, imperialism’s rape of other countries’ land and resources, and underfunding of taxpayers’ needed social services are all theft.

The petite bourgeoisie screams as loudly as does the moyenne/grande/haute bourgeoisie about lowering taxes, but it’s the latter who largely benefit from those tax cuts. It never occurs to those lower-to-middle class right-wingers that they get a return on their taxes through those social programs…provided they’re provided.

Whether taxes are a good or a bad thing depends on two important considerations: who is being taxed, the lower, or upper classes; and how is the tax revenue being spent. If there’s progressive taxation, taxing the wealthiest the most, the middle classes far less, and the lower middle to working classes hardly at all to not at all, you have a valid case for taxes. If the tax revenue is spent on such things as education, free healthcare, and unemployment insurance, even those in the middle classes get a return on their taxes, for they may benefit from those social services as well as the poor.

Contrast this validation of taxes against the system in the US. The middle classes pay a moderate level of taxes, and the moderately rich pay high taxes, while the super-rich pay far less in taxes than they should pay. (While the US’s taxation is kind-of-sort-of progressive, with the huge, egregious exception of the super-rich as pointed out above, in the UK, the tax system is the inverse opposite of progressive. On top of that, consider the income tax evasion of the super-rich worldwide, as well as their non-declaring of income.)

To make matters worse, way too much of US tax revenue goes into the military, while healthcare, education, and other social services are left in a totally ineffectual state. Obamacare was portrayed as ‘socialism’ in the mainstream media, when it was anything but. The neoliberal cuts to such vital things as welfare and social services that started with Reagan continued from Clinton to Bush (whose tax cuts for the rich hardly created jobs or boosted the economy), to Obama, and finally to Trump; at the same time, the military budget increased and increased, up till the gargantuan increase supported by both Republicans and Democrats. Such insanely high military spending, hardly a good use of tax revenue,  does result in a bloating of the state, but it’s a bloating of the bourgeois state, not the proletarian state.

Taxation in a workers’ state would be the opposite of the US way of doing things. The only qualification to this contrast would be a sizeable amount of tax revenue going to the military (in defence against counter-revolution, as North Korea has been doing, not for the sake of imperialism), and even this budget would be Lilliputian compared to the US military budget. This need to defend against counter-revolution is part of the justification for a temporary, transitional state, something anarchists must be patient about, and this leads me to my next point.

V: The Dictatorship of the Proletariat

One cannot establish socialism without a plan. All efforts to establish communism in one fell swoop have resulted ultimately in failure. As thrilling as the Paris Commune was, it lasted a mere two months’ time before it was brutally suppressed. Theorists like Marx and Lenin discussed what they thought were the fatal errors made by the Communards (not seizing control of the bank, not taking the fight to Versailles to secure their gains–Marx/Lenin, p. 97), and proposed ways to improve on future revolutions.

This learning from one’s mistakes, developing newer and better theory to raise the chances of success in future revolutions, is the basis of scientific socialism. There is often a poverty of theory in anarchism that results in sloppy acts of rebellion (e.g., Black Bloc members randomly destroying property in protest at G8 or G20 summits, etc.) instead of planning effectively.

We want direct action that brings results, not adolescent acts of defiance that ultimately do nothing to change the system. Was Makhno’s anarcho-capitalist experiment a valid one, or was it an exercise in thuggish banditry, one that ironically had all the authoritarianism it claimed to be opposed to? Is this latter possibility the real reason Leninist authoritarianism suppressed Makhno? Whichever is the correct interpretation of events, his anarchist experiment didn’t last–that we know for sure.

Anarchist Catalonia was another thrilling experiment during the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939; but even Madrid’s socialist government wasn’t strong enough to fight off Franco’s fascists. I wish Stalin had given more help to the Spanish Republicans instead of fretting over the anarchists, or whether Trotskyists were, among them. Franco’s victory assuredly encouraged Hitler and Mussolini (who’d helped the Spanish Nationalists) to carry on their warmongering…and we all know what that led to.

But let’s contrast these failures with the successes of the 70-year existence of the USSR, with Cuba, with the Eastern Bloc, and with North Korea. The Soviet Union fought off a counter-revolution from 1918-1921, then fought off internal, treasonous dangers during the 1930s (revisionism that continued to exist right to the dissolution of the USSR), and finally did the lion’s share of fighting off and defeating the Nazis. Cuba foiled the Bay of Pigs invasion, and has successfully dealt with an embargo for over fifty years. The CIA and Cuban exiles tried to kill Castro over 600 times. The Eastern Bloc, gained after the defeat of fascism, lasted roughly forty-five years, in spite of all the West’s attempts to thwart it at the time. And North Korea, having been bombed to the Stone Age during the Korean War, lost 20% of their population, and been traumatized to this day, rose from the ashes, is, relatively speaking, a thriving country (in spite of how Western propaganda portrays it as a basket case), and has created a nuclear deterrent to make the US think twice before ever bombing it again.

While the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc ultimately crumbled, they made the anarchist attempts look like still births in comparison. These are clear examples of how to bring about and protect a socialist revolution, Cuba and North Korea even more so. Consider also North Vietnam’s humbling of the US, while the latter’s cowardly napalm campaign only proves what murderers their army were and are.

Only a well-protected revolution can guarantee that transitional process of going from A (capitalism in its most brutal, naked form–i.e., today’s) to Z (full communism, with the withering away of the state, production to provide for everyone instead of just for profit, and the end of the use of money). The withering away of the state requires a temporary, transitional workers’ state to make the dream of socialist anarchy possible. Dialectics: a) an unregulated (or minimally-regulated) capitalist state, as we have over most of the world today, b) a regulated workers’ state, and c) stateless communism.

To bring about the final resolution of present-day contradictions, anarchists must be patient. Mao Zedong, who in his youth had anarchist tendencies (i.e., he’d been influenced by the ideas of Peter Kropotkin) before embracing Marxism-Leninism, said that the Chinese dictatorship of the proletariat would take one hundred years before the state finally withered away: now that is patient anarchism. (Marx and Engels were also patient anarchists; so were even Lenin and Stalin, properly understood. These four theoreticians simply accepted the exigencies of the time, namely, that a protracted period of class struggle to wipe out all traces of capitalism had to come first before full anarchist communism could come into being.)

One hopes that the current Chinese dictatorship would switch to that of the proletariat sooner rather than later, though, especially with the prediction that the hegemony of the American empire will have crumbled by the 2030s, and that China will be among those superpowers, like Russia, that supplant it (or at least they will all coexist), and that leaders like Xi Jinping will do more than just talk the Marxist talk. Then, who knows? Maybe…just maybe, the Chinese state really will wither away by 2049.

VI: The Aftermath of the USSR’s Catastrophic Collapse

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the Western media portrayed it as a triumph of liberal democracy over totalitarianism. The Cold War was over! No more need to worry about nuclear war, because Russia and Eastern Europe were to join the capitalist world. It was seen as the “end of history”. Communism was seen as discredited.

The invalidating of communism was seen as further proved when we saw the economic turmoil Russia had been plunged into, for the Soviet planned economy was blamed for the debacle of the 1990s; but a more careful analysis will show that matters were more complicated…and more sinister…than met the eye.

Oligarchs rose up in Russia, buying up state property and assets under Boris Yeltsin’s incompetent, alcoholic leadership, and causing terrible wealth inequality, while the socialist safety net of the USSR was no longer there for the unfortunate to fall back on. Capitalism, not socialism, is what ruined Russia.

George Soros helped with this switch-around, and while he has been a vocal critic of the excesses of “free market” capitalism, his ‘left-leaning’ should be taken with a generous dose of salt: he’s a billionaire, so you should consider where his real class loyalties lie.

When the USSR collapsed, along with the end of the Warsaw Pact and the reunification of Germany, Moscow was promised that NATO would not expand or move eastward. Anyone who has been following politics for the past 25 years knows what a broken promise (translation–blatant lie) that was: NATO troops are currently lined up along the Russian border, after unsubstantiated stories of ‘Russian threats to the Baltic region’ started popping up in the media during the 2016 US election campaign. It should be clear who the real aggressors are.

The first signs of the US/NATO’s broken promise came with the Balkanization of the former Yugoslavia. The Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, etc. lived there in relative peace under the Titoist system. After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, though, the IMF, the World Bank, Germany, the US, and NATO worked to undermine Slobodan Milošević’s efforts to maintain socialism by stirring up the old ethnic hatreds and blaming the killing on him, fabricating a charge of genocide (of which he was exonerated by the ICTY). Then came the US/NATO ‘humanitarian war’.

After NATO claimed the former Yugoslavia for US imperialism, they went after most of the other former Warsaw Pact members. An attempt was made to include Georgia (which was encouraged by the US to fight with South Ossetia, a country friendly with Russia) in NATO back in 2008, angering Russia and leading ultimately to the Russo-Georgian War. US imperialism interfered in the democratic process in Ukraine, getting rid of pro-Russia Viktor Yanukovych and replacing him with a government that includes neo-Nazis! In Russia herself, the US interfered with the democratic process by manipulating the 1996 Russian election to re-elect the hugely unpopular Yeltsin against what would have been a shoo-in re-election of the Communist Party.

…and US politicians complain about supposed Russian interference in the 2016 US election, an accusation they have never been able to prove.

What must be borne in mind is that the Soviet system, for all its flaws, was an effective counterweight against the depredations of Western imperialism. The Western welfare state of the prosperous 1945-1973 world was influenced by socialism, and was an attempt to stave off the ‘communist threat’. The USSR was frequently involved in helping national liberation movements in the Third World. With the Soviets gone, the US/NATO knows there’s been nobody significant standing in their way…at least not until Vladimir Putin pulled Russia out of the abyss Yeltsin helped put her in, and not until China began rising as a major global economic power.

Small wonder the US has been so hostile to these two countries lately!

Throughout her history, the US has been a warmongering nation, starting with the Revolutionary War, then the massacres of Native Americans, the taking of a huge chunk of Mexican territory, her imperialist bullying of the Philippines, the needless nuking of Japan, and the bombing of North Korea. But the so-called War on Terror takes the cake: look at what US imperialism has done to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Niger. Iran, North Korea, Russia, and even China are next on the list.

With all this killing in mind, we need to explore all the killing that communists have been accused of.

VII: A Re-examining of the Communist Death Count

Communists, admittedly, aren’t innocent of excesses when it comes to bloodshed. Millions died under their watch…but how many millions was it, really? And is there a context behind this killing that must be scrutinized to get at the real meaning behind it?

Mainstream sources tend to give figures of around 100 million dead due to communist repressions. But where do they get these gargantuan figures from?

While there is lots of documented evidence, including mass graves, photographs, etc., of the victims of the Holocaust (with six million Jews and five million non-Jews murdered by the SS), nothing in the Soviet archives indicates tens of millions killed during Stalin’s purges; actually, about 800,000 people were executed between 1921 and 1953. At worst, about 2-3 million died in the Gulag, while 20-40% of Gulag prisoners were released each year from the 1920s to the 1950s.

As for the ‘tens of millions’ supposedly killed under Mao’s initially problem-laden (i.e., bad harvests), but eventually successful Great Leap Forward, those exaggerated statistics are based on manipulations of censuses and death-rate figures from the 1953-1964 period. Right-wing writers like Robert ConquestJung Chang and Jon Halliday (authors of Mao: The Unknown Story), and Stéphane Courtois, editor of The Black Book of Communism, who seemed obsessed with arriving at a total of 100 million killed by Communists, are all responsible for these error-laden, anti-communist smears. (Of course, Deng Xiaoping helped with the anti-Mao slanders in order to further his reactionary agenda of reintroducing the market in the 1980s.)

Among this demonization is the nonsense surrounding the Holodomor, which was really little more than a famine in the Ukraine; but the political right insists on portraying the tragedy as a ‘communist Holocaust’, a supposedly deliberate murder of Ukrainians. (The same largely goes for the Great Leap Forward.)

Linked to this kind of anti-Soviet propaganda is how the ‘Forest Brothers’, an Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian anti-Soviet resistance guerrilla movement linked to Nazi Germany back in the mid-1940s, are being celebrated as heroes in a short film (as contemporary anti-Russian propaganda) published and promoted by none other than NATO! Only that puppet of US imperialism would be low enough to vilify Communists while lionizing pro-fascist Jew killers.

The far-left is often more or less equated with the far-right in the horseshoe theory, something I once believed in years ago, but now realize is hopelessly wrong. The points of comparison between fascism and Communism are, at best, superficial: their authoritarianism, collectivism, and propensity to resort to violence all serve totally different objectives. Fascists use these three to strengthen their respective nations at the expense of other nations, races, or ethnic groups; Communists use the three to emancipate the global proletariat from capitalism, of which fascism is an aggravated version.

One group commonly associated with Communism, but who would more accurately be described as a kind of Asian nationalism, were the Khmer Rouge. The atrocities perpetrated under Pol Pot‘s rule of Cambodia are, contrary to popular opinion, not to be associated with Communism.

The Khmer Rouge’s ideology had, at best, a mere smattering of Marxism; deserving of far more focus was their xenophobia and ultra-nationalism. Rarely was Marxism-Leninism discussed among them, according to Nate Thayer; only Nuon Chea referred to the ideology, once, as a guiding party principle, of all the senior or other party members of the CPK, in all the interviews Thayer had with them from the 1980s to the 1990s.

They were opposed to modernization, something so crucial to socialists–as the one true way of ensuring the productive forces can provide for everyone–that even critics of Communism like Milovan Djilas acknowledged the need for industrialization in socialist states (see Djilas, The New Class, pages 15-18). Pol Pot’s ideal, in contrast, was ‘primitive communism’; this, combined with the US bombings of Cambodia, which caused a frantic desperation to produce food directly, meant that urban dwellers were forced into farming in the rural areas, which led to famine and starvation.

The Khmer Rouge, far from being the comrades of socialist Vietnam, fought them. Normally, there is at least a reasonable level of solidarity between socialist states. If the Khmer Rouge were Communists, they were pretty strange ones.

Most importantly, though, to come back to a discussion of the genuine Communists, the deaths under Stalin and Mao must be understood within the context of class war, or the aggravation of class struggle under socialism. There was, and is, always the fear of re-establishing capitalism within socialist states (consider what Maduro’s and Kim Jong-un’s governments have been going through to see my point); and the neoliberal nightmare of today, with the exacerbated state of imperialism and neocolonialism rampant in the Third World, shows how justified those socialist fears are of the “free market” insidiously creeping back into our world.

Stalin inherited from Lenin a USSR that had not so long ago fought off the White Army in the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921. Added to that, Russia was an agrarian society, backward and lacking in modern industrialization. He also knew of the threat of the capitalists around the world (including revisionists within his own country!) were looming like a shadow over everything he’d tried to build.

Speaking of threats, several years into the implementation of the first of his three Five-Year Plans to industrialize the USSR, Stalin had to deal with an especially formidable foe: Hitler, who hated Communists and considered them a Jewish conspiracy. And the Nazis weren’t across the ocean, but right next door to Russia. Stalin had no choice but to speed up the industrialization of the Soviet Union, including working the Gulag labourers like slaves, in time to be ready to withstand a Nazi invasion. Attempts were made to stall Hitler, such as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, to buy time until the Red Army would be ready to face the SS.

Nazi Germany invaded in June 1941, and such battles as that of Stalingrad were among the bloodiest in military history. Far too few people in the West appreciate the huge sacrifice the Soviet Union made to rid the world of the Nazi menace: between 20-30 million Soviet Russians died, including 3.3 million POWs who were brutalized, given inadequate (if any) clothing–including in winter, and starved in Nazi concentration camps. We always hear of the heroism of the US and the UK who fought for our freedom in WWII, but their sacrifice was dwarfed by that of socialist Eastern Europe. The Red Army, who fought their way right into Berlin, making Hitler put a gun to his head, were the real heroes of WWII.

The Great Patriotic War was one of those few times one could truly speak of soldiers fighting for our freedoms. So many other wars have been thus rationalized, but usually they have only been imperialist competitions for land and resources, as WWI was. It is truly nauseating to hear anyone try to justify the current “War on Terror” as a fight for freedom, when the exact opposite has been fought for.

If there’s any one thing that shows Stalin as being in no way comparable to Hitler, it is his defeat of Nazi Germany. It is obscene how people, right-wingers in particular, try either to equate these two men, or to make Stalin seem worse, typically by basing their dubious assessment on not only grotesquely bloated statistics of those who died under Stalin (a ‘dictator’ who tried to resign multiple times, but couldn’t, because his people loved him too much to let him go [many Russians still love him, by the way]), but also minimized statistics of the victims of Nazi murder.

The SS brutalized and killed Jews, Roma, gay men, and the mentally and physically disabled because they hated them. Communists killed their political enemies, as did Nazis, of course, but consider the nature of those respective political enemies. Those who opposed Nazism were people of conscience, those who cared about the human rights of Jews, Roma, gays, women, and the mentally and physically disabled; many of these people of conscience were leftists, the first ones put in Nazi concentration camps. Communists’ political enemies were capitalists and traitors (those executed) and those leftists with otherwise reactionary views, the impatient leftists (typically those just put in the Gulag and then released).

All these political enemies of Communism were a danger to a political and economic system dedicated to human rights, equality, and anti-imperialism. Enemies of Nazi Germany were enemies of racism and imperialism. It shouldn’t be necessary to re-educate people on these matters, but fascist tendencies have been rising lately.

There is no denying that there were excesses during the Stalin era, some impatient leftists who suffered a far worse fate than the punishment they deserved; but Stalin’s wrongs were far fewer than those of Hitler. Part of the false moral equivalency of these two men is the fault of groups like the Alt-right; part of it is the fault of neoliberal capitalists who are doing everything in their power to prevent a resurgence of socialism.

If there is any moral equivalence to be made with Hitler, it’s the kind of people who financed him…capitalists, who have been responsible for the deaths of far greater numbers than even the highest estimates given of those killed under Communism.

VIII: Conclusion

We leftists have a lot of work to do in fixing what is wrong with our world today; but fixing those problems won’t come about by dreaming of utopia without planning and doing the hard work of going from A to Z. In a transitional socialist state, do you fear state terror, surveillance, militarized police, prison slave-labour, an all-powerful oligarchy? Does the US not already have all those things right now? If you fear things going wrong in a Marxist-Leninist system, I must ask you: do you think things could be any worse than they are now?

Now here’s a question that needs some kind of answer: have I, one who has called himself an ‘anarcho-communist’, and a ‘libertarian Marxist,’ become a tankie? I hesitate to label myself with that term, if for no other reason than because I find any such labels limiting (and the same goes for ‘anarcho-communist’ and ‘libertarian Marxist’, to be fair.)

I’ve done a number of ‘political compass’ tests, with slightly differing results, but here’s one I did for the sake of this article: take it however you will. Here’s another:

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 5.12.14 AM

In any case, I consider myself, however contradictory this may sound, to be a libertarian-leaning Marxist with moderate ‘tank’ sympathies. I very much believe in the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and I see the need for some kind of vanguard to lead and educate the working class, though I’m not sure I’d define such concepts in as particular a way as the average Marxist-Leninist would. I prefer at least some elasticity in their application.

For me, anarchy is an aspiration, though, not an immediately realizable state (pardon the pun). So, to make the kind of progress towards a point when the state will no longer be needed, because no class war will exist anymore, we’ll have to be patient anarchists.

Robert C. Tucker, The Lenin Anthology, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 1975

Milovan Djilas, The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System, Harvest/HBJ Book, New York, 1957

Karl Marx & V. I. Lenin, The Civil War in France: The Paris Commune, International Publishers, New York, 2008

Fright Fest: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

I wrote this analysis as a guest blogger for machinemean.org. I’m so happy and proud to have the exposure there!

Machine Mean

Image result for night of the living dead 1968 posterThough zombie is never said in Night of the Living Dead, this 1968 horror film set the standard for all following zombie films: radiation raises the ghouls (as they’re called in the film) to life (though, as of this film, radiation as a cause is only speculation), they move in a slow, plodding manner, they eat the flesh of the living, and the people they kill turn into zombies.

What makes George A. Romero’s Dead films so important, though, isn’t the thrills and chills they provide, as generous as that providing assuredly is. It’s the social and political commentary, hidden beneath the piles of corpses, that distinguishes him from his imitators. The following is my interpretation of that commentary, a theme of mindless, pitiless killing, and a killing not limited to what the zombies commit, by the way. 

Here are some famous quotes:

“They’re coming to get you…

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Analysis of ‘Planet of the Apes’

Planet of the Apes is a science fiction franchise based on Pierre Boulle‘s 1963 novel, La Planète des Singes (‘The Planet of the Monkeys’). Boulle’s novel was meant as a satirical look at the dangers of the people of a civilization growing complacent and intellectually lazy, resulting in the decline and fall of that civilization, which is then humiliated by its replacement with a new civilization of a previously inferior species; the movies that followed, however, were concerned with larger political and social issues, making the story an allegory of such things as racism, the fear of nuclear annihilation, and most obviously, cruelty to animals.

I will present an allegory of the class struggle of the proletariat (the apes) against the bourgeoisie (the humans). The films’ allegory isn’t told from my communist perspective, though, but rather from the viewpoint of reactionary, bourgeois liberals. All the same, a hidden communist meaning is there, buried under Hollywood’s liberal agenda. I will compare scenes from the novel and the early Apes films with significant political issues, past and present, to illustrate the validity of my allegory.

Here are some quotes from the first five movies:

Planet of the Apes (1968 film)

“Tell me, though, does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother… keep his neighbor’s children starving?” –George Taylor

“I can’t help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man. Has to be.” –Taylor

“Man has no understanding. He can be taught a few simple tricks. Nothing more.” –Dr. Zaius

“Dr. Zira, I must caution you. Experimental brain surgery on these creatures is one thing, and I’m all in favor of it. But your behavior studies are another matter. To suggest that we can learn anything about the simian nature from a study of man is sheer nonsense. Why, man is a nuisance. He eats up his food supply in the forest, then migrates to our green belts and ravages our crops. The sooner he is exterminated, the better. It’s a question of simian survival.” –Dr. Zaius

Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” –Taylor (ranked #66 in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations in American cinema)

“It’s a mad house! A MAD HOUSE!!” –Taylor

“‘Beware the beast man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport, or lust, or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.'” –Cornelius, reading from the 29th scroll, sixth verse, of Ape Law

George: [brandishing rifle] Don’t try to follow us. I’m pretty handy with this.

Dr. Zaius: Of that, I’m sure. All my life I’ve awaited your coming and dreaded it. Like death itself.

George: Why? I’ve terrified you from the first, Doctor. I still do. You’re afraid of me and you hate me. Why?

Dr. Zaius: Because you’re a man! And you’re right. I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand in hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a war-like creature who gives battle to everything around him…even himself.

George: What evidence? There were no weapons in that cave.

Dr. Zaius: The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your breed made a desert of it ages ago.

George: It still doesn’t give me the why…a planet where apes evolved from men? There’s got to be an answer.

Dr. Zaius: [with surprisingly genuine sympathy] Don’t look for it, Taylor! You may not like what you’ll find.

[riding down the beach in the last scene] “Oh my God… I’m back. I’m home. All the time, it was… We finally really did it. [falls to his knees screaming] YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! AH, DAMN YOU! GOD DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!!” –Taylor [camera pans to reveal the half-destroyed Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand]

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

“Our great Lawgiver tells us that never, never will the human have the ape’s divine faculty for being able to distinguish between evil and good. The only good human is a dead human! But those fortunate enough to remain alive will have the privilege of being used by our revered Minister of Science, the good Dr. Zaius.” –General Ursus

“Glory be to the Bomb, and to the Holy Fallout. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen.” –Mendez

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

“Please, do not use the word “monkey”! It is offensive to us. As an archaeologist, I had access to history scrolls which were kept secret from the masses, and I suspect that the weapon which destroyed Earth was man’s own invention! I do know this: one of the reasons for man’s original downfall was your peculiar habit of murdering one another! Man destroys man. Apes do not destroy apes!” –Cornelius

“Mr. President, the people must be told that the killers of today could become the mass murderers of tomorrow!” –Otto Hasslein

Otto Hasslein: Cornelius. This is not an interracial hassle, but a search for facts. We do not deny the possibility of man’s decline and fall. All we want to find out is how apes rose.

Cornelius: Well, it began in our prehistory with the plague that fell upon dogs.

Zira: And cats.

Cornelius: Hundreds and thousands of them died. And hundreds and thousands of them had to be destroyed in order to prevent the spread of infection.

Zira: There were dog bonfires.

Cornelius: Yes. And by the time the plague was contained, man was without pets. Of course, for man, this was intolerable. I mean, he might kill his brother, but he could not kill his dog. So humans took primitive apes as pets.

Zira: Primitive and dumb, but still twenty times more intelligent than dogs or cats.

Cornelius: Correct. They were quartered in cages, but they lived and moved freely in human homes. They became responsive to human speech and, in the course of less than two centuries, they progressed from performing mere tricks to performing services.

Interrogator: Nothing more or less than a well-trained sheepdog could do.

Cornelius: Could a sheepdog cook, or clean the house, or do the marketing for the groceries with a list from its mistress, or wait on tables?

Zira: Or, after three more centuries, turn the tables on their owners.

Hasslein: How?

Cornelius: They became alert to the concept of slavery. And as their numbers grew, to slavery’s antidote which, of course, is unity. At first, they began assembling in small groups. They learned the art of corporate and militant action. They learned to refuse. At first, they just grunted their refusal. But then, on an historic day, which is commemorated by my species and fully documented in the sacred scrolls, there came Aldo. He did not grunt. He articulated. He spoke a word, a word which had been spoken to him time and again without number by humans. He said: “No”.

Hasslein: So that’s how it all started.

“Zira! I want that baby! If you won’t give it to me, I’ll shoot!” –Hasslein

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

“Lousy human bastards!!” –Caesar

“If we lose this battle, that’s the end of the world as we know it!! We will have proved ourselves inferior!! Weak!! And all those groveling cowards who are alive, when the battle is over, will be the weakest of all!! This will be the end of human civilization!! And the world will belong to a planet of apes!!” –Governor Breck

Breck: Caesar!

Caesar: Your servant, your creature, your animal.

Breck: But I saw you die.

Caesar: The king is dead. Long live the king! Tell me, Breck, before you die, how do we differ from the dogs and cats you and your kind used to love? Why did you turn us from pets into slaves?

Breck: Because your kind were once our ancestors. Man was born of the ape. There’s still an ape curled up inside of every man, the beast that must be whipped into submission, the savage that has to be shackled in chains. You are that beast, Caesar. You taint us. You…you poison our guts. When we hate you, we’re hating the dark side of ourselves.

“Where there is fire, there is smoke. And in that smoke, from this day forward, my people will crouch, and conspire, and plot, and plan for the inevitable day of man’s downfall, the day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind. The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland, out of which I will lead my people from their captivity! And we will build our own cities, in which there will be no place for humans, except to serve our ends! And we shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty! And that day is upon you…NOW!!” –Caesar

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

“In all our years of slavery to mankind, the word “No” was the one word we were electrically conditioned to fear. An ape may say “No” to a human, but a human may never again say “No” to an ape.” –Virgil

“We…want…guns! Guns…are…power! Now we go and get guns!!” –Aldo

The evidence has been revealed that Aldo murdered Cornelius, Caesar’s son

Apes: (chanting) Ape has killed ape.

Apes repeat the chanting for Aldo violating ape law, then march towards him

Jake: What’s the matter with them?

MacDonald: I guess you could say they just joined the human race.

I’ll be focusing on the novel and original five films, which, though the sequels–as opposed to the superb reboot trilogy of the 2010s–are all flawed to varying degrees, they still have lots of powerful social and political commentary that’s more than worthy of examination. Indeed, while the reboot trilogy is better overall, the original five films have even more political and social commentary, and are therefore of more interest in this analysis.

I: Planet of the Apes, the novel vs. the 1968 film

Boulle’s novel opens with a framing device involving two “sailing cosmonauts” (as they’re called on page 5–note the Russian/Soviet term, as opposed to the Western ‘astronaut’), Jinn and Phyllis, travelling in a spaceship, space travel being a common way to vacation at such a time, centuries into the future. They discover a bottle floating in space, with a written message of help from Ulysse Mérou (his equivalent in the 1968 film being George Taylor, played by Charlton Heston). Jinn and Phyllis read the message, which begins the story proper: thus do we see the beginning of the 1968 movie’s parallels with Boulle’s novel.

Mérou agrees to join Professor Antelle and his disciple, Arthur Levain (the latter two men paralleling Landon and Dodge, respectively, in the 1968 film; there is no female astronaut in the novel to correspond to Stewart in the movie, though the novel includes a chimpanzee astronaut, Hector, for which a corresponding chimp, ‘Pericles’, can be seen in the Tim Burton remake) on a journey, starting in the year 2500, to Betelgeuse.

In the film, Taylor is the misanthrope (see above, the second quote cited from the 1968 film); in the novel, the professor has misanthropic tendencies, or at least an apathy towards humanity (page 13: “I [i.e., Mérou] even felt that the prospect of escaping from his [i.e., Antelle’s] contemporaries was an added attraction to the professor. He often admitted he was tired of his fellow men…”; page 15: “It is certain that the learned Antelle, without being a misanthrope, was not interested at all in human beings. He would often declare that he did not expect much from them any more,…”).

This misanthropy, in accordance with my allegory, represents left-leaning liberals‘ dislike of the excesses of capitalism, even though they aren’t all that committed to putting an end to the profit motive’s deleterious effects on the world.

In the novel, after time dilation pushes them centuries into the future, the three men discover a habitable planet, which they name Soror (Latin for ‘sister’), a ‘sister’ Earth, but certainly not Earth, as it is in the films. After reaching the planet’s orbit, they launch a shuttle to land on the surface.

The men find a waterfall and go skinny-dipping below it. Nova appears early in the novel: the golden, mute beauty is insouciantly naked (the primitive humans of the novel don’t wear the animal skins of the 1968 movie). She sees Hector the chimpanzee and, frightened of him, strangles him to death. She’s also hostile to the men’s clothes and other man-made things, as are all the other naked humans, who destroy these unnatural things on sight. We’ll learn the reason for all this hostility soon enough.

Clothed gorilla hunters attack all the humans, killing Arthur Levain as they do Dodge in the movie. The survivors are taken away as captured animals.

In the film, prior to the hunt, Taylor and his two colleagues look on all the mute humans, seeing Nova for the first time, and imagine running the whole planet in short order. If man represents the capitalist class, here we see the talking grande and haute bourgeoisie wishing to rule over the mute petite bourgeoisie, in contrast to the ‘level playing field’ that the right-libertarians delude themselves into thinking “free market capitalism” will provide, with minimal state interference.

Instead, the visitors of this “upside-down civilization” discover the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the ape civilization can be said to symbolize. The ape civilization of Soror in Boulle’s novel has modern technology, including airplanes and satellites (page 154: “They have electricity, industries, motor cars, and airplanes, but, as far as the conquest of space is concerned, they have reached only the stage of artificial satellites.”). Only in the cartoon adaptation of the mid-70s do we see such modernity among the apes; as for the films and the short-lived TV show, which largely lacked the budget to create a modernistic ape society, there were precious few examples of apes understanding high technology.

In the forgettable Tim Burton remake of 2001, General Thade (Tim Roth) seems to learn modern human technology well enough not only to fire a gun and repair a spaceship, but also to fly it through an electromagnetic storm and time warp to reach Earth sometime back in history, to change the world into a planet of the apes before Captain Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) returns in the baffling, but explicable ending.

In Escape From the Planet of the Apes, a genius ape scientist named Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) implausibly figures out how to repair Taylor’s spaceship, just in time to fly himself, Zira (Kim Hunter), and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) to safety, to escape the nuclear destruction of the Earth, triggered by the same Taylor who’d condemned humanity for the previous nuclear war that’s understood, at the end of the 1968 film, to have caused the reverse evolution of apes and man. How convenient that Milo, Cornelius, and Zira could have escaped without knowing what was happening underground at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, in the struggle between the apes and the nuclear-armed telepathic humans!

Even with the improved budget of the reboots, we don’t see Caesar et al ever developing modern technology. Seen from the point of view of my allegory of class war as interpreted by revisionist liberals, we remember how critics of socialism always say “communism doesn’t work,” and propagandize about countries ‘destroyed’ by Marxist ‘totalitarianism’, symbolized in these films by the brutish treatment of the caged humans by the apes. What is often left unmentioned is the remarkable list of achievements by the Soviet Union, which went, in a few decades, from being a backward, agrarian society to a nuclear superpower: the first man (Yuri Gagarin)…and woman (Valentina Tereshkova) in space (and these Soviet glories were both achieved by 1963, the publication of not only Boulle’s novel, but also its translation by Xan Fielding), etc. In contrast, Americans may brag about Neil Armstrong.

Read Boulle’s novel…to the end…to see how far ape technology advances…

Zira, the first ape to take seriously the advanced intelligence of Taylor/Mérou, tries to get the conservative, narrow-minded orang-utans, led by Dr. Zaius, to open their minds to the idea of an intelligent, talking human. In Boulle’s novel, the orang-utans just smile in smugness at such a bizarre idea; in the 1968 film, Zaius is much more pointedly hostile (see his quotes above).

While the orang-utans, on the surface, seem to be a satire on the fanatical closed-mindedness of religious fundamentalists, though this be madness, yet there is method in’t. Zaius wisely recognizes the danger that intelligent humans pose, not only to ape hegemony, but to the whole world.

Similarly, those of us who are the more strident critics of Western, and especially U.S., imperialism see the danger of accepting conservative AND liberal attacks of ‘tankies’ too uncritically. For whatever faults can be seen in the rule of Stalin, Mao, Castro, Ceausescu, and the Kims (as well as the wildly exaggerated number of deaths attributed to communism), there is much more right-wing genocidal evil to be found in Churchill, Leopold II of Belgium, Hitler, and all the war-mongering presidents of U.S. history, especially those of the past 25 years.

The same comparison can be made favourably of ape civilization, ruled by the stodgy orang-utans, as against human society. Just hear Cornelius’ reading of the sixth verse of the 29th scroll, towards the end of the 1968 movie. Taylor, who had been going against his misanthropy in defending man against the orang-utans, suddenly reverts to his hatred of humanity on seeing the Statue of Liberty, knowing man really used nuclear weapons to wipe out human civilization.

The fear of nuclear war, when the 1968 film was made, was understood firmly in the context of the Cold War (i.e., the Cuban missile crisis); this is what makes it so easy to see Planet of the Apes as an allegory of communism versus capitalism. There were plenty of revisionists among the communists who endangered the Soviet system, however well-intentioned they may (or may not) have been. Zira and Cornelius, in their helping Taylor/Mérou, represent such ‘open-minded’ liberals.

Having Charlton Heston play Taylor was a perfect casting choice, not for his (over-wrought) acting, but for Heston the man. Consider the history of his political activism to see my point.

He started out a liberal supporter of the civil rights movement in the 60s, then drifted rightwards. He became a supporter of Reagan by the 80s, then became a mouthpiece for the NRA. The thing to understand about ‘left-leaning’ liberals is that, at their core, they conceal a pernicious centrism that easily shifts to the right the very second the left has ‘gone too far.’ Parallel this rightward move to Taylor’s condemning nuclear war in the 1968 film, then setting off the bomb at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Consider how it was considered ‘progressive’ to vote for the psychopathic, war-mongering Hillary Clinton against Trump (Seriously? Anyone can be considered ‘progressive’ when compared to the orange ignoramus!). Liberals will grandstand and engage in virtue signalling about social justice, but they’ll never commit to it.

Similarly, Taylor/Mérou will scoff at Zaius’ closed-mindedness to any scientific discoveries deemed “scientific heresy” (Boulle, page 142), and Taylor will advise a young ape never to trust anyone over thirty; but kill Nova, as an ape does in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and Taylor will nuke the entire Earth.

(What the orang-utans call “scientific heresy,” by the way, sounds a lot like deviation from what the tankies call “The Immortal Science of Marxism-Leninism.” Though I respect the notion of scientific socialism, the above verbiage, both that of the orang-utans and the Marxist-Leninists, does sound suspiciously more like religion than science. The Soviet Union, in spite of its great scientific achievements, was censorious of any science deemed out of league with the philosophy of dialectical materialism.)

So, maybe Dr. Zaius was morally justified in his repression of humans, and in his support of an ape religion he knew was fraudulent. At the same time, for all the flaws of the Soviet system, consider how much more destructive unfettered capitalism is–to the working class, to the environment, and to the suffering Third World.

In Boulle’s novel, Professor Antelle reverts to animalistic mutism (pages 160-161); his apathy, or antipathy, to humanity seems to be put to good use, as if knowing the evil that human speech can lead to, a conclusion Brent comes to in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Also, nudity and the inability to speak symbolize powerlessness in the Apes universe. Antelle’s counterpart in the 1968 film, Landon, has received a lobotomy, depriving him of his ability to speak and taking away his identity, his very humanity…as we understand it.

Lobotomizing Landon represents Soviet censorship of any writing deemed counter-revolutionary. During the trial for “scientific heresy”, an orang-utan mentions how all apes are equal, an idea theoretically true in Boulle’s novel, too (page 150: “In principle they all have equal rights and are allowed to occupy any position.”); Taylor responds by saying, “Some apes, it seems, are more equal than others,” a reference to Animal Farm, a book banned by the Soviet Union.

There is some sense of class differences in ape society, with the orang-utans (in orange uniforms–these ape uniforms seem, if for no other reason than for their…uniformity, in a sense reminiscent of those worn by the vanguard) as defenders of the faith, chimpanzees (wearing green) as liberal intellectuals, and gorillas (in purple/black) as soldiers; and these three groups tend to look down on each other–this class structure is evident in Boulle’s novel and in the 1968 film. But these class differences aren’t gaping: as to what they represent in communism, they don’t lead to the kind of wealth inequality we see in today’s neoliberal world; similarly, the New Class that Milovan Djilas and George Orwell saw in the U.S.S.R. was never the huge class oppression it was assumed to be in the West.

The fear of ascendant capitalist hegemony justifiably feared by the Soviets, as symbolized by Zaius’ fear of intelligent, speaking men, seems to justify the suppression of literature critical of the U.S.S.R., or the brain surgery on talking humans; for consider the destruction unfettered capitalism has caused the world, or what man does to the earth with his modern brain intact, not lobotomized by apes.

In Boulle’s novel, there is no great fear of talking humans, apart from the orang-utans, at first; it’s only when Mérou and Nova have a baby, which shows clear signs of advanced intelligence, that almost all the apes of Soror are scared. (This ape vs. human fear is in reverse in Escape From the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, in which Zira and Cornelius have become parents to the evolved ape, Caesar, who threatens the survival of human civilization in the late 20th century.)

By allegorical analogy, repression of the market was far from absolute in socialist states. In Yugoslavia, Tito refused to do things as Stalin had wished, and Yugoslavia’s was a market socialism. China and Vietnam brought back the market in the 80s, and even Cuba has allowed a small amount of free enterprise on the island. They’ll only let capitalism go so far, though, as the apes would only allow Mérou so much freedom.

An impressive advance in ape technology, as seen in Boulle’s novel, is when Cornelius has Mérou see electrodes applied to humans’ brains, causing them to recite, from racial memory, the remote past of Soror. It is learned that, centuries ago, the human/ape relationship was the same as that of Earth. Apes on Soror were made to be human servants, who ultimately rebelled: this idea seems to have been the basis for what is seen in Escape From and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. In the context of my allegory, we see the bourgeois ruling class’s oppression of the proletariat, who then rise in revolution.

But since the story of the rise of the apes is given from a human perspective (pages 242-247), we learn little, if anything, of the cruelty man has inflicted on the apes (allegorically, this represents bourgeois liberals’ laconic discussion of such things as wage slavery or capitalist imperialism).

Finally, Zira and Cornelius help Mérou, Nova, and their child to reach his spaceship via an ape satellite (pages 259-263). They return to Earth, but to Mérou’s horror, he learns that apes there have supplanted human civilization, too, as echoed in Burton’s 2001 movie. The framing device at the end of Boulle’s novel reveals that Jinn and Phyllis are themselves chimpanzee cosmonauts! Allegorically, could this not represent the fear of a global communist victory? Back in 1963, such a Western fear was palpable.

A rise in ape intelligence (representing a proletariat with raised, class consciousness) coincides with a “cerebral laziness” (page 243) causing a drop in human intelligence (studies have shown that those with conservative views are less intelligent, on average, than those with liberal, left-leaning views; now, remember that these movies present the class war from a bourgeois liberal perspective, so while humans [capitalists] are portrayed as dumb brutes, the orang-utans [religious fundamentalists] and gorillas [hard-line communists] are also portrayed as stupid, compared to the intelligent, open-minded liberal chimpanzees).

With this foundation in mind, we can now examine the 1970s sequels.

II: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

When Brent arrives in the 3950s to look for Taylor, Nova leads him to the ape city, where the apes are discussing shocking discoveries in the Forbidden Zone, revealing the threat of humans, who might steal needed food from the apes. General Ursus (James Gregory–note the pun on Ursa for the link with communism) thus wants to lead his ape army to kill the humans.

While the bourgeois liberals who produced this ultimately inferior sequel would have us believe that Ursus, like narrow-minded Zaius, is an unthinking monster (the same goes for Aldo in Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), actually, his concerns over protecting his fellow apes from famine are legitimate, as are communist concerns over counter-revolution and imperialism.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc made the U.S./NATO into the one, unchallenged superpower, meaning the capitalists have been able to do anything they want with impunity. The Warsaw Pact disappeared, but the no-longer-needed NATO (from a containment perspective) expanded to include most of the former countries of the Warsaw Pact, save Russia, of course. NATO, an extension of U.S. imperialism, has had troops lined up along the Russian border, ready to fight a possible war that could go nuclear, as could the crisis with North Korea.

Speaking of fears of nuclear war, the humans that the apes are worried about have a doomsday bomb. Brent discovers the advanced humans underground, where he sees the ruins of his old world, and thus surmises that his world was destroyed by a nuclear war. What’s worse, the underground humans are telepaths who actually venerate their atomic bomb. Consider the allegorical implications of such insanity.

The one thing that was preventing the use of nuclear weapons (after the U.S. used them on Japan, of course) during the Cold War was the notion of MAD. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, though, those in the U.S. military-industrial complex have begun to think that MAD can be avoided if the U.S.’s nukes can wipe out Russia’s nuclear system before any of their nukes can be launched against the West. Such a breaking of the taboo against nuclear war can be seen as symbolized by the telepaths’ insanity of worshipping the bomb.

Currently, the U.S. has created a new Cold War against Russia out of baseless accusations of tampering in the 2016 U.S. election. The banging of the American war drums has gone on against China and North Korea, too, with little anti-war resistance from ‘left-leaning’ liberals. Indeed, just as the fear of Mérou and Nova having a speaking baby poses a threat to the simians of Soror, so is the emergence of China and Russia as global powers a threat to the hegemony of the American empire.

The human telepaths don’t directly kill anyone: they make their enemies kill each other. They try to make Brent kill Nova, and later they try to make Brent and Taylor kill each other. Similarly, the U.S.’s favourite method of flexing her imperialist muscles these days is to fight proxy wars (an idea started by that liberal, Carter, and his commie-hating National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski); while domestically, the capitalist class makes the proletariat fight each other through such fifth columns as identity politics–this way, the 99% won’t rise together in solidarity and fight the 1%.

The telepaths’ use of mind control (i.e, hallucinatory visions, etc.) is like how the mainstream media manipulates us and manufactures consent for all these imperialist wars, vilifying the leaders of every regime the U.S./NATO wants to replace with one that will kowtow to imperialist interests.

When General Ursus and the ape army try to grab the telepaths’ nuclear bomb (whose Alpha/Omega labelling is an idea echoed in the Colonel’s human army in War for the Planet of the Apes), this is symbolic of the arms race, with the USSR imitating the U.S.’s amassing of nuclear bombs. The apes’ behaviour is certainly reckless and dangerous (in this bourgeois/liberal presentation of the ape/human conflict), as was the communists‘ contribution to the arms race perceived to be; but the Soviets’ action was essentially defensive, as is Kim Jong-un’s right now. The U.S.’s use of nukes has been essentially aggressive, as a scan of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will show; furthermore, the capitalist West has a double standard as to who is allowed to have nukes (the imperialist powers) and who isn’t (the weaker, exploitable ones that are ripe for invasion).

So, what the reactionary liberals who produced this film would call the madness of a ‘holy war’ led by power-hungry General Ursus, my interpretation would call the aggravation of class struggle under socialism, a necessary defence against an insidious creeping back of the cruelties of capitalism. For however brutish and cruel the apes may have been to the humans throughout the first and second movies, it is Mendez and, ultimately, Taylor who set off the bomb and destroy all life on the Earth; just as the continuation of unfettered capitalism is bringing about the ecological catastrophes that are accelerating an end to life as we know it.

Charlton Heston personally influenced the ending of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, insisting that he didn’t want to be involved in sequels. So Taylor died killing all the apes, all of life on Earth, and, Heston hoped, the Apes franchise. As I said before, Heston was perfectly cast as Taylor, for Heston was Taylor.

Boulle wrote a draft for a script, Planet of the Men, which was rejected in favour of Paul Dehn‘s Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Boulle’s sequel would have been about a counter-revolution of humans, led by Taylor, overthrowing ape civilization, the contemporary parallel of which would be the collapse of the Soviet states and the metastasizing of neoliberal capitalism. Instead, the class war would be allegorized according to Dehn’s vision for all four sequels.

Now, one thing to remember is that, while the apes may–to humans–look ugly, the good looks of the telepaths is only on the outside–when they reveal themselves to their god, the bomb, they are much worse-looking than the apes could ever be…and their actions in the movie show how ugly their thinking is, too.

III: Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Early in the movie, after Dr. Milo, whose advice has been to imitate primitive apes instead of talking and asserting their intellectual equality with 20th century humans, is killed by a gorilla in a cage (like a proletarian killing a liberal revisionist traitor) neighbouring the one Zira and Cornelius are in, the two remaining evolved chimps are freed and allowed to live in the human society of the early 1970s, in which they’ve arrived aboard Taylor’s repaired spaceship after escaping the nuked Earth of the 3950s and passing through a time warp.

The arrival of the three evolved chimpanzees in human society parallels the arrival on Soror of Mérou, Antelle, and Levain. Similarly, Zira’s and Cornelius’ brief freedom and celebrity–as talking ‘animals’ in the civilization of those that the two chimps have always regarded as animals–also parallels Mérou’s experience in Boulle’s novel (Part Three, from Chapter 27 onwards).

Zira and Cornelius briefly enjoy the material pleasures of [capitalist] human society, wearing high-fashion clothing, living in a luxury hotel, and Zira’s taking a bubble bath. However, when the chimps tell the humans of the future destruction of Earth following the supplanting of human civilization with that of apes, the human authorities, especially Dr. Otto Hasslein, get paranoid.

We can see an allegoric parallel in our world in how the writings of Marx, Lenin, et al are allowed to be published in the West, and unions and communist parties are tolerated (provided the numbers are small); but when these groups get too powerful, unions are busted, anarchist, communist, and other socialist pages on social media get brutally trolled, and in extreme cases, like during the Red Scare of the 50s, communists (and those merely accused of sympathizing with communism) are persecuted. Consider also what happened to communists in Indonesia in the mid-1960s, as well as the bombing of North Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

When Zira is discovered to be pregnant with Caesar (originally named Milo, after their dead friend), she and Cornelius are deemed a threat to human civilization (as Mérou and Nova are to simian society). Zira and Cornelius, seeming to regret their having helped men like Taylor, quickly realize how few good humans there are, as any revisionist or reactionary who sees the light will know of capitalists: indeed, I imagine how rueful Orwell and Djilas would be if they saw the depths to which neoliberal capitalism has brought the world since the collapse of the ‘oppressive’ Soviet system those two liberals propagandized against, a system many Russians and east Europeans look back on nostalgically. The reasons for such nostalgia should be easy to see, provided one isn’t blinded by Western propaganda: socialist states provide full employment, free education and health care–a very odd way for a government to oppress its people.

In contrast, consider the terrible wealth inequality in the U.S. and U.K., and how many Americans go hungry; also, think of how many Americans die from lack of adequate health care, and how many American millennials are deeply in debt for their university education. Is this ‘democracy’?

Back to the story. Hasslein chases and kills Zira; Cornelius is also shot by a sniper. Hasslein thinks he’s shot their baby, too, but it has been switched with a circus chimp. Caesar will now be raised by Armando (Ricardo Montalbán), a circus owner.

IV: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Armando and MacDonald (Hari Rhodes) are the only humans to show kindness to Caesar (Roddy McDowall) in the authoritarian police state of 1991; but even their sympathy to apes has limits, for Armando takes Caesar around on a leash instead of even trying to defy human authority, he shushes the chimp whenever he wants to talk (remember, inability to speak–as well as nakedness–symbolizes a lack of power in these films), and he advises Caesar to get naked and join the slave apes…for his safety (consider circus animal cruelty), if Armando won’t be able to protect him anymore; similarly, at the end of the ape uprising, MacDonald tries to dissuade Caesar from shedding human blood.

This limited sympathy is allegorical of how left-leaning liberals like Bernie Sanders would give poor Americans more free stuff, but not end the depredations of Western imperialism. Theirs is a ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalism.

The police state governed by Breck (Don Murray) is brutal in its enslavement of apes. This is the only Apes movie without a pre-title scene. When the film was screened to an audience prior to its release, viewers were appalled by the, in their opinion, excess blood and violence, so Conquest was censored; it is believed that a pre-title scene was filmed of a slave ape, covered in bruises and welts, trying to escape, and then either beaten to death or shot.

This censored footage, if it’s ever existed, has never been found: finding it would be like the Holy Grail to Apes fans, since the uncut, unrated version of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (available only on Blu-ray) was clearly better than the tamed, sanitized theatrical version; the original version’s dark ending, in which Governor Breck is beaten to death by gorillas while Caesar looks on and gloats, is pure, cold-blooded bad-assery.

A police state enslaving apes (a similar situation is seen in the ‘ape concentration camp’ in War For the Planet of the Apes, a movie in which there’s another connection with fascism: the ape ‘donkeys’ are clearly symbolic of class collaboration), in the context of my allegory, is easily explained: whenever there’s a danger of the working class [apes] rising against the capitalist class [humans], the latter uses some form of fascism to suppress the former. Britain’s MI5 used none other than Mussolini to keep Italians involved in the imperialist First World War; the German bourgeoisie, aided by American big business, used Hitler and the S.S. against the Jews and the German proletariat, and the first ones put in Nazi concentration camps were leftists (don’t believe that nonsense about Nazis being socialists!); Franco and the Falange party suppressed the leftists in Spain, with help from Fascist Italy and the Nazis; and a 1973 coup in Chile, aided by the CIA, replaced the democratically elected Salvador Allende with Pinochet’s brutal authoritarian regime.

Breck is afraid that Zira’s and Cornelius’ baby wasn’t killed after learning that Armando’s chimpanzee may have spoken, so Breck interrogates him. Don Murray practiced Breck’s lines, translated into German, so that, when he said them with crisp, articulate English, he’d sound more like a Nazi.

Note the contrast between the city life in Escape and Conquest as symbolic of the bourgeoisie, that is, the people of the borough, or self-governing, walled town, as opposed to the small ape village surrounded by fields, trees, and forests–suggestive of rural, peasant life–in the first two films and in Battle for the Planet of the Apes. For communists, the peasants have been essential to revolution. Hence, to go from the first two movies to the third and fourth is to leave the dictatorship of the proletariat to that of the bourgeoisie.

Apes are conditioned to obey and to fear the word “No!” through such tortures as having to dodge flamethrowers and receiving electric shocks. In this way, their slavery is not only an allegory of wage slavery, but also of the suffering of those in concentration camps, as when Amon Göth shot at Jews to stop them from resting on the job and frighten them to make them get back to work. Remember that fascism is capitalism in decay.

Caesar leading the apes in rebellion is, of course, echoed in the thrilling ape revolution in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a reboot essentially based on Conquest, but one concerned more with issues of cruelty to animals and science lapsing into recklessness than with an allegory of racism and classism.

Rise deftly combines two important quotes from the original series of films: Taylor’s “damn dirty ape” with “No!”, taken from Escape, Conquest, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. In the original series, “No!” was originally supposed to be spoken by Aldo, the leader of the ape revolution prophesied in the scrolls, centuries after the time of Conquest; but the repercussions of Zira’s and Cornelius’ time travel have (implausibly) sped up evolution, and Caesar’s love interest, Lisa, says no to him, to stop the gorillas from killing Breck in the theatrical release, a real revisionist let-down that brought a potentially great film down several notches.

[One odd thing to be noted during Caesar’s revolutionary speech at the end of Conquest: he refers to his fellow apes not as such, but as “my people.” He says this twice; in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, one’s fellow apes are also referred to as one’s “people.” This doesn’t seem to be an oversight on Paul Dehn’s part. Given how these apes walk more or less upright and erect, their anthropomorphic form, as opposed to the more realistic apes in the reboots, seems to be more than just a case of the limits of the technology of the time; these humanoid apes are most emphatically representative of the people.]

Played by Natalie Trundy–who also played Albina, the telepath in Beneath, and Dr. Stephanie Branton in Escape–Lisa shows a misguided, soft-hearted compassion for Breck (a dangerous authoritarian ape-hater who is as little deserving of compassion as anyone could be) at the end of the film, when he’s about to be killed by the gorillas. Lisa thus represents the stereotype of woman as the ‘civilizing influence’ on warlike males. Actually, this changed ending, with Caesar implausibly switching from bloodthirsty revengefulness to “dominat[ing] with compassion”, merely from hearing her say, “N-n-no,” is an example of liberal reactionaries preferring reforms over committing to revolution.

I know it’s not my place to prescribe what women should do, but if I may, I’ll state my preference that they stand at men’s sides in revolutions against every Breck in the world, not shying away from violence when it’s necessary to end oppression. In today’s neoliberal world, millions die of hunger/malnutrition in developing countries every year (especially children under five); imperialist wars multiply, so capitalists can profit from weapons sales, to the point of risking nuclear annihilation; and if we don’t wipe out all life on Earth that way, then climate change and global warming, always denied by capitalists, will likely do the job instead. I must quote Caesar in response to those who claim a socialist revolution will create a worse world than what we have now: “Do you think it could be worse?”

V: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

The story should have ended with Conquest: that’s what Dehn had intended with the original, violent version of that movie. In fact, they’d intended to end it with a nuclear war, to link it more completely with the 1968 film, but budget constraints thwarted that plan. What’s worse, an ‘audience-friendly’ version of Conquest was wanted for a PG rating and, therefore, a selling of more tickets (once again, capitalism ruins art).

As a result, the fifth and weakest Apes film was made to milk as much money as possible out of the pockets of Apes fans, child and adult alike. So what we have in this film is pure reactionary liberalism, allegorically, an attempt to reconcile communism [ape society] with capitalism [humanity]–in other words, social democracy.

Caesar tries to rule as a gentle, benevolent dictator. Apes may say no to humans, but not vice versa–classic liberal political correctness and identity politics, instead of ending class contradictions. Aldo, who hates humans and despises Caesar’s softer rule, is more like a hard-line communist; and in this bourgeois liberal film, that means he can only be a villain. When Aldo speaks of wanting guns to gain power, he reminds us of what Mao Zedong once said: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Since Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a similar premise to Battle, Aldo’s equivalent in the reboot trilogy is the vicious Koba, whose name, incidentally, is from an old nickname of Stalin’s. Here we see typical liberal propaganda: neither Aldo’s/Koba’s pro-ape, anti-human [left-wing] extremism, nor the [right-wing] human extremism of Kolp/the Colonel is acceptable; only Caesar’s ‘centrism’ is desirable. The problem is that this ‘centrism’ leads to neoliberalism, exemplified in Macron, Obama, and the Clintons.

There is always a drift to the right in politics, against which the dictatorship of the proletariat is a necessary bulwark. Nicolás Maduro‘s government has been under siege from a violent, U.S.-backed opposition reminiscent of that which toppled Allende [think of Kolp’s men attacking the ape village]; yet Maduro, like human-friendly Caesar in Battle (or the reboots, for that matter), is trying to preserve his democraticallyelected, social democratic government (which isn’t the ‘dictatorship’ the U.S. media slanders it as being) in a bourgeois-legal, democratic way, compromising with the demands of the capitalist class, which can only spell danger for all the Bolivarian revolution has tried to build for the Venezuelan poor.

Battle ends with humans demanding equal rights, and Caesar relents. But the only way to end the evil of capitalism, which is synonymous with inequality, is to crush the bourgeoisie and keep them down, as Lenin’s conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat was elaborated in The State and Revolution. First, you smash the bourgeois state [end human rule over apes, as Caesar did in the original version of Conquest]; then the workers’ state [ape city] represses the capitalists [humans are kept in cages, etc., as happened in the 1968 film] until all of capitalism is crushed [no more humans to threaten the apes], then we can have the withering away of the state [the apes finally have power, and freedom].

If the revolution isn’t carried out to its conclusion, we have, at best, the tense irresolution represented in the ending of Battle, with its statue of Caesar, a tear ludicrously running down its cheek. At worst, we have total destruction of all life on Earth. Surely, the apes–representative of the common people of the world–can do better than that.

Pierre Boulle (translation by Xan Fielding), Planet of the Apes, Ballantine Books, New York (Del Rey), 1963