My new e-book has been published on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Wolfgang-Werewolf-Erotic-Horror-Novel-ebook/dp/B01HYNIX0O/
My new e-book has been published on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Wolfgang-Werewolf-Erotic-Horror-Novel-ebook/dp/B01HYNIX0O/
American Psycho is a satirical novel written by Bret Easton Ellis and published in 1991. It is an unreliable first person narrative, in the present tense, given by the main character, Patrick Bateman, who is a yuppie living in 1980s New York City. It is an extremely controversial novel, given its depiction of increasingly brutal violence against women; this issue led many feminists to protest the novel.
A movie version was made in 2000, the screenplay written by Guinevere Turner and Mary Harron (the latter also being the director), and starring Christian Bale in the lead role. The movie removed or mitigated the novel’s violence, and rearranged much of the material: apart from that, the film was reasonably faithful.
The violence against women has led many to believe that the novel is misogynistic. Actually, the novel satirizes the superficial, materialistic life of yuppies; for while Bateman is based on Ellis’ own experience of alienation in 1980s New York, we are not meant to sympathize with Bateman or condone his actions. As a Wall Street investment banker, Bateman is a personification of capitalist greed and cruelty.
The novel begins with an allusion to Dante‘s Inferno: “ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE”. Yuppie New York City, one of the nerve centres of world capitalism, is Hell. Similarly, the novel ends with these words on a sign on a door: “THIS IS NOT AN EXIT“. Of course not: there is no hope of escape from Hell.
Bateman, in the third chapter (‘Harry’s’), is in Harry’s with his yuppie friends, Price (Bryce in the movie), McDermott, and Van Patten. A man named Preston joins them, and during their conversation, Preston makes antisemitic remarks, which Bateman chides him for (in the movie, McDermott makes the bigoted remarks). This moment, like the one in the first chapter (‘April Fool’s’), when Bateman preaches to his friends about such things as the need to end apartheid, provide food and shelter for the homeless, oppose racial discrimination, ensure equal rights for women, and promote general social concern and less materialism, represents the hypocrisy so typical of bourgeois liberals, always mindful of political correctness, but rarely practicing what they preach.
Bateman describes his possessions in his apartment in the second chapter (‘Morning’), going into detail about all of his fetishized commodities, mentioning brand names for everything (a Toshiba digital TV set and VCR; “expensive crystal ashtrays from Fortunoff”…Bateman doesn’t even smoke; a Wurlitzer jukebox; an Ettore Sotsass push-button phone; a “black-dotted beige and white Maud Sienna carpet”; etc.). So much for less materialism. His possessions are clearly very important to him, in how they are meant to reflect his social status (Valentino Couture clothes, “perforated cap-toe leather shoes by Allen-Edmonds”[page 31], Ralph Lauren silk pajamas, etc.).
Social status is important to Bateman because it’s the only way to be a part of yuppie society in New York City. During a date with Bethany, who wonders why he won’t quit his job (in the movie, it’s his girlfriend, Evelyn, who asks him), he answers that he wants “…to…fit…in.” (‘Lunch With Bethany’, p. 237) Later, he brutally kills her after she laughs at him for hanging a painting upside down. Being a yuppie is all about saving face and social conformity.
Ellis suffered in New York in the 80s, when this pressure to conform was so great. In creating Bateman, Ellis was creating, in a way, a modern version of Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, “…a sick man…an angry man.” (Notes From Underground, page 15) Hence, Bateman’s psychopathy.
In ‘Office,’ chapter six, Bateman tells Jean, his secretary, to come to work dressed in a more pleasing manner (pages 66-67). Apart from the fact that the 1980s campaign against sexual harassment hadn’t yet picked up steam, he knows he can get away with talking to her like that because she “is in love with” him (or so he, in his narcissistic imagination, thinks–page 64). So much for ensuring equal rights for women.
When he proudly shows off his new name card in a restaurant (‘Pastels’, chapter four), and is easily outdone by Van Patten, Price, and, especially, someone named Montgomery (in the film, it’s Paul Allen–Paul Owen in the novel), whose name cards are so much more impressive (pages 44-45), Bateman feels a “brief spasm of jealousy,” then he ends up “unexpectedly depressed.” He finds that the only way he can restore his sense of ‘superior’ social standing is by picking on those ‘under’ him. In the competitive world of capitalism, how else can one cure one’s low self-esteem?
He finds a freezing homeless black man (‘Tuesday’, pages 128-132), and after giving him false hopes that he’ll help him, he speaks contemptuously to him, then takes out a knife and puts out the beggar’s eyes (in the film, Bateman merely stabs him). He takes light stabs at the man’s stomach and slices up his face. He flips a quarter at him, calls him a “nigger,” then leaves him. So much for racial equality.
I still remember how disturbing I found this passage in the novel, how graphically Ellis describes the jerking of the knife in one of the homeless man’s eyes, to make it pop out of its socket. The eye now dangles, with all the liquid dripping out of its socket, “like red, veiny egg yolk”. I found this scene even more unnerving than the Habitrail and rat scene.
Thanks to Reagan’s inaugurating of neoliberalism in the 1980s, the poverty level made a net increase by the first year of George H.W. Bush’s term. Bateman’s abuse of the beggar can be seen to symbolize capitalism’s war on the poor. Now, this cruelty to the homeless has escalated to the use of spikes on sheltered pavements, and to the criminalizing of feeding the destitute. Like Bateman, capitalism has no shame.
Bateman’s violence against women, however, is the most shocking part of the novel. Having this brutality in the novel is not the same as advocating it, though. Ellis is careful to make Bateman as blatantly despicable, even ludicrous, as possible. His ‘analyses’ of Huey Lewis and the News (pages 352-360), Genesis (after Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett left, for he “didn’t really understand any of their work,” that is, from the classic progressive rock quintet–‘Genesis’, page 133), Whitney Houston (pages 252-256), and Phil Collins’ solo career, making their commercial pop all sound like high art, are some of the funniest parts of the whole novel. It’s telling that Bateman prefers the, at best, mediocre-to-good film Against All Odds–“the masterful movie” (page 136), in his opinion–to Phil Collins’ hit song. I had a belly laugh when I read that.
So let us make no mistake here: Ellis is not glorifying Bateman in any way; therefore, he isn’t trying to glamourize violence against women. When Bateman uses a woman’s decapitated head to fellate him (‘Girls’, page 304), electrocutes ‘Christy’ (page 290, ‘Girls’), or sticks a Habitrail up a woman’s cunt (page 328), we hate him all the more for it.
Rather than see this violence as Ellis promoting misogyny, we should see it as a comment on misogyny (‘Harry’s’, pages 91-2, has a sexist discussion that, in the movie, is between Bateman, McDermott, and Van Patten)…especially of the sort directed by capitalism against the sexually exploited women and girls in the Third World, those forced into prostitution. Remember that a number of Bateman’s female victims are escort girls or prostitutes.
Since Bateman and all the other yuppies represent the capitalist class, I find it illuminating also to interpret his scurrilous treatment of his female victims allegorically. In most mythologies around the world, the feminine symbolizes nature, our Mother Earth. This is true of most ancient European, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern pagan religions.
My point is that in our unconscious, we typically associate femininity with the fertile earth. Bateman’s violence against women, therefore, can be seen to symbolize capitalism’s destruction of the environment. The Habitrail incident further proves this, since Bateman has caught a rat (pages 308-9), then starved it for five days prior to having it (literally) eat out one of his female victims (‘Girl’, pages 326-9). In other sections of the novel, he injures (page 132) or kills dogs (page 165, ‘Killing Dog’). With destruction of the environment goes cruelty to animals.
Another striking theme in the novel is the lack of a sense of identity. In ‘End of the 1980s,’ Bateman says, “…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.” (pages 376-77)
Bateman isn’t the only one with identity problems: people routinely confuse one person for another. Paul Owen confuses Bateman with someone called Marcus Halberstam (Halberstram in the movie), Bateman’s lawyer thinks he’s someone called Davis, and a mistaken identity is noted by Detective Kimball (‘Detective,’ page 273). Part of the reason for these mistakes is people not listening to one another; another part of the reason is how alike everyone seems, in dress and personality.
Capitalists often criticize communists for suppressing individuality and creativity. The hypocrisy of this is obvious when we see how capitalist commodification churns out the same kind of product, performer, movie, or song, over and over again. George Lucas once said in an interview that Soviet film-makers had more artistic freedom than he; the profit motive puts us all in chains, as it does the yuppies in Ellis’ novel.
Bateman’s lack of a sense of self sometimes leads to moments of dissociation, depersonalization, and derealization. In mid-chapter (‘Chase, Manhattan’), during a moment of extreme stress while he’s afraid of being caught by the police, Bateman’s narration briefly switches from first person singular to third person singular (page 349-51), then back again by the end (page 352) when he feels safer again and calms down. He hallucinates about seeing a TV interview with a Cheerio and having a Dove bar with a bone in it (page 386). His frequent drug use (cocaine, Halcion, Valium, Xanax, etc.) is probably a source of much of his mental instability. The run-on sentences in the novel suggest an excited narrator high on cocaine, or one suffering from anxiety attacks (‘A Glimpse of a Thursday Afternoon,’ pages 148-152).
With his tenuous grip on reality, we begin to wonder about the reliability of his narrative. These doubts lead to a big question: is he guilty of any of the crimes he claims to have committed, or has he merely fantasized about the whole killing spree?
In ‘The Best City for Business’ (pages 366-7), Bateman says, “One hundred and sixty-one days have passed since I spent the night in [Paul Owen’s apartment] with the two escort girls. There has been no word of bodies discovered in any of the city’s four newspapers or on the local news, no hints of even a rumour floating around. I’ve gone so far as to ask people–dates, business acquaintances–over dinners, in the halls of Pierce & Pierce, if anyone has heard about two mutilated prostitutes found in Paul Owen’s apartment. But like in some movie, no one has heard anything, has any idea of what I’m talking about.” Does this mean that Patrick only imagined the horrors, or have they been ignored by the world because the victims were mere ‘whores’?
Harold Carnes, Bateman’s attorney, who confuses him with a man named Davis, insists that his killing of Paul Owen is “not possible,” for Carnes says he had dinner with Owen twice (page 388, ‘New Club’), after the murder is supposed to have been committed (or did Carnes confuse Owen with someone else?). Also, the lawyer believes Bateman is too cowardly and weak to have killed anyone. Indeed, Bateman is a loser, as everyone in the story knows. Remember, Ellis never glamourizes Bateman.
Elsewhere, the real estate agent trying to sell Owen’s apartment has cleaned up the place and, seeming to know about Bateman’s crimes, she wants him to leave and never return. Eerily, she seems more interested in preserving the high property value of the apartment than in seeking justice for the victims.
This notion, did he, or didn’t he kill those people, is important in light of how he allegorically represents capitalism. Note how similar ‘mergers and acquisitions’ sounds to ‘murders and executions’ (page 206, ‘Nell’s’). To this day, people debate if capitalism is responsible for the millions who die of malnutrition every year, for the destruction of the environment, etc. America is truly a psycho nation…or is the psychopathy merely imagined, as the capitalist apologists would have us believe?
Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho, Vintage Books, New York, 1991
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes From Underground and The Double, Penguin Classics, England, this translation published 1972
Most of these apply to my family, and to my experience of them. They have done most of these things to me at least once, and many of them many times, many regularly. For a more thorough analysis of emotional abuse, along with my own experience with it (for the sake of illustration), look here.
Emotional abuse is much more insidious than physical abuse. Psychological bruising may not show up on your body but its devastating effects are indirectly observed in victim behaviour. It is important to remember that signs of emotional abuse are not as well defined as in physical abuse and tolerated much too often as acceptable behaviour. If you experience any of the below treatment from anyone, please stop putting up with it and either keep your distance or cut them off from your life immediately.
1. They humiliate you, put you down, or make fun of you in front of other people.
2. They regularly demean or disregard your opinions, ideas, suggestions, or needs.
3. They use sarcasm or “teasing” to put you down or make you feel bad about yourself.
4. They accuse you of being “too sensitive” in order to deflect their abusive remarks.
5. They try to control…
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The full moon was glowing among the stars, the whitest of whites against the blackest of black. Paws were patting the dirt path that snaked between the grass and trees that surrounded the estate, from whose second-floor window this lupine brute had jumped. A nose was sniffing for human flesh to eat.
Soon, it found some.
A man and his wife were walking in that very forest. He wore a suit, she a dress, diamonds, and pearls. How romantic. How bourgeois. How unfortunate.
Some nearby bushes were rustling, something hiding among them, waiting for the couple to approach. Lampposts, set far off from each other, gave just enough light for people to walk through at night, but left it dark enough to keep lurking dangers unseen. A wolf’s eyes, obscured among the leaves, were following that couple’s every step.
“This is so unlike you, Franz,” the woman said in German to her husband. “Taking me for a stroll in a forest at night.”
“Yes, I know, Frieda, but tonight I felt as if something were pulling me out here,” Franz said in German. “It’s so beautiful. I couldn’t resist.”
“I wish you had resisted,” Frieda said. Her fear was vibrating all the way to those bushes. At one point, she thought she saw eyes peering at her from them. She gasped and twitched, then looked again…the eyes were gone. Did she just imagine it? “I’m scared. Let’s…”
“Relax,” he said. “This is really beautiful. Fresh air. I’m glad we came.”
“I don’t care how pretty it is,” she said. “I still don’t like us walking about here. I can’t forget that story I read about the wolf attack here a month ago. Three people—“
“Oh, nonsense! No one ever found a wolf anywhere. Those people were probably killed by that psychotic who was arrested last week. He’d killed others in the same bloody way. He may have denied killing Wolfgang Bergbauer’s family, but I’m sure he was lying.”
“But there were witnesses who insisted the wounds were caused by claws and teeth, not knives—“
“Rubbish! They also claimed it was a werewolf, of all things. Can you rely on such testimony? It was a full moon that night, as tonight. How is that proof of a werewolf? My dear, don’t be so credulous.”
A growl vibrated from those bushes.
The two of them looked around for the source of the voice.
They never found it, of course.
Another, louder growl.
“I assure you,” he said. “This isn’t at all funny.”
A ten second silence, then a howl.
“Alright, enough!” he shouted. “Come out, wherever you are.”
I brought him crashing down on the dirt, his hair covered in it.
Her screams were piercing my ears as keenly as my claws were cutting up his stomach.
His liver and kidneys were the tastiest, his blood being their gravy. He screamed briefly, till my claws, having already ripped his rib cage aside, scraped against his lungs, flooding his throat with red and stopping his voice. He would then only cough blood. His intestines lay like a red snake on the grass.
I, Sades, the spirit in control of the werewolf, could sense, through my connection with the vibrations of energy everywhere, Frieda’s whole experience of terror, as if it were my own. I’ve always enjoyed that ability…it helps me to terrorize my victims better. My two spirit brothers and I could even know people’s dreams, their perspectives, and their most private thoughts, if we wanted to.
She was frozen with fear, yet shaking all over, her feet seemingly rooted to the ground. She continued weeping a few seconds longer as I feasted, then I looked up at her, licking my lips.
Our eyes met.
She fought against her panic with spastic jerks of her legs. Desperate to run, she just couldn’t.
I just stared with grinning fangs.
I’ll give her a head start, I thought. Give her a fighting chance.
Finally, she broke free of her paralysis and ran, screaming, almost falling.
I bit off another chunk or two of her husband’s flesh, then ran after her.
Be careful, the voice of Chisad whispered in my mind’s ear. Don’t let her screams come within earshot of anyone else. Too many people knew about us after the last full moon.
Chisad was right. I had to pounce on this bitch as soon as possible. Just as the full moon’s contradiction of white and black released the wolf, so could the contradiction—between my bloodlust and her urge to survive—put Chisad, Chebirüsad, and me in danger of being shot…and without a new host to enter when this one that we were in died, we three spirits would be forever exiled from the flesh! Our souls wandering aimlessly in limbo, never able to avenge the deaths of our people! Unbearable banishment!
Frieda kept running, the edge of the forest coming closer. I had to get to her before she got there and drew attention to us.
There are so many contradictions: the one between my will to kill and hers to live, and the hardly endurable one between my will and those of Chisad and Chebirüsad. But when the light of the stars is augmented with the full moon’s white, these clashing with the black backdrop of night, our three urges’ discord is also at its sharpest, bringing out the wolf. Everything is a battle of opposites.
Frieda stopped running. She hid behind a tree.
Always weeping, she thought: Please, God, I don’t want to die. Oh, Franz!
The vibrations all around us spirits guided us to her, better than our wolf’s nose, better than a thousand eyes. I went into some nearby bushes, pretending I didn’t know where she was. In this forest, Kleinwald, no one can hide from me.
I could hear her shaky breathing. We spirits knew her fear, and her thoughts, as if our very consciousness was hers. It was like visiting the inside of her head, seeing through her eyes. What fun for me!
She could feel—and almost hear—her heart pounding in her chest.
She smelled delicious, though she wasn’t pretty enough for me to want sexually; though even if she were, that prig Chebirüsad wouldn’t have let me rape her, anyway. Nor would Chisad have, so worried was he of us being caught and killed. My task was to kill quickly and run to safety, that was all.
Her eyes were darting about, left and right, trying to find me. Then she glanced over to her right, and saw my yellow eyes amid the black of the shadowy bushes. Our eyes met briefly, then mine disappeared from her sight.
Again, her eyes were racing all around her: in front, to the left, to the right, behind her.
Where is it? she wondered.
Then she looked over to her left. She saw one eye this time.
She shuddered. Then the eye disappeared.
Once more, her eyes were frantically scanning the area, but this time never finding my eyes.
She didn’t even hear anything. No growls, no beast’s breathing.
Just blackness and silence, all around her.
Where is it? she asked herself in her mind. Is it gone? Did it lose me? Oh, I hope so. I can’t take this any longer.
She kept looking around and listening, not making any noise, even breathing as quietly as she could.
No eyes anywhere.
No sounds from an animal. Not even the wind in the trees.
She poked her head around, thinking, Please, God, let that beast be gone.
With shaky, spastic legs, she slowly stepped away from the tree and back to the beaten path.
Then I jumped on her.
Her heart and lungs were the tastiest parts.
With the sun starting to peek over the horizon, Sades was finally restrained, and the wolf, exhausted from running all over the town of Klein, just southwest of the city of Rosenheim in Upper Bavaria, fell asleep by some bushes near a playground in Kleinpark, on the side of town opposite the forest of Kleinwald.
But what woke up four hours later wasn’t a wolf.
Now he was Wolfgang Georg Alexander Bergbauer, 38, and naked as the day he was born.
He looked around, blinking and waiting impatiently for his eyes to focus. He felt chilly all over. Then he knew.
“Oh, shit,” he said, cupping his hands over his genitals. “Not again.”
He noticed and recognized the nearby playground, correctly guessed it was about 8:30 in the morning, and saw only a few people, no more: a mother and her baby in a stroller, and a pretty blonde, about eighteen from the looks of her (even now-passive Sades sensed her desirability). Again, Wolfgang’s intuition was accurate (she was eighteen), since my connection with the spirit world was able to guide his guesses.
He got up and started sneaking over to the girl, not because she was lovely, but because she’d left her hooded red coat on the swing beside the one she was sitting on. Stealing and wearing that woman’s coat might make him look foolish, but his nakedness made him much more of a spectacle. Besides, he was freezing.
Luckily for him, the mother pushed her baby stroller out of the playground, so if there was to be a struggle with the girl, no further attention would be drawn to him. (Actually, I willed the mother to go.) The girl was absorbed in what she was looking at on her phone. He was approaching, wincing whenever he stepped on a sharp rock, and hoping she wouldn’t hear his grunts of discomfort.
My spiritual connection to everything around me allowed me to know what the girl was reading on her phone; I read the text as if her eyes were mine. She and her mother had been exchanging text messages.
Her mother’s text message said, “Renate, where are you? You’ve been missing for the past twelve hours. We’re worried about you. Please come home and let’s fix this problem. We forgive you for being with that boy, and for what you did to your father.”
Renate’s reply was, “You’ll have to find me. I”m not telling you where I am. I’m fed up with all three of you. I’ve already fixed the problem by leaving. I’ll never forgive you for calling me a whore, nor for what Daddy did to him; in fact, I’m going to punish you all by becoming a prostitute. Bye.” After sending the message, she surfed the internet for the news.
In the next few seconds, Wolfgang was right behind her, his right hand almost on the coat. But he got curious, and looked at what she was now reading on her phone: a news story about the second wolf attack near his estate, in the forest south of Klein!
She was smiling with wide eyes as she read. “A wolf,” she whispered to herself, then thought, I love wolves. “Maybe, a werewolf?”
He gasped, drawing her attention away. She looked over at him as he snatched her coat. She grabbed it by the other side, and they began a tug of war.
“Hey!” she said, almost falling off the swing. “That’s my coat!”
“Sorry,” he said. “I need…to borrow it.”
As they struggled, she couldn’t restrain her curiosity, and she looked down at his body; her eyes widened again, impressed with the hunk of meat she saw dangling down.
“Mmm,” she moaned with a smile.
With his greater strength, he managed to wrest the coat from her. She fell off the swing.
“Hey!” she shouted, thudding on the ground.
“Thanks,” he said, running away with it.
Having not put it on yet, he looked back at her briefly, grinning at the lustful amazement in her eyes at the sight of his muscular body. Indeed, that lewd awe she felt kept her in such a trance that she forgot to scream for help. She just sat in the dirt and stared at his pretty arse.
What most fascinated her about his body, even more so than his good looks, was the deep scar scratched from his chest—on the right—down his right side to just below his right buttock, a brown swirl of four claws. Though perfectly healed, it seemed a permanent indentation in his skin.
What a sexy naked man, she thought, licking her lips. Then she said, “He must be the werewolf the locals have been talking about.” No one believes them, of course, she thought, grinning at the sight of him farther away, now wearing her coat as if he were a cross-dresser. People think those locals are crazy to believe in werewolves. But I believe. At least, I want to believe.
She licked her lips again.
If he’s the werewolf, she thought, I want him.
Also known as psychological abuse or mental abuse, emotional abuse involves repeated and sustained forms of manipulation, bullying, and controlling of the victim over a long period of time, resulting in clinically significant amounts of psychological trauma, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or complex PTSD. This abuse is distinct from physical or sexual abuse, though these two always include emotional abuse, since the whole aim of the abuser is to have power and control over the victim. Though physical and sexual abuse thus involve dual forms of abuse, as opposed to emotional abuse existing alone, it is emotional abuse that causes the longest-lasting scars, since the physical scars heal, whereas emotional ones tend to stay with the victim for years, even decades.
Emotional abuse takes on many forms, including terrorizing (physical threats to the victim, his or her children, or pets), degradation (insults, put-downs, yelling, public humiliation), isolation (physical confinement, not allowing the victim to be with friends or family), corrupting (exposure–especially of a child–to alcohol, drugs, pornography, bigoted attitudes, religious fundamentalism), rejection (including forms of manipulation, like gaslighting, denial, or rationalizing abuse, or minimizing/invalidating its existence, to make the victim feel devalued, inferior, or unworthy), and emotional unresponsiveness or neglect (failing to show affection, making the victim feel like a burden, ‘a job to be done’).
The perpetrators abuse their victims for a variety of possible reasons. They could have been abuse victims themselves, and so they take out their pain on their victims; also, a relationship dynamic of abuser vs. abused may be the only one the abuser knows. The abuser may suffer from a personality disorder: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD, also known as psychopathy or sociopathy), etc.
The abuser doesn’t have to be cruel to everybody: usually one or two victims will suffice; also, the abuser doesn’t have to torment the victim 24/7, for in a cycle of abuse, there are pleasant periods (the ‘honeymoon’), then a build-up of increasingly intolerable abuse leading to a confrontation, then insincere apologies and a promise to change (this includes ‘hoovering’, a method of sucking the victim back by being temporarily ‘kind’ to him or her)…then another ‘honeymoon’ arrives, and the cycle repeats itself…endlessly.
It is inconceivable that the abuser would always be mean, let alone be so to everybody, because he or she knows that people would quickly get sick of his or her attitude and end the relationship. The abuser tends to pick one victim, or only a few, then build a network of friends and/or family who will be loyal to the abuser, at the victim’s expense. The abuser is sometimes nice in order to confuse the victim, making him or her think that the abuse is also ‘out of love’, and just meant to correct the victim’s supposedly errant ways.
Thus emotional abuse emerges in situations where there’s a power imbalance: in families (parents dominating their kids, adult sons or daughters abusing their elderly parents, or elder siblings bullying their younger ones); at school (bullies, domineering teachers); in the workplace (bosses over their employees, senior employees over newer ones, etc.); online (cyberbullying, trolling…which includes professional trolls, doxxing), etc.
The long-term effects of bullying are not something to be trivialized, though they all too often are, particularly…and most obviously…by the abuser. Childhood trauma shows itself in adulthood problems. The victim’s trauma leads to depression, low self-esteem, severe anxiety, poorly-controlled anger, dissociation, and having no sense of one’s own true identity. The victim loses much of his or her ability to trust others, learned helplessness ensues, and thus he or she either avoids social contact or develops poor social skills; this can cause a vicious circle including re-victimization, even poorer trust in people, and more social avoidance/ineptitude.
If you find yourself in an emotionally abusive relationship, be it with a domineering boyfriend/husband or girlfriend/wife, or an abusive family, job environment, or school situation, these steps must be taken: first, get help; if that doesn’t work, get out! If the abuser(s) won’t leave you alone, break off contact. Then, get psychiatric help. Involve the police, if necessary.
Baring My Soul
To illustrate the emotionally abusive relationship, please indulge me, Dear Reader, in some autobiography. Since I’ve been a victim of emotional abuse myself (the abusers being my family), I find it therapeutic to vent my feelings by telling you my story.
I’ve tried to make the following as coherent as possible, keeping reasonably to a chronological order. But the emotional nature of this confession makes it impossible to keep the below narrative from jumping back and forth sometimes. Psychological trauma tends to addle you in this way.
1 – Childhood
My brothers, whom I’ll name R. and F., were born in 1961 and 1963 respectively. My sister, whom I’ll call J., was born in 1964. I was born much later, in 1969. The family photo album was loaded with baby photos of R., F., and J.–I had one. Neither of my parents took the picture, for they were in it. Perhaps these facts mean nothing; perhaps they mean a lot. I will speculate on the possible significance of them towards the end of this article.
Around when I was three or four, I vaguely recall my bedroom door being locked at night, confining me in my room. On one occasion, the door was roped shut. I remember sitting on my knees by the door (I never slept well), rocking back and forth, chanting “Open up the door” rhythmically, over and over again. Needless to say, it was never opened till the next morning.
My mother explained that I had a habit of going outside at night or early in the morning and playing in the middle of the road. This seems like a bizarre story; I suspect that what I was really doing at night was getting out of bed and bothering my parents when they were trying to sleep.
As a child, I was bullied by F. and J., often left crying without anyone to hold me. I made friends, my best friend being an Irish boy named Neil. He was extremely important to me during those years, and when my family moved away in 1977, I was devastated. I don’t fault my family for moving–that was just my bad luck–but how they dealt with my subsequent social withdrawal was another matter entirely.
Before I go into that, another matter must first be dealt with. R., about 16 at the time, left the family. He’d been having a difficult time because he wasn’t doing well at school, and my ultra-conservative father used the most Neanderthal of methods–verbal abuse, shaming–to deal with R.’s bad grades. It all came to a head, R. couldn’t take it anymore, and he didn’t move with us from Toronto to Hamilton.
My despondency over leaving Neil affected me at school, and I was removed from regular classes, actually removed from one school and put in a different school altogether; a regular grade school, as always, but I was put in a class with kids who also had problems of one sort or another. It was around this time, the late 1970s, that I remembered hearing my mother describe me as ‘autistic’ for the first time.
The bullying continued, and though R. had sometimes protected me from F., he was gone now, leaving me at F.’s mercy. F. rationalized the bullying as ‘frustration’ that I showed no interest in making friends. Of course, if my parents had explained to him that bullying me, and forcing me to play baseball (a game I wasn’t at all interested in), wouldn’t encourage me to make friends, he might have stopped.
Now it is unfortunately true that I had an odd childhood habit of playing all by myself; I indulged in solitary fantasy, dreaming up stories like those in movies or on TV. I also developed an odd habit of talking to myself, and intensely imagining myself in conversations with others. My mother would have considered these ‘autistic symptoms,’ though I’ve never read of such habits as being autistic. In hindsight, I now suspect that these habits could have been forms of dissociation, or maladaptive daydreaming, due to the psychological trauma my family was subjecting me to.
As I said above, I’d played with friends like Neil in Toronto, but the devastation of having lost him was something I hadn’t gotten over. F.’s and J.’s bullying of me, and their pejorative way of describing my solitary play just shamed me into doing more of it. When people are making a child feel worthless, he or she figures no one will want to be his or her friend. Make a child feel like a freak, and he’ll act like a freak.
It was around 1980 or so that I began to get As at school. My parents were pleased: one A, then two, then three, then five As in grade five. I asked my mother what ‘autistic’ meant. The official family definition was that it referred to excessive self-absorption, which sounds more appropriate for NPD.
Actually, anybody who knows anything about autism knows that it’s made up of a triad of symptoms: 1. problems with social situations (which I admittedly had, though emotional abuse can be the cause of that problem, too); 2. problems with communication (which I did not have); and 3. limited interests or repetitive habits (my eating habits fit this category, as did my childhood habit of rocking back and forth; though I’ve read that this latter habit could result from emotional abuse, too).
Furthermore, my mother’s idea of congratulating me for my improved school performance (I was back in regular classes now, though behind a year) was to say that it was a “miracle from God” (she was never religious) that I turned out all right. Mother said the psychiatrists (whom, assuming they even existed, I barely remember at all–were they social workers? Teachers?) diagnosed me with autism, and claimed that an IQ test I scored poorly on showed that I was ‘retarded’. (!)
I was about ten years old when I was hearing her say these things to me.
Mother claimed that she didn’t know, before my new academic success, if I’d “make a good garbageman…as long as [I was] happy.” (How sweet of her to say!) She claimed, on more than one occasion, that the doctors recommended locking me up in an asylum and throwing away the key. Now, I admit that I was an odd kid, but surely my problems were nowhere near that extreme! (In fact, putting autistics away in institutions and forgetting about them was a common practice back in the 1940s and 50s, when little was known about effective therapy for them. By the early 1960s, considerable progress had been made, including the use of Applied Behaviour Analysis [ABA], so I find it hard to believe that, in the 1970s, psychiatrists would have been so pessimistic about me.)
She said things like this to me many times over the years, including her fear of my having to live with my parents as an adult, them worrying about having to take care of a forty-something “moron”. This was all while the “miracle” of my good school grades was going on. On a much later occasion, I think when I was a young adult, she said I was “good at things that don’t make money.”
Can you imagine what the effect of words like this have on the psyche of an impressionable, growing child?
R., being at the end of his rope, came back home. He was back in school, working hard and learning about computers, but he had a big chip on his shoulder. Imagining he was thought to be “the idiot of the family” (R., you have no idea!) for having been a high-school dropout, he went out of his way to insult J. and me for having done better at school, gaining our father’s favour and R.’s envy. R. insisted we were stupid know-nothings in spite of our academic achievement.
So now all three siblings were bullying me: calling me four-letter names, giving me constant put-downs, making me the butt of their jokes, shouting at me viciously, and usually because I’d caused them only minor annoyances. This abuse happened almost every day, throughout my adolescence and young adulthood. My mother knew it was happening the whole time, but never did anything about it, except for a few occasions when she saw F. get physical with me. Almost every time, she took the side of my bullies, rationalizing their actions and blaming the victim.
My mother described R. as being “more mature” when he was nasty to me; J.’s meanness was called “more loving”. I’m curious: what kind of bullying is “more mature” or “more loving”? All my mother was doing was appealing to stereotypes about the mature first-born son and the loving woman.
Another form of emotional abuse the family subjected me to during those years was to make me serve them all tea every evening, the rationalization being that I was getting a weekly allowance for it…a paltry amount (first $1, then up to $5 a week, really for washing the dishes almost every night, and taking out the garbage). Mom made me the family servant.
By the time I’d reached my twenties, R. and F. had moved out, to my great relief. But I still had to put up with my know-it-all sister, J. Both of us were studying English literature in university, and though I’d always done more creative writing than she, J. liked speaking as though she were an expert on literature, and that I hadn’t a clue. She would laugh at my writing and belittle me for my opinions, and when I had the audacity to defend them, I was branded the opinionated one, which she, of course, never was.
The combination of all these factors–bullying, invalidating, and the inferiority complex I’d got from the autism label–seriously damaged not only my sense of self-worth, but also my confidence in my very ability to perceive the world around me correctly. This all affected my mental health, too, and these factors, combined with other frustrations I’d been enduring, put me into a serious clinical depression by the time I’d reached my mid-twenties. I was even contemplating suicide.
Over a period of about half a year, I was receiving psychotherapy, first from a psychologist, then from a psychiatrist. Each of them analyzed me over a period of several months; after telling them of the autism label, both men told me point blank that they saw no signs of autistic symptoms in me. What liberating words!
When I told my mother about this, she would have none of it. She insisted that something had been wrong with me as a child. She insisted that those therapists were wrong because they’d never seen me as a child; apparently, those thoroughly trained in psychiatry–unlike my mother–can’t tell the difference between an autistic child and an autistic adult, whose symptoms have often abated somewhat. Mother knows best, apparently; and my psychological liberation was taken away from me.
Now let’s jump ahead about seven years. As of 2002, I’d moved to Taiwan, I was teaching English as a second language, and I married my Taiwanese girlfriend. I also got an Alien Permanent Resident Certificate, allowing me to stay in Taiwan for the rest of my life.
My mother began sending me e-mails about a mild form of autism called Asperger Syndrome (AS), insisting that I had it, and pointing out that it’s a condition that stays with one for life. (This is in direct contrast with her claim, after the “miracle from God” one, that autistics with above average intelligence can grow out of it. Notice how her story about me was always changing!)
It is also interesting how my mother brought this up at a time when I’d been clearly setting roots in Taiwan, with no intention of going back to Canada. This could have just been a coincidence, but I doubt it. Was she using AS to shake my newly-developing self-confidence and make me want to return to Canada, where I’d be ‘safe’ with her?
She concluded I had AS from watching a TV documentary, of all things; but I had never been formally diagnosed with it; I wasn’t even in Canada for my mother (who, remember, had no background in psychiatry–she was only a nurse, and one out of professional practice for decades) to observe me and double-check if this amateur diagnosis was correct.
At first, I politely tried to disagree with her, but she wouldn’t stop prating about AS. She’d sent me an online newspaper article about a young man with AS, whose life of being isolated and bullied seemed calculatedly meant by my mother to compare with mine. His tendency to “see the world differently” seemed meant to imply that I had the same tendency (and as my family constantly observed, this meant that I saw the world incorrectly).
I went to visit my family the following year, and my mother’s prolixity about AS continued. She spoke about it as she always had about autism, grinning like a Cheshire cat (an odd thing to do, considering the pain and stress autism causes, not only for the sufferer, but also for the family who has to take care of the autistic).
On one occasion, my mother and I were in her car, with my wife sitting in the back. With her usual bright, cheery countenance, she informed me that, due to my AS, I’d apparently had a toddler’s maturity when I was a teen, a teen’s maturity when I was a young adult, and at 33 (the year was 2003), I had a 23-year-old’s maturity. I was furious.
It was around this time that I was beginning to have truly anti-Mom feelings. I struggled with these feelings for years, trying to reconcile myself with the family, but she was just making it harder and harder for me.
2 – The Last Straw (Or One of Them, Anyway)
A year or so later, when I was back in Taiwan, I’d heard bad news from home: J.’s husband, Kevin, had terminal cancer. Up until that time, I’d been angry with J. over slights comparable with what my mother had been hitting me with (i.e., treating me like an overgrown child); but I felt compassion for J., who was clearly devastated by the imminent loss of the man she loved. Furthermore, having been going through a politically conservative phase in my life (which I now deeply regret), I’d adopted Christian beliefs (which I’ve since renounced); and so I wanted to do the right thing and show kindness to my sister, forgiving her for those past injuries and comforting her in whatever way I could.
I e-mailed the family, telling them that my wife and I wanted to visit and see Kevin one last time. My mother e-mailed me back, claiming that I’d sent J. e-mails that were “tactless and insensitive” (I recall sending messages that, if anything, were the opposite of that), and since J. and Kevin were in an emotionally vulnerable state, it would be best if I didn’t go over to see them.
Enraged, I immediately e-mailed my mother, saying that, as surprising as it must have been for her, I’d actually acquired some social skills over the years. She responded in a typically condescending way, saying that my response was in my usual, self-absorbed manner, only reacting to what she’d said about me, and ignoring all the other things she’d said in her e-mail. Apparently, rejecting her son’s wish to be loving was just an insignificant detail, because her ‘abnormal’ son was an unimportant person.
This kind of twisting of my intentions, from good ones to bad, has always been typical of that family. Any reasonable family would have been happy to receive a visit from a son or daughter, even if he or she was rather “tactless and insensitive” at times: upon arriving in Canada, I could have been taken aside and simply told to watch my words. Instead, I was spat on.
Mom suggested that I come over and attend Kevin’s funeral, which came about a year later. I had no wish to attend his funeral, or any family funeral, for that matter: painful memories, of J. verbally abusing me with four-letter words at my maternal grandmother’s funeral (when I was about 20), ensured that I wouldn’t want to go.
To compensate for my absence, I e-mailed a poem dedicated to Kevin’s memory. Mom, rationalizing that the funeral was mainly for his side of the family, rejected the poem as inappropriate. I composed this piece of music, dedicated to him, for J. to hear, hoping it would touch her heart. I mailed a CD to Mom to give to J. Along with claiming that my music was “plodding,” Mom claimed it would arouse painful feelings in J. rather than touch her. (Dear Reader, are you beginning to see a pattern in my mother’s attitude and behaviour?) She claimed she gave J. the CD, but I think she was lying, for J. never acknowledged it, let alone thanked me…and J. is quite particular about politeness.
Mom’s unrelentingly unapologetic attitude drove me to make an ultimatum: either she and the family had to change their attitude, or I would stop visiting. This ultimatum was in a long e-mail in which I went over essentially every grievance I had with her and the family, the highlights being the Asperger Syndrome label, her characterizing me as uniquely “tactless and insensitive,” and my reminding her of examples of the family’s past cruelties to me, to show that they were no more tactful or sensitive than I.
In her response, she portrayed my complaints as me being too preoccupied with the past (my vivid memory, apparently, is a curse, rather than a blessing, since it reminds me of who they really are as a family). No consideration was given to the fact that they had to change their attitude to me if any reconciliation was to happen. She also insisted that I, as a child, really was as ill as she’d claimed, that my answers to that legendary IQ test were totally “bizarre”. However painful it may have been for me, I had to accept the autism label; they apparently didn’t have to accept the painful responsibility for emotionally abusing me. I was supposed to forgive them, as unrepentant as they were. I restated my chief demand: no respect, no more visits.
Then my sister sent me an angry e-mail demanding that I “let this go.” Obviously, my continued complaints were troubling my poor mother to no end. Now I was being commanded to forgive them. Also, J. told me not to reply to her (she always dished it out better than she could take it). Here we see typically emotionally abusive behaviour: the victim is vilified, the victimizer is portrayed as the victim, and the victim is not listened to, his or her perspective is never given a chance even to be heard, let alone sympathized with.
Remember that none of this bickering would have happened if my mother had simply respected my wishes not to discuss AS any further, and if she’d accepted my wish to see Kevin before he died. Instead, this whole family row was blamed on me, as all my rows with them have been. Apparently, my anger over this issue proved Mom’s point about me being “tactless and insensitive.” Whatever.
Mother made an empty promise, in a later e-mail, that the family would have a discussion together about changing their attitude. I made my last visit in the fall of 2008, and while she promised that the family had truly changed their attitude toward me, and in ways that would have surprised and impressed me, I saw clearly that no such changes had occurred. R., as well as F.’s son Eric, were blatantly disrespectful to me on three occasions; and while I could have tolerated those slights, my mother did the one thing I’d demanded she never do again–she brought up AS. In fact, she bought me a book about it, to drill this phoney identity even further down my throat!
Did she not realize how much she was endangering her relationship with me? Had I not threatened never visiting again if she ever brought up AS? Surely her relationship with me was more important to her than a mere psychiatric label, particularly a label she had no authority to impose on anybody. She had to be ill herself in some way. I would investigate that possibility soon enough.
3 – The Dawn of Realization
Back in Taiwan, I’d been reading about AS on Wikipedia, and interestingly, I discovered that people with AS, due to their social ineptitude, are often subjected by their families to emotional abuse. Then I started learning about emotional abuse, fascinated to see that I myself had been subjected to it.
I learned about gaslighting, and found it ironic that, as a teen, I’d seen the movie Gaslight (1944), not knowing that I myself was being victimized in a similar way. I read about how abusers deny their abusiveness and blame the victim, and remembered that my family had been doing exactly that to me. I learned of the effects of emotional abuse on the victim–excessive anger, anxiety, depression, dissociation, insomnia, inability to trust others, social ineptitude–and easily saw how I manifested most of those symptoms.
A few years later, I discovered a quiz called the Autism-Spectrum Quotient. Bravely, I decided to take it, to determine the truth about myself. There were fifty statements with which I could slightly or definitely agree or disagree. Sometimes agreeing, and sometimes disagreeing, would result in an ‘autistic’ answer, if you will, giving me a point each time. A score of 32 or 33 would indicate “clinically significant levels of autistic traits.” A score anywhere between 26 and 32 apparently was an area of uncertainty, since according to one research paper, a score of 25 or lower could effectively rule out Asperger Syndrome. Even with a high score, one shouldn’t jump to conclusions, since one should double-check by getting examined by a psychiatrist first. The test is not intended to be diagnostic.
I did the test, answering the questions with perfect honesty. Seriously, what good would it do me to lie? I needed to know the truth about myself. Second, I didn’t even need to lie. Third, I had no idea at the time if many of my answers were going to be ‘autistic’ or not.
My score was 13.
I reconsidered my answers carefully, looking at the fifty statements and wondering if more (or fewer) of the ‘autistic’ answers might have applied to me. An adjusted, possible score ranged from 2 or 3 to 20, 21, or maybe 22 (and that was stretching things). In any case, I was safely below the minimum for even the highest-functioning of AS, even if I went with the highest score.
So, what the hell was my mother talking about?
I had an epiphany.
If I am nowhere near even the mildest of autistic traits, confirming what the two psychotherapists had said fifteen years before, it became shockingly clear just how improbable, how outright preposterous, my mother’s claims had been of my seeming childhood mental incompetence (i.e., the ‘retarded’ IQ score, “lock me up in an asylum and throw away the key,” “Would I even make a good garbageman?”). That her claims were totally implausible should have been obvious to me long before taking that test, but her gaslighting was clouding my vision.
My mother had been lying to me the whole time.
The first words that came to mind, upon this realization, were, “Those perfidious snakes!” I don’t blame only my mother, but the other four, too, including my father (who had died in 2009) for not doing anything to stop her (he had once expressed doubts about this ‘autism,’ but did nothing beyond that to help me).
R., F., and J. had always made demands that I “grow up” and make friends (in a bullying manner that was the opposite of helpful), insensitive and ignorant of how difficult making friends and acting normally is for autistics (or for victims of emotional abuse, the real cause of my social difficulties). Seriously, demanding autistics or sufferers of psychological trauma to adjust like everyone else is like demanding mentally handicapped people to excel in university. If my siblings really thought there was something innately, clinically wrong with me, their bullying treatment of me (which continued when they were adults) makes the three of them a special species of asshole.
If R., F., and J. didn’t think there was anything significantly wrong with me (It is safe to assume that my ‘loving’ mother never told my bullying siblings to go easy on me: “He has a mental condition. He can’t help it. He doesn’t know any better. Be patient with him.”), couldn’t they put the pieces together and realize, or at least suspect, that Mom’s autism narrative was dubious? Of course not: those three apaths were being manipulated every bit as much as I was. They also didn’t consider me worthy of being thought about so much.
Knowing my mother lied about autism (and since she was a nurse and had a pronounced interest in medical/psychiatric matters, her lying seems to have been a case of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy), as she had told smaller lies on other occasions, I found myself forced to ponder a difficult question: what kind of a mother deceives her own son in such a monstrously cruel way?
There had to be something wrong with her. To try to state specifically what that problem was, I’d have to venture into very speculative territory: she, being totally unqualified to pin psychiatric labels on me or anybody, fabricated them for me all my life; for me to do the same to her, feigning certainty about something I have no more authority on than she, would make me a hypocrite.
All I can do is conjecture the possibility that she has a mild case of ASPD or NPD; but in all fairness to her, I cannot say this with any degree of certainty. Indeed, many of the diagnostic criteria for ASPD and NPD are traits she doesn’t seem to have, unless she’s skillfully hiding them. All I can say, with any reasonable degree of certainty, is that she has indulgently lied to me and to others on many occasions over the years, has used those lies to manipulate and control people, and feels no remorse at all.
Indeed, upon realizing that my mother had been lying to me, and subsequently resolving never to visit the family again as punishment, I noticed things she was saying and doing, during the early 2010s, that seemed to confirm my suspicions. (Given the viciousness with which the family insists on having their way, I decided to continue communicating with them by phone or by e-mail–minimizing the communication, of course–since ending all communication with them ‘cold turkey’ would have provoked an aggressive reaction from them. I decided to end our relationship gradually, by attrition.) Now I will explore my mother’s lying about other people.
4 – Abusing My Cousins
Mom always complained about my cousins, in particular the oldest and the youngest of the three guys. Only the middle cousin, whom I’ll call S., was spared her bad-mouthing, since he seemed mentally stable (though as soon as S. began to show signs of mental illness a few years before this article, Mom immediately turned on him). His younger brother, whose erratic behaviour was most apparent to everyone, got nothing but harsh words from my mother. She once lied to the family, over 25 years ago, that I’d vigorously told him off for swearing in my parents’ restaurant; she said this presumably to make the family think, “See? Even Mawr doesn’t like him!” I never said anything about his naughty words at the time; my mother and his parents were the ones who’d scolded him.
I remember, about 14 years ago during that visit to Canada, her saying about him and his eldest brother, “They’re getting really weird!” She said this in a sneering, contemptuous way that was totally unbecoming of an aunt. You had to be there to see it. I was wondering, at the time, when she was going to label them with Asperger’s. I would find out soon enough.
On one occasion in the early 2010s, Mom complained to me on the phone about the youngest again, mentioning how he’d been annoying everyone in the family during my father’s funeral. She said that a new expression had been in common use in the family at the time: “Scoring another point for the team.” (Of course–she and her narcissistic fan club were just that: a team, a clique, an exclusive social club.) Apparently, R. had used the expression when stopping my youngest cousin from annoying my niece, Emily, when she needed to use the washroom. Knowing R. (and assuming Mom’s story was even true), he probably spoke to my youngest cousin in the snootiest language he could muster.
During the same phone call, she claimed that F. wanted “to punch [my youngest and oldest cousins] out,” which sounded like a typical thing F. would say. Mom droned on and on like this, about how irritating and unlikeable my youngest cousin is; and almost within the same breath, she griped: “I think he has Asperger’s Syndrome!”
Hearing that was nothing short of chilling.
Just let that sink in, Dear Reader. Take as long as you like.
He–whom my mother never loved, never had a kind word for, but had an endless list of complaints about–apparently has an autism spectrum disorder! He, who had never shown evidence of autistic traits before, now suddenly had them. He has the ‘unlikeable, annoying person’ mental condition! I was beginning to understand the real reason I’d been bullied by R., F., and J. Had Mom been bad-mouthing me behind my back, all my life, too?
She made other speculations about his inner mental life, claiming that a psychiatrist had said he was schizophrenic, an absurdly improbable idea that even my Mom later said couldn’t be true. Why was she so interested in the mental state of a nephew she’d never cared about, never even liked? Had he replaced me as the victim of her lies? It seemed so.
As I stated above, my middle cousin, S., began to show signs of mental instability at around this time. He was making baseless accusations of me gossiping about him with former friends of ours in Taiwan. Some of his paranoid charges against me–like saying awful things I’d never said, or doing things like throwing money at him–I’m sure he ‘saw’ and ‘heard’ me do, but were clearly based on hallucinations (S. has a history of substance abuse).
I know it’s not my place to put psychiatric labels on S., but I do want him to get psychiatric help, which isn’t really available here in Taiwan. Far too few of the locals understand English fluently enough to be able to interpret the psychological meaning of his barely coherent speech.
Mom has never lifted a finger to help him; in fact, she wants nothing said to my aunt about her son. Here is a man with a genuine psychiatric condition, and while Mom acknowledges it, she won’t help. It’s not that I expect the family to wave a magic wand to cure him; I don’t mean to place the whole burden on them to help S. I do expect them, though, to care enough to try. I have tried: I told S. to his face, and in e-mails, that he needs to see a psychiatrist. As I said above, I don’t have the resources that are available in Canada (which he visits regularly, giving the family lots of opportunities) to help him. Mom could help. She just doesn’t want to.
My estrangement from the family increased because of her antipathy to him. (She justified her attitude by claiming she was so upset by the hurtful things S. had said to me in his e-mail rants–a few of which I’d forwarded to her–that she ‘couldn’t’ repeat his words to my aunt. Wasn’t that rich?! R., F., and J. had said much crueller things to me, while in reasonable mental health, but Mom wasn’t upset; while S. was clearly not guilty by reason of insanity, yet he was the antichrist in her opinion!) Now, I wouldn’t e-mail or phone her at all, and a year before this post’s publication, she e-mailed me, expressing her frustrations with my avoidance of the family. Of course, she never considered what she might have done to provoke my emotional distance. As usual, everything was my fault.
5 – More Elaborate Lies
Last summer, my mother tried to get a rise from me again, claiming that S., while visiting Canada, shouted at her about me on the phone. Actually, as of that time, he hadn’t voiced any anger to me in at least a year or so, nor has he since then. It is safe to assume that S. has gotten over his rage at me; he may even be regretting his hostilities. All of this made me suspicious of what my mother was saying.
Still, I went along with her story, curious to see where it would go. I repeated my urging, in another lengthy, emotional e-mail to her, that S. be taken to a psychiatrist. She resisted as usual, with more rationalizations (It would be impractical, him living in Taiwan and having his working life here disrupted by time in Canada in therapy; also, the diagnosis of schizophrenia, as is suspected, might make him suicidal–as if he wouldn’t be suicidal without any therapy!).
She suggested that I send an e-mail to my aunt about the problem (why couldn’t my mom just do it herself?). Mom first had me send my e-mail to her, so she could check and make sure what I’d said was with well-chosen words. When she’d decided it was ready to be sent to my aunt, Mom included my aunt’s e-mail address in her reply (I suspect this replacement of her old e-mail address was really a fake one, so my message would be received by my mother instead of my aunt; in any case, what should be noticed here is how my mother was controlling the whole correspondence).
I sent the e-mail to my aunt, supposedly. Then a day or so later, Mom replied, saying my aunt refused to read it; Mom included text from my aunt’s reply to her, saying that I had apparently sent my aunt a series of “over-the-top” e-mails that were so upsetting that she and my uncle agreed they were “disgusting;” so she should just stop reading any correspondence from me.
I’d never sent “over-the-top” or “disgusting” e-mails to my aunt. The closest I ever came to doing that were a few forwards of online newspaper articles (centre-right political commentary), and those were sent around ten years before this current incident. I never sent anything to her since then, and though, at one time back then, she expressed strong objections with one political article in a long e-mail reply to me, the content of that article was far removed from, far less than anything that could ever be called “over the top” or “disgusting.” It was just an opinionated op-ed, the other forwards even less than that.
A far more plausible explanation for this incident is that my mother simply made the whole thing up, my aunt’s ‘text’ having really been typed by my mother in a different font, to give the illusion of having been from a different e-mail message. I have sent “over-the-top” e-mails to her over the years; and only a few years ago, I told her about speculations I had about how my uncle may have been the root cause of S.’s psychological problems (In one of S.’s e-mail rants to me, he said he couldn’t trust people because one of his father’s high school teachers–during WWII–called his father “the enemy”…my uncle and father were German-Canadians; but S., as I am, is an English teacher, and he could easily have been displacing his hostility towards his father onto that old teacher). Now, I’m sure that if I’d accused my uncle, directly in an e-mail to him and my aunt, of what I suspected he was guilty of having done to S. (and I’m not stupid enough to make accusations I can’t prove!), he would have found my words “disgusting”.
My mother has never wanted to discuss S.’s problems with his mother, and a perfect way to stop such discussions would be for Mom to manipulate me into being too embarrassed to pursue the matter any further. Finally, my mother could use “my aunt’s reply” to stick it to me for having sent my “over-the-top” e-mails to her.
Added to this, my mother told me that my aunt thought I had to have been a great “burden” to my mother (i.e., ‘autism’ was presumably implied here), and added that “my aunt’s attitude” was “insulting.” My aunt hardly even knows me, let alone has reason to think I’d be a burden to my mother. It’s far more likely that my mother has always considered me a burden, and she was just displacing this truly “insulting” attitude onto my aunt. This displacement would serve another purpose for my mother: to fuel more bad feeling in me against all my cousins, thus isolating their family from ours.
If I’m right about this estrangement being part of my mother’s agenda, that would explain why, after I naturally denied ever sending my aunt offensive e-mails, my mother then replied that S. may have made my aunt believe, or pushed her into saying, that I’d sent those crazy e-mails (an even more ridiculous lie). Mom also warned me to beware of any reprisals from S., who was returning to Taiwan at around that time. Of course, S. never did anything to me, reinforcing the probability that all of this had been more fabrication from my mother.
My wife was as shocked as I was to hear this bizarre accusation that I’d sent my aunt a whole bunch of offensive e-mails. My wife advised me to cut off all communication with my mother, which I did.
I bring up all these recent lies of my mother’s (an elaborate combination of about six or seven in total) to reinforce for you, Dear Reader, an understanding of how emotional abuse is an ongoing problem. The lies never seem to stop; the manipulation just goes on and on.
While she was doing all this, she had the gall to press me to make another visit. She seemed to want to use these lies to bring me closer to her (she was always trying to make me emotionally dependent on her, hence the autism fabrication). She also probably used these lies about S. to make me so scared of him that I’d want to leave Taiwan and live with her in Ontario again.
When the pressure to make a visit had gotten too great, I simply replied that I didn’t want to because of her “lies, lies, and more lies.” I told her not to pretend she didn’t know what I meant by that, and to take comfort in having the love of the rest of the family. I also said I wouldn’t answer any e-mails or phone calls from her, so sick was I of being manipulated. I sent this blunt e-mail in the fall of 2015.
6 – Is My Mother Dead?
In about April or May of this year (2016), I was informed that my mother was in hospital and dying of breast cancer, which she’d caught about ten to fifteen years ago; and while it had been under control, now it had metastasized. Surely someone with her medical expertise (she’s an RN) knew enough to make regular check-ups and prevent an early-stage cancer from getting worse; so to say that this news was a sudden development would be quite an understatement. Furthermore, I knew she was desperate to get me to talk to her, and make another visit: was this cancer story yet another elaborate lie, using the whole family as accomplices? Was this lie meant to make me feel guilty, jump on a plane, and visit them…only to find her fully alive, then be subjected to a condescending speech about how my ‘selfishness’ forced the family to trick me into visiting?
I was instructed to phone R.’s cellphone, since he’d been visiting her regularly at the hospital, or so the story went. I did call, her answering. I suspect she was pretending to be high on morphine, for she didn’t really sound all that out of it; besides, since in vino veritas (or in this case, morphine), I’d expected at least some of the truth to slip out while she was talking to me. Of course, none of that truth ever came out.
Instead, she droned on and on about how my e-mail “hurt” her: remember that psychopaths and narcissists always play the victim and blame the real victim. She also spoke of how I was “self-centred” by nature (never mind her own self-serving lies). Another empty promise was made to put the past behind us, while, almost in the same breath, she referred to how I’d annoyed her when I was twelve or thirteen–so much for forgetting the past! Then she congratulated herself for having been even more loving to me as a child than she had been to my siblings, not backing this up with any proof, of course. Gaslighting can be so surreal at times.
After that call, I continued avoiding contact with the family. R. tried to contact me online, saying she’d died already. J. had told me, during a phone call before I phoned R.’s cellphone to talk to Mom, that her terminal cancer would take almost a year before killing her; metastatic breast cancer patients can, with proper care, last many years before dying. Again, this was all happening remarkably quickly: frankly, this sudden death seems fake. My wife finds this quick death hard to believe, too. Was Mom again trying to manipulate me into getting onto a plane to see her?
All of this ‘dying’ had been happening, from my vantage point, within the space of about a month…or less. At around the same time, R. discovered a video I’d shared on YouTube, under my original name, about seven years before, one which expressed my bitterness over my feelings of betrayal by my mother. Obviously, he felt hurt and upset by what he heard me say, since he’s known our mother to be an angelic matriarch.
I hid R.’s comment because I find it triggering of my past psychological trauma, and because it misrepresents my meaning to anyone who may watch the video in the future. What follows, however, is an almost exact quote.
“Disturbing words from a disturbed individual with an imperfect mother who loved you more than anyone else on the planet. You misunderstand her, as you misunderstand everyone except yourself. Shame on you.”
This is a typical response from someone in my family: unthinking, spontaneous rage, with no consideration for the consequences. I wonder if he realizes he’s knocked the last nail in the coffin of my relationship with the family.
Contrary to what he thinks, those words I spoke weren’t mine, “disturbing” as they may be to many people. I was reciting the famous words of British poet Philip Larkin, from his well-known poem, ‘This Be the Verse’.
I’m sure it’s easier for R. to regard me as mentally ill than to look at himself in the mirror and acknowledge the failures of the family in dealing with their problems with me. There’s only one of me, as opposed to many of them, including my nephews, niece, and cousins. If this whole problem was only my fault, why couldn’t they all put their heads together and work something out? If their past methods weren’t working, why not try a new approach?
Here’s a hint: a solution involves actually listening to my side of the story, instead of contemptuously dismissing me all the time and listening only to our mother. (When I’d spoken to him and J., around the time I spoke to Mom on R.’s cellphone, I mentioned her lying to me, in a very emotional voice. Neither of my siblings acknowledged my experience; they didn’t even take it seriously, as I knew they wouldn’t.)
R. had a wonderful opportunity here to ask me, in the comments, why I recited such a harsh poem. Instead of immediately commenting in anger (as I assume he did), he could have waited, calmed down, and thought carefully about what to say. Now, if he actually did wait and calm down before commenting, then all the more shame goes on him for judging me rather than trying to understand.
What must be emphasized about my video is that it wasn’t intended for his eyes, or for those of anyone in the family. R. found it because he was stalking me online, after I wouldn’t communicate with him or any of those emotional abusers (I learned long ago that trying to assert my rights to people who don’t listen was a pointless waste of time). It’s not as though I deliberately sent him the video to watch while our mother was on her death bed…if she even was dying.
R. has no idea who I understand or misunderstand. I simply understand Mom differently than he, based on our different experiences of her. It’s only natural that R. and the rest of the family see her as loving and kind: she was good to them, though her emotional abuse of me divided me from the family, which in turn has hurt them through the lack of family harmony; so her ‘loving-kindness’ must be greatly qualified, even for them.
Actually, I understand her and the rest of the family very well. R., F., and J. were nasty to me because our authoritarian father was nasty to them (and my uncle, my dad’s younger brother, was probably emotionally abusive to my cousins, because he and my father had the same ultra-conservative upbringing, hence my suspicions about the cause of S.’s troubles), so my siblings learned that nastiness is how you resolve family conflicts. People are to be controlled, not connected with, in the family philosophy that they so vehemently deny exists. Remember what I said about my father’s abusiveness to R. when he got bad grades as a teen? The roots of R.’s aggression came from our father, not from my ‘annoying’ personality.
Note how, according to R.’s comment on my video, our mother is merely “imperfect”. When I’d spoken to J. on the phone about Mom’s cancer, she also dismissed my accusation of Mom’s lying by saying Mom didn’t have “an instruction booklet” for dealing with the challenges of motherhood. These straw-man arguments are typical of the family, avoiding the real issue.
I’ve never been upset about slight flaws in our mother: everyone is imperfect. My mother’s lies amount to a betrayal of trust. I’ve discovered a string of elaborate lies she’s told: autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and a fake incident with my aunt and S. Her death from cancer could very well be a fake. (In case R. is stalking my blog and reading this, if he plans on trolling me with photos of our mother looking bald, pale, and gaunt, he should know that I’m aware of how cleverly people can photoshop pictures and write fake obituaries, especially computer whizzes like R.)
7 – In Conclusion
Do I even know the half of my mother’s lying? How many other lies has she told me and the rest of the family over the years, lies I’ve forgotten about, but which played games with my head no less? Most people lie to avoid getting into trouble. Her lies, on the other hand, are manipulative.
When I spoke with R. on his cellphone about her cancer, immediately after hearing her tell me she loved “self-centred” me so very much, he said that the current situation was “all about her.” Now if she was really dying, these would be the words of a self-sacrificing, dutiful son, sitting by her hospital bed and doing anything he could to do her ease, out of love. Most admirable. But if she was, and still is, sitting on a sofa watching TV at home, “all about her” is more indicative of her narcissism, and his collusion in it, than his love.
R.’s attitude to my “disturbed” psyche is typical of the family’s total lack of compassion for people with mental disorders. I understand nobody but myself, as he said in his comment to my YouTube video, because I’m totally absorbed in myself, to the exclusion of all others. I’m a typical autistic jerk, apparently.
This egocentric mental state, however, is more typical of NPD than of AS. Mom was always fond of displaying her medical expertise (from a nursing practice that had stopped at least as long ago as when I was born, when my parents went into the food service industry–owning a Baskin Robbins Ice Cream store, then a Smitty’s Pancake House restaurant in the 1980s), even to the point of pretending to have a knowledge of psychiatric matters she obviously lacked.
Her making me out to be a ‘self-absorbed’ autistic sounds suspiciously like projection, or projective identification, which involves not just deluding oneself that another has one’s own vices, but actually manipulating the other to manifest those vices in objective reality (projective identification has been linked with gaslighting many times). If she could successfully push all her narcissism into me, and make me introject it, then she could be free to be selfless to everyone else. Shaming me, through projective identification, would make her look good. This would explain her need to continue labelling me with AS, even to the point of risking destroying her relationship with me.
With me no longer in Canada, she needed someone else to project onto on a daily basis. Hence, her bashing of my youngest cousin, saying he also has AS. If other people in her day-to-day life are self-absorbed and annoying, she needn’t fear that she will be so herself.
Now, as I’ve said above, I’m only speculating about her mental state. To be fair to her, I cannot know for sure. I have to have theories, though, to make sense of my own suffering. Whatever her problem was/is, no normal mother treats her own son the way she did.
How does a mother who “loved [me] more than anyone else on the planet” lie that I’m less capable that I really am? How does such a loving mother side with my bullying siblings if she loves me more than them? How is her unsympathetic attitude to my ‘mental condition’ loving? I challenge the family to rationalize such illogic.
While I don’t wish to promote an unsympathetic attitude towards NPD, ASPD, and the like, it is the very lack of empathy of those people, along with their tendency towards cruelty to others, done for their own entertainment, that makes sympathy for them so difficult. I believe my mother always knew she was different, and she learned from an early age to hide it, to fit in. Her parents’ lack of sympathy for her different ways may have inspired her to be similarly unsympathetic to me. People with mental conditions are “just bad people”.
Also, my birth, five years after J., who was born in a cluster with R. and F. in the early-to-mid 1960s, suggests that my parents had intended J., their one daughter, to be their last child. Was my conception an accident? Did my mother go through nine months of hell to have a baby she’d never intended to have? When she gave birth to me, did I ruin her figure? By emotionally abusing me, was she punishing me for even existing? Was I just an unwanted burden to her? Is that the explanation for the lack of baby photos of me? I’ll never know, of course.
You must be thinking, Dear Reader, that I have absolutely nothing good to say about my mother. I’ll try to compensate for that a bit. I’m sure she felt some love for me: after all, the maternal instinct is only natural in a mother. I have had some pleasant memories with her: our trip to England in February of 1987 was probably our best moment together; she took me to some fascinating and beautiful places there, including Shakespeare’s tomb. It is also true that she was generous in gift-giving to me over the years. But none of this comes even close to undoing the injuries she and the family did to me.
She. Broke. My. Heart.
Remember that emotional abusers aren’t always bad to their victims: they have to maintain a façade of goodness to maintain control, and to convince the world that they aren’t such awful people. Furthermore, everyone is a complex combination of good and bad traits, even those in my family. The important thing to note is that tipping point where the bad clearly outweighs the good; I’ve seen this in my family, and I want out.
I believe I’ve acquired a mild case of Complex PTSD. I’ve looked over the childhood and adult symptoms, and I have most of them. I fear never escaping my abusive relationship with my family (what will their next scheme be, to suck me back in? Internet trolling? A letter from them?), even after years of living far away from them.
As unfilial as this must sound, I hope my mother really has died; because with her gone, I know her manipulation will have died with her. The death of that signifies my final escape from the abuse…and escaping emotional abuse is the only way to be healed.
Long time, no Shakespeare!
I’m going to do this analysis differently from my previous analyses of Shakespeare plays. I’m doing this for two reasons: as Titus Andronicus isn’t one of the famous classic plays, I won’t be doing a separate synopsis of the play for the sake of my students; though historically detested, Titus Andronicus has been experiencing something of a revival due to how its themes of cruelty and revenge are relevant in today’s increasingly harsh world; so unlike with my other Shakespeare analyses, I’ll be relating events in TA with contemporary issues.
Titus Andronicus is a tragedy Shakespeare apparently co-wrote (with George Peele, who many scholars think wrote the first act, as well as the the first scenes of Acts II and IV) between 1588 and 1593. It was his first tragedy, though his first great play, The Tragedy of King Richard III (actually a history) may have been finished earlier (in 1592). TA was a hit when first produced, since Elizabethan audiences loved gore in their plays, and revenge plays were very popular at the time.
It didn’t take long, however, for the play’s reputation to sink. Indeed, from the 17th century up till the mid-20th, TA was considered by many to be Shakespeare’s worst play. Its excesses of gore and cruelty are too much for many people to stomach. I, on the other hand, would say that Love’s Labour Lost, with its dated humour and pedantic, Baroque prolixity, is the Bard’s least successful play (Consider Kenneth Branagh‘s failed attempt at a film version, whose replacement of much of the text with old jazz standards was considered, if anything, one of the movie’s high points!). TA, however, has a relevance to today’s world that actually indicts contemporary violence, thus vindicating the play.
I feel no discomfort in thinking that Shakespeare wrote the whole play, even though it may very well have been a collaboration. It seems that scholars don’t want to credit the immortal Bard with such a harsh play, claiming it was a collaboration, a play written before his talents had matured, or one erroneously attributed to him. I believe TA has been derided because Shakespeare was exploring the dark shadows in our psyches, shadows we’d prefer to believe don’t exist. Cruelty is not a pleasant theme to develop, and Shakespeare developed themes to the hilt.
I believe Shakespeare was satirizing his contemporaries’ fondness for gore and revenge plays (as he had pastoral plays, I believe, with As You Like It) by delivering the violence in such extreme doses: fourteen killings, including two filicides, a rape, an act of cannibalism, six examples of dismembering, and a live burial. When we compare the Elizabethan love of gore with that of today (note the blood and guts in so many contemporary horror movies), we realize that Elizabethan bloodlust was not unique to their time. The fascination with the writings of the Marquis de Sade further illustrate my point, as do Freud’s writings on the death instinct, a result of his sorrow over the destructiveness of World War I.
Julie Taymor did a flamboyant movie adaptation of TA, Titus, and the BBC did a TV adaptation back in 1985. Both versions begin with Titus returning to Rome from victories against the Goths, taking their queen Tamora, her sons Alarbus, Chiron, and Demetrius, as well as Aaron the Moor, as captives; the written play, however, begins with brothers Saturninus and Bassanius with their respective followers, vying to be the next Roman emperor after the recent death of Caesar, their father. This switching of scenes is made to accommodate an often-omitted continuity error in the text (Act I, scene i, beginning at line 35), which refers to the killing of Alarbus, which hasn’t happened yet in the story.
This killing of Alarbus is the first act of cruelty in the play; it sets in motion all the violence and revenge to follow. He is to be killed in a rite of human sacrifice to appease the ghosts of those sons of Titus already killed in battle. His eldest son, Lucius, willingly carries out the slaying of Alarbus, which involves burning him alive and hacking off his limbs. Of course, Tamora begs and pleads for Titus to spare her first-born son, though Titus is deaf to her cries. All she can do is complain about “cruel, irreligious piety!”, a reference to how religion, founded largely on scientific ignorance, leads all too often to cruelty. Apparently, the capturing of the Goths and Aaron, a product of Roman imperialism, isn’t cruel enough.
Now, this act of cruelty merely gives Tamora and her sons a motive for revenge. Titus’ foolish declining of the offer of succession to be emperor, along with his support for Saturninus to succeed, leads eventually to the new emperor’s choice in Tamora to be his bride. Now, she and her sons have the opportunity for revenge.
Before the choice of Tamora for his queen, Saturninus chooses, in all capriciousness, Bassanius’ betrothed, Lavinia. This choice seems to be an act of spite towards his brother, cruelly depriving him and Lavinia of having each other’s love. When Bassanius takes her away, through the force of Titus’ sons, their again-foolish father, blindly loyal to Saturninus over his own family, kills his son, Mutius (this video from the 1985 BBC production) for blocking his way in the chase after Lavinia.
Indeed, we see a lot of foolishness in Titus, as in all the cruelty and violence seen in this play: his murder for religion (Alarbus); his filicides (Mutius and, in the end, Lavinia); his giving up of an opportunity to be emperor and thus protect his family from future reprisals; his all-too-quick giving up of his hand in a vain attempt to save the lives of his other two sons, Quintus and Martius; and his eventual descent into madness.
One criticism of this play is in how the excesses of violence seem more like a black comedy than tragedy; indeed, Harold Bloom once said that the best director for the play would be Mel Brooks. Consider the stage direction of having Titus’ severed hand carried in the mouth of handless Lavinia. But the whole point of the play is that cruelty is absurd and senseless.
Let us remember such atrocities as when the colonial rule of Belgian King Leopold II caused the deaths of about ten million Congolese back in the late 19th century. Consider the Armenian genocide in 1915, when between 800,000 and 1.5 million were killed. Or the Holocaust, in which not only were about six million Jews murdered, but also from 220,000 to 1.5 million Roma were murdered, as well as 2-3 million Soviet POWs; German gay men (from 5,000 to 15,000 imprisoned–it is uncertain how many died), leftists (among the first to be put in concentration camps), the disabled/mentally ill (about 270,000 killed), political and religious opponents, and Jehovah’s Witnesses were also among those persecuted.
Added to the absurdity of cruelty is that of revenge. How does revenge make the pain of the original wrong go away? For the killing of Alarbus, Tamora says, “I’ll find a day to massacre them all,/And raze their faction and their family,/The cruel father and his traitorous sons,/To whom I sued for my dear son’s life;/And make them know, what ‘t is to let a queen/Kneel in the streets and beg for grace in vain.”
With the help of her sons, Chiron and Demetrius, as well as Aaron the Moor, Tamora has Bassanius murdered and Titus’ sons, Quintus and Martius, framed for the crime, leading to their execution. Worse, she allows her sons to rape and mutilate Lavinia. Added to these outrages, Lucius is exiled, and Aaron tricks Titus into cutting off his hand in a fruitless ransom to save his two condemned sons. His reward is to be presented his hand with the heads of his sons. Tamara may have grinned maliciously at her achieved revenge, but how has this carnage brought Alarbus back to her?
The rape of Lavinia is especially cruel. One of the recurring themes of TA is that of begging for grace in vain. Lavinia thus pleads to leave her chastity intact, saying that slaying her unstained would make Tamora “a charitable murderer” (Act II, scene iii, line 178). All such pleas, including an appeal to Tamora’s womanhood, fall on deaf ears, just as Tamora’s weren’t heard by Titus, and his pleas to save Quintus and Martius, in turn, aren’t heard by the tribunes. Aaron pleads to spare the life of his illegitimate son by Tamora: by the end of the play, is the baby spared?
Not only is Lavinia brutally raped by Chiron and Demetrius, but they also cut off her hands and cut out her tongue, to ensure she has no way to accuse them. Any woman (or man or child) who has been raped feels every bit as unable to accuse, even with hands and tongue intact. Such is the power of the bully to silence the victim.
Next comes Titus’ final revenge on all his enemies. First, his exiled son joins the Goths and raises an army to invade betraying Rome, “a wilderness of tigers” (Act III, scene i, line 54), now considered as barbarous as the Goths. So upset is Saturninus with the bad news of Titus’ complaints to the gods of the emperor’s wickedness, sent in notes fired by arrows up into the sky, that he has a clown needlessly hanged. But this is only the beginning…
Titus’ men apprehend Chiron and Demetrius. Before slitting their throats as Lavinia watches and holds between her stumps a bowl to catch the drops of blood, he tells them his plan to cook their flesh in meat pies and serve them to their mother in a feast! Indeed, as Tamora is unwittingly eating her sons’ cooked flesh, Titus kills his daughter in a kind of honour killing, rationalizing it more as an ending of his misery than hers, and an ending of her shame, when it is her rapists who truly bear the shame.
Consider how some Muslims, victims of the terrible crimes of Western imperialism, often turn to forms of extremism like Wahhabism, then turn their violence on each other in such forms as honour killings, or resort to the terrorist killings of Western civilians, many of whom sympathize with their plight. Too often, we turn our wrath against the wrong people.
Next, we see a quick cycle of violence and revenge: when Titus tells Tamora she’s been feasting on the flesh of her sons, he kills her; then Saturninus immediately rises and kills Titus in a fury; then Lucius avenges his father by killing Saturninus.
We see similarly absurd violence in the imperialist violence against Iraq, Libya, and Syria, giving rise to ISIS, whose violence in such attacks as those in Paris prompts retaliations in Syria, out of which refugees are pouring. Violence merely begets more violence, which never ends.
The play ends with Aaron being buried alive, up to the neck, and left to starve to death. Anyone feeding or pitying him will be executed. His last words are, “If one good deed in all my life I did,/I do repent it from my very soul.” (Act V, scene iii, lines 189-190) This is what becomes of the soul of a man consumed by hate and malice: “Aaron will have his soul black like his face.” (Act III, scene i, line 206)
Lucius ends the play by commanding that Tamora’s body not be buried, and that she, having been without pity in her life, can “let birds on her take pity.” (Act V, scene iii, line 200) He is thus the dubious redeemer of the play, having started the cycle of violence with the ‘hewing’ of Alarbus’ limbs, and having ended it with these final cruelties.
Ending the play on such a dark note, the essence of its profound tragedy, leaves so many with such queasy feelings that that TA has had such a bad reputation. Few of us can bear to see the darkest shadows of ourselves explored so thoroughly, and taken to such cruel conclusions. Yet the violence of today’s world shows us the relevance of this play, with such examples as the Rwandan genocide, whose own cycle of violence was ended with a relatively lenient punishment of most of the perpetrators. This ability to forgive is what we can learn about how to deal with our darker shadows.
Brave New World is a novel written by Aldous Huxley and published in 1932. Like George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is a dystopian novel about a future world tightly controlled by a totalitarian government. There is, however, a crucial difference between these two dystopias: Orwell’s Hell is a totalitarianism predicated on brute force, surveillance, and a manipulation of logic called doublethink; Huxley’s tyranny is more like a Heaven, or a Spenserian Bower of Bliss, predicated on a mindless pursuit of pleasure (promiscuous sex, getting high on soma, and watching ‘feelies’, this last being comparable to the 4DX experience in movies) to distract people from questioning the world around them.
At the same time, there are similarities between these two tyrannies: both involve intolerance of nonconformity, though where Orwell’s thought-criminals are tortured and killed, Huxley’s are simply exiled; and both systems of power do their utmost to erase history to ensure that their citizens never get a taste of an alternative culture, which might lead to a dangerous wish to rise up against the current regime. “‘When the individual feels, the community reels,’ Lenina pronounced.” (Chapter 6)
As with my analysis of Nineteen Eighty-Four, I can’t resist comparing Huxley’s dystopia with our world today. Indeed, in Brave New World Revisited, Huxley himself compared the world of his ‘fable’, as he called it, to the world he saw around him in the late 1950s, and found it disturbingly close in many ways to his fictitious world. He also contrasted his predictions to those of Orwell’s: “It is worth remembering that, in 1984, the members of the Party are compelled to conform to a sexual ethic of more than Puritan severity. In Brave New World, on the other hand, all are permitted to indulge their sexual impulses without let or hindrance.” (page 34)
Neil Postman, in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, also made a comparison of Huxley’s novel with our world over thirty years ago, feeling that the America of the 1980s was far more like Huxley’s heavenly Hell than Orwell’s more blatant one. The whole idea of Postman’s book was how the once serious discussion of politics, which involved lengthy speeches, detailed analyses of the issues, and fierce debates, all by a literate public, has degenerated into mere TV entertainment. We are not so much bludgeoned by fascistic cops as we’re lulled to sleep with amusement. If Postman were alive today, he would see how much more correct, and prophetic, his analysis was by watching the clownish likes of Donald Trump on TV.
In my opinion, today’s world is about half Orwellian and half Huxleyan. For my comparison of Nineteen Eighty-Four with our world, please go here. And now, for my comparison of our world with that of Brave New World.
One thing to remember about Huxley’s novel is that it is a satiric exaggeration of the early 1930s (and, by extension, today’s world). We haven’t done away with families, procreation, pregnancy, parenthood, and monogamy, as has been done in World State society, but in many ways we are already well on our way to abolishing such things (and, recall above, that Huxley in Brave New World Revisited also believed that in the late 1950s our world was coming closer to such a state of affairs than he’d originally imagined). Western divorce rates are absurdly high, many people are opting out of marriage completely, artificial insemination has existed for decades, and in spite of the fear of STDs, or of men taking advantage of drunk or stoned women, one-night stands in Western countries are as common as the common cold.
As Huxley says in Brave New World Revisited: “The society described in Brave New World is a world-state in which war has been eliminated and where the first aim of the rulers is at all cost to keep their subjects from making trouble. This they achieve by (among other methods) legalizing a degree of sexual freedom (made possible by the abolition of the family) that practically guarantees the Brave New Worlders against any form of destructive (or creative) emotional tension.” (page 34)
A few words need to be said about Huxley’s World State when compared with today’s political world. The notion of an oppressive, global government is the subject of a popular conspiracy theory that sells lots of books and makes lots of money for right-wing kooks like Alex Jones. Needless to say, I don’t subscribe to such nonsense. I once read the beginning of a webpage about the ‘NWO‘ in which the writer claimed there are two ways to interpret all the phenomena of history: they’re either accidents–coincidences; or they’re all planned (i.e., conspiratorial). The belief in this false dichotomy among ‘truthers’ and the like was confirmed whenever I read their use of the term ‘coincidence theorist’ as a straw-man against any doubters of their paranoid ideas.
What’s especially interesting about these conspiracy theorists is how many of them are either right-libertarians or religious fundamentalists (Christian or Muslim). They fancy themselves anti-authoritarian, but they’re in total denial of the hierarchy and authoritarianism inherent in capitalism and religion. They won’t trust the mainstream media, but they don’t mind referring to it when it criticizes ‘socialist’ Big Government. And while we’re on the topic of conspiratorial thinking, since there has been, from the Reagan and Thatcher years to the present, a push towards greater and greater deregulation and tax cuts for the rich–which, as I’ve argued elsewhere, leads ironically to bigger rather than smaller government–it doesn’t seem an ill-founded suspicion to think that the rich oligarchy is more than happy to promote these conspiracy theories. After all, they criticize only the state, while leaving ‘free market’ capitalism and religion well alone. And if the elite is so incredibly powerful, we can’t do anything about it…so don’t bother trying. The capitalists have already won. They would love us to be so pessimistic.
As I see it, a more accurate contemporary parallel to the World State is globalization. The so-called ‘free market’ doesn’t pulverize the state, as the right-libertarians would have us think: it merely privatizes the state. World governments are increasingly being run by capitalists, as such shady deals as the TPP show; multinational corporations can use the TPP to sue any government that makes regulations that limit their profits. To know who has the power, follow where the money is going…and capitalism is all about making as much money as possible.
The state is just the bouncer of the World Casino, if you will; and who is the state’s boss, if he isn’t a capitalist? Huxley’s satire is as much a critique of capitalism as it is of the state. Indeed, in the 1946 Foreword to Brave New World (page xliii), he described his ideal society as being economically Georgist (which can be considered a variant on left-libertarianism) and politically ‘Kropotkinesque’, and it was he who thus introduced me to anarcho-communism.
References to capitalism in Brave New World include the World State’s class system, with people like Mustapha Mond, one of ten World Controllers composing the ruling class. Then there are Alpha-plus people like Helmholtz Watson and Bernard Marx, beneath whom are upper-middle-class Betas, then the Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons, the equivalents of such groups as the petite bourgeoisie and the working classes who are conditioned into being content to stay in their respective castes and/or do menial labour. Note that there is nothing even remotely socialist about such a world, since socialism aims to create a classless, worker-ruled society.
Elsewhere, capitalism in Huxley’s world is seen in the World State’s promotion of consumerism, a constant buying and fetishizing of commodities (“Ending is better than mending. The more stitches, the less riches.”–Chapter 3). Indeed, with the World State’s requiring of its citizens to engage in promiscuous sex (“Every one belongs to every one else.”–Chapter 3), we see even a commodifying of people. In the Hatcheries, where babies, including cloned ones, are mass-produced instead of born the natural way, we see human commodification taken to a satirical extreme.
Speaking of mass production, a worship of Henry Ford has replaced that of Christ; there is even a regular singing of ‘Solidarity Hymns’ to Ford (Chapter 5, part 2). The crucifix is replaced by a T (i.e., the Ford Model T), and A.D. is replaced with A.F., “After Ford,” a new dating system beginning with the year that the first Model T was produced. Ford is honoured because of his development of assembly-line production, which represents the capitalist ideal in World State society. He is so godlike to the World State that expressions like “O, Lord, Lord, Lord,” and “Thank the Lord” are replaced with “O, Ford, Ford, Ford,” and “Thank Ford!” World State citizens worship capitalism just as today’s free market fundamentalists do, with their God-like ‘invisible hand,’ which allegedly guides consumers to making wise decisions in buying products. (I wonder how many of them are aware that such things as their coffee, chocolate, and diamonds are often produced through slave labour in the Third World.) World State citizens, just like so many of today’s conspiracy theorists (who are so above all those unthinking ‘sheeple’), worship capitalism as a religion.
Now, how are the citizens conditioned to be content with their lot, wherever it may be in the caste system? One way is through hypnopaedic conditioning: as children are sleeping, they hear recordings that subliminally teach them to conform. This is comparable to how we passively, thoughtlessly watch TV and accept every entertaining image, as if we were sleeping. TV, movies, and popular music these days are all mindless nonsense, or they bombard us with propaganda, either that of divisive political correctness, or of materialist pleasure (overt sexuality, the ‘He who dies with the most toys wins’ would-be philosophy, etc.). The CIA started influencing world media with Operation Mockingbird back in the 1950s, and it is doubtful if they ever stopped; one of the most influential feminists of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, Gloria Steinem, who helped in the shift from second wave to third wave and radical ‘Marxist’ feminism, had CIA connections.
Another way the World State controls the people is through a drug called soma, which gives people a high to help them forget their troubles (“A gramme is better than a damn.”–Chapter 3). This is like how disruptive children in the US are constantly given psychiatric drugs to treat conditions like ADHD or ODD. Pharma for profit, rather than for actually helping people. Elsewhere, people enjoy coffee and nicotine to keep them contented workers, and alcohol to make those workers forget their problems over the weekend. Sure, narcotics are illegal (the gradual legalizing of marijuana notwithstanding), but the prison-for-profit industry in America is all too happy to incarcerate drug addicts and traffickers (consider what a failure the ‘War on Drugs’ has been).
Then there’s all that sugary, fattening food we enjoy: our very own soma. Combining that with the dumbing-down of our society, consider what Huxley had to say in Brave New World Revisited: “And now let us consider the case of the rich, industrialized and democratic society, in which, owing to the random but effective practice of dysgenics, IQs and physical vigour are on the decline. For how long can such a society maintain its traditions of individual liberty and democratic government? Fifty or a hundred years from now our children will learn the answer to this question.” (page 21) Indeed, I think we have.
Of course, all these attempts to make the people conform don’t always succeed. Bernard Marx is unhappy because he is too small in physical stature. Lenina is criticized for not being polygamous enough. Helmholtz is too smart and creative a writer for the World State’s insistence on superficial slogans (for example,”A gramme in time saves nine.”–Chapter 6). Still, all three of them are conditioned enough either to want to fit in (Bernard, Lenina), or at least to accept the contrived World State morality (Helmholtz). Even Mustapha Mond owns forbidden literature, and has read it, and though he as a youth had a dangerously inquisitive mind (in scientific matters), he accepts and defends the need to keep conformity as an indispensable part of life, for the sake of social stability.
Another non-conformist, who nonetheless aches to fit into World State society, is Linda, mother of John the Savage. She is branded a whore both in the World State for accidentally getting pregnant (during a visit to a reservation in New Mexico), and in the reservation, where a conservative sexual morality condemns her for sleeping with the aboriginal women’s husbands.
These people are like most of us, who try to conform either to conservative or to liberal forms of morality, but fail to do so, to varying extents. We’re all trapped in a world of pursuing pleasure and social status.
Then there’s the greatest non-conformist of them all–John the Savage. Given the prejudices of conservative Westerners, there is an amusing irony in labelling John–a white man born to World State citizens (Linda and Thomas, the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning), but raised among aboriginals in the New Mexico reservation–a ‘savage’. Added to that irony is how his conservative morality, including such traditional values as monogamy, piety in family and religion, and a love of classic literature (John constantly quotes Shakespeare), is regarded as uncivilized among the people of the World State. Is this not like the scorn left-leaning liberals have for what they deem to be backward conservative ideas?
While I personally don’t believe in God, I don’t feel the need to stick my tongue out at religious people; as long as they keep their faith to themselves, I’ll tolerate it. Still, many of the New Atheists use their disdain for religion to justify Western imperialism in the Middle East. I’m no defender of anti-woman, anti-LGBT sharia law, but the American invasions of Iraq, Libya, and Syria have exacerbated the problem of Muslim extremism rather than diminished it.
This issue leads to my next point. Though John is a white man born out of wedlock and raised among aboriginals, I find it interesting to compare him to today’s Muslims living in the secular West. Like Muslims in America, Canada, and Europe, John is a fish out of water who has great difficulty adjusting to life in the World State. In chapters 8 and 15, John quotes Miranda in The Tempest, who, when she first sees people not from the island she’s been raised on, says, “O wonder!/How many goodly creatures are there here!/How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world/That has such people in’t.” But quickly, the novelty of the World State wears off, and John comes to despise this new world around him, as many alienated Muslims in the West must feel.
In the World State, notions of marriage, family, and religious tradition are laughed at and even abominated. In our world, such people as radical feminists on the one side (far more influential in the media than many care to admit) and MGTOWs on the other consider straight marriage to be a trap for their respective sex, a life-ruining decision to be avoided. Because of high divorce rates, Western families way too often are broken. And since religious authoritarianism has caused much more pain than given the comfort and black-and-white assurances it so dubiously promises, many in the West feel more than justified in criticizing religion, if not outright lampooning it.
John, however, believes that marriage, family, and religion fill our lives with a meaning that soma, consumerism, and promiscuous sex cannot. Muslims feel the same way, and just as John takes umbrage at Helmholtz’s laughing at Shakespeare’s writing of mothers and marriage (Chapter 12), or Mustapha Mond’s invalidating of religion (Chapter 17) or the values embodied in the literary classics (Chapter 16), so does the Muslim take offence at the stereotyping of his faith as being, essentially, violent fanaticism.
While we sympathize with John’s alienation, we shouldn’t idealize his alternative to the World State’s philosophy of happiness, either. His self-flagellations and over-reliance on Shakespearian poetry to give him meaning lapse into absurdity. The same can be said of the endless conflict between his desire for Lenina and his prudish refusal to satisfy that desire: consider his melodramatic reaction when she makes sexual advances on him, quoting Othello and calling her an “impudent strumpet!” (Chapter 13) Compare these absurdities to the Muslim insistence that the Arabic poetry of the Koran, for all of its undeniable beauty, is the eternal word of Allah rather than man-made dogma and religious laws created to help 7th-century Arabic tribes cope with the socio-economic and political pressures of their time. The Christian fundamentalist has similar problems with his ‘infallible’ Bible, as does the Mormon with his clumsily–written appendix to the ‘Word of God’.
Again, I can empathize with the isolated Muslim in the Western world, with his people in the Middle East routinely being killed by drone strikes, with countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria needlessly torn apart by Western imperialists (Iran likely to be the next victim), alongside Israel’s endless persecution of the Palestinians, and the media’s constant blackening of his religion. On the other side, freedom of speech, including the freedom to criticize all religions, must be respected. There are no straightforward answers to these problems.
John is right, however, to try to destroy all the soma (Chapter 15). Too many of us indulge in various forms of substance abuse instead of dealing with our problems directly. While smoking marijuana from time to time may be acceptable, it should be legal, and it’s certainly a lot of fun, many people ‘medicate’ themselves with it every day; and research has shown that there is a link–though a by-no-means straightforward one–between constant marijuana use and schizophrenia. Avoiding pain may be preferable to enduring it, but experiencing pain is part of being human; and people like Lenina and Linda are like living corpses when on soma. Indeed, the death of John’s mother (Chapter 14) from excessive soma use is what throws him over the edge.
Bernard and Helmholtz are exiled to far-away islands, these being almost pleasant punishments in Huxley’s dystopia. Indeed, they’re a far cry from Room 101. But John exiles himself, as it were, by leaving the cities and living in an abandoned ‘air-lighthouse‘ (Chapter 18). The nosy World State media and sight-seers, ever fascinated with this ‘savage’, follow him and do news stories of him beating himself. This is comparable to how the American media (mostly controlled by only six corporations) focus on Muslim extremism instead of Muslim acts of kindness and charity (or Muslim condemnation of Islamic extremism), to feed anti-Muslim sentiment and fuel more imperialist aggression in the Middle East, as well as to distract Westerners from many contemporary examples of capitalist corruption, like the Panama Papers.
John just wants to be left alone, just as Muslims want the US military bases out of the Middle East. Lenina wants him, and tries to seduce him again, just as Muslim men must be tempted by all those ‘half-naked’ Western women. Finally, John lashes out at Lenina, shouting “Kill it, kill it, kill it…” This could be compared to the scurrilous behaviour of what seems to have been mostly North African men (mostly not refugees) towards German women during New Year’s Eve, 2015-2016.
John’s attack on Lenina leads to an orgy with the other World State citizens present, in which he participates, to his shame. Overwhelmed with self-hate for having given in to his desire, John hangs himself. His despair is comparable to how many suicide bombers must feel. After all, however one may criticize the world John has been raised in, the World State is clearly much more at fault. The parallels of these two worlds with, respectively, the Muslim and modern Western worlds, should be obvious.
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Vintage, London, 2007 (first published in Great Britain by Chatto and Windus, 1932)
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited, Vintage, London, 2004 (first published in Great Britain by Chatto and Windus, 1959)
The Godfather is a trilogy of films by Francis Ford Coppola, written by him and Mario Puzo, based on Puzo’s 1969 novel. As a trio of crime dramas, its depiction of the mafia is understood to symbolize general corruption in American politics, though I will be carrying my analysis far beyond just that. I will be focusing on the first two films, generally considered to be two of the greatest films ever made; while Part III, being good only in parts (and I don’t think mine is a minority opinion), will be touched on more lightly. I’ll also discuss parts of Puzo’s novel.
In general, the social, political, and economic critiques in The Godfather are those of hierarchy and authority. Mafia families represent competing capitalists, and the Corleone family in particular represents the traditional patriarchal family. Mafia Don Vito Andolini, who would change his surname to Corleone (‘Lionheart’), the name of the town in Sicily where he was born, has “all the judges and politicians in his pocket,” as so many US billionaires do in today’s neoliberal world. Here we see the source of corruption in American politics, or the politics of any other country: capitalism’s use of the state to protect its interests.
Here are some famous quotes from all three movies:
“Bonasera, Bonasera. What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? If you’d come to me in friendship, then that scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And if by chance an honest man like yourself should make enemies, then they would become my enemies. And then they would fear you.” –Don Corleone
“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.” –Don Corleone (ranked #2 in American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations.)
“It’s a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.” —Tessio
“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” –Clemenza
“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” –Michael
“Times have changed. It’s not like the old days when we could do anything we want. A refusal is not the act of a friend. Don Corleone had all the judges and the politicians in New York, and he must share them. He must let us draw the water from the well. Certainly, he can present a bill for such services. After all, we are not Communists.” –Don Barzini
“Only, don’t tell me you’re innocent, because it insults my intelligence. It makes me very angry.” –Michael, to Carlo
“There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” —Michael (the bolded portion is ranked #58 in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations )
“If I could only live to see it, to be there with you. What I wouldn’t give for twenty more years! Here we are, protected, free to make our profits without Kefauver, the goddamn Justice Department and the F.B.I. ninety miles away, in partnership with a friendly government. Ninety miles! It’s nothing! Just one small step, looking for a man who wants to be President of the United States, and having the cash to make it possible. Michael, we’re bigger than U.S. Steel.” –Hyman Roth
“I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!” –Michael
“Fredo, you’re nothing to me now. You’re not a brother. You’re not a friend. I don’t wanna know you or what you do. I don’t wanna see you at the hotels. I don’t want you near my house. When you see our mother, I want to know a day in advance, so I won’t be there. You understand?” –Michael
“Oh, Michael. Michael, you are blind. It wasn’t a miscarriage. It was an abortion. An abortion, Michael! Just like our marriage is an abortion. Something that’s unholy and evil. I didn’t want your son, Michael! I wouldn’t bring another one of your sons into this world! It was an abortion, Michael! It was a son, Michael! A son! And I had it killed because this must all end! I know now that it’s over. I knew it then. There would be no way, Michael… no way you could ever forgive me, not with this Sicilian thing that’s been going on for 2,000 years!” –Kay
“Tom, you know you surprise me. If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it’s that you can kill anyone.” –Michael
“No, I don’t hate you, Michael. I dread you.” –Kay
“Finance is a gun. Politics is knowing when to pull the trigger.” –Don Lucchesi
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” –Michael
“Your sins are terrible, and it is just that you suffer. Your life could be redeemed, but I know you do not believe that. You will not change.” –Cardinal Lamberto, to Michael
The first movie begins with Amerigo Bonasera, an undertaker whose daughter has been beaten by two men who attempted to rape her. Though he begins by saying, “I believe in America” (i.e., ‘the land of the free’), he quickly learns how corrupt the judges are when one of them gives her attackers a suspended sentence, allowing them to go free that very day. Now that he knows that might makes right in America as much as it does everywhere else, he comes to the mafia for ‘justice’, to have them killed.
This corruption of justice is similar to how social services offered by the state decline in effectiveness due to corruption or insufficient funding from taxes, then (as Noam Chomsky once pointed out) we go to the private sector for these services, which are given only for a price, as Don Vito will expect a favour in return one day from Bonasera for beating up his daughter’s attackers. After all, Vito is only a moderate mafioso/capitalist, who knows that killing the “scum that ruined [Bonasera’s] daughter” isn’t justice, since she’s still alive.
Bonasera, in his naïveté about how the mafia does things, assumes he can simply pay Vito to have his soldiers murder her two attackers. Having unwittingly insulted Vito, Bonasera learns the importance of getting Vito’s “friendship”, which leads to the beating up of the two men “as a gift on [Vito’s] daughter’s wedding day.” This friendship shows the hypocrisy in the Corleone family, in how they try to pass themselves off as decent people, always keeping up appearances, the way the bourgeoisie does in general.
The juxtaposition of Bonasera’s failed attempts at protecting his daughter with the wedding day of Vito’s daughter Connie, is an interesting one. In the traditional patriarchal family, a girl’s marrying into another family involves her father giving her away to her husband-to-be, an old protector being replaced by a new one. Throughout most of this scene, Vito is so busy granting requests that he can rarely, if ever, leave his office and participate in the wedding party outside. After all, no Sicilian can refuse a request on his daughter’s wedding day, symbolizing the honour and love he has for her.
Here we see the contradictions inherent in the patriarchal family: the overzealousness with which ‘our girls’ must be protected leads to a failure to protect them; Vito’s symbolic honouring of his daughter by granting all wishes on her wedding day leads to his hardly ever being with her until the end of the party, a symbolic failure to protect. Similarly, he does nothing to help Connie when her husband Carlo beats her later, rationalizing (in the novel, Book IV, Chapter 16, page 238) that she should submit to Carlo’s authority, and saying the rest of the family shouldn’t interfere with her and Carlo’s private business (an attitude Vito’s wife, Carmela, agrees with).
Bonasera has been very lax in his protection of his daughter, allowing her to stay out late drinking with the two men who assault her; but the failure to protect Connie, coupled with overzealous protectiveness, is symptomatic of the failure of the Corleone family to protect themselves in general, as we’ll explore later.
The corruption that the mafia represents extends to Hollywood, where movie producer Jack Woltz is intimidated into giving a role to Johnny Fontane, a singer/actor the producer hates for having made him look bad. The corruption Woltz represents is seen in his lecherous taste in underage girls, one of whom we learn has been in his bedroom when consigliere Tom Hagen has visited (this lechery is evident in the novel, Book I, Chapter 1, pages 62-63, and in one deleted scene in the movie).
All of the mafia families represent competing capitalists, but Don Corleone is only a moderate capitalist, wanting nothing to do with the heroin business Virgil Sollozzo wants to bring into New York. The Tattaglia family, as well as that of Barzini, wanting Corleone to share his political and police protection so they can get in on the new heroin business, represents the expansion and accumulation of capital, and its growing evil.
The conflict of interests between the Five Families, with Corleone’s on one side and the other four opposing him, represents the contradictions inherent in capitalism. The war that erupts between the Corleone and Tattaglia families symbolizes those contradictions escalating into an economic crisis, for indeed, as the war continues, Tom warns Sonny, who is acting Don while Vito’s in hospital, that business is suffering. Similarly, Clemenza tells Michael that these wars have to happen every (five or) ten years or so…the same time period that, sans Keynesian state interventions, usually comes between economic crises. The violence and killings can thus be seen to symbolize the suffering caused by capitalism’s instability.
Capitalists typically deny malicious intent, as do these gangsters. Sollozzo tells Hagen,”I don’t like violence, Tom. I’m a businessman. Blood is a big expense.” Sonny, Tom, and Michael all repeat the mantra that this mob violence is nothing personal–it’s just business…when Michael’s wish to kill Sollozzo for trying to have his father killed, as well as the corrupt cop McCluskey for breaking his jaw, is clearly personal (see also the novel, Book I, Chapter 11, page 145).
Indeed, bringing Michael into “the family business”, when he was originally intended by Vito to be a senator or governor in the “legitimate”, respectable part of society, shows how capitalism seeps into everything, a corruption we’ll continue to see spreading through the rest of this movie/novel and its sequels.
Michael goes into hiding in Sicily, where he wishes to see the town of Corleone, to get a sense of his family roots. Here we see beautiful countryside as well as simple town life, a pleasant contrast to the harsh modern life of New York City. This idyllic life suggests how the world was before capitalism grew into the monster it is today.
Still, there are dangers in Sicily that Michael must be wary of. Apart from all the deaths from local vendettas, the Italian-American mafia is trying to find and kill him in revenge for Sollozzo and McCluskey. This symbolizes how capitalism, in an earlier stage of development, is creeping into rustic Sicilian life, as it had in the enclosures of the Commons in 18th-century England. On the other hand, a deleted scene in the movie shows a group of communists marching about Sicily, hoping to recruit new members. Fleeting references to communism appear here and there in the first two movies, like a spectre haunting Europe, America, and Cuba. The class war is growing.
Meanwhile, back in America, Sonny learns that Carlo, sore that he’s being excluded from the family business, has beaten up Connie. Though Sonny has previously been warned not to interfere by his mother, echoing Vito’s insensitivity to Carlo’s increasing abusiveness, the hothead beats up Carlo, warning he’ll kill him if he ever hurts Connie again. The intensity of the beating that Sonny gives Carlo shows the dangers of zealous over-protection, since violence only begets more violence. Indeed, Carlo plots with Barzini to have Sonny gunned down, and beats up Connie to lure Sonny to his death.
Vito, still the moderate gangster, wants no revenge, but instead arranges a meeting of the Five Families to end the war. Barzini and Tattaglia complain about Vito’s refusal to cooperate in the new heroin business, which would have resulted in giving the other families police protection. But we learn that “times have changed”, and police and politicians now can be bought to ensure safety from prison in the new drug business. At one point, Barzini reminds us that the mafia “are not communists.” Of course not: mafia are capitalists…and capitalists are mafia; that’s what The Godfather is all about.
One significant part of the class conflict caused by such systems as capitalism is racism. Earlier, Sonny mentioned how “Niggers are having a good time with [Corleone] policy banks in Harlem”. During the meeting of the Five Families, Don Stracchi says his men leave the drug trafficking among “the dark people, the coloureds. They’re animals, anyway, so let them lose their souls.” The others at the meeting seem to agree to this arrangement, and ‘peace’ is achieved between Corleone and Tattaglia.
Michael returns to America, and is now the new Don of the Corleone family, Vito having retired. Michael meets Kay, his old American girlfriend, and asks her to marry him. While he gives an empty promise that the Corleone family will be “completely legitimate” one day, he also tells her the cynical reality that senators do have men killed, just as the mafia does. Of course they do: politicians do much of the dirty work of capitalists, because the state works for capitalism…even though right-libertarians promise that a laissez-faire form of capitalism will purify the market of state corruption. But instead, when Michael has the other heads of the Five Families all killed, and he becomes the sole mafia head in New York, we see symbolically how laissez-faire, in wiping out competition (thanks to the tax cuts and deregulation that give large corporations an unfair advantage over small businesses), leads to the very crony capitalism, or monopoly capitalism, it claims it will eradicate. (For a thorough discussion on how that happens, look here.)
The killing of all those men happens in a particularly chilling way: Michael is standing as godfather to Carlo’s and Connie’s baby, telling the priest in the cathedral that he does “renounce Satan”, and that he believes in God the Father, Jesus, His Son, and the Holy Spirit! ‘Godfather’ is a perfect name for this movie, as well as for Vito and Michael, for it exemplifies the authoritarian nature of the mafia, of capitalism, of religion, and of the traditional patriarchal family, all in one fell swoop. This scene, in which Michael ruthlessly pretends to be a good Christian while knowing full well that a bunch of people are about to be brutally murdered (Stracchi, shot in an elevator by Clemenza; Moe Greene with a bullet in his eye; Cuneo, shot by Cicci in a revolving door; Barzini, shot by Al Neri-who’s dressed as a cop [in the novel, he’s a former cop who used to beat people with a large flashlight–Book VIII, Chapter 30, pages 413-414]; and Tattaglia, shot in bed with one of his prostitutes, by Rocco Lompone), starkly shows the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie in its pretence of virtue.
To top everything off, when Michael tells Carlo these men were all killed by his orders, he tells Carlo that he has “settled all family business.” Just like a capitalist. And having promised he won’t make Connie a widow, Michael has Carlo garrotted by Clemenza.
With the Corleone move to Las Vegas, hence the killing of Moe Greene, we see how capitalism expands and accumulates, wiping out the competition. First, there was the Genco Olive Oil business in New York; now, there’s the gambling business in Nevada.
Though one would imagine Connie to be grateful to her brother for ridding her of her abusive, adulterous husband, she’s in tears and furious with Michael. When she tells Kay about the murders of the other heads of the Five Families, saying, “That’s your husband! That’s your husband!”, frowning Kay asks him if it’s true. He lies and denies it, of course, and the first movie ends with her frowning, suspecting the lie. An outtake shows Kay in church lighting candles, and the novel ends with her praying for Michael.
Part II begins with Vito Andolini as a nine-year-old boy in Corleone, Sicily. His whole family gets killed by the local mafia, whose chieftain is Don Ciccio, and he must leave before they find and kill him. He emigrates to New York.
The smaller mafia of Corleone, like the family Vito establishes in New York, can be seen to represent the early stages of capitalism. The scenes that follow his rise (also in Puzo’s novel, Book III, Chapter 14) alternate with scenes of the continued story of Michael as Don of his father’s family. These contrasting scenes symbolize capitalism’s seemingly benevolent beginnings and ugly maturation.
In late 1950s Nevada, we see Michael’s growing business empire. We also see more of the pretence of respectability in the party celebrating his son’s First Communion at Lake Tahoe. Michael meets with Senator Pat Geary about getting a gaming licence. In a combination of prejudice against Italians and a disgust with mafia corruption (though he’s no better), the senator wants an exorbitant bribe for the licence; he also bluntly insults Michael’s family to his face. Michael, always one to defend his family and their honour, insists that the hypocrisy of his business and Geary’s government doesn’t apply to his wife and children. Their innocence is always protected: that’s why the family business is never discussed around them…even though they know full well that Michael’s business is anything but innocent.
Geary’s wish “to squeeze” Michael could be seen to represent the agenda of left-leaning or social democratic governments, which tax capitalists as much as possible. Indeed, the post-war world seen in The Godfather, Parts I and II, and continuing up till the 1970s, saw the rich being taxed much more than they are today. Geary’s later hypocritical praise of Italian-Americans during Michael’s trial can be seen to indicate the phoney, would-be egalitarianism promoted by the politically correct aspects of the left, always expressing sympathy for the darker-complexioned, but typically leaving the Third World in the lurch.
When Geary is caught in a Fredo-run whorehouse with a bloodily murdered prostitute (apparently killed by Al Neri to blackmail Geary into helping the Corleone family), he is assured by Tom Hagen that he is safe. From then on, Geary is fully on Michael’s side. Here we see a symbolic indication of how the capitalist class can get even ‘left-leaning’ politicians to represent right-wing interests, as would happen increasingly with the Clintons and the Democratic Party in America, and with Tony Blair in the Labour Party in the UK.
Meanwhile, we have the usual capitalist contradictions symbolized in the competing families of Michael, Pentangeli, and Hyman Roth, as well as the Rosato Brothers. Racism and capitalism tend to go hand in hand, hence Pentangeli’s antisemitic attitude towards Roth and his use of racial slurs against blacks and Hispanics.
When an attempt is made on Michael’s life, in his and Kay’s bedroom, he quickly crawls over to her, covering her body with his. Here we see one of the main purposes of sex roles: the male obligation to protect women, the nucleus of matriarchy within every cell of the traditional patriarchal family, which is seen elsewhere in Michael’s preoccupation with whether or not the unborn child in Kay’s womb is a boy.
We see the spread of capitalism represented in the presence of mafia families in Nevada (Corleone), New York (young Vito and Pentangeli), Florida (Roth), Sicily (Ciccio), and Cuba, where Michael and Roth meet with Fulgencio Batista, who felt no discomfort allowing foreign capitalists, including the American mafia, to exploit his impoverished people. Interestingly, this visit to Cuba happens when Fidel Castro’s communists take over.
On the night when the Cuban Revolution prevails, around midnight on New Year’s Eve/Day in 1959, all the capitalists, including Michael and his older brother Fredo, must get off the island. Music (<<at 2:30) reminiscent of an early section of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (a ballet about a human sacrifice) is heard, suggesting the brutality of the material conditions necessary to bring about revolution: the brutality of the extreme contradictions of capitalism that cause the whole system to come tumbling down.
And indeed, brutal contradictions reach even to the extent of the Corleone’s family’s integrity, for Michael has learned who the traitor in his family is, the one who made a secret deal with Roth and Johnny Ola–Fredo. This indicates one of the main themes of Part II: betrayal.
Pentangeli feels betrayed by Michael, since Michael’s business dealings with “that Jew” Roth undermine Pentangeli’s ability to deal with the Rosato Brothers; Roth feels betrayed by Michael, his business partner, when he’s learned that Michael gave the order to kill Moe Greene, a fellow Jewish gangster. Michael feels betrayed not only by Fredo, but by Kay when she tells him the unborn male child in her womb didn’t die of a miscarriage, but was aborted (the look of rage on Al Pacino’s face here is, in my opinion, some of his very best acting). Michael ultimately betrays his whole family by having Fredo killed by Al Neri, who mercifully allows him first to do a ‘Hail, Mary’ prayer.
Once again we see, in the Corleones’ overzealous wish to protect the family, they end up killing their own.
Kay aborts the son out of a wish to end the mob violence; Michael has Fredo killed out of a wish to punish and therefore deter treason. This self-destructive cycle of violence and revenge can represent the contradictions of capitalism: the excessive lust for profits (a wish to protect oneself financially) creates huge wealth inequality and imperialist wars (symbolized by all the mafia violence), resulting in the poor not being able to buy much of anything, stopping the circulation of money and commodity exchange, and leading to financial crises.
Going back to the story of young Vito, he must deal with Don Fanucci, The Black Hand, who can be seen to represent either a competing capitalist or the feudalism that preceded capitalism. There was never any feudalism in American history (apart from British hegemony over the early American settlers, provoking the American Revolution), of course, but we’re discussing the language of symbol here. Vito’s killing of Fanucci (who, like feudal lords’ taxing of their vassals and peasants, wants a cut of Vito’s money in exchange for his ‘protection’) can thus be compared to bourgeois uprisings like the French Revolution in 1789, or the one that brought about the Republic of China in 1911.
As Vito’s mafia family rises in power, including the creation of his Genco Olive Oil Company in the 1920s, we see his benevolence towards an old lady whose landlord wants to evict her. This kindness and growth in power are comparable to the generosity that the bourgeoisie claims to have; they justify their class privileges by pointing out the raised standard of living they create (while neglecting to mention how they alone enjoy the vast majority of the benefits of that economic growth); they also talk about donating to charity, instead of trying to change society’s material conditions, such that charity becomes no longer necessary.
Estes Kefauver’s investigations into the mafia in the 1950s are reflected in Michael’s trial. The state’s attempt to put him in jail can be compared to the postwar period in American history when greater state regulation, including higher taxes for the rich, reduced income inequality and produced a large middle class. But Michael manages to beat Questadt, who is working for Roth, by implying a threat to the life of Pentangeli’s brother (who has just flown in from Sicily) if Pentangeli testifies against Michael. Symbolically, this shows that, even when capitalism is regulated by the state (or because it is regulated, because of competing interests–i.e., Roth), it is still corrupt to the core. Nothing can reform it.
In spite of this ever-present capitalist corruption, some communists have acknowledged the necessity of a capitalist stage superseding feudalism, before the world is ready for socialism. The temporary period of young Vito’s benevolent bourgeois rule can be seen in this light; but by the time Michael takes over, the oppressiveness of capitalism can no longer be ignored.
In Part III, we see Michael about twenty years after the end of Part II, racked with guilt and trying to redeem himself by going completely legitimate at last, after years of failing to keep this promise to Kay, whom he’s divorced. His wish to control International Immobiliare, a real estate holding company known as “the world’s biggest landlord”, must have no mafia connections at all. To his dismay, he learns that those involved in Immobiliare, such as Lucchesi, are either mafiosi or are connected with them…including the Vatican. A cigarette-smoking archbishop named Gilday, who attempts to swindle Michael out of his money, symbolizes Church corruption.
Elsewhere, Michael meets a good man of God, Cardinal Lamberto, who receives Michael’s tearful confession; though, like Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, Michael cannot repent, since to do so necessitates giving up his money and power, as well as being incarcerated for his crimes. Lamberto is Pope for a brief time, then a plot by Archbishop Gilday, Lucchesi, and Keinszig results in him being served poisoned tea.
Michael’s gifts to charities, as generous as they are, also cannot redeem him. Kay watches his show of goodwill, and is disgusted at the hypocrisy she sees. She actually prefers him as a common hood; his pretence as an ‘honest’ businessman makes him even more dangerous now. As we can see, all attempts to reform and legitimize capitalism fail, for it is inherently criminal. It always has been, and it always will be.
And again, try as Michael might, he cannot protect his family from danger; he tries to get out of the mafia, and they pull him back in. He wants Vincent Mancini to stay away from his daughter Mary, Vincent’s cousin, for her safety, but she is shot and killed. Finally, Michael dies alone in the garden of a Sicilian villa as an old man. The self-destruction of capitalism and authoritarianism is complete.
Mario Puzo, The Godfather, Signet Fiction, New York, 1969 (30th anniversary edition)
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian novel written by George Orwell in 1948 and published the following year (the title of the novel seems to come from a reversing of the last two numbers of the year he was writing it). It is a political satire whose main target is the Stalinist USSR, but it can also be seen to satirize any totalitarian society, such as Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Francoist Spain, or even contemporary neoliberalism and the intrusive state apparatus that protects today’s capitalist class.
Given the current geo-political climate, I find it irresistible to compare Orwell’s Hell with ours today; and because this story is so rich with possible political interpretations, I will explore many of those here. Not all of these necessarily reflect my own personal political beliefs, but they’re here to show all the interpretive possibilities in such a literary masterwork.
Some right-libertarians like to misuse this novel, as well as Animal Farm, to suggest that Orwell was attacking socialism as a whole (while, adding to that, idiotically saying that Fascist or Nazi totalitarianism was also a brand of socialism, of which it was really the opposite). Actually, Orwell was committed to the ideal of democratic socialism; these two literary criticisms of Stalinism really show his anti-authoritarianism, not anti-socialism. His book, Homage to Catalonia, clearly shows his sympathies for a worker-ruled society.
In the 1930s, however, neither Stalin nor the leftist media, which propagandized for him, was very sympathetic to the Spanish Revolution, on the Republican side of which Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War; indeed, they denied that a socialist revolution was even going on there, because Stalin wanted to control the Spanish Republicans and purge them of Trotskyists and anarchists. Instead, Stalin’s meagre support of the Republicans against Franco‘s right-wing coalition of Nationalists was in the name of ‘defending liberal democracy’, not socialism, in order to appease Britain, France, America, and he hoped, get their help in fighting Nazi Germany later on. This Soviet betrayal of the Spanish leftists was what embittered Orwell against Stalin.
So, the ‘socialism’ that Orwell was criticizing in Nineteen Eighty-Four wasn’t really socialism per se; rather, Stalinism, as Orwell saw it, was a perversion of socialism, a bureaucratized bastardization of it, as symbolized by the Newspeak corruption of Oceania‘s ‘English socialism’ into ‘Ingsoc’ (this ‘socialism in England’, as opposed to worldwide socialism, suggests Stalin’s ‘socialism in one country‘). Similarly, Eurasia‘s political system is called ‘Neo-Bolshevism‘, implying a corruption of Leninism; and Eastasia‘s system is a kind of ‘Death-Worship’, or ‘Obliteration of the Self’. This religion-like quality brings to mind aspects of Juche in North Korea, with its infallible ‘Great Leader’, who does all the masses’ thinking for them. In other words, Orwell was satirizing authoritarianism, not socialism.
In fact, the Ingsoc short form resembles the Nazi short form for Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. This suggests the state capitalism of fascism rather than socialism, since all left-leaning Nazis (except Goebbels) were purged from the party when Hitler came to power, propped up by big business. Moreover, the first people put in Nazi concentration camps were leftists. So Big Brother’s moustache may not only represent Stalin’s, but also Hitler’s. Not only Big Brother, but also BIG BUSINESS IS WATCHING YOU.
Another interesting concept in this novel is doublethink, in which two contradictory ideas can be simultaneously true. It can be considered a corruption of the notion of Marxist dialectics, when contradictions in material conditions are contemplated, and a unity seen in the contradictions leads to a refinement of one’s philosophy, then to be contradicted and refined, again and again. But where dialectics bring out a refinement, or improvement, in philosophy, doublethink uses contradictions for the sake of self-serving politicians.
Winston Smith‘s name was deliberately chosen by Orwell, suggesting the character’s everyman quality through Smith, a common English surname, and his anti-totalitarian stance (Winston, i.e., Churchill…not that Churchill is any kind of hero to self-respecting leftists, mind you; and just as we shouldn’t idealize Stalin, nor should we ignore Orwell’s faults). Indeed, the juxtaposition, Winston Smith, could be seen as an example of doublethink in itself: Winston Smith indicating that, if you will, IMPERIALISM IS POPULISM; after all, for all of Orwell’s faults, he always despised British imperialism, of which Churchill was its personification at the time, despite his anti-fascism.
As members of the Outer Party, Winston and Julia are in a position analogous to the middle class (the Inner Party being the ruling class state capitalists, and the ‘proles‘, or proletarians, being the working class). Oddly, the Outer Party members are the most repressed in this society, since they are the biggest potential threat to the Inner Party. The proles, on the other hand, are given more lenience, since they, in their ‘low-class’ ignorance of political matters, are more easily controlled through pleasurable distractions (pornography, beer, football, etc.).
This acute repression of the middle-class Outer Party seems to presage the near-annihilation of the middle class by neoliberalism over the past thirty to forty years. Though Orwell’s novel has only a totalitarian state as the collective antagonist, we must remember the principles of doublethink. Since WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, then, if you will, the FREE MARKET IS STATISM, too.
As I’ve argued elsewhere, deregulating capitalism and giving tax cuts to the rich allows them to accumulate obscenely large amounts of wealth, enabling them to buy corrupt politicians; elsewhere, they can use free trade deals (more deregulation) to get cheap labour overseas instead of paying local, unionized labourers; and endless imperialist war means profits through the sale of weapons, and through the plundering of Third World resources. All of this results in more private property that needs protection, hence the state expands rather than contracts, contrary to the fantasies of right-libertarians. The ‘free market’ (of which there really is no such thing, anyway) creates crony capitalism, or another kind of state capitalism.
Winston Smith’s job in the Ministry of Truth–whose short form, Minitrue, suggests the half-truth nature of the propaganda it spreads (TRUTH IS LIES, if you will)–is to eliminate all elements of the past considered politically troublesome to the Inner Party. He will eliminate all evidence of the existence of anyone guilty of thoughtcrime, those now rendered unpersons, just as Stalin used to take old photos including people considered enemies of the state and eliminate them from the pictures, so no memory of the hated people remains.
Similarly, today’s capitalist class can rely on us to forget the past provocations (e.g., the CIA giving money and weapons to Bin Laden and the mujahideen in the 80s, America and other Western countries aiding Iraq by helping develop chemical weapons during the Iran/Iraq War, the US creating the conditions out of which ISIS arose) that have led to the ‘War on Terror‘. Instead of blaming Western imperialism, we blame Muslims, just as the people of Oceania spit out their hostility to Emmanuel Goldstein during the Two Minutes Hate, then swoon in ecstatic adoration of Big Brother, whose Inner Party is their real oppressor.
Interestingly, the remaining part of the globe that isn’t a part of Oceania, Eurasia, or Eastasia–the disputed area where most of the war is going on–is most of Africa, much of the Arab world, and all of southeast Asia, or the Third World, which is the area most oppressed by Western imperialism today. How little things change.
The people of Oceania shout so loudly at the video of Goldstein–a Jew just like Leon Trotsky, so hated by Stalin; yet also a man representative of all the Jews, so hated by Nazis and today’s antisemites among the conspiracy theorists–that not one word of his can be heard. This is like how so many people today, so committed to one ideology, hate its antithesis so virulently that they won’t listen to its despised ideas. The ruling class, like the nomenklatura or the fascist totalitarian state, always makes sure we hate the wrong people.
The cult of personality surrounding Big Brother–just like that of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, or even, arguably, Obama–makes him into a Godlike figure in opposition to the ‘devil’ Goldstein. Here we can see a critique even of religious authoritarianism: Jesus is Lord, but the liberal left are the spawn of Satan; Allahu Akbar, but the West is the Great Satan; etc. Accordingly, we aren’t even sure if Big Brother exists (or Goldstein, for that matter), as with God or the Devil. Big Brother is like a kindly older brother who protects us from bullies, but we sometimes forget that an older brother himself often bullies us, too.
The notion, ‘Who controls the past…controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,’ is pregnant with thought-provoking interpretations. It expresses the essence of propagandistic white-washing of the past. The current regime is free to vilify whoever was in power previously, comparing the present state of affairs favourably to that of the past by showing only the light side of now and only the shadows of yesterday. And in perpetuating this propaganda, the current regime will ensure that future generations have the ‘correct’ opinions.
Consider how synagogues, churches, and mosques have all blackened the memory of their pagan or secular predecessors or enemies, to ensure that the flock remains faithful. And not only did Stalin’s regime denigrate the names of ‘revisionists’ and ‘reactionaries’ like Trotsky to ensure the survival of his rule, but today the capitalist class portrays socialist states like the USSR (misusing Orwell, as we know) as evil dictatorships to discourage any reconsideration of socialism in today’s neoliberal society.
Similarly, the memory of the Black Panther Party is vilified to deter anyone in the struggle against white racism. Conservatives stereotype feminists as all being like Andrea Dworkin or Catherine MacKinnon to discourage any move away from traditional sex roles; while, on the other side of the coin, radical and third wave feminists propagandize about the past and about ‘patriarchy’ to justify current gynocentrism. And apologists of Western imperialism exaggerate the jihadist history of Islam to deaden sympathy for Muslims. The list of examples can go on and on.
Everywhere in Airstrip One, a deliberately dull choice for a name for England, there are telescreens, or two-way televisions through which the Inner Party and the Thought Police can watch everyone 24/7 in order to catch ‘thought criminals’. Today’s telescreen is the ubiquitous internet surveillance, through not only the NSA and other government organizations out to get any subversive types they can find, but also through capitalists who monitor all our online shopping and other interests to present us with products they hope we’ll waste our money on and fatten their wallets. Consumerism distracts us from activism.
Marriages and other relationships are bereft of affection in Orwell’s Hell, as they are in much of today’s society, with almost half of Western marriages ending in divorce. People would rather stare at a smartphone, tablet, or computer than communicate face to face with people; the emotionless conversations of all Outer Party members, including the public chats of Winston’s and Julia’s, reflect this grey reality. And while Winston is already guilty of thoughtcrime from the first word he’s written in his journal (actually, from when he bought it), it’s not until he and Julia have become lovers, copulating for their mutual enjoyment (‘sexcrime’) instead of for the sake of producing offspring for the state (‘goodsex‘), that they are finally arrested.
And when they are arrested, the symbolism is powerful. Winston and Julia–made to hold their hands behind their heads–are completely naked in the second-floor room of Mr. Charrington’s shop (he secretly working for the Thought Police). The lovers’ nakedness symbolizes their vulnerability and powerlessness, their secrets all known while their fully-clothed intruders needn’t worry about their own secrets being known.
Held in the Ministry of Love (a place of torture), Winston sees not only the usual police rough-housing of prostitutes and other common criminals among the proles, but also the detainment of Tom Parsons, a character known for his sycophantic adherence to Big Brother. Even a bootlicker like him can be a thought criminal! Parsons, a man who happily incorporates the corruption of English known as Newspeak into his speech, has been betrayed by his own daughter, a member of the Party Youth, who are like the Hitler Youth, or like today’s Social Justice Warriors, typically being young university students who have been fully indoctrinated in political correctness by the mainstream corporate media and the corporately controlled universities.
Newspeak is in itself a fascinating concept. Syme speaks of the beauty of the destruction of language. If no words exist for a concept, for example, freedom, then that idea won’t exist anymore, either. This is comparable to how political correctness tries to eliminate bad ideas by doing away with all those words associated with unacceptable ideas. Apparently, if we dispense with words associating a job with only one sex–businessman, stewardess–and replace them with ‘gender-neutral’ language–businessperson, flight attendant–social attitudes will change such that people won’t be tricked into thinking that these jobs are exclusive to one sex or the other (Never mind that at least a whole generation using politically correct English has gone by, and there are still far more businessmen than businesswomen, and far more female flight attendants than male ones.). Similarly, if we do away with ‘ableist’ language–‘retarded’ as a synonym for stupid–it seems that people will stop showing contempt for mentally handicapped people (Never mind that the still-used words idiot, cretin, imbecile, and moron were once words used for mentally disabled people.).
In today’s world, we hardly need a totalitarian state to condemn someone for thoughtcrime. Merely use the ‘wrong’ vocabulary, or tell a politically incorrect joke, and the masses will go mad on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media, doxxing and shaming you, or destroying your career and reputation by spreading the word about what a ‘bad person’ you are. Though today’s militarized police are certainly frightening, we the common people are our own Thought Police. And remember: “Thoughtcrime does not entail death, thoughtcrime IS death”.
Winston’s next shock is seeing O’Brien, the man who gave him Goldstein’s book (The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, a parody of Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed), come into the room. But the greatest shock is knowing that O’Brien hasn’t been helping the resistance (which, incidentally, is called The Brotherhood), but has been working with the Thought Police all along. Like O’Brien, so many of us only seem to be against the system: ‘anarcho’-capitalists, who oppose the state, but support an economic system that can’t exist without the state; bickering leftists who get hung up on minor ideological differences instead of building solidarity, and betray each other in the manner described in the above paragraph; or ‘Democratic’ leaders like Obama who at first claim to want to ‘spread the wealth around’, then end up serving the same ruling class as eagerly as the Republican Party.
Along with the physical torture that O’Brien subjects Winston to, there is also psychological manipulation in the form of gaslighting. This includes bullying Winston into acceding that 2 + 2 = 5. Those in power can coerce or trick us into accepting all kinds of nonsensical beliefs, including the notion that more capitalism (the ‘free market’) is the solution to the evils of our current capitalist system, which apparently is so merely because the state is involved in it. Just minimize or remove the state and its regulations, and capitalism will be ‘purified’, demagogues like Ron Paul tell us. This is also what the Koch brothers have always said; and instead of liberating society, all their political influence has intensified our troubles. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.
O’Brien burns pictures of the unpersons Aaronson, Jones, and Rutherford by dumping the photos down a memory hole, saying the men never existed, the lack of extant evidence of their existence being ‘proof’ of their never having existed. That they still exist in Winston’s mind is evidence only of his ‘mental illness’. This is like how authoritarian societies of all kinds, whether left or right-wing, disregard all memory of past offences, pretending they never happened, then pretend that defiant people are mentally ill (i.e. oppositional defiant disorder). “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face–forever,” O’Brien tells Winston.
Finally, Winston must be brought to ‘love’ Big Brother. Of course, to love Big Brother is to be a traitor to oneself, as loving Stalin was betraying the working class (from the anti-Stalinist point of view, at least), or loving Hitler was betraying Germany. To make Winston betray himself and Julia, he is brought to Room 101, with the cage of hungry rats strapped to the front of his face.
Earlier in the novel, he shrieked at the sight of a rat in Charrington’s second-floor room, when he was with Julia; later, Charrington revealed himself to be a rat, having informed the Thought Police of Winston’s and Julia’s affair. Now, Winston sees terrifying rats right before his face.
While, on the surface, his fear is of having his face destroyed by the rats, on a deeper level, his fear of them symbolizes his fear of himself as a rat, about to betray Julia. Seeing those rats is Winston looking at his own mirror reflection (all of which raises the question of how self-conscious Orwell may have been of his own ratting out of pro-Stalin communists). Those in power, whether they be Stalinists, fascists, religious fanatics, or capitalists, always stay in power by making us betray ourselves. Winston the anti-authoritarian is Churchill the imperialist.
We all long for freedom, but when the pressure is on, when we’re taken out of our comfort zone, our spirit is broken, sooner or later, as Winston’s is. We lack the necessary backbone; we are too complacent, especially in the First World; we lack true revolutionary potential. We all give in, and then everything is all right, we’re finished with the struggle, and we resume our obedient following of authority.
We love Big Brother.
Animal Farm is a novella written by George Orwell and published in 1945. Written in the form of a ‘fairy story’ with talking farm animals, it is a satirical political allegory of the first twenty-five years or so of Soviet Russia. It has been said that almost every detail of the story allegorically represented something of political importance from early Soviet history.
Orwell was prompted to write Animal Farm (and Nineteen Eighty-Four) by his disquieting experiences as a Republican soldier in the Spanish Civil War, fighting with the POUM, an anti-Stalinist Marxist group who were slandered by the Stalinists as Trotskyist, and, more fantastically, as sympathizing with Franco. In Homage to Catalonia and numerous letters, he wrote of how inconsistently the USSR was ‘helping’ the Republican side, who should have been their allies as fellow leftists. Stalin seemed more interested in making alliances with the capitalist West (i.e., England, France, and America, whose ‘neutral,’ non-interventionist policy actually aided the Fascists) against the growing threat of Naziism, and in crushing any manifestations of Trotskyism among the Spanish communists, than in helping his comrades in Spain. Hence, the leftist media, following the Stalinist agenda, denied the socialist revolution going on in Spain at the time, insisting instead that the struggle against Fascism was about preserving ‘liberal democracy’. Indeed, what Stalin really wanted was to crush the Spanish revolution. Hence, Orwell’s bitterness against the USSR. Now, let’s look at the allegory of Animal Farm.
Mr. Jones, the owner of the Manor Farm, represents Tsar Nicholas II and the Russian capitalist class. The Manor Farm, therefore, represents Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries, up until World War I.
Old Major, an aging pig that hasn’t long to live, represents Karl Marx and, to a lesser extent, Lenin (later in the story, Old Major’s skull is reverently put on public display, recalling Lenin’s Mausoleum). So his speech, in which he describes the deplorable state of the overworked, underfed farm animals, represents the conditions of the disenfranchised working class in 19th century England, as described in Capital, as well as autocratic, tsarist Russia in Lenin’s writings. Old Major’s prophecy of a day when the animals will revolt against Jones and take over the farm represents Marx’s prophecy of the eventual collapse of capitalism and the workers seizing control of the means of production in a communist revolution.
When Old Major warns of the danger of the animals adopting human vices, and becoming as oppressive as man is after emancipating themselves, this can be seen as a reflection both of Orwell’s and Marx’s later anti-authoritarian stance (in the Grundrisse and The Civil War in France), as opposed to his more statist stance in The Communist Manifesto.
After Old Major dies, the animals prepare for the day of revolution, with the pigs in leadership positions; this represents how, after Marx died, Lenin and his vanguard party, the Bolsheviks, led the working class in Russia in preparation for revolution there.
Jones is kinder to Moses, a raven that promises ‘Sugarcandy Mountain’, a kind of animal heaven, to all hardworking animals on the farm. Moses thus represents the Russian Orthodox Church, an authoritarian structure propped up by the tsar and ruling class, to placate the frustrated workers and keep them under control.
Finally, on a day when Jones has got too drunk to remember to feed the animals, they rebel against the farmhands and kick them off the farm. Even Jones and his wife run off, with Moses flying close behind her. This moment represents the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and of the Russian Revolution of October 1917, when Lenin and the Bolsheviks took power.
The feeling of freedom is exhilarating for the animals, as it must have been for the Russian communists in 1917. The animals change the name of the farm, from the Manor Farm, to Animal Farm. A green flag, with a white hoof and horn crossing each other, is hoisted on a flagpole; it obviously represents the red communist flag, with the hammer and sickle.
The pigs being the smartest of the animals, just like the educated Bolsheviks, have the animals go into the fields to begin the harvest after the pigs have milked the cows. Later, it is discovered that the milk has gone missing. The Seven Commandments, painted on the barn wall, suggest a religious-like idealism for the new values of ‘Animalism,’ which represents communism, but which may also be a pun on anarchism, since full communism includes a withered-away state; also, the Bolshevik bureaucracy hadn’t developed in Russia yet. Finally, there was Nestor Makhno‘s anarcho-communist Free Territory in the Ukraine.
Not accepting defeat easily, the humans mount a counter-attack, just as the capitalist class did in Russia in 1918. The Battle of the Cowshed, which involves men from other farms helping Jones retake his farm, thus represents the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922, in which the White Army of the capitalist class included help from capitalists from other countries, like the US. The farmers lose the Battle of the Cowshed, being chased off the farm thanks in particular to the bravery of the pig Snowball; just as the White Army lost the Russian Civil War thanks to the leadership of Leon Trotsky (whom Snowball represents) and the Red Army.
Before this battle, the pig Napoleon has already secretly taken in a litter of puppies to rear them. This represents the secret machinations of Stalin (Napoleon) and his rise to power. Later, we learn that not only the milk but also the apples are being eaten by the pigs rather than shared by all the animals. This privilege represents the continuing bureaucratization of the Soviet Union, with the Bolsheviks creating a hierarchy of power, as well as advocating working with reactionary unions and bourgeois parliaments (though only when considered justified and necessary), the kind of thing that German and British Left Communists were complaining about even under the rule of Lenin, who dismissed his critics as having ‘an infantile disorder‘.
Mollie doesn’t like living on Animal Farm; she prefers the old days when men ran the farm and gave her sugar and ribbons for her mane, to make her look cute. She’s been caught by her animal comrades taking secret gifts from humans, and she eventually leaves Animal Farm to live on another farm. She represents how women can be as bourgeois as men; and even though Orwell was unlikely to have known Ayn Rand, Mollie can be seen to represent such pro-capitalist women, who left Russia with their noses firmly out of joint.
Ideological struggles begin to grow between the pigs. Snowball advocates encouraging animals all over the farms of England to revolt against their human masters; for if all farms become like Animal Farm, there will be no need to defend them against humans, since the revolution will be complete. Napoleon, on the other hand, prefers focusing on protecting Animal Farm alone, getting firearms and learning how to use them. This discord represents the ideological rift between Trotskyism and permanent revolution on the one side, and Stalinism and ‘socialism in one country‘ on the other.
Similarly, Snowball proposes building a windmill to provide electricity for the farm; this, he promises, will reduce the workload for the animals and make their lives much easier. In this, we see that Snowball, though mostly based on Trotsky, also has a bit of Lenin in him, since Lenin wanted to promote electrification in the USSR; one need only read Lenin’s writing, ‘Communism and Electrification’, from 1920: “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.” [Lenin’s emphasis] (Tucker, p. 492-495). As S.A. Smith says in The Russian Revolution: “Productivism was evident in Lenin’s enthusiasm for electrification, which he avowed would ‘produce a decisive victory of the principles of communism in our country’ by transforming small-scale agriculture, by eliminating drudgery from the home, and by dramatically improving public health and sanitation.” (p. 104)
(Incidentally, I find it interesting how Lenin, represented slightly in Old Major and here in Snowball, doesn’t have his own pig to represent him in full. Odd.)
Napoleon rejects Snowball’s idea, even pissing on his windmill drawings; but after having his now-fully-grown dogs (which represent the secret police of the USSR) chase Snowball off the farm, he later pretends that the windmill was his idea all along.
The chasing off of Snowball represents the exile of Leon Trotsky after he lost the power struggle with Stalin in the mid to late 1920s. Napoleon’s adoption of the plan to build the windmill, and the three attempts to build it, represent Stalin’s three Five-Year Plans to industrialize the Soviet Union, carried out mostly during the 1930s.
The animals are getting suspicious of the pigs, as were many communists of the bureaucracy in the USSR. Napoleon is now doing business with humans, namely, Mr. Whymper, trading hay, some of the wheat crop, and the chickens’ eggs for urgently needed things in order to build the windmill…but later on, also to obtain such things as booklets on brewing and distillery, for liquor. Weren’t the animals forbidden to drink alcohol, according to the Seven Commandments? Wasn’t the whole reason for ridding themselves of their human masters that the animals were to keep all the products of their labour? Weren’t all humans the enemy (‘four legs good, two legs bad’), never to be associated with?
The end of the regular animal meetings on Sunday mornings represents the fading of the influence of the Soviets, or workers’ councils, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat‘ replaced by a dictatorship of the vanguard. Napoleon doing business with the humans represents Stalin doing business with American capitalists like Ford Motor Company.
During one bitter winter, the animals’ food falls short, and they are faced with starvation. This represents the Great Famine of 1932-33.
Unwilling to part with their eggs, the chickens revolt against the pigs, and are rounded up by the dogs. The chickens, along with other animals said to be guilty of ‘treason’ against Animal Farm, are executed. This killing represents the Great Purge of the 1930s, which killed such high-profile communists as Nikolai Bukharin, and also Stalin’s use of state terror to keep his people in line. Napoleon even has the song ‘Beasts of England’ replaced with one praising him.
Napoleon is doing business with Whymper and other farms, making deals with Frederick‘s farm and Pilkington‘s (or trying to), as Stalin did with Nazi Germany (i.e., the non-aggression pact, purging the USSR of Jews, etc.) and tried to do with England. Clearly, Animal Farm isn’t so much different from other farms, as Stalin’s regime was much like any other.
The Seven Commandments are being increasingly modified, and thus discarded: the pigs are sleeping in beds, they have given themselves licence to kill any animal that is a threat to them, and they can even get drunk if they like.
Orwell is often criticized on the grounds that he never set foot in the Soviet Union; but his observations were largely confirmed by Milovan Djilas (who personally met and worked with Stalin on several occasions) in such books as The New Class and Conversations With Stalin. A new Russian elite was replacing the old, tsarist one; capitalist imperialism was traded in for Soviet imperialism. This would explain such things as the meagre help Stalin gave the Spanish communists and anarchists in the late 1930s.
In Conversations With Stalin, Djilas noted, “It is time something was said about Stalin’s attitude toward revolutions, and thus toward the Yugoslav revolution. Because Moscow abstained, always in decisive moments, from supporting the Chinese, Spanish, and in many ways even the Yugoslav revolutions, the view prevailed, not without reason, that Stalin was generally against revolutions. This is, however, not entirely correct. He was opposed only conditionally, that is, to the degree to which the revolution went beyond the interests of the Soviet state. He felt instinctively that the creation of revolutionary centres outside of Moscow could endanger its supremacy in world Communism, and of course that is what actually happened. That is why he helped revolutions only up to a certain point–up to where he could control them–but he was always ready to leave them in the lurch whenever they slipped out of his grasp.” (pp. 92-93)
Now, the erosion of animal rights needn’t symbolize only the erosion of workers’ rights in the USSR: this erosion can also represent such things as the change from liberation movements in the 60s and 70s into such mutant forms of today as political correctness, postmodernism, social justice warriors, and identity politics. The struggle against racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., was carried out with much more solidarity forty years ago than it is today. Interestingly, forty years ago, neoliberalism hadn’t quite gotten off the ground yet, either. Hmm…
The decision by farmers led by Mr. Frederick to go in and take back Animal Farm for human control results in the violent Battle of the Windmill, so called because the second windmill has been dynamited (by Mr. Frederick and his men). This battle represents the Nazi invasion of Russia during the Second World War, since Frederick represents Hitler, who, contrary to right-libertarians’ portrayal as a ‘socialist’, was as much a whore to big business as any other capitalist politician. The violence of this battle corresponds to that of the Battle of Stalingrad, often considered the bloodiest battle in military history.
A third windmill is finally built, at the cost of Boxer‘s life: its construction represents the completed transformation of the Soviet Union from an agrarian country to an industrialized superpower. But all the benefits of the windmill go to the pigs, who are now wearing clothes and walking on their hind legs! No longer do the sycophantic, mindless sheep bleat ‘four legs good, two legs bad’; now, it’s ‘four legs good, two legs better‘! The Seven Commandments have been replaced with one: ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’ This chilling commandment can be seen to represent not only the New Class, the nomenklatura of the Soviet bureaucracy set up and bloated by the Leninists and Stalinists, but also the reverse discrimination championed by politically correct-thinking social justice warriors.
That said, however, Orwell was not trying to attack all forms of leftism, as the right-libertarians like to think. Indeed, the political right is fond of misusing Orwell for their own propagandistic purposes, as this CIA-funded cartoon movie of Animal Farm shows. This movie’s depiction of the Soviet Union, as with every right-wing distortion of socialism, paints a much darker portrait of Stalinism than even Orwell had intended.
Ironically, the Stalinists and Maoists also seem to think Orwell was opposed to all of socialism. Actually, he was opposed only to authoritarian forms of socialism, as well as to Fascism.
Now, sometimes Orwell’s antipathy to the USSR went too far, and the attitude he had towards blacks, gays, and Jews does him no credit at all. Furthermore, one shouldn’t be too negative towards Stalin. After all, his Red Army marched into Berlin and defeated the Nazis. And his transformation of Soviet Russia, from a backward agrarian country into a modernized superpower, within just a few decades, can only be described as impressive.
The vices of Bolshevik rule tend to be exaggerated, too. Not all of Leninist authoritarianism can be so simplistically reduced to government corruption. Much of the bureaucratization, especially in the wake of the Russian Civil War, was inevitable, as S.A. Smith observes in The Russian Revolution–A Very Short Introduction: “The massive problems of recruiting, feeding, and transporting the Red Army, of squeezing grain from an unwilling peasantry, and of overcoming parochialism and inertia at the local level created irresistible pressures to centralize decision-making at the apex of the party. Moreover the constant emergencies of war fed the pressure to take instant decisions and to implement them forcefully, with the result that the party came increasingly to operate like an army.” (p. 66)
What’s more, polls have been taken in Russia, repeatedly indicating that the majority of Russians would prefer a return of the USSR. Surely, Soviet Russia wasn’t as bad as Orwell was portraying it. All this said, though, apart from the collectivization of the farms, was the USSR genuinely socialist?
Orwell’s opposition to the USSR was based on the Stalinist reality that he’d experienced in Spain (i.e., the repression of the POUM), and it wasn’t a condemnation of socialism as a whole. Consider what he had to say about anarchist Catalonia:
“It was the first time I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen. Every shop and café had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivised and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal…All this was queer and moving. There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.” (Homage to Catalonia, from Orwell In Spain, pp. 32-33)
“As far as my purely personal preferences went I would have liked to join the Anarchists.” (Homage to Catalonia, p. 116–not from Orwell in Spain)
These are hardly the words of an anti-socialist.
His point about the pigs being indistinguishable from the humans was that the Soviets were indistinguishable from Western capitalists. Soviet ‘socialism’ was really just state capitalism, with the state–rather than the workers–controlling the means of production. This is why the Marxist state never withered away, or even approached such fading.
As Milovan Djilas explains in The New Class: “In the course of industrialization, the property of those elements who were not opposed to, or even assisted, the revolution is taken over. As a matter of form, the state also becomes the owner of this property. The state administers and manages the property. Private ownership ceases, or decreases to a role of secondary importance, but its complete disappearance is subject to the whim of the new men in authority.” (p. 30)
The pigs’ meeting with the humans at the end of the story represents the Tehran Conference of Stalin with Churchill and Roosevelt. Calling the farm ‘the Manor Farm’ (note the pun on man in Manor) again shows the reality of state capitalism rather than real socialism. Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington accusing each other of cheating when they both play the ace of spades simultaneously is an anticipation of the troubles of the Cold War.
Now, Orwell’s criticism of authoritarianism isn’t limited to the bullying of the Stalinists. He was also pointing out the weakness and conformity of the animals, who blindly follow whatever propaganda the pigs throw at them. Boxer, though loveable, isn’t very smart. His motto, “I will work harder,” is noble, but foolish. His getting up earlier and earlier in the morning to lift heavy rocks for the building of the windmills is what causes his death. Even more foolish is his saying, “If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.” We mustn’t idealize our leaders, or be too willing to sacrifice ourselves for them, expecting a reward that will never come. Boxer never gets the retirement he’s deserved.
And whenever a commandment on the barn wall is altered, the animals passively accept it, imagining they have just forgotten that it has always said what it only now says. Indeed, those in authority often exploit our tendency to forget what has happened even as little as, say, ten years ago; thus, they trick us into making the same mistakes we’ve made so many times before.
Part of ending authoritarianism is the vigilance of the people to root it out whenever it’s seen. There will always be power-hungry people out there, ready to subvert justice for their own selfish ends. We, the people, have to keep watch against such demagogues, never letting their guile get the better of us.
Indeed, a similar corrupting of the ideals of personal liberty can be seen in the rise of contemporary neoliberalism. In the 1970s and 80s, right-libertarians (a kind of ‘Old Major’ in their own right) promoted the idea of the ‘free market,’ insisting that too much government regulation was bad for the economy, and akin to Stalinism. Deregulation and tax cuts ensued, allowing the rich to grow into the super-rich of today.
Ironically, instead of resulting in greater liberty, all we’ve seen is the kind of centralization that comes from capitalist accumulation, which Marx wrote about in Capital. Instead of less government, we have more of it, thanks to the excessive influence that the super-rich have over politicians (consider Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street).
With the growing of capitalism has come the growing of imperialism and the ‘War On Terror.’ Now the state interferes with our lives more than ever, but the right-libertarians propagandize that the problem is too much ‘socialist’ government, rather than too much capitalism. Today, Napoleon and the pigs aren’t the state capitalists of the USSR; now, they’re all just plain capitalists, pretending to be anti-statists.
Today, Orwell’s story is more relevant than ever, if for reasons totally different from the original ones.
S.A. Smith, The Russian Revolution: a Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002
Robert C. Tucker, The Lenin Anthology, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 1975