Birds

What’s
supposed
left wing is, seen more closely,
in the centre, which in turn
moves to the right.

A
bird
in flight, whose flapping wings are
left here, over there on the right,
is only so depending on your
point of view.

If
it’s
flying forwards, you will see
the left wing where it ought
to be, and where the right
should be.

If
it’s
flying backwards, right at you,
the left, centre and right
may seem a confused
monstrosity,

as
has
been the case, increasingly,
for the past forty years.
As it nears,

the
bird,
which is an eagle, quite the hawk,
shows no signs of slowing down
as it reaches us,
its prey.

Not
knowing
the left wing from the right,
we will be snatched up
in its claws, fed
to its chicks.

Slopes

When
we slide
down a hill
on a sled, we
don’t think of
the speed of the
slipping, the danger.

The
thrill of
the feeling
of freedom will
blind us to how we
will crash at the foot
of the hill of our pride.

A
few
decades
ago, we all
thought of the
West as invincible;
we saw no cracks in the ice.

The
liberal
Sisyphus
must roll a rock
up a hill, just to go
back and roll it again.
We always go down, not up.

All
of this
time, we
keep rolling
lower and lower,
no hope of ascent,
or of even staying put.

The
crash
at the
bottom is
coming, and
it’s going to hurt.
Will we be ready for it?

Thrones

She
had
the
big
chair, just
as so many
before her

used
that
seat
with
the intent to
take over and
plunder worlds.

One
may
sit
and
rest, while
many more
must fight

to
be
in
an
adequate
state of
existence.

One
can
sit
and
take it easy
on a throne
without gems,

and
the
men
and
women of the
world can be
seated as well.

So
we
in
an
abased state
must rise up
so all may sit.

Analysis of ‘Spartacus’

Spartacus is a 1960 epic historical drama film directed by Stanley Kubrick (replacing original director Anthony Mann after the first week of shooting; therefore this is the only film over which Kubrick didn’t have complete artistic control) and written by Dalton Trumbo (who also wrote the novel, and the screenplay for, Johnny Got His Gun), based on Howard Fast‘s 1951 historical novel of the same name. The story is inspired by that of Spartacus, the leader of a slave revolt in ancient, republican Rome, resulting in the Third Servile War.

The film stars Kirk Douglas in the title role, with Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Charles Laughton, Jean Simmons, Tony Curtis, and John Gavin. Both Fast and Trumbo, being avowed leftists, were blacklisted, the former having to self-publish his book, and the latter being one of the Hollywood Ten.

Spartacus won four Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for Ustinov, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. It had been the biggest moneymaker in Universal Studios’ history until Airport surpassed it in 1970.

Here is a link to quotes from the film, and here is a link to a PDF of Fast’s novel.

Spartacus is a hero to communists and leftists in general, for how his slave uprising against the Roman ruling class has inspired the socialists of today to foment revolution against the capitalist class of the modern world. Karl Marx praised him, his namesake was given to the German Spartacus League of 1915-1918, and the failed German communist revolution of January 1919 was called the Spartacist uprising.

Other examples of art and popular culture inspired by Spartacus include a 2004 miniseries starring Goran Višnjić in the title role, and a ballet of the same name, composed by Aram Khachaturian in 1954 and first staged in 1956; some of the music of this ballet was used in the soundtrack to the Penthouse production of Caligula in 1979.

To get back to Fast’s novel and the 1960 film, we immediately notice how differently both treat the subject matter of the story. The characters of Marcus Licinius Crassus (Olivier), Lentulus Batiatus (Ustinov), Varinia (Simmons), and Gracchus (Laughton) are all shared in both the book and the film, and apart from the basic history of the slaves’ failed uprising against Rome, the telling of the story differs wildly between book and movie.

The novel tells the story of Spartacus in a piecemeal fashion, given from the points of view of the various characters after Spartacus’ death, while the film tells his story in a straightforward, chronological way. The gladiatorial fight between Spartacus and Draba (played by Woody Strode) is generally similar, and the scenes of Crassus and Varinia, him frustrated in his efforts to win her love, and of Gracchus’ plan to steal her and her baby from Crassus and to give them their freedom, are essentially the same, though they differ greatly in the details.

A crucial difference between novel and movie is in the presentation of Spartacus’ death: in the book, he dies in battle (as affirmed by Plutarch, Appian, and Florus, though Appian also reports that Spartacus’ body was not found), whereas in the film, Spartacus is crucified.

Indeed, the sight of Spartacus chained to a rock to starve at the beginning of the film, his punishment for having bitten the leg of a Roman soldier, hamstringing him, is a parallel of his crucifixion at the end of the film. This parallel gives the story a sense that it has come full circle: his suffering is at its greatest at the beginning, with him as a slave lugging heavy rocks on his back from the mines in Libya; just as his suffering is at its greatest also at the end, with him hanging in excruciating pain.

In the novel, in chapter three of Part Two, is a vivid description of hell on Earth, a hell for slaves mining for gold in the unbearably hot desert of Nubia. To make matters worse, children are needed when the veins narrow “deep inside the black rock escarpment.” (One is reminded of Congolese children today, mining for the cobalt we use in our cellphones.) Spartacus is among “one hundred and twenty-two Thracians chained neck to neck, carrying their burning hot chains across the desert…” (PDF, page 55)

The film’s beginning is the equivalent to this chapter, the opening scene only briefly depicting the suffering of Spartacus and his fellow slaves in Libya, rather than Nubia. The chapter captures, with great intensity, the misery and despair of the slaves as they work, virtually without rest, from early in the dawn ’til the dusk. “Their skins are patchworks of black dust and brown dirt…” (PDF, page 57). Many slaves die from these back-breaking work conditions.

There’s a brief moment in the early morning, before the sun is fully risen to beat its oppressive heat on the slaves as they go to work. “In this single hour of the day, the desert is a friend.” (PDF, page 61). But only for that cool hour.

In the film, Batiatus arrives, discovers Spartacus, and saves him from his chaining to the rock to have him trained as a gladiator. Batiatus is a lanista, the owner of a school for gladiators. Spartacus is about to be pampered, a whole new experience for him that includes baths and massages, and a girl for a mate (in the novel, he’s mated to Varinia, rather than merely teased with her and denied her, as in the film; PDF, pages 78-81, 83).

Still, there is no happiness in being trained to kill or be killed for the entertainment of the ruling class. The fighting of gladiators to the death is perfectly symbolic of how the ruling class has always divided the people from each other, making them fight each other instead of fighting their oppressors. Their sense of alienation is well displayed in the scene when Spartacus asks Draba his name, the latter telling the former it isn’t wise to know the names of, or to become friends with, those they will have to kill, or be killed by, in the arena.

Though Draba has said this, he still doesn’t want to kill a fellow gladiator for the sport of rich Romans (who in the film are Crassus, Marcus Glabrus [played by John Dall, who incidentally also played chief psychopathic killer Brandon Shaw, in Hitchcock’s Rope], Helena Glabrus [played by Nina Foch], and Claudia Marius [played by Joanna Barnes]; but who in the novel are two men named Caius Crassus and Marius Bracus). So at the end of his fight with Spartacus, having won, Draba refuses to kill him, to the annoyance of their Roman audience, and instead he hurls his trident at them, only to be speared in the back himself. Nonetheless, Draba’s solidarity with Spartacus has inspired the surviving gladiator.

Added to this sense of solidarity, as a cure for alienation, is Spartacus and Varinia falling in love. She gets naked for him when he first meets her. He doesn’t think of her as a mere sex object, though: “Spartacus saw her and loved her, not for her nakedness, but because without clothes she was not naked at all and did not cringe or attempt to cover herself with her arms, but stood simply and proudly, showing no pain nor hurt, not looking at him or at Batiatus, but contained within herself, contained with her eyesight and her soul and her dreams, and containing all those things because she had decided to surrender life which was worth nothing any more. His heart went out to her.” (PDF, page 80)

In the film, Batiatus and Marcellus, the gladiators’ trainer (played by Charles McGraw) lecherously watch the couple, hoping to enjoy seeing them have sex; but Spartacus, furious at their lack of respect for his and her privacy, shouts at the men that he is not an animal. She, still naked, says she isn’t an animal, either. He naturally agrees with her, unlike the two voyeurs.

The love he feels for her, especially when he learns she has been sold to Crassus and therefore he’ll never see her again, is the final straw that drives him, followed by the other gladiators/slaves, to bring about a spontaneous rebellion. (The sight of Draba’s hanging body is also a major provocation for them.)

In the novel, this rebellion isn’t quite so spontaneous. There is discussion among Spartacus, Crixus the Gaul (played by John Ireland in the film), and Gannicus (played by Paul Lambert in the film) about whether they, as gladiators, should consider themselves friends (PDF, page 111). Thus the seeds of solidarity among slaves have been sown. They know that the Thracians call Spartacus “father” for all the love he’s shown his fellow slaves. He hints at a plotting of a rebellion when he says he’ll fight no more gladiators, and that he, Gannicus, and Crixus “will know what to do when the time comes to do it” (PDF, page 115).

In the film, Spartacus just spontaneously kills Marcellus by dunking his head in a pot of soup and drowning him in it. After having had to endure his trainer’s taunts for so long, he surely relishes killing the man. As we know in the modern world, though, revolutions cannot be so spontaneous: meticulous planning, theory, and organization are indispensable, as is the ability to intuit a revolutionary situation.

To get back to the story, though, more and more slaves join the gladiators’ rebellion, and Spartacus’ plan is for them all to go south to Brundusium and pay to have pirates’ ships take them out of Italy and to their home countries. Along the way, he is reunited with Varinia.

The Roman Senate is growing alarmed at the escalation of events, and Glabrus is to lead his cohorts to fight and subdue the slaves. Meanwhile, Crassus has found himself a handsome boy slave named Antoninus (Curtis), who is gifted at singing and reciting poetry.

In a scene originally censored by the prudish Production Code, Crassus is given a bath by Antoninus. The former asks the latter (with the voice of Anthony Hopkins in the restored version) of his sexual preferences, using indirect, symbolic language. Crassus asks the youth if he eats oysters, symbolic of female genitals; then he asks if Antoninus eats snails, symbolic of male genitals. Crassus considers these preferences a matter of taste rather than of morality; he then confesses his own eating of both oysters and snails, indicating his bisexuality.

The point to be made here is that Crassus is obviously trying to seduce the boy; how many slaves, male and female, were forced to perform sexual favours for their masters? In the scene previous to this one, Gracchus and Batiatus have a discussion alluding to the enjoyment of female slaves, in Gracchus’ case, to the point of him not even wanting to get married.

After Crassus’ bath with Antoninus, the former walks out, followed by the latter, to an adjoining room looking out across the river to the city of Rome. There, Crassus tells Antoninus of the greatness of Rome, and of how how one’s attitude towards her should be.

Crassus, in describing Rome’s greatness, is given a line that is an allusion to Julius Caesar, in which Cassius, complaining to Brutus about Caesar, says, “…he doth bestride the narrow world/Like a Colossus…” (I, ii, lines 135-136). In Spartacus, however, Crassus says this to Antoninus of Rome: “There is the power that bestrides the known world like a Colossus.”

What’s interesting in these two variations on the quote is that the first refers to Caesar, while the second refers to Rome, personified as a beloved woman, a man’s mistress. Young Julius Caesar, recall, is in Spartacus, played by John Gavin (who incidentally, in the same year, played Marion Crane‘s boyfriend, Sam Loomis, in Psycho). Later in the film, Crassus tells Caesar of his fear of him, an allusion to how Crassus, Caesar, and Pompey would form the First Triumvirate, and Crassus and Pompey would lose to Caesar’s rising power.

Indeed, the fear of republican Rome becoming a dictatorship, something Gracchus will fear of Crassus’ rising power towards the end of Spartacus, is a fear Brutus and Cassius would have of Caesar, which they would use to justify assassinating him. Crassus’ name fortuitously sounds like a pun on Cassius, hence what’s so intriguing about the allusion to Shakespeare’s play as put on Crassus’ lips. He fears Caesar’s rise as Cassius would decades later.

That Crassus’ absolute rule over Rome would come in association with the defeat of Spartacus’ army is also worthy of comment. In the modern world, many right-wing, authoritarian dictatorships came into being after the crushing of proletarian attempts at gaining power: fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Francoist Spain, Pinochet’s Chile, etc. The ruling class makes a masquerade of democracy when times are good; but if threatened, that same ruling class ends the masquerade and rules with an iron fist, as Crassus does.

In his speech on Rome to Antoninus, Crassus speaks as if everyone, including such members of the ruling class as himself, must make himself a slave to his beautiful mistress and goddess, Roma. In implying that he, too, is a slave in this larger sense, Crassus is rationalizing the whole slave system to the youth. He’s also implying that, in serving Rome, Antoninus must serve Crassus all the more faithfully and devotedly.

It is at this point that the boy sneaks away without Crassus knowing. Antoninus, of course, will join Spartacus’ army, eager to learn how to fight. The youth will endure the indignities of slavery no more: Crassus’ designs to enjoy Antoninus for his sexual sport, combined with this mad notion of enslaving oneself to a lofty abstract ideal such as Rome, are too much for him.

In today’s world, the global proletariat has its own political ideals to which it is expected to enslave itself: the “rules based international order,” the “free market,” or simply neoliberalism, are all ideals that we wage slaves are expected to grovel before, never questioning the source of our oppression.

On their way to Brundusium, the slaves enlist the help of a Cilician pirate envoy named Tigranes Levantus (played by Herbert Lom). Gracchus bribes the pirates to get them to take the slaves out of Italy, so that, fearing Crassus’ rise to power, he needn’t fear the slave crisis being exploited by Crassus to justify his making a dictatorship of Rome.

Still, Crassus bribes the pirates better, and they end up betraying Spartacus et al. When Tigranes returns to tell Spartacus the evil tidings, then offers him and the other slave leaders a chance to escape and live like kings in other countries, Spartacus tells him to go away. Opportunism has no place in a sincere struggle to be free.

At an earlier point on the way to Brundusium, Glabrus’ cohorts camp one night and, contemptuously underestimating the slaves, see no need to set up a proper perimeter of fortification around the camp, so the slaves can easily infiltrate it and massacre most of the men in the cohorts. This incident is based on the disastrous military leadership of Gaius Claudius Glaber against Spartacus on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.

In Fast’s novel, Varinius Glabrus, as he’s called, is “vain, rather stupid, and politically dependable.” He’s killed with all the other men, all except one frightened, shamefaced soldier, who tells Gracchus and the rest of the Senate about the massacre (PDF, Part Five, chapters iv-vi). In the film, Marcus Glabrus is the one to explain his incompetence to the Senate, and he is sent out, disgraced. Crassus, his friend, leaves with him, pretending to share in his disgrace, but as Gracchus knows, Crassus will return, stronger than ever.

To get back to the part when Spartacus knows that he and his comrades cannot escape by sea, he knows their only way forward is to confront Crassus and his army, and thus to head back to Rome. His army is an impressive one, by the way, including women fighters, as we can see in the movie, extraordinary for one made back in 1960.

Here’s the thing: to be truly free, one cannot just run away from one’s oppressor–one must confront him and fight him. At the end of Fast’s novel, Varinia and her baby escape to live in a village near the Alps; but Roman soldiers go up there to enslave those villagers who can’t pay the high taxes, and her son, after she’s dead, has to fight these Romans just as his father, of the same name, did. (PDF, page 272)

In the film, the final confrontation happens, and it’s a nasty fight, with Spartacus’ army sending out rollers of flames to attack the Roman soldiers with. Much of the violence of this scene, with bloody stabbings and Spartacus’ hacking off of a Roman soldier’s arm, was originally censored out of the film, as with the ‘oysters and snails’ scene, because of the negative reaction of the preview audience.

By the time all of this has happened, Spartacus has already gotten Varinia with child, and when the slaves have been defeated, she has given birth to it. Crassus and Batiatus find her among the bodies of the fallen slaves, and Crassus wants her and the baby to be taken to his home. He especially wants to find Spartacus, to destroy the legend of the slave.

Why is it so important to Crassus to destroy the legend of Spartacus? Because, though the slave leader and his army have been defeated, their brave example will inspire thousands of future slaves to revolt one day. And where Spartacus has failed, any of the subsequent attempts may prove successful. That’s what Crassus is afraid of.

The Romans offer to spare the lives of the defeated slaves if they identify which man among them, living or dead, is Spartacus. They all respond with the famous repeated shout of “I’m Spartacus!” (a quote referenced and parodied in many films, including That Thing You Do!, and even Kubrick’s next film, Lolita), starting with Antoninus, who has prevented the real Spartacus from identifying himself, then dozens of men in his army shout it, in loving solidarity with their leader, who is moved to tears by their love.

This surviving love and solidarity is what is so threatening to Crassus, then the richest man in Rome. The slaves know they have lost…for now, but the hope of future success still burns like a flame in their hearts, and Crassus will have to find a way to extinguish that flame.

In our modern world, the Crassuses of today have been hard at work trying to extinguish the flame of hope that a socialist revolution will replace the capitalist hell we live in now. This story, as written by leftists Fast and Trumbo, was meant as an allegory for our times today; the master vs. slave contradiction of Spartacus is meant to represent the bourgeois vs. proletarian contradiction. And just as Crassus wants to destroy the legend of Spartacus, so do the bourgeoisie want to destroy the legend of Marxism-Leninism.

Imagine if, after the crushing of the Communards and the Paris Commune, that socialists had just given up! Of course they weren’t going to do that: instead, they worked hard to understand and learn from the errors that the Communards made.

Similarly, though a ruthless campaign of anti-communist propaganda (which I refute here, as in other posts) was doused here, there, and everywhere to extinguish the fire of socialism in the twentieth century, and that propaganda was a huge factor in the defeat of the USSR and the Soviet Bloc, we today shouldn’t listen to the capitalist lies that “socialism doesn’t work” and “TINA.” Instead, we must learn from the mistakes of the twentieth century and revive the hope that yes, another world is possible, that there is an alternative to neoliberalism.

To give a sense of how Crassus can be seen as an ancient version of a capitalist, in Fast’s novel, there’s a scene with him giving some women a tour of a perfume factory he owns. The scene at first hardly seems relevant to the life of Spartacus, but at the end of it, we can see Fast’s intentions (PDF, Part Six, chapter x).

Crassus speaks of how he makes much more of a profit with such businesses as his perfume factory than he could ever make in such wars as the Servile War. Furthermore, his workers in the factories aren’t slaves, so he needn’t feed or house them. Since they are free, he imagines he needn’t fear an uprising among them (PDF, page 221).

The bourgeoisie today, right-wing libertarians in particular, are fond of saying that if workers don’t like their jobs, they are free to quit, leaving their ‘poor, suffering’ bosses to have to find replacements. It may be relatively easy to quit when the economy is good, but not so when the economy is bad, as it is now, the worst it’s been since…forever, it seems.

Fast often refers to Romans as being on the dole, but this doesn’t change the fact that Rome was as brutal an empire as any. As an allegory of today’s world, his novel depicts Roman imperialism as paralleled (though assuredly not equal) with British and American imperialism. Romans being on the dole is to be paralleled with the welfare capitalism of the UK and US of the prosperous postwar years when the novel was written and the film was made. Welfare capitalism–at a time when the US and UK overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, to stop him from nationalizing Iranian oil, or when the US overthrew the government of Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 for the sake of the United Fruit Company–is still capitalism…it’s still imperialism.

To get back to the story, though, Crassus has Varinia and her baby live with him. He’s captivated by her beauty, as well as puzzled with why such a beauty would remain in love with a lowly slave like Spartacus. None of Crassus’ wealth can lure her heart away from the father of her child and over to the man who has defeated him. But of course, Crassus’ defeat of the man she’s loved will ensure that she’ll never love Crassus…except that narcissistic Crassus will never accept her attitude.

What’s significant about the scene with him and her at dinner at night, in his attempt to woo her (recall that this scene is in Fast’s novel, too–Part Seven, chapter v), is that we see a kind of reversal of the roles of slave and master. He serves her food: squab and honey, a piece of melon, and a cup of wine, He has her wear a heavy necklace, once owned by a Persian queen. He doesn’t command her to eat–he invites her.

This reversal of roles suggests Hegel‘s master-slave dialectic, in which each tries to achieve self-recognition through the other. We’ve already seen the death struggle in the form of the battle in which Crassus’ army has defeated that of Spartacus.

Now, if all of the slaves are killed, then self-recognition through the other cannot be. The “I’m Spartacus!” shout of so many of the slaves, ensuring their collective crucifixion to a man, is nonetheless troubling for Crassus, not only because their defiant spirit will inspire other slaves, but also because their collective death means none will be left to give him and their other Roman masters the recognition they crave.

Crassus tries to get that recognition through Varinia, who coldly refuses to give it to him. Lacan said that man’s desire is the desire of the Other: to have the Other desire him, and to be recognized and acknowledged by the Other. Crassus’ desire is Varinia’s recognition, which she will never give him.

In Hegel’s myth, after the master has achieved dominance over the slave, a contradiction arises in how all of the slave’s work, producing so many things, gives their creator the recognition he craves, meaning he no longer needs it from his master; on the other hand, the master, having grown dependent on all of the slave’s productions, becomes subordinate. In Varinia’s case, her baby can be seen to symbolize the slave’s creations; similarly, her insistence that she nurse her own baby without the need of a slave-nurse to do it for her shows her self-emancipating agency.

Crassus’ frustration grows when he brings up Spartacus, who she insists was just a simple man, not a god. That she can love such a humble man is wounding to Crassus’ pride in the extreme. His implied threats to her baby’s life show, ironically, how defeated he really is. Since he owns her, he could simply rape her; but he wants her to love him, and he can never make her do that.

Another fascinating paradox occurs later, when Spartacus and Antoninus are made to fight each other to the death, the victor to be subsequently crucified. Since crucifixion is one of the worst, most painful ways to die, a death by stabbing is far preferred. So both men would kill each other…out of love…to spare the loser of the fight from suffering the agony of the cross.

Spartacus wins, and though neither history nor Fast’s novel have him die by crucifixion, the film has him die this way. Such an alteration naturally makes him into a Christ-figure, one who dies so future generations may live, that is, his sacrificial death will make of him a martyr who will inspire future slaves–including present-day wage slaves–to continue the struggle and, we hope, liberate us all for good.

Now, Fast’s novel gives extensive discussion of all those slaves crucified along the Appian Way from Rome to Capua, where Batiatus has trained the gladiators. One gladiator/slave rebel whose crucifixion is given especial focus is a Jew named David. As he hangs in agony and despair on his cross, he ruminates over his mostly unfortunate life. (PDF, Part Six)

Fast divides David’s life into four parts: first, “a happy time of not knowing,” then, a time “full of knowledge and sorrow and hatred,” next came a “time of hope…when he fought with Spartacus,” and finally, a “time of despair,” when “their cause was lost” (PDF, page 212).

The difference between the times of not knowing and of knowing weren’t really those of happiness vs. unhappiness, but rather those of naïvely not knowing of the evils already present in the world, back when David was a child, and of when he became a man, had his eyes opened, saw the difference between the rich and the poor, and finally realized the world’s evil (PDF, page 190). Such a realization would have been especially poignant for David when he saw his father crucified for his involvement with the Maccabean rebellion (PDF, page 192).

Though Fast, having published Spartacus in 1951, wouldn’t have known at the time of the growing despair of socialists since the dissolution of the USSR (in fact, sadly, he came to believe the lies Khrushchev spoke about Stalin in his “secret speech,” and broke away from communism), still, David’s despair on the cross, and the length of his unhappy life, can be seen to allegorize the despair of any leftist revolutionary whose cause has failed, including the fall of the Soviet system.

We leftists in today’s world were once wide-eyed and naïve, like David as a boy, blissfully ignorant of the evils of the world. Then we grew up, put away childish things, ate of the Tree of Knowledge, so to speak, and underwent our Fall into a knowledge of those evils; and accordingly, we felt the pain, the sorrow, and the hatred of those evils. Then there were those of us who were old enough to remember the era of the Soviets, and how their influence even softened the blow of capitalism with the welfare state; we experienced a time of revolutionary hope, like David’s hope as he insists on standing beside Spartacus in battle (PDF, page 200). And finally, our time of despair has been from the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, and the ensuing rise of neoliberal capitalism from then to the present day.

The suffering of David on that cross, one of the longest and most painful ways anyone can die, is a perfect metaphor for the long, drawn-out pain we on the left have felt as we watched Clinton gut welfare, Dubya start the “War on Terror,” Obama continue and expand Dubya’s policies, Trump lower the already-low corporate tax rate even further, and appoint conservative Supreme Court justices so Roe vs. Wade could be overturned, and Biden provoke Russia and intensify nuclear brinksmanship.

We’ve watched this slide into imperial tyranny (as did Cicero of republican Rome degenerating into the Second Triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus; Cicero, who appears in Fast’s novel as an ambitious, upwardly-mobile writer of a monograph on the Servile Wars [PDF, Part Four, chapter i], but not as a critic of the power structure that would eventually have him killed), and we see no way out of the present situation. But recall the end of the movie, when liberated Varinia shows crucified Spartacus their now-freed baby. This child personifies our hopes of a revived revolution, which just might happen as the Western empire is crumbling.

We hang on the cross in agony, like Spartacus, but that baby of hope is alive and free. Instead of letting our heads droop down in despair, let’s keep our eyes on that baby.

Taiwan

Photo by Alan Wang on Pexels.com

As a resident of this island for, as of the end of the month of this article’s publication, what will be twenty-six years, I feel I must voice my opinions of the locals, especially as regards the attitude of many of them to China. What I’m about to say here is not a scientifically authoritative set of observations; it’s just the idiosyncratic opinions of a Canadian expatriate who has lived here and informally watched the locals for over two and a half decades.

Take these opinions with a grain of salt; I’m about to say some things many of the locals won’t like to read, but things I feel must be said. Be prepared, for much of what I’ll say will be critical, but with compassion: my intent is to help Taiwan save herself, not to be malicious. Furthermore, the criticisms are not meant to be sweeping generalizations of all of the locals, or even necessarily a comment on most of them, but rather a comment on as many of them as would be enough to prod Taiwan in the direction of provoking a war with China. More on that later.

I find the Taiwanese attitude to outsiders to be a curious one, full of contradictions. While some of them like China, from whence they came in waves over the years (mostly from Fujian province in particular, then with Chiang Kai-shek when Mao’s communists took over the mainland), many others detest the country of their ethnic origin. It’s a classic case of what Freud once called “the narcissism of small differences.”

On the other hand, the one country for which one would think the Taiwanese would have an abiding hatred, Japan, which had occupied the island from 1895 to the end of the Second World War, actually is a country the locals like so much that they visit it constantly, perhaps more than any other country, to my knowledge. My beloved Taiwanese wife, with whom I’ve vacationed in Japan many times, speaks Japanese very well. Just so we’re clear, though, Japanese rule here could be brutally repressive, as with their response to the Wushe Incident, which was dramatized in the Taiwanese film, Seediq Bale.

The locals’ attitude towards Westerners, whom they typically call waiguoren (“foreigners”) or meiguoren (“Americans”), is a mixture of contradictory feelings. Sometimes, they’re fascinated with us, reacting as if we were movie stars, or something. Little kids (and, occasionally, even adults) stare at us as if in a trance, as if there’s something shocking about how different we as non-Asians look from them.

At other times, a minority of locals, those with a more xenophobic attitude (sadly, a reaction any foreigner or racial minority will have to face from time to time in any country) will regard us as comical-looking; these ones may use the racial slur a-do-ah (“big nose”), or mock us by saying “Hello!” and “How do you do?” in an exaggerated tone, equivalent to white racists mocking Asians by bowing, squinting their eyes, sticking out their upper-front teeth and saying something ignorant like “Ah-so!” (which, incidentally, is Japanese, not Chinese, whitey.)

What all these contradictory attitudes have in common is the preoccupation with how ‘different’ we are from them. Such a preoccupation seems to stem, at least in part, from how the locals’ society conditions them, from early childhood, to be remarkably conformist. Social conformity, of course, exists in all countries and all cultures; but some places are more obviously conformist than others. A common way to reprimand bad behaviour among the locals is to call the offender qiguai (“strange”); one is bad because one is different from everyone else.

The real enforcing of conformity happens during elementary, junior, and senior high school…naturally. Kids here are bombarded with piles of homework not only from these schools, but also from their cram schools (buxiban) of many subjects (English, math, science, etc.), home tutors, and music lessons. In all of this intense study, we see how these kids are being prepared for the long working day–as of 2019, the fourth longest hours in the world.

Unlike in the West, the Taiwanese didn’t experience a radical 1960s countercultural rebellion against “The Man.” They’re essentially as we Westerners were back in the 1950s. To be sure, there are a number of individual cases of Taiwanese who go against the grain: I had the pleasure here of teaching a young woman, a violinist, who is now in the US studying the arts and is in a happy relationship with her female partner. I’m delighted every time I encounter such an exception; I’d encourage much more of it if I had the opportunity. But when I speak of conformity, I’m describing the large majority of the locals I’ve encountered, a largeness that I hope, for their sake, will soon shrink…if it hasn’t already, without my noticing.

Now, of course, East Asians have no monopoly on conservatism and conformity. Consider the recent, outrageous overturning of Roe vs. Wade by those Americans far too influenced by religious authoritarianism. But at least there’s a significant number of left-leaning Westerners trying to resist such reactionary behaviour. Sadly, I see far too little of such resistance here; by this, I’m referring to the Western pockets of resistance to such things as the mask and vaccine mandates. I know of no such questioning of authority here; anyone who does, please enlighten me–I’d be so happy to see examples of it here.

Alongside the locals’ non-questioning of authority, their homogeneity, which leads to their frequent over-reactions to foreigners as described above, their self-absorption (brought on, I believe, by their media’s constant focus on Taiwan, with scant exposure of international news to the locals), and their fear of a Chinese invasion, comes their belief that this island is a country, rather than a breakaway province of China. The locals are, essentially, ethnic Chinese, just as a huge percentage of the Ukrainian population is made up of ethnic Russians. Constitutionally, Taiwan is the Republic of China; the ruling Democratic Progressive Party keeps selling the public the idea that Taiwan is a ‘sovereign’ country.

I’m sorry, Taiwanese readers, but I must be frank with you. Nationalism is a form of collective narcissism. One thinks one’s country is ‘great’ because one was born there.

Just so we’re clear: nationalism has a danger of degenerating into fascism. See what’s happened to Ukrainian nationalists to see what I mean. Excessive patriotism, combined with economic hard times, tends to lead to such things as Naziism. Note today’s economy, and do the math to see what I’m getting at. Now, most Taiwanese are kind, gentle people who are very unlikely to develop the violent ways of fascism, but I worry that the combination of economic hard times, this nationalistic pride among the locals, and especially, American manipulations of the people here towards Sinophobia could make some disturbing changes in my home.

Indeed, the US government in its evil machinations encourages Taiwanese ‘nationalism’ as much as it can. Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State under Trump and confessed liar for the CIA, made a visit to Taiwan to embolden the locals in an anti-China stance. At one point during his visit, he wore a mask designed with a combination of the American and Taiwanese flags. The obvious message behind this design is that an ‘independent’ Taiwan is to be inextricably linked to the American empire. Translation: Taiwan is to be subservient to American interests.

If the Taiwanese think that, with their long work days as mentioned above, a link to ultra-capitalist, imperialist America will give them freedom, they should think again.

Indeed, far too many Taiwanese naïvely think that the US is here to protect us against a Chinese invasion, so they welcome neocon assholes like Pompeo. They don’t realize that the American government has ulterior motives: namely, to Balkanize China (and Russia, by the way), thereby weakening her. Call Taiwan a country, break Hong Kong off from China, use the unsubstantiated hoax of the Uyghur ‘genocide’ to justify breaking Xinjiang off from China, etc.

Though only fairly recently did Taiwanese news media start to show a substantial amount of international news, when they (and Western media) discuss such important stories as the Russian/Ukraine war, it’s to see how the conflict is to be paralleled with the danger of such a war happening here with China. Sadly, their coverage of Ukraine largely parrots the disingenuous Western reporting of the war (e.g., Taiwanese news reports of international news all too often show CNN reports with Chinese subtitles).

Accordingly, the average Taiwanese, if not the great majority of them, accept uncritically the MSM narrative that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was an “unprovoked” act of aggression by the villainous Putin. I suspect that a precious few Taiwanese (if any–indeed, my “precious few” is me being generous and hopeful that more locals are properly informed of what’s really going on in eastern Europe than I think) are aware that the Russian intervention is actually a reaction to eight years of Ukrainian neo-Nazi provocations.

It started with the broken promise not to push NATO “one inch” eastward beyond reunified Germany. Never a friend to Russia, NATO has absorbed many of the former SSRs, to the uncomfortable point of touching Russia’s borders at Latvia and Estonia. Belarus has held out, but the push to make Ukraine and Georgia join NATO means, if one day achieved, nuclear missiles can be placed in those countries and pointed at Russia, something this nuclear-armed country can never be expected to tolerate.

(It’s useful to compare such a predicament to the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the USSR tried to give missiles to Cuba to point at the US. The Taiwanese might also want to consider how the people of China feel about the Trump administration’s sale of a billion dollars of weapons to Taiwan to be used one day on China. The Taiwanese see it as defence; China sees a threat.)

Tensions escalated in 2014 when the CIA helped to orchestrate a violent coup d’état in Ukraine, ousting the democratically-elected Viktor Yanukovych and replacing his government with one that includes neo-Nazis, as their military also includes. The eight years since that coup, leading to the war starting in late February of this year, have involved the neo-Nazis, in their bigoted hatred of the ethnic Russians of the Donbass regions, not only to pass legislation denying those Russians the right to use their language (naturally leading to Russian separatism in those regions), but also to violent attacks on those Russians, causing thousands of deaths.

Furthermore, in the few months leading up to the Russian invasion, the US was sending hoards of weapons to Ukraine, provoking Russia all the more. Attempts to negotiate peace (i.e., the Minsk Accords) were disregarded by the Ukrainian government. True, Zelenskyy campaigned and was elected on a platform of peace, but the neo-Nazis threatened to kill him if he tried to sue for peace with Russia. Also, the ‘democratic’ Ukrainian government has banned eleven opposition parties.

Finally, contrary to the nonsense and propaganda of the Western mainstream media, Ukraine is losing the warbadly. They haven’t the necessary equipment or organization, and Ukrainian soldiers are refusing to fight, knowing they face certain death if they try. The purpose of the MSM lies that Ukraine is ‘winning’ is to promote the US/NATO agenda of protracting the war, using Ukrainians as cannon fodder, in order to bleed Russia slowly, and thus weaken her, as the mujahideen in Afghanistan was successfully used in the 1980s to weaken the Soviet Union.

I bring up all of this in keeping with the paralleling of the Russia/Ukraine war with a possible China/Taiwan war, so the locals here can understand how the US plans to use Taiwan as cannon fodder to provoke such a war here, while lying in the media that a Chinese invasion will be ‘unprovoked.’ The Taiwanese typically think that China is going to invade Taiwan just because the CPC ‘wants to,’ or something (actually, China wants to reunite with Taiwan peacefully, and will use military force only if they have to). Similarly, the locals here usually buy into the Western media narrative that Russia invaded Ukraine just because Putin ‘wanted to.’

Since the Taiwanese are naturally terrified (as I, a resident here, am) of this island becoming a war zone, the first step toward preventing such a calamity is to see what’s happening in Russia/Ukraine and China/Taiwan in its proper geopolitical context, something the MSM (and therefore also the Taiwanese news media, part of the TV version of which, by the way, is aptly called TVBS!) will never allow us to see: that these conflicts are actually US/NATO moves on a global chessboard, if you will, to prevent the replacement of US unipolar hegemony with a much more sensible multipolar world, including Russia and China as emerging powers, which could create a balance of power that in turn could conceivably promote peace and end our decades-long plague of American imperialism.

It would be laughable (if it weren’t so infuriating) that the American government–whose Attila-the-Hun-conservative, Bible-thumping Supreme Court just overturned its women’s right to abortion–goes around judging Russia and China as ‘autocratic’ and ‘authoritarian.’ The government of the same country that spies on its citizens and censors its media left, right, and centre has the gall to judge Russia and China as infringing on human rights. The country’s government that has been invading and bombing countries all over the Middle East and occupying countries all over the world with its military bases, has the audacity to judge Russian and Chinese “aggression.” The government of the country that has, over and over again, interfered with the democratic and electoral processes in many countries has the cheek to accuse Russia, baselessly, with interfering in the 2016 US election to give it to Trump, who ended up putting sanctions on Russia anyway!

Still, the average Taiwanese knows little of these issues, since the local media largely doesn’t discuss them, and any time I discuss them with my adult English students here, they never mention any prior knowledge of the issues. They just parrot the mainstream opinions heard on the TV.

Granted, many–if not most–people in Western countries also parrot those mainstream opinions, but we also have access to alternative forms of media that can give us the news from different perspectives. To my knowledge, there isn’t any such alternative media here in Taiwan, and if there is, it must be extremely scant. If, on the other hand, anyone out there reading this knows of such alternatives, please give me some links in the comments; I’d really like to be proven wrong about this, though I don’t think I will be.

My theory for why such alternative media here is generally lacking ties in with what I was saying above about how most Taiwanese are conservative and conformist. Apart from accepting uncritically far too much of the American spin on world affairs, the locals here simply don’t have sufficient time to examine world events from different angles. This is not their fault.

Starting in childhood, they get up early and go to school or work, where they slave away all day until they finally get home, too exhausted for any deep thinking. To be sure, they’re just as capable of deep thinking as we are in the West, but their version of the capitalist system brainwashes them, from childhood, into being little more than obedient workers whose whole life objective is making as much money for the family as possible.

Of course, the notion of TINA has been spread around the world, not just here, thanks to the hateful neoliberal agenda; but at least there are significant pockets of leftist resistance to it in most of the rest of the world, to varying degrees. I’m aware of no such resistance here, to any significant degree. Again, this is not the fault of the locals. As I said above, their time is so consumed with work and the need to make money that they simply can’t make the needed level of commitment to doing such things as promoting workers’ rights, or opposing imperialism.

Indeed, I remember back in the 2010s when an attempt was made to set up an IWW union here, and it barely materialized beyond one meeting of us in Taipei on a Sunday afternoon. The leader, an American with, I’m sorry to say, an attitude far too abrasive for his own good, got frustrated with our inability to commit to regular union meetings. Two Taiwanese members emailed him a long message explaining, among other issues, how difficult and unpleasant it was for them (as it also was for me, by the way) to wipe out their one day off to go from their city of residence to Taipei for these monthly Sunday meetings (we often work on Saturdays here: that’s how bad capitalism can get in Taiwan).

People here are so tired from their long workweeks that long sleeps over the weekend are, for them, the highest bliss. There is simply far too little time for most locals to spend questioning the system that wears them out so much. That little bit of weekend free time is for family, exercise (often in the form of hiking in the hills), online games, or watching the latest, mindless Hollywood action or superhero movie. Free time is usually about escape, not fighting the Man.

And along with far too little time for political protest is far too little time for questioning mainstream media narratives, learning the historical background to things like the Ukrainian conflict, the real reason for NATO‘s existence, and US imperialism. Yet without this learning, how will the Taiwanese be prepared when the American empire starts increasing its provocations on China as they’ve done on Russia?

The locals naïvely think that the American weapons sold to Taiwan and the US military training given to the Taiwanese army are to protect them from a Chinese invasion, rather than part of a provocation of such an invasion. The CIA has been working with Ukraine in its war with Russia, and all those weapons were sent there. Far from being ‘protected,’ Ukraine is being crushed. The same will happen here if the Taiwanese continue to trust the perfidious American government.

I think many Taiwanese already realize, from NATO’s non-intervention in Ukraine to stop Russia (which otherwise would escalate into WWIII and could go nuclear), that the American army won’t intervene to stop a Chinese invasion of Taiwan (to avoid the same cataclysmic escalation). The locals are not that politically naïve.

Still, they must understand that the American government is a false friend; they’ll come to this understanding by studying the history of American interference in other countries’ affairs, the American ruling class’s contempt for the rights of American women, people of colour (including Asians!), the working class, etc. If the American capitalist class doesn’t care about the people of their own country, why would they care about the people of Taiwan?

Understanding these sobering realities will result from the Taiwanese coming out of their shell–not thinking of the rest of the world as some strange, far-away place that has no relevance to the locals’ lives–and learning about the rest of the world in depth. I’m not saying that the Taiwanese know nothing, or next to nothing, about the rest of the world, but to survive the danger of the American government luring them into becoming cannon fodder against China, they’ll need to do much more learning about the world than they’ve done so far.

Let’s all hope that, unless many of them have already done this kind of comprehensive study of these issues, and I’m therefore wrong in my assessment of what they know, they will do this thorough study, and do it soon. Our lives will depend on it.

Analysis of ‘Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima’

I: Introduction

Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (or to the Victims…whichever–in Polish, it’s Tren Ofiarom Hiroszimy) is an avant-garde composition for 52 string instruments by Krzysztof Penderecki (pronounced  [ˈkʂɨʂtɔf pɛndɛˈrɛt͡skʲi], the Polish c in his surname, like that of hanyu pinyin, being pronounced ‘ts’).

Composed and premiered in 1961, the piece was originally to be called 8’37”, after its length of performance, since the durations of the sound events of the piece are given in seconds, rather than through the use of, for example, the quarter and eighth notes of conventional notation. Indeed, Penderecki’s score is as experimental as is the music, using a variety of unorthodox ways to indicate how the music is to be played.

The piece was originally meant to be just an experiment with new musical ideas, as Penderecki said, to “develop a new musical language,” hence the original absolute music title. It was meant as an example of sonorism, focusing on timbre, texture, articulation, dynamics, counterpoint, and motion to create a form free of traditional ideas of “expressivity” in the playing of instruments. “It existed only in my imagination, in a somewhat abstract way,” he later said.

When he heard it performed, though, he was struck by the emotive power of what he had written. It was no longer just an abstract experiment with sounds. With what could he associate the feelings of terror evoked in the music?…the victims of Hiroshima, when the atomic bomb was dropped on them at the end of WWII. Hence, the piece’s new name, a threnody, or wailing ode of mourning for the victims’ suffering and deaths.

So though the piece was composed throughout with just the intention of experimenting with new ways to organize musical sound, its new name and dedication have given the piece a whole new dimension of meaning, a meaning that not only inspires compassion for the victims to whom it’s dedicated, but one that also makes the piece especially relevant for our troubled times today, with all the reckless nuclear brinksmanship of the US and NATO against Russia and China.

The 52 string instruments used in the piece are grouped into 24 violins, ten violas, ten cellos, and eight double basses. The unconventional sounds they are manipulated to make include tone clusters, faster and slower vibratos, slapping, and playing on the tailpiece and behind the bridge. While the sound durations are, as noted above, given precisely in seconds, other aspects of the music are aleatoric, allowing the players a choice of techniques. Nonetheless, specific note clusters are used, as well as quarter tones.

Such unorthodox techniques give the music its terrifying character, which is why the Threnody, as well as other avant-garde works by Penderecki–such as his Utrenja, The Awakening of Jacob, De Natura Sonoris, Kanon, and Polymorphia–have been used in such horror films and thrillers as The Shining, The Exorcist, and Children of Men. Purists in the world of avant-garde music may not like the, to them, excessive associations of experimental soundscapes with the horror genre, but Penderecki’s association of 8’37” with the suffering of the Japanese at the end of WWII was more than justified, as I will argue below.

II: The Historical Background of the Nuking

It is still believed by many that the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing about 200,000 people, was regrettable but necessary, so that a long, protracted ground assault, risking the lives of many American soldiers, could be avoided. A closer look, however, at the actual, historical circumstances surrounding the bombings will indicate how wrong this rationalization is.

At the time, Japan’s leaders were ready to surrender, though hoping for at least a conditional surrender, to save their emperor, Hirohito, from being harmed or removed, as a handful of high-ranking Nazis would be tried for war crimes. The US, however, still seething with virulent racial hatred for the Japanese over the bombing of Pearl Harbor, wanted nothing less than an unconditional surrender.

Pretty much the whole of the Japanese islands were being pummelled with conventional American bombs. The Japanese knew they’d lost. In fact, when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese at first couldn’t tell the difference between the effect of the older and new kinds of bombs. The use of these two new bombs did not end the war, as many assume; therefore, where was the justification to use them?

A number of American generals dissented over the use of those awful bombs. So what was the real reason they were dropped on those two unfortunate cities? They were a demonstration of a new, deadly toy of the American military…not to intimidate Japan, but to frighten that nation that was already understood to be the new enemy of the US: the Soviet Union!

…and what really made Japan surrender, if it wasn’t the bomb? A convincing explanation comes from what the USSR did, not the US. Up until their surrender, the Japanese were holding out on the small hope that the USSR would mediate negotiations with the US and influence a conditional surrender, one that wouldn’t favour the US too much, to give Japan better terms for their surrender. The USSR, however, invaded Manchuria, clearly indicating no interest in siding with Japan in any way, meaning Japan would be forced to surrender unconditionally. In short, it was the Soviet Union, not the American nuking, that decisively stopped Japan.

Therefore, the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had no redeeming moral justification of any kind. They were acts of mass murder on a mostly civilian population (the military portion of which was admittedly significant, but still a minority); in spite of the heinous war crimes of the Japanese military on Korea, China, the Philippines, etc., these victims had done no direct harm to Americans.

Granted, all Japanese were part of the war effort in some sense, as is the case with the people of other countries involved in WWII. Civilian Japanese helped in industry, making weapons, giving material support to the military, etc.; but to a great extent, this civilian support was for defence as well as offence–these particular people weren’t themselves raping and beheading their Asian neighbours, so the way they were killed was way out of proportion to their crime of equipping their soldiers to commit their ugly deeds. Japan’s loss of the war, with the conventional bombings that more accurately targeted military areas, should have been punishment enough for them.

As much as I abhor Nazi Germany, and I would never consider defensible the average “Aryan” civilian supporting Nazi ideology and helping out in their war effort, I would also never consider nuking any German city to be an acceptable way of forcing the fascists and fascist sympathizers to surrender. Similarly, though I detest the US military-industrial complex and wish wholeheartedly for its imminent defeat, I would never dream of such a defeat coming from nukes.

III: The Composition

Here is a link to a video of the Threnody, with footage of the aftermath of the bombing, with images of the destruction and the suffering of the surviving victims of radiation poisoning, and the doctors trying to help them.

And here is a link to a video of the piece with an animated score, so you can follow what is happening in the music, and you can see it broken down into its many parts.

The piece opens with fortissimo tone clusters played first on the first five of the ten violas, next on the first six of the twenty-four violins, then on the first four of the eight double basses, etc., until all of the subdivided groups of strings are playing their own set of clusters. This piling on of tone clusters lasts for fifteen seconds.

The cacophony of all of these clusters suggests the screaming of the residents of Hiroshima as they look up into the sky and see the Enola Gay flying over their city, knowing they’d be bombed, but not knowing the brand new nature of the horror they were about to experience.

After the first fifteen seconds, the music immediately comes down from fortissimo to forte (sub. f), and a slow vibrato is heard on the first six violins, and soon after on the third six, the second six, and the fourth six. This all goes on for the next eleven seconds.

The following four seconds has the first five of the celli doing the slow vibrato; and the last six of the violins switch from a slow vibrato to a fast one, as the two groups of violas have been doing from the previous eleven seconds until now. These vibratos, slow and fast, add an eeriness to the dark, terrifying atmosphere so unmistakably established.

Those violas will, during the next six seconds, immediately come down to pianissimissimo (sub. ppp), as will all the other strings at the beginning of the next thirty seconds. During the six-second section, the last five of the celli will play the slow vibratos as the strings hitherto playing slow vibratos are, group by group, replacing slow vibratos with fast ones.

The switch to ppp sounds especially scary, like a suspenseful scene in a horror movie right after an initial shock of terror. Small wonder Penderecki’s music is, rightly or wrongly, so associated with horror films. One senses, at this moment in the music, the trembling people of Hiroshima looking up at the bomber plane in all helplessness, waiting for “Little Boy” to be dropped.

Next come the experimental sound effects to be made on the strings. In the score, an arrow pointing up indicates the playing of a note of the highest, though indefinite, pitch (recall the aleatoric aspects of this music). An icon of four vertical lines with a horizontal arc crossing them represents, respectively, the instrument’s four strings and its bridge; the straight line under the arc indicates a four-note arpeggio to be played under the bridge.

Some notes are to be plucked (pizzicatopizz.), others bowed (arco). Again, if the straight line is below an arc, one is to play between the bridge and the tailpiece. Vertical lines intersected with short, upwardly diagonal lines indicate a percussion effect: striking the upper sounding board of the instrument with the nut or fingertips.

The symbol of a short, vertical line with a cone shape pointing to the right tells the last five cellists to bow the tailpiece. An umbrella-like symbol tells the first five cellists to play on the bridge.

These string effects are not required to be played at exact speeds. Only the order in which they are to be played matters. As Angus Lee explains in his video analysis of the Threnody, different performers will have varying levels of difficulty or ease in executing each different technique; so there will be considerable freedom in playing these parts, another example of the aleatoric aspects of Penderecki’s piece.

The result, when one hears the differing timing of each player, bowing, plucking, or tapping his or her instrument, is a rather chaotic flurry of sounds. Controlled chaos, yet chaos all the same. When we hear this chaotic texture of sounds, it suggests to us the frenzied panic of the people of Hiroshima, them all frenetically scrambling to run for cover and escape their doom.

Next, a pianissimo note in F is heard on the ten celli, which is briefly sustained, but soon after, some celli slide down to lower notes, others to higher ones (indeterminate pitches here, graphically presented in the score with a thick black line), while the remaining celli stay on the F. This results in another tone cluster; then those upwardly and downwardly straying notes return to the F. This goes on for fifteen seconds. It’s a moment of relative calm, as if some of the people of Hiroshima have found a place to protect themselves from the bomb, and are trying to reassure themselves that they are safe…at least for the moment.

Other strings do the same effect, with the first twelve violins sustaining a note on E and branching out upwards and downwards into a larger tone cluster, this time ppp. Then, the eight double basses, also ppp, do this on an E-flat, then bloat out into a huge dissonant chord before returning to that E-flat.

The ten violas, playing mezzo-forte, give out a huge cluster chord that decrescendos and slides into an A. The last twelve violins then play a sustained high B-flat in ppp, which fans out into a large tone cluster, which is accompanied by another mf cluster chord on the ten violas, which in turn decrescendos and slides into an A.

This shifting back and forth, from single notes to tone clusters and back again, on different groups of strings and at softer and louder dynamics, continues for some time. One senses during this moment that those people are trembling in suspense, waiting for the bombing to be over with.

There’s a brief silence, then groups of ppp tone clusters from all the strings are heard, the notation indicating all the pitches to be played. We’re almost halfway into the piece by now. The feeling one gets from all of these creepy dissonances is a sense of nausea from all those terrified Japanese, nausea from their despair.

Next, a fortissimo cluster chord is heard on the ten violas, notes ranging from about an F (above middle C) to about a c′′. This is soon followed by a similar tone cluster, also ff, on the last twelve of the violins, playing a range of notes from about c′′ to about f′′-sharp. Other groups of strings come in with their own loud cluster chords. It’s as though the bomb has now been released, and the people of Hiroshima are all screaming together as they watch it fall from the bomber and come closer and closer to the ground.

Eventually, all these cluster chords played on all the groups of strings decrescendo and do upward or downward glissandi. It’s as though terror among the people has been replaced with resignation to their fate, just as the bomb is about to hit the ground.

Next, we hear individual notes of distinct pitches played by each cello, notes that are sustained and that fan out upwards and downwards. These are played softly, and are followed by the same fanning out of individual notes played piano on the last twelve of the violins, then on the ten violas, and ultimately on all the strings, ending with each group playing loud tone clusters.

This fanning out of notes suggests the impact of the bomb on the ground, each individual note representing each piece of rock, concrete, brick, etc., that has been shattered from the blast. Again, the clusters represent the screams of those people not yet killed.

We then hear creepy glissandi in the cluster chords of the celli and double basses, suggesting the moaning and groaning of the traumatized survivors, many of whom won’t be survivors for very long. These clusters thin out into single tones and go from fff to f, then decrescendo from f to silence in the double basses, and to p in the celli, and to pp with slow vibrato, ending off with a ten-second decrescendo to pppp.

This slow fading to another brief silence suggests the dying-off of many hitherto survivors, leaving those still living to be doubly traumatized, from their own suffering and from the deaths of loved ones they’ve witnessed dying.

The string effects come back, including the one with the upward arrow symbol mentioned above, as well as certain pizzicato and arco notes of definite pitch. These are played by individual strings from all the groups. The tension in this section suggests the traumatic reaction of the survivors to the horrors just experienced.

The percussive effects remind us of those heard earlier, as if they are PTSD-like flashbacks of the panic felt before the bomb dropped. Sometimes we have individual players making the bowed, plucked, or percussive effects, as if we’re hearing the pain of lonely survivors with no living family or friends to mourn with. Sometimes we have players in groups, suggesting the mourning of living family and friends who are weeping and wailing together, trying to comfort each other in all futility.

A little later on, we get the string effects notated with the umbrella-like symbols mentioned earlier, as well as those with the vertical line going through a cone pointing to the right. These are played on the celli and the double basses. Other string effects are heard on groups of three or four violins, violas, and celli, accompanied by a sustained cluster chord on the violins. The ten violas will join in with a cluster chord of their own as those violins, having done a crescendo from mf to fortissimo, play another slow vibrato.

As the above continues, other strings come in with their own tone clusters. The dissonances pile up, with slow vibratos played on some groups. The dynamics go down to piano and pianissimo, but soon crescendo and abruptly stop, leaving a brief silence.

Next, a climactic cluster chord is played on all the groups of strings, a huge dissonance with notes ranging all the way from about a c to a c′′. The totality of it is like a culmination of all the preceding horrors, as well as of the suffering they caused. The slow decrescendo, fading to silence, suggests again the slow, painful dying-off of many more victims.

IV: Conclusion–What Can the Threnody Mean for Us Today?

Needless to say, this music is disturbing to listen to, especially on the YouTube video (link above) that combines the music with the footage of the aftermath of the bombing. It’s disturbing because it should be. Nuclear war is nothing other than disturbing, though some nut-jobs think it can be used to defeat Russia today.

Another one of the reasons that those two bombs should never have been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that it ushered in the nuclear age. Faced with the threat of such bombs being dropped on the USSR and, later, China and the DPRK, these socialist states were compelled to make their own nuclear arsenals.

…and look at where we are today.

Threatened with the loss of their unipolar global hegemony, the US and the extension of its imperialism, NATO, have been provoking Russia ever since the counterrevolutionary dissolution of the USSR, with the aid of Ukrainian neo-Nazis (and no, you don’t stop them from being fascists by a mere change of logo), culminating in the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Even cold-blooded war criminal Henry Kissinger has enough sense to know that the only way out of this war is to give Putin what he wants: Ukrainian neutrality, no NATO membership for the country, and a reasonable amount of autonomy for the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics…perfectly acceptable requests for the sake of Russian security, except that the US and NATO refuse to grant them.

That this war, if not ended, could escalate into a very nuclear WWIII (as could also happen when the US–via Taiwanprovokes China into a similar war), should be obvious to anyone with half a brain. Still, the US and NATO keep pressing their–and everyone else’s–luck…all because they don’t want to accept the emerging multipolar world with rising Russia and China, a world which, if handled well, could lead to a balance of power that could facilitate world peace.

(I go into more detail about these issues in these posts, if you’re interested, Dear Reader.)

The current-day threat of nuclear annihilation is what makes Penderecki’s Threnody not only relevant, but outright urgent to listen to. Let this terrifying music stir up your survival instinct and inspire you to do whatever we can do to stop the psychopaths in power from killing everyone and everything on our fragile planet.

The End of the World?

I: Introduction

As the above title implies, I’m afraid that this isn’t going to be a very rosy, positive post, Dear Reader.

Some readers who have read my posts about my family, and who know about my C-PTSD, might think that what I’m about to describe is just a reflection of my tendency to catastrophize the problems of the world, and I’d really like to think that that’s all that is going on here in my reaction to current events.

But I don’t think it’s my attitude to the problems.

I think it’s the problems themselves.

Now, before you think I’m just putting you on a real downer here, Dear Reader, consider that the first step in dealing with problems is acknowledging that they exist, rather than denying and running away from them. So let’s acknowledge these problems, where they began, how they’ve progressed, and what they’re escalating into now.

II: Background

First, with the ending of the great majority of the socialist states of the world, the capitalist class no longer felt the need to soften the plight of the working class with such things as welfare; for without any significant existing Marxist alternative to capitalism, the ruling class needn’t fear revolution if things grow intolerable for the poor. Hence, the rise of neoliberalism.

(For those of you who don’t think of the demise of 20th century Marxism-Leninism as a bad thing, please read this to understand why I think its demise was bad.)

That problem, however, was only the beginning.

With contemporary capitalism always comes imperialism, and with the end of the anti-imperialist bloc of Soviet states came, from the point of view of the imperialists, the gleeful realization that they could do anything they wanted, to any country, with impunity. The September 11th attacks, regardless of whether you choose to believe they were caused by radical Muslim terrorists or were an inside job, gave the American imperialists the perfect pretext to start carving up the Middle East any way they liked, as a general explained was the plan in this video.

With the “War on Terror” came the Patriot Act and the beginning of the decline in civil liberties. The state of permanent war has also meant a rise in the profits of the likes of Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, etc., profits that must be kept up to counteract the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, so the perpetuation of war has made it into a kind of addiction.

With war always comes war crimes, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were of course no exceptions. Chelsea Manning sent classified government documents of such crimes to Wikileaks, exposing the murderous American military and arousing its wrath. The persecution of her and Julian Assange has been the first major recent example of a threat to the freedom of the press, something that has gotten much worse in the 2020s.

Similarly, when Edward Snowden publicized the NSA’s plan to monitor the cellphone conversations of ordinary Americans, an Orwellian act rationalized as a form of counterterrorism, he was forced to leave the US for ‘treason,’ really a defence of freedom.

I’ve made this summary to set the stage, as it were, for what’s been coming since. The rise of neoliberal capitalism, an unfettered “free market” version that allows the rich to get richer and to exploit and immiserate the poor, has resulted–far from the right-wing libertarians’ fantasy of “small government”–in the wealthy being so rich that they can buy the government and make it do their bidding. The imperialist drive to find new markets in, and export capital to, other countries results in a further bloating of the military-industrial complex…big government, capitalist government.

The current-day depredations of imperialism aren’t limited to the countries of the Middle East. Any country that runs foul of the globe-spanning hegemony of the US and NATO is a target. Such targets have included the DPRK, Venezuela (with her vast oil reserves), Bolivia (with her lithium, so coveted by Elon Musk), and…of course, Russia and China.

And here is where things start to get especially scary.

III: The Threat of World War III

Not only has NATO, an extension of US imperialism, inched further and further eastward towards the Russian border over the past three decades, making Vladimir Putin more and more nervous, so has China been surrounded by American military bases in places like Australia, the Philippines, the Marshall Islands, Okinawa, Japan, and South Korea in what John Pilger has quoted a US strategist as calling “the perfect noose.” There is also the US navy in the South China Sea, and there are the over-a-billion-dollars worth in weapons the Trump administration sold to Taiwan to point at China.

A reminder: the US and Russia have thousands of nuclear weapons, and China has hundreds.

So, we have all this dangerous and totally unnecessary nuclear brinksmanship going on with these three countries, which instead of competing with each other could be working together for the greater global good, a potential multipolarity whose balance of power could, if developed properly, actually improve our chances for world peace. Instead, the US is jealously fighting to preserve its unipolar hegemony, and would rather risk the annihilation of all life in a nuclear WWIII than share global power.

IV: Media Censorship

To make matters worse, as the Russian/Ukraine war rages on, one that even the Pope has acknowledged was NATO’s fault, the culmination of a thirty-year (and especially an eight-year) provocation of Russia from that eastward expansion I mentioned above, the mainstream Western media is censoring any dissident voices questioning the narrative that the war is ‘all Putin’s fault.’ Putin is no saint, to be sure, but the Russian intervention was far from unprovoked.

You know the old cliché: in war, the first casualty is the truth, and such a casualty is certainly here with Ukraine. Though the mainstream news media admitted to the presence and influence of neo-Nazis in the Ukrainian government and military before the Russian intervention, since then their presence is either denied, downplayed, or outright ignored. Yet it is precisely this neo-Nazi presence that provoked the Russian response by killing ethnic Russians in the Donbass region in the eight years between the 2014 coup that ousted Viktor Yanukovych and the Russian military operation beginning this February to protect that Russian community.

One can claim the pro-Russian side is biased if one wants to, but so is the anti-Russian side. The point of having a free press is to allow publication of both sides of the story, for the sake of balance. Justifying censorship of “Russian propaganda” has only reduced the Russophobic coverage of CNN, the BBC, MSNBC, etc., to nothing more than Western propaganda…and hypocrisy.

The censorship of the pro-Russian side–properly understood, the actual anti-war side, since the only real end to this war will be granting Russia’s security requests, i.e., giving the Donbass region its independence, as well as ensuring a neutral Ukraine (no NATO membership)–has gotten so bad that the US set up a Disinformation Governance Board, in effect, a Ministry of Truth directed by a self-styled Mary Poppins. Added to this, many dissident voices, including those of Caleb Maupin, Mint Press News, etc., are no longer being given access to PayPal; so in not getting paid for their journalism (something that had precedent with Wikileaks about twelve years ago), these people are in effect being silenced, for one can’t be expected to focus properly on one’s journalism if one has to use up one’s necessary time making money doing another job.

And if we aren’t given access to dissenting voices that might otherwise dissuade us from going along with the manufactured consent for more and more war, we’ll find ourselves inching all that much closer to a nuclear WWIII.

V: A Love of Death

So what is the mindset behind all this pushing for more and more war? Obviously, part of it is the profit motive, as I mentioned above (i.e., Boeing et al), since war is a business and a racket. But with the ever-growing dangers of nuclear annihilation, which will also halt the growth of those profits, we must look for an additional motive behind all this warmongering: what Erich Fromm called the necrophilous character.

By “necrophilous,” Fromm wasn’t referring to the sexual perversion, but rather to a pathological preoccupation with death, with the non-living: “Necrophilia in the characterological sense can be described as the passionate attraction to all that is dead, decayed, putrid, sickly; it is the passion to transform that which is alive into something unalive; to destroy for the sake of destruction; the exclusive interest in all that is purely mechanical. It is the passion to tear apart living structures. [Fromm, page 369, his emphasis]

Fromm’s idea of the necrophilous character orientation is an elaboration on and a refining of Freud‘s notion of the death drive, which with Eros, the life instinct, is conceived as one of “the two most fundamental forces within man” [Fromm, page 369]. The death drive, just like the drive to achieve pleasure, involves a removal of tension to achieve a state of rest. As Hamlet said, “To die, to sleep, no more…”

It shouldn’t be hard to see how endless wars, leading to the risk of nuclear annihilation, as well as capitalism’s immiseration of the poor leading to their deaths through suicide, drug abuse and other addictions, the epidemic of homelessness, and the yearly starvation of millions in the Third World, are all manifestations of the necrophilous orientation in the ruling class, who adamantly refuse to do anything about these problems. This orientation, however, has manifested itself in other ways, too, which I’ll describe now.

VI: Economic Collapse and the Oligarchs

At the beginning of 2020, before the pandemic blew up into what it’s been since, there were already predictions of a global economic meltdown, which the pandemic, of course, has only exacerbated (and served as a political distraction). Masses of people have lost work, have been threatened with (if not already subjected to) homelessness, and/or have developed serious mental health problems; the horrors of Third World poverty have gotten much worse, and the gig economy has found new, particularly heinous, ways of exploiting workers desperate for money.

Such Western oligarchs as Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk have all, in their own ways, exploited the covid pandemic to get even more obscenely wealthy as all this global suffering continues. Their combined wealth, as well as that of the other multi-billionaire oligarchs of the world, could end world hunger, end homelessness, and be used to build schools and hospitals, among other benefits; but they always seem to have excuses for why doing such good for the world ‘won’t work.’ Instead, they fly off in rockets or buy social media platforms.

These men know they could help the world. People have nagged them to do it. Still, they won’t: this isn’t merely because of greed and selfishness, as I see it; I think they have at least an unconscious urge to kill off masses of the poor. Recall Bezos‘s connections with the CIA, as well as his ownership of the Washington Post; he is one of many examples of oligarchs who have undue influence over the government and the media. Gates, with not only all the money he’s given to control the WHO, but also the money he’s given to many, many media sources, is another “philanthropist” who has similarly excessive influence.

Recall how Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to allow mergers and acquisitions in the American media, resulting in about 90% of that media being controlled by six corporations. Hollywood is essentially required to make the CIA, an evil organization dedicated for decades to bringing about regime change after regime change, look good in films. See how the government, media, and oligarchs are working hand in hand to deceive and screw us all.

VII: The Oligarchs’ Love of Death

Let’s connect the dots: wealthy oligarchs control government organizations and the media, the latter of which is now silencing dissident voices, first about covid, then immediately after about the Russian/Ukraine war, which as I said above, could go nuclear. (People denigrate ‘authoritarian’ countries like Russia, China, the DPRK, Venezuela, Cuba, etc., for having state-controlled media; yet with Western oligarchs controlling the American government and media, both of which, through organizations like NATO, control other countries’ governments and media, do these Western “democracies” really have anything other than state-controlled media, if only indirectly so?) Manufactured consent for war, with no dissident media voices allowed to reverse the influence of this evil: the necrophilous orientation, on full display…if only people could see it.

Elsewhere, we see the number of covid deaths in the US has recently reached around one million (this assuming that they, as the ever-so-dubious mainstream media maintains, have all died of covid as opposed to having died with covid, especially since the omicron variant, though spreading faster, is less deadly than the previous variants, of which the survival rate has always been the great majority of those who have caught it). A single-payer, universal health-care system would suit these patients, in the richest country in the world. Yet the American government still prefers to spend billions of dollars on the military (while having upwards of a thirty-trillion-dollar deficit), and to send over a billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine, to make Ukrainians cannon fodder in the US/NATO proxy war against Russia. There’s money for war, but not for health: this is the necrophilous character, in a nutshell.

VIII: Roe vs. Wade

Now, one thing has happened recently in the US that, on the surface, doesn’t seem all that necrophilous: the Supreme Court’s leaked majority vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade. If we examine this right-wing outrage more thoroughly, though, we’ll see that it’s hardly life-affirming at all: the compassion that the anti-abortionists have for the unborn ends when the unborn are born. These right-wingers are adamantly opposed to providing any kind of childcare, maternity leave, or any other form of financial relief to struggling single mothers (or fathers now obligated to help raise babies both parents would otherwise not have had). Life may “begin at conception,” but compassion ends at birth, apparently.

And in a world with not only the pandemic forcing children to wear masks and therefore get very little chance to learn how to read facial expressions (as older generations have taken for granted), with not only the looming threat of a nuclear WWIII, and with not only an economic meltdown so bad that it could be the end of capitalism (replaced not with socialism, but either barbarism or some kind of neo-feudal totalitarianism), but also skyrocketing inflation (made worse by rising gas prices in a bid ‘to stick it to Putin,’ a cutting-off of one’s nose to spite one’s face if ever there was one), bringing excessive life into such a shitty world is anything but “pro-life.” Birthing unwanted babies in the worst of economies, with very possible food scarcities (conveniently blamed on Russia, mind you, while the West is completely unwilling to grant Russia’s most straightforward requests to end the war that’s exacerbating this food crisis) on the way: what could go wrong?

IX: Compassion

Bible-thumpers call life (before birth, mind you) “sacred.” Buddhists, however, say, “Birth is Ill, decay is Ill, sickness is Ill, death is Ill: likewise sorrow and grief, woe, lamentation and despair. To be conjoined with things which we dislike: to be separated from things which we like–that also is Ill. Not to get what one wants–that also is Ill. In a word, this body, this fivefold mass which is based on grasping–that is Ill.” [Smart and Hecht, page 236]

Small wonder Schopenhauer, greatly influenced by Buddhism, had a pessimism regarding non-life as preferable to life; but being far removed from those of the necrophilous orientation, he confronted human suffering with an attitude head and shoulders above that of these Bible-thumping anti-abortionists–he espoused compassion for sufferers.

We socialists also have compassion for those who suffer; this is why we advocate universal healthcare, housing, education, and employment for all, and a society that produces things not for profit, but to provide for everyone. Such a beneficial transformation of society would reduce suffering to a far more tolerable level than we have in the current neoliberal nightmare. Such vast improvements are far more pro-life than the Bible-thumpers could ever offer.

X: Climate Change

Now, if we don’t end all life on this Earth through nuclear war, there’s another, equally sure way that will do it: through climate change. The warnings have been given for decades, and while conservatives outright deny the existence of this danger, liberals offer woefully inadequate solutions to the problem. All of the efforts of ordinary people to mitigate the problem–e.g., recycling, plastic straws replaced with paper ones, cleaning up pollution on the beaches, etc.–fade into insignificance when compared to the gargantuan contributor, which if anything is only getting worse: the US military as the greatest polluter in the world.

The climate change issue is not only very real, it’s an urgent problem that must be reversed, and soon, before its devastating effects can no longer be rectified. Sea levels are rising now. Wildfires have been raging in countries all over the world. This issue cannot wait, yet as I said above, the efforts to deal with it so far have been nothing more than puny compared to what must be done.

As for those right-wing libertarians who deny climate change, and who are no doubt informed by the greedy heads of corporations who put profit before human life, those right-wingers should consider the implications behind the underground bunkers that the super-rich will have when a world-ending disaster like the ultimate effects of climate change happen, or when there’s a nuclear war, or when the civilizational collapse brought on by the self-destruction of capitalism renders money useless. Will the boot-licking, climate-change-denying conservatives ever admit to themselves what the super-rich have known all along–that climate change is real, and that the super-rich thus have been lying to the conservatives?

Indeed, a number of blog posts by Rainer Shea discuss how the oligarchs plan to deal with the very civilizational collapse they themselves have been responsible for bringing on. In one such post, a CEO euphemistically referred to “the Event” (i.e., the end of the world via climate change or nuclear war), worrying about the loyalty of the armed guards of his bunker when money has become useless. As always, these necrophilous types care only about themselves, and they plan to hide out in their bunkers while the rest of the world burns.

XI: Conclusion–Revolution is the Solution

To make matters worse, the return of fascism, as a way of tightening the elites’ grip of power on us, is but one of many examples of how ‘democracy’ has revealed itself to be an illusion. The rich have militarized police, robotic dogs, and fascistic-minded bootlickers among the working class and petite bourgeoisie, all ready and willing to protect them. Liberals, though pretending to be progressive, are in their very defence of Ukraine revealing fascist sympathies. Though the sanctions on Russia have resulted in many countries, such as China and India, dropping the US dollar, which will help bring about the end of the Anglo/American empire, such a Western decline won’t come without a fight.

Chelsea Manning sent out an interesting tweet recently, about the need not only to be armed, but also for the armed to come into communities to train together. People, time is running out. Voting out the bad guys won’t work. There is no kind and gentle way to end the corruption in politics. We will have to fight our way out of this.

We can no longer just sit around and share memes on Facebook about revolution. We have to do it, and soon. Right-wingers among the masses, convinced by bourgeois propaganda that socialism is “Satanic,” will fight us tooth and nail, as will the police and standing armies of the ruling class. A revolution is not a dinner party.

In my heart, I don’t like violence; but it isn’t a matter of liking it. We have no other choice. If we on the left don’t organize, train, and act now, the end of the world will come, in the form of nuclear war, climate change, or neo-feudalism brought on by civilizational collapse, with that of capitalism. And with the media as censored as it is now, many won’t even see it coming.

Let’s get our act together, people.

Analysis of ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’

I: Introduction

Charlie Wilson’s War is a 2007 film directed by Mike Nichols (his last film) and written by Aaron Sorkin, adapted from George Crile III‘s 2003 book Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. The film stars Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, with Amy Adams and Ned Beatty.

This is the story of US Congressman Charlie Wilson (Hanks) and Gust Avrakotos (Hoffman), who helped bring about Operation Cyclone, the organizing and supporting of the mujahideen against the USSR in the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979 to 1989.

The film was nominated for five Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture–Musical or Comedy, but it did not win in any category. Hoffman was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Here is a link to quotes from the film.

The film has been criticized for historical inaccuracies. After all, the real architect of Operation Cyclone wasn’t Wilson, but Zbigniew Brzezinski. Wilson’s charms and the analytical skills of Avrakotos’s team, as well as their planning, were crucial contributions, but it was a big team of people, not just Wilson, that made Operation Cyclone succeed.

Now, I’m less interested in the film’s faithful, or not so faithful, presentation of historical details than I am in the fact that Charlie Wilson’s War is blatant, shameless pro-American/anti-Russian propaganda coming from bourgeois liberal Hollywood. Casting Hanks, with his charisma and star power, as womanizing Wilson is just the icing on the cake to sell the idea that this war led to a “glorious” victory for ‘freedom and democracy.’

II: Needed Historical Context

A huge amount of missing context must be provided so one can truly understand how the war began, who the heroes and villains really were (and are), and how the success of Operation Cyclone has encouraged the American government to attempt repeats of its success in the current Russian/Ukrainian War, as well as a potential one between China and Taiwan…truly disturbing developments.

So before I go into an analysis of Charlie Wilson’s War, I must give a summary of the events in Afghanistan that led up to the war. Contrary to mainstream accounts that the Soviet Union was trying to force its ideology on the Afghans, and therefore invaded the country as an act of imperialism, the Afghan people of the 1970s were moving in a modern, progressive direction, in the direction of socialism (something far removed from the ways of the Taliban today), and they wanted help from the USSR to achieve this modernity.

Now, one can’t expect every Afghan without exception to have been modern and progressive-thinking. It was inevitable that some of them would have been reactionaries, conservatives, and even religious fundamentalists, hell-bent on reversing such progressive gains as improving women’s rights. (I’m curious: should we in the West be sympathetic to such reversals?)

Added to this opposition, naturally, was that of the US and other capitalist countries in NATO fighting the Cold War. Brzezinski, as National Security Advisor during the Carter administration, was a rabid anticommunist eager to bring down the Soviet Union, not caring at all what the political, social, and economic repercussions of such counterrevolution would eventually be. To get an idea of just how ruthless and determined Brzezinski was in getting the mujahideen to fight the Soviet Union, just watch the pep talk he gave some of them in this video.

Charlie Wilson’s War portrays the mujahideen fighters as largely sympathetic underdogs, with only a few, slight hints at what they would evolve into by the 1990s and 2000s; but anybody who has done a little cursory reading of who they were and are knows not only that they morphed into the Taliban, but also that Osama bin Laden was one of them, as a photo from a newspaper article from 1993 revealed.

The original draft of the screenplay was meant to end the film with the September 11th attacks, clearly linking these with American government support for the mujahideen. Uncomfortable with this ending, Hanks had the filmmakers replace it with a happier one, where Wilson is awarded as an “honoured colleague” of the CIA. Here we see how liberal Hollywood willingly colludes with the CIA to spread propaganda to glorify the American government and vilify anyone opposed to it.

Now, as for the defeating of the Soviet Union, of which its loss in Afghanistan was one significant factor of many leading to its dissolution, one must carefully study the history of 1990s Russia before glibly assuming that the restoration of capitalism was a ‘triumph of freedom and democracy’ over ‘totalitarianism.’ Contrary to popular belief in the West, most Russians wanted to preserve the socialist system, and poll after poll has consistently shown that majorities of Russians have regretted replacing the Soviet system with capitalism. Similar results have been found when asking the people of other former Soviet Bloc countries about the restoration of capitalism.

So, who really benefitted from the defeat of the Soviet Union? Not ordinary Afghans, who found their hopes for modern and progressive change crushed, only to be oppressed by the fanatical, fundamentalist Taliban. Not ordinary Americans, who would be collectively traumatized by 9/11, and then manipulated into supporting the imperialist plunder of the Middle East in the ongoing quagmires in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc.

No, the real beneficiaries were and are the neocon, neoliberal, imperialist ruling classes of the West, and liberal Hollywood junk history like that of Charlie Wilson’s War gives Westerners a false narrative that glorifies the shameful reduction of Russia to the impoverished mess it became under Yeltsin in the 1990s, while downplaying the ill effects of arming the mujahideen.

III: Recent and Current Repeats of “Charlie Wilson’s War”

To make matters worse, the US is currently attempting a repeat of “Charlie Wilson’s war” in Ukraine, where instead of arming Muslims to drain Russia of her strength in an agonizing war of attrition, the American government is arming neo-Nazis. Similar extremist mentality, different nationality.

An attempt at this kind of radicalizing also happened in Hong Kong back around 2019, when protestors led by Joshua Wong, who is friends with such neocons as Marco Rubio, were violently attacking anyone deemed Chinese (as opposed to being of Hong Kong) to provoke an invasion from China.

Luckily, and contrary to Western media propaganda, Chinese police showed great restraint in putting down the Hong Kong violence; but will similar provocations be stirred up in Taiwan in the next five to ten years? I hope not, but the Trump administration’s having sold over a billion US dollars in weapons to Taiwan to be pointed at China, as well as the banging of the war drums in Western, especially Australian, media, about ‘protecting Taiwan’ against a Chinese invasion, worries me, a resident of the island.

So, to get back to the movie, all of the above is the historical context one needs to know to have a proper perspective on Charlie Wilson’s War. It’s a liberal fantasy glorifying the US in its defeat of socialism, thus proving to all of us on the left, without a shred of doubt, that liberals are no more our friends than conservatives are. That liberals often posture as progressives should make us especially wary. At least with right-wingers, we know where we stand.

IV: The Film’s Beginning

So the film begins with Wilson getting his recognition from the CIA, that evil organization responsible for coup after coup of leftist governments trying to combat US imperialism, as an “honoured colleague.” This is the kind of feel-good scene meant to move patriotic Americans, liberal and conservative alike, since those two political persuasions–let’s face it–have much more in common (i.e., the motive to protect their imperialist class interests) than they have in contrast to each other.

After this scene, which was around the end of the 1980s, we go back in time to 1980, with Wilson in a hot tub with strippers. Though, as I’ve said, this film is blatant Hollywood liberal propaganda aimed at portraying the American government as the ‘good guys,’ liberating Afghanistan from Soviet ‘totalitarianism,’ it also lets out a few, so to speak, Freudian slips that reveal the not-so-noble aspects of the American government. The hedonism and womanizing of Wilson is a key example of that.

In The Liberal Mindset, I discussed the psychological conflict liberals have between their id impulses towards achieving pleasure (Wilson’s chasing of women, cocaine, etc.), their ego‘s wish to stay safe (Wilson trying to steer clear of being charged with drug use), and their superego‘s need to have a clear conscience by doing what’s morally right (fighting for social justice–as Wilson would see it here, that would be helping the mujahideen underdog against the perceived juggernaut of the USSR).

The juxtaposition of Wilson in the hot tub with his seeing the mujahideen on the TV, giving him an urge to help them, perfectly exemplifies this liberal conflict between the pleasure principle and the ego ideal. The juxtaposition also demonstrates the position of privilege an American Congressman has and his ability to influence politics in an imperialistic way, all while keeping alive the illusion in his mind that in arming the mujahideen, he’s doing the right thing.

V: Wilson, a Modern-day Sade

Of course, in ruining the hopes of the Afghans to bring about modernity, socialism, and equality for women, all in the name of protecting ‘American interests,’ as the rationalization is so typically given, Wilson is actually being cruel to the Afghan people, whether he’s consciously aware of it or not. This cruelty, coupled with the transgressive pleasures he’s indulging in with those naked strippers, invites comparison with the wickedness of the libertines in the pornographic novels of the Marquis de Sade.

The subtle reader, looking beyond the scurrilous violence of Sade’s books, will see a political commentary on the privilege and corruption of the rich and powerful, who routinely get away with their crimes because their victims are typically poor. Similarly, Wilson not only manages to evade getting prosecuted for the presence of that cocaine at the hot tub party, but also, even though he and the American government by his admission “fucked up the endgame” in Afghanistan (i.e., the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s and the explosion of terrorism in the 2000s), none of those responsible for that endgame were punished.

It’s interesting also to compare and contrast Wilson’s attitude toward women with the Taliban’s attitude. Both are sexist, if in opposing ways. The latter would control women by covering their bodies from head to toe to prevent temptations to lewdness; Wilson would control women by objectifying them, having them either relatively or totally undressed, or at least dressed provocatively, thus subjecting them to the pressures of a daily beauty contest. This is what we see later in Wilson’s office, with his bevy of beautiful “Charlie’s angels,” in whom their competence as his assistants (though undeniable) is at best secondary to their physical attractiveness (“Jailbait!”). Again, pleasure is coupled with at least a kind of nastiness.

Now, to be fair to the Charlie Wilson of history, his hiring of his “angels,” as opposed to the hiring of male office assistants, was meant as a feminist promoting of women workers–feminist, that is, by liberal standards, of course. I, however, am little concerned with the Wilson of history; I’m concerned with the Wilson of this bourgeois liberal propaganda effort, something even Hanks in an interview promoting the film acknowledged was often not the real Wilson. The Wilson of the film, the womanizing sexist, is to be examined less as history and more for his contribution to the film’s theme of pleasure-seeking coupled with cruelty.

VI: A Liberal Courting Conservatives

To go into that theme in its other manifestations, let’s consider Wilson’s relationship with socialite Joanne Herring (Roberts). Though he’s a liberal, she’s a conservative born-again Christian. His flirting with her in the movie, regardless of whether or not it has any historical basis, is symbolic of how conservatives and liberals have often worked together to bring down the left. Again, his wish to get her out of her clothes is coupled with their collaboration to defeat the Soviet Union, resulting in all the horrors I mentioned above, regardless of whether they were intended or not. Pleasure is wedded to cruelty once more.

Another juxtaposing of feminine sexuality and its pleasures with capitalist machinations to undermine the USSR is when Wilson and Avrakotos meet with Israeli arms merchant Zvi Rafiah (played by Ken Stott), Hasan (played by Shaun Toub), and the Egyptian Defence Minister (played by Aharon Ipalé) to discuss a better arming of the mujahideen, all while the last of these men is enjoying a belly dance from a personal friend of Wilson’s, Carol Shannon (played by Tracy Phillips).

VII: Gust Avrakotos

I’ve said much of the pleasure-seeking, sexual aspect of this movie. More needs to be said of the nasty aspects, much of which can be seen as personified in the rather uncouth Avratokos, a CIA man. There is much humour to be found in the confrontational scene between him and his superior, Henry Cravely (played by John Slattery), the CIA director of European operations, in Cravely’s office…an incident that really happened, though the superior whom Avratokos told to ‘go and fuck himself,’ twice, was named William Graver.

Avrakotos smashing Cravely’s office window…twice…is a nice touch in how it reinforces for us, viscerally, just how abrasive the man is, an abrasiveness and irascibility brought out so well in Hoffman’s performance. I see this gruffness as another Freudian slip in the film, in that Avrakotos, as a CIA man, is the perfect personification of an American government organization cruelly determined to undermine any attempt by any country to shake off American imperialist influence. Though the CIA is generally portrayed positively in this and pretty much all other Hollywood films, this bit of nastiness from Avrakotos can be seen as a parapraxis of this film.

The conflict between Avrakotos and Cravely exemplifies all so well the alienation felt between workers in the capitalist system, a system aggravated by its ascent to its highest stage, imperialism. Hence, it’s fitting to see that alienation aggravated so proportionately in the heated argument between the two men.

VIII: Criticism of the US vs That of the USSR

Wilson’s first visit to Pakistan to meet President Zia-ul-Haq (played by Om Puri), confronting him and Brigadier Rashid (played by Faran Tahir), and dealing with their annoyance at getting so little money from the US to fight the USSR, is a moment for this liberal film to pretend to engage in a criticism of otherwise heroic America. After all, it would be far too crass to portray the US government as utterly faultless. Allow the Pakistanis to have their legitimate gripes about the scant military funding as “a joke,” as long as both countries are on the same team fighting those commie Reds.

…and what about the Russian Soviets? Make no mistake, the film vilifies them to the hilt, and shamelessly so. We see footage of a parade in Red Square, complete with Red Army soldiers marching, tanks, and an image of Lenin in the background. We hear the soundtrack play, of all songs, “Farewell of Slavianka,” one which certainly had patriotic Soviet lyrics written for it, but which was also used as an unofficial anthem of Admiral Kolchak‘s White Army during the Russian Civil War, the attempt to restore capitalism to Russia just after the November Revolution. Such a choice of song seems to be yet another Freudian slip.

When we see this parade, we’re meant to feel intimidated and threatened by the mighty Soviet ’empire,’ when actually the point of these Soviet displays of military strength was to reassure the Russian people that they were well protected from the far more intimidating and threatening imperialists of the West, who since the dissolution of the USSR have done plenty of the kinds of airstrikes and other atrocities…on Muslims, no less!…that we see this film show the Soviets doing immediately after the parade scene. Remember what Manning and Assange revealed.

The film would have us believe that the Russians went around wantonly firing on innocent, ordinary Afghans out of sheer sadism and malice, which is a hard portrayal to reconcile with the historical reality of the Soviets trying to help the Afghans build a modern, progressive society. The Soviets were fighting the mujahideen, a backward, reactionary people who wanted to reverse any progressive gains for the Afghans, people whose fundamentalist mentality would lead eventually to the repressive Taliban.

Yet Charlie Wilson’s War would have us believe that the mujahideen were sympathetic underdogs desperately in need of American military assistance. A similar portrayal is now being made of the Ukrainian military, laden with neo-Nazis and far-right nationalist, Banderite fascist sympathizers, people whose extremism and viciousness are being downplayed and ignored, if not outright denied, in the Western media. One is reminded of what Malcolm X once said: “If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

The US and NATO-allied countries liked Russia when Yeltsin was running the country…into the ground…in the 1990s; as unpopular as Yeltsin was, they even helped him get reelected in 1996 when the Communist Party was close to electoral victory. When Putin began to revive the economy of the country in the 2000s, however, the West didn’t like Russia anymore, and its rise–with that of China–threatens the unipolar hegemony of the US and NATO. Though Gorbachev had been promised that, on the reunification of Germany, NATO would move “not one inch eastward,” it most certainly had by the making of this movie. Since NATO has never been Russia’s friend, it’s easy to see why its eastward enlargement has made Russia nervous.

Just a year after Charlie Wilson’s War came out, the Russo-Georgian diplomatic crisis came to a head, resulting in war between the two countries; a big factor in this crisis was the campaigning of George W. Bush and Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili for NATO membership for Georgia. Putin’s vehement opposition to such membership, as well as the plan to have Ukraine join, is part of what has made the West so antagonistic to Russia, even as early as the mid-to-late 2000s, and so we see this Russophobic attitude in the film.

This Russophobia is made clear in the scene when, after his meeting with the Pakistani president, Wilson goes to Peshawar and sees the Afghan refugee camp. He sees children whose arms have been blown off by landmines after the kids thought they’d found toys or candy. He hears of raped women, bayonetted pregnant women, and other atrocities allegedly perpetrated by Soviet troops.

Though admittedly atrocities are committed by soldiers of all armies in all wars to at least some extent, including even Soviet troops (for it is the hellish nature of war that it brings out the brutish in even the best of men sometimes), the extreme nature of what is described here in the film can, to at least a considerable extent, easily be attributed more to anti-Soviet propaganda than to historical fact. So the film’s depiction of Soviet brutality should be taken with a generous grain of salt. Besides, before Americans judge the brutishness of soldiers of other countries (those they’re hostile to in particular), they should first take a look at the crimes the soldiers of their own country are guilty of.

IX: Wilson Meets Avrakotos

Wilson returns to the US, to his office, and meets Avrakotos there. The two men discuss the antiaircraft guns the mujahideen need to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Wilson understands that the plan, so far, has been to drain the USSR of military power ever so slowly in a war of attrition, while of course he wants the mujahideen to be much better equipped, with anti-aircraft guns to shoot down those Soviet helicopters.

Their discussion is interrupted several times by “Charlie’s angels,” who tell Wilson about the danger he’s in of being charged with drug use at that hot tub party with the strippers. To save his hide, he of course must deny any knowledge of or connection with the cocaine that was being snorted at that party.

In this scene, we see the psychological conflict of the liberal on full display. There’s his id‘s indulgence in the pleasures of the party, in conflict with his ego‘s defence against being charged, and his superego‘s moral urging to arm the mujahideen and help the underdog (as he sees it) against the bullying Soviets.

Since Wilson will eventually be cleared of any charges of drug use (though he was most probably guilty of it), we see here the privileges of the well-connected politician, which keep him safe from the kind of prosecution the average person wouldn’t have a prayer of being safe from. And the juxtaposition of his “angels” and their tireless work to help him, with his discussion with Avrakotos about arming the mujahideen, once again reflects the film’s theme of the Sadean coupling of the ruling class’s indulgence in pleasure with its enjoyment of crime with impunity.

There’s Wilson’s impunity from being charged with drug use, and there’s the impunity anyone in the ruling class enjoys after all the ill effects of imperialism have been realized: the destruction of the socialist systems of Russia and the Eastern Bloc, which as I said above were preferred by large percentages of those living there to the predatory capitalism that replaced them. Then there’s the impunity, even forgiveness and rehabilitation, of–for example–the imperialist Bush, simply because he isn’t Trump.

X: Enemies Are Always Friends Against Commies

During the belly-dancing scene, it’s interesting to observe the mutual antagonism between Israeli Zvi and the Muslims he has to cooperate with. He complains of how upsetting it is that the Muslim majority nations don’t acknowledge Israel’s “right to exist,” of the “oppression” of his people, while no mention is made of the Zionist state’s brutal treatment of the Palestinians.

Still, Israel, the US, Egypt, and Pakistan will work together to arm the mujahideen, however secretive they will all insist this collaboration must be. In spite of all their religious, political, and cultural differences and hostile feelings, they’ll all unite against the spread of socialism, ensuring the security of their nations’ class interests. When it comes to money, politicians in the nations of the Abrahamic faiths worship the same God. Indeed, we see Christian Clarence Long (Beatty) saying “God is great!” (Allahu akbar!) to the Afghan refugees in a pep talk that looks like the film’s replacing of Brzezinski with a more likeable face.

Now that Wilson and Avrakotos have assembled their team–including Michael Vickers (played by Christopher Denham)–and they can equip the mujahideen with FIM-92 Stinger missile launchers to bring down the Soviets’ Mil Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships, they can turn the Soviet military campaign into a deadly quagmire. As Brzezinski had wanted, the US has given the Soviets their unwinnable Vietnam War. The CIA’s anticommunism budget has risen from $5 million to over $500 million. In keeping with the Russophobic agenda of this film, when the team is all set to strike, we hear Vickers gleefully say, “Let’s kill some Russians!”

XI: The Outcome

Of course, we all know the basic history. The USSR eventually withdrew from Afghanistan and acknowledged defeat. As far as the film is concerned, the US has saved the day by helping the mujahideen, though the Afghans who were hoping for Soviet help in modernizing their country and improving such things as women’s rights could say to Uncle Sam, “Thanks for nothing.”

Indeed, we finally come to a contemplation of the unpleasant repercussions that even the film acknowledges. Avrakotos warns Wilson to take seriously the “crazies” among those they armed in Afghanistan. The American government must look into rehabilitating schools in this post-Soviet era.

Avrakotos illustrates his meaning to Wilson by telling him a Zen master story, that of the lost horse. A boy is given a horse for a gift, but when riding it one day, he falls off and breaks his leg. The town where he lives is invaded, and all the men living there must fight off the invaders, though he can’t because of his leg; most of those men get killed, yet he lives.

As a Zen master is hearing the switches of fortune from good to bad to good again, with each switch of fortune, he just says, “We’ll see,” indicating his awareness of how impermanent good and bad fortune are. Avrakotos is trying to get Wilson to understand how the ‘good’ fortune of the mujahideen defeating the Soviets will become the bad fortune of the rise of the Taliban.

Wilson’s attempt to persuade his colleagues in the government to provide money to rebuild a school in Afghanistan falls on deaf ears. Even this most modest of requests to mitigate a rise in Muslim fundamentalist extremism through education isn’t considered.

Nonetheless, the film ends as it begins, with a happy, feel-good ending (Wilson’s recognition as an “honoured colleague”) meant to warm the hearts of patriotic Americans with Hanks’s charisma, instead of with the more explicit original ending intended, linking the outcome of the war with 9/11.

XII: Conclusion

Still, the film ends with a quote from Wilson: “These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world…and then we fucked up the endgame.” Not quite, Charlie, in spite of even your ideological leanings. These things happened, and they changed the world, but they were anything but glorious. You didn’t just fuck up the endgame: you fucked up everything. The provoking of terrorism was just the tip of the iceberg.

Though Putin is a bourgeois reactionary with no intention whatsoever of re-establishing the USSR (contrary to what some propagandists say), he was right to say that its dissolution was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” The demise of the USSR plunged 1990s Russia into poverty and encouraged right-wing, reactionary thinking worldwide. Without a swathe of socialist states to inspire revolution, to deter capitalists from aggravating their war on the poor, Clinton gutted American welfare and signed the Telecommunications Act to allow mergers and acquisitions in the American media, so that now a mere six corporations own and control most of the country’s access to information, freely allowing them to propagandize and manufacture consent for more imperialist wars, such as those in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and now, Ukraine.

Back in the 1990s, the dissolution of the Soviet Union gave Francis Fukuyama the goofy idea that history had ended, leaving capitalism and liberal democracy at the ultimate zenith of human progress and civilization. “We’ll see,” the Zen master would say…and indeed, the extremes of wealth inequality today, with (as of 2017) eight mega-billionaires sharing the same wealth as that of the millions of the poor half of the whole world’s population, have caused many to reconsider socialism, including the Marxist-Leninist variety espoused in the Soviet Union.

The rapaciousness of capitalism, with its preference of maximizing profit over leaving a healthy Earth for future generations, is accelerating climate change, with rising sea levels, melting Arctic ice (making the polar bear an endangered species), and causing wildfires in many parts of the world right now! Musk‘s ‘green capitalism,’ with his electric cars, is nowhere near a solution, since–apart from its not doing anything about the number one polluter in the world…the American military–it is responsible for the brazenly imperialist outrage of having brought on the short-lived coup d’état in Bolivia, with the intent to steal the country’s lithium reserves.

Worst of all, unchecked US imperialism has reached such extremes that it is currently tempting fate by risking a nuclear WWIII with Russia and China over Western provocations in Ukraine, an attempt to redo what it did in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Ukrainian neo-Nazis are now among the sympathetic underdogs as far as the mainstream media is concerned, as were the mujahideen. And thus everything has come full circle, with no attempt to learn from the mistakes of the ‘fucked-up endgame.’

But with liberals’ interpretation of these mistakes, it’s hard for them to see how they’re going to fuck up the endgame. After all, just as the American government had been fucking everything up since day one of “Charlie Wilson’s war,” so have they been fucking everything up since day one of the current neoliberal, post-Soviet era.

The fucking-up began with the eastward European expansion of NATO, thus antagonizing Russia. It continued with Bush’s attempts to have Georgia and Ukraine join NATO (around the time this movie was made). Problems escalated when the US and NATO helped oust Yanukovych, replacing him with a NATO-friendly Ukrainian government including neo-Nazis who have been killing ethnic Russians for the past eight years in the Donbass region, thus provoking a Russian intervention as had happened in Afghanistan in 1979.

Still, the liberals kid themselves that the first part of “Charlie Wilson’s war” (actually, Zbigniew Brzezinski’s war) was “glorious,” because…communist totalitarianism, or something (read this for a debunking of that right-wing nonsense, as I don’t feel like repeating my arguments in this post). Now, to be sure, the Soviet Union had more than its share of flaws, especially from the Krushchev era onward, but in spite of these, it was an effective counterweight against Western imperialism, having aided in national liberation movements around the world. In any case, anyone who’s been paying attention for the past thirty years knows that life has been getting shittier and shittier…and what “glorious” thing happened thirty years ago, folks?

Recall a relevant quote from Stalin: “What would happen if capital succeeded in smashing the Republic of Soviets? There would set in an era of the blackest reaction in all the capitalist and colonial countries, the working class and the oppressed peoples would be seized by the throat, the positions of international communism would be lost.”

Like him or loathe him, Stalin was prophetic on this point.

Satanist?

I’ve been getting a fair amount of trolling lately for my more overtly political articles.

First, I got called an “extremist” Marxist, and this comment was on an article in which my criticism of capitalism was quite mild. Then, in response to the article (first link above) in which I defended my “extremist” leftism, I got a particularly grumpy comment.

He called my article a bunch of “garbage,” and repeated the usual propaganda (which my article had already explained away) about the suffering of those in the socialist states whom the bourgeoisie usually weep for (all the while ignoring, as usual, the many millions more who have suffered and died under capitalism). He was particularly irked by my comment that included Solzhenitsyn among writers of “fiction,” a generalization I’d qualified as both literal and figurative, directly and indirectly so, though my qualifications seemed to have been ignored.

He then went on about me being “delusional” for having my political views (he, of course, is utterly free of delusion of any kind), and he ended off his mini-rant by saying…get this…I’m “probably also a Satanist.”

The melodrama of this new label makes “extremist” sound…well…moderate.

To any right-wingers out there who happen to be reading this at the moment: calling me a “Satanist” is not going to hurt my feelings, let alone discourage me from having the left-wing beliefs I have, or from promoting them. What the commenter had said prior to this new label might be hurtful on some level (my considering the source easily mitigating such hurt), but using such a ridiculous word quickly deflated what little force his counterargument originally had. Really–I chuckled at having been called a “Satanist.” Who was he, some Bible-thumper?

More importantly, what was meant by “Satanist”? Does he literally believe every commie out there worships the Devil just because we don’t buy into all that neoliberal crap about the “free market,” TINA, and anti-communist propaganda?

(Incidentally, actual Satanism is nowhere near as shocking as most of us have been led to believe.)

Or by “Satanist,” did he have a more metaphorical meaning? Was he just saying that I, as a communist, am espousing some kind of heinous, inhuman evil? Did he, so typical of Christian fundamentalists, imagine that people of my political persuasion are unwittingly worshipping the Devil in the form of idols of “the god that failed”? Am I unwittingly helping bring about the Satanic NWO?

Egad.

Let’s just go through all the ‘evils’ that I espouse.

According to this troll (my deleting of whose comment can be seen as a compassionate preserving of him from having embarrassed himself):

If you advocate lifting the Third World out of poverty, you’re a Satanist.

If you advocate free housing, education, and healthcare for all, you’re a Satanist.

If you advocate ending world hunger, you worship the Devil.

If you advocate ending all wars and imperialism, you’re evil incarnate.

If you advocate equal rights for women, people of colour, LGBT people, etc., you love Satan.

If you advocate employment for all, but wage slavery for none, you have horns and hooves.

By the same logic, the following result from Christian virtue: leaving the Third World in poverty and despair, allowing homelessness to continue existing, and keeping education and healthcare too expensive for the poor. Other Christian virtues, apparently, include allowing people around the world to die by the millions of malnutrition, when we produce enough food to feed them all, and have been able to do so for a long time (in this connection, recall Matthew 25:31-46).

Also, it’s apparently Christian to allow all the imperialist wars to continue (remember Matthew 5:9). It’s also Christian to oppose equality for women, people of colour, and LGBT people (no irony this time). And finally, one is a good, God-fearing citizen if one advocates for a reserve army of labour to keep wages down.

Now, as for the more metaphorical meaning of “Satanist,” we must look into the psychology of those paranoiacs who imagine that communism is part of a grand scheme to bring about a “one-world government,” deemed to be the greatest evil and tyranny possible (as if it were even possible to establish one, or that many governments in the world were less evil and tyrannical, or that they couldn’t actually be worse).

These people, especially if they’re Christian fundamentalists, tend to deflect blame for the world’s problems from capitalist imperialism onto such scapegoats as Jews, Freemasons, and communists (and in doing so, they tend to show a thinly veiled sympathy for Naziism). In denying the fault of the world’s problems as that of the economic system they defend, and in putting the blame on the shoulders of these scapegoats, these paranoiacs are engaging in projection, just as I observed in my article about the “extremist” communist as a projection of the capitalist extremist.

Another defence mechanism to be noted in the thinking of these paranoiacs is splitting. Just as with the Christian dualism of God vs Satan, these people have a black-and-white, dichotomous view of anyone who thinks differently from them. So if you espouse socialism, you’re an “extremist” and a “Satanist,” rather than simply someone who opposes capitalism. (For a more thorough examination of the psychology of the capitalist, go here. And for a more thorough defence of Marxism-Leninism, go here, here, and here.)

As for my branding of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn‘s writing as “fiction,” a number of things must be kept in mind. First of all, he did write fiction: here‘s a list of his novels. True, he also wrote ‘non-fiction,’ though I’d take his biases as a historian with a generous grain of salt.

The Gulag Archipelago, among his most famous writing, though understood to be non-fiction, was described by no less than his ex-wife, Natalya Reshetovskaya, as “folkloric and frequently…mythical.” She implied that he exaggerated the hellish existence in Russian prison camps (which even the CIA secretly acknowledged as not being anywhere near as bad as the media has portrayed them); she also said that he was “an egomaniac who brought government censorship upon himself with his searing criticism of the Soviet system.” The book’s very subtitle, An Experiment in Literary Investigation, sounds suspiciously like an admission to its (at least partial) fictionality.

During WWII, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and sentenced to eight years in the Gulag for having written a letter criticizing Stalin. On the surface, this naturally would sound like an excessive punishment for mere political dissidence. One must, however, see his offence in its proper historical context. At that time, the Soviet Union was in an existential, life-and-death war with the Nazis, and Stalin’s government had not too many years before dealt with traitors who were trying to tear apart the first workers’ state from the inside.

Solzhenitsyn, an avowed Russian nationalist, surely should have supported the Great Patriotic War with all his heart, and even if he had a few points of ideological disagreement with Stalin, her surely should have been prudent enough to refrain from discussing such points for the time being, in favour of supporting the military campaign against the invading Nazis. Surely this would have been so…unless at least a part of him, consciously or unconsciously, supported that invasion. Because of this suspicion, some of us on the left feel it’s at least understandable to imagine Solzhenitsyn as having had fascist leanings.

And though he was anti-Soviet, even he was irked to see how the neoliberal capitalist West had weakened his beloved Mother Russia in the 1990s. And from what had been done then to what is happening there now, as well as between Nazi threats to Russia then and Nazi threats there now, we must move on to the next topic of discussion.

The historic relationship between Ukraine and Russia is complicated. Parts of Ukraine, originally Russian–including Crimea and the Donbas region–were added to Ukraine when it was an SSR. Some Ukrainians, going back to WWII, have had nationalistic feelings approaching, bordering on, or lapsing into fascist sympathies.

Their hero is Stepan Bandera, a far-right Ukrainian nationalist and Nazi collaborator back in WWII. The extremists among these Ukrainian nationalists, while also hating the usual groups–Jews, the Roma, LGBT people, and feminists–have an especial hate for Russians. Such is the historical context in which such far-right Ukrainian groups as the Azov Battalion and Svoboda should be understood today.

NATO, never a friend to Russia, is an extension of US imperialism. Even anti-communists should be able to acknowledge that this Western pact hasn’t needed to exist since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Yet here it is, NATO, stronger than ever, and right on Russia’s north-western border, with troops doing military exercises there.

Though on the reunification of East and West Germany, Gorbachev was promised that NATO wouldn’t move “an inch” to the East, it has most certainly moved much more than that. Democratically elected Viktor Yanukovych, leaning towards Russia (unacceptably so, in the opinion of the West), was ousted in a violent coup d’état in 2014, replacing his government with a pro-US/NATO one including the above-mentioned neo-Nazis.

These neo-Nazis, given generous amounts of weapons from the West, have been killing ethnic Russians in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine for the past eight years; the death toll is up to 14,000 Russians. The Nazi-influenced Ukrainian government has banned the Russian language, taken down statues of Soviet heroes, banned communism and glorified fascist leaders. The Nazis have attacked the Roma, LGBT people, and feminists as well as the ethnic Russians.

The biased Western media denies the significance of neo-Nazi influence in Ukraine based on their relatively small percentage (though their influence has been huge) and the fact that Zelenskyy is a Jew (incidentally, if he does anything against the wishes of the neo-Nazis [i.e., make peace with Russia], they’ll kill him). That a Jew would never collaborate with Nazis is refuted by the fact that, among other unsettling facts, Trotsky was willing to do so to oust Stalin.

The dishonest liberal Western media, in its disingenuous denial of Nazi influence in Ukraine–implicitly supporting them–reminds us of what Stalin once said: “Social democracy is objectively the moderate wing of fascism.” Now, social democracy is the left wing of liberalism; so if social democracy is moderate with respect to fascism, liberalism, right-wing libertarianism, and conservatism in general are all that much closer to fascism.

Putin tried everything to deescalate the tense situation in Ukraine, in which the totally disregarded Minsk accords were meant to end the violence. The US/NATO and Ukraine government wouldn’t budge when he reasonably insisted on such security assurances as Ukraine not joining the inimical NATO, which would point weapons at Russia. All of the above provides the context needed for understanding why Putin intervened in Ukraine.

For my part, I hate all war, I wish this intervention (tankies‘ sheepish euphemism for invasion) could have been prevented, and I feel bad for all the innocent, ordinary Ukrainian civilians caught in the middle of this conflict. That said, though, it’s the fault of the US and NATO that the war has happened, not the fault of “Russian aggression.” When the Western media claims Putin was “unprovoked,” they’re lying.

As for Putin, he’s far from representing my political ideal. He’s the leader of a reactionary bourgeois government; today’s Russia is nothing like the Soviet Union, and he doesn’t want to bring it back. Still, he’s nowhere near the imperialistic “Hitler” the Western media is calling him, a truly silly claim (Russia as a whole is by no means imperialist, in the Leninist sense, either); and sanctioning all things Russian, and all this censorship and banning of all Russian media, is showing how increasingly undemocratic the West has become.

Now, since it’s no use crying over spilt milk, we should instead hope for the best possible outcome of this conflict: may it end as quickly as possible (not likely, given the insistence of the US, NATO, and the Ukrainian neo-Nazis wanting it to continue), may the US and NATO back off (again unlikely, for obvious reasons), and most important of all, wipe out those neo-Nazis!

No reasonable person wants war of any kind, but to resolve this issue, we must think dialectically. Any ratcheting up of hostilities against Russia (and, by extension, against China) could easily escalate into WWIII, which in turn could go nuclear. In smearing Putin for his intervention, the Western corporate media is trying to manufacture consent for a bigger war against Russia and her ally, China. This is dangerous, and it must be avoided at all costs. To stop the big war, we’ll have to let the little war run its course, and hope for the best.

The US and NATO don’t care about the suffering of Ukrainians any more than they care about the suffering of those in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, or Yemen. Ukraine, for the imperialists, is just another pawn on the chessboard for their scheme to prevent the emergence of a much-desired multipolar world, one that would deny American global hegemony.

All of this leads me back to my point about ‘Satanist’ politics. Those who believe in an emerging “new world order,” that is, those on the political right, tend to believe it’s a secret, Satanic cabal that is orchestrating the whole thing, step by step. They imagine that a confederacy of Jews, Freemasons, and communists (note the implied bigotry) are conspiring to rule the world with the establishment of one, global government. What they fail to understand is that the real new world order has existed ever since the fall of global communism thirty years ago.

So if one wishes to know who the real ‘Satanists’ are (I refer to that metaphorical meaning given above), one need look no further than the neoliberal capitalists in the American government and NATO. We communists are bitterly opposed to these ‘Satanists,’ whose love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). All capitalist bootlickers who, however unwittingly, are supporting an economic system that unswervingly leads to imperialism, should realize that, in calling us leftists ‘Satanists,’ they are engaging in the same projection I said previously of those who call us “extremists.”

The unipolar world is run by the US and NATO. Their economic system isn’t socialism, it’s “free market” neoliberal capitalism. Allowing for the emergence of Russia and China will replace unipolarity with multipolarity, something the American empire will never tolerate.

These people who see people like me as ‘Satanists’ don’t want to look inside themselves, see what is psychologically broken in themselves (i.e., their alienation), and understand that supporting–directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly–fascism and nuclear brinksmanship is about as Satanic as Satanic gets. Because supporting these evils in our already tense world is going to get everybody…EVERYBODY…killed.

As for us commies, who want to end the wars, end corporate greed, feed the world, provide housing, education, and healthcare for all, and–far from establishing a one-world government–hope for the eventual withering away of the state…if wanting these things makes us ‘Satanists,’ then I don’t want to be ‘Godly.’

And to you right-wing trolls, by all means, keep your snarky comments coming. Far from discouraging me, you’re actually inspiring me to write up new blog posts. It really helps me.

Hail Satan!

Analysis of ‘Anastasia’

Anastasia is a 1956 film directed by Anatole Litvak and written by Arthur Laurents, based on the 1952 play by Marcelle Maurette and Guy Bolton. It stars Ingrid Bergman (in the title role), Yul Brynner, and Helen Hayes.

The story is inspired by that of Anna Anderson, the best known of the Anastasia imposters who emerged after the execution of the Romanov family by Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1918.

Bergman won her second Best Actress Oscar for her performance in this film (her first being for Gaslight). Anastasia was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture for Alfred Newman. Bergman also won a David di Donatello Award (Best Foreign Actress), as well as a New York Film Critics Circle Award (Best Actress) and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture–Drama (Hayes was nominated for this last one, too). Brynner won Best Actor for the National Board of Review Awards, which also ranked Anastasia in eighth place for its Top Ten Films.

A link to quotes from the film can be found here. Here is the complete script.

The film begins with narrative text about the execution of the Russian Imperial family in 1918. In the ten years following the executions, rumours that some of the family survived floated about, rumours fuelled in part by Soviet cover-ups of the killings. There is no conclusive evidence that Lenin gave the order to kill the family, though he certainly had nothing but disgust for them. There is also no doubt that claims of survivors are all false.

A few things need to be taken into consideration regarding the making of this film, and how much sympathy should be felt for the Romanov family. First of all, the play and the film were produced in the 1950s, when Cold War propagandistic vilifying of “commies” was at its height. A film generating sympathy for the Tsar’s family would have been of immense appeal to the Western ruling classes, especially in the US, “the only country left with a proper respect for wealth,” as is observed among the con men in the film.

Second, sympathy for the Russian Imperial family hardly deserves validation, given all the suffering of the poor Russian working class and peasants, all while under the thumb of the wealthy, privileged, and incompetent Tsar, who was hugely unpopular. As biased against the Soviets as Orwell‘s polemical allegory, Animal Farm, is, his representation of Nicholas II in the mean, insensitive, and alcoholic farmer Mr. Jones, is at least reasonably accurate.

Third, given the tensions of the Russian Civil War, it’s easy to see how many among the Soviets, if not all of them, would have considered the Romanov family too dangerous to be left alive. Had the White Army been successful, with the aid of other countries in their attempt to force bourgeois/semi-feudal rule back on Russia, the Romanovs could have had their rule restored, the Bolsheviks and other left revolutionaries would have all been executed in a bloodbath, and the vast majority of the Russian people would have been relegated to poverty and despair.

The bourgeoisie can always find room in their hearts to pity the suffering of a few of their fellow rich, even when those sufferers are of the feudal world the capitalists have supplanted; but they feel minute compassion, at best, for the impoverished and starving millions of the world. It is in the above historical context that we should understand Anastasia, a bourgeois film with all the relevant symbolism.

The film begins during Easter celebrations in Paris in 1928, ten years after the executions, and right when Stalin has established himself as Lenin’s successor and is about to begin building socialism in the USSR…not that Anastasia wants to deal with any of that, of course.

Anna Koreff (Bergman) has been found by some associates of General Sergei Pavlovich Bounine (Brynner) near a church among the exiled Russian community in Paris, where participants of the Orthodox Church are celebrating Easter. Such a juxtaposition of elements–the supposed survivor of the Tsar’s family, the Russian Orthodox Church, and Easter–is symbolically significant when one considers the film’s class agenda.

The Tsar and the Orthodox Church worked hand in hand to maintain power and authority over the Russian people. The Tsar was said to have been appointed by God, and he gave the Church financial rewards for spreading such propaganda among the poor peasants, who were led to believe that Russia, God’s land, was intended to be just as the peasants found it. So, since the peasants were piss poor, they were supposed to be content with their lot, and neither to complain about it nor wish for more.

If Anna really is the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, then if she’s reinstated, she can gain followers who might help her oust the communists and restore the tsarist autocracy. That she’s been found on Easter symbolically suggests a resurrection, the brining back to life of the executed duchess, making “Anastasia” a kind of Christ figure. Notions of an evil empire–like that of the Rome that crucified Christ, as well as the imperialism that the communists strove to defeat–can thus be projected onto the USSR.

Such bourgeois propaganda is as perfect as a dream for a ruling class so threatened by Marxism-Leninism.

Now, Anna is a deeply troubled, destitute, and traumatized woman. She suffers from amnesia…to what extent we don’t know for sure…and she is frightened of everyone. She has been from asylum to asylum; we don’t know who she really is for sure–not even she knows. We do know, however, that in her last asylum, she told a nun there that she is Anastasia. She presumably said it in a fit of madness; but “she has certain surprising features,” as Bounine says, that strongly suggest she could really be Anastasia, or that at least can be used to con people into believing she is the duchess, so that the con men can get at a large sum of money.

…and this is where Bounine and his associates, Boris Andreivich Chernov (played by Akim Tamiroff) and Piotr Ivanovich Petrovin (played by Sacha Pitoëff) come in. That Chernov is a banker, Petrovin is a former student of the theological seminary, and Bounine was a general in the White Army who fought in the Russian Civil War is all significant, since these three are the con men itching to get their filthy hands on that money. They all represent different facets of the ruling class (banker, theologian, and military man) working to deceive the public, promote tsarism, and get wealthy.

…and who is this Anna woman, really?

The ambiguity in the film, as to whether or not she really is Anastasia, reflects the conflict between the reality that she couldn’t possibly be her, or that it’s at least extremely unlikely that she is the Grand Duchess, and the microscopic hope that she is her, which is bourgeois wish-fulfillment.

Her seeming to know personal details of Anastasia’s life could be the result of a fixation on her, motivating her to study these details from various biographers in, say, newspaper articles. Putting these details in her mind, when she can’t possibly have known them, is in all likelihood part of that wish-fulfillment in the film’s producers.

The real Anna Koreff, though, is a woman whose tragic life has been so full of “disappointment, anger, dismissal; out in the street, failure, fake, nobody!” that she has been on the verge of falling apart, of experiencing a psychotic break from reality, of experiencing psychological fragmentation. Narcissism, as has been observed by Otto Kernberg, can be used as a defence against said fragmentation; and Anna’s claim to be Anastasia–to the nun in the asylum–could have been such a delusion of grandeur, however brief, meant to protect her from totally falling to pieces at the time.

After she runs away from Bounine at the church, she walks by two homeless men (seen with bottles of alcohol, in order, no doubt, to minimize any sympathy for such ‘dissolute louts’). the placing of her near them, if she really is Anastasia, is meant to intensify our sympathy for her, this female Lear who has gone from riches to rags (though, she shows no pity for the derelicts, as Lear does to the “poor, naked wretches…” when he has “ta’en/Too little care of this!” Act III, scene iv). The bourgeoisie will pity her as a royal wretch, for they like to see themselves and their ilk as victims, as I’ve observed elsewhere.

If she really is, however, as destitute by birth as those two winos, then the capitalist class won’t care at all about her. We, however, should care, in such a case, for then she would be one of the true wretched of the Earth, not of those victimized by nothing more than their own bad karma.

Before her attempt to drown herself in the Seine is stopped by Bounine, she looks at her reflection in the water. Is she seeing the Grand Duchess as an ideal-I she can no longer live up to, causing her a narcissistic injury that only suicide can cure? Or, rather than contemplating the narcissistic metaphorical mirror of Lacan‘s Imaginary, is she seeing the dark, formless waves of the traumatic, undifferentiated Real? Or is it both the Imaginary and the Real, phasing back and forth with each up-and-down movement of the waves?

She doesn’t know at all who she is: the trauma of her whole life has placed her at the borderline between a hazy sense of a lack of self (the Real) and narcissistic delusions of grandeur, Anastasia as False Self (Imaginary), an ego-defence against psychotic breakdowns. The bourgeois wish-fulfillment that she is Anastasia is their sharing of those delusions of grandeur, a collective narcissism one can easily associate with the capitalist class.

So when she says, with a laugh, that she’s “the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna” to Bounine, and that maniacal laugh switches to hysterical bawling, we see a manifestation of that cusp between Imaginary and Real, or between the dialectically paradoxical extreme merriment and traumatic despair of the laugh of the Joker.

Her switch from laughing to bawling, as interpreted by the bourgeoisie in their wish-fulfillment and narcissistic identification with her, would be because of her modest doubts of her royal lineage switching to a confrontation of her traumatic experience in the cellar, watching her family get killed before her miraculous escape. A more realistic interpretation, however, would be that she laughs at how absurdly untrue it is that she’s Anastasia, switching to crying over how, deep down, she wants to believe she is the Grand Duchess, knowing also that that way, madness lies.

In any case, had Anastasia survived, she would have been 26 going on 27 as of Easter of 1928; whereas in the film, she is being played by an actress who was 40-41 years old at the time. Thus, the age difference between Anna and Anastasia already causes us to doubt that she’s the Grand Duchess.

Who she is is an empty void, the kind of emptiness a narcissist might fill up with a false, grandiose self. The emptiness, in her case, is the result of amnesia. This amnesia seems to have been caused by an injury to the head, “a narrow depression, extending almost to the forehead,” as Bounine points out to Chernov and Petrovin.

When the three men ask her where she got her scars on her hands and head, she says they are “a gift from an unknown admirer.” Where? She doesn’t remember. It’s easy to imagine this admirer to have been one of Lenin’s men, as the bourgeois hearers of her story would like to believe. For all we know, though, this “unknown admirer” could have been a rapist beating her into submission, and her amnesia may not be from a physical injury so much as from repressed traumas returning to consciousness in the disguised form of an Anastasia fixation.

In any case, Bounine finds her amnesia “most convenient,” so he can exploit her to get at that £10 million belonging to Anastasia held by an English bank. It is fitting that he is also the owner of a nightclub in which Russian performances are enjoyed by his bourgeois clientele, where he’ll make Anna another of his cigarette girls if she doesn’t cooperate with his Anastasia scheme. Bounine, as general of the White Army, businessman, and swindler, is the consummate capitalist exploiter of labour.

Bounine has only eight days to get “Anastasia” ready to be presented before stockholders and convince the world that she is the Grand Duchess, so she is put to work immediately, being taught to memorize various details of Anastasia’s life, to dance, to play the piano, and to walk with a book on her head. Just like those musicians and dancers who are employees in Bounine’s nightclub, she is being made to put on a performance. She is just another of his exploited workers.

Though he has introduced himself, Chernov, and Petrovin as her “friends,” they are actually hard taskmasters who are overworking her and bossing her around. She shows a defiant individualism that annoys Bounine and brings out his stern, authoritarian, and paternalistic nature; but over time, he begins to have feelings for her…and she for him.

Now, a combination of her beauty with a budding sense of compassion for her, and how she has suffered, can easily explain why Bounine would start to fall for her; but why would she come to love such a peremptory, domineering man as he? His playing the guitar and humming to her is charming, but not enough in itself, nor is his dancing the waltz with her that she likes so much. Could his very strictness be the decisive factor in her loving him?

In bed one night, she has a nightmare and wakes up screaming with, in Newman’s film-score, tense, descending arpeggios in the high register of the piano. Bounine finds her in their apartment in a state of hysteria, her crying of how she wishes to be the real her, and not some faker of nobility. (This wish of hers, incidentally, could be seen to symbolize the worker’s alienation from his or her species-essence.)

When he can’t calm her down, Bounine shouts at her to “go to bed at once!” This reminds her of her “very strict” father (recall earlier when he ordered her to eat the borscht she doesn’t like), which she tells him with an almost Oedipal smile. Her growing love for him, therefore, could be the result of a father transference; it could also be trauma-related, that “unknown admirer” rapist I speculated of above. She may feel compelled thus to love dominant men, for it seems that Bounine is her new “ringmaster in a circus,” a scam circus he’s running in an attempt to get his hands on that £10 million.

Now, she is beginning to have feelings for him, but only beginning to. She also hates being exploited and bossed around by him, and in her frequent moments of defiance, she tells him so.

There is a paradox in his using her and telling her what to do, while at the same time entertaining in her mind the idea that she is of a social rank far higher than he. He is indulging her grandiose self, being a mirror of it for her, and she reacts accordingly by, for example, scolding Chernov for smoking in her presence without her permission, a sudden outburst that impresses the otherwise skeptical, gout-afflicted Chamberlain (played by Felix Aylmer).

The essence of Anna’s pathology can be traced to her lack of a stable psychological structure, described by Heinz Kohut as the bipolar self, the two poles of which are grounded in, on the one side, the mirroring of the grandiose self, as Bounine is providing for her, and on the other side, an idealized parental imago, which will be provided for her if her trip to Copenhagen with Bounine is successful.

What she needs is to have her identity and existence validated. Desire is the desire of the Other, as Lacan observed, and Anna’s desire is the empress’s desire, to be given recognition from her, she who deep down desires to have her long-lost family back. As much as Bounine tells the public she is Anastasia, it will never be good enough for her, since so many people doubt her authenticity as the Grand Duchess…devastatingly for her, Bounine himself doesn’t believe in it. They know, however, that there is one person by whom, if she accepts this troubled woman as her granddaughter, the whole world will have to accept her as Anastasia Nikolaevna.

The old woman in question is the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna (Hayes), and she lives a bitter life in Copenhagen, presented over and over again with fake family members. She has been shown two Tatianas, an Alexei, a Maria, and an Anastasia; she is so jaded with frustrated hopes of seeing long-dead family members that she must use an icy exterior to shield herself emotionally from further disappointment. For Anna to get validation from “Grandmama” will be a formidable enterprise, indeed.

Still, Anna must do it, for the Dowager Empress, being genuine Russo-Danish royalty, is just that idealized parental imago, transferred from parent to grandparent. Anna’s meeting of the empress, cutting her way through all that thick ice, will be so frightening for her that she will express her fear in an idiosyncratic manner that we viewers of the film have by now found familiar–through coughing.

This nervous reaction of hers represents her wish to eject painful parts of herself: bad memories, traumas, and bad internal objects. Ironically, and what seems a most fortuitous windfall, the Dowager Empress recalls Anastasia having coughed whenever frightened, and this memory convinces her that this young woman really must be her granddaughter.

In holding weeping Anna close, “Grandmama” is doing what Bion called a containment of the troubled girl’s agitations, detoxifying them for her and thus healing her. Old and young women here have healed each other. “Anastasia” has rebuilt her bipolar self, and finally has stable psychological structure.

In all well-written stories, we observe that the main characters go through growth, development, personal changes. We’ve seen how this happens to Anna, who begins as a traumatized, suicidal amnesiac with fantasies of what Freud called the “family romance” (i.e., her fantasy of having been born into nobility, which actually disguises a traumatic disappointment in her real parents); and through the rebuilding of her bipolar self with the mirroring of Bounine and the idealizing of the empress, she’s found stability and thus no longer needs such fantasies to keep her from psychologically falling apart.

Anna, however, isn’t the only character to have undergone important changes. Apart from the obvious thawing of the icy heart of the empress, Bounine has finally seen, though the hurt he’s caused the woman he’s exploiting and falling in love with, the error of his money-loving ways. Another source of the opening of his eyes is Prince Paul von Haraldberg (a fictional character played by Ivan Desny), another fortune-hunter who’s trying to win the charms of “Anastasia” and who is therefore enflaming Bounine’s jealousy, since the prince is to be engaged to her.

Prince Paul’s gold-digging is assuredly a mirror being held up to Bounine’s face, and therefore piquing his conscience, since his growing love for Anna is in large part due to his compassion for her suffering. Not only does Bounine want her for himself, but he also realizes that he cannot go on exploiting her for that money.

Now, Anna no longer needs the royal fantasies to help her hold herself together, but this doesn’t mean she no longer gets pleasure from indulging in such fantasies. Jealous Bounine points this out to her before the empress is to make her announcement that this young woman is Anastasia.

He no longer cares about the money…as amazing as such a development is. He hates how she has changed: her pain aroused his compassion. Now that she’s comfortable with who she is, in what feels like a phoney persona, she no longer inspires his compassion, but his contempt. Still, he wants to love the troubled woman he treated precisely with the therapy of that persona–he wants her back.

With this therapy, if you will, that he gave her, he has also treated his own faults. For in helping her establish an identity and social acceptance, he has learned the value of human relationships over money. This is why, at the end of the movie, he runs away with her, she doesn’t get engaged with Prince Paul, and neither she nor Bounine bother with the £10 million.

The empress, though wary of Bounine’s schemes, is so content in her belief that she has really been reunited with her granddaughter that she will let him run off with her. For the empress, too, appreciates the value of human relationships, and she’d rather see ‘her granddaughter’ happy with Bounine than in an emotionally sterile relationship with the prince.

Thus, there is, on at least some level, a shared understanding among all three of them that the Romanovs are “dead and buried and should be.” What we’re seeing at the end of the film is, of course, far from an advocacy of a triumph of communism (hence, the blacklisting of Laurents, Anastasia‘s screenwriter, was totally unjustified Cold War paranoia at the time), but rather a bourgeois liberal concession, a consigning of tsarism to the cobwebs of history.

Indeed, it is painful for the empress to let her granddaughter (as she still believes Anna to be, despite the allegations of Mikhail Vlados [played by Karel Stepánek]) go free and be happy with Bounine, who loves her for her, rather than be with the prince, who wants that money. This ability to make selfless sacrifices for the happiness of others can be seen, despite the film’s ruling class agenda, as the beginning of a series of steps from aristocracy and oligarchy to bourgeois liberal democracy, then–one hopes–finally to a classless, stateless society.

When I first watched Anastasia as a teenager (at the height of my crush on Ingrid Bergman), I was impressed at the graceful display of etiquette that the characters usually show each other. There are also, of course, brusque moments of ill temper here and there. The contrast between the two emphasizes the phoniness of the former and the blunt honesty of the latter. That we call the former ‘high class’ behaviour and the latter ‘low class’ behaviour is instructive.

To be ‘high class’ is to put on a performance of a supposed superiority worthy of wealth. Anna’s presenting of herself as the Grand Duchess is such a performance. We need to end such performances and help the wretched of the Earth to be just who they are, as she ends up doing. Then, we can see the empress smile and say, “The play is over. Go home.”