Modernity & Ignorance

Living in the modern world requires ignorance.

I mean by this the active, intentional ignoring of things happening around you as well as to you. We’re required to ignore commercials and billboards and advertisements and a constant assault against our senses and better judgement in the First World as well as in the Third World (not to mention the Second World).

How else are we expected to function?

We have to ignore the chemicals in our food, the brutality of factory farming for our meat, the sweatshops that produce clothing, and the suffering that is fundamental to sustain our existence.

How else are we expected to function?

Those of us who make the choice not to ignore these things are treated with contempt. When we speak or write about these topics, we’re interrupting the bubble in which others choose to live comfortably. Besides, we are made to feel that we are powerless against an all-pervasive system.

Imagine a Euro-Amerikkkan family sitting down to eat their microwaved chemical-laden factory-farmed dinner in front of a television, channel-switching between a football game, a news program with Amerikkkan bombs falling on children in the Third World, and a sitcom with canned laughter.

How else are we expected to function?

This image should disgust all of us.

Instead, we’ve been conditioned to think that this is a perfectly acceptable tradition in the First World.

Ignorance means nothing and everything these days.

Those of us in the We$t live in a world that is structured around horrors. Corpses, suffering, misery, tragedy, war, genocide. These are the words that ought to provide us with a full vocabulary to describe global capitalism and the Amerikkkan Empire. Instead, these words are only said in fantasy films and news programs describing the crimes of others – those people out there.

How else are we expected to function?

In Arabic, the word kufr means “disbelief” or “arrogant rejection of the truth”. The root of kufr is kafara,which means “to cover over”, indicating that the act of kufr is the act of covering over the truth. Traditionally, many Muslims use the term kaafir to describe non-Muslims. However, I’d alternatively propose that all of us living through modernity (including myself) without engaging in a struggle against it are kuffaar.

We’re merely zombies among the living.

After all, what are we supposed to do – think!?

God forbid.

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Pyotr Pavlensky is Not an Artist

Pyotr Pavlensky lit a Parisian bank on fire this week in a stunt that mirrored his previous action in Moscow, when he set fire to the door of the FSB (formerly KGB) headquarters in 2015.

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Moscow 2015

He’s been both vilified and lionized in Russia and throughout the West for his actions. Hailed as a dissident, provocateur, and artist/actionist, Pavlensky is famous for stunts like nailing his scrotum to the Red Square or sewing his mouth shut in defense of Pussy Riot. He’s also been attacked in Russia as a traitor or an agent of the West.

Some have said that his art isn’t really “art”.

I won’t be making such a claim – I’m in no position to start handing out certificates of authenticity for what is or isn’t art.

For me, what is striking is that we still allow Pavlensky to self-identify as an artist, rather than insisting that he receive the proper label: rapist.

Whether it comes to his violent sexual assault of the actress Anastasia Slonina last December or the important history of his violence towards women (either physically) psychologically) and acting as a defender of that violence, Pavlensky’s “art” must be seen in the context of his surrounding life. For example, no one ought to forget when his wife, Oksana Shalygina, cut off her finger in some bizarre act of loyalty.

One thing is clear: misogyny surrounds his life.

Consider Pavlensky’s court “art” in Moscow during the trial in 2016. Pavlensky paid sex workers to take the stand and say that the arson of the FSB headquarters was not an art piece.

His point in all this? Pavlensky was trying to say that the legal system is full of “whores”, so they should have to deal with “whores”.

Notably, it was during this period that Pavlensky publicly attacked feminists, continuing a long tradition of “leftist” men attacking feminists.

Putting this all into perspective, Pavlensky should not be called a “Radical Protest Artist”.

He’s a man who has brought about tons of violence into the lives of women. Pavlensky can no longer be called an “artist” in the same way that we no longer refer to Bill Cosby as a “comedian” or Harvey Weinstein as a “producer”. They have now one identity – that of rapist.

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Paris 2017

After he was accused of rape, he and his family fled to Paris, where they were granted asylum earlier this year. Why would France take an accused rapist in? This is the same country that has experienced a huge right-wing backlash due to the presence of refugees from the Third World.

But any enemy of Putin is a friend of mine, right!?

(as long as they have white skin!)

Actually, based on the reports this week, I agree pretty strongly with Pavlensky’s comparison between the FSB headquarters in Russia and the Central Bank in France. They both function as brutal institutions of neoliberal capitalism and imperialism, albeit in different ways.

A lot of his former allies have been decrying that the Russian FSB is much worse – which therefore invalidates this new action. I disagree with those segments of the Left in Russia.

I’m more focused on the circumstances surrounding the act.

“Artist” functions as an identifying marker.

We can say, perhaps, that Pavlensky “does art”. However, by allowing him to self-identify as an artist, we are missing the important point. Pavlensky is, first and foremost, a rapist.

While awaiting the death penalty, John Wayne Gacy, a serial killer of adolescent boys in Chicago, took up painting. He also “did art”, but we don’t refer to him as an artist.

There’s another insidious problem here, however. If this is considered a political action, then we need to reanalyze what we accept and embrace as “political”.

Has the Left become so enamored with defeatism and so convinced of failure that the most we can hope for is that some idiot sets a bank alight?

Is this really fighting capitalism?

We’re coming up on the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution – one of the greatest events in human history – and our contribution to the anti-capitalist struggle is this?

What we saw this week was not the work of a political artist or dissident.

It was a rapist setting a bank on fire.

Who’s Responsible for the Soviet Famine of 1932-1933?

Yesterday, on the badhistory subreddit, a post entitled “Stalin paid the clouds not to rain!” – On Holodomor Denial sprang up to intervene in the Reddit Left-o-sphere’s analysis of the Soviet Famine of 1932-1933. The author, not to be outdone, decides to engage in some of their own bad history. In this text, the author attempts to disprove two claims:

  1. “There was a famine in Ukraine and other areas of the USSR, but it was the result of weather, and not man-made.
  2. The claim it was orchestrated deliberately was invented by the Nazis and popularized by them to justify a war with the USSR. This claim has been extended to including the concept of the Holodomor as a tenet of fascism.”

Unfortunately, the author fails to “debunk these claims”, as they intend, but rather display a broad (and probably willful) ignorance of the facts surrounding the Soviet Famine of 1932-1933. The following is an analysis of the author’s treatment of the first claim as well as a clarification of the circumstances of the Holodomor and the wider famine.

“… while it’s agreed that the Holodomor is a democide, it’s heavily debated that it was a genocide. Most scholars have adopted the position that it was not a genocide if genocide is defined at attempting to exterminate an ethnic group. While Ukrainians suffered disproportionately, Kazakhs and south Russians suffered as well, and there is little evidence that it was intended as “punishment” for Ukraine.”

“Democide” is a highly ambiguous term and not generally used in scholarly writing about the Holodomor. I’m not entirely sure where the author got this term (it’s been popularized more recently be some anti-communists in the United States), however, I’m not going to nitpick too much on that. For an interesting article that discusses and frames the Holodomor, check out Stanislav Kul’chits’kii’s article here (in Ukrainian).

The author says that “[m]ost scholars have adopted the position that it was not a genocide…” Actually, many of the scholars that the author cites here (Snyder, Davies, Service, Kiernan) argue that the Holodomor was, in fact, a genocide and a human-engineered famine. Considering the author’s Reddit Flair as “Trostkyist | CWI”, which indicates the ideological skew, it’s no surprise that all of the sources cited are either rabid anti-communists (like Kotkin and Snyder) or Trotskyists (like Cliff). Keeping this in mind, it’s important to note that the author clearly constructs the narrative of a genocide and then refrains from using that term. In typical Trotskyist fashion, the author wishes to have their cake and eat it too.

“Most scholars have adopted the view that it was a deliberate over-requisitioning of grain to export to fund industrialization, and attempts to circumvent the resultant food shortage in Ukraine led to harsher measures by Stalin which did aim to punish. The second debate is over the number of casualties. Many people try to cite that it was over 10 million killed, partly in order to deflect their own culpability in the holocaust and/or try to portray the USSR as worse. The consensus is around 4 million killed.”

I assume the number “around 4 million” is drawn from the number claimed by the Appellate Court in Kiev in 2010 – which is 3,941,000 deaths due to the famine and an additional 6,122,000 in birth deficit. It’s not clear why the author decides to call this a “consensus”, because it certainly is not. However, it is the number present on the Wikipedia page, where, it seems, the author derives the bulk of their argument.

I’d also like to point out here that 100% of the cited sources are in English, indicating that the author didn’t go through the Russian, Ukrainian, or Polish historiography on the Holodomor (where there are equally lively and challenging debates.) Even this BBC article (although in Russian) shows that historians are still arguing about the death tolls of the famine, because reliable data just doesn’t exist.

“In regards to claim one, the only scholar who seriously holds this position is Mark Tauger. Who has been dismissed as completely wrong by every other scholar in the field. Put simply, there is no real evidence for the effect of weather on the harvest. While there were dry periods in 1932, it was nothing that abnormal. This is pretty evident from the fact that no where else in Eastern Europe was there a significant food shortage, despite them sharing the exact same climate. Areas of depopulation of 15-20% run right up to the Polish border at that time and then mysteriously stop. In fact, not even Tauger argues that rain was the cause – because Tauger argues that the famine was the result of plant diseases. Of course this falls prey to the same problem as the drought hypothesis, namely, why does the famine stop at the Polish border?”

First, Tauger is not the only scholar who seriously holds this position. J. Arch Getty very famously took Robert Conquest to task in the pages of The London Review of Books in 1987 for claiming that the Holodomor was an intentional famine. Stephan Merl (article in German) also criticizes the dominant narrative of the Holodomor. As does Sheila Fitzpatrick, which makes it especially interesting that the author included her book on the Russian Revolution in the sources – a book, that, I might add, has nothing to do with the Holodomor. There’s also this thorough article by Viktor Kondrashin (in Russian).

Second, Tauger very clearly argues that it was a combination of drought and agricultural pests. Not a single scholar denies that weather had some effect on the harvests in the relevant years (with the exception of Robert Conquest). Even Wheatcroft and Davies (cited by the author) demonstrate that grain yield in 1931 and 1932 was significantly lower than previous and subsequent years. It’s surprising to me that the author does not even properly cite the English-language sources, which are obviously the only sources they are able to read. Perhaps it is a case of deliberately ignoring the facts or perhaps it is a case of simply being ignorant of them.

Third, the author apparently doesn’t understand how food production and distribution works. First of all, the Soviet Union was reliant upon one area (modern-day eastern Ukraine and the Kuban region of Russia) as the major grain-supplier for the entire country, referred to as the “Breadbasket” of the USSR. The author also says that all of Eastern Europe “shar[e] the exact same climate”, which is demonstrably false, as is evidenced by the presence of the Carpathian Mountains in modern-day Northwest Ukraine. Second of all, however, although the scale of the famine was substantially larger in the Soviet Union, crop yields decreased all over Eastern Europe (not just magically ending at the Polish border at the time, which, it should be noted, goes through modern-day Ukraine). This is why people were dying of starvation all over the Soviet Union (not just in Ukraine). After all, the Holodomor is just a piece of the greater Soviet Famine of 1932-1933.

“In any case, even assuming that there was a natural component, their explanation still doesn’t prevent Stalin from being responsible. Since around 1800, there has been a high enough rate of agricultural production worldwide that any famine since then has effectively been man-made, even assuming an agricultural component.”

Every famine has been effectively human-engineered since 1800? According to whom?

The author zig-zags between saying that the Soviet Famine was used as a measure by Stalin to punish any recalcitrant peasants and at the same time denying that it was a genocide. I will say it unequivocally, if Soviet government intentionally caused the famine of 1932-1933, then it was a genocide. However, none of the evidence leads to that unproblematic conclusion.

The lack of sources, except just the sloppy copy and paste job at the end shows the amateurish pseudo-scholarship by the author. First of all, the author includes sources that do not comment on the Soviet Famine or the Holodomor at all. Second of all, the author fails to include any sources that disagree with the argument put forth. Predictably, the author also omits sources that complicate the narrative.

The glaring omission from the text is the fact that there isn’t a single shred of evidence that the famine was human-engineered. Not a memo, a letter, or a decree from anyone within the Soviet government calling for the initiation or continuation of a famine in the Soviet Union (or in Soviet Ukraine). How is it that for all the archives that have been scoured and for all the official documents people have found from the Stalinist era, no one has been able to find anything that indicates an intentional extermination of the Ukrainian people?

Ultimately, the author creates an easy, uncomplicated history where Stalin, the evil dictator, wanted to starve out the peasant population. This isn’t convincing. Anyone who has studied the circumstances surrounding the Holodomor must at least take pause when such claims are made based entirely on English-language literature. The use of Famine Politics in order to establish a lazy anti-Stalin paradigm helps no one in reaching a realistic conclusion based on facts and evidence. A thoughtful approach to the subject may not lead one to say that Stalin “paid the clouds not to rain”, but it certainly doesn’t lead to the author’s conclusion either.

Why is Chad Included in the Travel Ban?

Let’s begin with the ban itself. Of course, as a candidate, Trump said he wanted to see all Muslims (including U.$. citizens) banned from entering Amerikkka.

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After inauguration, he signed an executive order that barred citizens from 7 countries (all predominantly Muslim countries) from entering Amerikkka. This was famously challenged in the courts, but ultimately, the $upreme Court let the racist ban partially go through.

Dumbass Trump’s Muslim Ban needs to be examined in its proper context. Especially with the recent news of additions to the ban: North Korea, Chad, and Venezuela. Along with the elimination of Sudan from the ban.

Obviously, the inclusion of North Korea and Venezuela provide nice optics for the fascist to play games and pretend like it’s not a “Muslim ban”.

So, why was Chad (a country that’s about 50% Muslim) thrown onto the list? The Washington Post has declared that “it makes absolutely no sense“. Amazingly enough, I once again disagree with the Washington Post.

Chad Oil Field

As we can see from a recent BBC article on the topic:

“Observers wonder whether Chad’s troubles started when it attempted to slap a record $74bn fine on US oil giant Exxon Mobil.

At the time, the current US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson headed the company.

Exxon Mobil was accused of not making royalty payments but eventually avoided the fine, more than seven times Chad’s gross domestic product, as both parties reached a settlement.

There is however little to suggest it was the cause of this ban.

Chad might feel hard done-by to suffer this punishment despite its counter-terrorism track record, while its eastern neighbour Sudan – labelled as a state sponsor of terrorism – is being removed from the US’ bad books.

President Deby would not want to see his country experience similar diplomatic and economic isolation (from the West, at least).”

Despite the clear proclamation, it is fairly obvious to everyone with an even somewhat functioning frontal cortex that this is exactly the cause of the ban.

Does the BBC think that Trump accidentally meant to ban some guy named Chad from entering the U.$., but didn’t understand how the whole process works?

fratboy

Honestly, I’d like to ban Chad too.