VP Wallace on fascism (1944)


May 14, 2017 by AK

Henry Scott Wallace writes in The New York Times:

Seventy-three years ago, The New York Times asked the sitting vice president to write an article about whether there are fascists in America, and what they’re up to.

…His article, “The Danger of American Fascism,” described a breed of super-nationalist who pursues political power by deceiving Americans and playing to their fears, but is really interested only in protecting his own wealth and privilege.

That vice president was my grandfather, Henry A. Wallace. And in my view, he predicted President Trump.

Henry A. Wallace was VP in 1941-45 and served as Secretary of Agriculture (under FDR) in 1933-40 and as Secretary of Commerce in 1945-6 (under Harry Truman). His article on fascism was published in the NYT on April 9, 1944. Here’s how Vice President Wallace explained his understanding of “fascist”:

A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends.

Note that the deceit would do alone, without violence, which makes this definition of fascism rather broader than today’s mainstream view. Michael Mann looks at various approaches to describing fascism in the introductory chapter of his 2004 book Fascists, and provides his own. All these make a reference to “popular,” paramilitary violence as a means of attaining power, and of glorification of violence as a cornerstone of fascist ideology. Once you’ve relaxed this requirement and allowed “deceit” to replace “violence,” almost any politician can fit your mold of a fascist. In addition, the combination of class enmity and preference for violence is typical of Communism, which makes it a variety of fascism under Wallace’s rubric: an unintended side effect.

Later on, Wallace also claims:

The perfect type of fascist throughout recent centuries has been the Prussian Junker…

An ahistorical claim, but interesting in its own right because some Soviet historians also traced Hitler’s genealogy back to the Prussian monarchy, a proto-fascist regime by implication. The official Soviet view, as outlined in history books and encyclopedias up to the Perestroika, was that the the “German feudal lords'” eastward and northeastward expansion in the middle ages, to the detriment of the Slavs and the Balts, was an early form of colonialism. The Prussian state was, therefore, born from the original sin of anti-Slavic and anti-Baltic colonialism. Later on, the “Prussian model of capitalism” kept up the influence of the Junker class over government – a “fusion” of the bourgeoisie and the old landlords. All of which led straight to Hitler, according to the Soviet school.

Much of that logic probably went back to WWI Entente propaganda, to Lenin and even to Marx, but the Soviets (and, I imagine, their Polish colleagues) had a new reason to endorse this narrative starting from the 1940s. It justified the dismantling and dismembering of Prussia after WWII, with Poland and the USSR as the immediate beneficiaries. One might want to check out György Lukács’ 1943 article (in Russian), Prussianism and Fascism. Lukács claimed that the Prussian state had always been hostile to Germany’s national interest, an impediment to Germany’s development and a bridle on its culture.

More interesting, at least to me, is the timing of the article. Two months after his article on fascism ran in the NYT, Wallace set out to visit the harshest, deadliest camps of the Gulag archipelago. The conclusions he drew from that visit are, perhaps, the best indicator of his political judgment in that period. More about it in Part 2.



May 12, 2017 by AK

The name of the praetorian prefect Macro, who (according to Tacitus and Cassius Dio) was driven to suicide by Caligula in 38 AD, is rendered as Macron in French. Thus, it fully coincides with the name of the new president of the French republic.

This -n pattern also applies to Polish and Russian, which apparently borrowed Makron from French or Italian (Macrone). Spanish has Macrón, almost identical to the Russian localization. The same pattern appears in Platón and other Greek and Roman names.

Russistan’s blasphemy law?


May 11, 2017 by AK

Observer.com, formerly the New York Observer, reports from Russia:

Thursday morning in a Moscow courtroom, YouTuber Ruslan Sokolovsky was sentenced to three and a half years probation for an August stunt in which he filmed himself playing Pokémon Go in church.

In a Yekaterinburg courtroom, if I remember correctly. Sokolovsky’s YouTube channel had about 280,000 subscribers so the video eventually scored a million and a half views or more. He was charged with uploading two other “blasphemous” videos but his channel also featured antiPlaton and anti-censorship uploads. (I have not seen any of these.)

In the video, Sokolovsky says he’s not worried about prison because “why the fuck would they lock you up for that?”…

It turns out there was a Pokémon gym right in the chapel, in front of a display of votive candles and a religious mosaic. So he stayed there for a while, catching creatures while people chanted prayers in the background.

“My fucking God, this is fucking beautiful,” he blasphemes as he adds Pokémon to his haul. “But I didn’t catch the rarest Pokémon of all, Jesus.”

The Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg stands on the site where Nicholas II was executed in 1918 together with his wife, children, servants, and family doctor. The young man was obviously seeking to provoke and offend. Pussy Riot never blasphemed or disrupted a church service: their (in)famous song was technically a prayer, if unorthodox.

However, Sokolovsky’s trial and conviction should not have happened. The blasphemy charge – for that’s what it is, although Russia’s criminal code does not use the term – stems from a statute that tramples on freedom of speech. Not to mention that there is something indecent about blasphemy treated as a legal concept, as if Russia were a northern Pakistan.

Some legal action should have been possible against Sokolovsky for misusing the premises of the church and breaking the rules of behavior he had implicitly agreed to by entering – but definitely not a criminal prosecution with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

It’s also worth adding that the “motivations” part of the judge’s ruling, which she read aloud (the text file to be provided to the parties later), reportedly has passages like “the defendant has denied the existence of Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad,” making the whole thing look like the state persecuting a free-thinker for atheism. Which, to some degree, it is, as Navalny pointed out in his tweet, and the court’s apparent incompetence only serves to endorse this view of the trial.

Ireland’s fine timber


May 10, 2017 by AK

Prompted by Language Hat’s latest post on Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov, I wondered if its protagonist could be described as “fine-souled” and ran a Google search for the expression. The second link on the results page brought me this:

Here the sensitive and fine-souled author of “Psyche” died.

I thought of Keats (Ode to Psyche) but he died in Italy. The “here” above refers to a place in Ireland and the author of Psyche is Mary Tighe (1772-1810). What’s amusing about this passage from The Miseries and Beauties of Ireland by Jonathan Binns (Vol. 2, 1837) is the use of “fine” in two consecutive sentences, the third and fourth in this paragraph:

At Innistiogue we recrossed the Nore by a bridge of ten arches, near which is a salmon fishery. A short distance below the village, on the southern bank of the river, stands Woodstock, the seat of Mr. and Lady Louisa Tighe. Here the sensitive and fine-souled author of “Psyche” died. Woodstock is one of the most lovely places in Ireland, abounding in fine timber. On the western bank of the river is a wood, which covers no less than five hundred acres of ground.

One is tempted to quote Kant on the crooked timber business at this point, holding up Woodstock, Kilkenny, as a possible counterexample.

You know you’re a cynic…


April 30, 2017 by AK

…when you’re looking through a depressingly serious, heart-rending, gut-wrenching piece and suddenly a minor detail sends you into a fit of liberating laughter:

Over dinner—Dreher, who was observing Lent, confined himself to oysters and crab cakes—I learned what happened when he moved back to St. Francisville.

I know, I know that oysters and crabs must be cheap over there, as they were meant to be in the first place – oysters started out as a poor man’s food. But all I can think about are Lenten menus at Moscow restaurants – grossly overpriced seafood and vegetarian fare – and the associated advertisements, “Keep fast with us!”

Russian truckers protesting again


April 24, 2017 by AK

This is not fake news:

The truckers went on strike this time after the Russian government announced it would double the Platon [toll-collection system] tariff as of April 15… [The] government softened that blow in March, temporarily raising the fee by a lesser amount to about 3.4 cents per kilometer. 

That doesn’t seem like much. But Ibragimov says he travels 100,000 kilometers in a year, which would add up to $3,400. His annual income, he said, is $6,500 in the best of times. Given fuel expenses and wear and tear, he is looking at a net loss. 

The Washington Post has nearly destroyed its credibility with its feverishly biased coverage of Trump’s campaign and presidency. However this report raises no suspicions of bias: it’s not about Trump and it fits well with dispatches by independent Russian journalists. Check out Reading Russia for helpful translations.

Minsk architecture


April 23, 2017 by AK

Peter Pomerantsev, writing about the Belarus Free Theater on the LRB blog:

The journey took me out of the unspoilt Stalinist centre of the city. (The architecture is known as ampir in Russian, which sounds like, though doesn’t mean, ‘empire’, and contains the word for ‘feast’, pir. ‘Feast of Empire’ is a good way to describe Minsk’s elephantine Soviet neo-classicism.)

Actually, ampir doesn’t sound that much like impèriya – “empire” – in Russian, but it undoubtedly refers to “empire,” in more ways than one. Ampir is derived, by phonetic imitataion, from the French term le style empire (or Second empire). It can be used to describe the architectural styles prevailing in the reigns of Napoléon I (le style empire) and of his nephew, Napoléon III (le style Second empire).

In the former Soviet block, the term can also refer to the pompous official style of Stalin’s late empire, roughly from 1945-1953. The full form is stalinsky ampir; in its eclecticism, the style combined influences from late classicism, baroque, the first and second empires, neo-Gothic and art deco. The Russian word rhymes perfectly with vampir, vampire. As Irina Bogushevskaya sang in the 1990s (all translations are mine and imprecise):

The night is dark. I’ll run alone past the bridges, past the palaces of the ampir age. I’ll praise it, my joyful one: greetings, Moscow, my tender vampire.

Often enough, people exclaim “ampir!” at any buildings they feel are too ornate, pompous or vaguely “Stalinist.” That can include the post-constructivism of the 1930s, which ought not to be classed with ampir proper. Minsk has its share of 1930s pre-ampir, most notably the public buildings by Iosif Langbard. However, most of the Stalin-era architecture in Minsk must date from the post-WWII years because the war left the city in ruins.

This page (in Russian) has images of the ruins, of people cleaning up, and of new buildings from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s: in Pomerantsev’s words, the “unspoilt Stalinist center.” This photograph shows a surviving pre-war building in the background, in all likelihood a “post-constructivist” work from the 1930s.

“Activist Left Gets Putin Critic’s Scalp”


April 22, 2017 by AK

Three headlines, all about Bill O’Reilly’s getting fired from Fox News. All translations are mine.

The BBC Russian Service:

The Fox host who called Putin a killer has been fired because of a sex scandal.

RT news in Russian:

The journalist who insulted Putin has been fired from Fox News.

Breitbart: the first version of the headline, removed later:

Activist Left Gets Monster Scalp.

Amusing. The title of this post is an attempt at a synthesis. Also see my note on Putin Critics.

Who’s next, the Pentecostals?


April 21, 2017 by AK

Christianity Today reports from Moscow:

It’s official. Jehovah’s Witnesses can no longer practice their faith freely in Russia, where the Supreme Court on Thursday declared the pacifist religious organization an “extremist group” and banned all of its activity.

The judge ordered all 395 local chapters and its Russian headquarters to close and authorized the government to seize all property.

Considering the Witnesses’ tradition of non-violence, labeling them extremist must have taken some advanced judicial sophistry. There’s no shortage of this intangible but imperishable good in Russian courthouses. The Kremlin team’s legalism is more or less in line with Óscar Benavides’ maxim; “substantive due process” must be as odious to them as it was to the late, overweight Antonin Scalia.

Legal unsubtleties and property interests aside, what’s the ultimate motive for the ban? All grassroots activity not controlled by the government or its religious affiliates is suspicious and potentially dangerous. Non-traditional, charismatic Protestant churches are the fastest-growing (quasi-)Christian denominations globally. The Pentecostals are going strong in Africa but also in Latin America, including Brazil. A non-conformist charismatic church with potential membership in the millions? The towers of the Kremlin shall not tolerate the Watchtower.

The Soviets also hated Jehovah’s Witnesses – passionately. Under Stalin, they were persecuted – hardly surprising – but under his successors, they were still demonized as if evil incarnate. A brief respite under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, then back to the old habits.

Into deeper s—, endlessly: Russia to ban foreign VPNs?


April 19, 2017 by AK

This reads like a good summary of what I’ve read in Vedomosti:

Russia has drafted a bill that blocks anonymous proxies and VPN services that refuse to prohibit access to forbidden websites…

According to the bill, anonymizers and VPN services will be required to block access to resources from Roskomnadzor black list.

What isn’t clear to me is whether individuals using VPNs and anonymizers not authorized to provide services in Russia will be penalized (fined, most likely), or whether VPNs and anonymizers allowing their Russian users to access blacklisted sites will be blocked in Russia.

Either way, the proposals sound characteristically moronic; the former route would be the more painful to common users and would probably put Russia somewhere between China and Iran. Actually, China does not even prohibit VPNs in general while suppressing some VPN traffic. The country that comes to mind is the United Arab Emirates, which does not allow Skype and WhatsApp, and VoIP more generally, and has criminalized using VPNs for “illegal purposes,” whatever it means. A sublime company.

I’ve written about similar plans in 2012, 2013, 2015. This slithery constrictor is crawling in narrowing circles.


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