May 29, 2005

How offensive does something need to be before you see what is offensive?

Yesterday, I wrote with some enthusiasm about a podcasting project given high-profile publicity in the NYT. Singled out for praise was the commentary by Jason Rosenfeld, a Marymount professor of art history, about a Marc Chagall painting. In an update to my post, I transcribed part of the Rosenfeld commentary that was elided in the NYT quote:
That was the problem with Russia, is that it was full of orthodox religiosity and Christianity. That's why, you know, Lenin (a great Jew), Marx (a great Jew), had it right... Or was Lenin Jewish? ... I don't think he was, but we'll claim him, because he was a good egg... is because they wanted to get rid of religion, you know, religion was the opiate of the masses to Marx, who was a self-hating Jew, I guess, essentially. But my point about this painting is ...
Having originally written that I thought these podcasts would lead people to laugh in front of paintings, in the update, I said "You may find us screaming or groaning in front of those paintings." In a second update, I wrote:
Podcasts undoubtedly have their share of idiotic and contemptible statements. But you can't Google for them or see them in Technorati or link to them and critique them. I happened to transcribe one just now, but that's not much different from transcribing something I heard someone say down at the coffeeshop.

Thus, podcasting is not like blogging. It lacks the inherent structural safeguards that make the blogosphere work in service to the truth.
To my surprise, one of the Marymount professors quoted in the article, David Gilbert -- or someone pretending to be him -- has posted in my comments section. In a mindbogglingly obtuse effort at defending Rosenfeld, he writes (with my boldfacing):
It's interesting to read how others are receiving our project. We are neither comics, nor professional audio engineers--just a group of students and professors who love art and love podcasting. One of the things we love about podcasting is that it's raw, and it offers real human voices, foibles and all. When Prof. Rosenfeld allowed us to record his banter about Chagall, he graciously permitted us to preserve the hesitations, self-corrections, and even mistakes that are inherent in situated human discourse (or if you like, "everyday talk"). As far as the passage you quote, Ann, I think there are several bon mots in that interview that are more representative of what works about it. And as far as it's facual accuracy, what exactly was innacurate about what Prof. Rosenfeld said about Lenin? Lenin's maternal grandfather was Jewish, but Lenin did not identify as a Jew and was raised in the Russian Orthodox Church. This is a niggling issue, I realize, which is exactly why I don't understand some of the reactions in this thread. Nevertheless, we'd love to host any audio guides to MoMA that any of your readers produce, and we'd be thrilled to find that some of you could do a better job.
Gilbert, trying to find a reason why I objected to Rosenfeld's statement, can only think that I am concerned with the extent to which Lenin was Jewish! It doesn't even occur to him that my objection is that Rosenfeld called Lenin "good" twice and enthusiastically embraced him (while slamming Christianity).

And I love the way Gilbert tries to put me down for not getting podcasting. We're all just talking off the top of our heads here. Oh, but you are professors, and Rosenfeld was talking with a student in this podcast. I talk off the top of my head with students a lot myself, but if I say something awful, I'm ashamed of myself.

But it's one thing for Rosenfeld to have said something awful on the podcast. It's quite another for Gilbert to show up on my blog -- where he's not podcasting, I might add -- to defend the statement and not even to see what was offensive about it.

Is Lenin so popular in your neck of academia that you don't even notice that reasonable people think embracing him is odious?

UPDATE: Gilbert participates in the comments, and so does Jim Lindgren. And I have a few more things to say. Do click on the comments.

52 comments:

Mark Daniels said...

Hurrah for you, Ann. Credentialed or no, new technology or no, the Marymount prof should be called to the carpet for spreading untruths (like Marx was a "good egg") and engaging in mindless stereotyping (his dismissal of Christians). I'm glad that you did it.

mcg said...

The best thing that could be said about Lenin is that he died young.

John Jenkins said...

Unfortunately for all concerned, not young enough.

dave said...

Ann and company,

You're quite right, I misunderstood what you were objecting to in Rosenfeld's statement. Perhaps if I had read more of your blog--and thus understood your post in context--it would have been clear (or perhaps, as you indicate, I simply show my left-wing naivete?). I have a friend in Texas, a professor of theology (and a Christian), whose MoMA audio guide I'd love to hear, were he to do one. He's no fan of Pollock or PIcasso, and he has a very good critique from a Christian (and I'd add "humanist") perspective (undoubtedly there are Christians who find reasons to approve of Pollock and Picasso and it would be great to hear that too).

The general problem you raise is one I recognize as well, that podcasts aren't searchable (and thus available for critique) in the same way blog posts are. This is a problem with continuous data streams of any sort, including television. To my knowledge Vanderbilt University is the only institution that has attempted to catalogue, and index, all television news broadcasts (though of course in the TiVo era individuals can do a little). One project you might find interesting is here:

http://podscope.com

Podscope is a database of podcast clips, which searches full-text transcripts of most podcasts on the Web. This is part of the solution. I believe that we need a system which goes further by allowing us to assign metadata to clips culled from podcasts (think del.icio.us or flickr). Several months ago I outlined such a project here:

http://homepage.mac.com/dave7/podilicious/podilicious.htm

This would make it much easier to fact-check I believe.

Well, perhaps you will not be a subscriber to our MoMA guides, but I am now, I can say, a reader of Althouse!

All the Best,

David Gilbert

Jim H said...

Mr. Gilbert: You've raised a fine defense of academic podcasts. Now what of the exultation of Lenin and Marx?

Jim Lindgren said...

Ann:

Since you were gracious (or indirect) enough not to say why Lenin was not a "good egg," I guess I would ask Professor Gilbert how many millions of innocent people does Lenin have to kill before he is not a "good egg"? I looked, but couldn't find, evidence I seem to recall where Hitler (or was it Mussolini?) criticized Lenin for his brutality. As I recall, the relevant fascist dictator thought it a divisive mistake for Lenin to target such a broad class for extermination.

As to Marx being a "good egg," one has to start first with the point that modest estimates of the people killed by the collectivization of agriculture alone is 50 million people.

If you want to distinguish Marx the man from Marx's lethal ideas, then you should read Paul Johnson's chapter on Marx (in Intellectuals). Even if there is another, better side to Marx that Johnson overlooks (I don't know, is there?), it would be hard to undo the picture of moral depravity that is revealed by the facts about Marx's personal life. Not the least of these facts was Marx's sexual and other exploitation of his female servant, Helen DeMuth, "a ferociously hard worker" whom he never paid for 46 years of work (p. 79). Marx treated his own longtime worker worse than any he ever studied.

Even most of Marx's friends grew to loathe him because he was so vicious interpersonally, and they were subject to his "relentless abuse."

Marx's hatred of Jews was not a random part of his ideas. His anti-capitalism started as hatred of Jewish financial practices, which Marx generalized to hatred of capitalism. As Marx wrote: "Money is the jealous god of Israel. . . The god of the Jews has been secularized and has become the god of the world."

Marx advocated violence against intellectuals and supported assassination, which made it not too surprising that professed Marxist dictators like Lenin, Stalin, and Mao engaged in just such behavior. As Johnson puts it (p. 71), "But of course he was never in a position to carry out large-scale revolution, violent or otherwise, and his pent-up rage therefore passed into his books . . . ." Johnson concludes by noting that Stalin was "the ruler who achieved the absolute power for which Marx had yearned." A good egg, Marx wasn't.

Jim Lindgren said...

Ann,

Professor Gilbert oddly responded:

"You're quite right, I misunderstood what you were objecting to in Rosenfeld's statement. Perhaps if I had read more of your blog--and thus understood your post in context--it would have been clear (or perhaps, as you indicate, I simply show my left-wing naivete?)."

I'm not quite sure what Gilbert means by his comment about reading your blog. Did he mean that he would assume that most bloggers would be indifferent to mass murder, but reading your blog, he sees that you are a decent human being, and thus actually care about people?

Or did he mean that he read your blog and he thinks that, just because you broke with your traditional liberal Democratic leanings and supported Bush this time, you were a conservative--and only conservatives would see problems with Marxism, Leninism, or tens of millions of bodies piled up in service of their ideas?

It doesn't take a conservative to care about people or to hate the death that Marxist ideas have wrought. The Democratic Party essentially threw out the Marxists in 1948. That was a long time ago.

dave said...

Ann,

I didn't correctly discern the nature of your response because it's the first one of its kind I've seen on the blogosphere (out of hundreds) or heard from any of my friends, family, students, parents of students, or Marymount faculty or administrators (who represent a pretty good cross-section of political positions), or indeed, the segment of the American public who reads the Times and has email (our email address is on our blog). And perhaps they all (myself included) SHOULD be as concerned as you by Rosenfeld's tongue-in-cheek remark about Lenin--I'm simply attempting to explain why it might be something other than my moral callousness, or daftness (which I grant as a possibility), that led me to misunderstand you. When you ask, rhetorically, "Did he mean that he would assume that most bloggers would be indifferent to mass murder...?" you do me a small injustice (though it does make me somewhat nostalgic for my old college debate days!). To respond to some other points (including those raised by other contributors to this thread), my own opinion of Marx (the good and the bad) is pretty much summed up in Karl Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies. And number me among those liberals, like yourself and most liberals I know, who "hate the death that Marxist ideas have wrought." I'd bet Rosenfeld would be among them too, though I've only met him once (when I recorded the interview). And here's the larger point. I think you're making a genre mistake. This is not an academic "lecture" on art, politics, or anything else. And it's not citizen journalism either (e.g., Glenn Reynolds or Kos). It's an audio guide which, as we state, and as was stated clearly in the Times piece, aims to be provocative and humorous. At the beginning of the interview, Rosenfeld claims to be a Jew "by birth and by faith," so when he repeats (ostensibly approvingly) Marx's critique of religion two-thirds of the way into it, I would think that most discriminating listeners would understand that what they were getting was not Rosenfeld's opinion of religion, but Rosenfeld's shtick. Same goes for his references to Marx and Lenin. Ann, this was not lost on even my dear old mother, an evangelical Christian (and Republican), from whom I have inherited whatever sense of humor I possess.

Regards,

David Gilbert

Ann Althouse said...

Dave: You say you made a point of reading and understanding my blog and yet you write: "This is not an academic 'lecture' on art, politics, or anything else. And it's not citizen journalism either (e.g., Glenn Reynolds or Kos). It's an audio guide which, as we state, and as was stated clearly in the Times piece, aims to be provocative and humorous. "

How can that possibly square with what I wrote in my original post? I wrote: "Art museums can be so stuffy, so entombed. I love the idea of walking around with some brilliant, witty character talking in your ear. I don't even necessarily want someone knowledgeable talking to me. Just say something interesting that goes with the experience of seeing the picture. It can even be counterpoint. Talk about life or talk about art. Riff on the images or gossip about some person you happen to see while you're there."

How could you read that as me mistakenly thinking you'd set out to do academic lectures? I'm not failing to understand the genre. If you really read my blog, you'd see that I'm mixing ideas about politics or art with humor and various eccentricities all the time, so even that ought to clue you in that I get what you're trying to do with these things. My objection is to the praising of Lenin (and Marx) and saying that what was wrong with Russia was Christianity. (Communism would have gone swimmingly without those awful Christians, I suppose.) I could have objected to quite a few other things, by the way, but I didn't. I could have skewered Rosenfeld for: ridiculing poor people, expressing contempt for a nonexistent grammar mistake in Chagall's title, and dominating the discussion with the young woman (something that raised my feminist hackles). But I was supportive enough of your project not to want to just hit him with everything I had. What drove me up the wall was to hear him say -- and to a student! -- that Lenin is "a good Jew" and "a good egg" was just disgusting.

Have you even listened to Rosenfeld's podcast? I wouldn't have minded if he'd just repeated the old "opiate of the people" line. It's much more than that. He's modeling -- for a student and for plenty of other people who'll listen to this thing now that it's promoted in the NYT -- that viewing Lenin and Marx as good guys, cool heroes, is what hip, young people do today. That's what I'm objecting to.

Having other people -- conservatives and Christians -- do rival podcasts is no answer to me. What if someone put up a white supremacist podcast that hilariously riffed on the paintings and said Hitler was a good guy? What is striking is that you don't see the good-natured promotion of Lenin the same way. I'm writing to call you on that.

Ann Althouse said...

Jim: Thanks for writing that. Paul Johnson's "Intellectuals" is quite something. It seems almost too cruel to collect all the worst things about the people in one place, but considering how the way people hold them up as heroes, damn useful. By the way, Rosenfeld only called Lenin a "good egg." He limited his praise of Marx to "good Jew," a term he also bestowed on Lenin.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Ann, great post -- Ann and Jim, great comments -- and commendations to Dave, too, for forthrightly and politely exploring these issues on his opponent's site. I think the underlying issue here is, why is driveling halfbaked nonsense widely promulgated just because the driveler has an official position and access to a voguish technology? If Rosenfeld were saying those things aloud in a museum while standing next to me by chance, I would move away as soon as possible.

Ron said...

why is driveling halfbaked nonsense widely promulgated just because the driveler has an official position and access to a voguish technology?

Sadly, Richard, isn't this a problem with much of academic culture? A lot of blather gets sanctified based on the institution and/or the tenured status of the blatherer. I suppose that academic freedom grants you the right to be an idiot, but can't some rights stay flabby and on the couch and not get exercised?

PatCA said...

Yes, it was just an offhand playful remark (to him). But the 'I'm just kidding around' defense is another example of how academe or intellectuals superimpose the ethic of childlike play onto serious matters in order to deny their negative consequences.

In the 60s, hippies pretended morality was the real harm and that sex was just play, and we ended up with a fractured social order and with death (AIDS).

Communism is not play, either. Ask its victims..their survivors, I mean.

chris said...

Lenin viewed in context: worse than the status quo at that time in Russia? Nyet. You would have preferred a leader who kept Russia in WWI? Are you forgetting the White Russians, aided by US, Britain, etc. were seeking, by any means, to wipe out Lenin and his ilk? I would not put Lenin or Marx in the same category as Hitler or Stalin, which you seem intent on doing. I doubt tht Lenin or Marx killed 1/10th the number of women and children killed by Truman or Johnson, two leaders I consider good eggs. Demonizing is pretty weak as a substitute for actual looking at the facts.

mcg said...

To borrow a joke from Margaret Cho, and use it far more appropriately:

"I mean, Lenin is not Hitler. He would be if he had applied himself." (And if had he lived long enough.)

Jim Lindgren said...

Ann wrote:


Jim: Thanks for writing that. Paul Johnson's "Intellectuals" is quite something. It seems almost too cruel to collect all the worst things about the people in one place, but considering how the way people hold them up as heroes, damn useful. By the way, Rosenfeld only called Lenin a "good egg." He limited his praise of Marx to "good Jew," a term he also bestowed on Lenin.



Thanks, Ann, for the correction (Marx being depicted as a "good Jew," not a "good egg").

From my knowledge, Lenin himself was not at all anti-Jewish, but (not being Jewish myself) I would find that an insufficient basis for making someone a "good Jew." There was an interesting discussion a year or two ago about whether Communism or Marxism was in practice inherently discriminatory against Jews or other scapegoat groups, because eventually someone must be blamed for the economic failures of the system. So even regimes that do not start out anti-Jewish, such as the USSR, become anti-Jewish over time.

Jim Lindgren
Northwestern University

Jim Lindgren said...

Chris wrote:


Lenin viewed in context: worse than the status quo at that time in Russia? Nyet. You would have preferred a leader who kept Russia in WWI? Are you forgetting the White Russians, aided by US, Britain, etc. were seeking, by any means, to wipe out Lenin and his ilk? I would not put Lenin or Marx in the same category as Hitler or Stalin, which you seem intent on doing. I doubt tht Lenin or Marx killed 1/10th the number of women and children killed by Truman or Johnson, two leaders I consider good eggs. Demonizing is pretty weak as a substitute for actual looking at the facts.


First, since Marx did not order mass killings himself, he is definitely in a different category than the others. But if you mean that his ideas killed fewer than the others, then you are simply wrong. Collectivization of agriculture (and I'm not talking here even of the collectivist wars) killed at least 50 million people in the 20th century (eminent Yale professor and property expert Robert Ellickson is just one of many to put forward that figure).

As for Truman, I don’t know what you are talking about. He came into office as WWII was almost over. Do you blame him for starting the Marshall plan too late to save many of those starving in Europe? Perhaps you think that dropping the bombs on Japan led to a net loss of life, civilian or otherwise, which is far from clear. I expect that even some of those who oppose dropping the bomb think it might have saved lives on average.

I’ll leave Johnson aside because I don’t know the facts, but there is no way that the total from the entire Vietnam War (2-3 million people is a common estimate, with about 600,000 civilians) could come close to what Lenin did or what the Marxian collectivization of agriculture did.

As to Lenin, he nationalized land and factories, which destroyed the economic base of the country, with a median estimate of 8.8-9.0 millions deaths in Russia 1918-1922, most of which did not result from battles in the Civil War. http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat1.htm#Russian

Famine was so bad that people resorted to cannibalism. Only when Lenin reversed course and allowed some profit motive did the economy begin to rebound.

Further, Lenin specifically tried to exterminate the professional and manager class. As one of the people in Lenin’s secret police explained in November 1918: "We are not waging war against individual persons. We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class. During the investigation, do not look for evidence that the accused acted in deed or word against soviet power. The first questions that you ought to put are: To what class does he belong? What is his origin? What is his education or profession? And it is these questions that ought to determine the fate of the accused. In this lies the significance and essence of the Red Terror." < http://media.ucsc.edu/classes/thompson/history30c/08_lenintostalin.html>



Perhaps there is something I’m missing; pointing to the Whites to excuse the millions who died from Lenin’s economic policies and from his brutal policy of exterminating his own people just won’t cut it anymore. That romantic view of Lenin was exploded decades ago.

As I said before, Hubert Humphrey and others led the fight to throw the Marxists out of the Democratic Party in 1948. That Marxism and Communism led to death is not a Republican or a Democratic issue.

Jim Lindgren
Northwestern University

Jim Lindgren said...

To follow up, perhaps one way of understanding Lenin is to think of him as the Robert Mugabe or Pol Pot of his day, nationalizing or seizing farms, removing the skilled people who could run them, and thus causing widespread famine and death.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

I agree with Ron about academia, but it's more than just academia, it's a widespread culture of shallowness to which some academics seek entry. I'm not sure why Dave Gilbert thinks he's defending Rosenfeld by saying that Rosenfeld's Marxism is, in essence, insincere. I don't think Lenin, among others, had any use at all for insincere bourgeois intellectual Marxists. Such people were pretty high on the list to be rubbed out. But in this country Rosenfeld can fear not, he can keep lecturing to those Ashleys at Marymount and titillating the readers of the Times. I don't suppose it would ever occur to him that he's supposed to be an educator and a scholar, that the insincere, flighty things he says affect adolescents' and adults' minds in serious ways -- that he's toying with a public that places him in a position of trust. That thought would be too un-MTVlike for such as he. It would get in the way of making him "famous," to use the word self-deluded academics today like to use about people who have gained some prominence in their specialized fields.

What would a Marxian analysis of Rosenfeld be? The question virtually answers itself.

And by the way, someone whose paternal grandfather was his closest Jewish ancestor is not a Jew, period. Unless you adopt the standards of the Nazis.

cfw said...

9 million deaths caused by Lenin in 1918 to 22 seems a bit of a stretch. Famine is not the same as extermination in concentration camps, gas chambers, etc. What army shot these 8-9 million? With what weapons and bullets? Russia was broke, the army was a joke.

I would also note Lenin was shot, had strokes, and was in and out of dementia for a year or so of the 4 years in power, as I recall.

We speak with the benefit of hindsight. Look at Wilhelm II in Germany, plus France, plus England in 1914-1918 and one will find 8-9 million deaths just on the battle field. Red civil war with Whites plus disastrous Czarist involvement in WWI certainly helped cause famine and masive deaths in Russia in 1918-22.

Capitalist ideas of Krupp, Wilhelm et al were just as deadly, or more deadly, in 1914-22 as Marxian ideas.

The idea system in Russia was flawed and needed change.

It is easy to say in hindsight that Marx had it wrong. At the time, I suspect his views looked as good or better than those of Wilhelm and Krupp for the masses being slaughtered on the Western front.

You use net figures when analyzing Truman and McNamara firebombing and nuking Japan. You think famine woul d have wiped out less Russians if Churchill had succeeded in replacing Lenin with the Whites? Based on what evidence?

You suggest capitalism killed less than Marxism in relevant time periods. Not sure this is free from doubt. Look at Chaing in China in 1933-45. How many millions died there?

Marxism sacrificed millions to defeat Hitler in Russia, helping to preserve civilization as we know it. Was there a net benefit from having Marxism in 20th Century Europe? Compared to parlimentary democracy as we now know it England, probably no. As compared to regimes of Wilhelm II and Krupp? Who can say?

Again, let's not be mindless "knee jerk" conservatives about Marx or those who overthrew the Tsars in Russia.

Sean said...

I bet Prof. Gilbert is sorry he came over here, where people take ideas and history seriously. I presume he's beating a hasty retreat to the faculty club cocoon, where you can sneer at Christians and be cute about Marx and Lenin without encountering a lot of abuse.

Mrs. Davis said...

Was there a net benefit from having Marxism in 20th Century Europe?

No. Some things are so stupid only an intellectual could believe them.

Redhand said...

Well, I got here via Instapundit. That anyone in this day and age whould have a positive opinion of Marx and Lenin -- the architects of a fundamentally flawed economic and social ideology responsible for the enslavement and deaths of millions -- is incredible. I wonder if he thinks Pol Pot was a "good egg" too.

Kirk said...

Sean, I think you are too hard on Professor Gilbert. I still find room to disagree with him, but to his credit he has engaged in debate and treated Ann with respect.

I, unfortunately, am challenged in that department. Professor Gilbert... dude... I mean this in the most supportive possible way... lose the picture in your Blogger profile. I guarantee you'll get laid more often.

Kirk Parker said...

Chris,

"Lenin viewed in context: worse than the status quo at that time in Russia? Nyet."

On the contrary; you only have to consider how Lenin would have fared as a prisoner of his own system, rather than of the Tsar's, to see how wrong you are.

rhhardin said...

Vicki Hearne has some commentary on MoMA tape commentary http://home.att.net/~rhhardin7/vickihearne.degas.txt

LTEC said...

There is much wrong with what CFW said, such as blaming capitalism for World War I, or crediting communism for defeating Hitler. For some reason, what bothers me the most is his assertion that Lenin overthrew the Tsars. Actually, Lenin overthrew the people who overthrew the Tsars.

On a completely different topic:
Perhaps Ann Althouse "gets" the genre of podcasting, but I sure as hell don't. The Museum of Modern Art admission costs $20; if you are visiting New York as a tourist, it costs a lot more than that. If I'm spending a thousand dollars here, I want to choose who I'm listening to very carefully. Call me stuffy, but I want to listen to someone who is knowledgeable and who has something interesting to say about the art. Inarticulate bullshit I can get at home for free.

Ann Althouse said...

LTEC: Podcasting COULD be articulate, though. It could be MUCH better than the official audiotour. As the Times article quotes someone saying, the official tour is always trying to justify spending so much money on these things.

I'd add that the official tour has to assume that the art deserves to be on display and ought to be revered. I'd like to hear some more severe criticism, some negative opinion of some things. I'd like to hear more humor too.

Podcasters could specialize in talking about sex or history or the science of the art techniques. There's no end to the interesting things that could be said. This is very similar to blogging.

Early on, in blogging, some people acted as though it was exciting just that people were blogging and it was assumed people would rant and lie and write haphazardly. Clearly, that's not true anymore. You expect the blogs you read to be full of interesting ideas and written in a distinctive style.

The same should apply to podcasting. It should be done by people who have a way with words, and an cool spoken-word style. It would be fun to have someone like Camille Paglia do podcasts for art museums, for example.

Jim Oglethorpe said...

Kirk,

God, that was so completely uncalled-for and mean-spirited that I'm still wiping tears of laughter away.

So, yeah, of course I clicked on his name to take a look, and most telling of all was his "interests" list. Do people actually fill these things out?

"macs".

Macs? what is it, 1989 or something? You have an interest in "macs", Mr. Gilbert?

Macs.
I... unbelievable.

anyrate - nice get, Prof Althouse. Good for you.

Drethelin said...

While it can often be said that mercantilism and greed cause wars, I doubt it could be argued that capitalism causes them. It's bad for business.

Even if you accept that capitalism caused world war one, the major difference between the bad caused by capitalism and that caused by marxism is that capitalism counterbalances it with GOOD. Nothing good has ever come out of marxism, that was not instantly counterbalanced by a gigantic bad.

Re: marxist russia vs. hitler, are you saying russia would've lain over and let hitler conquer them if it hadn't been marxist in world war 2?

cfw said...

What if Russia had been led by a government modeled after the French after 1918? They could have collapsed like France did in 1940. Highly probable? Perhaps.

How about the forces ousted by Lenin, could they have withstood Hitler? Not at all likely, in my view. They could not even keep up with Trotsky.

Wilhelm II and Krupp had no capitalist system of the sort we have now. We call our system capitalist when it is in fact, say, 40% socialist - a blend of Marxian and classic capitalist ideas. Marx had loopy ideas with some gems - such as property is theft. Sometimes it is. He said things that needed expression in the niave, often exploitative and self-satisfied pre-WWI years. Hence, calling Marx a good egg - viewed in context - is not such an outlandish proposition.

Blaming Lenin for all Russia's 1918-22 hard times is a bit like blaming the goal keeper for letting in a goal after the rest of the team has failed to adequately defend on the field. Lenin had a hard job, to put it mildly, and did not do much worse than Germany, England or France in terms of percent of population lost.

Assume Bush and company was transported in a sealed train to Moscow in 1918. Would they try a strict Marxian approach knowing what we know now? No. But did it seem like a reasonably good idea in Russia in 1918-22? Apparently. What other viable solutions did Lenin have to try?

Using what we now know about economics makes no sense in judging if Lenin had any "good egg" about him.

Lenin did not run the gulag system, as far as I can tell. The gulag (which is looking a bit like Bushes Gitmo and facilities in Iraq, Afgnistan, etc.) apparently came after Lenin, under Stalin.

Lenin waged a limited class war with the Whites, who were backed by Churchill et al. Before that civil war arose, Lenin had no writings that i have seen that said "let's kill all the elites, etc."

Would it have been nice to have Russia led by a Churchill and a parliment in 1918-22? Sure. Nothing of that sort existed, or could be brought into being despie large efforts by Churchill et al. Russia was destitute. Even if Churchill had had his way, millions of losses were inevitable, either in continued fighting with Germany, or in post-war starvation, or both.

Incidentally, I suspect Churchill, in retrospect, overestimated the threat from Marxism. Relatively benign Marxism seems conceivable - such as in China since 1980.

I feel bad about East Germans having been subjected to domination by Marxists from 1945 to 1989 or so, but they had it coming, in my view.

Churchill predicted WWIII caused by Marxists. That has not happened, yet.

I suspect the atrocities of Stalin (in Russia, Poland, etc.) are not properly laid "one for one" on the doorstep of Marx or Lenin. From what I have read, Lenin resisted the idea of having Stalin succeed him.

If Trotsky had prevailed after Lenin, would Lenin be so reviled amongst AA readers?

Svolich said...

Re: marxist russia vs. hitler, are you saying russia would've lain over and let hitler conquer them if it hadn't been marxist in world war 2?

If Lennin and Stalin hadn't killed off most of the General officers before and during the war, Russia would have been significantly more formidable.

And if Stalin hadn't agreed to a non-agression pact, Hitler might not have invaded Poland to start with.

Technogypsy said...

Well, y'all and Miss Ann are much smarter than me. I'd simply replace Lenin in that sentence with Hilter and make the equalvent other changes. Would the author find that offensive? I bet so...

As to Lenin and the Revolution values, Russia was already moving to a constitutional monachary when Lenin decide to wash the street in blood. Anyone who can defend his actions is a best, well the nicest word I can think of is, scum.

Thanks Miss Ann for making this public. That someone thinks praising a murder and the destroyer of 1000 year old culture is defendable tells me more than I want to know.

dadmanly said...

Ann and others,

I know it is ridiculously deep in this comment thread to make the observation, but here goes. What astounds me about what Rosenfeld said, which clearly reflects how he thinks, is he referred to Marx or Lenin as a "Jew" at all, good, bad, self-hating or otherwise.

In the transcript you provide, he used to term like others would say "some guy." Maybe it's what Dave Gilbert refers to as Rosenfeld's schtick, in the style perhaps of Woody Allen.

If you don't want people to stereotype, why self- and other-identify in this way? I think whether someone is Jewish (or Polish or German or Presbyterian or Adventist) is almost completely irrelevant to most discussions, I would think all the moreso in any appreciation of art.

Ginny said...

Besides the evil that these men blithely laugh about and the fact that Gilbert doesn't know anyone who could have had a problem with this, there is also the attitude toward religion.

Religions, of course have been responsible for deaths. Unlike communism, however, the religious impulse is often benign and sometimes quite powerfully good. I'm a little curious if these thinkers (using the term quite loosely of course) see great art as coming from the Socialist Realist aesthetic. (And I'm interested in their examples.) Implicit, perhaps, is the sense that such faith would produce inferior art. Do these people actually think in 500 years people will be admiring Piss Christ and have forgotten the Sistine Chapel or the Renaissance madonnas? Do they think (and not only am I not religious, I am definitely not Roman Catholic) that in 500 years people will not understand intellectually (and for at least some, feel deeply) the power that is conveyed in those religious paintings. How do these guys give any intelligent context to art - let alone to history, economics, governments, human nature? And this guy is educating our children?

Judith said...

If he's discussing a Marc Chagall painting I could see Judaism being relevant, since Eastern European Jewish life is the milieu for many of Chagall's works. But in that case, dissing religion is really odd, given that the subjects of the paintings were people whose way of life was defined by their religious culture..

Mike said...

Churchill predicted WWIII caused by Marxists. That has not happened, yet.

Well, not WWIII-hot, thank God. The fifty year span of the Cold War has been credibly argued as WWIII-cold, and was as much a 'real war' as any of the long Franco-British wars of the 17th-18th centuries. ("Contrast and compare the 'French and Indian Wars' with the 'Vietnam War' as conducted by the superpowers of the day...")

In predicting WWIII-hot, I think Churchill applied his deep understanding of politics and history without fully internalizing the new restraints resulting from both sides atomic weapons. In a hypothetical world absent a-bombs, the US and the Soviets had more than enough real conflicts to meet the classical preconditions for war, so in that sense Churchill was making a safe bet. Even with the consequences of atomic age warfare pretty well understood and internalized, the USSR and the USA made at least two full bore runs at WWIII-hot.

We were very lucky that the Lenin/Stalin/Kruschev/Brezhnev/Andropov/Gorbachev papacies in the religion of Karl were not marked by a great crusade against the west.

Ann Althouse said...

Dadmanly: I would recommend listening to the whole little talk, found at Art Mobs. As Judith guesses, Rosenfeld's discussion of the Chagall painting centered on how the Jewish painter portrayed Jews (living in poverty in Russia) and how it has affected Jewish art (leading to bad stained glass windows in synagogues and to "Fiddler on the Roof"). In that context, he does have a reason to mention that these historical figures are Jewish.

By the way, I can't stand Chagall either and think he's completely overrated by the Museum of Modern Art. I like the idea of a podcast that trashes him, which is what Rosenfeld did.

Captain Wrath said...

CFW,

I thought about engaging you about your defense on Lenin, et al, but I know at the moment, there is no point.

Instead, please try reading The Gulag Archipelago. It is not fiction, but horribly real, and it shows recounts events as far back as 1918, giving lie to the idea that it was "all Stalin's fault."

Perhaps it will dispel the delusions you may have over what Lenin wrought, although you seem determined to retain them. In fact, if you have any humanity at all, and I do not doubt that, it will stun you.

M. Simon said...

Chris,

Hayek a contemporary of Hitler and Stalin in "The Road to Serfdom" says that the Nazis and Stalinists are the results of the same philosophy - socialism/Marxism

Zarba said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Zarba said...

To echo Captain Wrath:

I'd add Solzhenitsyn's "August 1914" to the list to see Lenin's true evil.

I used to buy into the lie that the Soviet Union was basically a badly run economy with a little brutality thrown in. Then my father gave me "August 1914"

One only has to read a few more books to se the true result of Lenin's work:

(Oh, and you can't play the historical revisonism of "Lenin didn't want Stalin to succeed him". Stalin was Lenin's enforcer, the man who carried out Lenin's plan and philosophy. Lenin didn't want to soil his hands with dealing with how things were done. For that he had Stalin. And I suspect that Kruschev and his ilk worked hard to re-write Lenin's history to try and distance himself from the butcher Stalin.)

By Solzhenitsyn:
"The First Circle"

"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"

"Cancer Ward"

And my favorite:

"The Time Of Stalin", by Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko

In his book, Antonov-Ovseyenko chronicles's Stalin and his work from The Red terror through the forced collectivisations, the great Purges and to the mass transfers of returning soldiers and POW's to the Gulag. His estimate runs to about 100 million people at Stalin's hand. Admittedly , he counts the millions killed by Stalin's inept handling of the war, but even discounting that, Stalin's victims boggle the mind.

So don't defend the evil that is Marxism/Leninism/Stalinism. It is a single thread through history. Without Lenin, Stalin probably would have been a simple local thug in Georgia.

And I find most interesting the comparison made by Kparker that one only needs to contemplate how Lenin would have fared in his own prison system. . Instead of being exiled to Siberia, where he could sip tea and plot revolution; in his own prison system Lenin would have been brutalized for a few days in the Lubyanka, then taken to the basement and given his "9 grams".


8:05 AM

Blanknoone said...

The leftist socialists in academia always amuse me when they draw such distinction between their beloved communism and the Nazism they oppose. The fact is communism and fascism were kissing cousins. Both the Stalinists and the Nazis were socialists. They had a small disagreement over HOW the state should control the economy, be it by ownership (communism) or simply regulating and dictating what supposedly private assets did (fascism). It really is a small difference. Yet the national SOCIALISTS are painted as 'the right' when in fact the Nazis vs Communists was a socialist civil war.

JB said...

If we review weblog postings and comments over the last three years, I suspect that we will notice improvements in written discourse in at least some weblogs. This has occurred because discourse has become more standardized and because some weblog practices (such as Fisking) have gone a long way toward improving argument structure and style. Similarly we should not be surprised that podcasting is presently an awful medium but we should expect that serious podcasters will learn to improve their presentations. Robust editing software (audiology/ garageband with podcasting package) may help, as will improved tagging and comments. Further, there are search engines, such as Nexidia, which could enable searchable podcast libraries. I could even hope for speaking organizations such as toastmasters to provide podcasting courses. As far as museums go a broader approach such as geotagging may (and should) lead podcasting.

greginboise said...

Having just finished Muravchik's "Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism" (highly recommended!), Lemnin and Marx were adamant about wiping out opposition from the beginning. Marx wanted to eradicate the
Jews, and most of the Eastern Europeans. Lenin had no use for anyone who questions him or his methods. The first attempt to collectivize the peasant farmers failed when the farmers chose to sell their grain on the black market. Lenin had anyone caught doing that summarily shot. By the way, Lenin was a prisinor under the Tsar at one point. His punishment was exile to his family's large estate, where he hiked, hunted and read revolutionary literature. Brutal...

milowent said...

On the May 10, 2005 episode of the Gilmore Girls, on the very fine WB network, Lorelai Gilmore made a joke that referenced Stalin. But, she "didn't know that I would be sitting in front of a Russian man who's entire town was killed by Stalin." Said Russian took great offence, not surprisingly.

It seems to me that Rosenfeld was riffing in the same way with his Lenin comments. His anticipated audience has varied from what he expected. Some of the audience has taken offence. Seems like an inherent danger of podcasting.

zipity said...

Does "cfw" stand for Clueless Frigging Weasel? When you equate Guantanmo and Afghanistan with the Soviet gulags, you instantly loose any shred of credibility you may have had, you maroon....

cfw said...

"Instead, please try reading The Gulag Archipelago. It is not fiction, but horribly real, and it shows recounts events as far back as 1918, giving lie to the idea that it was "all Stalin's fault.""

I have read the book, many years ago. As I recall it was not written by one with any first hand data about 1918-22. Still, a chilling book. We should remember the book when deciding as a counrty what we want done about Gitmo and polaces like it. Comments by Bush and Chaney about how absurd it is to think there could be rampant abuse look pretty thin to me.



"Hayek a contemporary of Hitler and Stalin in "The Road to Serfdom" says that the Nazis and Stalinists are the results of the same philosophy - socialism/Marxism"

I agree that Nazis and Stalinists were both totalitarian, had a lot in common regarding welfare of workers, etc. So did Krupp - one of the leaders in providing good things for workers since 1880's. Not sure this helps me conclude no one could consider Marx a good egg.



"I'd add Solzhenitsyn's "August 1914" to the list to see Lenin's true evil."

Have not read it. In 1914 Lenin was living as an obscure nobody in Switzertland, as I recall.


"Oh, and you can't play the historical revisonism of "Lenin didn't want Stalin to succeed him". Stalin was Lenin's enforcer, the man who carried out Lenin's plan and philosophy. Lenin didn't want to soil his hands with dealing with how things were done. For that he had Stalin."

Lenin was a much weaker person than Stalin, in my view. I am surprised he made it to the top at all. I have a hard time seeing Lenin dminarting Stalin in 1918-22, as opposed to the other way around (at least after Lenin was shot).

By Solzhenitsyn:
"The First Circle"

"One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"

"Cancer Ward"
I am a big fan of Solzhenitsyn, but do not consider him at all times unbiased or infalible.


And my favorite:

"The Time Of Stalin", by Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko

"In his book, Antonov-Ovseyenko chronicles's Stalin and his work from The Red terror through the forced collectivisations, the great Purges and to the mass transfers of returning soldiers and POW's to the Gulag. His estimate runs to about 100 million people at Stalin's hand."

Sounds like an interesting book. I take these 100 million estimates with a grain of salt. As I recall, Russai started WWII with about 100 mm people.

"Admittedly , he counts the millions killed by Stalin's inept handling of the war,"

Inept compared to whom? Compared to France? Germany? If Russia had lost, what then? Russia ends up losing say another 20 mm for Hitler's living space. Jews lose another million or so. American troop losses go up 1 mm or so. Uncle Joe did the world a huge favor in keeping Hiteler out of Baku and the Russian oil fields. If Hitler could have linked with Japan over Russia, China would most likely have fallen. WWII would have been most likely nuclear in Europe, lasted to 1947 or so, with balistic missles galore from German (V1 and V2 type). Marxists under Mao kept China in the war against Japan. Memorial day should be about those Marxists from Russia and China who "held the fort" for civilization against Hitler and Japan.

That said, I would not defend Stalin any more than he was defended (when convenient) by Churchill and Roosevelt.

"Without Lenin, Stalin probably would have been a simple local thug in Georgia." Perhaps, but as I recall Stalin was in Moscow well before Lenin.

"And I find most interesting the comparison made by Kparker that one only needs to contemplate how Lenin would have fared in his own prison system. . Instead of being exiled to Siberia, where he could sip tea and plot revolution; in his own prison system Lenin would have been brutalized for a few days in the Lubyanka, then taken to the basement and given his "9 grams"."

I would agree the Tsars treated Lenin foolishly. They needed to bring him in to the political system or execute him like they did his brother.


"The leftist socialists in academia always amuse me when they draw such distinction between their beloved communism and the Nazism they oppose."

How do you get to beloved communism. No one loves a system that failed. We started this with are Marx and Lenin in the same category as Hitler and Stalin. Me? I am still unpersuaded.

"The fact is communism and fascism were kissing cousins."

This is hind sight. They were at each other's throats in real time.

"Having just finished Muravchik's "Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism" (highly recommended!), Lemnin and Marx were adamant about wiping out opposition from the beginning."

I agree they were theorists who were convinced they had truth and right on their side. Sort of a manifest destiny viewpoint. Not sure Marx or Lenin (before civil war) wrote about mass murder as any sort of policy.

"Marx wanted to eradicate the
Jews, and most of the Eastern Europeans." Not sure I have seen this written by Marx. He was an anti-Semitic Jew? Not sure this automatically takes him off the possible good egg list. Roosevelt had a pretty anti-semitic approach, as did the US Senate when Jews on ships sough asylum from Hitler in 1940 or so.

"Lenin had no use for anyone who questions him or his methods." I agree, he was stubborn and opinionated.

"The first attempt to collectivize the peasant farmers failed when the farmers chose to sell their grain on the black market. Lenin had anyone caught doing that summarily shot."

I agree. This was during civil war. Harsh for our times. Not sure it would have been considered a clearly illegal order in France or Germany during WWI. Troops were starving and needed rations. Black marketing in Stingers today could lead to death by torture in Afganistan, apparently. Food is equally crucial when starving armies need to move.

AST said...

"just a group of students and professors who love art and love podcasting."

Love podcasting? Doesn't that mean you like to hear yourself talk and think everybody else would too?

Glen Wishard said...

In case anyone remains in doubt, Lenin was NOT Jewish. Maternal grandfather? Give me a break.

Associating Marxism and Bolshevism with Jews, besides being historically ridiculous, is a relic of the worst elements among the White Russian exiles - the people who helped popularize The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Europe.

I might interest Rosenfeld to know that (besides being a cold-blooded fiend whose answer to every problem was to shoot somebody) Lenin absolutely despised art and everybody associated with it.

clint said...

CFW-

A small point, compared to the rest, but:

"You suggest capitalism killed less than Marxism in relevant time periods. Not sure this is free from doubt. Look at Chaing in China in 1933-45. How many millions died there?"

This seems rather bizarre. You're blaming the deaths caused by the fascist Japanese invasion of China on capitalism?

cfw said...

CFW-

A small point, compared to the rest, but:

"You suggest capitalism killed less than Marxism in relevant time periods. Not sure this is free from doubt. Look at Chaing in China in 1933-45. How many millions died there?"

"This seems rather bizarre. You're blaming the deaths caused by the fascist Japanese invasion of China on capitalism?"

I would call the Japanese totalitarians though one might label them ultra-capitalists. Chaing I would label capitalist.

I am suggesting that if the US had backed Mao instead of Chaing (or backed both Mao and Chaing) in 33-45, things would quite probably have turned out much better. I refer you to Tuchman's book about Stilwell and the American Experience in China. I suspect a more balanced approach might have prevented 300,000 battle deaths (from Nanking, etc.) and several million deaths from famine and disease.

Incidentally, closer ties to Mao and his crowd from 33 to 45 could have prevented or reduced US/China fights in Korea, and closer ties with Ho Chi Minh in 33-45 could have prevented or reduced US/NVN fights.

This is of course 20/20 hindsight. But, my point is that Churchill (whom I consider a great egg) may have over-estimated (from 1917) the supposed inherent evil of Marxism, and the need to shun Marxists categorically.

My sense is that Chaing ran a sort of kleptocracy in China in 33-45, when a stiffer resistance (of the sort led by Mao) could and would have led to millions of saved Chinese lives.