The recent death of the Russian poet with whom I was acquainted, Yevgheny Yevtushenko, prompted these considerations of the role of poets in social-cultural-political progress in general and in a particularly spectacular fashion in Russia. In few other countries have poets played a more significant than in Russia. Nonetheless, for centuries Russian poets have been harassed, persecuted, and punished for their songs. Dostoevsky imprisoned, Pushkin exiled, Yesenin, Mayakovsky and Tsvetaeva suicides, Mandelshtam and others perished in the cultural events of 1937. Poets seldom lead easy lives anywhere. The poet sees the ideals but he must flee from the world in order to rejoice in them and he cannot remain unaffected by the caricatures of these ideals around him.
“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
George Bernard Shaw
Change is a word that both intellectuals and the intelligentsia of America are discussing in these times. However, one is justified to wonder what kind of change they mean. As a rule when intellectuals/liberals speak of change, they mean reform (and not enough of it, at that: that is, the leisurely conforming of the lives of the collective with their own. The radical, politically-socially committed intelligentsia means something else and their thought and conclusions take another avenue of meaning: their aim is transformation or, if you prefer, radical change. However, it is an unfortunate paradox that no more than liberals, the intelligentsia does not always know what to do with its convictions.
Indifference is an American-European story. As French chansonnier Serge Gainsbourg sang of his love for Brigitte Bardot: “What does the weather matter, what matters the wind? Better your absence than your indifference.” Or Gilbert Bécaud: “Indifference kills with small blows.” The indifference of one person to the other in a dwindling love affair is emblematic of the terrible impact of indifference in any field at all.
The quality of loyalty has played an important but perplexing role in my life, both positive and negative, which for many years has prompted countless nocturnal ruminations about the reasons for my concern for what at first glance might be considered banal. Along the way I have experienced that loyalty is often confused with sense of duty to which, in my opinion, it should not be reduced. Instead, rather than a quality related chiefly to duty, obedience or obligation, I have come to relate loyalty more easily to love. Nonetheless, in my experience too much loyalty has been a curse, a cross to bear. As a result of my family background, religious and typical American South, as well as the ideological environment of the second half of the twentieth century in which I became closely involved, I have been infected with a powerful sense of loyalty. The quality of loyalty as I intend it includes—by some complex extension in my mind almost a perversion—discipline and severity and, above all, love. Thus, although at times a handicap and an impediment, loyalty remains ethically desirable.
(Rome) I am reading for the first time the work of Chilean born writer, Roberto Bolaño. His novel, Amulet, set in a phantasmagoric Mexico City that, perhaps, also because it is Latin America’s biggest city, represents the entire crushed and tortured and imprisoned and murdered Latin America while also his characters are emblematic of the suffering and decimation of much of the best of the Latin American youth. Perhaps the author chose to highlight Mexico City, not only because of the massacre of Mexican students there in 1968, but also because he moved there as a teenager and lived there many years before moving to Spain and Barcelona where he died at 50.
The Determinant Class of Contemporary Russian History
Russia! What a marvelous phenomenon on the world scene! Russia!—a distance of ten thousand versts (about two-thirds of a mile) in length on a straight line from the virtually central European river, across all of Asia and the Eastern Ocean, down to the remote American lands! A distance of five thousand versts in width from Persia, one of the southern Asiatic states, to the end of the inhabited world—to the North Pole. What state can equal it? Its half? How many states can equal its twentieth, its fiftieth part? … Russia—a state which contains all types of soil, from the warmest to the coldest, from the burning environs of Erivan to icy Lapland, which abounds in all the products required for the needs, comforts, and pleasures of life, in accordance with its present state of development—a whole world, self-sufficient, independent, absolute. — Mikhail P. Pogodin- 1800-1875, Russian historian, journalist, intellectual of the Slavophile movement who held to the Norman theory that the Rus people from whom Russians descended, were Scandinavians.
“The state is an organ of class domination, an organ of oppression of one class by another; its aim is the creation of ‘order’, which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression by moderating the collisions between the classes…”
The Marxist Theory of the State and the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution
First published in 1917, Lenin’s “Imperialism. The Highest Stage of Capitalism”, his major theoretical work, shows imperialism as a “direct continuation of the fundamental properties of capitalism,” a primary manifestation of capitalism in its late stages.
Above all, due to the grave obstacles it must overcome, the party of the working class must be a party of disciplined, professional revolutionaries…nothing short of this can succeed in acquiring and defending people’s power…
In his work “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution”, Lenin discusses a vexing Russian pre-revolutionary problem similar to the problem facing American left radicals today. For Russia of that epoch the question was one of timing and tactics: Was the classical Marxian bourgeois revolution leading to a democratic republic as a first step toward the Socialist Revolution necessary, and even possible, considering the pusillanimous nature of the Russian bourgeoisie at the time? Or could Russia bypass bourgeois capitalism altogether and leap directly from backwardness into advanced socialism? Today, more than a handful of people ask: What will be the nature of the long overdue Great American Revolution?
In Lenin’s “Left-wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder”, written in 1920 as a polemic against Dutch and British groups in the new Third International meeting that year in its Second Congress in which strategy and tactics were debated. His target was the West European ultra-left communists who had come out against Marxists working in trade unions or running for public office and sitting in bourgeois parliaments.
In 1973, West German security services learned that Chancellor Willy Brandt’s personal assistant and friend, Günther Guillaume, was a spy for the East German Intelligence Agency, STASI. Despite the gravity of the discovery, the widespread media coverage of the event, the damage to the Chancellor’s image and the raging Cold War between East and West, Brandt remained as Chancellor afterwards—even taking a private vacation with Guillaume after the discovery. Only after Guillaume was arrested on April 24, 1974, did Brandt resign, on May 6, 1974, remaining however as Chairman of the Social Democratic Party until 1987.
As Stephen Lendman reported recently, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister and a unique political figure of today’s world, wrote in a March 3 essay in Global Affairs magazine that his country stands “at the crossroads of key trends” in the field of international relations and underlined that Russia, has “a special role in European and global history.”
Edward Said wrote a new preface for the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of his classic book, Orientalism, originally published in the USA by Random House in 1978. In the following pages I have quoted some of the author’s major thoughts and added my own ideas about Said’s preface written in 2003 for the last Vintage Books edition of his magnificent work.