Category Archives: kulaks

Dear man held out hope of humanistic totalitarianism

Dalrymple finds that a century after the great October putsch, it is interesting to return to what was written 50 rather than 100 years afterwards, so he digs out Ironies of History. He notes that at the time of publication (1966) of Isaac Deutscher’s collection of essays,

the Soviet Union seemed as permanent a feature of the modern world as, say, global warming.

Deutscher had entered his phase as superstar of the New Left, on account of

  • his three-volume biography of his hero Trotsky, which offered willing dupes the hope of a humanistic totalitarianism
  • his opposition to the Vietnam War, during which he formed a tactical alliance with draft-avoiding students, the offspring of what, in other circumstances, he would no doubt have called the petty-bourgeois and kulak class

Such books as Deutscher’s Ironies, Dalrymple points out,

have gone the way of antimacassars and whalebone corsets.

Smash the Porsche-owning kulak electricians!

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 14.50.47The prejudice that makes hatred of wealth a generous sentiment may be expected to flourish

Every time, writes Dalrymple, the French government

tries to liberalise the sclerotic labour market, there are riots. That (considerable) part of the population which benefits from the legal privileges it enjoys is unable or unwilling to grasp that, in a market, the protections of some are the obstacles of others. Such privileges set one part of the population against another.

The loi El Khomri

would make it easier and less ruinously expensive for an employer to sack an employee, as well as cheaper for the employer to require employees to work beyond the statutory 35 hours.

The response: riots. There is deep satisfaction in destruction, so in Nantes, a Porsche was torched as a symbol of plutocracy.

What delight those who set fire to it must have felt as they saw the flames! What greater joy can there be than arson in the name of social justice?

The owner turned out to be an electrician.

Broken windows

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.41.39

Charming

Dalrymple picks up a copy of A China Passage by J.K. Galbraith, the American fellow traveller who was highly esteemed and very wealthy (he spent his winters at Gstaad) but who also possessed a touching simplicity and modesty.

In 1973, Dalrymple explains, Galbraith had visited China

in the slipstream of Nixon.

It was during the Cultural Revolution, with its

appalling suffering, in which perhaps a million people died and tens of millions were horribly persecuted, and only a few years after the greatest man-made famine in history. Nevertheless, Galbraith quotes the Sinologist John K. Fairbanks, who wrote as if he had learned his style directly from Galbraith himself:

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.44.08The big generalisations are all agreed upon: there has been a tremendous betterment of the material life and morale of the common people.

The remarks, Dalrymple points out, are extremely callous. Galbraith offers vignettes of the Cultural Revolution like this one:

The workers were rather proud of having confined their fighting to the morning. Sadly some windows did get broken.

Such is the way, writes Dalrymple, that Galbraith discusses

the greatest episode of deliberate cultural vandalism of modern history, accompanied as it was by cruelty on a gargantuan scale.

Galbraith is

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.42.05a mouthpiece of Maoist propaganda, accepting its categories uncritically. In the 1920s and 30s, sheeplike Western travellers in Russia had accepted its category of kulak. Similarly, Galbraith can write about a factory that

had been partially disrupted until the People’s Liberation Army moved in to restore order. The union I gather to have been one of the reactionary elements that aroused the antipathy of the Red Guards. It was disestablished.

This use, says Dalrymple,

of the phrase reactionary elements betrays a startling lack of awareness that visitors to the Communist world had been gulled before. Nor was Galbraith interested in who the Red Guards were or what they actually did. The fate of individual people was far beneath his notice, which explains why his anecdotes are so rarely interesting, let alone illuminating. His is a humanitarianism without a human face.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.43.28

By an American aristocrat

Galbraith tells a story about how the Chinese farmed areas of low fertility:

We were told how one production brigade had transported soil for many miles to make one peculiarly rocky spread slightly productive.

According to Galbraith, the decline in agriculture in New England

would not have taken place if politicians rather than market forces had been in charge. The moral of the story for Galbraith?

The market can be ruthless as politicians cannot.

That market relations, Dalrymple comments,

can sometimes exact a human price is no doubt true; but to have lived through the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, and to suggest that there is any cruelty and depravity of which politicians are not capable, requires a capacity for incomprehension amounting almost to genius.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 08.42.19This remark is also made in the book:

At the close of almost every meeting one is asked for ‘your criticisms’ of the institution or the New China. I’ve found one that is true, irrefutable and well-received. ‘You are smoking far too many cigarettes.’

Dalrymple comments:

Millions of people beaten, tortured, and humiliated, the remains of a millennial civilization wantonly smashed, and Galbraith bravely takes up the antismoking cause.

Galbraith wrote of the Nanking Hotel:

Sufficient for the needs of this modest, simple patrician

Sufficient for the needs of this modest, simple patrician

I have a bedroom, sitting-room, bathroom and air conditioning. But that is sufficient.

What touching simplicity and modesty, says Dalrymple. However, in Paris, having suffered such deprivation in Nanking, he is more salubriously accommodated:

I was two days at the Ritz with no grievous sense of social guilt, no insuperable problem of culture shock.

Dalrymple comments:

How delightful to be so generous, so very right all the time, and yet make a fortune and stay at the Ritz!