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Unflinching prisoners of a grandiose make-believe (thebaffler.com)
84 points by Caiero 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 30 comments

In the last paragraph of the article, the author talks about how how disturbing it was to see the cruel logic of absolute loylaty take hold of Valtin’s life. I had a similar reaction to Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. In the first read it’s a story of bureaucracy’s indifference to a revolutionary cause, but read it again and you notice the good guys are little more than armed bandits on a killing spree.

For a parallel story, Witness by Whittaker Chambers is a lively read.

The biography of Richard Sorge "an impeccable spy" might make an interesting read for contrast. Sorge was part of a communist community which the central party distrusted intensely, and his information about Japanese war party trends was distrusted when he was known as the source, because he was in the wrong faction. His spymasters at times lied about him to avoid having to admit he was the source. His information about the impending attack in the west was discounted by Stalin.

His spying on the Japanese preparedness to invade the USSR on the far east border was a critical component of the decision to transfer troops to the west and the war with germany.

> And I found... that [the book] is a powerful caution against the corrosive effect of centralized authority.

This conclusion boggles me lmao. I guess you have to read it like a communist in order to conclude that everything this Valtin guy perpetrated, endured, and witnessed, was all for the cause.

I read most it in lockdown after finding it on my mother-in-law's shelf. The article is a fair assessment. Read it to see just how fanatical devotion and violence may share a mind, however uncomfortably, with intelligence and sensitivity.

This guy was naive. He suffered under the communist apparatus for decades, then came to the conclusion that which he suffered for was just a cult.

Really? It took decades? Even though he rarely met a single other human who was dedicated to anything but power?

One could just as easily say the same for working class folks that continue to buy into the myth sold by MAGA populists in the US.

To me it hinges on the following:

“Throughout his text, Valtin emphasizes, as he does with the Hamburg example, the contrast between the movement’s rank and file and its leadership. The former are often described as heroic, long-suffering idealists. The latter, in his telling, are self-interested, vainglorious despots-in-waiting.”

It’s just that being among the former group, usually blinds you to the latter group, because those folks are initially viewed as being part of the former group too. It takes LOTS of convincing for idealistic people to wake up to the fact that they’ve been played. Irrespective of the ideology.

EDITED to correct auto-correct. Honestly, I don’t know why I bother posting from my phone.

Yes, I suspect “The leadership has corrupt/naive/out of touch/power hungry elements, but our leaders are better than the other guys and my rank-and-file peers are great. Besides, the cause is too important to give up” is probably a near-universal sentiment among the politically active.

MAGA didn't have a whole canon of pseudo theory a la Karl Marx.

Bit of a stretch to compare normie-level citizen political interest to a cloak and dagger ideological revolution.

Communism has a savior complex, international adherents, a whole manifesto, and curious ethnic persuasions.

MAGA had broad appeal without the mysticism and radicalism.

I find it hard to take your comment seriously when you imply that unlike Communism, MAGA doesn’t have a saviour complex. The regard that many MAGA adherents hold Donald Trump could only be described as messianic.

EDITED to add that MAGA has its own canon of pseudo-theory based on the mythology of QAnon.

You're saying QAnon on 4chan is the same as Karl Marx, Lenin, international conspiracy, etc? Which one led to one world war already, Communism or QAnon? Which one might turn Ukraine/Russia into the next one?

Trump/QAnon mythos is for memes, maybe a little cope, nobody believes Trump is a true messiah. MAGA was a hat, not a political philosophy backed by ideologues the world over.

Communists really believe they are doing liberation politics or w/e. MAGA folks just want to BBQ or w/e. MAGA people are not lining to force regime changes in foreign countries.

MAGA was a movement, communism is a whole ideology.

EDIT: by savior complex, i mean they think they are saving you, from capitalism. MAGA-likes have no such complex about saving other people. They would never join a foreign legion like communists did.

You raise some interesting points.

In your first statement you juxtapose QAnon vs Marx and Lenin (I presume you mean the bodies of political theory they propose), AND ... international conspiracy. Firstly, QAnon is entirely embracing of international conspiracies, embracing and reframing existing ones and generating new variations. Secondly, in the minds of "believers" who, I would hazard a guess, have not dived deeply into their team's canon - yes - they are effectively the same. A body of thought that drives particular fervently held beliefs and behaviours irrespective of the actual details. True believers don't care about details in the same way that fundamentalist christians don't care about biblical scholarship.

You are clearly wrong stating that nobody believes Trump is a true messiah. As evidence, I refer you to consider just a few of these videos. You won't have to scroll far. https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=donald+trump+me...

As evidence that MAGA is considered as more than just a hat (by the MAGA equivalent of the intellectual elites and their readers), I offer "The MAGA Doctrine" by Charlie Kirk, which is clearly highly rated by the over 2000 people that bothered to rate it. https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0062974688/reasonmag...

You state that "MAGA folks just want to BBQ" as if Jan 6 never happened. Really? Can you really sustain the belief that those folks were all a bunch of pranksters and didn't come with a belief that they were going to change America?

"Embracing of conspiracy" is not what I mean. You are using newspeak definition for conspiracy. QAnon bites on "conspiracy theories" (that's what you mean) but does not run an international operation infiltrating foreign governments. Communism was/is an international conspiracy to change regimes in other countries.

Show me how QAnon is equal to Marx in universities, academics, and actual politics. Show me Putin's allegiance to MAGA. Show me QAnon has the wherewithal to compose a foreign legion, topple governments, etc. MAGA and QAnon is kitsch.

All your comparisons are nothing and you exaggerate. You're one of those people who believes Jan 6 was a serious threat? So you are r3tarded. Go pray 140 seconds for the "injured security guards" of Jan 6 lol.

For one, communistic and communist-adjacent ideas predate the formalised theoretical framework by hundreds of years, while the formal concepts have over one and a half centuries head start on MAGA/QAnon.

If the last 50 years have taught us anything, it’s that even the most egregiously stupid ideas can take hold in society to become unquestioned axioms among significant chunks of the population.

As for your personal attacks, they say way more about you than me.

Yes fascism has broad appeal without a cohesive ideology. It seems like in your telling that's a positive?

Fascism by definition would not be cohesive, but whoever wins power is sure to bring it together as best they can. As i understand it, fascism is simply joining political groups according to core values.

Fascism in Italy was a response to communist subterfuge. Communism is pure ideology, an intellectual politics. When there is war, famine, strife, suddenly politics of ideas don't make a lot sense. Core values switch from identity to survival. That didn't stop the communist from trying to establish a new rule amidst the strife, and communists are known to use destabilization tactics everywhere they want regime change. In fact, nothing is below communists tactics, because they believe they are liberating you. I would say any reaction to that in a time of crisis is justified.

Communists are just fascists about vague ideas they have been led to believe. Whereas no ideology is required for a politics of basic needs and survival.

What you're describing (of Communists) sounds exactly like the Crusaders, Al Qaida, and many of the "actions" (ostensibly in the name of liberal democracy) since the 50's (I include here various small and not-so-small wars, and engineered coups). The "faithful" behind all those causes believed they were "liberating" others too. With similar ends-driving-means behaviours and outcomes. I suspect that in most of those examples too, the motivations of most of the leaders was far more banal.

Sure, and now you have to reckon that 9/11 was not done from the top by radical "jihadists". In other words, fanatical muslims could not have been the real planners, only the brainwashed operators.

What banal, even-headed plan was 9/11 then? And who was really behind it? The act of 9/11 was dramatic, but hardly tactical, unless the tactic was to have the U.S. respond a certain way. Like the author the book in this thread, 9/11 operators probably acted against their own interests. In other words, Muslims could not have been behind the actual thinking, for any intelligent leader would know the U.S. would retaliate hard.

It's a pretty easy trap to fall into though. At least Communism has a high-minded ideal, in contrast to Capitalism's vague (but true IMO) "We'll make everyone rich"

Just look at any internet thread about Communism today, haha. It's a very compelling fantasy

> in contrast to Capitalism's vague (but true IMO) "We'll make everyone rich"

> Just look at any internet thread about Communism today, haha. It's a very compelling fantasy

Yep, everyone is rich. That's reality, that is. No doubt about it.

Communism now, those guys are all living a fantasy.

> Yep, everyone is rich.

They are when compared to alternative paths. The differences in financial fortitude may be large but the "poor" in most capitalist nations are far richer than the true poor elsewhere. Life expectancy is higher as well which is not surprising given the relation between having access to basic needs - which most people in capitalist (and pseudo- or state-capitalist like China) societies are - and life expectancy. The number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide declined by 80 percent from 1970 to 2006 either under capitalism or Chinese state-capitalism under Deng Xiaoping. Poverty worldwide included 94 percent of the world’s population in 1820. In 2011, it was 17 percent. Mortality rates for children under the age of five declined by 49 percent from 1990 to 2013 (WHO).

The other side of the coin is just as clear, Communism pulls down everyone but the anointed party members down into poverty. Taking Venezuela as a recent example Chavez and his cronies managed to turn the richest country in south America into a basket case in a measly 15 years.

So, is capitalism pure good and communism pure evil? It depends on the scale at which they are applied. In my family we live like communists where everyone gets according to their needs while partaking in the upkeep of our facilities according to their abilities. Most families work like this I think? Yay, communism works... at this scale. At a national scale it does not as has been shown countless times. Capitalism is the other way around, at the smallest scale - family, extended family, neighbourhood - it tends to lead to unappealing results while it shines at a larger scale - at least when the excesses are kept in check. Just like communism it lends itself to concentrations of power in the hands of a few but unlike communism it can be kept in check without falling apart at the seams.

Everybody has smart phones, wealthy and poor alike. Many poor people have the same exact best available model as the wealthy. That is enrichment. Communism would never have created that. Capitalism might not have gotten them manufactured as cheaply though. Thanks communism!

A smartphone is pretty similar in wealth terms to owning sofa/couch. They're about the same price new, they each make your life a bit better but encourage some bad habits and they each rapidly devalue second hand. I wouldn't say owning a sofa makes you rich, even owning a nice one. It might mean you're a bit sloppy with personal finance but what's a grand between billionaires? And smartphones even have much more favourable financing options.

I think the thing is with smartphones that they're clever but they're not that expensive. A lot of what makes them special is just derived from sand one way or the other. Compared to renting an apartment, your phone barely registers on your finances, it's usually at least an order of magnitude out even if you're in a cheap place and have an expensive phone.

Yet housing is the real necessity, why hasn't capitalism made that cheap yet? It feels like a case of bad incentives. Which is not to say that communism would do any better, I'm well aware of its pitfalls. But I think the idea that capitalism makes everyone rich is also a bit absurd.

True, but you focus on price alone. I explicitly referred to enrichment, which is more than money. Life is enriched by access to info, services, etc, which the phone offers more or less equally. Life without these now is truly 3rd world.

So capitalists technology enriched poor people in ways the communism never would, via technology advancement. The smartphone comprises extreme technology infrastructure, from chips, to wireless, to software... immense industrial coordination.

Right now communists want to build multi-family homes like we all live in NYC, and claim we should do this on ideological grounds (environment, etc). Housing needs notwithstanding (and exaggerated imho), communist housing would not enrich even a middle class family who has a house in the burbs. The ideology of communist housing actually plays right into capitalist factoria.

What communists don't understand is that communism IS capitalism. I think this is what Marxism was trying to elucidate about capital, but then folks of a certain persuasion asked Marx to write a manifesto for communism which they spread the world over for ideological purposes.

Communism and capitalism are the same coin. So communist fight the wrong fight. They fight to create conditions favorable to capitalism in the name of taking the factory they never seem to get. Crowded housing and population equals commodity labor (cheap, fungible). You can't run a giant factory without nearby workers, and they can't afford houses, so you pack them in "multi family housing". Now you need to convince them this is actually the morally right thing, so communism says its better for the environment (which is not even a core concern of communism, so that proves the ideologues are just shifty, shifty to the left as needed).

> housing is the real necessity, why hasn't capitalism made that cheap yet?

It has, but only in Japan where they actually have a free market: https://www.worksinprogress.co/issue/the-housing-theory-of-e...

It's more complicated than that. They have regulations but they work differently. The Basic Law for Land regulates against speculation and profiteering off of rises in land values (which are arguably the most capitalist bits of western housing markets!) and specifically privileges public use over private interests as well as other "keeping with the surroundings" style provisions which are familiar in the UK/Europe as well.

So I'd argue it's more of a social market than a free market as such. Although I can see how you'd consider it more of a free market than in the US with its zealous zoning rules.

Look at the history of every communist nation. In the USA our main problem is that poor people get too many calories without enough vegetables.

Or the lack of effective healthcare, lack of affordable housing, lack of jobs that pay enough to live or any way to escape these destructive cycles.

But if you ignore that, then obesity is a problem I guess.

Look at any communist country in history, dude. They've all been flaming hellholes at best, even compared to their peer nations at the time. And yeah, I get it, "no true Scotsman". The problem is that Real Communism™ requires perfect dictatorial control and we don't have a perfect dictator to run it.

edit: this sibling comment explains things a lot more eloquently: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=34523261

I'm not particularly defending Communism. I'm just pointing out that "Capitalism has made everyone rich" is batshit insanity.

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