The Death Of Stalin

The Death Of Stalin

We try to go to our local cinema in the town on a fairly regular basis as we wish to give it our support. Like many small communities we are loosing many of our services as they are concentrated in the cities and larger towns where the economies of scale make them viable. So we go regularly, not because we are film buffs (though we do enjoy cinema), but to try and keep up the audience numbers. It will be another thing certain to disappear in the near future.

The car and personal transport led to the decline of public transport systems; the railway has long gone and the bus services are very rudimentary. Shopping malls and internet shopping have decimated the local towns shops. Internet banking is now taking the banks and building societies away from the small towns and, at the moment, plasma televisions, film streaming and on-demand viewing are banging the last nails of the coffin of our local cinema.

Therefore on a cold Friday night in January we joined the six others who made up the audience to see the latest film on offer. Including the two staff on the evening the number of people just, and only just, made it into double figures ! The cinema itself is pleasant, the seats are comfortable, the screen is large, the sound is state of the art and the prices are reasonable. The film we saw was also very good, but  I fear our hopes of saving our cinema are rather forlorn.

The film was saw was The Death of Stalin by Armando Iannucci. This is a comedy and political satire based on the events surrounding the death of Stalin and the consequent scramble for power after his demise. The script is historically accurate and the tensions and power-plays of the time are used to good comedic effect. In the early part of the film the difficulties of knowing Stalin are well shown, how do you live with a paranoid psychopath who has total power ? The feelings of tension and fear that this would engender are skilfully drawn. The acting is first class and it was a wise move to forgo using Russian accents as it left a natural feel to the performances and allowed some excellent comedy turns (especially Jason Isaacs as General Zhukov). It was a pity there were only eight of us in the auditorium to enjoy it.

However, after the film I noticed I had a nagging doubt. There had been nothing amiss with the acting, direction or production and, as I said above, the script was extremely funny. The anxieties of some of the characters was revealed but there was a huge gaping hole in the story. The experience of Soviet citizens living through this nightmare. Although there were scenes which alluded to the terror, these were slight and almost dismissed at times. The assassinations, the firing squads, the tortures, the secret police, the destruction of families, the corruption and the sexual abuse were there but only on the edge of the frame.

While recognising that this was a comedy I can see why many would say that there is no need to spend time on the horrors of totalitarianism. But would we have made a film of this nature about the difficulties of power battles in the Nazi high command ? Would we have had a comedy character for Mengele ?  Lavrentiy Beria was at least Mengele’s equal. Stalin introduced him as “our Himmler“, at the Yalta Conference, and he would not allow his daughter to be alone with this known sadist, rapist and mass murderer. This man was the head of the dreaded NKVD which organized the terror which engulfed Russia and he was also responsible for the ethnic cleansing which followed after the Second World War. Is this really a suitable subject for a skit?

It is surprising that we have quite clear double standards when we look back at the atrocities in our recent past. We have no difficulty in condemning the horrors of Nazi Germany but seem to have a blind spothouse-of-terror-2084 when we remember the horrors which arise from the left field : the horror of the Gulags, the horror of the cultural revolution in China, or the horror of the killing fields in Cambodia. The totalitarianism of the left has not been kinder than that of the right nor has it been less industrious. They are equally responsible for mass murder and abuse. The House of Terror, established in 2002 by Maria Schmidt in Hungary reminds us of this fact lest we forget. So, although I concur that this is a well-made and successful satire, I was left feeling uncomfortable as I am not entirely convinced that life under Stalin was a laughing matter.

 

 

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The limits of tolerance

The limits of tolerance

There has been much talk over recent weeks about the potential threats to our tolerant society and concern about the possible threats from growing fascist groups. However, much of this has been both wrong and counter-productive.

It has been wrong as there has been no real growth in neo-nazi numbers, no true rise in racist beliefs and generally we are a more mixed society which doesn’t have real concerns that its people come from any various backgrounds. Our past history, often dreadful on account of its racist biases and bigoted attitudes, has not been undone but there has been general steady progress. What modern society considers appropriate and acceptable behaviour now is greatly different to a generation ago. To imagine that a few dregs, washed out from under stones, indicates we are heading back to the 30’s is puerile and wrong. It is also counter-productive for the simple reason that it magnifies the effect that this small group of odious people. They have made a mark much bigger than they could ever have hoped for on their own, and this is largely due to the work of the, so called, “Antifa“.

But Antifa have not just acted as the publicists for these loathsome groups they have also advanced the very cause that they purport to oppose. The best way to counter odious ideas is to demonstrate that they are wrong, to make those undecided aware that those ideas are erroneous and to make the convinced aware that most people do not share their opinion and find them despicable.  The chubby young man below now knows this and also knows he is a figure of ridicule. The likelihood of him being a successful recruiting agent for his views have been destroyed by the expression of counter opinion.

599329463d1d1.image In the UK it is arguable that the thing which stopped the National Front (a local extreme right racist and fascist party) which had been gaining popularity in elections (local and national) was the appearance of their leader, Nick Griffin, on the BBC’s “Question Time“. When he, and his party, were exposed to scrutiny and tackled in debate their bubble burst and they faded away from significance in UK politics. Defending and promoting free speech is the best safeguard against fascism.

Karl Popper, in “The Open Society and Its Enemies was aware of the “paradox of tolerance“. He knew that” We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant”  recognising the great dangers that can sometimes exist in a tolerant society :-

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant

He was clearly aware that there were lines that could not be crossed in a tolerant society if we wished to keep it tolerant. That line was the refusal or denouncing of argument – the blockage of free speech – and the use of violence (fists or pistols) to answer arguments. Antifa’s actions cross these lines, they do not permit other groups to state their ideas and use violence to suppress their expression, they strike at the core of our tolerant society. They also do this so inexpertly that they give ammunition and succour to the enemies of the open society. When Antifa attacks groups simply because they are on the right, not because they are fascist (as happened in Boston for example), they give strength to their enemies who can claim moral superiority and they also alienate their natural supporters (such as Noam Chomsky ).

These activists really should think about their actions. If you find yourself dressed in a black-shirt, in a militaristic gang, waving banners, and making threats of violence in order to intimidate your political opponents  and silence their arguments then you are not part of the solution – you are the problem, the fascist is staring back at you from the mirror.

antifa-berlin.jpg

 

Dodging a bullet ?

Dodging a bullet ?

The was a collective sigh of relief when Macron won the French election yesterday. There was a general feeling that a bullet had been dodged and normality has been restored. There have been some congratulatory reports that the French have turned the populist tide that had caused so much consternation with the Brexit referendum in the UK and Trump’s victory in the USA. But is this the case ?

It is clear that Macron won comfortably  by nearly 2:1. However, this misses a number of other factors. Firstly the turnout was poor  compared to previous French elections and there was the lowest turnout since 1969 and this as amplified by 9% of voters voting “Blank” finding themselves unable to support either party. Secondly, as was the case previously with Chirac, many voted for Macron, holding their noses, as they wished to defeat Le Pen rather then support Macron, and, thirdly, nearly 11 million French voted for the Front National. If one looks at the distribution of this vote it shows a clear divide in France between the more prosperous metropolitan areas supporting Macron and Le Pen’s support in the rural areas and ‘rust belts’. In addition to these problems there are the additional details that Macron has to form a government without the backing of an established political party which is unknown ground.

Then there is the problem of Macron himself. He presented himself as the outsider, the agent for change, the new broom. However, his background and policies are clearly those of the EU ‘business as usual” form. He had difficulties introducing these when he was the minister of the economy in  Hollande’s government. He has plans to reduce corporation tax, reduce  the number working in the public sector, promote greater EU integration and reduce the deficit. His policies will please companies and corporations and be regarded well, but are unlikely to be well received by those at the bottom. They will do nothing to improve the lot of those who currently feel disadvantaged and left behind. If the French economy  does not continue to grow, and grow substantially,  then those 11 million who voted for Le Pen will not have found a saviour in Macron and might find their numbers grow.

It is clear that the bureaucrats in the EU and the large companies and corporations who benefit from the EU (through rent seeking and stifling competition) feel they have dodged a bullet. However, it may be that they dodged this bullet by pushing a public sector worker in front of it, and it is in no way certain that the gun won’t be reloaded.