Summer Vacation Report

Your humble blogger is back and very much behind the eight ball (relative still in town, a missed flight followed by cancellation of the rebooked departure, which means I have competing demands on top of more acute phase of my chronic behind-the-eight-ballness). So while I will endeavor to provide roughly the normal number of daily posts, they may be comparatively light in terms of my commentary until I am a tad more caught up.

I do want to thank Richard Smith, who did a great deal of heavy lifting, as well as Ed Harrison, John Bougearel, Bob G, and faithful regulars Francois T, Scott, MA, RebelEconomist, and dd.

Random observations from northern Europe:

Copenhagen looks like it would be a very nice place to live (I dimly recall it showing up in past years as the top rated city for expats) and has a very impressive number of museums (took a jet lagged gander through the Glyptotek).

Visby (where Ingmar Bergman lived) was fun, has easy access to Stockholm (cheap flight, and even cheaper and supposedly very nice ferry). Where else can you go on a truffle safari?

Tallinn is a sleeper, a handsome city with a fair bit of medieval architecture intact.

I consider myself a jaded tourist, but the Hermitage really is impressive, not just the famed depth of its art collection, but the palace complex itself as an art object and deliberate statement of wealth and power. The inordinate scope and display of the Winter Palace alone goes a long way towards explaining the Bolshevik Revolution.

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  1. Tom Hickey

    “The inordinate scope and display of the Winter Palace alone goes a long way towards explaining the Bolshevik Revolution.”

    Maybe a similar sentiment arising concerning Wall St compensation and the lavish ways it is spent?

    1. aet

      IIRC, hundreds if not thousands of the servants and other workers who kept the Winter Palace running, had their living quarters in its attics. They even kept cows up there!

      But it was not so great in terms of “fire safety”.

  2. michel

    “The inordinate scope and display of the Winter Palace alone goes a long way towards explaining the Bolshevik Revolution.”

    One knows what you mean, its the conventional reaction, but no, it doesn’t. Go around Versailles, you might say the same thing. Except that the Revolution happened 100+ years later. There are two things we need to explain, not one. The explanation of why there was a Revolution of any sort in 1917 was the war, its conduct and results.

    The explanation of the specifically Bolshevik coup, why the Bolsheviks succeeded, despite being a minority of a minority, in seizing power within that Revolution, and of what they then did, has little to do with the Winter Palace.

    It is the same phenomenon as the seizure of power by the murderous extremists of the French Revolution. What needs explanation is why revolutions almost always move to a phase of Terror, instigated by a tiny fragment of the broader movement which started them. The English Revolutions (both of them) were striking exceptions.

    Most liberals in the West who don’t know the detailed history make a sort of conventional assumption that what was going on was a revolt of the underprivileged against huge inequalities of distribution of wealth. Yes, that was part of it, but that situation had existed for centuries without giving rise to a revolution. We need something more to explain why any revolution at all occurred, and the explanation of why a specifically Bolshevik phase took place requires a further and distinct explanation.

    If you want a one-liner to explain the specifically Bolshevik revolution, it might be this: some revolutions result from war catastrophes Social controls and norms break down, first from the consequences of war, then further by the revolution itself. The revolution thus can be taken over by psychopathic gangsters, and they almost invariably embark on the only program they understand: mass murder. Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Sendera Luminosa, Mao’s mass murder program, the Nazi program. They are all the same phenomenon, and you cannot blame just the Winter Palace, it took a lot more than that.

    1. aet

      History shows that often upon a violent change in power that the hands which are imbrued with blood in the consolidation of their new power often become with the passage of time the very hands that guard the public peace.
      The bloody phase of a revolution – or the revolt of a rival prince – usually is spent within a decade or two, depending upon the stubborness of those who would resist the new rulers.
      It ought to be kept in mind that it is only in the past two centuries or so that revolts have sought to justify themselves by some claim to represent “the people”.
      Revolts by individual princes and ambitious subordinates have been common throughout recorded history, and in no way can be considered solely a modern phenomenon.
      In such princely revolts similar periods of bloodshed immediately after the revolt’s succesess – or it’s successful suppression – are also common.

    2. aet

      And “a minority of the minority” is an apt desciption of any group which holds power.
      Regardless of how bloody, or peaceful, their time in power may be.
      The idea that the majority ought to rule is very modern indeed, and but grudgingly accepted, even today, throughout large parts of the world.

      1. aet

        In fact, the idea that the majority ought to rukle, is the most revolutionary idea of all, and has only been established by violence, wherever it occurs.

    3. attempter

      Yes, and the progression of neoliberalism and corporatism has certainly followed this path of increasing extremism, violence, and complete divorce from any broad public support.

      Indeed more so than most of the examples you gave.

      Bailout America (and globalization in general) is the result of the psychopathic gangsters’ incresing domination of this counter-revolution against democracy and civilization itself.

      1. michel

        I don’t think the Winter Palace goes any way to explaining the specifically Bolshevik revolution. It only goes a tiny part of the way to explaining the revolution in the pre Bolshevik period.

        The immediate issue was not wealth, privilege and inequality. Russia was the last ancien regime, but its regime had basically been around without revolution for hundreds of years, and had the elite not entered the disastrous war, and then conducted it in a way that led to the huge military and social catastrophe, there could well have been a gradual progression to a constitutional monarchy. Industrial growth would have changed the society, a trade union movement would have grown. There were the start of representative institutions, they would have strengthened. The serfs had been freed back in the late 19C. Progress would have occurred.

        Were the excesses confined to the consolidation of power? No. The events of the thirties were an orgy of mass murder, and took place after the Party had achieved absolute power. We do not know what the exact numbers were, but they were in the tens of millions, and the Gulag system remained in use through the fifties and sixties. In the same way, the Chinese progroms took place only after absolute power had been consolidated by the revolutionary party, and probably accounted for 50-100 million people. Maybe more.

        This answers the question of whether the excesses of global capitalism and neoliberalism are comparable or worse, and the answer is no. Which is not to minimize them, it is simply to get things in perspective. The management of Enron or of Goldman was not comparable to the administration of Pol Pot.

        The lesson of history seems to be that the Party embarks on its program of mass murder when it has consolidated enough power to be able to implement it.

        Have there been cases of evolution? Yes, England is an example. England never had a terror phase. It had a civil war, then it had consolidation of power, but no terror of the sort the French Revolution had. It then had a second revolution in 1688, with two battles, but again, no terror of that sort. Both were marked by violence, the second by the notorious Judge Jeffries in the West Country, the scene of the only mainland armed resistance. But it took a few hundred years to evolve to democracy. Some will say that is too long. On the other hand, it does not seem that revolutions of the Russian or French or Chinese sort get you there any quicker or get you there at all, and their excesses are wicked.

        1. attempter

          This answers the question of whether the excesses of global capitalism and neoliberalism are comparable or worse, and the answer is no. Which is not to minimize them, it is simply to get things in perspective. The management of Enron or of Goldman was not comparable to the administration of Pol Pot.

          You seem to be forgetting a few things – Pinochet, the Dirty War, Operation Condor coordinating neoliberal death squards and terror campaigns across Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay; all of it working in tandem with an ideological campaign led by the University of Chicago and the Ford Foundation, with the assistance of the US government and military.

          That’s just the most vicious example of neoliberal mass murder in Latin America; the examples could be multiplied there and around the world.

          And neoliberalism is in turn just the corporate-dominated version of classical fascism, with which it has more ideological affinities than differences.

          So why do you leave your guys out of your account?

          The fact is that throughout the industrial era right wing corporatist violence has always both preceded and almost always vastly exceeded any “leftist” counterviolence.

          (BTW, the Stalinist and Maoist regimes were also corporatist/statist/centralist, only under communist auspices. So there too the neoliberals and globalizers have more in common with them than you do with anti-corporatist citizen activism.)

          1. DownSouth

            Not to mention how liberal imperialism, historically speaking at least, always morphs into the more traditional kind when puppet dictators either get uppity or have problems controlling their helots.

            Iraq is the perfect example of this. When conquest by economic means failed, a traditional imperial adventure—-territorial conquest and occupation—-became necessary.

          2. michel

            “So why do you leave your guys out of your account?”

            Because they are not my guys. I tend to think things are more specific than the generalizations about neoliberalism cover and have no great sympathy for the Chicago school or Pinochet or any of the other people referred to as my guys.

            I am just making the point that the usual liberal fairly casual conventional wisdom on the Russian (and also the French) revolution is to assume that it was a revolt of the masses which was very understandable given the excessive wealth and privilege of the ruling elite. And if you look at Versailles or the Winter Palace, you certainly see enormous privilege.

            But it was not really this in either case, and very specifically, the domination of both by the extreme murderous element, the Bolsheviks and the Jacobins, was not this at all. In the Russian case, the conduct of the war and the social and military catastrophe were the main explanation.

            Often underlying these discussions, there is a question of attitude to violent revolution and attempts to use it to produce social change. One’s attitude often changes over time. With more maturity, more knowledge of the dark side of human nature and its expression, more knowledge of the hidden side of history, such as the great Communist and Fascist terrors, I have become much more skeptical about it.

            But what I do not think is of any help is the approach that the two great European revolutions can be even roughly characterized as caused in large part by revolts of the oppressed against their oppressors, in lifestyle terms, such as Versailles and Winter Palace. It does seem that what happened during these revolutions is better characterized as the seizure of power by psychopathic and murderous gangsters. And Versailles will not explain how that happened.

          3. attempter

            We have intensifying fascist terror right now. In principle the US government claims the right to deal with literally anyone, citizen or not, on US soil or anywhere else, any way it chooses – arrest him on any charge, or throw him down a hole never to be heard from again with no charge, or just kill him.

            So I’m satisfied that there’s nothing but practicability between us and veritable fascism, unless the people somehow rouse themselves to oppose it.

            As for revolutions including gangster and psychopath elements, they often do, though no more than the criminals regimes they supplant, and usually a lot less.

            Did the Bolsheviks kill more Russians than warmongers Nicholas and his industrialists? Communism kill more than the criminals who started the World Wars? Nope. (I don’t normally get into tasteless body count comparisons; there’s plenty of crime to go around among all flavors of economic centralizers. But that’s the argument that keeps being made in this thread.)

            Regarding the French and Russian revolutions, both started with a combination of a collapsing decrepit system that had no legitimacy in the people’s eyes, with an energetic cohort of change-seekers. In France this was the bourgeoisie, in Russia a broad mix among middle and upper classes who thought Nicholas was an absolute disaster.

            Then, in both cases, once the revolution got rolling the poor masses, especially among the peasantry, raged against their misery. They chaotically surged to seize land. The revolutionary leaders, generally against their original intentions, were more or less forced to accept this and accomodate themselves to it (or in the case of some demagogues pander to it).

      2. skippy

        Why would explanations as a matter of fact, matter too you, when you have shown a penchant for demising them arbitrary.

    4. Yves Smith Post author

      I’m well aware of the debate on these issues, and if you were up on the literature, say starting with Barrington Moore’s The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, we might have a useful discussion. But you seem more interested in using a throwaway remark as a vehicle for scoring points.

      1. michel

        Yves, of course I have read Barrington Moore. Ages ago now. And very interesting it was too.

    5. DownSouth

      michel said: “This answers the question of whether the excesses of global capitalism and neoliberalism are comparable or worse, and the answer is no. Which is not to minimize them, it is simply to get things in perspective. The management of Enron or of Goldman was not comparable to the administration of Pol Pot.”

      So this is the motive behind your shameless cherry picking of history. All your historical revisionism is done so you can offer up this defense of global capitalism and neoliberalism.

      Amazing how anyone can talk about revolutions and fail to mention what is perhaps the most successful revolution of all time, and that is the American Revolution. And then there’s the big lie, the one you make in your first comment above about how “revolutions almost always move to a phase of Terror.”

      An entire series of nonviolent revolutions over the last 60 years belie this bogus assertion. It began in 1956 with the Hungarian Revolution. It continued in 1974 with the overthrow of the Greek junta, of the autocracy in Portugal that same year, and the transition to democracy in Spain in 1975. The long parade of peaceful revolutions that followed included many others, the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, the ouster of the Argentinean junta in 1982, the fall of the military dictatorship I neighboring Brazil in 1985, the expulsion of the dictator Fernando Marcos in the Philippines in 1986, in the revolution by “people power,” the fall of the autocrat Chun Doo Hwan in South Korea, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, the replacement of the apartheid regime of South Africa with majority rule in the early nineties, the fall of Slobodan Milosevicz in 2003, the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia in 2003, and the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in 2005.

      As Jonathan Schell observed, “Most of these revolutions were aimed at establishing conditions of freedom rather than solving social questions. In consequence, these social questions were unfortunately left on the table in the new world of market globalization, which, having proved unable or unwilling to deal with them, now faces a powerful backlash. And most tended to look no longer at French, Russian or Chinese models of revolution but rather at one another or the American Revolution, which suddenly recovered international attention and respectability. All were largely nonviolent, deliberately foregoing revolutionary violence, not to speak of terror.”

      1. aet

        The American Revolution non-violent? lacking terror?
        There may be descendants of Loyalist families in Canada who would dispute those assertions.

      2. nobody

        Akbar Ganji, the Iranian dissident, who participated in the Iranian revolution, argues that “revolutions cannot make democracies,” with one exception:

        The French Revolution became the pattern for all other revolutions, and unfortunately, the French Revolution was not a good pattern. You see that even in France it took them until the Fifth Republic in the twentieth century that they managed to consolidate a democracy.

        The American Revolution was the only exception. It was a foundation for freedom. It was because of the difference between the conditions of the two revolutions. The widespread poverty in France never existed in the United States; rather, it was more egalitarian. Nature had provided everything for almost everyone in America. The “divine government” that ruled France did not exist in the United States. Therefore the revolution in France was anti-church, and at the same time was trying to resolve the issue of poverty. In the United States the issue of the revolution was only about freedom. The model that was used in China, in Russia, in Cuba, and in Iran was the French model, and it was a bad model.

        Regarding the earlier comment about the nonviolent revolutions of the last 60 years, at least most of those cases would not count as revolutions in Ganji’s sense. (“When we speak of revolutions we speak of classical revolutions in the classical term. Classical revolutions want to change the economic, social, and political structure of the society.”)

    6. But What Do I Know?

      I agree (I think) with Michel–successful revolutions are precipitated by losses in war and weakness in the ruler (often a well-intentioned reformer), not by any revolt on the part of the oppressed, at least not initially.

      That said, welcome back Yves!!!

      1. aet

        Even a small well-disciplined group can triumph over an undisciplined multitude in a violent conflivct..
        It has often happened in history.

    7. Vinny

      More often than not, revolutions are hijacked by worse scumbags than the ones against which the revolution started to begin with.

      Just in recent decades, in Europe, this has happened in Russia and Romania.


    8. Ishmael

      Bolshevik Revolution had some assistance with the German High Command who smuggled Lenin back into Russia.

      In both the Bolshevik and French Revolutions the parties who performed the original over throw are not the poor but the upper middle class who do not believe their slice of the pie was big enough.

  3. run75441


    You sound relaxed . . . September and into October I get to go to Riethem Germany to be endoctrinated. 1 hour north of Switzerland. 104 there a couple of weeks ago as my cohort the global director was telling me.

  4. aet

    An, the Hermitage. I was horribly russhjed when i had a chance to go through. It was something unplanned!
    I do remember suddenly finding myself in a room with many van Goghs.
    And I really liked the little old ladies in blazers keeping an eye on things, and the fact that i had to purt on slippers, after checking my shoes at the counter, which they do to preserve those fantastic parquet floors.

    I really ought to get back to St.Petersburg again..When I was there, it was still Leningrad!
    I also remember passing by the monuments marking the furthest advance of the Nazi forces during WW 2, and wondering: what made them stop here?
    For there was no obvious geographical reason,that i could see. Then again, I was speeding by in a car.

    And I too found Tallinn to be very nice, with older buildings in the town center than I had expected.
    But I’m sure there are far fewer vestiges of Soviet influence than there were when I passed through.
    Glad you enjoyed your Baltic summer vacation.

  5. attempter

    Glad you had a good trip, Yves. When I think of Copenhagen I think of how while writing Either/Or Kierkegaard would literally run around the city so he could be “seen” in different places, then rush back to his apartment to work on the book, which he planned to publish under a pseudonym. His idea was that no one would suspect crazy Kiekegaard (already a well-known eccentric around town) was the real author. But it didn’t work – right away people pegged him as the author.

  6. Sundog

    I have good memories of Tallinn, and Estonia in general, from spending a couple of weeks hanging out with some crazy and sweet motorcycle people there ten years ago. I’m happy you gave the place a shout.

  7. Rex

    Yves, welcome home. I hope you can make a jump-shot from behind the eight ball and soon get back to just your normal intense pace.

    Re, “Copenhagen looks like it would be a very nice place to live”. Many years ago, when I was there, I thought so too. A very nice city with happy people. I think, though, it might be a good idea to visit in mid-winter before moving. I went to Phoenix, AZ, a couple times in the February-March time frame and I was so ready to move there. Fortunately, I went back in late June, and decided not to get too serious about moving there.

    And about, “has easy access to Stockholm (cheap flight, and even cheaper and supposedly very nice ferry).” When I visited Copenhagen I was living, for several months, in Oslo, Norway. We took the over-night ferry down. Scandinavia has very high taxes on liquor. The ferry is a duty free zone. Wow. I hadn’t seen that level of crazy drunks since my fraternity party days.

  8. Anonymous Jones

    Welcome back. I am a big fan of the Baltics, spent a fair amount of (very enjoyable) time there in the 90s (Lithuania especially) and indeed, of the major cities of the Baltics, Tallinn perhaps has the most going for it. Ah, memories of youth…

  9. Fifi

    Welcome back ! Same old over here. Deflation, Wall Street still at the top, yada, yada, different day, same s***.

    If you haven’t tried it already and decide to go south on your next fling to Europe, I strongly, strongly recommend Slovenia and Croatia as sleepers. Really nice places over there.

  10. dearieme

    “Same old over here”: really? I had thought that the hysterical, adolescent bed-wetting over the oilspill might have subsided a bit. Still, the extortion worked, didn’t it?

    1. Rex

      What in the world are you talking about in this oilspill comment post?

      Do I read correctly that you think the giant ecological disaster, caused by serial screw ups, elicited a hysterical, adolescent bed-wetting response from people? If so, I have to wonder what kind of narrow isolationist corner of the world you live in. How much damage would we have to do to the world for a concerned response not to be viewed as adolescent bed-wetting?

      And I really am not sure who you are thinking got extorted by whom.

      1. aet

        I think that there opught to be a “litigation guardian” for the wildlife which mat be affected by any environmental disaster.
        The wildlife is what takes the most damage, and yet they cannot sue for damages…if Corporations can be created as vehicles through which legal; consequences can flow, why not something similar for the wildlife?

        A litigation guardian, to take legal action against polluters, to pay for the damage caused to the wildlife….that way, the fines won’t necessarily be set too low or too high: those could then be litigated in a Court of Law.

        1. attempter

          William O. Douglas proposed giving wildlife, trees, and so on the right to sue. (Meaning environmentalists could sue on their behalf.)

          Needless to say, the system didn’t take him up on that idea.

  11. curlydan

    Well, someone needs to say it.

    Yves: Thank God you’re back! The folks who kept the operation running are OK, but they’re not you.

    As a blogger, you only get 2 weeks of vacation a year, right?

  12. EmilianoZ

    What about the list of books you brought with you? Don’t we get a report on those? We’ve been nice to Ed and Richard.

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