Those Slaveries Old and New

There’s an odd sort of current running through western progressive movements these days. Maybe one-hundred fifty years ago it would have been called a specter. It might be better summarized as a “revenge project”, as Michael Anton writes. But revenge for what? I have been spending some time in the former Soviet Union. The only places where communism took hold, if incompetently and under intense brutality. Marx’s real target – western Europe (England mostly, but perhaps Germany and France) were not susceptible to the infection for the simple fact that life was improving so dramatically during the industrial revolution that people believed the best path to the well-being of their children was to work hard. It is a historical fact that the reason communism (Lenin) was successful in the Russian Empire was Nicholas Romanov’s dogged and ill-advised decision to double down on feudalism and serfdom even while the rest of the countries of Europe were abandoning those slaveries old and new.

The rapid industrialization of Stalin was offering the peasants something they never had before nor could ever have hoped to attain; theater, opera, books to read, some health care, a break from the land, a job. Entertainment of sorts. To be sure, at the expense of freedom – but had people in Tsarist Russia ever been free? If the choices are between two types of slavery, one which offers a Charles Dickens novel and a chance at the ballet and the other which offers only the potato fields, which would you choose? Of course that is a fools choice, but often in life that is the only choice on offer.

I have been accustomed to ‘Banana Communism’ (my terminology, but you may use it) – that is to say communism which occasionally seizes third world tropical countries; Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba – Tanzania in the past; Angola for a season. Life behind the ‘Banana Curtain’ does not resemble that behind the ‘Iron Curtain’. It lacks the discipline, the sense of purpose, and most importantly it is coming from a very different place. Populism, largess from public coffers for ‘pan y circo’ – bread and circus. Fiscal indiscipline and revenge. It is not about rapid industrialization or national greatness. It is not about a great leap into the future, albeit a misguided one. These countries already have super-malls and five star hotels and theaters and public parks and universal primary education. It is instead a great leveling process. It is Khmer Rouge or Shining Path; the murder of all those with glasses or who can distinguish between the letters G and H. It is about revenge. That giant banana slug found when we pull back the peel. But revenge for what? Venezuela before Chavez was a land of beer and beach and parties. “…by far the most sinister feature of post-1960s leftism – the one that feeds all the others – is the spiritual sickness, the self-loathing and existential despair, with which it has infected the formerly confident and capable West,” as writes Anton. Or, from my favorite movie set in one of my favorite places, Tombstone, “What makes him (cowboy leader Johnny Ringo) do the things he does?” asks Wyatt Earp, to which Doc Holliday responds, “A man like Ringo has a great empty hole through the middle of him. He can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it.”

So it strikes me as odd that it is in fact banana communism which is on offer these days in the United States. A revenge project, as Anton writes. But revenge for what? And against whom? We are told that everything is about oppression – say those who feel empowered to bully their teachers and parents and employers and security forces and even the world’s most powerful man. “But how do we get oppression?” they ask, the start of their quest for the villains. Their answer, the evil starts as a tiny seed benign and un-noteworthy, preference. Because it is that preference which leads to prejudice which leads to racism and bigotry in a straight line to discrimination followed by oppression. Therefore, the new Marxists are always on the hunt for oppressors who show any preference for anything—especially if it is one’s own culture, one’s own food, one’s own music. These are dangerous signs of a coming bigotry and must be expunged.” As I have written.

The irony is not lost on me, though it is on them, that it is the elites who are the most vocal. Just like in the October Revolution or the Cuban Revolution, those living their lives are rarely consulted – though often they do get caught up in the madness. A good revenge plot is hard to turn down; free stuff, who would say no to that? I have also spent long periods in Africa, in five different civil wars. Africans, the folks who our progressives say are at the center of their revenge projects, are not vengeful at all. Most understand that history and time move about in waves of violence and injustice and opportunity – and are desperate for a chance at theirs (opportunity that is), for themselves and for their children. “Can I go to America?” asks the cab driver and the day laborer. “I know I could make it there!” And against whom are these revenge plots to be enacted? – because I myself am at the center of the progressive bulls-eye: the color of my skin, my sex, my faith, my politics. But am I an oppressor…? me who has spent 10 years trying to end African wars (and through great personal  hardship) – whose ancestor arrived in America fleeing English poverty just in time only to fight for the Union Armies to free the slaves; a war not his, for a crime not of his making, but nevertheless a destiny of his choosing – because he knew that in America all good things could be built.

It’s all very confusing, isn’t it? My message, my lesson to those who would throw down a banana curtain over top Trump’s new wall – to keep people in, not out, as all socialist projects end. Read, travel, learn. Talk to people you do not agree with, make common cause with injustices you do not favor, and allow the temperate hand of time and experience to lead you to wisdom. Because we really don’t want your banana communism; and I’ll let you in on a secret; if you were to succeed, you would be the artifice of your own destruction. Because the devil once released is very hard indeed to contain.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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