Saturday, October 21, 2017

Condoleezza Rice on the 10 Days Still Shaking the World

C. Rice, New York Times

image from

[JB comment: If you have the time/inclination in our busy times, please take a look at "more" of  Dr. Rice's "thinking" regarding Russia.]

By CONDOLEEZZA RICE OCT. 17, 2017, New York Times

“This is where it happened,” my Russian guide declared. It was 1979 and I was a
graduate student in Moscow for the summer. A side trip to Leningrad was a must for
me, a first time traveler to the country. “Czar Alexander II was riding down this road
when the assassins struck,” she said. Almost under her breath, she added, “He was a
reformer.” Any hope for the liberalization of Russia seemed to die with the czar who
had freed the serfs and attempted to modernize the country. Alexander II’s death
brought to power his hard-line successor Alexander III, who initiated a harsh
crackdown (among those soon executed was the older brother of Vladimir Ilyich
Lenin). This would only sharpen the conflict in the country. Peasants had no bread.
Workers’ lives were miserable and often endangered. And soldiers were forced into
battle in the Great War, a fight they could not win. Alexander III’s son and successor,
the hapless Nicholas II, would abdicate in 1917. The parliamentary government of
Alexander Kerensky would survive less than a year.

From the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood it was just a short walk across
the square to the Winter Palace, where workers’ militias seized power and laid the
foundation for the Bolshevik Revolution and more than seven decades of Communist
rule. “Peace, Land and Bread,” they promised.

“Ten Days That Shook the World” captures the excitement of that moment. The
author, John Reed, was an American who made no secret of his Bolshevik
sympathies. He nevertheless provided a riveting and vivid — if not impartial —
account of the most pivotal phase of the revolution, as viewed from the ground.
From his vantage point, Reed could only tell a part of the story, however. To
fully understand the Bolshevik Revolution, one must also appreciate the long
trajectory of Russian history. Two other seminal works, James Billington’s “The Icon
and the Axe” and Sheila Fitzpatrick’s “The Russian Revolution,” stand alongside
“Ten Days” as indispensable guides to these events.

“The Icon and the Axe” is a sweeping, intricate description of Russian cultural
history, spanning the pre-Romanov era through six centuries to the reign of Joseph
Stalin. Flowing with ease through time and topic — from art to music, literature,
philosophy, mythology and more — the book provides readers with an alluring
portrayal of Russia’s proud heritage. Its impressive scope and lasting insights have
made it a foundational text in Russian studies. In fact, it was this book, more than
any other, that captured my imagination and propelled me toward the study of
Russia and the Soviet Union.

Billington’s book, named for two items typically displayed in a place of honor in the
peasant home, reminds us that Russia’s vast geography helped shape its identity.
“The virgin forest was the nursery of Great Russian culture,” he writes. That made
the ax, which enabled the people of the forest to reshape their environment,
something of a revolutionary symbol.

In tracing the final years of the Romanov dynasty, Billington sets the stage for
1917 and puts Lenin’s revolutionary ideology into historical context. Even before the
popular revolt that led to the abdication of Czar Nicholas II, there was a growing
sense that the days of old were drawing to an end. Electricity had recently arrived in
Russia, replacing primordial fire. When Lenin returned from exile to capitalize on
the chaos of the czar’s abdication, he played to this sense of new beginnings and
urged a complete and total rupture with the past. He was a firebrand to his core,
spewing inflammatory rhetoric, eschewing compromise and pushing political
discourse to the extremes.

For Lenin, “morality was not to be based on ‘idealistic’ standards of inner
feelings, but on the ever-changing dictates of revolutionary expediency,” Billington
writes. Beyond that, the primary characteristic that set him apart from his socialist
rivals was his single-mindedness: “In the midst of soaring visionaries, Lenin focused
his attention on one all-consuming objective that had not traditionally been
uppermost in the thinking of the intelligentsia: the attainment of power.”

What Lenin’s victory brought, of course, was not worker control or “all power to
the Soviets,” as he promised, but civil war and dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party.
Sheila Fitzpatrick recounts this transformation in her easily digestible “The
Russian Revolution,” first published in the early 1980s and widely recognized as one
of the best books on the topic. “The Russian Revolution” is a short book but it is
serious history, based on extensive archival research. Fitzpatrick has made a number
of updates over the years to incorporate newly available materials, but she has not
had to make any changes to her argument.

What makes Fitzpatrick’s account particularly compelling is the link that she
draws to subsequent developments, arguing, in the style of Crane Brinton’s “The
Anatomy of Revolution,” that the tumult of the Bolshevik uprising did not end until
after Stalin’s 1930s Reign of Terror. “The October seizure of power was not the end
of the Bolshevik Revolution but the beginning,” she writes.

The Soviet Union would last a little over 70 years. One might say that its end
was also a beginning. But it has not been the new beginning that many had hoped —
one of democracy and integration into the West. Rather, Russia’s rough history — so
evident one century ago — continues to haunt and shape its future. That is good
reason to remember the 10 days in 1917 that really did shake the world.

Correction: October 17, 2017

A previous version of this article misstated the name of the author of “The Anatomy of
Revolution.” He was Crane Brinton, not Brinton Crane.

Strictly for History Ph.Ds ... (including in the Russian History field)

From EZ on Facebook

Friday, October 20, 2017

I Miss the Old Megyn Kelly - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

By BATYA UNGAR-SARGON OCT. 9, 2017, New York Times; see also.

Image from article, with caption The former Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly on the first day of her new show, on NBC

We didn’t know it then, but August 2015 was a more innocent time. Donald Trump
was still a punch line, Hillary Clinton was poised to become the first female
president, and Megyn Kelly was still an uncompromising, unapologetic, take-noprisoners
Fox News rebel. As of last week, Donald Trump is president, Hillary
Clinton is an also-ran, and you can catch Megyn Kelly on her new NBC program,
“Megyn Kelly Today,” where she performs each morning as some horrific bizarro
version of her former self.

Her appearance during her debut last Monday said it all: Wearing a pink pussybow
blouse, her hair no longer slicked back in the trademark power bob of her later
Fox News days, Ms. Kelly declared that she was “kind of done with politics for now.”
Rather than politics, she explained, her new show would focus on, well, emotions.
“Have a laugh with us, a smile, sometimes a tear, and maybe a little hope to start
your day,” she said. “Some fun! That’s what we want to be doing. Some fun.” ...

Instead of unleashing her, NBC has attempted to transform Megyn Kelly into
one of the nice girls of mainstream media, another Kelly Ripa, Savannah Guthrie or
Katie Couric. The results have been predictably awkward. The glee at her stumble
has been swift and vicious.

Why was Megyn Kelly’s transition into the mainstream accompanied by this
kind of neutering? Why did Fox News have more room for this charismatic, difficult
woman than NBC? It’s hard to say. Mainstream talk shows — morning shows in
particular — have never had much of an appetite for difficult. And at a time when our
country is so divided, [JB emphasis] it was always likely that a network like NBC would try to cast as broad a net as possible, meaning that politics would be off the table for someone like Ms. Kelly. ... 

Trump’s Road to 2024 - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

Roger Cohen OCT. 20, 2017, New York Times

image from
PHOENIX — There are now two definitions of truth in the United States. The first is
that a truthful statement is one that conforms to facts or reality. By this standard,
President Trump is a serial liar.

The second is that truth is defined by “telling it like it is,” or speaking in a direct,
unvarnished way without regard to political correctness or the offense it may give. By
this measure, for millions of supporters, Trump is the most honest president ever.
The United States has already become a post-truth society. Telling it like it isn’t
has become a form of truth. That’s a nation in which chaos is more plausible because
the ability to make rational decisions is diminished. Signal and noise can no longer
be distinguished.

The center, where it was long held that elections are won, evaporates. Violence
becomes more likely because incomprehension grows across hardening lines of
fracture. It may well be that elections, as with Trump, are now won at the extremes.

In Arizona, where Trump’s presidential campaign went from joke to winning
proposition in July 2015 with a speech in which he said Mexicans were “taking our
money” and “killing us,” the honest-man Trump view resonates. Trump was always
about language. It didn’t matter that he was a loose cannon. He connected with
widespread disgust at the political class and the media. This was his winning
intuition: that he could triumph as the subversive plain-speaking outsider.
Trump had that “kind of bluntness and occasionally even crass language which, if
nothing else, at least meant authenticity,” said Jay Heiler, a lawyer considering a run
against Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a rare Republican critic of Trump. “The
president just hit a lot of nerves that a lot of conventional politicians didn’t even
know were there.”

Those nerves still tingle. Nine months into the presidency, the support of
Trump’s base remains fervid. I am often asked whether I believe Trump will be
impeached. I’ve taken to responding that it’s more likely he’ll be a two-term
president. I’d put the chances of impeachment at under 10 percent and of his reelection
at about 25 percent.

That’s partly because the Democratic Party has not yet begun a serious
reckoning with its defeat last year. It hasn’t grasped the degree to which it lives, still,
in a coastal echo chamber of identity politics and Trump-bashing. Being anti-Trump
won’t cut it. As Chuck Coughlin, a Republican political consultant who once worked
for Senator John McCain, put it to me: “Somebody who speaks to common-sense
American values — that is what the Democrats need.” I’m not sure who that person
is but am pretty sure she or he does not reside in New York, Massachusetts or

Coughlin went on: “A Democratic party that can’t tell me how many genders
there are, that ain’t flying in this country.”

American fracture is the nation’s overriding condition. It keeps widening. Jeff
DeWit, the Republican state treasurer of Arizona, picked up Trump at the airport for
that 2015 Phoenix rally; he remains an ardent fan of Trump’s “movement of people
dying for something different.” ...

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Bush II on American identity

Bush II-and-dogs painting image from
Our identity as a nation – unlike many other nations – is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood. Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility. We become the heirs of Thomas Jefferson by accepting the ideal of human dignity found in the Declaration of Independence. We become the heirs of James Madison by understanding the genius and values of the U.S. Constitution. We become the heirs of Martin Luther King, Jr., by recognizing one another [JB - sic] not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

This means that people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.
And it means that the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation. ... 
Meanwhile, The exact words from Martin Luther King, if one can trust the Internet: 

 "I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Review: Lamenting the Motherland

Wall Street Journal

Examining the psyche of modern Russia, through the eyes of those born at the end of the Soviet era and who grew up at a time of hope. Stephen Kotkin reviews ‘The Future Is History’ by Masha Gessen.

Demonstrations against election fraud in Moscow in 2011.
Demonstrations against election fraud in Moscow in 2011. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Russia transfixes the American imagination like no other country, and Moscow’s aggressive authoritarianism has prompted divergent assessments of its causes. Some see it as provoked by Western policies, whether supposedly insufficient aid provided to Russia to overcome Communist legacies in the 1990s or an unnecessarily confrontational expansion of NATO. Others assign primary responsibility to Russian president Vladimir Putin, pointing to either his lust for power and empire or his pique and revanchism.
Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist, adopted the second approach in “The Man Without a Face” (2012), which portrayed the strongman as simultaneously lacking talent and lording over all. In her new book, “The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia,” she attempts to reconcile this contradiction, now blaming what she calls Russia’s “totalitarian society.” Her parents fled the Soviet Union with their children in 1981; Ms. Gessen, who had moved back to Moscow 10 years later, fled Russia with her own children in 2013, and here she crafts an indignant lamentation. “I have been told many stories about Russia, and I have told a few myself,” she observes, offering a tale of the “freedom that was not embraced and democracy that was not desired.”
Ms. Gessen selects the lives of four Russians born late in the Soviet Union who came of age in an era, initially, of hope. They are “Seryozha” (Sergei Yakovlev), the grandson of Alexander Yakovlev, one of the shapers of Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalization; “Zhanna” (Nemtsova), the daughter of Boris Nemtsov, the former Russian reformist official and subsequent democracy activist who was gunned down near the Kremlin in 2015; “Masha” ( Maria Baronova ), another democracy activist; and “Lyosha” ( Alexei Gorshkov ), a gay gender-studies scholar in provincial Perm. All are members of the urban liberal intelligentsia.
The author also folds in the stories of Marina Arutyunyan, a psychoanalyst; Lev Gudkov, a sociologist who worked under and then succeeded Yuri Levada as the head of the country’s leading independent polling organization; and Alexander Dugin, a ubiquitous ideologue of hardline Russian resurgence.


By Masha Gessen
Riverhead, 515 pages, $28
A fine writer and storyteller, Ms. Gessen adopts the pose of omniscient narrator, drawing upon interviews to voice her subjects’ inner thoughts. The intricate narrative builds to Russia’s 2011 mass protests—which followed Mr. Putin’s declaration that he would become president again—and the crackdown that came the following year.
The author recounts the buried history of Ms. Arutyunyan’s family, whose grandmother, Anna Pankratova, a rare female member of the Communist Central Committee from 1952 until her death in 1957, had earlier denounced her husband as a Trotskyite.  
Pankratova herself was expelled from the party in the 1930s, when her daughter Maya (Ms. Arutyunyan’s mother) was about 10. After Maya died in 1999, Ms. Aruntyunyan found Pankratova’s journals, which showed that she loved the husband she betrayed for the party cause. The betrayal today, Ms. Gessen implies, is carried out by the gray mass of Russians against those who are willing to stand up to the regime.
Her most incisive portrait involves the personal life and professional agony of Lyosha Gorshkov. He wins a competition, sponsored by the Soros Open Society Foundation, to participate in a multiyear project in Ukraine. “Ukraine, he learned, had thirty-seven registered LGBT groups,” Ms. Gessen writes. In Russia, by contrast, his scholarship is criminalized, and his very existence threatened.
Even as Ms. Gessen poignantly traces compelling lives, her account of Russian society as a whole puts forth a reductionist argument full of psychospeak about “energies” and an entire society succumbing to depression. She begins with the dubious assertion that one of Soviet society’s decisive troubles derived from the state prohibition against sociology and psychoanalysis, which meant the society “had been forbidden to know itself.” To this she adds Yuri Levada’s detailed sociological portrait, from polling, of “Homo Sovieticus,” a doublethinker bred by the system, who contrary to expectation did not die out with the system. Yet none of the characters she chose to follow in this book is a “Homo Sovieticus”—even though that is the type she claims explains the staying power of the Putin regime. This book about the alleged indispensability of sociology abjures a representative sampling of individuals in favor of a contrived literary selection.
Ms. Gessen is right that ordinary Russians are to an extent complicit in their own oppression, but is the society the part that is totalitarian? “Maybe Freud was right about the death drive in the first place,” she writes, speaking through the interior thoughts of Ms. Arutyunyan. “And maybe a country could indeed be affected by it just like a person could. Maybe this energy had been unleashed in Russia. . . . This country wanted to kill itself.” Ms. Gessen graphically details the gruesome murder of a man in Volgograd killed by his friends for being gay. Russia’s parliament passes a ban on homosexual “propaganda,” which she suggests is the centerpiece of the regime’s cynical control strategy. She also notes that the Levada Center found that 73 percent of Russians supported the discriminatory law, but she does not examine the social conservatism of the populace, only its manipulation.
Tens of millions of Russians are holding down jobs, raising families, reading books and writing blogs, while living under a dictatorship. A small, resolute number continue to protest, including in what Ms. Gessen calls “the most geographically widespread protest in Russian history” on the country’s national holiday (June 12) in 2017. Meanwhile, Zhanna has decamped to Bonn, where she works for the broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Lyosha has obtained asylum in the U.S., and Seryozha began to take antidepressants, developing a rare side effect: toxic epidermal necrolysis. Masha Baronova remains in Russia, among the ranks of democracy activists, and has avoided prison—for now.
Mr. Kotkin, a professor at Princeton University and fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, is the author of “ Stalin : Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941.”

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

There's hope for American-Russian relations ...

Washington Post article via DO on Facebook; headline/Putin image from your blogger.

As Trump turns and turns in a widening gyre, his advisers are filled with passionate intensity.