Little platoons of the left and right

Image result for little platoons burkeThe intimidatingly well informed Brad Delong used the following quote from Rosa Luxemburg to bid “good riddance” to Fidel Castro. I don’t know enough to agree or disagree, but as I read Luxemburg’s words, I wasn’t thinking of communism. I was thinking of managerialism. I’m not seeking to suggest any moral equivalence with the gulags. But there are plenty of systems of tyranny, petty and otherwise, in our lives as the stuffing somehow oozes out of our institutions.

A generation ago academics were a privileged elite jealous of their privileges (and as is the case with privileges, some grew fat and lazy on them.) Ditto bureaucrats including of course the bureaucrats running private companies. Professionals could be directed within professional structures (an engineering firm say). But all such people owned a degree of fiduciary duty to the public and some independence from their bosses. Today managerialism runs rampant over such things and these people are so many lab rats in a Skinner box hitting their KPIs and (of course) learning to manipulate them apace as well as learning to pump out the bullshit in ever increasing quantities.


In the passage Luxemburg appeals to some basic principles of socialism about which she might be right, but presumably isn’t. To de-ideologise what I get out of her eloquent words, let’s just say that I get from them, just the same sustenance I get from Edmund Burke’s insistence on the importance of life taking its course, of the significance of the little platoons. Anyway, your world-weary correspondent leaves you in the capable hands of Rosa, writing on the tyranny of the Russian Revolution:

Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party — however numerous they may be — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently… because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic….

The tacit assumption underlying the Lenin-Trotsky theory of dictatorship is this: that the socialist transformation is something for which a ready-made formula lies completed in the pocket of the revolutionary party, which needs only to be carried out energetically in practice. This is, unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — not the case…. What we possess in our program is nothing but a few main signposts which indicate the general direction in which to look….

The socialist system of society should only be, and can only be, an historical product, born out of the school of its own experiences, born in the course of its realization, as a result of the developments of living history… socialism by its very nature cannot be decreed or introduced by ukase. It has as its prerequisite a number of measures of force — against property, etc. The negative, the tearing down, can be decreed; the building up, the positive, cannot. New Territory. A thousand problems.

Only experience is capable of correcting and opening new ways. Only unobstructed, effervescing life falls into a thousand new forms and improvisations, brings to light creative new force, itself corrects all mistaken attempts. The public life of countries with limited freedom is so poverty-stricken, so miserable, so rigid, so unfruitful, precisely because, through the exclusion of democracy, it cuts off the living sources of all spiritual riches and progress….

The whole mass of the people must take part in it. Otherwise, socialism will be decreed from behind a few official desks by a dozen intellectuals…. [Lenin] is completely mistaken in the means he employs. Decree, dictatorial force of the factory overseer, draconian penalties, rule by terror…. It is rule by terror which demoralizes.

When all this is eliminated, what really remains?… Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously — at bottom, then, a clique affair — a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense….

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10 Responses to Little platoons of the left and right

  1. paul walter says:

    I won’t comment too much beyond suggesting that Nick has achieved something rather unique with this posting… I admire the marriage of a strong mind and mature personality.

    I think it is about the the notion of bottom up participatory democracy and that it must derive of a healthy spirit, that is a spirit that enjoys fellow humanity and can take pleasure in the small wins of others in a small community.

    That Edmund Burke quote must surely be timeless, given its applicability as paradigm to modern times, those running things as alienated from their world and humanity as the dumbed-down masses, the power hungry and control freaks and the bastards who sell out even their own for a few dollars more.

    Nick observes the Skinner box objectification and commodification of humans by other humans by the themselves anomic managerial classes, before leading on to someone who would be normally identified as someone on the opposite side of politics, Rosa Luxemburg and guess what, what she observes is parallel to what Burke sees and is troubled.

    Post -revolutionary or evolving societies both face the test of day to day processivity that provokes a variety of responses from people to events unfolding which show humans as imperfect, our condition and eventually short of an answer beyond some sort of animus breeding subjective reactivity.

    Ye the combination of Burke and Luxemburg with Nick as narrator leads to the conclusion that he essence of life must come regardless back to a human capacity to confront the unacceptable or unpredicted with some sort of courage, Seems very like some thing the Athenian philiosophers and playwrights were onto along time ago. Humans may have to find the best of themselves in adversity, as Oedipus had to, or the Hamlet of Shakespeare’s time.

    In other words, a person has to ask, by what means do we determine the real worth for human behaviour and accomplishment; a different notion of value and meaning than the one materialistic Westerners may find to be the norm. It’s not just winning, but also whether or not a person has had a fair dip “against the wind” and can go home with the consolation of at least having tried to accomplish something in the field of human endeavour.

    I only scanned the Brad Delong, but take it to be something that eschews the difficulties Castro may have faced in attempting his tasks and assumes failure, but wonder how Delong is entitled to make such a judgement from his lofty and presumably experience-sanctified eyrie without convincing, or thinking to convince, the reader that he has indeed walked a mile in Fidel Castro’s shoes; is in fact qualified to pass judgement on another he may in fact know very little about.

  2. Lorikeet says:

    I certainly agree with the comments on the current state of play in the political arena. Too much bullshit and lies, too much pandering to Big Business, too little caring about ordinary Australians, too little interest in preserving national sovereignty, too little attention paid to the need to resurrect manufacturing industries, too much interest in financially crucifying the unemployed and seniors, absolutely no interest in taxing the rich.

    Acquaintances escaped Cuba many years ago, after Fidel Castro had jailed the husband (political opponent) twice. They spent 2 years in the refugee settlement in Guantanamo Bay before being offered resettlement in Latin America. Because George Bush and John Howard were very close, they managed to wangle resettlement in Australia.

  3. paul walter says:

    Lorikeet: “…current state of play in the political arena”.

    Lorikeet, you must be laughing yourself silly at Brandis as an example just now if you are like me.

    • Lorikeet says:

      Well, yes, he is good at engaging in hypocrisy. However an equal fool is Scott Morrison, who claims that Negative Gearing is not a tax break. Even a household economist could do a better job than the Coalition.

  4. Lorikeet says:

    I think we are now able to see at first hand, the reason “Me Syndrome” has been taught for 30 to 40 years. If you can divide the people in the workplace, you can conquer them. If you offer pay increases to everyone regardless of union membership, you can crush unions. If you bring in large numbers of foreign workers and force most of the women out to work, you have a glut of workers unable to exercise their rights for fear of dismissal.

  5. paul walter says:

    Yes. divide and conquer, the spirit of our age.

    Our civilisation seems to have become inward looking, fears conversation and ideas, eats its own, wants to shut it all out, “stop the world, I want to get off”. So we retreat to the known and the safe and why indeed not when the bigger idea has collapsed and we need spiritual sustenance for survival.

    Do you fear for the new generations? Perhaps the new goal can be to be supportive of them, so that some of them get by also?

    There is value and meaning but people are not sure where to look for it, it is going to be a time where people who take the effort to think things through and also can grow a bit of compassion may be the ones best equipped to get through deceptive times.

    • Lorikeet says:

      The newer generations are mostly totally selfish and spoilt. They automatically expect older Australians to pick up their tab, even neighbours living on low fixed incomes. I have never met a bunch of people so out for themselves as those in their 20s and 30s, sometimes a bit older. It is they who need to learn some compassion (and less greed) and start disciplining their extremely ill-behaved children.

      Under the influence of government, they have learned to despise their elders and blame us for all of the world’s problems, instead of trying to understand the true abusers are government and Big Business, both of which enjoy sending our nation and its citizens backwards.

  6. Douglas Irvin says:

    The reality of Communism is that the dictatorship of the proletariat turns into a dictatorship of a psychopath (and his sons in the case of North Korea.)

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