Left Time
In early July, the chief executives of eight major industrial nations held a "summit" meeting at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland. Sure enough, shortly before their meeting a large crowd of demonstrators assembled in Edinburgh to demonstrate, and a subset of them went to Gleneagles itself the next day to scale the fence, throw bricks at constables, and generally create a photo opportunity. I wondered what, exactly, these charades were meant to accomplish. An old New Leftish friend in England sent me an explanation which had a measure of complexity, but the gist of which was: "...the much larger, completely peaceful, sane demonstration of a couple of hundred thousand people the day before, in behalf of reasonable goals, [was] to bring pressure on the G8 meeting to enact those policies."

The trouble with this explanation is that if the demonstrations were "to bring pressure on the G8 to enact those policies," then their timing made them beside the point. The G8 summit in July was, as usual, a ceremonial occasion for unveiling decisions already arrived at. On the preceding June 11, the finance ministers of seven of the G8 countries had already agreed on a program of forgiving 55 billion dollars of African debt, and this decision was made public on June 12 (see the June 12th edition of the Observer). The demonstrations in Edinburgh and Gleneagles were on July 2 and 3, twenty days later. They could not influence the decision arrived at on June 11, twenty days earlier.

The June 11 program agreed by the G7 finance ministers had been the outcome of a long period of lobbying and grass-roots politicking, much of it within the British Labour Party of Tony Blair. Does anyone seriously imagine that the G8 executives, chatting over their cocktails immediately after the demonstrations, would suddenly decide to expand their previously agreed program without a moment's consultation with their governments? Whether the Scottish demonstrations were peaceful or noisy is irrelevant to the point that, coming when they did, they were superfluous --- unless time could be made to run backwards.

The fantasy of time running backwards comes up over and over again in the mythology of the pop-Left. Two months ago, I ran across a newspaper letter repeating an ancient fairy-tale of this category: the claim that Lenin and the Bolsheviks overthrew the tsar in 1917. Now, a one minute consultation of any history text will reveal that tsar Nicholas II abdicated on March 2, 1917. (This was due to the February Revolution, a spontaneous popular uprising in which the Bolsheviks played little part, and during the whole of which Lenin stayed in Switzerland.) Since the Bolshevik revolution is invariably called the October Revolution, its devotees should be able to grasp that it occurred in October. It shouldn't take any further study of the history of 1917 to realize that what the Bolsheviks overthrew in October could not have been the tsar who had abdicated seven-and-a-half months earlier. (In fact, it was a provisional government of ten socialists and six moderates, led by the socialist Alexander Kerensky.) Yet, shake any contemporary Trotskyist or sentimental Leftist, and they will repeat the myth.

§     §     §

What is going on here? How can people able to read a calendar fall into such simple errors about the sequence of events? Is the explanation simply P.T. Barnum's First Law, i.e., there is a sucker born every minute? I think there is something more involved in this particular category of suckerdom. It is a particular lens through which they view the world.

To illustrate, here is an example about a very different subject, from an article by one Madeleine Bunting in the Guardian Weekly for July 8-14, 2005. She writes:

    What we are seeing now in this unprecedented media focus on Africa is a very old theme. In 1787, the slogan of the Quaker abolitionists was "Am I not a man and a brother?" But the radicalism of this rallying cry was belied by the image on the Anti-Slavery Society's seal of the African slave --- he was on his knees. His liberty and dignity was ours for the giving, not his for the taking.

In short, Ms. Bunting's complaint against the Anti-Slavery Society is that, in seeking to end slavery, it recognized that the slaves were enslaved.

The reality in 1787 (or 1807, when Parliament finally outlawed the slave trade, or 1833 when it finally outlawed slavery) was that there was no possible way the African slaves could "take" their liberty; the only possible way to end slavery was through its abolition by the dominant European society, the project at which the Anti-Slavery Society in fact succeeded in Britain. Ms. Bunting is complaining that reality did not conform to her ideological scheme --- and, in that case, so much the worse for reality, which seems to her insufficiently "radical." The article castigates the wretched abolitionist Quakers for not pretending that the universe was as Ms. Bunting feels it should have been.

Here we have the root of the whole catalogue of frauds in question: wherever reality does not conform to ideology, the latter trumps the former. Does October come after March? No matter, ideology demands that it should have been Lenin and the Bolsheviks who overthrew the tsar, so that will become the standard story, even if it requires that time run backwards.

Sometimes the substitution of ideology for reality is so blatant as to border on the clinical. My friend D.L. at the university is a genial Old Leftie who has finally recognized that something went a little wrong in what used to be called the Socialist Bloc, Europe east of the Elbe. The trouble, he confided to me recently, was that all the Communist parties on earth --- the USSR, the Peoples' Democracies, China, Vietnam, the West, all of them --- did not espouse "real communism." Perhaps people in the Baltics, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and survivors of the Gulag society in the former USSR itself, ought to comfort themselves with the notion that their life experiences weren't, well, really real.

At the same time, the virtuous, the beautiful communism of D.L.'s heart exists for him on another plane from the mere earthly experiences of people who lived through the rigors of those societies. It exists for him in a sort of twilight zone, and notice the word he chose for that twilight zone: "real."

--- Dr. Phage
Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH