Friday, May 30, 2014

The Return of Mother Russia -- IV


First, an all-important commercial note.  This week a novel of mine, The Hedge Fund, the first of a trilogy, came out as an Amazon/Tree Farm Book.  As I described it on Facebook, this thriller opens as “a social comedy, about a well-fixed academic family in St. Petersburg, FL, one of the daughters of which marries the son of a Cuban financial gangster.  The attempt by the new in-laws to clean out their relatives, who battle back, picks up velocity steadily and turns into a page-turner that ends in Havana.

The book has very heavy literary support – Liz Smith, Thomas Powers, etc. –and remains by turns very funny, very sensual, very moving and exciting.”  Modestly priced at $11.95 as one of my offerings on the Amazon Books section under my name, none of you avid followers will be able to live with yourselves unless you send for this novel immediately, read it with enormous enjoyment, and contribute a comment indicating your joy to the Amazon response page.  I am depending on all of you.  There was a cover of Mad Magazine years ago featuring a solemn mongrel with a giant horse pistol pressed to his forehead.  The subscript ran:  “If you don’t buy this magazine, we will shoot this dog.”  It is in this spirit I urge all of you to acquire The Hedge Fund.

Now -- with the election yesterday of Petro Poroshenko, the Chocolate King, as president of Ukraine the crisis in Kiev appears to be building down.  Vladimir Putin seems to have signed off on the outcome. Poroshenko has manifest pro-European sympathies while maintaining extensive business interests in Russia, an oligarch for all seasons.  How he can negotiate a Russian reconsideration of the status of Crimea, which he asserts he intends to do, should test the Chocolate King’s magical powers.

Much of the global psychodynamics that seem to lie under this situation originate with Putin’s need to establish his status as the leader of an ex-Superpower, the exponent of a nation that was – and intends to become again – a contender.  This is a recurrent impulse within the Russian leadership.  Many years ago, when I was newly rearrived in the States and struggling to build a career as a free-lance writer, I happened to be visiting the Greenwich Village digs of my then-pal the novelist Dan Wakefield.  The phone rang. “It’s for you,” Wakefield whispered.  “William Shawn.”  Shawn was the legendary executive editor of The New Yorker, the hottest literary ticket in Manhattan just then.  “A show of force like this,” Wakefield muttered, “was not necessary.”

Shawn had come across a sketch my agent was circulating just then and wanted me to stop by the magazine’s murky offices.  This led to several afternoons exploring one-on-one my interests and background, what I was into that might interest the magazine.  Shawn was a small, bald, shrewd, musty, probing, excessively earnest fellow.  It happened that a delegation of female Soviet apparachniks were due in New York the next week, and  since I knew some Russian perhaps I should join their party and write up something about that.

I did as requested.  The women were there for business, which I soon surmised was winkling out examples of capitalism in collapse which they could bring back to their colleagues on the Supreme Soviet.  They were increasingly disappointed as the sites we visited – Wall Street, an apartment in Harlem so well appointed , with contemporary jazz on the eight-track – transcended anything around Moscow just then.  I called the piece “In Quest of Squalor” and submitted it to Patricia Nosher, Shawn’s assistant.

It happened that Yuri Gagarin, the first Soviet Cosmonaut – the first human – to circumnavigate the globe in a space capsule was visiting New York.  There was a reception for him at the Soviet consulate to which I was invited.  There was a lot of collective anxiety around Washington just then that the Soviets had overtaken us and now were emerging as the dominant player in space.  Gagarin himself turned out quite friendly and unpretentious, but the Soviet officials around him were strutting their stuff.  The brief post-war dominance of the corrupt , undisciplined, self-indulgent  United States had come and gone, Marxism would dominate the future.  All this not that long before the first American landed on the moon.

Many of these same themes appear to be revisiting the media today.  From Tea Party activists and gun nuts in Idaho to fundamentalist preachers and hard-right Israeli politicians, a distaste for the ecumenical remains of The American Century is palpable.  Individualism is destroying us.  Vladimir Putin agrees. “It is therefore an ideological battle,” a recent article in Der Spiegel asserts – translation mine – “in which Russia according to the vision of its president fights against the superficiality of materialism, against the collapse of values, against the feminization and weakening of society, which results from the loosening of traditional  bounds, in short: against everything unRussian.”

Putin represents a return to reactionary values of the twenties and thirties, the writer asserts – in a word, to fascism, with its emphasis on “hardness,” racial superiority, sacrifice for the nation.  A lot of this, of course, is reasserting itself in the Muslim jihadists roiling up so much of the planet.  Die for some exalted clique of your coreligionists, the virgins are waiting.

Our media are picking this up.  A piece by Andrew Higgins in the May 21 New York Times notes the Western European sympathies on the far right with Putin’s pronouncements.  “Some of Russia’s European fans, particularly those with a religious bent, are attracted by Mr. Putin’s image as a muscular foe of homosexuality and decadent Western ways.  Others…are motivated more by geopolitical calculations that emphasize Russia’s role as a counterweight to American power.”
My generation has attended this blood-soaked opera before.  It culminates in Hiroshima and Auschwitz.

Be ready.

Burton Hersh

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Return of Mother Russia -- III


It has been a while, that I will give you.  The constant maddening revision of format that the computer outfits seem to insist on lest one become familiar with the current system along with personnel reorganization at this end of the Empire have slowed things way down for over a month.  Let's hope we are back on track.

While you were waiting, the crisis in Ukraine has been heating up steadily.  In our media, Putin usually gets the blame, and for justifiable reasons.  Winston Churchill, whose talent for characterizing his contemporaries matched his instinct for leadership, once tagged Eisenhower's starchy, hard-right Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, as "A bull who carries his own China shop around with him."  Putin, a nostalgic reactionary lost in yearning for the days of Stalin, seems to have an equal aptitude for breaking up the crockery.

That said, I have to recur to several of the themes in my last blog.  In the April 9 New York Times Thomas L. Friedman, rarely one to question the establishment, challenges the Clinton-era "thinking that we could expand NATO -- when Russia was at its weakest and most democratic -- and Russians wouldn't care." Friedman quotes George Kennan, "the architect of containment," as viewing the expansion of NATO into the Baltic and Eastern European countries so recently under Soviet domination as “..a tragic mistake ...We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way."

NATO itself came into being in the forties to head off the expansion of the Soviet Union into Western Europe.  But the Soviet Union has passed out of existence, the satellites have long since regained their sovereignty, and much of what was western Russia under Stalin, prominently including Ukraine, is fluttering along as a ring of independent republics. 

Part of the paradox is the fact that Russia, just now an oil-driven kleptocracy, finds itself attempting to carry politically its corrupt ex-republics and finds that very heavy lifting. Ukraine owes billions to Russia for the natural gas on which its industry depends.  The fact is, one primary reason the Soviet Union itself fell apart at the end of the nineties was that the very heavy subsidies the Russians were obliged to spread around to keep their conquests going were insupportable.  Empire is expensive, as we are finding out.

In a recent posting on the March 14 liberal outlet Consortium News, Robert Parry points up the efforts by neoconservative activists like the National Endowment for Democracy, promoting the sort of "false narrative" that produced our misbegotten war in Iraq, to "destabilize government," along Russia's western rim, with Ukraine as "the biggest prize."  Parry is an important journalist, whose AP reports on the covert CIA war against Nicaragua during the 1980s won him the prestigious George Polk Award for National Reporting. 

Parry cites Robert Gates' aside in his memoir of the Bush years that "when the Soviet Union was collapsing in late 1991, Dick [Cheney] wanted to see the dismantlement not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian empire but of Russia itself, so it could never again be a threat to the rest of the world."

If Putin is a paranoid who wants to revise modern history -- and he is, and he does -- he has more than a few counterparts in Washington.  Their influence is augmenting.  They could lead us to disaster.  We must be more than watchful.

Burton Hersh