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Chapter Eight - A Duel Between Professor and Poet 
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Post Chapter Eight - A Duel Between Professor and Poet
MM8
As we approach the glorious centenary of Red October on 7 November this year, it is timely to pause to reflect on the tens of millions murdered by fanatical communists over that century, how the red of communism signifies the blood they have shed of all who see merit and skill as more important than political connections as a basis for success in life.

As to why October is in November, we can also reflect on the block-headed Russian opposition to astronomy, which meant they stuck with the ancient calendar rather than accepting the western Gregorian correction that deleted ten days in 1582, ten days that shook the world.

The whole communist model is based on the idea that the poor can rule by uniting against the rich. Unfortunately, the result of that political agenda is ideological denial of some core facts about why the rich are rich, and how incentives operate in markets and society. That obstinate refusal to engage with evidence then drowns the society in blood. Yes there is a large measure of sheer class oppression that explains resentment by the poor. However, the enduring success of the ruling classes is as much due to talent, and reliance on personal initiative, drive and interest to succeed in business and life. Kleptocracies tend not to be sustained for very long.

Communism deflects entrepreneurial life skills into politics instead of trade, producing a gross corruption of economic and social incentives. Good riddance to bad rubbish we might say about the current return of communism as a fashion, except that the young have forgotten why we had the concept of the free world. Too many see the failings of the political right wing as evidence in support of revolutionary change, and thereby ignore the dangerous lessons of history of why violent class based revolution is generally a stupid path of suffering, not a viable political strategy.

But what, you may ask, does this rant have to do with The Master and Margarita? Chapter Eight begins with Ivan in the psych ward, remaining in denial about how his behaviour is perceived by others. That syndrome of denial is used here by Bulgakov as a parable for the wounded vanity of the Bolshevik rank and file who were purged by the so-called 'democratic centralists' who established the totalitarian tyranny.

You might have heard the gross delusionists of the Trotskyite Internationals arguing that if only Trotsky had defeated Stalin then Russia could have made paradise on earth, spreading communist victory to the whole globe. Such insanity deserves patronising contempt, but these communist true believers are like Ivan in the wild sense of their own rational coherence, and in their fury at the inability of the world to see things their way.

Ivan explains to the psychiatrist Stravinsky that the devil had explained to him how he was personally present at the interview of Jesus Christ by Pontius Pilate and the devil had then precisely predicted the death of Berlioz. We the readers are in on the magic realism secret, that Ivan is being totally honest and accurate in his account. But Bulgakov carefully presents this so Ivan’s language tends to gibber, leading his hearers to see him as schizoid.

I read this chapter as a satirical tragic parable for Bulgakov’s observation of war communism in the 1920s. To get a sense of the extremism of the Russian civil war, consider Lenin’s ‘Hanging Telegram’, translated by the historian Robert Conquest. Lenin wrote:
Quote:
“"Comrades! The insurrection of five kulak districts should be pitilessly suppressed. The interests of the whole revolution require this because 'the last decisive battle' with the kulaks is now under way everywhere. An example must be demonstrated. Hang (and make sure that the hanging takes place in full view of the people) no fewer than one hundred known landlords, rich men, bloodsuckers. Publish their names. Seize all their grain from them. Designate hostages in accordance with yesterday's telegram. Do it in such a fashion that for hundreds of kilometres around the people might see, tremble, know, shout: "they are strangling, and will strangle to death, the bloodsucking kulaks". Telegraph receipt and implementation. Yours, Lenin. Find some truly hard people.”
We can readily appreciate that people describing such mind-boggling brutality from Lenin might not be believed. In similar fashion, Ivan is explaining something he personally knows to be true, but is treated as a madman. Bulgakov is saying communism is beyond belief in its venal insanity.


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Post Re: Chapter Eight - A Duel Between Professor and Poet
Robert Tulip wrote:
the red of communism signifies the blood they have shed of all who see merit and skill as more important than political connections as a basis for success in life.

While I basically agree with this, I still think a society functioning as it truly should would give "to each according to need" and benefit "from each according to ability." (Marx' terminology). Large sectors of the mixed market economy operate on people's interest in doing good work. Every researcher in motivation theory and management knows that motivation is about setting internal (i.e. personal) goals, not about how much your pay depends on the results. I would go so far as to say that a person who works hard only if their pay depends on it suffers from a kind of disability.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The whole communist model is based on the idea that the poor can rule by uniting against the rich. Unfortunately, the result of that political agenda is ideological denial of some core facts about why the rich are rich, and how incentives operate in markets and society.
the enduring success of the ruling classes is as much due to talent, and reliance on personal initiative, drive and interest to succeed in business and life.

What monetary incentives do a good job of is focusing people's minds on the things that are valued. There was a time when industrialists were a class of people focused on gathering funds and applying them to create factories and other production, for the purpose of getting rich. That phenomenon has hardly disappeared from the earth, but the idea that the ones running things are doing a hugely better job than the ones left behind in the competition for executive positions is hardly tenable anymore.

What we have is more like what the financial services industry creates, in which some people really are a bit better than the pack (in mutual funds it was Peter Lynch, in management of conglomerates it was Jack Welch, in acquisitions and participating investments, Warren Buffett) but most are useless appendages. The value is not created by hard work and inspiration, it is leeched off of by the industry.

Outside the innovative tech industry, I would argue the entire economy is run by useless appendages (well, okay, they do work hard and the result is somewhat better than if they didn't) in a discouragingly self-serving manner. To be fair, this is largely due to the growing difficulty of actually creating value. There just aren't as many golden pharma finds to be dug up, or killer aps, or revolutionary inventions. In the heyday of capitalism, from 1860 to 2005, life really got better. It remains to be seen whether capitalism's advantages in exploiting innovation have much more value to contribute to the world.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Chapter Eight begins with Ivan in the psych ward, remaining in denial about how his behaviour is perceived by others. That syndrome of denial is used here by Bulgakov as a parable for the wounded vanity of the Bolshevik rank and file who were purged by the so-called 'democratic centralists' who established the totalitarian tyranny.

these communist true believers are like Ivan in the wild sense of their own rational coherence, and in their fury at the inability of the world to see things their way.

I think that is a fair reading of the intent, although it leaves me feeling that his themes are distressingly disconnected. Maybe later chapters will bring the threads together.

Robert Tulip wrote:
To get a sense of the extremism of the Russian civil war, consider Lenin’s Hanging Telegram’,... "Do it in such a fashion that for hundreds of kilometres around the people might see, tremble, know, shout: "they are strangling, and will strangle to death, the bloodsucking kulaks". Find some truly hard people.”

It would be helpful if you had some understanding of how the leading farmers in an area often oppress the peasants. They ally with nobility, if there are any, and use usury to reduce workers and tenants to penury, the better to extract value from the labor and misery of others. Most of the kulaks were not that, but many were. These were distinguished more for their ruthlessness than for their effective farming.
Robert Tulip wrote:
We can readily appreciate that people describing such mind-boggling brutality from Lenin might not be believed. In similar fashion, Ivan is explaining something he personally knows to be true, but is treated as a madman. Bulgakov is saying communism is beyond belief in its venal insanity.
On the contrary, people knew of the Cossack pogroms of the Jews, they knew of the ruthless oppression of peasants by nobility, they knew of the abuses of serfdom. Why would they be shocked that communism was acting in the same way toward people it portrayed as "bloodsuckers"?

I think the surprise is meant to represent the reaction of ordinary functionaries and party idealists (writers, even) at how ruthlessness had begun to attack their ranks. It was for enemies. What was it doing here?



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Post Re: Chapter Eight - A Duel Between Professor and Poet
Harry Marks wrote:
I basically agree
Hi Harry. Our agreement here is that the economic theory of communism contains some basic flaws. While it may be wise to avoid florid language in expanding upon this observation, it is a source of considerable frustration to me that the quality of discussion on communism is so poor, allowing neo-communists and their fellow travellers to maintain the impression that the critique of communism lacks any relevance or ethical compass. Criticisms of communism are widely ignored as serving sectional economic interests. Who is truly sectional, and therefore consumed by deluded fantasy, and who is objective and scientific in this debate is a profound philosophical conundrum. I would just like to see more humility in this debate, with ability to see merit in opposing perspectives.
Harry Marks wrote:
a society functioning as it truly should would give "to each according to need" and benefit "from each according to ability." (Marx' terminology).
Yes, the Marxist utopia is an apt imagination of life in the golden age. After centuries of universal abundance, culture would evolve to enable spiritual incentives to lead people to want to contribute to the common good. But the political problem of communism is that the worker’s united front uses this communist dream as an incentive to short circuit the process of working out how to generate abundance, which is the precondition of a functional sharing economy.
Harry Marks wrote:
Large sectors of the mixed market economy operate on people's interest in doing good work. Every researcher in motivation theory and management knows that motivation is about setting internal (i.e. personal) goals, not about how much your pay depends on the results. I would go so far as to say that a person who works hard only if their pay depends on it suffers from a kind of disability.
Your comment makes me think of people who go to medical school in order to become wealthy, and how that motivation leads to bad medicine. Motivation for internal goals arises from envisioning success, which in turn is a primarily spiritual practice, using ideas to transform behaviour.

This priority of volition and spirit for motivation illustrates that both capitalism and communism have degraded materialist concept of human identity, capitalism for seeing money as the only motive for action, and communism for rejecting the personal spiritual qualities of will and faith and liberty.

Going back to my comment about historical dialectics in the thread on the Frankfurt School, social trust involves a balance of motives between competition and cooperation, with coherent policy involving a synthesis of antithetical motivations.
Harry Marks wrote:
monetary incentives do a good job of focusing people's minds on the things that are valued. There was a time when industrialists were a class of people focused on gathering funds and applying them to create factories and other production, for the purpose of getting rich. That phenomenon has hardly disappeared from the earth, but the idea that the ones running things are doing a hugely better job than the ones left behind in the competition for executive positions is hardly tenable anymore.
Communism is gaining new political traction in response to the perception of gross corruption among the rich. The Panama Papersare a case in point. As you note, similar grand corruption provided the traction for the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.
Harry Marks wrote:
What we have is more like what the financial services industry creates, in which some people really are a bit better than the pack (in mutual funds it was Peter Lynch, in management of conglomerates it was Jack Welch, in acquisitions and participating investments, Warren Buffett) but most are useless appendages. The value is not created by hard work and inspiration, it is leeched off of by the industry.
This seems to reference the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule of the vital few, that about 80% of effects often come from 20% of causes.
Harry Marks wrote:
Outside the innovative tech industry, I would argue the entire economy is run by useless appendages (well, okay, they do work hard and the result is somewhat better than if they didn't) in a discouragingly self-serving manner. To be fair, this is largely due to the growing difficulty of actually creating value. There just aren't as many golden pharma finds to be dug up, or killer aps, or revolutionary inventions. In the heyday of capitalism, from 1860 to 2005, life really got better. It remains to be seen whether capitalism's advantages in exploiting innovation have much more value to contribute to the world.
Frontier industries have to be meritocratic as a function of economic competition, but behind the frontier people lapse into nepotism and protection and the whole scene gets sluggish. Most people just can’t cope with pioneering life on the frontier. I have no doubt that any perceived lull in innovation will be replaced by waves of change, especially since I have a bunch of pioneering inventions which should make a lot of money if anyone ever helps me with them.
Harry Marks wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
Chapter Eight begins with Ivan in the psych ward, remaining in denial about how his behaviour is perceived by others. That syndrome of denial is used here by Bulgakov as a parable for the wounded vanity of the Bolshevik rank and file who were purged by the so-called 'democratic centralists' who established the totalitarian tyranny. … these communist true believers are like Ivan in the wild sense of their own rational coherence, and in their fury at the inability of the world to see things their way.

I think that is a fair reading of the intent, although it leaves me feeling that his themes are distressingly disconnected. Maybe later chapters will bring the threads together.
I don’t get the same sense of disconnect in Bulgakov that you mention here. The overall message of the book is a satire on the situation in Moscow in the 1920s and 1930s. A key element, which inspires Bulgakov’s use of magic realism, is the perception among conservative Tsarists that the whole Bolshevik Revolution is a surreal nightmare, an unbelievable monstrous destruction of all they know and value. I find that sense of the nightmare of confrontation with communist barbarity is a unifying theme in The Master and Margarita. Here in this psych ward chapter, that theme emerges in the inability of a Bolshevik to cope with people who don’t believe his story. That is a syndrome Bulgakov would have rightly perceived among both supporters and opponents of the frightening new dispensation under Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin.
Harry Marks wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
To get a sense of the extremism of the Russian civil war, consider Lenin’s Hanging Telegram’,... "Do it in such a fashion that for hundreds of kilometres around the people might see, tremble, know, shout: "they are strangling, and will strangle to death, the bloodsucking kulaks". Find some truly hard people.”

It would be helpful if you had some understanding of how the leading farmers in an area often oppress the peasants. They ally with nobility, if there are any, and use usury to reduce workers and tenants to penury, the better to extract value from the labor and misery of others. Most of the kulaks were not that, but many were. These were distinguished more for their ruthlessness than for their effective farming.
Sure. The whole Chinese attack on landlords and the Four Olds in the Cultural Revolution, to mention a similar context, illustrates the furious resentment of the poor towards feudal social relations. And the old slavers’ ability to regard the poor as subhuman comes from a historic era now seen as repugnant.

The oppression of the Slavs as a whole gave rise to the word slave. In Russia, the concept of kulak extended down to anyone owning a few cows. And that is why Ivan’s musing about a person being “a kulak masquerading as a proletarian” is so acutely disturbing. It raises the horrible spectre of the lumpen-proletariat of rural Russia nursing old personal grievances and making secret accusations which then lead to the death and imprisonment of capable honest people, destroying the social and economic infrastructure of the culture like a blow to the head with a lump of wood.
Harry Marks wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
We can readily appreciate that people describing such mind-boggling brutality from Lenin might not be believed. In similar fashion, Ivan is explaining something he personally knows to be true, but is treated as a madman. Bulgakov is saying communism is beyond belief in its venal insanity.
On the contrary, people knew of the Cossack pogroms of the Jews, they knew of the ruthless oppression of peasants by nobility, they knew of the abuses of serfdom. Why would they be shocked that communism was acting in the same way toward people it portrayed as "bloodsuckers"? I think the surprise is meant to represent the reaction of ordinary functionaries and party idealists (writers, even) at how ruthlessness had begun to attack their ranks. It was for enemies. What was it doing here?

The systematic industrial organisation of oppression under communism, for example in the collectivisation of agriculture, was far worse than any Tsarist atrocity. Use of machine guns and barbed wire and trains and telephones and radio makes it far easier to organise from the centre. So Stalin’s purges of the Party were like a headline that would have received more attention among elites than the mass destruction of the old society, a catastrophe which so utterly bewildered and attacked the peasantry. But that does not at all mean the peasants accepted this new madness with stoic fortitude. Indeed, peasant uprisings were suppressed by the communist regime with ruthless efficiency on mass scale.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Mon Oct 30, 2017 7:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Chapter Eight - A Duel Between Professor and Poet
Robert Tulip wrote:
Our agreement here is that the economic theory of communism contains some basic flaws.
Yes, and as much as I am dissatisfied with the implications drawn by Hayek, I think he had the right of it when addressing the political requirements of centralization, and the freedom granted by decentralization.
Robert Tulip wrote:
While it may be wise to avoid florid language in expanding upon this observation, it is a source of considerable frustration to me that the quality of discussion on communism is so poor, allowing neo-communists and their fellow travellers to maintain the impression that the critique of communism lacks any relevance or ethical compass.

If I may be so free, I think the confusion over communism is partly due to a fundamental confusion between its ends, which tend to be appealing, and the political process involved in putting such ends in place. In my experience, Westerners still willing to term themselves communists are entirely focused on (one my say bewitched by) the ends, and have either no concept of the reason it leads to bad means or no willingness to grant that they may not be worth using for the ends they envision.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Criticisms of communism are widely ignored as serving sectional economic interests. Who is truly sectional, and therefore consumed by deluded fantasy, and who is objective and scientific in this debate is a profound philosophical conundrum.
I am not sure where this is coming from. First, I don't identify special interests with "deluded fantasy" even though they often indulge in it. The interests who are quite willing to lie for their personal gain are the ones that most focus on.

Second, I don't associate critiques of communism with accusations of sectional interest. There was a time when "property" was a sufficient argument against communism for many, and that could be seen as illegitimately used by plutocrats. But that argument was settled by progressive income taxes, and only about 10 percent of the public finds a flat tax to be a credible notion. The older and deeper idea that capitalism expropriates to itself much of the value created by others is not really an argument about special interest manipulation but about inappropriate power.

Robert Tulip wrote:
I would just like to see more humility in this debate, with ability to see merit in opposing perspectives.

Well, I'm your man. I have trouble not seeing merit in both sides.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
a society functioning as it truly should would give "to each according to need" and benefit "from each according to ability." (Marx' terminology).
Yes, the Marxist utopia is an apt imagination of life in the golden age. After centuries of universal abundance, culture would evolve to enable spiritual incentives to lead people to want to contribute to the common good.
Not necessarily just to the common good. They could be rewarded with some relationship to their contribution without really violating "to each according to need". The spiritual incentives are already in place, and the task is to get over obsession on the material incentives.
Robert Tulip wrote:
But the political problem of communism is that the worker’s united front uses this communist dream as an incentive to short circuit the process of working out how to generate abundance, which is the precondition of a functional sharing economy.
Yes, I think from the beginning communism glossed over the operation of focus and effort that the market brings to behavior. Without those, you would probably have a sort of village economy in stagnation, because imagination of doing things a better way is more likely to run into resistance than to seize imaginations.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Motivation for internal goals arises from envisioning success, which in turn is a primarily spiritual practice, using ideas to transform behaviour.
I would say from envisioning the end product. Using "success" makes it sound like only the money motivates, which is not correct.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Frontier industries have to be meritocratic as a function of economic competition, but behind the frontier people lapse into nepotism and protection and the whole scene gets sluggish. Most people just can’t cope with pioneering life on the frontier.
I think this is an accurate description.

Robert Tulip wrote:
I don’t get the same sense of disconnect in Bulgakov that you mention here. The overall message of the book is a satire on the situation in Moscow in the 1920s and 1930s. A key element, which inspires Bulgakov’s use of magic realism, is the perception among conservative Tsarists that the whole Bolshevik Revolution is a surreal nightmare, an unbelievable monstrous destruction of all they know and value. I find that sense of the nightmare of confrontation with communist barbarity is a unifying theme in The Master and Margarita. Here in this psych ward chapter, that theme emerges in the inability of a Bolshevik to cope with people who don’t believe his story. That is a syndrome Bulgakov would have rightly perceived among both supporters and opponents of the frightening new dispensation under Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin.
Having looked back over the chapter, I want to bring out the charm of his psychiatrist, who plays along until enough of the story is out in the open that he can point out how utterly unbelievable it is. The disconnect comes from the fact that the story really is unbelievable. So we don't have a clear case of naivete, of madness, or of horrific barbarity. Given that Bulgakov cannot state his true subject that is understandable, but it still leaves a feeling of wires crossing.

Even so, Bulgakov manages to use detail and subtlety to great comic effect as the psychiatrist is sympathetic and even sounds like he might accept Ivan's story, up til the point where he draws a conclusion. I guess on further reflection I think this is an extension of the intentional confusion between facts and meanings, in which a meaning (an interpretation) that is different from the official one leads to doubt of the factual claims themselves. I think you are right about the "surreal nightmare," but I suspect that the difference in levels of perspective is as much Bulgakov's point as the unbelievability of it.

If I may say so, I had an eerie deja vu when reading your words about the tsarists considering the whole revolution to be surreal. I often have the same feeling about the current U.S. administration. This may be cutting a bit too close to the bone.

Robert Tulip wrote:
In Russia, the concept of kulak extended down to anyone owning a few cows. And that is why Ivan’s musing about a person being “a kulak masquerading as a proletarian” is so acutely disturbing. It raises the horrible spectre of the lumpen-proletariat of rural Russia nursing old personal grievances and making secret accusations which then lead to the death and imprisonment of capable honest people, destroying the social and economic infrastructure of the culture like a blow to the head with a lump of wood.

After the end of the Soviet Union there was a huge upsurge in barn burnings, mostly attributed to jealousy over neighbors with the effrontery to make more money than their former comrades.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The systematic industrial organisation of oppression under communism, for example in the collectivisation of agriculture, was far worse than any Tsarist atrocity. Use of machine guns and barbed wire and trains and telephones and radio makes it far easier to organise from the centre.
I'm still not sure you've made a case for surprise. But I take your point that it was astonishingly thorough and brutal in a way that floggings for recalcitrant serfs probably was not. After all, the industrial scale of the Nazi death camps has a similar mind-boggling effect.



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Post Re: Chapter Eight - A Duel Between Professor and Poet
Harry Marks wrote:
eerie deja vu when reading your words about the tsarists considering the whole revolution to be surreal. I often have the same feeling about the current U.S. administration. This may be cutting a bit too close to the bone.


Try this quick quiz: Which dictator was concerned about a smaller state to the south of his large powerful nation, and surrounded that state with barbed wire and machine guns and deliberately starved ten million people to death by confiscating all their food?

Donald Trump or Joseph Stalin? This comparison between attitudes to Ukraine and Mexico illustrates that the scope of tyranny from genuinely insane fanatics such as the Bolsheviks is of a completely different order compared to the legitimate exercise of democratic power in the modern USA.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor explains the Ukraine "Terror Famine".


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