Havel enough

There has been a lot of ink spilled for Vaclav Havel, most all of it favorable. He was deeply Western; acculturated to rock music and American culture in general, and a willing actor to boot communism into the dust-bin, greatly facilitating the West’s re-colonization of his homeland as a hinterland for Western Europe. He was a symbolic figure, and a warning that poets, writers and other artists do not make effective politicians. In fact, Havel’s writings can be looked on a reinforcing the status-quo whatever the ideology. Havel was a tailor made figure for the West; after all, it appears that capitalism, the post-modern variety does not require hierarchy or cultural dominance to function at full potential. It needs dissent. And dissent is the system and Havel was a champion of dissent. Was Havel’s rebellious behavior a form of status seeking and status competition? After all, if we persist in extolling individuality and non-conformity, an appealing theme, then we have to stop wringing our hands and disputing the consequences of these decisions. We live in a consumerist society and the Czech’s bought into it on their own volition. A very good essay from a marxist perspective….

Louis Proyect:Somehow I find the unctuous outpouring over Vaclav Havel far more off-putting than anything said about Christopher Hitchens. With Hitchens, you at least got the impression that he enjoyed being a prick. With Havel, you got the same kind of overpowering sanctimoniousness you get with religious figures. Keeping that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Havel was close to the Dalai Lama, another snake-oil salesman.

To understand Havel, you have to go back to the beginning of Czech socialism that is a bit more complicated than is usually portrayed in the bourgeois press. While the general consensus among the anti-Stalinist left is that Eastern Europe was turned into “satellite states” of the USSR after WWII, Czech reality is far more complex.

---The essay ends with a classic description of Havel bumping into a film director who doesn’t understand his sudden enthusiasm for defending a bunch of derelict, possibly drug-addled rock musicians. “Perhaps I’m doing him an injustice,” Havel writes, “but at that moment, I was overwhelmed by an intense feeling that this dear man belonged to a world that I no longer wish to have anything to do with—and Mr. Public Prosecutor Kovarik, pay attention, because here comes a vulgar word—I mean the world of cunning shits.” With this middle finger pointed at commie censors and other cunning shits, Václav Havel and his friends then launched Charter 77, arguably the most influential human rights organization in modern history. --- Read More:http://www.tutufoundationusa.org/2011/12/vaclav-havel-leader-of-the-velvet-revolution-dies-at-75/

After British imperialism decided to sell out Czechoslovakia through Neville Chamberlain’s infamous deal, respect for the Western “democracies” declined precipitously and admiration for the USSR grew rapidly. Under Nazi occupation, the CP underground fought heroically as well. Unlike the situation in France, this occupation was unimaginably brutal resulting in the death of up to 55,000 Czechs in concentration camps or through execution. …

…So it is no surprise that Edvard Benes, the left social democrat Prime Minister who was ousted by the Communists in 1948, amounted to a “friend of the Soviet Union”. In a 1943 visit to the USSR, Benes found himself “amazed at the tremendous progress that he found and saw in it confirmation of his belief that the Soviet system, having successfully withstood the difficult test of a massive invasion, was now passing through a gradual transformation to a liberalized form of socialism.” In a nutshell, Benes can be compared politically to fellow travelers of the USSR found in the USA during the New Deal….

---The crucial issue, however, is the tension between his two public images: that of heroic dissident who, in the oppressive and cynical universe of Late Socialism, practised and wrote about ‘living in truth’, and that of Post-Modern President who (not unlike Al Gore) indulges in New Age ruminations that aim to legitimise Nato military interventions. How do we get from the lone, fragile dissident with a crumpled jacket and uncompromising ethics, who opposes the all-mighty totalitarian power, to the President who babbles about the anthropic principle and the end of the Cartesian paradigm, reminds us that human rights are conferred on us by the Creator, and is applauded in the US Congress for his defence of Western values? Is this depressing spectacle the necessary outcome, the ‘truth’, of Havel the heroic dissident? ---( Zizek) Read More:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n21/slavoj-zizek/attempts-to-escape-the-logic-of-capitalism image:http://world-countries.net/archives/135536

…Additionally, Czechoslovakia had the largest indigenous Communist movement anywhere in Europe before WWII. In free parliamentary elections held on May 26, 1946, the CP won 38 percent of the vote nationwide and the Social Democrats received an additional 13 percent. So we are not exactly talking about socialism imposed at the point of a bayonet.

While signing a decree to nationalize land and factories, Benes also sought to placate the west as a buttress against Soviet power. He didn’t understand that a rising anticommunist mood in Washington would effectively preclude this. Benes was perceived as being too friendly to the USSR and too radical. Hence the decision by Secretary of State James Byrnes to annul a $50 million credit to Czechoslovakia in 1945. Even after a poor harvest in 1947, the US Embassy in Prague maintained a policy of “no food and no loans” to Czechoslovakia. In essence, the country would either have to align itself with the United States or the Soviet Union….

--- Michael Polak: Havel's uncritical embrace of U. S. imperialism is well documented and vile, giving lie to his celebrated 'moral stance'; it is just one of the many, many faults that he exhibited over the years (most of the real ones are unfortunately not even mentioned in this piece). However, his worst failing was, in my opinion, that he actually turned out to be completely ineffectual as a leader, had no clear idea of what ought to have been happening to the country, and accordingly left the running of it to others, who unfortunately were all too clear. His feeble attempts to criticise the 'mafia capitalism' (his term) that developed in the Czech Republic were too little, too late. However, within the context of the country, he was still much, much the lesser evil compared to Klaus, who replaced him as President after having been ejected from the executive - and who has been poisoning the atmosphere ever since by both continuously overstepping his constitutional role and spewing out the kind of conservative nationalist crap familiar to anyone with any knowledge of the far right. Havel's wishy-washy liberalism, while no great shakes in itself, was certainly preferable.--- Read More:http://www.zcommunications.org/must-we-adore-vaclav-havel-by-michael-parenti image:h


…The model of a restive population seeking to break the chains of socialism and opening the doors to multinational corporations has little to do with Czech realities. In fact, the first open revolt against the Stalinist bureaucracy was mounted in the name of “socialism with a human face”.

In the late 60s, the opposition to Soviet-style repression was not inspired by Hayek or Ayn Rand. The students and intellectuals who provided an informal vanguard were more likely to be readers of Ernest Mandel or Herbert Marcuse. In Yugoslavia, students occupied the universities raising the banner of “For a Red University”. In Czechoslovakia, the slogan was not quite so bold but it certainly expressed a desire to create a system that retained popular control over the economy…. Read More:http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/vaclak-havel-and-the-struggle-for-socialism-in-czechoslovakia/

…Under Alexander Dubcek, there was a Prague Spring in 1968 that was very much in sync with the student movements of the West. In 1967 a group of writers, including Milan Kundera, threw their support behind members of the Communist Party who were ready to challenge the old way of doing things. In April of 1968, Dubcek announced an Action Programme that would have transformed the country. Politically, it stressed democratic rights of the sort that were once understood as consistent with socialism. Economically, it advocated a more market-driven approach not that different from what existed during the NEP….

…Despite widespread support for socialism early on, the ruling CP did everything it could to dampen the people’s spirit. Even when other Eastern European CP’s were loosening their grip after Stalin’s death, the Czechoslovak CP stuck to its hidebound ways. It was committed economically and culturally to the worst abuses of the Stalin era. As is usually the case, the intelligentsia was the first segment of the population to grow restive….

…Unlike any other country in Eastern Europe, the Czech intelligentsia was disproportionately represented in the CP. This meant that when the reform-oriented faction in the party led by Dubcek sought to renovate the system, the program was a mixture of political liberalization that everybody could support and economic measures geared to the market. The working class embraced the former and held an open mind about the latter….

…While the most famous Czechoslovak writers were solidly behind the Dubcek initiatives, including Milan Kundera and Jeri Pelikan, one decided that he had no interest in reforming socialism. The whole system had to go as the NY Times obituary on Vaclav Havel makes clear:

Mr. Havel, a child of bourgeois privilege whose family lost its wealth when the Communists came to power in 1948, first became active in the Writers Union in Czechoslovakia in the mid-1960s, when his chief target was not Communism so much as it was the “reform Communism” that many were seeking.

During the Prague Spring of 1968, the brief period when reform Communists, led by Mr. Dubcek, believed that “socialism with a human face” was possible, Mr. Havel argued that Communism could never be tamed.

Moving ahead to 1989, when Stalinism entered its death-knell, Czechoslovakia was given the opportunity to pick up where the Prague Spring had left off, not having to worry about Soviet tanks. Among the politicians deemed suitable for leading a new society, Dubcek and Havel stood out—representing two different solutions to the problems that had faced for decades.

In a review of John Keane’s critical biography of Vaclav Havel, a biography that Slavoj Zizek used as a peg to attack Havel’s legacy in the London Review, Laura Secor wrote:

In 1989, five years after Havel’s release, popular demonstrations brought down the Czechoslovak government. Dubcek, Keane contends, was the obvious choice for the country’s transitional presidency — but Havel manipulated Dubcek into stepping aside, by promising to support him in the upcoming free elections. According to Keane, Havel broke that promise, betraying Dubcek and retaining the presidency for himself. Not long afterward, Czechoslovakia split.

Once in power, Havel set about the task to dismantle Czech socialism and create a new state according to the formulas established in George Soros’s Open Society Foundation and elsewhere….

…If there was ever a time to break with this “lesser evil” mentality, it is now. With the deepening crisis of world capitalism, an urgent task confronts us. A revolutionary movement has to be built worldwide that makes no concessions to the paternal rule of a Qaddafi or a Novotny. There will always be the possibility that in a revolt against such rulers, things might not follow a straight and narrow path toward socialist victory but deferring to the status quo in the name of “anti-imperialism” is unacceptable…. Read More:http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/vaclak-havel-and-the-struggle-for-socialism-in-czechoslovakia/


Chomsky to  Alexander Cockburn:

As a good and loyal friend, I can’t overlook this chance to suggest to you a marvelous way to discredit yourself completely and lose the last minimal shreds of respectability that still raise lingering questions about your integrity. I have in mind what I think is one of the most illuminating examples of the total and complete intellectual and moral corruption of Western culture, namely, the awed response to Vaclav Havel’s embarrassingly silly and morally repugnant Sunday School sermon in Congress the other day. We may put aside the intellectual level of the comments (and the response) — for example, the profound and startlingly original idea that people should be moral agents. More interesting are the phrases that really captured the imagination and aroused the passions of Congress, editorial writers, and columnists — and, doubtless, soon the commentators in the weeklies and monthlies: that we should assume responsibility not only for ourselves, our families, and our nations, but for others who are suffering and persecuted. This remarkable and novel insight was followed by the key phrase of the speech: the cold war, now thankfully put to rest, was a conflict between two superpowers: one, a nightmare, the other, the defender of freedom (great applause).

Reading it brought to mind a number of past experiences in Southeast Asia, Central America, the West Bank, and even a kibbutz in Israel where I lived in 1953 — Mapam, super-Stalinist even to the extent of justifying the anti-Semitic doctor’s plot, still under the impact of the image of the USSR as the leader of the anti-Nazi resistance struggle. I recall remarks by a Fatherland Front leader in a remote village in Vietnam, Palestinian organizers, etc., describing the USSR as the hope for the oppressed and the US government as the brutal oppressor of the human race. If these people had made it to the Supreme Soviet they doubtless would have been greeted with great applause as they delivered this message, and probably some hack in Pravda would have swallowed his disgust and written a ritual ode.

I don’t mean to equate a Vietnamese villager to Vaclav Havel. For one thing, I doubt that the former would have had the supreme hypocrisy and audacity to clothe his praise for the defenders of freedom with gushing about responsibility for the human race. It’s also unnecessary to point out to the half a dozen or so sane people who remain that in comparison to the conditions imposed by US tyranny and violence, East Europe under Russian rule was practically a paradise. Furthermore, one can easily understand why an oppressed Third World victim would have little access to any information (or would care little about anything) beyond the narrow struggle for survival against a terrorist superpower and its clients. And the Pravda hack, unlike his US clones, would have faced a harsh response if he told the obvious truths. So by every conceivable standard, the performance of Havel, Congress, the media, and (we may safely predict, without what will soon appear) the Western intellectual community at large are on a moral and intellectual level that is vastly below that of Third World peasants and Stalinist hacks.Read More:http://www.battleswarmblog.com/?p=9828

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One Response to Havel enough

  1. Jirka says:

    Good text but a few mistakes:
    - Benes was member in Czech Nationa-Socialist Party (not Soc Dem)
    - Havels family assets was nationalized not after 1948 by communist but partly after 1945 because of cooperation with Nazis.
    - Jeri Pelikan¨s name is Jiri Pelikan

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