Tone deaf Leftists: A Chilean tale

Check out this beautiful block of text from the Poetry Foundation, an educational website ostensibly dedicated to the subject it has named itself after:

[Pablo] Neruda had gone into hiding in his native Chile more than a year before. After he helped elect Gabriel González Videla as president on a radical left platform, González Videla launched a campaign of repression that included roundups of leftists and labor leaders, and violent repression of workers’ strikes. As copper prices plummeted after World War II, the Truman administration convinced González Videla that he would need the United States’ economic help and that war between the US and Russia was looming. This convinced González Videla to ban communism in Chile.

There are two things to think about here. One is the fact that the poetry website is only superficially about poetry, even though it proudly claims the mantle of all things belonging to the realm of the poet. In reality, the Poetry Foundation is one of the many well-funded arms of the political left.

Here’s the thing, though. The folks at the Poetry Foundation don’t think they’re engaged in leftist political activism. They think they’re doing the work of a poetry foundation. To them, there is no distinction between poetry and left-wing politics. It’s like the partisan who claims to be a political moderate while calling for the wholesale nationalization of medical and financial markets. We’re not dealing with a vicious, concerted effort to uproot the liberal order. We’re dealing with obstinate people in cliques who believe they have more knowledge than everybody else. (By the way, the excerpt above was what the well-respected leftist website 3 Quarks Daily, which shows NOL some love from time to time, used to promote the article.)

The second thing I’d like to focus on is the narrative itself. A radical left-wing government was elected and, once in power, immediately began repressing other rivals factions. (Do you think labor groups and other leftist organizations were the only ones repressed by González Videla?) This is not a new phenomenon. This is what radicals, on both the left and the right, do. Just ask the Russians. Or the Venezuelans.

Yet look at how this well-documented repression – by a left-wing, democratically-elected Chilean government – is portrayed by the Poetry Foundation. Instead of owning up to the fact that radical governments, even democratically-elected ones, tend to resort to violence when their unfeasible ideas are finally put into place and inevitably, predictably fail, Harry Truman gets blamed.

So a radical leftist government gets elected and starts repressing its former allies (and, it is assumed, its enemies) because Harry Truman told this radical, democratically-elected leftist that the Soviet Union and the United States were going to fight in a war and the Americans were the side Chile should ally with? Obstinate ignorance!

Before I sign off, it’s worth noting that González Videla was elected in 1946. Allende was elected in 1973. In the nearly 40 years between them lots of people on both sides of the aisle died for political reasons. People didn’t stop dying until well into the 1980s. Yet, somehow, Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek (and Harry Truman) are to blame for all of Chile’s Cold War woes.

Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism IX

After a break dealing with proofs and indexes of two forthcoming books, a process that overlapped with getting a new university semester started, I can return to this series, which I last added to here. I set the scene of the late 1960s in Turkey, so I will turn to the next big upheaval, the Coup by Memorandum on March 12th 1971.

The Coup by Memorandum followed an attempted coup by far left/third worldist revolutionaries amongst the officer corps. Any unity created by the Kemalist project (secularist national-republican tradition of Turkey’s founder, Kemal Atatürk) was effectively ended, though this decomposition could be said about the whole period from the 1940s to 1971, especially after the adoption of multi-partyism by Atatürk’s successor, İsmet İnönü.

The 1971 coup forced the resignation of the conservative Prime Minister Süyleman Demirel and the implementation of a program to crush the far left, while also implementing some of the more left-wing ideas associated with the 1960 coup (particularly land reform and trade union rights). National View, the first Islamist party in Turkey, founded by Necmettin Erbakan, was closed down along with leftist groups so that an appearance of balance could be maintained in opposing the extremes on both sides. The reality, though, is that the level of state repression, including violence, and further including illegal violence (torture of the arbitrarily detained) directed against the far left, including Kurdish autonomists, drastically exceeded that directed against the far right.

The level of oppression that affected the mainstream right (in that the Justice Party was temporarily removed from government) and religious right was enough to create the idea that the right in Turkey was in some way the liberal part of Turkish politics. This not only influenced liberals, but even some people with very left wing views. It is part of how the AKP could come to power and hollow out state institutions, while subordinating civil society from 2002 onwards. The right continued with a militant anti-communist discourse, in all parts, while in part posing as the liberal friends of leftist rights, along with the rights of the Kurdish autonomists. This was pioneered by Turgut Özal in the 80s and taken further by the AKP. Presumably, Turkish liberals and leftists of the most anti-Kemalist sort have now learned a lesson, but possibly too late to benefit from it for at least a generation.

The military establishment’s implicit tolerance of the religious right, along with the ultranationalist grey wolves, in comparison to the secularist leftists tells an important story about the reality of ‘Kemalist domination’ of Turkey. It had evolved into a Turkish-Islamic synthesis, a compromise with the more conservative parts of the Kemalist establishment, in which the Turkish-Islamic synthesis became more prominent and the ‘Kemalism’ became more and more gestural, including a pointless obsession with preventing young women with covered hair from entering the university, at the same time as the rights of non-Muslim minorities.

The picture is more complicated in that the anti-leftist post-memorandum government in 1971 closed the Greek Orthodox seminary in the Princes Islands off the Marmara Sea coast of Istanbul, as part of a general closure or nationalisation of private (largely foreign) institutions of higher education. This was a policy in accordance with the demands of the far left, including campus radicals. So a measure to deny rights to a Christian minority coincided with the demands of the far left and was undertaken by a notionally secularist government, in reality more concerned with crushing the far left and extending a conservative form of statism.

The above, in any case, did not resolve the real problems of political violence to which the 1971 coup responded. The period between the end of the very temporary government appointed in 1971 and the coup of 12th September 1983 was one of increasing political violence and extremism, with a lack of stable governments as the Justice Party lost majority support (though it remained in government most of the time). Neither it nor the Republican People’s Party were able to form stable coalitions or parliamentary agreements, while the economy suffered and political violence increased between far left and far right groups. Unexplained massacres of demonstrators and political assassinations accompanied barricades that violent groups put up to signify control of urban areas.

The National Assembly failed to elect a President of the Republic in 1980, despite 115 rounds of voting during increasing political and economic disruptions. When the army seized power again on the 12th September, there was widespread public support, but this was the most brutal of the military governments. Its attempt to create a more ‘stable’, i.e. authoritarian, democracy gave Turkey a constitution and system which enabled the AKP to come to power with 35% of the vote in 2002 and then erode the weak restraints on executive powers when held in conjunction with a one party majority in the National Assembly.

More on this in the next post.

The political Left and violence: An uncomfortable, subconscious symbiosis

I recently set up a Twitter account (you can follow me here; you can follow Notes On Liberty here) and after a couple of days of using its newsfeed I’ve decided to tally up the number of tweets from Leftists that either call for outright violence or allude to violence against their political enemies. Now obviously these guys are joking and I don’t think that any of them actually mean what they say, but the fact that this project even struck me as something to do is flabbergasting.

I think the fact that there are so many allusions to violence – against political enemies – in my newsfeed, combined with the recent labors of the media to rid the Colorado school shooter’s political leanings from the narrative of that particular story, has put me at unease* and made me particularly sensitive to the culture of ‘high’ media.

The allusions to violence harbor an authoritarian tendency that I think often goes unnoticed. I didn’t notice anything until a couple of days ago. Yet they are there, in plain sight. You can find these appeals and allusions to violence on the Right as well, but not from the people and organizations I follow on Twitter.

For example, I don’t follow rednecks or Party activists but rather professors, journalists, wonks and publication outlets that I think provide great, in-depth insights into the world around me. Most of these individuals and organizations are Left-leaning, and I have yet to ever (ever) see an appeal to violence coming from an intellectual conservative or libertarian organization. I see it from the intellectual Left so often that I am now going to start tallying such outbursts.

This is worrisome for a bunch of reasons, but three stand out to me:

  1. Joking about violence is not very funny; Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert don’t do it, and now we know why
  2. The hypocrisy coupled with the veiled and not-so-veiled threats against political enemies is nothing short of barbarism
  3. It convincingly shows just how shallow Leftist thought has become; resorting to violence in an argument is, as we all know, a sign of defeat

Added together, these three major reasons make a solid foundation for a fascistic political movement. Look at my most recent ‘favorited’ tweet, from an assistant editor for The New Republic:

“If I were running Bloomberg View…the thing I would most want would be for Bloomberg to get hit by a bus.”

Ha. Ha. This is hilarious, right?

These are the same people who, in the wake of many mass shootings, have claimed that one of Sarah Palin’s campaign websites was indirectly responsible for senseless acts of violence (because of animated target signs that hovered over a map).

Disgusting, and yet there is a definite silver lining in all of this. Reason #3, as outlined above, is largely responsible for the intellectual Left’s impotence and fetish for domestic political violence.

Violence and the lust for power have gone virtually hand-in-hand with Leftism since the mid-19th century, of course, and this is largely because their plans for humanity are simply not feasible. And these plans, in turn, are not feasible because they are not congruent with reality.

Let me see if I can illustrate my point by digressing for a moment. Benito Mussolini was a Leftist his entire life. National socialism for German workers was a child of the Left. Maoism and Leninism were Leftist to the core. All were violent. All failed miserably and yet I see the underpinnings of these philosophies – these worldviews – in the rhetoric of the present-day American Left.

Not good. Nor is it good that the present-day Left denies its own bloodlines. Conservatives and libertarians are often quick to fess up to any historical misdeeds done in the name of their ideologies. Not so with the Left. I think this may have to do with the fact that while Leftist regimes were responsible for hundreds of millions of unnecessary deaths in the 20th century alone there are very few historical misdeeds perpetrated in the name of classical liberalism.

At any rate, I’ll keep you all updated on my tally. In the name of justice I will also keep a tally on tweets of violent fantasies that go out in the name of libertarianism or conservatism. My sampling size is small, of course. I only follow intellectuals and publications that give voice to intellectuals. This will be interesting.

* The fact that an evil person’s political views have been marginalized is not what is important. I think such views (if any) should be, as there is obviously something other than a shooter’s political leanings that is responsible for the horrific violence. What is important is the fact that if this shooter had been a self-identified conservative or libertarian it would have been plastered all over the news and it would still be getting air time as you read this.

Istanbul: The Protests

A moderately Islamist government has been in power in Turkey for about 10 years now. Over the weekend it faced its first stern test. One brave Turkish blogger has decided to reach out to the rest of the world:

No newspaper, no television channel was there to report the protest. It was a complete media black out.

But the police arrived with water cannon vehicles and pepper spray.  They chased the crowds out of the park.

In the evening of May 31st the number of protesters multiplied. So did the number of police forces around the park. Meanwhile local government of Istanbul shut down all the ways leading up to Taksim square where the Gezi Park is located. The metro was shut down, ferries were cancelled, roads were blocked.

Yet more and more people made their way up to the center of the city by walking.

They came from all around Istanbul. They came from all different backgrounds, different ideologies, different religions. They all gathered to prevent the demolition of something bigger than the park:

The right to live as honorable citizens of this country.

Read the rest. Hurriyet, one of Turkey’s best media outlets, has been doing an excellent job covering events after the fact. Their English-language site is here, and I recommend reading the site on a daily basis (even after the violence is over).

Here is my two cents: the Erdogan government (the Islamist one) put one too many straws upon the camel’s back. Ankara simply took too many liberties when it came to regulating the cultural and material life of the Turkish people. Too many blasphemy laws and too many clothing restrictions, coupled with too poor an economic performance made these protests inevitable. The harsh crackdown on an otherwise free people ensured violence and larger protests.

By the way, Turkey’s first post-Ottoman government, headed by the ardent secularist and Europhile, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, also insisted on regulating the cultural and material lives of Turkish citizens, so Islam has nothing to do with this (check out our many discussions we’ve had here on the blog on this).

Rather, the “authoritarianism lite” of the Turkish state has more to do with its status as a post-colonial imperial state and a Cold War pawn than it does with any inherent cultural traits of the Turkish people or of the Islamic faith.