Culpability and Praise

Craven, Jim jcraven at
Sun Aug 8 13:11:52 MDT 1999

I am deeply suspicious of "Single Person" or "Great Leader" or "Great
Despot" theories of culpability or praise for whole historical processes or
even particular events. Since I first started serious examinations of
historical events, when I was around 13 years old, I have believed that if
any one force could be described as a "motive force" of history, or even of
particular events, it would be "class struggle" as defined and carried out
under concrete conditions.

I was once at a rally and met a creature who told me "I am a communist." I
asked him why, and he said because "communists know how to take care of Jews
and I hate Jews." I recoiled, wanting to punch the piece of anti-Semitic
shit out, but instead I talked with him further. It turned out he was
mentally derranged and had no idea that, given his anti-Semitic hate and
fantasies, which he laid at the door of his family having been impoverished
after his father was 'fired by a Jew', those he had the most in common with,
fascists, would probably kill him for even saying he was a "communist" and
further were saying that communism was a "Jewish Conspiracy."

All of this is a bit roundabout way of saying that all movements, and the
policies and actions carried out by them, are made up of real people who
join the movements and originate/implement their policies and actions for
various, often contradictory, often self-serving, often hidden reasons. We
then are stuck with anyalyzing policies not simply in terms of who carried
them out, their openly stated versus hidden motives, how and against/for
whom they were carried out and with what predicted/unpredicted consequences,
but also under what concrete conditions, under what constraints, given what
precedents, given what perceived or actual survival imperatives, given what
information and certainties/uncertainties, arrayed against what forces and
force capabilities/intentions etc...

I have no doubt that in the Cultural Revolution in China all sorts of
opportunists and individuals with hidden agenda (perhaps seeking revenge on
someone who married another that the one seeking revenge had his eye on or
revenge for a family dispute etc...) participated in crimes cloaking them
under the banners of communism or "smashing bourgois weeds". Any such mass
campaings will draw some creatures seeking to use campaigns and "sacred
causes" for some nefarious puproses. But I do believe that the Cultural
Revolution was made necessary, and probably did not go far enough and long
enough in some terms, by the extent, capabilities and intentions of
imperialist encirclement and the social systems engineering/outright warfare
intentions of destroying emerging socialism in China. For any crimes and
"excesses", I lay the blame on the imperialists and their repeated
encirclement machinations and intentions; I do not lay the blame--or
credit--for the whole Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, the Long
March or whatever--and any crimes, mistakes or "excesses" during or flowing
from them--at the feet of one person, Chairman Mao Zedong.

I feel the same when I hear all the successes or failures of the Vietnamese
Revolution placed on the shoulders of Ho Chi Minh or of other successful and
unsuccessful revolutions laid at the feet of any one person or even small
groups of persons--Stalin, Kim Il Sung, Enver Hoxha... I am furthered
tempered and humbled when expressing my own opinions, by some small
appreciation of the myriad and horrible sacrifices made by revolutionaries;
by an appreciation of my own relative comfort and safety relative to that
faced by those revolutionaries; by an appreciation of the fact that social
systems engineering and imperialist machinations are specifically designed
to produce destabilization and chaos and all of the self-impeaching crimes
and excesses that invariably accompany societies under siege; by an
appreciation of the undercertainties and lack of precedents faced by those
revolutionaries under various conditions; by some appreciation of the ugly
natures/capabilities of those forces against which revolutionaries were
arrayed and further by some appreciation of possible horrible consequences
of failure to deal effectively with the forces of reaction; by an
apppreciation of the fact that no one person or even a group of persons can
be aware of and effectively control all the condtions and individuals in a
battle or whole movement; by some appreciation of the fact that much of the
information available to me--even from "revolutionary sources" --is highly
filtered and shaped by a variety of sources for a variety of motives; and by
some appreciation of my own failures to match words and deeds, my own
personal failings, and my own reactions/instincts toward "payback" or very
serious struggle in very serious ways against reactionaries from whom I or
my family or others have suffered.

So when I see all this stuff, with excruciating--but "cherry-picked"--data,
opinion, sources etc about what Stalin or Mao or whomever "did" or "didn't"
do, I just have to plead for a dialaectical materialist view of history.
Yes, lessons must be learned, and applied, but really, where does all of
this go except to produce more of the same tired and old and unproductive
factions and sterile debates.

I can just imagine if on some Reservation, or in some labor struggle I
started in with Mao or Stalin or Trotsky or whomever and what they did or
didn't do whatever... He and he alone did or didn't... He and he alone is
"responsible' for...(credit or blame) I just want you to  know that I am not
a Stalinist, or Stalin was a Great and much-maligned leader, or I am a
Maoist, or... According to chairman Mao or Trotsky or Stalin, a parallel
situtation should be handled like this....At Browning, people would just
look and say what the fuck are you talking about? Talk to me about something
that matters in my life or fuck off...

Twice I visited Marx's grave at Highgate and each time I was struck by the
wisdom that someone had to use, for the inscription summing up the essence
of Marx's life and work, his 11th Thesis on Feuerbach:
"The Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the
point, however, is to change it." Workers of all countries unite! On the
other hand, I wish there had been room on the tombstone for Marx's letter to
Arnold Ruge in 1841 (I believe the date is correct but am not sure): "If the
construction of the future for all time is not our task, all the more
certain is what me must accomplish in the present; I mean, the ruthless
criticism of everything that exists; the criticism being ruthless in the
sense that it neither fears its own results, nor fears conflict with the
powers that be." (quotation from memory so please excuse any errors).

Just some thoughts to provoke thought.

Jim Craven

James Craven
Clark College, 1800 E. McLoughlin Blvd.
Vancouver, WA. 98663
(360) 992-2283; Fax: (360) 992-2863
blkfoot5 at
*My Employer Has No Association With My Private/Protected Opinion*

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