Chomsky on the "Black Book"

ÁÎ×Ó¹â HenryC.K.Liu ¹ù¤l¥ú hliu at SPAMmindspring.com
Wed Jan 26 09:44:11 MST 2000


This should be posted on LBO-Talk and Pent-l, paticularly the part from
Amartya Sen.
I have been banned from both those lists, so perhaps someone else can do
it.

Noam Chomsky:

But before closing the book on the indictment we might want to turn to the
other half of Sen's India-China comparison, which somehow never seems to
surface despite the emphasis Sen placed on it. He observes that India and
China had "similarities that were quite striking" when development planning
began 50 years ago, including
death rates. "But there is little doubt that as far as morbidity, mortality
and longevity are concerned, China has a large and decisive lead over
India" (in education and other social indicators as well). He estimates the
excess of mortality in India over China to be close to 4 million a year:
"India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight
years than China put there in its years of shame," 1958-1961 (Dreze and
Sen).
In both cases, the outcomes have to do with the "ideological
predispositions" of the political systems: for China, relatively
equitable distribution of medical resources, including rural health
services, and public distribution of food, all lacking in India. This was
before 1979, when "the downward trend in mortality [in China] has been at
least halted, and possibly reversed," thanks to the market reforms
instituted that year.

Henry

Macdonald Stainsby wrote:

> Millennial Visions and Selective Vision Part One
> By Noam Chomsky
>
> The new year opened with familiar refrains, amplified by the
> numerology: a
> chorus of self-adulation, somber ruminations about the incomprehensible
> evil
> of our enemies, and the usual recourse to selective amnesia to smooth
> the
> way. A few illustrations follow, which may suggest the kind of
> evaluation
> that would have appeared, were different values to prevail in the
> intellectual culture.
>
> Let's begin with the familiar litany about the monsters we have
> confronted
> through the century and finally slain, a ritual that at least has the
> merit
> of roots in reality. Their awesome crimes are recorded in the
> newly-translated _Black Book of Communism_ by French scholar Stephane
> Courtois and others, the subject of shocked reviews at the transition
> to
> the
> new millennium. The most serious, at least of those I have seen, is by
> political philosopher Alan Ryan, a distinguished academic scholar and
> social
> democratic commentator, in the year's first issue of the New York Times
> Book
> Review (Jan 2).
>
> The _Black Book_ at last breaks "the silence over the horrors of
> Communism,"
> Ryan writes, "the silence of people who are simply baffled by the
> spectacle
> of so much absolutely futile, pointless and inexplicable suffering."
> The
> revelations of the book will doubtless come as a surprise to those who
> have
> somehow managed to remain unaware of the stream of bitter denunciations
> and
> detailed revelations of the "horrors of Communism" that I have been
> reading
> since childhood, notably in the literature of the left for the past 80
> years, not to speak of the steady flow in media and journals, film,
> libraries overflowing with books that range from fiction to
> scholarship... -- all unable to lift the veil of silence. But put that
> aside.
>
> The _Black Book_, Ryan writes, is in the style of a "recording angel."
> It
> is
> a relentless "criminal indictment" for the murder of 100 million
> people,
> "the body count of a colossal, wholly failed social, economic,
> political
> and
> psychological experiment." The total evil, unredeemed by even a hint of
> achievement anywhere, makes a mockery of "the observation that you
> can't
> make an omelet without broken eggs."
>
> The vision of our own magnificence alongside the incomprehensible
> monstrosity of the enemy -- the "monolithic and ruthless conspiracy"
> (John
> F. Kennedy) dedicated to "total obliteration" of any shred of decency
> in
> the
> world (Robert McNamara) -- recapitulates in close detail the imagery of
> the
> past half century (actually, well beyond, though friends and enemies
> rapidly
> shift, to the present). Apart from a huge published literature and the
> commercial media, it is captured vividly in the internal document NSC
> 68
> of
> 1950, widely recognized as the founding document of the Cold War but
> rarely
> quoted, perhaps out of embarrassment at the frenzied and hysterical
> rhetoric
> of the respected statesmen Dean Acheson and Paul Nitze; for a sample,
> see
> my
> _Deterring Democracy_, chap. 1.
>
> The picture has always been an extremely useful one. Renewed once again
> today, it allows us to erase completely the entire record of hideous
> atrocities compiled by "our side" in past years. After all, they count
> as
> nothing when compared with the ultimate evil of the enemy. However
> grand
> the
> crime, it was "necessary" to confront the forces of darkness, now
> finally
> recognized for what they were. With only the faintest of regrets, we
> can
> therefore turn to the fulfillment of our noble mission, though as New
> York
> Times correspondent Michael Wines reminded us in the afterglow of the
> humanitarian triumph in Kosovo, we must not overlook some "deeply
> sobering
> lessons": "the deep ideological divide between an idealistic New World
> bent
> on ending inhumanity and an Old World equally fatalistic about unending
> conflict." The enemy was the incarnation of total evil, but even our
> friends
> have a long way to go before they ascend to our dizzying heights.
> Nonetheless, we can march forward, "clean of hands and pure of heart,"
> as
> befits a Nation under God. And crucially, we can dismiss with ridicule
> any
> foolish inquiry into the institutional roots of the crimes of the
> state-corporate system, mere trivia that in no way tarnish the image of
> Good
> versus Evil, and teach no lessons, "deeply sobering" or not, about what
> lies
> ahead -- a very convenient posture, for reasons to obvious to
> elaborate.
>
> Like others, Ryan reasonably selects as Exhibit A of the criminal
> indictment
> the Chinese famines of 1958-61, with a death toll of 25-40 million, he
> reports, a sizeable chunk of the 100 million corpses the "recording
> angels"
> attribute to "Communism" (whatever that is, but let us use the
> conventional
> term). The terrible atrocity fully merits the harsh condemnation it has
> received for many years, renewed here. It is, furthermore, proper to
> attribute the famine to Communism. That conclusion was established most
> authoritatively in the work of economist Amartya Sen, whose comparison
> of
> the Chinese famine to the record of democratic India received
> particular
> attention when he won the Nobel Prize a few years ago.
>
> Writing in the early 1980s, Sen observed that India had suffered no
> such
> famine. He attributed the India-China difference to India's "political
> system of adversarial journalism and opposition," while in contrast,
> China's
> totalitarian regime suffered from "misinformation" that undercut a
> serious
> response, and there was "little political pressure" from opposition
> groups
> and an informed public (Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, _Hunger and Public
> Action_, 1989; they estimate deaths at 16.5 to 29.5 million).
> The example stands as a dramatic "criminal indictment" of totalitarian
> Communism, exactly as Ryan writes. But before closing the book on the
> indictment we might want to turn to the other half of Sen's India-China
> comparison, which somehow never seems to surface despite the emphasis
> Sen
> placed on it. He observes that India and China had "similarities that
> were
> quite striking" when development planning began 50 years ago, including
> death rates. "But there is little doubt that as far as morbidity,
> mortality
> and longevity are concerned, China has a large and decisive lead over
> India"
> (in education and other social indicators as well). He estimates the
> excess
> of mortality in India over China to be close to 4 million a year:
> "India
> seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight
> years
> than China put there in its years of shame," 1958-1961 (Dreze and Sen).
> In both cases, the outcomes have to do with the "ideological
> predispositions" of the political systems: for China, relatively
> equitable
> distribution of medical resources, including rural health services, and
> public distribution of food, all lacking in India. This was before
> 1979,
> when "the downward trend in mortality [in China] has been at least
> halted,
> and possibly reversed," thanks to the market reforms instituted that
> year.
>
> Overcoming amnesia, suppose we now apply the methodology of the _Black
> Book_
> and its reviewers to the full story, not just the doctrinally
> acceptable
> half. We therefore conclude that in India the democratic capitalist
> "experiment" since 1947 has caused more deaths than in the entire
> history
> of
> the "colossal, wholly failed...experiment" of Communism everywhere
> since
> 1917: over 100 million deaths by 1979, tens of millions more since, in
> India
> alone.
>
> The "criminal indictment" of the "democratic capitalist experiment"
> becomes
> harsher still if we turn to its effects after the fall of Communism:
> millions of corpses in Russia, to take one case, as Russia followed the
> confident prescription of the World Bank that "Countries that
> liberalize
> rapidly and extensively turn around more quickly [than those that do
> not],"
> returning to something like what it had been before World War I, a
> picture
> familiar throughout the "third world." But "you can't make an omelet
> without
> broken eggs," as Stalin would have said. The indictment becomes far
> harsher
> if we consider these vast areas that remained under Western tutelage,
> yielding a truly "colossal" record of skeletons and "absolutely futile,
> pointless and inexplicable suffering" (Ryan). The indictment takes on
> further force when we add to the account the countries devastated by
> the
> direct assaults of Western power, and its clients, during the same
> years.
> The record need not be reviewed here, though it seems to be as unknown
> to
> respectable opinion as were the crimes of Communism before the
> appearance
> of
> the _Black Book_.
> The authors of the _Black Book_, Ryan observes, did not shrink from
> confronting the "great question": "the relative immorality of Communism
> and
> Nazism." Although "the body count tips the scales against Communism,"
> Ryan
> concludes that Nazism nevertheless sinks to the lower depths of
> immorality.
> Unasked is another "great question" posed by "the body count," when
> ideologically serviceable amnesia is overcome.
>
> To make myself clear, I am not expressing my judgments; rather those
> that
> follow from the principles that are employed to establish preferred
> truths -- or that would follow, if doctrinal filters could be removed.
>
> On the self-adulation, a virtual tidal wave this year -- perhaps it is
> enough to recall Mark Twain's remark about one of the great military
> heroes
> of the mass slaughter campaign in the Philippines that opened the
> glorious
> century behind us: he is "satire incarnated"; no satirical rendition
> can
> "reach perfection" because he "occupies that summit himself." The
> reference
> reminds us of another aspect of our magnificence, apart from efficiency
> in
> massacre and destruction and a capacity for self-glorification that
> would
> drive any satirist to despair: our willingness to face up honestly to
> our
> crimes, a tribute to the flourishing free market of ideas. The bitter
> anti-imperialist essays of one of America's leading writers were not
> suppressed, as in totalitarian states; they are freely available to the
> general public, with a delay of only some 90 years.
>
> --
> Macdonald Stainsby
>
> check the "ten point platform" of Tao at: http://new.tao.ca
>
> "`Order rules in Berlin.' You stupid lackeys! Your
> `order' is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will rear
> ahead once more and announce to your horror amid the brass
> of trumpets: `I was, I am, I always will be!'"
>
> -Rosa Luxemburg, 1918.





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