[Marxism] Jack Kelley, Stalinism and acknowledging your sources

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Tue Mar 23 13:43:53 MST 2004


I'm still feeling pretty lousy really, bronchitis and sore throat and all
that, a bit shaky, not up to it, plus I have a sore index finger, a bit of
RSI, and financial worries. So I'll just say my piece and leave it at that.

OK what I wanted just to say is this: personally, I don't feel any affinity
with the Jack Kelleys or Jason Blairs, and here's why. In Christianity Today
magazine, Jeffrey S. McDonald reported in an article called "Reporting from
Hell's Doorstep" that Kelley said "Journalism is a calling. I feel God's
pleasure when I write and report. It isn't because of the glory, but because
God has called me to proclaim truth, and to worship and serve him through
other people." And: "I talk to the Lord constantly. That is the only way I
can get through this job. I should have died a long time ago. God is
protecting me. I don't think I am testing the Lord. I just think this is
what he has called me to do, and he will equip me as necessary."
http://www.christianitytoday.com/tc/2001/002/2.18.html .

In other words, his motivation seems to be to testify, bear witness or
prosytelise. That's not my motivation, I'm more interested in the story
behind, or in, the story, or what the story really means, the story in the
story, or the bigger story of which it is a part. All your life you get
blasted with all sorts of tales and you end up thinking, well what does it
all mean anyhow, and what has it got to do with real life ? You have the
objective facts, and then I have my own idea about them, and you have to
distinguish between those.

Kelley's role models, he was reported as saying in McDonald's article, are
four of "the greatest journalists of all time": "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and
John". He wants to see how "God is working" and "teach universal lessons"
through his stories", according to McDonald. As far as I know the four
Gospelists weren't even journalists, so what is he talking about ? This is
not Christianity, but Christianism. Kelley became a Christian two decades or
so ago in the Catholic charismatic movement, and he said he has "role
models" in his own family. "My mother was the first to be born again, and
encouraged my father, my sister, and me to follow her example" and so on.
Personally, I have little in common with my family, and I was raised to
believe that's okay.

Nor do I have any role models, because I hate playing roles, and I certainly
wouldn't do it for a living, even although people suggested I should be an
actor. But I decided early on I didn't want to be one, and in fact I said
explicitly to my colleagues in 1991 I didn't want to be famous either,
quoting Andy Warhol on fame.
I would have gone into acting or something like that if it was me, but it
isn't. Of course, you do need to adjust to situations, but I think really
role playing is best done with somebody whom you are truly intimate with,
and who therefore can play a game, knowing very precisely the difference
between the role and the reality of who you are. If I was to take the gospel
from somewhere it would be more like John, George, Paul and Ringo, but then,
I'm not religious about it, a lousy pop song is a lousy one, and a good one
is a good one; to say that a song is good because John, George, Paul or
Ringo wrote it, is ridiculous to me.

John Lennon didn't even like some of his own songs or the way they were
produced, he said he wrote some just to fill up an album, he would tack a
number like "Run for your life little girl" at the end of an album, but his
heart wasn't really in it anyhow. In the end, he sang "I don't believe in
Beatles" and said afterwards "God is a concept by which we measure our
pain", but I don't believe the latter either, since God ex definitione
cannot be measured, you can only measure observable behaviour which is
claimed to be motivated by God, and infer something from that. So that
formula does not make sense to me. You can sexualise everything but that
doesn't do justice to human nature.

And in this context, a socialist stance is perfectly clear: distinguish
carefully between what people's beliefs are, which you ought to respect, and
what they do in the name of those beliefs, which you can criticise, in order
to understand how they really relate. Personally, I don't believe much at
all, in fact, in 1976 I wrote myself a "Manifesto of unbelief" partly ripped
off from stuff I read by Jiddu Krishnamurti, who would say things like "look
at the tree, don't worry about all your beliefs about the tree, go for the
direct experience, without trying to interpret everything through an
oppressive memory." It's often difficult, because of course I have bad
memories also that stuff me up in some ways. Bob Geldof did a good song
once, "don't believe what you read" which is a bit exaggerated maybe, but
it's just saying, basically, that you have to read between the lines and all
that, and not simply take things for granted. A simple point maybe, but
reading the press, I often think we need more pop music there, and less
prejudice.

But at least John Lennon was honest, he sings stuff like "I am scared and
scarred, hatred and jealousy are going to be the death of me, sing about
love and peace, don't want to see the red raw meat, the goddamn green-eye
straight from your heart." And that's what happened to him too.

I don't personally have the same ego he had, I don't want to be the biggest
and the best, but usually, I think the way you'll end up dying, has
something to do with how you lived your life anyhow. Somebody could waste
me, for a provocation, but okay, that's it, if you die, you die, Epicurus
didn't let it worry him, and it doesn't worry me either, point is to be very
clear about what you are provoking, and if anything I'm just trying to
challenge the grey matter, and probe the essence of the issue I'm thinking
about, rather than beat about the bush endlessly, knowing full well I don't
have all the answers either. But I don't pretend to have them.

Kelley says "I try to be people's ears, eyes, and hearts so they can
understand the times they are living in," but he must have been going a bit
blind with some of the stuff he wrote, and USA Today didn't edit it out
either. I think people know very well the times they are living in, and they
have ears, eyes, and hearts, consequently the task is not to dumb down, but
think about how we are actually using our sensory organs; and in that sense
nobody has an absolute privilege, there's room for discussion. I know this
for sure because I did a Master's in Education.

Kelley says (same article) "As Christians, we are called to be in the world
but not of the world. But some Christians, I'm afraid, are not even in the
world. They refuse to keep up with the news. They isolate themselves. After
all I've seen, I realize that people are more alike than they are different,
and that everyone is trying to make it through with some measure of
dignity. . It doesn't matter what color their skin is, or their income, or
where they live, the most important thing is to show people the love of the
Lord."

I don't see it that way, but then I am not a christian in terms of my
beliefs. When I was 16 year old schoolboy into my third high school, they
stuck little innocent me in 5NL2 with a dense crowd of christian students,
and we'd all troop off to the Interschool Christian Fellowship meeting. One
day, we had to sing this song:

I don't know why Jesus really loved me
I don't know why he cared
I don't know why he sacrificed his life for me
ooohhh but I'm glad, so glad he did.

I thought about this, and I thought, this crap is absurd christianism, and I
am having none of it, and left. That stuff wasn't me, because I always
wanted to know why. I read Richard Adams, Xaviera Hollander, Jan Cremer,
Harold Robbins, Kurt Vonnegut, anything like that, I found it more
interesting really than the holy mystery of the loaves and fishes.

The next year, in 1976, the history teacher, Mr Haynes, drew three pyramids
on the blackboard to explain Karl Marx's idea. One pyramid had the king and
the feudal lords at the top and the serfs at the bottom, the next had the
proletariat at the bottom and the bourgeoisie at the top, and the third had
no class differences at all, because it depicted communism. I thought yep,
that is exactly what it is all about, and I asked the teacher why there was
still a third pyramid anyhow, shouldn't it be a ball or a circle or
something, but no, there had to be this pyramid anyhow (?). Lateron I went
through all these ideas about the meritocracy etc.

As far as I am concerned, we are not "called to be in the world but not of
the world" as Kelley says. We come into this world, whether we like it or
not. One day Mum decided to push me out of her, and I was born into this
world, before the doctor could even get to me, that's how it happened. You
might think you're safe and snug, but next thing you're out there, crying
and all wet (in my case, the womb water started to come out at the same
time). Faced with this existential predicament, we have to make our way in
the world, knowing we are in the world and part of it, so might as well love
it, otherwise you're better off dead. Half the time I don't love it, and
wish I was somewhere else though, I think sometimes I am better off dead,
it's too difficult.

Marx had a similar intuition: "philosophy must become worldly", he said,
i.e. nevermind the christianist bollocks, you have to come to grips with the
world somehow, and rarified, decontextualised abstractions must give way to
thought informed by empirical reality. If people create hell on earth,
that's no reason to reconcile yourself with it. It may all be terribly
difficult, but there's your challenge. If Kelley says, "some Christians, I'm
afraid, are not even in the world" and that they "refuse to keep up with the
news" I can understand where he's coming from, but the only Lord I am
interested in really these days, is Lord Eatwell. Even so, you can never
simplistically infer a sexual stance from a religious stance or vice versa,
that's just a prejudice people have.

Which leads me to Melvin's argument. Melvin says, "The neoconservative
apologists of christianist imperialism" have nothing what so ever to do with
Stalin - here I concede to the incorrect idea that Stalin
was the worst person on earth". But I have never said that Stalin was the
worst person on earth, he wasn't. Mr Bush isn't either. I don't know who it
is, never met that person, glad to say, and I don't know if it got into the
Guiness Book of Records either.

Then Melvin asks: "How can the reactionary ideologists of American
imperialism be "New Stalinists" when they created the fundamental logic and
mechanism for the falsification of history?". Well, if you please, Stalin
came from a religious background, and even tried for a stint at Seminary
School as a youth. Whereas Trotsky was a drop-out mathematician. Lenin was a
law student.  Stalin's ascent to dictatorial power was based not on making a
socialist revolution, but on a modernisation programme based on the decline
of real workingclass struggles. His power was based not so much on his real
capacity to lead, but on wiping out his opponents through bureaucratic
maneouvres, purges, and extermination. This created a conservative,
defensive ideology.

Central to Stalin's style is a preachy approach to communism, where the
peasants have to be educated into proletarian socialism, and I never
believed that. Karl Marx was very clear about this, he raises the question
from the very start: "who shall educate the educators ?" and then he says,
the changing of men and the changing of circumstances occurs in a single
process, such that you revolutionise yourself as you try to revolutionise
the world. And unless you're blind to change, you know that change is
already occurring anyway, and the only real question is to know what the
world is changing in to, and what your own place is in that process. When I
read this stuff from neoconservatives, I really am reminded of the
Stalinists. Conservative. Bloody. Falsifying of the facts. Crude amalgams of
positions. And then the next thing you read is the suggestion that the Bush
cabal is implementing Trotsky's permanent war ideology. How pathetic. That's
not how it is at all. All that really happens is that management is always
on the lookout for new ideas among the workers, that they can rip off and
use for their own purposes. But that is nothing new.

What can be learnt from all this ? That unscientific, unimaginative, shallow
and doctrinaire people recoil just to old stories when faced with new
phenomena which they cannot explain. Whereas what I really want to do is
say: here are some significant new contemporary facts, let's apply what we
know to explain them, using our own brains, if we still know how to use
them, instead of repeating a rote-learned formula. Then we can do something
about it, or at least orient our action better.

In my own writing in recent times, I haven't always acknowledged my sources
although I know perfectly well what they are. But my aim is not to
plagiarise or anything like that, and anyway mostly it isn't a scholarly
exercise but a writing exercise. If people try to parasitise your private
activity, well then you start to look on this question of "acknowledging
your sources" in a different way. Two questions arise: why acknowledge your
sources, when people rip you off and don't acknowledge it, in any way
whatever ? Why acknowledge your sources, when not acknowledging them, might
encourage lazy minds who like to play inquisition from their armchairs to
check for themselves what those sources were anyway ?

When I was at university in the 1980s, I did a few simple tests for myself
as Education student, and definitively established that some academics
earning four times what I earnt, couldn't even recognise a source if they
fell over it. Subsequently, I would mark like, 300-600 scripts a year as a
tutor for measly pay, and I would check the sources in the assignments. But
I also explained to students why you had to acknowledge your sources, in
fact, I wrote a guide on how to write scholarly essays which many people
appreciated. Some students would come to my office, and thank me personally
for the effort. One of them, she even said, "this is the best feedback I
ever had." Of course, I also got negatives, that's life, but then we did a
remarking, for objectivity's sake.

But, you know, people can become so obsessed with acknowledging their
sources and how original they are, or should be, that the content of the
actual text suffers. It becomes a fetishism, which stops real thinking. My
philosophy is, that if I publish in a bona fide scholarly journal, I have to
acknowledge what my sources were. Or if I want to be a scholar, then I have
to be scholarly in a scholarly publication. And I have done that; if I
haven't, I expect proof that I haven't. But if I just publish on a list,
it's different, it's the idea that counts and the purpose of it, and if
people want to get at my source, then they have to contact me about it. All
I can say is that if people want to substitute the Bible for a scientific or
scholarly source, then I am going to get very annoyed, because the issue is
evidential support, not unctious justification of a stance.

I helped a comrade finish his Phd once and got a lot of sources for him, a
practice which he accepted; then he implied in his preface to the
dissertation however something to the effect that he didn't care too much
for this scholarship hype anyway (I don't remember the exact phrase), he
thought it was all a bit frivolous and did not like literature reviews. And
he did not get the lectureship he wanted, but I wasn't surprised, I had
advised him about the consequences of my assistance from a scholarly point
of view, but he tended to think at the time it was all a bit pedantic.
Lateron, however, when he was a trade union leader, the employers caught him
out with a leaflet and sued him, and he had to take out another mortgage. So
the words do count after all.

As regards myself, I worked in statistics and had to deal there with a
bright mathematician whom I felt could not distinguish appropriately between
sexual innuendo, statistical inquiry and collegial behaviour. Then he
started to project his own interpretation onto me, and called me a fraud.
But I committed no sin. It seemed to be a problem. He would ask, "are you
still concerned with this issue of social classes ?" and I would say sure I
am. The insults and accusations I got there, dogged me for a long time. You
get all these people disrespecting your life. I had to think of that quote
from Voltaire then, "The only way to comprehend what mathematicians mean by
infinity, is to contemplate the extent of human stupidity."

We might be crunching numbers, but out there in the world people were
getting killed in the warfare between classes. Some insults to one's sense
of dignity are terrible, and sometimes I think that numbers really can kill,
which is a worry in a world dominated by quantitative gambling with the
future. I ended up thinking, okay, suppose I was what you say I am, which I
am not, then what ? I became more interested in understanding acts of
stupidity, insofar as the opposite might sometimes illuminate the truth
better. Even so, you cannot go through life saying "duh" all the time
either. On to the next story then.

I'm taking a break.

Jurriaan








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