Tuesday, December 20, 2011

North Korea: What do you do when your god dies?

That's "god," not "God:"

Found at Video: The weeping North Koreans
Don’t just sample the clip for 10 seconds. Watch to the end and drink in the full spectacle of grown men, prostrate, screaming in grief at the death of their subjugator. I take it state media beamed this out to show the world how unlikely a North Korean Spring is; it might be their first honest moment. Count me in with Michael Totten and Dan Foster in thinking these histrionics are more genuine than we’d like to believe. After all, lesser cult leaders like Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite have asked and gotten more from their followers than this; surely a few tears were in order in Pyongyang upon learning that God is dead. The whole point of totalitarian conditioning is to draw this reaction without needing soldiers to stand just out of frame pointing rifles at the crowd. Go figure that it actually works on some people.
You cannot reason someone out of something that they were never reasoned into.

The god is dead. Long live the new god!

Totalitarianism must evolve into a religion to survive. The cultic center of the religion must be the dictator. In Lenin's Russia, the religion was communism. Lenin and the party changed it to Marxism-Leninism, but Lenin did not live long enough to become a true cultic center.

Lenin's successor, Stalin, did, with all Stalinism's attendant horrors. After Stalin died in 1953, the Party determined that no general secretary would become a cultic figure again. Instead, they substituted a theology of an Ideal Time and a reformed humanity, the goal being formally announced in 1964 by GenSec Leonid Brezhnev as the attainment of True Communism.
Marxism is an eschatological ideology (a godless religion in its own right, really). The ideal time is when "the workers control the means of production" after the capitalists have been violently overthrown. Lee Harris explained the basic tenets of Marxism, and its fundamental flaws, in his excellent essay, "The Intellectual Origins of America-Bashing." Suffice it to say here that Marx considered revolution by the oppressed both essential and inevitable for true socialism to be established. This was a political version of Judgment Day, when the wicked capitalists would be judged and destroyed so that the pure in heart (the heavily romanticized working classes) could attain the Ideal Time.

This appealing but basically foolish ideology held power in the USSR for 70 years, abandoned long before its end by almost all the working classes themselves and most of the ruling class. Soviet communism became a shell game in which commissars and higher ranks lived large and the masses merely lived. Its Ideal Time, however, was hammered home by the propagandists as just around the corner. True Communism was always coming soon, a state in which material production was so great that all human needs were met without shortage. Greed would therefore disappear and the inherent but capitalist-suppressed natural nobility of men and women would emerge. They would be transformed into true communists - altruists who worked each day for the good of the people, not for crass, selfish profit.
That year, 1964, really marked the beginning of the long decline of Soviet communism because non-cultic True Communism required an exhaustively worked and intellectually rigorous theology founded on rationalistic, not cultic, bases. That eliminated Stalinism once for all and Brezhnevism never got started. But without a cultic figure the center would not hold. Brezhnev ruled from 1964 until his death in 1982. After his death, the USSR went through general secretaries like a kid eating candy until it dissolved in 1990-1991. Brezhnev's 18-year tenure is what made the USSR last as long as it did after Stalin's death.

The Party's problem with trying to remake the empire on a non-cultic, intellectual religion was that the state had to devote great efforts and resources into reasoning and educating its people into the religion, beginning the arduous process in pre-school and never ceasing it.

Cultic tyranny's major efforts are domestic, to maintain the regime and its supporting apparatus. Foreign and military endeavors by cultic dictators tend to do poorly because the apparatchiks are selected and elevated based on their loyalty to the leader, not their basic competence in their duties. So: for Stalin, the Great Patriotic War; for Saddam Hussein the Iran War, the Persian Gulf War and the Iraq War - all bungled jobs by their cultic leaders.

It was not until the Communist Party of the Soviet Union ejected cultism from its ideology that the USSR became genuinely dangerous to the West. Brezhnev was never a cult figure, instead he was the leader of a triumphant, missionary religion. True Communism brought the USSR into nuclear-military-superpower status. It was under the banner of True communism that the USSR sponsored "wars of national liberation" in Asia and Africa and sought to subvert the governments of Europe and many others. Soviet-sponsored terrorist cells flourished in western Europe, such as the Rote Armee Faction in West Germany. Blessedly for the West and the world, Brezhnev was not succeeded by young, vigorous true believers but by aged Party-climbing apparatchiks who each had not long to live, until Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary. Gorbachev, however, was no true believer and True Communism had no thrall over him. Even before the Berlin Wall was hammered down, he and almost the whole regime were mightily glad to be quit of it.

Intellectually and religiously both, True Communism simply sputtered out, having been built on foundations of sand to begin with. Having exhausted itself into reasoning the people into True Communism, the state never recognized that people who are reasoned into something can be reasoned out (or reason themselves out), and there were more than enough smart Russians to figure out the flaws and inherent, fatal contradictions of the whole, phony system. (The coerced member states of the USSR pretty much never bought into this Russian religion in the first place.)

And so the whole intellectual, rationlistic-but-fragile edifice of True Communism could be brought crashing to ruin by, for example, asking the very simple question, "Who will carry the sewage under communism?"
"Take Kiev, for instance, and see how much of its one and a half million inhabitants arranges his own sewerage system, in his free time, and cleans it and maintains it in good order.

"Who, under communism, will bury the corpses? Will it be self-service or will amateurs carry out the work in their spare time? There is plenty of dirty work in a society and not everyone is a general or a diplomat. Who will carve up the pig carcasses? And who will sweep the streets and cart off the rubbish? . . . Will there be any waiters under communism? . . .

"And finally, for someone who at present has not the slightest idea about how to set about sewage-cleaning, like Comrade Yakubovskiy himself for instance, has he any personal interest at all in the arrival of that day, when he will have to clean up his own crap all by himself? . . .

"What, exactly, does an ordinary, run-of-the-mill Secretary of the District Party Committee stand to gain from this communism? Eh? Plenty of caviar? But he’s got so much caviar already that he can even eat it through his [rear end] if he wishes. A car? But he has two personal Volga cars and a private one as well. Medical care? Food, women, a country house? But he already has all these things. So our dear Secretary of the most Godforsaken District Party Committee stands to gain bugger-all from communism!"
North Korea decades ago ceased to be communist in any sense of the word. Kim Il Sung's objective was never communism, it was dictatorship, a goal he achieved brilliantly. Since then the overriding imperative of the regime has been simply stated and easily enforced: maintain the status quo for the regime no matter the cost in lives and treasure to the rest of the country.

What will change with the apparent succession to the throne of his grandson, Kim Jong Un? Let us hope nothing will. The country is making plenty of trouble in the world now. May its cultic religion remain, for if North Korea's dictator(s) ever get converted to a theology of True Communism, there will really be trouble, indeed.

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