Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Plenty o' Nuthin'

Ever behind the curve I am on this holiday catching up with Francis Spufford's Red Plenty, about the (im)possibilities of central planning in the Soviet Union (Nick Hornby calls it "a hammer-and-sickle version of Altman's Nashville").  I'm struck, inter alia, by a bleak sort of consolation, this concerning the great crime against the peasantry in the agricultural "reforms" of the 30s.  That is: grant that Stalin's murderous and more-than-half mad campaign of destruction was a catastrophe for victims in the millions.  Still, one thing you could say for it: the purpose was not simply to enrich a handful of Moscow plutocrats.  Rather, the crime against the peasantry was part of a murderous and more-than-half mad campaign for capital formation--to build the infrastructure the Soviet leaders thought they would need to catch up with the capitalists.

Compare/contrast, for example, modern Uzbekistan, where the schoolchildren and teachers fall out every fall to pick cotton.  The purpose here is nothing so grand is the valorization of the Soviets.  It's only a matter of putting money into the pockets of the ruling elites, or more precisely, of helping the President's daughter stage a fashion show. But I shouldn't be mean to the poor Uzbekis: I suppose I could say the same thing for any of a dozen--a hundred--repressive regimes around the world.

In a sense, that is the defining of our time, not so?   We don't even pretend that the  crimes and follies of dictators are part of some greater and grander design.   Populations are just inventory, to be used, sold or rented until worn out and then thrown away.  

I suppose this is a kind of improvement.  The visions of the 20th Century madmen almost certainly destroyed more innocents than the more temperate aspirations of those bookkeepers-in-authority whose dominant purpose  is merely  to buff the balance sheet.  Happy picking, children,.  Me, I'm off to watch the parade.

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