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559. The taming power of the small (XII)

Conspiracy theorists live in storytelling mode, and this is how all humans live for the most part. In storytelling mode politicians you dislike are mad, only motivated by money, or only motivated by power. In storytelling mode Obama, Hitler, and Putin are all like Cobra Commander in the children’s cartoon GI Joe. When his henchmen have departed he turns to himself and cackles into his clenched fist: “Ha-ha, fooollsssss; they think they’ll be rich when we’ve destroyed GI Joe—but I’ll be rid of my ‘loyal assistants’ soon enough! Ah-ha. Ha. Ha-ha-ha-haha [manic hysterical laughter continues as the shot pulls back and fades away, just to show he is completely insane].”

This approach is pseudo-Machiavellian or pseudo-cynical, it looks clever—as a teenager might think he is clever when he catches his parents out in a hypocrisy that only looks hypocritical from a certain standpoint, usually an impotent standpoint where all you have (as a fifteen-year-old) is the ability to say everything is totally unfair and wrong. The teenager reads Anton LaVey and a few skeptic tracts and claims the world is peopled with “con men” after money and power—if only it were so; men say it is so from excess belief.

Reality is not like that. In private, men like Hitler and Stalin remain sincere about their beliefs—and the same goes for men like Obama and Trudeau. Now, there is a degree to which men believe in their political ideas: the divide is illustrated with the rivalry between Trotsky and Stalin. Trotsky was slightly more intelligent than Stalin; he could compose relatively sophisticated “theory” (as Marxists call their theology) whereas Stalin himself admitted that he could not theorise and let his subordinates rib him about it. Stalin’s “theoretical” works rise about to a first-year university essay: “A nation is a group with a shared language, history, and geography…”

Trotsky was defeated by Stalin because he was more abstract. Trotsky preened his theory and engaged in quasi-literary endeavours (even today Trotskyists praise his literary qualities, an indication that this was important to Trotsky and for his cult). Meanwhile, Stalin built up an entirely practical power base in the party bureaucracy: Stalin humbly built practical control over what counted, the Party’s administrative structure, and did so discreetly—he was known as “the grey blur”. When the final confrontation came Stalin won; he had concrete power, real power.

Perhaps he had a different tilt to his intelligence than Trotsky, for a time as a young man Stalin worked at a meteorological station—he made empirical observations, even though he also produced poetry. The more empirical and less wordy (skill with words being a Jewish vice) intelligence prevailed. Did Stalin’s realism mean he was not a Communist? A Trotskyist will say Stalin was “Cobra Commander”, not a real Communist—just interested in power. No, Stalin believed; we know because he implemented ideas that from a purely pragmatic stance would have undermined his rule—he did so because he believed. Perhaps his Communism was less fancy, more “private property is bad, Russia will be better when there is no private property”—it was more pragmatic, not a bluff.

Stalin’s major concession to belief—other than his Communism—manifested with Hitler. Stalin was realistic with his companions but he trusted Hitler, hence when Hitler betrayed his guarantees and invaded the USSR Stalin broke down for a few days from shock because reality had intruded and destroyed his world. Why did Stalin trust Hitler? Probably because Hitler was far away, Stalin could romanticise him—think of him as a man in the same position who would understand where Stalin was coming from. Belief is a luxury, Stalin believed in Hitler—much as Trotsky believed in his theory—and it almost cost him everything. Stalin died in bed; realistic enough to survive, but in many ways still a true believer. The same is true for Putin and Biden; they are not Cobra Commanders—they mix reality and belief, to various degrees.

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