LESSONS LEARNED #68: ” Beware the demagogue, the champion of the poor, for he has dictatorial aspirations.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 2nd, 2011

Robespierre used the Sans-culottes

A telltale sign of royalty is a really nice pair of pants.  With a perfect, sharp crease.  But that’s today.  Back in the old days, it was a handsome pair of silk knee-breeches.  The wealthy in pre-revolutionary France all wore them.  I say ‘pre-revolutionary’ because it was not the thing to wear during the revolution.  In fact, a group of people who could not afford these fancy breeches took pride in their plain pants.  The poor working class in the cities.  Artisans and small shopkeepers.  The little guys.  Struggling to make a living.

These people did not wear the ‘culottes’ (French for ‘silk knee-breeches’) of the upper classes.  So they went ‘sans’ them (French for ‘without’).  Hence they were the Sans-culottes.  They were the people without silk knee-britches.  And the mob behind the French Revolution

They were Leftist radicals.  Anti-capitalists.  And the far-Left radical Jacques Roux used them for muscle.  Turned them against the bourgeouis (the middle class).  Caused a whole lot of unrest.  Some food riots.  And a massacre or two.  Roux was becoming too powerful so Maximilien Robespierre, a Jacobin, had him arrested.  Then he used the Sans-culottes to consolidate his power.  With the opportune assassination of Jean-Paul Marat (a Jacobin leader), Robespierre became the leader of the Jacobins and of the Revolution.  For awhile.  With the help of the Sans-culottes, he unleashed the Reign of Terror.  Marat’s assassin was a Girondin.  The Girondins were the political rivals of the Jacobins.  So Robespierre put Marat’s assassination to good use and cleaned house.  And by ‘clean house’ I mean killed as many of his political opposition as possible.  It was the time to kill.  If you didn’t like someone all you had to say was that he or she was a counter revolutionary.  And they got a date with the guillotine.  In all some 16,000 (or more) lost their heads during the Reign of Terror.  Including Robespierre himself.  Live by the guillotine.  Die by the guillotine.  And soon thereafter the Sans-culottes became less of a force as the government pulled back from the extreme Leftist radicalism of the Terror to a more conservative one.

Communist Leaders exploited the Proletariat

Marxism arose as a criticism of capitalism.  Which exploits the working class (according to Marxism).  The proletariat.  Who own nothing but their labor.  And are forced to sell it for day-wages to those who own the means of production.  The industrial bourgeoisie.  The proletariat wants to maximize their pay.  The bourgeoisie wants to maximize their profits.  Of course, one can only gain if the other loses.  Ergo, this is a class struggle.  Between the working majority.  And the capital owning minority.  Which is wrong according to Marxism.  And can only end in a proletarian revolution.  After which everyone will live a life of plenty in a classless, stateless, property-less society.  Because everyone will feel the love and work real hard to produce a lot.  Even though they won’t make an extra dime for all their extra work.  It will be a social utopia where society takes from those according to ability and gives to those according to need.  And they’ll sing workers’ songs as they eat and drink and scratch their fat bellies at the end of the work day.

As a social utopia, it’s a pretty nice one.  Especially to the working class who have worked some pretty hard lives.  So they are quick to show a lot of need.  And little ability.  Because those with the most ability have to work the hardest.  Whereas those with the greatest need get more stuff.  Even if they don’t work.  At all.  According to theory, at least.  The working class may be uneducated laborers, but they understood this.  Especially when a leader came along to lead a proletarian revolution.  I get more for working less?  I’m with you, brother.  There have been quite a few such revolutions.  Though there are some degrees of differences, we can call most of these communist revolutions.  Because communist leaders based their philosophy on some form of Marxism.

Many countries had communist revolutions.  Russia was the first.  It became the Soviet Union.  Then China.  It became the People’s Republic of ChinaNorth Korea.  And Cuba.  To name a few.  And how did the proletariat make out in those countries?  Well, suffice it to say it wasn’t quite the utopia they were expecting.  By fighting for the people, Joseph Stalin became one of the greatest mass murderers of all time.  Beating out Adolf Hitler by scores.  There was no utopia in the Soviet Union.  Unless you liked fear and oppression.  And going hungry and lacking the necessities of life.  Ditto in China.  Only their proletariat wasn’t urban workers.  They were rural farmers and peasants.  Forced into collectivized farms.  Where food production plummeted.  Resulting in one of the 20th century’s most horrific famines.  Between famine, fear and oppression, Mao Tse-tung gave Joseph Stalin a run for his money as the greatest mass murderer of all time.  Not sure who won as records are a little sketchy.  But they probably hold first and second place.  Don’t know much about North Korea because it’s such a closed society.  But they suffer some of the greatest famines of modern time.  And spend most of their nights in the dark as they have little energy (seen from space you can tell North Korea from South Korea by the lights).  And the Cubans have more than once tried to escape their social utopia by crossing the Atlantic Ocean in rickety boats and rafts to reach America. 

Life got worse for the working class in general under communism.  But it got pretty good if you were in the communist party.  It was that ‘from those according to ability to those according to need’ thing.  It didn’t work in practice.  Because it turns out people want to benefit from their labors.  Which is the basis of the proletarian revolution in the first place.  And making them work harder for less just wasn’t going to cut it.  Especially when life was better under capitalism.  For it was better when the capitalist bourgeoisie did the exploiting than the communist party.  And it wasn’t just because of the famine, fear and oppression that came with the communists.  Because the capitalists paid you according to the quality of your labor.  Not by the quantity of your need.  So the harder you worked, the more they paid you.  And that’s the kind of thing that’ll get people to work harder.  Incentive.

Peron exploited the Descamisados

Tim Rice is one of the greatest lyricists in musical theater.  Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s greatest works were those he did with Rice.  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream CoatJesus Christ Superstar.  And Evita.  The story of Eva Perón.  Wife of Juan Perón.  And their rise to power in Argentina.  With the help of their descamisados.  The poor, shirtless workers.  Who loved Eva Perón.  As she loved them.

The musical Evita has a Che Guevara-like narrator named Che who tells the story.  And participates.  He sees the Peróns for who they are.  Sees how they exploit the descamisados for personal gain.  And bankrupts the nation.  Rice does a great job of turning this story into some great songs.  This story of a workers’ revolution is accessible.  And entertaining.  Here are some of the lyrics.  Starting with the workers’ demands.

Nationalization of the industries that the foreigners control
Participation in the profits that we make
Shorter hours
Higher wages
Votes for women
Larger dole
More public spending
A bigger slice of every cake

The hallmarks of any workers’ revolution.  Which of course the leader of the workers’ revolution promises in exchange for their vote.  Even though he would prefer not to have to deal with that pretense.

It’s annoying that we have to fight elections for our cause
The inconvenience–having to get a majority
If normal methods of persuasion fail to win us applause
There are other ways of establishing authority

Then the secret police echo these thoughts.

We have ways of making you vote for us,
or at least of making you abstain

Perón wins the election.  And gives his first speech on the balcony of the Casa Rosada.

Argentinos! Argentinos! We are all shirtless now!
Fighting against our common enemies–
Poverty, social injustice, foreign domination of our industries!
Reaching for our common goals–
Our independence, our dignity, our pride!
Let the world know that our great nation is awakening
and that its heart beats in the humble bodies of Juan Peron
and his wife, the first lady of Argentina,
Eva Duarte de Peron!

Yes, he is just one of them.  Shirtless.  And poor.  Though he says this from the ‘pink’ house.  Which is more palace than house.  Che is in the crowd.  And is not amused.

As a mere observer of this tasteless phenomenon, one has to admire the stage management
There again–perhaps I’m more than a mere observer –
listen to my enthusiasm, gentleman! Peron! Peron! Peron!
Look, if I take off my shirt, will you-

At which point the security police beat him and take him away.  For they don’t like dissenters.  Typical revolutionary stuff.  But in a story told so well.  Thanks to the great lyrics of Rice.  And the music of Webber.  And after Perón gets his power, how does Argentina do?  Does Perón deliver that Promised utopia?  Che explains in a brief but passionate monolog.

What’s new Buenos Aires? Your nation, which a few years ago had the second largest gold reserves in the world, is bankrupt! A country which grew up and grew rich on beef is rationing it! La Prensa, one of the few newspapers which dares to oppose Peronism, has been silenced, and so have all other reasonable voices! I’ll tell you what’s new Buenos Aires!

It’s a story as old as time.  The revolutionary leaders get richer.  The workers get poorer.

(The original Broadway cast recording includes Patti LuPone as Eva and Mandy Patinkin as Che.  Who’ve set the bar for these roles.  You can’t get better.  So buy this recording.  You won’t regret it.)

Famine, Fear and Oppression never take a Holiday

Sans-culottes, proletariats, descamisados or some other poor class of people a revolutionary leader champions, it always ends the same.  The leaders of the revolution always seem to do better.  And the poor class continues to suffer.  Often worse off than they were before.  Some leaders come and go.  But the suffering of the masses usually lingers.  For famine, fear and oppression never take a holiday.  But liberty does.  Sadly.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #68: ” Beware the demagogue, the champion of the poor, for he has dictatorial aspirations.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 31st, 2011

A Despot needs a Mob

A despot can’t rise to power alone.  Because there is only one of him.  Or her.  A despot needs a mob.  Either to take power by force.  Or to vote him or her into office.  And unless the despot is in a despotic/third world country, the taking of power by force is not an option.  Military coups are just not that common in first-world democracies.  Mainly because no one’s life is that bad where they would risk the punishment for treason.  Because things like that will stay on your permanent record.  Doesn’t look good on a resume.  And treason can get you killed.

So, in a democratic country, you need to get people to vote for you.  Because the path to power is through the ballot box.  Even Adolf Hitler got his power in an election.  And he did that by lying.  Well, if you read his book (Mein Kampf), you had an idea.  Because he pretty much spilled his guts out in that book.  But few read it, apparently.  Even though it became a best seller.  After the fact.  When he had already ascended to power and it became required reading.  Or, required ownership.  It was the Nazi Bible.  Everyone had to have one.  Though few read it.

So how did Hitler rise to power?  He made the people like him.  And took advantage of some crises.  The armistice that ended World War I.  The Versailles Treaty reparations.  The Great Depression.  Things that really hurt the German people.  Made them angry.  Looking for relief.  And Hitler promised it.  Delivered in some magnificent oratory.   He hypnotized the masses with his speeches.  He knew what was wrong.  And it wasn’t the people’s fault.  It was others who wronged them.  The Allies.  The politicians who stabbed Germany in the back at Versailles.  And, of course, the Jews. 

Class Warfare works because it’s Emotional

It’s a winning formula.  Take advantage of a crisis.  By blaming it on someone.  It doesn’t really matter who.  As long as it is a small voting bloc.  And, of course, championing the little guy.  Being their voice.  Say the things they would like to say.  Say what they want to hear.  And who is the little guy?  None better than the poor.  Because there are always a lot of them.  And a lot of them are uneducated.  But they know one thing.  Rich people have a better life.  And an easier life.  While they have little.  And have a harder life.  Anyone can see how that isn’t fair.  Anyone that is poor, that is.  And anyone looking to exploit the poor.

There’s a reason why class warfare has been successful.  It works.  It’s irrational.  Illogical.  But it’s emotional.  Which is how you win elections.  By tapping into the feelings of the masses.  You don’t want them to think.  You want them to feel.  To feel their wrath.  Their frustrations.  Their hopelessness.  For them to feel how unfair life is.  How those in power (the politicians, the rich, the Jews, etc.), are keeping you down so they can live a privileged life.  It’s powerful.  And wins elections.

Of course, it’s often nothing more than a bunch of lies.  A complicated formula of treaties started World War I.  After the assassination of an Austrian duke.  In contested land in southeast Europe.  The Balkans.  A great historical crossroads of culture and religion.  That everyone and his brother has laid claim to since time immemorial.  It was a mess getting into.  And a bigger mess getting out of.  It had less to do with Jewish bankers.  And more to do with territorial ambitions of empires.  Which Germany had.  As did Hitler.  But that doesn’t go over well with the masses at election time.  Because history is boring.  No one wants to hear about it.  History is old.  About a time long ago.  The voters don’t want to hear about that.  They want to know what you are going to do for them now.  What are you going to do about their anger and frustration now?

The Power of the Lie

Well, you lie, of course.  You have to.  Because an angry and frustrated people want some kind of relief.  And they’re going to vote for the person who promises to give them the most.  They’re not going to vote for someone that is going to take away their freedoms and make them live in a police state.  I mean, if Hitler had told the truth in one of those magnificent speeches instead of putting it in a book that was painful to read, people would have heard the truth.  And it would have made a difference at the ballot box.  “So, Heinz, who are you going to vote for?  The Independent (Hindenburg)?  The Communist (Thälmann)?  Or the Nazi?  That guy that’s going to create the Gestapo that will oppress us and make us live in fear?  And conscript us and send us away to fight in a world war while our cities are bombed?”  “Hmmm, I don’t want a harder life, Günter, so I’ll probably vote for the Commie or the Independent.”  Incidentally, the vote tally in 1932 was as follows:  53.1% (Independent), 36.7% (Nazi) and 10.1 % (Communist).  Hitler didn’t win the presidential election.  But because of the large vote he got, Hindenburg reluctantly made him chancellor.  Proving the power of the lie.  And the rest is history.

No one willingly votes for a harder life.  And that’s what a despot will do once elected.  Because the despot wants power and wealth.  Not to help the poor.  The poor are only a convenient tool to use during an election.  So the despot must lie.  And because they are lying and have no intention of following through on any of their promises, the sky is the limit.  They can promise anything.  Even things that are impossible to do.  And attack the rational plan of the opposition as radical and extreme.  So they appeal to the emotions.  And attack the rational.  That’s why dictators in third-world nations round up intellectuals, college professors, students and anyone with glasses (a sign that they can read).  They don’t want people thinking.  They want them feeling.   Feeling their anger.  And feeling their frustration.

And this is why they win elections.  For people would rather hear a pleasant lie than an unpleasant truth.  Because it feels better.  Vote for me and I will give you a free college education, a housing subsidy, a shorter work week, a longer summer vacation, a younger retirement age, a richer pension and, of course, free health care for everyone.  We’ll pay for it by taxing the rich.  And we’ll tax them so much that we’ll be able to cut your taxes.  People like that message.  Those who don’t consider themselves rich, at least.  They don’t want to hear that the country is broke.  That we can’t afford these generous benefits anymore.  They want to hear yes we can.  If only the rich pay their fair share.

Pushing People down into Poorer Classes

Of course, the problem becomes that dividing line between the rich and everyone else.  Because the rich are the bad guys.  The ones living the comfortable life without having to work hard.  They’re easy to demonize.  The poor have no love for them.  But the middle class is another story. 

The middle class is the sweet spot of the population.  They’re not rich.  And there are a lot of them.  More importantly, they’re not poor.  And they vote.  So what to do?  If you lump them in with the rich when you attack the rich, they may not vote for you.  But politics is about one thing.  Money.  And you get it by increasing taxes.  The rich are taxed so much that raising rates on them does little.  They got rich because they’re smart with money.  And they will only pay so much in taxes.  And the poor are poor.  No, if you’re going to increase taxes, you have to do it on the middle class.  So you do.  After the election.  After the lying.  Then you raise their taxes.  So much so that you force those at the bottom of the middle class into the poor class.

For this is the goal of the despot.  To push people down into poorer classes.  Push some of the rich into the middle class.  And a lot of the middle class into the poor class.  Then you champion the poor.  Attack the rich.  While taxing the middle class.  Those you allow to remain rich become your cronies.  As in crony capitalism.  Who lavish you with wealth in exchange for government contracts.  While the middle class toils away for less.  And the poor look up to you as their savior.  Grateful that you’re one of them.  Even though you live in a palace.  While they don’t.  And even though their lives are still pretty wretched, the rich at least got theirs.  Sure, it doesn’t put food on the table.  But it feels good.

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