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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LESSONS LEARNED #18: “Man-given rights are only privileges allowed by the privileged elite.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 17th, 2010

GOD WAS HERE before the Marine Corps. So you can give your heart to Jesus, but your ass belongs to The Corps.

(From the movie Full Metal Jacket, 1987.)

In Roman Catholicism, this is the doctrine of the two swords.  The spiritual sword is the Church.  The temporal sword is the state.  Martin Luther had the doctrine of two kingdoms.  The religious and civil.  Going back to the source, Jesus Christ put it this way:

Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s 

The original separation of church and state.  Of course, back then, this was all intended to limit the state’s interference into spiritual matters.  Today it’s reversed.  It’s the state that is trying to hold the spiritual sword at bay.

THE FOUNDING FATHERS were gentlemen of the Enlightenment.  This makes them complex.  The Enlightenment was the Age of Reason.  And guess what we did during the Age of Reason?  We thought.  Rationally.  There was a philosophical revolution going on in Europe.  Simply put, things weren’t what they were because the Church said so.  There were other explanations.  Other laws.  And the Church could be wrong.

So, if the Founding Fathers had lived in the 20th century, they would have probably been fans of the rock group Rush.  And Ayn Rand.  Who influenced Rush.  Thomas Jefferson probably would have an iPod filled with their songs, including Tom Sawyer:

No his mind is not for rent
To any god or government

They questioned ALL authority.  And some may have been Deists.  But they were not atheists.  Even Jefferson.  He may not have believed in the Trinity or Christ’s divinity, but he still believed in God.  And he worshipped Jesus in his own way.  As the world’s greatest philosopher, with his Sermon on the Mount being the best philosophy man could ask for.

THE FOUNDING FATHERS were gentlemen of the Enlightenment.  Now the other part.  The thing that makes them complex.  The gentlemen part.  What did this mean in the 18th century?  Here are some adjectives that describe a gentleman.  Honorable.  Virtuous.  Reputable.  A gentleman strived to achieve moral excellence and righteousness.  He was ethical.  His life was a steadfast adherence to a strict moral code.  And when he served in public office, it was with selfless disinterest.  He would go out of his way to NOT gain personally from his time in public office.  Some did it better than others.  But all tried.  And when they fell short, they at least put on an appearance of disinterest.  It was that important.  And expected.

In a word, restraint.  This is what a gentleman practiced.  George Washington exercised this restraint to such a degree that many found him cold and aloof.  Few saw him smile.  Few saw public displays of emotion.  What they did see was an exemplary life of virtue, honor and moral excellence.  And they would forever look at him with awe and reverence.  We do to this day.

These students of the Enlightenment, then, espoused Judeo-Christian ethics.  They questioned all authority oppressing man, whether it be Church or state.  But they did not throw out the baby with the bath water.  They remained religious.  They just wouldn’t yield to it unconditionally.  Not to the Pope.  To a bishop.  Or any other tyranny of a minority, privileged elite.  Even after their Revolution.

And they would extend this restraint to the new nation they would found.  It would be a government that would govern with the consent of the people.  But it would not be mob-rule.  Not a true democracy.  It would be representative government.  The idea was to restrain the extreme passions of the people.  They would not exchange one tyranny for another.  There would be no tyranny of the majority.

FRANCE HAD PROBLEMS in the late 18th century.  The toll of war was bankrupting the country.  Their financing of the American Revolution didn’t help either.  Food was scarce and expensive.  Famine and malnutrition were commonplace.  Among the Third Estate (the poor).  The First Estate (the Church) was doing well.  The Second Estate (the nobility), too.  Unemployed and hungry, the poor looked at the clergy and the nobility who were not. 

The Church was largely exempt from paying taxes. And the Church was the largest landholder in France.  The Church levied a 10% tax (i.e., a tithe) on the general population.  A lot of that was collected in-kind (food crops).  So the Church had more land, money and food than the starving, suffering masses.  Who became an angry mob.  That demanded democracy.

The people stormed the Bastille.  Confiscated Church property.  Overthrew the monarchy.  And sent the king and queen, and many others, to the guillotine.  Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobins unleashed the Reign of Terror.  They executed political enemies, including priests, and displayed their severed heads to the angry mob.  They de-Christianized France, destroying churches and religious symbols.  They tried to do away with the Church altogether and replace it with civic and community events and organizations.  It was a revolution against Church and state.  Against law and order.  Against restraint.  They would send Robespierre himself to the guillotine at the end of his terror.  Then another terror followed to avenge the previous terror. 

There’s more to the French Revolution.  But that should suffice for now. 

FRANCE WAS IN the epicenter of the Enlightenment.  Some of the great minds of the Enlightenment were French.  But France was older than America.  And more populated.  With centuries of wrongs to right.  It was anything but a blank canvas.  Egalitarianism soon devolved into angry mob rule.  Democracy.  They went from the tyranny of a minority to the tyranny of the majority without stopping in that fertile middle ground.  As was the case in America.  Why?

It’s that blank canvas thing.  We weren’t overthrowing our history to start anew.  We had little history.  Maybe a century or two of English colonists who literally started with raw earth.  There wasn’t a rich and privileged Church.  So there wasn’t a festering resentment against the Church.  No, the early colonists escaped religious oppression and came here for religious freedom.  Which they found.  And enjoyed.

The American Revolution was more restrained.  There were no bloody reprisals after the War.  There were isolated instances of mob violence during the War, but the ‘mob’ was never in control.  The ‘gentlemen’ were always in control.  Gentlemen steeped in Judeo-Christian ethics.  From the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers built a new nation upon the Rule of Law.  And at its heart were the God-given rights enumerated in those documents.  That no man, or minority, or majority, or mob, could take away.

GOD WAS HERE before the United States.  So we can give our heart to Jesus.  But our ass belongs to the Rule of Law.

Or something like that.  We are a secular nation with a de-emphasis on the religious part.  Yes, legal punishment may dissuade you from doing wrong.  If you think the cops can catch you.  But it’s our morality that will keep us from doing wrong in the first place.  And the people at our founding were moral.  And Christian.  Or deists with Judeo-Christian ethics.

And to those who fear antidisestablishmentarianism, don’t.  I doubt the Catholics and the Protestants could agree on what an established church would be, let alone the myriad other religions peacefully coexisting with each other.  No, more religion would not result in an established church.  It may, though, result in government leaders who fear God and, maybe, they would be better leaders for it.  It sure beats us living in fear of them.

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