Tag Archives: Zygmunt Bauman

Scorched Earth


Scorched Earth – Stalin’s Reign of Terror
By Jorg Baberowski
Yale University Press – £25.00

The Bolsheviks prevailed. They broke the military resistance of the Whites, crushed the unrest and strikes of the peasants, and even restored the multi-ethnic empire, which, in the early months of revolution, had largely fallen apart. In spring 1921, when the Red Army marched into Georgia, the Civil War was officially over. For the Bolsheviks, however, military victory was not the end but rather the beginning of a mission, not simply to shake the world but to transform it.

                                                                                        (‘Pyrrhic Victories’)

And transform it they did.

To this very day, Russia remains at the vanguard of inexorable convulsion and change; the social and political ramifications of which continue to effect the rest of the world. For better for worse. For richer for poorer. For sickness and utmost of unusually bad health; the trajectory of Russian upheaval, which let’s face it, is exactly what it is, continues to influence the West in more ways than one might care to imagine.

For instance, one need look no further than the relatively recent election of the American President, Donald Trump.

Scorched Earth – Stalin’s Reign of Terror might well be one of the most in-depth accounts of the Stalin era I have ever read. To be sure, the German scholar Jorg Baberowski has to be one of the leading experts in his field, although his work – has up until now – seldom been translated into English. A quality which is hard to fathom, considering the scholastic precision and soaring honesty with which the author writes: ”Since 2003 I have spent several years explaining to myself how it was possible for so many millions of people in the Soviet Union under to Stalin to have been killed, displaced, imprisoned in camps, or allowed to starve to death. Back then in 2003, I still believed that the theses of the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman could provide an answer. The pursuit of certainty, the overcoming of ambivalence, and the obsession with order in the modern ”gardening state,” wrote Bauman, had led to the monstrous exterminatory excesses of the twentieth century […]. The communist experiment of the New Man gave Stalin and those in power the justification they needed to murder enemies and outcasts. It did not, however, prescribe mass murder. Stalin and his companions did not speak of the brave new world when they discussed what to do with the supposed enemies of this new order. They talked instead about techniques of violence.”

It is such blatant, factual dissemination, that sets this book apart from a plethora of others on very same the subject.

To talk ”about techniques of violence,” is somewhat akin to UKIP’s twisted excuse for a human being, Nigel Farrage, to talk about England’s only friends being those who ”talk English.” A sly, calculated, yet flippant remark made just last week, which will undoubtedly do much to trigger yet more unprovoked violence on the streets of Engerland – much to the unfortunate dismay of innocent bystanders. Many of whom might happen to speak Polish.
Or Spanish.
Or dare I say it, common sense; a quality which partially explains why segments of this exceedingly well written and well researched book, wholeheartedly lends itself to the current crisis in which the world finds itself.

Obviously, what happened in Russia is incalculably idiosyncratic of among the most deplorable murder and mayhem ever known. So much so, it is hard to imagine.
BUT, much of the essence was, and remains a direct response to a tempestuous climate of fear, paranoia and scapegoatism. Sound familiar?: ”Only in a state of emergency did it become possible for a psychopath like Stalin to let his malevolence and criminal energy reign free. The dream of communist salvation was drowned in the blood of millions because the violence became detached from the original motives, and eventually was subject to the purposes of the dictator alone. In the end all that mattered was the recognition of total power, of Stalin’s total power, as master over life and death. Had it not been for the atmosphere of paranoia and mistrust, the despot would never have been able to force his will on others or make his world the one that everyone had to live in.”

While reading these words, one cannot help but think of the power obsessed and egotistically driven Donald Trump, which in and of itself, substantiates that history does indeed repeat itself. As the author of Stalin’s Genocides, Norman M. Naimark has written: Jorg Baberowski’s Scorched Earth skillfully guides the reader through the nightmarish reality of Stalin’s brutal rule of the Soviet Union. The smartly crafted narrative is full of interesting, important, and horrifying details that illustrate the diverse character of the killing. Baberowski tells a veracious story of fear and terror among Soviet citizens that is hard to forget.”

For a sure fire qualification of the truth, these 437 pages (excluding Preface, Notes and Index) are a more than complex and combustible read – which, apart from being hard to forget, equates with that of a literary memorial to the millions who died.

David Marx


On The World and Ourselves


On The World and Ourselves
By Zygmunt Bauman & Stanislaw Obirek
Polity – £15.99

To refer to the opening paragraph of this highly analytical book as either revelatory or revealing, could, amid a number of academic circles, be considered as something of a wry and flippant under appreciation so far as this second series of conversations between Zygmunt Bauman and Stanislaw Obirek is concerned.

But for a book to open with such an audacious illusion as: ”Under malum – whence evil? That is the question that plagued our human brethren and sisters since Eve, seduced by the serpent, the grandmaster of spin, tempted Adam (about whose appetite for spin we know next to nothing), to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and thus to begin the history of humanity.,” really is quite something.

Something in as much as one immediately knows one is in for an appreciable ride of high-octane, social analysis, within that of the most perplexing parameters of whatever the biggest picture happens to be. Depending on point of view of course – or should that read read: point of curse?

Even On The World and Ourselves first chapter (of three) is entitled ‘Reveries of Solitary Walkers,’ which in itself, invites the curious to be ever more curious. Ever more introspective. More contemplative. Just more.

More than that which we, as a fundamentally redundant society, have unfortunately morphed into.

As such, this can surely, only be a good thing?

These 185 pages of relative sound judgement are, as already mentioned, the second in a series of didactic yet highly diaphanous conversations between Zygmunt Bauman (who is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Leeds University) and Stanislaw Obirek (a former Jesuit and Priest, who is now Professor of Theology at the University of Lodz in Poland).

Together, they traverse, discuss and bequeath many a philosophical prognosis such as: ”Wordy evasions, ploys and ruses are as common as they are useless: they can beguile our listeners (especially since we tend to surround ourselves with like-minded, sympathetic interlocutors who are not only willing but also grateful to be thus beguiled) but not the police constable within us. So we need something more. Philosophers, for instance, or scholarly and auratic sages, or demagogues with charisma.”

Responsibility could be construed as a burden that weighs heavily on our collective shoulders; but we do nevertheless, have a choice. A choice to ultimately avoid the (beguiling) temptation to hand said responsibility over to someone other. To someone else. Whether they’re a ”damagogue with charisma,’ a trusted sibling, Simon Cowell or a scientific sage who will invariably claim to trace all things back to our genes.

Choice is indeed, a temptation – in and of itself.

Just like the supposed/smokescreen paradise, from which a lot of humanity has been relieved of all moral responsibility – be it an uneducated scum-bag who feels the need to throw acid into the face of someone they disagree with, or a menagerie of brainwashed losers who openly subscribe to the Islamic State.

As Messrs. Bauman and Obirek make clear throughout this more than enigmatic and profoundly compelling book: ”people may be naïve or corrupt, but not morality.”

On the World and Ourselves – read it. I’d like to think you won’t be disappointed.

David Marx

Of God and Man


Of God and Man
By Zygmunt Bauman & Stanislaw Obirek
Polity – £14.99 (paperback)

               The moment that uncertainty was born was the moment that morality                       was born – together with the moral self, a self aware of walking a                                  tightrope.

Engaging and thoroughly thought-provoking, stimulating and brimming with a theological analysis that is ultimately enticing to say the least, Of God and Man, is many things – predominantly that of a search for clarity and some kind of behavioural understanding.

As the title might suggest, this book is an in-depth, dense investigation into the sort of moral abyss; many of us would sooner bypass for whatever fleeting distraction of folly may happen to come our way. As such, by way of a more than fetching, if not intriguing dialogue between the sociologist and philosopher Zygmut Bauman, and the theologian and cultural historian Stanlisalw Obirek, these seven chapters ecclesiastically erupt unto a place where an assortment of home-truths, silently scream with the sort of candid candour, great swathes of society continues to do its utmost to avoid.

For example, whether it’s the following from the second chapter (‘What about This Religion? On the Threat of Fundamentalism – Not Only the Religious Kind’), where Obirek emphatically states: ”To possess the truth is so all-consuming that the walls built around it can only be stronger, higher, simply unconquerable. Dialogue and interaction become not only unnecessary, but even redundant, interfering with the bliss of the possessed truth. The only thing that remains is conversion, opening the eyes, and in extreme circumstances excluding or even killing the adversary. This is my objection, Zygmut, to the followers of monotheism.” Or the following from the sixth chapter (‘The Disinherited; or, Creating Tradition Anew’), where again, Obirek address Bauman: ”So maybe, together, we are on the road to a greater understanding and increased ability to handle the world, because dialogue allows us to cross the boundaries of our own loneliness? That you are able to read newspapers, react to questions sent from different parts of the world, always reading new texts and finding in them accurate diagnoses of our reality allows me to believe that an alternative exists; that TINA (There Is No Alternative), proclaimed by Margaret Thatcher with such conviction and with such devastating results – not only for British society – is passing into the dustbin of history as one of the twentieth century’s stupidest utterances by a politician. And that is good news.”

It is good news – although a mighty shame it took so long for much of the populace to let it finally pass it ”into the dustbin of history.”

There remains an enlightening and fundamentally quintessential daring throughout these one-hundred and sixteen pages; the sort of which, by the time one has reached the book’s conclusion, one cannot help but feel compelled to read more.

Ask more. Investigate further.

David Marx