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connoisseur series500

History corner

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Let's discuss historical issues in this thread. We propose a topic and then add our two cents worth.

I'll start by nominating Ghost of Miles to bring up the first topic (he reads a bunch and has a good memory!)

Okay, Ghostie, what do we start off with?

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Doesn't necessarily have to do with American history. We can deal with European, Asian, African, or Russian history. Whatever.

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You know you'll hook me with this one, Conn. I once started a thread about historical eras on the old BNBB. For topic 1, how about "Naval Strategies of WWII?" ;) ar, ar. Conn500 vs. Weizen, Round 2.

Well, some of the first topics that came to mind might belong in the "Politics" forum. For instance, I'd be interested to see a civil discussion about the ultimate reasons for the demise of the Cold War--was it Reagan's policies, as conservatives frequently attest? Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika, as liberals are inclined to argue? A combination, or something else? But it could turn partisan... I mean, the series that ran on CNN several years ago sparked protests from some on the right, and I notice that it still hasn't come out yet on DVD. So....

How about simply, name a favorite or compelling historical personage and discuss why he/she appeals to you? That should give everybody a chance to jump in, no matter what their particular knowledge or passion.

For me, one such figure is Leon Trotsky (oops, back to the Cold War, ta da!). A brilliant thinker & strategist, he was nonetheless apparently clueless when it came to dealing with Stalin. One wonders how the course of history might have changed had he won his power struggle with Uncle Joe. I have no illusions that Trotsky would have proved to be the messiah of Marxism, but he was surely a less suspicious, paranoid & power-mad type than Stalin, and it's difficult, for example, to imagine him staging the show trials and purges of the 1930s (purges, I might add, that hurt Stalin immensely later on when the Germans invaded & his officer corps was still severely depleted). Trotsky wrote much on art and literature in his spare time, even as he was being hurled around the Soviet Union in a railroad car during the early, civil-war-torn years of the USSR; he was an astute cultural critic as well as a political leader and one of the great "what-ifs?" of history (prob. a good topic in itself some day).

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Excellent topic starter, Ghost.

Trotsky has always fascinated me. I'm going by memory here, so my facts may not be completely accurate.

He didn't attend all the early Socialist conventions as did Lenin. He was more a man of action, in many ways. His fiery speeches impassioned the workers in 1907, at St. Petersburg. He was a brilliant man; wrote prolifically. He was an artist.

Famous for his concept of the "permanent revolution," I think he got bored once the Bolsheviks grabbed power; and he dithered and played the role of the thinker and artist while Stalin developed his implacable political machine. He was no match for Stalin once the battle lines were drawn.

He was exiled, and Stalin's assassins followed him out to Turkey and all over the world. They caught up with him in Mexico City and killed him.

Stalin had to do him in (or at least he thought so.) Trotsky was too charismatic. And Stalin was inward looking. Didn't trust the West; didn't like the idea of permanent revolution and the contact with the West which was implied in the term.

The Marxist artist, Diego Rivera played a role in finding a Mexico City home/fortress for Stalin. He pleaded with (was it Obregon?) to grant Trotsky the rights to staying in Mexico. Marxists from all over the world would make their pilgrammage to the new home of this very charismatic political thinker. Rumors had it that Rivera's wife, Frieda Kahlo had an affair with Trotsky.

I read a book about his assassination. It was sad. He was no real threat to Stalin at that time, but Joseph saw enemies everywhere.

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And he fucked Salma Hayek! Oh, wait, that was the movie.....

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I've got Isaac Deutscher's three-volume bio of Trotsky and have dipped into it over the years, rather than reading it all at once. (And let me tell you, the long descriptions of the intraparty ideological battles that raged in the 20's--well, they can get a little soporific even for a history nerd such as myself.)

Also meant, though, Conn, that anybody can talk about any historical personage who fascinates them--not just Trotsky. I guess another reason Trotsky fascinates me is the ultimate failure of Marxism in practice. It seems to me that we on the left have to confront that failure head-on. I know some will say--with accuracy--that what we saw in the 20th century was not Marxism, or certainly not Marxism as it was intended--but why, in that case, did it not evolve? I don't think you can blame Stalin alone. There's something inherently fatal in how it was put into practice. My belief is that it lacked a system of checks-and-balances; the Party had to be all-powerful to allow the revolution to survive, but this almost certainly ensured that corruption & tyranny would emerge. And the leader of that party then became, in effect, God (why is it that a cult of personality seemed to come about in almost every Communist state?). How do you practice benevolent restraint of forces & people that want to exploit capital and power to their advantage over others? I'll be the first to admit that I don't know, other than my general advocacy of nationalized sectors of public importance, which I suppose puts me squarely in the classic Western European socialist/liberal camp (the Stalinists and the Trotskyists would've hated me ;) ). As I've stated elsewhere, capitalism isn't without its great historical sins as well--slavery, the slaughter of North American Indians, etc., etc. Nonetheless I think we leftists have to analyze the old ways & errors of revolutionary thought and action if we're ever going to propose new, more egalitarian systems for the 21st century.

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I'm a political moron, Ghost, so I am not equipped to discuss in any depth your points.

I am now leafing through my copy of Bertram Wolfe, "Three Who Made a Revolution," and have come across something interesting.

Marx and Engels had written, "The emancipation of the working class is the work of the working class itself."

Lenin saw in the Russian proletariat and peasants (Narodniks) only the capacity to form trade unions, without being any real threat to Tsarist rule. Lenin wanted revolution not reform. The drive for worker reform was to be harnessed and formed into a revolutionary force capable of toppling the Tsarist regime.

He felt that there had to be some kind of party dictatorship over the proletariat itself. Quoting Lenin:

"The Working class exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade-union consciousness..."

"The beareres of science are not the proletariat but the bourgeois intelligentsia. It is out of the heads of members of this stratum (Marx and Engels--and Lenin might have added himself and Plekhanov) that modern socialism originated.

Strikes and unions were to be subordinated to the struggle against Tsarism; and thus was laid the groundwork for a small minority of intelligentsia to rule over the peasant workers.

This dictatorship lasted all the way up to Gorbachev, of course. But here we see the origins for it. Interesting....

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Okay, I am no expert here, and I've only read the Communist Manifesto a couple of times, but it seems to me that the failure of communism can be laid directly at the feet of Lenin and others who were there at the beginning. Hopefully someone more knowledgable about Marx's theories can correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that he viewed communism as a natural outgrowth of the current (at that time) situation, not something that could be artificially brought about by revolution ala Lenin and the gang. Secondly, the idea that communism would work in an agrarian society like Russia just seems to fly in the face of what Marx said. It seems to me that any society had to go through industrialization prior to the arrival of communism. Therefore, the logical place for communism to rise would have been Great Britain, not Russia. But then, as I say, I'm no expert and I may be reading it all wrong...

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Doesn't sound bad to me, Moose.

I continue to read here and am reminded that the social strikes which led to revolutions in 1905 and 1914 in Russia were actually driven by the industrial proletariat, and that Russia at that time actually had a quickly growning and "the most highly concentrated working class in Europe."

Not from this book, but I remember reading long ago that it was the industrial proletariat in the cities which won the Civil War for the Bolsheviks. The country peasants often fought on the side of the Whites.

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The first Russian revolution hits in 1905 and catches Lenin and his coherts offguard.

Trotsky plays an important role as he doesn't quite buy Lenin's approach that the coming revolution must be a "bourgeois revolution." The "bourgeoisie, he says, "will never carry their fight from the banquet hall into the streets where revolutions are fought and won."

So Trotsky joins the action and makes a name for himself amongst the workers. He is the man of action and neglects the slow and torturous exercise of party building and control that was more representative of Lenin and Stalin.

(Hope this isn't boring people.) :huh:

The 1905 spontaneous "Bloody Sunday" revolution is brutally stopped, and the Bolsheviks are exiled either voluntarily or otherwise; and they plan out the next revolution.

Edited by connoisseur series500

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Okay, I am no expert here, and I've only read the Communist Manifesto a couple of times, but it seems to me that the failure of communism can be laid directly at the feet of Lenin and others who were there at the beginning. Hopefully someone more knowledgable about Marx's theories can correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that he viewed communism as a natural outgrowth of the current (at that time) situation, not something that could be artificially brought about by revolution ala Lenin and the gang. Secondly, the idea that communism would work in an agrarian society like Russia just seems to fly in the face of what Marx said. It seems to me that any society had to go through industrialization prior to the arrival of communism.

Very true, at least as far as the main texts are concerned. Marx saw historical materialism (the feudalism-->industrial capitalism-->communism progression) as immutable as Newton's laws of motion.

However, Marx also had some interesting things to say about Russia. For some reason, Marx encouraged Russian radicals in the late 19th century (I think it was the Decembrists my prof was talking about but I'm not 100% certain). He liked their commitment to the cause and suggested that it just might be possible to skip a step or two and go straight to communism in Russia from the czarist feudal/agrarian order. Something like that. I apologize for being sketchy on sources but I do remember it coming out of my prof's mouth at the beginning of his class on Soviet history three years ago.

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I guess another reason Trotsky fascinates me is the ultimate failure of Marxism in practice.  It seems to me that we on the left have to confront that failure head-on.  I know some will say--with accuracy--that what we saw in the 20th century was not Marxism, or certainly not Marxism as it was intended--but why, in that case, did it not evolve?  I don't think you can blame Stalin alone.  There's something inherently fatal in how it was put into practice.

Well, I don't really know much about Marxism..but...

My view is that Marxism is a political religion. So you can compare it to the church and Christianity. You have the ideal (Christ) - and then you have the reality, the Pope, Religious Wars, witch-burning, the Crusades...

So, then, Stalin might be compared to one of the less wonderful figures in Christianity. I don't know, maybe the Borgias (don't know much about them except they've got a terrible rep) or The Inquisition.

In the US at least, Democracy takes on some of the qualities of a religion too - coming out of the "City on the Hill" conception it looks like a kind securalised Christianity. It's at the core of American identity.

This might be why Americans distrust Marxism so much. It's kind of a competing religion to theirs. I.E Another version of religious wars.

Also I never believed in economics as the defining element in society.

Simon Weil

Edited by Simon Weil

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hehe, good points, Simon.

Democracy is a kind of religion in this country. :lol:

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Also I never believed in economics as the defining element in society.

I agree, Simon. Any time someone announces that they've figured out what it's really all about, get ready for an oversimplification! :lol:

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Come on, guys; this was just too cool of an idea to let slip into the ether; someone come up with another topic if this one's played out! :(

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How about we discuss whatever my latest History Channel show is on. Then I can tell you what's going on; and you all can tell me what you might find interesting in a show, and watch the final thing. And I am a fount of information on my current show for 6 months. Or is that too self-aggrandizing?

Anyway, the topics at hand are:

1. Tomb Raiders - archaeological site theft and illicit artifact trading. Topics discussed include the Frederick Schultz case, in which a NY antiquities dealer was recently imprisoned for supporting the smuggling of artifacts from Egypt. The James ossuary - a looted artifact, so impossible to ever really know its authenticity. The looting of the pyramids in ancient Egypt. The antiquities auction market - estimated to be over 90% looted artifacts.

2. Hannibal the Carthaginian general and the Second Punic War

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I'd like to pose a question for everyone: you mention tomb raiders; what do you guys think about antiquities held in museums which are now viewed as having been looted from archaeological sites? This is a difficult issue, in my opinion, because there are points to be made on both sides.

On the one hand, you may have a Third World country such as Cambodia, rich in antiquities, which eventually gets its act together and then feels it necessary to go round the various art museums in the world and claim that they all belong back in the country. The may claim that the richer nations were taking advantage of them when the country was in turmoil or at war. The museums could reply that they were purchased from local dealers in Cambodia or Thailand and that they were in effect "rescuing" the art from an unstable environment. Both sides have good arguments.

I was in Thailand in the 1980s when the Thai government made a big stink over a frieze which was missing from an old temple in the bushes; it had turned up at the Art Institute of Chicago, simply one of the best art museums in the world. A big diplomatic stink took place and the frieze was returned even though the art museum had bought it from a local dealer. In other words, Thai people sell their own heritage then demand it back!! I cannot remember the details, which would be important, such as how long was the frieze sitting in the museum before it was identified by the Thais? I mean should there be a time limit to this sort of thing--a kind of statue of limitations.

Personally, I had a difficult time feeling any sympathy towards the Thai department of culture, since the Thais had been systematically looting Burma and Cambodia of their antiquities and selling them to foreign dealers and collectors. For many years, you could walk into the modern River City Antiques Center and spot the head of a Cambodian deity--a large imposing stone head which had clearly come from the causeway of Angkor Thom in Cambodia. Any amateur could easily identify it from well-known pictures. There had been an awful lot of smuggling going on during those years in Cambodia, both of gemstones and antiquities.

I suppose in those cases then the argument is clear cut that these things should be returned, but with the passing of much time I think it isn't so clear; such as the case of the Elgin Marbles. Should Britain be compelled to return them to Greece?

Napoleon filled the Louvre with Egyptian goodies during his time there. (He's lucky Nelson didn't sink all those ships on their way back to France!! ;) )

But the question is: should museums generally be compelled to return antiquities, or should there be some kind of time period? This is not easy to answer, I think.

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Okay, I am no expert here, and I've only read the Communist Manifesto a couple of times, but it seems to me that the failure of communism can be laid directly at the feet of Lenin and others who were there at the beginning. Hopefully someone more knowledgable about Marx's theories can correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that he viewed communism as a natural outgrowth of the current (at that time) situation, not something that could be artificially brought about by revolution ala Lenin and the gang. Secondly, the idea that communism would work in an agrarian society like Russia just seems to fly in the face of what Marx said. It seems to me that any society had to go through industrialization prior to the arrival of communism. Therefore, the logical place for communism to rise would have been Great Britain, not Russia. But then, as I say, I'm no expert and I may be reading it all wrong...

I'd say that you are very close to the mark, Moose. Marx did believe that change would ultimately be brought about through revolution, but he did see it as an historical inevitability. Marx absolutely believed that history took place in stages and that it was necessary to move through those stages. Feudalism would be followed by Capitalism which would in turn be followed by Socialism and then finally Communism. It would not be possible to skip a stage and go straight to the next. When asked what country he believed socialism would appear in first, Marx said "England." When asked what country was least likely to achieve socialism, Marx said "Russia" which was still Feudal economy.

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I'd like to pose a question for everyone: you mention tomb raiders; what do you guys think about antiquities held in museums which are now viewed as having been looted from archaeological sites?  This is a difficult issue, in my opinion, because there are points to be made on both sides.

I suppose in those cases then the argument is clear cut that these things should be returned, but with the passing of much time I think it isn't so clear; such as the case of the Elgin Marbles.  Should Britain be compelled to return them to Greece? 

But the question is: should museums generally be compelled to return antiquities, or should there be some kind of time period?  This is not easy to answer, I think.

The UNESCO accord of 1970 tried to address this. Anything henceforth acquired, identifiable as loot, should be returned - thus, acquisitions after 1970. Those acquired before (which includes much of the Louvre, the British Museum, and so forth) can be "excused."

However, it gets more complicated than that, as one might expect. Sometimes museums return things obtained before 1970 when it is just so clear that the objects were acquired nefariously. Example: the Lydian Horde, from Turkey, which the Met sent back after fighting it for many years.

The Elgin Marbles were obtained "legally" depending on how one interprets the fiat given by the Ottoman Empire to Lord Elgin. The British Museum will never be compelled to return them, and one can provide lots of evidence that the marbles have been preserved in much better condition by being in the museum than if they were still on the Parthenon. But, morally, is there a point where the Brits (and the Marbles are actually the property of the British state) should return them, when a proper museum exists in Athens? Maybe. Or perhaps a shared program.

The Greeks asked for a loan of the marbles for the 2004 Olympics, but the Brits turned them down, fearing that they would never be returned.

As one interviewee pointed out (Tom Hoving, former director of the Met), the most well-known items in the British Museum are the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone, both of which are loot. How much would the attendance of the Museum drop if these objects were returned? And Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, is starting a strong campaign to get some unique treasures returned to Egypt: the Rosetta Stone, the Nefertiti Bust in Berlin, the zodiac in the Louvre, and the state of Queen Hatshepsut in the Met.

Edited by Adam

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The antiquities issue is naturally confused by the natural inclination to judge those in the past by today's standards, something that just doesn't fly once you examine it carefully. I think we should all keep in mind that (pardon the inanity!) the present is merely a temporary condition. Perhaps in a millenium or so, we'll (well, not us, but you know what I mean!) see British antiquities on display in Cairo. Or even at the center of the great Peruvian Empire. Or whoever is big in the year 3003...

Edited by Jazzmoose

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As to the question of antiquities, I think that if the item in question is requested by the country of origin, it ought to be returned. The British Museum can certainly make a case that they "rescued" a great many artifacts, but if Greece wants its marbles back, I don't see why they shouldn't get them. After all, they are *Greek* antiquities, and should be regarded as the property of the Greek government (even if the present government didn't exist back when the artifacts were first recovered). Perhaps the UN should act as an arbiter in such cases, evaluating the legitimacy of the claim and whether or not the country of origin now has a safe, secure place to put the artifact(s). If the country in question is constantly in a state of upheaval, has no national museum, and it seems likely that the artifact would be damaged, destroyed, or looted, then the UN might award custody to the current museum until the situation improves. Or the museum in question might offer to *buy* the artifact from the country of origin for a fair price.

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As one interviewee pointed out (Tom Hoving, former director of the Met), the most well-known items in the British Museum are the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone, both of which are loot. How much would the attendance of the Museum drop if these objects were returned.

Not much. It's an enormous place, the British museum, with almost unending wonderful things. I don't think I've ever sought out the Rosetta stone or the Elgin marbles when I've gone there (I live in London). But the other point you make is on the ball. I mean, so much of the stuff there (and elsewehere) is nicked, basically, that once you start re-patriating one object, much of the collection would be vulnerable.

And once that sets in, probably, attendances would drop.

Simon Weil

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rmc72.jpg

OK, this is a photograph that I own. It's by the British photographer Fay Godwin and it's of The Royal Military Canal in Kent (UK). That is the little strip of water in front of the sheep. It was built, supposedly, to stop Napoleon if he should ever have dared invade.

If anyone's interested in the less serious bits of history...

Simon Weil

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I have visions of Napoleon and his generals, having successfully dug all the way under the Channel and advanced into Kent suddenly drawing to a halt and looking perplexed whilst gazing into this ditch:

"Quelle dommage! What will we do now! How can we explain our enforced return to Paris to the people expecting our great victory!"

British military genius strikes again!

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I dunno...those sheep look pretty tough!

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