The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'communism'

2013/8/1

Der Spiegel has an interesting interview with Adam Michnik, former Polish Solidarność dissident and now editor of the broadsheet Gazeta Wyborcza, talking about democracy, authoritarianism and civil society in Europe, looking partly at the hardline authoritarian-nationalist turn Hungary has taken, and to a lesser extent the Catholic-nationalist right in Poland:

SPIEGEL: Orbán is trying to direct his country into a "system of national cooperation without compromises." What does he mean by that?
Michnik: British historian Norman Davies called this form of democracy a "government of cannibals." Democratic elections are held, but then the victorious party devours the losers. The gradual coup consists in getting rid of or taking over democratic institutions. These people believe that they are the only ones in possession of the truth. At some point, parties no longer mean anything, and the system is based, once again, on a monologue of power. The democratic institutions in the West are more deeply embedded in the West than in Eastern Europe. Democracy can defend itself there. Everything is still fragile in our countries, even two decades after the end of communism.
Michnik: Back in 1990, I wrote that nationalism is the last stage of communism: a system of thought that gives simple but wrong answers to complex questions. Nationalism is practically the natural ideology of authoritarian regimes.

authoritarianism communism democracy europe hungary nationalism poland politics 0 Share

2013/7/4

A look at a pamphlet prepared by the US Army in 1955, at the height of the Red Scare, and titled How To Spot A Communist:

While a preference for long sentences is common to most Communist writing, a distinct vocabulary provides the more easily recognized feature of the “Communist Language.” Even a superficial reading of an article written by a Communist or a conversation with one will probably reveal the use of some of the following expressions: integrative thinking, vanguard, comrade, hootenanny, chauvinism, book-burning, syncretistic faith, bourgeois-nationalism, jingoism, colonialism, hooliganism, ruling class, progressive, demagogy, dialectical, witch-hunt, reactionary, exploitation, oppressive, materialist.
Rather chillingly, the pamphlet also warned that Communists revealed themselves if and when they talked about “McCarthyism,” “violation of civil rights,” “racial or religious discrimination” or “peace.” In other words, they were guilty if they suggested that the government was overstepping its bounds.

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2013/4/20

A new book, How The Beatles Rocked The Kremlin, makes the claim that the Beatles contributed greatly to the collapse of the Soviet Union (or at least to the collapse of the legitimacy of the communist regime among its youth; whether glasnost, perestroika and the disintegration of the USSR would have happened as they did without the Beatles is a matter for historical inquiry):

The book's main character, the Russian writer and critic Art Troitsky, makes the claim that: "In the big bad west they've had whole huge institutions that spent millions of dollars trying to undermine the Soviet system. And I'm sure the impact of all those stupid cold war institutions has been much, much smaller than the impact of the Beatles."
A grand assertion, maybe – but widely shared. "Beatlemania washed away the foundations of Soviet society," explains Mikhail Safonov at the Institute of Russian History. And the Russian rocker Sasha Lipnitsky – snowflakes falling on his beret as he talks to Woodhead in a park bandstand – insists: "The Beatles brought us the idea of democracy. For many of us, it was the first hole in the iron curtain."
The Soviet authorities didn't quite know how to respond, and alternated between trying to co-opt the new fad and attempting to stamp it out, but to no avail; once music fans contrasted the music with the authorities' denunciations of it, they became more sceptical of the official party line:
Indeed, the repression and harassment of the music ebbed and flowed as the party controls lapsed or intensified. "It went in waves: sometimes you could be approved for an official recording, and sometimes you were banned, losing your job or education. It must have driven them insane," says Woodhead. He not only excavates the minds of the rebels but also the propaganda machine at work. He recounts how a school staged a mock trial of the Beatles – broadcast on radio – with a prosecutor and denunciations in the manner of Stalin's show trials of the 1930s. A critical bulletin shown on state TV, entitled Pop Quartet the Beatles, told the story of how "these gifted guys could be real cash earners" while, "struck down with psychosis, the fans don't hear anything any more. Hysterics, screams, people fainting!" So ran the TV commentary, accompanied by shots of dancing fans intercut with images of the Ku Klux Klan and dire poverty in the American south. "Keep on dancing, lads, don't look around," the programme taunted, "You don't really want to know what's happening. Keep going, louder and faster! You don't care about anyone else."
The article also mentions the USSR and its satellite states' interaction with other forms of countercultural and popular music, some deemed less threatening than others. (Disco, it seems, is OK because it's easy to contain. By then, the sclerotic Brezhnev-era USSR must have given up on trying to inspire its youth with Leninist zeal in its vision and was merely hoping that their recreations would remain safely apolitical, and, dare one say, bourgeois.)
Looking through the other end of the telescope, it is enlightening to find what the Soviet authorities approved of. They "positively encouraged" disco music – the Bee Gees' Saturday Night Fever, Abba and Boney M (though Rasputin was officially banned) – because, says Woodhead, "it was musically rigid and could be contained within the dance floor, it wasn't going to spill out on to the streets".
Why the Beatles? There is no hint of the Rolling Stones or the Who in all this. In Czechoslovakia, the underground was being inspired by dark dissonance in the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa. "I think the Czechs had that recent memory of democracy, before the war," reflects Woodhead. "And their culture has roots in Kafka and the surreal. But Soviet taste was more melodic, they like tunes above all, even a little sentiment, verging on the beautiful – and there, I'm describing a McCartney song, not hypersexual rock'n'roll, or Street Fighting Man.

cold war communism culture disco history music rock'n'roll the beatles totalitarianism ussr 1 Share

2012/12/6

What does a cash-strapped totalitarian regime do for money? Well, one option is to sell its citizens for medical research, as it's now revealed East Germany did in the 1980s:

In another case, Annelise Lehrer, the widow of a former East German heart patient discovered that her husband Gerhard had been part of a batch of patients who were unwittingly subjected to testing for the blood pressure drug Ramipril, which was developed by the former Hoechst company in 1989. Gerhard Lehrer died soon after his release from an East German hospital in 1989. His wife discovered that in keeping with Hoechst’s testing procedure, he had been part of a group which was given placebos and had received no treatment for his heart condition.
The makers of Tests and the Dead said they had identified the individuals who had organised drug tests for Hoechst in East Germany, but all of them had categorically refused to be interviewed.
Two thoughts: a) surely those involved can be prosecuted? And, b) I wonder which of the world's pharmaceutical companies are doing similar deals in, say, North Korea today.

communism ddr germany medical slavery totalitarianism 3 Share

2012/2/29

Recently declassified documents from the German Foreign Ministry reveal that, in 1981, Margaret Thatcher, long seen as a hero of individual freedom and a staunch and fearless enemy of Communism, considered supporting the Polish Communist government's crackdown on the pro-democracy movement led by trade union-centred group Solidarność:

Carrington had earlier outlined the UK's position, saying that his government only backed Solidarity out of respect for public opinion, but that perhaps, from a more rational position, they would actually be "on the side of the Polish government".
Back then, Warsaw was threatened with insolvency and Thatcher evidently feared that the demands of the workers' movement could trigger a Soviet invasion. A few months later, the Polish communist Leader Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law and the US invoked economic sanctions against Poland. Britain, however, avoided levying sanctions on the country.
Presumably it was the “trade-union-led” bit that swung Solidarność into the same category as Nelson Mandela (considered a terrorist by the Thatcher government); after all, even if they might overthrow an evil Communist regime, what if in doing so they cause the greater harm of giving the local unionists ideas? In which case, Jaruzelski would have been a bulwark of stability, sort of like Thatcher's close friend, General Pinochet.

This wasn't Thatcher's last attempt to shore up the Eastern Bloc; later, as the Berlin Wall fell, she flew to Moscow to press Gorbachev to stop the reunification of Germany. Presumably freedom was good only where it applied to capital.

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2011/4/15

50 years after the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban government is preparing to concede defeat in the struggle for socialism, and unveil radical reforms:

Evidence, as Castro himself said in a recent interview, that "the Cuban model doesn't even work for us any more". Which is why on Saturday the Communist party will inaugurate its first congress in 14 years to cement radical changes to the economy and, intentional or not, to Cuban society.
"The narrative is really Thatcherite," said one senior western diplomat in Havana. "It's all about cutting rights and welfare and putting greater emphasis on personal responsibility and hard work."
It'd be ironic if, as Cuba prepares to liberalise its economy and open itself up to investors, the investors came to the Cuban government and advised them to actually keep the infrastructure of totalitarianism in place, because of its usefulness in increasing productivity, controlling unrest and ensuring the integrity of intellectual-property licensing.

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2011/3/30

One of the more unexpected products of the final days of the Soviet Union was an explosion of fantastic modernist architecture. With the iron chain of Communist totalitarianism crumbling and the velvet leash of the almighty market still in the future, the USSR's architects had a free hand to go wild, which they did, resulting in a wave of spectacular-looking government ministries, polytechnic institutes and other facilities scattered around the various peripheries of the empire, and looking like they were dropped from space:

These fascinating things, built in prominent locations, were cathedral-like in their ambitions as well as their size. Chaubin concocted a game around his photograph of the Palace of Weddings in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. He would show it to people and ask them what it could be: a monastery, a power station, maybe even a giant laboratory? "No one guessed it was a registry office for weddings built on a huge scale to encourage people away from getting married in churches."
The buildings are catalogued in a new book by a French photographer, Frédéric Chaubin, who spent several years finding and recording them. The book may be the last chance to see many of them, which are likely to fall prey to the financial ambitions of oligarchs and property developers. There is a slideshow here.

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2010/12/27

A set of photographs taken in cold-war Berlin, by an American intelligence officer and amateur photographer; there are some interesting scenes here.

Also, Cold War era maps of the Berlin U-Bahn, from the West and the East. It's interesting to note the differences in graphic design and what information they contain. The West German map is neutral and businesslike, though shows both lines in the West and the East (though the Eastern lines are uncoloured). The Eastern map looks superficially more colourful and friendly (much like the jovially behatted Ampelmann compared with the standard capitalist traffic-light man), but shows only East Berlin; the forbidden capitalist enclave behind the "anti-fascist protection barrier" is terra incognita.

(via MeFi) berlin cold war communism design history 0 Share

2010/12/21

China has launched its own homebrew Twitter clone. It's named Red Microblog, run by a regional propaganda department, and by all accounts, is the place to go if you have some rousing Maoist revolutionary sentiment to share:

"I really like the words by Chairman Mao [Zedong] that 'The world is ours; we should work together'," one of Mr Bo's messages read. Other messages on the home page included: "Work hard, be honest and treat others well", "There is no sky larger than the hand, no road longer than the feet, no mountain higher than the people, no sea wider than the heart", and "Those who go with the flow are forever going up and down in the waves; only those who go against the wind fearing no hardship, can reach the other side fast."
A statement on the site said the launch had been in response to a call from Li Changchun, China's Propaganda chief, for local governments to master new media.

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2010/5/10

As parts of its Why We Fight column, exploring the cultural flashpoints of (for want of a less loaded word) hipsterdom, Pitchfork has a piece charting the rise and metamorphosis of irony, and exploring the significance of knowingness. The timeline it posits looks like this:

  • Americans born from the late 50s to mid-70s grew up in a world where a lot of old certainties about society, work, family, and life had been eroded-- by big social changes in the 60s, by economic decline, by lots of things. And yet these people were still raised on culture full of old "certainties" that suddenly looked really, really false and corny. Elvis-impersonator corny, After-School Special corny. So they developed a kind of irony and skepticism, floating around smirking but rarely committing to anything. Some of them were good enough at it that, by the late 80s, it'd become an actual cultural aesthetic, a sort of slacker knowingness that could get as mainstream as, say, "The Simpsons".
  • Those were Gen Xers, mostly. But even as people slightly younger than them grew up, through the 90s, on a steady diet of that attitude, some folks started to notice a kind of futility in the whole thing, a defensiveness, an emptiness, an inability to embrace anything-- at which point you could suddenly read thousands of words of David Foster Wallace on how damaging it might be, how much we needed to tap back into the kinds of "basic human verities" that actually helped us lead meaningful lives. Some people even started predicting the rise of some "New Sincerity."
  • In fact, some of the people who spent the 90s trading in exactly that knowing, snarky sensibility recanted, and started going around bug-eyed, warning everyone about leaving it behind-- raving about climbing out of the hole they'd fallen into, somewhat oblivious to the fact that younger people weren't in the hole with them. Younger people knew how to be ironic and sincere both, and were digging themselves entirely new holes to deal with.
Or, in other words, if this theory holds, Gen Y aren't only the first generation of digital natives, but also the first generation of ironic natives (or perhaps post-ironic natives, though that title might apply more to GenXers who came out the other end and made an accommodation with sincerity via their McSweeney's subscriptions). That is, for values of "first" meaning "since the mid-20th-century".

(Other Why We Fight essays on Pitchfork include: why Joanna Newsom is seen as pretentious and Lady Gaga isn't, and the aspirational qualities of shifting musical taste as a sort of hipster arms race.)

In an entirely different negotiation between irony and sincerity, Czechs trying to balance nostalgia with unease for the Communist regime that was imposed on them can now holiday in authentically preserved Communist-era holiday resorts, albeit with better service and a measure of ironic detachment (in the form of singing, dancing Lenin impersonators):

She is upset because I've asked if she was bothered by the bust of Stalin in the hotel lobby. "It's our history and it's inside us," she continues, still brandishing the sausage.

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2009/9/11

Documents recently smuggled out of Moscow have revealed the chaos that immediately preceded and followed the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Warsaw Pact regimes. In particular, it turns out that Margaret Thatcher, that heroine of freedom who reputedly stared down Communism and brought liberty to the East, actually flew to Moscow to press Gorbachev to stop the reunification of Germany, in the interests of stability.

“We do not want a united Germany,” she said. “This would lead to a change to postwar borders, and we cannot allow that because such a development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security.”
Thatcher wasn't alone in this; French President François Mitterrand was also vehemently opposed to German reunification and was even considering a military alliance with the USSR, under the guise of "fighting natural disasters" to shore up the Iron Curtain.

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2009/9/6

The BBC News Magazine has a piece on how the Beatles acquired a devoted illicit following in the Soviet Union, arguably helping to undermine the legitimacy of the Communist system:

Collarless Beatles jackets, known as "Bitlovka", were assembled from cast-offs; clumsy army boots were refashioned in Beatles style. And with much of the Western media blocked out, bizarre Beatles myths blossomed.
Yuri Pelyushonok recalls hearing at school how "the English Queen gave John Lennon a Gold Car; but the Beatles had to play in cages to avoid their fans".
The most persistent myth was that the Beatles had played a secret concert at a Soviet airbase on their way to Japan. Everywhere, fans claimed it happened close to them.

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2009/4/21

Der Spiegel has some evocative photographs from East Germany, taken by West German photographer Karlheinz Jardner in 1990, not long after the wall came down. It includes shots of room interiors frozen in the perpetual 1970s of the DDR, dilapidated provincial cities with Trabants, more Trabants, luxury hotels reserved for the Communist Party elite, dilapidated seaside resorts, cheerful urchins with piles of coal, uninspiring consumer goods and symphonies of grey; some glimpses of a parallel world, just before it disappeared.

And here is a Fortean Times piece on "The Ghosts of East Berlin".

(via MeFi) communism ddr germany history photography travel 0 Share

2008/10/22

Faced with a wave of ostalgie, misty-eyed nostalgia for the fallen East German Communist regime, Germany's educational authorities have created a mockup of an East German classroom, in which school students would be subjected to the Communist experience. There they would be threatened with disciplinary action for wearing Western clothes, ordered to sing Communist marching songs and told of field trips to border guard regiments, by a "teacher" attired in authentic East German synthetic fabrics. One student would also volunteer in advance to play the child of dissidents, who would then be alternately criticised and ignored by the teachers. What the organisers hadn't planned on was that the whole thing would turn into a small-scale reenactment of the Stanford Prison Experiment, with dissident "Steffen"'s erstwhile classmates turning on him and joining in persecuting him like good cogs in the totalitarian machine:

The other pupils began to ostracise "Steffen" themselves and accused him of disrupting the class. Although they were encouraged to stand up against the system before the session, none of the pupils rallied to Steffen's support when he was told he could not visit the border-guard unit, or at any other time.
During these sessions Elke Urban models herself on Margot Honecker, the leader's wife who was also a hardline education minister. She said that only one group had dared to stand up and defend the dissident pupil during her classes. "I deliberately create a totalitarian atmosphere and I am still always shocked how quickly and easily people are conditioned by it," she said. "East Germany may have left a pile of Stasi files behind rather than a pile of corpses, but the similarities with the Nazi regime are there."

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2007/9/12

Wall Street is experiencing a Chinese surveillance-led boom, with US hedge funds pumping more than $150m into the growth industry of developing high-tech means of detecting dissent and maintaining the control of the Communist Party over the world's most populous nation — namely, of squaring the circle of having economic freedom with totalitarian political and social control.

Terence Yap, the vice chairman and chief financial officer of China Security and Surveillance Technology, said his company’s software made it possible for security cameras to count the number of people in crosswalks and alert the police if a crowd forms at an unusual hour, a possible sign of an unsanctioned protest.
Mr. Yap said terrorism concerns did exist. His company has outfitted rail stations and government buildings in Tibet with surveillance systems.
In Shenzhen, white poles resembling street lights now line the roads every block or two, ready to be fitted with cameras. In a nondescript building linked to nearby street cameras, a desktop computer displayed streaming video images from outside and drew a green square around each face to check it against a “blacklist.” Since China lacks national or even regional digitized databases of troublemakers’ photos, Mr. Yap said municipal or neighborhood officials compile their own blacklists.

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2007/6/2

Life imitates Goodbye Lenin!; a Polish railway worker, who fell into a coma in a year or so before Communism collapsed, has just woken up:

"When I went into a coma there was only tea and vinegar in the shops, meat was rationed and huge petrol queues were everywhere," Mr Grzebski said.
"Now I see people on the streets with mobile phones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin," he told Polish television.

communism europe goodbye lenin life imitating art poland politics society 1 Share

2007/5/21

The former Communist state of East Germany, which disappeared from Europe in 1990, still exists in the Caribbean; well, sort of. There is an unpopulated island off the coast of Cuba which Fidel Castro gave to East Germany in 1972, naming it "Cayo Ernesto Thaelmann", after a Communist politician executed by the Nazis. During the Communist era, it was apparently effectively East German territory; a Party-approved pop singer made a record there in 1975. It's not known how much the DDR used the island other than that, though by the time the Berlin Wall came down, it was apparently uninhabited, to the point where those negotiating the reunification treaty forgot it existed. This state of affairs continued until 2001, when a German newspaper discovered it and attempted to sell it, upon which, the Cubans, not wanting any more capitalist running-dog lackeys in their neighbourhood, swiftly declared that the transfer was "symbolic" only.

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2006/7/14

An article in Prospect looks at the tradition of black humour behind the Iron Curtain:

Communism was a humour-producing machine. Its economic theories and system of repression created inherently funny situations. There were jokes under fascism and the Nazis too, but those systems did not create an absurd, laugh-a-minute reality like communism.
When Russian tanks rolled into Prague in 1968, the population fought back with wit. Every night graffiti appeared in Wenceslas Square with lines like "Soviet State Circus back in town! New attractions!" and "Soviet School for Special Needs Children—End-of-Term Outing." People cracked jokes: Why is Czechoslovakia the most neutral country in the world? Because it doesn't even interfere in its own internal affairs. And: Are the Russians our brothers or our friends? Our brothers—we can choose our friends. "We showed our intellectual superiority," one former dissident told me proudly.
Jokes under communism were shaped by the cultures that produced them, as they are anywhere else. For the Czechs, a sense of humour encapsulated a type of national resilience. East German jokes, meanwhile, tended to be touchingly self-deprecating. And yet there was a pan-communist umbrella of comedy that stood above national distinctions, just as the international socialist project itself did. What ultimately defined the genre was less the purpose it served than its style. The communist joke was by nature deadpan and absurdist—because it was born of an absurd system which created a yawning gap between everyday experience and propaganda. Yet sometimes, through jokes, both communists and their opponents could carry on a debate about the failings of communism.

(via Boing Boing) communism dissent humour resistance samizdat 1 Share

2006/6/30

An interesting article about the history of Chinese Maoist propaganda poster art, and the contemporary artist Wang Guangyi, whose work includes the "Great Criticism" series, juxtaposing Maoist poster imagery with Western lifestyle product brands.

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2005/12/21

When he wasn't purging perceived enemies or trying to build a pure Communist society, Stalin was trying to breed a race of unstoppable half-man, half-ape Stakhanovites and super-soldiers to bring about Soviet world domination and bring the five-year-plan back on track:

According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat."
Mr Ivanov's ideas were music to the ears of Soviet planners and in 1926 he was dispatched to West Africa with $200,000 to conduct his first experiment in impregnating chimpanzees. Meanwhile, a centre for the experiments was set up in Georgia - Stalin's birthplace - for the apes to be raised.
Mr Ivanov's experiments, unsurprisingly from what we now know, were a total failure. He returned to the Soviet Union, only to see experiments in Georgia to use monkey sperm in human volunteers similarly fail.
A final attempt to persuade a Cuban heiress to lend some of her monkeys for further experiments reached American ears, with the New York Times reporting on the story, and she dropped the idea amid the uproar.
It makes one wonder where they got the human "volunteers". I'm guessing from the gulags.

Also, was this the only instance of a totalitarian state attempting to selectively breed a new citizenry to better suit its needs? I wonder whether, say, North Korea or someone has tried anything like that, using people from different ethnicities and races, lured or kidnapped from across the world, to breed the model citizen.

(via bOING bOING) communism humano-apes mad scientists stalin totalitarianism ussr 1 Share

2005/5/18

Cuba is now planning to abandon Windows for Linux, following such radical states as Brazil and, umm, Munich. The "open source = Communism" mob will undoubtedly have a field day with this news.

Del Puerto said his office was working on a legal framework that would allow the replacement of the Windows system.

Hang on... a legal framework? Isn't Cuba on the list of countries it is illegal to export Windows too? I imagine Microsoft would have a hard time selling licenses to Cuba, for one. And would Cuba even recognise US software licensing law? Perhaps they have to make a show of being good global intellectual-property citizens if they are to keep those Che merchandise and Buena Vista Social Club CD royalties coming in.

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2005/4/9

Irony of the day: the anthem of Communism, The Internationale is copyrighted; a filmmaker in France is being shaken down for US$1,283 for having someone whistle the song without permission in one of his films.

Under French law, "The Internationale" won't fall into the public domain until 2014 70 years of post-mortem protection plus extra time to cover the world war. Degeyter died in 1932.

(Via bOING bOING, who point out that there's (a fragment of) a decent electropop version of The Internationale here. Funnily enough, a while ago, I thought that a happy-hardcore/doof/indie-dance version, with some dude rapping about dialectic materialism in the middle, would work well at the numerous anti-capitalism rallies the lefties kept having before 9/11.)

(via bOING bOING) capitalism communism copyright electropop galambosianism intellectual property irony mp3s the internationale 6 Share

2004/12/25

The bizarre story, with album covers and low-bitrate MP3s, of Yu-Mex, one of the most unlikely musical genres in the history of thrift-shop records. Yu-Mex is what happened when Tito's Yugoslavia broke off relations with the USSR, turned against Russian culture and looked for other ideologically-sound exotic influences, finding them, of all places, in Mexico. And so, sombrero-clad, mustachioed hombres from Slovenia to Serbia put out record after record on the state-run record label Jugoton, with songs with titles like "I Am A True Mexican". (via bOING bOING)

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2004/12/12

Under a new deal between Disney Corp. and China's Communist Youth League, millions of Chinese children will now be indoctrinated into the teachings of Mickey Mouse. Or, more precisely, will learn Disney stories instead of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book.

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2004/11/20

The existence of a vast network of secret tunnels and bunkers beneath the Serbian capital of Belgrade has recently emerged after two soldiers guarding an entrance to the complex had been shot dead in mysterious circumstances. The complex was built by Communist strongman Josip Broz Tito, and was designed to resist nuclear attack (presumed to come from Stalin's USSR, with which Yugoslavia had broken off ties); up until recently, its existence was so secret that even NATO military planners didn't know about it (though Saddam Hussein might have, as he hired the construction firms involved to build a similar bunker near Tikrit). It is suspected that fugitive Bosnian Serb war criminals have been sheltered in the tunnels. Meanwhile, local civilians are calling for it to be turned into a tourist attraction.

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2004/7/14

The Museum of Computing in Swindon, Wiltshire is exhibiting an artefact from a bizarre parallel universe of video games: a rare East German video game machine. The Polyplay was manufactured in 1985 as an ideologically sound Communist answer to Western capitalist video games. It consists of an 8-bit Russian commercial computer and a generic East German colour television (case and all) encased in a custom wooden enclosure in 1980s East German decor (which looks like 1970s Western decor). Some 1,500 units were made, many of which were recalled and destroyed at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Estimates of numbers of surviving machines range from 3 to "lots" (someone on Slashdot claims that they're more common than PacMan machines in Germany).

There were no amusement arcades in East Germany so these robust Poly Play machines were found in municipal buildings, leisure centres and swimming pools, and offered seven or eight simple games. In the mid 1980's, Westerners would have been enjoying 'beat 'em up' games such as Streetfighters or Super Mario Brothers. In stark contrast, these simple games included a variation of Pacman called 'Hare and Wolf', car-racing, ski-ing (similar to ZX 81 games), and Carnival (shooting ducks). Westerners may find it harder to relate to games such as a man chasing butterflies or Deerhunt, which may have a cultural significance for East Germans. Another game, 'Catch the drips in a bucket or drown', makes one wonder if the residents of state-owned apartments ever found themselves in a similar predicament!

Here's a BBC news story about it, in which they amusingly misspell Schiessbude as Scheissbude and come to the conclusion that it had a game named "crap booth". If you can't make it to Swindon, you can play it on MAME.

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2004/5/17

Bad news for the neo-conservative pipe dream of making Iraq the start of a domino chain of neo-liberal democracies across the Middle East, too busy eating Big Macs, watching MTV and monitoring their Halliburton shares to consider annihilating Israel or supporting international terrorism, thus ushering in a new age of peace and contented consumerism across the entire Middle East. The US Government have indicated that they will accept a theocracy emerging in Iraq. I'm sure John Ashcroft wouldn't object.

Meanwhile, two cities in southern California are designating themselves no-communist zones; very retro.

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2004/2/14

In the Ukraine, cars with certain number plates are exempt from road laws. These are normally given to the ruling elite (naturally) and police, though they can be yours for a price:

KM gives you total immunity, EO works only in the east and 777 looks cool but doesn't really mean anything.

This reminds me of the situation in the Soviet Union, where, apparently, the Communist Party nomenklatura had a wealth of privileges, including special reserved lanes on the motorways, a special phone system (which worked better than the one the ordinary plebs got) and even a private underground railway in Moscow.

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2004/1/1

There have been mass arrests in the People's Democracy of Cuba after the official Communist Party newspaper printed a photograph of Fidel Castro doctored to look like Hitler. The offending issues of Granma (which is presumably similar in tone to Pravda before it turned into the Weekly World News) were quickly retrieved by the secret police; the efficiency of this operation evident in the vagueness of descriptions of the photograph, which few people have actually seen (or will admit to having):

Some say that those seated in the background of the photograph, which was published on December 4, have had their glasses darkened, to make them look like mafiosi, or that they have had white lines superimposed on their lips, suggesting that they dare not speak out against Dr Castro's wishes.

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2003/12/24

China amends its constitution to protect private property, formally abandoning socialism in favour of an authoritarian form of free-market capitalism. So far, there has been no announcement of any name change for the increasingly inaccurately-named Communist Party, which will continue to maintain an iron grip on the nation's political life and public discourse.

But it is stalemated on even these modest political reforms, leaving modern China an increasingly prosperous private economy ruled by a dictatorship. In this it resembles General Pinochet's Chile, South Korea under military rule - or Taiwan before it moved to democracy in the 1980s.

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2003/7/17

Using copyright law to crush criticism isn't the exclusive domain of multinational corporations and the Church of Scientology: the Cuban dictatorship people's democracy (you know, the Another World that they tell you Is Possible) has successfully sued Reporters Without Borders for using the icon of Che Guevara in a poster criticising Cuba's persecution of journalists; as such, the image has been banned in France. The image in question may be found here.

Mind you, it's not exactly like Che (a doctrinaire Marxist/Leninist who sent thousands of "counter-revolutionaries" to the firing squad and established the apparatus of state repression in Cuba, and not the mellow left-libertarian dude many people could imagine sharing a joint with) would be spinning in his CIA-dug grave at the injustice of this lawsuit. (via MeFi)

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2003/3/28

Veteran Communist dictator turned anti-globalisation movement hero and World's First Punk Statesman, Fidel Castro hails the Internet as a weapon against communications monopolies, by which he probably means the evil Yanqui capitalist propaganda engines. Given that this is coming from a despot who keeps a draconian grip on all means of communication and organisation in his prison-state (even the Cuban Government's overseas propaganda publications are banned at home, because ordinary Cubans are forbidden from knowing the details the government's propagandists have to put in to give them credibility to McWorlders), I must say this rings a little hollow. Though he probably said it for the benefit of the Nu Marxists in the protest movement. (via TechDirt)

(Btw, is there anybody like Salam Pax in Havana, somehow managing to keep a blog and avoid the attentions of the secret police? (I mean anyone who isn't a transparent propaganda ploy by one side or the other?))

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2003/1/2

Swingin' Stalinism, in the form of 1950s Communist propaganda posters from Poland. Totalitarianism never looked so groovy. (via bOING bOING)

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2002/6/16

Interesting Times: Boy bands vs. the Chinese Communist Party, or the handsome, well-groomed face of dissent in the 21st century. An interesting look at the state of affairs in China, and the interplay of the two cultures of centralist hegemony (nominally Communist, though dating back to Imperial times in spirit) and an increasingly out-of-control market-oriented media consumerism, and boy-band VCD piracy is the new samizdat. (via bOING bOING)

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2002/5/1

Happy May Day: In a heartwarming example of notional-socialist solidarity, the Australian Labor Party seeks to establish formal ties with the Chinese Communist Party; a move which may alarm some ALP members concerned with China's human rights record.

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2002/3/31

Cultural documents: Summaries of Soviet literary classics, most with impeccable socialist credentials:

The daughter of a Volga fisherman becomes a sniper with a Red partisan detachment. She misses her 41st vicitim (a White officer), then winds up stranded with him on a desert island, where they fall in love. However, the White's essentially selfish, bourgeois nature becomes apparent and she shoots him, fulfilling her mission and her class destiny.
A philistine from the NEP era gets accidentally frozen and is revived fifty years later in 1979. The moderns at first mistake him for an honest worker, but then correctly identify him as a bourgeoisus vulgaris , a blood-sucking insect similar to, but more dangerous than, the bedbug. He is put on display in a cage equipped with special filters to trap all the dirty words. (Klop, 1929)

(via Plep)

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2001/5/8

In London, radical leftists picket film criticising Cuba. Opponents say that Before Night Falls, which deals with the persecution of a gay poet in Cuba, is "playing into the hands of the CIA". Wonder whether, when it reaches Australia, the S11/M1 people will be blockading the cinemas in a "Carnival against Disinformation".

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2001/2/19

The former Soviet republic of Lithuania has a unique tourist attraction a Stalinist theme park. Called Stalinworld, the park consists of towering Communist statues, machine gun nests and a recreated gulag. Concealed speakers broadcast the screams of torture victims. Stalinworld's creator, wrestler turned mushroom tycoon Viliumas Malinauskas, plans to have guides in Red Army uniforms and a railway to transport visitors in cattle cars. (via Rebecca's Pocket)

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