The two sides in the Cold War, finding each other irresistible, ended up in a contrapuntal relationship where, as George Urban put it, ‘they marched in negative step, but in step all the same.’ They had their spies, we had ours. They had their files, we had ours. True, we didn’t have gulags. But what kind of democracy is it that congratulates itself on not having gulags? Never mind the dragnet surveillance, the burglaries, the smearing of reputations, the bugging of public telephone boxes, cafés, hotels, banks, trade unions, private homes, all this legitimised by the thesis that everyone is a potential subversive until proven otherwise – the problem is that the defenders of the realm took on the symptoms of the disease they were meant to cure.– In the essay Stuck on the Flypaper historian and journalist Frances Stonor Saunders goes through the recently released MI5 file on Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm [previously] to explain how the British secret service surveilled and interfered with the lives of British citizens during World War II and the early part of the Cold War.
For much of the tenth century, the Qarmatians enjoyed supreme power in northeastern Arabia, exacting tribute even from the caliphs in Baghdad and Cairo. They were an esoteric Isma'ili Shi'ite sect from the oases of the desert fringe and the islands of the Persian Gulf, where they built themselves an egalitarian utopia—"probably the only communist society to control a large territory, and to endure for more than a generation, before the twentieth century." Utopia, however, depended on the agricultural labor of thirty thousand Ethiopian slaves and the proceeds from constant raiding and pillaging. In 930, the Qarmatians stormed Mecca, killed thousands of pilgrims at the foot of the Kaaba, and removed the Black Stone to Bahrayn. A year later, they identified the Mahdi, their prophesied redeemer, in the form of a young Persian prisoner. They believed that once he assumed control of the Qarmatian state, he would lead them to even greater triumphs... [more inside]
Tadeusz Mazowiecki has died. The first prime minister after the fall of communist regime in Poland was later an UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Bosnia and resigned this post in protest over the failure of international community to prevent the Srebrenica massacre. [more inside]
Warning! The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased, entry for the United States of America
The first thing we learned about war re-enactment is that it's fucking terrifying having guns fired at you, even ones loaded with blanks. The second thing we learned is a common re-enactor's dilemma called "The G.I. Effect", which is basically that people playing Americans don't like to die. So sometimes they just don't.It's Like Vietnam All Over Again, pt 1. Part 2
Propaganda - A film alledged to be from North Korea about the excess of Western decadance and public relations propaganda - hits Youtube (1:35:52)
" Thus in today’s China one confronts the paradox of a communist regime that is at ideological loggerheads with left-leaning intellectuals, but which finds pro-Western, liberal intellectuals on the whole quite congenial." Richard Wolin is Dreaming In Chinese...
Sovlit.com is a very large and comprehensive site dedicated to the literature of the Soviet Union (both official and dissident), with summaries (fans of the genres might find the examples of Soviet science fiction and spy novels to be particularly interesting), biographies, and even some full translations of short stories from authors such as Isaac Babel, Vasily Grossman, Yevgeny Zamyatin, and others.
The BBC World Service has put together a special report on the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe (they also have a simpler portal). There is a wealth of material, including TV reports on key events from the BBC archives, interviews, a map timeline, a report on Catholicism's role in the 1989 revolutions, a first-hand report of what it was like to gather news in East Germany during that time and much more.
Real USSR is a blog containing commentaries on everyday life in the former Soviet Union. The liberal use of family and other amateur photos provides unusual insight into the daily experience of Soviet life. Topics range from 1940s homemade double-exposure photography to queueing to USSR - the birthplace of feminism. via
Kommunalka - communal apartments - were begun by the Bolsheviks in Russia at the end of the Russian Revolution to address overcrowding in cities - and also to punish the bourgeoisie who had previously lived in comfort. Kommunalka were an enduring social experiment, where multiple families were assigned by the state to live together in close quarters with no expectation of privacy. It was not uncommon for tenants to spy on each other. Though communism ended in Russia almost two decades ago, Kommunalka still exist today.
Jeffrey Lewis brings you The Complete History of Punk Rock and Its Development on the Lower East Side (1950-1975) in eight and a half minutes. [more inside]
The Rise of China and the Future of the West: Can the Liberal System Survive? "China's rise will inevitably bring the United States' unipolar moment to an end. But that does not necessarily mean a violent power struggle or the overthrow of the Western system. The U.S.-led international order can remain dominant even while integrating a more powerful China -- but only if Washington sets about strengthening that liberal order now." [more inside]
Diary of a Collapsing Superpower - "Seventeen years ago, the Berlin Wall fell, and two years later the Soviet Union broke apart. More than 1,400 minutes published earlier this month in Russia from meetings that took place behind the closed doors of the Politburo in Moscow read like a thriller from the highest levels of the Kremlin. They reveal Mikhail Gorbachev as a party chief who had to fight bitterly for his reforms and ultimately lost his battle. But in doing so, he changed the course of history and helped bring an end to the Cold War."
Fifty years ago, on October 23, 1956, Hungarians rose up in a violent revolt against the Soviet occupation and Communist domination of their government and country. The revolt was not materially supported by NATO or its allies, and - given the timing - was doomed to failure. Today, many of the heroes are forgotten. After 16 years of democratic government, Hungarian politics is still bitterly divided and Hungarians are unable to celebrate this anniversary with a single united National ceremony.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. A key documentary artifact of the uprising is Magyarország lángokban (Hungary in Flames) [embedded .wmv], partly composed of footage shot by two young film school students using whatever equipment they could find. Narrowly avoiding capture by the Communists, the duo smuggled 10,000 feet of film out of the country in spare tires and potato sacks; there's much more to the story, but better to hear Vilmos tell it in his own words. [.rm] Eventually, they made their way to America, where László Kovács, ASC (Five Easy Pieces, Ghost Busters, more) and Vilmos Zsigmund, ASC (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Deliverance, more) became two of the most prolific cinematographers in Hollywood history. [more inside]
"Our demands most moderate are , we only want the earth". Today is the birthday of James Connolly.
The fojbas are basins near Trieste and the Adriatic Sea, which served as mass graves during the massacres that followed World War 2. Those accused of collaborating with the fascists, or of opposing the communists, or who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, were killed and then deposed there. In 2000, the Slovenian magazine Mladina, known for its irreverence, put a Tetris-style game called Fojba 2000(flash req'd) on its site. In the game, you drop the bodies of either partizani (partisans) or domobranci (fascist Slovenes) into a pit, while jolly oompah music plays in the background. (More Inside) (Shamelessly ripped verbatim from The Glory of Carniola)
Was Stalin assassinated to prevent him from launching a nuclear attack on the United States? "'The circumstantial evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of non-fortuitous death,' said Jonathan Brent, a professor of Russian history at Yale University. 'And to support this further, we now have solid evidence, non-circumstantial evidence, of a cover-up at the highest level.'"
The Long March - A Walking Visual Display. "Its aim is to take both contemporary Chinese and international art to a sector of the Chinese public that is rarely, perhaps never, exposed to such work. Specifically, we will bring art to those people who live in communities along the route of Mao Zedong's historic Long March. Mao's 'March' symbolized the deliverance of the Communist ideal to the Chinese proletariat. It is with this symbolism in mind that we now choose to march contemporary art out to China's peripheral population." via ArtKrush