Re: [xmca] Totalitarianism as a Totalizing Construct

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Fri Apr 13 2007 - 09:55:51 PDT

Odd, Paul. I was thinking about the term, hegemony along with musing about
totalitarianism. Thinking that the former fit the case of US in 1962-63, the
academic year I was a post doc in moscow, but that totalitarianism was a
pretty good chacterization of the situation in Moscow;. The problem is that
it does not, in that context, derive from capitalism if one wishes to grant
the USSR the status of a socialist country, which seems at least plausible.
And I thought, of course, of Orwell, who was so influenced by the betrayals
and mixtures of fascism and Stalinism in Spain.

For me, totalitarianism (this my personal musings set off by the Davids) is
associated with deep, direct, life-threatening invasion of the state in the
everyday lives of people. It is illustrated with chilling accuracy in the
recent film, "the lives of others." One of my first experiences in Moscow
was someone knocking on the door of our room, walking in,
not introducing himself, walking into the shower, turning it on, bringing us
into the shower
and there whispering that he was a friend of a colleague of mine who had
been there the
previous year.... by way of introduction.

Or, a few years later, visiting the Institute of Psychology where I had many
former colleagues, and having a woman I had worked with shake with fear
because I had walked down the hall and knocked on her lab door without it
being cleared.

Or knowing that the large cupboard at the end of the large seminar room was
a fake piece
of furniture which the KGB agent assigned to the institute sat in to
overhear conversations,
his office being next door.

Or getting very sick and having a friend who was also a speech writer for
Brezhnev shake with fear because I had stayed overnight at her and her
husband's apartment with a high fever while they fed me aspirin and chicken
soup and this same KGB guy had called and threatened her for allowing me to
stay overnight.


When I wrote earlier that what scares me about the US today is that it CAN
and IS
happening here, those are the kinds of experiences I had in mind. And the
genuine if misguide thouht that totalitarian is a very polysemic word.

On 4/12/07, Paul Dillon <> wrote:
> Davids and Mike, timid lurkers:
> There is a serious problem with the word "totalitarianism".. I found
> the following quick quote in Wikipedia:
> The original meaning of the word [totaltianism] as described by
> Mussolini and Gentile (G. Gentile & B. Mussolini in "La dottrina del
> fascismo" 1932) was a society in which the main ideology of the state had
> influence, if not power, over most of its citizens.
> Admittedly, "most" is a very inaccurate word. Many would assume it is
> 50%+1 or more(legacy of Rousseau?) but in fact, most highway patrol
> officers will attest that when 30% of the "citizens" don't follow a law, it
> can't be enforced. Grounds: speed limits.
> And, if we delve further, or even think about it a little, we will find
> that the term has been employed as David K. has so correctly directed us to
> see, is a product of capitalist ideology. After all, Mussolini and Hitler
> had no problems with capitalist economy, in fact their main supporters were
> capitalist and their main opponents (including FDR) came from the other
> camp, with all its varied flags.
> I think it is much more useful to talk of "hegemony" in its original
> formulation: Antonio Gramsci. A great thinker who Mussolini imprisoned
> quickly.
> Last night I spent a "smashing" time with a friend who told me he hates
> all Americans. He himself has no nationality, his father was a Serbian
> landlord who stuggled against the Nazis during WWII and then had to flee the
> Red Army because he was a "People's Enemy" being basically a neo-feudal
> latifundista. He went from Italy (where my friend was born) to Peru, where
> the great landlord ended up as a miner in the cold barren and poisoned
> Andean highlands.
> When Yugoslavia disappeared beneath Clinton's bombs, my friend became a
> stranded Tom Hanks, change airport for Peru, but the same deal: he can't
> leave, his passport means nothing.
> We spent many beers last night during which I tried to convince him it
> isn't "Americans" he should be hating (also that hate damages him more than
> its object) but, it is the fact that capitalism grew freely, unrestrained by
> previous feudal or Asiatic elites, in the current USA political entity, and
> that one does need to distinguish the people from the government (another
> term that should be examined critically), As I argued (for example
> pointing out that his sister, a native Peruvian, can't stand Peru now and is
> much happier in Long Beach CA, a destiny she defends by simply ignoring what
> the U.S. government has done since Hamilton and the Monroe Doctrine. His
> sister simply turns a deaf ear when her brother points out that the US
> freely bombed Yugoslavia, land of their papa, defending their actions
> beneath the pretext that they were fighting whom>?? Oh yeah, those guys the
> US govt paid to fight the Russians in Afghanistan and who (by some
> accounts) later turned around
> and bit the master's hand. This is a much more complex situation than
> what Orwell and Arendt were critiquing when they developed the notion of
> "totalitarianism".
> (No jaybirds sing in these forests, and any crow like sound should
> simply be controlled)
> But the bottom line is this: "totalitarian" is an anachronistic
> term. The recent thread on using security/credit searches for anyone who
> receives federal money should reveal that Orwell's jacboot and truncheon are
> no longer the force that blinds and subjects people to interests that
> control the society. A much more serious term is "hegemony". Read Gramsci,
> but read Dante and Croce first.
> Paul Dillon
> David Preiss <> wrote:
> David Kellogg,
> It seems to me that by your note you are implying I am making a contrast
> between good and evil. I don't doubt the russians' abilities to perform
> gigantic instrumental advances in science as their counterpart westerners
> did
> (however the collapse of their whole political endeavours). What I am just
> saying is that I certainly doubt Vygotsy built his career against those
> standards.
> I haven't made any claim also about the nature of the USSR science. I also
> share your questioning of western ethnocentricism, which by chance I have
> been
> able to revisit here in many talks in AERA, supposedly global, but
> performed
> by only american or americanized academics.
> What I don't have any doubt, though, is that life under Stalin was
> anything
> but good (as it is living under the war on terror). If you think the USSR
> was
> a nice place to think about human nature, well, that's your take on this
> issue. We think different and so be it.
> Best,
> David Preiss
> Mike Cole escribió:
> > For an interesting book on Science in the USSR that covers the Stalinist
> > period, I highly recommend Loren Graham's work. It ranges very widely
> > across the sciences including physics, biology, and even psychology.
> >
> > Fascinating discussion of the polysemy of totalitarianism.
> >
> > mike
> >
> > On 4/11/07, David Kellogg wrote:
> >>
> >> Dear David (Preiss):
> >>
> >> Thanks for your note from busy AERA. Hope you are staying out of the
> >> Chicago wind!
> >>
> >> I went to school in "anti-totalitarian" Chicago when it was a training
> >> ground for "los chicago boys", the men who served as quartermasters for
> >> General Pinochet. So I guess I don't find the word "totalitarian"
> >> particularly helpful, except possibly as a description of how the
> private
> >> sector has laid its clammy hand on every aspect of public life under
> >> capitalism or the way in which North Americans assume that their
> America is
> >> America and the way that Westerners assume that their world is the
> whole
> >> world.
> >>
> >> As a young adult I lived through the "anti-spiritual pollution
> campaign"
> >> and the "campaign against bourgeois liberalization" and of course the
> >> movement which is incorrectly described by the totalitarian media in
> the
> >> West as the "Tiananmen Square Democracy movement" (because that is what
> >> Western TV screens showed). My wife grew up during the Cultural
> Revolution
> >> (and was a militant participant at age seven). It was not a different
> world;
> >> it was the same one, and people made decisions (including life and
> death
> >> decisions) in much the same way as you do.
> >>
> >> I also think that the USSR, even under Stalin, can hardly be considered
> >> a second or third rate science power (they led the world in space, for
> >> example, and were a very close second in atomic energy). When my father
> >> visited the USSR in the early sixties, he was astonished to discover
> that
> >> the Russian physicists had read all of his work, and highly embarrassed
> to
> >> admit that he had read none of theirs, even though theirs was available
> in
> >> English and his was not available in Russian. This shouldn't have been
> so
> >> astonishing, given the totalitarian nature of Western intellectual
> life.
> >>
> >> David (Kellogg)
> >>
> >>
> >> ---------------------------------
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> >>
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> >>
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> >
> >
> >
> --
> David D. Preiss Ph.D.
> Profesor Auxiliar / Assistant Professor
> Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
> Escuela de Psicología.
> Av. Vicuña Mackenna 4860.
> Macul, Santiago de Chile.
> Chile
> Teléfono: (56-2) 354-4605
> Fax: (56-2) 354-4844.
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Received on Fri Apr 13 11:00 PDT 2007

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