Monday, 25 August 2008

Toward a True Communist History of Nations

My fiancee's uncle, being a man both kind and learned, recently loaned me Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford, which I, in these past days of my infirmary, have set myself to read. He opens it by discussing the unforgivable crimes of the Stalinist regime against the culture of the people of Mongolia during the 1930s, during which time monasteries were destroyed and over 30 000 Mongols were executed by one means or another. (p. i) This campaign was undertaken for fear of an upwelling of Mongolian nationalism which, in Stalin's eyes, would have been a challenge to the maintenance of Communist rule there, and a threat to the relationship between Mongolia and the Soviet Union which he had so carefully crafted. As a further precaution, the area legendarily associated with the Great Khan's birth and death, known in Mongolian as the Ikh Khorig (the Great Taboo) was cordoned off as a "Highly Restricted Area"of approxiamtely a million hectares, administratively separated form the local province and placed under Moscow's direct authority. This, in turn, was fenced in by a "Restricted Area" of roughly equal size. The entrance gate was sealed by a tank base and artillery ground, and the space between this and the capital in Ulaanbaatar was filled with a MiG base and, in all probability, nuclear weapons. (pp. xxi-xxii)

If all of this seems excessive, it's because it was. The Stalinist regime in particular tended to see any interest in national identity and history as a challenge to the internationalism of Communism, and to violently repress it. To this end, any serious scholarly research into the life of Ghengis Khan represented a danger to the state, and therefore to the researcher, and many an inquiring mind was sent into prison or exile. A quick reading of Weatherford's book, however, demonstrates how grossly someone in the Party's PR department missed their opportunity.

As Weatherford amply demonstrates, the career of Ghengis Khan is one of emancipation. He tore down the semi-feudal aristocracy which had ruled the steppe, and refused to acknowledge their old titles. (pp. 112-113) He paved the way for true meritocracy, attending scrupulously to the searching out of talent, and even prohibiting his own relatives from taking up the succession without the approval of a khuriltai, or general convocation of the Mongol tribes. (pp. 67, 70) He established the rule of law as binding even upon the sovereign. (p. 70) He raised the position of women, by forbidding their kidnapping or sale as brides (p. 68), as well as by openly acknowledging their services to the state (p. 121). He abandoned the traditional system of looting, whereby each commander seized as much as he could get, and kept as much of it to himself as possible, with a system of just redistribution, in which all of the captured goods were divided equally by rank, with a share set aside for the maintenance of widows and orphans. (p. 50) He then went about reorganizing the tribal army into squads of ten, in which each man, without regard to his race, religion, or tribal origin, would be as a brother to each other, arguably culminating in the Baljuna Covenant (p. 58)--a grand expression of the fraternal cosmopolitanism of the emerging Mongol empire, and its nascent supranational conception of citizenship.

In these and many other respects, Geghis Khan could rightly be viewed as a prototypical Communist leader. His emphasis on egalitarianism, equal distribution of the newly-acquired wealth of his conquests, and the transcendence of ethnic divisions speak to the most cherished principles of Marxism-Leninism. And yet Stalin, rather than using this example to bolster those values, and so convince the Mongols that their own history had led them inexorably to Communism, as the modern embodiment of the principles by which their ancestor had first raised them to greatness, instead trampled upon this history, and engaged in an unjustifiable repression of learning and culture of which no civilized person can approve. In their urge to be international, so much of the Party sadly chose to extinguish the nations of the Soviet Union, rather than transcend them. Communist internationalism is not, and cannot be, the mere rejection of nationalism, it must be the recognition that the heritage of all nations is now the common wealth of all mankind. After all, does Marx' historical dialectic not tell us that in each of these histories we will find the inexorable movement of the whole world toward Communism?

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