11 February 2008

The Worker and the Rose

I woke up this morning to learn that there is no working class. The tree I photographed in Bread Street has perhaps learned that Europe is based on an ironic denial of Eurocentric identity” – irony itself is a European value (up there with Christianity, which is still okay though "nationalism" is dubious) according to The Future of Europe, a fascinating concoction of insights mixed with McViews that I came across whilst looking at Atis Lejiņš’s output at politika.lv of late (he’s one of the authors -- the pamphlet is also available in English).

Veiko Spolītis spares me the need of giving you some snapshots of the latest interpenetrations in Latvian politics – his excellent blog, Baltic, presents the most recent leaping and scurrying of our blessed political elite, and his remark about “gravedigger” Jānis Dinēvičs’ urgings to drop the "Workers'" from the name of the venerable Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (LSDSP) and get rid of the red rose, replacing it with a supposedly more authentic and somehow more "European" red carnation, led me to look at those sociķi again. There's a lot to look at lately, primarily because Atis Lejiņš has thrown in his lot with them. Born in Latvia during the War, Lejiņš became known among Western Latvians for his personal expedition to Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion -- his noble aim was to try to rescue captive Balts from the Mujahideen, on the grounds that they had been pressed into service by the occupying Russians. Once Latvia regained its freedom, Lejiņš founded the Latvian Institute of International Affairs, a respected think tank.

I admire Lejiņš and find his position worthy of attention -- Latvia, a country where the Left was extremely influential, is now pretty much bereft of a national Left ("national" is the key word here -- according to Dainis Īvāns, Harmony Center was trying to usurp LSDSP's place in the European Left, leading to a burst of activity on the part of the party -- Harmony Center is far more "Russian" than it is leftist, and the "Russianness" of the Left is a big reason it's weak). Lejiņš has announced that at age seventeen, he decided to devote himself to destroying the Soviet Empire. That was premature, but the Empire did fall -- and he's now decided that his new mission in life will be the revival of the Left in Latvia.

The idea appeals to me, in principle. I daresay that I've always been strongly attracted to LSDSP -- in principle. Uldis Bērziņš used to wander the libraries and taverns trying to get every writer to join -- his vision was idealistic and based in the continuity of the party, which has always had its wings and severed wings. I was twelve years old when Vilnis Zaļkalns and other exile sociķi in Sweden inspired my little brain to reassess the right-wing historiography I'd been fed by the Latvian community in Chicago. "Capitalism with a human face" in laissez-faire Latvia would be nice, very nice.

The trouble is that the traditional party -- which has a rather controversial history, too, some sociķi having eagerly collaborated with the Soviet invaders at first -- was addled by the addition of disreputable "post-Communists."

Dinēvičs is right in a sense -- the worker as the Left once conceived of him (and her) is probably not just dead but past his or her burial date. But the party always included the "progressive intelligentsia" and farmhands, too, as the article (in Latvian) on Dinēvičs' proposal says -- what the article doesn't really talk about is how doctrinaire the party was, clinging to the Erfurt Program (the Menders wing [or "the Muscovites"] took over the party between the wars, with "Western" social democrats like Cielēns distancing themselves and acknowledging the failures of their approach; though it was the largest party and got the largest share of the vote, LSDSP almost always avoided actually governing -- to do that would have required compromise and the dilution of its dogma).

As to the rose -- Dinēvičs is wrong. It's used by many a Western European social democratic party and group, from France to the UK (where "Labour" remains in the name). Can you get to "New Labour" when you have to cross such a cesspool (it's appropriate that Dinēvičs is accused of helping the scandalous "garbage interests" in Rīga [one thinks of the truck at the end of Once Upon a Time in America, and of Dinēvičs having presided over the collapse of Latavio, restored Latvia's first airline -- a few of its pilots ending up in prison in the Punjab]), or leap to a "new" democratic Left when the old one, cleft and crushed (both by the rightist regime in Latvia and by the Soviets -- even "the Muscovite" Menders, along with other LSDSP members, was persecuted during the occupation), seems to have survived in name only? A rose is a rose is...

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Blogger ARK said...

Having some familiarity with the Latvian situation (albeit a couple years back), your thoughts resonated here.

There is indeed a place and need for social democracy (or at least something leftish in thinking) in Latvia and the Baltic. Too many were left behind by the so-called Singing Revolution, and once the music faded, they seemed forgotten.

Right you are that the Russia-orientation of Saskaņa discredited the left in Latvia. Jānis Jurkāns and those sarkana burkāni of the late 20th C seemed too opportunistic, like they were waiting for some (friendly) foreign fleet to dock anytime soon.

(Jurkāns, btw, continues to strike me as a confusing figure. Having spoken with him many times, his intellectual diagnoses of what ailed Latvia sounded on the mark. But at the end of the talk, I always felt as though I'd just been sold a lemon of a used car... Maybe it was Janka's not inconsiderable charm? If you have insights or random thoughts taht could help me resolve this issue, please do share.)

Sure, the term "worker" is outdated in many contexts. But many Western social democrats have updated this to include the wait staff, coffee shop baristas, Walmart employees and Lumpenproletariat in all its particular forms. The show still fits in early 21st C.

As one who -- by the sounds of things, like you -- was raised to be wary of all things red and pink, this sort of ra-ra union steward talk can still make me feel uneasy in some contexts.

But what can I say? David Mamet got the ethos of cutthroat capitalist competition right in Glengarry Glen Ross. And if a Baltic variation on that theme hasn't been mounted already, then I'm sure it's overdue.

Sveiks, Pēteri...

12 February, 2008 10:02  
Blogger ARK said...




"treacherous twat"

(of course)

12 February, 2008 10:20  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

Thanks for the comment. I was raised to be wary of the American left more than I was of the Latvian. My parents voted Republican, but my father was no lover of Ulmanis and subscribed to Brīvība [the sociķu newsletter] -- I think, though, that his main thing was to draw lines between the pink and the red, something Letts have found problematic since the dawn of the left; the question over how "national" 1905 was, or if it was "national" at all, is still open, for example. The sociķi relentlessly try to paint themselves as more "national" than they were (I'm not referring to the 1917 LSD, which definitely wasn't "national" but Bolshevik -- I'm referring to where they stood on 18 November 1918), and the right tries to paint them red. You can see this in one person -- Rainis, who is used and abused as both a nationalist and an internationalist.

I was schooled rightishly, on Saturdays (we even celebrated the 15th of May, coup day) -- but that only lasted so long; two summers in Sweden and one in Münster cured me. Adolescence arrived, and by age fifteen I was a raving Red. After that, the faux Churchillian dictum set in to a degree, I guess: "If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain." (He never said that.)

When I got here at the end of 1991, the needle on my political compass went wild. As I've said elsewhere time and again, a right/left division in (post-1991) Latvia has always been rather useless (it may not be useful anywhere outside the Third World). Diena published its cross graph, marking economic positions and positions on "national questions"; some of the most "nationalistic" parties were economically statist, etc. These days, SC includes many biznismeny and the Red dinosaurs, whose views would seemingly be totally incompatible, whilst the formerly "liberal" (in the "classical" sense) LC has joined the Priests. JL struck "conservative" from its self-description. The Greens are part of a motley crew I won't suffer to describe.

Part of the reason for the insanity, of course, is the fact that none of the parties have grass-roots (except perhaps the Fatherlanders, and they've done as brill a job of ignoring their base as anybody). One of the things Lejiņš is saying is talking about is involving "the people," basically -- let's say the tauta as narod, then.

Won't they all be in Ireland by the time this gets off the ground? Kidding (emigration is declining), but -- I'm afraid the base won't be very broad. By emphasizing the national (which they mostly do -- they seem to have realized that their dances with Peter the Great hurt them quite badly), they will not attract the Russophones who are an increasing share of the Lumpenproletariat you mention. Ah, memories of Dinēvičs' rally down here, eons ago, in which not a word of Latvian was uttered -- but wait; Dinēvičs still heads the party!

Just as an example -- the part of the Lumpenproletariat that went to Ireland that returns, and a part probably will, will likely be entrepreneurial rather than trade unionist. Some have already come back and started businesses.

The young Ansis Dobelis' comments on foreign policy make me nervous as an Atlanticist; though I was personally opposed to the invasion of Iraq, leaving the obvious (we needed to get into NATO) out of the question is absurd -- and I don't think the EU is "the main defender of our collective interests." It's the US that pushed for our NATO membership, that worked the hardest to get Russia to withdraw its troops, that tries to bring Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance, etc.

But all of this requires more posts -- thanks for provoking me!

P.S. Aleks has some related thoughts at All About Latvia, and Giustino has some vaguely related remarks anent Estonia at Itching for Eestimaa. Actually, Giustino wrote a fine comment about the Estonian left elsewhere at this blog, but then he deleted it. Maybe we can provoke him again...

13 February, 2008 06:20  
Blogger Giustino said...

Estonia's "left" is divided between a Nordic-oriented Social Democratic Party and the Center Party, which is more typical of post-communist left-wing parties.

The Center Party has built its base by representing certain segments of the economy -- like transit, energy -- as well as urban districts, particularly among the Russophone minority.

The Social Democrats are more connected to the Estonian intelligentsia and cultural elite. They have managed to perform well in some rural counties and I think they have support amongst educated, young people who happened to, say, have had some of the party's founders as professors at university.

For example, in Tartu, people that we know tend to think highly of SDE members like Marju Lauristin, Maimu Berg, or Jaan Kaplinski. I recently saw an article in a local woman's magazine where Berg interviewed Tarja Halonen. That's what I mean by "Nordic oriented". Through their academic work and professional lives, they have strong contacts in Finland and Sweden.

Edgar Savisaar, head of KESK, has stronger ties to Russia. KESK has signed a cooperation agreement with United Russia. He reminds me of other leaders of left-wing parties in Eastern Europe, like Ferenc Gyurcsany in Hungary. Russia unabashedly supports him, though I am not sure about his party.

Two other parties that have question marks over them are the Greens and the People's Union. The Greens are new and won 6 seats in parliament. They have positioned themselves as center-right. The People's Union aren't doing so well. They lost half their seats in the last election and they are lacking a charismatic leader. I think they are ripe for acquisition.

I personally tend to support SDE because I am educated and I live in Tartu and I don't feel like old war memorials are the most pressing issues facing Estonia today.

The Milton Friedman-inspired economic miracle has yet to reach the homes of many. The elderly, especially, have been hit hard.

Estonian society is like the Estonian roads -- everyone is racing to get ahead in their new cars, even if it means that X number of people die each day.

They should have just gotten out of the way, right? That's not the way to run a society.

So I do feel that there is something in the body politic that is a bit sour about how things have been run. I think it will take a few more years though before any kind of real political change coalesces.

13 February, 2008 14:24  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12 April, 2008 10:16  
Blogger Pēteris Cedriņš said...

(The previous comment, which ran to many pages and included insights like "They've offered clues for the people to observe suggesting my importance. This is one. My use of Bangladesh as an example for a dumping ground for the reincarnated prior to Cyclone Sidr is another." ...was off topic.)

12 April, 2008 10:29  
Blogger Mykolas said...

*Distiguished Latvian and Estonian
Guests also Invited!*

Just a quick note to invite Lithuanian Bloggers and others who may be interested
In a new English Language forum for discussions about Lithuania and Lithuanians.
Blog owners are very much welcomed to join or discussions or to start a new topic of their own. Also please feel free to post information about your own blogs as well as links
To your home page or any post that you would like to share with future members.
Be among the first to contribute to this community effort and establish our credibility and
future reputation.

I posted this in your blog because I consider your own efforts to be of great interest and value to the English speaking portion of the greater ‘Lithuanian’ community. And have a certain measure of respect for you as and individual.

Mykolas (aka Bieksia)

All other’s are welcomed

Kavinė … http://forums.delphiforums.com/LTenglishForum/start

02 June, 2008 06:32  

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