Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"How Many Divisions Does the Pope Have?"

The quote is from Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. In the middle of WWII he was informed by one of his Western allies that the Pope was concerned about the persecution of Catholics in the USSR. Stalin snorted derisively about the Pope's total absence of military power, inferring that it was Stalin whose feelings they should be concerned about, because it was his hundreds of divisions of soldiers doing most of the fighting against Hitler. Churchill and Roosevelt conceded the point.

But the sentiment also applies to leftists. First of all, powerful politicians and capitalists are not going to be swayed by tiny bands of activists in the streets. They just won't and it's time we dismissed such airy fantasies from our minds. (Obviously if you want to simply stand and be counted, to register your protest against things, to try to build something that doesn't get a hearing in the mass media, by all means, go ahead. Just don't think that by itself you action is going to change anything.)

Secondly, even if we have tens of millions of people in agreement, without power it is of little practical use. The Pope in the 1940s had millions of followers, but they were not organized in a fashion that made them significant to Stalin. Remember when millions of us around the world marched to protest the coming invasion of Iraq? Supposedly we were a "new super-power." But a strangely powerless super-power. It's the same thing with opponents of global capitalism. There are hundreds of millions of people opposed to prevailing circumstances, but without power and influence, this means little.

The end.


Tal Hartsfeld said...

The systems have always been rigged. The decisions of who "matters" and who "doesn't matter" are long-standing traditions (probably going back prior to ancient Egypt or ancient Rome).

thwap said...


I can't bring myself to believe that we are the victims of a conspiracy of elites who have successfully pulled the wool over humanity's eyes since the time of the Egyptians.

No group of individual humans is that capable.

The more prosaic reality is that rulers have come and gone in numerous struggles for supremacy.

At the present moment, the art of the historian, while filled with many biases, is practiced by enough honest scholars that you can actually get a sense of what's happened and how we got here, better than any "zeitgeist"-type conspiracy theory.