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Baker, Kenneth
Barricade
Base and Superstructure
Baseball
Basic Law of Contemporary Capitalism, the
Basic Law of Socialism, the
Battle of Algiers, The
Beatniks
Bella Ciao
Berlin, Isaiah
Bibliophilism
Big-Headed Turtle, the
Biological Trend in Sociology, the
Brass Eye
Brezhnev Doctrine, the (so-called)

Brezhnev, Ten Great Prizes won by Leonid
Büchner, Georg
Byzantine Studies

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Baker, Kenneth

Thatcherite politician of the 1980s, best known for his smug expression. In his younger, more thrusting days someone observed that "I have seen the future, and it smirks". During a fairly short stint at the Department of the Environment Baker was responsible for abolishing the popular Greater London Council and for introducing the proposals that culminated in the poll tax fiasco and the waste of billions of pounds of public money. His most enduring legislation was the 1988 Great Education Reform Bill, known as the Gerbil, which increased the amount of time teachers spend filling in forms no end. But he will always be remembered most fondly by the Readers of the Turtle as the man who almost sentenced the nation's dogs to death during the May 1991 Rottweiler scare. Sacked by John Major in 1992, he reinvented himself as a pompous Euro-sceptic, but it was never terribly clear why. Now Lord Baker of Dorking, he is a political irrelevance. He edited poetry anthologies from time to time. One collection of hate-verse, I Have No Gun But I Can Spit (published by Faber) is worthwhile, but the others (of parodies, of English history in verse, and of conservatism) are mediocre, forgettable, and indeed forgotten.

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Barricade

Helpfully defined by the Big Soviet Encyclopaedia (3rd ed., English version, v.3 p.33) as "an artificial obstacle of logs, sandbags, rocks, trees, and other materials at hand piled up across streets, roads, near bridges, on mountain passes, and so on". It tells us that barricades were used to defend Russian cities in the 13th and 14th centuries against the Mongol-Tatar hordes, in the 17th century against the Poles and in the 17th and 18th centuries during peasant wars. They are most important, however, for their use in urban insurrection, and the Encyclopaedia notes their use in Paris in 1827, 1830, 1832, 1834 and 1871; in Brussels in 1830; in Lyon in 1834; in Prague and Berlin in 1848; in Dresden in 1849; and in Russia during the revolutions of both 1905 and 1917, during the Civil War of 1918-20 and during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45.

Soviet optimism about the role and function of barricades needs to be tempered, however, with the observations of the aged Engels. In his 1895 introduction to the second edition of Marx's Class Struggles in France, Engels wrote that changes in the class struggle and in military technology had made "street fighting with barricades... obsolete". Barricades in 1848 and earlier were powerful moral symbols because men and women of various classes stood behind them, often creating great reluctance on the part of the troops to fire on the people. But Engels notes the reasons why barricade fighting is much harder at century's end: on the one hand, advances in artillery technology combined with larger urban garrisons and the use of the railways to move troops around extremely quickly make it much easier for modern armies to crush urban insurrection; on the other hand, the insurrectionists would find it harder than before to obtain decent military hardware, the "long, straight, broad streets" of the modern metropolis are ideal for cannon fire, and -- in the event of an insurrection -- the middle classes were much more likely to abandon the proletariat and its barricades, so that the "people" come to appear divided, making the troops far less unwilling to shoot.

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Base and Superstructure

At the heart of historical materialism is the distinction between the base and the superstructure. Just how to characterise their interaction is a fiendishly tricky enterprise: various metaphors are tried out, found to be unhelpful, and discarded. While we wait for a bold attempt by a Comrade Turtle to illuminate this question, and to advance beyond the bare-but-unhelpful claim that their interaction is somehow "dialectical", we here present Karl Marx's most influential statement of the basic structure of the materialist view of history:

"In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or -- what is but a legal expression for the same thing -- with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed."

From: Karl Marx: Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)

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Baseball

According to the Big Soviet Encyclopaedia (3rd ed., English version, v.3 p.43), the American game of baseball is closely related to the Russian game lapta. Other "varieties of baseball" apparently include softball (which is popular in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic), cricket and pesäpallo in Finland.

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Basic Economic Law of Contemporary Capitalism, the

"The maximisation of capitalist profit through the exploitation, ruin and pauperisation of the masses in a given country, the systematic pillage of other nations, especially backwards countries and through wars and the militarisation of the national economy".

From Josef Stalin, The Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, 1952.

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Basic Economic Law of Socialism, the

"The securing of the maximum satisfaction of the constantly rising material and cultural requirements of the whole society through the continuous expansion and perfection of socialist production on the basis of higher techniques".

From Josef Stalin, The Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, 1952.

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Battle of Algiers, The

The two best Marxist films in existence start with the letter 'B'. The first is Sergei Eisenstein's electrifying Battleship Potemkin, which finds its place in most cinema cognoscenti's lists of the top ten films of all time. The second, stands in relative neglect: Gilberto Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers. The film traces various episodes in the campaign of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) in their anti-colonial struggle against the French in the mid-1950's. Like Potemkin, Pontecorvo's film presents itself in pseudo-documentary form, acting as an idealized reconstruction of revolutionary events, to further the political education of the citizens of the newly-independent state. The film's grainy black and white stock, and its use of non-professional actors, give it a remarkable verve and rawness. When the revolutionaries begin to wreak havoc on the French colonial state, the sinister French colonel (Jean Martin) acts as a narrative conduit to explain what is happening. He sees and comprehends the inexorable political developments which spontaneously express themselves through the growing class-consciousness and organization of the Algerian guerrillas. The colonel knows that history is on the side of the oppressed, and knows that he is trapped in the headlights of a revolutionary juggernaut which he can understand, but cannot act to stop. A sinew-tightening film.

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Beatniks

"(From "beat" [beat, break]), a spontaneous, anarchically rebellious youth movement ("the insolent generation"; Russian razbitnoe pokolenie) that arose after World War II, mainly in the USA and Great Britain, devoid of any positive sociopolitical programme whatever. This movement was an expression of the dissatisfaction and protest of young people (primarily petit bourgeois) against the standardized ideal of "success" and the hypocrisy of the bourgeois morality of "good conduct" and "decency". In breaking with the generally accepted traditional bourgeois way of life, the "radicalism" of beatniks was frequently manifested in the violation of elementary norms of the human community."

From: The Big Soviet Encyclopaedia (3rd ed., English version, v.3 p.67)

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Bella Ciao

A popular Italian song, celebrating anti-fascist resistance in the Second Worl d War, and sung to a bouncy tune. Listen to a useful MP3 file provided by the excellent Arbeiterlieder site.

Una mattina mi sono alzato,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
Una mattina mi sono alzato,
E ho trovato l'invasor...

O partigiano portami via,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
O partigiano portami via,
Che mi sento di morir.

E se io muoio da partigiano,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
E se io muoio da partigiano,
Tu mi devi seppellir.

E seppellire sulla montagna,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
E seppellire sulla montagna,
Sotto l'ombra d'un bel fior.

E le genti che passeranno,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
E le genti che passeranno,
Mi diranno che bel fior!

E questo è il fiore del partigiano,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
E questo è il fiore del partigiano,
Morto per la Libertà!

Ed era rossa la sua bandiera,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
Ed era rossa la sua bandiera,
C'era scritto Libertà!

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Berlin, Isaiah

A gregarious old Oxford curmudgeon, Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) was continually and spectacularly over-rated as an original thinker, to his own great amusement. Those who knew him have always claimed that he was a marvellous conversationalist, but the reports of those conversations suggest that the same topics continually recurred (Zionism, nationalism, animosity against Hannah Arendt, et cetera) and the same anecdotes endlessly repeated (yes, there is one in which he is confused with Irving), making it hard to dispel the suggestion that he was on at least one level a classic bore.

An emigré from Russia, where he witnessed the Revolution, the young Berlin found a niche in British academic life, and after studying PPE at Corpus Christi and doing some teaching at New College, he became the first Jewish Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, where he remained for much of his subsequent career. After the Second World War he abandoned the study of technical philosophy and turned to the hitherto unfashionable history of ideas, a field he was to dominate in the years before the rise of the so-called Cambridge School in the late 1960s. He finally left All Souls when he became the first President of the Wolfson College. He died in 1997, and following his death Michael Ignatieff published a major biography.

Apart from his short, readable volume on Karl Marx, Berlin wrote essays, not books, and these have only been made available to a wide reading public since the dogged Henry Hardy began his fruitful editorial work on the Berlin oeuvre, resulting in useful collections including Russian Thinkers, Against the Current and The Crooked Timber of Humanity. In his essays Berlin helped to rescue the thought of writers like Hamann, Herder, Vico and De Maistre from oblivion. Always polished, sensitive and interesting, these pieces are often criticised for the extent to which Berlin always seems able to find his own chief ideas -- pluralism, or anti-monism foremost among them -- embodied in the works of his subjects. Greatly to his credit, he considered the popularity of Giuseppe Verdi to be a key indicator of the sanity of a given era. He is best known among the world's undergraduates, however, as the elaborator of an overdrawn distinction between 'positive' and 'negative' liberty, the subject of his 1958 inaugural lecture in the Chichele chair in political philosophy at Oxford. In all his works, a fine mandarin prose style makes him the sort of philosopher that non-philosophers tend rather to enjoy.

As an enthusiastic Cold Warrior, his clubability brought him near to the corridors of power, and ensured all the glittering prizes of the liberal establishment including a knighthood and the Order of Merit. Berlin was undoubtedly a Good Thing, a wonderful popularizer, lecturer and general intellectual presence. He was that rare beast, a British public intellectual who was neither Patrick Moore nor Magnus Pike. Yet the Turtle can't help thinking that if Oxford had possessed a man of Berlin's talents who was genuinely on the Left (to which Berlin claimed to belong), then British intellectual life would be in much ruder health today.

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Bibliophilism

The Big Soviet Encyclopaedia (3rd ed., English version, v.3 p.258) recommends Bibliophilia (defined as "a penchant for collecting rare and valuable editions") and accurately notes its progressive implications:

In addition to its great importance to the intellectual and spiritual development of the collector (bibliophile) himself, bibliophilia plays a considerable social role by facilitating the creation of outstanding collections of printed works as well as the preservation of rare editions and specific copies of books Mnay bibliophilic collections have formed the bases of large public libraries.

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Big-Headed Turtle, the

We are not the only ones to be struck by the role that the Turtle plays in progressive social science. The Big Soviet Encyclopaedia (3rd ed., English version, v.3 p.265) gave this detailed description of the talents and evolutionary adaptations of the Big-Headed Turtle:

BIG-HEADED TURTLE (Platysternum megacephalum), a reptile of the family Platysternidae, suborder Cryptodira (turtles). It is characterized by a flat broad shell and by a very large head, which cannot be drawn under the shell and is protected by a compact, horny shield. The tail is very long and covered with large scales. Colour on top is olive-brown; beneath, yellowish. Total body length is up to 40cm. It is found mainly in mountain streams of the less-populated part of the Indochinese Peninsula but is everywhere relatively rare. The big-headed turtle swims well in search of food or of the warmth of the sun, and it climbs easily onto shore rocks or tree stumps. It feeds on small marine and terrestrial animals, fishes, molluscs, worms, and the like.

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Biological Trend in Sociology, the

According to the Big Soviet Encyclopaedia (3rd ed., English version, v.3 p.313), the biological trend in sociology refers to

"Doctrines and schools of non-Marxist sociology of the second half of the 19th century whose common feature is the application of the concepts and laws of biology to the analysis of society. Although analogies with the organic world had been known in social theories since antiquity, the transference of the laws of biology to social phenomena attained especial prevalence in the second half of the 19th century as a result of progres sin biology (discovery of the cell, of the laws of the struggle for existence and of natural selection, and so on). The doctrines of H. Spencer, the racial anthropology school (J. A. Gobineau, H. Chamberlain, G. Lapouge, O. Ammon and others), the organic school of sociology (P. Lilienfeld, A. Schüffle, R. Worms, and others), and social Darwinism (L. Gumplowicz, G. Ratzenhofer, A, Small, and others) are examples of the biological trend in sociology. Schools of the biological trend held various political and ideological orientations, from reactionary - validating war and oppression of certain races and social groups by others (racial anthropological school) - to liberal (organic school). Biological theories of society posed several difficult questions (the problem of the integrity of society, its structure, the function of its separate parts, the study of social conflicts, and so on). However, these theories wee inadquate for an explanation of complex social processes and led to antihistoricism; superficial analogies often replaced concrete study of social phenomena. At the turn of the 20th century biological theories were gradually supplanted in non-Marxist sociology by psychological theories."

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Brass Eye

Undoubtedly the most subversive programme broadcast on British television in the late 1990s, Brass Eye was a spoof current affairs programme devised by Chris Morris, a man now widely acclaimed as Britain's leading satirist. Each edition followed a similar formula, taking a current issue - animals, drugs, sex, and the like - and covering it via a blend of faked documentary footage (artfully distressed to make it look like authentic historical/American TV reportage), apocalyptic editorialising and, most controversially (and entertainingly), interviews with real celebrities who are sublimely unaware that they're being sent up.

Although the programme came under considerable fire from the celebrities themselves and their tabloid cheerleaders, Morris was making a fundamentally serious point about the media in general and television in particular, and the way people will spout any old drivel if they're put in front of a camera without bothering to do even the most basic background research first. Some of the inanities uttered on the programme truly beggar belief - there are far too many juicy items to list in full, but Tory MP David Amess (whose retention of the Basildon constituency in 1992 heralded the surprise Conservative election victory that fateful year) deserves some kind of medal for not only contributing extensive furrowed-brow interview material but also going on to ask questions in the House of Commons about "cake", a nonexistent drug apparently mowing down Britain's teenagers in swathes. This magnificent exemplar of British parliamentary democracy in action has been preserved in Hansard.

Brass Eye was initially broadcast in 1997 as a single six-part series, and it was considered unlikely that more would be commissioned after the final episode included a subliminal freeze-frame comparing Michael Grade, the then head of Channel Four, to a part of the female anatomy currently providing Eve Ensler with a hefty meal ticket. However, a one-off special edition was broadcast in 2001 and caused a furore of spectacular proportions, with the Daily Mail describing it on the front page as THE SICKEST TV SHOW EVER.

The paper's reaction was unsurprising, since the programme was a no-holds-barred attack on the then recent sensationalised and repulsively hypocritical tabloid coverage of various paedophile scandals. Again, unwitting celebrities were duped into offering helpful advice - notably Phil Collins' emphatic endorsement of a fictitious sex abuse charity ("I'm talking Nonce Sense") or the alleged comedian Richard Blackwood finally attracting genuine laughter as he explains how paedophiles can cause computer keyboards to emit gases to overpower unwary children. Again, complaints galore were made to the Broadcasting Standards Council, which refused to condemn the programme on the eminently reasonable grounds that its victims should have checked its bona fides before agreeing to appear on camera. Seldom has the biting wit and vicious underlying anger of Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal been so thrillingly recaptured in a contemporary work.

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Brezhnev Doctrine, the (so-called)

The Soviets never admitted to the existence of the so-called Brezhnev doctrine, that supposedly justified the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Brezhnev did however say this to the Fifth Congress of the Polish United Workers' Party later that year:

"When external and internal forces hostile to socialism try to turn the development of a given Socialist country in the direction of the restoration of capitalism, when a threat arises to the cause of socialism in that country -- a threat to the Socialist community of nations as a whole -- this is no longer a problem for that nation but a question of common concern to all the Socialist parties"[Reported in Pravda, 13 November 1968].

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Brezhnev, Ten Great Prizes won by Leonid

1973: The Lenin Peace Prize, for tireless efforts to strengthen world peace and security.

1976: Second Gold Star of Hero of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, for outstanding services in liberating Czechoslovakia from the Nazis

----- the Order of Klement Gottwald, for promoting the fight for peace and social progress

----- Marshal of the Soviet Union, for his part in the defeat of fascism and the consolidation of the USSR's defence potential

----- the Order of Lenin and the Second Gold Star of Hero of the Soviet Union for his outstanding services to Party and State while building communism.

----- finally, the Sword of Honour of the USSR, for his outstanding services to Party and State in building up the USSR's defence capability and armed forces.

1977: F. Joliot-Curie Gold Medal of Peace, the highest award of the World Peace Council

----- the Karl Marx Gold Medal of the USSR Academy of Sciences, its highest award for outstanding achievements in the social sciences

----- and the Gold Medal of Peace of the United Nations, for consistent and fruitful activity towards world peace.

[Originally printed in The Voice of the Turtle #6, 1995.]

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Büchner, Georg

The German dramatist Georg Büchner (1813-1837) is remembered today chiefly on account of his excellent plays. Danton's Death (1835) was an impressive debut; Woyzeck (1837) an absolutely astonishing tragedy, and the first with a proletarian protagonist. Yet when he died at an absurdly young age, he was mourned by his contemporaries as an expert on the anatomy of the barbel fish, on which he had completed a scientific dissertation. Drama and Fish Science were not his only talents: Büchner was also a member of the radical Society of the Rights of Man, and the author of stirring tracts. The Big Soviet Encyclopaedia (third edition, English version, v.4 p.132) draws attention to his role in propagating the slogan "Peace to the huts, war on the palaces" in Germany. He also wrote a comedy, Leonce and Lena (published 1839), but it is not funny.

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Byzantine Studies

Some brief extracts on this important subject taken from the Big Soviet Encyclopaedia (3rd ed., English version, v.5 pp.66-8)

"V. G. Vasil'evskii played a fundamental role in the creation of Russian Byzantine studies. In 1894 he founded the yearly periodical Vizantskii Vremennik, which has become a recognized organizational publication of international Byzantine studies."

"In the USSR the first historical studies that viewed Byzantine history from a Marxist position appeared in the 1930s. An organized scholarly center of Soviet Byzantine studies was established in Leningrad before the Great Patriotic War... An outline of the development of Soviet Byzantine studies was presented in Z. V. Udal'tsova's book Sovetskoe Vizantinovedenie za 50 let (1969)."

"Marxist Byzantine studies now play an ever more important role in the development of Byzantine studies all over the world."

"A major point of dispute concerning the history and cultural development of the Byzantine Empire has been the question of the significance of Byzantium in the cultural historical process. The Marxist Byzantinists acknowledge the peculiarity of Byzantiun's historic fate and at the same time emphasize the similarity between the course of its developemnt and that of Western Europe. They defend the idea of the gradual progressive development of Byzantium and characterize its history as a natural development of stages in the birth and evolution of a variant of feudal society. On the other hand, the majority of scholars in the capitalist countries stress the conservative features of Byzantine social institutions and their historical origin from Roman institutions and regard Byzantium as a specific type of Eastern Orthodox society whose evolution was counterposed, as it were, to the development of Western Europe during the period of feudalism. Many other questions are also disputed - the question of the role of state power in Byzantium and Byzantium's influence on the development of other people's, for example. A large number of bourgeois Byzantinists describe the Byzantine state as an institution standing above the classes and exaggerate its influence on the cultural development of the southern and eastern Slavs."

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