Well, ladies and gentlemen, it finally happened. My new Squarespace website is finally up and running. Well, kind of. While I did complete the process to publish the website, it’s still processing the change in the domain name of prestonposits.com.
So far, it’s been everything I hoped it would be. It’s much more navigable than WordPress turned out to be, and I don’t have to worry about adding plugins that I need to pay for or playing Russian roulette with backend software mechanics that I barely understand.
That said, I won’t shut down the WordPress site just yet. I still need to copy all the posts I made (aside from update posts) and repost them on the Squarespace site. That’s going to take some time. On the bright side, though, it means I can focus more of my creative energies on the new two-part Divine Conspiracy story I’ve been meaning to write.
The premise is still the same as the one I explained in the Halloween update, but for those who need a refresher: The first part involves the Banks family traveling to Ireland to take down a resurrected Fomorian that threatens to bring massive death and destruction to the countryside. However, during that story, Finvarra and Oonagh (the king and queen of fae beings and Ricky’s adoptive parents) are kidnapped by Serpent People and taken to the lair of the eldritch gods Yig and Tsathoggua, which lies deep under the catacombs of Paris. Thus, the second part follows Peter Banks and his team as they enter the catacombs and recruit the services of a friendly commune of vampires, ghouls, and werewolves who live under the city to help rescue them.
I’ve mentioned that I’ve struggled a bit with starting the story. One of the big reasons why is that I was having trouble figuring out where in Ireland the story should start. After all the research I’ve conducted, however, I’ve decided to start it in County Meath, just north of Dublin. This is partly because of the several religious landmarks, both pagan and Christian, that lay within its borders (e.g., the Hill of Tara, Newgrange, and the Abbey of Kells). Of course, there’s a good chance the story could travel to other parts of the Emerald Isle. For instance, the Poisoned Glen in County Donegal is often reputed to be where the terrible Fomorian general Balor was slain by his grandson Lugh of the Tuatha de Danann. Maybe the Banks’ Fomorian is going there to accomplish some goal?
I’m feeling pretty good about this story idea. However, the first part is heavily inspired by the short story “Rawhead Rex” by Clive Barker, so I’d better be careful not to plagiarize his plot points. Of course, the second part owes a lot to Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, and their works are well within the public domain, so who cares if I rip them off?!
But in all seriousness, folks, it’s been fun on WordPress while it lasted, but I’ve got to move on to greener pastures now. I hope you’ll join me on the new and improved Preston Posits website in the future. I hope to see you soon!
P.S. I should also mention before I go that I’m considering expanding my social media presence in case that Space Karen emerald mine nepo-baby Elon Musk ends up finally fucking Twitter up beyond repair. So if you see a Tumblr or Reddit link on my Squarespace or DeviantArt pages sometime in the near future, know that I warned you in advance.
Happy Halloween, beautiful watchers! After a long absence, I decided to stop by again to inform you of some changes that will occur here and on DeviantArt over the next few months.
First of all, as I may have mentioned before, I have a new story idea involving The Divine Conspiracy that comes in two parts. The first involves the Banks family traveling to Ireland to take down a resurrected Fomorian that threatens to bring massive death and destruction to the countryside. However, in the course of that story, Finvarra and Oonagh (the king and queen of fae beings and Ricky’s adoptive parents) are kidnapped by Serpent People and taken to the lair of the eldritch gods Yig and Tsathoggua, which lies deep under the catacombs of Paris. Thus, the Banks’ must recruit the services of a friendly commune of vampires, ghouls, and werewolves who live under the city to help rescue them.
If you’re wondering how the story involving the Wampanoag tribe is going, I deleted it from DeviantArt in the end because I didn’t feel it was up to my usual standards. Also, I felt too much cognitive dissonance in being a white guy writing a story involving a colonized culture I’ve never had any contact with, which didn’t help matters. Therefore, as a person who has Irish ancestry on my mother’s side, I felt it would be a better idea to write a story involving that culture instead.
That being said, though, trying to get started on the Ireland story is proving surprisingly difficult. Maybe the solution is not to jump into a new long-form story so shortly after the last one. I’ve been promising Divine Conspiracy character profiles for a while now, so it might be a good idea to finally get started on those.
Of course, given what I said about quitting WordPress in the last update post, you may wonder how that’s going. Well, I haven’t really done anything much on that front since, but that might change, given my recent change in employment status.
You see, the hardware store where I work has been experiencing an upheaval recently as my boss is in the process of transitioning away from one distributor and moving to another. With the financial shockwaves this has produced, the boss has decided to temporarily lay me off, as she can no longer afford to pay me.
Of course, this gives me plenty of free time to shop around other website builders to find out which one best suits my needs. I’ve been increasingly keeping my eye on Squarespace as of late, and many of their blogging templates look very appealing, so don’t be surprised if I make a new update post announcing a new website sometime between now and Thanksgiving.
There’s not much else to talk about, so I’ll leave it here for now. I’ll keep you posted in case any other changes come about. Until next time, friends!
Hello, beautiful watchers! I’m sure I caught some of you by surprise last month when I suddenly came out of my break to launch into a bitter rant about how Warner Bros. was stripping HBO Max for parts to try to pull off what basically amounts to a tax fraud scheme. But yeah, I guess I’m back now, but not entirely.
For one thing, the Divine Conspiracy story I’m writing for DeviantArt is only half written so far. I’ve been struggling with this one, honestly. I think that mainly has to do with the fact that it is based on the mythology of the indigenous Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts. I’m aware that Native Americans do not tend to take kindly to white people writing about their cultures in their fiction, for entirely understandable reasons. Indeed, the Wampanoag were among the first tribes in the continental U.S. to suffer at the hands of European settler-colonialists in the early 17th century. To be sure, I have done a lot of research to at least try not to get the stories wrong, and, barring a strongly worded letter from an actual Wampanoag tribesperson, I still intend to finish the story. Still, I think I’ll avoid involving indigenous Americans in my silly little fantasy stories in the future to prevent this kind of anxiety.
Another reason I’ve been posting less on this site recently is because I’m starting to think it may have been a mistake to set up my blog on this website in the first place. One of my biggest problems with this site is that it doesn’t feel very user-friendly to me. When you go to the blog’s main page, where it shows my most recent posts, it shows the entirety of the article instead of just a preview like on other blogs. This is a big problem since my articles can get pretty long, especially when it’s a topic I’m incredibly passionate about, like leftist politics and paranormal triangles and Watership Down.
Maybe it would help to share how I created this site in the first place. When my parents were gifting me books and blog posts on how to make money blogging, the one that really caught my eye was The Sassy Way to Starting a Successful Blog When You Have No Clue! by Gundi Gabrielle. I liked how it gave me a step-by-step method for creating a blog and introduced me to names like Namecheap and Inmotion Hosting, which was helpful for someone as indecisive as myself.
After almost three years, however, it doesn’t seem like PrestonPosits is going anywhere. In all that time, I think I’ve only gotten one comment that wasn’t blocked by my spam filter. Growth seems to be going at a snail’s pace if it’s even growing at all. And, as I said earlier, the site doesn’t feel very user-friendly. So what is this poor boy to do?
First of all, I should probably clarify that I am not interested in making money through blogging anymore. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s more that I don’t think I have a realistic chance in our hyper-stratified late-stage capitalist economy. That is unless I take the Gary Vaynerchuk route and spend the next ten years of my life working 15 hours a day, which… I’d honestly rather hang myself.
As for where I might move PrestonPosits if I do decide to quit WordPress, I’ve been browsing around other website builders like Wix and Squarespace. Several content creators I follow on YouTube have talked a lot about Squarespace in particular in sponsorship segments, including Dominic Noble, Quinton Reviews, and Schafrillas Productions. True, they’re being paid to say all that stuff, but they still make the site sound intriguing, and they even built websites of their own on Squarespace, so it’s got to be good for something, right?
But what do you guys think? Am I jumping the gun on this one? Is there a way for me to improve this blog without moving it to a different site entirely? Are Wix or Squarespace or Bluehost any good? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
As always, stay safe and keep vaccinated, beautiful watchers, and stay tuned to my DeviantArt page to keep up with the latest Divine Conspiracy stories. Until next time!
Friday, August 19th, 2022- a date which will live in infamy for anyone who cares at all about animation. The animation section of the popular streaming service HBO Max was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the corporate forces of the empire of Warner Brothers Discovery.
Sadly, this unprovoked and dastardly attack was not entirely unexpected. On August 2nd, the company announced that it would cancel two original film projects, Batgirl and Scoob! Holiday Haunt, despite both films being well into the post-production phase of development. Indeed, the canceling of the latter was so abrupt that the studio date for recording the orchestral score had already been scheduled, so they recorded it even after the cancellation was announced.
Things only went downhill from there. The day after the cancellations were announced, HBO Max quietly removed all the HBO Max Original Films they had already made, as if in an Orwellian attempt to convince people that they had never existed in the first place. Then came the aforementioned August 19th purge, in which several animated/children’s shows were removed from the site, including but not limited to: The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo, OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, Victor and Valentino, Summer Camp Island, Little Ellen, Mao Mao: Heroes of Pure Heart, Uncle Grandpa, Mighty Magiswords, Close Enough, and Infinity Train.
The termination of the latter two is especially infuriating for many animation fans, myself included, especially for how both shows had to fight an uphill battle even to get distributed in the first place. Close Enough, created by J.G. Quintel of The Regular Show fame, was initially set to air on an animation block on TBS that included American Dad! and Final Space. That was ruined when a show on the same block that was to be produced by Louis C.K. was canceled in the wake of his sexual misconduct allegations. Fortunately, it found a home on HBO Max a month after the service launched in May 2020, only to be evicted a little over two years later.
Infinity Train, meanwhile, started as a pilot that premiered on the Cartoon Network App on November 1st, 2016. It quickly became the most viewed pilot on the network’s official YouTube channel, and a petition to turn the pilot into a full series garnered 57,000 signatures. Cartoon Network announced a full series in March 2018 that premiered in the form of ten eleven-minute segments (similar to Over the Garden Wall) in August 2019. After four seasons (out of a planned eight) where audiences were enthralled by the adventures of the passengers on the mysterious and gigantic train as the bizarre and impossible environments contained therein forced them to confront their psychological demons, the series was abruptly canceled in April of 2021.
Social media campaigns to #RenewInfinityTrain (which I participated in) went unanswered. Finally, on August 19th of this year came the final insult, when not only did HBO Max remove the series, Cartoon Network deleted the original pilot from Youtube, as well as the soundtrack. Series creator Owen Dennis even gave fans of the show his blessing to pirate the series in retaliation. Fortunately, as of the day I’m writing this (August 21st), the series is still available for download on iTunes… for now at least (also Amazon Prime, but I don’t think I’m willing to further enrich that Lex Luthor cosplaying ghoul that runs the company, personally).
As you can probably imagine, I’m not exactly pleased with what has been happening at Warner Brothers Discovery lately. HBO Max was rapidly becoming my favorite of all the streaming services I use, thanks to its variety. From new blockbuster releases and Studio Ghibli’s library to Cartoon Network and the Criterion Collection, there was no shortage of content for me to discover.
But then David Zaslav took over as CEO of Warner Brothers Discovery and decided to pursue several cost-cutting measures, among which were the aforementioned removals and cancellations. Many have accused Zaslav of outright tax fraud, as it is nakedly evident that he’s using these shows as tax write-offs as well as trying to get out of paying residuals to the people who made them. He’s also stated that he wants to focus more on theatrical releases and is no longer doing Max Originals.
To be honest, though, it’s not anger that I’m feeling in this situation so much as despair. As someone who wants to work in the creative arts and who wants The Divine Conspiracy to become an animated series one day, this, more than anything else, has rammed home how much the arts are devalued under our capitalist system. This, paired with Disney’s lackadaisical approach to queer representation (or outright hostility in the case of The Owl House) and the recent news that Barnes and Noble will be effectively barring new authors from selling books until they can prove they will be successful, shows how incompatible the profit motive is with artistic creation. Artists are held hostage to the whims of fickle CEOs like David Zaslav and Bob Chapek, who can kill a movie or T.V. show just as quickly as they can greenlight it.
Indeed, my mind keeps coming back to a line from a recent USA Today article about the bombing of the Georgia Guidestones, in which Christopher Kubas, executive vice president of the Elbert Granite Association, had this to say:
It’s unfortunate. There are people that think just because they don’t like it, that no one should have the opportunity to see it or experience it, and so they’re going to destroy it for everyone else.
That echoes my feelings on the situation with HBO Max, especially with shows as wonderful and creative as Infinity Train, Close Enough, and Victor and Valentino being tossed aside in one of the most nakedly capricious acts I’ve seen committed by a CEO in a creative industry outside of mainstream video games. It’s left me even more uncertain of my future as major corporations continue to make decisions that condemn us all to a future where neoliberal fascism continues to ruin everything we love.
Sorry, this post was such a downer, but I just needed to vent my frustrations. Hopefully the next one won’t be so dour. Until next time!
Is it weird to write another update post so soon after the last one? Whatever! It’s my website, and I can do what I want with it!
But yeah, much like last summer, I’m going to be taking a break from the blog for a while to concentrate on writing Divine Conspiracy material on DeviantArt. I’m not planning to make this a yearly tradition; that’s just how the cookie crumbled both this year and last.
I don’t know how long I’ll be away working on the piece. Much like the “pilot” I released last year, this story focuses on the Banks family getting embroiled in a supernatural mystery, except this one involves them going out into the field alongside their fellow Templar knights. Specifically, they head to Massachusetts and team up with the local Wampanoag tribe to determine what’s behind the recent spike in activity surrounding the so-called “Bridgewater Triangle” and soon discover that it may have something to do with the long-buried mythology of the local indigenous tribes.
Writing this story is likely to take longer than the pilot, mainly because I’m writing this new story from scratch, unlike the pilot where I had an extensive rough draft to work off of. As such, I needed to take some time to do research, especially by reading the book Spirit of the New England Tribes by anthropologist William S. Simmons. Simmons’ book proved especially helpful in informing me of the truth of the folktales the Wampanoag and their neighbors used to tell (or at least as much truth as can be ascertained given how fiercely the Puritans tried to stamp them out).
As for the blog, I’ll still check in regularly to empty the spam filter and update plugins whenever needed. I’m also hoping I might be able to squeeze in time to write another P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist or Complete Noob’s Guide to the Left entry while I’m at it. I’m also pretty eager to start that series on esoteric spirituality that I’ve been promising you guys for a while now. We’ll see how that turns out!
Also, if you’re wondering what’s going on medically, given how much I discussed that in the last update post, things are going just fine. That bad case of the flu is long past, and while it’s clear by this point that I definitely have hemochromatosis, we managed to catch it at the right time where I only needed three phlebotomies to get my iron back down to healthy levels, so no worries there! That’s all for now. Stay healthy, beautiful watchers!
This entry in the “P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist” series will differ from the previous entries. With those entries, I focused on single songs that resonated with me personally. With the band we will be discussing today, however, I can’t simply choose just one song because they are just that good! This is especially true of what I and many of the other lucky few that have gotten to experience this criminally underrated band consider to be their magnum opus: a trilogy of albums released throughout the mid-nineties exploring humanity’s relationship to the divine with over 40+ tracks of symphonic heavy metal delight.
But to understand what makes this album trilogy so unique, one must understand the band behind it. One of the unsung pioneers of the American power metal alongside Manowar, Helstar, Jag Panzer, and Riot, this group ground away in the metal underground of Long Island throughout the eighties. They recorded four studio albums and fought through lineup changes and folding record labels before finally finding their proper niche with their charismatic and eccentric frontman’s “barbarian romantic” vision in the Marriage trilogy. But how did the band get there in the first place?
Virgin Steele’s story began in June 1981 when guitarist Jack Starr and drummer Joey Ayvazian sent out auditions for a lead singer to help them start a heavy metal band. David DeFeis, a recent graduate of S.U.N.Y. Stony Brook, answered the ad with his friend, bass player Joe O’Reilly.
DeFeis had grown up with an artistic family; his father owned a Shakspearian theater company, and his sister was an opera singer. DeFeis himself had grown up listening to classical music throughout his childhood and was introduced to rock through the band Stalk, featuring his older brother and sister on keyboards and vocals, respectively. He even started his own band, Phoenix, when he was only eleven. DeFeis and O’Reilly auditioned successfully, even though Starr’s group already had a bass player named Kelly Nickels. Nickels was fired, as the band judged him to have inferior skills to O’Reilly’s, and subsequently moved to Los Angeles and, after honing his craft, found success with the band L.A. Guns.
The band recorded their self-titled debut album in only a week that December and self-released it the following April. They had previously released the song “Children of the Storm” on the Shrapnel Records compilation U.S. Metal Vol. II, which was positively received by fellow up-and-coming metal bands Metallica and Queensryche. Virgin Steele and Metallica even became labelmates when the British company Music for Nations signed them, alongside bands like W.A.S.P., Manowar, and Mercyful Fate.
After the release of their second album, Guardians of the Flame, in June of 1983, Starr left the band due to creative differences with DeFeis. Starr preferred straightforward anthems, while DeFeis wanted to do more elaborate and classically inspired compositions. The former would form the band Burning Starr, while the latter brought on new guitarist Edward Pursino, who he had known since forming a Black Sabbath cover band named Mountain Ash in high school.
This lineup recorded two albums that would later be regarded as underground classics: Noble Savage, released in 1985, and Age of Consent, released in 1988. Despite joining bands like Manowar and Black Sabbath on tour, the band went into a semi-hiatus for a few years as music industry bullshit started wearing them down. DeFeis claims that “our manager made a royal mess of our career, both financially and spiritually. With other legal problems rearing their ugly heads, we didn’t record another album until ’92.” By that time, Joe O’Reilly had become disillusioned and quit the music industry altogether.
The band subsequently recruited Teddy Cook (of Dio and Great White fame) and Rob DeMartino (who had previously formed a blues-rock group called Smokestack Lightning alongside DeFeis and Starr) to record the bass track for their 1992 album Life Among the Ruins.
The album was somewhat poorly received by fans at the time, as it had ditched the epic power metal leanings of the band’s eighties output in favor of a bluesy glam metal sound heavily inspired by Whitesnake. However, while touring in Europe in support of the album, DeFeis was seized by a sudden wave of creativity that led him to produce the trilogy of albums that would secure Virgin Steele’s cult status as underground metal legends.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
I should probably start by saying that The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is not based on the 1793 book of the same name by William Blake, despite what Wikipedia might tell you. DeFeis has insisted in several interviews (including this one) that he was unaware of any book by that name when he recorded Part I. He was more familiar with Blake’s collection of poems titled Songs of Innocence and Experience. It was drummer Frank Gilchriest who made the connection when he joined in the middle of recording the second album (Joey Avayzian had retired from the music industry to pursue a career as an inventor).
When asked in the same interview why the albums seem to have the same themes as the book despite not being influenced by it at all, DeFeis had this to say:
I was thinking of opposites. I just wanted to have this reconcilliation of opposites, and I thought, “What’s the most obvious thing you can try and have a union of?” And it was Heaven and Hell, and that’s where the title came from.
David Defeis, Interview with Mark Diggins for The Rockpile, June 30th, 2014
Opposites are also a major theme in Blake’s Marriage. As Blake famously wrote:
Without contraries there is no progression.
Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.
From these contraries spring what religions call good and evil.
Good is the passive that obeys reason. Evil is the active springing from energy.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.
Blake was saying that the binary sense of morality that humans had developed (and had been enforced by organized religion) was stifling their growth. They needed to recognize that human nature should not be restrained to please uncaring institutions and that divinity and humanity are not separate from one another.
A similar story can be perceived throughout DeFeis’ Marriage. The story of the album trilogy revolves around Endymion and Emalaith, two messianic figures struggling against a pantheon of uncaring and capricious deities and the earthly authorities who serve them. As David puts it in this interview, the names Endymion and Emalaith came from “a name that conjures up images of forests, pagans, beauty, ruins, and desolation, along with a yearning for a love beyond the grave.” While Emalaith appears to be entirely DeFeis’ own creation, he almost certainly took the name Endymion from a figure in Greek mythology who bore fifty sons to Selene, the goddess of the moon, who later put him into an eternal sleep as she couldn’t bear the thought of him dying.
DeFeis’ Endymion, on the other hand, is placed in a story that plays out like a cross between Conan the Barbarian and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Admittedly, a lot of the following story I perceived comes from my own interpretations, as Invictus is the only album in the trilogy that actually tells a linear narrative, according to Dave. Even so, I think you could make a case that the trilogy as a whole does tell a cohesive story.
Part I (released in December of 1994) begins with Endymion and Emalaith running from the secret police of their theocratic government in the opening track, “I Will Come For You.”
Once we had beauty,
Our sun blazed in passion!
We lived a life!
Far from the reaching
Of close-minded preaching,
We lived and died!
Now all in darkness, we wait for the end,
Hunted by men of the cloth.
Murder and torture, they rape and they slaughter,
Claiming the way of the cross!
As Endymion wanders the postapocalyptic landscape that the theocracy has left in its wake, he vows, “under tortured skies, from a land with no sun, I will come for you!” As he searches for where they are keeping Emalaith prisoner, Endymion is harassed by visions telling him that he is either destined to destroy the gods’ despotic rule over the Earth or that he is doomed to die an insignificant death in the wasteland.
Endymion is finally tracked down and captured by the theocracy. Unbeknownst to them, though, they end up imprisoning him at the same facility where Emalaith is being held. Taking advantage of one of his visions, Endymion plans their escape around the outbreak of the final apocalyptic battle (most likely Ragnarok, given the numerous references to Norse mythology in Part II) between the gods, depicted in the song “Blood of the Saints”:
London is mine, New York and Paris shall fall!
One ring to rule in darkness to bind them all!
Come to me now, a moth to the flame,
Burning your eyes as you stare
With the Blood of the Saints!
But as the two lovers make their escape amidst the chaos, giggling excitedly about a “Life Among the Ruins,” Emalaith is killed, likely by the gods, in order to drive Endymion into despair. Instead, he declares himself the new messiah and swears vengeance on all who ruined the world in the name of their vicious gods.
Part II (released in December of 1995) sees the battle of Ragnarok raging on Earth as the various gods fight for their privilege to do with humanity as they please. Endymion gathers followers to help him in his crusade while simultaneously going on a journey in the spiritual realms to learn the secrets of the gods to fight them better. He befriends the god Prometheus, tortured by the gods who now fight the battle of Ragnarok for showing kindness to man, and even finds a way to communicate with Emalaith from beyond the grave. Along the way, he makes the critical discovery that good and evil are not as binary of a concept as he thought they were and declares open war on the gods and all who aid them.
The final album, Invictus (released on April 15, 1998), follows Endymion and his army as they battle for their right to live as they choose in a world without gods. Along the way, the gods send numerous challenges to trip Endymion up, including their own army of human loyalists led by a new antagonist called the Red Queen and a magical artifact called the Sword of the Gods that tempts Endymion into using his newfound powers for evil. They even manage to kill Endymion at one point and send him to Purgatory. The powers he gained during his spiritual journeys manage to resurrect him, however, and he leads his army over deserts and frozen tundras to the home of the gods. Endymion slays the guardian of the Red Queen, despite it being “seven rivers wide” (yikes), and finally destroys the gods once and for all, proclaiming to his followers with his dying breath, “I crown us kings!”
My Twelve Favorite Tracks from the Marriage Trilogy (In No Particular Order)
Before I talk about my favorite tracks from the trilogy, I should probably elaborate on what David DeFeis is talking about when he refers to his music as “barbarian romanticism.” DeFeis himself describes it this way in the official biography on the band’s website:
From a whisper to a scream; barbaric, romantic, bombastic, yet subtle; grandiose, yet earthly. A call, a shout, an invocation to freedom and the continual awakening to the awareness that every moment of life is lived to it’s fullest potential. It is a force, a sacred quest which drives Virgin Steele on!!!
David DeFeis, “Biography” on The Official Virgin Steele Homepage
Put more simply, it is a form of symphonic power metal that aims for an emotionally complex sound, with lyrics that are equal parts based on myth and legend (mainly Greek, Norse, Abrahamic, and Mesopotamian) as well as DeFeis’ own real-life experiences. Compare this to fellow New York power metallers Manowar, whose music focuses more on the over-the-top manliness inherent to sword and sorcery type fantasy. I’m not saying that makes them bad in any way; I’m just saying that it kind of makes me scratch my head when Virgin Steele is referred to as “the poor man’s Manowar.”
To explain what I mean, let us briefly examine twelve songs from the trilogy and see what makes them tick:
1. I Will Come for You
Starting Part I with a bang, this symphonic metal masterpiece is a prime example of DeFeis’ barbarian romantic style. Starting almost immediately with only a short instrumental intro, DeFeis immediately starts off his tale of gods and heroes, perfectly showing off the mythological and personal nature of his lyrics:
Whose god is stronger? Who's made by his hand?
Primitive blood stains the sand!
Murder and torture; they're raping your daughter,
Drunk with the blood of the Lamb!
It also demonstrates the band’s softer side about three minutes in as the band slows down to introduce the beautiful “Marriage of Heaven and Hell Theme” that recurs throughout the trilogy, most notably in the same-titled tracks that occur at the end of all three albums.
2. Trail of Tears
This track from the exact midpoint of the album is mainly a mid-paced groove with a faster middle section, featuring DeFeis lecturing an authority figure about the choices they’ve made, the numerous people that have suffered because of it, and how their choices may come back to haunt them someday.
Ask and you won't be forgiven.
This is a blessing in disguise.
All of your choices are spoken.
You've killed the child in my eyes.
I'm gonna see you burn!
When in some dark distant future,
You'll meet my presence in a song.
You'll punch the walls in frustration.
Can you hear my voice and say I'm wrong?
I'm gonna see you burn!
Indeed, with a title like “Trail of Tears,” it’s hard for me not to think that this might be DeFeis’ commentary on America’s treatment of its indigenous population, including by forcing their religion on them. The “you killed the child in my eyes” line especially reminds me of the boarding schools where Native children were abused in the name of “killing the Indian to save the man.”
3. I Wake Up Screaming
This song takes more of a traditional speed metal type of sound. It features DeFeis angrily ranting at the powers that rule over his society, accusing them of trying to strip him of his individuality and make him conform to a broken system run by people who don’t care about those lower than them in the social hierarchy (“All your promises are broken/I think you just want to bury me!”). I can definitely relate to the title of this song in an age when multiple system-wide failures are rapidly closing in on our current society, and our political leaders seem either unwilling or unable to try and stop it.
4. Life Among the Ruins
Another traditional metal track with some symphonic touches, this song reminds us to look for the beauty in life even when everything seems to be falling apart around us, for it is often that hidden beauty that inspires us to push onward even when everything seems to be going wrong.
You are a rose! You are a blade!
I'm down on my knees in the dark in the fiery reign!
You are a rose! You are a blade!
I challenge you to love my bride of pain!
5. Crown of Glory (Unscarred)
I'll never die while the light races over my head;
I can see where we are.
Why must you cry for the life you are leaving behind?
Crown of glory unscarred!
The second track from Part II reads almost like the band’s mission statement. It calls out to the listener to get up and make something of themselves and to stand up against authority figures, both in this world and the next, who would prevent them from doing so. It also provides this verse, which one could consider the trilogy’s thesis statement:
What was forbidden now is open,
The golden apples of the sun.
All that's alive consider holy! Holy! Holy!
Body and soul are reconciled.
And Heaven and Hell, remember their love,
And every road leads me to you! To truth!
Indeed, this might be one of my favorite songs of any genre. It just fills me with a desire to run out into the world to right all the wrongs and knock the daylights out of anyone who tries to stop me.
6. Prometheus (The Fallen One)
It’s hardly a surprise that DeFeis decided to include the story of mythology’s most famous martyr (besides Jesus) in his story about divine injustice. It’s also probably not a surprise that it is an epic track full of galloping guitar riffs, symphonic flourishes, and soaring vocals (including an impossibly high shriek in the atmospheric Middle Eastern-influenced intro that almost puts Rob Halford to shame). However, the epicness of this track still pales in comparison to the one that comes right after it.
This track is often considered one of Virgin Steele’s best. It is often considered the one best representative of DeFeis’ barbaric-romantic vision, alongside “The Burning of Rome (Cry for Pompeii)” and “Perfect Mansions (Mountains of the Sun)” (both from Age of Consent). It goes through several different musical shifts throughout its ten-minute runtime. It starts with a soft, keyboard-heavy intro with crooning vocals before launching into a more direct heavy metal assault. This song goes harder than any other song on the album in terms of symphonic elements, even quoting from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor at one point. It definitely succeeds in DeFeis’ goal of portraying “a love from beyond the grave.”
8. Victory Is Mine
The penultimate track from the album is more of a straightforward metal anthem celebrating the spirit of revolutionary fervor (“I will run to the hills where you hide/Seeking vengeance for all of my kind!”). It boasts one of Ed Pursino’s best riffs, and Joey Avayzian’s performance on drums was a great note on which to end his tenure with the band. It also dramatically foreshadows the change in tone as the story moves into its third and final act.
The title track on the third and final album of the trilogy immediately shows us that things will be different this time around. The production is much gritter than the often soaring acoustics of the previous two albums, possibly to signal that we’ve reached the ugly part of the story, where the final battle to free humanity from their uncaring gods has commenced. Even so, the epic factor has not diminished. Pursino’s riffs are still excellent, and DeFeis’ lyrics have grown extra-defiant as his character Endymion confronts God Himself and calls him out for his mistreatment of humanity. It brilliantly sets the tone for the rest of the album.
10. Mind, Body, Spirit
This song plays out like a heavier version of the title track of Noble Savage. In addition to both tracks being seven-and-a-half minutes long, they both feature pounding metal for the first four-and-a-half minutes and an extended symphonic outro where the guitars are almost nonexistent. The main difference between the two tracks is that M.B.S. is far less melodic, taking more inspiration from thrash metal in its main riff. Despite that, it’s still a worthy song and well worth a listen.
This is another candidate for one of my favorite songs of all time, though not so much for Pursino’s guitar work or DeFeis’ snarling vocals. It’s mainly due to the lyrics, which, appropriately enough, consist of some of the most uncompromising “Fuck authority”-type lyrics I’ve ever heard in a song this side of Rage Against the Machine. I especially love this little speech Dave gives as the band drops out in the middle of the song to let him have the stage to himself:
Now turn to face me, great despot enshrined.
The wealth of our years of injustice has purchased this night.
I take your power! I slay your clan!
Clouds and furies now fly in the face of despite.
I take your power! I look in your eyes!
Watch! See! See how a god... DIIIIEEEES!!!
12. Veni, Vidi, Vici
Closing out the trilogy is the longest song on all three albums, running at a total of 10:44. It is the culmination of all of Endymion’s struggles as he finally leads his army into the home of the gods and banishes them from the mortal realm once and for all. It features another contender for one of Ed Pursino’s best riffs and a truly epic vocal performance from Dave, including his beautiful falsetto cry of “I crown us kings” at the end. It’s a true masterpiece of power metal magic.
After the Marriage
DeFeis didn’t slow down his rock opera productions one bit after completing the trilogy. He immediately followed it up in 1999 and 2000 with The House of Atreus, a two-part album series based on The Orestia, a trilogy of Greek plays written by Aeschylus in the 5th century B.C.E. The story follows the trials endured by King Agamemnon’s family in the aftermath of the Trojan War, including Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of Queen Clytemnestra, her murder at the hands of their son Orestes, and Orestes’ subsequent torment by the Erinyes (aka Furies) and trial. The two albums combined include a total of almost three hours’ worth of music, yet it never gets boring once. Particular highlights include the epic opening track “Kingdom of the Fearless (The Destruction of Troy),” the ominous “Through the Ring of Fire,” the pounding swagger of “Agony and Shame,” the majestic “Fire of Ecstasy” and “Flames of Thy Power (From Blood They Rise),” and the epic finale “Resurrection Day.”
The next proper studio album didn’t come out until September 2006. The band did release two albums called The Book of Burning and Hymns to Victory in 2001 to celebrate their 20th anniversary, but those were simply compilations (albeit the former featuring re-recorded older tracks and rarities). The next proper studio album was titled Visions of Eden and was another mythological rock opera, this time centering on the story of Lilith, Adam’s first wife. She turns out to be too independent for Adam’s liking, so he trades her for the more submissive Eve. Lilith is banished and tormented by the Demiurge who created her for messing with his divine vision, eventually creating the demonic spirit of vengeance we are all familiar with today.
This album has divided Virgin Steele fans thanks to the obvious shift in the band’s sound, which shifted to a much darker and low-register tone, perhaps owing to their new guitarist, Josh Block, preferring seven-string guitars. Not helping matters was that the songs have become much longer. None are under five minutes, and the longest one (“Adorned with the Rising Cobra”) lasts just shy of ten. Personally, I enjoy this album, even if it somewhat overstays its welcome as its 79-minute runtime draws to a close. I like to imagine it as a prequel of sorts to the Marriage trilogy, with the Demiurge of this story eventually being the main villain of Endymion’s tale. Highlight tracks include “Immortal I Stand (The Birth of Adam),” “The Ineffable Name,” “Angel of Death,” “God Above God,” and “Visions of Eden.”
Sadly, the band would only double down on the worse aspects of Visions… as the years went on. Their next album, 2010’s The Black Light Bacchanalia, made it clear that the band was starting to lose itself in DeFeis’ growing artistic insanity. His vocal choices are particularly bizarre; most of the time, he sticks to his lower range, only occasionally leaping out of a soft croon to deliver a sudden castrato wail like at the beginning of “Prometheus.” Not to mention the bloated track lengths continue here. Much like Visions…, there are eleven songs covering almost eighty minutes, only two lasting less than five minutes and the rest lasting between six and eleven (!) minutes. There are some good tracks here (“By the Hammer of Zeus (And the Wrecking Ball of Thor),” “Pagan Heart,” and “In a Dream of Fire”), but they get less frequent as the album goes on.
Things didn’t get much better with the next album, 2015’s Nocturnes of Fire and Damnation. First of all, longtime drummer Frank Gilchriest is nowhere to be seen, having apparently been replaced by a drum machine. Second, Dave overcompensated for his lackluster delivery on the Bacchanalia by leaping all over the place on his vocal range, packing his vocal tracks to the brim with piercing shrieks. This gets annoying, especially since the vocals are mixed way too high in the final tracks, and he sounds like a parody of himself most of the time. Ed and Josh do their best with good guitar material, but Dave’s overly bombastic performance ultimately drags them down. The only song on the album that manages to make it out with some dignity intact is “Persephone,” thanks to David at least managing to rein himself in a bit more. “Lucifer’s Hammer” almost reaches its level until Dave’s overly expressive vocals pull it down. So yeah, this album wasn’t much to write home about.
The band also released a five-album box set in 2018 called Seven Devils Moonshine. Granted, two of said albums are just reissues of Hymns to Victory and Book of Burning, but I haven’t had the courage to listen to anything on the other three albums since they just seem to confirm that David DeFeis is continuing to lose himself in his own ego.
So yeah, it kind of ended on a downer note there. But that’s not to say the band isn’t worth listening to. It’s only because of their run of albums from Marriage Part I to Visions ofEden being so good that their run of albums from the last fifteen or so years feels so disappointing. Maybe the band has its own Death Magnetic waiting in the wings for some future date, but that seems increasingly unlikely at this point.
But still, even if the band’s descent into mediocrity continues, David DeFeis can rest assured that he still gave The Marriage of Heaven and Hell trilogy to the few like myself who have been lucky enough to witness its majesty firsthand, lighting a fire in our bellies to create our own works of art and fight back against the authority figures in our life who clearly care nothing for our well-being. So from me to you, Dave, from the bottom of my heart: Thank you, and may you have long days and pleasant nights conducting your symphony of Steele.
Hello, everyone. You may have noticed that my upload schedule has recently become a lot slower on the blog. There are a few big reasons for this.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’ve wanted to devote more energy to The Divine Conspiracy on DeviantArt. That is certainly true, as I have been writing a new story centering on the Bridgewater Triangle and how the urban legend intersects with indigenous Wampanoag mythology. Progress has been slow, mostly because I’ve been reading the book Spirit of the New England Tribes to understand their spiritual traditions better.
But that’s far from the only reason progress has been slow. For one thing, I recently decided to have myself tested for hemochromatosis, or iron overload in the bloodstream. My Dad has the disorder, and with all the tests I’ve been subjecting myself to (blood tests, MRIs), it’s increasingly likely that he passed it down to me. Fortunately, the disorder is easy enough to treat. Dad takes care of his by frequently donating blood. A doctor also informed me that eating red meat also contributes to iron buildup, so I’ve been wondering lately if going on a mostly vegetarian diet would help at all (I say “mostly” because, while I don’t have much of an appetite for most meat products these days, I’m not sure I’m ready to give up cheeseburgers or meat lover’s pizza).
On top of that, I also came down with a nasty cold this week that has left me more exhausted than I have ever felt in recent memory. Mom and I believe it is influenza, mostly because it is definitely a lot worse than most colds I’ve had even though a COVID test I took yesterday came out negative. Either way, yesterday morning was an absolute slog. I got up to eat breakfast, only got halfway through because my appetite just wasn’t there, and went back to bed for the next five hours. You can imagine that I didn’t have the energy to stand up, let alone write anything.
The good news is that I’m pretty sure Thursday morning was rock bottom for me, and now there’s no way to go but up. You can likely expect a new post on the blog sometime next week or the week after. There won’t be a big birthday retrospective like the one I did for Watership Down last year, and it won’t be about that TV series I hinted at in previous update posts.
For those who are curious, I was referring to The Shannara Chronicles, based on the Shannara series by Terry Brooks. I remember seeing the first season of the show back when it first aired on MTV and being profoundly disappointed in the choices the series creators made. However, I couldn’t find any streaming services that offered it for free. I especially did not want to pay $17.99 to watch it on Amazon Prime and end up lining that vampire Bezos’ pockets.
Instead, this year’s mini-retrospective will be about a very underrated heavy metal band that is almost as near and dear to my heart as Terry Brooks’ books are. I won’t say which one just yet. Just keep a lookout for it in the near future.
And that’s everything I wanted to discuss with you guys today. Remember to wash your hands and keep your masks on because we may be done with COVID, but COVID sure as hell isn’t done with us! Until next time, friends.
…and it certainly took me on a roller coaster ride, especially regarding its main subject.
(Trigger warning for those sensitive to violent crime topics: this article will contain mentions of such subjects and some brief references to pedophilia.)
This documentary series, which served as one of the earliest Netflix original programs, generated a storm of controversy when it first premiered in December 2015, thanks to its shocking accusations of police corruption and misconduct in the trial of Steven Avery.
Before we explore that controversy, a little background: Steven Allan Avery was a resident of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin, who grew up in a family that was widely viewed as the redneck black sheep of the community. Nevertheless, his father owned a successful auto salvage business that kept his family fed.
Avery’s calm rural existence was shattered in July of 1985 when he was sentenced to thirty-two years in prison for the rape and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen, despite eyewitnesses corroborating his alibi of being in Green Bay at the time. He was released after 18 years when DNA evidence proved that the rape had actually been committed by Gregory Allen, another local man who bore a striking resemblance to Avery and had a history of violence against women. A vengeful Avery decided to sue the Manitowoc County police department for $36 million and was even the primary inspiration for new Wisconsin state legislation to decrease the likelihood of future wrongful convictions.
But, to paraphrase the words of Michael Corleone, just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in. On Halloween of 2005, a local photographer named Teresa Halbach went missing, and a search party found her Toyota RAV4 in the auto salvage junkyard a few days later. Police searched Avery’s property and claimed to have found Teresa’s bones in the remains of a bonfire Steven had held on Halloween. They later found the key to the RAV4 in Steven’s bedroom, and Steven was arrested and tried for her murder. When his nephew, Brendan Dassey, confessed to helping his uncle kill Teresa and dispose of her corpse, things became even bleaker for Steven. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, while Dassey (only 17 at the time of his sentencing) was ineligible for parole until 2048.
Steven and Brendan’s defense teams pointed to numerous inconsistencies in the prosection’s evidence, including but not limited to:
It seemingly took multiple searches of Steven’s property to find enough evidence to incriminate him (I think the key wasn’t discovered until the sixth search, if I’m not mistaken).
Steven’s lawyers questioned why Steven didn’t use the compactor in the junkyard to dispose of the RAV4 and how he would be stupid enough to leave Teresa’s bones lying around on his property.
The lawyers also questioned how little of Steven’s blood was found inside the RAV4, especially when they found a vial of Steven’s blood collected from his previous conviction that looked like a hypodermic needle had punctured it. This was possibly disproven by the prosecution when analysis proved that there was no EDTA (a preservative added to blood samples to prevent coagulation) in the sample.
Brendan Dassey’s confession was also thrown into question, thanks to the coercive tactics his interrogators used and Dassey’s intellectual and developmental disabilities (he scored in the seventies on an IQ test), which the defense argued made him highly impressionable.
Interim and Reactions
I’ll admit that I was fully convinced that Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey had been framed by the last few episodes of the first season. However, as I looked at some other articles about the incident, I learned about certain troubling facts of Avery’s past that the miniseries’ directors, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, had conveniently left out.
They did talk about some morally questionable things Steven had done before his 1985 conviction. For example, in January of that year, he ran his first cousin off the road and threatened her with a gun after she accused him of masturbating in her direction. They also brought up an incident from 1982 where Avery and a few friends horrifically murdered a cat by pouring gasoline over it and dropping it on a fire (which the documentary frames as an accident) and his burglary of a bar the year before. Avery dismisses it in the first episode by saying that he “was young and stupid and hanging out with the wrong people.”
Somewhat less defensible is the fact that Steven wrote letters to his first wife threatening to murder her, especially when she told Steven she wanted a divorce. He is also alleged to have told another prisoner that he planned to create a torture chamber with which to spirit away female victims. He even bought handcuffs and leg irons shortly before Teresa’s murder, which he claimed was for his then-girlfriend Jodi Stachowski. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Stachowski (who was featured in the first season) later claimed that Steven threatened to kill her if she said anything that made him look bad and had been physically abusive in the past.
Not even members of his own family were allegedly safe from Avery’s depredations. A female relative claimed that Avery had raped her in 2004 and threatened to kill her family if she told anyone. Also, Brendan Dassey later claimed that Steven had touched him in ways that made him uncomfortable, so there’s that too.
That being said, that still doesn’t mean the prosecution is totally innocent either. There are clearly several holes in their arguments. For instance, Dassey originally claimed that Teresa had been murdered in Avery’s bedroom, despite there being no blood anywhere in the room. Their alternate theory that Teresa was murdered in Avery’s garage is also questioned by his attorneys, who question how Avery could have been thorough enough to scrub all of her DNA from the garage and the junk inside and still not think to dispose of her bones. On top of all that, the Manitowoc County sheriff’s department clearly had a conflict of interest in involving themselves in Avery’s case (so much so that his trial took place in neighboring Calumet County). Yet, they were the ones who searched Avery’s property and found all the evidence the prosecution used.
The second season, released in December of 2018, mainly follows Kathleen Zellner, an attorney specializing in wrongful convictions, as she tries to build a case for Avery’s innocence. At the same time, we follow Brendan Dassey’s new attorneys as they battle for appeals all the way to the Seventh Circuit and the Supreme Court.
All the while, Zellner digs up new inconsistencies in the prosecution’s evidence, including but not limited to:
The idea that the police did not take Steven’s blood from the vial that his attorneys originally found but from Avery’s bathroom sink after he bled into it from a cut on his middle finger (possibly supported by marks from a crowbar on Avery’s front door).
Zellner also managed to gain access to a bullet found in Avery’s garage that allegedly had Teresa’s D.N.A. on it, arguing that if Avery had fired it through Halbach’s skull as the prosecution claimed, there should be bone fragments embedded in it. Instead, forensic investigators only find wood fragments and a waxy substance that Zellner suspects to be Halbach’s lip balm (thus suggesting where Teresa’s D.N.A. came from).
Zellner learned of a truck driver who claimed to have seen the RAV4 in a location away from the Avery property before it was discovered in the junkyard. Unfortunately, the first officer he told of this was Andrew Colborn, the officer accused in the first season of being one of the masterminds behind Avery’s framing, and thus nothing came of it.
Zellner also interviews Debra Kakatsch, the Manitowoc County coroner at the time, who was not only prevented from investigating the alleged site of Halbach’s murder but was also prevented from testifying at the trial and even quit her job a few months later as she no longer felt safe.
The most shocking new evidence that Zellner uncovers is Bobby Dassey’s internet history. Bobby (Brendan’s brother) is revealed to have a morbid interest in violent pornography (some involving children). Zellner even claims that several of the subjects of the images Bobby searched even looked like Teresa Halbach. The same motorist who claims to have seen the RAV4 off the Avery junkyard also texted his friend Scott Tadych (Brendan Dassey’s stepfather) about it, asking to be put in touch with Dassey’s attorneys. Nothing came of it.
There are many reasons to criticize the Manitowoc County police for letting their obvious biases color their view of this case, as I’ve hopefully demonstrated above. However, that doesn’t mean I’m totally convinced that Steven Avery is innocent of Teresa Halbach’s murder, especially in light of his previous history of violence against women. True, it is doubtful that the murder occurred either in Avery’s bedroom or garage. But, even with the alternate scenario that Zellner lays out in the final few episodes, I see no reason why Steven couldn’t still have been involved as well.
Even if it seems like one hell of a coincidence that Avery’s second conviction came right when he was trying to hold the sheriff’s department accountable for its previous foul-up, that doesn’t seem so improbable when you remember that there is a reason American police jokingly refer to prisons as “crime colleges.” Allow me to reiterate this Pyotr Kropotkin quote from my essay on anarchism:
Have not prisons-which kill at will and force of character in men, which enclose within their walls more vices than are met with than in any spot on the globe-always been the universities of crime? Is not the court of the tribunal a school of ferocity?
Pyotr Kropotkin, Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Model
If you combine the horror of American prisons with Avery’s previous violent tendencies, you can probably see why I and many others have a nagging suspicion that Zellner and Steven’s loved ones might be barking up the wrong tree.
However, I am absolutely not convinced that Brendan Dassey had anything to do with the crime. Given his limited intelligence and lack of a criminal record before his fateful interviews, plus the fact that that interview is literally the only evidence connecting him to Halbach’s death, I feel extremely confident in stating my opinion that Dassey is innocent. If you think I’m being overconfident, allow me to point you to another Netflix Original true-crime documentary series called The Confession Tapes, which details the numerous coercive techniques police can use to obtain false confessions. When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s Netflix Original docudrama about the Central Park Five, also provides a good case study on false confessions.
The date was December 28th, 1922. A group of over 2,000 delegates from all over the former Tsarist empire of Russia gathered in Moscow to consolidate the new socialist republic they had fought so hard for over the last five years. Two days later, from the stage of Bolshoi Theatre, they presented to the Russian people the Treaty on the Creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Thus began the first true socialist nation in the history of the world.
But the country’s birth was not without strong labor pains. Indeed, the three biggest names associated with the advent of the Soviet Union-Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky- all had very different ideas for structuring the new government and how best to continue the worldwide socialist uprising they started. In this entry of “The Complete Noob’s Guide to the Left,” we’ll examine the philosophies of these three men to see how the future of socialism may have progressed had either one may have done things differently, as well as how Russia fared when Stalin became the victor.
Part 1: Lenin vs. Stalin
Lenin had already been in poor health for about a year before the December 30th declaration. He had been showing signs of hyperacusis, insomnia, and headaches that were so bad that he tried to get his wife and sister to purchase potassium cyanide so he could kill himself. To this day, no one is exactly sure what was wrong with him; theories include neurasthenia, cerebral atherosclerosis, and even syphilis.
In any case, Lenin’s poor health worsened significantly when he suffered a stroke in May of 1922. He had largely recovered by July but then suffered another stroke in December. It has been reported that this second stroke was caused by an argument with secret police chief and Stalin loyalist Feliks Dzerzhinsky over a crackdown in the Caucasus region. Another Stalin loyalist, Sergo Ordzhonikidze, had been sent into Stalin’s homeland of Georgia to quell protest movements against the “autonomization model” that Stalin advocated for. Lenin was angry that Dzerzhinsky had exonerated Ordzhonikidze for any wrongdoing, but the stroke left him unable to do anything about it.
Perhaps I should explain what this “autonomization model” is. Autonomization was Stalin’s proposed solution to the problem of what relationship the former states of the Russian Empire would have with the Bolshevik ruling class in Moscow. He offered to incorporate the Russian regional republics into the new Soviet Federation, with the ethnic minorities of each respective region allowed autonomy within the boundaries of Soviet law. Many republics protested this approach, especially Ukraine, Belarus, and the Caucasian states of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.
Lenin sided with the regional republics, arguing that Stalin was pursuing an imperialistic goal. Remember that Lenin’s principal innovation in Marxist thought was combatting the new capitalist model of imperialism, which Marx had failed to foresee. He was worried that autonomization would undermine the Soviet Union’s credibility as the vanguard of the worldwide socialist revolution. The regional republics’ right to self-rule must be preserved, he argued.
Stalin and Lenin managed to reach a compromise before Lenin’s second stroke. Stalin, aware of how powerful Lenin still was within the Bolshevik Party system, agreed to Lenin’s terms, allowing the new socialist republic to come into being as the USSR on December 30th. After the second stroke, however, Stalin quickly set about limiting Lenin’s activities under the pretense of not exacerbating Lenin’s poor health.
But Lenin wasn’t finished with Stalin. He wrote letters protesting against Stalin’s power grabs throughout 1923, even after suffering a third stroke in March. His anti-Stalin complaints became especially vociferous after Stalin insulted his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, when she refused to let him see an ailing Lenin in his bedroom.
The biggest one was “Lenin’s Testament,” which he finished in January of that year, which notably argued for the removal of Stalin from the position of general secretary in favor of Leon Trotsky. He also argued that the centralization of the new socialist government functions should be limited solely to defense and international relations to keep thuggish personalities like Stalin from taking advantage.
Sadly, after Lenin finally passed away on January 21st, 1924, at the age of 53, Stalin managed to persuade the other party leaders to ignore these suggestions. Of course, one must wonder what would have become of the Soviet Union if Trotsky had taken power.
Part 2: Stalin vs. Trotsky
I think the best way I’ve heard to explain the differences in Leninism, Stalinism, and Trotskyism comes from this Quora article by historian Cameron Greene: Stalinism was the conservative side of Bolshevism, Leninism the moderate/centrist side, and Trotskyism the radical side.
Stalin advocated the “socialism in one country” policy, which argued that Russia should not focus on leading socialist revolutions in other countries until it has perfected socialism in the Russian state. He also pursued rapid industrialization and collectivization of agriculture, intensification of class conflict (especially with kulaks or property-owning peasants), a one-party totalitarian police state to crush counter-revolutionary movements, and subordination of socialist movements across the globe to the interests of the Soviet vanguard. Stalin was also willing to seek the advice of private enterprises like the Ford Motor Company to help the Soviet Union get its state-owned enterprises off the ground.
On the other hand, Trotsky argued for a global socialist revolution in multiple countries to overwhelm the international capitalist order more quickly. He also argued that the bureaucratic police state that Stalin was developing was antithetical to the working class self-determination and mass democracy that Marx advocated for. He was also a harsh critic of Stalin’s willingness to cooperate with capitalists to help jump-start Soviet industrialization, as he was determined not to negotiate with capitalist nations.
Unsurprisingly, Stalin did not take kindly to this criticism. After Lenin’s death, Stalin and the Politburo gradually stripped Trotsky of his government positions until he was formally exiled from the Soviet Union in February 1929. He had been living in Alma-Ata (now Almaty, Kazakhstan) for a year at that point. He spent the rest of his life dodging assassination attempts as he traveled the world railing against Stalin’s betrayal of the socialist revolution, even forming the Fourth International in France in 1938. Stalin’s assassins finally caught up with him two years later. Trotsky died at the age of 60 on August 21st, 1940, in Mexico City from brain injuries caused by the blunt end of an ice ax wielded by Ramon Mercader.
It is tempting to argue that the Soviet Union would have been a true worker’s paradise if Trotsky had come to power instead of Stalin. Let’s face it: even if his rapid industrialization did bring Russia into the modern era, Stalin was a terrible ruler by any standard. While there is still debate over whether or not the great famines of 1930-33 (the Ukrainian Holodomor being by far the most infamous) were deliberately engineered by Stalin or whether it was an unintended side effect of rapid collectivization, there is no question that it is a large black stain on his character. The dekulakization program, which took place around the same time and may have led to over half a million deaths, is a lot less excusable, as is the Great Purge of Stalin’s political enemies in 1937, which some estimate killed over a million. His religious persecutions and the roughly 1.6 million who died in the gulags should also not be dismissed.
That being said, however, there isn’t much reason to believe that Trotsky would have been any less of a dictator. Okay, that is kind of a lie. He did believe that the Soviet Union should be more of a union of worker’s councils, which does appeal to my personal preference for anarcho-communism (even if all the communes would still have been required to report to Moscow). However, as the YouTube channel Alternate History Hub explains in their video “What If Stalin Never Came to Power,” Trotsky wasn’t any less bloodthirsty than Stalin. Indeed, Stalin’s rapid industrialization ideas in his Five-Year Plans were actually stolen from Trotsky. The only difference was that Trotsky wanted to share the profits with all Russian citizens, not just a privileged few. There is no reason to believe that a Trotskyist Russia would have avoided the famines and purges that plagued Stalin’s Russia.
In addition, Trotsky would have had a whole nation at his disposal to pursue his goal of a worldwide socialist revolution. Indeed, given that Trotsky was of Jewish heritage, it is highly likely that Trotsky would have been a lot tougher on Nazi Germany than Stalin was. Of course, this could have backfired on the Soviets, as this might have led to fascists being seen as martyrs to the anti-communist cause and leading to the Soviet Union being the main Allied antagonist of World War II instead of the Axis Powers. Then again, it may also have led to socialism gaining a solid foothold in many more countries than just Cuba, Vietnam, and others. Or maybe I’m just being too optimistic.
Some fellow socialists have gone further, arguing that Bolshevism itself was its own worst enemy, that Soviet Russia was doomed to an oppressive dictatorship no matter which leader it ultimately chose. For instance, the October 1973 issue of The Socialist Standard (the official magazine of the Socialist Party of Great Britain) includes an article titled “Trotskyism, Stalinism: What’s the Difference,” where the author argues that Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and all of the other Bolsheviks were operating off a grievous misinterpretation of Marx. He contrasts Lenin’s view that “on its own, the working class cannot go beyond the level of trade union consciousness” with Marx and Engel’s view that “the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority.” He also points to how Trotsky handled the Kronstadt rebellion as proof that he was no better than Stalin.
The Kronstadt rebellion was one of the most prominent left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks. Thousands of Soviet sailors, soldiers, and civilians seized control of the port city on the island of Kotlin near St. Petersburg for sixteen days in March of 1921. The rebels were disillusioned by the direction of the Bolshevik government. They demanded more civil rights and economic freedom for the working class, that more libertarian socialist groups receive government representation, and that the bureaucratic systems implemented by the Bolsheviks be dismantled. The Bolshevik party leaders, Trotsky included, dismissed their rebellion as a capitalist false flag and invaded the island on March 18th, slaughtering thousands. This move was widely criticized even by contemporary leftists, perhaps most notably Emma Goldman in her essay “Trotsky Protests Too Much.”
In the end, if you ask my opinion, the Bolsheviks ended up falling prey to the same trap that the Founding Fathers of the United States fell into when they created the United States; they were not confident enough in the decision-making capabilities of the working class to allow them to exercise true democracy. True, the Bolsheviks had a leg up on the Founders in that half of them weren’t slave owners, but it’s hard for me to argue that they were any more altruistic than the Founders in the end, given how little tolerance they gave towards leftist ideologies that differed from their own.
However, that leads me to think about the other factions of the Russian socialist movement. Indeed, the Bolsheviks were only one of three main factions in the Russian revolution. So join me on the next episode, where I compare and contrast the Bolsheviks with the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries. See you then!
Hello again, beautiful watchers! I figured that since I have ended a somewhat ongoing series on this blog recently, it was time that I give some more updates on what’s going on on this site in the future.
First of all, many of the future blog ideas I mentioned in my New Year’s update post are still things I’m interested in. The first one I tend to tackle is the next “Noob’s Guide to the Left” entry, where I plan to compare and contrast Stalinism and Trotskyism to better understand their place in both Russian and communist history. I’m also still interested in examining myths surrounding the 2020 election and the Capitol insurrection (as well as “ancient aliens” myths), and I’ve also got some new ideas for “P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist.”
As for the desire to talk more about animation, I still haven’t decided how to tackle that subject on this blog. I do have some ideas, but I think I’d prefer to sleep on them a bit more before I fully commit to them. I also want to expand upon some spiritual traditions I mentioned in the post I wrote a while back about my religious beliefs, particularly ones involved in Western esotericism, as that is one of the special interests that my autistic brain is focused on at the moment and also because of the significant influence they have on The Divine Conspiracy.
Speaking of which, that is another significant change that will occur on this blog. You see, with all of the nonfiction writing I’ve been doing on PrestonPosits, I’ve found I have very little time for my fiction writing endeavors on DeviantArt, including The Divine Conspiracy. I won’t deny that my insecurities as a writer have played a part in that as well. However, I figured it was time to commit to the project much more concretely. And so I’ve decided that from now on, I’ve decided that I will be devoting every other writing day solely to DeviantArt.
This is undoubtedly going to affect my upload rate on PrestonPosits. My upload rate is already slow because I’m working three out of every seven days of the week, and I never have the energy to write after I get home every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On the other hand, I often go months without uploading on DeviantArt, which I imagine must be immensely annoying for my watchers on that site. Unfortunately, this is the best compromise I can come up with at the moment. This means that I’ll be working on the next Divine Conspiracy story this Thursday, then PrestonPosits on Saturday, Divine Conspiracy on Sunday, then PrestonPosits next Tuesday, and so on.
This likely means that I won’t be doing a large birthday retrospective this May like the one I did last year on Watership Down. I do have an idea for a smaller retrospective on a T.V. series that adapted a certain book series I’m a huge fan of (rather poorly, in my opinion), but I’d prefer to keep that a secret for now.
My biggest focus for the near future is seeing what happens when the Banks family decides to go toe-to-toe with the supernatural forces of the Bridgewater Triangle. Makes sure to tune in to my DeviantArt account to see how that turns out! I hope you’ll see me there, friends!