"The worse it gets, the better it is" is a general principle underlying much terrorism and, in the past, revolutionary violence. The phrase is usually associated with Vladimir Lenin, who you may remember from such bloodbaths as the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War. Despite the association with Lenin, I'm not sure whether he originated it, and the idea behind it was held by Marxist and anarchist terrorists who existed in Russia before him. Today, the main exponent of this lovely worldview is al-Qaeda.

This tagline has immense appeal to individuals or groups who are cheesed off with reality and want to build a utopia. Our friends al-Qaeda might just seem like they're randomly killing people, but in fact their stated end-goal is to turn the whole world into an Islamic utopia; just like the Communist goal of bringing about the post-capitalist wonderland. Bin Laden sat in a camp in Afghanistan and Lenin on his country estate in Russia and both essentially formulated the following master plan:

Phase one: Violence.
Phase two: ????
Phase three: Utopia.

"The worse it gets, the better it is" represents this plan. They figured that by destroying a political or social system they would inevitably bring about the triumph of their own ideas - because the laws of class struggle / will of Allah decreed it - and so all they had to do was make things really, really bad for the enemy society by inflicting violence on it. But the rather limited remit of this phrase is its downfall; that question mark in phase two inevitably catches advocates of this doctrine out, because violence cannot build anything, only destroy.

You can see this most recently by the actions of Al Qaeda in Iraq, a group which was initially led by a Jordanian and which according to U.S. intelligence is still directed by foreigners - and given that it has concerned itself mainly with indiscriminately killing Iraqis, we have little reason to think they are telling porkie pies. AIQ busied itself with trying to incite sectarian violence by bombing high-profile Shi'a events and shrines - including the infamous al-Aksari mosque bombing, which is generally recognized as the event which tipped Iraq over the precipice into near civil war.

It's a standard al-Qaeda trick. Build up hatred between various sectarian groups, wait for everything to go south in a big spiral of violence, and then build the Islamic utopia on the ruins. When your plans are so out of kilter with reality - in this case, the return to a form of society last known to have existed at the time of the Prophet Muhammed - there's not really much you can do but destroy. So the worse it gets - the more the society you're trying to revolutionize gets destroyed and consumed by violence - the better it is. And everyone else in Iraq eventually got so annoyed with this attitude that AIQ has for now been seemingly banished by an alliance of Sunni tribal groups and U.S. forces. That's the problem with being an insane minority trying to impose yourself on everyone else through force of arms: eventually the rest of reality is going to be strong enough to overcome you, which is why you wanted to weaken reality by making it fight with itself in the first place.

Essentially the same process happened to the Communists in Russia. After the October Revolution they welcomed the Russian Civil War as an attempt to remake Russian society in an orgy of violence; but they soon discovered that when you're the guy ostensibly in charge, then the worse it gets, the worse it is. And soon the retreat into the New Economic Policy was born. Because Marxist theory isn't actually true, just inflicting massive violence on a capitalist society won't lead to a Communist utopia. Marx said that violence was the midwife of history, which may be the case: but he was wrong to assume he knew the nature of the baby. Should have paid more attention to "phase two".

This all had rather tragic consequences for Communists in Germany when the Nazis came to power. Unbelievably, it was their conviction that the triumph of the Nazi Party was in fact nothing less than a triumph for Communism: the situation had got so bad with the Nazi rise to power that surely the Communist utopia was only just around the corner! The complete lack of political sense displayed in this judgement again shows the alienation from common sense which has occurred in anyone uttering this phrase, and it led to the death of a great many Communists who should have fled the country. Instead, they remained, believing anything so bad as the Nazi regime would collapse imminently; but the Nazis were one of the few movements who ever managed to make the leap from merely destroying to actually building, even if what they built was monstrous.

Finally, it ought to be mentioned that some critics believed the United States was following a policy of 'the worse it gets, the better it is' in Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The logic behind this was apparently that a nice healthy bout of chaos and civil violence would level the playing field for the operation of market economics and allow administration to start from scratch. Sadly, we can't rule out the possibility that this was actually what ran through the minds of some of those officials - many only in their twenties - who initially staffed the Coalition Provisional Authority and oversaw that first descent into chaos. If it was, let's hope that this doctrine can now finally be put to rest.

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