A vicious little merchant banker

by Chris Bertram on May 7, 2008

The merchant banker Oliver Kamm has a vicious little post today attacking the memory of the late Ralph Miliband for a paper he published in 1980. Miliband, the father of the current British foreign secretary, was, of course, a Marxist theoretician and a member of the British new left for much of his life. As a member of that left, he authored many papers for journals like the New Left Review and Socialist Register. And again, as a member of that new left, he had an ambivalent relationship to the Soviet bloc. On the one hand he lamented the lack of democracy in those countries; on the other he thought they had achieved various social gains. Well he was (largely) wrong about the latter, but 1980 is a long time ago, and, back then he wasn’t alone in that false belief. In fact, he shared it with people for whom Kamm now declares his admiration and support and who then wrote for those same journals. The difference is, of course, that they are alive and he is dead. Miliband cannot reconsider.

Kamm’s post attacks Miliband’s paper “Military Intervention and Socialist Internationalism” (Socialist Register, 1980 ) on the grounds that he doesn’t think the crimes of Pol Pot were sufficient to justify the Vietnamese invasion. Reading the paper today, it has an odd and stilted feel: Miliband is wrestling with a set of issues and problems that seem deeply alien today. I think Miliband was wrong about that case, and badly so. But I presume (and hope) that he didn’t appreciate how horrific the Pol Pot regime had been, or didn’t believe all the reports. What the casual reader wouldn’t glean from reading Kamm’s nasty little post, though, is that the substance of Miliband’s article was an attack on the idea that the socialist ideal should be advanced by “socialist” states invading other countries. In other words, it was principally an attack on the idea that socialists should support the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. Miliband argues, correctly, that all that resulted from such interventions was alienation from the socialist cause, and the installation of weak puppet regimes without popular legitimacy. You’d never gather that from reading Kamm’s blog, though. He presents Miliband’s attack on Soviet tankism as an apologia for massacre. That wasn’t how it would have been read at the time. In fact, it isn’t how a fair-minded person would read it now.

{ 317 comments }

1

Hektor Bim 05.07.08 at 12:11 pm

Something doesn’t quite make sense here. Both Cambodia and Vietnam were in some sense, socialist countries, just as Hungary and Czechoslovakia were.

So would you interpret Miliband as arguing that invasions of socialist countries by other socialist countries sours people on the socialist brand? Seems pretty facile and self-evident. Surely there is more to the essay.

2

cjcjc 05.07.08 at 12:38 pm

back then he wasn’t alone in that false belief

Phew – that’s OK then.

The more such people are revealed to be the complete idiots they clearly were – in some cases still are – the better.

3

christian h. 05.07.08 at 12:47 pm

I don’t think the belief that East bloc state capitalism advanced various social causes was mistaken at all (the fact that these advances have now been lost in the private capitalist restoration proves nothing) – however, I never believed these advances somehow canceled out the essentially oppressive nature of Stalinism, and I doubt Miliband (who must be rotating in his grave over having such a Blairist fop for a son) did either.

The idiot here is cjcjc, (and Kamm, but then we all knew that Kamm is an idiot).

4

Michael Dietz 05.07.08 at 12:54 pm

The more such people are revealed to be the complete idiots they clearly were – in some cases still are – the better.

To cjcjc: gonna apply that equally to all those best-and-brightest types who pimped for the Iraq war?

5

Barry 05.07.08 at 12:57 pm

I posted a link to this article on Kamm’s website. For good or for ill.

6

jay bee 05.07.08 at 1:02 pm

“New Left” not to be confused with “New Labour”

While Kamm’s post is as a deliberate misrepresentation, wasn’t 1980 was far too late to be merely “lamenting the lack of democracy” of the Soviet bloc.

Milliband’s reasoning was just as odd and stilted even in 1980 but it does serve to remind me of my undergraduate course on international law and the joys of Tunkin, Socialist International Law and the Brezhnev Doctrine as jus cogens. What larks eh, Pip!

7

Chris Dornan 05.07.08 at 1:06 pm

Kamn is pushing the same tired old line about how important it is to keep war as a option for achieving our aims in order to prevent Pol Pot and the Tutsis from carrying out their dastardly acts (and they were). The problem is that we never will. We will prefer to put Poll Pot in the UN seat when it suits (as we did). Kamn and co want to go to war and capitalise on our military dominance in securing our own interests.

Kamn is no doubt keen to retrospectively justify holocausts we have recently precipitated through just such wars.

Indeed he may be especially keen justify those that may have loudly advocated such wars.

It might be better to just leave him to babble away to himself on some corner of Cif rather than further indulging him.

8

cjcjc 05.07.08 at 1:15 pm

gonna apply that equally to all those best-and-brightest types who pimped for the Iraq war?

Fine by me. Though I’m not sure what you mean by “pimped”.

What precisely were these social causes which communism – oh, sorry, “state capitalism” – advanced so much more successfully than western democracies?

I seem to recall a number of people – most of whom the “new left” derided – who were able to see the Soviet regime exactly as it was. No ambivalence.

9

Bob B 05.07.08 at 1:16 pm

“1980 is a long time ago, and, back then he wasn’t alone in that false belief”

C’mon. At a secret session of the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communit Party in 1956, Khrushchev uncovered something of the extent of Stalin’s despotism.

The text of the speech was leaked and appeared shortly after in translation in Britain in The Observer. Among the facts Khrushchev unveiled were that in 1937 and 1938, 98 out of the 139 members of the Central Committee were shot on Stalin’s orders – they were all dedicated Communist Party members by definition and included Bukharin, who was later exonerated and rehabilitated by Gorbachev:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/25/newsid_2703000/2703581.stm

Besides Bukharin, another renown Russian economist, Kondratiev, also disappeared in the purges.

However, there was nothing secret about the article by Stalin which appeared in Pravada on 29 December 1929: “Concerning questions of agrarian policy in the USSR”. Among Stalin’s proposals for policies to resolve the (virtually perennial) crisis in Soviet agriculture was this passage:

“we have passed from the policy of restricting the exploiting tendencies of the kulaks to the policy of eliminating the kulaks as a class. It means that we have carried out, and are continuing to carry out, one of the decisive turns in our whole policy.”
http://www.marx2mao.com/Stalin/QAP29.html

Note the prescription of killing by category: “eliminating the kulaks as a class”. The downstream outcome was the 1932-3 famine in the Ukraine (and Belarus). Published estimates of the numbers who died as the result of this orchestrated famine appear to extend from about 4 millions up to 10 millions. A Google search on “Ukraine famine” will quickly yield some.

It is difficult to believe that Miliband, an academic at the LSE, wasn’t aware of all this when many other academics were.

10

Jimmy Doyle 05.07.08 at 1:24 pm

What precisely were these social causes which communism – oh, sorry, “state capitalism” – advanced so much more successfully than western democracies?

cjcjc needs to watch the coda to the brilliant The Lives of Others

11

abb1 05.07.08 at 1:30 pm

But stalinism was only a part of it, what – 20-25 years? They say that America is an idea, not a country – and so was the USSR. And Bob, “eliminating the kulaks as a class” clearly is not the same as “eliminating the kulaks”.

12

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 1:31 pm

“cjcjc needs to watch the coda to the brilliant The Lives of Others”

Anyone who saw ‘The Lives of Others’ as a celebration of the social gains of communism is in a state of great confusion.

13

Exile 05.07.08 at 1:32 pm

Yes, and to use an essay that was written almost 30 years ago to attack a man who is now dead is something that only Gimlet would think to do.

On his actual posting, the short-arsed little fucker managed to get two things wrong – they relate to Tanzania and Vietnam and his description of their wars as “interventions”. Actually they weren’t – Tanzania was attacked by Uganda, a country that then tried to annex a chunk of Tanzanian territory. Vietnam suffered any number of attacks before hitting back after one of them.

So neither Vietnam nor Tanzania’s positions were in any way analogous with that of the Americans in Iraq. Gimlet probably didn’t know that, which is why he used the word.

http://www.the-exile.info/search/label/Gimlet

14

Maurice Meilleur 05.07.08 at 1:38 pm

Strawman, meet John Meredith. John Meredith, meet strawman.

15

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 1:42 pm

“And Bob, “eliminating the kulaks as a class” clearly is not the same as “eliminating the kulaks”.”

But in fact it was the same thing. And the smallest interest in Stalinism would have led you to strongly suspect that it was.

16

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 1:44 pm

“Strawman, meet John Meredith. John Meredith, meet strawman.”

Hang on, I’m not the one who brought it up. Your point is misdirected.

17

engels 05.07.08 at 1:44 pm

Maurice: I think they have already met. In fact, they are on such friendly terms that you rarely see one without the other.

cjcjc: you’re a a complete idiot.

18

ajay 05.07.08 at 1:45 pm

What precisely were these social causes which communism – oh, sorry, “state capitalism” – advanced so much more successfully than western democracies?

One could argue – one could certainly have argued in 1980 – that they included literacy, universal health care, universal social security, racial tolerance, and controlling violent crime…

19

John Emerson 05.07.08 at 1:50 pm

As I recall the US government opposed the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, and joined China to support Cambodia in the UN and diplomatically.

No documentation or links, but that’s my memory.

20

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 1:53 pm

“One could argue – one could certainly have argued in 1980 – that they included literacy, universal health care, universal social security, racial tolerance, and controlling violent crime”

You could argue these things but your case would have been no stronger in 1980 than now. The ‘at least the trains run on time’ defence of oppressive states was as laughable then as now and it was clearly evident to those of us who were not determined to ignore the evidence for ideological reasons that citizens of democracies in Europe and the US were at least the equal of the USSR in terms of literacy, health etc, etc and far outstripped them in terms of wealth and freedom (and what is the point of being great at reading if the state won’t let you read anything that interests you?), all achieved without 20 million or so deaths.

21

abb1 05.07.08 at 1:53 pm

But in fact it was the same thing

No it wasn’t. A vast majority of them was deported, that’s not elimination of individuals.

But – come on – the other side of this coin is a typical discussion of slavery and racial discrimination in the US – does it cancel everything else, does it forever discredit the whole idea of the US of A?

Well, does it?

22

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 1:54 pm

“No it wasn’t. A vast majority of them was deported, that’s not elimination of individuals.”

You know as well as I do that ‘deportation’ meant death for thousands and the complete destitution and immiseration of thousands more. I don’t see the point of arguing the toss about this.

23

Bob B 05.07.08 at 1:55 pm

“’eliminating the kulaks as a class’ clearly is not the same as ‘eliminating the kulaks’.”

Who seriously believes that the Cheka/NKVD/KGB were concerned with such fine semantic distinctions.

For a 20th century atrocities league table, try this:
http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/20TH.HTM

24

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 1:57 pm

“But – come on – the other side of this coin is a typical discussion of slavery and racial discrimination in the US – does it cancel everything else, does it forever discredit the whole idea of the US of A?”

No, because the slave-owning states were overthrown by war and a new settlement was arrived at. In the USSR the regime continued as Lenin and Stalin created it until it collapsed under the weight of its own crimes.

25

P O'Neill 05.07.08 at 1:57 pm

The trouble is that Miliband is arguing against what now looks likes a very forced construct i.e. the idea that invasions are good when carried out by countries styling themselves as socialist. Which maybe at the time seemed like a brave argument, but now lends itself to the chop-shop presentation that Kamm is doing.

In fairness to him, it did take a while for the Tanzanian invasion of Uganda to produce a positive outcome.

26

Joel 05.07.08 at 1:58 pm

John Emerson is correct on US support for the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia after the Vietnamese invasion.

27

Kevin Donoghue 05.07.08 at 2:03 pm

Chris,

The title of your post is unfair to merchant bankers of modest stature. Kamm is not their fault. Please consider changing it to A Nasty Smirking Git or something like that.

28

engels 05.07.08 at 2:10 pm

A shining wit?

29

roger 05.07.08 at 2:14 pm

The Soviet block didn’t benefit Russian workers very well, but it sure as hell benefited the West’s workers – it was the loaded gun pointed at the head of the plutocracy that forced, for instance, the U.S. government to deal seriously with civil rights, dismantling the legal structure of America’s apartheid regime in the South, limited the success of reactionaries in destroying the strength of unions (which was the biggest cause of the rightwing pigs after WWII), and making it impossible to go back to prewar levels of inequality. Since the Soviet Union fell, the bargaining power of labor across the world has also fallen, resulting in third world levels of inequality in the U.S. – for instance – and the entrenchment of an ever more anti-democratic, ever more corrupt, ever more aggressive oligarchy. Without an international labor movement that can challenge international Capital, these trends will continue.

As for Kamm, vicious doesn’t really describe the guy. Twittish is more like it. His is the very mug of Nu Labour as it collapses – all of Tony Blair’s unctuousness, none of Blair’s charm. A Uriah Heep figure for our time.

30

abb1 05.07.08 at 2:14 pm

John Meredith #20: In the USSR the regime continued as Lenin and Stalin created it until it collapsed under the weight of its own crimes.

That is not true. Someone already mentioned the 20th Congress and Khrushchev’s denunciation and rejection of stalinism. GULAG was dismantled, many victims rehabilitated.

And that’s as long ago as the second half of the 1950s and the 60s; before the civil rights movement in the US, where in the South a person with dark skin still wasn’t allowed to use white-man’s toilet.

Sure, the experiment failed eventually, but not because of any crimes, just the lousy economic system.

31

Maurice Meilleur 05.07.08 at 2:16 pm

John (Meredith), you’re right about the euphemism of ‘eliminating the kulaks as a class’. Only someone who wanted to believe in the inherent goodness of the USSR would accept ‘as a class’ as a meaningful qualification.

But Jimmy’s point about the coda to The Lives of Others should have been obvious, if you’ve seen the film. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the DDR regime, like anything having to do with human beings, was bittersweet.

I know at close second-hand the pressure that liberal democracy put on former East Germans; I was an exchange student to Germany in 1985-86 with a family, the mother of which had two brothers who were allowed to emigrate from East Germany with their families and stayed with us while they got their lives re-started. I watched that experience almost destroy one of the families.

And I visited Dresden in 1992 and got to see firsthand the number of people driving around in their brand-new Audis and Volkswagens (which they bought with the pocket-money they got from their new federal government) but who lived in 500-square-foot apartments in huge faceless complexes (when they didn’t live in crumbling townhouses in the older districts not graced with concrete and steel makeovers) and who were out of work and on the dole because they had the misfortune of being trained to work in industries whose local facilities were obsolete.

The abolition of a dictatorship is always a good thing. But the dislocation, the frustration, the disappointment, and the risks to welfare and material security that came with reunification and the integration of economies were and are real.

And the Germanies had it relatively good; there was no ‘West Russia’ or ‘West Rumania’ waiting to throw money and garlands of flowers at the newly-freed masses. Talk to a pensioner in Moscow who barely gets enough calories in the day to stay alive and watches the new mafioso barreling around the streets in their black Mercedes, or a 22-year-old woman from Suceava tricked by an offer of domestic work into concubinage in Istanbul, and you might have some small idea of why people miss what they felt was the security of the past.

32

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 2:26 pm

“That is not true. Someone already mentioned the 20th Congress and Khrushchev’s denunciation and rejection of stalinism. GULAG was dismantled, many victims rehabilitated.”

Abb1, the state apparatus continued almost unchanged despite the cutting back on murder. It was a slave state right until the end. The comparison with the US is ludicrous. What happened, do you imagine, to human rights activists in the USSR in the 1980s? You don’t have to imagine, of course, you can just find out:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrei_Sakharov

33

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 2:28 pm

“you might have some small idea of why people miss what they felt was the security of the past.”

Of course I realise that nostalgia can be a powerful and dangerous force. The fantasy of a former golden time is tempting when things are hard. But that is what it is, fantasy. Security and prosperity in the former USSR depended entirely on the goodwill of a deeply corrupt political class. And did you ever wonder how those criminal gangs formed so fast? Who do you think was running the enormous black economy before the fall of the Berlin wall?

34

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 2:31 pm

“The Soviet block didn’t benefit Russian workers very well, but it sure as hell benefited the West’s workers – it was the loaded gun pointed at the head of the plutocracy that forced, for instance, the U.S. government to deal seriously with civil rights”

Tosh. The US government had to deal seriously with the civil right movement because the civil rights movement applied such huge and constant pressure. The idea that moral pressure was exerted from the USSR is daft and insulting to the brave people who really did force the changes.

35

abb1 05.07.08 at 2:33 pm

You know as well as I do that ‘deportation’ meant death for thousands and the complete destitution and immiseration of thousands more.

That is not true. ‘Deportation’ meant ‘relocation’. Many of those deported ended up living quite well.

I personally know a number of ethnic Germans whose parents or grandparents were deported to Kazakhstan. They lived there, didn’t suffer at all. In the 90s they moved to Germany and now a fair number of them (especially the older people) are unhappy, disillusioned, disappointed, and are moving back to Kazakhstan.

36

Walt 05.07.08 at 2:35 pm

It does seem odd that Miliband gets condemnation for opposing the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, while the entire American foreign policy establishment gets off the hook.

37

abb1 05.07.08 at 2:37 pm

What happened, do you imagine, to human rights activists in the USSR in the 1980s?

Andrei Sakharov was lucky. What happened to civil rights activists in the US in the 1960 and 70? Bullet in the head, usually.

38

roger 05.07.08 at 2:40 pm

Meredith, obviously you know nothing at all about the history of the civil rights movement or the Cold War. But good try with that “brave people” crack. Some of those brave people were communists, one of the first groups to organize for civil rights in the South. If you don’t believe me, re-read the speeches of your hero, Ronald Reagan.

There’s simply no question that the U.S. government took all its steps – from Truman’s desegregation of the military to Johnson’s work for the Civil Rights bills of 1965 – with one eye on world opinion, and in particular, on the real fear that the Soviet’s would use endemic American racism to their advantage in the Cold War struggle.

However, nice imitation of Kamm’s smug, insufferable style. Sort of the Tory Humpty Dumpty approach.

39

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 2:41 pm

“Andrei Sakharov was lucky. What happened to civil rights activists in the US in the 1960 and 70? Bullet in the head, usually.”

But I bet he didn’t feel lucky. Do you consider Aung San Suu Kyi lucky too?

“What happened to civil rights activists in the US in the 1960 and 70? Bullet in the head, usually.”

And government oppositionists in the USSR?

40

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 2:44 pm

“It does seem odd that Miliband gets condemnation for opposing the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, while the entire American foreign policy establishment gets off the hook.”

I don’t really see that anyone gets off the hook, it’s just that the subject is Miliband.

41

Tim Worstall 05.07.08 at 2:45 pm

“One could argue – one could certainly have argued in 1980 – that they included literacy, universal health care, universal social security, racial tolerance, and controlling violent crime…”

Racial tolerance? Seriously? In a country where your nationality as “Jew” was recorded in your internal passport? (Yes, it did cause a lot of problems for a friend in hte Breznev years….although I will admit that I only met him in the Yeltsin ones.)

And of course the other things didn’t get better between 1917 and 1980 in countries that didn’t enjoy state capitalism?

42

David Weman 05.07.08 at 2:45 pm

Just as the presence of various leninists and other unpleasant types of leftists are convenient for people like Kamm, people like Kamm is convenient the genuinely indecent leftists, and their apologists.

The difference is that the leftists are mostly harmless, at least for the foreseeable future, and people like Kamm (as a class, he personally isn’t very important) isn’t.

43

Maurice Meilleur 05.07.08 at 2:48 pm

John, I’ll give you credit for moving away from the position that any observation that the transition from command-economy authoritarianism to capitalist liberal democracy was hard is tantamount to a ‘celebration of the social gains of communism’.

But not too much credit. The ‘fantasies’ that motivate recrudescent communist and nationalist movements in the former East bloc aren’t pulling their ideas and appeals out of thin air. Even a change from a worse alternative to a better one means often enough sacrificing some values–in this case, a minimal level of social predictability and material security for a large number of citizens–that are not subsumed in the values for which one opts. How fragile those values were, how dependent on the ‘goodwill of a deeply corrupt political class’ they were, is more obvious to us perhaps than to those suffering under the new state of affairs. (And we at least in the US should be careful about carelessly throwing around comments about the ‘goodwill of a deeply corrupt political class’.)

Arguments of the form x is very bad; y is not x, therefore y is unqualifiedly good (or: y’s flaws aren’t worth taking seriously) are easy to remember and apply but yield stupid conclusions.

44

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 2:49 pm

“That is not true. ‘Deportation’ meant ‘relocation’. Many of those deported ended up living quite well.”

Abb1, you need to read some different accounts. Of course some people got away more lightly than others, but on the whole the deportations were deeply traumatic and deadly for thousands. Destroying a social class is rarely going to be friendly. I notice that you have changed the subject from the tens of thousands that were killed outright and we haven’t even begun to mention the ex-Kulak persecutions that executed thousands more and sent further thousands into the gulags. Why try to present this in a good light? What is the point?

45

abb1 05.07.08 at 2:51 pm

Aung San Suu Kyi – huh?

But how do you think somebody like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Hampton>Fred Hampton felt, compared to Saint Sakharov, who never suffered any physical harm whatsoever? For that matter, probably never had to skip a meal because of his anti-government activism.

46

David Weman 05.07.08 at 2:52 pm

“In fact, he shared it with people for whom Kamm now declares his admiration and support and who then wrote for those same journals.”

Nice gotcha, as long as you’re arguing with Kamm. But are the people Kamm admires (and I don’t know who they are) actually very admirable?

47

christian h. 05.07.08 at 2:52 pm

It’s a veritable anti-communist convention, I see. Some points, directed at various comments:

1. I most certainly didn’t claim that the very real social achievements of the state capitalist systems justified their repressive nature. In fact, I explicitly stated the opposite. I for one am happy that Stalinism collapsed, although I’m very unhappy about its replacement.

2. The Soviet satellites are only a tiny part of the real-existing socialist world. We have gone over this before, but only a fool could doubt that social progress in Cuba was faster and more general than in the US-supported feudal-capitalist nations of the Caribbean and Central America; or that social progress in Vietnam was superior to that in Indonesia.

3. The defenders of the US ignore, as usual, the immense violence meted out by US imperialism outside the developed world. In fact, tankism and Soviet imperialism never came close to doing the damage US imperialism did and continues to inflict. (I stand by the old slogan, “Neither Washington nor Moscow, but international Socialism.”)

4. Sneaking in claims that Stalinism was a necessary consequence of the Bolshevik revolution doesn’t make that claim correct. It most certainly wasn’t.

5. Finally, to get back on topic, if you had actually read Miliband you would know that he was very aware of the evils of Stalinism.

48

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 2:54 pm

“The ‘fantasies’ that motivate recrudescent communist and nationalist movements in the former East bloc aren’t pulling their ideas and appeals out of thin air.”

Yes they are. The stability and prosperity they claim did not exist except for a tight, privileged class. The system was not surrendered it, it collapsed because it was bankrupt

“And we at least in the US should be careful about carelessly throwing around comments about the ‘goodwill of a deeply corrupt political class’.”

That is just the sort of bogus equivalence that will always lead you astray. When did you last feel the need to be polite about the President in order to protect the life prospects of your children?

49

Righteous Bubba 05.07.08 at 2:56 pm

The relatives I just visited in the Ukraine are still telling stories about people being arbitrarily shot in the ’80s.

50

abb1 05.07.08 at 2:56 pm

John, you were arguing that – at least this is what it sounds like to me – that “eliminating as a class” meant killing all the members of this class. No matter how you slice it, this simply is not the case, not true, not even close. End of story.

51

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 2:58 pm

Abb1, your link doesn’t work but your comments about Sakharov are childish. I doubt you really imagine that house arrest by the KGB was a picnic and I am sure you really are aware that millions of others were murdered by the regime. I am mystified why you would want to offer any sort of defence of the treatment of men like Sakharov. Did a kulak say something rude about your mother or something?

52

bernard Yomtov 05.07.08 at 3:00 pm

What happened to civil rights activists in the US in the 1960 and 70? Bullet in the head, usually.

“Usually?” That’s really silly.

53

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 3:01 pm

“John, you were arguing that – at least this is what it sounds like to me – that “eliminating as a class” meant killing all the members of this class.”

No, I am arguing that it should have been obvious that this meant lots of Kulaks would be killed and tens of thousands of them were. Even Stalin could not kill every one, although if he had had 20 more years, I am sure he would have tried with Brezhnev, as ever, working hard to keep up with the old man.

54

Stephen 05.07.08 at 3:01 pm

On the specific issue that Miliband is writing about he was clearly, with the benefit of 20-20 hindisght, mistaken. The overthrow of the Khmer Rouge was a Good Thing. However the points he is making in the excerpt cited are not, in themselves, unreasonable.

War is not a panacea. The Military Intervention Fairy will not, necessarily, wave her magic wand and make the Bad People go away. If the Khmer Rouge had been a common or garden tyranny there would, after all, be a very strong case for saying the invasion was a mistake as the consequence was a civil war which lasted for eleven years. Or, as Miliband himself put it:

Like the Russians in Afghanistan, the Vietnamese have been drawn into a permanent struggle with Kampuchean guerillas, with the usual accompaniment of repression and the killing of innocent civilians. The invasion has also weakened Vietnam’s international position, and strengthened reactionary forces in the region and beyond. Here too, it does not seem unreasonable to ask ‘What kind of security is this?'”

Sound familiar? It isn’t difficult to see why Kamm might find this line of thought objectionable.

55

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 3:05 pm

“Nice gotcha, as long as you’re arguing with Kamm.”

Not really since Ralph Miliband is one of the ones whom Kamm respects, albeit with reservations:

“he late Marxist theorist Ralph Miliband, is a man for whom I have a certain intellectual respect leavened with real contempt.”

56

christian h. 05.07.08 at 3:06 pm

Well, my last comment is “awaiting moderation”, probably because it’s lengthy. John, your defense of the US as morally superior is pathetic. You ignore, as is usual for such defenses, the violence inflicted by US imperialism world-wide.

It’s certainly correct that a US citizen is less likely to be killed by his or her government than a Soviet citizen was. But it is also correct that a random human being is much more likely to be killed by agents of the US government than they were being killed by agents of the Soviet Union.

57

Mikhail 05.07.08 at 3:09 pm

John Meredith: You’re so vehemently arguing that socialist states did not have anything good in them that I can only conclude it’s personal for you… Which must mean you’ve lived in one. But by the total cluelessness of your arguments, I can see that this is not the case. This means you’re playing a provocateur’s game…

If you haven’t actually lived in the USSR or other socialist states, it’s hard to claim intimate and detailed knowledge of the situation there. For example, don’t claim that universal health care wasn’t there. It was and it partially still is – Russian medicine is still better than most Western countries. So is Cuban! And here I’m not talking about having 10 MRI machines per hospital. I’m talking about the doctors’ ability to actually help a patient – in the West it’s usually limited to (a) it’ll pass, or (b) have some antibiotics… ;-)

And another comment in general – please, stop using examples to justify general arguments! A story from a friend or a distant aunt doesn’t actually tell us anything about the situation at large…

58

abb1 05.07.08 at 3:12 pm

John, I just want to let you know that your rant sounds to me like the exact equivalent of Jeremiah Wrights’ in those video clips. Not that anything is wrong with that; I can see that you too are genuinely outraged.

Cheers.

59

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 3:12 pm

“It’s certainly correct that a US citizen is less likely to be killed by his or her government than a Soviet citizen was. But it is also correct that a random human being is much more likely to be killed by agents of the US government than they were being killed by agents of the Soviet Union.”

I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘random human being’, but whatever it is I suspect that a fair number of people would disagree with you in the Ukrain, Byelorussia, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Azerbijan, Lithuania, Moldavia, Latvia, Khirgizstan, Tajikstan, Armenia, Turkmenistan and Estonia, for example. 20 million or so killed by agents of the Soviet state there. What was the tally for the US?

60

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 3:14 pm

“I can see that you too are genuinely outraged.”

I am. I am only surprised that you are not. If the US government killed 10,000 small farmers in Alabama based on how many pigs they owned and ‘deported’ the rest to Alaska, however, I think you too would recognise it as a crime and would not feel moved to offer mitigations.

61

Marc 05.07.08 at 3:15 pm

I think that you’re adopting a Manichean attitude john. If I can summarize the matter in which you are coming across: you appear to be claiming that communism was pure evil, it was always evident that it was pure evil, and anyone who disagrees is in favor of genocide and an all-around bad person.

There was an underlying ideology that a lot of people found appealing. Communism arose as a response to very specific – and in many cases horrific – defects in the capitalist system. There were other choices, of course, like the regulated market (and socialist safety net) that characterizes the western world today.

It proved in practice to have a set of pathologies, and in particular the universal one associated with de facto dictatorships – namely, that the personality and character of the dictator determines the outcome, and they can be bad indeed with a sociopath at the helm. Eventually the ideology itself imploded.

It’s simply poor scholarship, or dishonest hack work, to take writings out of the context of their time. The train of logical thought that Chris is referring to is roughly comparable to the gits who periodically complain about Huckleberry Finn – on the grounds that it has racist language. It portrays people using the actual language that they did use, and the racists in the book do not come across well. We’re looking at a similar misreading of Miliband.

62

Maurice Meilleur 05.07.08 at 3:15 pm

John, this is probably pointless, but I’ll give it another go: People suffering now, under a new system, who remember–in ways both meaningful and accurate–not having things so badly under the old system, are not delusional. People who point this out to dunderheads who insist that anything short of lockstep admiration for the new system are not glorifying the old or covering over its crimes.

And who said anything about ‘equivalence’? I merely pointed out that we in a country whose government makes light of the lies it tells its citizens, routinely violates national and international laws and refuses to account for its behavior before legislative or judicial inquiry, staffs the government with political appointees who run federal agencies as extensions of political parties and funnel federal money into the hands of their allies–all surrounded by an extensive network of lobbyists and spin artists, and all reported on by a class of political journalists who worship the powerful and who can’t be bothered to tell fact from fiction if the truth inconveniences anyone who could deprive them of their status–should take a couple breaths before we start complaining about the corruption of others.

Maybe I don’t have to worry about being ‘polite’ about the President to protect the life chances of my family. But I often wonder–just to mention two examples–how the lawyers advising the inmates at Guantanamo are watching what they say to their clients, and what sorts of things make it impossible for you to board an aircraft in the United States. I don’t think living in the US is the same as living under Stalin or Honnecker or Ceauşescu, but I often worry it’s not different enough.

63

christian h. 05.07.08 at 3:23 pm

First off, John, you shouldn’t get your numbers from “The black book of communism”. Not everyone killed in the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1945, say, was actually a victim of the Soviet system.

Also, if I only counted those killed in the US (like you only count people killed on soviet territory) then maybe you’d agree that someone living in the US is, and always has been, more likely to be killed by the US government than by the Soviet government. That’s precisely the point – you simply ignore millions murdered by the US because they are brown people.

Anyway, you might want to talk to some people in Iraq, Indonesia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Mosambique, the Philippines, Haiti, Colombia, Chile, Lebanon, and other places.

64

Maurice Meilleur 05.07.08 at 3:24 pm

s/b ‘who insist that anything short of lockstep admiration for the new system is a betrayal‘. Please bring back the preview!

65

abb1 05.07.08 at 3:24 pm

If the US government killed 10,000 small farmers in Alabama based on how many pigs they owned and ‘deported’ the rest to Alaska, however, I think you too would recognise it as a crime and would not feel moved to offer mitigations.

The US government did kill 10,000 small farmers in Alabama, it happened during the civil war. Same underlying reason – industrial revolution, radical change of the economic system. People in Alabama still remember it and many of them are still quite unhappy about it.

66

Dave Weeden 05.07.08 at 3:26 pm

I think Miliband was wrong about that case, and badly so. But I presume (and hope) that he didn’t appreciate how horrific the Pol Pot regime had been, or didn’t believe all the reports.

Chris, I’m no admirer of Oliver Kamm, but there seems to be a implicit condemnation of Miliband pere in that. After all, the year before (1979) ITV had broadcast a documentary by John Pilger.

It was during this time that I made a series of documentaries about Cambodia. The first, in 1979, Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia, described the American bombing that had provided a catalyst for the rise of Pol Pot, and showed the shocking human effects of the embargo. Year Zero was broadcast in some 60 countries, but never in the United States.

Despite that embargo, Cambodia (Year Zero) is available on Google Video. IIRC after 29 years, the reports Miliband didn’t believe all of included Pilger with a pile of skulls. At the time, again IIRC, Pilger was a Mirror journalist – he’s still too much of a fellow traveller for a certain section of the blogosphere. He criticised US foreign policy, so it’s not like he was some black propaganda spreading bogey man.

Perhaps R Miliband missed it. Or perhaps he was willfully ignorant.

Having said all that, Kamm’s penchant for writing ill of the dead is indeed nasty. The best defence I can think of is “Oh come on, it’s not as bad a genocide.”

67

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 3:26 pm

Maurice, your need to impute stupidity or cupidity to anyone who disagrees with you is indicative of how ideology has closed your mind tight. Of course some people lost out in the transition from the slave state of the USSR to the gangster state of Putin. Nonetheless they are wrong when they claim that the USSR was economically or morally viable, at best fantasists and at worst cynical political operators. Of course, the ones who lost most and who had most invested the the previous system tended to belong to the deeply corrupt political class who managed the system at the expense of the oppressed millions.

And who brough up equivalence? You did. If the faults in the political system in the US are such that you should not feel justified in criticising the USSR, you are suggesting that the faults are equivalent to some significant degree.

You don’t think life in the US is different enough from living under Ceaucescu? Good grief. You either lack information or imagination. Still, you must at very least notice that you are entitled to mention your concerns. Did you hesitate for a moment before making that remark whether or not you and your family would be arrested or killed in consequence? That’s how different it is.

68

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 3:28 pm

“The US government did kill 10,000 small farmers in Alabama, it happened during the civil war. “

Abb1, grow up.

69

christian h. 05.07.08 at 3:31 pm

John still ignoring the fact that while we can freely condemn the US here, it may well be different for someone in Iraq.

Also, you just proved you know nothing about Russia at all – after all, you seem to claim that the former Party functionaries are the people who suffered most in the transition to private capitalism. That’s completely incorrect. It is the workers and peasants, the classes oppressed in the Soviet Union, who suffered most and are still oppressed.

70

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 3:33 pm

“Anyway, you might want to talk to some people in Iraq, Indonesia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Mosambique, the Philippines, Haiti, Colombia, Chile, Lebanon, and other places.”

How many killed by the in total in those countries by the US? And are we including all war dead in tallies? Does that look better or worse for the USSR, do you think?

71

christian h. 05.07.08 at 3:33 pm

“The US government did kill 10,000 small farmers in Alabama, it happened during the civil war. ”

Abb1, grow up.

Well, you certainly have Kamm’s no-nothing dismissive tone down pat.

72

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 3:35 pm

“John still ignoring the fact that while we can freely condemn the US here, it may well be different for someone in Iraq.”

No newspapers in Iraq that are openly critical of the US? No bloggers?

73

Mikhail 05.07.08 at 3:37 pm

John Meredith: You’re so vehemently arguing that socialist states did not have anything good in them that I can only conclude it’s personal for you… Which must mean you’ve lived in one. But by the total cluelessness of your arguments, I can see that this is not the case. This means you’re playing a cynical political operator’s game…

If you haven’t actually lived in the USSR or other socialist states, it’s hard to claim intimate and detailed knowledge of the situation there. For example, don’t claim that universal health care wasn’t there. It was and it partially still is – Russian medicine is still better than most Western countries. So is Cuban! And here I’m not talking about having 10 MRI machines per hospital. I’m talking about the doctors’ ability to actually help a patient – in the West it’s usually limited to (a) it’ll pass, or (b) have some antibiotics… ;-)

And another comment in general – please, stop using examples to justify general arguments! A story from a friend or a distant aunt doesn’t actually tell us anything about the situation at large…

74

cjcjc 05.07.08 at 3:37 pm

I don’t think living in the US is the same as living under Stalin or Honnecker or Ceauşescu, but I often worry it’s not different enough.

There’s no arguing with this kind of lunacy.

75

christian h. 05.07.08 at 3:39 pm

(Of course the “Abb1 grow up” should also have been italicized.)

How many killed by the in total in those countries by the US? And are we including all war dead in tallies? Does that look better or worse for the USSR, do you think?

Jesus. Do I understand correctly that you find the victims of US imperialism to be of no account provided it turns out there were fewer than you imagine the Stalinists murdered? You really are the worst moral relativist I’ve ever encountered.

76

Uncle Kvetch 05.07.08 at 3:39 pm

How many killed by the in total in those countries by the US?

Alrighty then: perhaps you prefer “Killed by regimes propped up, if not installed outright, at the behest of the US government, and backed up with the firepower of the US military.” If that’s a meaningful distinction to you, you truly are a moral wretch.

77

Marc 05.07.08 at 3:39 pm

John, the sort of dualist thinking that you’re displaying is precisely the root cause of the atrocities you condemn.

78

Maurice Meilleur 05.07.08 at 3:40 pm

Sorry, John. I tried my best, but my hysteria dial only goes up to about 2 or 3, so I’ll have to stop. I should have known better.

But, on the bright side, if the folks over at The Encyclopedia of Decency ever decide to make an online bingo game with their list of argument tactics, I’m going to use your posts to fill in my card.

79

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 3:41 pm

“It is the workers and peasants, the classes oppressed in the Soviet Union, who suffered most and are still oppressed.”

Blimey, the peasants. Still there after 50 years of Marxist-Leninist progress. They rarely get a good deal but I have a feeling that there are not too many of them longing for another bout of de-Kulakisation.

80

christian h. 05.07.08 at 3:42 pm

John Meredith: “because someone in Iraq criticizes the US occupation, they are free to do so.”

Unbelievable. Remember when they shut down Sadrist newspapers? And the million or so dead, you’ll just continue to ignore them because they kind of undermine your absurd defense of US goodness?

81

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 3:43 pm

“Jesus. Do I understand correctly that you find the victims of US imperialism to be of no account”

No, you understand incorrectly. I simply object to you using them as a subject-changing device in order to help you apologise for the crimes of the USSR. The moral relativist here is not me.

82

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 3:45 pm

“Sorry, John. I tried my best”

No need to apologise Maurice, your best was unlikely to be good enough given the weakness of your position. At least you learned a bit of civility along the way.

83

christian h. 05.07.08 at 3:45 pm

Blimey, the peasants. Still there after 50 years of Marxist-Leninist progress. They rarely get a good deal but I have a feeling that there are not too many of them longing for another bout of de-Kulakisation.

John, I’d like to know if you still claim that the ones “who suffered most” from the transition to private capitalism in the former Soviet Union are former Party grandees. Like Putin, for example.

It’s just complete crap, and you know it. Childish jokes don’t change this.

84

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 3:47 pm

“Unbelievable. Remember when they shut down Sadrist newspapers? “

Yes I do, but they did not shut down all dissident opinion, only calls to violence (illegal in the UK too, by the way). You do not think these details are important but people living in oppressive regimes do.

85

Maurice Meilleur 05.07.08 at 3:47 pm

@cjcjc, #64: Remember this joke?

A man falls off the top of a 100-story building. As he passes the 75th floor or so, a window-washer on a scaffold sees him and asks how he’s doing.

‘Pretty good, so far,’ the man replies.

86

christian h. 05.07.08 at 3:49 pm

I simply object to you using them as a subject-changing device in order to help you apologise for the crimes of the USSR.

I did not, at any time, apologize for the crimes of the USSR. If you want to claim so, please quote my apologia. If you can’t do that, shut up.

87

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 3:49 pm

“John, I’d like to know if you still claim that the ones “who suffered most” from the transition to private capitalism in the former Soviet Union are former Party grandees.”

I have never claimed that. The quote is your own. I said that the apparatchiks had the most invested in the previous system and lost most when it was dismantled. That is not meant to suggest that many of them did not plunder the new state freely, of course, nor that they were well placed to do so if they were in the upper echeleons.

88

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 3:52 pm

Maurice, if we are plunging headlong into totalitarianism, at least you can console yourself with the the thought of the social gains that will accompany the inevitable losses, surely?

89

christian h. 05.07.08 at 3:53 pm

I said that the apparatchiks had the most invested in the previous system and lost most when it was dismantled.

This is simply not true. As a class, the apparatchiks most definitely didn’t “lose most.”

90

Chris Bertram 05.07.08 at 4:01 pm

I note, with something approaching despair, the monumental irrelevance of many many comments above to the text of the post. Miliband may have been many things, but he wasn’t a wholesale apologist for the Soviet system as a perusal of his writings _including the paper under discussion_ would make clear.

91

John Meredith 05.07.08 at 4:03 pm

“Miliband may have been many things, but he wasn’t a wholesale apologist for the Soviet system”

Well no, but he was some kind of apologist for the Soviet system even as late as 1980, wasn’t he? Not wholesale, and not without serious reservations, but still. And that is quite shocking to some people.

92

engels 05.07.08 at 4:19 pm

John, by “apologist”, do you mean eg. somebody who regards statements like

in the USSR the regime continued as Lenin and Stalin created it until it collapsed under the weight of its own crimes

as so much moronic ideological guff? If so, then you are going to have to face up the fact that many people in the world, who do not share your Daily Mail approach to historical understanding, are “apologists” of one form or another.

93

abb1 05.07.08 at 4:23 pm

Putting things in perspective is not the same as wholesale apologetics. It is important to understand the nature of a phenomenon under discussion, otherwise all you get is meaningless ravings. We can denounce Yankee Imperialism, Soviet Communism, Religious Fundamentalism and all the rest of them isms, but what’s the point?

94

ajay 05.07.08 at 4:27 pm

If the US government killed 10,000 small farmers in Alabama based on how many pigs they owned and ‘deported’ the rest to Alaska, however, I think you too would recognise it as a crime and would not feel moved to offer mitigations.

I’m hazy on the details, but wasn’t there some historical period when the US government killed rather large numbers of people and ‘deported’ the rest to inhospitable ‘reservations’ at gunpoint?

95

Chris Bertram 05.07.08 at 4:28 pm

Oh and #66 (Dave W.) IIRC, and I may not, issues of Socialist Register often appeared just before their year. So it may be that the 1980 issue appeared in 1979. I imagine that give the production lead times for books (especially in those days) the copy deadline was some time in 1979, so it may well be that Miliband submitted his piece before Pilger’s documentary appeared.

96

Sebastian Holsclaw 05.07.08 at 4:37 pm

“There was an underlying ideology that a lot of people found appealing. Communism arose as a response to very specific – and in many cases horrific – defects in the capitalist system. There were other choices, of course, like the regulated market (and socialist safety net) that characterizes the western world today.

It proved in practice to have a set of pathologies, and in particular the universal one associated with de facto dictatorships – namely, that the personality and character of the dictator determines the outcome, and they can be bad indeed with a sociopath at the helm. Eventually the ideology itself imploded.

It’s simply poor scholarship, or dishonest hack work, to take writings out of the context of their time.”

Right, communism was essentially a religion. Analysis of it has to be done with that in mind. Analysis of the writings of religious adherents have to be done with the fact of their religiosity in mind. It would be nice however, if we could stick to a single standard of analysis when looking at the writings of followers of Hinduism, Christianity or Communism. But for the most part people treat the religion they are comfortable with lightly and the ones they aren’t comfortable with harshly.

“The US government did kill 10,000 small farmers in Alabama, it happened during the civil war. Same underlying reason – industrial revolution, radical change of the economic system.”

Oh good, abb1 buys into the modern racist Confederate explanation for the American Civil War. Certainly couldn’t have been about slavery of black people and the extension of said practice into new states. Nope, nothing to see there.

Christian H–“It’s certainly correct that a US citizen is less likely to be killed by his or her government than a Soviet citizen was. But it is also correct that a random human being is much more likely to be killed by agents of the US government than they were being killed by agents of the Soviet Union.”

This seems muddled. You are going to have to get specific if you want to support this. My back-of-envelope calculation is that you would be hard pressed to add the entire sum total of American ‘imperialist’ deaths in the last 100 years and get even to Stalin’s totals in his worst 5 years. And once you start throwing in everything and the kitchen sink (WWII?, attributing every death in South Africa in the 1980s?, Palestinian deaths?,) any even-handed application of such standard to the USSR gets you worse for them on almost every single point(African meddling for instance)–and far worse in the aggregate.

So I strongly suspect you are wrong.

97

unf 05.07.08 at 4:43 pm

The perfect antidote to this thread would be one on Israel. Those always generate a lot of light, and very little heat.

98

F. Blair 05.07.08 at 4:51 pm

“but wasn’t there some historical period when the US government killed rather large numbers of people and ‘deported’ the rest to inhospitable ‘reservations’ at gunpoint?”

Did the US government actually kill “rather large numbers of people” during the Indian Wars? Three hundred people died at Wounded Knee, which is generally held to be the most egregious massacre committed by US troops against Indians. And 150-200 people died in the similarly appalling Sand Creek massacre. Those aren’t insignificant numbers, but don’t they suggest that the total number of Indians killed by US troops was in the low thousands?

99

abb1 05.07.08 at 5:21 pm

Sebastian, the ideological justification/pretext for liquidating the kulak-ness is no different than the one for the civil war. You see, from the angle of revolutionary marxism the kulaks were exploiters, exploiter class – they owned means of production, extracted rent, hired workers, etc. For a revolutionary marxist this sort of thing is the same as slavery, just a more modern variety. I think the civil war is a very close analogy, actually.

100

Sebastian Holsclaw 05.07.08 at 5:33 pm

“Sebastian, the ideological justification/pretext for liquidating the kulak-ness is no different than the one for the civil war.”

You’ll have to get beyond generalities on this one, because I’m not understanding you. First you claim that the reason for the US Civil War was “industrial revolution, radical change of the economic system.” That, or the issue of actual slavery. Which you seem not to notice.

“For a revolutionary marxist this sort of thing is the same as slavery, just a more modern variety.”

With a sufficient number of prefixes anything sounds reasonable if we’re going to be relativist about it.

“You see, from the angle of revolutionary marxism the kulaks were exploiters, exploiter class – they owned means of production, extracted rent, hired workers, etc.”

Right, and for sufficiently maximalist definitions of ‘exploiter’ you can make anything equivalent to the US Civil War. Some pro-lifers think that women discard fetuses at a whim. Very exploitive, clearly just like the underpinnings of the Civil War. Pro-choicers frame it that pro-lifers want to exploit women as baby factories. Clearly exploitive and therefore just like the underpinnings of the US Civil War. And frankly both of those sides have a better argument than Communists did about the kulaks. (Which is to say the abortion argument would be ridiculous, and the argument about the kulaks is even more so.)

101

abb1 05.07.08 at 5:45 pm

I am not defending communist argument, I’m simply trying to explain. It is what it is. The big idea is to end all exploitation, liquidating exploiter classes is the way, the only way to achieve it. It’s a radical ideology. You can go thru the same exercise with ‘liberty’ or with ‘the nation’, or with the abortions, if you want.

And there’s also the underlying structural reason: industrial revolution, different mode of production, the peasants have to get off the land and into the factories. Ideology serves to provide justification for it.

102

christian h. 05.07.08 at 5:46 pm

sebastian, cut the nonsense. Exploitation of labor is very specific, it’s not just a vague notion of “treating someone badly.”

And are you actually claiming that the Kulaks did not exploit the labor of the rural poor? Is that because you just don’t think there is a such a thing as exploitation of wage labor, or do you have some specific information to share about the great way the Kulaks treated their field workers?

103

geo 05.07.08 at 5:57 pm

Sebastian, when abb1 writes “same underlying reason – industrial revolution, radical change of the economic system,” I don’t think you’re entitled to characterize this as “the modern racist Confederate explanation for the American Civil War,” which “certainly couldn’t have been about slavery of black people and the extension of said practice into new states.” Yes, the war was about slavery, but not slavery as a moral abomination, rather slavery as a form of labor relations that undermined wage labor. This, I think, is what abb1 meant, and there’s certainly nothing racist about it. It’s also highly plausible.

104

noen 05.07.08 at 6:05 pm

the other side of this coin is a typical discussion of slavery and racial discrimination in the US – does it cancel everything else, does it forever discredit the whole idea of the US of A?

Yes it does, the idea that is. If by “the whole idea of the US” one means that our society is built on freedom, fairness, equal representation and so on. Coming to understand then that our system is dependent on enslaving others, first in the American South, then in the third world, does indeed pull back the mask to reveal the monster within.

Capitalism is a heat engine. It cannot function without a pre-existing power gradient. It cannot help but to completely consume it’s fuel. Sometimes that means people. One can accept that fact as just the way of the world and make one’s peace with it or not I suppose.

105

Dave Weeden 05.07.08 at 6:08 pm

Thanks Chris; that’s a very fair answer, and I confess that I hadn’t considered that. I considered a year to be enough of a difference, but of course some journals appear before their cover date.

I’ll confess a second omission on my part while I’m here. I didn’t follow the link to the lse site on Oliver Kamm’s blog. However, David Miliband will be on Newsnight to discuss his lecture. Jeebus! He named it after his father. Ralph’s ideas do not come into it at all. It was just an excuse for OK to be nasty about yet another dead guy. And a pretty insensitive excuse at that. I don’t much care for DM, but I have lost a father. If the Foreign Secretary wants to honour his late dad, he should be allowed to do so without insult. However, his policies are perfectly fair grounds for critique.

106

geo 05.07.08 at 6:11 pm

John, it seems to me you’re slithering away from a point made by several people here. There was something of a social safety net in Soviet-style totalitarian regimes, which included free health care and education, full employment, and some degree of protection against random criminal violence (as opposed to systematic state violence, which may have been even worse in quantity but was at least more predictable). To acknowledge this is not at all to “apologize” for such regimes.

107

Sebastian Holsclaw 05.07.08 at 6:32 pm

“Exploitation of labor is very specific, it’s not just a vague notion of “treating someone badly.””

And it also isn’t slavery, which is something very specific and not just a vague notion of “exploiting someone’s labor”. Which is why I objected to the characterization of it essentially being the same thing.

“Yes, the war was about slavery, but not slavery as a moral abomination, rather slavery as a form of labor relations that undermined wage labor.”

If you are going to assert that the US Civil War was fought over ‘undermined wage labor’ I would like to see some serious cites.

“This, I think, is what abb1 meant, and there’s certainly nothing racist about it. It’s also highly plausible.”

And if you want me to believe that part, the cites probably shouldn’t be to certain Southern apologists.

“There was something of a social safety net in Soviet-style totalitarian regimes, which included free health care and education, full employment, and some degree of protection against random criminal violence (as opposed to systematic state violence, which may have been even worse in quantity but was at least more predictable). To acknowledge this is not at all to “apologize” for such regimes.”

It is apologizing for them because it isn’t particularly accurate. The good free health care and education was to Party members only. The rest was generally at or below the level that a walk-in would get at an emergency room in the US if they didn’t have insurance. There were hours-long lines for bread. Are you seriously picturing a happy walk-in health clinic?

Full employment doesn’t mean the same thing you think it does when the money you earn can’t buy a non-Party member bread without having your mother wait in line all day.

Some degree of protection against random criminal violence? If you co-opt the criminals into the government where is the comfort in that?

(as opposed to systematic state violence, which may have been even worse in quantity but was at least more predictable)?

Are you serious? The purges were almost the epitome of unpredictable. You could be favored one day and off to the gulag the next. You could have a fight with a neighbor over the fence line and if they got your name to the right person as a capitalist you could be dead within a week.

To fail to acknowledge that, is something, but I’m not sure what the word is.

108

jayann 05.07.08 at 6:37 pm

It’s a Ralph Miliband Programme lecture, all David Miliband’s done is agree to deliver it (along with Marxists like John Browne…) and Kamm would know that.

109

geo 05.07.08 at 7:17 pm

Sebastian: If you are going to assert that the US Civil War was fought over ‘undermined wage labor’ I would like to see some serious cites.

See Eric Foner’s Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men. I also find Charles Beard more plausible than most historians nowadays do. But the main thing is not whether Foner and Beard are correct but whether such non-moral explanations for the Civil War are “racist” and “Confederate,” as you intemperately claimed. I think you owe abb1 an apology.

Are you seriously picturing a happy walk-in health clinic?

No, I’m not, merely suggesting that what was in place was at least arguably better than what has resulted, for many people, from the replacement of Soviet totalitarianism with a considerable degree of anarchy and gangsterism.

110

bernard Yomtov 05.07.08 at 7:25 pm

Yes, the war was about slavery, but not slavery as a moral abomination, rather slavery as a form of labor relations that undermined wage labor.

What in the world does this mean? Were there droves of northerners looking to go south and pick cotton for a living who were prevented from doing so by the presence of slaves?

And are you actually claiming that the Kulaks did not exploit the labor of the rural poor?

And even if they did, are you suggesting that the Stalinist approach was an acceptable solution to the problem?

111

novakant 05.07.08 at 7:43 pm

On the one hand he lamented the lack of democracy in those countries; on the other he thought they had achieved various social gains. Well he was (largely) wrong about the latter, but 1980 is a long time ago, and, back then he wasn’t alone in that false belief.

Yeah, poor misguided Miliband, clinging to the false belief that various social gains and sticking it to the capitalist aggressor could somehow outweigh the lack of democracy. But then that was a very long time ago and he’s dead. Certainly nobody in his right mind would try to make such a case today – oh wait, not so fast:

So let’s hear it for universal literacy and decent standards of health care. Let’s hear it for the Cubans who help defeat the South Africans and their allies in Angola and thereby prepared the end of apartheid. Let’s hear it for the middle-aged Cuban construction workers who held off the US forces for a while on Grenada. Let’s hear it for Elian Gonzalez. Let’s hear it for 49 years of defiance in the face of the US blockade. Hasta la victoria siempre!

112

christian h. 05.07.08 at 7:47 pm

bernard, don’t shift the goalposts. Of course I didn’t suggest the Stalinist approach was acceptable. Sebastian, on the other hand, clearly suggested that saying the Kulaks exploited rural labor is less reasonable than claiming that legal abortion is “exploitive” (of whom he doesn’t bother stating). This what I answered.

As for the causes of the civil war, are you saying that it was forced upon the US by masses of anti-slavery activists invading the Confederacy on their own?

It doesn’t matter what the Union soldiers believed they were fighting for, it matters what the Northern ruling class had them fighting for.

And that was a complicated mix of issues, of which moral outrage at slavery was likely a small part, and economic rivalry rooted in the contradictions between the Southern, slavery-based economy and the Northern, wage-labor based one quite a significant one.

113

Doctor Slack 05.07.08 at 7:47 pm

Since the supposed freedom of Iraq has come up, I suppose it should be pointed out that Iraq is generally considered unfree owing to the foreign military presence and pervasive atmosphere of violence and corruption. Doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that ought to need pointing out, but nevertheless.

114

geo 05.07.08 at 7:49 pm

What in the world does this mean? Were there droves of northerners looking to go south and pick cotton for a living who were prevented from doing so by the presence of slaves?

Devastatingly witty, Bernard. No, it means that the character of economic development in the West was at stake: either a plantation system with slave labor or a capitalist system with independent farmers and tradesmen as well as large manufacturers employing laborers.

What, by the way, do you think that Lincoln meant by: “This Union cannot endure half-slave and half-free”? He was certainly not making a moral case against slavery, whatever his personal dislike of the institution. Would you have aimed a similar sarcasm at him?

115

abb1 05.07.08 at 7:50 pm

There were hours-long lines for bread.

There were no lines for bread. One thing they always had enough is bread. They made it a point to always have bread. If there was a hours-long line for bread somewhere, the apparatchik responsible would’ve definitely lost his job.

Medical care: they had walk-in clinics, something like permanence in Switzerland. You would have to wait, but usually not for hours. If you had fever, a doctor would make a house call, same day or the next day. But back in the late 80s the guy I know, who has MS, told me that he had to bribe someone to get an MRI. There was only one MRI machine in Moscow, probably just a few in the whole country. OTOH, they themselves developed laser eye surgery and it was widely available.

116

christian h. 05.07.08 at 7:52 pm

According to novakant, Cuba = Stalinist Russia. Given the underpinnings of the cold war notion of “totalitarianism” I think we can invoke Godwin’s law here.

117

Jonathan 05.07.08 at 7:55 pm

On Miliband he made it clear his belief was that a whole range of liberal, if you will, rights should be up-held under socialism, see e.g. his postumous ‘Socialism for a Crippled World’

Way back in these posts was the not unimportant point that the US continued to recognise KR as the govt after the invasion because Vietnam was a Soviet ally. A bit more important that what Ralph Miliband was writing at the time. No doubt Kamm can convince himself that the US foreign policy establishment was a completely different animal to Bush’s friends today. Whilst we’re on the Cambodian episode, Kamm and other decents could at least be consistent here. If they’re going to drag out old ill-advised quotes they might also have the, if you will, decency to acknowledge that Pilger was on the main Western journalists to expose the killing fields. For all his faults, Pilger risked his neck to expose atrocities there. Hard to see what Kamm is risking to promote human rights.

118

novakant 05.07.08 at 8:01 pm

According to novakant, Cuba = Stalinist Russia. Given the underpinnings of the cold war notion of “totalitarianism” I think we can invoke Godwin’s law here.

According to Miliband:

The Cuban regime is now a repressive dictatorship
of the Soviet-type model.

119

Sebastian Holsclaw 05.07.08 at 8:26 pm

“Sebastian, on the other hand, clearly suggested that saying the Kulaks exploited rural labor is less reasonable than claiming that legal abortion is “exploitive” (of whom he doesn’t bother stating). This what I answered.”

No. Sebastian clearly suggested that abstracting *SLAVERY* into the term ‘exploitive’ and then saying that it then made the reasons for wanting to get rid of the kulaks about the same as the alleged economic reasons secretly behind the Civil War was a ridiculous move–akin to abstracting either side of the abortion issue into ‘exploitive’ and justifying a civil war over it.

“And that was a complicated mix of issues, of which moral outrage at slavery was likely a small part, and economic rivalry rooted in the contradictions between the Southern, slavery-based economy and the Northern, wage-labor based one quite a significant one.”

Some people just don’t understand history or economics. It isn’t as if the South was such a scary economic powerhouse because of slavery that the North had to go in and bash it down.

The issue was whether or not slavery should spread to the West. The reason it was an issue was because each new state gets 2 Senators and if they were free states it would mess with the balance of power in the Senate. It wasn’t because slavery made the South an economic powerhouse. It didn’t, and it wasn’t.

That makes the issue essentially slavery. I realize that lots of people (Marxist and non-Marxist) like to pretend that everything is always about economics, but there you are.

120

bernard Yomtov 05.07.08 at 8:32 pm

I wasn’t trying to be witty, geo. I was trying to figure out what “undermining wage labor” meant. I assumed it meant doing something to hurt those who work for wages. Apparently not, and it’s all about the ruling classes and exploitation and so on.

I can see that the Civil War is a difficult problem. On the one hand there are the slave owners – not a particularly sympathetic group. Indeed, they are almost as bad as the kulaks. On the other it’s necessary to avoid giving any but the most minimal moral standing to the Union. So, a la the southern apologists, it was all about economics.

121

F. Blair 05.07.08 at 8:42 pm

Christian or abb1, can you explain again why the kulaks had to be killed, rather than simply expropriating their land and redistributing it?

122

notsneaky 05.07.08 at 8:54 pm

“There’s no arguing with this kind of lunacy.”

This is exactly right and why I’ve pretty much given up on these kinds of topics. Also, somebody needs to put christian h. in a museum.

123

geo 05.07.08 at 8:55 pm

I can see that the Civil War is a difficult problem. On the one hand there are the slave owners – not a particularly sympathetic group. Indeed, they are almost as bad as the kulaks. On the other it’s necessary to avoid giving any but the most minimal moral standing to the Union. So, a la the southern apologists, it was all about economics.

Surely this is an attempt at wit. (Not wholly unsuccessful, I grudgingly admit.) But seriously, one ought to disaggregate “the Union.” Most Northerners, rich or poor, certainly did not favor going to war to abolish slavery. They went to keep the South in the Union. They would have agreed with Lincoln: “If I could maintain the Union without freeing a single slave, I would do it.” Many in the North hated slavery for moral reasons — as did Lincoln — but that doesn’t mean that that was what the Civil War was about, any more than the fact that many Americans genuinely hated fascist oppression means that the main reason the US entered WWII was to rescue the victims of fascist barbarism, rather than to help beat back a rival alliance seeking global political and economic dominance.

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notsneaky 05.07.08 at 8:58 pm

“Russian medicine is still better than most Western countries. “

I seriously seriously doubt this. I doubt that Russian medicine is better than Polish medicine. And Polish medicine is in no way better than most Western countries. It certainly wasn’t 25 years ago.

Also in these discussions of “universal health care” in this context the Western useful idiots always fail to realize that the “universal” was on paper only much in the same way as “full employment”. Look, France maybe has “universal health care” in some close-to-true sense of that word and it is probably much better than what there is in US. The Soviet bloc and I’m willing to bet Cuba NEVER had “universal health care”. You wanted to see a doctor, or god forbid go to a hospital? You paid buttloads of money to the right person, the doctor, or a friend in the party or whatever. Otherwise you were not treated.

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notsneaky 05.07.08 at 9:00 pm

“If that’s a meaningful distinction to you, you truly are a moral wretch.”

It’s helluva lot more meaningful than the distinction between being “eliminated as a class” and just plain “eliminated”.

126

abb1 05.07.08 at 9:04 pm

F. Blair, as I mentioned about a million times already – they weren’t killed, they were deported. At the beginning they, of course, were asked nicely to join the collective farms, but (naturally) most refused and tried to sabotage the campaign. Not that anything’s wrong with that; perfectly natural, I would’ve done the same.

Imagining myself in this situation, if my land and property was expropriated, I would’ve probably felt like, I dunno, maybe setting collective farm’s barn on fire or something. Class struggle, y’know.

And now, imagining myself a collective farm’s boss, I suppose I would want the expropriated guy to be as far away from my farm as possible. Sine the collective farm boss had all the power at that time, this is exactly what happened.

Does it answer your question?

127

notsneaky 05.07.08 at 9:07 pm

“I’m hazy on the details, but wasn’t there some historical period when the US government killed rather large numbers of people and ‘deported’ the rest to inhospitable ‘reservations’ at gunpoint?”

“”I think you too would recognise it as a crime and would not feel moved to offer mitigations.”

So yes! That’s the freakin’ point. Anyone who refuses to recognize what the US government did to Native Americans as a crime and feels moved to offer mitigations is pretty much the same kind of a scumbag as someone who makes excuses for USSR. Now, of course Grover Cleveland was no Andrew Jackson, just like Brezhnev was no Stalin, but it should apply to the 1980’s as well.

128

notsneaky 05.07.08 at 9:19 pm

“There were no lines for bread. One thing they always had enough is bread. They made it a point to always have bread. If there was a hours-long line for bread somewhere, the apparatchik responsible would’ve definitely lost his job.”

This is true. Shortages of bread were fairly rare. Shortages of everything else were common place.

“Medical care: they had walk-in clinics, something like permanence in Switzerland. You would have to wait, but usually not for hours.”

This is false, unless you’re just passing up the whole paying of bribes thing. Otherwise, the wait was not hours but days or weeks.

“If you had fever, a doctor would make a house call, same day or the next day. “

This one depends. It was probably false in the cities. In the country side, the situation was probably better (though it also involved “bribes” although more likely of the in-kind kind. Bottle of vodka, some sausages etc.)

129

notsneaky 05.07.08 at 9:21 pm

As far as the Civil War thing, it’s worth remembering that the South was essentially the aggressor in the conflict.

130

abb1 05.07.08 at 9:21 pm

Anyone who refuses to recognize what the US government did to Native Americans as a crime…

You recognize it as a crime, but you also understand the logic in it, that at that particular point in history it was bound to happen, Jackson or Cleveland – as opposed to being some random inexplicable crime conceived and executed by some Dr. Evil. And this understanding is what is usually present in regards to one (your) side, but missing for the other.

131

notsneaky 05.07.08 at 9:25 pm

“On the one hand there are the slave owners – not a particularly sympathetic group. Indeed, they are almost as bad as the kulaks.”

Wait…?!?!? This was said in all seriousness?
Being a Kulak just meant that at some point you might have hired somebody to help you with the harvest (maybe even another “Kulak”). It meant that you sold or purchased grain for seed on credit. It meant that you owned some farm machinery, beyond the very basics. A lot of the time it just plain old meant that somebody didn’t like you and just called you a “Kulak”.

I’m sure there were some “Kulaks” who were exploitative assholes. But most of these folks were pretty much barely above the “dirt poor farmer” level. And common, there were something like between 5 million and 10 million deaths. Were all these people “exploiters”?

132

abb1 05.07.08 at 9:26 pm

the wait was not hours but days or weeks

Just to see a general practitioner? No way. It was a walk-in clinic, first come-first served. To check in to a hospital – sure.

133

christian h. 05.07.08 at 9:37 pm

Well, since Sebastian is now disavowing his own words, maybe I should quote him, for the museum:

Some pro-lifers think that women discard fetuses at a whim. Very exploitive, clearly just like the underpinnings of the Civil War. Pro-choicers frame it that pro-lifers want to exploit women as baby factories. Clearly exploitive and therefore just like the underpinnings of the US Civil War. And frankly both of those sides have a better argument than Communists did about the kulaks.

(My emphasis.)

You are saying outright here that claiming that legalizing abortion is exploitation is more reasonable than claiming that large farmers exploited the labor of their farmhands.

Maybe you now wish you didn’t, and just meant to say that slavery is uniquely evil, so that any other form of exploitation can’t compare. (You’d still be wrong, mind.) But that’s not what you wrote. And since I, sadly, can’t read minds, I have to answer your actual words.

notsneaky:
So yes! That’s the freakin’ point. Anyone who refuses to recognize what the US government did to Native Americans as a crime and feels moved to offer mitigations is pretty much the same kind of a scumbag as someone who makes excuses for USSR.

You get the price for the worst non sequitur in this thread. It’s not about “offering mitigation” for specific crimes.

It’s about the fact that you and your cold warrior friends claim that the Soviet Union, and by extension communism, was inherently evil, as shown by the crimes in question, so that nothing positive about it must be mentioned; while at the same time clinging to the ludicrous belief that the US, and liberal capitalism, are inherently good despite their crimes.

(By the way, I prefer being in museum to being on the scrap heap of history, which is where you belong.)

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notsneaky 05.07.08 at 9:38 pm

I remember it being days. Maybe it varied by location or by time period. In early eighties, in a large city, in Poland, there were ques to see a doctor (general practitioner) just as long as for everything else, if not longer. Unless you paid off somebody and then your number’d be called earlier.

135

Chris Bertram 05.07.08 at 9:45 pm

#111 novakant, I did not, in fact, say that the social achievements of Cuba “outweigh” [your word] the lack of democracy there. I said that it was not for its lack of democracy that Cuba is detested by the capitalist class. I think you’ll find the Bacardi family would rather confirm my view.

136

Sebastian Holsclaw 05.07.08 at 10:41 pm

“You are saying outright here that claiming that legalizing abortion is exploitation is more reasonable than claiming that large farmers exploited the labor of their farmhands.”

No, you seem to have a problem with context.

I’m saying that abstracting “slavery” into “exploitation” so that you can pretend that slavery and *hiring* workers for your farm every now and then or owning a thresher are approximately equivalent is an illegitmate move. I said that using the same abstraction of ‘exploitation’ AS COMPARED TO SLAVERY would be more appropriate in the abortion example I gave, but still ridiculously inappropriate.

That isn’t disowning any words, or whatever else you seem to think you are scoring debating points on. So while you are focusing on only my words, try them in groups.

137

bernard Yomtov 05.07.08 at 10:59 pm

geo,

Thanks for the mild grin.

Certainly we shouldn’t oversimplify, but Marxist sloganeering about ruling classes, duped soldiers, evil industrialists, etc., is at least as much an oversimplification as claims that the war was fought solely out of moral revulsion at slavery.

Notsneaky,

That business about slaveholders and kulaks was a joke, though given the tenor of some of the comments here you can be excused for missing it.

138

Brownie 05.07.08 at 10:59 pm

I’m hazy on the details, but wasn’t there some historical period when the US government killed rather large numbers of people and ‘deported’ the rest to inhospitable ‘reservations’ at gunpoint?

Except there are no self-describing leftist bloggers arguing that we should apply some “perspective” (abb1) to this crime, unlike those committed in the name of Soviet-style communism.

One could argue – one could certainly have argued in 1980 – that they included literacy, universal health care, universal social security, racial tolerance, and controlling violent crime…

You read this and wonder why people risked their lives trying to scale the Berlin wall.

Vaclav Havel:“People who live in the post-totalitarian system know only too well that the question of whether one or several political parties are in power, and how these parties define and label themselves, is of far less importance than the question of whether or not it is possible to live like a human being.”

139

Doctor Slack 05.07.08 at 11:31 pm

You read this and wonder why people risked their lives trying to scale the Berlin wall.

No you don’t; the USSR was a dictatorship. Nevertheless, all of those achievements are factual, excepting “racial tolerance” (as ANC members who traveled to Soviet Russia discovered).

140

geo 05.07.08 at 11:46 pm

Brownie:

1) If 99 percent or more of the population had oversimplified beliefs about the European slaughter of native Americans, and if those beliefs were manipulated to excuse past and present military interventions by a native-American superpower, then I suspect you’d see many a leftist blogger calling for “perspective.”

2) Havel is hardly Holy Writ. It is not possible to live like a human being without at least some economic and social security and a basic education, which were guaranteed, though at a very low level, by the Soviet-style totalitarian regimes but which some people in their aftermath cannot achieve at all.

141

tom bach 05.07.08 at 11:57 pm

As I read the linked essay, if you socialism and progressive with capitalism and democracy it reads like any current anti-interventionist argument. As such, it actually makes a lot of sense.

142

notsneaky 05.08.08 at 12:02 am

“all of those achievements are factual”

But they’re not. On any of these the SU did no better than Western Europe and on many much much worse, the only possible exception being literacy. “racial tolerance” is a weird one in there. “Controlling violent crime” is obviously pulled out of thin air as even communist propaganda didn’t make that claim.

143

john b 05.08.08 at 12:02 am

“You read this and wonder why people risked their lives trying to scale the Berlin wall.”

Similarly, thousands of people today risk their lives fleeing the totalitarian tyranny of Mexico. It’s nothing to do with a single border with massive income disparities on either side. Oh, wait.

[yes, I know the massive income disparities reflect communism’s failure as an economic system. This isn’t the same claim as ‘OMG communism is the evilest thing EVAH!’]

144

tom bach 05.08.08 at 12:03 am

replace, I meant

145

notsneaky 05.08.08 at 12:14 am

“It is not possible to live like a human being without at least some economic and social security and a basic education, which were guaranteed, though at a very low level, by the Soviet-style totalitarian regimes but which some people in their aftermath cannot achieve at all.”

But this is junk too. Certainly in Eastern Europe the levels of economic and social security and basic education IMPROVED in the aftermath. The only difference is that some of the deprivation which was previously unseen and hidden had come to light as a result of increased transparency of those societies.

Personally I’d also argue that a good bit of the drop in “economic and social security” seen in Russia in the 90’s were essentially inevitable given the structure of the regime that preceded it and its collapse. It had little to do with “capitalism” or even “gangster capitalism” that came afterwards and mostly due to the bankruptcy of the whole communist framework as early as early 80’s. Most of the social indicators that people like to quote for Russia in the post-communist era, were on a steep downward trajectory pre- or early Gorbachev, long before any “market reforms” were implemented.
The only possible alternative – and “possible” here means that it might’ve not succeeded either – was the Chinese way of keeping political autocracy but introducing the same economic reforms. The difference is that by the time the Soviet leadership realized that there was trouble it was pretty much too late, whereas the Chinese managed to catch on early on.

146

christian h. 05.08.08 at 12:25 am

Certainly in Eastern Europe the levels of economic and social security and basic education IMPROVED in the aftermath.

If from “Eastern Europe” you exclude large chunks, like, oh, most of the Soviet Union. Mind you, as I stated earlier, I’m happy Stalinism collapsed. But it is absolutely a fact that by many measures – life expectancy, infant mortality, access to education and medical care, to name a few – life in the former Soviet Union has degenerated for the vast majority of people. Only the former apparatchiks who made out like kings in the transition are doing (economically) better now.

Since we are talking about “scaling the Berlin wall”, emigration from the former SU and its satellites has increased dramatically.

147

christian h. 05.08.08 at 12:28 am

Personally I’d also argue that a good bit of the drop in “economic and social security” seen in Russia in the 90’s were essentially inevitable given the structure of the regime that preceded it and its collapse.

Surely there is some of that. But you are in no position to argue so since you also insist to compare standards in the SU to those in Western Europe without mentioning the very different state of economic development of Russia and Germany/France/UK in 1914, say.

148

novakant 05.08.08 at 12:34 am

I did not, in fact, say that the social achievements of Cuba “outweigh” [your word] the lack of democracy there.

Well, for obvious reasons you didn’t say that outright and paid lip-service to human rights concerns, but it is undeniable that in your post you were lauding the achievements of the Castro regime and presented an overall positive assessment of it – “Hasta la victoria siempre!” indeed.

Now if you hold this regime in such high esteem just because it has been remarkably effective at fending off the evil capitalists, or if you think that their model really is preferable to a liberal democracy – that I cannot know. The former would be rather callous and the latter simply misguided.

Maybe the post was simply a regression into youthful romantic socialism and not to be taken all that seriously, in which case I would welcome you to come clean and say what you really think about the, as Miliband put it, “repressive dictatorship of the Soviet-type model”.

As it stands, it seems rather ironic that you feel entitled to mildly criticize and contextualize Miliband’s stance on the SU in 1980, while your position towards Cuba in 2008 still seems to be far from clear.

149

PersonFromPorlock 05.08.08 at 12:58 am

I’ve read threads on UFO fora that were more coherent.

The thing is, before you can have a discussion you have to agree on what the facts you’re discussing are. Here, it’s people shouting their ‘facts’ past other people shouting their ‘facts’. Waste of time.

150

Geoff Robinson 05.08.08 at 1:07 am

In Australia it was the left that was sympathetic to the Vietnamese invasion (Maoist crazies excepted). The conservative government however condemned the invasion and continued to support UN recognition of the Pol Pot regime for some time, inspired by anti-Soviet sentiment, dissent from this position within the govt came from moderates.

151

engels 05.08.08 at 1:17 am

It seems obvious that someone can be in favour of abolishing a social class, without wishing to deport, kill or otherwise wrong the people who comprise it. It’s perfectly reasonable to say that this was not a distinction that Stalin cared about, but if you deny it has any meaning at all, then you appear to be trying to suggest that all socialists are secretly in favour of mass murder. Which is outrageous, of course, as well as being either incredibly stupid or dishonest, which is to say par for the course for rightwing Americans’ treatment of anyone whom they regard as being to the left of Al Gore.

152

engels 05.08.08 at 1:23 am

Marxist sloganeering about ruling classes, duped soldiers, evil industrialists, etc., is at least as much an oversimplification as claims that the war was fought solely out of moral revulsion at slavery.

Do you have any specific Marxist sloganeering in mind? Otherwise this is just a vague, content-free sneer.

153

engels 05.08.08 at 1:28 am

Oh yeah, and wtf is this about?

On any of these the SU did no better than Western Europe and on many much much worse, the only possible exception being literacy

Talk about apples and oranges…

154

Hektor Bim 05.08.08 at 2:07 am

Two points – I’m still confused what Chris Bertram actually thinks Milliband’s essay was really about. The only point he stresses seems obvious.

The second point. Russia and the US had very similar territorial expansions. The conquest of Siberia was very similar in many ways to the conquest of the American West. If you want a parallel for deportations, consider Soviet deportations of the Caucasians and Crimean Tatars to the internment of the Japanese-Americans. The Soviet record in comparison there is not flattering. Post World War II deportations were even worse, especially in the case of the Baltics.

155

geo 05.08.08 at 3:04 am

The thing is, before you can have a discussion you have to agree on what the facts you’re discussing are. Here, it’s people shouting their ‘facts’ past other people shouting their ‘facts’. Waste of time.

Aw, lighten up, person. We ain’t doin nobody no harm.

156

notsneaky 05.08.08 at 3:17 am

Last time I checked Western Europe includes Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland.

157

LC 05.08.08 at 3:18 am

Geo’s comments about the causes of the Civil War are not “Marxist sloganeering” but reasonable arguments. Certainly geo is right that Lincoln’s overriding goal was preservation of the Union, not abolition of slavery (the Emancipation Proclamation was largely politically motivated), and that most Northerners would not have gone to war over slavery alone.

All that said, however, I’m inclined to think that geo is somewhat underestimating the impact of the abolitionist movement(s) on the climate of Northern opinion. It seems to me that years, and even decades, of relentless, morally charged denunciation of slavery as a supreme evil must have had some effect on the broader population, even if most of them viewed the abolitionists as extremists. War resulted most likely from the combination of (1)clashing economic interests and systems (wage labor vs plantation slavery) with (2)an issue,namely slavery, that, partly b/c of its moral dimension, proved unsusceptible to compromise.

(I’m not a historian, so apologies if this amounts to beating historiographical dead horses.)

158

notsneaky 05.08.08 at 3:35 am

“Similarly, thousands of people today risk their lives fleeing the totalitarian tyranny of Mexico. It’s nothing to do with a single border with massive income disparities on either side. Oh, wait.”

So, uh, you’re saying that East Germany WASN’T a totalitarian system and that the only reason people crossed the wall was because of the income disparities? I thought someone was just saying that the only reason people were jumping the wall was because of the differences in the political system and not because of differences in standards of living because, you know, the Eastern Bloc had “universal health care, literacy, universal social security and basic education”.

All you buttheads need to get together amongst yourself first and get your story straight.

159

notsneaky 05.08.08 at 3:40 am

“Do you have any specific Marxist sloganeering in mind? Otherwise this is just a vague, content-free sneer.”

Obviously at the very least the throwing around of the word “kulak” falls in this category. Or referring to communism in Soviet Union as “state capitalism”. Referring to people as “cold war warriors”. Describing the hiring of farm laborers IN GENERAL as “exploitation of farm labor”. And then of course is the gem about people belonging “on the scrap heap of history”.

160

notsneaky 05.08.08 at 3:45 am

“It’s about the fact that you and your cold warrior friends claim that the Soviet Union, and by extension communism, was inherently evil, as shown by the crimes in question, so that nothing positive about it must be mentioned”

The thing is there really isn’t much positive to be said about the Soviet Union, just like there isn’t much positive to be said about Nazi Germany and even if you look hard enough to find something it’s plain in bad taste, ridiculous and completely out of proportion to bring it up, just like the fact that Hitler or whoever made the trains run on time. And yes, the Soviet system was evil.

161

notsneaky 05.08.08 at 3:46 am

And yes, yes, yes, I know Godwin’s law. But in this kind of discussion it’s plain unavoidable.

162

Martin Bento 05.08.08 at 4:51 am

On the subject of US support for the Khmer Rouge, I would like to point out that this support was not only diplomatic but military. Here’s a quick summary:

http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/cambodia/tl04.html

163

Chris Bertram 05.08.08 at 6:51 am

#153 “I’m still confused what Chris Bertram actually thinks Milliband’s essay was really about. The only point he stresses seems obvious.”

There’s an easy enough way to work out for yourself what the essay is about ….

164

Chris Bertram 05.08.08 at 6:55 am

#148 “Well, for obvious reasons you didn’t say that outright and paid lip-service to human rights concerns …”

Actually the reason I didn’t say that is, indeed, really obvious. And I don’t pay “lip-service” to human rights, I believe in them. And I don’t appreciate dickheads inviting me to “come clean”.

165

Mikhail 05.08.08 at 7:10 am

I like how ‘notsneaky’ claims falsehood of any progressive things of the USSR and other things, and then backs up his views with posts filled with words like ‘possibly’, ‘likely’, ‘probably’… If you do not own a clue, just say so! You should learn to listen to people who have actually lived there and know what they are talking about!

166

abb1 05.08.08 at 7:44 am

Brownie: Except there are no self-describing leftist bloggers arguing that we should apply some “perspective” (abb1) to this crime, unlike those committed in the name of Soviet-style communism.

But everybody knows the story of the Indians, both sides of the story. Here it is, from the European perspective: Europeans settled in America, moved West, the Indians resisted, became a nuisance, obstruction to the progress, they had to go. It’s the story of a conflict, obvious conflict that was resolved, however ruthlessly and tragically.

Practically no one in the US would argue that, say, George Washington was an evil madman who massacred Indians and wiped out their villages for no reason.

But that’s pretty much the pop-view of the events in Eastern Europe for the most of the 20th century. Well, it’s full of real conflicts too. It’s tragic, but it (or most of it anyway) has logic, unavoidable logic.

167

notsneaky 05.08.08 at 7:45 am

“You should learn to listen to people who have actually lived there and know what they are talking about!”

I lived next door where things were more progressive. And they weren’t that progressive.

168

notsneaky 05.08.08 at 7:50 am

And I just looked over what I said. Which “probably”, “possibly” or “likely” are you objecting to specifically? What’s there belongs there. And yes, I was trying to be deferential to the fact that some other people had different experiences.

169

Dave 05.08.08 at 7:57 am

Oh FFS grow up the lot of you. The USSR, right up to the eve of glasnost, was a place where anyone having the kind of discussion you are so ineptly trying to have would have been spied on, noted down, and for the majority of the USSR’s history at severe if not inevitably peril of imprisonment, coercive interrogation, exile, hard labour and/or plain good old-fasioned death. It was a self-sustaining tornado of human malice, feeding off the bastardised remnants of a not-very-coherent variety of crude nineteenth-century positivism.

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abb1 05.08.08 at 8:27 am

The USSR, right up to the eve of glasnost, was a place where anyone having the kind of discussion you are so ineptly trying to have would have been spied on, noted down, and for the majority of the USSR’s history at severe if not inevitably peril of imprisonment, coercive interrogation, exile…

That’s not true, Dave. Post-Stalin you could have any kind of private discussion, no one cared, nothing would’ve happened to you. People were making jokes about Brezhnev, other party leaders and the Soviet system itself, the kind of jokes you would find objectionable if it was said about Bush or Clinton or the US. They shared these jokes at their workplace among the colleagues – something you probably wouldn’t want to do in the US. No problem.

171

Chris Bertram 05.08.08 at 8:31 am

“a self-sustaining tornado of human malice”

The blogosphere in a nutshell!

172

ajay 05.08.08 at 10:42 am

171: I think CB is trying to say that he is shocked, shocked! that a post touching on the merits or otherwise of the Soviet Union should have provoked such rancour. Who’d have thunk it?

Next up – “But I just made a harmless comment about the West Bank/abortion/the Democratic primary and now you’re all being horrible and arguing with each other!”

173

Dave 05.08.08 at 11:54 am

“you would find objectionable if it was said about Bush or Clinton or the US”

a) No I f*cking wouldn’t. b) There is a difference between jokes shared in private and an attempt at open, public criticism that I should have thought even a fool could see. c) You are a purblind starry-eyed optimist about the Soviet system, there is clearly no point in reasoning with you. In a vain attempt, however, may I suggest you read even a little of what has emerged about what the Stasi were up to in the DDR, and reflect on the mental gymnastics necessary to imagine that things were significantly better in the USSR itself?

174

engels 05.08.08 at 12:30 pm

I don’t think one has to agree with everything abb1 has written on this thread, or to be an uncritical admirer of the USSR, in order to find views like those expressed in #169 offensively vitriolic, extreme and one-sided; and to feel that this judgment is only slightly mitigated by the strong impression their author gives of being rather unhinged.

175

abb1 05.08.08 at 12:33 pm

Well, Dave, I know a lot about the USSR, I lived there. I know very little about the DDR, I only went there once for two weeks when I was a kid.

I read a book written by an Australian women about Stasi and it didn’t impress me much. I also watched the recent film about the Stasi, it was better. It became obvious to me that the DDR was different for a number of reasons, the main reason being that it had a border with West Germany, plus American-dominated West Berlin in the middle of it. Especially considering that people across the border were Germans too.

Another thing about the movie is that it’s a story of some famous playwright and his famous actress girlfriend. Sure, I can (slightly) feel their pain, but these are not ordinary people. Decent film, though.

176

christian h. 05.08.08 at 12:40 pm

Well, it’s nice to see that notsneaky can dish it out, but can’t take it.

As for Portugal, Ireland and Greece, if you really believe that the health and education systems in those countries in 1979/80 (when Miliband wrote his article) were superior to those in Eastern Europe, then you might want to, you know, talk to people who lived there at the time.

I also ask again if you stand by your contention that in Eastern Europe the levels of economic and social security and basic education IMPROVED in the aftermath [of the transition to private capitalism]? Given how absurdly wrong that assertion is, why should we believe any of your factual claims?

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Dave 05.08.08 at 12:48 pm

Groan, people are actually sticking up for the USSR as a place where life was good, and I get called unhinged! Funny I don’t remember the widespread clamour amongst the Russian people for the system NOT to evaporate in 89-91. What I do remember is seeing people demonstrating a few years later with pictures of Stalin. Maybe you can comment on the psychology behind that? Is there a word for what happens when Stockholm Syndrome goes mass?

I’m sorry to have to say this, but you’re the crazy ones, really you are. I don’t begin to know what the answers to your problems are, and I stress again that I couldn’t give a rat’s arse for any kind of rightist position on anything, but the kind of rubbish you’re talking about a system second only to Nazi Germany in its systematic denial of basic human dignity just has to be countered, in the name of humanity.

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engels 05.08.08 at 1:00 pm

Groan, people are actually sticking up for the USSR as a place where life was good, and I get called unhinged!

No, you get called unhinged because although it is obvious that no-one said that ‘life was good’ in the old USSR you insist on pretending that they did. Rather than engaging with any of the people present here you seem to prefer ranting and swearing at the straw men in your head.

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christian h. 05.08.08 at 1:21 pm

Groan, people are actually sticking up for the USSR as a place where life was good,

Quotes, please? And no, refusal to declare every single feature of life in the SU hellish doesn’t count as saying “life was good” there.

What I do remember is seeing people demonstrating a few years later with pictures of Stalin. Maybe you can comment on the psychology behind that?

Easy: life had gotten even worse for many people.

180

abb1 05.08.08 at 1:22 pm

Hey, Dave, it’s bad everywhere. Here in Switzerland I just paid $125 fine for letting my Yorki off the leash in a totally empty public park; see – those jack-booted ‘securite’ thugs oppressed me like the commies never had or would. Talk about human dignity. Once I paid a speeding ticket for driving 53km/hr in a 50km/hr zone in Zurich; had I refused to pay they would’ve seized my assets, I’m sure; probably locked me up in some dungeon.

But there are good things too, certainly here but, really, almost everywhere; something that’s plain terrible wouldn’t have survived for 7 decades.

181

Rofe 05.08.08 at 1:55 pm

abb1 (#30): Sure, the experiment failed eventually, but not because of any crimes, just the lousy economic system.

I’m well behind the curve in reading through this thread so I presume that someone has addressed this nonsense already. However, this sentence is simply the most revolting piece of trash I’ve ever read on a blog.

abb1, you really need to bone up on your Soviet history. After a fair weekend’s worth of reading, come back to us and let us know if you still think there were no crimes involved in ‘the experiment’.

Cheers,

182

notsneaky 05.08.08 at 3:05 pm

abb1, quick question. A personal one, but pertinent. Are you a native born USSRian? When you lived there, where you a citizen?
If not then I hope you realize that your experiences were atypical, your access to various resources greater relative to typical Russians, and even your social group not representative.

183

abb1 05.08.08 at 3:14 pm

I was born there and I was a citizen, long time ago. I think my experiences are more or less typical for Moscow, though Moscow itself was rather atypical, probably still is.

184

Charles Pooter 05.08.08 at 3:26 pm

Kamm has never seen a war he didn’t like.

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Dr. Minorka 05.08.08 at 4:06 pm

notsneaky in #145:
“But this is junk too. Certainly in Eastern Europe the levels of economic and social security and basic education IMPROVED in the aftermath.”
Really? In this case Hungary is not part of Eastern Europe.

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Rofe 05.08.08 at 4:07 pm

Aha, so abb1 lived in the USSR and defends it like it was merely the flip side of a speeding ticket.

abb1, were you one of the protestors who held up the Stalin posters or were you one of the Stalinists who persecuted people who didn’t?

And for the rest of the Soviet apologists, seriously grow up. You really don’t get to argue the inequities elsewhere when you completely degrade your starting position.

Cheers

187

abb1 05.08.08 at 4:09 pm

Rofe, I said that the experiment failed solely because of the lousy economic system; how does it follow that there were no crimes?

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Chris Bertram 05.08.08 at 4:13 pm

_I think CB is trying to say that he is shocked, shocked! that a post touching on the merits or otherwise of the Soviet Union should have provoked such rancour. Who’d have thunk it?_

Well you have a point, but neither the post nor the article it referred to said _anything_ about whether the Soviet Union was a good, bad or indifferent place to live. Like you say, the merest mention of some things (Soviet experience, Israel/Palestine) is enough to set of a storm of angry comments.

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Mikhail 05.08.08 at 4:24 pm

the merest mention of some things … is enough to set of a storm of angry comments

Which I think is the sure sign that these topics were/are a propaganda battleground once. People tend to have strong unyielding opinions (even in the face of facts) either having been subjected to some sort of “brainwashing” or when it’s personal. Neither case allows them to argue the point rationally and critically which leads to the vitriol at the expense of a rational view which might actually help understand the issues better.

190

abb1 05.08.08 at 4:30 pm

Speeding ticket is nothing. I remember soon after I arrived in Massachusetts I went to a beach. So, I’m sitting there, sipping from a can of beer. Suddenly a cop shows up on a huge horse and he reacts as if it’s an armed robbery in progress; yelling like a madman and driving his horse right into me. I remember thinking: damn, Pravda was right, the police here really are out of control.

Turned out the beer can had to be in a brown bag, that would’ve made me an upstanding citizen; without a brown bag you are an enemy of the people.

Are you proudly drinking your beer from a brown bag? Or are you a cop who persecuted people without brown bag?

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Sebastian Holsclaw 05.08.08 at 4:57 pm

“Hey, Dave, it’s bad everywhere. Here in Switzerland I just paid $125 fine for letting my Yorki off the leash in a totally empty public park; see – those jack-booted ‘securite’ thugs oppressed me like the commies never had or would. Talk about human dignity. Once I paid a speeding ticket for driving 53km/hr in a 50km/hr zone in Zurich; had I refused to pay they would’ve seized my assets, I’m sure; probably locked me up in some dungeon.”

Wow. Just, wow!

Surely that is someone impersonating abb1. Even he can’t be crazy enough to compare getting a leash-ticket in Switzerland to having to deal with the Stasi.

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Rofe 05.08.08 at 5:02 pm

I’d say that trying to put a rosey hue on one of the most miserable regimes in human history should generate angry comments in response.

abb1: It doesn’t follow that there were no crimes. There were plenty of crimes. And, in contrast to your position, they also contributed mightily to inner rot that brought down the Soviet regime. (I’ll gladly move away from the cozy term ‘experiment’ to portray a system that brutalized hundreds of millions and killed tens of millions of them.)

In other words, the regime didn’t fall solely because of economics, a view that wilfully ignores the facts that Mikhail is so fond of.

So you’ve been persecuted for your dog in Switzerland and persecuted for your beer in the US. The builders of the White Sea canal or the diggers for Kolyma gold repose that much more warmly in their graves knowing you had to endure so much more.

Cheers,

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engels 05.08.08 at 5:14 pm

I’d say that trying to put a rosey hue on one of the most miserable regimes in human history should generate angry comments in response.

Could you quote the part of Chris’ post, or of Miliband’s essay, that attempts to do this?

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notsneaky 05.08.08 at 5:21 pm

“Really? In this case Hungary is not part of Eastern Europe.”

Alright, you people are freakin’ insane, regardless of where you grew up or whatever.

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abb1 05.08.08 at 5:25 pm

Sebastian, why would you have to deal with the Stasi? If you’re an upstanding citizen who follows the law, doesn’t let the dog off the leash, drinks his beer from a brown bag, doesn’t smoke pot, and isn’t trying to escape to the west – you have nothing to worry about. Most people understand this and behave accordingly, adapt to their environment. This is not that complicated. If the environment is too hard to adapt to, then the whole thing falls apart quickly, you’ll see suicide bombers and weird stuff like that.

196

notsneaky 05.08.08 at 5:28 pm

“Could you quote the part of Chris’ post, or of Miliband’s essay, that attempts to do this?”

Can you please re read this fucking thread? Like say, christian’s comments?

Tell you what, we can have a nice conversation about the positive aspects of life under National Socialism next. I mean, come on, there had to be some after all. And hey, didn’t they have Universal Health Care too? And then we can jump over anybody who dares to point out that you know, in the light of the bad aspects, whatever positive aspects there might have been probably shouldn’t be brought up as they are inconsequential and offensive to basic standards of decency. But we’ll be sure to cover our asses with a bunch of weasly, caveats like “but of course I’m not saying that life there was great” while continuing to make pathetic excuses for that which is pretty much inexcusable.

197

Dr. Minorka 05.08.08 at 5:37 pm

““Really? In this case Hungary is not part of Eastern Europe.”
Alright, you people are freakin’ insane, regardless of where you grew up or whatever.”
Excuse me, for a moment i was blindfolded by the facts. But I live here:)

198

notsneaky 05.08.08 at 5:37 pm

“Well, it’s nice to see that notsneaky can dish it out, but can’t take it.”

I don’t even know what the monkey hell you’re talking about.

“As for Portugal, Ireland and Greece, if you really believe that the health and education systems in those countries in 1979/80 (when Miliband wrote his article) were superior to those in Eastern Europe, then you might want to, you know, talk to people who lived there at the time.”

If you had been paying attention you’d realize that I HAD LIVED THERE (Eastern Europe). Never lived in P, I or G but knew plenty of people who did and pretty much everyone I knew in Eastern Europe would have given their right arm and left leg to be allowed to move to those places in the late 70’s/earl 80’s.

And come on, at the end of the day, in order to provide education, health services etc. you need resources. As in money. In late 70’s/early 80’s Eastern Europe didn’t have that money. Those places did.

“Given how absurdly wrong that assertion is, why should we believe any of your factual claims?”

Ok. Let me participate in this insane spectacle for one more act and take this seriously. If you’re talking former Soviet-BLOC then unless you’re a fool, or a former member (or related to former members) of the CP, there’s no way you can argue that things have not improved. You could’ve maybe made that argument in 1991 but not in 2008. Probably not in 1995 for most places.

If you’re talking former Soviet-UNION it’s a close call. The whole damn thing crashed and things got worse. But things were worse in 1988 then they were in 1985, in 1985 then in 1980, in 1980 then in 1975 so “capitalism” or whatever probably didn’t have all that much to do with the fact that things are maybe worse now then in 1988, rather, up until 2001 or so, it’s just the result of a continuing downward trend which brought about the crash in the first place.

199

notsneaky 05.08.08 at 5:46 pm

“Excuse me, for a moment i was blindfolded by the facts. But I live here”

Then Hungary must’ve really really fallen behind Poland since the mid 90’s.

200

abb1 05.08.08 at 5:51 pm

I hear that these days Poland is doing better than East Germany.

201

notsneaky 05.08.08 at 5:54 pm

That may be true but the possible variance in standards of living between Poland, Czech R., Slovak R., Hungary and East Germany is way too small to be able to say that “things are worse now then in 1988” for any of them.

202

Dr. Minorka 05.08.08 at 5:58 pm

Notsneaky!
In Hungary it is a popular “misunderstanding” that pre-1989 life was better. Two-thirds of the population thinks so. Capitalism is highly unpopular. Sorry, this are facts. Consult the press.
Of course nobody wants the one-party state.

203

abb1 05.08.08 at 6:03 pm

Well, this is purely anecdotal; someone I know drove across and he says that East Germany looks abandoned, everything’s closed, no lights, no nothing – and as soon as you enter Poland you see signs of life everywhere again. Not a scientific experiment.

204

Chris Williams 05.08.08 at 7:10 pm

Those Hungarians who keep on voting for the ex-Communists – who put them in power every other chance they get, in fact – might have some take on whether the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party was:

a) Pure evil

or

b) Not pure evil.

NB – owing to the inescapable influence of a foreign ‘socialist’ power on the course taken by Hungary since 1945, this post is even relevant to the Gimlet/Milliband issue.

205

Jonathan Mayhew 05.08.08 at 7:50 pm

Sebastian, why would you have to deal with the Stasi? If you’re an upstanding citizen who follows the law, doesn’t let the dog off the leash, drinks his beer from a brown bag, doesn’t smoke pot, and isn’t trying to escape to the west – you have nothing to worry about.

I hope this is sarcastic. As I understand it the Stasi entered every aspect of life through a broad network of civilian informants and might ask you to spy on your friends and neighbors at any moment. But you have nothing to worry about if you’re an “upstanding citizen”? WTF?

206

geo 05.08.08 at 8:20 pm

Dear CT administrators,

Perhaps, as a requirement for permission to comment, people could sign off on a brief statement, something like this: “I hereby acknowledge that Stalinist and Maoist totalitarianism was indeed atrociously evil and responsible for tens of millions of deaths, and that nothing I say on Crooked Timber or elsewhere is intended to gainsay this.” This wouldn’t bar anyone, since I can’t imagine anyone I’ve ever read on Crooked Timber denying the above. And it might save a lot of indignant misunderstanding, which in turn would positively affect the blood pressure levels of several CT commenters.

207

Mikhail 05.08.08 at 8:38 pm

This is great :)

atrociously evil and responsible for tens of millions of deaths

… these are two different things, not necessarily related to each other or causative …

US government is also *directly* responsible for millions of deaths, so is it also evil then? :)

208

abb1 05.08.08 at 9:07 pm

Jonathan, from what I read about the Stasi it appears that most of their internal activity had to do with people trying to escape. And the dissidents, of course, but that’s pretty much a subset of those who were trying to escape. Most people, I noticed, don’t care about escaping or politics; they live their lives, eat, drink, go to work, get married, raise their children, retire, go fishing, die. Nothing interesting for the Stasi.

Although, for the reasons I mentioned earlier, it appears that in the DDR there was indeed an usually high number of people who wanted to escape, so it’s a bit of a special case.

209

Jonathan Mayhew 05.08.08 at 10:01 pm

To find the UNusually high number of people who want to escape you have to spy on just about everyone, so your second paragraph basically negates your first. The idea that this kind of surveillance would leave untouched basic human life and work is absurd on the face of it. Though why anyone would want to escape a repressive police state is a mystery to me. After all, according to you they leave you alone UNLESS YOU ALREADY WANT TO ESCAPE.

210

Donald Johnson 05.08.08 at 10:49 pm

I’ll avoid most of this, but Sebastian wants to compare US-inflicted deaths with Soviet-inflicted ones. I don’t think it’s easy to do. My impression is that the bulk of the 20 million or so dead within the USSR were famine deaths as a result of insane economic policies, not deliberate killing–the number actually executed is in the low millions, from what I’ve read. Of course some people claim much higher numbers, but I don’t know that there’s any documentation for those numbers. The lower numbers come from the documents. Which of course are bound to be incomplete.

The US obviously hasn’t done anything remotely as bad to its own citizens in the 20th century. Externally, if you start counting up the number of people killed in US wars or US-sponsored killings after WWII it might approach 10 million. There’s Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos (2-5 million), Korea (2-4 million), Angola (0.5 million), Indonesia and East Timor (1 million or so) and Central America (300,000). You could argue that the blame for most of these deaths should be split between the US and the commies, so in that case the US is somewhat less bloodstained, but we still have millions of deaths to our discredit. I think some people would also say that US-imposed economic policies have killed large numbers, but maybe someone else can make that case, if there is one to be made.

I don’t think there’s any communist country I’d have want to live in, btw and I’m not comparing life in a Western democracy to life in a communist dictatorship–that seems a bit loony to me. You can poke some pretty big holes in Western complacency without resorting to that, not that too many people were doing this in this thread.

211

El Cid 05.09.08 at 1:30 am

It wasn’t just “critics” and investigative reporters who pointed out that the nearly decade long U.S. bombardment and then carpet bombing (1965 – 1973) of Cambodia handed power to the lunatic Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

The U.S.’ own CIA was pointing it out at the time — noting that Khmer Rouge recruitment in villages went up staggeringly after each U.S. bombing of the rural towns & villages.

http://www.yale.edu/cgp/us.html

Of objectively disputable points made by Miliband in the essay, it would be his desire that somehow internal resistance within Cambodia could have overturned the tyrannical regime without the Vietnamese invasion.

It’s clear that what Miliband is mourning is not the fall of the Khmer Rouge murderers, but the crushed possibility of some self-liberation by Cambodians themselves, and this is why he regrets the Vietnamese invasion — that Vietnam had done so for reasons inherent to the Vietnamese regime, not that of the empowered liberation of the Cambodian people.

I’m no expert, but I’ve never encountered any sort of evidence-based analysis which argued for the possibility of such an internal overthrow. It seems more likely to me that the misery would have long continued without the Vietnamese action (which the U.S. vehemently opposed).

212

christian h. 05.09.08 at 3:22 am

notsneaky, you are simply ignoring the the facts. There is absolutely no doubt that the life expectancy, infant, mortality and other indicators of social health have gotten worse in the former SU compared to pre-1989. Look it up. Actually, I’m going to help you out:

Life expectancy (at birth) in Russia 2007 was 67.7 years according to wikipedia. According to Michael Ryan, “Life expectancy and mortality data from the Svoeit Union” British Medical Journal 296:1513-1515, life expectancy at birth in the SU 1986 (post-Glasnost) was 69.6 years (for 1985/86 combined, RFSR life expectancy was slightly higher than the average SU life expectancy).

That you presume to generalize from your personal experience in Poland to all of Eastern Europe proves only that you are immune to facts, nothing else.

213

abb1 05.09.08 at 6:24 am

Jonathan, I don’t know, but I suspect the number of potential escapees wasn’t that high even in the DDR.

Surveillance is necessary, because escaping, unlike other kinds of destructive behavior, has to be detected and stopped before the actual crime takes place; in this sense it’s more like terrorism than like drinking in public.

The logic is the same with all of the examples I mentioned:

IF a large enough number of people will be
taking drugs/drinking openly/taking dogs off leash/escaping
THEN the society will collapse

And if you believe that your society has a great value – and those on top always do – then you need to prevent people from engaging in destructive behavior. The easiest way (the only way, perhaps?) is to catch and punish the offenders thus intimidating the rest, send them the clear signal that it isn’t worth it.

There’s nothing special in the DDR’s example of it. One could easily write a book about the DEA or Homeland Security that would be much scarier than the Stasi book.

214

notsneaky 05.09.08 at 8:33 am

christian, I specifically distinguished between former SU and former Soviet bloc, which you would’ve have known had you’ve actually read what I said.

215

ejh 05.09.08 at 10:29 am

Tell you what, we can have a nice conversation about the positive aspects of life under National Socialism next.

Well, there goes Godwin’s Law, atomised by the power of rhetoric.

The Soviet Union is history. My university degree is in history and my understanding is that when one discusses history, one does so rationally, weighing up all the evidence regardless of whether or not it suits one’s argument. And this means that, when discussing the USSR, one <i<must be allowed to say there were good things about it, if they can be found, and one must be able to put the actions that took place there, however terrible, in the context of the circumstances that existed at the time and the actual beliefs and motives of the particpants. This way, ahd only this way, we can write and study history.

On the other hand, we can cry “apologist” at anybody who says anything that might seem to us to express approval for any aspect of the USSR. This quite common, and has always been common, but it isn’t history: it’s anticommunism. Or we can shout “would you say that about tNazi Germany?” But that isn’t history either, it’s rhetoric.

The Soviet Union fell because it deserved to fall and because it proved itself thoroughly inferior to its political and economic rival to the West. This being so, why all this hysteria when people say anything other than “it was total evil”? What are people afraid of? It’s not coming back.

216

ejh 05.09.08 at 10:32 am

Tell you what, we can have a nice conversation about the positive aspects of life under National Socialism next.

Well, there goes Godwin’s Law, atomised by the power of rhetoric.

The Soviet Union is history. My university degree is in history and my understanding is that when one discusses history, one does so rationally, weighing up all the evidence regardless of whether or not it suits one’s argument. And this means that, when discussing the USSR, one must be allowed to say there were good things about it, if they can be found, and one must be able to put the actions that took place there, however terrible, in the context of the circumstances that existed at the time and the actual beliefs and motives of the particpants. This way, and only this way, we can write and study history.

On the other hand, we can cry “apologist” at anybody who says anything that might seem to us to express approval for any aspect of the USSR. This quite common, and has always been common, but it isn’t history: it’s anticommunism. Or we can shout “would you say that about tNazi Germany?” But that isn’t history either, it’s rhetoric.

The Soviet Union fell because it deserved to fall and because it proved itself thoroughly inferior to its political and economic rival to the West. This being so, why all this hysteria when people say anything other than “it was total evil”? What are people afraid of? There’s not a problem. It’s not coming back.

(Apologies for re-posting: I missed a broken tag in the original, which could usefully be removed.)

217

ejh 05.09.08 at 10:34 am

Incidentally, on the original topic of Ollie Kamm and speaking ill of the dead, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that he gets off on it, and boasts about it, as this piece makes manifest.

218

John Meredith 05.09.08 at 10:54 am

“Incidentally, on the original topic of Ollie Kamm and speaking ill of the dead, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that he gets off on it, and boasts about it, as this piece makes manifest.”

I have often noticed that the blogosphere’s indignation at ‘speaking ill of the dead’ is highly selective and ideologically driven. I think the CT threads will bear this on the day that Maggie dies, although ejh will no doubt buck the trend and discuss her only with worshipful respect.

219

ejh 05.09.08 at 11:03 am

Hmmm. So we have an argument that I have not made and a speculation about what I would say if something happened that has not happened. Really, this is not very good, is it? Would you not prefer to engage with my argument?

220

John Meredith 05.09.08 at 11:23 am

“Would you not prefer to engage with my argument?”

Has one been made? In the post I referenced you just accused Kamm of ‘getting off’ on speaking ill of the dead. I merely pointed out that generally speaking on blogs this sort of accusation is just a tactic to preserve from criticism their ideological confreres. I know I was being naughtily speculative about you, but you could clear it up: will you feel constrained not to ‘speak ill’ of Thatcher once she is dead? Hmm?

221

ejh 05.09.08 at 11:37 am

I think you’re missing the point that there is a difference between doing something, and getting off on doing it, not to mention boasting about it. (There is also, I think, a difference between “pointing out” and “claiming”.)

222

Dave 05.09.08 at 11:50 am

I’d just like to point out, in closing, that at no point did our beloved abb1 recognise the fundamental distinction between societies where it is a serious crime to try to leave the country, and those where it is not. I find that very telling, perhaps others will too. The argument that, as long as you had absolutely no desire to do anything that might antagonise the authorities, they would leave you alone, so that was alright, is also poignant. It merits comparison to the tragic situation in the West, and the many ways in which Noam Chomsky, for example, has been made to suffer for his beliefs, spending decades in labour-camps, smuggling out his insightful messages on scraps of paper; forced, on release, to scrape a living as a street-sweeper…………

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abb1 05.09.08 at 12:38 pm

Dave, I feel that you exaggerate the significance of the ban on leaving the country, from average person’s point of view. Sounds like it’s very important to you and that’s fine, but there’s is a very large number of people out there who are outraged by a whole lot of various prohibitions and limitations (or lack of thereof): marijuana, abortion, death penalty, you name it.

As far as the labor-camps for Noam Chomsky are concerned, once again, if we are talking about the post-Stalin era, you’re completely off base here. Sakharov, who, arguably, is the Soviet equivalent of Chomsky, hasn’t spent a day in jail (not to mention non-existing labor-camps).

Writings of Sakharov and other critics of the regime were widely available by samizdat. I remember reading one (rather naive, as I see now) Sakharov’s piece where he was arguing that the existence of millionaires in capitalist West – he thought it was a negative phenomenon, as they are, clearly, parasites – nevertheless has to be accepted as a necessary evil; after all there are only few of them and they don’t really harm anybody, you know, being busy spending their millions, just being happy parasites. Naive, so naive.

Anyhow, Chomsky’s Zmag, if you ever held in your hands and browsed its paper copy, has almost the exact appearance of a samizdat publication.

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Mikhail 05.09.08 at 12:49 pm

abb1, there is no point arguing with people who clearly think they know best what is better for the rest of humanity. People like these (call them dissidents) are the ones that usually argue for revolutions, forgetting that they constitute only a minute % of the population where most people either don’t share their views or don’t care. They think that it’s Ok for the minority to decide for the majority if the majory doesn’t have a say – a curious aspect of democracy I’ve never been able to digest… :) No revolution ever in history actually lead to any direct improvements for the society. Just grief. Sure, sometimes in the long term (20-30 years) there were benefits, but it’s a guessing game – nobody knows what “would have happened” if the revolution didn’t take place…

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Rofe 05.09.08 at 12:51 pm

Dave, you beat me to it on both points.

In other words, abb1 is apparently content to take the regime’s point of view – that “escape” is a crime rather than a straightforward attempt to improve one’s lot, an attempt that is defined in free societies as “emigrating”, “leaving” or simply “moving”.

And when one is content to take the regime’s point of view, one is also happy to overlook the distinction between living abb1’s estimation of day-to-day life working, fishing and raising a family (of course with the compromises one makes under the latent threat of denunciation by a co-worker, friend or family member – the consequences of which vary by regime) versus an Archie Bunker life of working, fishing and raising a family (sans the threat).

So, abb1, we see where you’re coming from. No thanks.

Cheers,

226

ejh 05.09.08 at 1:02 pm

Sakharov, who, arguably, is the Soviet equivalent of Chomsky, hasn’t spent a day in jail

He was however sent into internal exile, was he not?

227

christian h. 05.09.08 at 1:07 pm

christian, I specifically distinguished between former SU and former Soviet bloc, which you would’ve have known had you’ve actually read what I said.

versus:

But this is junk too. Certainly in Eastern Europe the levels of economic and social security and basic education IMPROVED in the aftermath.

notsneaky, so what you are now admitting is that in the largest part of Eastern Europe – the former soviet Union – economic and social security did not improve. In other words, you simply happened to be wrong. Of course, your generalization is still wrong – clearly, economic life did improve in some – most – former satellites, and not in others (lie Bulgaria, for example).

You also seem to accuse me of making excuses for Stalinist crimes. I’m not – this is simply a lie, brought about by your inability to view historical developments rationally. Anyway, please quote me excusing any crimes of Stalinism, or apologize.

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Rofe 05.09.08 at 1:07 pm

Mikhail, you seem to forget that one revolution did lead to direct improvements for its society. And also laid the foundation for the resolution of the stain on that revolution.

A number of us are indeed arguing from the point of view that our revolutionary model (American) is superior to your revolutionary model (Bolshevik). Just because many more revolutions have followed the Bolshevik model doesn’t invalidate the American model.

And, if you care to abide by Engels focus on facts, I’m sure you’ll admit to the respective outcomes – a pluralistic society on the one hand (with all of its warts) versus a murderous totalitarian regime on the other hand (with its handful of social benefits).

Cheers,

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Rofe 05.09.08 at 1:11 pm

Okay christian h., I’ll see you Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary as Soviet or Soviet Bloc states where economic and social security did not improve upon Soviet takeover.

What do you bid in return, i.e. Eastern European states where economic and social security improved?

Cheers

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Dave 05.09.08 at 1:15 pm

mikhail, what are you talking about? abb1 is defending a society where unchallengeable members of a one-party system got to decide what was best for everyone, whether they liked it or not. Those were “people who clearly think they know best what is better for the rest of humanity”, not me. Your post suggests, in fact, that you agree with them. If you do, be honest and say so, don’t try to insinuate that disagreeing with a one-party dictatorship is tantamount to wishing to order people around. Apart from anything else, it makes you look crazy.

abb1, the day the US govt forces Chomsky to move to a closed city, as the USSR did to Sakharov between 1980 and 1986, then you’ll be talking sense. In the meantime, dream on. BTW, you do realise that your ‘ordinary people don’t care as long as they’re fed’ argument works just fine for pretty much any kind of persecuting dictatorship, from Soviet Communism to Nazism, by way of pogroms, red-baiting, witch-hunting, the Inquisition….? You could equally use it to justify slave-holding, the denial of women’s suffrage – in fact, pretty much anything you like, as long as anyone the system chooses to oppress automatically moves outside the ranks of ‘ordinary people’. Honestly, it just doesn’t help you sound good.

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John Meredith 05.09.08 at 1:16 pm

“He was however sent into internal exile, was he not?

Abb1 is under the impression that internal exile in the USSR was a kind of expenses-paid holiday. And she simply ignores all labour camp and lunatic asylum prisoners of conscience that Sakaharov campaigned for on his release. He must have been making it all up, the ingrate. And when some of the men were eventually released by Gorbachov from their non-existent camps and hospital wards, they must have been making it up too. A complex business getting all these people to join in the masquerade.

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abb1 05.09.08 at 1:17 pm

Mikhail, I don’t know about the revolutions, I’m just surprised by the incredible vitality of the cartoonish “The Evil Empire” attitude towards the USSR and the passion it still generates after all these years. It’s quite amazing.

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John Meredith 05.09.08 at 1:18 pm

“You could equally use it to justify slave-holding”

Yes, it is funny how CT-ers rarely feel the need (only for the sake of balance, you understand) to piously acknowledge the ‘social benefits’ that accrued through slavery in the US. Mind you, I may be speaking too soon.

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John Meredith 05.09.08 at 1:21 pm

“and the passion it still generates after all these years. It’s quite amazing”

Especially from its victims. No doubt you are equally astonished at the passions generated by the evils of the third reich. Both cases merely illustrate your lack of imagination and sympathy. They say nothing about the historical realities. And please, before you start, don’t ask us to recognise the ‘social benefits’ of nazism.

235

Rofe 05.09.08 at 1:30 pm

abb1 – the real shame is that the cartoonish “The Evil Empire” attitude obscures, and is used – by people like you – to obscure, just how evil the Soviet empire truly was.

Your chortling at “The Evil Empire” doesn’t change that evil, all the way down the list from outright murder to the ways people had to twist their morals to live with it.

Cheers,

236

christian h. 05.09.08 at 1:44 pm

Okay christian h., I’ll see you Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary as Soviet or Soviet Bloc states where economic and social security did not improve upon Soviet takeover.

rofe, what the hell are you talking about? We were discussing the impacts of the transition to private capitalism in the former Soviet bloc.

Just for notsneaky’s information, here are some comparisons of health statistics for Poland and Portugal in 1980:

Infant mortality (per 1000 life births): Poland 21, Portugal 25.

Life exp. at birth: Poland 70.9, Portugal 70.2.

Does this mean life in Poland was better than in Portugal in 1980? No. Economic security isn’t everything, after all. Personal freedoms do matter. Which is why I simply don’t understand the need to frantically deny the facts about the progress on economic security achieved in the communist world. Stalin would have been an evil bastard even if every surviving Russian would have been rich beyond their wildest dreams.

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abb1 05.09.08 at 1:46 pm

The point of the exile was to prevent him from contacting foreigners, giving interviews and so on. He lived in an apartment in a city, in the European part of the country. I got the impression that he even had a car, and possibly a chauffeur? Not sure.

Chomsky actually did spend time in jail, a few times.

And she simply ignores all labour camp and lunatic asylum prisoners of conscience that Sakaharov campaigned for on his release.

There were no labor camps after 1960. Indeed, I heard that a few dissidents were diagnosed with schizophrenia and held in a clinic. That’s bad.

During about the same period in the US the FBI was carrying out operation COINTELPRO, in some cases simply murdering black activists. That’s worse.

And what about all those (documented) stories about the Feds flooding inner-city ghettos with drugs? You think it’s better than the ban on leaving the country?

238

ejh 05.09.08 at 1:48 pm

I think, abb1, that in general it was somewhat easier to be a dissenter in the US after 1960 than it was in the USSR, despite the fact that the US government and its agencies, at home and abroad, did many dreadful things.

239

Rofe 05.09.08 at 2:03 pm

Okay, christian h., real slow now:

. . . economic life did improve in some – most – former satellites . . .

This is a quote from you (#227 above). I (admittedly glibly) contend that you are wrong. The states I cited all had higher standards of living before Soviet rule than after.

Unless, of course, you want to take their economic conditions in May 1945 versus a decade later.

Clear enough?

Cheers,

240

abb1 05.09.08 at 2:04 pm

it was somewhat easier to be a dissenter in the US after 1960 than it was in the USSR

The intellectual kind – for sure, no question about that.

But being a political activist in a ghetto? Labor organizer for seasonal agricultural workers? Not obvious at all.

241

ejh 05.09.08 at 2:09 pm

Well, the latter examples didn’t really happpen very much in the USSR, did they?

I do think that the US government, in this period, did manage to shoot a number of political dissenters individually and the Soviet government by this stage tended not to (although there is Novocherkassk, is there not?) but in general it does seem to me that the ability to organise, to speak and to publish was considerably greater in the US.

242

John Meredith 05.09.08 at 2:15 pm

“Well, the latter examples didn’t really happpen very much in the USSR, did they?”

Because it was impossible to do any of those things and remain on the street. You got whisked to one of those mythical labour camps. Membership of an independent trade union was illegal in the USSR as it is today in Cuba.

Why haven’t we got a word for denialists like Abb1? We know what to call them when they try to sugar the crimes of the Nazis but they seem to get an easy ride when they apologise the equivalent brutalities of the Soviet communists.

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John Meredith 05.09.08 at 2:16 pm

“I do think that the US government, in this period, did manage to shoot a number of political dissenters individually”

Which ones?

244

Rofe 05.09.08 at 2:16 pm

abb1, we’ll even take you for your word. There were no labor camps after 1960. That means there were labor camps for 60% of the Soviet Union’s history, the first 60%.

Do you intend to ignore those 43 years (not to mention the suffering they entail)?

Do you contend that the ensuing 29 years were a period of flourishing personal freedom – or just the absence of labor camps?

Do you think the first 43 years of labor camps, show trials, executions, deportations, arbitrary denunciations and suffering had any impact on how the people toed the party line in the next 29 years?

Maybe, just maybe, the final 40% of Soviet history – your golden age free from labor camps – came about because Soviet citizen had been beaten, bled and cowed into submission.

Cheers,

245

abb1 05.09.08 at 2:21 pm

And please, before you start, don’t ask us to recognise the ‘social benefits’ of nazism.

Like I said, communism is an idea. An implementation can be terrible or only bad, or maybe it’s impossible to implement at all – I don’t know, but the idea itself seems fine. To me, at least.

Nazism, on the other hand is substantially based on racism, the idea that I find irrational. The most successful implementation of Nazism sounds like a very bad possibility.

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ejh 05.09.08 at 2:23 pm

#243: oooh, there’s Fred Hampton and others, there’s people at Kent and Jackson State….

247

ejh 05.09.08 at 2:27 pm

Maybe, just maybe, the final 40% of Soviet history – your golden age free from labor camps – came about because Soviet citizen had been beaten, bled and cowed into submission.

That’s must be part of the truth, I think: but true also might be the suggestion that if you repress on a wide enough scale you terrorise everybody including your own functionaries and supporters, and eventually nobody wants that to continue. Historically, most repressions wind down eventually.

248

abb1 05.09.08 at 2:29 pm

Rofe, you’re just trolling at this point.

249

Rofe 05.09.08 at 2:34 pm

Okay, then I’m trolling.

Apart from justifying the Soviet Union, what are you doing?

Cheers,

250

abb1 05.09.08 at 2:42 pm

Nah, EJH, come on. There was stalinism, the totalitarian period. As soon as Stalin died they stopped it, that was the end of it. Then there was a period of significant liberalization called Khrushchev Thaw. Then there were a little more restricted periods again, back and forth. It’s also connected with the geopolitical situation, Americans trying to destabilize the system, brain-drain, Jewish emigration and so on. People are the same, most don’t care, others are pushing the envelope, as usual.

251

ejh 05.09.08 at 2:45 pm

As soon as Stalin died they stopped it, that was the end of it.

Really? There was freedom of speech, freedom of publication, freedom to travel abroad, freedom to organise independent trades unions?

252

christian h. 05.09.08 at 2:57 pm

Okay, christian h., real slow now:

. . . economic life did improve in some – most – former satellites . . .

This is a quote from you (#227 above). I (admittedly glibly) contend that you are wrong. The states I cited all had higher standards of living before Soviet rule than after.

rofe, this is what happens if you don’t read the whole thread – which admittedly has gotten out of hand. What I was saying there is that economic life in most of the former satellites improved after 1989 as compared to before – something I’m sure you agree with. Not so, however, in the former SU.

(By the way, if you do want to claim that economic and social security was better in, say, Hungary in 1939 than in 1969 or so, I’d like to see some evidence. I highly doubt it.)

253

christian h. 05.09.08 at 2:59 pm

Sigh. Everything in 252. up to and including “rule than after” should have been italicized. We need preview!

254

Mikhail 05.09.08 at 3:09 pm

dave: I’m not saying that one-party system is good. I AM saying however, that the belief in the rights of a minority over a majority is incompatible with democratic ideals. Russia or USSR never pretended to be democratic, so this argument cannot be applied there. What I’m pointing out is that if *you* think you’re a democrat, you cannot possible think that forcing other people to agree to your social system choice can be a good thing… :-)

rofe: America never had a “revolution”. Surely, you don’t think the Civil War was one? Besides, there has already been a discussion here on the reasons for that war and how much of it was based on ideology and how much in pure economic reasons.

Overall, you are continuing to prove my point which is that you think you know better and others should conform. In your mind, the USSR was evil and deserves annihilation. But there is a whole country (Russia) which will disagree with you – they don’t view it as “evil”, they view it as “history” from which lessons are to be learned. And this is the reason why Western sources recently claimed a “sharp decline of democratic values” or some crap like that in Russia under Putin. Who asked you? Leave it to them to deal with it, to figure it out! Especially, considering that the USSR has never actually done *anything* to you or to the US at large… :)

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Dave 05.09.08 at 3:09 pm

Can’t quite believe this is still going on, but hey, it’s Friday afternoon…

Sort of like ‘what have the Romans ever done for us’, but in reverse, isn’t it? “Ok, I’ll give you the gulags, the purges, the Ukrainian famine, the internal exile, the one-party state, the ban on independent labour organisation, the antisemitism, Katyn, the Doctors’ Plot, Lysenkoism, Chernobyl, AND the invasion of Czechoslovakia; but apart from all that, you’ve got to admit, communism was a lovely idea, wasn’t it?”

Meanwhile, one simple fact that we have to keep returning to – as soon as the CPSU lost the ability to maintain control by force, the USSR evaporated, poof! just like that. Given a choice, people took it, and the Soviet system was over.

Now, meanwhile, most interestingly, we find an ex-KGB man running Russia, hopping from the presidency to the premiership just today, surrounded by immensely rich and immensely ruthless individuals, and with the support of a huge majority of the Russian people. Perhaps it wasn’t all down to the Marxism after all, perhaps the Russians just don’t want ‘freedom’ when they can watch their leaders buying up football-clubs and sitting on more money than some countries, and still vote for them in hordes, as long as the vodka flows. Maybe they never really got serfdom out of their system; maybe the Russian soul really does yearn to wash its feet in the Indian Ocean [ooh, there’s a nice image!]; maybe they’re just weird. But it would be far from me to utter such an ethnic slur. So what’s your explanation? [But please, PLEASE don’t make it an international capitalist plot, I can write that one myself, and it’s sooo boring.]

256

Dave 05.09.08 at 3:15 pm

Ah, mikhail, I see, you’re saying ‘fuck off foreign bastards’. Yes, the cry of those oppressing what they choose to regard as ‘their own’ people down the ages. Pardon me if I continue to consider what happens in Russia as of concern to me, a citizen of the world who is allowed to take an interest in whether or not people everywhere can do their jobs without being murdered, can feed their families without needing to kow-tow to political bosses or bribe their way through bureaucracy, and who shouldn’t – yes shouldn’t – be inveigled into subscribing to mythologies of national ‘destiny’ or ‘strength’ as a substitute for social justice.

The Russian people’s own, homegrown, leaders have fucked them over so many times they’ve come to see being fucked over as their birthright; and with spokespersons such as yourself, to bitterly denounce any effort to point out that the huge hard thing up their ass didn’t get there by accident, and that walking bent double and pissing blood aren’t natural.

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Dr. Minorka 05.09.08 at 3:17 pm

“But it would be far from me to utter such an ethnic slur.”
Ahem…

258

ejh 05.09.08 at 3:17 pm

Mind you the term “international capitalist plot” is fairly boring too.

perhaps the Russians just don’t want ‘freedom’ when they can watch their leaders buying up football-clubs

Has anybody actually ever asked the Russian public, or indeed the football-watching portion thereof, what they think of Abramovich and his chums? Do they actually approve of them taking vast sums of money, dubiously acquired, out of Russia, in order to buy Chelsea and try to win the “Champions’ League”? Some of them may – perhaps on the basis of “well, I’d do it too if I could”. But has anybody asked?

259

christian h. 05.09.08 at 3:20 pm

dave, you really aren’t the brightest light, are you? If you were, maybe the straw men in your feverish imagination would be slightly more convincing.

260

abb1 05.09.08 at 3:24 pm

Really? There was freedom of speech…

No, of course not. I meant totalitarianism ended, ended decisively. No freedom of speech, etc., but no one cares what you think, what you read, what you listen to, your private conversations, your private life.

And that’s good enough for most people, especially if in return they get a decent social safety net.

But as the economy deteriorates – and the safety net along with it – they get pissed off, naturally.

261

ejh 05.09.08 at 3:31 pm

I meant totalitarianism ended, ended decisively. No freedom of speech, etc., but no one cares what you think, what you read, what you listen to, your private conversations, your private life.

But I don’t know that that’s really true, although of course the USSR was much less repressive in, say, 1970 than in say 1950. But I do think people got penalised for what they read, for instance and that people clearly were reported on in a way that plainly meant there was not quite the space between personal preferences and political actions that I think you suggest.

262

Mikhail 05.09.08 at 3:43 pm

the USSR evaporated, poof! just like that. Given a choice, people took it…

well, actually, as usual the people had absolutely nothing to do with it. the population was as usually inert and not caring. three people ended the USSR – Eltsin, Shushkevich & Kravchuk… each in their own interests, NOT because the people “demanded” it. :) That’s a popular misconception in the West.

dave: Russians do actually have brains and are not as brainwashed as you… might think. :) They know what’s good and what’s bad. the whole thing is much more complicated and rooted in centuries of history, culture and religion – nothing that you’d understand.

As for the public opinion of Abramovich and Chelsea – of course – the public doesn’t like it one bit! :) Why do you think the government was able to shut down Yukos? Everyone was sick and tired of the oligarchs. But now it’s starting to change – the realization is coming that rich people are not a bad thing, they actually help the economy. All the negativity was based on the means of accumulating wealth (sort of like the Rockfeller at one time…) and the fact that we haven’t had rich people for 70 years.

263

ajay 05.09.08 at 4:00 pm

Mikhail, you seem to forget that one revolution did lead to direct improvements for its society. And also laid the foundation for the resolution of the stain on that revolution.

I would be interested to hear why the American Revolution is credited with these “direct improvements”, rather than the good fortune of being situated on an immense, resource-rich and sparsely-populated continent separated by a large ocean from most possible enemies.

Also to hear why the American Revolution is credited with laying the foundation for the abolition of slavery, when in fact slavery was abolished in all the unrevolted bits of the British Empire a good deal earlier and a lot more peacefully than it was in the US.

As mentioned above, there’s a significant difference between countries that allow you to leave at will and countries that don’t. Perhaps it would be relevant to point out that the Underground Railroad ran north into Canada, not the other way.

264

abb1 05.09.08 at 4:03 pm

I don’t know ejh, it’s not my impression. Could you give an example?

265

ejh 05.09.08 at 4:04 pm

the good fortune of being situated on an immense, resource-rich and sparsely-populated continent separated by a large ocean from most possible enemies

To be fair, if you changed the word “ocean” for, say, “distance”, wouldn’t that also apply to Russia?

266

ejh 05.09.08 at 4:06 pm

I don’t know ejh, it’s not my impression. Could you give an example?

Well, a small example from my field of chess: when Mark Taimanov lost to Bobby Fischer in 1970 he lost a number of privileges including his flat. Among the charges against him was that he had been found to have books by Solzhenitsyn in his luggage.

267

abb1 05.09.08 at 4:24 pm

But that’s a famous guy (even I know the name) who could travel abroad, who represents the nation and all that crap. Even without the fame, just to be able to go abroad one had to demonstrate loyalty, pass a bunch of committees, know the right answers to ‘provocative’ questions, names of all foreign dignitaries and so on and so forth.

I’m talking about the ordinary people.

268

ejh 05.09.08 at 4:27 pm

Well, in that case I’m not sure I understand your point.

269

abb1 05.09.08 at 4:46 pm

Being able to travel abroad was a very big deal, great privilege. Like, for example, flying with a US president on his plane: you have to be vetted and found acceptable. You abuse your privilege – you’re in trouble; though you’re not going to jail or anything like that. Another thing is that it sounds like he was trying to smuggle Solzhenitsyn’s books into the country. That’s not the same as borrowing Solzhenitsyn’s book from your friend and reading it in your apartment.

In any case, it has nothing to do with the way ordinary people lived.

270

ejh 05.09.08 at 4:59 pm

Well, he had to smuggle it in because he couldn’t get it any other way.

Why doesn’t it have anything to do with the lives of ordinary people? Suppose some Muscovite Joe Blow read The Master and Margarita on the tram to work. Could he be sure of doing that without repercussions?

271

abb1 05.09.08 at 5:24 pm

Yes, I believe so. Master and Margarita wasn’t even banned, I don’t think, just not published until the 70s or 80s. But I think you could read the Gulag Archipelago in a metro train as well.

272

ejh 05.09.08 at 5:36 pm

Master and Margarita wasn’t even banned, I don’t think, just not published

A little too fine a distinction, do you not think?

I think you could read the Gulag Archipelago in a metro train as well

Mmm. Well, at this point I will have to express my scepticism as to that thesis, and bid you all – if anybody’s actually read this far – a very pleasant weeekend.

273

abb1 05.09.08 at 6:30 pm

I’ll tell you this: sometime around 1980 in a computer center in Moscow where I worked, I myself was printing books on an IBM mainframe printer, off the tape with a bunch of EBCDIC files that I copied somewhere. There was a bunch of different texts on that tape, I am sure some of them anti-soviet stuff, but the only one I remember is a russian translation of some scandinavian hard-core porn. I printed and gave away dozens, if not hundreds of copies of that stuff, everybody knew about it, dozens of people: technicians, programmers, managers. That was something to brag about.

Then at some point, months after it’d begun, someone started a rumor that the KGB found out about it, they are unhappy about it, and that they will come to interview people. Yes, some people got a little nervous – sure, if you’re manager it could hurt your career, especially if you’re waiting patiently for the opportunity to join The Party. In the end there was no KGB, nothing happened. True story, I swear.

Now, OTOH, around the same time a close friend of mine was an unofficial (underground?) Hebrew teacher and, of course, a Zionist and quite involved. I was around that for a while too. That was a bit more dangerous; there was actually an incident when the KGB came and confiscated his books. But that was already an organization of a sort, and at that time they were concerned about thousands of people trying to emigrate.

Anyway.

Bon weekend and happy pentecost.

274

notsneaky 05.09.08 at 7:10 pm

“Just for notsneaky’s information, here are some comparisons of health statistics for Poland and Portugal in 1980:

Infant mortality (per 1000 life births): Poland 21, Portugal 25.

Life exp. at birth: Poland 70.9, Portugal 70.2.”

Well, at least you’ve dropped the idiotic marixst rhetoric and are now talking actual numbers.

For life exp. at birth in 1980, you misplaced your decimal point for Poland. Life exp. at birth for Poland was actually 70.09. .09 not .9. And for Portugal it was actually 71.4.
(Hungary 69.09, Spain 75.35, Greece 74.36). Ok, honest mistake on your part here and you know 70.09 and 71.4 isn’t THAT big of a difference. Your infant mortality figures are essentially correct for 1980 (Hungary 23.1, Spain 11.8, Greece 20.2). But 1980 came essentially at the end of the so-called “Gierek era” of the 70’s which DID see great rises in standards of living, household consumption etc., ALL OF IT financed by borrowing like crazy in the international financial markets. After 1980 came the time to pay up all those huge debts that were accumulated during the previous 10 years and that’s where the trouble started.

So fast forward to 1985 (or even to 1990 if you like)
Life exp. at birth in Poland 70.55, Portugal 73.35. Infant mortality in Poland 18.5, Portugal 17.8.

Now let’s look at 2006, when things are supposedly worse then they were under the commies.
Life exp. at birth in Poland 75.14, infant mortality 6. So in terms of these indicators Poland did a lot of catching up with the West.

What about Hungary?

1980 LE = 69.06, IM = 23.1
1985 LE = 68.97, IM = 20.4
1990 LE = 69.32, IM = 14.8
2006 LE = 73.09, IM = 6.04

Of course, here I’m not even talking about per capita incomes, which grew at something like 4% per year in Poland since 1990 and 2.5% per year in Hungary since that always brings up the accusation that “it was only the elites which profited”. Which is also false seeing as how in Poland inequality actually FELL during the 90’s (risen since then a bit), stayed about the same in Hungary (risen a bit in 00’s – this seems to be a global trend), and likewise absolute poverty fell (Poland) and fell or stayed constant (Hungary), which means that what basically happened is that the ENTIRE income distribution shifted to the left more or less uniformly, at that rate of 4% or 2.5% per year.

275

engels 05.09.08 at 7:10 pm

Can you please re read this fucking thread?

A charming and attractive invitation which I am nonetheless forced to decline.

276

notsneaky 05.09.08 at 7:56 pm

It’s sort of interesting that there are essentially two parallel discussions going on here in which the “apologists” (sorry guys, that’s what you are) are actually disagreeing with each other implicitly.

You got abb1 arguing that essentially the former SU or East Germany in the post-Stalin period wasn’t really that politically oppressive but rather that people tried to flee those places because of the large income disparities with their Western neighbors (availability of doctor visits presumably not withstanding).

Then you got christian (and the good dr.) who wants to argue that the problem with the formerly communist countries was not that they had lower material living standards than at least the poorer areas of the West (and that “things got worse”) but rather that they were 1 party oppressive totalitarian states.

Well, of course I think that both sets of the “apologists” happen to be half-correct.

There was actually a similar discussion on CT awhile back initiated by Chris or Henry (can’t remember) in relation to that other German movie about the communist past (which was much worse and boring than The Lives of Others). If I remember correctly – and to caricature to some extent – the CTer involved was arguing that past a certain point differences in income etc. don’t matter and it’s the political freedoms that people care about. Back then I did argue that material differences in income do matter and that in fact a good number of people don’t really care about things like democracy or freedom of speech. I think abb1 almost got in trouble that time too.

So, as crazy as it may sound, if I was gonna pick a view closer to the truth here, I’d go with abb1. The economic differences and realities mattered a lot more. And abb1 is right that in the post-Stalin period the level of oppression got turned down a whole bit (he’s wrong on the comparison vis-a-vis Europe, or US, even US today). For example, after 1956, Poland essentially became a “normal” country. Not “normal” in the sense that Westerners think of as “normal” but that’s because the Western democracies, in the grand scheme of things – the whole world – are actually not that normal. It became normal in the sense that the level of oppression and authoritarianism basically converged to the world average (still high by Western standards).

Before you could get shot or thrown in prison for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, afterwards you only lost your job, or your kid didn’t get to go to college. If you persisted in saying the wrong things then you might get a visit from some friendly types who would explain to you in particular terms why you should stop. If you persisted in saying them publicly then you might’ve found yourself having a deadly “accident while drunk” – the very fact that the post Stalin regime tried to actually HIDE the politically motivated killings it still carried out (much more infrequently) points to the fact that things had changed. (An exception here would if you persisted in saying wrong things in public but had some international renown in which case it wasn’t a drunken accident but rather prison and/or interment). And to a large extent abb1 is right that if you shut up, didn’t make the wrong kind of jokes, avoided the wrong kind of people, neither cooperated with nor opposed the system you’d be pretty much left alone (unless they though you might be useful as an informer) to live out your drab gray Homo Sovieticus existence. The era of arrest-on-a-whim, or arrest because of your “class background”, or arrest because of a secret denunciation, was over. But it was still an era of a drab gray existence. And the drabness and grayness, in less poetic and more direct language, basically meant that, borrowing financed boom of the 70’s aside, material living conditions SUCKED.

277

Dr. Minorka 05.09.08 at 7:59 pm

What about Hungary?
2008 LE=73.18, IM=8.03
Let see the numbers after the idiotic marxist rhetoric:)
So the infant mortality dropped from 23.1 to 14.8 in socialist Hungary – it took ten years to achieve this. In capitalist Hungary the infant mortality dropped from 14.8 to 8.03 – it took 18 years to achieve this (and it is rising again). Fantastic argument!
“inequality … stayed about the same in Hungary (risen a bit in 00’s – this seems to be a global trend), and likewise absolute poverty fell or stayed constant (Hungary),”
You promised numbers instead of rhetoric!

278

Dr. Minorka 05.09.08 at 8:08 pm

“Then you got christian (and the good dr.) who wants to argue that the problem with the formerly communist countries was not that they had lower material living standards than at least the poorer areas of the West (and that “things got worse”) but rather that they were 1 party oppressive totalitarian states.”
This is deadly wrong!
What I basically intended to say is that the neoliberal transformation of Hungary SUCKED (by your terminology). Plus I do not think that Hungary was really poorer or richer than, say, Greece. The real problem was a stupid economic system.

279

notsneaky 05.09.08 at 8:15 pm

Ok. Sorry. The dr. only insists that things were economically better under communism than they are now, not that they were ever better than in poorer parts of Western Europe. It’s an important point.

280

Dr. Minorka 05.09.08 at 8:40 pm

Dear notsneaky!
May I ask you to abandon apalogetics and stick to the facts! damn facts:)
And you are very shy of facts and numbers (at least about Hungary):)

281

notsneaky 05.09.08 at 8:52 pm

My post above gave numbers for life expectancy and infant mortality for Hungary. I assumed that it was common knowledge that per capita incomes in Hungary are much high today than they were in 1988. The data on absolute poverty and inequality can be found just by googling it.

282

Howard Shaw 05.09.08 at 9:01 pm

http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2008/05/more-on-miliban.html

Looks more like idiotic little philosophy lecturer.

283

abb1 05.09.08 at 9:10 pm

Don’t know about Poland, but where I lived you wouldn’t lose your job for “for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person” and I never heard of “accident while drunk”, never heard of a political assassination inside the country. And you would have to do something fairly drastic to lose your job (of course some jobs were easier to lose than others) – try to emigrate or participate in an anti-government protest or something.

Also, I’m not arguing that the level of oppression there was, on average, the same as in the US. Clearly there were segments of the population in the US who experienced the equivalent or higher level of oppression – people in the ghettos, undocumented workers. And in the USSR it was mostly educated folks and intellectuals who suffered – and we relate easier to this kind of oppression. But the point is that after 1953 it was the same sort of thing. I don’t see a qualitative difference. Just a society defending itself against the behavior that threatens its ideological integrity, defending itself in a mostly rational and mostly non-excessive way (with some notable exceptions).

284

Chris Bertram 05.09.08 at 9:12 pm

Thank you Howard for your kind thoughts. Kamm is correct that I’ve remonstrated with him in earlier cases. For example, I objected to what he wrote about the mild-mannered Monty Johnstone.

I’ve commented on Kamm’s response in the following terms:

“Yes, I did indeed copy Norman Geras into our correspondence about Monty Johnstone. That was for the not at all puzzling reason that Geras served alongside Johnstone on the NLR editorial committee for several years. Your [Kamm’s] comment on the mild-mannered Johnstone was

‘The man has thus turned cold in his grave before I have got round to declaring publicly that his death in no wise diminishes me, or you.’

Nasty stuff.”

If objecting to such petty viciousness is “idiotic” I’m happy to be so.

285

Dr. Minorka 05.09.08 at 9:19 pm

I have one comment awaiting moderation:
“What about Hungary?
2008 LE=73.18, IM=8.03
Let see the numbers after the idiotic marxist rhetoric:)
So the infant mortality dropped from 23.1 to 14.8 in socialist Hungary – it took ten years to achieve this. In capitalist Hungary the infant mortality dropped from 14.8 to 8.03 – it took 18 years to achieve this (and it is rising again). Fantastic argument!
“inequality … stayed about the same in Hungary (risen a bit in 00’s – this seems to be a global trend), and likewise absolute poverty fell or stayed constant (Hungary),”
You promised numbers instead of rhetoric!”
——————-
“I assumed that it was common knowledge that per capita incomes in Hungary are much high today than they were in 1988. ” No, it is not common knowledge! The level of 1989 was acheived in 2005 or 2006. And as some may know we have some problems recently…
“The data on absolute poverty and inequality can be found just by googling it.” Yes, and it tells a different story.

286

Dr. Minorka 05.09.08 at 9:23 pm

For some unknown reason my comments about the statistical numbers of notsneaky are awaiting moderation…

287

Howard Shaw 05.09.08 at 9:31 pm

Gosh, we should all bow down before the dead marxist apologists.

Is what Kamm wrote about Monty Johnstone untrue?

288

notsneaky 05.09.08 at 9:37 pm

“So the infant mortality dropped from 23.1 to 14.8 in socialist Hungary – it took ten years to achieve this. In capitalist Hungary the infant mortality dropped from 14.8 to 8.03 – it took 18 years to achieve this (and it is rising again). Fantastic argument!”

I assume that if the infant mortality rate fails to drop from 8.03 to -4.42 in the next 15 years, you’re gonna blame capitalism for that too ey? I’m gonna take a wild guess here; that “dr.” in your moniker is just part of a pseudonym and doesn’t actually reflect your level of education.

289

notsneaky 05.09.08 at 10:03 pm

“No, it is not common knowledge!”

It is among people who know wth they’re talking about.

“The level of 1989 was acheived in 2005 or 2006. “

No. There is some variation depending on which measure one uses exactly but;
1. According to Penn World Tables (http://pwt.econ.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt62/pwt62_retrieve.php)
the 1989 level of per capita income for Hungary was reached pretty much in 1997 (slightly lower, 1998 a bit higher) whether one uses Laspeyers or Chain series. So 7 to 9 years earlier than you claim.

2. According to WDI data
2a. Using inflation adjusted income converted to dollars, the 1989 level of per capita income was achieved in 1998. Note this doesn’t take into account changes in the prices of nontradables.
2b. Using inflation adjusted income in Hungarian currency, the 1989 level of per capita income was achieved between 1998/99. This is probably better but it misses the changes in the price of Hungarian imports.
2c. Using inflation adjusted, purchasing power parity adjusted income, the 1989 level of per capita income was achieved in 1998. This is probably the most relevant measure here.

So it basically looks like it took until 1998 to recover.

Now. Looking at the whole time series and comparing it with Poland. Poland recovered it’s 1988/1989 income by 1993/1994 but the drop in between those two end points was much more severe than in Hungary. This is of course the famous “shock therapy”. So basically Poland, by implementing “neoliberal” reforms chose to have a quick, but painful transition and get it over with quickly, while Hungary decided to drag out the transition over most of the decade.
I dunno about you, but given how the two countries have done since 1988, to me it looks like the problem wasn’t too many “neoliberal” reforms (and common, some of these reforms weren’t even that neoliberal – often much less than what you see in Western European social democracies) but rather not enough of them in Hungary.

“The data on absolute poverty and inequality can be found just by googling it.” Yes, and it tells a different story.”

Did you actually google it, or did you just make stuff up like you did with “not recovered until 2005”? But screw it, I’m tired of doing all the work. Provide some references yourself and I’ll respond. While we’re at it, please provide the reference for your claim that “2/3 of the population thinks this way” from your earlier comment – I’m suspecting this is all made up bunkum too.

290

notsneaky 05.09.08 at 10:08 pm

And seriously, blaming the fact that standards of living in the Soviet Union (and to a lesser extent in Hungary) in, say, 1996, were lower than in 1988 on capitalism and reform, is pretty much like blaming an alcoholic’s cirrhosis on the fact that he quit drinking or a smoker’s lung cancer on the fact that she quit smoking.

291

notsneaky 05.09.08 at 10:08 pm

Soviet Union in the above should be Russia, but ya’ll know what I mean.

292

abb1 05.09.08 at 10:20 pm

I suppose Poland is a success story, more or less, but Russia? All that gangsterism is the 90s, still crony capitalism now; I forgot the exact number, but the top 10 families own something like 60% of all the wealth there. That can’t be good. Was it really impossible to do it more gradually and orderly?

293

notsneaky 05.09.08 at 10:29 pm

“Was it really impossible to do it more gradually and orderly?”

I think there’s room for reasonable disagreement here. But it is also important to realize that the folks that undertook the reforms were doing something which had never been attempted before, were dealing with a very messed up situation, were trying to do things which a lot of powerful people and groups opposed, were severely constrained in their options by political and social circumstances (not the least of which was of course the break up of the Soviet Union). So yeah, I think with the benefit of hindsight, it could’ve been done more gradually and orderly. But they didn’t have that benefit.

294

Dr. Minorka 05.10.08 at 12:35 am

#289:
Hungarian Statistical Office (www.ksh.hu):
Social Situation Report, 2005, (in Hungarian)
real income per year
1989: 800K Forints, 1996: 450K Forints, 2004: 750K Forints

Hungary in Figures, 2006 (in English)
(only real earnings were presented in tabular form)
real earnings
1990=100%, 2000=40%, 2004=80%
and
“The level of net per
capita income of the population was 40%
higher than nine years before (in 1995, it
was 12–13% less than in 1987). “

As for the two-hirds: basically from the Gallup Hungary attitude survey in 2006.

“Provide some references yourself and I’ll respond” Sorry, I thought that it is your job to provide references, because you stated something. Forget it, just kidding…
#289
I haven’t wrote such. “Neoliberal transformation” refers to the particular therapy employed. There are many variants of a functioning market economy and many ways to implement them.

295

Dr. Minorka 05.10.08 at 12:53 am

#289
So it is objectionable to blame capitalism for all of the difficulties of the transition period. It is true. And to praise capitalism for all of the social gains of the transition period, say improving rate of children mortality?

296

notsneaky 05.10.08 at 7:48 am

“Social Situation Report”

Well, since I don’t speak Hungarian, I have no idea what that is, what variables it is made up of, how objective of a measure it is or what kind of adjustments are made to it. Sorry.

“Hungary in Figures, 2006 (in English)
(only real earnings were presented in tabular form)
real earnings
1990=100%, 2000=40%, 2004=80%””

Real earnings as in? Is this pre tax or post tax? The only other thing I could find is an index of real wages which basically says that 1990 wages were reached by 1999/2000 (most of the other time series available on the English version website seem to only go back to 2000).
Without further information I see no reason to question the numbers I gave above.

Can you provide a link to the Gallup poll?

297

ejh 05.10.08 at 9:43 am

Gosh, we should all bow down before the dead marxist apologists.

Is what Kamm wrote about Monty Johnstone untrue?

It is partial, it wilfully misrepresents the man and his ideas and it is characteristically boorish.

When I say “characteristically” I primarily mean characteristic of Kamm, but it is also characteristic of, shall we say, a certain political approach.

298

Oliver Kamm 05.10.08 at 10:03 am

If you wish to know whether I’ve misrepresented the man then, rather than listen to Bertram’s character testimonial, you can consult Johnstone’s contribution to a volume called The Communist Party of Great Britain and the War, eds. John Attfield and Stephen Williams, 1984, pp. 21-43. It’s in the London Library, but not on open shelves (so I don’t have it with me at the moment). I do have a reliable secondary source in front of me, however, which is a chapter by Martin Shaw, “War, Peace and British Marxism”, Campaigns for Peace: British Peace Movements in the Twentieth Century, eds Richard Taylor and Nigel Young, 1987, pp. 49-72.

Shaw observes in a footnote, referring to this article: “Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, therefore, Johnstone makes his own concessions to Stalinist ideology, chiefly in continuing to justify the Nazi-Soviet Pact… He also makes a scandalous apology for the USSR’s role in Poland in 1939: ‘The Eastern part [of Poland] was saved from Nazi occupation by the Soviet entry [sic] on 17 September’ (p. 28). Here we see some of the limits of the emancipation from Stalinism which Eurocommunists claim to have achieved.”

I’d put it more strongly than Martin, but “scandalous” is the right word in the context. I don’t doubt my own boorishness in pointing it out, but that doesn’t trouble me unduly, or at all.

299

ejh 05.10.08 at 10:13 am

No, it doesn’t, does it?

I wonder whether one gets the whole measure of a man’s work and ideas from a couple of references among a lifetime of articles? And I wonder whether your technique is not, characteristically, to present the part in order to obscure the whole?

300

Great Zamfir 05.10.08 at 10:29 am

Mr Kamm, I just read the Miliband piece that Chris Bertram links to, and I have to say that his description of it as a piece against aggression of Soviet or other socialist states seems reasonably accurate.

In fact, out of 24 pages, only 2 short parts deal with Cambodia specifically, and only one of these has any content that might be taken remotely as the things you are accusing him of:

This is the argument that, whatever may be said against military intervention in most cases, it is defensible in some exceptional cases, namely in the case of particularly tyrannical and murderous regimes, for instance the regime of Idi Amin in Uganda and of Pol Pot in Kampuchea. (…)
The argument is obviously attractive: one cannot but breathe a sigh of relief when an exceptionally vicious tyranny is overthrown. But attractive though the argument is, it is also dangerous. For who is to decide, and o n what criteria, that a regime has become sufficiently tyrannical to justify overthrow by military intervention? There is no good answer to this sort of question; and acceptance of the legitimacy of the ground of the exceptionally tyrannical nature of a regime opens the way to even more military adventurism, predatoriness, conquest and subjugation than is already rife in the world today.
The rejection of military intervention on this score is not meant to claim immunity and protection for tyrannical regimes. Nor does it. For there are other forms of intervention than military ones: for instance economic pressure by way of sanctions, boycott and even blockade. Tyrannical regimes make opposition extremely difficult: but they do not make it impossible. And the point is to help internal opposition rather than engage in military ‘substitutism’.

I see no place where Miliband claims that the Cambodian regime was anything different than tyrannical an murderous. He seems to be of the impression that internal dissent is preferable over a foreign invasion, and that it is dangerous to have rival countries decide when a regime is bad enough to warrant an invasion.

Even if this shows a serious underestimation of the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge regime, these points seem legitimate enough, and hardly worthy of a reprimand 30 years later?

301

Oliver Kamm 05.10.08 at 10:51 am

No, it doesn’t. I just told you that.

Assessing “the whole measure” of this man’s work – a ludicrous formulation, given that he devoted half of a century not to the disinterested pursuit of scholarship but to activism for a totalitarian party – is complicated by the fact that he never wrote a book. His most substantial work was a long pamphlet expounding the libertarian credentials of the greatest tyrant of the 20th century after Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.

But I’m supremely confident that I’ve assessed “the whole measure” accurately, nonetheless, from that and from the fact that Johnstone believed British Communists were right to support the Nazi-Soviet pact. These aren’t mere idiosyncrasies, to be considered in the round alongside the fact that he was (spare me the world’s smallest violin, Mr Bertram) “mild-mannered”. Johnstone’s was an ignoble life, invested in a disreputable cause.

Next.

302

Oliver Kamm 05.10.08 at 10:55 am

Incidentally, given that I’ve provided a direct reference and quotation – both the primary source and a reputable secondary source by a serious scholar – I assume without argument that you’ll wish to withdraw the suggestion that I have misrepresented Johnstone’s position on the Nazi-Soviet pact.

But I see you’ve already discreetly backtracked, so there’s no need.

303

Chris Bertram 05.10.08 at 11:06 am

In case OK has missed it, I draw his attention to the comment at #298 which was stuck into the moderation queue until now.

304

abb1 05.10.08 at 11:11 am

…Johnstone makes his own concessions to Stalinist ideology, chiefly in continuing to justify the Nazi-Soviet Pact

That’s silly. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, obviously, is not a reflection of any ideology, not Stalinist ideology or the Nazi ideology on the German side of it. Rather it’s a clear example of completely non-ideological strategic geopolitical maneuvering.

1939-40 Poland, is, of course. a different matter. Downplaying Katyn mass-murders (if that’s what he does) really is scandalous.

305

ejh 05.10.08 at 11:13 am

One might, by the same measure, judge the whole of somebody’s output by their enthusiasm for wars and invasions, and by their particular enthusiasm for the mass murder of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in the bombing of Japanese cities – an outrage carried out, one might recall, by governments allied with the totalitarian government of the Soviet Union.

But we don’t do that, of course, because to do so would lack context and justice (as well as, rather less importantly, manners). It would also lack balance: we would avoid the need to ask “why does he think that?” or “what else does he think?” It’s “gotcha!” politics and one gotcha! is enough.

Monty Johnstone was, of course, a Communist, and also a severe critic of the Soviet Union. There were many people like that and terms like “apologist” are designed to obscure the reality of such people’s opinions: as if one may only be a critic and if one is anything else, well, that is apologism. It’s not just a crude and dishonest approach: it’s also a onesided one, because it is not applied across the board.

Because yes, of course many leftists believed things about the USSR that they should not have believed. But then again, people believed – and continue to believe – things that they should not about other destructive political phenomena. The British Empire (or for that matter, the genocidal Roman Empire) might be one. The Great War another. The American destruction of Vietnam, or the invasion of Iraq, or what you will. All of these have been and are supported by all sorts of people within the political mainstream and we consider their views with context and nuance. So we should. And we should not stop with them.

306

abb1 05.10.08 at 11:19 am

Well, on the other had, considering that the Nazis eventually murdered a quarter of the population there, perhaps a weak argument can be made…

307

ejh 05.10.08 at 11:33 am

But I must resume my weekend. God knows this will probably still be going when I get back.

308

engels 05.10.08 at 3:19 pm

it is also important to realize that the folks that undertook the reforms were doing something which had never been attempted before, were dealing with a very messed up situation, were trying to do things which a lot of powerful people and groups opposed, were severely constrained in their options by political and social circumstances

Not to mention that it can be really hard to design effective policy when you’ve just spent the last several hours cooped up on a sealed train…

309

Tim Worstall 05.10.08 at 3:41 pm

“There were no labor camps after 1960. Indeed, I heard that a few dissidents were diagnosed with schizophrenia and held in a clinic. That’s bad.”

Really?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natan_Sharansky

“After being denied an exit visa to Israel on the grounds of national security in 1973, he worked as an English interpreter for prominent physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, and also became a human rights activist. Sharansky was one of the founders of, and spokesmen for, the Jewish and Refusenik movements in Moscow. This included the Helsinki Watch Group, also known as Yuri Orlov’s group.

In March 1977, he was arrested, and in July 1978 convicted on charges of treason and spying for the United States, and sentenced to 13 years of forced labor. After 16 months of incarceration in Lefortovo prison, he was sent to Perm 35, a Siberian labor camp, where he served for nine years. The fate of Sharansky and other political prisoners in the USSR, repeatedly brought to international attention by Western human rights groups and diplomats, was a cause of embarrassment and irritation for the Soviet authorities. In 1986, he was flown to East Germany and led across the Glienicke Bridge to West Berlin where he was exchanged for a pair of Soviet spies: Karl Koecher and his wife, Hana Koecher. Famed for his resistance in the Gulag, he was told upon his release to walk straight towards his freedom; Sharansky instead walked in a zigzag in a final act of defiance. Sharansky then emigrated to Israel, adopting a Hebrew given name, Natan.”

I remember readin an article in either The eXile or the Moscow Times (probably the former) about the final inmates of Perm 35 getting out in 95 or 96.

But of course, they too were obviously all spies for the US, not simple dissidents sent to a labour camp for what they said or thought.

310

roger 05.10.08 at 5:37 pm

I can’t understand the defeners of the Soviet Union on this thread. It congealed around a badly managed industrial system, and in the process starved and killed almost as many people as died under the British in India in the 19th century – although not quite that many. Even after Stalin, the number of prisoners in the Soviet Union was comparable to the number of prisoners in the U.S. now.

Such a system is clearly indefensible.

311

abb1 05.10.08 at 9:29 pm

I don’t know, I really don’t think they practiced forced labor after 1960 or so. If I am wrong, I apologize; didn’t mean to mislead.

Even after Stalin, the number of prisoners in the Soviet Union was comparable to the number of prisoners in the U.S. now.

I guess the lesson is that experiments in ideological consistency are costly.

312

Richard 05.10.08 at 11:11 pm

I was seven years old in 1980. I knew how bad Pol Pot’s regime was. It was a byword for viscious, pointless brutality in the junior-school playground. How was Miliband unaware?

313

Exile 05.11.08 at 2:41 am

Chris Bertram,

I see that your comment over at Gimlet’s dive has elicited some comments from the mongish crew. That’s what I call Gimlet’s anonymous creatures who emerge from places like Napier “University” to leave comments in support of their master at times like this. They did it with me until I saw the buggers off.

OK, what this debate boils down to is a difference of interpretation. You may be ahead on points – hence the appearance of the mongish crew, but you are not going to score a knock down, not in a debate like this.

I can think of three occasions in which Gimlet has been made to look very stupid indeed.

1. Gimlet argued that the Korean War came about as a result of Soviet expansionism. The problem was that the source he quoted didn’t say that at all. Gotcha, me Gimlet.

2. A blogger called Sonic made him look very stupid when he didn’t get the sounds better “in the original German” line from the late Molly Ivin.

3. Finally, Neil Clark scored a good hit when he found out that Gimlet had been telling porkies about never having threatened legal action against folk.

So what’s the advice? Wait until the idiot writes something that you can demolish and then go in kicking. He won’t backtrack, but what he will do is start posting like buggery to try and cover his tracks.

That’s worth a laugh.

314

Exile 05.11.08 at 2:46 am

Oops, this is my night for making mistakes, but at least I own up to them.

The final link is not about matters legal, it’s about editing a Wikipedia entry.

315

Great Zamfir 05.11.08 at 9:00 am

Richard, read for example the citation in #300. Miliband calls the Cambodian regime murderous and tyrannical, and thinks the idea that such a regime can be overthrown by an invasion ‘attractive’.

His main objection is that letting the enemies of a regime decide when it is tyrannical enough to warrant invasion is a risky business.

That’s the problem here. Kamm is deeply misrepresenting the piece he discusses.

316

Tom Doyle 05.11.08 at 12:13 pm

as a member of that new left, he had an ambivalent relationship to the Soviet bloc.

I know nothing about the author, except for the linked article which I just read. In my opinion the article expressed an extremely critical view of the political systems of the Soviet Union, and those of its satellites, imposed and maintained by the military strength of the USSR. He argued against the various rationales offered to justify the situation. He was extremely pessimistic about positive change. E.g:

[T]he notion of Soviet-type societies as ‘transitional’ ones is misleading, illusory, and even vacuous. It is much more helpful to a proper assessment of these societies and their regimes to see them as specific systems, with their own particular mode of production and their own social and political structures. They are not capitalist systems. But they are also very far distant from anything that could be called socialism.

The term is largely meaningless if it does not include a fundamental recasting of the ‘relations of production’ and the ‘relations of life’ in general in democratic and egalitarian directions: and this clearly requires the institutionalisation of the means whereby this can be achieved, or at least striven for. Merely to say this, in relation to Soviet-type societies, is to indicate how great is the distance which separates them from socialism, and how inappropriate it is to apply the notion of ‘transition’ to them. In the only terms that are ultimately decisive, namely in terms of the generation of socialist consciousness among the people, capitalist societies are at least as ‘transitional’ as Soviet-type ones.

[…]

In this perspective, the notion that these regimes can eventually come to enjoy a large and growing measure of popular support must appear illusory. For not only are they deeply marked by their dependence on foreign intervention for survival (and for the most part by their origin in foreign intervention); but also by the essential nature of the regimes which military intervention (or the threat of foreign intervention) serves to maintain.

The point is that the regimes in question are not simply monopolistic and repressive from temporary necessity and transient adverse circumstances, but by their very structure. I mean by this that they are based on a view of ‘socialism’ as requiring the existence of one ‘leading’ party whose leaders do exercise monopolistic power; and monopolistic power by definition means the exclusion from power of everyone else, and also the deprivation of rights-speech, association, publication-which are essential for the exercise of power or at least pressure and which are so to speak the oxygen of civil society.

To speak of this as a ‘Soviet-type’ regime is at one level inaccurate, since the rule of the soviets was intended to establish the opposite of concentrated and monopolistic power. But history has associated this monopolistic form of regime with the Soviet Union; and it is therefore convenient to refer to it as a ‘Soviet-type’ regime. Its early form was the largely unintended product of the circumstances of the Bolshevik Revolution; but it was perfected, with every deliberate intention, by Stalin.

All Communist regimes which have come into being since World War II bear this stamp. Some of them are less repressive than others, with the extent of the repressiveness varying not only from country to country but over time within countries. But they are all monopolistic regimes, not excluding Yugoslavia.

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Dr. Minorka 05.11.08 at 9:38 pm

re notsneaky #296
link to the Gallup survey (a presentation, pppt, in Hungarian):
http://www.polhist.hu/letoltes/gallup.ppt
It is easy to “decode”:
slide #7: The period of Kádár (1956-1989) was a dark period
slide #8: The period of Kádár (1956-1989) was an outstanding good period
slide #9: The period after 1989 is an outstanding good period
“kormánytábor”: supporters of the government
“ellenzék”= supporters of the opposition
The left-liberals were the opposition in 2002 and the government in 2006.
(This trend have became more marked in 2008.)

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