Conservative Taken Aback At President’s Reaction To Death Of Seeger

by John Holbo on January 30, 2014

Link.

“For some liberals, there really are no adversaries to their left. President Obama’s statement Tuesday on the death of folk singer Pete Seeger at age 94 was remarkable. Seeger was a talented singer, but he was also an unrepentant Stalinist until 1995, when he finally apologized for “following the [Communist] party line so slavishly.” You’d think Obama might have at least acknowledged (as even Seeger did) the error of his ways. Instead, Obama celebrated him only as a hero who tried to “move this country closer to the America he knew we could be.”

Yes, up until yesterday, I’m sure if you’d polled readers at the Corner, asking them, “What would you expect Barack Obama to say, in memorium, if Pete Seeger died?” those readers would have predicted, incorrectly, that he would seize the graveside opportunity to denounce the talented, beloved, dead man as a former communist. A real Sistah Souljah moment. It’s not every day a mere President of the United States can speak truth to folk music power. What more appropriate occasion than a funeral? And yet, remarkably, Obama did not behave in this way that you would have naturally expected him to. How remarkable. Readers of National Review will now have to revise their image of Obama rather radically, in light of fresh data. After today, they can no longer think of him as a one of the ‘good’ liberals – a staunch anti-communist cold warrior, in the JFK mold. No, sadly, after today, conservatives can no longer think of Obama as a liberal, yes, but a true, blue American all the same. They will be forced to think of him as sort of a bad guy. Guy didn’t spit on Pete Seeger’s grave, on the day he died. Jerk.

{ 277 comments }

1

JW Mason 01.30.14 at 5:34 am

On the subject of Seeger and Communism, I like Bhaskar Sunkara’s take: “It’s not that Seeger did a lot of good despite his longtime ties to the Communist Party; he did a lot of good because he was a Communist.”

2

Harold 01.30.14 at 5:43 am

Lots of lively discussion going on over there in the comment section.

JFK had Josh White at his inaugural, at any rate — if not Pete Seeger, who I think may still have been under house arrest.

3

Harold 01.30.14 at 6:05 am

Taking the neo-con line, the New Republic quotes with approval an academic paper in which Seeger’s supposed 1994 Kennedy Center award supposedly “froze him in amber” as a nostalgic symbol of a long lost age that has no possible contemporary relevance. New Republic readers take note, these are your talking points now!

Even Seeger’s biographer David King Dunaway concludes his execrable, error-ridden biography in this way: “In the twenty-first century, the appeal of Pete Seeger is akin to that of a nineteenth-century Romantic figure, the rustic innocent with the magic flute, who appeals to those unable to live fully for the frantic quality of their lives,” How Can I Keep From Singing, p. 42.

Seeger said of this book when it first published , “I say it’s spinach!”

In recent years, however, the author corrected a few of his mistakes and published in a new edition, claiming that Seeger had approved and was even a collaborator (in reality, he was just being good natured).

In truth, Seeger is not a nostalgic figure at all. His songs have lost none of their power as contemporary events prove.

Not that his judgements were right about everything — far from it.

4

TW Andrews 01.30.14 at 6:29 am

“It’s not every day a mere President of the United States can speak truth to folk music power. “

This is brilliant.

5

Harold 01.30.14 at 6:32 am

@”I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it” is the full quote (borrowed from a well-known New Yorker cartoon.).

6

otpup 01.30.14 at 7:41 am

@JW 1. I didn’t like Bhaskar’s rhetoric because of the political typologies (I made the sugar and arsenic comment).
1) The distinction between Stalinism-in-power and Stalinism-of-the-grass roots is fundamentally obsfuscating. A general readership is going to have enough trouble not re-acting in a kneejerk way to the big “C” word.
2) Communism of both the big and little c variety were largely egregious splitterism, really just code for the left-wing, more impatient, wing of the Marxist/Socialist/SocialDemocratic movement. The idea that there is a real theory of communism in Marx’s writing (rather than some vague speculation) is just pious wishful thinking. The big “C” Stalinist ideleogy that comes out the Russian revolution is cynically bastardized Marxism, the mangled in support of the psychotic. The little c communists (primarily the Trots) sometimes recognize this but dive down their own ideological rabbit holes.

There is a big difference between trying the untangle the historical complexities of the communist movement and trying to valorize it. The important fact and discussion about US communists is not that they had good politics and values (which they often did) but that they had those values and still ended up sympathizing (and some of them for a long time) with perpetrators of a world-historical tragedy.

7

Metatone 01.30.14 at 9:06 am

@otpup @6

Wait…

“The important fact and discussion about US communists is not that they had good politics and values (which they often did) but that they had those values and still ended up sympathizing (and some of them for a long time) with perpetrators of a world-historical tragedy.”

Why is that the important fact? On what basis do you make that assertion?

8

Phil 01.30.14 at 9:54 am

You could say exactly the same damn thing about US Republicans, if your definition of “world-historical tragedy” is broad enough to include people with brown skin.

I think most of us would say that the important thing about Western Communists was not their sympathies (felt or imputed) with Stalin’s regime, but the actual politics and values they upheld and the work they got done. Not saying those things were spotlessly perfect, just that they’re what needs to be judged.

9

Jesús Couto Fandiño 01.30.14 at 10:22 am

Eh.. no. Their support and in many cases blind adherence to the Moscow party line is part of what they did, so it is part (not all) that needs to be judged. Although at this point I think it has been judged already – including by themselves, as in this case

In any case, I missed the part in which at Nixon’s funeral they spend a lot of time saying how he was a crook. Which seems to me more appropiate to political discourse than crashing the funeral of a citizen to demonize him for past SINCERE mistakes to get a theoretical approval from your enemies.

10

oldster 01.30.14 at 11:14 am

These men are cowards.

11

rea 01.30.14 at 12:14 pm

I beg to differ. The important fact and discussion about US communists is not that ended up sympathizing (and some of them for a long time) with perpetrators of a world-historical tragedy, but that they had those sympathies and still on the whole had good politics and values.

12

MattF 01.30.14 at 1:24 pm

The whole notion that denouncing commies is a plausible thing for Obama to do– it’s just wacko. The questions here are:

1) Why is it necessary to point this out?
2) WTF is going on in the cerebral cortices of the NR denizens?

I don’t have fast answers to either of these questions.

13

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 01.30.14 at 1:27 pm

Lots of lively discussion going on over there in the comment section.

I used to comment there once in a while, Harold, but they’ve blocked me.

OMG, MY FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS!!!one1!

http://s24.postimg.org/od2vcfcvp/Totalitarian_Troubadour_National_Review_Online.jpg
~

14

Ronan(rf) 01.30.14 at 1:27 pm

Well Bhaskar Sunkara’s article seems the perfect example of the compromises people generally have to make politically: taking to the mouthpiece of one of the most reactionary counterrevolutionary regimes in the Middle East, to defend communism and civil rights in the US in the 50s. The enemy of my enemy always wins out|?

15

djw 01.30.14 at 1:57 pm

The important fact and discussion about US communists is not that they had good politics and values (which they often did) but that they had those values and still ended up sympathizing (and some of them for a long time) with perpetrators of a world-historical tragedy.

As rea has already pointed out, this assertion is difficult to make sense of. Their “good politics and values” can be seen in their actual political priorities, and occasionally in their contributions to important social accomplishments: advancing the rights of women, African-Americans, workers, etc. There is scant evidence that whatever misguided admiration they may have had for the Soviet regime translated into a hope for a similar transformation in the US, and insofar as some of them may have harbored such a desire, it didn’t seem to manifest itself in the concrete political activities of communist identified groups. So what you describe as “the” (?!) important fact about them seems, in the context of actual history, considerably less important than several of the other ones.

16

JW Mason 01.30.14 at 2:00 pm

the mouthpiece of one of the most reactionary counterrevolutionary regimes in the Middle East

I don’t think this is a reasonable characterization of al Jazeera, at least its English language outlets.

17

mjfgates 01.30.14 at 2:11 pm

the mouthpiece of one of the most reactionary counterrevolutionary regimes in the Middle East

I don’t think this is a reasonable characterization of al Jazeera, at least its English language outlets.

Oh, so THAT’S who Ronan was grumbling about. I thought he might have meant Haaretz.

18

Ronan(rf) 01.30.14 at 2:20 pm

My Arabic isn’t good enough to say *personally* but from people Ive spoken to my impression is that this is how al Jazeera Arabic is now beginning to be viewed. The English version is better, much like Fox News Europe would tone it down

mjfgates – point being?

19

Ronan(rf) 01.30.14 at 2:26 pm

Depends on the topic as well, a lot of its foreign affairs stuff is good and its bits on the US especially, but vis a vis the Arab Spring etc it’s began to push the Qatari regimes line afaik

20

MPAVictoria 01.30.14 at 3:13 pm

” but he was also an unrepentant Stalinist until 1995″

This isn’t even true. The bastards aren’t fit to shine Seeger’s boots.

21

novakant 01.30.14 at 3:13 pm

I bet you wouldn’t bring this up had he talked to the US corporate media.

22

Ronan(rf) 01.30.14 at 3:23 pm

I don’t think every argument made against actors in the Middle East who aren’t the US/Israel needs to be preceded by a disclaimer ‘I do not support the Israeli occupation of Palestine, US foreign policy in the region or the US corporate media’ Why cant the point stand on its own without a whole lot of whataboutery?
tbh I don’t really mind who Bhaskar Sunkara writes for. To each their own

23

P O'Neill 01.30.14 at 3:28 pm

It’s strange to pitch Al Jazeera as counterrevolutionary with its journalists being locked up an actual counterrevolution in Egypt.

24

CJColucci 01.30.14 at 3:32 pm

Another example of wingnuts throwing a fit when the President shows good manners. Of course, if he didn’t, he’d be uppity, but that’s another issue.

25

William Berry 01.30.14 at 3:32 pm

Did I miss J. Otto being banned, and has he now re-appeared as “otpup”?

26

William Berry 01.30.14 at 3:37 pm

Also, too, the ideology of the immediate post-revolution/ civil war era was not stalinist, but leninist. There were clearly elements of proto-stalinism in the NEP, but that was five years along.

27

Ronan(rf) 01.30.14 at 3:39 pm

@23
There’s a lot of talk about the extent to which Al Jazeera has begun to push al-Thani interests in the region. That doesn’t mean organisationally they speak with one voice (so mouthpiece, of course, was hyperbolic) but there’s been a good bit of dissent from within the network, and from those involved in politics regionally. That can manifest itself differently in different contexts, how it plays down trouble in the Gulf, where its sympathy align with the West (to some extent) in Syria etc
I’m surprised this is so controversial. It’s much like the criticism of RTV

28

novakant 01.30.14 at 3:43 pm

#22

I don’t think so either, but when you boycott media for pushing the government line,
well, then you have to boycott most media sources, case in point Iraq war coverage.

29

Ronan(rf) 01.30.14 at 3:48 pm

I don’t think Bhaskar Sunkara should boycott them. But isn’t:

“but when you boycott media for pushing the government line,
well, then you have to boycott most media sources, case in point Iraq war coverage.”

the logic usually used against BDS?

30

P O'Neill 01.30.14 at 3:52 pm

Fair enough Ronan we’re going off-thread but anyway … it’s not so clear that there is an Al Thani line any more. The PM and Foreign Minister (Hamad bin Jassim) who had been seen as the driver of the Qatari agenda in the region was forced out when the new Emir came in last June, and it’s not like things have gone their way since then anyway … 2 weeks after HBJ was gone, Morsi was gone, Libya still struggles to function, and Tunisia has had to find a middle way between the Islamists and secularists, albeit backstopped by Qatari money. Throwing cash around in Syria hasn’t achieved anything and the most vigorous of the insurgent groups (Al Nusra and ISIS) don’t get support from Qatar. Al Jazeera Arabic also competes with Al Arabiya in regional coverage and Al Arabiya is arguably more significant for the Gulf establishment given its cross-cutting UAE and Saudi links.

31

novakant 01.30.14 at 4:11 pm

I think BDS is a really bad idea but my main gripe is the astonishing hypocrisy of Westerners – the apparently unshakeable belief that we are superior even if we’re clearly not.

32

Plume 01.30.14 at 5:23 pm

It’s strange that someone can say “world historical tragedy” with regard to the Soviet Union while remaining silent about our own.

It may be an exercise in futility to say who was more horrifically bad, but, seriously. We live in perhaps the world’s biggest glass house.

The Soviet Union engaged in slaughter of its own and atrocities galore. The US committed genocide against native populations, stealing land and destroying whole civilizations. We also enslaved millions and kept them enslaved for hundreds of years, and then, after a bloody civil war, continued to oppress the former slaves.

Our record on civil rights for women and minorities was abysmal for several hundred years, and still lags behind most of the OECD . . . Which makes some sense, given that our government was basically put together by fewer than a dozen white males, most of whom owned slaves.

Our economic system has created the highest level of inequality in the OECD, and lags behind most of it in median and average income and wealth.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/01/22/10-startling-facts-about-global-wealth-inequality/

If we are going to condemn people like Seeger for even remotely supporting the Soviet Union, what about those who support (or cheerlead for) our own bloody history?

33

Harold 01.30.14 at 5:36 pm

If it hadn’t been for the Soviet Union we would all have flags with swastikas on them now.

34

Andrew F. 01.30.14 at 5:54 pm

Much as Seeger’s music may be particularly powerful to a politically unsettled audience, the power of al-J, as wielded by Qatar, grows when popular unrest increases as a concern to Middle Eastern governments. Militarily, Qatar is dwarfed by others in the region, but by forging ties with influential, often violent, dissident groups (such as its longstanding ties with certain parts of the MB), and by controlling an outlet that drop explosive images into any smoldering situation, Qatar seeks to enhance its regional influence in other ways.

I doubt the more intelligent conservative readers will view this as anything other than Obama avoiding the pointless annoyance of some of his base while giving the more rabid on the right a chance to look heartless.

Of course the whackjobs (of both conservative and libertarian varieties) will say “how could Obama condemn Seeger for following Communism when Obama’s doing the same thing as President? He’s building a Stasi, he’s nationalizing the health-care sector, he wants more and more control over your spending decisions, your investment decisions, and your money.” Because, you know, all of that is true and in fact those are all items from an unpublished checklist by Karl Marx.

Anyway, RIP.

35

Andrew F. 01.30.14 at 5:56 pm

*an outlet that can drop, that should read

36

Plume 01.30.14 at 6:06 pm

Andrew F,

“whackjobs” is right.

As if Marx would be all in for the Wall Street bailout, for handing over trillions to billionaires, for making labor unions in the Detroit deal take major haircuts, while asking nothing of Wall Street, etc.

And, certainly, what Marxist wouldn’t appoint people like Larry Summers to his or her cabinet? Or, push for a health care law straight out of the Heritage Foundation? Isn’t it a central core of Marxian economics to socialize losses and privatize gains (subsidize new customers for private corporations)?

Isn’t it also standard Marxist fare to talk about “opportunity” in a SOTU speech, rather than inequality? etc. etc.

The right invented their own Obama — a projection of their fears and phobias. The real Obama has governed from the center-right on all but a few social issues. In reality, they should be dancing in the streets, not demonizing him*.

(*The left being the part of the spectrum with legitimate Obama gripes, etc.)

37

adam.smith 01.30.14 at 6:17 pm

Our economic system has created the highest level of inequality in the OECD, and lags behind most of it in median and average income and wealth.

While I have no interest in defending the US economic system, I’ll note that every single statement in this sentence is wrong (with the possible exception of median wealth, I’m not aware of any comparable data on that, but given the traditionally low savings rate in the US it’s not unlikely that median wealth is quite low).

38

adam.smith 01.30.14 at 6:20 pm

right the Oxfam report has median wealth data. Not sure how good that is, it’s incredibly hard to measure, but as I say, median wealth is probably rather low in the US.

39

Plume 01.30.14 at 6:23 pm

adam.smith,

I posted the stats/data above. Check the link at #32.

The single person median salary is 27K. That’s either at the bottom of the OECD or very close to it.

Median wealth in America is 45K. Again, at or near the very bottom.

40

Plume 01.30.14 at 6:25 pm

But we do lead the world in billionaires! Go USA!!!

China being second.

41

adam.smith 01.30.14 at 6:34 pm

See above on median wealth.
Link doesn’t have anything on int’l inequality or median income:
Median income data is at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Median_household_income
US is third in PPP, still in top 3rd when using nominal numbers. Individual income doesn’t change much, you can dig up the data yourself (though equivalence household is the better unit)
You’re also wrong on inequality. US inequality is high, but only somewhere between 3rd and 5th highest in the OECD depending on exact measures.

42

Plume 01.30.14 at 6:45 pm

I already dug up the data on individual income, which to me, is far more revealing than household.

Again, it’s 27K, which is horrendously low for a nation that leads the world in billionaires.

Household is too open-ended. It includes all monies made by the entire family. Again, this doesn’t tell us much, given the wide differences in the numbers of people who might contribute within a family.

Going by a single income cuts through all of that.

As for inequality: Perhaps I should have said “highest among developed nations.” Which is the case. Using the OECD creates too many apples and oranges.

Should the US take comfort in having less inequality than so-called “developing” nations”? Not when it leads the developed world in inequality.

43

Plume 01.30.14 at 6:47 pm

Further clarification: It’s not just the family. “Household” income can and does include roommates, too.

It’s a misleading category.

44

The Temporary Name 01.30.14 at 6:51 pm

Pete Seeger is up eleventy billion Freedom Points™ on John Fund because veteran.

45

adam.smith 01.30.14 at 7:04 pm

I’m not making any value statements about what the US should take comfort in and I said so quite clearly in my initial post. I’m just saying your “facts” are wrong and I believe facts matter.

So far you have conceded that you were wrong on inequality. I’m assuming you’ll also concede average wealth and average income.

For median wealth we have a single data source that covers 7 OECD countries, so while I think there’s a good chance you’re right, we don’t know.

For median income, you’re wrong on the most widely accepted statistic for international comparison. (You also don’t seem to understand household income statistics, which measure “What each equivalent adult in a household in the middle of the income distribution earns in a year.”)
I believe that you found 27k for individual median individual income, what I don’t believe is that that’s low compared to other OECD countries as to the best of my knowledge the two correlate tightly in advanced industrialized countries, so unless you have some comparable data that means nothing. Also, by itself that number means very little, as income statistics depend a lot on specific metrics (e.g. what age do you start, what age do you stop, who do you count etc.).

46

Plume 01.30.14 at 7:15 pm

No. I don’t concede I was wrong on inequality. And, no, I’m not wrong about median wealth or income. I posted the stats. You haven’t refuted them.

And, again, the individual median salary is the one that counts. Not the household. Household includes everyone under that roof — roommates, the entire family, friends, what have you. It skews and distorts measurements and it tells us nothing about individuals and their place in the economy. It’s also used as sleight of hand to reduce the gap between rich and poor. To make it seem less than it really is.

Again, from the stats I posted:

4. But that’s average wealth — which is to say, that number spikes if Bill Gates moves into your country. Median wealth is a more interesting measure. There, Australia leads with $220,000. They’re followed by Luxembourg, Belgium, France, Italy, the UK, and Japan. The U.S. falls way back on this measure, with a median wealth of just $45,000.

6. Some researchers think Credit Suisse overestimates median wealth in the U.S. Other estimates put us in 27th place.

47

Plume 01.30.14 at 7:16 pm

A good collection of links on the topic, from bookforum.

http://www.bookforum.com/blog/12841

48

Peter Hovde 01.30.14 at 7:17 pm

Would they *really* have been happier with “I come to bury Seeger, not to praise him.” We know where that would lead.

49

politicalfootball 01.30.14 at 7:23 pm

Seeger and J. Edgar Hoover both equated communism with basic human decency. The fact that they were both wrong isn’t nearly as interesting as where they came down vis a vis human decency.

50

adam.smith 01.30.14 at 7:29 pm

OK, if you don’t believe these statements are unambiguously false:
- The US has the highest income inequality in the OECD
- The US is among the lowest in average wealth in the OECD
- The US is among the lowest in average income in the OECD

The you’re clearly not operating in a fact-based universe (or a universe where words have meaning) anymore, so we can give this up.
FWIW, you still don’t understand equivalence household income, but that’s forgivable, it’s a bit complex (though before getting in a discussion about it you may want to read up on it. Even the Wikipedia article will do). I’ve tried to give you a pointer (it really does measure individual incomes but rightly accounts for the fact that two people who live together and make 40k are better off than two individuals making 20k), but I can’t force you to care.
You also haven’t provided any comparative statistics for median personal income (my guess is because you don’t have it), and I’m pretty sure if you found any, they’d show that the statement “the US is among the lowest in median personal income in the OECD” is incorrect, too.

I’m not so much bothered by the fact that you got at least 4 out of 5 facts in your initial claim wrong. But the fact that instead of admitting that you feel the need to dispute this is rather sad. Oh well. I’ll remember not to engage you in the future.

51

Ronan(rf) 01.30.14 at 7:47 pm

52

Plume 01.30.14 at 7:48 pm

adam.smith,

I already qualified the statement regarding the first. America does have the highest levels of wealth and income inequality in the developed world. I should have said that instead of among OECD nations. That is unambiguously true.

The next two statements, which you dispute, but have yet to prove why you dispute them, are true. You just say they’re false, without providing counter-evidence.

I’m looking for comparative stats regarding single person median incomes, but they are difficult to find, as “household” keeps popping up instead. And, sorry, but you misuse and misunderstand what household refers to. It’s not just about “two people living together.” It includes all persons under that roof, and doesn’t average out their earnings. It collects and totals them. Family, roommates, friends, etc. So a household with four people contributing income is compared with a household with one person contributing income.

That is why it’s misleading.

As for your rather silly and pompous ultimatum. Don’t engage me. I couldn’t care less.

53

adam.smith 01.30.14 at 8:22 pm

Plume. I can’t believe I’m doing this because you’re just being lazy, but here we go. The Credit Suisse report that WaPo links to has profiles of 8 OECD countries with mean wealth numbers in the back (US, UK, Japan, France, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Chile). The mean (i.e. average wealth) of the US is 300k and with that third among those. On p. 16 it also has a table with Eurozone average wealth, by the Credit Suisse stats, they’re also all lower than 300k. So according to the data you linked to, the US ranks in the top three in terms of average wealth. I’m sure there’s some give or take depending on the data source, but I doubt you’d find anything that lowers the US to the lower half of OECD countries.

Average income: Again unclear what’s measured here, but doesn’t matter. The US leads the OECD in average income as PPP: http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=AV_AN_WAGE# It is number 4 in the OECD – after Luxemburg, Norway, and Switzerland, in per capital gross national income: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GNI_%28PPP%29_per_capita

Household income: You didn’t even bother to check, did you? The list I link at Wikipedia is in “median equivalised disposable household income”. What that means is that the household income is divided by the discounted number of people living in the household. The OECD currently uses square-root equivalence, meaning that the income of a two person household is divided by 1.4, the income of a three person household by 1.7 etc. The Wikipedia article both explains that and links to more details. So again, pretty much all of this:

It includes all persons under that roof, and doesn’t average out their earnings. It collects and totals them. Family, roommates, friends, etc. So a household with four people contributing income is compared with a household with one person contributing income.

is entirely wrong.

My last word on this, I hope this is interesting to someone. I work with income statistics, so I perhaps care about them a little excessively.

54

adam.smith 01.30.14 at 8:24 pm

sorry, that should read “The US leads the OECD in average wages as PPP…”

55

Plume 01.30.14 at 8:37 pm

adam.smith,

Do you agree about the problems with “average” wealth or wages, as mentioned in the link above?

If a Bill Gates emigrates to your country, he increases that average. If he leaves, it declines.

The “median” is more revelatory. And I should have stuck with that from the start. Like many people, I sometimes use “average” when I’m really talking “median.”

Average really doesn’t tell us all that much. Obviously, it’s the sum total of all wealth — or income — divided by total persons in that pool. Median is the half way point between the bottom and the top. As you would know, given your occupation.

Our 27K is obscene as a median when our top is in the billions. Same goes with our median wealth at 45K.

And, you haven’t yet addressed the issue of our standing amongst other developed nations. I think you played a bit of “gotcha” with the use of OECD.

Let’s stay with “median” and “developed” nations. What is your view with regard to comparisons using those metrics? Do you defend our current levels of inequality or the piss poor median income?

56

js. 01.30.14 at 8:38 pm

adam.smith:

I did not it turns out know how median household income is calculated. That’s super helpful—thanks! (Though, $29K-ish with the equivalisation fits my prior sense of total(?) median household income—what is the proper term?—being around mid 50K’s.)

57

Plume 01.30.14 at 8:51 pm

js,

Whenever I see the median household income listed for Americans, it’s roughly in the 50K range. But when it’s listed for an individual, it’s roughly 27K.

This confuses many. I’ve been in many discussions where people use the former for the latter, thus making it sound like we, as individuals, make more than we really do.

Household income is derived from total income under one roof. It makes no sense to use this method when some households have one income and others many.

58

adam.smith 01.30.14 at 8:54 pm

Now we’re getting there. Of course I agree with the WaPo about averages. But you said “median and average” explicitly, so I pointed out that was wrong.

And sure I think the median wage should be higher given how much money there is, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that even given US stagnated median real wages (FWIW, if I wanted to make a point about how the US economy screws “regular Americans” that’s the stat I would use) and high inequality, median disposable income is quite high in the US in international comparison – including compared to rich countries like Germany or France. And I’ll stand by this and I can pretty much guarantee you that using alternate median income metrics (individuals, by various age groups, only wage earners etc.) you won’t see much movement. Maybe Denmark moves past the US, but that’s about it. So as for median income, I think your statement is entirely wrong. (I think that’s actually the most interesting thing that you got wrong because I’d guess a reasonable amount of people on the left would get this wrong).

As for inequality. Sure, you can call the OECD part a “gotcha” and I might have left this out if it wasn’t a) a common mistake and I don’t like to see Mexico and Chile glossed over and b) there were three other mistakes in the statement.
Of course I think US income inequality is a disaster. As does pretty much everyone else who posts here, so that’s not really very interesting in the context of CT.

59

Rob in CT 01.30.14 at 9:02 pm

http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/meta/long_INC110212.htm

Median household income

Income of Households – This includes the income of the householder and all other individuals 15 years old and over in the household, whether they are related to the householder or not. Because many households consist of only one person, average household income is usually less than average family income. Although the household income statistics cover the past 12 months, the characteristics of individuals and the composition of households refer to the time of interview. Thus, the income of the household does not include amounts received by individuals who were members of the household during all or part of the past 12 months if these individuals no longer resided in the household at the time of interview. Similarly, income amounts reported by individuals who did not reside in the household during the past 12 months but who were members of the household at the time of interview are included. However, the composition of most households was the same during the past 12 months as at the time of interview.

The median divides the income distribution into two equal parts: one-half of the cases falling below the median income and one-half above the median. For households and families, the median income is based on the distribution of the total number of households and families including those with no income. The median income for individuals is based on individuals 15 years old and over with income. Median income for households, families, and individuals is computed on the basis of a standard distribution.

I’m a little confused. What’s this dividing by 1.4 stuff?

60

Ronan(rf) 01.30.14 at 9:03 pm

“I beg to differ. The important fact and discussion about US communists is not that ended up sympathizing (and some of them for a long time) with perpetrators of a world-historical tragedy, but that they had those sympathies and still on the whole had good politics and values.”

This is probably the right way of looking at it, but how we should view people who supported Stalinism. Shouldn’t we see them as moral monsters ?

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Layman 01.30.14 at 9:10 pm

“This is probably the right way of looking at it, but how we should view people who supported Stalinism. Shouldn’t we see them as moral monsters ?”

Doesn’t it really depend on what they thought ‘Stalinism’ was? I’m under the impression that while a few show trials were public spectacles, much of the Purges were conducted behind-the-scenes, and the extent of the carnage was largely unknown until after the fact. Lots of ‘Stalinists’ were genuinely disullisioned when the facts became clear. Then, suddenly, Stalin was an ally, and there were lots of people supporting ‘Stalinism’ because ‘Stalinism’ meant Stalin pouring millions of Russians into the meatgrinder of the Wermacht.

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Plume 01.30.14 at 9:12 pm

adam.smith,

Median disposable income? Now we’re getting into further trouble with definitions, at least from my pov. Not sure how you’re defining that one.

I admit I messed up on averages and shouldn’t have used the OECD in total. But I stand by the horribly low median income for individual Americans in comparison with other developed nations, as well as inequality levels. I don’t see how adding “disposable” changes that.

Do you mean after taxes? The usual meaning of “disposable” income is money left over after you pay your recurring bills. Basically, your income, minus routine cost of living.

And, certainly, Americans are among the lowest taxed people in the developed world, but I don’t think taxes are enough to alter our standing at the bottom of developed nations regarding median income per individual. I haven’t seen anything lower than that 27K.

Could you please provide definitions and stats?

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Plume 01.30.14 at 9:13 pm

Rob in CT,

That’s how I understand household income as well. As defined by your article.

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Rob in CT 01.30.14 at 9:19 pm

Re-reading AS, I think the difference is between how the US government calculates and how OECD calculations are done. So you get two different numbers for US household income.

I think.

Also, re: USA, it’s a big place. Median Household income in Connecticut is just a hair shy of $70k (of course, costs are higher here than in poorer states, which partially mitigates the difference).

65

Plume 01.30.14 at 9:21 pm

Ronan,

But, again, if those who supported Stalinism from afar are moral monsters, what about those who support the American experiment, which involved even worse genocidal slaughter, included centuries of slavery, and centuries of the oppression of women and minorities?

Not to mention our endless wars, which we keep instigating.

Our invasion of Korea, for example, led to the slaughter of 2-4 million Korean civilians. In Vietnam, the number was roughly 3 million. We know from the Nixon tapes that that number could have gone radically higher, as he discussed with Kissinger. Nixon wanted to nuke Vietnam. Kissinger, who seemed just fine with fire bombing civilians to death, drew the line as nukes.

And then we have two invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, dozens of conflicts in South and Central America, Africa, etc. etc.

There really isn’t much to choose from between the two. A pox on both “houses.”

66

Ronan(rf) 01.30.14 at 9:25 pm

Doesn’t it really depend on what they thought ‘Stalinism’ was? “

Yes, sure. That’s fair, but allowing for that. Those who knew what it was and still supported it after it happened, or excused it late into life.

Plume

sure, anyone who still supports slavery in the US is a moral monster.

67

adam.smith 01.30.14 at 9:27 pm

Rob in CT – there is median household income, which is what your link describes (and which is, as .js says, in the mid 50s in the US, and the “median equivalised disposable household income”, which is the standard metric if we want to make meaningful comparisons. It’s about 29k in the US. The list of International Median Houseshold Incomes on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Median_household_income ) uses the latter (and is _very_ clear about that) and that includes the division by the squareroot of household members (that’s the equivalised part). As for “disposable income” – that, too is clearly defined (by the US Census, the OECD, and pretty much any other relevant data gathering authority) as “personal income minus personal current taxes” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disposable_income
This:

The usual meaning of “disposable” income is money left over after you pay your recurring bills.

is discretionary income, which is significantly harder to measure for obvious reasons. I’m not aware of any international numbers on this, though BEA I believe has a measure for the US.

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Plume 01.30.14 at 9:42 pm

adam.smith,

Thanks. I knew it had to be one or the other. But income after taxes still doesn’t bring us to where you say it does:

median disposable income is quite high in the US in international comparison – including compared to rich countries like Germany or France. And I’ll stand by this and I can pretty much guarantee you that using alternate median income metrics (individuals, by various age groups, only wage earners etc.) you won’t see much movement. Maybe Denmark moves past the US, but that’s about it.

There are several reasons why this doesn’t make any sense. But perhaps the biggest is this:

At an income level of 27K, taxes are already relatively low, in all nations considered “developed” or “rich” as per your example. There isn’t enough difference in rates, percentages or actual dollars removed from a paycheck to push us from the bottom to near the top.

If, OTOH, you were comparing the super-rich and their disposable income across the developed world . . . yes, you’d see a big change, before and after taxes. But not at the 27K mark.

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adam.smith 01.30.14 at 9:50 pm

I don’t think we have good stats for pre-tax income, but why do you think the US would be towards the bottom there? That’s almost certainly not the case.

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Layman 01.30.14 at 9:52 pm

“Yes, sure. That’s fair, but allowing for that. Those who knew what it was and still supported it after it happened, or excused it late into life.”

If someone knew and accepted the truth, and yet still supported it, sure. Did you have someone in mind? Even the Soviets didn’t support Stalinism once he was safely dead.

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Ronan(rf) 01.30.14 at 10:05 pm

Specifics not really: hobsbawm, Du Bois, Cockburn? institutionally in a number of western European and US communist parties? It was more implied in the comment at 11 that I was quoting, that people continued to sympathise / support even after the truth was known. And that’s the context here, I guess.

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Harold 01.30.14 at 10:34 pm

This has been studied ad nauseum. The vast majority of people who were Communist Party members in the late thirties and early forties quit after a brief taste of it, but during the witch hunts they lost their jobs anyway.

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Layman 01.30.14 at 10:44 pm

Ronan @ 70

Not to quibble, but there’s a difference between ‘sympathizing with’ goals and ‘supporting’ means or actors. I ‘sympathize with’ the goals of the French Revolution, but that doesn’t mean I support Robespierre & the Reign of Terror.

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Ronan(rf) 01.30.14 at 10:59 pm

Harold, yes – not to excuse the blacklists etc (I think our societies can live with dissidents, even violent ones, even ‘moral monsters’) but just to wonder how do you classify someone who remained a supporter of Stalin after the fact. I don’t think any of those people I listed were moral monsters, so I don’t know.

Layman, there’s nuance to it of course. And I cant speak to the specifics of who supported X and to what extent. Corey posted about the process of how the state can identify dissidents and then destroy lives, even those mis-targetted, with the implicit support of many and the active support of a substantial amount of people. I’m just wondering how the reverse worked in this context: how good people with good politics could support evil.

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Alan White 01.30.14 at 11:19 pm

Conservative dictionary of proper names: Fund; what remains after “a mentalist” is ironically removed due to a lack of use.

That article provides the contemporary evasive “No” answer for this generation of Red-Master baiters to the classic “Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

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Harold 01.30.14 at 11:20 pm

Those who “supported Stalin” were blinkered and slow on the uptake, but once they understood what Stalin had done they withdrew their support. They were certainly not moral monsters. Listen, there were plenty of American who supported Hitler until 1940 or 41. And even more who rather signally failed to denounce him (including the Pope of Rome and the Duke of Windsor). And even more who failed to denounce racial segregation, prison farms, chain gangs, quotas, restrictive covenants, debt slavery, and the whole ball of wax.

Seeger says he left the party in 1950. For other diehards the awakening came in 1956.

It had not been illegal to be a Communist party member and they could argue that the US CP was different that the Russian CP or rationalize it in some other way. This is what European Communists mostly did. And even after they had left the party they could argue, as Seeger did, that it was a private matter, which it certainly should have been. The people who wanted to rake them over the coals and make them publicly recant and denounce their friends so that their friends would lose their livelihoods were mostly doing it to as a way to discredit liberalism or to burnish their own reputations in some way. Certainly not in the service of a higher morality.

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TheSophist 01.30.14 at 11:45 pm

It’s a little bit late to be respond to JCF @9, but Hunter Thompson’s obit of Nixon in Rolling Stone did begin with “He was a crook.” (Although in general I agree with your point.)

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Phil 01.31.14 at 12:05 am

I’ve known Communists – people who stayed in the Party to the end; I’ve even met one or two Stalinists (who didn’t stay in the Party to the end, and wouldn’t have been welcome). I’ve never met anyone who positively endorsed Stalin’s purges, or rejoiced in the conditions in the Gulags. There may be a handful of Marxist-Leninist-Sadists out there, but by and large people aren’t wired that way.

So when we talk about Communists and their sympathies, what are we actually talking about? Somebody who heard Khrushchev denounce Stalin’s crimes and didn’t leave the Party (Seeger, of course, had already gone) – somebody who heard about the purges and thought “that sounds troubling, but we need to reserve judgment until we know the full story, it was a difficult situation and I’m sure those involved had their reasons” – is that a moral monster, a sympathiser with the doers of evil? If so, how does our Communist monster compare with all those who heard the stories coming out of Nicaragua and El Salvador and Guatemala and South Africa and Indonesia and reacted in exactly the same way?

I’m not seeing much occupation of the moral high ground here.

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DBake 01.31.14 at 12:14 am

sure, anyone who still supports slavery in the US is a moral monster.

Wait, why is that the standard? What about people who practiced slavery?

What year did slavery become wrong?

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Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 12:15 am

I don’t think there’s a moral highground. It seems to be (somewhat) the same story as that of the HUAC etc. A policy driven by ideological entrepeneurs working within the party, maintained through the implicit and explicit support of party members, which was difficult to change/and or disown.
That would seem to be the interesting comparison(rather than the Nazis), on Seegers death – how he dealt with the moral tradeoffs involved with being in the CP at this time. Rather than hagiography, looking at him as a human being.

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SoU 01.31.14 at 1:38 am

Harold @33

“If it hadn’t been for the Soviet Union we would all have flags with swastikas on them now.”

while you are certainly being hyperbolic here, there is a certain truth in this statement. say what you want about the problems of Stalinism, and there are many, but it is a misrepresentation of history to pretend like there was no logic underlying the USSR’s slide into totalitarian rule. a nation born into imperialist war and aggression, sliding into civil war, facing widespread devastation, poverty, and famine – and a blockade by the major powers to boot. less than a generation since escaping monarchy, and looking a generation before that serfdom still had not been fully eliminated.

the totalitarian aspects of Stalinism naturally yielded excesses of the highest order. but i am to this day unconvinced that if Stalin had decided to enact a series of anarcho-syndicalist workers’ cooperatives (instead of breakneck industrialization through extreme labor discipline) that the USSR would have been able to survive WWII. The battle for Stalingrad was a slog, a pitched battle between the military-industrial complexes of the two powers, and the USSR could very easily have lost.

Stalin desired the liquidation of the Kulaks as a class, and the body count was massive. Hitler desired the extermination of the Russian people, tout court, to open their lands up as lebensraum. if they were really lucky and some of the more practical minded Nazis got their way he might have settled for just wholesale enslavement.

its easy to talk about ideals and freedoms when you are in an advanced nation protected on all sides by bodies of water. i do not find it surprising that the politics of states with hostile neighbors tend to fall short of the ideals held by their judges sitting safely across the ocean. none of this is to ‘justify’ what Stalin did (whatever that even means), but instead to remind people that a Soviet Union that ‘stuck to its ideals’ could very easily have been the end of an independent Russian state, or even the majority of the Russian people.

America needed more people like Seeger. not just for their advocacy for social issues at home, but for their sympathies for the USSR. had the US not engaged in such despicable behavior toward the USSR, and instead practiced some modicum of sympathy and/or understanding, perhaps that nation would have emerged from that terrible period in history and grown out of it. instead, we have the deplorable situation seen today, where Russia is run by a cabal of former KGB agents and sliding further backwards into economic and political destitution.

Support from a few US folk singers did not feed Stalinism or its decedents. On the contrary: what fed into Stalinism and its descendants was the reactionary hatred of US elites, across the political spectrum. The White armies, the Cold Warriors, the Best and Brightest and the Harvard Boys – just because you state that you are ‘against’ something does not necessarily mean that you are not simultaneously giving it life. Geopolitics just isn’t that simple.

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Belle Waring 01.31.14 at 3:00 am

adam.smith @ 50: I believe the adage that “two may live as cheaply as one” was definitively disproven in Of Human Bondage, right? On account of Mildred’s predilection for chops?

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Belle Waring 01.31.14 at 3:01 am

To the OP, this is concern trollery for the ages.

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Plume 01.31.14 at 4:30 am

SoU #80,

Well said.

To a degree, the west is to blame for what Russia became — and Cuba, Vietnam, and China, etc.

In the case of each, the capitalist west did everything possible to destroy nascent and popular leftist revolutions from the getgo, thus creating a permanent siege mentality which historically almost always leads to (at least) internal tyranny. Note that whenever modern, “liberal democracies” go to war, they tend to suspend their own constitutions. Is it at all surprising that a few newly formed governments, in a vast sea of complete hostility, would opt for similar measures — heightened no doubt due to the actual existential threat from the rest of the world?

The west instigated, funded, supplied and helped sustain the Russian civil wars after the very popular 1917 leftist revolution. We supported the whites, etc. etc. . . . then permanently blockaded that nation after the whites lost. We did the same with Cuba, and kept trying to knock off its head of state. Constant attacks from the outside almost never, ever result in greater openness and more democracy for a society. They result in a tightening of the screws.

Just imagine if we and the rest of the world had actually embraced Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam . . . into the club of nations, doing whatever we could along humanitarian lines to help them, giving them no reason whatsoever to feel under siege.

I suspect that in each case, with the possible exception of North Korea, the end result would have been a far more open, pluralistic and eventually democratic society. We chose the wrong response.

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adam.smith 01.31.14 at 4:35 am

Belle – sorry to say, my knowledge of British literature is pretty much limited to Shakespeare, Austen, and Zadie Smith, so this is lost on me.

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Collin Street 01.31.14 at 4:38 am

We chose the wrong response.

Depends on what you’re after, really. Cartels depress the public good, but the people inside them do OK.

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Plume 01.31.14 at 5:03 am

Collin Street,

Very true. And that’s why the capitalist powers that be did as they did. They couldn’t abide any alternative systems that might freeze them out and, heaven forbid, prevent them from ransacking the natural resources of the nations in question.

So they froze out those alternative systems instead. And they (we) vastly outnumbered the “upstarts.”

Ironically, it seemed Lenin was all too amenable to capitalism, and used it to rapidly (hysterically, even) industrialize Russia at warp speed, using primitive accumulation himself. He and his descendents seemed more than willing to compete with the west on capitalist grounds, despite differences in terminologies.

The counterfactuals break my heart.

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clew 01.31.14 at 5:36 am

SoU, 80: There’s a heroically depressing biography _The Ghost of the Executed Engineer_ that really strongly suggests the tyranny in the USSR slowed down their industrialization. *Might* have moved more material, but moved it stupid places. The engineer in question, and thousands of immiserated coal-miners in his region, already felt beseiged and heroic enough to work with their fingerbones when they had nothing else — they didn’t need to be tyrannized.

There’s some of this in _Wild Swans_, too, with the author’s father the Honest Governor (who criticized Mao for insufficiently Communist policies. In writing, I think).

In my daydream counterfactual, the US swaggers out of WWII condescendingly saying that socialism is well enough when you’re poor or in trouble, and we’re sure everyone will grow up into manly capitalism when they’re ready, but why bully them?

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godoggo 01.31.14 at 5:42 am

OK, I have a question for anybody who knows more about this than me. How much of the Soviet war effort was based on their own industry and how much on help from us? I’d thought to some extent it was, we supplied the cannons and they supplied the fodder.

90

bt 01.31.14 at 5:46 am

I was listening to a recording of Pete Seeger on the radio, and he was talking about Woody Guthrie. Woody was leading a rally of union workers in Baltimore, to buy war bonds during World War 2. He was singing with some prominent black singers/folk singers or such.

After they were finished and the crowd stopped applauding, Guthrie was invited to sit down at one of the tables in front, and his co-singers were invited to sit with the help in the kitchen. The MC then applauded them all for fighting the good fight against the Fascists. So Woody says “The fight against fascism starts right now!” and makes some comments about how everyone should be able to eat at the same table, and then he grabs the table and tips it over, and then moves to the next and flips it over too. He is grabbed, restrained and dragged offstage.

What a great story, and a reminder that these guys were more than musicians. These were not ideological/rigid people, they were people who saw things that were not right and they spoke up. I was really inspired by the story.

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Luke 01.31.14 at 5:48 am

Can’t give you sources at the moment, but the USSR produced the vast majority of its own wartime goods. Important exceptions were things like spam (a delicacy due to food shortages), motor vehicles (the automotive industry was busy with tanks) and contraband leather jackets. Tanks and planes also helped, of course, but were less needed.

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Peter T 01.31.14 at 6:16 am

The breakneck – often wasteful – industrialisation from 1933 on saved the Soviet Union in 1941, although Western help with critical inputs (locomotives, aluminium ingots, lubricants, trucks, spam…) certainly allowed it to devote an astonishing proportion of its output to the war (around 50%, as compared with 10% for Britain). And not just material – it produced the planners and managers who relocated whole factories and had them back up and running in months, the skilled workers who improvised improvements to processes and weaponry in desperate times, the committed people who so often fought to the death rather than surrender their future to barbarian slavers.

And it should be remembered that lebensraum to the east was a long-standing dream of the conservative German elites, and not just a Nazi aberration. One explicitly modelled on the US expansion to the west. So a less ruthless regime may well have opened Russia to a worse catastrophe (much as China’s weakness made it prey to Japanese militarism, with pretty awful consequences). Was there an alternative? I don’t know, and you can spin counter-factuals all day. But Pete Seeger’s generation had to make some hard choices about whose side they were on. I can’t fault a guy who was with the blacks and the workers, regardless of who else was in that tent.

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Harold 01.31.14 at 6:23 am

During the war the Almanac Singers were employed to go around the country and give concerts promoting racial equality. The CIO was the only integrated union and white workers were sometimes ambivalent about it.

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LFC 01.31.14 at 6:30 am

Plume @64

Our invasion of Korea, for example, led to the slaughter of 2-4 million Korean civilians. In Vietnam, the number was roughly 3 million. We know from the Nixon tapes that that number could have gone radically higher, as he discussed with Kissinger. Nixon wanted to nuke Vietnam. Kissinger, who seemed just fine with fire bombing civilians to death, drew the line at nukes.

You persist in referring to the U.S. ‘invasion’ of Korea when it has been pointed out previously, and correctly, that North Korea invaded South Korea. That is a fact. It does not of course necessarily legitimate the particular way(s) the U.S. and its allies fought the Korean War. But there is a well-known distinction between a war’s justification (or not) at its inception (jus ad bellum) and how it is fought (jus in bello).

On Nixon and nukes: I’ve recently read a book that references Nixon’s and Kissinger’s conversations about another foreign policy matter, and Nixon seems to have been somewhat cavalier in his attitude/references to nuclear weapons — but I’m not sure how seriously his remarks about nukes shd be taken. Nixon was bonkers in various ways, but I have difficulty believing he was actually as cavalier about nukes as the tapes sometimes suggest. (But I cd be wrong.)

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Harold 01.31.14 at 6:37 am

@84″Of Human Bondage” was also a Hollywood movie starring Bette Davis and Leslie Howard (1934). It was remade in 1964 with Kim Novak, Lawrence Harvey, and Robert Morley .

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Ken_L 01.31.14 at 6:39 am

It’s just another tiny piece in the Great Conservative History Revision project. Communism was an existential threat to America, liberals were naive or treacherous accomplices who welcomed the enemy into the halls of power, Joe McCarthy was sadly misjudged and heroic conservatives saved the say for The Homeland. See also Diana West’s nonsense about Stalin running Roosevelt, the tripe in “A Patriot’s History of the United States”, and about 274 conservative blog posts every day.

The moral of the story of course is that they’re back, this time as Alinskyite Obama socialists. Eternal vigilance! Time to water the tree of liberty!!

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LFC 01.31.14 at 6:47 am

P.s. For instance it’s possible that the apparently cavalier attitude to nukes was a (misguided) attempt by Nixon to impress Kissinger and whoever else might have been in the room with his ‘toughness’. Kissinger himself, at the height of the E. Pakistan (Bangladesh) crisis in December ’71 when they ordered a carrier task force to move toward the Bay of Bengal, said to Nixon “at least we’re coming off like men.” Nixon might have thought (consciously or otherwise) that musing aloud about using nuclear weapons was a way to exhibit masculinity. (I’m just speculating obvs.)

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Plume 01.31.14 at 6:48 am

LFC 93,

No, it was not correctly pointed out, at least by your telling. Remember, others chimed in to correct your version. You’re ignoring the full context. The western powers, primarily the US, split the Korean peninsula in half after WWII, played god, thus setting the table for the inevitable future war. And the South Korean government committed mass atrocities, which provoked the North’s invasion.

http://criticalasianstudies.org/issues/vol42/no4/atrocities-before-and-during-the-korean-war.html

Atrocities Before and During the Korean War
Mass Civilian Killings by South Korean and U.S. Forces
Author: Suh Hee-Kyung
Abstract:

Drawing on the results of forty-eight case studies completed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Republic of Korea (TRCK), this article analyzes the characteristics of “mass killings of Korean civilians” committed in South Korea (south of the 38th parallel) from October 1948 to March 1952. First, the author identifies four groups of perpetrators who committed the mass killings: the army/ police of the Republic of Korea (ROK), ROK police and army intelligence agencies, ROK police and security agencies, and the U.S. military. Second, the author shows that the political circumstances at the time of each mass killing had profound effects on the ways in which these mass killings were carried out, how victims were selected, and how the perpetrators mobilized. Immediately before the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the ROK army/police were mobilized to suppress rebels within the army and civilian opponents to the government. This resulted in mass killings. Immediately after the war started, potential collaborators with North Korea were summarily executed by army intelligence agencies/police. Finally, collaborators, or suspects, with the North Korean People’s Army were vengefully punished after United Nations forces recovered Seoul. Also, the U.S. military was engaged in killing refugees and civilians in enemy territory throughout the war. The series of mass civilian killings demonstrates, in the most grotesque way, that the Korean War was the final outburst and culmination of conflicts that arose from the high political tension caused by the establishment of the two governments after Korea’s independence in August 1945. To substantiate these claims, this article details some of the civilian mass killings whose veracity has been confirmed by the TRCK.

As for Nixon. We have his own words, and can hear his inflections, emphases, pauses, shifts, etc. He sounded quite serious to me about nuking Vietnam. Kissinger, a truly odious person, drew the line there. He had no problem with more than 200,000 civilian fatalities due to recent (at that time) bombing campaigns. But, nukes were too much for even him.

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notsneaky 01.31.14 at 7:31 am

The western powers, primarily the US, split the Korean peninsula in half after WWII, played god, thus setting the table for the inevitable future war.

Nonsense. Korea was split by the western powers AND the Soviet Union. At Potsdam and at Moscow. And the only reason the SU was anywhere near the peninsula is because the US asked them to come, so they could help fight the Japanese.

The west instigated, funded, supplied and helped sustain the Russian civil wars after the very popular 1917 leftist revolution. We supported the whites, etc. etc. . . .

Also nonsense. Russian civil war (wars?) began without any help from the west. And the initial uprisings against Bolsheviks were actually by *leftist*, just not-Bolshevik, groups, such as the SRs or the Czechoslovak Legion. The support for the Whites was of the “too little too late” nature. 90% talk and 10% actual help. By the time Kolchak and Denikin got any kind of meaningful help, they had already lost.

100

LFC 01.31.14 at 7:35 am

@Plume
The abstract you’ve reproduced does not say, or even imply, that S. Korean atrocities “provoked the North’s invasion.” For one thing, many of the mass killings in question occurred after the war already started, according to this abstract. Thus those particular killings can’t have “provoked” the invasion. The abstract does say “Immediately before the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the ROK army/police were mobilized to suppress rebels within the army and civilian opponents to the government. This resulted in mass killings.” But it’s not at all clear from this that the North’s invasion was a direct response to that.

My impression is that it was a different situation from, say, Vietnam, where there was an indigenous force of some size in the South, namely the NLF (Viet Cong) which, although it had originally been set up by N. Vietnam, took on a somewhat autonomous, separate character over time. Which is one reason one can speak of Vietnam as a civil war into which the U.S. intervened.

My understanding of the Korean War is that it was, by contrast, a somewhat more traditional instance of one country invading another albeit against a backdrop of complicated and bloody occurrences and perhaps even ‘provocations’. And no doubt atrocities on both sides. But to refer to the U.S. “invasion” of Korea suggests that there was the Korean peninsula with the two Koreas sitting there and then, one day, the U.S. decided to invade it. Which is not what happened.

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Plume 01.31.14 at 7:56 am

Yes, the south provoked the north’s invasion with its atrocities. And then we invaded to help the south, which was a brutal dictatorship at the time. The dictator’s name was Syngman Rhee, who ordered mass killings and major oppression of civilians, especially leftists, some of which the US allowed to go forward:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ap-us-allowed-korean-massacre-in-1950/

Notice also this section, which talks about before the war. The massacre, which is the main subject of the article, happened near its beginning.

In 1947, two years after Washington and Moscow divided Korea into southern and northern halves, a U.S. military government declared the Korean Labor Party, the southern communists, to be illegal. President Syngman Rhee’s southern regime, gaining sovereignty in 1948, suppressed all leftist political activity, put down a guerrilla uprising and held up to 30,000 political prisoners by the time communist North Korea invaded on June 25, 1950.

As war broke out, southern authorities also rounded up members of the 300,000-strong National Guidance Alliance, a “re-education” body to which they had assigned leftist sympathizers, and whose membership quotas also were filled by illiterate peasants lured by promises of jobs and other benefits.

Commission investigators, extrapolating from initial evidence and surveys of family survivors, believe most alliance members were killed in the wave of executions.

On June 29, 1950, as the southern army and its U.S. advisers retreated southward, reports from Seoul said the conquering northerners had emptied the southern capital’s prisons, and ex-inmates were reinforcing the new occupation regime.

102

Plume 01.31.14 at 7:57 am

The wiki article on the South Korean dictator we supported:

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

103

LFC 01.31.14 at 8:01 am

My view expressed above may not be right in some respects. I just found this passage in the opening of 1993 paper published under the auspices of the Cold War Int’l History Project:

…the army of North Korea, … though clearly armed by the Soviet Union, was nevertheless attempting to reunify its own country, not engage in aggression against a neighboring state. Moreover, it had been obvious for at least a year that war would break out in Korea; the bitterly opposing governments of the North and South were both determined to reunify the country under their own control. Indeed, the United States refused to supply South Korea with offensive weapons because it feared that Syngman Rhee would use them to march north.

Even accepting this, I still think it’s misleading to refer to the U.S. “invasion” of Korea.

104

Plume 01.31.14 at 8:06 am

Also, South Korea, under Rhee, planned to invade North Korea prior to the North’s invasion of the South:

http://www.japanfocus.org/-mark-caprio/3482

Most important, this research often fails to mention, much less critically examine, Syngman Rhee’s aspirations. Nor does it consider the possible effect that South Korea’s belligerent actions along the 38th parallel may have had on North Korean actions. Documents demonstrating Rhee’s interest in engaging the North in war predate the earliest record of Kim’s military ambitions by at least one month. On February 8, 1949, the South Korean president met with Ambassador John Muccio and Secretary of the Army Kenneth C. Royall in Seoul. Here the Korean president listed the following as justifications for initiating a war with the North: the South Korean military could easily be increased by 100,000 if it drew from the 150,000 to 200,000 Koreans who had recently fought with the Japanese or the Nationalist Chinese.52

Moreover, the morale of the South Korean military was greater than that of the North Koreans. If war broke out he expected mass defections from the enemy. Finally, the United Nations’ recognition of South Korea legitimized its rule over the entire peninsula (as stipulated in its constitution). Thus, he concluded, there was “nothing [to be] gained by waiting.” Muccio replied by advising, as Stalin would Kim, that Rhee first explore peaceful options. The ambassador also warned that “no invasion of North Korea could in any event take place while the United States had combat troops in Korea.”53 With U.S. combat troops initially scheduled to leave the peninsula in May (this departure was later pushed back to the end of June), did Muccio’s reply leave room for the possibility of a South Korean invasion after the United States military withdrew as Stalin predicted during his discussions with Kim the following month? Perhaps. Around this time North Korea began to lay mines along its side of the 38th parallel.54

We’ve been led to believe this was a war of aggression with only one side at fault, the North. That was always a fairy tale.

105

LFC 01.31.14 at 8:06 am

I posted 102 before seeing Plume’s 100/101.

106

notsneaky 01.31.14 at 8:08 am

LFC, the way to read, is that US refused to arm Rhee with offensive weapons because they did not want him to invade the north and they did not want to piss off the Soviets. On the other hand, the Soviets armed Kim Ill-Sung precisely so that he could invade the south (they thought the Americans wouldn’t respond, because they didn’t respond much in China)

107

LFC 01.31.14 at 8:12 am

We’ve been led to believe this was a war of aggression with only one side at fault, the North.

I agree that that view is much too simplistic. Apparently, the division never having been accepted by either side, each was contemplating the use of force against the other. But I don’t nec. agree with all of your glosses.

108

LFC 01.31.14 at 8:16 am

note to self: don’t get involved in this sort of discussion late at night. or ideally, at all.

109

StevenAttewell 01.31.14 at 8:56 am

How precisely did the U.S “permanently blockaded” the USSR after the end of the Russian Civil War?

110

Ed Herdman 01.31.14 at 9:20 am

I recently came out of my skin because somebody asked what I thought was a patently ridiculous question in a memorial thread; this is actually far worse.

So much for the “Conservatives are big on traditional values” angle – speak no ill of the dead, as people say.

Pete Seeger was not the only folk artist who at one time gravitated towards Communism – one of the most beloved of all American folk songs is Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” Of course the sympathies are about the same issues that always affect the poor and dispossessed – freedom and equality – and nothing about empowering or supporting oppressive regimes overseas.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me / Sign was painted, it said private property / But on the back side it didn’t say nothing / (chorus)

111

Ed Herdman 01.31.14 at 10:59 am

Also, it seems to me that Pete Seeger’s inventive First Amendment defense may have been a critical innovation to our modern understanding of the rights of everyday citizens, though his testimony is (at least until now) one of the more obscure events at the HUAC proceedings.

Apparently a bunch of people are falling over themselves to get into the disgraceful act of spreading sour grapes at the passing of a great and influential man. Click only if you have a strong stomach: http://pjmedia.com/ronradosh/2014/01/30/the-two-worst-tribute-articles-to-pete-seeger/

“Not a right-wing conservative” indeed.

112

MPAVictoria 01.31.14 at 11:34 am

“So a less ruthless regime may well have opened Russia to a worse catastrophe “

I less ruthless regime might not have purged all of it best officers right before a war. A less ruthless regimes Generals might not have been so afraid of what would happen to them if they retreated when it was sensible to do so. Frankly, I think a more democratic and open USSR would have had an EASIER time beating the Nazis.

113

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 12:42 pm

“So much for the “Conservatives are big on traditional values” angle – speak no ill of the dead, as people say.”

Well this is what happens Ed. When Hitchens died – younger, in sadder circumstances, leaving behind young children the left reacted with tough, unsparing criticisms. And they were right. They were right to do Buckley as well. If we could get
But if right the obits, somewhere between hagiography and hatchet job, somewhere between Bhaskar Sunkara’s output and the national reviews, that would be the ticket. But its all ideology nowadays

114

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 12:44 pm

should be *But if we could get right the obits*

115

Belle Waring 01.31.14 at 1:18 pm

People on the left did not offer up tough, unsparing criticisms of Hitchens when he died, despite the fact that he explicitly used the death of Mother Teresa as a book re-release/tour advertisement. People on the left offered up firm, unsparing rim jobs when Christopher Hitchens died. They noted in passing that he went from shithead Trotskyite to shithead neo-con with nothing but a thousand bottles of gin and 18 months between, but then swiftly moved on to how smart he was, even when he was drunk, and wasn’t it jolly good fun, him having that English accent and everything and sounding smart even when he was drunk, and how he was always ready to take young fledgling [WHITE MALE SORRY] journalists under his wing and whatnot. Also WILLING TO MAKE TOUGH CHOICES!

We should aim to follow the Breitbart obituary principle, as articulated by that important internet Republican and inspiring hack extraordinare, to whom no depths were too low to stoop in the service of ridiculing those on welfare. From ThinkProgress in 2009:

Early this morning, news broke that Sen. Ted Kennedy had passed away after serving in the U.S. Senate for nearly 50 years. Soon after, conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart began a sustained assault on Kennedy’s memory, tweeting “Rest in Chappaquiddick.” Over the course of the next three hours, Breitbart unapologetically attacked Kennedy, calling him a “villain,” “a big ass motherf@#$er,” a “duplicitous bastard” and a “prick.” “I’ll shut my mouth for Carter. That’s just politics. Kennedy was a special pile of human excrement,” wrote Breitbart in one tweet.

Quoted elsewhere, “I’m more than willing to go off decorum to ensure THIS MAN is not beatified,” Breitbart wrote. “Sorry, he destroyed lives. And he knew it.”

So, if right-wingers want to talk shit about admirable public figures on the left, fuck’em, but let’s get the spine stiffened up enough so that the ostensible media representatives of the left don’t suffer simultaneous, repeated orgasms on-screen when the next Ronald Reagan analogue dies.

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lurker 01.31.14 at 1:24 pm

‘The west instigated, funded, supplied and helped sustain the Russian civil wars after the very popular 1917 leftist revolution. We supported the whites, etc. etc. . . . then permanently blockaded that nation after the whites lost.’ (Plume)
There was a popular revolution in February and a coup in November. A civil war was pretty much inevitable once a militant minority took over, given that they were too weak to effectively control the country. The blockade ended in 1921: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Soviet_Trade_Agreement
Capitalists were quite willing to do business with the Bolshies. As we can see in China today, a Communist dictatorship is their ideal system of government, for their workers.
If we’re doing counterfactuals, a Russia that was on good terms with western powers could have built an alliance with France and Britain and contained Germany, avoiding WWII. Maybe.

117

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 1:27 pm

I was thinking more along the lines of Greenwald and Michael Lind, who wrote pretty harsh (and funny) obits, but I guess they’re not *really* on the left. But yeah, I agree in general with your point, my sympathies are more with hit jobs than maudlin four week wakes. Also, having said that, we’re then just going to have to accept that the obit will then no longer be a source for useful information. Which is fine, I guess

118

Shared Humanity 01.31.14 at 2:09 pm

The Soviet Union was a totalitarian state which had twisted Karl Marx’s philosophy beyond recognition. The Communist Party in the U.S. has a rich history of fighting against racism and for workers. It was a force behind the union movements of the early 20th century which created the middle class. The U.S. would become a better place if the Communist and Socialist Parties regained their strength.

119

Jerry Vinokurov 01.31.14 at 2:16 pm

People on the left did not offer up tough, unsparing criticisms of Hitchens when he died, despite the fact that he explicitly used the death of Mother Teresa as a book re-release/tour advertisement. People on the left offered up firm, unsparing rim jobs when Christopher Hitchens died.

My favorite Hitchens obit

120

Corey Robin 01.31.14 at 2:25 pm

Belle: “People on the left did not offer up tough, unsparing criticisms of Hitchens when he died, despite the fact that he explicitly used the death of Mother Teresa as a book re-release/tour advertisement. People on the left offered up firm, unsparing rim jobs when Christopher Hitchens died.”

Not everyone on the left.

http://coreyrobin.com/2011/12/16/christopher-hitchens-the-most-provincial-spirit-of-all/

http://coreyrobin.com/2011/12/18/yes-but-more-on-hitchens-and-hagiography/

121

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 2:29 pm

Corey, couldn’t that second review swap Iraq for Stalin and war on terror for Soviet communism and apply to the CPUSA ?

122

Stan 01.31.14 at 2:32 pm

I loved Seeger’s music and I think he was a genuinely good person. He was entitled to his beliefs and he shouldn’t have been persecuted for them, but he stuck with Stalinism way too long. Like much of the left during the Pol Pot massacres, he felt that acknowledging the truth would give aid and comfort to the wrong side. In my book he was a hero in a Greek tragedy, a man with a fatal flaw.

123

Corey Robin 01.31.14 at 2:33 pm

Ronan: I’m not sure what you mean.

124

bob mcmanus 01.31.14 at 2:37 pm

Unhitched …booklength vivisection by Richard Seymour

Sometimes I wonder if people know how to find or look for the Left.

125

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 2:38 pm

afaict (though Im not sure if its the whole story) the US communist party, despite their good works domestically, were quite strong supporters of Stalin, even through the height of the purges etc If we judge Hitchens primarily by his support for Iraq and the WOT why don’t we judge CP members by their support for Stalinism?

126

Corey Robin 01.31.14 at 3:37 pm

First, I have no problem with a balanced assessment of Hitchens’s pluses and minuses (though I do think his pluses are way overblown). My argument was in the context of virtually everyone, on the right and the left, as Belle notes above, ignoring the minuses or just pooh-poohing them away. Conversely, I have no problem with people talking about the CPUSA’s slavish support for the Soviet Union; as I’ve argued on the other thread, to understand the CPUSA you have to understand that it was both an emancipatory social movement and an often autocratic conspiratorial party that issued apologia after apologia for the Soviet Union. So there’s no issue there for me. But, second, there’s also no comparison for me between the positive good the CPUSA did do — we’re talking major progressive advances in trade unionism and civil rights, not to mention the positive cultural transformations they brought about (see Michael Denning’s The Cultural Front) — in comparison to the positive good of Hitchens. Like I said, I think people vastly overestimate Hitchens’s contributions, and though my predictions often prove wrong, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ultimately becomes at best a minor footnote in the history of arts and letters. At best, he reprised a role that had been well performed by others. Whereas the CPUSA did things almost no one else was doing in the 30s at the time. (Maurice Zeitlin had a very good series of articles, years ago, in one of the major journals of sociology, on how CP union contracts compared with non-CP union contracts. On virtually every measure — bread and butter issues, grievance handling, union democracy, transparency, and such — the CP unions did better.) So again I’m all for balanced assessments of a writer or political party’s contributions. I’m just not sure that Hitchens would hold up all that well on either count.

127

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 3:40 pm

I don’t think Hitchens reputation will hold up that well either, fwiw, and I’ll keep an open mind on the US CP if I read more on it. Thanks for the response

128

Harold 01.31.14 at 3:43 pm

Hitchens could be very amusing sometimes.

Seeger was an artist, and the American branch of the CPU during the Popular Front period went through a populist phase. After the war they changed leaders and more or less turned their back on people like Seeger and what interested them.

129

elm 01.31.14 at 4:14 pm

Ronan(rf) @ 122: Is the topic of your post Communist Party USA (the political organization) or members and former members of Communist Party USA (individual humans). It need not be the case that every member of CPUSA was familiar with the implications of every position held by CPUSA. There’s no evidence that Seeger set policy for CPUSA, correct? Nor that he was its president/chairman?

By comparison, Hitchens can be taken to represent exactly himself.

I suppose if Seeger had written songs like “All hail the glory of Stalin’s purges!” or “Gulags ain’t so bad!”, then it would be fair to compare Seeger and Hitchens, but he didn’t, so it’s not.

130

Katherine 01.31.14 at 4:15 pm

Hitchens could be very amusing sometimes.

R..e..s..i..s…t…i…n…g comment about Hitler being nice to dogs. Nope, failed.

131

elm 01.31.14 at 4:17 pm

Sometimes, Hitchens turned his insufferable, drunken, self-righteous priggishness on targets that I also did not like.

132

William Timberman 01.31.14 at 4:21 pm

I think it’s possible to attack the post-mortem hagiographies heaped on us by our all-devouring news cycle without attacking the subjects themselves. They’re dead, after all, and therefore can’t personally do us any more good or harm than they’ve already done. I respected Pete Seeger, mostly for walking it the way he talked it, but I didn’t feel any particular affection for him or his music, largely because I’m not sentimental about the things he was sentimental about. I don’t do heroes and villains, and it always seemed to me that Seeger did little else. If I wanted to say these things about him publicly, though, it seems to me that the time to have done it was while he was still alive. After his death, his principles remain to be discussed by all of us, but the memory of the man himself should belong to his friends.

I’d extend the same courtesy to the survivors of people I had a lot less respect for — Reagan and Hitchens have been mentioned here, but there have been plenty of others. Fight ‘em while they’re around, and leave ‘em be after they’re gone. People carrying the statues of saints into battle can’t be defeated by spitting on their idols. In short, abuse of symbols is a mug’s game; there’s got to be a way to argue legacy which doesn’t involve character assassination after the fact.

133

MPAVictoria 01.31.14 at 4:30 pm

“Sometimes, Hitchens turned his insufferable, drunken, self-righteous priggishness on targets that I also did not like.”

Bingo.

134

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 4:47 pm

elm – do people have obligations to disown the monstrous positions held by the party they belong to ? I would say yes. Should they recant on those positions if they held them themselves ? I’d also say yes. I don’t know where Seeger fits into this. It seems he was supportive of Stalin, to a degree, in his youth, but he recanted, to a degree, in later life. Does this make him a moral monster. No. But it complicates the hagiography.

135

Corey Robin 01.31.14 at 4:50 pm

I would urge people to avoid using the language of recantation. It has an unsavory overtone, linked to precisely the evils it is meant to oppose.

136

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 4:53 pm

Although to Corey I was speaking specifically about the CP, organisationally. His initial post did I good job showing how many people were implicated (implicitly and explicitly) in the blacklists. It the same is true for the CP re Stalin

137

Harold 01.31.14 at 5:18 pm

Die Gedanken sind frei

138

Harold 01.31.14 at 5:31 pm

What gives people the right to set themselves up as thought police?

re·cant
riˈkant
verb
1.
Make a formal statement that one no longer holds an opinion or belief, esp. one considered heretical.
“heretics were burned if they would not recant”
synonyms: renounce, disavow, deny, repudiate, renege on;
formal: forswear, abjure change one’s mind, be apostate;
rare: tergiversate
“he refused to recant”
retract, take back, withdraw, unsay
“he recanted his testimony”

139

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 5:37 pm

I’ll happily swap recant for consider ones positions in a morally serious way

140

MPAVictoria 01.31.14 at 6:07 pm

Harold I love Seeger’s cover of that song.

141

Phil 01.31.14 at 6:20 pm

do people have obligations to disown the monstrous positions held by the party they belong to ? I would say yes. Should they recant on those positions if they held them themselves ? I’d also say yes.

What “monstrous positions”, precisely, were held by the CPUSA in the period of Seeger’s membership thereof? What are you actually referring to here? And are we suggesting that the same kind of self-criticism should be demanded from known supporters of Oh Say For Instance Just Off The Top Of My Head the Reagan administration? If not, why not?

142

Phil 01.31.14 at 6:22 pm

Excuse the tone, but Anti-Communism really pisses me off. And I think they’re genuine questions.

143

Harold 01.31.14 at 6:26 pm

Pete’s uncle was a rather famous poet who was killed fighting for the French in WWI, Alan Seeger, author of “I Have a Rendezvous with Death.” (According to wikipedia it was one of JFK’s favorite poems). Pete had a pretty developed poetic (and musical) sensibility though he personally abjured the roles of professional artist and composer (I think he must have declined to do second takes in his recordings, which are frequently inferior to his live performances). At any rate, I think his sense of language was among the reasons reason he was so rhetorically effective.

144

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 6:34 pm

Phil – as per Coreys 125 – ‘CPUSA’s slavish support for the Soviet Union’. If you are part of an organisation that sympathised/justified Stalins crimes, do you have a moral obligation to disown (?) that ?

“And are we suggesting that the same kind of self-criticism should be demanded from known supporters of Oh Say For Instance Just Off The Top Of My Head the Reagan administration? “

Yes of course. Supporters of the Iraq War, for example need to reconsider their support in a serious way.
Isn’t this just the rhetoric of ‘checking you privilege’ ? Don’t white Americans have to deal with the fact that they grew up in a country based on white supremacy? Or men, that we grew up in societies privileged by our gender ? So I’m talking here specifically about how this party, which was very progressive domestically according to all reports, was willing to ‘slavishly support the Soviet Union’.

I’m not anti communist. I don’t think every communist needs to don the sackcloth and ashes for Stalinism. But do you not think that people who were members of an organisation that supported Stalinism (and who did so themselves) should have that as a blot in their obit ?

145

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 6:48 pm

And just to add, I’m obviously no expert on the US communist party, so any complications on the ‘CPUSA’s slavish support for the Soviets’ is welcome.

146

bob mcmanus 01.31.14 at 6:55 pm

I stepped on my Che t-shirt.

147

Harold 01.31.14 at 7:02 pm

I’d sure like to see members of the Bush and Reagan administration publicly renounce their former positions, among many others. Not to mention “reinventing welfare”, repeal of Glass Segall, and NAFTA, to name just a few.

148

Harold 01.31.14 at 7:07 pm

Cicero: Liberae sunt (…) nostrae cogitationes (“Our thoughts are free”), Pro Milione XXIX: 79, 52 BC

149

Layman 01.31.14 at 7:28 pm

“But do you not think that people who were members of an organisation that supported Stalinism (and who did so themselves) should have that as a blot in their obit ?”

Haven’t I already responded to this once? You’re making inferences which aren’t justified – that appreciation for Marxist goals is Stalinism; that membership in the CPUSA is Stalinism; that ignorant support for Stalin is Stalinism. It seems to be your position that every single member of the CPUSA understood that Stalin was a monster and that the CPUSA was his tool; and that this was the reason they belonged to the organization. Really? There were no people in the CPUSA because it was pro-union? There were no people in the CPUSA because it was for gender equality? There were no people in the CPUSA because it was anti-poverty? Anti-racist? They all joined & remained because they wanted to help Stalin murder Russians?

150

elm 01.31.14 at 7:36 pm

Ronan: I think you’d do well to actually read some/any obituaries (published as news, not as opinion) of Seeger. The first few that I found (for example in the New York Times) do tend to mention his membership in CPUSA and his later life commitment to small-’c’ communism.

Additionally, his Wikipedia page has a section Reflection on support for Soviet Communism revealing facts about him that you seem ignorant of.

But do you not think that people who were members of an organisation that supported Stalinism (and who did so themselves) should have that as a blot in their obit ?

Again, you’re conflating an organization with its members.

Additionally, you’re asking for more scrutiny to be put to Mr. Seeger (whose influence on U.S. foreign policy was not especially large and whose influence on U.S. domestic policy was good) than to, for example, Hitchens or Reagan who were both far more influential and promoted more destructive policies.

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Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 7:39 pm

No layman that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that if you’re member of an organisation for reason X (pro unions, pro gender equality, whatever) but the organisation has another reprehensible position, in this case being close to the Soviet Union and sympathetic to Stalinism, then you are making a moral tradeoff. ie I want to push the case for unions, so Im willing to live with the fact that the organisation supports the Soviet Union. There are, of course, other places you can go to push your list of policies without being compromised by this tradeoff.
Yes, you could go member by member and find out who supported X to what extent. So I wasn’t trying to personalise it initially, but was speaking organisationally. But still, in small ideological disciplined parties, staffed by people who are informed and intelligent, there’s a level of moral culpability that probably doesn’t exist if you just vote thoughtlessly every 4 years.

152

js. 01.31.14 at 7:42 pm

Supporters of the Iraq War, for example need to reconsider their support in a serious way.

Ronan,

Given the way in which you want to hold members of CPUSA accountable, it would seem the proper parallel would be ‘any registered Republican’ (certainly), and ‘any registered Democrat’ (quite plausibly). After all, an ordinary member of CPUSA didn’t have any more material control over CPUSA positions (much less those of the Soviet Union) than your average New Yorker has over Clinton’s votes. I think this is what’s striking some people as a bit weird, myself included I guess.

153

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 7:43 pm

elm – but so what if the NYT mentioned it? Im saying it here, where it wasn’t really mentioned in the initial OP or the Al Jazeera link above. If I was arguing this case at the NR, that would be a different kettle of fish
And (1) I wasn’t personalising it to Seeger initially (2) Hitchens has no real influence over US foreign policy

154

Layman 01.31.14 at 7:46 pm

“No layman that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that if you’re member of an organisation for reason X (pro unions, pro gender equality, whatever) but the organisation has another reprehensible position, in this case being close to the Soviet Union and sympathetic to Stalinism, then you are making a moral tradeoff. ie I want to push the case for unions, so Im willing to live with the fact that the organisation supports the Soviet Union.”

You’re assuming all members of the CPUSA knew about the moral tradeoff. Wouldn’t most of them say they didn’t know? In fact, haven’t they said that?

You lack the historical context to understand that being ‘close to the Soviet Union’ was once considered laudable; unless you happened to be a factory owner, or the factory owner’s banker, or his pet member of Congress.

155

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 7:49 pm

Layman
This blanket statement

“‘close to the Soviet Union’ was once considered laudable”

just isn’t true. As ignorant as I may be it was not considered laudable by all but factory owners

js
Maybe you’re right. See my 150, if you don’t agree then I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree or someone can school me on it (genuinely) I have to bow out now though for the time being

156

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 7:53 pm

js
One more thing, we do speak about moral culpability all the time in ‘mainstream politics’ (lesser evil and all that) That culpability, to my mind, is more pronouned depending on how informed/involved you are.

157

Layman 01.31.14 at 7:58 pm

This blanket statement

“‘close to the Soviet Union’ was once considered laudable”

just isn’t true. As ignorant as I may be it was not considered laudable by all but factory owners
_______

Yes, Ronan, it is hypberbole to say that; but no more so than to say membership in or support of the CPUSA was knowing support for Stalin’s atrocities. Perhaps now you’ll understand my objection to your line of thinking.

BW, Roosevelt supported Stalin. Moral monster? Churchill? Moral monster?

158

elm 01.31.14 at 8:00 pm

elm – but so what if the NYT mentioned it? Im saying it here, where it wasn’t really mentioned in the initial OP or the Al Jazeera link above.

Well, I was responding to your prior statement (with amendment inline):

But if we could get right the obits, somewhere between hagiography and hatchet job, somewhere between Bhaskar Sunkara’s output and the national reviews, that would be the ticket. But its all ideology nowadays

The NYT obituary was an actual obituary. Sunkara’s piece was opinion, which is why OPINION appears at the top of it, in large bold block letters.

Also, Sunkara’s piece absolutely does really mention the point you’re belaboring:

Seeger, like other party members, came to regret the illusions he held about the Soviet Union. He apologized in his autobiography “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” for thinking that “Stalin was simply a ‘hard-driver’ and not a supremely cruel misleader.” But he never abandoned his commitment to organized radical politics.

In fact, the entire piece is about his communism and grounded in his membership in CPUSA. Its title is In defense of Pete Seeger, American communist.

To put it another way, it looks like you’re posting in this thread in extreme bad faith.

159

Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 8:08 pm

You’re right elm I misremembered Sunkara’s article. Perhaps I’ve ended up trolling myself. The ‘its all ideology nowadays’ was OTT as well. I do think it matters, though. Would you agree with that?

160

js. 01.31.14 at 8:16 pm

One more thing, we do speak about moral culpability all the time in ‘mainstream politics’ (lesser evil and all that) That culpability, to my mind, is more pronouned depending on how informed/involved you are.

This is fair. But (a) this is still a _really_ high bar. If I’m a union activist who’s also involved in the Democratic party, let’s say because it (kinda sorta) supports unions, am I thereby a moral monster given ‘kill list’ type policies? Or, say, Democratic supporters of the New Deal who supported it knowing full well its racially disparate effects? That’s a lot of moral monsters across the ages fighting for some version of social justice.

(b) I think you’re somewhat discounting the nature/structure of national CPs, at least as they existed pre-’56. This is not meant as a justification or an excuse, but I think it’s important to note that the alliance of a given country’s CP with the SU isn’t necessarily best understood as doctrinal support of/belief in Stalinism. We’re talking about an organization that self-conceived as an internationalist organization with certain unified goals, etc. That organizational structure is at least as important as Stalinism, if not more so, in terms of understanding the alliance of CPUSA with the Soviet Union.

161

elm 01.31.14 at 8:22 pm

I think it depends on how involved and important the individual was — as well as the nature of the individual’s work.

By that standard, I think Seeger has had much more than his share of culpability for the Gulags and Purges put upon him.

It’s also disgusting and dishonest to see calls for Seeger to recant and denounce Stalin decades after he has actually done so.

So, Seeger wasn’t a saint — and he didn’t claim to be one either. His official obituary was still far rougher on him than those of Hitchens, Reagan, or Strom Thurmond — I actually just looked at Thurmond’s obituary in the NYT and the word “segregation” appears two times total, on page 3 (of 4).

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Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 8:25 pm

“This is not meant as a justification or an excuse, but I think it’s important to note that the alliance of a given country’s CP with the SU isn’t necessarily best understood as doctrinal support of/belief in Stalinism”

But my impression from Corey was that they *did explicitly* organisationally ‘slavishly support the Soviet Union’. So it’s not just an outgrowth of their internationalism (and I also except that this doesn’t apply to domestic politics) Why did they feel the need to support the Soviet Union ? (and it was a choice, one that – according to Erik loomis’ post at lawyers guns and money – cost them support in the US)
Morally culpable rather than moral monster (which I said above I didn’t think they were.) I don’t know how you measure moral culpability vis a vis the New Deals racial politics or the kill list, but its there. I think

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Plume 01.31.14 at 8:31 pm

js 158,

If you’re talking about the goals of American leftists . . . I’ll take that over our country’s version of “freedom and liberty” any day of the week. To the extent that the CPUSA were about social justice, racial equality, feminism, etc. etc. . . . they were and still are head and shoulders above American supporters of the “free market.” And, for me, it’s not close.

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Harold 01.31.14 at 8:33 pm

I think lots of these calls for repentance are exercises in and tribal signaling and self-presentation, not to say self marketing.

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Plume 01.31.14 at 8:40 pm

Harold,

Seems fair.

If the people asking for the repentance, actuate their own, it might hold more water. I don’t think there is that much difference between blindly supporting America or blindly supporting the Soviet Union. We both have massive atrocities in our history. America, in fact, has a worse record when it comes to genocide, slavery, racial oppression and oppression of women. It has also instigated more wars and has a worse record on civilian casualties due to those wars.

Which makes me think about the obsession with Iran, currently. What a great big glass house we live in. When was the last time Iran invaded another country? etc.

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Phil 01.31.14 at 8:42 pm

Supporters of the Iraq War, for example need to reconsider their support in a serious way. Isn’t this just the rhetoric of ‘checking you privilege’ ? Don’t white Americans have to deal with the fact that they grew up in a country based on white supremacy?

Not what I’m talking about at all. What I’m saying is that the Republican Party was an enthusiastic supporter of foreign governments which engaged in mass murder of their opponents – and, unlike the CPUSA, the Republican Party actually held power in the USA and used it to support those governments financially and militarily.

Now, when a supporter of the Republican Party dies, do we stand around the grave wringing our hands over his or her deplorable failure to repent his or her past support for Pinochet or Galtieri or Somoza or Rios Montt or Major Bob D’Aubuisson or Suharto, or apartheid South Africa for that matter? No, we don’t. So why is the CPUSA different?

I’m not anti communist. I don’t think every communist needs to don the sackcloth and ashes for Stalinism. But do you not think that people who were members of an organisation that supported Stalinism (and who did so themselves) should have that as a blot in their obit ?

No, I think that would be stupid. (Just as I think it would be stupid, for the avoidance of doubt, to denounce every individual Republican as a Contra-supporter.)

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adam.smith 01.31.14 at 8:52 pm

I actually just looked at Thurmond’s obituary in the NYT and the word “segregation” appears two times total, on page 3 (of 4).

I was seriously shocked by this, but it’s not really an honest summary of the obit: The obit is titled “Strom Thurmond, Foe of Integration, Dies at 100″ and it covers his resistance to civil rights and integration at length and as the central feature of his legacy.
When you look at what gets covered in mainstream publications as “dark spots” on someone’s legacy, it’s a bit of victors’ justice, no? If conventional wisdom agrees something was bad (support for Stalinism, support for Jim Crow), it’s a bigger spot than more contentious issues (including, rather puzzlingly to me, things like Iran-Contra)

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Plume 01.31.14 at 8:56 pm

Phil,

Agreed. But don’t you have to include the Dems as well? The Democrats, historically, have chosen right-wing dictators over leftists, if that was the available choice. Again, as already mentioned, Truman chose a despicable dictator in South Korea, guilty of mass atrocities, over leftist insurgents. Just to name one example.

I think the GOP has been far worse on that score than the Dems. But both parties have an ugly track record of choosing pro-capitalist “strong men” over popular leftist rebellions, revolutions, etc. etc. Or, for that matter, dissident movements that never reach the plane of rebellion.

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The Temporary Name 01.31.14 at 9:13 pm

Here is an excellent Bob Clampett cartoon about gremlins from the Kremlin kicking Hitler’s ass.

http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/83003891/

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Ronan(rf) 01.31.14 at 10:12 pm

I take your point Phil. I’ll try get back with something more coherent late or a mea culpa (not that anyone cares of course)

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Harold 01.31.14 at 10:23 pm

That’s really interesting. The idea of gremlins sabotaging aircraft was originated by Roald Dahl who was an RAF pilot at the time, according to a biography of him that I recently finished reading. While recuperating from back injuries incurred during an airplane crash, he wrote a children’s book to that effect that was picked up by Disney (though the the full-length film they planned to make of it never happened). Dahl was then assigned to Washington by the British Secret service to spy on Henry A. Wallace, whom the British disliked because of his anti-Colonialism. There’s a lot more, one imagines, if only people would open their archives.

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notsneaky 02.01.14 at 2:45 am

If you want to “keep an open mind” about a “sufficiently left wing” US political party then go with folks like Bayard Rustin and SPUSA. Even if one disagrees with these guys on this or that, they were genuine, and genuinely decent well meaning folks who did a lot of good and followed their own ideals, rather than blindingly “following orders” down some paths that led to nothing but complete moral degeneration.

CPUSA was always a bunch of stooges, composed mostly either of morons or nutzoid scumbags (of the sort who are impressed by the number of eggs that someone breaks in order to make an omelette because , you know, that’s “manly” or a sign of “tough leadership” that is made necessary by the dialectic of history). Yeah, yeah, yeah, there were some people in it who joined because the ideals sounded nice and they just wanted to give the poor some bread. And some Germans only joined the Nazi party because Hitler decreased poverty in pre-war Germany. Not an excuse. (And before someone brings up Goodwin’s law, note that the comparison has clearly been made above by others, including Corey’s post one down, so it’s now, uh, admissible, as they say on court tv )

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Ronan(rf) 02.01.14 at 3:30 am

Phil -I agree with your points in general, but I’d look at this differently:

“unlike the CPUSA, the Republican Party actually held power in the USA and used it to support those governments financially and militarily.”

*The Republican Party actually held power in the USA*, and so had to make decisions as a political party in power. The CPUSA didn’t. They had no hope of getting into power, no real geopolitical pressures, no political or public pressures, and yet they still choose to align with a brutal dictatorship.
I do, though, accept the criticisms above that this was ‘political’ or ‘built into the structures of the Party’, or that it was a ‘compromise for the greater good’ * All fine, but then I’d expect the same leeway given to US admins when they make their next catastrophic decision.

* I still don’t see what this greater good is though. Good on race and gender, better contracts in specific unions ? This really doesn’t cancel the bad out.

But I agree, a blot on the obit of every party member is stupid. A blot on the obit of every Republican is stupid (but it does happen, in some circles) A blot on the obit of every libertarian is stupid. A blot on the obit of those who supported Stalin I think is justified, but only so far.

Finally, this isn’t comparable to the kill list, or Iran/Contra, but closer to a Confederacy dead ender or (as per notsosneaky and Coreys post which initially set this off) a sympathiser with Nazism.
This was the comparison (I personally think) Corey should have drawn in the HUAC post, not the machinery of oppression in Nazi Germany, but the machinery of oppression in the Soviet Union. That would have complicated the morality tale, imo, and have been more relevant.

anyway, I’m done there

ps elm, thanks for the accusations of COMPLETE BAD FAITH while misrepresenting the Thurmond obit yourself.

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Ronan(rf) 02.01.14 at 3:34 am

That – ‘anyway, I’m done there’ – should be more ‘ill leave it off here .
Im not storming off or trying to be snarky. Just badly phrased.

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Belle Waring 02.01.14 at 4:05 am

Corey, I didn’t mean to imply that neither you nor anyone else had written a decent (which is to say, scathing) obit of Hitchens, just that I had read a lot of sloppy wet kisses from people who theoretically ought to have known better. elm: “Sometimes, Hitchens turned his insufferable, drunken, self-righteous priggishness on targets that I also did not like.” 10 points to Ravenclaw.

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Phil 02.01.14 at 9:53 am

They had no hope of getting into power, no real geopolitical pressures, no political or public pressures, and yet they still choose to align with a brutal dictatorship.

They were the US branch of the international Communist movement. If you don’t appreciate the difference between those two statements there’s really no point talking to you.

I do, though, accept the criticisms above that this was ‘political’ or ‘built into the structures of the Party’, or that it was a ‘compromise for the greater good’

Except that nobody has said those things – you’re the first commenter to use either of the quoted phrases.

A blot on the obit of those who supported Stalin I think is justified, but only so far.

I say again, it depends what you mean by ‘support’. There just aren’t that many examples of people saying “whoo-hoo, Stalin really stuck it those counter-revolutionary elements!”. There are examples of people whose political sympathies led them to prefer not to rush to condemn the stories coming out of Russia – but many, many more examples of people taking exactly the same attitude, for exactly the same reason of political sympathy, to horror stories coming out of Chile, El Salvador, Indonesia, etc.

Finally, this isn’t comparable to the kill list, or Iran/Contra, but closer to a Confederacy dead ender or (as per notsosneaky and Coreys post which initially set this off) a sympathiser with Nazism.

!!! You might want to rethink this.

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notsneaky 02.01.14 at 10:49 am

There just aren’t that many examples of people saying “whoo-hoo, Stalin really stuck it those counter-revolutionary elements!”.

Hmm, well, supposedly Langston Hughes signed some letter supporting Stalin’s show trials (I’m curious who else signed it, but haven’t been able to locate it). Sartre described Stalin’s terror as “artistic expression” and made up excuses for the same. Seeger himself opposed FDR, because FDR opposed Hitler, and Stalin supported Hitler. He almost tripped himself up by releasing a song to that effect just as Operation Barbarossa made Stalin “reconsider” and word came on down to change the party line tune. Walter Duranty of course. But sure, at least in US there weren’t that many. You’d have to pick at some scabs in Western European intellectual history to really find’em.

There are examples of people whose political sympathies led them to prefer not to rush to condemn the stories coming out of Russia

That’s one way to put it.
(the double negatives are making it a little hard to understand which way that sentence wants to go).

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Ronan(rf) 02.01.14 at 11:13 am

But saying these things – ‘political’ or ‘built into the structures of the Party’, or that it was a ‘compromise for the greater good’ – is more or less just agreeing with this – “They were the US branch of the international Communist movement.”

So yeah, I agree with you. I’ve made my peace with that fact. I’m cool with it and no longer self righteous!

But, on this:

“Finally, this isn’t comparable to the kill list, or Iran/Contra, but closer to a Confederacy dead ender or (as per notsosneaky and Coreys post which initially set this off) a sympathiser with Nazism.”

I think its fair. In terms of the scale of human suffering its comparable, if perhaps not ideologically. Its definitely closer than the kill list as a comparison.
(But I accept politics is all about compromises and poor choices)

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Ronan(rf) 02.01.14 at 11:23 am

“but many, many more examples of people taking exactly the same attitude, for exactly the same reason of political sympathy, to horror stories coming out of Chile, El Salvador, Indonesia, etc.”

I agree. And, say, Hayeks behaviour in Chile has been covered here. The same was true to some extent of Coreys initial post ‘look how moderate liberals were implicated in the HUAC’. Absolutely ! But look how Pete Seeger was morally compromised by support for Stalin!
But this probably isn’t a game worth playing, I don’t think. So I wont do.

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Phil 02.01.14 at 11:33 am

Let’s be serious. The USSR played a major part in the defeat of Nazism. For the next four decades the Soviet Union was a consistent opponent of US imperialism, in a time when US imperialism was doing some pretty awful things. Throughout that time the fact that there was a ‘socialist’ bloc was a standing demonstration that an alternative to capitalism was possible, and a warning to the bosses not to push things too far – I don’t think it’s any coincidence that neo-liberalism really got into gear after 1991. For much of that time many people sincerely believed that Communism was laying the foundations for a free and equal post-capitalist society – we know now that this was never going to happen, but many intelligent people carried on believing this at least into the 1970s. (Not including Pete Seeger, of course.) And actual Communists, in Western countries, were generally people who believed that the ideals of Communism were worth believing in and could ultimately be realised, which made them staunch and hard-working opponents of the injustices of capitalism and generally good people to have on your side in a fight.

Ordinary Republican voters, on the other hand, were supporters of a system which was implicated in institutionalised racism in South Africa, mass murder in Indonesia and much more besides, as well as entrenched poverty and injustice in the US itself.

So yeah, in lots of ways being a Communist sympathiser was just exactly like being a Nazi. (Have you read anything I’ve written on this thread at all?)

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Ronan(rf) 02.01.14 at 12:03 pm

“So yeah, in lots of ways being a Communist sympathiser was just exactly like being a Nazi. (Have you read anything I’ve written on this thread at all?)”

I didn’t say that. I said continuing to sympathise/support *Stalin* after the purges, the deportatations etc is closer to being a Confederacy dead ender or to continuing to support the Nazi’s after the full horrors began to be known, than it is being someone implicated in US foreign policy. That doesn’t mean I think communism (ideologically) is comparable to white supremacy, slavery or fascism, but it’s an argument limited to continuing to support Stalin when these crimes were occurring.

re US imperialism. I agree, more or less. So I can accept that the US and Soviets were as bad as each-other in terms of military interventions in the Cold War, and that the Soviet Union was vital to the WW2 war effort, that the Soviet Union post Stalin was not morally comparable and that most communists were decent people – but still think that supporting *Stalin* after the Terror is morally unconciable. As, of course, is supporting white supremacy in the US or fascism in Europe.

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Ronan(rf) 02.01.14 at 12:12 pm

“Ordinary Republican voters, on the other hand, were supporters of a system which was implicated in institutionalised racism in South Africa, mass murder in Indonesia and much more besides, as well as entrenched poverty and injustice in the US itself.”

And yes, I am making allowances of course for how much information someone had, how much attention someone was paying, and the difficulties of being an individual caught up in an inhumane system. So I’ve agreed that ‘the ordinary CP member’ is not necessarily morally culpable. But the leadership, main players and outright Stalinists must be. To the same extent as those political elites who explicitly supported Jim Crow should be implicated in southern white supremacy.

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Ronan(rf) 02.01.14 at 12:39 pm

I’m going to have to leave it there for a while Phil, so mightn’t be back. I always like your comments here, and I don’t think these are easy questions, so I’m not trying to be arsey or self righteous. Sorry if it came across that way. I can accept I’ve probably not thought this through fully. So I’ll have to think about it, as they say

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Layman 02.01.14 at 12:49 pm

“I said continuing to sympathise/support *Stalin* after the purges, the deportatations etc”

And as I said, even the Soviets stopped supporting Stalin because of those things, after he was safely dead. Who are these Stalin supporters you keep referring to?

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Belle Waring 02.01.14 at 1:36 pm

Layman, the extent to which the Soviet Union had stopped supporting Stalin is a little overstated here. And there were other communist dictatorships around ruling hundreds of millions of people, and killing tens of millions, right? OK, one, but China? Not like Romania was just quietly murdering people minding its own business; there were…well, Romania was loudly murdering people, and Tibetan monks were being worked to death in camps, and really the whole nine yards. You don’t have to march around the house every morning singing “it’s a grand old flag!” in order to recognize that horrible Communist dictatorships all over the world just kept on setting one half the population to spy on the other, and, well, they didn’t tear Lubyanka down exactly, and in fact I think Iron Felix was standing out there till the end, nu? We’re neither forced to support apartheid in South Africa nor pretend any of us would have been willing to be a citizen of Cold War Albania. Let’s hold hands and agree everyone was horrible, horrible, horrible people.

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Barry 02.01.14 at 1:51 pm

Ronan: “…the deportatations etc is closer to being a Confederacy dead ender …”

And are those people in or out of the mainstream of US political power?

And people who support *every* mass murder that the US has supported are definitely in the US mainstream.

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Layman 02.01.14 at 2:01 pm

“Let’s hold hands and agree everyone was horrible, horrible, horrible people.”

Hey, I’m happy to agree that dictatorships were horrible, and the people who ran them were horrible, and the people who supported them while understanding their nature were horrible. If I haven’t said that before, I do so now.

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Layman 02.01.14 at 2:08 pm

“Layman, the extent to which the Soviet Union had stopped supporting Stalin is a little overstated here. “

Here I think you’re wrong. Stalin was made an example of egoism, used as a warning against excess & cult of personality, and remained denounced throughout the remainder if the Soviet Union. He’s enjoyed a resurgence in Russian popularity now, of course, but I don’t think that can be blamed on Pete Seeger other ‘fellow travelers’.

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Ronan(rf) 02.01.14 at 3:06 pm

Layman @183, you’ve answered your own question. The CPUSA did organisationally up until 56. Logically that would lead one to think at least *some* within the party did. I also gave some names above. Also Pete Seeger, who made this mealy mouthed reconsideration:

“Today I’ll apologize for a number of things, such as thinking that Stalin was simply a ‘hard-driver’ and not a supremely cruel misleader. I guess anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian should be prepared to apologize for the Inquisition, the burning of heretics by Protestants, the slaughter of Jews and Muslims by Crusaders. White people in the U.S.A. could consider apologizing for stealing land from Native Americans and for enslaving blacks … for putting Japanese-Americans in concentration camps—let’s look ahead.”

You appear to be implying that official CPUSA policy of, in Corey’s words, ‘slavishly following the Soviet Unions line’ existed on it’s own with no human input ?
There is also, clearly, no real comparison with the pressures to conform to the party line in Stalinist Russia, and the pressures to do so in NYC.

All good then and I’m with Belle’s statement, we’re all horrible people. Which is great and my initial point.
Although I still hold there’s no moral equivalence between 20th century US and 20th century Soviet Union (domestically, institutionally, in terms of human rights at home – you could argue outside of the US/Soviet Union a lot depends on where you were standing. And I’d agree) It was the choice between a bad and a worse.

Barry – I don’t know the specifics of lost causers in US politics, I’m sure they’re there and I’m sure they’re reprehensible assholes. I still don’t think the existence of X excuses Y.
If its legitimate that Hitchens be remembered primarily for his support of Iraq (fine) then its legitimate as per the NR that Seeger be remembered primarily for his support for Stalin.

And yes we all have to make compromises with the reality that we live within socio-economic systems that chew up and spit people out on a regular basis, and that domestically, but particularly internationally, decides your life chances at birth. If you’re working within the system you’re implicated in that, if you work outside of it you are as well. There are no clean hands is all.

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notsneaky 02.01.14 at 9:46 pm

Let’s be serious. The USSR played a major part in the defeat of Nazism.

Yes, let’s be serious. The only reason why USSR “played a major part in the defeat of Nazism” is because Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. Not really something you can chalk up to USSR’s favor. And let’s be serious. Before it “played a major part in the defeat of Nazism” it played a major part in contributing to the success of Nazis and the facilitation of Hitler’s plans. Conveniently forgot that part? How serious are you?

For the next four decades the Soviet Union was a consistent opponent of US imperialism, in a time when US imperialism was doing some pretty awful things.

And for the next four decades Soviet Union was consistently engaged in imperialism of its own. The US was a consistent opponent of USSR imperialism in a time when USSR imperialism was doing some pretty awful things.

And let’s be serious. Let’s not pretend that the USSR opposed “US imperialism” out of the goodness of its communist heart, for the sake of world peace and universal brotherhood of men. It opposed the US simply because it was trying to establish its own world hegemony (and also, by the 1970′s it very much limited this opposition to its own backyard, as holding up all the dysfunctional communist economies got quite expensive and the Soviet economy stopped growing)

Criticize US foreign policy all you want, but don’t do it by whitewashing the actions of the Soviet Union. That’s just creepy and morally repugnant.

Throughout that time the fact that there was a ‘socialist’ bloc was a standing demonstration that an alternative to capitalism was possible, and a warning to the bosses not to push things too far

It was a demonstration that an alternative to capitalism was pretty shitty. I doubt it had much effect on “the bosses”. Also, again, worth remembering that honest socialists – like Bayard Rustin mentioned above – actively opposed the Soviet Union. Let’s not pretend that when certain folks chose to take a pro-Stalin (or more generally, pro-USSR) stance, the only alternatives where pro-Stalin or pro-”US imperialism”. There were other choices and other people chose better. That’s why, youthful folly aside, USSR worship really was a morally crappy choice.

And actual Communists, in Western countries, were generally people who believed that the ideals of Communism were worth believing in and could ultimately be realised, which made them staunch and hard-working opponents of the injustices of capitalism and generally good people to have on your side in a fight.

Nah, they were not good people to have on your side. Even putting aside their support for awful regimes and celebration of murder and terror, they were simply not good allies, even in purely strategic terms. They wrecked any organization they joined. They broke up effective movements. They made life hell for anyone who didn’t adhere to the party line with full fervor.

So yeah, in lots of ways being a Communist sympathiser was just exactly like being Nazi. (Have you read anything I’ve written on this thread at all?)

Not quite the same (one can excuse falling for utopian ideals which mask the sadistic nature of the system a bit more than falling for sadistic ideas which are the center piece of a system a bit more), but pretty close.

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Mike Schilling 02.01.14 at 10:13 pm

> Listen, there were plenty of American who supported Hitler until 1940 or 41.

Yes, and they included the Communist Party of the United States of America, who supported him from the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1039 until he invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. I don’t know why on earth anyone would give them a pass for that.

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Phil 02.02.14 at 12:30 am

notsneaky – I haven’t had any Communist sympathies since I was about 16, and I didn’t have many illusions about the USSR even then. You’re accusing me of doing a lot of things – whitewashing the Soviet Union’s foreign policy, imputing idealistic motives to them etc – which I rather carefully didn’t do. (Although I do think that the Soviet bloc was an object lesson in the feasibility of socialism – it was clearly a bloody awful version of socialism, but what mattered was that it showed you could have a functioning modern economy with no landlords and no shareholders. I hate to say it, but 1991 was a real loss.)

It’s true that Communists could be sectarian pains in the arse, wrecking joint campaigns while proclaiming their commitment to broad fronts. But I give them a pass on that, frankly, because most other left-wing parties I’ve known have been just as bad. The colours you paint Communists and Communism in – “celebration of murder and terror”, “the sadistic nature of the system” – match nothing in my experience.

Anyway, my point – which is really very simple – is this. People like otpup & Ronan are arguing that anyone who is or has been a Communist – or, if you like, anyone who has ever supported Stalin’s brand of Communism – should be held to account for this, and after death it should be “a blot on the obit”. This, on the following grounds: their politics aligned them with a regime which was responsible for horrible crimes, and they excused those crimes, or minimised them, or failed to protest about them, or didn’t take an interest in them, or just plain never knew about them (so why didn’t they make the effort to find out?).

Now, I don’t believe that apartheid South Africa would have lasted as long as it did if it hadn’t had rich and influential friends in the West. I don’t believe that the coup that deposed Allende in Chile, or the massacre that brought Suharto to power in Indonesia, would have happened if the US had wanted them not to happen. And I certainly don’t believe that monsters like D’Aubuisson or Rios Montt would have come to power in Central America without the support of the US. (Is any of this new to anyone?)

It follows as night follows day that anyone in the US who hasn’t been actively opposing these things has been aligned with a regime which was responsible for horrible crimes – and they’ve excused those crimes, or minimised them, or failed to protest about them, or didn’t take an interest in them, or just plain never knew about them (so why didn’t they make the effort to find out?).

Of course, we didn’t start yammering on about Guatemala when Saul Bellow died – it wouldn’t have been seemly or appropriate, and we could reasonably suppose that he’d taken up his political position for worthy and rational reasons, rather than because he had a penchant for the celebration of murder and terror, say. It would have seemed rather cloddish and disrespectful even to bring up what happened at the sharp end of Bellow’s neo-con politics.

All I’m saying is that (former) Communists should be afforded the same elementary respect. The fact that this respect is routinely and unthinkingly refused tells us, I think, that – unlike Communism – Anti-Communism is alive and well.

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.14 at 12:48 am

“People like otpup & Ronan are arguing that anyone who is or has been a Communist – or, if you like, anyone who has ever supported Stalin’s brand of Communism – should be held to account for this, and after death it should be “a blot on the obit”. “

That ‘if you like’ is doing a lot of work. Two different things. Not every communist, no. I never said that, though I did at one stage say every CP member in a fit of foolishness, which I backtracked on. Every one who publicly supported Stalin. People like Seeger, why not? Does Chile not deserve to be on Hayeks obit ? Cambodia on Kissinger ? Holocaust denialism on Irvings ? It’s called being a public figure. I don’t think what the HUAC did to him was justified, and Im sure he was better than his worse moments, but Ive no idea why all this hand holding for people who publicly politically active throughout their life ?
Should Iraq not be on Hitchens obit?

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.14 at 12:55 am

“Anti-Communism is alive and well.”

And no its not. It doesnt concern me in the slightest. I was just annoyed by the hagiography and moral posturing in the original OP. The *outrage* that anyone should bring up a *political activists* politics, in this thread. Thats it.
I’ll happily support any ones rights to hold whatever political opinions they like (and do, in fact, donate to organisations that campaign in this area) but Im not going to put on goddamn kiddy gloves for them.

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js. 02.02.14 at 1:01 am

Hayek vs. Seeger is not at all a fair comparison tho. It’d be more like going on about drone killings at Springsteen’s death.

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.14 at 1:06 am

Maybe not, but is Springsteen and Seeger a fair comparsion ?
Lets not trivialise what happened in the Soviet Union. Its not the equivalent of the kill list, no matter how much of an abomination the kill list is.

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js. 02.02.14 at 1:07 am

And, Ronan, it’s obviously not hagiography. I really don’t see where you’re getting that. Look, Springsteen is surely a comparable figure: socially conscious musician, pretty much on the good side, v much allied with the Democratic party—presumably registered member. Should the deaths of innocent Afghani civilians killed in the Obama era be a blot on his obit? I think that’s a fairly crazy position.

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js. 02.02.14 at 1:10 am

The point is that if the crimes of the SU are a blot on Seeger’s obit, because he was an informed Communist, then the crimes of the Democratic administration are a blot on Springsteen, because he was more involved and better informed (v plausibly).

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Barry 02.02.14 at 1:11 am

Another: “Anti-Communism is alive and well.”

Ronan: ” And no its not. It doesnt concern me in the slightest. I was just annoyed by the hagiography and moral posturing in the original OP. The *outrage* that anyone should bring up a *political activists* politics, in this thread. Thats it.”

Actually, this is another sign that you don’t know much about US politics; anti-communism is still alive and well.

As for your annoyance, you seem to express ‘annoyance’ by dozens, if not a hundred, comments on this post. Sorry, you are the most involved person here, by sheer volume.

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.14 at 1:23 am

Barry – Ive never said Im not the most involved person here. I cop to that.
Also the second part you quoted isnt clear (my fault) Yes, I dont know much about US politics and yes anti communism is still going, but I read Phils anti communism remark aimed at me, implying I am anti communist. Which Im not. You can dispute that if you like based on this, fair enough. But Im allowed to at least make that case that Im not.

To reiterate though, no I dont think Sprigsteen has the same moral culpability for supporting Obama, who increased drone strikes (unless he supported him for that specific reason) than Pete Seeger does for actually supporting Stalin.

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.14 at 1:24 am

Ignore the second part js that got caught in there. was going to write something a little longer.

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.14 at 1:33 am

What I was going to write – what level of moral culpability do people think someone should have for being a public figure associated with a party that pushed the Soviet line during Stalin ? My impression is that Seeger (as mentioned above) did *support* Stalin and excuse his crimes, which is not the same as Springsteen supporting Obama (unless he specifically supported the WOT – and I dont except a moral equivalence between Stalinist Russia and Obamas America)
But the comparison above (should Hitchens not have Iraq on his obit) is that not fair re Seeger ?

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js. 02.02.14 at 1:50 am

Well, (a) Seeger didn’t support Stalin _for_ the purges either. He supported socialism for, let’s say, reasons that needn’t be rehearsed, and he presumably supported CPUSA because it was part of an internationalist socialist—or communist—organization. (b) You’re right that the current day US is not morally equivalent to Stalin’s USSR, but (c) this seems irrelevant because you want to say that the crimes of a regime should be a blot on the obit of informed and involved public supporters of that regime. This, far as I can tell, is what you’ve been arguing all along.

Given this, I’d think it follows that the crimes of Dem administrations like Obama’s should be a blot on the obit of well informed and very public supporters like Springsteen. Of course we can agree that Stalin’ crimes were much greater than those of the Obama administration, but all that follows is that the blot on Springsteen’s obit is smaller. It’s still something we need to talk about in his obit, or in blog posts when he dies. Right?

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.14 at 2:02 am

“Well, (a) Seeger didn’t support Stalin _for_ the purges either He supported socialism for, let’s say, reasons that needn’t be rehearsed”

He might not have been politically active and supported him specifically at the time of the purges, but can this really be glossed over like this ? Again, my impression is that he supported Stalins Soviet Union. As per my quote above:

“Today I’ll apologize for a number of things, such as thinking that Stalin was simply a ‘hard-driver’ and not a supremely cruel misleader.”

He supported an ideological project which resulted in the deaths of millions of people, at/around the the time those deaths were occuring. He supported the figurehead of that tyranny. He was a public figure associated with a party that showed ‘slavish support for the Soviet Union.’
He’s allowed to do that and make that mistake, but it *is not* the same as voting for Obama in a two party system. I cant see how it is.
No – everything else good he represented isnt forgotten or overshadowed by that, but this is still a part of his life. How does it not deserve mentioning ?

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Jacob McM 02.02.14 at 2:04 am

Has no one mentioned thus far that people like Bertrand Russell, E. E. Cummings, and Malcolm Muggeridge were trying to warn people about the real nature of the Soviet Union as early as the 1920s and 30s?

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js. 02.02.14 at 2:15 am

I’m still curios why the same doesn’t apply to Springsteen, though. Obama’s attitude towards killing civilians, as evidenced by policy, was fairly well known in 2012. Springsteen didn’t simply vote for Obama—he went to bat for him, very publicly. You could say he materially helped him get elected. Certainly more than Seeger did for Stalin. He didn’t even register a public comment about how the killing of civilians, as carried out by the administration he was trying to help win office, was morally objectionable. You could very well say that Springsteen showed ‘slavish support’ for the Democratic party when it was well-known that the party was, at that time, engaged in the indiscriminate killing of civilians, in more than one place. How is he my culpable by the very standards you’ve been using? How is this bit a blot for him?

(Just by the way, I don’t at all think you’re arguing in bad faith—you don’t tend to do that. But I genuinely find your position impossible to hold.)

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js. 02.02.14 at 2:19 am

My 204 was directed to Ronan’s previous, by the way. And the last 2 sentences of the first para should read as follows:

How is he not culpable by the very standards you’ve been using? How is this not a blot for him?

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Jacob McM 02.02.14 at 2:32 am

The main problem I have with Communist apologetics is that they inevitably open the door for Nazi and/or Fascist apologetics.

While I do think one could argue that Stalin was a lesser evil compared to Hitler, I think it’s much harder to make that case with someone like Mussolini or Franco. Surely if you go by body counts, Mussolini and Franco are pikers compared to Stalin, and that holds true even if you include the deaths that arose from the Abyssinian invasion and the Spanish Civil War. If you were alive during the 1930s, you could definitely make a respectable argument that Mussolini and Franco, for all of their problems, were preferable to Stalin, and many people did.

The problem here is that once you’ve accepted Mussolini or Franco, you’re only a few steps away from making your peace with Hitler. Certainly before Poland was invaded, many educated people convinced themselves that Hitler was simply Mussolini or Franco on steroids, and they were willing to overlook the virulent racism and anti-Semitism which distinguished Nazism from other right-wing regimes of the period. And if people on the left were willing to delude themselves about the crimes of the Soviet Union, how can one impugn those on the right for doing the same with regard to Nazi Germany?

This is complicated by the fact that Hitler enjoyed genuine popularity among Germans in a way I don’t think Stalin did among Russians, at least not before Operation Barbarossa when it became a life-or-death struggle for the Slavs. Furthermore, I think it’s also arguable that *if you weren’t on the Nazi’s blacklist* (i.e. you weren’t Jewish, Slavic, Gypsy, or a prominent political opponent…and even then, exceptions were made), then you would’ve fared better under Nazi tyranny than under Stalinist tyranny. This is not a choice most people would want to make, and in the world we live in now we thankfully have options that are neither Nazism nor Stalinism, but a European living in the 1930s might’ve felt that his options came down to those two alone.

It’s a very slippery slope.

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.14 at 2:34 am

I actually think we just disagree on the essentials, on the importance here of the nature of the Soviet Union under Stalin. And I *genuinely* dont mean that to imply that you arent considering the nature of the regime seriously, just as likely Ive gotten carried away or am not thinking clearly. I might just have backed myself into a corner and am defensive over this, but this is the only position I can see.
I dont think there was any moral equivalence, during these years, between the US and SU (domestically, I dont think foreign policy is relevant here. And I dont think the ideological capitalism/communism argument is either) I think there should be a different standard for highly informed, ideologically committed party members. Perhaps Springsteen falls into this category, and perhaps he’s culpable, but again I cant see the equivalance between supporting Obama and supporting the SU under Stalin.

I dont actually think this is a convincing answer to your questions, and I dont think its a sophisticated position, but its all Ive got. And Im going to leave it for a while (I know Ive said that before, but .. )

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.14 at 2:37 am

above crossposted with Jacob McM, so to js

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js. 02.02.14 at 2:58 am

@Ronan:

Fair enough.

@Jacob McM:

I’m pretty clearly not presenting any apologetics for any Communist regime.

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Plume 02.02.14 at 3:13 am

As shown throughout much of this thread, Americans are no less susceptible to nationalist brainwashing than people in any other country.

It’s natural to assume that you’re one of the good guys, and people on the other team, and those who support them, are bad (even evil). Generally, though, we overlook or ignore the faults on our squad, while highlighting and showing outrage toward those on the other team. Between parties, ideologies or nations.

In reality, there is not much to choose from between American foreign policy or Soviet. Both have been atrocious and oppressive to the nth degree, but only America practiced genocide (of the two nations). We can’t call the genocide of the Native Americans “domestic” policy. We were the foreign invaders here, and we all but wiped them out. Prior to that, we had stolen millions of human beings from their homes and homeland, kidnapped them, had them shipped over here like cattle, and enslaved them. The Soviet Union did not.

We also have started more wars than any other great power in the last 75 years or so. If one wants to call a Stalin a moral monster for what he did, think of any number of American leaders who launched wars or overthrew democratic governments or helped in coups, from South and Central America, to Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, the Korean peninsula and South East Asia.

Think Iraq, twice. Bush launched an attack against a very weak and broken country (which we had already decimated once), as the only super power, with a military that dwarfed that country’s in power and capacity. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died as a result.

We sided with the South Korean dictator in the Korea war, a brutal despot, who had massacred thousands, imprisoned tens of thousands of political dissidents, and was planning to invade the North.

But, we Americans typically just buy into the idea that we’re always already the good guys, and we always choose to side with good guys, therefore we can feel high and mighty and morally superior as we trash others who support their own countries.

Pretty much everyone, in their own homeland, outside national dissidents, truly believes they are the good guys and their country is good, etc. etc. blah blah blah. It’s not a “productive” exercise, as some here have used the term, to sit in our immense glass house and throw stones. It would be productive, however, if we acknowledged our own “sins.” We have no control over Stalin’s.

We do have some over our own.

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Plume 02.02.14 at 3:21 am

Btw,

The ideological right deals with the burden of Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, Fascism, etc. etc. very handily. They simply rewrite history, turn it on its head, and say that these were all left-wing phenomena. They take what were clearly right-wing demagogues and ideologies and recast them as left. Presto chango!! Problem solved.

This, I think, has helped them immensely to become loud and proud of being righties. When I was growing up, that wasn’t the case. There was still the sting of WWII and the Nazis in the air, and not that many people were all that eager to proclaim their wingnuthood.

Completely flipping history via opposite-day devices — changed that. That’s my theory, anyway.

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Tyrone Slothrop 02.02.14 at 5:54 am

They simply rewrite history, turn it on its head, and say that these were all left-wing phenomena.

But don’t you do a similar thing with Communism? In that you deal with the burden of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. by labeling their systems as State Capitalism, which means you can lump it in with the remainder of that social system, leaving Communism free from the taint it received in its twentieth century implementation? I understand you accept it as left wing, and so aren’t positioning it elsewhere on the political spectrum, but rather as a societal form.

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Plume 02.02.14 at 6:12 am

Tyrone,

The difference being that, by definition, the Soviet, Chinese and Cambodian systems had zero to do with actual communist or socialist theory. And you can’t, by definition, have a communist state. Communism is the absence of the state, after socialism has set the table for it.

Socialism means that the people — not a single political party or dictator — own the means of production and there is full democracy, including the economy. The economy is fully democratized. None of that happened in the Soviet, Chinese or Cambodian systems. They were totalitarian, which is the opposite of socialist, per socialist theory. Much less communist. And they did, in fact, try to compete, as capitalist nations, with the rest of the capitalist world. Lenin talked about how capitalism was necessary for the industrialization of Russia, and he basically applied a form of “primitive accumulation” as was seen in Britain and other nations in their transition to capitalism. He wanted to force “the peasants” off their lands, out of their villages, and into the factories, as Adam Smith and others had pushed for in other nations.

OTOH, Nazi and fascist systems sync up pretty well with the Social Darwinism of the right, its anti-democratic ideology, its racism, nationalism, xenophobia, jingoism, etc. The right has long been the home for that, welcoming movements that seek to crush minorities, the working class, labor, environmentalists, feminists, liberals, socialists, communists, etc. The right is more than cool with inequality and social injustice. It sees that as based upon natural law. And it tends to believe in a golden age that must be recreated.

This is not what the left believes.

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Mike Schilling 02.02.14 at 7:29 am

Let me see if I have this right:

It’s OK that Pete Seeger supported Soviet Communism despite all of its horrors, because his reason was that he believed in socialism. Also, Soviet Communism was the antithesis of socialism.

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Tyrone Slothrop 02.02.14 at 7:41 am

Thanks for the reply. First off, Communism was not some ready-made system waiting to be implemented out of the box – it had never been tried in the real world, and Marx and Engels had only vague notions of how, exactly, that withering of the state would transpire, and within what time frame. Lenin accepted it, and so did Stalin – they just held that a communist-operated state would need (much) more historical time to achieve the correct parameters for that withering to be feasible – but it was still a communist system, in a communist-controlled state. You cannot reasonably say that because an end-point that had never been given a strict temporal positioning in the process did not come about, all of the other elements that were directly of that system can no longer be so counted. Soviet Russia considered itself Communist; the members of it and its successor states called themselves Communists; their system was operated according to Communist principles and methodologies; other nations deemed them Communists. You are making a point of theory about a point of fact.

As for what you say about Nazi, and Fascist systems, I think you’ve missed what I was getting at: the Right makes their arguments by positing that key components of those latter two are derived from leftist political theory; you’re making the same claim for Communism in the obverse as to Capitalism. And both claims go against what the general majority consider to be the case. That you don’t like their revision and don’t believe it holds any water doesn’t change the case that they, like you, are involved in making revisions.

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Tyrone Slothrop 02.02.14 at 7:41 am

And with that, I’m way up past my bed time. Good night.

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Plume 02.02.14 at 7:54 am

Tyrone,

No. Again, the system as it was actually implemented had nothing to do with socialist or communist principles. The fundamental, core principle of socialism is democracy and democratic control of the economy. The people must own the means of production, not a political party, or a dictator, or private concerns. On the most fundamental basis, the most profoundly central of conditions, the Soviets failed to come remotely close to socialist principles. Communism was even removed as a possibility.

And, again, Lenin admitted how much he liked capitalism for its ability to dynamically “modernize” and “industrialize.” He believed that capitalism would have to be expanded significantly in Russia before socialism could be implemented. Marx said late capitalism, advanced capitalism, mature capitalism, had to come first. Socialism couldn’t be created on top of Feudalism. It couldn’t skip a phase. And Russia was roughly a century behind the West in capitalist development. It was virtually a Feudal state.

In short, the Soviets never transitioned out of capitalism into socialism, because they were still shooting for the advanced capitalist phase prior to socialism. And, they never allowed democracy, which is the central core principle for socialism and communism. You literally, and by definition, can’t have socialism without full democracy.

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Plume 02.02.14 at 8:02 am

was even further removed as a possibility.

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Phil 02.02.14 at 10:33 am

Thanks, js. – reading your comments made me feel a bit less like I’m banging my head against a brick wall.

Ronan – if you “don’t think foreign policy is relevant” there’s not a lot I can say, particularly since you don’t think American Communists’ actual political beliefs or activities are relevant either. In fact, all you think is relevant is (a) everything bad that happened under Stalin and (b) everything positive any Communist ever said about Stalin. And when people object to this insultingly reductive approach, you say we’re expressing “*outrage* that anyone should bring up a *political activists* politics”.

You mentioned Hayek. Hayek was a major cheerleader for Pinochet both before and after the coup, with full knowledge of what Pinochet was doing (or at least, every opportunity to find out) and never repented of any of this – but mentioning these facts is still hugely controversial and when Corey documented them in some detail the outrage and the pushback was immense. Pete Seeger supported Stalin’s regime in relative ignorance of its crimes, and publicly repented his support a few years later. And that’s supposed to be a blot on his obit? Any popular artist who’s campaigned for Obama – let alone Bush or Reagan – has more to apologise for than Seeger…

…but I forgot, you’re not interested in foreign policy. A sadly common attitude – particularly among people who want to make unfavourable comparisons between the US and the USSR; as I said in my original comment on this thread,

You could say exactly the same damn thing about US Republicans, if your definition of “world-historical tragedy” is broad enough to include people with brown skin.

And if not, not.

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Fu Ko 02.02.14 at 10:36 am

Bertrand Russell, at least, warned against the USSR (after initially being enthusiastic, but revising his view after visiting in person) on the basis that they had set up a system of enforced ideological conformity, suppressing critical thought and individuality. That was in Lenin’s time. As far as I know, he did not predict anything as extreme as what happened with Stalin (although in retrospect it is easy to draw a connection).

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Phil 02.02.14 at 10:39 am

The main problem I have with Communist apologetics is that they inevitably open the door for Nazi and/or Fascist apologetics.

Communism at its most idealistic is a vision of freedom, equality and plenty – hunting in the morning, philosophy after dinner and all that. Fascism at its most idealistic is a vision of nationalism, order and hierarchy. Nazism, ditto, is a vision of brute force and extermination.

On the level of ideals there’s not much common ground. Individual fascists may be nice people and help out in the local community, but what they believe in is necessarily vile.

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Igor Belanov 02.02.14 at 11:04 am

What seems to have been disregarded in some of these arguments is the extent to which support for Communism was for many years a matter of faith, and a quasi-religion. Even the language that surrounded Communism was full of references to heresy. It is impossible to understand the motivation of many of the individuals who joined Communist parties, especially non-ruling ones, without taking into account the fact that the vast majority of them effectively shared a faith that espoused and offered universal human brotherhood and equality. The problem was that, like other religions, the practical forms of ‘religious’ Communism involved intolerant and often murderous bureaucracies who used the power of their ideology and the ‘practicality’ of following the party-line as the means of keeping the faith.
It is fair to criticise individuals for their delusions in accepting the authority of the bureaucratic and ideological elites of Communism, but it is very harsh not to attempt to empathise with some of the moral and intellectual dilemmas these people went through in attempting to reconcile faith with reality. Many people, like Seeger, were unable to cling to the contradictions of ‘orthodoxy’ and left the party. Others, like Hobsbawm, maintained a lifelong attachment to the party and the faith of Communism while advocating rather moderate and often conservative positions on individual issues.
I would suggest that anyone who finds this stance impossible to contemplate needs to read a few Graham Greene novels. He found that his own agonies over commitment to Catholicism had a lot of similarities with the attitudes of communists.

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tenzing 02.02.14 at 12:09 pm

Everyone and their mom on the right has taken this opportunity to piss on Seeger’s grave. Why anyone else would join them in this opportunity to denounce communism for the trillionth time is beyond me.

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djr 02.02.14 at 1:42 pm

Ronan: if foreign policy isn’t important here, surely what matters is Seeger’s preferences for domestic policy, rather than his views on then-current events half a world away?

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.14 at 2:13 pm

phil and djr – I said I wouldn’t come back in but again phils 121 is a complete misrepresentation Here was that foreign policy argument (1) I don’t think there is a moral equivalence between the SU and US which is why we disagree so fundamentally (2) I don’t think FP is relevant in *judging a moral equivalence* because FP is usually held (unfortunately) to a different standard than domestic politics. IF Stalins SU was ‘better’ than the US internationally then yes, that might be a case for the defence. But it wasn’t. I will settle for they were both as bad as eachother, although that clearly isn’t true, but sure
Phil – the first part of you response is a nonsense misrepresentation . Enough to say that isn’t my position. Yes their other activities are important for the historical record, but so is this. That’s it.
The second bit makes no sense to me. Why do I care if libertarians cant come to grips with Hayeks support for Chile ? You don’t seem to be disagreeing that he should be rememberd in part for it ?

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.14 at 2:22 pm

And Phil again I have *never* said American communists, I said members of the CPUSA at one stage, but backtracked and am still thinking about that. The leadership of the CPUSA and people who supported Stalin. That’s it

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Layman 02.02.14 at 4:15 pm

Ronan(rf) @ 188

“Layman @183, you’ve answered your own question. The CPUSA did organisationally up until 56. Logically that would lead one to think at least *some* within the party did. I also gave some names above. Also Pete Seeger, who made this mealy mouthed reconsideration:”

Sorry, I don’t think that’s enough. If you want to claim that Seeger supported Stalin while at the same time knowing Stalin’s nature, then show that. Showing he was a member of CPUSA isn’t enough, as surely it was possible to be the one while being ignorant of the other. Showing that the leadership of CPUSA was complicit isn’t enough – you have to show that Seeger himself was complicit. You’re making a specific claim – that Seeger is morally accountable for Stalin’s actions – but you’re doing nothing to demonstrate the connection. When did Seeger learn Stalin’s nature, and what did he do then? Isn’t that the question you need to answer to make your claim stick?

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Layman 02.02.14 at 4:21 pm

“And Phil again I have *never* said American communists, I said members of the CPUSA at one stage, but backtracked and am still thinking about that. The leadership of the CPUSA and people who supported Stalin. That’s it.”

I don’t think that’s a fair reading of your claim. You include in the set ‘people who supported Stalin’ one Pete Seeger. Your evidence to include him in that set is that he was a member of CPUSA. So any member if CPUSA is open to your charge, not just ‘the leadership’.

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Phil 02.02.14 at 5:18 pm

Ronan: “I don’t think there is a moral equivalence between the SU and US which is why we disagree so fundamentally”

I don’t think nations should be judged on their moral aspirations (which in the case of the USSR were very high indeed) but on their actions.

“IF Stalins SU was ‘better’ than the US internationally then yes, that might be a case for the defence. But it wasn’t. I will settle for they were both as bad as eachother, although that clearly isn’t true”

If you don’t believe it’s true, I guess you won’t settle for it after all – presumably you take it as established fact that the USSR was worse *in foreign policy terms* than the USA. So tell me: what did the USSR do that was worse than supporting mass murder in Central America and Indonesia, just for starters?

That the USSR was, arguably, a less bad influence on the world as a whole than the USA isn’t “a case for the defence”; it’s my entire argument, and has been since my first comment on this thread. If Seeger should have Stalin’s actions hung round his neck, so should Bellow Reagan’s and Springsteen Obama’s – and that must logically include actions affecting people in other countries.

Now, clearly we don’t take this unforgiving approach to supporters of (say) US presidents; we ask, what were the person’s own ideas and achievements, and praise or condemn those. But that minimum of respect – the basic courtesy of thinking “this man doesn’t appear to have been a monster, so let’s not assume he supported monstrosities unless we’ve got very good evidence that he did” – isn’t extended to Communists, Communist sympathisers, former Communist sympathisers, etc. Why not?

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Phil 02.02.14 at 5:25 pm

And Ronan – I shouldn’t have told you what you think; presumptuous and rude. I do think, though, that you’re writing as if American Communists’ beliefs and actions didn’t matter anywhere near as much as their support or otherwise for Stalin’s regime. That may not be what you believe, but it’s what I’ve been reading.

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.14 at 7:06 pm

“So tell me: what did the USSR do that was worse than supporting mass murder in Central America and Indonesia, just for starters?”

But I’m not looking to defend US policy in Indonesia or Central America, and have said explicitly (internationally) a lot depends where you were standing on who was worse during the Cold War. I have said here the judgement is primarily on ‘the regime’ – and there is no human rights equivalence between *Stalin’s* SU and the US at the time. I think trying to show one power as being *much* worse internationally in the *grand sweep* of the Cold War is very difficult to do, but I think if we did get into that conversation I’d agree more with you than not.
But go back to the bit you quoted from me:

““IF Stalins SU was ‘better’ than the US internationally then yes, that might be a case for the defence. But it wasn’t. I will settle for they were both as bad as eachother, although that clearly isn’t true””

I emphasised *Stalin*, specifically. So what was worse than the US in human rights abuses at that time ? Support for Mao, for Kim Il-sung, the deportation of the Chechens, Dekulakization .. ?
Domestically was the worst of the United States, (Jim Crow, gross inequality, blacklists etc ) anything compared to the purges or Stalins various campaigns of ethnic cleansing? No, I don’t think so, personally.

“That the USSR was, arguably, a less bad influence on the world as a whole than the USA isn’t “a case for the defence”; it’s my entire argument”

I don’t agree with you here and I don’t even know how that argument could be made, but I agree it becomes more nuanced after Stalin. But it’s a different argument. From the start it has not been about the Soviet Union, but about Stalinist Soviet Union and the special kind of evil it represented. You could be a communist and be clear eyed about Stalin. People were.
I don’t think this is *the only thing* that Seeger or the CPUSA should be remembered for, I dont think it should necessarily be the primary thing, but if NR want to dedicate their obit to this aspect of his life (as Corey did with Hitchens re Iraq) then that’s fine by me. I think its a moral blindspot, personally. I think if we mention the CPUSA’s great work on racism and poverty, we do the same with their stance on the SU under Stalin.

layman

Dude, re Seeger it’s the conventional argument. His acknowledgemet that he understated what Stalin was doing:

“Today I’ll apologize for a number of things, such as thinking that Stalin was simply a ‘hard-driver’ and not a supremely cruel misleader. “

His positions during WW2 which mirrored the SU line. His joining a party which was explicitly connected to the SU during Stalin, after Stalin’s crimes were known.

You are making the same defence that people defending the bloke from Duck Dynasty were making (after he said he saw no mistreatment during Jim Crow) ‘How do we know what he knew ? ‘ Well, its plausible Seeger didn’t know much (although the information was available if he wanted to) and how much he knew is an open question, I guess. I think you’re being incredibly generous to him, but perhaps I’m just being the opposite.

Again, we disagree because we have different rankings of how brutal Stalinist SU was. That’s fine. I think it belongs among the worst regimes in recent history. People who allied with him were allying with an ideological project that resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people. They weren’t voting in the context of a two party state which had to make morally difficult choices* internationally, they were allying to a specific ideological project. Not theoretical communism, but Stalinism as it was occurring.

* and this (morally difficult choices) is a different topic, again one I’m sure Id find a lot of agreement with people here on. But we just disagree fundamentally.

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Phil 02.02.14 at 7:47 pm

“I have said here the judgement is primarily on ‘the regime’ – and there is no human rights equivalence between *Stalin’s* SU and the US at the time. “

I have never suggested there was – not from my very first comment, which was about what US governments have done and supported outside the US. You’re not answering my argument, you’re ignoring it. (Which goes double, incidentally, for the other half of my argument – about the elementary respect routinely paid to the dead just as long as they’re not dead ex-Communists – which you’ve completely ignored.)

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.14 at 8:10 pm

I don’t think respect has to be paid on the death of politically active public figures. Corey wrote a scathing obit for Hitchens linked above, based around his support for Iraq, and I think that’s fine. Perhaps communists are scapegoated more in death than others, I don’t know. Seeger was praised by Obama and in a number of obits. Hobsbawm was almost universally lauded. I just think *this* aspect of his life is legitimate for obituary writers to concentrate on, even the way NR did (by focussing on little else) I wouldn’t memoralise him that way only, but I think its legitimate. His alliance to Stalinism, not his communism.

I haven’t stood up for ‘US foreign policy’ and I don’t even know why its relevant. The question, from day one, was how do we remember people or organisations that allied with Stalin. I.dont.know. But I dont think the right starting point is comparing it with Bruce Springsteen supporting Obama.
I think getting into a conversation comparing US/Soviet foreign policy throughout the cold war is a different argument. Again, one I think I would agree with you on a lot, but a different argument.

I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I know I started this and I’m sorry for that but I think we’re talking past eachother at this stage (which is probably my fault)

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Igor Belanov 02.02.14 at 8:33 pm

I’m sure there were some people who did effectively argue that Hobsbawm’s entire oeuvre should be discarded because of his Communism, even though he does little to whitewash Stalin’s regime in his work.
Nick Cohen even went as far as to do the same with Christopher Hill after his death, even though he left the party after 1956 and the vast majority of his work focused on the 17th Century.

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Harold 02.02.14 at 8:34 pm

Q234The question from day one was “how do we remember people or organisations that allied with Stalin” — um, the so-called “greatest generation” was allied with Stalin, our wartime ally in WW2.

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notsneaky 02.02.14 at 9:06 pm

Ok. The stupid just hurts too much.

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js. 02.02.14 at 10:55 pm

Hobsbawm was almost universally lauded.

Hobsbawm’s Communism was repeatedly and insistently brought up in obits, etc., when he died (including on comment threads right here).

I’m going to stop going on about this after this comment, but I still don’t get why you think that the kind of argument you’re presenting can’t be plausibly generalized. I can do this without drawing any US/USSR comparisons, in fact—if you’re right about Seeger then it seems I should be able to generalize to the following principle:

Public and informed supporters of a murderous regime (or a regime guilty of grievous crimes) should be accountable for the murderousness or the grievous crimes of the regime they supported, even if the basis of their support was unrelated to (and even opposed to) the grievous crimes.

Why not? (And again, it seems both ad hoc and unfair to demand that these crimes must be targeted at the domestic population. Why don’t grievous crimes committed against foreigners count?)

(Phil — thanks!)

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Ronan(rf) 02.02.14 at 11:58 pm

“Public and informed supporters of a murderous regime (or a regime guilty of grievous crimes) should be accountable for the murderousness or the grievous crimes of the regime they supported, even if the basis of their support was unrelated to (and even opposed to) the grievous crimes.”

But the point is *if they werent* opposed to it, if they excused/minimised/sympathised with it. (If they were opposed they wouldnt be supporters surely ? ) (and not accountable, which gives the impression of official sanction. I just dont object to recognising it)

“(And again, it seems both ad hoc and unfair to demand that these crimes must be targeted at the domestic population. Why don’t grievous crimes committed against foreigners count?)”

They do count. If like Hitchens you support the Iraq war then of course you’re associated with it. If you’re a loud advocate for the British Empire as an ideological project, of course. If like Bruce S you support Obama because of X and then Obama increases drone strikes ? Its not the same thing. But Im talking about Stalins regime here and people are bringing up ‘US imperialism’, so Im just trying to draw the distinction by focusing on the ‘domestic’. It was supporting an ideological project as it existed in the real world, not supporting communism theoretically.

“but I still don’t get why you think that the kind of argument you’re presenting can’t be plausibly generalized.”

It can be generalised, if people wish, but I dont buy the generalisation ‘if X’s support for Stalinism should be acknowledged then why arent we all implicated in ‘US imperialism’/capitalism “? Well you all are, to a degree, I guess- but who we generally hold culpable are the people who design, implement or actively support these policies.

Thats the point, afaict it was a policy of the CPUSA to actively support the Soviet Union during Stalin. Afaict Seeger did, to some extent. Certainly the leadership of the CPUSA are morally culpable, to some extent. Certainly, to my mind, people who supported Stalinism are culpable. An ‘average member’ who had no strong opinions on the SU, no, probably not anymore than any member of a political party. (although there might be an argument here on the specifics of the CPUSA, but i dont know)

I dont have a ready made system for ranking ‘moral culpability’ here, but to my mind mentioning Seegers support for Stalin (even if its more limited and complicated) at his death is legitimate. Same with Hobsbawm, who was informed enough to know better.

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Harold 02.03.14 at 12:09 am

At the time that Seeger was a member of the CPUSA, we were at war with Hitler and Stalin was our ally. Previously, during the popular front era, many people were drawn to the CPUSA because of the reluctance of the Socialists to condemn racism and anti-Semitism. The CIO, which Seeger and his group, the Almanac Singers, supported, was the only union that was racially integrated. According to Almanac member Bess Hawes, quoted on wikipedia:

Every day, it seemed, another once-stable European political reality would fall to the rapidly expanding Nazi armies, and the agonies of the death camps were beginning to reach our ears. The Almanacs, as self-defined commentators, were inevitably affected by the intense national debate between the “warmongers” and the “isolationists” (and the points between). Before every booking we had to decide: were we going to sing some of our hardest-hitting and most eloquent songs, all of which were antiwar, and if we weren’t, what would we sing anyway? … We hoped the next headline would not challenge our entire roster of poetic ideas. Woody Guthrie wrote a song that mournfully stated: “I started out to write a song to the entire population / But no sooner than I got the words down, here come a brand new situation”.

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Plume 02.03.14 at 12:09 am

Communism and Seeger. Excellent article on the former in Salon. I was shocked it reached a mainstream media outlet. The topic has been verboten for so long in America, it’s amazing to see it openly discussed.

It’s about time:

http://www.salon.com/2014/02/02/why_youre_wrong_about_communism_7_huge_misconceptions_about_it_and_capitalism/

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Ronan(rf) 02.03.14 at 12:09 am

My point is simply that the NR obit is fine to my eyes. Ive made that in a longwinded, annoying and stupid way. But thats all Im saying.

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Ronan(rf) 02.03.14 at 12:12 am

Plume – I got to number 4 before the strawmanning became too much

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Phil 02.03.14 at 12:20 am

I don’t think respect has to be paid on the death of politically active public figures. Corey wrote a scathing obit for Hitchens linked above, based around his support for Iraq, and I think that’s fine.

I believe that, if somebody (alive or dead) who seems not to be a monster appears to have links to policies whose implications are monstrous, we should give that person the benefit of the doubt and judge him/her by what he/she actually does. I also think that we do in fact do this almost all the time. For instance, Louis Proyect wrote an obituary of Saul Bellow; he criticised him as a racist and reactionary writer, without ever trying to pin responsibility on Bellow for the real-world implications of Bellow’s conservative politics.

I think this is as it should be: Bellow is important as a novelist, not as a novelist who also supported policies with horrible outcomes; insisting that he be judged by the actions of the governments he supported would be inappropriate and disrespectful. But apparently when it comes to Communists and former Communists – even someone who outlived his Communist period by fifty years – this elementary courtesy and this sense of proportion don’t apply.

The post-mortem attacks on Hitchens aren’t an exception to this rule. Corey wasn’t dragging up half-forgotten political positions and overlooking what Hitchens actually did; to a large extent, advocating aggressive war and torture was what he did. If you want a Pete Seeger parallel, Hitchens supported Bush and Blair in much the same way that Pete Seeger supported Odetta – openly, vocally, consistently and without any later rethinking or recantation.

As for Hobsbawm, who was informed enough to know better, I’m not ‘informed’ enough to tie Eric Hobsbawm’s shoes, and I’m pretty sure you’re not either. It’s true that one of the great historians of the twentieth century chose to remain for decades in a party which had been guilty of monstrous crimes. I don’t know why – and it wouldn’t have been my choice – but to suppose that fact undermined Hobsbawm or his work, or to treat it as a stain on his reputation, would be disrespectful and inappropriate to the point of stupidity.

I really don’t understand why you object to being called “anti-Communist”, Ronan. I can’t understand your comments any other way.

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Plume 02.03.14 at 12:24 am

Ronan 243.

No straw mans. Just the truth. He’s spot on all the way through 7.

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Ronan(rf) 02.03.14 at 12:27 am

Jesus Phil, I didnt say it undermined his work (although people more intelligent than me argue it did, in his later books) I said its worth noting in his obit

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Phil 02.03.14 at 12:32 am

You said it was worth “noting” as something about which he “was informed enough to know better”, which in my book is treating it as a stain on his reputation. Also, you didn’t say it undermined his work, but now I mention it you think maybe it did?

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Ronan(rf) 02.03.14 at 12:38 am

As you say (rightly) I cant judge his work. Some peole, like Judt and De Long I think (?), argued that his politics undermined his focus in the Age Of Extremes (but that was more along the lines of ‘he didnt write the book I would have’) I havent actually read the book so couldnt say. I read the Age Of Capital years ago and remembering liking it, but Im not really qualified to give any sort of an analysis.

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Ronan(rf) 02.03.14 at 1:05 am

Phil, is this the Bellow obit?

http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/revhist/backiss/vol9/no1/proyect.html

It’s all about his politics, which mentions his books as a lead in to talk about his politics !

And Im not trying to pin ‘real world implications’ of someones politics on them (I dont know what real world implications one person sympathising with Stalin would have, very little Id assume) Im speaking in favour of obits like Proyects primarily.
Maybe Ive overdone it with ‘moral culpability’ and need a better way of phrasing.

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godoggo 02.03.14 at 1:40 am

Indeed. Why doesn’t that bastard Proyect hurry up and die so we can get to pissing on his grave?

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Ronan(rf) 02.03.14 at 1:49 am

PRECISELY

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Harold 02.03.14 at 1:53 am

Herzog isn’t about politics and neither is Ravelstein. Mr. Sammler’s Planet is about “cultural politics” and is an awful book. Thinking wasn’t Bellow’s strong point — he was an artist.

Bellow’s essay is very good but doesn’t make Trotskyism seem attractive (which it isn’t).

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js. 02.03.14 at 4:35 am

But the point is *if they werent* opposed to it, if they excused/minimised/sympathised with it. (If they were opposed they wouldnt be supporters surely ? )

The sentence you’re responding to here was horribly tortured and you v understandably misunderstood it. It’s not that the person in question, Seeger or whoever, is vocally opposed to X horrific crime. It’s that they support a regime, but the reasons for which they support that regime, those reasons would speak against the crimes that the regime is committing. But the person in question still don’t speak out against these crimes.

I also think that the first sentence of Phil’s 244 makes a crucial point—and it’s only made stronger if we’re talking about someone who devoted their life to fighting for more just and equitable society. (Something that I wouldn’t say about Hitchens for example.)

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js. 02.03.14 at 4:39 am

Or much more simply: why do you think Seeger supported ‘Stalin’s regime’, as you put it? Given everything else that’s known about the causes he supported throughout his life.

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Plume 02.03.14 at 5:06 am

At the very least, one can say that the ideals of communism and socialism — real democracy, social justice, equality, egalitarianism, a major expansion of free time (which means true freedom), equal access to social good, cultural goods, etc. etc. — one can at least say that people who believe in those things are on the side of the angels. At least when it comes to beliefs, ideals, goals, theory, etc.

In contrast, there is nothing about the capitalist system (in theory or practice) that puts one on the side of the angels. It starts with economic apartheid. It is anti-democratic. It exists to make a few people very rich at the expense of everyone else and the planet. And it favors and encourages personal greed, selfishness and hoarding over social good.

It’s actually appalling that Seeger gets put through the ringer when those who support our system aren’t even questioned. It’s just assumed that no one should be questioned for their support of the American Way.

That’s just bullshit.

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js. 02.03.14 at 5:40 am

@Ronan:

To avoid misunderstanding: I entirely respect you as a commenter here and think you have good things to say. Also, while I don’t know if I’d entirely describe myself as a commie at this point, I was half brought up as one. So a sort of anti-anti-communism runs deep and comes naturally. I don’t disavow it. (Just by way of explanation.)

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Phil 02.03.14 at 9:11 am

On the Proyect piece: yes, it’s a political critique; it’s the most hostile obit of Bellow I could find. The point is that what Proyect never says – and to my knowledge nobody has ever said – about Bellow is “he allied himself to an evil regime, which did many evil things, and as such his reputation as a writer is tarnished by that regime’s crimes“. Which is precisely what you’re insisting we do with Seeger, Hobsbawm and presumably any other ex-Communists you can find.

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Layman 02.03.14 at 1:37 pm

Dude, re Seeger it’s the conventional argument. His acknowledgemet that he understated what Stalin was doing:

“Today I’ll apologize for a number of things, such as thinking that Stalin was simply a ‘hard-driver’ and not a supremely cruel misleader. “
———–

Sorry, but I don’t read any admission of knowledge in that statement. In order for him to ‘understate’, he would need to know the truth. Instead, this statement says he was wrong about Stalin. Wrong about what? Wrong about Stalin’s nature.

When did Seeger leave the CPUSA? When did the extent of the purges begin to become generally known?

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Harold 02.03.14 at 1:44 pm

@259″When did Seeger leave the CPUSA? When did the extent of the purges begin to become generally known?”

This info is covered in thread above.

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Phil 02.03.14 at 1:58 pm

a) 1950 b) 1956

And really – I’ll repeat myself from upthread – even if we were talking about somebody who heard Khrushchev denounce Stalin’s crimes and didn’t leave the Party, would that person necessarily deserve our denunciation? Because if so it seems to me that pretty damn few of us would ‘scape a whipping.

As I said earlier…

Somebody who heard about the purges and thought “that sounds troubling, but we need to reserve judgment until we know the full story, it was a difficult situation and I’m sure those involved had their reasons” – is that a moral monster, a sympathiser with the doers of evil? If so, how does our Communist monster compare with all those who heard the stories coming out of Nicaragua and El Salvador and Guatemala and South Africa and Indonesia and reacted in exactly the same way?

(Ronan’s answer to this specific question seems to be that horrors committed in foreign countries don’t count, so we’re all OK.)

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Layman 02.03.14 at 2:10 pm

“This info is covered in thread above.”

Yes, I know. It was a rhetorical question.

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Ronan(rf) 02.03.14 at 2:21 pm

“Ronan’s answer to this specific question seems to be that horrors committed in foreign countries don’t count, so we’re all OK”

No my point was it was obfuscation to bring up US foreign policy when I was talking about CPUSA leaderships support of Stalin. Plus 56 it became know ? Just like that, in 1956 ? Seems to be contradicted by the rest of your post.
Anyway, I have no idea why youre objecting here Phil, considering you (rightly imo) support Proyects obit for Bellow.

js – thanks for your kind words above, and right back at you ! (although tbh, Id be happy to admit the vast majority of my own output is overwrought nonsense ; ) )

“Or much more simply: why do you think Seeger supported ‘Stalin’s regime’, as you put it? Given everything else that’s known about the causes he supported throughout his life. “

This is the *exact* point I was trying to make initially, look at reas comment at 11 which i extrapolated from. How could this dichotomy exist ? re Seeger, sure there’s an argument about *how much he knew*, but is there not at least an obligation for the leadership of the CPUSA to try to know ? And I dont believe they didnt know, there was enough information out there, i would have thought. I think this is an extremely generous standard of proof people are running with.

This goes back to a point you made in the thread on Coreys post, that the democrats have not come to terms with what their leading party members etc have supported in the past (in this context the HUAC) and I agree, I just think the same applies here. But people keep changing the subject – to US foreign policy, or to the fact that ex communists get a hard time in obits etc as is. All Im saying is its a legitimate part of the historical record and deserves to be acknowledged.
Phil thinks its a ‘disrespectful’ tone – when used against his allies – I dont.

re anti communism – look, I dont mind any one interpretating my comments as they see fit, as anti communist or whatever. (I have repeatedly stressed support for Stalinism, however..) No one can look into ‘my heart of hearts’ nor are they expected to. The words are there and peoples interpretations are what they are. I really *dont know* what it would mean to be ‘anti communist’ in terms of my lived life (I guess Im not a communist, if for nothing else than lack of intellectual engagement with it ideologically, so thats obviously framing my point of view here)

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Ronan(rf) 02.03.14 at 2:33 pm

And I dont think theyre moral monsters, I dont hold a manichean view of the world so think most people arent moral monsters. I would imagine Phil is correct above that they were mostly good people, some of whom made bad choices. I would say the same is true of Hayek, and I wouldnt think bringing up Hayeks support for Pinochet as partof the historical record is wrong or ‘disrespectful’.

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Ronan(rf) 02.03.14 at 2:37 pm

And Ill leave it there (please god) so please (looking at you Phil) try not to completly misrepresent what Im saying. I take full abuse for lack of clarity or coherency throughout, and as an olive branch (to end the argument) ill except the burden of proof being expected here vis a vis the CPUSA – no one knew nufink. So all above is irrelevant. (I joke on the last bit, but we’re not going to agree, so we may as well carefully edge away .. )

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Ronan(rf) 02.03.14 at 2:39 pm

“And Ill leave it there (please god) so please (looking at you Phil) try not to completly misrepresent what Im saying.”

Actually, i cant really demand that and then shut down the conversation after taking some cheap shots at Phil, so fire away ..

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Phil 02.03.14 at 3:38 pm

No my point was it was obfuscation to bring up US foreign policy when I was talking about CPUSA leaderships support of Stalin.

It’s not obfuscation, it’s a perfectly straightforward comparison (and it’s a comparison I drew in comment #8, before you’d entered the thread, so you can hardly say I was trying to change the subject). You can argue that it’s not a legitimate comparison, but I don’t know how – unless you took the view that you can’t compare what government A does to its own citizens to what government B does abroad, or in other words that “horrors committed in foreign countries don’t count”.

Plus 56 it became know ? Just like that, in 1956 ?

Good grief. Yes, just like that. 25th February 1956, to be precise. (Do you ever think maybe your confidence is outrunning your grasp of the material?)

Anyway, I have no idea why youre objecting here Phil, considering you (rightly imo) support Proyects obit for Bellow.

I’ve already explained this at least once. (Apologies if my tone gets a bit sharp, but I seem to have to repeat myself rather a lot when I reply to you.) My point in bringing up Proyect’s obit is that, as critical as it is, it doesn’t attempt to link Bellow to real-world politics he had no influence or control over, and it doesn’t delegitimate or undermine Bellow as a writer. And that’s the Left at its most critical (Proyect isn’t famed for his moderation). Yet both of these things are absolutely SOP when it comes to Communists and ex-Communists, as you’ve demonstrated yourself. If Seeger the former Communist didn’t disown the reality of Stalin’s policies, then we can’t celebrate the life and achievements of Seeger the folksinger and activist without also considering this blot on his reputation. We take this approach to no other group of people.

Nor is there any comparison in this respect between Seeger and Hayek, or Seeger and Hitchens – both the Hs were committed, vocal and influential advocates of appalling policies (to be implemented in foreign countries), and never repented their advocacy.

I really *dont know* what it would mean to be ‘anti communist’ in terms of my lived life

What I’m saying is that your argument here is anti-Communist, in the sense of singling Communism out for delegitimation and challenge.

Finally: you missed the point of the ‘moral monster’ argument. Let’s use hypotheticals. King Ahab of Azkaban has a huge art collection and is known around the world as a connoisseur. He is also widely known to imprison dissidents without trial and strongly suspected of ordering them to be tortured. Your next-door neighbour, Terry, is a mild-mannered accountant who leans to the Right politically and has a passion for the Impressionists. You bump into Terry one day and are surprised to hear him express approval for King Ahab – “he’s a smart guy, he really knows what he’s doing”.

Now, everyone knows about King Ahab’s prison regime, but only a moral monster would positively approve of it. You’ve got no reason suddenly to start thinking of Terry as a moral monster – he may be right-wing, but he’s not that right-wing (very few people are). So you give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was the art thing that he was expressing approved of.

Pete Seeger and Stalin, same same.

You say you don’t consider Seeger a moral monster. But your argument does – if you didn’t think he was at least under suspicion of being a moral monster (positively approving of the Great Purges, etc) then you would have forgiven and forgotten the whole thing – just as you would with Terry next door, and just as most people already have done with Seeger.

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JW Mason 02.03.14 at 3:53 pm

Just wanted to thank Phil for being a continued voice of sanity on this thread.

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Ronan(rf) 02.03.14 at 4:00 pm

“If Seeger the former Communist didn’t disown the reality of Stalin’s policies, then we can’t celebrate the life and achievements of Seeger the folksinger and activist without also considering this blot on his reputation”

Its a part of his life, yes. AGAIN NOT THE ONLY OR EVEN PRIMARY PART.
But YOU CAN celebrate what you like, i disagree – to me this aspect of his life as a political activist is relevant. How are his politics not relevant ?
We have very different readings of the Proyect obit.

It is an obfuscation because Im talking about Stalinism as an ideological project which killed millions, which had the support (to varying degrees of knowledge) from people on the western left. I am talking about the regime type, which you agree was *not* the moral equivalent of the US.
You want to talk about US foreign policy, fine. Then we will also talk about Soviet foreign policy, *which was not* that much better (if at all), and considerably worse during Stalin. Stalin, who I was talking about. If you want to talk about US foreign policy, fine.

re 1956 – I am *saying* of course people knew prior to 56. Wasnt 56 a structural shift in the communist party ? There was surely an increased level of what people knew about Stalin post 56 but are you arguing nothing was/could be known before ? Thats clearly my point, that people *knew before 56*. But your answer to

“When did the extent of the purges begin to become generally known?”

was

“(b) 1956″

Sure. But not the whole story.
Yes some in the CPUSA knew, I thought this was historical fact. Seeger claims he understated it, thats all.

My neighbour in Azkaban is, by your story, neither a public figure or politically active in any meaningful way

“We take this approach to no other group of people.”

Oh spare me. He was lovingly remembered by Obama. The only obit I ve seen in the UK (the Times this weekend) didnt even mention Stalin.
The NR did ! ? OMG who could have guessed.

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Ronan(rf) 02.03.14 at 4:09 pm

“What I’m saying is that your argument here is anti-Communist, in the sense of singling Communism out for delegitimation and challenge.”

Because its related to the post Phil. If the OP was talking about Hayeks libertarianism and his support for Pinochet and I came in ‘but what about Stalin !! ??’ youd have a point.

“You say you don’t consider Seeger a moral monster. But your argument does – if you didn’t think he was at least under suspicion of being a moral monster (positively approving of the Great Purges, etc) then you would have forgiven and forgotten the whole thing – just as you would with Terry next door, and just as most people already have done with Seeger.”

We do speak about lesser evil and moral culpability all the time, in the context of living in western democracys which wage war internationally. I am simply applying that to there and wondering where culpability falls. I dont think it falls along monstrous lines, but it falls somewhere. We can all support policies that lead to terribel outcomes (and in the SU it was terrible) and not be moral monsters.

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Phil 02.03.14 at 4:37 pm

How are his politics not relevant ?

I celebrate him for his politics, which informed a long and important career. I’m saying that whether or not he was prepared to stand up and say he renounced Stalin is irrelevant to his politics.

It is an obfuscation because Im talking about Stalinism as an ideological project which killed millions, which had the support (to varying degrees of knowledge) from people on the western left.

Whereas I’m talking about US imperialism as a politico-economic project which killed millions, which had the support (to varying degrees of knowledge) of millions of people on the Right and elsewhere. People aren’t killed by “regime type”s. As I said – not obfuscation, comparison.

are you arguing nothing was/could be known before

Khrushchev confirmed a lot of suspicions. By and large that was what they were, suspicions.

The NR did ! ? OMG who could have guessed.

And you’re defending them. And nobody – not even Louis Proyect – takes this delegitimating, loyalty-oath, are-you-prepared-to-denounce approach to public figures whose right-wing sympathies can be connected with comparable real-world horrors.

We can all support policies that lead to terribel outcomes (and in the SU it was terrible) and not be moral monsters.

That’s my point. Lots of people do, and they’re not treated as if they were – or should be suspected of being – moral monsters.

My neighbour in Azkaban is, by your story, neither a public figure or politically active in any meaningful way

True, but not relevant to the analogy – not sure why you think it is. But I think that’s the real problem with Seeger for a lot of people – the Communist smear is a means to an end, of discrediting a highly popular and successful left-winger.

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Harold 02.03.14 at 4:41 pm

Haters gotta hate.

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Ronan(rf) 02.03.14 at 4:42 pm

Ok. Fair enough.
Good to leave it on that I think ? Sorry if I got carried away Phil or if my argument has been annoying/stupidly made. I still disagree, I think, but thats not the worst thing in the world.

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Harold 02.03.14 at 4:42 pm

It’s really smart for Americans to denigrate their greatest artists. Not.

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Ronan(rf) 02.03.14 at 4:43 pm

Im not American though bro, so Im easy. I wouldnt say it about Luke Kelly or anything ; )

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Vanya 02.04.14 at 3:14 pm

@223 Nazism, ditto, is a vision of brute force and extermination.

In retrospect. But what attracted most Germans to Nazism in the 1920s/30s was a vision of plenty, stability and security. At it’s most idealistisc National Socialism really was a “socialist” ideology in many ways, except that is a perversion, a conscious perversion. Nazism also promises peace, plenty and equality, but only to ethnic Germans. Instead of “universal human brotherhood”, it promises “German brotherhood”. Most Germans were not consciously seeking to dominate other people, they had been convinced by years of right-wing propaganda that Germans were the ones being persecuted by the rest of the world, and that Nazism was an ideology of self-defense. This why for all intents and purposes Nazism has not survived World War II and Germany’s obvious, in retrospect, culpability as an aggressor. Very few people consciously choose to support brute force and extermination, they will always seek rationalizations.

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Phil 02.05.14 at 12:05 am

Most Germans were not consciously seeking to dominate other people, they had been convinced by years of right-wing propaganda that Germans were the ones being persecuted by the rest of the world

Fredy Perlman, in his (somewhat provocative) pamphlet Anti-Semitism and the Beirut Pogrom, makes the point that the victims of pogroms are typically pictured as being the ones with the power – in their own minds the oppressors are acting in self-defence, stamping out the conspiracy before it can take over and destroy them. There’s something similar going on in the nationalist mindset you’re describing – as if to say, the German people want nothing more than peace and security (who could deny them that? who would want to deny them that?) – and they can only be secure when the land they live in is ruled by Germans and inhabited exclusively by Germans. J. P. Stern said that one of Hitler’s key words was “ruhig” – “quiet(ly), peaceful(ly), calm(ly)”; in his speeches he would lead into the big finish by saying “and let me [quietly] say…” or “and I say to you [calmly] that…”, after which of course all hell would break loose. Aggressor as victim – and a victim who has been quietly suffering all these years, and has quietly decided not to take it any more. Other historical settings aren’t hard to find.

Perhaps ‘brute force and extermination’ was too strong, but I’m not sure how happy-happy Nazism could ever be, even in theory. Once you’ve said that

Nazism also promises peace, plenty and equality, but only to ethnic Germans

surely you’re also saying – if only sotto voce – that everyone who’s not an ethnic German can (and will) get stuffed? Couple that with the persistent emphasis on personal aggression – there’s a story of a loyal Nazi who wrote to party HQ complaining about the local Gauleiter, and got a reply saying ‘if you’re any good, why haven’t you got rid of him yourself?’ – and I think you’ve got an ideology which says that successes are rewarded and failures are trampled into the dirt, with the proviso that good Germans were all successes.

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