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May 7, 2004 5:26 PM   Subscribe

Fools for Communism: "the world’s final redoubt of communism is not Havana or Pyongyang but American college campuses. 'The nostalgic afterlife of communism in the United States has outlived most of the real Communist regimes around the world....A sizable cadre of American intellectuals now openly applaud and apologize for one of the bloodiest ideologies of human history, and instead of being treated as pariahs, they hold distinguished positions in American higher education and cultural life.'" Here's also History News Network's interview with the authors of "In Denial: Historians, Communists and Espionage": "The facts of history that they [communist sympathizers] got wrong can be, in their view, rationalized, redefined, minimized, or otherwise set aside in service to the idealized future they seek. Many have learned no lessons from the failure of communism; they will ardently pursue the same goals by the same means, albeit under new names."
posted by 111 (127 comments total)

 
mccarthyism is soooo 1950...
posted by quonsar at 5:30 PM on May 7, 2004


Hell, anyone could've told you communism was a bad idea after watching The Young Ones...
posted by RakDaddy at 5:31 PM on May 7, 2004


<shaking in his boots />
posted by Jimbob at 5:33 PM on May 7, 2004


We Start Bombing In Five Minutes!
posted by y2karl at 5:41 PM on May 7, 2004


the four horsemen of racial agitation bring tension, disturbance, strife and violence in thier advancement of the communist doctrine of 'racial nationalism'.
posted by quonsar at 5:42 PM on May 7, 2004


well, darn!
posted by y2karl at 5:42 PM on May 7, 2004


I have a list of 17336 names...
posted by joaquim at 5:43 PM on May 7, 2004


wait, y2karl is supposed to post relevant links and *i'm* supposed to post the stunning imagery. this must be some kind of bizarro-metafilter.
posted by quonsar at 5:44 PM on May 7, 2004


The imminent threat to the U.S.A. and global capitalism!
posted by Jimbob at 5:44 PM on May 7, 2004


has there actually ever been a real communist society anywhere on the planet?
posted by badstone at 5:46 PM on May 7, 2004


Theses on Groucho Marxism
posted by y2karl at 5:47 PM on May 7, 2004


Don't be absurd: of course we've learned the lessons of Communism: Awesome graphic design.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:47 PM on May 7, 2004


Recently overheard comment by the prof in a poli-sci class (Canadian Democracy 101): "Castro is a grandfatherly figure who delivered on his promises to the Cuban people."

!
posted by loquax at 5:49 PM on May 7, 2004



posted by quonsar at 5:52 PM on May 7, 2004


They're also coming after your precious bodily fluids, eleventy-one. Start buying bottled water.
posted by interrobang at 5:57 PM on May 7, 2004


Good post, 111. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 6:00 PM on May 7, 2004


A sizable cadre of American intellectuals now openly applaud and apologize for one of the bloodiest ideologies of human history

And like those who openly applaud and apologize for fascism, nobody with a brain larger than a garden pea takes them seriously.

On May 1st, I was walking down 18th street with a friend on the way to the Mefi Meetup. I saw two college age kids walking primly down the street toting Red flags. They were wearing expensive shoes and had freshly shampooed hair. I figure in 10 years they'll be driving little Dakota to Montessori school in their Chrysler Behemoth. I'm not losing any sleep.

I've met a few people who've lived under Communist regimes and they didn't have much good to say about it. But in this country it never had much chance of catching on. And with all the other genuine threats in the world today, Communism, on my list of things to get lathered up about, is on like page 502.
posted by jonmc at 6:03 PM on May 7, 2004


Those are great posters George_Spiggott. Thanks!
posted by vacapinta at 6:04 PM on May 7, 2004


Damn, George, but that's some mighty fine propaganda.
posted by RakDaddy at 6:08 PM on May 7, 2004


I think the problem isn't so much that there's a risk that we're going to be overwhelmed by communists anymore, it's more that talking about communism as if it's application in the real world was in any way productive or valuable (except in very rare occasions, and for limited times) is almost like holocaust denying. Hundreds of millions of people suffered greatly because of communism all over the world, tens of millions died. Communism contributed far more to human suffering on the whole than Nazism, but it's a joke today. Look at the posters in that link above, do you think you can find Nazi posters online? Well, I guess you can, but you know what I mean. Being the offspring of people who escaped communism, I can tell you that I'd be disowned if I ever put up a cute vintage Lenin print on my wall. I'm not saying you have to glorify capitalism in contrast, but let's not pretend that communism was anything other than a means to oppressed a good portion of the world for decades for the glory of megalomaniacs, despite Marx's "intentions" or anyone else's.

On Preview: Those are great posters George_Spiggott. Thanks!

Not to pick on you, but try saying that about Third Reich propaganda. I'm not being a spoilsport, I really do find it highly offensive.
posted by loquax at 6:13 PM on May 7, 2004


Today's college student.
posted by languagehat at 6:14 PM on May 7, 2004


This reminded me of part of PBS's recent bio of Emma Goldman, and how she refused to stay in denial:
NARRATOR: In December 1921, after two years, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman left Russia. They vowed to tell the rest of the world of the Bolshevik terror.

BARRY PATEMAN: She did something that many of us find damned hard to do. She realizes she's been a fool. She realizes she's been wrong. She's realized she's made an error. Not just a casual error, but an error of huge awful magnitude to support the Bolsheviks. And she turns and she accepts that. She accepts it totally.

NARRATOR: Revealing the truth about the Bolshevik regime became a crusade for Goldman and Berkman. Their old enemies on the Right praised their analysis of a revolution gone wrong. Old comrades on the Left condemned them.

ORLANDO FIGES: So there must have been a sense of frustration. Hell, we've seen it but we can't convince but we can't convince people of how it really is and we can't uphold any real belief in socialism anymore. And that's a very tragic situation to be in I think. When you both lose everything you believe in and yet have no where else to go.
posted by homunculus at 6:14 PM on May 7, 2004


mccarthyism is soooo 1950...
posted by quonsar at 5:30 PM PST on May 7


Yep, for once I wish I could agree with you in the sense that it would be only natural to think that McCarthyism belongs in the past after Joe McCarthy has been proved basically right. But if you do a little reading, perhaps you'll find out that we need McCarthyism more than ever... Incapacity to learn from history and/or recognize old threats under new guises are surefire signs that your genes won't be around much longer.
posted by 111 at 6:16 PM on May 7, 2004


First, interest in Communism (and socialism, et al) is not confined to US college campuses. It can be found on virtually every college campus in the free world. The US variety is simply more interesting to US writers.

Second, the average "campus communist" is not an apologist for the horrors of Lenin, Stalin and Mao. She or he simply believes that the economic/political system is still interesting and worth exploring, debating and even trying, despite the fact that so many totalitarian crimes were committed in its name.

Third, the college years are when you rebel and/or experiment with alternatives to conventional wisdom, which given our rich heritage of hysterical anticommunism, means that the Red flag has a certain appeal.

Communism will never completely die, because academia exists to keep ideas alive. That's good news for the froth-dipped other end of the political stick, because it'll always have a target if it looks hard enough.
posted by anser at 6:19 PM on May 7, 2004


...bloodiest ideologies of human history...

I think you meant to say Christianity.
posted by destro at 6:19 PM on May 7, 2004


Vietnamese Communism is the bedrock of the American sneaker industry. I'll not hear a word against it.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:20 PM on May 7, 2004


It is kinda strange that Stalin and Lenin get off being cultural icons while Hitler is seen as the big demon of the 20th century.

Ukraine famine, a famine engineered the same way the famine in Somalia was, caused 10 million deaths. 10 million.

What can you expect if you fearlessly expose the systematic, genocidal murder of 10 million people?

You can expect to be branded as a liar in the most prestigious newspaper in the United States. You can expect to be murdered yourself by bandits probably in the pay of conspirators perpetrating equally colossal, monstrous crimes against humanity. And you can even to be betrayed after your death and airbrushed out of existence by one of your closest professional colleagues and friends.

That was the fate of Gareth Richard Vaughan Jones, a brilliant, idealistic and utterly fearless young journalist who published the first major expose in the United States and the first signed articles in Britain of Josef Stalin's deliberately imposed famine in the Ukraine in 1933.


For more: Commentary: Gareth Jones, hero of Ukraine.

The fact that most of the bloodthirsty regimes of the last 50 years had communist ties seems to elude most people. C.F. Quonsar's comment about McCarthyism.
posted by swerdloff at 6:20 PM on May 7, 2004


Not to pick on you, but try saying that about Third Reich propaganda. I'm not being a spoilsport, I really do find it highly offensive.

Loquax, I'm not picking on you (honestly), but I've met and read intelligent people stating that Adolph Hitler was a brilliant politician and a master orator. And they're right. He was also a homicidal sociopath, and , thankfully, an incompetent military strategist.

but let's not pretend that communism was anything other than a means to oppressed a good portion of the world for decades for the glory of megalomaniacs, despite Marx's "intentions" or anyone else's.

That's how it turned out, but what it truly was, was a badly flawed economic system that fell into the hands of murderous men like Mao, Stalin, and the rest. And I mean no disrespect at all to the suffering your relatives escaped from, those two men rank with Hitler as the worst ever, and my grandparents grew up in Mussolini's Italy, so I know what you speak of.
posted by jonmc at 6:24 PM on May 7, 2004


For how to do it right, see Walden Two by B.F. Skinner.

(Part of doing it right, of course, is limiting your population to about 500 or so people.)
posted by PrinceValium at 6:25 PM on May 7, 2004


Since the 1970s, it’s been an article of faith in historical journals and university presses that the United States rather than the Soviet Union posed the greatest threat to world peace and political freedom.

Yeah, and until recently it was bullshit.
posted by bashos_frog at 6:26 PM on May 7, 2004


Since the 1970s, it’s been an article of faith in historical journals and university presses that the United States rather than the Soviet Union posed the greatest threat to world peace and political freedom.

It's about equal. The buildup of nuclear weaponry and our instigation of conflict through the CIA at least had us at #2 if not #1 since the 50's.
posted by destro at 6:30 PM on May 7, 2004


but try saying that about Third Reich propaganda.

Who cares who issued the posters, or even the content of the posters. We're talking about their artistic and historical merit, not moral.

Third Reich propaganda is some of the most amazing public art ever commissioned.

Getting back on-topic. First, that quote was ripped off from Paul Johnson, a rather famous British historian. Second, communism has never been implemented, (and may be impossible for humans to implement), so it's a little strange to go blaming it for so many deaths. Third, most people who have actually read Marx has an appreciation for his meticulous methodology and observations, if not his conclusions.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:33 PM on May 7, 2004


The problem, of course, is that fervent anti-communism is and has been just as dangerous and destructive as communism itself. The British and American governments had long used anti-communist rhetoric as a cover for disrupting the autonomy of states with interests, economic or otherwise, adverse to theirs. The bloody coups in Chile and Guatemala are testament to this fact. A realistic recognition of the failure of communism combined with opposition to true communist regimes is commendable; utilizing communism as a political bogey-man to cover for imperialistic ambitions is most definitely not.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:36 PM on May 7, 2004


I don't recall communism being practiced in the USSR or anywhere else. There were a lot of totalitarian dictatorships and there were a few socialist states that went off the rails, but as far as I know there has never been a communist state.

I'm a socialist. I'm a member of the party. That means that I don't want anything that everyone cannot have. That does NOT mean that I support a system of government that sends innocents off that make anthrax without facemasks while using toothbrushes made of depleted uranium while the ruling elite eat caviar.

Socialism and Communism are theoretical kinds of states that as far as I know have never been fully realized.

Now, let's talk about how bloody a regime our current so-called-Democratic state is becoming.
posted by n9 at 6:39 PM on May 7, 2004


And they're right. He was also a homicidal sociopath, and , thankfully, an incompetent military strategist.

You're completely right, but discussions of Hitler and Nazi Germany are framed in a completely different way than discussions of Stalin and Lenin (at least in my experience). Hitler was brilliant, no doubt, as were Stalin and Lenin, but swerdloff got it just right when he said that they became cultural icons. A college kid could get kicked out for having a swastika up on his wall, not so a red star.

Sure, communism is just an economic theory in principle, but if it has never worked, and led to such misery in so many places where it has been implemented, why is it still discussed as being some sort of valid ideology? How many more people need to suffer before it is dismissed and banned like National Socialism? Why doesn't it join the Nazi party in the history books, rather than the political science books? The study of communism certainly has it's place, I simply disagree with the way it is regarded in our society. Let's not kid ourselves, the only way communism was able to exist anywhere was by restricting knowledge of the non-communist world and not having elections. How is that in any way a relevant or viable modern economic or political model?

(and don't worry, you can pick on me if you like, I can take it, it's nothing compared to the hatred I've experienced being a nonideological conservative on a Canadian university campus I'm sure!)

On preview: Civil - Art and historical merits aside, we're talking about pop vintage posters for sale on a website, not a museum exhibit. Where are the SS posters for sale? Oh, are they banned in Europe? Funny. And what exactly makes the KGB more appropriate for people to profit from?
posted by loquax at 6:41 PM on May 7, 2004


Bear in mind, Marx never said Communism was a good thing. He said it was an inevitable thing. For the distant future, when robots can do all our work and we're all Iain M. Banks characters, he's probably right. The problem is when dicks like Lenin try to force it early with their pesky revolutions and genocides.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:42 PM on May 7, 2004


loquax, thanks for raising that point, you really caused me to think about why I find vintage Communist propaganda acceptable and enjoyable while continuing to find Nazi propaganda utterly sickening and repellant and would never allow it in the house, even though artistically it's often superb.

I think the distinction is this: Third Reich propaganda extolled what almost any sane person would consider to be an objective evil. Communist propaganda extolled virtues (such as labor for the common good, solidarity and community) which are not objectively evil... the problem being that they did not practice them. It may seem odd, but I find in the end that Communist propaganda as art is acceptable because it was a lie. Unlike Nazi propaganda, the Commie stuff didn't promote the aspirations of it's rulers, but rather the lies of its rulers. The horror of Nazism is that it was exactly what it aspired to be. The horror of so-called Communism is that it wasn't.

I'm not alone in this: in former communist countries, Commie kitch is quite prized by many in the mainstream, especially in the younger generation -- I know because I've been there and I've seen it. You won't find the same in Germany, thank goodness. At least not among the mentally stable.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:43 PM on May 7, 2004


Now, let's talk about how bloody a regime our current so-called-Democratic state is becoming.

Right, because, you know, heaven forfend that a completely fucking unrelated MeFi thread go by without some good old anti-war rhetoric.

Disclaimer: I'm against the war. However, that doesn't mean I feel the need to parade that fact every fucking time I post.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 6:44 PM on May 7, 2004


111: Did you actually just suggest that McCarthyism was a reasonable policy? Right or wrong, how can you defend his methods?
I'm particularly astounded by the list of people you linked to. Am I supposed to be impressed that the "hall of halfwits" (er. liberals?) includes Madeline Albright, who's apparently a "halfwit" for denouncing Bush's immaculate foreign policy? By all means, off with her head!
posted by mote at 6:44 PM on May 7, 2004


but as far as I know there has never been a communist state.

Many people would argue that a communist (or even socialist) state would be impossible to succesfully implement due to human nature: the need to compete, material success being one of the drivers of scientific progress, etc.

I fully acknowledge that plenty of horrendous deeds have been committed in the name of anti-communism, and I don't like it. I also believe that most of the states we fought the cold war against would have collapsed under their own excesses eventually anyway. I'm not saying that untrammeled, unregulated capitalism is a great idea either but Marxism has been a dismal failure. And pre-emptively, (since someone's bound to bring it up), don't hand me Cuba. When people in Florida start building homemade rafts to get to Havana, then maybe I'll take you seriously.
posted by jonmc at 6:47 PM on May 7, 2004


McCarthyism belongs in the past after Joe McCarthy has been proved basically right. But if you do a little reading, perhaps you'll find out that we need McCarthyism more than ever

McCarthy was wrong even if he was right, in the same way that a would be rescuer who, witnessing a mugging, shoots both criminal and victim is wrong.
posted by namespan at 6:50 PM on May 7, 2004


I think the distinction is this: Third Reich propaganda extolled what almost any sane person would consider to be an objective evil. Communist propaganda extolled virtues (such as labor for the common good, solidarity and community) which are not objectively evil.

Sorry, no. Let's see:

No one shall go hungry! No one shall go cold!

Health, child protection, fighting poverty, aiding travellers, community, helping mothers: These are the tasks of the National Socialist People's Charity. Become a member!

Support the assistance program for mothers and children.

Noble sentiments all. Of course there are far more offensive posters as well, but the point stands. I tend to think loquax has a point.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 6:56 PM on May 7, 2004


Second, communism has never been implemented, (and may be impossible for humans to implement), so it's a little strange to go blaming it for so many deaths.

So, can we blame the attempts at Communist states for the deaths?

111 - Just because McCarthy may have been more correct in his claims that he generally gets credit for doesn't mean McCarthyism is a good thing.
posted by obfusciatrist at 6:57 PM on May 7, 2004


I think the problem isn't so much that there's a risk that we're going to be overwhelmed by communists anymore, it's more that talking about communism as if it's application in the real world was in any way productive or valuable (except in very rare occasions, and for limited times) is almost like holocaust denying.

Yes, but then you get blowhard conservatives equating any hint of socialist structure to Stalinist purges, and those of us who believe in mixed economies wind up wanting to TP 111's house in Che Guevara bathroom tissue. Anticommunism has been used as a cudgel by the right against the left so long and so repeatedly that any time it's brought up, why bother, we know what's coming next: Why The Gilded Age Was The Best Time In American History. I mean, how often does equating patriotism to Nazism make you think twice?
posted by furiousthought at 6:59 PM on May 7, 2004


Che Guevera's visage is an icon in the U.S., if often in a hopelessly out of context way, but Stalin's? Since when?
posted by raysmj at 7:00 PM on May 7, 2004


Oh, are they banned in Europe?

Well, perhaps Germany -- I don't know about the rest of Europe. And it's a shame. Look at it this way: if you had a chance to own Ghengis Kahn's sword, would you say, "Oh no, he killed lots of people, I couldn't possibly..."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:01 PM on May 7, 2004


I know I've said it before, but especially here with 111's linking to WorldNetDaily as "proof" of some point -- this has GOT to be theater of the mind for him. He doesn't really believe that drivel. He can't. Right?
posted by zaack at 7:04 PM on May 7, 2004


The horror of Nazism is that it was exactly what it aspired to be. The horror of so-called Communism is that it wasn't.

George, I do generally agree with you about that, and if push came to shove, I'd say that the Nazis (along with their art) were more offensive to humanity than the communists for the same reasons. While the Nazis committed capital murder the communists were mostly (although not only) guilty of manslaughter, to make a crude analogy. At the same time, (I suppose because of my background in part) I could never buy anything remotely Soviet kitsch, even though artistically I agree it's amazing. Those posters were designed to fool the locals into believing the lies being fed to them. They were designed to make them accept their fate as meaning cogs in the machine, even as friends and relatives were disappearing at night. For all the jokes about 1984 made on here, you can't get much closer than the communist world in the 20th century.

On preview - I see your point Civil, but there are still living survivors of Stalin's purges, and of the Nazi concentration camps. How would you feel having escaped from the gulag in the 1950's and walking into your grandson's college dorm with Stalin winking down at you? Genghis Kahn and his victims are long dead. There is no risk that anyone will manipulate his image in a new ideology (I think). Just look at the skinheads to see that Hitler is alive and well, at least in some places. And most of Europe has banned the Swastika at least, I know for sure the former communist countries have, as well as France and Britain. I'll try to find a source.
posted by loquax at 7:07 PM on May 7, 2004


their fate as meaning cogs

That's meaningless
posted by loquax at 7:09 PM on May 7, 2004


I tend to think loquax has a point.

He certainly does. And believe me, nobody has more contempt for "cadillac commies" than I. I see some 15-year old nitwit in a Che Guevara t-shirt and I wanna box his ears. But here's the obvious answer: American anti-Nazi sentiments were right on target, well-executed, and effective, and caught relatively few innocents up in the net. The same cannot be said of anti-communist excesses in this country. Before anyone trots out the American Communist Party, even most right-wing people I know see them as moribund, deluded and ineffective, at least in hindsight.

Che Guevera's visage is an icon in the U.S.,

For a interesting perspective on Che Guevara I direct you to this bizarro usenet thread featuring this classic exchange:

User 1: For a 3 day break which you spend in
a small hamlet trying to reach out to the people and have them embrace your
cause,


User 2: and what cuase was this?

User 1: What in hells name do you think? The revolutionary cause.

See what I mean about deluded and moribund.
posted by jonmc at 7:09 PM on May 7, 2004


Civil - Art and historical merits aside, we're talking about pop vintage posters for sale on a website, not a museum exhibit. Where are the SS posters for sale? Oh, are they banned in Europe?

I think this argument is more about cultural perceptions than about quantifying what is evil and what is not.

I find the posters beautiful in the same way I find paintings depicting the Crusades beautiful or Aztec codices that depict the practices of human sacrifice. I might think twice about having any of these on my wall but their aesthetic remains.

That said, if anyone here has suffered under a communist regime and is offended by those posters, well, I understand that.
posted by vacapinta at 7:10 PM on May 7, 2004


Che Guevera's visage is an icon in the U.S., if often in a hopelessly out of context way, but Stalin's? Since when?

Did I imply that Stalin's was? I don't see how you got that.
posted by furiousthought at 7:11 PM on May 7, 2004


McCarthyism probably did a lot, in the long run, to promote communism in America. It made a public spectacle of harrassing people like Charlie Chaplin, Pete Seeger, Orson Welles, Leonard Bernstein, Martin Luther King, and numerous other still-well-known celebrities, very few of whom turned out to be actual communist spies. That the opponents of communism ended up looking so very, very bad back then probably doesn't hurt the communist cause today.

Perhaps some of these people warning us about the dangerous communist threat are closet commies, trying to repeat that tactic.
posted by sfenders at 7:11 PM on May 7, 2004


Here's what I think is a partial list of countries that have banned Nazi imagery.
posted by loquax at 7:12 PM on May 7, 2004


furiousthought: swerdloff came up with the bit about Stalin being a cultural icon.
posted by raysmj at 7:18 PM on May 7, 2004


What about the cost of 'free market' Capitalism? What about the people that 'our' economic systems exploit? Is it better that they're exploited by 'free' economic systems rather than Communists.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

All economic systems have their human costs. To pretend that our Western Capitalism is somehow free of them is stupid or dishonest. Take your pick. Plenty of people have died for standing up for labor rights, for standing up against economic exploitation at the hands of Capitalists bought by Washington.

I find the whole 'Communism is bad, Capitalism is good' thing very sad and offensive.
posted by geekhorde at 7:20 PM on May 7, 2004



I don't recall communism being practiced in the USSR or anywhere else. There were a lot of totalitarian dictatorships and there were a few socialist states that went off the rails, but as far as I know there has never been a communist state.


Kerala.
posted by calwatch at 7:21 PM on May 7, 2004


Speaking of struggling with the lessons of history...
posted by homunculus at 7:25 PM on May 7, 2004


If only we could learn each other.
posted by Postroad at 7:26 PM on May 7, 2004


Plenty of people have died for standing up for labor rights, for standing up against economic exploitation at the hands of Capitalists bought by Washington.

Yes yes! Agreed! And don't forget, Hitler had some good ideas too! All systems have their cost! Capitalism bad! Bush=Hitler! Lenin was misunderstood! Castro is just grandfatherly! Mao was a great guy! Nixon ate babies! Carter watched and laughed!

You know, funny how those crazy voters keep on electing these rampaging maniacs in Washington. Better to eliminate elections, because the people have been manipulate by the zionists-intellectual class. Let's eliminate them too! Montana is just right for labour camps, wouldn't you say?
posted by loquax at 7:28 PM on May 7, 2004


Thanks for that link on Kerala, calwatch.
posted by homunculus at 7:32 PM on May 7, 2004


A lot of people fed the troll tonight.

Whichever poster is using "111" as a pot-stirring alter-ego is having a laugh at your expense. Or you're encouraging a schizo affective. Either way, you should all be ashamed.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:33 PM on May 7, 2004


Either way, you should all be ashamed.

Why? I think there's been a good little chat here. The post may have been trollish, but not the thread (I think).
posted by loquax at 7:35 PM on May 7, 2004


"See, under capitalism, man exploits man, but under communism, it's the other way around."
posted by namespan at 7:36 PM on May 7, 2004


Geekhorde, I apologize for my lash out at you, but you do realize you sound just like a neocon bushie rationalizing the prison tortures or the war in Iraq when you defend communism by saying that "capitalists are bad too", right?
posted by loquax at 7:37 PM on May 7, 2004


One point that hasn't been brought out fully in this debate is why the attempt to achieve communism in various countries almost always results in oppression of the people it is supposedly serving. If it had only been Russian communism that had been responsible for the deaths of millions of people, one could consider it an aberration of corruption; a case where one person or a group of people derailed the natural course of the revolution. But add China, Vietnam, N. Korea and Cambodia to that list and then also consider other communist states where lesser atrocities were committed. Why so many? Why does this seem to be the ultimate destination of this philosophy? Did corrupt people get ahold of the revolution time and time again by sheer bad luck - or is there something inherently corrupt about this revolution to begin with? Or something about it that makes it inevitable that the corrupt will lead it?

History has found communism severely lacking. Period. History will also find many of the anti-communist crusades to be corruptable - any look at Central America reveals atrocities by both sides. Not to mention the problems that capitalism also presents - not as severe, but still there.

Could it be that ideological crusades themselves are inevitably corrupted? Certainly, the quest for Communism gives many examples of this.
posted by pyramid termite at 7:39 PM on May 7, 2004


Could it be that ideological crusades themselves are inevitably corrupted?

Ya think?

Ideologies are all about power. Power corrupts. It's that simple.
posted by jonmc at 7:44 PM on May 7, 2004


Geekhorde, I apologize for my lash out at you, but you do realize you sound just like a neocon bushie rationalizing the prison tortures or the war in Iraq when you defend communism by saying that "capitalists are bad too", right?

I read no such sentiment in geekhorde's comment. His comment that, like it or not loquax, there is an immense underclass in 'western' freemarket economies is not an implicit defense of communism (or the authoritarian regimes people label 'communist'). In fact, it's the failure to acknowledge and address the plight of these people that kindles extremist movements...
posted by crank at 7:55 PM on May 7, 2004


"History has found communism severely lacking. Period."

Absolutely. And the process by which history has made this finding is one of research and discussion on campuses worldwide. Unless it is permitted to examine Communism openly -- and even attempt to make a case for it -- history would be unable to form any lucid judgment on it.

When ideologues jeer at unfashionable campus ideas, they are attacking the principle of academic discovery itself - pissing on the learning process for the sake of cheap self-promotion.
posted by anser at 7:59 PM on May 7, 2004


Communism is dead, hail our psychopathic corporate masters!
posted by john at 8:03 PM on May 7, 2004


Hey, look! This post has generated lots of controversy and comments! Whodathunkit?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:04 PM on May 7, 2004


Pyramid: Communism is a philosophy that (if working) requires a reversal of what can quite legitimatly be called a basic human feeling: greed. Communism only works if everyone denies that base instinct and becomes altruistic. This, of course, doesn't really just happen. The system only works if everyone (or at least everyone who is productive) operates like this. Of course, they don't and they need to be kept in check.

And what's better to keep people in check than a personality cult propped up by an oppressive, violent regime?

Communism, and related philosophics like anarchism, can actually work within small constructs - small groups of people, collectives, anarcho-businesses. In these case, everyone involved (ideally) already shares the same philosophy, and so can make the system work. Try imposing it on large groups of people, with a diverse range of opinions and desires, and it's doomed to failure unless it's coupled with top-down control.

I believe anarchism would be an ideal way to live...but it is completely unachievable in practice because in order to roll-it-out over the whole of a society it would require force and top-down control (you gotta teach these people that they want to be anarchists!), which, of course, flies in the face of anarchism. Communism appears to be a similar philosophy to anarchism, but with no fear of employing force and violence in practice.

True neo-libertarianism, on the other hand, is very simple to achieve, but would be a living hell.
posted by Jimbob at 8:05 PM on May 7, 2004


What incredible foolishness we have here.
posted by kaibutsu at 8:11 PM on May 7, 2004


Jimbob, you nailed it.
posted by velacroix at 8:47 PM on May 7, 2004


Or something about it that makes it inevitable that the corrupt will lead it?

no, capitalism is afflicted in precisely the same way.
posted by quonsar at 9:10 PM on May 7, 2004


111 sees no problem with posting a WorldNetDaily article to support some claim or other, but don't even insult his intelligence by getting him to read something from that rag the New York Times.

As usual, when you get them to talk more their true colours come out. McCarthyism a good thing.. christ help us all.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:13 PM on May 7, 2004


"In Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, two players face off in an all-out battle, engaging in a Match consisting of three duels. It will take skill, practice, strategy and luck to emerge victorious from the match, as there are many factors players can manipulate to vanquish their foe. The main battles are waged between incredible monsters split into an amazing 20 types, each with their own unique skills and fighting styles. In addition, players can use Spell, set traps, change the battlefield itself, and even fuse two monsters together to form a monster of immense power!"
posted by Opus Dark at 9:17 PM on May 7, 2004


Communist propaganda extolled virtues (such as labor for the common good, solidarity and community) which are not objectively evil.

I completely disagree. Collectivism is evil, through and through.
posted by trharlan at 9:21 PM on May 7, 2004


Could it be that ideological crusades themselves are inevitably corrupted?

Ya think?

Ideologies are all about power. Power corrupts. It's that simple.


Take, for instance, the civil rights movement.

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple,
and wrong.

H.L. Mencken

posted by y2karl at 9:26 PM on May 7, 2004


I agree with 111: "Many have learned no lessons from the failure of communism" However, I view the above statement in a very, very different way.

I grew up under Ceausescu, rest in hell, and, as a kid, I thought the hardship was something that we had to endure because of one evil man. People would not allow things like this to happen in other countries! How wrong I was!

People learn form mistakes. In US, they are still learning the lessons form the Civil War. American GIs saw Europe and Germany during WWII and brought the lessons home. Communism rose and fell, but US did not experience anything, except cold war experience and some images on TV, maybe not as entertaining as the movies. There are no rules to be introduced into the society, no real lessons to be transmitted to the next generation. How tragic: in the information age, we are not able to retain the lessons of the past!

One might reply, but we know this, communism was no good, produced a crappy economic system, killed many people and eventually fell (see above comments for more examples). Some may even say, let’s ban it all together, just to be sure it is not going to happen again. The former does not explain why it happened in the first place. People need day-by-day guidance to live by (see the Bible, Franklin’s proverbs, what the teacher tells the children, etc.); they will not be able to identify a bad seed when they see one. The later is useless, I do not think communism will happen again in that particular form: history does not repeat itself; just the events are alike.

In my view, the seed of communism (and other regimes) is the authority. Not any kind of authority, but the one that is in love with power. It is that person who “knows how to do things” and wants to change the lives of the others. What I find interesting is that, at the first glance, communism and its variants do not depend on authority: people live peacefully, share things, “communism is a good idea, but was implemented(!!!) badly”, etc. Authority comes during the next step, when, inevitably, somebody tells somebody else how he or she should live.

I do not worry about the “indoctrinated” college kids or their professors; as individuals they are not into a position to dictate to others. Rigid managers are not likely candidates: usually they are just following somebody else’s rules. The Little Bonapartes I am talking about show up in different places: homeowners associations, community/parents associations, movie censorship, “640kB ought to be enough for everyone”, and so on.

To my utter surprise (at that time) I found many examples in the US business community! There are (old) persons who were successful in a particular field, by luck or skill. Because of their reputation, they are offered positions in a different area, very usually a board seat. There, they try to change the world: they believe they know everything; just look how successful they were, they must know what they are doing!

The good part is that, over time, these people/groups are not successful and they are eliminated. However, they do not disappear because the society, based on lessons learned, disallows the abuse of power. Pure market forces drive the process: the company loses money, principle Skinner get fired for failing to meet the state requirements, home owners move leave/sue the association... Again, it is not the practice – the abuse of power – that gets punished, only the negative results.
posted by MzB at 9:44 PM on May 7, 2004


The Road to Serfdom in cartoons.
posted by trharlan at 9:57 PM on May 7, 2004


Take, for instance, the civil rights movement.

If you don't think the Civil Rights movement is corrupt I invite you to visit Cincinnati and meet Nate Livingston, Rev. Damon Lynch, council woman Alicia Reece, or any other member of the Boycott Cincinnati movement.

Or just read up on Jesse Jackson and the protection racket he ran.
posted by Mick at 10:18 PM on May 7, 2004


I completely disagree. Collectivism is evil, through and through.

The dichotomy of expressing such an anti-christian view but still believing in concepts such as good and evil is quite striking, in a humourous sort of way.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:00 PM on May 7, 2004


MzB, you just justified this whole post. That was fabulous.
posted by namespan at 11:03 PM on May 7, 2004


Will the last communist out please switch out the lights?
posted by shotsy at 11:59 PM on May 7, 2004


In my view, the seed of communism (and other regimes) is the authority. Not any kind of authority, but the one that is in love with power. It is that person who “knows how to do things” and wants to change the lives of the others.

That's a crucial issue, and one that's actually fascinating to discuss, because it points to the way in which the history of communist states shows a vicious polarisation between different models of authority.

First of all, Marx would, had he lived, been shocked to see communist revolution in the feudal, primarily agricultural societies of Russia and China. It's clear that he regarded his telelological model as one whereby the revolution of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie occured in industrialised states: ones in which individuals had been divorced of the fruits of their labour and thus sought to recover the means of production from the bourgeois who had, nevertheless, brought their societies into civilisation. (Apologies for the jargon, but it's better to do that than be blurry here.)

That's to say, Marx foresaw revolution in countries with mills and factories: the most likely candidates were in western Europe. Instead, what happened was that forced, rapid industrialisation occurred after the Communists took power, rather than being the precursor to their taking power. (Now, it's undeniable that in the case of Stalin, the often-horrific consequences of that massive industrialisation was what saved them from the Nazis. The greater good, I'll leave to the ethicists.)

But what we're seeing in post-Communist Russia, curiously, is something that on first glance seems like a return to old feudal models. But isn't quite so, since it's post-industrialisation. And I suppose that had Marx been cryogenically frozen and revived today, and not told about the history of the 20th century, he might think that modern-day Russia, with its oligarchs controlling vast swathes of privatised industry, was a textbook case of a country ripe for communist revolution.

The model of authority in Russia has changed from one that used the vestiges of paternalism to justify its overarching love of power to one that doesn't 'exert' power over individuals but leaves individuals to rot -- see the life expectancy figures for the past decade -- while concentrating power in the form of weath among a handful of individuals. That's to say, Roman Abramovich doesn't have the KGB at his behest to exert authority, but he does have a whopping great bank balance. He's an industrial emperor.
posted by riviera at 12:21 AM on May 8, 2004


I'm late to the party, but I stumbled across this while researching a paper awhile back. Another View of Stalin. Written by Ludo Martens, Amazon only has the French edition listed, and that's out of print. Didn't think it was worthy of a FPP.
posted by Grod at 2:29 AM on May 8, 2004


The 'interest' in what Marx had to say has 3 roots, the one stronger than the other 2.

1) Many people see the present system in the US of A as broken.
2) 'Rebellion'
3) There is a seduction of 'I don't have to work hard, cuz we are all gonna share'

There is alot of pain, suffering, excess and graft in America and seeing some people get a 'easy' economic ride in college while your ride is 'harder' gets many people to search 'for an answer'. Some people are finding an answer in Marx.

The idea of Marx may be correct in the long run however. But until energy is so cheap that labor is not needed (robots), physical goods can be made cheaply (rapid prototyping to star trek like-energy-matter converters) and then the environment can be cleaned/adapted with the cheap energy and cheap material will the vision of Marx have a chance to take deep root and be long-lived. Marx would be laughing hard if the fruits of Capitolism ended up providing the tools (robots, cheap power and a cleaned up world) that allowed him to 'be right in the end'
posted by rough ashlar at 3:24 AM on May 8, 2004


Why do so many people here seem to think that Communism (narrowly read as Marxism-Leninism and its descendants) was a benevolent doctrine that, due to the immalleability of human nature, was forced to become totalitarian and oppressive, when even before 1917, Lenin equated the "dictatorship of the proletariat" with a dictatorship of the Party? (1, 2). Communism failed because it perceived things like civil liberties and multiparty elections as merely "bourgeois" and "reformist". The one-party state was always the Bolsheviks' goal - they were not led into it by circumstance.

By the way, this also gives the lie to 111's alarmism about the alleged creeping resurgence of Communism. Actual Leninists and Trotskyists are extremely rare and on the tinfoil-hat fringe even among leftists; most self-described radicals on the left are anarchists or democratic socialists. And rightly so, since we've all seen from history that centralism and authoritarianism do not lead to a workers' paradise. It's funny though, that Communist apologists and moderate anti-Communists both seem to agree on Communism's doctrinal innocence.

Also: regarding the supposed rigidity of "human nature", let's take another look at this thread and ask ourselves if the systemic context around a person really changes her behavior or not.

On preview: rough ashlar, I think you're missing the biggest source of interest in Marx and communism/socialism (no capitalization) in general: a youthful idealism that values fairness, sharing, and providing for everyone. Later, once we step out of college and into the "real world" of the wage-labor system, most of us either get too busy working and/or raising families to care so much about the big picture, gradually readjust our thinking to rationalize our new position within the status quo, or become disillusioned with the institutions that claim to be working for those aforementioned ideals, e.g. labor unions or political parties. Also: "Like many, you seem to have forgotten that Marx argued that capitalism is a prerequisite to socialism." Moreover, Marx said much the same thing as you have regarding technology eliminating the need for labor and enabling widespread leisure for everyone. The real irony is that Marx might well be proven right, even though most of his alleged followers, in attempting to force the hand of history, failed miserably.
posted by skoosh at 4:26 AM on May 8, 2004


Take, for instance, the civil rights movement.

The civil rights movement can certainly be corrupted. Look at people like Al Sharpton and his crew, who basically use a legitamite cause as means to extortion, or people like marion Barry, who hide behind it hwen they're caught out.

Even the most noble intentions can go awry.
posted by jonmc at 6:09 AM on May 8, 2004


First of all, Marx would, had he lived, been shocked to see communist revolution in the feudal, primarily agricultural societies of Russia and China.

Riviera, excellent post...


Skoos, once again, the reality of "communist" regimes is not the same as what Marx theorized as a communist regime. I agree that a truly communist regime has never been implemented. For example, the expression "Communist dictator" is an oxymoron. If there is a dictator, it's not communism, at least not in it's true sense. When Emma Goldman recognized her mistake, she was recognizing that Bolchevism was not communism.

The importance of the Russian Revolution: if it were not for fear of a worker's Revolution (and the Russian revolution heightened these fears enormously) it probably would have been impossible for labor to break the liberalist model in Europe. What does that mean? We'd still be living in an Upton Sinclair novel, with horrible horrible exploitation of workers. Study the quality of life for the vast majority under the 19th century liberal state and you'll understand what I mean. Study the quality of life of the Russian peasant before the Russian revolution and you'll understand what I mean. For that matter, study the quality of life of the Cuban peasant before the Cuban revolution to understand what I mean.

That said, I think that Marx was mistaken in much of what he said, the future projections mostly, but there are other aspects of his theory that are absolutely valid. For instance, his analysis of how capital worked in the XIX century is pretty damn accurate.
posted by sic at 6:10 AM on May 8, 2004


Joseph McCarthy was right, and a great man, despite his early support for Roosevelt, the socialist disaster.
posted by hama7 at 7:26 AM on May 8, 2004


George Spiggott:
I think the distinction is this: Third Reich propaganda extolled what almost any sane person would consider to be an objective evil. Communist propaganda extolled virtues (such as labor for the common good, solidarity and community) which are not objectively evil... the problem being that they did not practice them. ...The horror of Nazism is that it was exactly what it aspired to be. The horror of so-called Communism is that it wasn't.
Alas, it's not true; but it does touch on a truth. There was plenty of Nazi propaganda that extolled the pursuit of noble virtues, and plenty that fronted outrageous lies.

The essential difference seems to me to be in the appeal to authority. Nazi (fascist) propaganda focused largely on authority as an embodied moral force -- and the embodiment was the agents of the State: In the person of Hitler, in the image of the SS, in the orderly brown uniforms.

By contrast, Soviet propaganda seems to focus on authority as an abstract force. Men in uniform are relatively rare; more commonly, the posters depict the informal uniform of "the worker" (overalls, work boots, head scarves).


So the difference seems to be where the authority is said to be vested: In the State (or the "Volk", for that matter), or with the Workers. There's the grain of truth in George Spiggott's observation: The Nazis presented authority as vested in the State, and it was; the Soviets presented authority as vested in the Workers, and it wasn't.

So at that level, yes, the Nazis "told the truth", and the Soviets lied.
posted by lodurr at 7:42 AM on May 8, 2004


111: But if you do a little reading, perhaps you'll find out that we need McCarthyism more than ever...

hama7: Joseph McCarthy was right, and a great man, despite his early support for Roosevelt, the socialist disaster.

That's so cute. Some dumb kids dress like hippies, and pine for the 60s. 111 and hama dress like Commie Hunters, and pine for the 50s.
posted by Ty Webb at 8:05 AM on May 8, 2004


... despite his early support for Roosevelt, the socialist disaster.

Occasionally it helps to read something you don't agree with. FDR wasn't a socialist by any stretch of the imagination, although that's nothing compared with some of the sweeping generalisations that seem to be inevitable in any discussion of this sort.

As several people have sensibly pointed out, there are extremists on the left and the right. Using the abuses of the past as an excuse to bash the progressives of the present - which is, after all, what this thread was all about from the start - is both lazy and intellectually dishonest. Marx had good ideas, if utopian ones - but he was a political philosopher, for crying out loud, what was he supposed to deal in if not how to get closer to utopia? If certain sections of academia think them worthy of discussion and debate then that does not make them Communist/Stalinist sympathisers, it means they're doing their jobs properly: as anser neatly pointed out, academia exists to keep ideas alive. If we were to cancel out every strand of thinking that had at one time or another been co-opted by monsters, we'd have very few ideas left to play with.

If you have a problem with left-wing ideas, argue against them from a position of integrity and reason. I can't understand how shrill accusations lobbed from one side to the other (and the left is often as guilty of this as the right) help any of us.
posted by zygoticmynci at 8:15 AM on May 8, 2004


As has been touched upon already: you need a revolution of the human spirit before any socio-political utopian revolution can occur. Each node of interaction needs to be cleansed of all the ills that can be harboured in the mind, otherwise each node has the potential to undermine the spirit of unselfish co-operation.

Imposed political solutions to the worlds perceived ills will never succeed, while we all retain savagery within, corrupting those efforts.

Or something.
posted by Blue Stone at 8:33 AM on May 8, 2004


A sizable cadre of American intellectuals now openly applaud and apologize for one of the bloodiest ideologies of human history.

Or, as is argued in this article from The Atlantic about communist apologists, the bloodiest ideology in human history.
posted by Dasein at 8:47 AM on May 8, 2004


Where are the commies??? I must stab them!!!!!!!

Oh, and Joseph McCarthy was a vile piece of shit.
posted by bargle at 8:54 AM on May 8, 2004


Let's have some perspective here on Lenin and Stalin.

Lenin definitely believed in revolution, a period of authoritarian rule to bring everyone together toward a socialist state, and all that, but he certainly wasn't the brutal totalitarian that Stalin was. I'd certainly cast Stalin in the same light as Hitler (how curious that we allied with one against the other), Lenin was more of a misguided (and arguably inept) leader of a failed state.
posted by mkultra at 9:04 AM on May 8, 2004


wasn't a socialist by any stretch of the imagination

Yes he was. There's plenty of evidence of that very fact.

"FDR tripled federal taxes from 1933 to 1940, discouraged private investment with his frequent tax hikes, channeled government spending and loan programs AWAY from the poorest people,forced food prices, as well as the prices of manufactured goods and services, above market levels and outlawed discounting, promoted the large-scale destruction of food when millions were hungry, broke up the strongest banks, promoted government monopolies, and amassed vast arbitrary power".

From the beginning to the end, the New Deal was an attack on economic liberty.
posted by hama7 at 9:48 AM on May 8, 2004


Some dumb kids dress like hippies, and pine for the 60s. 111 and hama dress like Commie Hunters, and pine for the 50s.

Me, I dress like a parrot, and pine for the fjords.
posted by jonmc at 10:02 AM on May 8, 2004



posted by RylandDotNet at 10:03 AM on May 8, 2004


mkultra, I'm sorry, but that's completely wrong, and there's no excuse for believing it now that the Soviet archives have been opened to inspection. From a paper by Richard Pipes, "Unpublished Lenin":
Not a single document of the hundreds that I inspected gave any hint of Lenin's idealistic propensities: on the contrary, they confirmed his utter indifference to human lives and human suffering, and his all-consuming concern with holding on to and expanding his power.

A few examples must suffice. One receives a jolt reading a report from late 1920 to Lenin from Dzerzhinsky, the head of the Cheka, an establishment not known for compassion, that tens of thousands of White prisoners of war as well as Cossacks who had been expelled from their homelands and confined to internment camps in Ekaterinburg were living in "inhuman" conditions. Dzerzhinsky requested that steps be taken to imprve their lot. In the margin stands Lenin's terse "Into the Archive." On another occasion, when Dzerzhinsky suggested that the sailors and soldiers taken prisoner after the suppression of the Kronstadt mutiny in March 1921 be interned in the Crimea and Caucasus, Lenin told him that "it would be more convenient" to have them sent north. In accord with his wishes, the Cheka incarcerated the prisoners in concentration camps in the barren wastes of the White Sea, from which few ever returned. In no unpublished document did I find a trace of humanity except where Lenin's own family and close associates were concerned.

The same callousness is revealed in Lenin's attitude toward the victims of anti-Jewish pogroms. That he did not react to the massacres of Jews in the Ukraine by White Cossacks can be justified... by his inability to do anything about them. But how can one justify his indifference to similar atrocities committed by the Red Cossacks? The archive contains an urgent appeal to Lenin from the Jewish Section of the Communist Party's Central Committee (Evsektsiia), dated July 1920, informing him that on its retreat from Poland Budenny's cavalry was "systematically exterminating" Belorussian Jews. The Evsektsiia requested that local workers be allowed to arm themselves. On the margin of this document stands Lenin's dismissive "Into the Archive of the Central Committee."...

The preoccupation with power, the pervasive fear of subversion, the tendency to see everywhere hidden enemies, afflicted Lenin with something akin to political paranoia. It expressed itself in a police mentality similar to but even more intense than the obsessive concern with security prevalent among officials of the tsarist regime.

One of the most striking documents I found at ROsKhIDNI was an undated memorandum of Lenin's to N.N. Krestinskii, the secretary of the Central Committee, ordering the immediate launching of a campaign of terror... While it is difficult to date it with any certainty, the document most likely was written early in September 1918... This was the time when the government, in reprisal for the assault on Lenin, formally launched the Red Terror, which was to claim the lives of thousands of people, a high proportion of them hostages.
From a completely different political perspective, here's an anarchist discussion of the question. There's lots more out there. I hope you will disabuse yourself of this illusion.

I'd like to thank jonmc and MzB for their sensible contributions to this heated discussion. And anyone who doesn't see how destructive McCarthy was to everything America is supposed to stand for has blinders on so heavy I'm amazed they can hold their heads up.
posted by languagehat at 10:26 AM on May 8, 2004


SDB had a post positing a three-way ideological world war (a war of ideas? survival of the fittest 'memeplex'?) between 1. socialism -- couched as "philosophical idealism," 2. capitalism -- couched as "empiricism" and 3. theocracy -- couched as "islamism" (or whatever). that simplifies it a bit, but i think that's the jist of it.

CT points out that this theory/conjecture itself might be construed as "philosophical idealism" and an excercise in teleology.

SDB might counter that that's pomo claptrap and not empirically grounded... and so on. thereby -- pick one (ideals, the facts, the grace of god) -- the lines are drawn.

but whatever :D arguments about what constitutes the map and the territory, as it were, tend to get confused quickly; "in thru the rabbit hole, out thru the asshole," i say! rather than revealing deep undercurrents at work and stuff, it merely reveals personal biases and dissembling (that when assembled evidence an emerged national character or group mind/identity?)

anyway, what's interesting to me is how, like the elephant in the room, they may be isomorphisms. (ex. 1, ex. 1, ex. 3)

the latter exemplum, basically states that theoretically a command economy could be just as efficient at allocating resources as a market economy. of course, only in theory are theory and practise isomorphic...

another area that doesn't yield so easily to tripartite (three-bodied) analysis is information economics, wherein as bits are divorced from atoms, data cannot be monetised as easily because its utility grows as it is shared (a positive 'externality', a gift!), with consequences for the nature of the firm (and the means of production), pricing, the legal system, culture, and indeed, (inter/multi)national security :D

also, i think, the story of india's elections is to the point :D
The sheer size of an election in India, with all its chaos and exuberance, is a magnificent and humbling spectacle, which rightly commands respect across the world. As the phased general election now rolls towards its finish on May 10, there are some fascinating signs that Indians - hundreds of millions of whom have in their vote their only sliver of power - will have commanded the attention of their rulers.

Pre-electoral polls suggested that the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), which heads a 23-party coalition, would easily increase its majority against the opposition Congress party. The Hindu revivalist BJP has, for the moment, curbed its sectarian and xenophobic tendencies, and pushed through some genuinely liberal economic reforms. Congress, by contrast, the party of Nehru and the Gandhis, appeared rudderless and demoralised, occasionally dipping into the same well of Hindu nationalism as the BJP... Yet exit polls suggest the BJP-led coalition will lose its majority.

Why should this be?

Very simply, about 1m Indians work in air-conditioned software campuses and call centres; but more than 600m live in villages, over half of them without access to clean water, electricity or even a road. In Andhra, for instance, there have been hundreds of suicides among farmers, in despair because of drought and hunger, and food procurement prices skewed towards rich farmers that have filled state granaries with rotting rice and wheat.

India's tiny industrial base - even with vigorous (part monsoon-fuelled) growth - cannot create the millions of jobs needed to provide such people with a living, and will not be able to unless the country opens up much more to foreign manufacturers.

Part of the message from voters, therefore, seems to be a demand for attention to rural India - via investment in infrastructure such as roads, wells and irrigation, and above all via land reform.

Those who would rule India could usefully steal a leaf from West Bengal, the only state to have carried out a thorough land reform - resulting in the re-election of the Communists six times in 27 years. The obvious limitations of their rule have shown why this is insufficient. But their electoral success has shown why it is so necessary - as India's raucous voters seem to be signalling to all their rulers.
cheers!
posted by kliuless at 10:28 AM on May 8, 2004


I think the reason why so many people are still stuck on communism is that they need it as a vehicle to diss taxation.
posted by mcsweetie at 10:39 AM on May 8, 2004


Yes he was. There's plenty of evidence of that very fact.

Reluctant as I am to get drawn into this, as a tangent I probably shouldn't have started... no. All his measures were in response to an economic depression caused by exactly the kind of economy that your article (or, more accurately, diatribe) advocates, one where business is unfettered and wealth distribution is uneven. Keynes, for all his cunning, was no socialist, and FDR did little to actively redistribute wealth and certainly did not to aim for public ownership of property. I think it's fair to say socialism usually involves those two as matters of principle, although of course there are those who would differ.

If, of course, you mean he was a socialist in the sense that anyone free market zealots don't like is a socialist, then of course he was. But aren't we all?
posted by zygoticmynci at 11:07 AM on May 8, 2004



Joseph McCarthy was right, and a great man, despite his early support for Roosevelt, the socialist disaster.
posted by hama7 at 9:26 AM CST on May 8


Both men suck! This is why I am popular with both the left and right. As an aside, I despair that everytime I read a nicely organized anti-FDR piece, I KNOW that by clicking on the home link, I will find the writer is someone whose objectivity is completely compromised. A shame. Links like that carry no weight with anyone who does not already believe Mr. 7.
posted by thirteen at 11:19 AM on May 8, 2004


Also, the Pearl Harbor thing (from the link)... The man was monster enough without pushing unlikely, unprovable things on him. Courting something like Pearl Harbor and knowing in advance are 2 different things.
posted by thirteen at 11:22 AM on May 8, 2004


Christ, I hate it when I stagger out of a sickbed and walk into another of these damned, disorienting time warps. I was still barely recovering...slowly...from the 60s flashback of Tet as Najaf, "tiger cages" as Abu Ghraib, Nixon as Bush, and Rumsfeld as Rumsfeld.

Then this.

From 111 defending McCarthy as Our Savior to hama7 ripping That Pinko Bastard Roosevelt who took away our god given right to cart wheelbarrows full of cash away from the still twitching bodies of the working people who create wealth, 1950 never looked so good.

'Course, now that conservatives have lost any dubious moral authority to rally around the defeat of "turrorists" (or was it just Islam in general, 111?), a replacement fear-idol will definitely be needed chop-chop. Gotta keep the proles fixated on external threats, since the right has little to offer beyond fatter wallets for the greedheads.

Back to bashing those convenient goddamned commies, I guess.

A speechwriter for Barry Goldwater, that famed commie throttler, once noted the striking and disturbing similarities between the "communism" (as poorly practiced in such delightful locales as the Soviet Union and China) and the corporation. The same insular decision making. The rigid hierarchies. The outrageous perks for the few. The same sycophants. The same mindless apologia that fulfilling the greed of the few is really what's best for the masses. The rape of the environment. Union Carbide and The Killing Fields of Bhopal. Chevron and Shell Oil and the persecution and execution of dissidents in Nigeria. Hell, if we really want to surf the time warp....child labor, slavery, outright Native American genocide during times of unfettered Holy Capitalism.

One evil empire down. One to go.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:43 AM on May 8, 2004 [1 favorite]


Union Carbide and The Killing Fields of Bhopal.
posted by homunculus at 11:53 AM on May 8, 2004


I'm also uninterested in hearing opinions about Castro's Cuba from people who can't or won't look at what life was like for the average person under, say, Battista; and any indictment of the Russian Revolution that doesn't examine the lives of the serfs under the Tsars is pointless. Yes, it is fair to compare these places to the Capitalist first world as it presently exists. But it's also fair to compare them to what they were actually rebellling against. I'm no defender of Communism -- "hopelessly unworkable" is I think the kindest thing you can say about it -- but if I'd lived as a common person under either of those earlier regimes, would I have marched with the Reds? Good question. Read up on what your life probably would have been like (without fantasizing that you'd have been part of the tiny moneyed elite or indulging in bullshit about an upward mobility that didn't exist), and ask that question of yourself.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:04 PM on May 8, 2004


posted by 111 at 5:26 PM PST - 111 comments (11 new)

Whoa.
posted by homunculus at 12:30 PM on May 8, 2004


If you haven't read Marx, you should. He is often misunderstood as someone who called for revolution, really he was a theorist who saw revolution as inevitable. Of course most people won't agree, but his insights really are interesting. Once you look far into the future of a world where workers will have more in common based on their employers then on their nations, you might see some of what he spoke about potentially coming true.
posted by cell divide at 12:30 PM on May 8, 2004


we need McCarthyism more than ever...

This comment makes me deeply embarassed for having praised the post.
posted by homunculus at 12:33 PM on May 8, 2004


Geoge Spiggot: Good point. I think the big tragedy of the Soviet revolution is that instead of getting Washington, Franklin, Adams and Jefferson, leaders who strongly believed that government belongs to the people, they got Lenin and Stalin.

If there is any aspect of Marxist theory that is worth keeping around it is validation of the golden rule, "he who has the gold makes the rules." The fact that the Communist revolutions occured in third-world countries (including Russia at the time) actually makes sense when you think about it. Russia had converted its serfs into sharecroppers. China also was a serf-labor system. In French Indochina the vast majority of the farmable land was owned by foreign interests that were willing to starve their employees to maintain export production. In the Americas also, the vast majority of land was owned by a handful of landlords. Marx's basic prediction was that revolutions would occur when captialism recreates the serf system. In the 20th century form, serfdom has frequently been recreated in the form of debt slavery in which the workers are bound to the landlord through high levels of debt for basic needs.

The revolution (or perhaps even evolution) did occur in the U.S. in the form of collective barganing that helped to eliminate debt slavery.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:08 PM on May 8, 2004


Collectivism is evil, through and through.

Disband the family!
posted by five fresh fish at 2:04 PM on May 8, 2004


The real irony is that Marx might well be proven right, even though most of his alleged followers, in attempting to force the hand of history, failed miserably.

During the tech boom of the late 90s, I thought often of Marx. Employee compensation was coming increasingly in the form of options to purchase company equity. In other words, ownership of the means of production was being transferred to the workers. Once the markets recover, I think we'll see more and more of this. Coupled with recent efforts to reform corporate governance to make boards more accountable to shareholders, this situation has all the essential characteristics of a post-industrial Marxist economy. An economy in which benefits to the company accrue directly to the workers makes for a sort of collectivism, doesn't it?
posted by mr_roboto at 3:11 PM on May 8, 2004


...channeled government spending and loan programs AWAY from the poorest people... promoted the large-scale destruction of food when millions were hungry... and amassed vast arbitrary power

Sure sounds like a socialist to me! I think we learnt a lot about hama7 from that post...he must have some misprints in his dictionary.
posted by Jimbob at 3:46 PM on May 8, 2004


the future of a world where workers will have more in common based on their employers then on their nations

from homunculus' link to emma goldman :D
EDGAR DOCTOROW: The idea of nationalism appalled her. She thought nationalism was a big scam. Her point of view was that these wars were a matter of the property interests of the upper classes that were sending the working classes out to fight for them. And that didn't make sense for a butcher's assistant in Hamburg to fight a butcher's assistant in London.
so like: "Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind." -marx & engels, 1848

the 20th century form, serfdom has frequently been recreated in the form of debt slavery

21 c. updated?
posted by kliuless at 4:52 PM on May 8, 2004


Loquax:

"Geekhorde, I apologize for my lash out at you, but you do realize you sound just like a neocon bushie rationalizing the prison tortures or the war in Iraq when you defend communism by saying that "capitalists are bad too", right?"

I am doing no such thing. I'm just pointing out that the apologetics in the West for Capitalism versus Communism is bullshit. Plenty of people have died under Capitalist systems. I'm not saying people haven't died under Communism. Obviously they have. And still do.

Crank:

"I read no such sentiment in geekhorde's comment. His comment that, like it or not loquax, there is an immense underclass in 'western' freemarket economies is not an implicit defense of communism (or the authoritarian regimes people label 'communist'). In fact, it's the failure to acknowledge and address the plight of these people that kindles extremist movements..."

Exactly.

The real problem is power, and how it is exercised over other human beings. Whether we're talking about a Capitalist system or a Communist system, it doesn't matter. The 'free market' is not free. It is based upon coercion, exploitation, force and power of the strong or wealthy over the weak and poor.

How much real economic freedom (feh!) does a factory worker in Southeast Asia have? What about children being exploited to make cheap goods that are then sold to large American corporations while we turn a blind eye? What kind of economic freedom do they have?

When you take the moral equation out of the economic equation, what you get is moral bankruptcy.
posted by geekhorde at 10:42 PM on May 8, 2004


Mao's promised land ends in sweated labour
posted by homunculus at 11:48 PM on May 8, 2004


a lot of posts here talk about communism either in the abstract, like some curious logical system, or as a label for the totalitarian regimes in the ussr and china. yet if you had to discuss capitalism you'd admit a much wider range of experiences, because it's something you've experienced directly in a very moderate form.

here in chile, people i talk to tend to be the same age as me. they were students when pinochet was in power. so my second hand knowledge of communism (or, at least, the communist party - the pc) comes from that time - what i say has little to do with allende, for example.

a lot of people i know were in the communist party here, then. they weren't spoilt rich kids and they were fighting for democracy. the pc was, more-or-less, the only game in town. the main source of support, funds, organisation, strategy, for fighting a military dictatorship.

these days the may day parade is a pretty pathetic affair. people i know who ran cells, kept arms under their beds, firebombed buses to enforce a general strike, etc., are now "normal". one manages a large conglomerate. that's life. but when the shit hit the fan, it was the communists who were there for them. not fat american capitalists.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:27 AM on May 9, 2004


languagehat- Interesting stuff, thanks.

f&m- Excellent, excellent point. There's a larger movement afoot to return us, culturally, to the "simpler" (not) 50's. Why not ressurect its boogiemen?
posted by mkultra at 10:13 AM on May 9, 2004


[More on the transformation of post-Communist Russia, in which a small group of oligarchs literally capitalised on that naivety of the populace:

In fact, little of substance is known about Abramovich's wealth other than that he is one of 23 Russian entrepreneurs who took advantage of the privatisation of Russia's state assets in the mid-1990s. This exclusive group now controls 60% of the Russian economy, and their combined wealth amounts to £44.6bn.

Like I said, Marx would likely think it an exemplary case.

It should also be said that perhaps the greatest success of communist organisation might be seen, not necessarily in authority, but in resistance to authority: the Maquis, the Italian Communist party, etc.]
posted by riviera at 5:48 PM on May 9, 2004


"What's happened," Adrien Poudenhaut said, "is that the Russians have created their own form of capitalism in the image of what was portrayed to them as the reality of the West by the old Soviet Union's propaganda machine. They were informed that there was nothing but gangsterism, gross and endemic corruption, naked profiteering, a vast, starving, utterly exploited underclass and a tiny number of rapacious, vicious capitalist crooks who were utterly above the law. Of course, even at its most laissez-faire the West was never remotely like that, but that's what the Russians have now created for themselves."

"...it's the caricature they're in the process of copying now, not the reality."

-- from The Business, a novel by Iain Banks.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:02 PM on May 9, 2004


one thing about nazi propaganda:

while on the whole, I agree that it is definitely more socially unacceptable and has less kitsch value, please do not ever forget the level of respect often granted to Leni Riefenstahl.
posted by jann at 8:39 PM on May 9, 2004


The "caricature" sounds a lot like ye olde robber baron days...
posted by five fresh fish at 9:36 PM on May 9, 2004


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