Thursday, June 6, 2013

Well this gave me my morning laugh

A comment from Unlearningecon:
"The difference between existing socialism and existing libertarianism is that existing socialism was actively opposed by the most powerful countries in the world, meaning that socialist countries were either literally or effectively at war for their entire existence. This, more than anything else, explains many of the political shortcomings of existing socialism."
If you want to make the case for socialism to me, here's how you should do it: tell me that this is really a much more gradual process than early socialists had in mind, that state socialism in the twentieth century was an abomination that needs to be both practically and morally dismissed as a failure, and that we will see socialism one day and it will grow out of the social democracies which, despite their imperfections, seem to be lovely places to live.

Don't blame the tragedies of twentieth century socialism on the fact that the United States was anti-Communist (that is what he means here - what else could he possibly mean by "the most powerful countries" since he's certainly not referencing the Soviet Union). By what cockamamie logic can political brutalization justifiably follow from the fact that a lot of us aren't too keen on socialism.

"Sorry I sent you to the Gulag, Aleksandr! It's just that the U.S. is so opposed to socialism I had no choice!"


When liberal, market democracies make mistakes I think we should come out and say "that was wrong", and either accept the imperfect version of liberal market democracies we've got or decide that enough is enough. I don't go around saying "well all those socialists hated capitalism so much we just had to treat black people like second class citizens".


  1. Daniel this really isn't what I meant. Explaining something is not the same as justifying it. The USSR was a product of its environment, which wasn't merely anti-communism and various countries invading during the revolution, but being born in the first world war (as the country which had the most losses during this war) and then facing the threat of Hitler and having to industrialise to defend itself. That doesn't mean Stalin was really a Great Guy, it just means that he needs to be placed in his historical context rather than reduced to COMMUNISM!!! I mean, Churchill starved millions of Indians during WW2, but people don't often use that fact to discredit capitalism. They rightly condemn it but appeal to context, and separate Churchill from the capitalist/democratic system.

    Also, I believe you gravely underestimate the US' cold war crimes. Every single socialist country was put down with force. I think of it as a sampling bias: when you do that, who do you expect to succeed? The ones who want to resolve things gradually and peacefully like Patrice Lumumba, Jacobo Arbenz, Salvador Allende and the CPI? Or the ones who want to resolve things forcefully like Mao, Kim Il-Sung and Stalin?

    I don't seek to justify the actions of any oppressive government. I just wish to point out that saying communists have done terrible things, devoid of the context in which they did them, does not tell us any more about communism than saying Jewish people have done terrible things discredits Judaism. So no, I would not disown the revolutions of the 20th century.

    PS there is no way socialism will ever be implemented gradually.

    1. I am happy (for the sake of argument here at least, not for all posterity) to write off everything that happened on the Russian front and the drive to industrialization as a consequence of a fight to the death with a fascist bent on conquering Europe.

      I don't see how that explains the rest of the 20th century.

      Churchill should be laid at the feed of liberal market democracies. It should be considered in the context of the war (as much of Stalin's behavior at the time should), and we should compare the sum total of the contributions of capitalism and socialism to human welfare.

      And socialism still very much comes up wanting.

      I do find your second paragraph very interesting, and I've come out critically here on U.S. actions to democratically elected socialists. But this is sort of my point with my post: tell me that the social democracies are the example of socialism. And then by all means tell me there would be more social democracies today if it weren't for U.S. crimes (hint: I'll agree with you on that!). Don't tell me Stalin was bad because the U.S. made him bad.

      re: "PS there is no way socialism will ever be implemented gradually."

      I think it's probably the only way. I give world socialism about a twenty percent chance over the next five hundred years or so. If we are stuck on this planet I give it a fifty percent chance. And I think evolved socialism will be much better than imposed socialism.

    2. "tell me that the social democracies are the example of socialism"

      No no! I define socialism as 'worker ownership of production' so social democracies are not there at all - they are just happy capitalism. Better than, say Chile, but at the end of the day Sweden has an enormous arms industry so it's not exactly utopia on earth. Anyway, this line of thought would require annoying ontological debates before we could even get started, so I'll move on...

      "Don't tell me Stalin was bad because the U.S. made him bad"

      I would be more likely to attribute Stalin's behaviour to the threat of Hitler than the threat of the US, but ultimately of course Stalin's behaviour is (was) Stalin's responsibility. I am always wary, however, of an 'evil man' narrative - virtually everyone who commits crimes on this scale does it because they think it's the right thing to do, including Hitler. That these people were human is, in my opinion, far more scary than making them villains.

      "and we should compare the sum total of the contributions of capitalism and socialism to human welfare.

      And socialism still very much comes up wanting."

      My contention is that failures associated to external pressures can be changed, but those due to internal pressures cannot. I mean, capitalism is now virtually unchallenged, yet it still seems to be creating massive problems. We've never had unchallenged socialism, which superficially sounds like the libertarian defense until you get into actual historical events, something libertarians IMO lack (in virtually everything they say).

      Also, one last thing: when speaking about revolution versus reform, bear in mind that socialism was only ever intended for when countries were already industrialised, but it worked out that revolutions only occurred in undeveloped countries. Marx would have anticipated that the results of this would have been, erm, mixed at best. In fact, Lenin et. al saw the USSR as more of a 'holding ground' than existing socialism, and were waiting until the revolution in Germany, which obviously never came.

    3. And another thing!

      When socialists talk about whether or not something was socialism they have a clear, reasonably broad definition. If you want to know whether we've had actually existing socialism, the question is:

      Was the dominant mode of production worker ownership?

      The answer is only yes in a few small examples such as Spain and Yugoslavia, both of which were either in Civil War or in a dictatorship that temporarily stopped the civil war happening (I know this is oversimplified).

      (Similarly, with communism the question would be the former, coupled with 'is there no state?)

      With libertarians, it's far more vague. Many refuse to call what we have capitalism, despite the fact that the dominant mode of production is private ownership, and when questioned about their libertopias will say 'oh, well it just wasn't libertarian enough. You won't get something comparable from socialists or communists.

    4. "I think it's probably the only way. I give world socialism about a twenty percent chance over the next five hundred years or so. If we are stuck on this planet I give it a fifty percent chance. And I think evolved socialism will be much better than imposed socialism."

      Really? How are the coordination problems to be solved then?

    5. I am thinking along the lines that we are going to be so wealthy that we'll collectively own it all and not really care any more.

      I don't think that's especially likely - I think it's more likely that we'll always care. But maybe.

  2. We will see the next phase of socialism when multi-national corporations own both the gov't and the means of production.

  3. "Churchill starved millions of Indians during WW2"

    Not at all true. The Bengali famine had many causes but can hardly be laid at the feet of Churchill.

    Perhaps he could be blamed for introducing elections for provincial governments ;)

    1. "Not at all true" is surely an overstatement, unless you're suggesting I should place it at the feet of 'the Churchill administration' or, even more generally, 'the British Empire'. The British not only prevented vital shipments from reaching India to funnel them to their own soldiers, but they actually took food from the Indians, too. Not to mention that, given the British were formally 'in charge', they were by default responsible for what happened to the people of India.

      Churchill frequently expressed contempt toward India and Indians in general so it wasn't exactly out of character for him to authorise things like this.

    2. A little background for anyone else reading.... In 1943 there was a typhoon and three tidal waves that seriously damaged the rice crops in Indian, especially in Bengal. When India was short of food they often imported from Burma, but Burma had been captured by the Japanese.

      These events were the cause of the famine, not the British government. It was not like Stalin's famine in the Ukraine, which was deliberate. If the British state was guilty of anything it was not helping. They deciding that getting food to the conflict in Europe was more pressing and allocated ships to that task. That deserves some criticism, I'll grant you.

      Indian provincial governments had been made elected bodies just prior to the famine. Those governments implemented internal trade control to prevent food from being exported to Bengal to prevent the price of food rising in their provinces. Eventually, Viceroy Wavell ordered the army to distribute food, bypassing those blocks. The British Raj certainly could have done that sooner.

      The "Rice Denial Policy" was in 1942 before the Cyclone and famine. All it meant was that the government bought quite small amounts of rice from stores coastal areas that they thought may be invaded and took them in-land. This rice was handed-out later when the famine hit anyway.

    3. "It was not like Stalin's famine in the Ukraine, which was deliberate."

      No document exists to prove Stalin explicitly ordered any such thing. In fact, the first person to accuse people (in this case, kulaks striking and refusing to produce, or outright destroying livestock and crops to resist collectivization) of waging a deliberate "war of starvation" was Stalin himself, in a letter to Sholokhov.

    4. Current I don't think our stories actually conflict. My contention is that Churchill could and should've done more, and the measures he took went in the opposite direction. His sins were mostly of omission but then that doesn't absolve responsibility.

    5. That's a bit different from what you said at the beginning of this thread. But, I broadly agree. To me "sin of omission" is much less important, I don't think a government has any responsibility to help it's citizens directly when there are natural disasters. We probably disagree about that.

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  5. I'd just like to note that state terrorism was discussed and justified by those who would lead the USSR long before they even came into power. Indeed, they (this was in particular true of of Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky) often excused the use of violence by declaring that they were merely doing what the capitalists were doing in their empires but for what they saw as positive, long term benefit. Anyway, ideas about violence and justifications for it did not emerge out of some competition with the West, they were part of the DNA of the ideology of the Bolsheviks long before they came into power.

  6. It is indeed easy to criticize the socialist projects being born in the wealthiest country in the world that destroyed its political and economical competition in WWI and WWII, secured the resources of most of the world and at times actively tried to subvert or destroy said socialist projects. You might find it unsurprising that I'm siding with Unlearningecon in this little debate of yours, Daniel.

    Though, I'd like to propose an argument that not only external threats shaped the socialist countries of the twentieth century, but also (and mostly) their inherent internal problems. A lot of the questionable political decisions in the USSR were made not because its leaders were inherently evil, but because there was little opportunity to do anything else. For example, one might consider different solutions to the collectivization of farmland, but it's not like they were not considered: Stalin himself in one his works explicitly compares different alternatives that were considered by the Party. The peasants had the land, but they were poor and couldn't provide the demand for the production of Soviet factories, without industrial equipment from those factories there was no way to produce enough corn to sale it on the foreign markets, so no money to modernize anything... The collectivization of lands and the exploitation of peasants were chosen as a lesser evil. But there were a LOT of people who thought like Stalin's opponent, Bukharin: "...How should we industrialize without Trotskyism and exploiting the peasants? It is obvious that we should industrialize in way that our industry should get the wealth for its development by its own means [sic]. For example, we should start the industrialization with our light industry, because our peasants don't need iron and steel, they need chintz (printed cotton)". I will argue that Bukharin was ultimately wrong, considering the WWII.

  7. Read "The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia" by Tim Tzouliadis to understand that the USSR was one big Auschwitz for decades. Because it was Marxist. Because it was Communist.

    And rethink Churchill when you are done with Tzouliadis.

  8. As the troops of Churchill's Soviet ally swept through central Europe and the Balkans, the mass deportations began. Some in the British government had qualms, feeling a certain responsibility. Churchill would have none of it. In January, 1945, for instance, he noted to the Foreign Office: "Why are we making a fuss about the Russian deportations in Rumania of Saxons [Germans] and others? . . . I cannot see the Russians are wrong in making 100 or 150 thousand of these people work their passage. . . . I cannot myself consider that it is wrong of the Russians to take Rumanians of any origin they like to work in the Russian coal-fields." About 500,000 German civilians were deported to work in Soviet Russia, in accordance with Churchill and Roosevelt's agreement at Yalta that such slave labor constituted a proper form of "reparations."

    Worst of all was the expulsion of some 15 million Germans from their ancestral homelands in East and West Prussia, Silesia, Pomerania, and the Sudetenland. This was done pursuant to the agreements at Tehran, where Churchill proposed that Poland be "moved west," and to Churchill's acquiescence in the Czech leader Eduard Benes's plan for the "ethnic cleansing" of Bohemia and Moravia. Around one-and-a-half to two million German civilians died in this process. As the Hungarian liberal Gaspar Tamas wrote, in driving out the Germans of east-central Europe, "whose ancestors built our cathedrals, monasteries, universities, and railroad stations," a whole ancient culture was effaced.

    1. Churchill later said "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."

      I've met several Poles who think that it's a great shame that when the allies met the Red Army they didn't keep fighting, and turn the end of the second world war into a proper war on Russia. But, that would have hardly have been practical. All of the allies had suffered huge losses or men, materials and infrastructure in WWII. They couldn't have continued fighting, their domestic populations wouldn't have accepted it. Stopping meant that Stalin got what he wanted. That's almost exactly what happened at Yalta, at the beginning Stalin sketched a map showing which countries he wanted control of and which he would leave. That map almost exactly describes the iron curtain that emerged directly after WWII.

      Quoting Lew Rockwell's website and those who would have the allies continue WWII into the Soviet Union is contradictory. It was because the allies rejected non-interventionism that the Nazis were defeated. If they hadn't then it's very likely that mainland Europe would still be a Nazi empire today. If the allies had taken a non-interventionist line then the people you mention in eastern and central Europe would have been in an equally unfortunate position because of the Nazis as they were because of the Soviets.

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  10. The only anti-Stalin pop song I've ever heard. The lovely "Roads to Moscow" by Scottish singer Al Stewart from 1973 about a Soviet partisan captured for a day by the Nazis is sent to the Gulag by the Soviets, the fate shared by most captured Soviet troops.


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