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November 08, 2017

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Martinned

3. The idea that the Soviet Union was destined to collapse contains a massive hindsight bias. For much of the mid-20th century, communism was seen as not just a viable system but a serious challenger to capitalism.

Just for the record, but the 2nd statement doesn't refute the first one at all. It just shows that contemporaries were misinformed about the strength of communism. Whether communism was ever really viable is something best studied ex post.

Martinned

They claimed (rightly) in the 70s and 80s that a big defect of Communism was its restriction of freedom of movement – for example banning dissidents from leaving. Yet today, many of these support for immigration controls. They cheered when Reagan told Gorbachev “Tear down this wall”, and also when Trump proposed to build one.

While I agree that both walls are wrong, I don't think a wall to keep people in is equivalent, morally speaking, to a wall that aims to keep people out.

Patrick Kirk

On #4, Radzinsky's "Stalin" biography suggests that by the 1930s Stalin had to either write off communism as a failure or find people to blame for the failure of the Soviet system. He opted to find people to blame. The Chinese had the same experience in the 1960s. In both countries, aced with the fact that communism failed to deliver, communists assumed that sabotage is the issue and started to find and kill "sabateurs." Tyranny is inevitable in a Marxist-Leninist state.

MJW

Agree with Martinned, there is a world of a difference between locking people in because conditions are so shite they want to get out, and locking people out because they are attracted to better conditions on the inside. There may be a general principle underneath about freedom of movement, but it doesn't really fit the rest of the argument.

Jim

"claim that it was inevitable that communism would descend into tyranny."

Name one Socialist State that hasn't.

"We have also learned what a revolution should not be. It’s not the violent seizing of the state by a handful of people. Instead, it requires the building of mass support, and the creation of building blocks – small non-capitalist behaviours and structures that can grow."

What if they don't grow? What if people don't want them? Or at least not all the people want them? Then what? Is that when the violence and 'Enemies of the People' appear?

Anglo-Saxon

lol, the Soviet Union died as soon as Lenin did and the Wall Street funding dried up. Stalin and his Russian "counter government" cronies(many with ties to Czarist para-military of course) that was developing on the side in the early 20's would assume control and create "Soviet Russia" by 1933. A new empire. For the Russian economy itself, the Soviet Union didn't really matter. When you isolate the 2 world wars bad impact on the economy, it all added up to the same rate of growth it was advancing in 1913 until Russia folded it in the early 90's.

Russia is always the same. It is the same now as it was in 1862 when Alexander II helped defeat JM Rothschild's creation in the southern United States. To Russia, the "iron curtain" was about keeping empire and less to do with freedom of movement in a economic sense. A empire they felt a natural right to. A empire they want to rebuild in the present day.

Bourgeois leg humpers crack me up. I can't wait until your next ponzi collapse and debt contracts. No bailout this time girls. Lets see how civil you stay when million of indo-europeans are dying on the street and feel betrayed after 500 years of being the house negro.

Daniel

"Agree with Martinned, there is a world of a difference between locking people in because conditions are so shite they want to get out, and locking people out because they are attracted to better conditions on the inside. There may be a general principle underneath about freedom of movement, but it doesn't really fit the rest of the argument."

It makes zero difference for the people who are trying to migrate to somewhere better. A wall is a wall.

Graham

OK, I realize I'm a stranger here. [followed link from The Scholar's Stage to another post and started reading around your site.]

Couple of points in this interesting post strike me as, to be a little harsh, category errors or false dichotomies {?} or, to be more generous, reflective of widely differing assumptions or preferences.

First, your point on the right and determinism. I don't know if I have anything like a position on historical determinism as such, but you're right many on the right used to criticize the idea in the context of criticizing communism. I'm not sure whether they would have been better or more correct to argue against determinism as such, or against the proposition that its mechanisms and outcomes were as Marx proposed them to be, or both. But they did argue against determinism and I'm not sure to what degree they could be called correct.

But I'm equally unconvinced that arguing it was "inevitable communism would descend into tyranny" is quite the same kind of determinism. It's less an argument about inevitable historical processes or laws leading to particular conditions, and more a political/ideological/even philosophical value judgment that communism was tyrannical in its foundational assumptions, goals, and preferences.

The right of those times had a different kind of determinism, though, more of a moral sort than one about historical process, in their assumption about unchanging elements in "human nature". Given those assumptions, a communist society even in the dream state depicted by Marx could be achieved, if it could be achieved, only by fundamentally altering the nature of the human animal, which could be done only by Leninist means. Ergo, the inevitability of a probably quite long intermediate stage of terror. And, from the right's point of view, the goal was impossible and thus the tyranny would have to collapse or last forever.

No one has to agree with those notions, but they aren't historical determinism, but rather a set of assumptions about humanity married to an assessment of communism's goals for humanity and desire to alter it in fundamental ways.

Second, I also am struck by the freedom of movement issue. Although it strikes me as somewhat less ironic because I have the liberal-democratic suite of assumptions as they existed in that time. It assumes liberal political norms, but the validity of the sovereign state as the possession of its citizens. That leads one to criticize states that prohibit free internal movement of their citizens and ones that hold their citizens captive against travel or voluntary emigration. Those seem like prison conditions if one assumes the state is a polity that is the possession of its citizens, since that implies ownership and one can always voluntarily dispose of a possession [ie residence and citizenship]. It never did create a bias for universal free movement, which would be necessary to insist on free access to other peoples' countries. [That would have implied a right to share in the ownership of a possession currently held by others, without their permission.]

No one needs to agree with that either, but I can't think of any law of nature that requires one to pick either side.

FWIW.

Still reading around the site with curiosity.

PanoramicWombat

""claim that it was inevitable that communism would descend into tyranny."

Name one Socialist State that hasn't. "

That might be fair comment if we had had a century of independent socialist experiments, but that isn't what we have had. We had one Marxist-Leninist regime, followed by a large number of regimes directly put in place by that first regime, and others directly influenced by and seeking to emulate Marxism-Leninism.

So I think we can safely say that Leninism leads to tyranny. You only have to read the writings of Lenin and other Bolsheviks to see why this might be. They never had much respect for democracy, and took "dictatorship of the proletariat" (always an unfortunate term, open to obvious misinterpretation) to mean the dictatorship of their own vanguard party.

Luckily,there are more than just two possible social and economic system.

ConfusedNeoLiberal

Maybe it's an issue that I don't read enough left blogs or media, but I don't see that leftists have learned the lessons from the failures of top-down central planning.

Venezuela got its fair share of fans from mainstream left political parties and all it was (still is) non-democratic centralized economic planning.

ConfusedNeoLiberal

BTW, I think you even understated #3.

There were plenty of intellectuals and even mainstream economists who thought communism was going to surpass capitalism. The question wasn't if, it was when.

The failure of the Soviet Union made obvious the point that Hayek knew from the beginning: the market is an epistemic device.

PanoramicWombat

"Venezuela got its fair share of fans from mainstream left political parties and all it was (still is) non-democratic centralized economic planning."

Venezuela under Maduro is sadly heading towards dictatorship, by the looks of things. However, the media insisted on calling Venezuela a dictatorship even as Chavez was continually winning free and fair elections. It's the boy who cried wolf.

You also have to look at why much of the left found hope in Venezuela. It wasn't because of any sort of economic central planning (even now, economically Venezuela is closer to a very badly managed mixed economy than to anything resembling the USSR). It was because of reports of what looked like attempts at radical democracy - support for worker-managed firms, attempts to set up participatory-democratic local assemblies, etc. I don't know what happened to these experiments, and maybe they were never as widespread as the Venezuelan government wanted to portray them, but it's nevertheless important to look at the reasons people supported it.

Keith

I agree with your arguments about the right, they are and always have been arguing in bad faith. If you believe in liberty and constitutional norms you cannot support brexit, immigration control ( build the wall!! ) or right wing regimes that violate civil liberty and human rights. The willingness of anti communists to do so shows them up rather badly.

On the other hand to be fair much the same can be said of the leadership of the USSR for almost all of its existence. It has been argued before by other people that there is more continuity between the Tsarist regime's aims and those of the Soviet leadership than most left wingers like to admit. It can be said that the key aim of the Tsar from the middle of the 19th century was to modernise Russia by achieving rapid growth. The soviet politburo had the same aim for the same reason, backward means being militarily weak. The tsar aimed to finance capital goods imports by exporting more grain from ukraine, so did stalin, very successfully by means of collectivisation of agriculture. His name for ending tax avoidance by politically opposed farmers to allow rapid capital accumulation. The USSR did achieve its medium term goals by high savings forced on the population by means of nationalisation, collectivisation and slave labour. All policies impossible in a democracy. The communist leaders like the Tsar needed a police state as like the tsar they had no political legitimacy. Like the Tsar they decided not to have a constitutional system and free elections hence the need for the Cheka and KGB. like the Tsar their economic plan was one for very high capital investment in a very poor country. Which is possibly impossible with free elections. In all countries with free elections consumption is the main component of GDP as that is what people want. You need to avoid free elections if you plan to keep consumption as low as possible and capital investment abnormally high in a vast backward empire with low productivity.

Arguments about determinism tend to be inconclusive; the key idea of marxist determinism is that advanced capitalism creates the conditions for abundance but cannot exploit them for the general good. Thus communism becomes both necessary and unavoidable. The difficult aspect here is defining advanced capitalism. When does it become ripe for replacement? How do we tell? May be capitalism has not got there yet but will eventually?

The main problem with what chris always says is that he cannot really define what he thinks marxism or communism is or would be. I think like Nye Bevan we could say that these days we all believe in a mixed economy the question is what should the mix be? The original clause 4 encompassed this idea allowing every form of economic organisation from the small co-op shop to the nationalised railway. That allows for a lot of variation. None of which requires a KGB or gulag in scotland for implementation.

In the same way economic planning is a perfectly rational idea in many areas. For example a nationalised electricity network deciding how to meet the needs for electricity over the next ten years. That does not require all parts of the economy to be organised in the same way. Much if not all of the problem with so called marxism is a obsession with applying the same methods everywhere. Modern capitalism does the same with its obsession with having public functions performed by private firms subsidised by the state and various other rigid neoliberal arrangements that cost more than the traditional ways of delivering services and achieves less for the tax payer.

Keith

Which is a long winded way of saying that I doubt all aspects of a society like soviet russia can be reduced to or explained by economics alone or any one theory. The USSR was a developing country which used drastic methods of management to develop. And chris is not any more left wing than most labour people have been historically, and this marxism label is more trouble than it is worth. Actual communist regimes in eastern europe had schemes to subsidise home ownership rather like these in so called capitalist countries for example. They also had quite different levels of development, culture, and traditions all of which changed how the system operated in practice in detail. None of which can be understood by referring to some simple all encompassing theory.

Procopius

Your paragraph no. 5 is, I believe, absolutely correct and should be looked at more. I was in high school during the McCarthy years and the subsequent John Birch insanity. I lived in one of the suburbs of Detroit, so I learned what a lie was the story that Old Henry Ford paid his workers $5 a day (a few did get that much, but there were strings, lots of strings). It was apparent to me when I was a teenager that the most likely reason for the hysteria and lies on the right was that they knew they were guilty of the abuses they were charged with and were afraid they would get what they deserved. I have never had reason to change that opinion.

David Jones

'They claimed (rightly) in the 70s and 80s that a big defect of Communism was its restriction of freedom of movement – for example banning dissidents from leaving. Yet today, many of these support for immigration controls'

Such a stretch, to liken a police state's internal restrictions on dissidents' movement within and beyond the state, to a liberal democracy being reluctant to accept completely open borders for immigration.

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