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[Jul 23, 2017] Emigrant Russians scientists after fleeing our benevolent Shock Treatment are still ungrateful and like to bemoan the horrors of the West insisting that contemporary US University Education Administration is Worse than under Brezhnev , and to accuse us – the West – of having sold them, the Soviets, a bag of ideological nonsense about capitalism and freedom.

Notable quotes:
"... The problems that the Communist bloc countries developed in the 80ies were problems of growth. Liberalization of the regime was under way and clearly understood as necessary by the leadership – but that process failed – because it was taken advantage of, both internally and externally. ..."
"... "In what circumstances would you want the economy to be planned, and what sort of planning do you have in mind?" ..."
"... intellectual ..."
"... Aron was in some sense a "Marxian" ..."
"... the theorists of colonialism ..."
"... "were convinced that the USSR was a genuine incarnation of Left values." ..."
"... Roma Città Aperta ..."
"... would have thought ..."
"... Quaderni del carcere ..."
"... "understand the world" ..."
"... "to change the world" ..."
"... America's Protectionist Takeoff 1815-1914: The Neglected American School of Political Economy ..."
"... Securing the Fruits of Labor: The American Concept of Wealth Distribution, 1765-1900 ..."
"... Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America ..."
"... society in the process of formation ..."
"... A Hard Rain Fell: SDS and Why It Failed ..."
"... War In the Shadows, the Guerilla in History, Vol II ..."
"... Theory of the Partisan ..."
Jul 23, 2017 |

witters , , July 21, 2017 at 7:01 pm

It is awkward when – as has happened with me – a Russian comes to the West – fleeing our beneficient "Shock Treatment" – and then shocks one by saying in anger at my casual derogatory comment about Stalin, "Listen, Stalin wasn't all bad!"

And then goes on to bemoan the horrors of the West. He finished, in the corridor of the Department, by insisting that contemporary Westen University Education Administration was "Worse than under Brezhnev", and to accuse us – the West – of having sold them, the Soviets, a bag of ideological nonsense about capitalism and freedom.

And then invited me to his home for borsch and table tennis.

Vlade would set him straight, but I went and had the borscht and played – and lost – the table tennis.

kukuzel , , July 21, 2017 at 11:23 am

I grew up in the Communist block in the 70-ies and 80-ies. I've now lived in the US for about 20 years. Comparing the lives of the people on minimum or low wages in the US with those similarly placed in the Communist block economies is in my view indisputably in favor of the Communist bloc. Free child care, education, provided at decent quality, and practically EVERYONE owned a home – a small one, but nonetheless a normal home, that you paid off over 30 years with your state guaranteed job. No interest loans from simple savings pools managed on rotational principle at work (my parents used them extensively). Nearly everyone in the cities had a small summer cottage and a small garden that produced vegetables – for recreation and added self-sufficiency, and not to mention a boost to communities. Yeah, our family car was a Trabant – a laughable vehicle for the US consumer, even absurd by today's standards. But we didn't have and didn't need 6-lane highways either, so the Trabi was adequate. And yeah, many personal freedoms were severely limited, and there was a lack of culture of law – but that was more attributable to historic backwardness, because that culture of law is even more absent today.

As a middle class professional today in Silicon Valley earning way beyond the median income in the US, I am struggling to provide a similar level or security for my family and a similar quality of community life and good education. Bottom line, this level of security is probably only achievable for under 5% of the US households.

So yeah, I agree with the statement.

So for all those focused on the committed atrocities, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There were good things and we have lost them. Probably forever.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 11:31 am

Thanks for your comment – can you tell us a little more about which countries you lived in (and, if possible, which ones you thought worked better than others)? As I said in my post, I'm interested in learning more about the specificities of particular countries.

kukuzel , , July 21, 2017 at 2:39 pm

I grew up in Bulgaria. I also have memories from a summer camp and middle school exchange program in Czechoslovakia in the 80ies, and the standard of living and the culture of people there seemed much higher. For example, my Czech host family (the parents worked in an electronic watch factory, in a small town east of Prague – they could have been engineers possibly and not line workers as they seemed well educated) had a small two-story single family concrete house, with a small rye-grass lawn and a barbeque – luxuries that we in Bulgaria did not have. They also had a bathtub – again a luxury I was not familiar with in Bulgarian homes. I remember that the stores and pastry shops in my hosts' town looked nicer and had more and better quality items.

One other thing I remember: the bread and tap water were not as good as in Bulgaria. I guess not everything is explainable by the economic system alone :)

Nowadays reliable info about the standard of living of those times is harder and harder to find – and it seems that any info is used to ridicule it rather than try to genuinely understand how it was achieved. My relatives like to talk about it, and what they share is not all rosy. But all of the baby boomer generation who came of age in the 60ies, 70ies and 80ies managed to raise and educate 2 kids on average, and acquire a modest but adequate home – ALL. Note that people needed a special permission to acquire a second home. Homelessness and crime virtually did not exist. I think it can safely be said that 90% of society had a solid basic standard of living – no vacations on the Bahamas, no diamonds on your wife's finger and no latest model BMW in your garage, but you knew the big items were taken care of.

The problems that the Communist bloc countries developed in the 80ies were problems of growth. Liberalization of the regime was under way and clearly understood as necessary by the leadership – but that process failed – because it was taken advantage of, both internally and externally.

kukuzel , , July 21, 2017 at 2:57 pm

I want to add one more thing: today, in my observation, the generation X and millennials in Bulgaria can only afford to live on the meager incomes their jobs provide because they have a free flat or house from their parents or grandparents. Gradually home ownership levels are eroding and more and more people have to rent, just like in the mature "developed" economies. That is a time bomb that will enslave all but few.

This is one factor that I see mentioned nowhere – how Communism, given its objections to private property, actually allowed the vast majority of working people to build a base of wealth in their homes – that is to this day supporting the economic balance of the country.

There is a program under way currently in Bulgaria to upgrade the insulation of Communist era apartment blocs. There are discussions on TV and press about how many billions of euros this costs. Well, I would say – then how about putting this in perspective to the cost of actually BUILDING all of this housing fund which was done in the prior era?? Imagine the billions upon billions that were spent by this society to build 100s of thousands of units, affordable units, with green spaces around them, schools etc. Can you imagine a program of that magnitude anywhere today?

So these are the contrasts that emerge, and I would much rather have the discussion be about that – and not about the horrors of Stalinism or other Communist totalitarianism. Those should not be ever forgotten or concealed, but what would be really useful today in our Western society is the good things that Communist regimes managed to achieve – because they are very illuminating about what is economically possible to achieve.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 6:53 pm

kukuzel, thanks so much for all of this highly detailed information.

On your last point, what I actually think we should strive for is the ability not to have to choose between the two kinds of discourses you indicate. It shouldn't be a playground contest over "Well, your system's more horrible." It should be about us being able to say – for example – I want to be able to have these positive aspects from the Bulgarian communist years without having to have these negative ones.

Or to put it another way, not having to take societies as blocs.

That means having to tease apart the extent to which positive aspects were or were not achieved through means that also led to the negative aspects. But this kind of analysis has to be done anyway – even if the idea were to return to something like this or this other particular society, it would still not work without adapting the earlier model to changed circumstances.

Lee , , July 21, 2017 at 12:08 pm

The collapse of the Soviet Union was a disaster for many Russians. The one Russian family I know well were well-off prior to the collapse but for an extended period they could not provide for their two daughters so they asked my wife and I to sponsor and serve as wards for one of them who had lived with us under a student exchange program. Her mother had worked as an industrial chemist and her father had worked in IT for financial institutions. The father died a death of despair; he drank himself to death. The mother now teaches college level chem. The daughter who remained with us now works for a well known US company making films, is married and has two children. The daughter who remained in Russia is a marine biologist. This family, well educated and dedicated to their work and each other did well under the Soviet system and their lot has improved immensely under Putin.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 5:45 pm

I have read that Putin's economic policies are somewhat "right-wing" in their tendencies.

I don't know whether this is accurate although maybe some readers do. If it is, though, it would suggest that what made the difference in Russia is not so much communism versus capitalism but a strong state (Putin, communism) versus a weak state (the 90s).

Carolinian , , July 21, 2017 at 8:57 am

Thanks for this. Perhaps the latest crime of "capitalism"–40,000 civilians may have died under American and Iraqi bombs and shells as Mosul was "liberated." Rather than visit mass violence on their own people the US and Britain have turned it outward and then claimed it was unfortunately necessary.

As for the above post, I think it may be minimizing the degree to which capitalist opposition shaped communism. This Stephen Cohen article that I linked the other day suggests that the Soviets under Glasnost may have been moving toward a more democratic form of communism but that was subverted by the greed of its own oligarchs and open US support for Yeltsin who crushed democracy and wrecked the country.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 10:45 am

The Stephen Cohen article is interesting and I'm puzzled as to why you think it is somehow incompatible with anything that I said in the post.

When you say we should emphasize more the extent to which capitalist opposition shaped communism, you fail to address my response that this argument proves too much. Every regime or institution faces some sort of opposition. This opposition partly constrains how it can act. Why couldn't you just as easily say, "Everything that Monsanto (or Uber, or Goldman, etc., etc.) does has to be understood considering that they are operating in a fearsome competitive environment, where at the first sign of weakness, their competitors were ready to crush them"?

Rossana Rossanda, who had every reason in the world to want to find extenuating circumstances for the regime she had "loved," was unable to convince herself that the argument you are proposing sufficed to conjure away the moral problem. See below (response to Ulysses) where I quote from her book at length.

I also think you are engaging in sloppy reasoning when you attribute 40,000 deaths at Mosul to "capitalism." That's the same kind of lack of concern to agents used in the Black Book when it attributes massive numbers of war deaths to "communism."

Carolinian , , July 21, 2017 at 11:22 am

If America had never invaded Iraq would those 40,000 still be alive? I'd say there's a persuasive case that they would be. And there's also a persuasive case that George W. Bush's motives had everything to do with capitalist imperatives, oil imperialism, the profits of the MIC etc.

And I'm not trying to defend Soviet communism since IMO both sides of the Cold War divide were misguided. I'm just saying that from the very beginning the attitude of the capitalist countries was that communism was something that couldn't be allowed to succeed lest the contagion spread. So it's hard for us to know how, say, Cuba might have turned out absent so much US meddling.

optimader , , July 21, 2017 at 7:26 pm

Perhaps the latest crime of "capitalism"–40,000 civilians may have died under American and Iraqi bombs and shells as Mosul was "liberated."

is this an indictment of capitalism or of US politicians delusion of "transformation" and the inertia of the MIC?
correlation is not causation File under: crimes of Stalin, Mao, PolPot and Castro

Vatch , , July 21, 2017 at 10:37 am

The Brits starved something like 30 million Indians in the 19th century,

Source, please. Note that prior to 1857, the British control over India was incomplete. Many of the famine deaths prior to that were unrelated to British rule. I think I've seen estimates that about 5 million people died in 1876 and again in 1896. I'm not defending British rule -- they had no right to be there, and they did not care about the needs of the people that they ruled. I'm just wondering about the number 30 million.

if people accurately tallied up the deaths and inefficiencies under capitalism and imperialism, Stalin and Mao were quaint.

False. In addition to what happened in Ukraine and Kazakhstan in 1931-1933, we need to consider the catastrophe of Mao's Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1962. The low estimate of deaths from starvation is 30 million, and in Frank Dikötter's book Mao's Great Famine , the author estimates that at least 45 million died of starvation. That's just a 4 – 5 year period.

Carolinian , , July 21, 2017 at 11:10 am

Perhaps the Russians could claim that the 20 million plus Russians who died during WW2 were victims of capitalism not to mention all those who died in WW1. The point is that neither system has clean hands when it comes to violence. They just have different targets.

Vatch , , July 21, 2017 at 11:19 am

There's a difference between deaths in wartime and deaths in peacetime. They're equally horrible, but it's harder to pick an economic ideology to blame for wartime deaths. After all, Stalin helped start the European portion of WWII with the Molotov Von Ribbentrop Pact. So one could say that those 20 million deaths were partly caused by communism.

Carolinian , , July 21, 2017 at 11:38 am

One reason many in the West were at first complacent about Hitler coming to power was the hope that he would take out the Soviets. I'd say there's a case to be made that the whole second half of the 20th century was shaped by the Russian Revolution and the reaction to it. Hitler was always going to invade Russia. He hoped Britain and others would join him in his crusade. When WW2 was over there were many who thought we should keep going and take out the Soviets too, even if with nuclear weapons. Some people it seems still think that even though Russians are no longer communists.

So it's a power struggle of course, but in the 20th cent it was very much an ideological struggle. Perhaps anti-communism was just an excuse but having been there I'd say the Cold Warriors were true believers.

Vatch , , July 21, 2017 at 11:52 am

Hitler was always going to invade Russia.

Very likely true. But first he had to invade Poland, and he would have done that later if it had not been for his Nonaggression Pact with the Soviets. Meanwhile, if the invasion of Poland had been delayed, Britain and France would have improved their military capabilities, because they knew what Hitler was up to after he seized Czechoslovakia earlier in 1939. Stalin made it easier for Hitler in 1939.

Alex Morfesis , , July 21, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Could we just order summary execution for anyone who brings up mass deaths from the past ?? Only semi snarking

most wars seem to come from grandfathers telling their grandsons things that never were

Someone kills some trees and throws some ink on them to work on tenure 50 75..100 200 500 years after the fact

Why does anyone believe anything anyone writes or says??

The dead are dead we can't bring them back and
they won't have noticed
we avenged them because they are dead

Can we even agree on what is going on around the world today as we speak & communicate ??

Trump being investigated by the watchful eye of the fool who was filling in crossword puzzle books his first few weeks in office allowing the events of 9-11 to occur ??

How funny is that ??

We have the self proclaimed righteous (privately owned) 1$t amendment acela vanity press cutting and pasting talking points while almost never publishing the contents of the federal register or congressional research service reports and it's not just an american phenomenon most countries have "official gazettes" none of the "great and brave journalists" bother actually reporting on the business of government

The dead are dead nothing will bring them back and those who killed them are also probably dead

For those who submit and do not resist, most leadership will seem benevolent for those with other thoughts death will come sooner than originally planned

There is plenty of history when one is handed "atrocities" one should ask why this and why now ??

War is easy peace is difficult

The difficult road is less boring

Katsue , , July 21, 2017 at 12:16 pm

By the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a European war was already unavoidable. The farce of Non-Intervention in the Spanish Civil War, the Munich Agreement, and Poland's participation in the partition of Czechoslovakia, had totally discredited Litvinov's pro-Western foreign policy.

jw , , July 21, 2017 at 12:51 pm

Sources: Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis and Epidemics and History by Sheldon Watts both deal with the staggering death toll of British rule in India (roughly 30 million).

Perilous Passage by Amiya Bagchi has a more rigorous count and analysis of India, China, and other countries subjected to imperialism.

Regarding the Ukraine, the Best Sons for the Fatherland by Lynn Viola details the second civil war that was collectivization. Peasants didn't want to give up grain, so they killed Party members, killed their livestock, destroyed their equipment, etc.

I've read Dikotter. The problem with his death tolls is fertility and birth rates drop during famine. You can't extrapolate pre-famine birth rates and say "oh, these people weren't born therefore those count as deaths." They did the same thing with deaths in Kampuchea. And yes, millions did die of famine in the Ukraine and Kazkhanstan. I'm not disputing that. I'm disputing this notion that Stalin and Mao were worse than Hitler. They were not. It's misleading to say "Stalin killed more of his citizens than Hitler did" because most of the killings by Nazis were of Slavs. The Soviets lost well over 20 million people due to the Nazis genocidal plans.

Regarding China, you know the bloodiest civil war/famine in history? The Taiping Rebellion, which was the result of the Brits shoving opium down China's throat. Mao was no saint, but mortality rates in China were far higher before the 1949 revolution than after. See for instance Mobo Gao's the Battle for China's Past or William Hinton's Through a Glass Darkly.

Ultimately, purges and famines miss another huge source of deaths: disease. Mao's China and Stalin's Russia made astounding leaps in public health, eliminating smallpox for one. Conveniently, these millions of lives saved are ignored by Western hysterics. This isn't to say Stalinism and Maoism are desirable. It is to say that the picture requires nuance. There is a reason Mao and Stalin are still revered by millions of people in China and Russia.

Vatch , , July 21, 2017 at 2:19 pm

Thanks for the references.

"I'm disputing this notion that Stalin and Mao were worse than Hitler."

I'm not sure who said that Stalin and Mao were worse than Hitler, but in my opinion they were approximately the same.

Yes, I'm aware of the Taiping Rebellion. Much more deadly than World War I.

Why are Stalin and Mao still revered by some people? Probably for similar reasons as the reverence that some Americans have for Reagan and Trump: people sometimes believe weird things. As for smallpox, that's been eliminated everywhere (we hope); not just in Russia and China.

Tim , , July 21, 2017 at 2:33 pm

Dikotter is a grotesque neoliberal apologist for imperialist drug dealers. He is also a fabulist in his treatment of the effects of heroin/opiate addiction in late 19th/early 20th century China. Given that we in the US are now experiencing a staggering public health disaster with respect to opiate consumption by the immiserated proletariat, Dikotter's attempts to minimize the impacts of opiates on Chinese public health is ghoulish at best.

Vatch , , July 21, 2017 at 2:43 pm

Well, that doesn't seem relevant to the artificial famine of the Great Leap Forward, but I'm curious. What's your source for your claim that he is an apologist for drug dealers? Did he write something bad about the opium wars? Clearly the behavior of Britain in that context was atrocious.

animalogic , , July 21, 2017 at 7:29 am

I would like to thank the author for taking such an open minded, non doctrinaire attitude to this subject.
That's not to suggest I agree with all his conclusions. Nor does the Q & A approach always prove enlightening.
"Q: Was Stalinism good?
A: No."
The question is easy & the answer is correct. Of course, there is a small wrinkle: most historians agree that it was the USSR that made the primary contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Q: to what degree did "Stalinism" enable the USSR to defeat the Nazis ?
A: It's an open question. It's often forgotten that the USSR came very close to defeat in 41′-42′. In part because of Stalin's interference in military matters. But, would the USSR have had ANY chance of victory "but for" the "crash" industrialisation instituted by Stalin in the 30's ? If you allow that crash industrialisation was a necessary, (not sufficient) condition for eventuaL victory – can we give Stalin any credit ?
"Q: Is it at least true that a planned economy always fails?
A: Probably not." But is that the right question ? Isn't the right question, "to what degree/extent can an economy be planned & succeed ?" (An "economy" is almost be definition "planned". The most basic law on property, succession etc IS planning ).
Some of the author's Q & A's are very good:
"Q: Well, is it at least true that attempts to change a society consciously lead to catastrophe?

A: What does it mean for a society to change "unconsciously"? Aren't most social changes due to human decisions? Often proclamations of this sort can function as code for certain groups of people being allowed to change society in "natural" ways, free from "conscious" and "unnatural" "interference" from others." I think the author probably means "programmatically" when he says "consciously" but his point remains valid: change occurs because people have ideas which they seek to implement.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 8:48 am

A few responses: First, I agree that your question on whether the 30s industrialization was crucial is worth posing. On Stalin's interference in 1941-1942, yes, and it's also true that Stalin was initially blindsided by Hitler's attack – he was pretty faithful to Molotov-Ribbentrop while it lasted.

On "programmatic" versus "conscious," I agree that your wording is more precise, but my purpose there was to paraphrase standard ideological constructions.

The purpose of the Q & A was to illustrate how some questions can be answered even when we don't know all the historical details. I can't provide a general answer to, "To what extent can an economy be planned and succeed?" – can you? As I indicated in the article, I think the more fundamental question is in any case, "In what circumstances would you want the economy to be planned, and what sort of planning do you have in mind?"

visitor , , July 21, 2017 at 9:40 am

"In what circumstances would you want the economy to be planned, and what sort of planning do you have in mind?"

An answer was given in "Organizations", written by March and Simon in the 1950s: in case of war.

The observation that during WWII every major player (UK, USA, Germany, Japan, USSR), no matter which economic principles it followed, turned to and relied upon a planned economy, with central resource allocation, dirigiste production schedules and centrally rationed consumption, led those authors to analyze markets and planing entities, as well as participating organizations as problem-solving mechanisms geared to processing information and reducing uncertainty. Interestingly, it appears that in the USSR, WWII led to a moderate relaxation of planning in some sectors of the economy.

Basically, when the stakes are very high (of a survival nature), the resources to put into use of a massive (i.e. national) and comprehensive scale, and there is no time to let multiple entities experiment and find out a "best" approach through trial and error (through the market and its creative destruction), then a centrally planned economy is simply more effective.

I presume that once climate change will really bite and massive, survival-level solutions will be required really fast to mitigate or counter-act it, most countries will be forced to turn to a planned economy modus -- no matter what proponents of markets, four-freedoms or free trade will argue.

Vatch , , July 21, 2017 at 10:45 am

Yes, the Soviet Union contributed more to the defeat of Nazi Germany than any other country. We are entering into an area where the discussion has sometimes been very angry in the past on this site. In addition to their huge role in the defeat of the Nazis, the Soviets also enabled the Nazi invasion of Poland. Indeed, the Soviets themselves invaded half of Poland under their agreement with the Nazis.

The Soviets helped to win the war that they helped to start.

PlutoniumKun , , July 21, 2017 at 7:35 am

First off, thanks for introducing me to the concept of the 'motte and bailey' argument. Its a great description of a particular type of argument from ideologues of all types that really irritates me.

You've pointed out one of the reasons why I've never self-identified as communist, anarchist, feminist or any other of the myriad 'isms' on the left. I even hesitate sometimes at 'socialist'. There are too many assumptions built into any of those identifications which I'm not always comfortable defending.

I think that constructing an 'ideal' fair and equitable society is an impossibility. There are too many variables in history and sociology and human behavior. And democracy has a nasty habit of producing answers that idealists don't like. I see it as a process, not an end – a messy one of step by step building a world that is more equal, more fair, more environmentally sustainable, with a deeper sense of justice, while accepting that the building blocks of that society might not be very sturdy and will need constant maintenance and repair, and that sometimes you might have to step back and start again. And sometimes, really unpleasant compromises will have to be made in order to achieve a greater good.

One reason I love NC so much is that instead of starting from some sort of idealised notion of how the world should work, is that it addresses how the real world of economics and sociology actually exists, and asks us to think very hard about how to make it better. Its the articles and discussions here which have forced me to question my own assumptions and idealisms and think much harder about how a better society would actually function, not in a 'we'll all live together in co-operatives and play guitar and draw from our Universal Income and guaranteed pensions', but how it will really work.

Ulysses , , July 21, 2017 at 8:39 am

"I think that constructing an 'ideal' fair and equitable society is an impossibility. There are too many variables in history and sociology and human behavior. And democracy has a nasty habit of producing answers that idealists don't like. I see it as a process, not an end – a messy one of step by step building a world that is more equal, more fair, more environmentally sustainable, with a deeper sense of justice, while accepting that the building blocks of that society might not be very sturdy and will need constant maintenance and repair, and that sometimes you might have to step back and start again. And sometimes, really unpleasant compromises will have to be made in order to achieve a greater good."

Excellent points! Yet your last sentence raises a serious question– greater good for who? Very often, neoliberals fudge the answer to this by reifying an abstraction they call "the economy."

"We know it's hard on the eight out of ten people in this de-industrializing nation who will see their living standards decline, but globalization is "good for the economy" in the long run."

The more honest version of this statement would replace the word "economy" with "obscenely wealthy banksters and kleptocrats, and a small number of their enablers and servants to whom they allow a bit of wealth to trickle down."

Moneta , , July 21, 2017 at 11:06 am

If you ask your children how a cake can be fairly distributed, all answers will probably be different. Now imagine this negotiation across 7 billion people.

Guess who gets to cut? Usually the one already in power or the one with a more entitled attitude. It's rarely the most fair individual who gets his/her way.

Grebo , , July 21, 2017 at 5:53 pm

You cut, I choose. Or vice versa.
Someone should work it up into an ideology.

witters , , July 21, 2017 at 7:14 pm

Actually, re the kids. If they have a handle on the idea of fairness – so 3ish and up – they are remarkably sensitive to what fairness rerquires, and how this relates to everyone arround the cake. You try it. It will be divided equally – unless, say, there is someone with an injury or medical conditon or something rather awful – and they will then give that person a bigger slice, and a smaller equal one for everyone else. I've had a fair bit of experience in this matter. (I suspect this wonderfully cheering fact it is what Jesus was reminding us of when he said "Become like little children".)

Moneta , , July 21, 2017 at 7:36 pm

Some people need more calories than others so equal
is not fair.

witters , , July 21, 2017 at 7:39 pm

It is a birthday cake, not the last piece of food on a life-boat!

Uahsenaa , , July 21, 2017 at 10:35 am

I suppose I don't disagree with your point in principle, but coming at this from the perspective of labor organizing and what have you, solidarity of purpose quite often demands a certain degree of (lax) identity signaling so you can easily identify who your comrades/fellow travelers are. A management/worker framing of the dynamics at play in any given place of employment may not perfectly reflect the nuances of that place's social organization but it does provide a handy rule of thumb for action for those who don't want to write a graduate thesis simply in order figure who's on their side and who isn't. Arnade's front row/back row works in a similar way. It's not perfect, but it's been rather effective in identifying how certain educated groups are at least complicit with the aims of plutocrats.

As for advocating for the "ideal," this could just as easily be understood as staking a strong bargaining position. You always ask for more than you think you'll get. So, that doesn't mean a group's utopian demands reflect an inability to see the practicalities of the here and now. It could just as easily mean "we know where we are, but we're always striving for better."

PlutoniumKun , , July 21, 2017 at 11:49 am

I agree with you in general, but I'd make a distinction between pressing for specific aims (for example, Union recognition), and aiming to transform society. Unity of purpose and 'signalling' is vital if people are to unite for a specific aim. But its much harder if your aim is 'an equal society'. You will spend more time arguing about what 'equal' means than actually doing things. Which is of course why the establishment loves identity politics, because it provides an infinity of possibilities for people to fall out arguing over split hairs.

Left in Wisconsin , , July 21, 2017 at 12:45 pm

Yes, there is a necessary dualism. On the one hand, as you say above, it is always a process, not an end. On the other hand, making progress against entrenched power IMO generally requires an image of a destination, even if that destination is always fragile and subject to undermining (as it will always be).

Which I suppose is the issue with communism. It is conceived of as some kind of permanent end point, a Fukuyama-esque end of history. That seems extremely dubious to me.

Moneta , , July 21, 2017 at 11:02 am

That is why I rarely reference my ideas in comments sections. When one does, many seem to think that the reference means one supports the entire philosophy of the quoted pundit and then one gets pigeonholed.

Left in Wisconsin , , July 21, 2017 at 12:51 pm

Probably so. But opponents will pigeon hole anyway. And I find being open in my politics while subjecting my ideas to scrutiny and feedback helpful.

Vikas Saini , , July 21, 2017 at 7:50 am

Lovely to find this here. Almost all the arguments have been rattling in my head for the past couple of years. Work of this sort is crucial for the next phase, so thanks! Something is in the air ..

MetalAnarchy17 , , July 21, 2017 at 7:57 am

Great article. As a first time commenter, I just want to thank you and everyone else for how far ranging and thought provoking of a Blog Naked Capitalism is.
The questions you posed are ones that I often have struggled with as a philosophically inclined leftist. As one who is as sympathetic to Anarchism as he his To Marx and his followers I have to ask, do you think Anarchist critiques of Marx (those of Bakunin and Kropotkin, for example) and Marxism are any more or less elucidating than the seemingly Liberalish ones you have mentioned (from what I've heard of Camus he was more of a liberal existentialist and not one that was ever exactly radical, but I've not read him yet so I could be very wrong). Also, do you feel that Rosa Luxembourg's critiques of Lenin were also apologetics for Marx, if not necessary the Bolshevik interpretation of Marx, or more than that.
As a side note, I also have to ask, Which students in the 60s thought the Soviet Union was the be all, end all. I always thought that the SDS and Situationist type groups were more Anarchist even if they sometimes thought they were Marxist.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 10:28 am

I agree that the anarchist critiques are worth discussing. I'm not particularly interested in liberal critiques per se , and to the extent that they get tangled up in their own mantras, they can become pretty frustrating. Aron and Furet are a bit different – both books were important historically, and both authors had read Marx very carefully. Aron was in some sense a "Marxian," and Furet at one point went to the trouble of compiling a book on everything Marx wrote about the French Revolution so people would stop reading stuff into him.

The advantage of looking at writers from far outside of the Marxist tradition is that you can sometimes find critiques that problematize features that more "inside" writers are unlikely to question. Of course, some of these critiques are more persuasive/original than others

On Rosa Luxemburg, it's true that she was pretty strongly Marxist. Her critique of Lenin, like Kautsky's, is useful in showing how Lenin's form of Marxism was fairly marginal within the intellectual Marxist world before the Russian Revolution provided Lenin with the mantle of apparent success.

When you say that many student leaders "were more anarchist even if they sometimes thought they were Marxist," I think you are onto something. However, in terms of professed beliefs, I know that the Italian students used Marxist language very heavily. Re SDS, I once met a former mid-level SDS leader who told me that when he expressed reservations about the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, he was systematically ostracized by the high-level SDS leadership. Many of those individuals wound up in the Weather Underground.

MetalAnarchy17 , , July 21, 2017 at 11:54 am

Thanks for the response. I am always looking for historically important books to further aid my own investigations of political ideologies, their origins and their evolutions and corruptions throughout time. I'll have to check Furet and Aron out to see what they have to say.
I didn't realize that Lenin was more on the outskirts of Marxism before the October revolution took place. I always thought the he had to have had a higher profile, even before the revolution. Human history seems to have a habit of pushing formally background characters to the forefront
I'd have never thought the SDS expelled people over Prague, but then again, I haven't looked that much into the SDS history and what their changing political lines were. I guess it isn't that surprising that the SDS had more Stalinist types in their ranks that were willing to excommunicate rivals. Most socialist movements had similar issues with Stalinists in the 60s and 70s.

Left in Wisconsin , , July 21, 2017 at 1:13 pm

Aron was in some sense a "Marxian"

That's interesting. IIRC, Mirowski classifies him as a Mont Pelerin neoliberal. I always found his politics hard to decipher.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 6:31 pm

He was antifascist, anti-colonialist, and (at least in the early 50s) Keynesian. On Aron and Marx, see here (in French, sorry, that section doesn't exist in the English version).

Although I know less about his later trajectory, it may however be true that he became much more of a neoliberal as time went on. This sort of thing happens for familiar reasons – people solidify in their positions and lose initial nuances under the pressure of rhetorical combat.

ejf , , July 21, 2017 at 10:50 am

Great to see another anarchist in the hood. And you bring up some great questions. To me, Bakunin never had the philosophical grip that Marx had on capitalism. Bakunin DID ride Marx and the Communist International on the meaning of the "dictatorship of the proletariat".
As for anarchists and the early Russian Revolution, have a look at "The Bolshevik Myth" by Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman's old bo.
Having been an old New Lefty of the 60's myself, everybody I knew of or read thought that the Soviet Union was OLD, antique, almost quaint. The same went for the Communist Party USA. Then again, the New Left never had an answer for why the Berlin Wall was around. Or why power freaks like Enver Hoxha of the People Republic of Albania were given the time of day. And don't get me going on how Che Guevara, before he went off to Bolivia, organized the Cuban state sugar farms with political prisoners' free labor.

MetalAnarchy17 , , July 21, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Thanks for chiming in.
I've been meaning to read Berkman for a while, and your recommendation sounds like a great place to start. I didn't know that about Guevara, but honestly, the idea that slave labor was used in the early days of the Cuban revolution sounds like an accurate description, as sad as that is.

I remember reading The Port Huron statement in an American Political Ideas I had recently. What you say about the New left consider the USSR quaint does remind me of the tone in that and other political statements from the 60s I have read.

I am also glad to know that there are other anarchists here at Naked Capitalism

Alejandro , , July 21, 2017 at 2:18 pm

". And don't get me going on how Che Guevara, before he went off to Bolivia, organized the Cuban state sugar farms with political prisoners' free labor."

I don't subscribe to the cultish veneration of any individual, past or present, nor its flip-side of obsessive demonization of any individual, past or present. However, in the spirit of this excellent post and thread about "The Minefield of Historical Communism", I would be very much interested in your adding context to this comment, e.g., their conditions pre-revolution, their conditions at the time of your claim, and the lessons learned, that may be of value to others. As far as legacy, they certainly don't seem to export as much sugar today, but they do seem to export a lot of doctors.

Watt4Bob , , July 21, 2017 at 8:39 am

A couple of quibbles;

What would one think of someone who tried to absolve the theorists of colonialism of any responsibility for, say, British misrule in India, on the grounds that these theorists said very clearly that they wanted to help the natives to become more civilized?

First, why does a discussion of British colonial misrule immediately turn to India, as opposed to Ireland?

I'd say it is because ' the theorists of colonialism ' is at best a euphemism for 'psychopathic cheer-leaders of barbarism and genocide', and of course the Indian people are more brown than the Irish.

There are no legitimate theories of colonialism, only rationalizations for what on it's face is barbarous behavior, in short propaganda propagated by the perpetrators, not legitimate 'theorists'.


Large numbers of intellectuals in France and Italy, and also elsewhere, as well as much of the leadership of the 60s student movements, were convinced that the USSR was a genuine incarnation of Left values. What does this imply about their powers of discernment?

This question seems to me to be part of the never-ending effort to de-legitimise all resistance to imperial capitalist barbarism by waving the Bloody-Shirt of Stalinism.

The way I remember it, the dynamism, and turmoil of the 1960's was not the result of naive, and misguided intellectuals and student leaders pushing a communist agenda, it was rather, a clear demonstration of the lengths to which the PTB will go to repress legitimate resistance to obviously barbarous imperialism abroad, and systemic racism everywhere.

Socialism does not equal Communism, does not equal Stalinism, but this is the most useful fallacy that the psychopathic cheer-leaders of barbarism and genocide have cooked up to thwart the efforts of those who would teach/preach Solidarity.

As I recall, it was very effective in the 60s, and we just witnessed its efficacy in stopping Bernie.

Lastly, and yes, this is much more than a 'quibble';

I find this baffling. It seems to suggest that left-leaning people continued to emotionally identify with the USSR well into the 80s, and to be imprisoned within the idea that it constituted a superior economic system.

I find it baffling that anybody takes this sort of bull*hit seriously.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 9:16 am

On Ireland versus India, I have no quarrel with anything you are saying. I would have been as happy to talk about Ireland as India.

When you say,

This question seems to me to be part of the never-ending effort to de-legitimise all resistance to imperial capitalist barbarism by waving the Bloody-Shirt of Stalinism.

you are engaging in a breathtaking misreading of the article. The whole point of the article is to open up ways to look radically beyond the existing system, without having to self-censor about what did and did not happen during Stalinism. I specifically reject the idea that the history of Stalinism implies that it is wrong to try to envision alternatives to capitalism.

When you say that the 1960s "was not the result of naive, and misguided intellectuals and student leaders pushing a communist agenda" you are blatantly straw-manning. I did not say that. I did say that many of the student leaders were willing to reflexively defend "really existing communism." If you doubt that this is true, read any history of the SDS leadership, don't just make peremptory statements about what you imagine the 60s "stood for."

When you claim that the article implies that "socialism equals communism," you are again responding to a thesis that it doesn't argue for, and in fact takes precisely the opposite thesis.

If you don't think that people in the PCI and PCF continued to consider the USSR a good economic model well into the 1980s, then why did those parties collapse with the Soviet Union? You can say words like bullshit all you want, but vehemence is a poor substitute for critical thinking. I've asked plenty of ex-members of those parties why they stopped believing in the possibility of radical economic change and if I get an answer, it's along the one I gave. But more often, the answer is just embarrassed silence.

Watt4Bob , , July 21, 2017 at 11:03 am

One has only to contrast this;

I've asked plenty of ex-members of those parties why they stopped believing in the possibility of radical economic change and if I get an answer, it's along the one I gave. But more often, the answer is just embarrassed silence.

With this;

Large numbers of intellectuals in France and Italy, and also elsewhere, as well as much of the leadership of the 60s student movements, were convinced that were convinced that the USSR was a genuine incarnation of Left values.

to understand that you're trying to sell the notion that those who have striven for radical economic change are folks who, in your words, "were convinced that the USSR was a genuine incarnation of Left values."

This is not the case.

The notion that the USSR was a legitimate incarnation of "Left values" was set to rest with the advent of Stalinism, that is, the embarrassed silence you speak of happened in the 1930s.

Because the tactic of associating progressive activists with the evil commies has been so successful thus far, the PTB will never stop using it.

IMHO, that's exactly what you're engaged in this morning.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 11:29 am

Your claims about my intentions are false. Nor do the quotes from me that you cite back up your claims in any way.

The statement that I made about certain intellectuals in France and Italy and (e.g.) many SDS leaders is a historical claim that can be verified or disputed. Is any hope of "striving for radical economic change" dependent upon never mentioning it? Is it helpful when "striving for radical economic change" to close oneself off from learning from the past?

Let's try something else. I'm going to respond by saying something that I think is far more plausible than what you are saying.

* * * * *

"Your attempt to force anyone who wants to strive towards a radically different economic system to tread very gently whenever saying anything critical of any society that has ever called itself communist is a tried and true tactic of the PTB. By blocking thoughtful self-reflection among people interested in living in a drastically different future, it cripples their intellectual resources when trying to imagine such a future. Simultaneously, it facilitates the PTB's efforts to discredit such efforts by making statements like "they won't even come to terms with how their efforts led to disaster in the past" appear reasonable.

Because the tactic of forcing progressive activists into ideological rigidity has been so successful thus far, TPTB will never stop using it.

IMHO, that's exactly what you're doing this morning."

Now, I don't actually believe that. IMHO, through various life experiences, you have acquired the idea that open discussions of historical communism are an attempt to subvert attempts to envision another future, and you are currently engaging in pattern-matching.

Watt4Bob , , July 21, 2017 at 12:26 pm

IMHO, through various life experiences, you have acquired the idea that open discussions of historical communism are an attempt to subvert attempts to envision another future, and you are currently engaging in pattern-matching.

I disagree.

What I am currently engaged in, is explaining that there is no logical need for any person who wants to work towards a radically different economic system, to first take on the responsibility of addressing the historical failures of soviet communism.

To my knowledge, the historical failures of communism are not seriously disputed, or ignored by anyone currently working for a better economic system in the USA.

I'm not refusing to face embarrassing facts, I'm disputing the relevance of the whole topic to current political discourse.

To insist that Bernie Sanders supporters, for instance, must, in order to be taken seriously, first engage in discussion that addresses the historical failures of communism is ridiculous.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 3:31 pm

I agree with portions of this sentiment and disagree with others.

I agree that people shouldn't be held hostage to particular forms of historical inquiry. People shouldn't be forced to "take responsibility" for a position on any topic they aren't ready to.

Bernie Sanders is not proposing a radically new economy. Reforms like the ones he's proposing have actually been tried out in Western European countries. If I were claiming that no one should be allowed to support Bernie without first taking responsibility for historical communism, that would be silly – but I didn't. Suggesting that I did comes dangerously close to further straw-manning of my position.

There's a difference between saying people should be obligated to talk about a certain topic and saying that they should be allowed to talk about it without being immediately blasted as an enemy agent.

When I read an experience like that of Rossanda's below, my reaction is not, "Ooh, those communists sure were evil, ha ha ha." It's that she seems like a person who was very intelligent, who genuinely wanted to change the world for the better, and still found herself fifty years later interrogating herself, wondering how much of her life work was misguided, and whether she bears responsibility for her role in providing some measure of support for a regime that is hard to excuse.

My reaction is, "That could be me. I don't want it to be me, but who's to say that I'm any more insightful or moral than she was?" I don't want to be in the position of having provided vocal support for a political program that makes the world worse, and if I were to do so, having done it for "good motives" would be cold comfort. I'm not saying that anyone else has to learn from her experience – there's only so much time in the world, and there's a lot of history that might provide valuable lessons, not just the 20th century. But personally, I'd like to learn from her experience, and not shy away from where it leads me.

Watt4Bob , , July 21, 2017 at 6:22 pm

I believe what I've been arguing is based in the American experience, which in this particular means being immersed in a politically naive population marinated in anti-communist propaganda.

I'm not sure a citizen of any European country can appreciate the degree to which our people have been trained to believe that the impulse to join together in solidarity for any purpose, is evidence of a soft intellect or moral depravity.

Even before the fall of the USSR, any discussion of a political nature approaching a topic that could be construed as being in favor of socialism in even the most limited context was apt to be met with a chorus of derisive abuse.

I believe an invitation to discuss the reality of historical communism, in the USA at least, is most often actually a thinly veiled invitation to shut the hell up, and it has been so for close to one hundred years.

This situation has become incredibly worse in the last couple decades, this is especially evident in the disquieting popularity of the 'ideas' championed in the writings of Ayn Rand.

I hope you'll excuse my misinterpreting your intent, and understand that I've never been honestly invited to consider historical communism, I've only been invited to consider keeping my socialist ideals to myself.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 6:38 pm

Thanks, watt4bob, I appreciate this.

I am familiar with some of the American dynamics you bring up. One of my hopes is that if critically thinking people can find spaces where they discuss these sorts of ideas without fear or favor, it will gradually make it possible to develop antidotes to the kind of discussion-choking maneuvers you mention.

Mel , , July 21, 2017 at 1:10 pm

There was a time in the 1970s when the popular comic Pilote wasn't just for kids, despite running Astérix and Achille Talon . Then Jacques Lauzier ran some grueling character studies (well, at least one, among other similar stories) of French ex-Communist intellectuals facing the consequences of just such attitudes as Outis has described. Interesting to look up, if you read French, or can find a translation.

Mel , , July 21, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Gérard Lauzier . Curse those moves those lost books.

Mel , , July 21, 2017 at 3:00 pm

That's Gérard Lauzier , actually

Ulysses , , July 21, 2017 at 8:58 am

The author's statement that "large numbers of intellectuals in France and Italy, and also elsewhere, as well as much of the leadership of the 60s student movements, were convinced that the USSR was a genuine incarnation of Left values." is more than a little disingenuous.

The many former sessantottini that I knew in Italy, SDS leaders, and other U.S. student radicals from the sixties were all very strong supporters of the Prague uprising against Soviet domination in 1968. This includes many who self-identified as Marxist!

Ulysses , , July 21, 2017 at 9:12 am

And of course, the author's statement appears even more of a smear when one remembers this historical reality:

"In 1969, Enrico Berlinguer, PCI deputy national secretary and later secretary general, took part in the international conference of the Communist parties in Moscow, where his delegation disagreed with the "official" political line, and refused to support the final report. Unexpectedly to his hosts, his speech challenged the Communist leadership in Moscow . He refused to "excommunicate" the Chinese communists, and directly told Leonid Brezhnev that the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact countries (which he called the "tragedy in Prague") had made clear the considerable differences within the Communist movement on fundamental questions such as national sovereignty, socialist democracy, and the freedom of culture. At the time the PCI was the largest Communist Party in a capitalist state, garnering 34.4% of the vote in the 1976 general election."

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 9:41 am

I am much less monolithically critical of the PCI than you assume (see also my next post on this subject). It was much more independent of the Soviet Union than the French Communist party, and there was a lot of opposition to Prague.

I think it's probably true that at least for a while, the leadership of the PCI was more open to critical thinking about the historical role of the USSR than its broad membership was. Here is a string of excerpts from Rossanda's autobiography:

[On November 4, 1956, she woke up to tanks marching through the streets of Budapest.] This was the first time I said to myself – they hate us. Not the elites. The ordinary [Hungarian] people, the ones on our side, they hate us. [ ]
The poor and oppressed are not always in the right. But communists who are hated [by them] are always in the wrong. And this was a massive, sedimentary hatred, you don't get to this level [of hatred] without having suffered from felt oppression for a long time. In those days, all my hair turned white. Yes, it happens. [ ]
Was it therefore impossible to knock down the capitalist system, even a broken-down autocratic mess [like Russia], and build a socialist one without paying an inhuman price? [She now rehearses possible exculpatory arguments:] No, those were different times and circumstances, you have to take into account the backward circumstances in which Lenin was operating, the civil war, efforts that went nowhere, certain errors that weren't fixed, and so the skidding into authoritarianism. But even if you grant that at the beginning repression was necessary, why had it lasted so long? And even expanded? Was the dictatorship of the proletariat therefore a dictatorship like any other? No – it was not established on behalf of just a small number of people; yes – it treated human beings as tools. We debated means and ends, a debate that goes nowhere. Togliatti, writing in Nuovi Argomenti, and also Isaac Deutscher, had a different response: The repressive apparatus was an overgrowth, a massive fungus that had not infected the trunk – the revolution had been immature, things had been forced, the tree will be healed. But it had taken so long . And was it healthy even now?

Sorry, I need to take a break, will provide more of the text here later.

Ulysses , , July 21, 2017 at 10:38 am

"It was much more independent of the Soviet Union than the French Communist party,"

Something which no one would have guessed from your original post, in which you lump together French and Italian intellectuals as "convinced that the USSR was a genuine incarnation of Left values."

You were free to write as long and accurate a post as you felt like writing. You chide me for "assuming" that you are monolithically critical of the PCI. Am I supposed to be a mind reader? No one reading your post would have any reason to doubt that the PCI was unwaveringly Stalinist. It was not.

Now, in this backpedaling reply, you assert that the "broad membership" of the PCI was less open to critical thinking about the USSR than its leadership. On what evidence? I lived in Italy for several years in the eighties and early nineties. I met very few members of the PCI "leadership", but many hundreds of its "broad membership." Not a single one of these PCI voters was even a little bit supportive of the U.S.S.R.! I traveled from Genoa to Palermo, and all points in between.

Now who are you asking me to believe? You, or my lying eyes?

Ulysses , , July 21, 2017 at 11:06 am

Just in case anyone here is interested in the facts of the PCI demise, here is an important moment:

"Per decidere sulla proposta di Occhetto fu indetto un Congresso straordinario del Partito, il XIX, che si tenne a Bologna nel marzo del 1990. Tre furono le mozioni che si contrapposero:
la prima mozione, intitolata Dare vita alla fase costituente di una nuova formazione politica era quella di Occhetto, che proponeva la costruzione di una nuova formazione politica democratica, riformatrice ed aperta a componenti laiche e cattoliche, che superasse il centralismo democratico. Il 67% dei consensi ottenuti dalla mozione permise la rielezione di Occhetto alla carica di Segretario generale e la conferma della sua linea politica.
la seconda mozione, intitolata Per un vero rinnovamento del PCI e della sinistra fu sottoscritta da Ingrao e, tra gli altri, da Angius, Castellina, Chiarante e Tortorella. Il PCI, secondo i sostenitori di questa mozione, doveva si rinnovarsi, nella politica e nella organizzazione, ma senza smarrire se stesso. Questa mozione uscì sconfitta ottenendo il 30% dei consensi.
la terza mozione, intitolata Per una democrazia socialista in Europa fu presentata dal gruppo di Cossutta. Costruita su un impianto profondamente ortodosso ottenne solo il 3% dei consensi.
Il XX Congresso, tenutosi a Rimini nel febbraio del 1991, fu l'ultimo del PCI."

Do you notice that 3% figure at the bottom? Those would be the people that O.P. characterizes as the "broad membership" unwilling to criticize the U.S.S.R! Under what bizarre meaning of "broad" does something opposed by 97% of a given group make any sense?

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 2:01 pm

What does the quote say?

In 1991, the PCI voted to renounce "democratic centralism," i.e. the party being organized internally along Leninist grounds.

This shows that up until two years after 1989, the PCI was still nominally in favor of Leninism.

On the other hand, the major losing motion, with 30% of the vote, was that of Ingrao and others, was a vote for "the PCI to renew itself, politically and organizationally, while remaining faithful to itself."

In other words, a motion for the PCI to remain faithful to its postwar heritage lost by a crushing margin, 67-30.

If the broad membership of the PCI felt like the USSR was basically alien to their own political aspirations, why would the USSR's implosion have led to this sort of radical renunciation? Surely you don't think it was merely a coincidence that this motion passed in 1991 as opposed to, say, 1975 or 1985?

I'm open to other interpretations, but I don't see how the quote supports your argument.

Ulysses , , July 21, 2017 at 2:59 pm

I apologize for anything that was misconstrued as invective. You appeared to claim that the broad membership of the PCI was staunchly Stalinist up until 1991. Having lived in Italy during the late 1980s myself, I knew this claim to be false.

The reason the PCI collapsed after the fall of the U.S.S.R. (and not earlier) was best explained to me by a friend who was himself a Christian Democrat, with a Communist girlfriend. He argued that the triumphalism of western capitalists in the U.S. at the "fall of communism" after 1989 created an urgent need for "re-branding" for the people, like his girlfriend, who became the new Democratic Party of the Left.

In other words, after the only major country in the world to have been at least nominally anti-capitalist collapsed, Italian communists rightly feared that their attempts– to distance themselves from the particular horrors of Stalinism– would be forgotten amidst the crowing by people like Fukuyama over "The End of History."

My main objection to what you wrote, in your original post, was that it seemed to imply that most Italian communists were like the 3% who, even in 1991, were proud to be known as Stalinist.

There's actually a pretty good discussion of this whole issue here, where, as your Rossanda quotations might suggest, we see that the Stalinist orientation of the PCI was considerably weakened after 1956.

"E la religione politica del Pci? Quella d'élite? Stalinista, sì. Almeno fino al 1956, "anno indimenticabile" e nuovo inizio, costellato di sofferenze e ambiguità."

"Insomma la "doppiezza veritiera" di Togliatti stava in questo: immaginare il socialismo radicalmente diverso dentro due ipotesi impossibili (tali almeno fino a Gorbaciov). L'ipotesi di una cooperazione distensiva tra i blocchi. E quella di una riformabilità della casa madre sovietica. Ma è nello spazio immaginario di quella ipotesi strategica "impossibile" che il Pci – in definitiva – intimamente stalinista non fu. Fu semmai pedagogico, storicista, elitario e altresì di massa. Capace di aprire malgrado tutto l'Italia della guerra fredda al mondo. Alla cultura internazionale. All'etica dei diritti sociali e civili che inseriva i ceti subalterni nello stato.
Strana giraffa il Pci. Esteriormente stalinista, interiormente no."

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 4:49 pm

The article you linked to is quite good, thanks for sending it.

Let's see if I understand the theory you propose. It seems to suggest that the people who genuinely believed in communism felt like they had to go underground for a while until their adversaries had spent their fury, so that they could resurface later intact.

I've contemplated ideas along these lines. I think it's noteworthy that your friend was a supporter of the DC – in fact, it's the kind of theory that anticommunists often hint at, because it implies that their adversaries have "not changed" and instead have become like "sleeper cells," normal on the outside but frightening inside.

But that doesn't necessarily make it false. In fact, if a whole group of people had decided to shield each other by not talking about anything that might make their enemies suspicious, then that would explain some of the behavior that I described in one of my other responses.

Still, I have a hard time entirely making sense of it. Back before 1956, the PCI really was fairly Stalinist in its official allegiances. The "horrors of Stalinism" were much closer then, and yet the PCI did not distance itself from them at the time despite plenty of people who were willing to cast them in its teeth.

Why was Fukuyama so much more terrifying than anti-communists of the 50s?

I'll respond to another point you bring up in a separate post when I get a chance.

Ulysses , , July 21, 2017 at 6:11 pm

"The "horrors of Stalinism" were much closer then, and yet the PCI did not distance itself from them at the time despite plenty of people who were willing to cast them in its teeth."

This is a very important point. My only information on why this was the case comes from people who were already fairly old by the 1980s. They witnessed the partigiani acting as the strongest actual resistance to the fascists– and they were reluctant to give credence to anything said against anything communist.

Only long after Mussolini's execution (yet still before the fall of Franco) were Italian communists open to seeing the events of 1956, 1968, etc. as revealing serious flaws in the Soviet system.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 6:19 pm

This certainly played a role. Consider, for example, a movie like Roma Città Aperta (1945), where communists, together with Catholics, are placed at the foundation of the new Italian identity, unified through the anti-Nazi struggle.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 1:51 pm

There is a lot of invective here, which I'm not interested in responding to.

There is, however, also some substance, which I think is worth discussing.

I don't have any particular stake in whether or not the PCI base was less skeptical of the USSR than the leadership. I'm curious about the question. Here's what evidence I have, pointing in various directions.

Let's start with the 50s. Rossanda herself didn't seriously question the USSR until 1956. In the incident with Ortese she mentions (possibly later, maybe in the 60s), she was clearly worried that Ortese's articles would lead PCI sympathizers to think negatively of the USSR. Since she herself didn't find Ortese's experiences implausible, that means that she wanted for the PCI base to think more positively of the USSR than she did. The fact that she isn't sure, in retrospect, whether she would have censored Ortese if she had had the power to do so, means that she considered maintaining this positive attitude on the part of the base to be quite important.

Moving a bit forward, according to Italian Wikipedia ,

The PCI remained faithful to the general political directives of the USSR up into the 70s and 80s, all the while developing over time an increasingly autonomous political line and full acceptance of democracy already starting at the end of Togliatti's secretaryship.

So it was complicated. I've read quite a few documents from student groups in 1968 on, and some did seem to me to leave the door open toward some sort of authoritarian political structure. I don't remember what the Red Brigades' official attitude on the USSR was, but their own political vision as per their comunicati , etc., was pretty reminiscent of Stalinism.

I don't doubt your personal experience in Italy. Here's mine (living there at various times in the 90s and 00s). I was honestly interested in the PCI experience, and I didn't take a particularly moralistic attitude toward it at all. I was hoping that Italians, given their history, would be more interested in thinking about the possibility of radically different economic systems than Americans were. I also hoped, given that I knew from having read Pasolini and others that the Italian Left had not been consistently some sort of caricature of communism, that there had been some room for criticism of the USSR, that they would not have overly identified with the fall of the Soviet Union and so would not have been unduly discouraged by its collapse.

What I found was pretty disappointing. A lot of people acted like the PCI had never existed. I talked to people who I knew had been strong supporters of the PCI back in the day (according to their friends and family), and they assumed that I could not possibly be asking about their experience in good faith. They tended to assume I was making fun of them, and for all intents and purposes acted like they were embarrassed about their communist past.

Nor could I find people interested in talking much about alternative economic systems. There were plenty of people eager to resist Berlusconi, but they were much more willing to make speeches on how he was historically unprecedented and violated all sorts of basic constitutional guarantees than to say much about radical alternatives. I would get frustrated and ask would-be left groups why they didn't talk about fundamental questions, why the sorts of discussions that had happened when the PCI was around didn't happen any more. I never got a straight answer besides, "Well, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, it all looked like an illusion." I would point out why this wasn't a sufficient argument. Shrug.

I honestly do not know what the reason was for all of this avoidance behavior. As I said in my post, the only reason I can think of is that at least on some level, many PCI members still saw the USSR as a flagship of communism. That would explain why they were so morally discouraged afterwards. But I would have thought that a lot of PCI members should have been able to see through that trap. So maybe the explanation is wrong.

But I don't know another. I would be thrilled to hear one.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 12:21 pm

Continuing from Rossanda:

Nothing stayed the same. Not even for those who insisted on seeing the secret report [of Khrushchev] as a tissue of lies – for them, the USSR was in the hands of a clique of traitors, led by Khrushchev. Others fell back on the thesis that, sure, Stalin had been a tyrant but he had been great, because the revolution had been great and its internal and external enemies great as well. What was this supposed to mean, evil but great? That much should be forgiven to greatness? That pain and horror are inevitable [byproducts]? I couldn't accept the esthetic of history. Then there were those like the French Communist Party who thought that, true or not, Khrushchev should have kept his mouth shut.

And Hungary and Poland and Czechoslovakia? There the excuse of backwardness wasn't applicable. The PCI stood fast within the trenches: yes, there had been mistakes, fault by communist governments, but the revolutions were themselves problematic, and [so] there was fault on their part, too. [ ] The PCI shifted about with a perpetual "It could have been worse" and "Let's avoid pushing things to the brink." [ ]

Leaving [the PCI] would have meant turning one's back not just on the USSR but on ourselves, and to resign ourselves to existing society. Or start over again, but very, very profoundly, abandoning this party, erase it, obliterate it – give the communists up as lost. But they weren't all nothing but Stalinism. And in any case, what had the dissident groups from the 20s on managed to accomplish? At most to leave a witness. [ ]

What the USSR had become gave me no peace, and I had difficulty finding a reasonable way to assess it. It had to be hard, even the tedious manual of the PCB didn't deny it, far from it. But why so many enemies? With the sector of society hostile to the revolution, the struggle had been cruelly resolved during the civil war. But afterward? Why so many arrested and shot among their own people? The hatred that communism had accumulated terrified me. The model of power that had made it possible to succeed had turned out to be a mortal trap. But then in what sense was it a model? Political liberalism implies social slavery and social liberalism implies political slavery? [ ]

It will soon be 50 years since that 1956 that forced me to look squarely at the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – a name I had loved – and I still don't find a full explanation. I refuse to give in to the oft-repeated idea that without the profit motive, there is no democracy. Our [democracy] is depressing. It is. But it doesn't finish you off with two bullets to the brain in a cellar. [ ] If I talk about this, even with my closest friends, I lower my voice, I apologize, I become annoying. We in the PCI at least didn't have bloody hands. Because we had not managed to take power? No, we were different. How different? And me, what was I like? I had not cracked down on anyone, I had always covered for people. At least I think so. You would have to ask those who worked with me, who had less power or rank than I did. I never humiliated anyone. Or did I? I had a lofty idea of what I did, therefore of myself, how to exclude that I had trampled others, without even noticing?

I remember one minor episode. Anna Maria Ortese, a reserved woman, always dressed in black, her hair held tightly in a black fillet over her pretty face, spent her days in silence at the House of Culture because she didn't have a real house of her own. In one of her first reports on the Soviet Union that a weekly magazine had asked her to write, she had spoken of immense poverty and loneliness, and it sounded like an unending accusation. It was Ortese, it was her empathy with the suffering of the wretched, but it exasperated me because I suspected it was true. I ripped into her: "Don't you understand the toil, the isolation of that country? Why don't you write also that everyone has a job, everyone can go to school, everyone has health care? And don't you see that it's under attack?" We saw each other every day, we had something of a relationship, she never asked anything of me – and I hurt her. The next day, she came to my house with a ridiculous bouquet of flowers and as I opened the door, I was unable to say a word. We hugged each other, crying. With tears in my eyes, I went to find some cognac to cheer her up, she was white as a sheet. We didn't say hardly anything to one another, and we left there arm in arm. I haven't forgotten that moment. If I had had the power to repress her articles, would I have done so? Maybe I would have. I don't know. And what would I have done when faced with more serious choices?

[ ] It does not comfort me that the Black Books have manipulated numbers, that with the archives open, the number of political trials comes out to less than five million, the number shot less than a million. "Only" five million?!

Moneta , , July 21, 2017 at 9:03 am

One can't look at these philosophies without accounting for the productive capacities of the land.

Monarchs of the last couple of centuries were essentially trying to one-up each other and planning marriages according to needed and desired resources.

One can imagine that the limits were not the same in France, England and Russia.

French Monarchs were obviously in the best position resource speaking. France was one great piece of land. Russian monarchs probably had to squeeze its population way more than French royalty to maintain the same quality of life. It's no surprise that the UK ended up colonizing. How could it compete on an overpopulated island?

At the beginning of the early 1900s, Germany was hitting productive limits vs. the size of its population without the exploitative capacities of the UK or France propped up be their own colonies.

Communism would be easier to implement in a closed economy . hard to see this happening in countries that depend on imports or with colonies to exploit.

Russia was in a good position to try it enough resources to be autarkic and a population used to poor
and harsh conditions where materialism would not be receding if trying it out.

While I enjoy reading about economic and political philosophies, I find it annoying how most of the time these never account for the physical limitations that drive countries into specific directions.

Most of humanity has always been blind to 3 things:
– the planet's physical limits
– its own technological limitations in exploiting the planet's bounty at each epoch
– the problem of redistribution when a system hits a wall.

And none of the philosophies seem to address all three.

Susan the other , , July 21, 2017 at 12:21 pm

agree. ' Spring cleaning' is my favorite change metaphor. It's more benign than 'rat-killing'. But the point is always a practical one. We get rid of stuff that no longer works. That's the first step. So why won't vested interests and ideologues see the logic? Or more accurately, why are they so slow? If we do not change it is gonna go from farce to tragedy pretty fast this time.

craazyman , , July 21, 2017 at 7:36 pm

If I recall correctly your background you're far too intelligent to believe that stuff!! C'mon now. Physical limits???? In Russia??? Russia is yyyuuuuge.

Maybe this is an artifact of your MIT eduction in reductive materialism. :-)

Newton and Leibniz were very very smart guys. Engineering is pretty cool! I would not argue with things like computers and TVs and Youtube. I couldn't watch Adele and Bruce Springsteen on Youtube if it wasn't for engineers. I'm just being honest. I won't criticize engineers. But they are mostly boneheads. Hahahaha.

I'm not sure reading all these political crackpots is useful either. There's a point where things are obvious just by direct observation. I understand the impluse to expand one's mind and it's not at all obvious how to do that. The strangest thing of all though is that all this supposed erudition reduces itself to things that are completely obvious simply from solitary contemplation. Of course engineering is not that way at all.

DJG , , July 21, 2017 at 9:22 am

First, I agree with Ulysses that lumping French and Italian intellectuals together with regard to acceptance of the Soviet Union as an emanation of leftist values is dubious. Look at the differences between the traditional French Communist Party, which was more or less Stalinist, and the Italian Communist Party, which was animated by Gramsci and Berlinguer, two highly skeptical Sardinians. And that's for starters.

I recommend reading Gramsci: I am currently reading his letters from prison. He had a very broad view of politics, events, and culture. As a newspaper editor, he also wrote tremendous numbers of articles, including theatrical criticism (and he was a pretty good theater critic), all worth reading.

I note that Outis mentions Rossana Rossanda above, and I suspect that she has some skepticism about exercise of power, too.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 10:01 am

I agree with you that the French and Italian communist party experiences are extremely different. The purpose of this article was not to get too much into the details, but my subsequent post on this subject is all about the Italian situation, which is in my opinion fascinating.

Your explanation of why the PCI was different from the PCF leaves me a little unconvinced. Gramsci probably played a role, more in terms of the pattern of wide-ranging critical thought seen in the Quaderni del carcere (which I agree are well worth reading) than in anything particularly groundbreaking he did as a leader before the fascists imprisoned him. Berlinguer was a very significant figure, but I think the fact of the the PCI being less hermetically closed than the PCF predates his leadership by a couple decades.

On Rossanda's skepticism about the exercise of power, yes, that's right. I haven't finished yet, but in the next part of the excerpt quoted in my reply to Ulysses she will express sentiments along those lines.

Ulysses , , July 21, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Thanks for the interesting passages from Rossanda. I do sincerely hope that you will find the time to also respond to the questions raised in my two comments currently under moderation.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 12:24 pm

I will – I haven't eaten anything all day, though, so thanks for being patient.

DJG , , July 21, 2017 at 12:31 pm

Outis: I eagerly await your next posting.

Some cultural differences between Italy and France that may have affected how communism evolved:
–France has strong centralizing tendencies. Until recently, Paris dominated thoroughly. Italy is indeed a federal republic, with strong decentralizing tendencies. As a friend from Piedmont said, Every village speaks its own form of the Piedmontese language. In France, the communist party seems to have wanted Stalinist centralization.
–In France, the state created lay society (the secular state). In Italy, secular society, arguably, was created by the communists. (Although the Savoys (weirdly) and the Republic of Venice also created secular states, I suppose. But they did not dominate as thoroughly as the French Republic and its message of laicité does.)
–Italian Catholicism is rather mystical and oddly unpuritanical. French Catholicism is much more rigid.
–Because the arts in Italy tend to be somewhat more democratic, communist artists existed / exist. Pasolini. Nanni Moretti. It's a long way from Jean-Paul Sartre to Nanni Moretti.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 12:49 pm

These are all great points. Yes, it's a long way from Sartre to Pasolini as well.

On Italian versus French Catholicism, I hadn't thought of this. But it also makes a great deal of sense in terms of the particular history of French Catholicism under the FR, with the clerical oath.

Michael M , , July 21, 2017 at 11:12 am

I agree with this line of thought. What's always bothered me by previous discussions of "communism" have been 1) the absence of the roots of communism, ( ie hunter gatherer societies, and the teachings of the Buddha and Christ), and 2) the cultural and tribal influences of each group attempting this quest.

To the first point, it seems to me that various religious groups within the United States have attempted their version of communism with varying degrees of success, from 1800s farming communities to self proclaimed demagogues of the Jim Jones variety. I think the notion of the battle between humanistic traits of altruism vs narcissism are instrumental in understanding the roots of the success of each group.

From my little understanding of China and Russia, both have historically had autocratic cultures for multiple reasons, so an autocratic form of top down society would be a natural progression from the then status quo.

Regarding the "Horrors of Communism" I am reminded of the types of regimes that were overthrown in the cases of the China and Russia, and how the degree of external threat to the fledgling attempts may have influenced their courses. Interesting current examples include the continually externally besieged and totalitarian regime of North Korea, as opposed to the "Communist" regime of North Vietnam. I can only wonder what will result in the United States should our Lords and Masters decide to use all means necessary to quell a popular uprising, but then the current control of the media is proving quite successful.

In any case from my perspective the more democratic and successful attempts at economic equality have been exemplified in smaller homogeneous tribal societies such various Nordic countries. My observation of history tells me that the larger the entity one tries to democratically control, the more likelihood of corruption by narcissistic players irrespective of the type of governmental system proposed.

Mattman , , July 21, 2017 at 9:24 am

Q: Are the problems of historical communism explainable in terms of the opposition that communism experienced from reactionaries?

No, but many of them ARE explained by the opposition–wars, bombings, sabotage, etc.–of international capitalism to almost every socialist experiment that has arisen, 1917-Venezuela. We'll never know about what kind of success they would have experienced in a petri dish, but we do know that when you have to devote much of your economy to building arms to defend yourself–live on the defensive–that can distort your project, distort your vision, distort your economy, make you paranoid–hey–end up making you murderous and worse. And (no small thing) that improving the lot of the great mass of people can be very handy for capitalism once you have finished the heavy lifting.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 9:49 am

See Rossana Rossanda's take on this argument below.

I actually take Venezuela's experience as supporting the point that there was historical contingency involved and therefore Stalinism was not simply historically necessary. Venezuela was geopolitically weaker than Russia and Chavez faced substantial opposition from very well-organized forces and foreign-supported forces. And still, it's completely clear that whatever else you think of Chavez and his legacy, he did not institute the sort of repression that some people claim is inseparable with communism. He came very close to losing power in 2002 (if I remember correctly, the US had even already started to recognize the coup directors as legitimate), but he held on.

edr , , July 21, 2017 at 9:28 am

"From the standpoint of living standards the Soviet Union were improvements over Imperial Russia."

This is a point I can agree with in reference to Russia. Communism served as a way to quickly sever the serf system that had partially survived in Russia into the 20th century.

However, the central planning aspect of communism is its great problem. It centralizes absolute power in a small group; the guy who said "absolute power corrupts absolutely" seems to have been absolutely correct. In Cuba, if you decided you wanted to sell sandwiches to your friends to make a little extra, that was prohibited and you would be been arrested and jailed – heard they're starting to allow some of that recently. I've heard the Russian system wasn't quite as extreme in those economic cases, don't know, although it was worse in its repressive excesses. Even the Pharaohs of Egypt didn't try to stop the bread makers and fisherman from making some extra income so their families could have socks – only Marx managed to develop a worse system. Also, communism didn't work anywhere; the experiment failed everywhere.

There is no difference between everybody working for the government and everybody working for Walmart/Amazon. .. the same dynamic is at work. Limiting government power and reach, and limiting Corporate power and reach is the only antidote to repression.

skk , , July 21, 2017 at 10:00 am

There is no difference between everybody working for the government and everybody working for Walmart/Amazon. .. the same dynamic is at work.

Well said.

Moneta , , July 21, 2017 at 10:02 am

It all depends on how you define failure. We can easily say that capitalism is failing millions in the US and billions on this planet.

Life is a cycle and maybe no system can last over the long term.

kj1313 , , July 21, 2017 at 9:33 am

Thanks for this as someone who started out as a Dem Socialist but now am becoming more open to further left positions. I agree with some of the basic philosophies of the hard left even "tankies" but I hate when they gloss over atrocities committed.

Scylla , , July 21, 2017 at 9:42 am

The way I see it, there is plenty of criticism of Stalin from the left. I think the idea that leftists refuse to criticize Stalin is a bit of a trope. However, I think it is correct to point to the lack of good information on Stalinist USSR. It is hard to logically critique something when you are drowning in propaganda and disinformation. All that being said, if the left has one flaw regarding Marxist theory and communism, it is that they often fail to apply Marxist theory TO communism (this is less of a problem among anarchists, of course).
One of the big (maybe biggest) takeaways of Marx is that class war is eternal, and that class war exists in all systems, including communism. I have been reading Marx in fits and starts for 20 years, and although I have never read any specific statement on class war in communist type societies, I have no doubt that Marx would agree. Lenin/Stalin were simply the leaders of the elite class in the Soviet Union, and like other members of the elite class, they worked to increase or cement their power at the expense of the lower classes. Class war is eternal and universal.

As far as the fall of the Soviet Union, my view is that there were many complex drivers, however the biggest one was the fundamental difference between the Soviet and American Empires. The Soviet core (Russia, basically) exploited its own resources and subsidized it's subordinate nations (such as Eastern Europe and Cuba), which weakened the Soviet Empire over time economically. The US Empire (I include western Europe as part of the core here) did the opposite, exploiting the resources of the subordinate nations on it's periphery (think Africa and South America), subsidizing and enriching itself. Of course this isn't absolute, since the US had some anomalies such as the Marshal Plan, and the Soviets did have some populations they exploited such as those in the "stan" republics, but I think it explains a lot.

AC , , July 21, 2017 at 9:51 am

Just a few quick points on some of the issues raised by the article.

All economies are planned, just depends on WHO they are designed to benefit. In the US, the DOD and associated entities are the clearest example of government directing economic resources to certain ends. Those ends happen to be the lining the pockets of well connected grifters, but its still a "planned economy".

The thing that always struck me about people who believe(d) in Communism is that it's just another form of religion. The idea of History as having end its working towards is Christian or Jewish millenarianism recast in terms of political economy. The historical determinism of Marxism is totally laughable in the face of the randomness and capriciousness of human existence.

Stalinism and Maoism replaced one set of elites with another, neither of which cared one bit about the impact their grand schemes had on the people they ruled. But at the same time the millions they murdered says more about the dangers of unquestioned top down control in any system rather than the faults of one -ism over another.

Moneta , , July 21, 2017 at 10:44 am

The capitalist system has killed millions. It's just harder to pin the mass murder on one person. The dirty jobs just get passed on along the global trade chain.

One could easily argue that many countries have been forced into bad implementations of communism because of the stronghold of existing capitalist empires on resources.

If the capitalist developed countries had been less exploitative, perhaps a gentler form of communism could have emerged.

It all starts with the distribution of resources.

skk , , July 21, 2017 at 9:55 am


I find the stuff Marx did in the "understand the world" dept – specifically the "labour theory of value" immensely valuable and is, like Newton's work, outside of history. The equation for profit i.e. s/(s+v) all functions of time, and that it tends to zero as time tends to infinity is for the ages. And since profit is the prime motive for production in capitalism, then

His stuff on (the point is) "to change the world" ? – i.e. class struggle – is definitely best understood as history, as in history of ideologies, best to be understood as something coming from a man of his times – one can distill stuff from it to apply it to our own time but only like, say, Julius Caesar's use of chance – " the die is cast " come "Lights, Camera, Action" time.

Why did that part or not so much the "labour theory of value" part catch the imagination of the rebellious of my gen of the 60s, 70s ? That too reflects that we were partly creatures of our times.

Great to see you explore this stuff. Thanks.

Richard Barbrook , , July 21, 2017 at 10:12 am

Ante Ciliga was a Croatian communist who wrote 'The Russian Enigma' which is a smart and evocative account of his experiences there during the 1920s and 1930s.

His political conclusions are best summarised in the French title of his book: 'Au Pays du Grand Mensonge' i.e. In the Land of the Great Lie!

Here's one of its chapters:

PKMKII , , July 21, 2017 at 10:24 am

If there's going to be an honest critique of "historical communism," then first we need to be honest in identifying what it is we're talking about, which in this case is really Marxist-Leninism (Stalinism just being the same but with more gulag). There's two ways of looking at M-L's record, which is, what was it's real world impact, pro and con? And, did it achieve what it set out to do? On the former, there's many well-worn arguments trotted out: rapid industrialization, extreme poverty prevention, but also the atrocities, limited civil rights, etc.The typical leftist apologia seems to hinge on pointing out the blood on the hands of capitalism, which is both valid and not. Yes, it's important to criticize the right on its tendency to either outright deny the death caused by capitalism or to ideological explain it away as the fault of something else, and to make people aware that death by capitalism usually comes in more subtle forms, but that doesn't magically make what Stalin, Mao, etc. did okay.

However, more important on the practical level is that the trend for the M-L has been in the long haul to shift towards market economies. The USSR was making motions towards this right before the sudden liberalization of their economy. China has shifted from state capitalism to state-managed capitalism, Vietnam has allowed for more market-based co-ops and small business, Cuba has set up limited markets. So M-L works for the rapid expansion period, but once that singular drive and goal gives way, the central planning needs to acquiesce to market economies.

What really should give the left the cause to abandon M-L to the historical dustbin, is on the second question. M-L gets us war communism and state capitalism, but it has failed in all cases to transition to the final stage of true communism. Give a small group of politicos absolute control over the economy while still collecting that capitalist cut off the top, of course they're not going to hand that over to the workers. It doesn't achieve its goal of workers controlling the means of production, so if the left wants that, then they need to follow the lead of the Kurds and look elsewhere.

barefoot charley , , July 21, 2017 at 10:30 am

A thoughtful friend in the 70s called Marx "a historian of the future." He created a vision, a ramp, a consolidation of dreams and efforts that converged possibilities toward realities. Like most Enlightenment/Romantic religious movements, this vision was cast as science, not faith (as, to be fair, was the book of Genesis). His aim was for something more than sociology or political science, and I think he should be both defended and criticized on those broader grounds. The ultimate question isn't whether he was right or wrong, but whether and how he moved human possibilities forward.

makedoanmend , , July 21, 2017 at 10:33 am

Leaving aside the rich and varied strands of socialism that have occurred and been acted upon (cooperatives, syndicalism, democratic socialism, or even the thoughts of Veblen) that don't involve Marx or communism, I have more than a quibble with the entire methodology employed.

It is acknowledged that the history and uniqueness of communism, let alone socialism, are not easily compressed into small tales to be stored and later related to explain very complex historical processes.

So a neat Alexandrian solution is found to cut through the numerous Gordian knots of distinct historical events and the specific people who acted upon circumstance and reacted to historical circumstance.

We are provided with "the sword" of our supposed common knowledge of human nature to explore and answer the various strands of socialist thought and action. Hell, we can ask simple questions and come up with a monosyllabic answer.


1. Do we really know that much about "human nature" and especially about how human nature reacts during specific historical events of which we most of us do not have experience?

2. Is human nature always the same throughout history? How much do material circumstances of any given historical period "colour" our perception of human nature? Or is our view of human nature dictated by our material circumstances, including the political and social spheres which often cloud our view given an ongoing process of unique historical circumstances?

3. Can an approach which relies solely upon insights of human nature explain complex phenomena just because humans where involved in the phenomena? Does the conjecture of human nature provide a omniscient viewpoint?

I would suggest that socialism, like capitalism, isn't quite so easy to pigeon hole via an all encompassing theory of human nature.

I really don't have any quibbles with the article itself or of the conclusions drawn by the author. As I am not a communist , I really don't have fish to fry. Since I am nothing more more than a student of politics, I can both appreciate and critique Marx in equal measure.

I don't see socialism as an alternative to capitalism but as a manner in which I wish to strive for in my life. It's just that capitalism, especially as it is currently practised, has been planned and is being planned in such a manner that seems to ensure that the individuals and groups of individuals are being limited in the scope of their responses to life's circumstances.

Just because capitalism doesn't mostly involve central planning, as in the Soviet Unions, doesn't mean the economy/society isn't being planned with consequences that have impacts centrally upon all our lives.

And I suspect the plans aren't being planned in my interests or in the interests of most of humanity, and certainly not in the interest of many creatures and flora of which we share this plant.

Unlike Marx, I can't buy the dialectic of historical determinism, nor am I willing to be curtailed by an other imperative determinisms – such as human nature must follow upon predetermined train tracks leading in one inexorable direction.

And as always with NC, thanks for bringing these subjects into a public domain. Upon such stuff might common grounds be found.

PKMKII , , July 21, 2017 at 11:03 am

There's also the issue of whether or not "Human Nature" should be considered a singular or a plural. It's neat and convenient to think of humans as all sharing one set of underlying "code," with the differences merely being ornamentation thrown on by circumstance, but there's been a change of thinking in psychology that we really have multiple natures within the species (e.g., we are not a monolithically monogamous nor a polygamous species, but rather contain both monogamous and polygamous individual). So some people's nature is in line with capitalism, others within socialism, others with fascism, etc. Which would explain why some Russians adapted easily to neoliberal capitalism and others descended into alcoholism.

Left in Wisconsin , , July 21, 2017 at 1:31 pm

Probably even multiple natures within the individual. Plus nurture(s).

makedoanmend , , July 21, 2017 at 2:17 pm


I hadn't even considered this idea at all. And as a general explanation of the nature of "human nature", it's well worth exploring. Might explain much about our species.

Ta again

Alejandro , , July 21, 2017 at 5:34 pm

I may be mis-reading but this seems like pseudo-science with a taxonomy obsession with slovenly implied spillovers into id-politics as pigeonhole fetish no need to engage, just label and tuck away. " [N]eat and convenient" for the pigeonholer, but much less so for the pigeonho[led], who consequently AND inconsequentially can be easily ignored, and eventually extinguished with alcohol {either-or} opioids.

Tony Wikrent , , July 21, 2017 at 10:47 am

Michael Hudson has pointed ou t that Marxism and the classical economics of Smith/Malthus/Ricardo are but two of three schools of political economy which developed in the 18th through 19th centuries. There was a third school which congealed as first USA Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton explicitly rejected Smith and went about the task of building a new republic. It became called the American System or American School after a speech by Henry Clay in February 1832 .

Leave ideology aside and ask a plainly pragmatic and utilitarian question: which of the three schools of political economy–British, Marxist, or American–was most successful in creating a functioning national economy with a large degree of general prosperity and political freedom?

The clear answer is the American School. The major proponents of the American School were Henry C. Carey (who advised Abraham Lincoln, so get transcontinental railroads and telegraph and the USDA at the same time the Union is fighting the Confederacy), Friedrich List (who leads the unification of Germany), and E. Peshine Smith (whose ideas guide the industrialization of Japan). Why do we never hear of these economists and their American School of political economy?

In December 1993, James Fallows rattled the economics profession with an article in The Atlantic, How the World Works :

The more I had heard about List in the preceding five years, from economists in Seoul and Osaka and Tokyo, the more I had wondered why I had virtually never heard of him while studying economics in England and the United States.

Fallows goes on to describe the historical importance, not of British opium-trade apologist Adam Smith, but of the American School, in guiding the early industrial development of Tokugawa Japan, late imperial China, czarist Russia, Germany, South Korea, and other countries.

In a nutshell, the American School is the only body of economic thought which has actually resulted in national industrial development along with a large degree of general prosperity and political freedom. A partial exception is Marx, but, as Lawrence Goodwyn, the late historian of the American agrarian revolt and populist movement of the late 1800s, pointed out, no system of Marxism has been implemented without the coercive power of a red army behind it.

Here is a quote from the Dominican priest who served as chaplain to the French Resistance during World War Two:

What Carey could not forgive in the English school of political economy, which after all must historically be called the capitalist school, and what he particularly could not forgive in Ricardo and Malthus, whom Marx so profoundly respected, was that they assigned to civilization the role of pursuing not happiness but wealth and power; that they debased man by directing him toward an aim that was beneath him, since power and physical satisfaction are also the aim of the beast; that they forgot to take man and man's nature into consideration when they established their so-called laws which reduced him to the level of the beast.

The link above includes two excerpts from Carey himself that I think very concisely condemns the market fundamentalism of modern economic neoliberalism and conservatism:

Such is the course of modern political economy, which not only does not "feel the breath of the spirit" but even ignores the existence of the spirit itself, and is therefore found defining what it is pleased to call the natural rate of wages, as being "that price which is necessary to enable the laborers, one with another, to subsist and perpetuate their race without either increase or diminution" (Ricardo)!that is to say, such price as will enable some to grow rich and increase their race, while others perish of hunger, thirst, and exposure. Such are the teachings of a system that has fairly earned the title of the "dismal science."


Such being the tendency of all its teachings, it is no matter of surprise that modern English political economy sees in man only an animal that will procreate, that must be fed, and that can be made to work [Carey's emphasis]!an instrument to be used by trade; that it repudiates all the distinctive qualities of man, and limits itself to the consideration of those he holds in common with the beast of burden or of prey; that it denies that the Creator meant that every man should find a place at His table, or that there exists any reason why a poor laborer, able and willing to work, should have any more right to be fed than the cotton-spinner has to find a market for his cloth; or that it assures its students that "labor is a commodity."

Why do we never hear of Carey and the American School? Why does it appear the only left alternative to laissez faire capitalism is Marx? The answer is: Carey and the American School have been written out of economic history, Here are the results of of some time spent in the stacks of the library at the University of North Carolina looking through the indexes of introductory economics textbooks. These are the number of pages on which there citations (for example, a citation in the index of pp. 145-147, is counted as three pages, not one) of Henry Carey, Alexander Hamilton, Friedrich List, Thorstein Veblen (American School); Milton Friedman, David Ricardo, Adam Smith (British school), and Karl Marx.

Joan Robinson and John Eatwell, An Introduction to Modern Economics (McGraw Hill, 1973)
Carey 0
Hamilton 0
Veblen 3
List 1
Friedman 1
Ricardo 18
Smith 20
Marx 28

Lloyd C. Atkinson, Economics: The Science of Choice (Richard D. Irwin, 1982)
Carey 0
Hamilton 0
Veblen 0
List 0
Friedman 4
Ricardo 0
Smith 3
Marx 0

Allen W. Smith, Understanding Economics (Random House, 1986)
Carey 0
Hamilton 0
Veblen 0
List 0
Friedman 1
Ricardo 0
Smith 4
Marx 3

Roger N. Waud, Economics, 3rd Edition (Harper and Row, 1986)
Carey 0
Hamilton 0
Veblen 0
List 0
Friedman 9
Ricardo 6
Smith 5
Marx 7

Bradley R. Schiller, The Economy Today, 4th Edition (Random House, 1989)
Carey 0
Hamilton 0
Veblen 0
List 0
Friedman 6
Ricardo 3
Smith 3
Marx 6

William J. Baumol and Alan S. Blinder, Economics: Principles and Policy, 5th Edition (Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, 1991)
Carey 0
Hamilton 0
Veblen 0
List 0
Friedman 5
Ricardo 5
Smith 13
Marx 7

Paul A. Samuelson and William D. Nordhaus, Economics (McGraw Hill, 1995)
Carey 0
Hamilton 4
Veblen 0
List 0
Friedman 5
Ricardo 2
Smith 8
Marx 2 (plus 2 on "Marxism")

Robert J. Barro, Macroeconomics (MIT Press, 1997)
Carey 0
Hamilton 0
List 0
Veblen 0
Friedman 9
Ricardo 0
Smith 0
Marx 0

Julian L. Simon, Economics Against the Grain, Volume 2 (Edward Elgar, 1998)
Carey 0
Hamilton 1
Veblen 0
List 0
Friedman 5
Ricardo 3
Smith 11
Marx 1

Frank Stilwell, Political Economy: The Contest of Economic Ideas (Oxford University Press, 2006)
Carey 0
Hamilton 0
Veblen 11
List 1
Friedman 9
Ricardo 12
Smith 16
Marx 19

N. Gregory Mankiw, Principles of Economics, Instructor's Edition, Sixth Edition (Southwestern, 2012)
Carey 0
Hamilton 0
Veblen 0
List 0
Friedman 9
Ricardo 1
Smith 9
Marx 0

PKMKII , , July 21, 2017 at 11:13 am

In a nutshell, the American School is the only body of economic thought which has actually resulted in national industrial development along with a large degree of general prosperity and political freedom.

If we're talking about the economics of America as set up in the late 18th and 19th centuries, wouldn't we be talking about economics that include and assume the existence of slavery, and later Jim Crow laws? That doesn't strike me as being politically free.

Tony Wikrent , , July 21, 2017 at 7:45 pm

You raise a very important question; important, because it forces us to deal with the fact that human history is quite messy. When a nation of 50 million people acts, does it act in accord with the wishes and intent of all 50 people? Of course not. Look at the American Civil War, and the men who fought on the Union side. Where they all of like mind in willing to risk their limbs and lives in way because they all shared a desire and intent to destroy slavery? No. Most actually fought to preserve the Union, though there were many who fought motivated by abolitionism. Many more served because of social pressure in their towns or locales, or simply because the accompanied family members or neighborhood fronts into the army.

It is easy to be confused by American history, because at the same time that the American System was being built and practiced, the British system was competing with it for control of the domestic economy and polity. To the extent that people today mistakenly believe that the American economy was founded on the ideas of Adam Smith (it most emphatically was not: Hamilton explicitly rejected the ideas of Smith ) the British system is winning. Michael Hudson has written at least two excellent overviews of this fight within the USA between the American and British systems:

Hudson, America's Protectionist Takeoff 1815-1914: The Neglected American School of Political Economy , ISLET, 2010, which I quote extensively in HAWB 1791 – Alexander Hamilton rejected Adam Smith. Also by Hudson: Simon Patten on Public Infrastructure and Economic Rent Capture . Another very useful book which examines the contest between the American and British schools is James L. Huston, Securing the Fruits of Labor: The American Concept of Wealth Distribution, 1765-1900 , Louisiana State University Press, 1998.

A similar contest rages in USA today (and around most of the world, for that matter). There are proponents of conservatism, mostly classical British laissez faire economics. There are proponents of libertarianism, the even more extreme Austrian school of economics (and there is a recent book out, which I have not acquired yet, Nancy MacLean's new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America , on James Buchanan and "public choice theory). There are proponents of neoliberalism (it is interesting to peruse this, Everyone Hates Neoliberals, So We Talked to Some , and note the astonishing lack of historical knowledge, and the complete absence of any notion of republicanism or Enlightenment political ideals). There are proponents of Marxism. Most readers of NC will probably agree that conservatism and neoliberalism are practically indistinguishable in the realm of economic policies, and have been the dominant school in our lifetimes. Conservatives and libertarians argue vehemently that the dominant school has been liberalism and Keynesianism, which they disparage as "statism." There are proponents of other economic schools as well, probably some I do not know, and perhaps even some that don't even have names yet. Out of this stew of contending interests and beliefs, how do you pick out one coherent set of ideas and attribute to it the policy direction of USA for the past half century?

In answer to your question: The simplified version of USA economic history at the period you point to is that the British system was dominant in the slave South, and fought for free trade in opposition to the American System's protective tariffs, which dominated the North.

Katsue , , July 21, 2017 at 12:39 pm

If William Hogeland's analysis in The Whiskey Rebellion is correct, one of Alexander Hamilton's major policy innovations was a deliberate exercise in rigging the economy in favour of the 1% of his day.

In his reading, Hamilton pushed for the Federal Government to assume the debts of the States in order to guarantee that bondholding speculators got paid, and to allow for the creation of a Federal tax system. The tax in question, the whiskey excise, was deliberately set up in order to drive small producers out of business and to bring the whiskey market under the control of large producers in the cities. The whole thing was a massive transfer of wealth from western farmers to Wall Street.

Tony Wikrent , , July 21, 2017 at 6:28 pm

I disagree with Hogeland completely and vehemently. He appears to have made no attempt whatsoever to understand republicanism and its place in the Enlightenment, and his understanding of political economy and matters of national and international finance are laughably facile.

Hogeland also completely ignores the crucial contribution Hamilton made in developing the constitutional theory of implied powers. As Supreme Court Justices John Marshall and Joseph Story noted, the opposing theory of enumerated powers -- which conservatives and libertarians are promoting today -- would cripple the national government.

What Hamilton actually accomplished financially, was to free the infant United States from a complete dependence on borrowing from European oligarchs, by creating a domestic system open to the much smaller fortunes of American bankers and merchants. It boggles my mind that anyone can not see or ignores this obvious historical fact.

I cannot account for the malice Hogeland and others on the left, such as Matt Stoller, bear toward Hamilton; though it is obvious to me why certain concentrations of economic wealth revile Hamilton: they have become increasingly powerful as the USA abandoned Hamiltonian political economy (such as a protective tariff) and deindustrialized and financialized. Destroy Hamitonian political economy, and the USA is destroyed from within by increasingly concentrated economic power. The left is shooting itself in the head by failing to understand Hamilton.

Tony Wikrent , , July 21, 2017 at 6:48 pm

In regards to the Whiskey Tax: I think it cannot be truly understood without the historical context of the idea of that time of a sumptuary tax. Classical republican ideology has always held that luxury was the vanguard of rot and corruption in a state. In fact, during the Constitutional Convention, it was argued that one reason a new, stronger national government was needed was so that sumptuary taxes could be imposed over the opposition of individual states.

The general view, discernible in contemporaneous literature, was that the responsibility of government should involve enough surveillance over the enterprise system to ensure the social usefulness of all economic activity. It is quite proper, said Bordley, for individuals to "choose for themselves" how they will apply their labor and their intelligence in production. But it does not follow from this that "legislators and men of influence" are freed from all responsibility for giving direction to the course of national economic development. They must, for instance, discountenance the production of unnecessary commodities of luxury when common sense indicates the need for food and other essentials. Lawmakers can fulfill their functions properly only when they "become benefactors to the publick"; in new countries they must safeguard agriculture and commerce, encourage immigration, and promote manufactures. Admittedly, liberty "is one of the most important blessings which men possess," but the idea that liberty is synonymous with complete freedom from restraint "is a most unwise, mistaken apprehension." True liberty demands a system of legislation that will lead all members of society "to unite their exertions" for the public welfare. It should therefore be the policy of government to aid and foster certain activities or kinds of business that strengthen a nation, even as it should be the duty of government to repress "those fashions, habits, and practices, which tend to weaken, impoverish, and corrupt the people." –Johnson, E.A.J., The Foundations of American Economic Freedom: Government and Enterprise in the Age of Washington (University of Minnesota Press, 1973), J194-195

Oregoncharles , , July 21, 2017 at 2:59 pm

Aside from Hamilton, Veblen is the only member of the American School I've heard of – and I took economics in college and have followed it ever since. Amazing.

edr , , July 21, 2017 at 3:21 pm

HI Tony, Thank you so much for this link, excellent !!! : :

"[Friedrich] List argued, a society's well-being and its overall wealth are determined not by what the society can buy but by what it can make."

"In strategic terms nations ended up being dependent or independent according to their ability to make things for themselves. Why were Latin Americans, Africans, and Asians subservient to England and France in the nineteenth century? Because they could not make the machines and weapons Europeans could."

In the 1500s Spain became the richest nation in Europe because it had accumulated the gold wealth of the America's. By the next century it had become among the poorest nations of Europe. Spain had so much gold it could afford to simply buy anything it wanted, until the gold ran out, while the Germans developed craft industries to supply Spain with products and became wealthy and powerful .. the Arab nations are in this situation today, so resource rich that they haven't focused on developing industry, so that when oil runs they'll be impoverished.

edr , , July 21, 2017 at 3:34 pm


so rich that there aren't any INCENTIVES to invest time and effort in creating the necessary industries.

Sue , , July 21, 2017 at 4:08 pm

Your data does not mean a thing. Data, to be meaningful as to the reality one is trying to show, must be preceded by a true knowledgable understanding of such reality. I conducted with two other colleagues a study about 15 years ago. This study was never published as we ran out of funds and we could not complete it. Nevertheless, the evidence from most colleges was overwhelming. Marx was not read. Marx was not fairly taught. This is the way it works, in case you are not aware. That a textbook includes chapters on Marxism and socialism does not imply that they are given attention too. In a large percentage of cases, if they are included in the syllabus by the teacher or department-I am saying teacher because in some colleges the professor ends up in practice applying his own particular syllabus-they are relegated to the end of the semester, with the tacit rule, "we will get too it, if we have time". It goes without saying that very rarely "we end up having time for it". Also, our team collected recordings from actual college economics and sociology classes. I vividly remember a professor who used for his Sociology 101 class James Henslin's textbook. Henslin suggested the students to learn three sociological views, functionalism, (interaction) symbolism and marxism. The first day of class the professor put it very clearly in his own words how Marx's dismissal was in order: "We are not going to use the Marxist approach. Marx was a workers' liberator who had never worked in a plant". It was not uncommon, in practice, to obliterate Marx, despite textbooks, syllabus or otherwise. Direct readings for the economics 100s and 200s classes systematically excluded Marx works, with Smith's The Wealth of Nations as #1 reading.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 4:35 pm

Your reply involves some interesting information, but it is unnecessarily vehement and it in fact misreads pretty seriously what Tony Wikrent said.

Wikrent claims that the American School of economics is not taught in universities, and so that if you are looking for an alternative to laissez-faire, you tend to assume the only one is Marxism. All of his data is aimed, not at showing that Marxism is taught, but that Carey and the American School are not.

From my experience as well, economics professors don't teach Marx. But that doesn't invalidate Wikrent's point. Even if students never hear about Marx from their economics professor, they will still have heard of Marx as a radical economist because his existence as such is generally known in mainstream culture. Whereas, Wikrent is saying, they will not have heard of Carey and the American School in other venues, so if they don't hear about them in economics departments, it will be like they never existed.

Sue , , July 21, 2017 at 5:11 pm

True. But I could mention several important political economy schools which are ignore across the board. This is what happens when orthodoxy pervades institutions. Now, specific to the comment, when one lays data out and makes it a reflection of practice, the least one and others can do is to point out that it is only a valid partial representation of that practice (here just valid for Wikrent's particular aims) and that the full data does not reflect the entire practice -and indeed provides an illusion of it.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 5:17 pm

Yes, but please try to apply more interpretive charity. You could have made the same point by just saying, "One thing I'd like to add," and it wouldn't have come off as a personal attack.

Sue , , July 21, 2017 at 5:44 pm

I agree. Fair enough. Thanks for the article and discussion

justanotherprogressive , , July 21, 2017 at 10:49 am

Are we again looking for "the theory of everything"? You know, that one "ism" or theory or form of government that will explain everything and make everything right?

Bad news. It doesn't exist.

No "ism" or form of government will solve and explain everything. No "ism" or form of government is completely wrong and no "ism" or form of government is completely right and never has been.

I'm a student of history and I love reading how ideas got started and how civilizations fail – and I've found the two are very related .

For those who wish to call the collapse of Russia a failure of communism, I ask when was the theory of communism practiced in Russia? Certainly what Lenin and Stalin created had nothing in common with the "commune" systems (from whence Communism gets its name) the peasants put in place to protect themselves.

And Capitalism? Even Adam Smith (of whom I am no great fan) understood that Capitalism (he didn't call it that but he did lay the basis for that system) understood that all members of the system had to have the same knowledge and act morally to be able to work best in their self interest. Does what Adam Smith proposed even resemble the Capitalism we have today?

I'll ignore Marx since it is such a touchy subject today, but I will ask: When were the theories of Marx ever really put into practice within the boundaries Marx set up? Do Marxists actually understand what those boundaries are?

And Democracy? Shall we again excoriate Athens for their failures in attempting to practice the theory?

Even something as reviled as feudalism had its roots in something good. Certainly, at the time, the peasants preferred it to being the victims of the Vikings and every other attacker that came along. But those who gained power from it couldn't give it up, even when it was no longer useful for protection .

The problem isn't the "isms" or even the forms of government- each "ism" and type of government has its value in a particular setting – but that does not mean it applies to every setting. "Isms" , like all theories, have boundaries within which they work – and "isms", like theories, will fail when applied to areas outside those specific boundaries. For a quick example, Democracy works when you have an educated and involved populace who understands that in order for their form of government to survive, power must never be completely centralized – it fails when the people do not understand or recognize that boundary.

It would be much better for us all if humans if they had the ability to recognize the boundaries of their "ism" and the ability to switch to a different theory when the times demanded – but they don't. Sadly I see throughout history that there have always be those people who rise to power during an "ism" and can't let go of it, even when it doesn't work (when the "ism" or theory is used outside its specific boundaries), because of their fear of losing control. And then the societal destruction begins but that isn't the fault of the "ism" – or the form of government

Perhaps instead of just deriding those theories that aren't currently popular, we really should be asking ourselves: What are the boundaries of each "ism" and when will that "ism" work and when will it not, and how do we learn to switch between them as necessity dictates?

justanotherprogressive , , July 21, 2017 at 11:19 am

Err .my last sentence should have read: "What are the boundaries of each "ism" and when will that "ism" work and when will it not, and how do we learn to switch peacefully between them as necessity dictates?"

hemeantwell , , July 21, 2017 at 10:58 am

While I respect the author for raising this topic, he seems to fall into "assessment of the Soviet Experiment" mode in a careless way. I realize I tend to repetition about this, but it is terribly misleading -- perhaps "disorienting" would be a better term -- to discuss theses questions without any reference to the tremendous impact external pressures -- call it "intersystemic conflict," "international conflict," whatever -- had on the course of the Soviet Union's development. While it could be argued that capitalist economies also faced external pressures, that would miss the question of how such pressures impact on a society in the process of formation . We're talking about questions of constrained path dependence of a fundamental order that the experimentalist mode of thinking misses. Etc, etc.

Then, as far as the "collapse of the Soviet Union" goes, there's no mention about the choice by significant sections of the Soviet elite to engage in looting instead of developing a transitional program that would protect viable sections of the Soviet economy under market socialism. What from the standpoint of the Times editorial board looks like a necessary start-over was in fact a sloppily-carried decision, or merely an unintended outcome, of a section of the elite seizing an opportunity to enrich themselves.

While it is essential to try to determine the viability of alternative economic systems in comparison what we've got now, doing so without taking into account the tremendously destructive opposition a transition would face is, in a way, to blithely continue on in a "Soviet Experiment" mentality. It's obvious that people can enjoyably engage in cooperative behavior, but if they can do so under a barrage is another matter. The one thing that we can be certain of is that if capitalist elites aren't thoroughly demoralized they will do whatever they can to 'prove' TINA.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 1:06 pm

I was a little confused by this comment. I'm not opposed to looking at the impact of external pressures, but I am opposed to treating them as monocausal.

Your preferred pattern of historical explanation shifts during the course of your comment. When discussing the USSR in the process of formation, you concentrate on bringing out external pressures and therefore considering the choices of the leadership as highly constrained. When discussing the collapse of the Soviet Union, you instead stress the choices of the leadership elite to "seize an opportunity to enrich themselves."

I'm not even sure why you would assume that your thesis about the elite choosing to engage in looting is opposed to anything that I'm saying.

I agree with you on is that it is possible to think both about what a self-sustaining better society might look like, and also the extent to which it's hard to get there within the constraints of current power structures. They are not the same question, and I think both are worth pondering.

schultzzz , , July 21, 2017 at 12:46 pm

Although I only understood 33% of this, I'm thankful for how the author points out the common forms of cherry-picking BS that both sides use when talking about communism.

If your only knowledge of communism came from the online left, you'd believe that it's never once been tried before!

They talk about it like some religious Rapture that will someday come and fix all the problems, not like a system that already has a proven track record. And it drives me nuts.

I mean, be a commie if you want to, but at least don't be a weasel about it.

Either say, "All those countries were awful dictatorships and that wasn't real communism anyway," (in which case it's on you to explain why YOUR post-revolutionary society will turn out different!) or say, "Those countries were pretty rad actually, and I own the actions of the leaders," and take the pushback that will result from THAT.

But whatever you do, please, don't just duck the issue by saying, "Well capitalism is bad too, so whatever LOL"

p.s. thanks for explaining the Motte and Bailey argument – wish I'd known about it in college!

Roland , , July 21, 2017 at 1:35 pm

I enjoyed this post, Outis, even though I'm going to be a bit critical of it. I am pleased to just to be able to talk about this stuff from time to time.

In Asimov's original Foundation stories, Hari Seldon devised an actual plan for the future history of an empire.

But historical dialectical materialism is not a plan. It is a theory which one may use to develop hypotheses.

Does Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection determine which species happen to survive? Would evolution by natural selection fail to happen, if nobody ever wrote about it?

So why would Marx's theory of class struggle alter the course of history?

If one reads the Communist Manifesto , one finds that the work is almost entirely devoted to the bourgeoisie and to the history of capitalism.

The bourgeoisie, after centuries of struggle against the nobility, the clergy, and the petty bourgeoisie, at length became the dominant class in society. Obviously the bourgeoisie didn't need Marx to help them do that!

Marx hypothesizes that for as long as the bourgeois class is what it is, and does what it does, a class struggle will result in which proletarians will assume power.

Marx points out that the vast majority of the job of obliterating private property is actually being performed by the bourgeois class themselves. Marx points out that most of the job of reducing differences between nations is actually done by the bourgoisie. Marx points that it's the bourgeoisie who dissolve traditional family institutions.

But that's observation and extrapolation, not a plan. For a revolutionary programme of the proletariat, Marx only offers a short list of points to consider.

Little of the Manifesto is devoted to the subject of the proletariat. That's not surprising, since proletarian history had scarcely begun.

For the sake of argument, ask yourself how much could one write about bourgeois history, or bourgeois political prospects, in the 12th century? At that time the Occidental bourgeoisie was in its political infancy. Few would imagine that these harried, oppressed, vulgar little burghers would eventually become the dominant class in society. I mean, the whole notion would seem "not even wrong."

It was difficult for Marx, and it is still difficult for us, to contemplate what a society would look like, or what life would feel like, if the proletariat were the politically and culturally dominant class. One only gets tantalizing glimpses, half-fanciful, such as Orwell's first impression of Barcelona.

To extend my 12th century bourgeois analogy, it would be like trying to envision Planet Bourgeois, based on a day trip to 12th century Venice.

Marx does offer brief critiques of those socialist programmes which do not focus on the proletarian class.

For our present purposes, the most interesting of them is Marx's anticipation of the welfare state, which he refers to as "bourgeois socialism."

For decades after WWII, many in the developed nations thought that the welfare states had solved the worst problems of capitalism. I used to be one of them. But it took Marx just a single page of the Communist Manifesto to raise, evaluate, and dismiss the idea.

Ulysses , , July 21, 2017 at 2:14 pm

"But historical dialectical materialism is not a plan. It is a theory which one may use to develop hypotheses. Does Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection determine which species happen to survive? Would evolution by natural selection fail to happen, if nobody ever wrote about it?"

Well said! This is very close to the sort of defense that most MMT theorists deploy– when critics decry the possible negative consequences of "adopting" their theory. "We are not proposing, merely describing" is the refrain. I myself have never been a Marxist, yet I find the historical analysis of some Marxist scholars quite perceptive. In my former life as a medievalist I often relied heavily on excellent work, authored by conservative Catholics, without ever feeling the urge to become one myself!

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 2:27 pm

Thanks, Roland. Actually, I think your summary is pretty good, and it provides an opportunity to clarify some things.

The Hari Seldon analogy is based on an idea of Marx that was often found in communist political cultures. It's true that they didn't imagine that Marx had seen the precise path of the future with the kind of mathematical precision that Seldon was supposed to have done.

However, I think the analogy still captures some noteworthy elements of how Marx was perceived. If a key feature of Marxism is the idea that people do not understand the history they are building, then Marx's role is to bring understanding into a world where it had been lacking. Whereas the same scientific principles regulating the class struggle are supposed to have operated both before and after Marx, before humanity was in the dark, but now it can choose to see. Similarly, Seldon's psychohistory is supposed to have operated as a sort of natural principle both before and after his lifetime, but once Seldon has revealed it, it becomes possible for an appropriate elite not only to understand what is happening (the First Foundation, to some extent) but also to midwife the process of bringing a new society into existence (the Second Foundation).

All of this touches on a point I made in the article. Once you describe the role of Marx as it was often imagined within historical communist culture, it doesn't sound very Marxist. Nevertheless, people did often imagine him that way. Systems of beliefs as actually held by people can often be more complex and contradictory than their theoreticians would claim.

Kenneth Heathly Simpson , , July 21, 2017 at 1:45 pm

Greetings All and thank you,

It was a long read to get to this point in the discussion. I would like to point out that all economies are planned. The question is: what class is doing the planning? If the workers are not doing the planning, then the first step toward socialism, a workers' state, does not exist or it is degenerating rapidly. A workers' state must by it very nature be democratic when it is in formation. If history kills the worker's state, then some other class based on private property, share holding capitalism or a singular private property based on the state itself replaces the workers' rule. You cannot get to socialism with our first having a workers state and you cannot get to communism without first attaining socialism. This is basic Marxism. If you do not understand this you will end up talking endlessly but get no where with in a truly Marxist frame work.

hush/hush , , July 21, 2017 at 2:18 pm

A little outside the box but I would recommend: The English and their History, by Robert Tombs. Why? Because in Marx's own time England was the most industrialized and trade unionized country in the world and Marx spent a lot of time there proselytizing to limited effect. Tombs makes a wide ranging and sensitive study of Marx's intersection with British liberalism. It's a fascinating read!

etnograf , , July 21, 2017 at 2:24 pm

Outis, thanks for raising all of these issues for public discussion. There is no question that a solid historical consideration of the communist experience in the 20th century is critical to how we think about Marxism and many other leftist ideas and it a decidedly fraught terrain where greater nuance is desperately needed.

I am surprised that you don't mention more recent historical scholarship on the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc countries, however. In your brief note on what you are currently reading it seems that nearly all of the works are more than a half-century old. While such dustier tomes are often invaluable, none of them benefited from the archival access, oral histories, and other sources that have become much more widely available in the last 25 years. There was certainly a lot of dogmatic work that came out in the years after communism fell–something like Fukuyama's The End of History comes to mind as a quintessential example of that–but there were also many serious scholars who did not necessarily have a strong ax to grind for or against communism, historical or otherwise.

For example, I find the historian Stephen Kotkin's work to be quite nuanced without taking a strong ideological stance. Originally a scholar of Stalinism who wrote on the construction of a major steel plant in the Urals (Magnetic Mountain, 1995), he went on to also write books on the collapse of the Soviet Union (Armageddon Averted) and the Eastern European bloc (Uncivil Society). He has a new biography of Stalin coming out in phases, though I haven't read it yet. All of these works emphasize what was in fact the close integration in many ways of the capitalist and communist worlds. In the 1930s it was the crisis of capitalism that largely helped to preserve the appeal of communism even as it was largely American firms that were being contracted to build socialist factories and import equipment. In the later postwar years the price of oil was critical to understanding some of the early successes and later extreme difficulties of the Soviet and Eastern bloc economy. The collapse of the Eastern bloc had much to do with the comparison that socialism itself encouraged people to make with capitalism by an increasing focus on consumer goods that the communist system was woefully unable to produce.

All of this is by way of saying that the good historical work out there does not try to see the communism of the 20th century as some kind of pure or corrupted manifestation of any ideological system but, like every other kind of political upheaval, a complicated venture that was inseparable from its many contexts–chief among them its place in a world global economic system and its self-definition vis-a-vis the actually existing capitalism of its time. Susan Buck-Morss makes some of these points in her book Dreamworld and Catastrophe on the similarities between the U.S. and USSR.

In any case, I hope my brief thoughts might help move the discussion of the minefield of historical communism more firmly onto the terrain of actual history.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 2:39 pm

Thanks, etnograf. Furet's book is from 1995, and the interview with Castoriadis is from that time, but as you say, some of the other books I'm interested in are from the 50s or earlier. I enjoy reading books written in the heat of events, and so from far in the past, since you often get plunged into a worldview that is curiously alien from the present. But often modern historical scholarship is incredibly helpful, and I greatly appreciate your suggestions.

However, one thing that I hope was clear from the post is that I think that while looking into some problems requires wide and careful reading, there are some fundamental questions that it isn't wrong for people to discuss even if they aren't experts on current scholarship.

kukuzel , , July 21, 2017 at 8:42 pm

I second the thanks to Outis and also want to thank you, etnograf, for such a well-put comment and the book reference.

Sue , , July 21, 2017 at 2:39 pm

It is evident this writer has not even been close to live and understand many failed European attempts by real grassroots leftists to significantly shape socioeconomic dynamics.

A excerpt: "Large numbers of intellectuals in France and Italy were convinced that the USSR was a genuine incarnation of Left values (this implies nothing good about the historical left"

From the very 60s and 70s a good number of activists and intellectuals in several European countries did not call the USSR communist, socialist or Marxist. There was a very clear term for the USSR regime: Sovietism.

Also what most people do not realize is that Marx was extremely generous to capitalism from many important angles. If you want me to illustrate, let me know.

Also the author would need to clarify his reference to Latin America, just in case he has forgot what took place there in the 70s and 80s.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 2:55 pm

When I mentioned Latin America, I was referring specifically to the coup against Arbenz in Guatemala (1973) and the coup against Allende in Chile (1973). I brought them up as genuine cases where attempts to carry out left-oriented reforms were thwarted by external pressures and interventions.

The fact that Marx had good things to say about capitalism and saw a key role for it in the way history moves forward is not disputed by anyone serious.

You do not understand the quote you are criticizing. If I say that large numbers of intellectuals in France and Italy saw the USSR as part of the Left, you don't achieve anything for your argument by claiming that there were "a good number" of "activists and intellectuals" who referred to the USSR's regime as "Sovietism." The two statements aren't inconsistent in any way.

Please try to read more carefully in the future.

Sue , , July 21, 2017 at 4:42 pm

"When I mentioned Latin America, I was referring specifically to the coup against Arbenz in Guatemala (1973) and the coup against Allende in Chile (1973). I brought them up as genuine cases where attempts to carry out left-oriented reforms were thwarted by external pressures and interventions"

Yes, Kissinger knows one thing or two about it. I think that makes your, "one thinks of Latin American countries that tried to institute various left-leaning social programs, and then, between economic pressure and the threat of military subversion, ended up being pushed into the arms of the USSR", much comprehensive. I appreciate it

Oregoncharles , , July 21, 2017 at 3:10 pm

"as well as much of the leadership of the 60s student movements, were convinced that the USSR was a genuine incarnation of Left values."

Why do you think it was called the "New Left"? I was there, and that's not what I remember. For one thing, most of us were very anti-authoritarian. Communism was seen archaic.

No, I wasn't a "student leader," nor was I close enough to any of the famous ones to know what they thought. But I was immersed in the zeitgeist, and that wasn't it. For one thing, the Hungarian and Tibetan uprisings were formative for a lot of us.

How old are you, Outis? Suddenly it matters.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 3:39 pm

Not old enough! But see my comments addressing this point elsewhere (do a search on this page on SDS). I can also provide more references if you're interested.

People have different experiences. I know some people who did live through that time and who were pretty radical then. According to them, as they gradually over time grudgingly accepted that the USSR/China/Cuba etc. were not everything they had imagined, their own politics became less and less radical, more "liberal" or even "neoliberal." This is a kind of trajectory that I think is not logically necessary, but important to understand.

Oregoncharles , , July 21, 2017 at 4:34 pm

I wasn't directly involved with SDS – just read about it.

I became a Green – arguably the tail of the New Left. I gather the German party has moved in a more neoliberal direction, but the US and British parties have moved the opposite way.

I attended a college whose unofficial motto was "Atheism, Communism, and Free Love." Epate les bourgeoisie, IOW. I don't remember much interest in actual communism, but I could be just projecting. Free love, now, that was another matter. But that was 50 years ago.

Ulysses , , July 21, 2017 at 5:09 pm

So this is how one SDS leader at Stanford, Martin Bresnick, recalled his visit to Prague in 1970:

"Standing near the Charles Bridge we saw a worker whitewashing over a name that had been painted on the pedestrian side of the bridge. It was the name of Jan Palach, the young student who had burned himself to death the year before protesting the Soviet invasion. Whenever I passed by I saw that someone had again painted Palach's name on the bridge during the night and each day another worker was sent to whitewash over it.

In the evening we went to concerts at the Smetana Hall in the immense Municipal building. It is difficult to describe what music meant to the Czechs then. The audience listened to everything with the most focused attention imaginable and musicians played with a passion I had never experienced.

In Prague, in 1970, all music seemed to be a testament of freedom, filled with unspoken messages of defiance and resistance. When a work ended, the audience broke into wild applause, wept, cheered, then eagerly spoke to each other in Czech, guessing the Soviet soldiers scattered in the crowd could not understand them ."

Have to say it's hard to see much Soviet apologetics going on there!!

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 5:25 pm

Here is an excerpt from an email that a reader sent me, about an incident that happened two years before the one you describe (with the brackets to protect his privacy):

In the summer of 1968 the SDS national office in Chicago sponsored a trip to Cuba (Met in Houston Texas (Todd Gitlin was then the President of SDS) flew to Mexico City and then flew to Havana/ ended up returning via Russian Freighter to Saint Johns Canada and then drove across Canadian border back into U.S) [I and a friend] jointly decided to take advantage of this opportunity to see up-close the Cuban revolution and also meet fellow SDSers Two years earlier I had helped set-up an SDS chapter on my campus and had engaged in a series of demonstrations, and organizing activities both on and off campus, primarily around anti-war protests of one type of another. I would call my two previous years of organizing on my campus quite successful and I was personally excited about meeting other members of SDS chapters from across the country from different local campus or local community organizations, in order to swap organizing experiences and gain and exchange political insights. A significant number of SDS members who were on that trip to Cuba in the summer of 1968 had just been involved in the takeover of buildings at Columbia University (April of 1968).

That Columbia grouping would later make up a significant portion of the Weatherman faction that eventually took over and destroyed SDS.

A foreshadowing of that groupings increasingly rigid ideological politics took place during on our trip in Cuba. Shortly after arriving in Havana in mid-August of 1968 the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia and our SDS group got into a political debate about what our collective stance was toward the Russian invasion. About 6 of us condemned the invasion, while the vast majority of the approximately 45 SDSers (including most of the Columbia University faction supported the Russian invasion). The next morning when our entire group was supposed to leave Havana to begin our trip throughout Cuba–the six of us were told by a member of our SDS group that we were to stay in Havana because we were considered politically unreliable by the majority of our "comrades."

Our Cuban guides didn't appear to know what to do with us but after meeting with the Cubans and explaining our political infighting they allowed us to rejoin the trip. Needless to say most of the other SDS members were not happy to see us when we returned to the trip but there was nothing they could do about it. The supreme irony about that incident was that one of the most ideologically militant SDS members on that trip turned out to be an undercover FBI agent who later gave testimony to Congressional committee about what had taken place during that trip to Cuba.

Donald , , July 21, 2017 at 8:38 pm

I have zero first hand knowledge, but my impression is that the NewLeft romanticized Castro and Ho Chi Minh and possibly Mao, but saw the Soviet Union as a failure.

No links offhand– it's just the impression I long have had. There were exceptions– the historian who wrote some famous books o American slavery ( I am blanking on his name and his books) was an admirer of the Soviet Union. This is all very fuzzy, but I think it is correct and fits in with what others have said about New Left attitudes towards the Russian suppression of the Czech revolt.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 8:44 pm

Very funny example of synchronicity here – see my comment that posted one minute after yours.

There were also Italians who preferred China to the USSR, for example Lotta continua and Autonomia operaia.

Ulysses , , July 21, 2017 at 4:49 pm

"Why do you think it was called the "New Left"? I was there, and that's not what I remember."

Well said! This huge discrepancy between the broad generalization that "much of the leadership of the 60s student movements" were Soviet apologists, and the actual lived experience of those of us born before 1965 is jarring, to say the least.

I remember well the years 1968 to 1975. My parents were strong anti-war activists and academics, who hosted numerous student radicals at many social gatherings. I have no memory of any Soviet apologists, yet recall distinctly many condemnations of 1956, 1968, and both sides in the Cold War.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 8:39 pm

What are your recollections about attitudes toward Mao? As I recall from David Barber's book A Hard Rain Fell: SDS and Why It Failed , the Black Panthers were certainly Maoists and there were also others who preferred China to the USSR.

joe , , July 21, 2017 at 3:22 pm

i'm 48, and i grew up in rural east texas.

pre-internet, there was simply a great vacuum in marxist materials.(I looked). Late 80's one could find a lot of post-punk nihilism in the head shops and vintage record stores in houston, but nobody talked about marx or, really, even economics and politics.

Now, 35 years later, and out in the rural hill country of texas, I find that nobody wants to talk about such things .aside from those who replace discourse with simple declaratory sentences.

The Taboo larded onto all things marx is still in the process of falling away. Reckon this should be remembered and accounted for in all such discussions.

Gil , , July 21, 2017 at 3:34 pm

Marx and Engels were democrats first and then attached a theory of capitalism and socialism to their democratic beliefs. They were right that the new industrial proletariat would become the main social force in the fight for democratic rights against the autocratic and aristocratic regimes of Europe, but their theory of capitalism and socialism was mistaken.

Lenin was also a democrat for thirty years and fought for a democratic republic before the catastrophe of WWI and the Russian Revolution. Luxemburg's critique of Lenin's and Trotsky's authoritarianism identifies the tragic ideological turning point in the history of Marxism.

To find what is still useful in Marxism, go back to its democratic values, not its theory of history or theory of socialist revolution and economic planning. For Marx and Engels' role in the democratic struggle in Europe, August Nimtz's recent work is clear and straightforward. For Lenin's early democratic strategic thinking, Neil Harding's Lenin's Political Thought, Vol 1, is essential. Finally, Barrington Moore's The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy provides a better framework for understanding modern history than Marxism.

The central conflict in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries was not between capitalism and socialism but between democracy and an authoritarianism rooted in agricultural elites dependent on unfree labor. The Old Regime in Europe was finally destroyed by the Allied armies in WWII. However, the struggle for democracy is not over and Moore's title is not quite accurate.

Moore's title should have been The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Constitutional Liberalism because the United States is not a representative democracy based on one person one vote, the monstrosity of the Senate being the main expression of this undemocratic structure. The primary political goal in the United States is to establish democracy, and the history of Marxism is useful in understanding the ideological and strategic aspects of that goal because for over seventy years that was also the primary political goal of Marxism

Oregoncharles , , July 21, 2017 at 3:34 pm

I wish I had time to respond fully to this, because I think I helped trigger it in a prior discussion and because I have, let's say, extensive priors.

Let me briefly state what I failed to make clear before: I think that society evolves in much the same way that organisms do – that is, variation followed by "natural" selection. The big difference results from the mode of transmission: genetics, in the case of biology, which evolves fairly slowly; and culture, in the case of societies, which can evolve very quickly. Culture is learned, so acquired traits are retained, unlike genetics (biologists have now discovered epigenetics, a big exception to that rule), and furthermore are transmitted independent of reproduction.

Evolution, like life itself, is a feedback-controlled system that can appear to have a "mind of its own." It's in that sense that I think most social change is "unconscious," even though it depends on the conscious decisions of many participants. Note that markets, when they operate, have the same characteristic. And because it's a characteristic of life itself, they can't be eliminated, as the communist countries discovered.

On the other hand, I'm very materialist, in Marx's sense (if I understand it): livelihood and survival are the ultimate determinants of social evolution – within bounds set by the initial state (because that's how evolution works).

For me, all that goes back to a thesis I was working on in college. Unfortunately, I broke down and dropped out, not because of the thesis, so it wasn't finished, and I don't know what anthropologists presently think. Social evolution is the reason Dawkins invented the term "meme": the unit of cultural transmission.

That's what I meant when I wrote that Darwin – evolution – had superseded the dialectic.

I'll try to come back and respond to some of the economics questions (yeah, I know, everybody's holding their breath), but I right now I need to go to work.

lambert strether , , July 21, 2017 at 6:08 pm

TiSA sounds a lot like a planned economy to me.

A question of who's doing the planning, I suppose.

possum holler , , July 21, 2017 at 6:44 pm

Robert Asprey's War In the Shadows, the Guerilla in History, Vol II might be good survey reading for your project. He has a thesis of historical Leninism and Maosim as method applied in partisan struggles that might prove enlightning; especially on the Eastern Front of WWII and in Yugoslav history (Vol I is a long tactical and strategic evaluation of the conflict and police action in Vietnam that set the question Vol II tried to answer, and won't help you with your questions).

Carl Schmitt's Theory of the Partisan is a very accessible and serious theoretical look at internationalist communism, particularly during WWII. This work of Schmitt's later deeply influenced Laclau and Mouffe's work on building left populism in Latin America and Europe.

For a little lighter, but still useful, reading, Gary Brecher's The War Nerd collects his irreverent, proto-dirtbag left columns from the Russian alternative rag The Exile. Some of his work on Chechen history under Stalinism, Nepali Maoist guerillas, and Albanian bunkers might be instructive.

I'm left, but often the left has a poor understanding of itself. Asprey was a US career army officer who was deeply concerned about the Vietnam police action, Schmitt an influential Weimar and Nazi German conservative jurist and legal scholar, "Dolan" a satirist and former rhetoric professor expat from the US in '90s Russia.

Outis Philalithopoulos Post author , , July 21, 2017 at 6:55 pm

Thanks, these all sound worth checking out.

duck1 , , July 21, 2017 at 6:50 pm

Historical minefield, for sure. This is anecdotal about 60's 70's US new left, but I think generally accurate. One core group was the red diaper babies, children of CPUSA or sympathizers. Inheriting aspects of parents experience, frequently in the leadership of the left CIO unions. Ahead of everyone else in terms of understanding Marxism due to anti-communist era. Splits in this group vis a vis Kruschev outing Stalin.

SDS split along Progressive Labor and anti-imperialist lines. PL evolved out of Teamsters labor struggles in Minneapolis and had Trotskyist bent. The imperialism thesis derived from the Lenin work.

By the mid 70's you had a terrorist bent and what was generally conceived as a new party building movement (CP) that was Maoist oriented. The big dog in the Bay Area was the Revolutionary Union who established proletarian cred by getting the still widely available industrial jobs in the area. Then there were a bunch of sects with various core beliefs.

This is leaving aside the black struggles of the period. Naturally the polntless nature of the party building got to most people, though some still soldier on. Obviously no such group has anywhere near the influence that CPUSA had.

[Jul 21, 2017]

Jul 21, 2017 |

The Nonproliferation Review/Spring-Summer 1996

R. Adam Moody





R. Adam Moody is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of

International Studies.

by R. Adam Moody

Prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union, scientists, engineers, and technicians in the Soviet defense sector were strictly controlled. Those with access to state secrets had almost no opportunities to travel abroad, even to Eastern Europe. Other contacts with foreign firms were subjected to stringent centralized oversight, when they were allowed at all. But Soviet military scientists and engineers traditionally had been among the highest paid individuals.

Those living in closed cities enjoyed even greater benefits in order to compensate them from their almost total isolation from the rest of the world.

By the late 1980s, however, funding for Soviet science began a steep and steady decline due, among other reasons, to Soviet budget problems and Gorbachev's perestroika policies, which lessened the traditional Soviet emphasis on military power. This descent sharpened significantly with the December 1991 breakup of the country, the dissolution of the central planning apparatus, and beginning of a period of hyperinflation.

Runaway inflation (about 30 percent per month) undercut the former Soviet Union's early efforts to pacify disillusioned scientists by raising salaries in closed cities, providing additional government funding for science, and alleviating tax burdens. In addition, "[s]ome of the measures taken by the Russian government were not well thought out." Scientists in the military-industrial complex, in part because of their formerly privileged status, were especially disillusioned with the turn of events.

With the virtual disappearance of official restrictions on emigration, under-funded and jobless scientists began to look for opportunities to recoup their crumbling economic prospects abroad. State responses to these tendencies were inadequate and ill-prepared, as none of the Soviet successor states had effective policies, programs, or institutions in place to mitigate the migratory tendencies of its elite personnel. Indeed, the few Soviet agencies that had been in place to track such movements were primarily concerned with the ethnic, rather than the professional, character of migrations. Some Soviet agencies did track the movement of their personnel independently, but these data are incomplete and inconclusive.

Ironically, during the few years leading up to the Soviet Union's collapse, Western governments and human rights organizations put significant pressure on the Soviet Union to liberalize its emigration and immigration policies, which it did on May 30, 1991, with the passing of the "Law on the Procedures of Exit from the USSR and Entry to the USSR for Citizens of the USSR" in the Supreme Soviet. The law entered into force on January 1, 1993. While the law liberalized entry and exit procedures, it also was supposed to prevent anyone with access to state secrets from emigrating for at least five years (with the possibility of extension).

The absence of a centralized institution in the Soviet Union to track exit patterns complicates current efforts in the post-Soviet states and abroad either to quantify the diffusion of expertise or to gain much qualitative data. However, as a result of the international community's growing level of awareness to the risks associated with the proliferation of Soviet weapons expertise, a significant cache of data has emerged in open sources since 1991, including in-country reports, insti

Russia's Space Program in Crisis After Decades of Brain Drain

Russia's once-great space program is being dragged back to Earth by decades of brain drain and ... manpower after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 and many ...

What's Behind the Brain Drain in the Former Soviet Union

About 3 million Russians left in the decade from 2005 to 2015, estimates Lev Gudkov, director of the independent Levada Center polling agency in Moscow.

They included many entrepreneurs -- people capable of building businesses and thus creating jobs -- who were fed up with corruption, red tape and crooked courts.

One of the surges in Russian emigration came after Putin was re-elected president in 2012.

More than 53,000 Russian professionals left for the United States, Germany, Israel and other countries in 2014 -- the highest figure in nine years, Bloomberg reported.

IZA World of Labor - The brain drain from developing countries

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