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David Thompson
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August 22, 2011

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Nate Whilk

Have you ever read what Albert Einstein's opinion of the USSR was?

http://www.csicop.org/si/show/myth_of_consistent_skepticism_the_cautionary_case_of_albert_einstein/

Interestingly, Einstein refused to join or endorse an international commission headed by John Dewey to investigate the Moscow Show Trials (a consistent skeptic would seek both confirmatory and discrediting evidence) and would subsequently write to Max Born that “there are increasing signs the Russian trials are not faked, but that there is a plot among those who look upon Stalin as a stupid reactionary who has betrayed the ideas of the revolution” (quoted in Born 1971, p. 130). Born would later comment that most people in the West at the time believed the trials “to be the arbitrary acts of a cruel dictator.” Einstein, however, relied upon information from people he described as “those who know Russia best.”

[snip]

Einstein, a professed believer in political liberty, virtually refuses to criticize the Soviet government and justifies the murders and creation of slave labor camps. The closest Einstein comes to criticism of the Soviet government is contained in the first sentence of the following quote. However, the next sentence speaks for itself. According to Einstein in 1948, “I am not blind to the serious weaknesses of the Russian system of government and I would not like to live under such government. But it has, on the other side, great merits and it is difficult to decide whether it would have been possible for the Russians to survive by following softer methods” (Einstein quoted in Hook 1987, p. 471).

David

Nate, thanks for that.

David

What I find interesting is how a person can so eagerly propagate a blueprint for mass human misery and excuse and romanticise its practical imposition, knowing what that entails, while imagining themselves to be on the side of the angels. Regarding Hobsbawm, Theodore Dalrymple offered this provocative little thought:

No one would feel personally threatened by him at a social gathering, where he would be amusing, polite, charming, and accomplished; if you had him to dinner, you wouldn’t have to count the spoons afterward, even though he theoretically opposes the idea of private wealth. In short, there would be no reason to suspect that he was about to commit a common crime against you. In this sense, he is what one might call a moderate Marxist.

But Hobsbawm has stated quite openly that, had the Soviet Union managed to create a functioning and prosperous socialist society, 20 million deaths would have been a worthwhile price to pay; and since he didn’t recognize, even partially, that the Soviet Union was not in fact on the path to such a society until many years after it had murdered 20 million of its people (if not more), it is fair to assume that, if things had turned out another way in his own country, Hobsbawm would have applauded, justified, and perhaps even instigated the murders of the very people to whom he was now, under the current dispensation, being amusing, charming, and polite.

In other words, what saved Hobsbawm from committing utter evil was not his own scruples or ratiocination, and certainly not the doctrine he espoused, but the force of historical circumstance. His current moderation would have counted for nothing if world events had been different.

It’s a point we’ve touched on before – that avowing the joys of Nazism, for instance, would for the most part not get one invited to parties or result in public accolades. A public intellectual doing so would more typically be viewed as aberrant, contrarian or contemptible. Yet a comparable enthusiasm for communism – with its conceptual similarities and much greater body count – is relatively exempt from opprobrium and is even fashionable, at least in some quarters.

A few months ago, during an anti-cuts protest, I saw a small group of local students waving communist banners and related totalitarian paraphernalia. They seemed to believe this was a symbol of their ostentatious virtue and moral sophistication. In fact, the message they were sending was altogether less glorious: “If I had my way, I’d impoverish you and ruin the lives of everyone you care about.” Which is very nearly an open invitation to be slapped by passers-by. Just once, but quite hard.

AC1

David! please expand Nazism to it's real Name National Socialism (only the group to victimise is different).

David

AC1,

“…only the group to victimise is different.”

In the essay quoted here, Paul Hollander suggested,

“The different moral responses to Nazism and Communism in the West can be interpreted as a result of the perception of Communist atrocities as by-products of noble intentions that were hard to realise without resorting to harsh measures. The Nazi outrages, by contrast, are perceived as unmitigated evil lacking in any lofty justification and unsupported by an attractive ideology.”

As I said in the post linked above, I can’t say I’ve ever found communism remotely “noble” or attractive even as a theoretical sketch. There are of course people who read Marx and Engels while somehow ignoring the salacious references to “revolutionary terror” and the “complete extirpation” of “reactionary peoples” – i.e., thee and me - as if the horrors that followed had nothing at all to do with what was written and shouted by their prophets of a “socially just” tomorrow. But the implications of egalitarian utopias aren’t exactly hard to fathom. Unless, that is, one takes care not to notice certain things or think in certain ways, and then goes on not noticing with growing sophistication.

And I suspect that requires sadism, lots of it. Which would at least explain one or two Guardian contributors.

Gerard Leun

Whenever I read about creatures such as Hobsbawm I always hear the line from Tale of Two Cities, "Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from Jacques."

rjmadden

David,

Speaking of old communists, don't forget Ken Loach…

"On the Today programme this morning, Davies interviewed a leading member of Britain’s cultural ruling class, a film-maker who, in 1977, scorned the Labour government’s offer of the OBE on grounds of high principle (‘despicable: patronage, deferring to the monarchy and the name of the British Empire, which is a monument of exploitation and conquest’). His refined sensibility did not render despicable his award of the World Culture Prize in Memory of His Imperial Highness Prince Takamatsu. His Imperial Highness, by the way, was the brother of His Majesty Emperor (sic) Showa (Hirohito) of Japan. Still, the Imperial Japanese air forces did attack the Pearl Harbour naval base of the hated United States, so I suppose the Japanese Empire must have been much less noxious than the British Empire, give or take the odd health and safety oversight."

http://www.4liberty.org.uk/2011/08/23/cultural-dictatorship-then-and-now/

David

rjmadden,

“I suppose the Japanese Empire must have been much less noxious than the British Empire, give or take the odd health and safety oversight.”

Ah, the nasty little Trotskyist who understands anti-Semitism and denounces “the establishment” while wanting to be in charge of which films we, the little people, watch. At our expense, of course.

You’d think Mr Loach and his comrades would eventually tire of being so easily ridiculed, and so deeply ridiculous.

sk60

The shorter Ken Loach: 'Not many people want to pay to see my films so taxpayers should cough up to make sure my films are playing to empty cinemas'.

David

sk60,

As Julia points out in the comments - judging by the titles on illegal download sites, the public doesn’t even want to steal Mr Loach’s films. Which must be a blow to his ego.

Still, our tastes will be corrected once Comrade Ken is put in charge.

rjmadden

David,

Another one. The BBC whitewashes communist spy Anthony Blunt…

"As for Blunt's acts of spying, these were brushed aside by the programme on the grounds that there had been "very exaggerated estimates" of the number of people who had died as a result of his actions. His treachery, said another former pupil, Michael Jacobs, had been "a minor and ultimately irrelevant aspect of his life"."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/charlesmoore/8714975/When-will-the-BBC-ever-tell-the-truth-about-Anthony-Blunt.html

Typical BBC 'impartiality' – everyone agrees that Blunt was the real victim.

David

“The BBC whitewashes communist spy Anthony Blunt…”

Ah, but the Beeb has so much experience excusing and favouring the delusional left. It’d be a shame to let that expertise go to waste.

I’ve been re-reading Claire Berlinski’s There Is No Alternative, mentioned here, especially the chapter on Arthur Scargill - to whom the BBC gave so much cover. In 2000, Scargill addressed the British Stalin Society, saying he was “sick and tired of listening to the so-called experts today who still criticise the Soviet Union and, in particular, Stalin.” He went on to “pay tribute” to the totalitarian project, which, he claimed, had “defeated poverty, ignorance, injustice and inequality” and had done so “without the obscenities of the market economy… or what some misguided souls believe is freedom and democracy.” Democracy never held much appeal for Mr Scargill, who planned to win his “battle” to “overthrow capitalism” on the streets of Britain and, when triumphant, shut down the free press.

Despite his avowed egalitarianism and the “obscenity” of private property, Mr Scargill still retained his chauffeur and spent thousands on Saville Row suits.

Lovernios

"Despite his avowed egalitarianism and the “obscenity” of private property, Mr Scargill still retained his chauffeur and spent thousands on Saville Row suits."

Well, we can't have the Vanguard of the Proletariat going about with thread-bare Mao jackets, now can we?

David Gillies

As has been adumbrated above: strange, isn't it, how one can remark about someone's being 'an unapologetic Communist' in such a blithe tone. Substitute for "Comminist " another word or phrase in there: "paedophile", "rapist", "serial killer", "cannibal". All terrible things to be accused of, but compared to the hecatomb that Communism has built, piffling and quotidian crimes - or at the very least, crimes each of which have been engendered en masse n Communism's wake. How, after the Holomodor and Stalin's purges and the Cultural Revolution and Cambodia's Killing Fields do you get to be 'unapologetic' without a psychiatrist signing the form and saying, "careful with this one, boys: he's madder than a sack full of badgers?"

David

David Gillies,

Interviewed fawningly in the Guardian (“one of the great minds of the 20th century”), Hobsbawm says he’s excited by the current “radicalisation of students,” by which I presume he means generic leftists like Laurie Penny, or maybe so-called “anarchists” who demand a larger, more intrusive state and who think smashing windows and setting fire to Tesco stores is the path to utopia. “It’s better to have the young men and women feel that they’re on the left,” says Hobsbawm, even while admitting that may not amount to very much. “Marx,” he says, was “an unarmed prophet inspiring major changes.” But the inevitably horrific imposition of those “changes” – by sadists with guns - simply isn’t addressed. No-one asks and nothing is said.

I doubt Hobsbawm would be quite so enthused by young people taking an interest in classical liberalism, for instance, or stumbling across Kolakowski, Hayek, Friedman, Von Mises, etc. Like Terry Eagleton, Hobsbawm seems to imagine that by definition radical means statist and leftwing, and thus driven implicitly by an urge to coerce. No other kind of radicalism being legitimate apparently, or indeed conceivable.

Marxists generally prefer to be judged by their theories, ideals and rather fanciful abstractions (conveniently bleached of realism and messy human detail). The alleged good stuff – the utopia - will always be delivered… tomorrow… or possibly the day after that. The endless contradictions and general implausibility will be ironed out, somehow, at some later date. It’s always communism in theory, never actual communism, i.e. communism in power.

FIRE co-founder Alan Charles Kors:

No cause, ever, in the history of all mankind, has produced more cold-blooded tyrants, more slaughtered innocents, and more orphans than socialism with power. It surpassed, exponentially, all other systems of production in turning out the dead. The bodies are all around us. And here is the problem: No one talks about them. No one honours them. No one does penance for them. No one has committed suicide for having been an apologist for those who did this to them.

See also this.

Stuck-Record

I'm in a book group with a bunch of middle-class Lefties. Whenever they use the word 'political' it is a synonym for 'left'. As in, "He's really political" ( He's one of us)
Or, "He's politically dodgy (He's right-wing)

AC1

@David.

Love the Alan Charles Kors quote.

sg

The odd thing about Communism and the salivating Socialists who threw themselves so eagerly into it, was that they not only killed millions but they resolutely killed millions who were essentially on their side. The Commies didn't kill their enemies on the Right; they killed the ordinary people who by and large went along with it. The supporters of Marxism became the cannon-fodder.

The reward for the peasants and workers who shook off the shackles of oppression, etc, was to be murdered or starved or driven out of their homes.

Horace Dunn

David

“The alleged good stuff – the utopia - will always be delivered… tomorrow… or possibly the day after that.”

And in the meantime, it is considered rather unsophisticated to notice the corpses piling up in the nascent socialist states, or the millions of flat, hopeless lives lived by the lucky ones who escape torture and death. Or, as Hobsbawm himself might say, with his characteristic patrician sneer “these things need not concern us here”.

“You’d think Mr Loach and his comrades would eventually tire of being so easily ridiculed, and so deeply ridiculous".

Indeed, but then again, why should they? Hobsbawm continues to live in his plush Hampstead home, feted and adored. Loach remains a hero of the establishment. Most importantly, they are never called upon to face up to the implications of supporting the kind of inhuman, degenerate regimes and political systems that they favour. How I’d enjoy to see them suffer even one tenth of the privation that their spiteful politics allot to others. But it ain’t gonna happen.

Col. Milquetoast

Despite his avowed egalitarianism and the “obscenity” of private property, Mr Scargill still retained his chauffeur and spent thousands on Saville Row suits.

As I recall, after defecting to the USSR the spy Guy Burgess continued to order his clothes from his Savile Row tailor. I forget which but while living in the USSR didn't the wife of either Donald MacLean or Kim Philby receive fashionable clothes sent from her family? When the last Revolution comes and the entire world is a utopia they can't be expected to look like unfashionable peasants.

I used to think it was funny when I heard people pine for the old USSR. In particular, one lovely french communist who seethed as she complained that the Soviet Union could have worked if only Gorbachev had behaved more like Stalin. Complaining about the inhumaneness of non-communist systems while advocating for mass murder and terror seemed so obviously self-refuting. Now that I realize that some don't care if it is self-refuting I find it less funny.

Col. Milquetoast

Like David's archives poking around the Durham in Wonderland archives leads to many interesting things.

http://durhamwonderland.blogspot.com/2011/04/dukes-factual-semi-factual-non-factual.html

I had assumed (and had never heard anything differently) that the Group of 88 newspaper ad had been paid for by the Group of 88. But from a Duke legal filing "Duke University admits that the cost of running the announcement was paid, in part, with funds from departments within Duke University." Silly me. Of course, they wouldn't use their own money. It seems that whenever I reproach myself for being too cynical I soon discover I'm not being cynical enough.

David

Horace,

“And in the meantime, it is considered rather unsophisticated to notice the corpses piling up in the nascent socialist states, or the millions of flat, hopeless lives lived by the lucky ones…”

Well, you’d think a few devout Marxists might wonder why it is their Great Vision of Tomorrow always grinds to a halt at the ludicrously misnamed and supposedly temporary “dictatorship of the proletariat” stage, i.e., naked tyranny and mass immiseration. Somehow, the utopian heights of moneyless, non-exploitative “liberation” are never quite reached. The damn thing always seems to stall just when the more psychotic egalitarians take it upon themselves to dictate on behalf of the proletariat. Because – and here’s the shocker - they know best. Just like the “theorists” who excuse them from a comfortable distance, usually with tenure. Why, it’s almost as if our ageing Marxists had no grasp of human psychology (or realism in general).


Col. Milquetoast,

“…whenever I reproach myself for being too cynical I soon discover I’m not being cynical enough.”

Quite.

Horace Dunn

David

Indeed. Mind you, quite a number of devout Marxists DID start to ask themselves difficult questions, and, as a result became less devout Marxists. But, as we have seen, substantial numbers remained - and remain – unwavering in their faith.

I don't have the book to hand, but in Robert Conquest's Dragons of Expectation, Conquest described how, in 1932, senior Party officials were warned that a famine would result from the Soviet Union’s industrialisation policies. These warnings were dismissed as being "unBolshevik". That is to say that putting human life ahead of the Party’s desires was unBolshevik. I find that peculiarly chilling, even when presented along with the 20th Century’s many other atrocities. The kind of people who could look at an incident like that, and simply shrug it off (“it need not concern us…”) and yet become borderline apoplectic at the very mention of the name Thatcher are surely not to be taken seriously. Surely?!

David

Horace,

“The kind of people who... are surely not to be taken seriously.”

Not intellectually seriously, no. Or morally, or anything like that. But one might take them seriously in the sense of, say, hazardous material or a large, bad-tempered dog. As Dalrymple says in the quote posted earlier, you could be mindful of how they might behave given certain… opportunities.

David

Horace,

Further to the above…

In countries like our own, people who declare themselves communists, “anarchists,” “revolutionary socialists” or whatever are for the most part just pretentious little pricks. But their numbers do include people with rather more serious ambitions and, quite often, mental health issues to match. William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn spent a great deal of time mentally masturbating to thoughts of “seizing power” via “armed struggle” and “revolutionary war,” thereby “building a new society” – a “dictatorship of the proletariat” – complete with “re-education centres” and the “elimination” of dissent. And Arthur Scargill was very keen indeed to enact his fantasies – until stopped, forcibly and decisively.

If you think of coercive egalitarianism as by and large an expression of sadistic intent – which I think it is – then it may help focus the issue.

virgil xenophon

Col Milquetoast/

"Whenever I reproach myself for being too cynical I soon discover I'm not being cynical enough."

You haven't been reading enough of that great political philosopher Lilly Tomlin:

"I try to be cynical--but I can't keep up."

David Gillies

I well remember at the time of the miners' strike looking at Scargill and his ridiculous Weetabix combover and thinking such a silly fellow could hardly represent a serious threat. I equally well remember my late father telling me I should take him very seriously indeed. He, unlike me, had lived through a time when silly-looking people had come to power and unleashed great evil because sensible people had not taken them at their word.

Lovernios

"He, unlike me, had lived through a time when silly-looking people had come to power and unleashed great evil because sensible people had not taken them at their word."

Isn't this what the Left is doing in regard to Ahmadinejad?

Lovernios

OK, turning up my cynicism to 11, perhaps they only adopt silly looking personae to gull those 'sensible people' into thinking "such a silly fellow could hardly represent a serious threat". I mean come on, Hitler? Mao? Stalin? Ahmadinejad? Twerps, all! I can kick the shit out of all four of them, at the same time! LMFAO.

simplius

Interesting read from Slavoj 'Communism Will Ultimately Win' Žižek.

David

David Gillies,

“…because sensible people had not taken them at their word.”

A wise man, your dad. Though in some imaginations, Thatcher, not Scargill, was the more dangerous extremist. And the BBC predictably mocks those who took Mr Scargill at his word: “In essence, Lady Thatcher’s message was that she’d duffed up the unions big style, saved Britain from the socialist plague, won a war and transformed the economy.”

Sten

"I well remember at the time of the miners' strike looking at Scargill and his ridiculous Weetabix combover and thinking such a silly fellow could hardly represent a serious threat. "

Indeed he was laughable in so many ways, but his supporters weren't. For some reason squads of thick-set men deeply believed in 'King Arthur' and would perform any action that they thought would bring him power. Quite what they got out of it was another matter, but they were loyal and determined.

I have been told of a newspaper that had allegations of vote-fixing in Scargill's NUM (fixing that would benefit 'The King', I am led to believe) and having published them were taken to court. However the witnesses dramatically changed their minds about testifying, and the paper duly lost the case. Of course, any group of people may change their minds about appearing in court in a forthcoming legal action against the miner's union, but a little odd how they all decided to do so at the same time.

Henry

Related to the Hobsbawn quotes, the extent that apologists for Stalin's regime has always been instructive.

You can still find the text of Brian Walden's talk on Stalin that appeared on BBC2 about 15 years ago. It reads very well, despite being delivered impromptu. He speaks of Stalin's apologists in Russia, then here he is on his western supporters:

"But what are we to say of the people whom Lenin once described as useful idiots? - the foreigners living in democracies who, nevertheless, supported Stalin's Soviet system. What are we to say about them? they appear to have divided into two main categories. the first justified Stalin's means by reference to his ends. Professor Haldane said, 'He has to be brutal to save the world.' That kind of argument, by the way, was greatly assisted by the intellectual climate of the time. Political debate went on in an atmosphere of religious frenzy. To be calm and dispassionate was the great crime. Everybody was supposed to pick a side and support it to the hilt.

The other group of Stalin's apologists didn't excuse his crime. they didn't recognise that it had happened. "He weeps for the children", Beatrice Webb had told an astonished acquaintance. And there were lots of similar statements. Whole conferences were held in which groups of people got up and explained about the terrible treachery that Stalin had faced from his colleagues, of the wonderful things that he had done in the Soviet Union. No reference was made to any crime or, indeed, fault on Stalin's part. It's an extraordinary story - but it's true"

David

For those who missed it last year, this two-part radio documentary is worth a listen:

Useful Idiots.

Given the Beeb’s track record, it’s surprising to hear them acknowledging the uglier aspects of utopianism – the “dictatorial urges,” the disdain for freedom, the comical vanity and readiness to be flattered. And the “Henry Higgins” tendency - the belief that one is smart enough to remake the world.

sackcloth and ashes

I remember watching the BBC documentary series 'True Spies' just over eight years ago. It was done by Peter Taylor, and it covered the infiltration of both far-left and far-right groups in the 1970s and 1980s by MI5 and the Met Special Branch.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/true_spies/default.stm

One of these programmes (I think it was the second) ended with Taylor interviewing Arthur Scargill, and it was a contemporary interview not one done at the time. Scargill talked about the strikes he'd instigated during the 1970s, and IIRC he basically told Taylor that 'I was now in charge of a movement (NUM) which I could use to make a fundamental political and social transformation to Britain'. My response to that was 'Really? I thought Trade Unions existed to protect their members' interests, and ensure that they got fair pay and good working conditions'.

What struck me was a review in the 'Indie' on this programme which appeared the following day. The reviewer commented on Taylor's MI5 and police interviewees - describing them as villains from a Harold Pinter play - and yet said nothing about Scargill and his remarks. The former NUM leader had basically admitted that his intent was to use the union and its membership for his own purposes, which was to subvert parliamentary democracy in the UK. And nobody seemed either to notice or care.

sackcloth and ashes

My attempts to find the programme on Youtube have failed, but I did see this.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/it-wasnt-just-the-unions-the-hairies-had-in-their-sights-614980.html

Three things stick out from this piece in the 'Independent':

(1) Taylor's programme covers the efforts MI5 and the police made to put neo-Nazi groups under surveillance (and quite right too). But Lashmar mentions only the infiltration of left-wing groups. I wonder why.

(2) Lashmar claims that this 'secret state' activity 'wrecked careers and lives'. And yet the examples he cites suggest otherwise. Isabel Hilton (OBE) has enjoyed a successful media career. Harriet Harman and Jack Straw have had a certain degree of success in British politics. Michael Rosen (who is a member of the SWP, an extremist sect combining far-left and far-right politics) is a renowned author of children's books and a frequent guest on Radio 4. This does not exactly compare with the position of American leftists persecuted by the FBI and the HUAC.

(3) Well before Lashmar wrote his piece we had revelations (courtesy of the Mitrokhin archives and the opening of the Stasi files) about the efforts by the KGB, StB, MfS and other Eastern bloc intelligenc services to suborn British academia, the CND and other civil society groups. The Beeb covered them, but strangely enough Lashmar doesn't:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1999/09/99/britain_betrayed/451366.stm

Draw your own conclusions.

Col. Milquetoast

In 2000, Scargill addressed the British Stalin Society, saying he was “sick and tired of listening to the so-called experts today who still criticise the Soviet Union...

While I'm old enough not to be surprised at much of anything, I am disappointed that the Stalin Society exists.

I assume they take turns dressing up in their Stalin costumes with greasepaint mustaches and chasing each other around the room with plastic hammers playing Duck, Duck, Kulak. At dinner, anyone not in their Stalin costume or if their costume is deemed "inauthentic" (how it is determined one way or the other is opaque and not open to review) then those members aren't allowed to eat. On Trotsky Tuesdays, those allowed to eat must do so with an icepick. On sunny days, they go out to the park to have a friendly game of volleyball and generally frolic and giggle in the grass with the Hitler Society.

sackcloth and ashes

The 'True Spies' transcript (Programme 1) is here:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/spl/hi/programmes/true_spies/transcripts/truespies_prog1.txt

Notice the quote from Scargill right at the end - 'There was the possibility here in Britain that
the trade union movement could use direct action, not merely to improve their wages or better their conditions, but also to bring about fundamental changes in the political system itself'.

If that's not an expression of intent to subvert a parliamentary democracy, I'd like to know what is.

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