Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years


by Sunny Hundal    
11:19 am - November 5th 2012

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That Barack Obama, what a let-down huh? He had four years as the President of America and he didn’t manage to avert global warming, bring peace to the Middle East, destroy Wall Street’s dominance, end war and eradicate global poverty. Where’s the change we were promised? What happened to the Hope?

There is a slightly less facetious version of this argument constantly trotted out by many who supported Obama when he ran for office in 2008. From some left-wing quarters Obama has faced such relentless criticism that, on the eve of the election, some still question supporting him or argue he’s only bearable when compared to Mitt Romney. This is simplistic nonsense. I’ve never been an uncritical supporter of Obama – he deserves a lot of criticism for parts of his civil liberties and national security agenda. He also made mistakes and didn’t go far enough in some areas (mostly financial reform).

But what really annoys me about much of the criticism of Obama from the left is that it falls neatly into the trap that Republicans laid for the President. They knew that that the best way to destroy a candidate who ran on ‘Change’ was to relentlessly block everything he did. This wasn’t a secret – they admitted it openly and brazenly, knowing that most people don’t understand the US legislative process and pay little attention to the political media. It isn’t a coincidence it has been branded “the worst Congress ever” by some.

But delve into the policy achievements of President Obama and it’s clear he has been the most radically progressive Democrat in 50 years. His legacy will affect the US for decades, which is why the Republicans hate him so much and want to repeal it almost immediately.

Some context is important too. Obama had a majority in the House of Representatives and a super-majority in the Senate (where Republicans could block legislation even as a minority unless outvoted 60-40) only until the mid-term elections of November 2010. And even then he had to rely on conservative Democrats and Independent Senators who frequently disagreed with the President. After the “shellacking” of Nov 2010 he couldn’t pass anything substantial.

All that said, there is plenty we can look at to judge his first four years.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Where he succeeded
Here is the short version: Obama saved millions of jobs through a stimulus programme; invested more in renewable energy than any US President; took the country closer to universal healthcare than it has ever been; tightened regulation of banks for the first time in 70 years; oversaw a huge expansion of anti-poverty programmes and education grants to poor students; withdrew from Iraq and set a deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan; became the first president to push same-sex marriage and kill the homophobic Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell programme; became the first to sign an act that protects women, minorities, and the disabled against unfair wage discrimination…the list goes on. In fact Obama was vastly more progressive than Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter – who both cut welfare programmes and shied away from social issues, let alone any Republican.

But there are three areas that require added focus: the stimulus bill, Obamacare and financial reform.

Most discussion on the Stimulus Bill of Feb 2009, aka the Recovery Act, focuses on whether it was big enough to avert disaster. But this misses the point – it launched a public works programme of a scale previous Democratic Presidents could only dream of. As Michael Grunwald pointed out in his book, The New New Deal, adjusted for inflation it was 50% bigger than the original New Deal launched by FDR. In scale and focus it combined several bills into one. It was the biggest, most transformative energy bill in US history, contained the biggest expansion of anti-poverty programmes since Lyndon Johnson, and was the biggest foray into US industrial policy since the 1940s.

To put it another way, Obama did not let the opportunity offered by such a financial crisis go to waste. The bill pumped $90 billion into renewable energy when previous Presidents only authorised a few billion every year. When reporters write that President Obama ignored climate change, they aren’t just wrong, they are actively misleading.

The Healthcare Act was similarly unprecedented – almost every Democratic President since World War 2 has tried anything approaching universal healthcare but failed. As the New Yorker pointed out:

Some critics urged the President to press for a single-payer system-Medicare for all. Despite its ample merits, such a system had no chance of winning congressional backing. Obama achieved the achievable. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the single greatest expansion of the social safety net since the advent of Medicaid and Medicare, in 1965. Not one Republican voted in favor of it.

The idea that Obama should be criticised because he didn’t go further – as some Senators refused to go along – misses the wood for the trees. Once established and reinforced (providing Obama is re-elected), it would be near impossible for Republicans to reverse it later. In passing the bill Obama surpassed even FDR and his efforts.

And lastly – for all the talk about how much money Obama raised from Wall Street and how close he is to the banks – consider his financial reform bill in the same vein as the others: how badly Republicans want to repeal it. The reason: in reality it has crippled bank profits and hit them really hard:

By the time the bill passed, in July 2010, the legislation hadn’t found many new friends. Banks were especially upset by the inclusion of the Volcker Rule, which banned proprietary trading and virtually all hedge-fund investing by banks. Banks also complained about an amendment that slashed lucrative debit-card fees. They capitulated mainly because the alternative-breaking them up-was worse.

And yet, from the moment Dodd-Frank passed, the banks’ financial results have tended to slide downward, in significant part because of measures taken in anticipation of its future effect.

Ignore the opinion columns that take predictable positions; look at what the banks themselves are saying and doing.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Where he failed
In 2009, when President Obama was working with Democrats to close Guantanamo Bay, a bizarre showdown took place behind closed doors. Highly liberal Senators from California, who had slammed Bush over the prison, protested that if Obama did not have a harsh plan to deal with prisoners, they were ‘going to get clobbered back home‘. A recent book examining Obama’s national security policies encapsulates the problem: the people who were meant to watch his back weren’t helping. As Mother Jones magazine points out: “if the entire national security apparatus and the opposition party and public opinion and your own party are pretty much all lining up on the same side, there’s not much a President can do.”

Similarly, Obama’s attempts to close Guantanamo Bay and transfer prisoners to other prisons were repeatedly blocked by Congress. The numbers have fallen but not as quickly as he anticipated. But to blame him for not closing Gitmo completely ignores the background fights that tried to make it happen.

That doesn’t mean he can evade responsibility for other parts of his agenda. President Obama’s administration has come under heavy criticism for the drones programme that has frequently hit innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan (estimated at 546 – 1105 so far). Worse, the government has a policy of branding all deaths by drones as ‘militants’ – thereby absolving themselves of blame. The Obama administration was also wrong in the extra-judicial killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, setting a precedent for the government to kill its own citizens without due process (let alone in other countries).

The Obama administration has also been notoriously zealous in its hostility towards whistleblowers on national security issues and organisations such as WikiLeaks, in stark contrast to the more positive note they sounded towards whistleblowers before 2009. Obama’s over record on civil liberties, especially in extending Bush’s Patriot Act, has been very weak and is a significant blot on his record. There is no getting away from that fact.

There is also no denying that President Obama has been disappointingly weak in negotiating with Israel and getting it to curb its illegal settlers programme. More than anything, this has fed deep disappointment across the Middle East that this President would end up being no different to George Bush with his foreign policy in the Middle East. Obama was good on the Arab Spring but his administration made no progress on peace in the Middle East at all.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

In the real world no one gets to pick and vote for their ideal political leader. Furthermore, no political leader in power will do everything you want them to do. Even a proportional representation system requires leaders to make compromises and build a coalition where not everyone gets what they want. Democracy is the sum of messy, sometimes self-contradictory opinions and people who mostly vote by gut instinct. Nevertheless, there is a fantasy among some lefties that Obama could shift opinion, rally support or pass legislation simply by being President or by making enough speeches. Your emotions may tell you this is true, but the evidence shows this rarely works (see this too).

This article isn’t a long excuse for Obama; it’s a brief look at his accomplishments to point out that the media aversion to policy details means much of what Obama achieved has gone under the radar.

That said, I fully expect some people to scream betrayal at a centre-left President: every Democrat president in the last 70 years has faced such accusations from his own side: from FDR and Lyndon Johnson to Kennedy, Carter and Bill Clinton. Obama is no exception. He will never be as radical as some want him to be. And while the national security and civil liberty agenda has been a disappointment in parts, they don’t overshadow his record on poverty, healthcare and elsewhere.

But despite inheriting the worst economy in 80 years; despite a Republican opposition obstructing him at unpredented levels; despite his racial heritage losing him votes; despite facing a hostile media and a well-organised, well-financed Tea Party movement – he managed to go further than his predecessors. Even if he is not re-elected, President Obama will leave behind a very important legacy.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


No doubt Obama’s reversal of George W’s revisionist foreign policy dressed in idealist clothing that squandered the symathy that accrued to the US following 9/11 and turned the US into an international pariah and laughing stock in favour of a more realist policy of `constructive engagement’ was a very good thing. It certainly lit the spark under the Arab Spring though no doubt that was an unintended consquence. Certainly when Ahmedinejad boasted that the US was no longer capable of serious power projection after becoming bogged-down in Iraq and Afghanistan the people thought `if the US is no longer a threat then why on earth do we need you lot lording it over us’. So that was good as was the way he resisted the shrill and insistent voices of the Zionists who tried to undermine his foreign policy as much as the Republicans tried to sabotage his domestic policy. He was right to concentrate on Al Qaida but his drone war has become a repulsive assault on human rights with `evil’ results in the region it is being carried out.

Anyway, the successful paralysis of his `change’ programme by the Republicans has ensured that if they don’t get in this time they will get in next time and they are planning a full frontal economic and political assault on workers and minority communities (the 47% who they no longer seek to win but see as the enemy within to be smashed). Definitely vote Obama this time to stop Romney but realise that if a radical alternative capable of action is not built in the next four years the proto-fascists of the tea party can virtually guarantee victory in 2016.

The tea party believe in small government, don’t they?

Is small government the hallmark of “proto fascism”?

@2 Depends on what they mean by ‘small government’, a lot of their stances on social issues require a significantly larger government intervening at all levels of social interaction including within the bedroom.

4. Angie Pedley

I can’t get it to post on to Facebook

The tea party believe in small government, don’t they?

Also that Obama’s a muslim and that cavemen rode dinosaurs to work just like in The Flintstones.

If the late polls are correct and Obama wins the Presidential election, the Thanksgiving celebration this year will have a very special meaning for many besides Americans.

Critics of Obama’s record in the Middle East should remember the following:

a) Not intervening would make the Islamist situation worse.
b) As does intervening.
c) It is expected that the US police the region (think of the reaction when Obama hesitated over getting involved in Libya).
d) The US is vilified for this. Often by the same people.

Who knows what the answer is, but Obama’s record has to be seen in context. As things stand, the next four years will also be a “failure”, whoever gets in.

8. Chaise Guevara

@ 7 Jack C

“a) Not intervening would make the Islamist situation worse.
b) As does intervening.”

Hang on, no you don’t. You can’t say they BOTH make it worse, unless there’s a third option you haven’t mentioned. You could say that the situation will get worse either way, but that’s not the same thing, and in any case one of the options will result in it being less bad than the other, meaning that it’ll make the situation BETTER in any meaningful sense.

This article is a long excuse for Obama.

Chaise,
You’re logically correct of course, but I was just trying to highlight how fiendishly complicated the situation is.

Worse than complicated, whatever the President does, he’s likely to be morally compromised, have blood on his hands and have stored up trouble for the future (even assuming the most noble of intentions).

No one on the left feels let down by Obama, because they never had any faith in him in the first place. We all know US politics is a joke and a caricature of democracy. We all know the Democrats and Republicans exercise an unbreakable two-party capitalist hegemony. Obviously we wanted Obama to win because he’s a better option that McCain or Romney, but no one on the left believes in Obama. Liberals just might, but not the left.

” We all know the Democrats and Republicans exercise an unbreakable two-party capitalist hegemony”

It’s breakable, as has been proved before (though not for a long time), and the parties re-align periodically.

In my view, we could do with a realignment in the UK as well as our two main parties have too much traditional baggage of one kind or another.

Why is it necessary to have, say, healthcare and social welfare administered on a federal rather than a state level? Surely if you really want a state-provided healthcare system, that could be done at a state level? Also, Obamacare isn’t like the NHS from what I understand because it isn’t just funded by taxation as it in fact subsidised the insurance industry a lot. These are genuine questions as I imagine you’ve had more focus on these issues currently than I have.

I also would like to query why you say he has been good on the Arab Spring without much qualification? It looks as though a result of the Spring might be that a number of radical Islamic governments might be elected, making it harder for minority groups such as Christians and minority Muslim groups to exist, as well as reducing civil liberties for women and I imagine many other groups. And let’s not forget that many of these regimes have been backed by the West for many years (obviously not Obama’s fault that).

Something else I’d pick up on is to contract Clegg and Obama. Nick Clegg promised to cut tuition fees, and so too most his prospective MPs. When joining the Coalition there was no way he could get this policy enacted, so he sought to reduce the cost to the poorest individuals and raise the income level at which you had to pay it back. He even apologised for making a naive promise in the first place, but at the end of the day he couldn’t enforce it because he lacked enough MPs to support him.

Then we come to Obama on Guantanamo, a serious issue of civil liberties and torture, and even though he had enough people elected to get it through, it would appear he couldn’t because they weren’t onside in the first place. Well why the heck did he promise to close it then?!? Why didn’t he have a brief email round and ask whether they were up for it? He knew that, unlike Clegg, he was likely to get in, so surely his policies had to stack up? Has Obama apologised for making a promise that he should have (by the sounds of it) known he couldn’t implement?

This is the crux of the matter. When people (like me) say they find it hard to differentiate between the two it’s not that they are completely identical, but it’s because of the things that matter they seem to be going in the same direction. You talk about his record on civil liberties and foreign wars as though it is insignificant, but what good is universal healthcare if you can kill your own civilians (particularly if that healthcare could be delivered on a state level á la Romneycare…). I just can’t understand why you blast Clegg for not fulfilling a pledge on free education for (predominantly) middle class adults which he could never implement with few MPs, but overlook a central, vote-winning promise that has massive ramifications for civil liberties of all citizens in the United States and abroad. It just doesn’t add up to me.

p.s. I don’t think Romney’s better. If I was an American I would vote Gary Johnson, not least because if they get 5% then next time the Libertarians get more funding and slots in TV debates, which is a start on breaking up the corrupt system and the two-party strangle-hold.

http://rt.com/usa/news/us-election-third-party-770/

16. Chaise Guevara

@ 10 Jack C

“You’re logically correct of course, but I was just trying to highlight how fiendishly complicated the situation is.”

Hoped you were. Was just checking.

“Worse than complicated, whatever the President does, he’s likely to be morally compromised, have blood on his hands and have stored up trouble for the future (even assuming the most noble of intentions).”

Yep. The joys of high office…

Sunny could usefully reflect on what will follow the re-election of Obama.

I doubt that the Tea Party folk will throw in the towel. My guess is that the cry will go out that Romney lost because he wasn’t extreme enough and pandered to the centre with all that flip-flopping. The battle ground will transfer to Congress and the forthcoming fiscal cliff.

Btw I saw that Bill Clinton came out campaigning for Obama and was warmly received. I’ve little doubt that had he been able to run for President again in 2000 after serving two terms, he would have been re-elected. It’s illuminating that GW Bush obviously wasn’t wanted in the Romney campaign trail. And we can understand why that is.

18. Just Visiting

Sunny, would it have helped to spell out the difference between UK and US parties – that the Democrats policies are normally not as left as Labour ones.

“I doubt that the Tea Party folk will throw in the towel”.

And why should they? Perhaps we should reflect on our relative apathy.

It’s surely entirely right that transformative pieces of legislation, such as Obamacare, should have the maximum scrutiny and debate. Compare and contrast with the fatalistic manner in which the European constitution was enacted. Assuming Obama wins tomorrow, he will have earned his mandate the hard way and will be the stronger for it.

The worrying aspect for me is that the division in the US may be become irreconcilable. My hope is that the “new normal” will assert itself and the likes of Palin and Bachmann will be washed away by renewed growth.

“Assuming Obama wins tomorrow, he will have earned his mandate the hard way and will be the stronger for it.”

An unwelcome possibility is that Obama wins a majority of the College votes but not the popular vote and that will detract from his mandate. Also, I keep posting about the fiscal cliff coming up in January and that could have a powerful recessionary set back for the economy – except that the public spending to repair the damage inflicted by the Sandy storm will provide a fiscal boost. The outcome of the elections for the House and the Senate is critical.

I was active in American online forums in the lead up to the 2000 Presidential election. The demographics of those forums favoured the Republican cause but I noticed then that President Clinton was regularly attracting 60pc public approval ratings no matter what his Republican detractors in Congress and beyond were saying. It is clear from his appearances on the campaign trail in this election in support of Obama that Clinton is still warmly regarded.

My hunch is that the Tea Party lobby won’t quieten down and there are rival academics and professional pundits lined up in the respective camps in America – and Britain – who have professional reputations at stake. If you’ve not done so, I strongly recommend reading Jonathan Freedland’s pessimistic assessment of Republican prospects over the longer term because of potent demographic factors:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/02/us-election-whoever-wins-profound-impact

If Freedland is correct, thinking Republicans know that their backs are to the wall. A tide is running against them and their ways.

I also would like to query why you say he has been good on the Arab Spring without much qualification? It looks as though a result of the Spring might be that a number of radical Islamic governments might be elected, making it harder for minority groups such as Christians and minority Muslim groups to exist, as well as reducing civil liberties for women and I imagine many other groups. And let’s not forget that many of these regimes have been backed by the West for many years (obviously not Obama’s fault that).

Not to mention that the Arab spring started not long after the release of the diplomatic cables by wikileaks…

Bob B,
I hadn’t read that article but was already aware of the issue. I believe I’m right in saying that in 2011, for the first time, the majority of US babies were non-white.

The Hispanic population will continue to grow, and for an increasing number of Americans, English is not the first language.

However, who would have guessed that a party founded on anti-slavery would one day have virtually none of the Black vote? My guess is that they’ll move again, and the screechy, big hair wing of the Tea Party will be cast adrift.

“An unwelcome possibility is that Obama wins a majority of the College votes but not the popular vote and that will detract from his mandate”.

We will never know what the “popular vote” really was. Many in “safe” states won’t bother to vote, etc.

Most predictions show a comfortable College margin for one man or the other.

For everyone intending to stay up and watch the election results – our Guide to the Times and Highlights is a must! Public Service Blogging at its best!
Follow the link: http://www.allthatsleft.co.uk/2012/11/all-thats-lefts-us-election-night-guide/

This FT headline report on Tuesday morning makes grim reading:

Fiscal cliff looms over campaign climax
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/54ae01e4-2766-11e2-8c4f-00144feabdc0.html

If this is the way to go in the “leader of the free world”, stalwarts of China’s Communist Party must be laughing themselves silly over all that stuff about introducing pluralism and multi-party democracy.

IMO part of the problem is a Presidential system of government over Parliamentary systems. The focus on the two candidates for Presidential office detracts attention from the substantive fundamental policy issues along with the concurrent elections of Representatives and Senators.

American politics has become increasingly partisan and polarised to the extent where the political system there has become dysfunctional and that is destabilising the economy, which affects other global economies through international contagion.

I have to admit Sunny, I usually find your articles rather superficial and sloppy,* but this was a very good piece of journalism. Certainly made me pause for thought.

*I think part of the problem is the word limit you decide to impose on yourself: in longer articles such as this, you have more opportunity to develop an argument. This is just the opinion of one regular reader (but irregular poster), but I think you’d be well served to write at length more often.

Four more years. As they say.

28. douglas clark

Sunny,

You managed, four years ago, to convince me, as did the man, that he would make a difference. And he has, but it is salami slicing to think that he has made a major difference in US foreign policy, which is argueably where he impacts on the rest of us.

I would have thought that most of us are glad that Bin Laden is dead.

I would have thought that most of us are glad that the likelyhood on a pre-emptive strike on Iran is less likely now.

Beyond that, why should we care whether the US has a daft medicare system or not?

We are not America, despite some wishing us to do a reverse ferret and become a US state.

I can appreciate that you care, but, absent the comments above, why should we?

29. Chaise Guevara

@ 28 douglas

Why should we? In my experience, people don’t care because they should, they just care. If you see someone in distress, you feel bad for them. If you find out that previously disenfranchised people are getting better treatment, it makes you glad. There’s no direct moral decision needed to feel that way. It’s not like we edit our own source code.

There seem to be a number of comments on here relating to small government and fascism. I do hope that those who are making the comments actually appreciate how fascist govts and the businesses they support work. The creation and sustaining of fascism is dependent on a very large state, with little concept of the rule of law. Fascism is so completely contrary to idea of small government that I simply don’t believe that those commenting understand what fascism actually means.

In fact many commentators, from the left and right, have expressed the idea that fascism is what is introduced when the ideal of communism has failed.

“Fascism” has become just another vague term of abuse for many who proclaim themeselves to be of the “left”.

Try, instead, this illuminating extract from the Oxford Companion to Politics:

“Fascist ideology also included a romantic, an antirational allure, an appeal to the emotions, to a quasi-religious longing for a mystic union of peoples and their prophetic leader. In reaction to a utilitarian liberal state, fascism revived aspirations towards a normative or ethical state. According to this view, the community existed not merely as a practical convenience but in order to fulfil the individual’s ethical and moral potential. How people perceived these themes depended on the eye of the beholder. Conservatives viewed fascism as a bulwark against Bolshevism or as a middle way between worn-out liberal capitalism and the communist horror. Radicals viewed fascism as a genuinely revolutionary ideology that would sweep away discredited ideals and institutions and replace them with a new disciplined and cohesive society.”

32. Chaise Guevara

@ 30 Freeman

“There seem to be a number of comments on here relating to small government and fascism. I do hope that those who are making the comments actually appreciate how fascist govts and the businesses they support work. The creation and sustaining of fascism is dependent on a very large state, with little concept of the rule of law. Fascism is so completely contrary to idea of small government that I simply don’t believe that those commenting understand what fascism actually means.”

You’re right based on historical usage, but it’s picked up connotations along the way and (I would say validly) is now also used to refer to individual policies considered the trappings of fascism. These policies tend to be big-state-ish but can exist in an overall state that is fairly small. For example, a generally laissez-faire government that executes “political undesirables”. I have no problem with “fascist” being used to describe attacks on freedom of speech.

In the US, of course, both parties are fairly big-state anyway.

“In fact many commentators, from the left and right, have expressed the idea that fascism is what is introduced when the ideal of communism has failed.”

A lot of the time, yes, although obviously that isn’t the only soil in which the weed grows.

BTW, I put the probability of an Orwell quote being dropped into this conversation soon at about 90%.

Chaise: “I have no problem with ‘fascist’ being used to describe attacks on freedom of speech.”

IMO “authoritarian” is a more apt description in that context and even small states can have extensive intentions relating to control over expression and public debate. “Fascism” has usually had several additional connotations concerning the extent of state control of business and economic activity with an emphasis put on the crucial role of the leader in the fascist state.

34. Chaise Guevara

@ 33 Bob B

Good point and agreed. Although I maintain that if someone else describes a law against homosexual acts (for example) as “fascist”, I know precisely what they mean and am not going to get in a row with them about it.

Chaise

There’s a somewhat academic debate to be had about fundamental differences between the Italian fascists and the German Nazis.

Hitler credited Mussolini with founding the first Fascist state but the Italian Fascists were not initially antisemitic and originally had imperialist but no genocidal policies. If we hypothetically strip out the policy towards jews from the fundamental programme of the Nazis in 1920, we are left with a bunch of policies that are not very different from a host of other leftist European parties and movements. The Italian Fascist and German Nazis were very similar in the importance each ascribed to the paramount role of their respective political leaders.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was no less authoritarian in controlling the media and freedom of expression and killed off about three times as many of its citizens for reasons of oppression as did the Nazis, albeit over a longer period 1917-90. On the evidence, I’m unclear as to why we seem to regard Fascism as more authoritarian or oppressive than the Communists in the Soviet Union.

The French Communist Party was widely regarded as the most Stalinist minded this side of the Iron Curtain. When Georges Marchais, Secretary General of the Party in France (1972-94), was pressed for comment on the crumbling Soviet empire c.1990, he replied: “I tell you, they didn’t arrest enough. They didn’t imprison enough. If they had been tougher and more vigilant, they wouldn’t have got into the situation they are in now.” [Jonathan Fenby: France on the Brink (1999)]

“Obama was good on the Arab Spring”

An underestimate surely.

Bush would have agreed with his mate Blair that Mubarrack was our kind of guy, and given a green light to turn cairo into a bloodbath. The neo-cons were calling for it at the time.

Obama supported the democrats in egypt and tunisia, and this marked a significant change in US foreign policy.

“Obama supported the democrats in egypt and tunisia, and this marked a significant change in US foreign policy.”

Absolutely. That might help to explain why GW Bush didn’t appear on the Republican campaign trail in support of Romney.

Consider what a wow a double act with Bush and Blair would have been:
http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2011/09/what-tony-blair-should-have-written-to-saif-gaddafi.html

38. Chaise Guevara

@ 35 Bob B

“On the evidence, I’m unclear as to why we seem to regard Fascism as more authoritarian or oppressive than the Communists in the Soviet Union.”

Using “fascist” in the broad, pejorative sense, rather than to refer to a movement that many once would freely have admitted supporting, I’d say that the USSR was fascist. It’s like left and right come full circle and join in the middle – or, more accurately, the modern Western ideas of “left” and “right” kind of hinge on having a democratic, relatively free state.

The reason that Hitler is officially history’s greatest monster and Stalin isn’t – the reason you can have Soviet-chic bars but not Nazi-chic bars – is simply that Russia was on our side at the end. Somewhat ironically, the main reason that we don’t all commonly accept that the Russians were the principal factor in defeating Hitler is probably the Cold War.

Chaise: “the main reason that we don’t all commonly accept that the Russians were the principal factor in defeating Hitler is probably the Cold War.”

True enough but with some caveats. What is sadly true is that Soviet battlefield tactics seem to have had no regard for Soviet casualty rates – the Soviet military objective was to win battles regardless and the Soviet Union had more manpower available than Nazi Germany. The Soviet military were more successful after Stalin had curtailed his interference in military affairs – although that left Soviet Marshals and Generals open to take the blame if battles turned out badly. Fortunately for the Soviet side, Hilter increasingly interfered in military affairs as the war progressed, which led to the deployment of mythical German armies towards the end.

In contrast, the western allies put much more weight on minimising battle casualties. That said, there seems to be a consensus that the Soviet T-34 tank was probably the best of its kind during WW2 and that mattered for armour battles on the North German plain.

We shouldn’t overlook that the threat of what eventually materialised as the Normandy invasion in June 1944 forced Nazi Germany to prepare for and then conduct wars on two fronts.

There is a challenging academic game for military historians to speculate on what the outcome would have been if Britain had reached a peace settlement with Nazi Germany in May 1940. That would have meant Germany could have focused more resources on winning its war on the eastern front.

40. Chaise Guevara

@ 39 Bob B

Interesting. I thought one of the German tanks was supposed to outclass everything else – maybe it was just dominant on the Western front.

The epithet ‘fascist’ is, excluding the phrase ‘Nazi’, the most overused and misused word in the political dictionary.

Fascism is a specific political phenomenon – mass, catch-all parties with paramilitary wings, that defined themselves against liberal democratic forms, socialism and organised labour, in favour of an imagined and limited national community organised in a corporatist state which maintained a capitalist basis. And moreover, it arose in a particular historical epoch (the interwar years), in a specific place (Europe).

When this term is applied to all and sundry, i.e. anything deemed ‘authoritarian’, ‘racist’, etc., it is robbed of its analytical content. The phrase ‘neo-fascism’ has its uses, as perhaps do other prefix-fascism concepts, but to just slap the label ‘fascist’ on anything and everything is, at best, intellectually lazy, at worst, deliberately deceptive.

Furthermore, the ‘horseshoe’ thesis so popular with liberal and conservative thinkers is, I think, a rather shameful way for them to distract attention from the fact that, while hundreds of thousands of Communists and socialists risked life and limb trying to prevent fascism gaining state power, liberals and conservatives either ran away scared, turned a blind eye or threw their lot in with the fascists – very few actively resisted.

Thus, instead of asking themselves troubling questions about why liberalism and conservatism fell apart in face of fascist pressure, they’d rather spend their time trying to ‘prove’ that fascism and Communism are bedfellows, despite the obvious historic and violent antipathy between the two.

This desire to ignore their own failings and slander others should be contrasted with the huge corpus of left-wing literature that, in very critical tones, attempts to determine why organised labour failed to prevent fascism.

In other words: while socialists and Communist confront their failures head-on, liberals and conservatives do their utmost to divert attention away from them. For this, they should be ashamed of themselves.

Chaise: “Interesting. I thought one of the German tanks was supposed to outclass everything else”

Probably the last of the Panzer tanks did outclass other armour but the biggest tank battles of WW2 were on the eastern front – notably at the Battle of Kursk in July/August 1943 – where how many thousands of tanks on each side mattered, as well as the average quality. See the long Wikipedia entry for the: Battle of Kursk.

If you are interested in the more cerebral dimension of battles, there’s a DVD collection: Battleplan, which I found interesting and informative. I certainly learned new things about WW2 from that series and I lived through it as a small boy. In another forum, someone posted to ask what was the oldest news report posters could recall. For various family reasons, I’ve vivid recollections about the D-Day invasion after being wakened by my father at about 6am on that bright June morning to come and see the planes flying over south London – there were transports, some with gliders, bombers and fighters, all flying low, presumably to avoid German radar. Of course, we didn’t know this was the invasion – the western allies were (successfully) maintaining a pretence that the main invasion was yet to come at Pas de Calais. But it was very evident that something big was going on.

“they’d rather spend their time trying to ‘prove’ that fascism and Communism are bedfellows, despite the obvious historic and violent antipathy between the two.”

Compare the text of the Friendship Treaty between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, signed on 28 September 1939, when Britain and France were already at war with Nazi Germany:
http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/gsbound.asp

The roots of the “antipathy” go back to WW1 and to rivalry in elections for the Reichstag in the Weimar Republic. In the last set of multi-party elections in November 1932, the Nazis attracted the largest popular vote followed by the Communists but there was no clear majority in the seats won.

Hindenburg, the Reich President, prevaricated at offering Hitler the post of Reich Chancellor but finally did so in January 1933 after conservative factions in the Reichstag offered support, mostly likely for fear the Communists would further increase their vote in another set of elections to resolve the absence of a decisive majority. The famine in the Ukraine in 1932/33, as the consequence of the forced collectivisation of Soviet agriculure, is estimated to have killed about 7 million. News of that probably did much to fan fears of what could happen in Germany. Stalin had set out the Communist Party’s policy of “eliminating the kulaks as a class” in a speech at the end of December 1929.

In France, the Communists became the backbone of the resistance in WW2 but had maintained a neutral stance during the invasion of France and occupation until the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 21 June 1941.

41
Excellent post.

You would do well to get your facts straight, Bob.

1) The specifically Communist-fascist antipathy dates from the German revolution of 1918/1919, being heightened on account of Mussolini’s takeover in 1922, when henceforth both social-democrats (i.e. socialists) and Communists came to realise the pressing danger posed by fascism.

However, the parties of the Second International had long opposed the forerunners of interwar fascism. In Austro-Hungary, e.g., the SDAP opposed both the Christian Social movement of Karl Lueger as well as the pan-Germanism of figures like von Schönerer. (If you read Mein Kampf, you’ll find both Lueger’s movement and von Schönerer’s ideology exerted significant influence on Hitler.)

Moreover, the rivalry was less about electoral politics, more about the fact that fascist black hundreds would often be deployed to attack working class political activity – as strike-breakers, assassins, auxiliary thugs to the police at demonstrations, etc.

2) The KPD did not come second in Nov. 1932, the SPD did, as was the case in July 1932 as well.

Furthermore, if it had not been for the Zentrum’s shift away from democracy and towards Catholic corporatism in the early 1930s; alongside the refusal of the German nationalists to go into (democratic) coalition with the SPD instead favouring authoritarianism; and the liberals slide towards electoral irrelevance and at times tacit support of government by decree – then a broad, social-democratic/liberal/Catholic/conservative pro-democratic coalition could have formed a government, perhaps they might even have won a Reichstag majority. (A majority was not essential under the Weimar system given the powers of the President vis a vis appointing cabinets.)

Instead, they refused to cooperate with social-democracy as had been done in the early twenties, i.e. the years of the famous ‘Weimar coalition’, and decided to back Hitler, who they figured they could ‘control’. As von Papen boasted, ‘we hired Hitler’ – how wrong he was! (The SDP does deserve some criticism for its ‘toleration’ of the Bruning and von Papen governments, but to its ultimate credit, it was the only mass political force in post-1929 Weimar Germany that stood by democracy.)

Meanwhile, even if they hadn’t wanted to work with social-democracy, a military government under von Schleicher was another possibility. It would have dealt with those ‘dastardly’ Communists, but likely wouldn’t have been much different from the Dollfuss-Schuschnigg dictatorship in Austria (1934-38), which was authoritarian but moderate.

Moreover, by Nov. 1932 the Nazi vote was actually decreasing, the Nazis were bankrupt and the economy was showing small signs of recovery. Yet it was precisely then, when Nazism seemed to be on the downturn (as opposed to July 1932, when it was at its strongest), that Hindenburg et al. ‘jobbed Hitler into office through backstairs intrigue’ (Alan Bullock).

Conversely, while the KPD vote did increase in Nov. 1932, they were increasingly isolated in a particular demographic: unemployed, unskilled and semi-skilled workers in esp. rough working class areas. Only in the fantasies of both the Communists and their most bitter enemies was a Communist takeover ever a possibility; in reality, it was never going to happen.

The conservative (and some liberal) elites simply chose fascism over democracy, and even the liberals who opposed this, offered no serious resistance.

3) The Ukrainian famine, or Soviet policy in general, is largely irrelevant. Despite the myth that the Nazis and conservative elites main enemies were the Communists, it was the SPD they wanted to get rid of the most. Its unwavering support of democracy and its strength in Prussia were what they feared.

The KPD was a paper tiger with an almighty roar; the SPD, ‘a giant with feet of clay’ (Donna Harsch).

4) The Soviet Union tried very hard to gain a defence pact with Britain and France against Nazi Germany, but Britain and France refused. Thus they had few other options than to open diplomatic channels with Hitler: although the eventual non-aggression pact should come in for some criticism, the way it is commonly presented is completely lopsided and inaccurate.

What should the Soviet Union have done? Just waited around for Hitler to invade? Launched a war against Germany? To its credit, the Soviet Union was the only major power that really didn’t want war, and the non-aggression pact gave it crucial time in which to get ready for the Nazi invasion – which even when it came, still wrought untold damage and suffering on the Russian peoples. If a war had occurred between Russia and Germany in 1939, Russia would likely have been defeated.

The fact that the death sentence which Maurice Thorez (leader of the PCF) received in absentia was pardoned by De Gaulle in 1944, was tacit acknowledgement of the wrong-headed position adopted by Britain and France towards the Soviet Union in the late 1930s, and of the crucial role Communists played in defeating fascism.
_ _ _ _ _

Before you read history, Bob, work out which historians are worth reading, else you’ll end up looking like you don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t doubt your sincerity, but your accuracy leaves a lot to be desired.

45

Your post is riddled with so many inaccuracies and misleading claims that I can’t take care of all.

“The Ukrainian famine [of 1932/33], or Soviet policy in general, is largely irrelevant.”

You would say that, wouldn’t you? The estimate is that about 7 million perished as a result of a policy that Stalin had announced in December 1929 for the “elimination of the kulaks as a class.” That speech was reprinted in Pravada.

“The Soviet Union tried very hard to gain a defence pact with Britain and France against Nazi Germany, but Britain and France refused. ”

That’s yet another egregious claim – that conveniently overlooks what the Moscow Show Trials, which had started in 1936, had done to the credibility of the Soviet state.

Dedicated leading Communists, who had participated in the 1917 Revolution, confessed to ludicrous crimes and were executed – as well as thousands of less well-known apparatchiks. By Zhukov’s later account in 1957 after an abortive attempt to depose Khrushchev from his post as general secretary, Stalin and Molotov were signing off the execution warrants by the thousands. It was the time of “the terror”. Trotsky was airbrushed out of photos showing him standing besides Lenin during the 1917 Revolution.

In the autumn of 1936, Orwell and wife escaped to France from Spain, where he had fought for the Republican government, just ahead of a general arrest warrant issued by the Republican government. Much later, a researcher looking through Spain’s national archives discovered that notice of that arrest warrant had been copied through to Moscow. Why?

After the Moscow Show Trials, no western government was going to trust the Soviet government. The German-Soviet Friendship Treaty of September 1939 – which incidentally carved up Poland – showed how apt that mistrust was, as did the Katyn Massacre.

By several accounts, Stalin couldn’t believe the German invasion of the Soviet Union when it happened in June 1941. He had dismissed incoming reports about the forthcoming invasion from Soviet agents in Germany as “misinformation”.

As for the resistance in France, the Communists only took up arms against the occupying German forces after the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 21 June 1941. Albert Camus and JP Sartre fell out over Sartre’s loyalty to the Soviet cause and Stalinism.

“Before you read history, Bob, work out which historians are worth reading, else you’ll end up looking like you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I fully appreciate your wish that I and all would only read propaganda history dedicated to the Soviet cause.

47. Chaise Guevara

@ 41 Feodor

“to just slap the label ‘fascist’ on anything and everything is, at best, intellectually lazy, at worst, deliberately deceptive.”

I’m not getting into a my-definition’s-better-than-yours debate, but I will point out that your feelings about what fascism “really means” probably depend on the context in which you first became familiar with the word. I don’t know your age (and that’s not the only factor), but I’m young enough to have grown up hearing “fascist” as a generic term. In fact, it was quite the surprise to me to learn that political groups had chosen to call themselves fascist, before the penny dropped.

If you’re more comfortable with the older meaning, I totally understand why it annoys you to hear it genericised and, inevitably, used to describe lesser sins.

“Furthermore, the ‘horseshoe’ thesis so popular with liberal and conservative thinkers is, I think, a rather shameful way for them to distract attention from the fact that, while hundreds of thousands of Communists and socialists risked life and limb trying to prevent fascism gaining state power, liberals and conservatives either ran away scared, turned a blind eye or threw their lot in with the fascists – very few actively resisted.”

I’d say it’s because they look pretty bloody similar. Or at least the “communism” of Stalin and Mao does next to Hitler.

I’m both a liberal and a socialist, btw, so I’m not sure where I’d sit in your analysis, but it’s irrelevant: I don’t feel ashamed that some people who had beliefs that could be labelled with the same word as my beliefs are apparently considered to have been evil or cowardly in another country more than half a century ago.

For an insight as to why “liberals” didn’t and don’t trust Communists and Soviet loyalists, try this league table of Democide in the 20th century. Other than war dead, the Soviet Union 1917-1987 killed about three times as many as did Nazi Germany 1933-1945:
http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/20TH.HTM

IMO that extract from the Oxford Companion to Politics, quoted @31, is the most apt guide as to the appropriate use of “fascism” as an ideological label.

We need to be clear about the connotations to avoid falling into the elephant trap of using the term as a general expression of abuse.

Notice the fixation that both the Communists and Fascists had with identifying paramount leaders to ensure unity of thought, expression and action within a particular totalitarian ethic. It was widely reported that while members of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party probably didn’t actually read Hitler’s Mein Kampf, they were mostly sure to have a copy prominently displayed on their book shelves to reassure visitors. Probably much the same could be said of dedicated Socialists, except they had and have a wider choice of literature to display as testimony to their ideological preferences or to demonstrate compliance with the latest twist of the official party line. In the Soviet Union, by the 1930s it was dangerous to displays texts by Trotsky.

Both the Nazis and the Communists in government opposed laissez-faire economic policies and practised centralised economic planning to ensure high levels of employment. That was how the expression “The Third Way” gained currency.

Bob: ‘I fully appreciate your wish that I and all would only read propaganda history dedicated to the Soviet cause.’

Lol.

I can see how it must be hard for persons like yourself, who lived through the Cold War years surrounded by myth and propaganda, to accept that persons like myself, of a younger generation, have no truck with such lopsided views.

The further away in time we get, Bob, the less we’ll find people claiming the former USSR was either ‘hell on earth’ or ‘a workers paradise’. Instead, we’ll find that people wish for a balanced interpretation, one divorced from Cold War ideologies and based on a sober appreciation of the facts.

For those indoctrinated in such ideologies and still jubilant over ‘your’ side winning, this must seem like heresy. But it’s a natural progression, and one that you’d do well to take note of.

Bob: ‘Your post is riddled with so many inaccuracies and misleading claims that I can’t take care of all.’

You could at least try to read it without your blinkers on.

As I’ve already explained, the reason why Soviet policy is largely irrelevant to the thinking of the German elites, is that the German elites (and the Nazis) were primarily concerned with the SPD – a party which had nothing to do with Soviet policy, did not wish to imitate it, and, in fact, opposed it.

Social-democracy was what they considered the main threat. Therefore, it is absolute nonsense to try and explain their actions by reference to what was happening in Russia. You simply adopt the same fascist blinkers that equated social-democracy with Bolshevism, which was a baseless association then, and a baseless association now.

And moreover, if I’m so wrong, then I’m sure it would be easy to rebut me: unproven assertions are the hallmark of a charlatan.

Bob: ‘After the Moscow Show Trials, no western government was going to trust the Soviet government.’

There’s actually a small but growing corpus of historical research that suggests the ‘show trials’ weren’t as much for ‘show’ as was previously thought. That, e.g., there were German agents within the Soviet state (something German archives have confirmed), that certain leading Bolsheviks (e.g. Bukharin) were plotting against Stalin, and that the exile literature which much of our previous knowledge was based on was, for obvious reasons, prone to hyperbole.

That does not excuse the way justice was administered in the USSR at that time, but it does seriously undermine the rather silly attempts to make Stalin out to be some kind of maniacal demon.

I can understand how this must be hard to accept for someone, like yourself, who’s thinking is stuck in the 1950s. But time stops for no man, whether you wish to accept this or not.

Furthermore, it’s interesting to note that you think it was impossible for the western nations to trust the Soviet government, yet fail to mention the legitimate reasons the Soviet government would have had for not trusting the western powers: namely, the fact that they had sent troops and supplies to support the ‘whites’ during the Russian civil war and refused to recognise the USSR as a state during the 1920s, and also that the western powers had refused to support the republicans in Spain.

Then there’s also the fact that you focus upon Soviet crimes, yet make no mention of the crimes committed against colonial peoples by the British and French Empires. Personally, I think both are a stain upon humanity and, in particular, the societies responsible for them; evidently, you don’t.

Bob: ‘By several accounts, Stalin couldn’t believe the German invasion of the Soviet Union when it happened in June 1941.’

Just because Stalin was surprised at the audacity and timing of the German invasion, does not mean he and the other members of the Soviet government had not feared it for a long time. Instead, they – rather naively – thought Hitler would hold true to the non-aggression pact.

Bob: ‘As for the resistance in France, the Communists only took up arms against the occupying German forces after the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 21 June 1941.’

And? So? What?

The PCF was loyal to the Soviet Union, it supported its foreign policy position rather than that of the French state.

You might wish they had been good French patriots, but they weren’t. But that they chose not to defend the French state at that time does not mean they didn’t oppose fascism. If France had been willing to sign a self-defence pact with the USSR, then the PCF would have doubtless been the first into battle.

That for all of two years the USSR and Nazi Germany had an uneasy truce, says nothing of real consequence about the historical antipathy between fascism and socialism/Communism.

By your logic, that the British state and the IRA concluded a ceasefire with each other, must now mean they never opposed each other. Absolutely risible.
_ _ _ _ _

Wtf the Orwell, Satre or Camus have to do with this debate is beyond me – other than that they’re a rather obvious (though perhaps unconscious) attempt to divert attention away from what is under discussion (or maybe a rather vain attempt on your part to show that you have knowledge of something, anything, no matter how irrelevant it is to what’s under discussion).

You get a C minus Bob: you obviously have vigour and enthusiasm for the topic, and show some knowledge which, in turn, shows you have done some background reading (though this doesn’t seem to be very up-to-date); however, you lack the ability to focus, and have completely failed to address the arguments at hand.
_ _ _ _ _

Chaise: ‘ I don’t know your age (and that’s not the only factor), but I’m young enough to have grown up hearing “fascist” as a generic term.’

I’m 25 – probably quite close in age to yourself.

I too, have grown up with it being used as a generic term. But I also have at least some appreciation of the academic literature on the subject. And in this context, I’ll side with the experts over the general populous. (Some experts might disagree slightly with my short-hand definition, but from conservatives to Marxists, there’s generally agreement about fascist parties being ‘mass’ and ‘catch-all’, and also that fascism was a product peculiar to Europe in the interwar period.)

I don’t think anything’s gained by dumbing down: if a child were to call a cat a dog, I’d correct them; if someone discussing politics calls a conservative a fascist, I’ll correct them too.

I don’t know whether the truth will set us free, but it sure will stop us from making arses of ourselves!

Chaise: ‘I’d say it’s because they look pretty bloody similar.’

A cat has four legs, fur and a tail, but that dunn don’t mean it’s a dog. ;)

50. Chaise Guevara

@ 49 Feodor

“I’m 25 – probably quite close in age to yourself.”

Indeed – a tad younger in fact.

“I too, have grown up with it being used as a generic term. But I also have at least some appreciation of the academic literature on the subject. And in this context, I’ll side with the experts over the general populous.”

Linguistically (and while I’m no expert on 20th-century history, I have some knowledge here), I’d say that it’s not a competition. Most words don’t have one single correct meaning, it’s not an either/or.

Language is set by usage (or so I hold as a descriptivist), and words both change in meaning and evolve new meanings. I have to admit that I get irritated when a word picks up a new popular meaning among the general populace out of sheer ignorance, like what’s in danger of happening to “enormity”. But when it’s a fairly natural progression from one to the other – from meaning “this kind of party” to “the kind of thing these parties believe in” – I don’t see much point in getting outraged. I mean, if I wanted to I could claim that “fascist” meant “in the manner of a bundle of sticks” from the etymology.

“I don’t think anything’s gained by dumbing down: if a child were to call a cat a dog, I’d correct them; if someone discussing politics calls a conservative a fascist, I’ll correct them too.”

If someone described their favourite band as “awesome”, would you say “what, you mean it fills you with dread?” and then demand that they change it?

And it’s not dumbing down. It’s just a word with at least two meanings: one that could be called the popular meaning, and one that’s more technical. A lot of terms are like that. “Acute”, “depressed” etc.

“I don’t know whether the truth will set us free, but it sure will stop us from making arses of ourselves!”

If we have to go down this road, I’d say that being an etymology snob is as good a way as any to make an arse of yourself.

“A cat has four legs, fur and a tail, but that dunn don’t mean it’s a dog. ”

I said that they were similar, not that they were the same. A cat is not a dog, but they’re similar if the other things you’re comparing them to are a fish and a unicycle.

Using your terminology, Stalinism and Fascism were not the same thing. But they were similar in many respects, and a lot of those respects are those that mark them out as different from the sorts of state we’re used to here and now: relatively free and liberal democracies, where we generally respect freedom of speech, denounce bigotry and don’t shoot undesirables.

It’s interesting, at least, that states that were “evil” in a similar way evolved from what we tend to think of as opposite sides of the political spectrum. It could also be instructive – an indicator of mistakes that you always have to be on guard against. Pointing out that they weren’t facsimiles of each other is a straw man, and misses the point.

Bob: ‘Both the Nazis and the Communists in government opposed laissez-faire economic policies and practised centralised economic planning to ensure high levels of employment.’

So did Franklin D Roosevelt and the post-1945 Labour Party. Heck, even conservative parties in the era of the post-war consensus (i.e. before they became [neo-]liberal parties) were content to keep the ‘commanding heights’ within the states hands, largely to keep unemployment at manageable levels. And the US economy is built around government spending on the military-industrial complex. This is a general trend apparent in most (all?) modern industrial societies; only in the thinking of economic ideologues does this trend disappear. Thus, your point is redundant.

Also, the extent of centralised planning in Germany before 1939 is often over-stated, and there was a world of difference between how it operated in the USSR and Nazi Germany – in the latter, private companies tendered for individual government contracts; in the former, private companies didn’t even exist (except on certain occasions and on a small scale, e.g. during the NEP period).

Bob: ‘For an insight as to why “liberals” didn’t and don’t trust Communists and Soviet loyalists, try this league table of Democide in the 20th century.’

Even if we accept those figures as accurate, ignoring the many problems related to compilation and interpretation of statistical data, you’ll notice ‘colonialism’ is third on the list of ‘Deka-Megamurders’ – higher than Nazi Germany even.

Liberal parties were central to the operation of the colonial system, and liberal principles were used to justify it. Any comment on that, Bob?

Bob: ‘Notice the fixation that both the Communists and Fascists had with identifying paramount leaders to ensure unity of thought, expression and action within a particular totalitarian ethic.’

In other (less pretentious) words, political movements have political elites/leaders that determine the acceptable ideological frameworks that their followers/supporters adhere to.

How on earth is this novel to Communism and fascism? Does not Hayek play a similar role for neo-liberals? Or Fox News for Republicans? Or the Fabian Society for the Labour Party?

You’re using abstract conceptual models as a substitute for analysing concrete reality.

Chaise, I can agree with what you’re saying in general vis a vis the use of language, but…

‘It’s just a word with at least two meanings: one that could be called the popular meaning, and one that’s more technical… But when it’s a fairly natural progression from one to the other – from meaning “this kind of party” to “the kind of thing these parties believe in” – I don’t see much point in getting outraged.’

In the first instance, that is when you draw a line between the technical and the popular meaning: we are discussing fascism on a politics blog, I would hope we would err towards using the/a technical meaning.

Second, that is where I see the value in adding the ‘neo-’.

The meanings of words may change and evolve, but we would get into a real mess if we took this basic truth to be synonymous with the idea that definitions need not have any precision.

The words I’m using here have multiple meanings, depending on time, place and context, but they also have a level of precision that makes it possible for you and me to communicate with one another fairly clearly.

Chaise: ‘If we have to go down this road, I’d say that being an etymology snob is as good a way as any to make an arse of yourself.’

Ha!

I love telling people a television should be called a telescope, but it’s a bit of fun and I get your point.

Nevertheless, esp. with technical terms, to me it seems better to demand a certain precision, though this has little to do with etymology as such. (My definition of fascism is based on the work of historians and political theorists, not linguists.)

Chaise: ‘Using your terminology, Stalinism and Fascism were not the same thing. But they were similar in many respects…’

And in some respects, they might be similar to the Ancien regime, and in other respects, they might be similar to liberal democracies – i.e. they used more extreme forms of things common to liberal democracies, such as control of population movement, restrictions on what was deemed ‘dangerous’ speech, and the imprisonment/persecution of persons deemed ‘undesirable’.

Focusing on similarity instead of difference does not, however, seem the most intellectually fruitful way to go if we wish to understand complex social realities. In many respects, Obama and Romney are (very) ‘similar’, but imo it defies common sense to suggest there weren’t important differences between the two.

Chaise: ‘It’s interesting, at least, that states that were “evil” in a similar way evolved from what we tend to think of as opposite sides of the political spectrum.’

1) I don’t think they were ‘evil’.

2) What are you saying, that it’s interesting that human societies based on radically different political and economic foundations could end up killing people?

I don’t think that’s all that much of a revelation, or even that interesting: governments/regimes, of various stripes, in completely different times and places, have been killing their citizens/subjects since time immemorial.

Feodor

“As I’ve already explained, the reason why Soviet policy is largely irrelevant to the thinking of the German elites, is that the German elites (and the Nazis) were primarily concerned with the SPD – a party which had nothing to do with Soviet policy, did not wish to imitate it, and, in fact, opposed it.”

By the accounts in the history books I read – such as Shirer: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich etc, all post 1950s – the Nazis in government rounded up Communist and SPD activists after the Reichstag fire on 27 February 1933 for “security reasons” and put them in the newly opened “concentration camps”. The SPD were eventually mostly released whereas the Communists were mostly retained as the perceived greater threat.

“I can understand how this must be hard to accept for someone, like yourself, who’s thinking is stuck in the 1950s. But time stops for no man, whether you wish to accept this or not.”

That’s more personal abuse than rational argument. Perceptions by west European governments of the Moscow Show Trials – whether true or false – influenced the ways in which the Soviet government was regarded at the time, along with the Ukraine famine of 1932/33, and explained the reluctance of western governments at that time to deal with the Soviets. The conduct of the Communists in Spanish civil war, as reported in Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, was a further reason for mistrust. Reports of summit meetings between the three allies show that Churchill was certainly aware of the consequences of the Ukraine famine and Stalin’s part in the policy which led to it. Category killer was a Soviet invention long before the Nazis devised the Holocaust.

The Friendship Treaty between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union of 28 September 1939 – when Britain and France were already at war – shows that mistrust of western governments was well founded, as did the Katyn Massacre of Poland’s intelligencia in April/May 1940 – which Gorbachev admitted to when he was Soviet leader. German troops uncovered the burials in the course of invading the Soviet Union and publicised their discovery by way of anti-Soviet propaganda. The Soviets responded by claiming it was a Nazi atrocity. Gorbachev’s admission proves that was a lie.

“New evidence appears to back the idea that the Roosevelt administration helped cover up Soviet guilt for the 1940 Katyn massacre of Polish soldiers.”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19552745

By many accounts, the Communist Party in France was the most Stalinist minded in western Europe. Its party-line to stay neutral after the German invasion and occupation of France, until the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, was in compliance with the regular Soviet line that German invasions of Poland and then the Netherlands, Belgium and France was just a “capitalist” war which the Soviet Union would stay out of.

After the fall of France in May 1940, Britain stood as the lone adversary of Nazi Germany in Europe until Hitler – mistakenly from his own perspective IMO – launched the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 in pursuit of Hitler’s aim of gaining lebensraum in estern Europe for settlement by German volk, and slave labour. From its own benighted perspective, Nazi Germany would have done better to have first consolidated hold of the conquered territories in western Europe, where the Nazis had many supporters. One of the early acts of De Gaulle’s coalition government after the war was to nationalise Renault because the company had been manufacturing vehicles for the German military.

Had Britain made a peace settlement with Nazi Germany in the summer of 1940 – as Hitler believed was inevitable – or had Britain lost the Battle of Britain in the late summer of 1940, the subsequent course of WW2 would have been very different. As Lukacs, an American historian, concluded, in: London – Ten Days in May 1940, America and Russia may have won the war but Britain didn’t lose it. Von Runstedt, C-in-C west in the German high command at the end of the war was asked by Soviet interregators for his assessment of the most crucial strategic battle of the war. He said, correctly, the Battle of Britain.

It tends to get overlooked that in 1940, Britain’s population at 40 million was about half that of the combined populations of Germany and Austria but pilots from many countries, especially from Poland, came to fight in the Battle of Britain but there were no Soviet pilots according to the records.

54. Chaise Guevara

@ Feodor

“In the first instance, that is when you draw a line between the technical and the popular meaning: we are discussing fascism on a politics blog, I would hope we would err towards using the/a technical meaning.”

Kinda depends on what you’re discussing. If you started throwing generic fascism around in a discussion of WWII I agree that would be unhelpful. Most likely someone would be trying to equivocate between totalitarianism and their pet peeve. But we weren’t discussing that when the issue came up. The Tea Party was actually the point of reference.

“Second, that is where I see the value in adding the ‘neo-’.”

Well, if Chrome’s search function can be relied on and nobody’s misspelling, the person who first mentioned fascism said “proto-fascism”. And then someone (not you) interjected with a lecture about Fascism, having ignored both the suffix and the context.

“The meanings of words may change and evolve, but we would get into a real mess if we took this basic truth to be synonymous with the idea that definitions need not have any precision.

The words I’m using here have multiple meanings, depending on time, place and context, but they also have a level of precision that makes it possible for you and me to communicate with one another fairly clearly.”

Agreed, well put.

“Ha!

I love telling people a television should be called a telescope, but it’s a bit of fun and I get your point.”

I have to be honest and admit that I indulge in some grammar/etymology snobbery myself, but only for laughs or if it hits a nerve (and I have to admit that most of my nerve-endings are unreasonable, to stretch a metaphor way too far).

And yes, “television” is kind of a stupid word.

“Nevertheless, esp. with technical terms, to me it seems better to demand a certain precision, though this has little to do with etymology as such. (My definition of fascism is based on the work of historians and political theorists, not linguists.)”

Sure, but here’s the difference. If you’re talking about technical Fascism and someone starts blurring that meaning into generic fascism, then claims that people who are against gay marriage are basically the Nazis, you need to call them on it. That’s equivocation.

If someone is talking about generic fascism and you tell them off because you prefer it when a different meaning of the word is used, that’s you derailing the conversation for a Pointless Semantic Row (capitals deserved). Like I said, wasn’t you who did that on this thread, but that’s what happened. And look at the result!

It’s basically the difference between checking everyone’s on the same page, and demanding that everyone bow down to one person’s personal preferred lexicon.

I do, however, admit that there’s the risk of people other than the speaker blurring the definition of the words. So if you’re the person to introduce the subject, it might indeed be prudent to use “neo-”.

“And in some respects, they might be similar to the Ancien regime, and in other respects, they might be similar to liberal democracies…”

You’re responding to a cut-off version of my comment. I did say that they’re specifically similar in ways that are different to what we’re used to and generally support. And similarities or difference we don’t care about can be ignored unless they become relevant to the issue. The similarity between Nazi and Roman eagles is not a useful thing to discuss in this context unless we’re considering what effect Hitler’s respect for Rome had on the shaping of the Third Reich.

“Focusing on similarity instead of difference does not, however, seem the most intellectually fruitful way to go if we wish to understand complex social realities. In many respects, Obama and Romney are (very) ‘similar’, but imo it defies common sense to suggest there weren’t important differences between the two.”

Woah, nobody’s saying we should ignore the differences! You can do both.

“I don’t think they were ‘evil’.”

Shorthand – I’m not big on the concept of “evil” in general, hence the scare quotes, still less when it’s applied to things as nebulous as a country. Nine times out of ten, “evil” is a label people use so they can avoid thinking about their enemy’s motivations and concerns. Or just to dehumanise.

“What are you saying, that it’s interesting that human societies based on radically different political and economic foundations could end up killing people?

I don’t think that’s all that much of a revelation, or even that interesting: governments/regimes, of various stripes, in completely different times and places, have been killing their citizens/subjects since time immemorial.”

It’s not a revelation to most, but it is to some. I bet plenty of people who played small or even large roles in creating totalitarian states felt secure in the knowledge that they weren’t taking that risk, because look, they were already right at the other end of the spectrum from those guys who got it wrong!

More trivially, we have people who’ll argue for hours that Stalin was right-wing or Hitler left-wing, so they don’t have to pollute their preferred brand (I could easily argue for both, or neither). And then they’ll say “OK, both sides have their faults, but if we stick with my side at least we’re not at risk of ending up with a totalitarian state.” Witness the right’s habit of claiming that all the evils of the world are prevented by small-statism, or the left’s habit of arguing that every single unpalatable Tory policy is the first step on the inevitable road to Nazism.

But in any case, I wasn’t declaring it some earth-shattering revelation, I was saying that it’s a political reality that we shouldn’t come up with excuses to avoid admitting to ourselves. I’m trying to de-bias the issue, basically.

55. Chaise Guevara

Arrgh, looking at my last post and thinking about language, I’ve realised that my workplace’s house style of using quote marks for inverted commas has finally become second nature to me. Goddamnit.

56. Richard Carey

Feodor,

History is of course complex, and you make interesting points, but I don’t think you grasp just how horrific the Soviet Union was, and was openly! They boasted of how many they were rounding up and executing in their great experiment to remake human nature. That the Nazis and Bolsheviks hated each other is no evidence they were different in any meaningful sense, any more than a war between two mafia gangs. Both ideologies shared many common roots, and there was plenty of trouble between the Italian Fascists and the Nazis over Austria, Finland (I think) and such places.

Bob, I apologise if I was a bit obnoxious in my earlier posts, but you’re still dodging certain arguments and misunderstanding others. And moreover, you seem intent on viewing complex – and without question controversial – historical issues through the narrow prism of two facts (that the Soviet government was repressive and that it signed diplomatic pacts with Nazi Germany), at the expense of all other considerations. You seem especially unwilling to accept that the Soviet government might have had any legitimate concerns, and that the western powers could have done anything wrong. This is characteristic of Cold War thinking – i.e. the west is ‘good’, Russia is ‘evil’. Yet history cannot be seen through such a simple lens.

Bob: ‘The SPD were eventually mostly released whereas the Communists were mostly retained as the perceived greater threat.’

Perhaps, I don’t know for sure. This isn’t the point, however.

Pre-1933, it is a fact that the thing that vexed both the conservative German elites and the Nazis most, was that the SDP held state power in Prussia, which meant it also had control over the Prussian police.

They may have hated the Communists more, but they were under no illusions that in order to destroy Weimar democracy, they had to destroy its main – and by the early 1930s, its only meaningful – defender.

Furthermore, when they talked of the ‘Judeo-Bolshevik threat’, they meant the SPD as much as, if not more than, the KPD.

Given the political progression of European social-democracy post-1945, it can be easy to overlook that before than social-democracy was (at least in official ideology) Marxist.

By modern liberal standards, then, these Marxists are worthy of high praise in view of their principled opposition to fascism. I also happen to think the Soviet-affiliated Communist Parties are too, but I can understand if others take issue with this.

Nevertheless, when you have a Marxist party – and the biggest one at that – standing in defence of democracy when others, including liberals and conservatives, didn’t, it seems not only historically inaccurate, but rather disrespectful, to suggest there is/was equivalence between Marxism and fascism.

Also, if the Nazis did treat the Communists as greater threats once in the camps, greater threats than any other tendency, this underlines how strong the Communist opposition to fascism was, regardless of whether the USSR and Nazi Germany later signed a pact and called a short but uneasy truce.

Moreover, whatever crimes occurred in the Soviet Union, German Communists were not responsible for them: you tarnish the memory of many innocent anti-fascists, who died simply because they were anti-fascists, when you overlook this.

Bob: ‘The conduct of the Communists in Spanish civil war…’

I have always favoured the CNT-FAI over the UGT, and the Communists did not acquit themselves particularly well in Spain. But unlike Britain, or any other western democracy, at least they sided with the republicans. For that they deserve credit – as does the Mexican government, the only democratic government that supported the Spanish democrats.

Can you not see that? And can you not see that the Soviet government had legitimate reasons to question whether the western powers opposition to fascism was authentic?

Bob: ‘The Friendship Treaty between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union of 28 September 1939 – when Britain and France were already at war…’

Did Germany declare war on Britain and France, or was it the other way round?

We all know the answer. Now, ask yourself, what should we make of the fact that the western democracies were willing to see democracy destroyed in Spain and Czechoslovakia, without lifting a finger, and then come to the aid of an anti-Semitic military dictatorship that spent most of the interwar years threatening war with the Soviet Union? (The Polish even invaded in 1921, if memory serves me correctly.)

You may not agree with Soviet policy, I don’t. But you at least have to try and understand the situation they faced.

You also need to understand that Hitler’s intention was never to go to war with the western powers at that point (maybe in 41 or 42, but not 39); in fact, his main designs were on lands in the East, that was where the ‘living space’ was.

If Britain and France had not come to Poland’s aide, it’s likely he would have declared war on Russia sooner. And it’s just as likely that this would have been welcomed and supported by parts of the western elites.

The Soviet Union, economically backward and weak, was the only country that really didn’t want war. Whatever you think of the government and its policies, to try and paint it as anything other than a victim of Nazi aggression is historical revisionism of the worst kind.

‘Had Britain made a peace settlement with Nazi Germany in the summer of 1940 – as Hitler believed was inevitable – or had Britain lost the Battle of Britain in the late summer of 1940, the subsequent course of WW2 would have been very different.’

As noted above, if it hadn’t declared war in the first place – and this is not to say that the Nazis don’t, by a huge margin, bear the most responsibility for WWII – then the Soviet Union would have been overrun by German tanks, and the western democracies would have been cheering them on.

If I were to imagine myself a typical British elite at the time, who wanted nothing more than to preserve the Empire, then going to war with Germany has to be seen as a disastrous choice.

Thankfully, however, the British government did eventually stand up to Hitler. But this should have happened earlier, and they should have looked to build an alliance with the USSR. (I suspect they didn’t because they were hedging their bets, hoping Hitler would skip Poland and head straight for Russia, via Czechoslovakia and Austria, and up through Ukraine, which was of course at that time part of the USSR.)

Bob: ‘…but there were no Soviet pilots according to the records.’

Of course not, what an outrageous criticism!

They didn’t want to go to war with Germany, hence the non-aggression pacts, which would have been invalidated if they’d started sending their pilots to Britain. (I also doubt whether many Soviet pilots would have had the kind of training needed to fly British planes.)

But just because they didn’t want to enter into a savage conflict with another country does not mean they didn’t oppose the politics of that country.

Does the fact that you are not advocating war with China mean that you accept its government is ‘good’? I very much doubt it, you just have the sense to realise war with a more powerful nation would be suicide.
_ _ _ _ _

Chaise: ‘But we weren’t discussing that when the issue came up. The Tea Party was actually the point of reference.’

To call the Tea Party fascists, is to be disrespectful to the fascists! ;)

The Nazis, for all their faults, at least had a little bit of culture: Wagner and Beethoven beat evangelical sermons every day of the week. (I’m being a touch satirical here, lest anyone get the wrong impression.)

Seriously though, I can see how one might see similarities in the social forces that comprise both, but these are two phenomena occurring in vastly different times and places. And just as its simplistic to consider Bonaparte through the lens of Caserism, and Hitler through the lens of Bonapartism, one must not look to define new phenomena in new ways. Similar phenomena in the past may help guide us, but it’s intellectually lazy to simply cut-and-paste definitions from yesteryear.

Chaise: ‘It’s basically the difference between checking everyone’s on the same page, and demanding that everyone bow down to one person’s personal preferred lexicon.’

Fair point, and I broadly agree with the point you’re getting at, if I’ve understood it correctly that is.

Still, I have one point to make in response to what you’ve said in respect of debates getting bogged down in issues of semantics, and it’s that this is always likely to happen when definitions are used in their generic sense, precisely because they lack precision.

E.g., I might say of someone that they are a vulture. An obtuse person would say that, technically, they’re a human, and they’d be right. But, nevertheless, there is a fairly precise generic definition of what a vulture is in this context.

By contrast, if I were to say they were a caterpillar, then I’d be wrong in a technical sense and, moreover, there’s really no generic sense in which I might use this phrase.

Imo, the term fascism is so overused, that even though we could all think of a generic definition, this is so broad as to be almost as meaningless as calling someone a caterpillar.

Looking back over this debate, the original use is not that egregious – Peter Emms makes a reasonable point, using it in an almost acceptable way, imo anyway. But given the wider context of how fascism is applied today, and Nazi as well, we’d all do well to use it more sparingly, else it risks becoming a word that just means ‘bad’, or some connotation of ‘bad’. (Unfortunately this is probably already the case.)

Chaise: ‘I did say that they’re specifically similar in ways that are different to what we’re used to and generally support.’

Okay, but conversely, imo they’re specifically different in respect of some things we’d support. Namely, I’m of the view that there was a fundamental, anti-modern irrationality at the heart of the fascist regimes, in tension with the basic aims of what a state needs to do. And I don’t think that applies to the former Soviet Union which, for all its faults, was not at its core irrational.

The Nazis devastated their war effort because they decided to use trains needed to ship supplies to ship people to death camps. By contrast, the NKVD would shoot deserters, an undeniably brutal – even barbarian – practice by today’s standards, but one which can’t be said to be irrational.

To me, that’s a very important difference: if the Soviet government had been like the Nazi government, the Cold War would have been hot – in fact, they probably would have welcomed a nuclear apocalypse in the language of an honourable death.

Chaise: ‘Woah, nobody’s saying we should ignore the differences! You can do both.’

I agree. But the obvious and pronounced tendency is focus almost exclusively on the similarities. And sometimes to get the debate back to where it should be, you have to go some way towards the other extreme.

Chaise: ‘I’m trying to de-bias the issue, basically.’

Me too, I think. :)

Though I’m sure others will take a very different view of what you and/or I are trying to do.
_ _ _ _ _

Richard Carey: ‘History is of course complex, and you make interesting points, but I don’t think you grasp just how horrific the Soviet Union was, and was openly!’

Perhaps I don’t.

I certainly do think – and there is a small but growing amount of historical research that contributes to this view – that in the next few decades we’ll see significant and compelling revisionist histories of ‘actually existing socialism’ that challenge some notions that have become accepted orthodoxies. Though I would be guessing if I said what ‘truths’ they will eventually overturn.

Interestingly, most of the revisionism atm comes from American liberal historians, not socialist historians, most of whom avoid the USSR like the plague.

There is still a very real danger, however, that academic freedom in this direction will be shut-down by the knee-jerk reactions of societies still enthralled by Cold War era anti-Communism. A lot of good researchers might either be made into jobless pariahs, or deliberately sanitise their work out of fear that they’ll be subjected to public witchhunts by people who wouldn’t be able to tell you the first thing about serious historical research, only how to bend history into politically serviceable narratives.

It may even take a century or so to totally overcome this, which is a great shame.

Also, I really object to those who refuse to consider the situation of the Soviet state in the interwar period – or even in the postwar period. This is not to excuse the repression that took place, but you have to understand the position it found itself in: i.e., it was isolated and under grave threat, a threat which was eventually realised in the most barbaric manner.

WWII was experienced in completely different manner by Slavs than western Europeans. And I think even those westerners who acknowledge this, fail to draw out the full implications of it.

Yet if people can understand – but not necessarily excuse – the way Israel behaves today because of the Holocaust, or even the way America has behaved recently on account of 9/11 (which is far, far less excusable than Israeli actions), then we must be willing to consider the events that played a formative role on the Soviet Union. E.g., the failed 1905 revolution, the post-revolution civil war(s), the intransigent stance of other nations, WWII, the arms race and American superiority in it, etc. etc.

Understanding such as this is the very essence of what is called ‘historical imagination’.

Granted, I’m a socialist, and in a perhaps somewhat morbid way am both fascinated by the societies (esp. the economies) of ‘actually existing socialism’, as well as the way these states fell apart and the often troubling ways in which their political systems worked. And I don’t see any benefits from ignoring the failings, even if (as with all of us) my political biases perhaps sometimes cloud parts of my vision.

But I would also hope that, in time, the more serious liberal and conservative thinkers would also start to acknowledge that matters were not as black-and-white as Cold War propaganda made out – on either side of the divide.

Richard Carey: ‘Both ideologies shared many common roots…’

Liberalism and Marxism have more in common in terms of roots than fascism and Marxism, and fascism has more in common in terms of roots with conservatism and nationalism than it does with Marxism.

Irrespective of that, they are all, in their own rights, very diverse ideologies, that are radically different from one another, both in theory and application.

Until the cold war ended with the collapse of the Soviet empire c. 1990, my life was taken up by that threat and by WW2 before that. Of course that had an influence but the Soviet Union and its satellites, as Richard Carey says, were a horrible place to have to live and work in. The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 by the East German regime to block what had come to be a relentless flow of emigration, often by skilled workers, to West Germany to fuel the “economic miracle” there during the 1950s and 1960s.

It may help to illuminate if I give my perception of the evolution of NATO thinking by, say, the 1970s and how we came to adopt a defensive strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) by nuclear weapons.

The abiding fear was a Soviet blitzkrieg attack across the north German plain, using the known superiority of Warsaw Pact countries in armoured vehicles, supposedly to “liberate” some embattled group of exploited workers. Until the advent of Mitterrand in France in the early 1980s, the Communist Party there – the most Stalinist minded in western Europe by many accounts – had been regularly attracting around 20pc of the vote in elections. If that Communist Party could stay neutral in the face of a German invasion and occupation in 1940, what would it do in the face of a Soviet invasion of western Europe?

Western country governments were unwilling to make the fiscal commitments necessary to support armoured military resources to counter a Soviet blitzkrieg attack. A nuclear counter strike capability by NATO was the cheaper alternative for defence. Predictably, CND in Britain sprung up to protest against that nuclear strategy.

I distinctly recall from the 1970s reports of military discussions across western Europe about an option to build a string of anti-tank defences across West Germany equipped with nuclear land mines but – understandably, perhaps – the West German government rejected the option. That deserves mention to illustrate the NATO assessment of the principal military threat to Western Europe by the Soviet Union.

Readers will probably recall how civil protests in Hungary in 1956, about the oppressive Communist regime there, were suppressed by an invasion of Soviet tanks. That news was shortly followed by further news reporting that the Hungarian PM, Imre Nagy, had been executed. The Prague Spring in Czecho-Slovakia in 1968 – an attempt by the national Communist Party leadership there to introduce a more liberal regime – was brought to an end by another invasion of Soviet tanks. With that history, the prospect of a Soviet tank invasion of Western Europe seemed only too real.

Feodor

As events show, the real “bulwark” against the spread of Fascism in Europe was Britain, not the Soviet Union, which signed a Friendship Treaty with Nazi Germany on 28 September 1939, when Britain and France were already at war in consequence of a treaty with Poland to guarantee its territorial integrity. By the end of the war that ensued, about 50 million people had been killed.

There are far more similarities between the(oppressive) regimes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union than there were between either of those regimes and Britain – or America.

60. Richard Carey

Feodor,

I am fine for the necessary revisionist work of history to continue, but this will not, I expect, salvage a reputation for decency and humanity for the Bolsheviks, but it may well reveal the Cold War to have been something of a sham.

If you’re interested in a different view on these events, I would very much recommend Ludwig von Mises’ ‘Omnipotent Government’. As an Austrian liberal Jew, writing in exile in 1944, he has an interesting perspective on a lot of the things you have brought up regarding the power struggles within Germany – online here:

https://mises.org/document/5829/Omnipotent-Government-The-Rise-of-the-Total-State-and-Total-War

Bob, you have a great talent for circumambulation: you never seem to fail to respond to numerous points that have never been raised.

The insight into your life history is revealing. Were you a military man? Because that would explain a lot.

I could point out that, probably unlike any of the other participants in this debate, I have Polish relatives, that the British side of my family spent summers there from the 1960s onwards, and that the perception you have of life in the former eastern bloc is substantially different to their actual lived experiences. That ‘actually existing socialism’ was built upon a social contract of sorts – guaranteed employment and fixed prices. And that when the governments of these states started to struggle to deliver this was when it all began to fall apart; as opposed to the conventional wisdom that political repression was the catalyst. I could also point to the high levels of nostalgia for ‘actually existing socialism’ in these nations, not least because the introduction of private capitalism and the destruction of social safety nets proved an unmitigated disaster for the vast majority of the populations concerned. But I suspect this would all be lost on you, and you’d doubtless respond by waffling on about something completely different (and irrelevant).

I could also point out your other errors of fact. That, e.g., you ignore that many single, unmarried West Germans went East because there were better job opportunities there – I believe one or both of Angela Merkel’s are an example of this phenomenon. That if the Soviet Union had really wanted to take-over western Europe, it wouldn’t have favoured the disarmament of its Italian and French partisans in 1945, and would have backed the Greek Communists during the civil war. That the PCF, ‘Stalinist’ or not, was an important part of many democratic postwar coalition governments; in effect, becoming social-democratic in outlook and practice. That your attempt to smear the CND (as Soviet puppets or just unpatriotic muppets?) is typical of someone indoctrinated in the propaganda of Cold War anti-Communism. That NATO pre-dated the Warsaw Pact, which was a reaction to it, and that when most of the world was divided into two great camps, it is stating the bleeding obvious to note that either side saw anyone other than the other side as ‘principal military threat’ – who else was a threat, outer Mongolia? And that, as recent historical studies done since the opening up of the archives of the former USSR and Eastern bloc countries have shown, the Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary not to suppress the revolt as such, which they were somewhat indifferent to, but only when the Hungarian government announced it was withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact – remember, Hungary was an axis power, and fifteen years earlier its troops had been rampaging across Russia, butchering its citizens; thus, given this, withdrawal was simply unacceptable in Soviet eyes.

Furthermore, I could again point out that Britain refused to support the Spanish republicans and let Czechoslovakian democracy fall to Hitler; that your jingoism means you pontificate constantly about Soviet crimes yet do not even mention the crimes committed against colonial peoples by the British Empire (presumably you laud men like Churchill, who directly sanctioned the killings of colonial peoples – who cares about ragheads and niggers, right?); and that your argument that the course of WWII was decided on the western front is risible at best – but again, I doubt any of this would penetrate that dense skull of yours.

So, with that in mind, I think I’ll take this as my opportunity to bow out of this debate, because I’ve got another brick wall to go and bang my head against.

Richard, I am aware of who von Mises was, though I’ve not read any of his work – my ‘to read’ list is already very long, but I’ll add your recommendation to it.

It’s funny that you should mention von Mises though, another great bastion of liberalism who was happy to support fascism as long as the fascists were doing what fascists do best: murdering Communists and workers. After all, the ‘free market’ is the crowning achievement of human civilisation, and no civilised society could ever tolerate the vast mass of its producing classes organising themselves into trade bodies which press for things such as the abolition of child labour, an 8-hour day, safe working conditions and basic democratic freedoms in the workplace.

Those socialists, ay, they sure do have a queer definition of what counts as basic human dignity. Thank goodness for the liberals, who are always there to lead the way.

62. Richard Carey

Feodor,

I know you can quote one line out of context, but Mises certainly did not support fascism. My advice to you, young man, is learn to write succinctly, and try not to be such a smart-arse.

63. Richard Carey

Feodor

“After all, the ‘free market’ is the crowning achievement of human civilisation, and no civilised society could ever tolerate the vast mass of its producing classes organising themselves into trade bodies which press for things such as the abolition of child labour, an 8-hour day, safe working conditions and basic democratic freedoms in the workplace.”

You think the workers had these freedoms in Bolshevik Russia? Idiot.

Ludwig von Mises in 1927: ‘It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.’

Richard, in or out of their wider context, those two lines stand for themselves. Squirm all you want, it’ll make no difference.

Richard Carey: ‘You think the workers had these freedoms in Bolshevik Russia?’

Given that I was talking about von Mises views on the benefits of fascism in Italy in particular, and other western European countries in general, it is a bit of strawman to introduce Russia into the discussion.

But still, to rise to your bait: those freedoms did not exist under Tsarism, and all but one of them (basic democratic freedoms in the workplace) did exist in Soviet Russia. And even then, one could argue that while certain democratic freedoms (e.g. the right to free and independent trade unions) were curtailed, others (such as the freedom from Tsarist racial discrimination) were not.

Then again, however, I doubt you or von Mises support any of these things – they’re ‘uneconomic’, right? So I fail to see how you can make this a point of criticism without being rather hypocritical.

The Soviet Union set itself high standards which it fell well short of; you and your ilk have no standards at all.

Richard: ‘My advice to you, young man, is learn to write succinctly, try not to be such a smart-arse… Idiot.’

All my points are relatively succinct, I just had a lot to respond to. Bob is prone to make many simple assertions, which should not be allowed to pass under the radar unchallenged. (If you’ve followed the debate, you’ll notice I’ve responded to most of Bob’s arguments, yet he refuses to engage with any of mine.)

Plus, is it not something of a contradiction in terms to call someone both a ‘smart-arse’ and an ‘idiot’? Although coming from you, I consider it high praise indeed.

65. Richard Carey

Feodor,

I’m not squirming at all. Mises’ views on fascism are quite obvious from his extensive body of work, and yet you only want to take those lines out of context and ignore everything else he wrote. So, let us see a little more of the quote, i.e., the paragraph in full, and the one that precedes it:

“So much for the domestic policy of Fascism. That its foreign policy, based as it is on the avowed principle of force in international relations, cannot fail to give rise to an endless series of wars that must destroy all of modern civilization requires no further discussion. To maintain and further raise our present level of economic development, peace among nations must be assured. But they cannot live together in peace if the basic tenet of the ideology by which they are governed is the belief that one’s own nation can secure its place in the community of nations by force alone.

It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history. But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.”

To represent Mises as pro-fascist is dishonest, as you would know if you read the book from where the quote comes from and everything else he wrote on the subject. But, if you ignore all that, and you refuse to accept the historical context it was written in, and the horror of Bolshevism and the threat that it posed (just as you dismiss the Ukrainian famine above), that’s your choice.

As for being both a smart-arse and an idiot, there’s no contradiction in that, and the fact that you question it lends credence to both accusations!

As for your ludicrous beliefs that people in the Soviet Union had rights, I can only shake my head. The democratic rights you demand, and the restrictions on child labour etc., were achieved in 19th century England, without the bloodbaths of a marxist revolution.

Feodor

“Bob, you have a great talent for circumambulation: you never seem to fail to respond to numerous points that have never been raised.”

So bloody what? You can’t get away from: (a) personal smears in the belief that settles the debate – it doesn’t; (b) believing that only you are permitted to define the ambit of the debate – which reveals your authoritarian side.

“The insight into your life history is revealing. Were you a military man? Because that would explain a lot.”

More attempted smears instead of addressing the argument. I’ve never been in the military or anything remotely like it. I like think for myself and that would never do in the military. I’m better read in Marx than most and that would have led to suspicions that I must therefore be a Marxist.

By documented accounts, the Soviet Union was a thoroughly nasty place – and not just for the millions of political dissidents who passed through the gulags.

Molotov was one of Stalin’s key lieutenants, serving variously as Soviet President then as Soviet Foreign Minister in the crucial negotiations with Nazi Germany over the Non-aggression Pact of August 1939 and then the Friendship Treaty of September 1939. For unclear reasons, Stalin took a dislike to Molotov’s wife and had her imprisoned in the Lubyanka by Beria, who was head of the NKVD, the predecessor of the KGB. Come Stalin’s death in March 1953, and Molotov hurried along to the Lubyanka to negotiate the release of his wife.

Marshal Zhukov, by a wide consensus, was the Soviet’s most successful battlefield commander on the eastern front. Come the end of the war, Stalin appointed him to a minor post well away from Moscow in the Crimea.

Following Stalin’s death, Zhukov and Khrushchev got together and, with some of Zhukov’s military contacts, rounded up the odious Beria and his chief henchman, organised a quick secret trial and had them shot. By several accounts, Beria – like Mao later – liked young girls so the NKVD ensured a steady supply.

Only authoritarian regimes can run politics like that and get away with it.

Britain was the bulwark against Fascism in Europe, certainly not the Soviet Union.

65
‘The democratic rights you demand, and the restrictions on child labour, were achieved in the 19th century England without the bloodbaths of a marxist revolution.’

You are quite correct but you fail to take into account your comment @56 – ‘History is of course complex’;-

The Mines and Factory Acts and the 1870 Education Act were introduced to appease the sentiments of the middle-class. The full extent of the consequences upon the working-class was catastrophic not least because the money earned by children was often the difference between starvation and survival. The direct consequences were child abandonment and the rise of street gangs led by children. This eventually resulted in the creation of the Barnardo homes. Henry Mayhew’s ‘London Labour and The London Poor’ is an excellent text describing the conditions of the working-class.

Analysing 19th century history from the stance of existing culture and a welfare state is not very fruitful and neither is attempting to analyse the Soviet Union without taking into account the conditions which existed in Imperial Russian in 1917. The course of history was determined more by an absolute monarch who would do anything to hang on to his power than anything to do with Marx or socialism.

Richard Carey: ‘To represent Mises as pro-fascist is dishonest…’

My original comment (post 61) was that von Mises was ‘another great bastion of liberalism who was happy to support fascism as long as the fascists were doing what fascists do best: murdering Communists and workers.’ That is a perfectly accurate – though more blunt – way of saying what the man himself said. If you can’t see that, then that’s your problem.

Incidentally, when he spoke of the merit fascism won for itself living on eternally, I can’t help but think about how it is Gramsci, not Mussolini, who has in the end had a profound impact upon our intellectual culture. Even liberals utilise Gramscian concepts like ‘hegemony’ – though they’re probably oblivious as to their origins, and rarely use them in anything but the most superficial sense.

Richard: ‘…you refuse to accept the historical context it was written in’.

No, I’m fully aware (see my original post @ #41) of the historical context of the interwar years, wherein middle-class liberals, petrified by the forward march of organised labour (both in its social-democratic and Communist guises, something modern liberals like to gloss over by focusing solely on Bolshevism, as you do), were more than happy to conditionally support fascism. As von Mises put it, it was an ‘emergency makeshift’ needed to ‘save European civilisation’.

Richard: ‘…just as you dismiss the Ukrainian famine above’.

I ‘dismissed’ the Ukrainian famine as a suitable explanation for why the German elites and fascists entered into an unholy alliance, precisely because it was the SPD that they considered as the main threat, and the SPD not only had nothing to do with what went on in the Soviet Union, but actively opposed it.

Fear of Russian Bolshevism is not an adequate explanation of why those forces violently opposed social democracy; though admittedly, they, like you, tend to conflate the two, which was nonsense then, just as its nonsense now.

Stop constructing strawmen and actually engage with what I’ve said.

Richard: ‘As for your ludicrous beliefs that people in the Soviet Union had rights, I can only shake my head.’

Shaking your head is not an adequate rebuttal.

Richard: ‘The democratic rights you demand, and the restrictions on child labour etc., were achieved in 19th century England, without the bloodbaths of a marxist revolution.’

You’re right, there was no ‘marxist revolution’ in 19th c. Britain.

But you have to be completely oblivious as to the history of this country to not realise that it took a long, hard struggle on the part of organised labour, with some blood spilled, before the liberal and conservative ruling elites were willing to concede any of these things.

Have you never heard of the Chartist movement? Do you not know anything about its history?

Bob the knob: ‘So bloody what?’

So bloody that: you have consistently avoided responding to anything I’ve said, instead preferring to divert attention by rambling on about something else.

I’ve lost count of the number of basic factual errors you’ve made in this debate, but one things for sure, every time I’ve pointed them out, you’ve avoided responding to me. That you can’t even muster a crappy defence of your crappy knowledge of history, Bob, is a pretty obvious concession on your part.

Case in point:

Bob the knob: ‘More attempted smears instead of addressing the argument… [snipped: absolutely nothing that even remotely resembles a counter-argument to what I said] Britain was the bulwark against Fascism in Europe, certainly not the Soviet Union.’

Rotflmao.

You whole ‘style’ of argument consists of smears, diversions and assertions, Bob.

I’ve addressed numerous arguments of yours, to which your response has been… more smears, diversions and assertions!

If you think what you’ve said is relevant to the discussion, then I truly pity you, because you seem to have a real problem determining what is and isn’t relevant. However, I figure you’re just trolling me now, and that I’m wasting my energies by responding to you; in the process probably making myself look silly by not realising the jokes on me. Therefore, unlike when I said this before, I really am going to ignore you from now on. Maybe I’ll respond to Richard, but his style of argument is fast becoming similarly bankrupt. If Chaise wants to continue our conversation, then I will. But I think it best to leave the readers judge for themselves who is attempting to debate honestly and who is being deliberately obtuse – I suspect even those who disagree with me, will still see through you.

Sorry, but just no. There’s a bit too much false equation in this article. All things being equal, they aren’t. Drone attacks that kill civilians, many small children among them, are not just some asides to be buried several paragraphs down. He escalated the use of drone attacks in Pakistan, which led to strikes on civilians, including emergency first aid responders and funeral processions.

His one-sided approach in supporting Israel is not something that can be traded off by some bit of policy work. He has granted Israel the largest amount of military aid in the history of the United States, which essentially amounts to a tacit support of its settlement project, treatment of Palestinians and rhetoric about Iran.

The man has ordered the killing of three American citizens without trial. He signed the NDAA bill into law on New Year’s Eve when attention would be low. It included language that enshrined indefinite detention without charge or legal recourse into law. He pushed harder for warrantless wire taps than Bush ever did.

He eased restrictions to allow the U.S. to work with militaries that use child soldiers. He’s escalated proxy wars and military action without Congressional support throughout the Middle East and Africa.

There is absolutely nothing progressive about him as a candidate, but because he has a nice smile, a good story and gives great speech and has the Democrats as his party we all give him a pass. He’s driving the exact same agenda as the previous administration, he’s just doing more effectively.

70. Derek Hattons Tailor

JFK was more radical. Define “progressive”.

67

“The Mines and Factory Acts and the 1870 Education Act were introduced to appease the sentiments of the middle-class. The full extent of the consequences upon the working-class was catastrophic not least because the money earned by children was often the difference between starvation and survival. ”

A succession of factory acts to control working conditions and reduce the exploitation of women and children started back in 1802 as the Commons went up a learning curve about the social consequences of pioneering industrialisation and a policy stance that had started out as laissez-faire.

Times were, indeed, hard through to the 1830s. The Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars in Europe had lasted from 1792 through 1815 – a period of 23 years. There was a threat of invasion until 1805 when the Battle of Trafalgar had established Britain’s naval supremacy.

The ending of the wars by the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 brought cuts in government spending on armaments, the navy and army so the inevitable post-war depression ensued (because no one understand keynesian economics then) and that was compounded by the return to the Gold Standard in 1821 at the pre-war parity.

But it would be a mistake to believe that living standards fell on trend as the result of industrialisation. Britain’s population about tripled over the course of the 19th century – from about 11 million to 31 million. Average life expectancy at birth went from about 40 at the start of the century to 50 at the end. We can only reasonably infer that average living standards were improving.

We can benchmark real wages in Britain against those in Germany, which was Britain’s principal industrial rival in Europe: REAL WAGES AND LABOUR PRODUCTIVITY IN BRITAIN AND GERMANY, 1871-1938:

Abstract: Throughout the period 1871-1938, the average British worker was better off than the average German worker, but there were significant differences between major sectors. For the aggregate economy, the real wage gap was about the same as the labour productivity gap, but again there were important sectoral differences. Compared to their productivity, German industrial workers were poorly paid, whereas German agricultural and service sector employees were overpaid. This affected the competitiveness of the two countries in these sectors. There were also important differences in comparative real wages by skill level, affecting the extent of poverty.
http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/academic/broadberry/wp/solgeruk7a.pdf

Marx’s theory of the increasing immiserisation of the proletariat doesn’t withstand serious scrutiny.

This is the most comprehensive data set for average earnings in Britain that I can find:
http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/~alan/family/N-Money.html

As best I can tell, by mid 19th century, average real earnings in Britain were better than those elsewhere in western Europe because of Britain’s pioneering industrialisation but after c. 1870 other west European countries were catching up or doing better.

70

But what about the children?

“What about the children?”

Britain was pioneering industrialisation – few, if any, had foreseen the social consequences of laissez-faire and industrialisation. There was no system of reporting back to government about working conditions. Parliament depended on reports by itinerant journalists (like William Cobbett) and later inquiries by Rowntree and Mayhew. Better to ask about the price of Corn:
http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/unlocking-the-agricultural-economics-of-the-19th-century/

With the conclusion of the Napoleonic War in 1815 and the ending of Napoleon’s Berlin decree prohibiting trade with Britain, the price of corn in Britain halved as trade opened up. Parliament swiftly responded with the Corn Laws: “The Corn Laws were trade laws designed to protect cereal producers in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland against competition from less expensive foreign imports between 1815 and 1846.” [Wikipedia] There was nothing remotely laissez-faire about that piece of legislation intended to serve the interests of the landed gentry and aristocracy.

The price of corn was critical for the prices of bread and beer, stables in the diet of the poor of those times. The later substitution of tea for beer did wonders for personal health.

Marx’s immiserisation thesis derived from naive extrapolation of the plight of the hand-loom weavers whose earnings were, indeed, greatly reduced by the mechanisation of weaving. But that turned textiles into a major export earner for Britain, created thousands of jobs and brought down the price of clothing, which made for better hygiene.

73

But it wasn’t just economic and social changes which were brought about by the industrial revolution, there were also changes in social values, associated with the middle-classes and which became assimilated into social policy, the factory and mines acts and the Education Act represented those changes in values. Whilst child labour was repugnant to the middle-classes, it represented something else to the working-class. And this is very much about a more objective and realistic analysis of the 19th century which isn’t distorted by our own values and conditions.

And this is the essence of much of what Feodor argues, I’ve had many a debate on LC about the emergence of the Soviet Union. S/he is quite correct, because of the ideology generated by the cold war and the anti-socialist propaganda which has been fed to us for almost 90 years, even left-wing historians find it difficult to focus on cold, hard facts and then their analysis is little more than an appeasement to popular thought.

@71 You quote the rise in wages but for most families it actually represented a decrease when only the male bread-winner could get work, paid at the increased amount. Women and children could only do very low-paid work (if that), Mayhew’s text is considered to be the best representation of the plight of poor women and children.

Steveb: ‘And this is the essence of much of what Feodor argues…’

Thank you. I’m glad someone understands what I’m getting at: the visceral reactions of many in this debate really underlines why it may take some time until scholarship on Soviet history approaches the level of scholarship on other historical topics.

What you say about child labour is interesting as well, and I broadly agree with you. Much the same could also be said of women entering into the workforce: for most working class women, it merely meant they were now double burdened, as while they contributed almost half the family income, few husbands started doing half the housework. Moreover, it’s allowed real wages to be depressed: few working class families today could rely on the wage of the male breadwinner alone. (In general, goods have got cheaper, rather than wages rising.)

But – and I prefix this by saying that most of the serious historical research I’ve done is on 20th c. history, and central European at that, and that my knowledge of 19th c. Britain does not really extend beyond the ‘basics’ – I think your argument may be a little one-sided.

In late 19th c. early 20th c. Vienna, for example, I have seen research that suggests that, esp. among skilled working class and artisan families who could survive financially without their children working, there was a desire to see their children go into schools rather than factories, though generally they favoured a practical education for their children, not a classical one.

Is this, however, a phenomenon that only started to occur towards the end of the 19th century? (I really don’t know and am genuinely interested in your answer.)

For what it’s worth, I’ve long thought that a more healthy balance for humanity would involve education not stopping at 16, 18 or 21, and children learning from a young age what work was like – though being spared from long, gruelling hours labouring in factories etc.

I hated doing them, but in later life, I’m glad I had some chores to do around the house when I was younger – it teaches a certain responsibility and work ethic that doesn’t come if your mother tidies your bedroom for you!

Feodor @75

I agree that my argument could be viewed as one-sided, this was really to balance the idea that the middle-class ideals of the 19th century (which are probably nearer our own existing values) were quite detrimental to a large majority of the working-class.

Certainly, on average, wages did rise but on the downside, life expectancy fell, so a large number of women were left widdowed, therefore both women and children worked for a pittance in service or other very low paid tasks. ‘The Conditions of the Working Class’ by Engels graphically describes the squalor which most of the urban working-class had to live and work in, this addresses 19th century Manchester, Henry Mayhew’s text describes the poor inhabitants of London.

Towards the end of the 19th century it was clear that laissez-faire wasn’t going to address the need for a more educated work-force, and the 1870 Education Act was introduced (the UK was miles behind Germany with regard to state funded education). This is where the values of the middle-class, regarding the benefits of education, started to be adopted by a better educated working-class (males) newly created jobs such as bank-telling and senior clerical work were taken by this social group.

There is a research which suggests that literacy levels were higher in 18th century UK than the 19th century and there was certainly paranoia about the French Revolution and the success of pamphleteering to spread the revolutionary message.

This is a very potted history but the cultural values of the 19th century were of great interest, even to those who lived through that time – ‘Culture & Anarchy’ by Matthew Arnold addresses the need for a new shared culture for a society which had more social mobility than their grandparents and which brought together large populations within the urban areas. And we cannot discuss culture without making reference to Raymond Williams, ‘Culture and Society’

Hope this might be of use to you and I also agree that teaching kids to be independent is good for the child, and despite my comments about working-class children being precluded from mines and factories, I do not propose such a thing for the 21st century.

Steveb

I’m not disputing the extent of poverty in Britain in the 19th century – or some side-benefits for poor families from work opportunities for children – but that has to be compared with increasing affluenece from the 1830s onward, because of industrialisation, and what was happening in the rest of western Europe where Germany was becoming Britain’s principal industrial rival.

The death toll from the Ukraine famine of 1932/33 and the gulags and scale of executions in the Soviet Union stand in stark testimony to the horrors of the Soviet Union. Russian historians had access to the archives for a few years during the Yeltsin presidency. From then, there is a graphic report of Zhukov speaking up in the Central Committee in 1957 on behalf of Khrushchev following an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to depose him as party general secretary by a faction led by Molotov. Zhukov recalled Stalin with Molotov, as Soviet president, signing off thousands of execution warrants in the period of the terror. Significantly, Khrushchev’s son is now an American citizen, living in America.

As events proved, Britain, not the Soviet Union, was the bulwark against the spread of Fascism in Europe. The regimes of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had more in common with each other than either had with Britain.

@76

I meant to write ‘more geographical mobility than their grandparents’

77

My intention was to draw your attention to the idealogical base we use to analyse history, and to some extent, how we often use a top-down model for the basis of such analysis.

I am not going to enter into a debate about the similarity of the Nazi regime to the Soviet Union, this has been adequately addressed in the above posts. You and I also have a history of debating about the so-called ‘blamelessness’ of liberal societies and the scoring of points as to who carried-out the worst atrocities. During all bloody revolutions there are terrible atrocities carried-out, in the end Robespierre became a victim of his own terror.

The essence of this debate is about taking away the blinkers caused by the political propaganda instilled about the Soviet Union and, by implication, Marx and socialism, and stop looking at it through a very narrow lens. I know you probably have read a lot more Marx than most, but even you continue to associate him with the importance of state control. And yet you are a supporter of Keynes and more rigid controls in the financial markets, it seem that a rose by another name does smell sweeter.

81. Richard Carey

@ 79 steveb,

“The essence of this debate is about taking away the blinkers caused by the political propaganda”

Strip away all the anti-Bolshevik propaganda, and you are left with a brutal, murderous regime, driven by a nihilistic, anti-human creed. Feodor may call that a visceral response. Nonetheless it is accurate.

Steveb: ‘…the UK was miles behind Germany with regard to state funded education’.

Yes, of course, I forgot about this, and it’s a crucial fact when one is comparing the attitudes of the German (and Austrian) working class towards education with that of the British.

Steveb: ‘This is where the values of the middle-class, regarding the benefits of education, started to be adopted by a better educated working-class…’

I’m not so sure about this. In part, yes, it was an adoption of middle class attitudes, but (as e.g. E P Thompson showed) there was always a strong tradition of informal and non-formal education among the producing classes.

Though I have seen it said that some of this was lost as society shifted from predominantly artisanal to predominantly industrial work processes.

Steveb: ‘…and despite my comments about working-class children being precluded from mines and factories, I do not propose such a thing for the 21st century.’

I didn’t think you did. My apologies if my response can be construed in that way.

And yes, your post was helpful; what you’ve said about increased geographical mobility is certainly something that should be born in mind.

Finally, just for shits and giggles:

Richard Carey: ‘Strip away all the anti-Bolshevik propaganda, and you are left with a brutal, murderous regime, driven by a nihilistic, anti-human creed.’

I presume Richard broadly agrees with the boilerplate neo-liberal criticism that the main problem with the economies in the former socialist states was that they attempted to impose on society an ideology which took no account of the need for market mechanisms in determining prices. (Incidentally, Stalin said something pretty similar: that while Soviet economists understood how the law of value worked in capitalist societies, they had failed to understand how it operated in socialist economies.)

Yet, rather than retain the logical thread in his argument, i.e. that they tried to construct a society based on a wrong-headed theory, he instead says these societies were based on a totally destructive creed that believed in nothing. I’m sure even the ‘great’ von Mises would concede that the Soviet Union was not nihilistic, in any meaningful sense of the word, and that at its core it had the concrete aim of human betterment, albeit one it pursued in what he would consider an irrational manner.

When you ignore such basic facts as the massive increases in living standards in the Soviet Union and the lack of any tradition of western-style liberal governance in Russia (both before 1917 and after 1991), preferring instead to carelessly throw around adjectives with no respect for what they actually mean, you simply show how far away you are from any kind of serious analysis.

Moreover, one could easily say of Britain that once you strip away all the anti-imperial propaganda, you are left with a brutal, murderous Empire, driven by a white supremacist creed.

That’s a little less careless than Richard’s statement in terms of the adjectives used, thus a bit more accurate, but it would still fall well short of anything but the most partial of analyses.

Of course, judging by how Richard and Bob have consistently avoided talking about the British Empire in this debate, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was news to them that it even had one!

Feodor:

“Of course, judging by how Richard and Bob have consistently avoided talking about the British Empire in this debate, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was news to them that it even had one!”

I have never supported imperialism, the slave trade or slavery. For the record, I can recall from the 1950s opposing British policy in debates on Cyprus, Kenya and Suez. In recent debates here about Gove’s proposals for reforming the history curriculum taught in schools, I’ve suggested that he should be sure to include the slave trade, the Opium Wars with China and industrialisation in mainland Europe in the second part of the 19th century so school students could compare Britain’s policy of laissez-faire with the dirigiste policies of mainland European governments.

Your attempted smear is entirely misplaced.

In 1852, Disraeli wrote in a letter to his political colleague Malmesbury: “These wretched colonies will all be independent, too, in a few years and are a millstone round our necks.”

About economic imperialism:

“19th century trade was accompanied by massive international capital movements, which were much larger relative to the size of the world economy than anything seen since WWI: in a typical year in the late 19th century, Britain invested about 40 per cent of its savings overseas.”
Source: Paul Krugman: Peddling Prosperity” (Norton, 1994) p.258

As they used to say back in the 1960s, if there is one thing worse than being exploited by a multinational compamy, is was not being exploited by a multinational company.

Bob, you could be James Connolly for all I care, that doesn’t change the fact that you’ve consistently avoided discussing the question of British colonialism whenever it’s been brought up in this debate – though to be fair, you’ve consistently avoided discussing any issue that would force you to bring into question your simplistic, monochromatic historical narrative.

Bob: ‘As they used to say back in the 1960s, if there is one thing worse than being exploited by a multinational compamy, is was not being exploited by a multinational company.’

Try telling that to the native peoples of Australia and the Americas.

Feodor

“Try telling that to the native peoples of Australia and the Americas”

What happened to the native peoples of Australia and the US was the outcome of the policies of their respective sovereign governments. What happened in South America was the outcome of the Catholic church and the colonial powers there – Spain and Portgual.

The railways in south and north America owed much to British investors.

Bob: ‘What happened to the native peoples of Australia and the US was the outcome of the policies of their respective sovereign governments.’

The mind boggles.

The initial dispossession of the native Americans in North America* was justified in British courts under British law more than a century before the US became an independent sovereign state.

The date usually advanced for Australian independence is 1901 – its constituent parts may have been self-governing for some time previous, but the British state still had overall authority. And again, the Aborigine community had already been run off the vast bulk of their land long before 1901.

*Perhaps a slight error on my part in previously using the broader term ‘the Americas’ – though, of course, the geographical distinctions are themselves products of the European colonial mind.

But I can’t help but chuckle at how quick you were to pull the trigger, so to speak, with regard to Spain, Portugal and the Catholic church.

88. Richard Carey

Feodor,

The people I admire from the 19th century are Richard Cobden and the radical liberals. They were very opposed to imperialism, and took a lot of flack for speaking out against things like the Crimean and the Boer Wars. Unlike the Fabians – posh socialists – who supported imperialism and, like you, lionised the murderous Bolsheviks.

Yet again, Bob’s basic factual errors are brought to his attention, and yet again, Bob’s response is to evade, smear and assert.

You really are a quite extraordinary individual, Bob.

Feodor

“The initial dispossession of the native Americans in North America was justified in British courts under British law more than a century before the US became an independent sovereign state.”

C’mon. The American Declaration of Independence was issued in 1776 and the US Constitution was adopted in 1787. There were wars between the colonialists – British and French – from the early settlements but the American Revolutionary Wars, which preceded independence, were faught on two fronts – against British army in the east and against the Indians in the west. The Indian wars continued on and off through the 19th century when the USA was a fully independent sovereign state.

As for Australia, rule from the colonial office in Whitehall was spread thinly in a country the size of a continent. Autonomous Parliamentary democracies began to be established throughout the six British colonies from the mid-19th century and the colonies voted by referendum to unite in a federation in 1901. At that time, the total population of the settlers – excluding the aborigines – was about 3.7 million.

Britain was not a colonial power of any significance in south America although substantial British capital was invested in Argentina to the benefit of its people. At the beginning of the 20th century, Argentina was rated amoung the most affluent countrles in the world in terms of per capita GDP.

“Yet again, Bob’s basic factual errors are brought to his attention, and yet again, Bob’s response is to evade, smear and assert. You really are a quite extraordinary individual, Bob.”

That’s just your usual personal abuse. It does not amount to rational argument.

Correction: “There were wars between the colonialists – British and French – from the early settlements but the American Revolutionary Wars, which preceded independence, were faught on two fronts – against British army in the east and against the Indians in the west.”

That should be: “There were battles between the colonialists – British and French – and Native Americans from the early settlements but the American Revolutionary Wars, which preceded independence, were faught on two fronts – against British army in the east and against the Indians in the west.”

Bob: ‘That’s just your usual personal abuse. It does not amount to rational argument.’

It’s a (polemical) observation, Bob, learn the difference.

And I note, you’ve still not responded to what I said: i.e., in contrast to what you said (post 86: ‘What happened to the native peoples of Australia and the US was the outcome of the policies of their respective sovereign governments’), the initial dispossession of the native peoples of North America and Australia occurred long before either of these countries had their own sovereign governments.

Either you’re simply unable to follow the standard pattern of an argument (i.e. raising *directly relevant* counter-points to the original point), or you’re being deliberately evasive.

Feodor: “Either you’re simply unable to follow the standard pattern of an argument (i.e. raising *directly relevant* counter-points to the original point), or you’re being deliberately evasive.”

And you, Feodor are a silly, dense adolescent IMO

Check the dates @90.

The US was a fully independent sovereign state at the time of the major Indian wars, involving the US Cavalry, during the 19th century. That was the time at which the Indian Reservations were established. The treatment of aborigines in Australia was and is almost entirely due to Australians.

I’ve already made clear that I’ve been critical of British Imperialism for decades and there is much to be criticial about but that does not extent to making silly criticisms relating to countries at times when British governments had ceased to have any effective control.

Frankly, you are not worth my time


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    Fair and interesting article on Obama presidency so far… I'm not American but it's interesting. http://t.co/JjMQQGd3

  27. jane barron

    A brilliant round up of some of Obama's best achievements, and failures, by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/PzXj2kAL

  28. sunny hundal

    A brilliant round up of some of Obama's best achievements, and failures, by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/PzXj2kAL

  29. Jordan Millward

    A brilliant round up of some of Obama's best achievements, and failures, by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/PzXj2kAL

  30. Jack Barker

    Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/I1HTVwB3 via @libcon

  31. Joanne Catherall

    A brilliant round up of some of Obama's best achievements, and failures, by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/PzXj2kAL

  32. steve flatt

    Barack Obama: the best President the US has had since the 60s. Here's why http://t.co/hfrreZ4f (by me)

  33. Ben Mitchell

    Barack Obama: the best President the US has had since the 60s. Here's why http://t.co/hfrreZ4f (by me)

  34. Neil Walshaw

    Barack Obama: the best President the US has had since the 60s. Here's why http://t.co/hfrreZ4f (by me)

  35. Ryan Ellis

    Claims that Obama is only slightly better ythan Romney is simplistic nonsense. This is why I'm supporting Obama http://t.co/hfrreZ4f

  36. VALIS

    @48ONIRAM Totally agree. & if we told this guy he'd say, "See? Toxic liberals.". :-( @sunny_hundal wrote this about O: http://t.co/qa2GL95a

  37. Luke Farley

    Good piece on Obama being (one of) the best president(s) ever. by @sunnyhundal http://t.co/7MYzFY8u

  38. robertsharp59

    "the media aversion to policy details means much of what Obama achieved has gone under the radar."
    @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/akYTWW14

  39. sunny hundal

    "the media aversion to policy details means much of what Obama achieved has gone under the radar."
    @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/akYTWW14

  40. Kathryn Sugg

    "the media aversion to policy details means much of what Obama achieved has gone under the radar."
    @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/akYTWW14

  41. M

    "the media aversion to policy details means much of what Obama achieved has gone under the radar."
    @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/akYTWW14

  42. matt jordan

    "the media aversion to policy details means much of what Obama achieved has gone under the radar."
    @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/akYTWW14

  43. Hannah Snow

    Excellent summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  44. Alex Braithwaite

    Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/0cHn7k5f via @libcon

  45. Cyber Mangled

    Barack Obama: the best President the US has had since the 60s. Here's why http://t.co/hfrreZ4f (by me)

  46. nik

    Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/0cHn7k5f via @libcon

  47. Kirsty

    Barack Obama: the best President the US has had since the 60s. Here's why http://t.co/hfrreZ4f (by me)

  48. Emily

    RT @sunny_hundal Barack Obama: the best President the US has had since the 60s. Here's why http://t.co/YiMyTy7N (by me)

  49. alan cocks

    Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/0cHn7k5f via @libcon

  50. Thomas Wilkinson

    Barack Obama: the best President the US has had since the 60s. Here's why http://t.co/hfrreZ4f (by me)

  51. James Mackenzie

    RT @libcon Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years http://t.co/fnlBdPlF « first class summary

  52. Scott Macdonald

    RT @libcon Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years http://t.co/fnlBdPlF « first class summary

  53. Scott Macdonald

    Worth pimping again. Why Obama is the most progressive President in 50 years. Thoughts? http://t.co/a7PBxeyF ht @mrjamesmack

  54. Ian Smart

    RT @libcon Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years http://t.co/fnlBdPlF « first class summary

  55. Liz McDowell

    Excellent summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  56. helenlpleb

    Excellent summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  57. Ditzyladym

    Excellent summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  58. JohnnyLaird

    “@hannahsnow: Excellent summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/t0AUycGF” worth a read

  59. jamie

    “@hannahsnow: Excellent summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/SRuMRGq5” < Great read.

  60. littlewarrior

    “@hannahsnow: Excellent summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/t0AUycGF” worth a read

  61. Adam Humphreys

    Good overview of how well/badly Obama has done: http://t.co/ETyo8rnN via @littlewarrior

  62. stephen madill

    RT @libcon Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years http://t.co/fnlBdPlF « first class summary

  63. Simon Barrow

    Sunny Hundal, who is in LA, puts the (critical) case for Obama http://t.co/niS4SRqr

  64. Soupy One

    Sunny Hundal, who is in LA, puts the (critical) case for Obama http://t.co/niS4SRqr

  65. niriop

    Moot now, but an interesting (if in parts flawed) defence of Obama's record by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/1QLJBFkl via @libcon

  66. Scott Macdonald

    @semanticist @marksutherland Alternatively. http://t.co/m5i5fqHy – The US needs electoral reform as badly as WM does.

  67. Kristen yorama

    http://t.co/ofsUssR9 an even look at obamas government

  68. Justin K Cartwright

    Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years @Lorcan_Mullen http://t.co/vZO6eunO

  69. November Elections, History Repeating Itself « The Sexy Politico's Blog

    [...] Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over … (liberalconspiracy.org) [...]

  70. Noodlehands

    Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/CGKL99Pu via @libcon

  71. Jeff Tyldesley

    Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/CGKL99Pu via @libcon

  72. David Kasper

    Meta-pure ideology! http://t.co/j7dwwJiN

  73. rosemary rimmer-clay

    RT @libcon: Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years http://t.co/aijN9IVN

  74. Hannah Snow

    In light of today's Florida news, worth RTing this summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  75. Hannah Snow

    In light of today's Florida news, worth RTing this summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  76. sunny hundal

    In light of today's Florida news, worth RTing this summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  77. sunny hundal

    In light of today's Florida news, worth RTing this summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  78. koplegend

    In light of today's Florida news, worth RTing this summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  79. koplegend

    In light of today's Florida news, worth RTing this summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  80. NemesisRepublic

    In light of today's Florida news, worth RTing this summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  81. NemesisRepublic

    In light of today's Florida news, worth RTing this summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  82. Biggervoice

    In light of today's Florida news, worth RTing this summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  83. Biggervoice

    In light of today's Florida news, worth RTing this summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  84. Vic Forte

    In light of today's Florida news, worth RTing this summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  85. Vic Forte

    In light of today's Florida news, worth RTing this summary of Obama's best achievements & failures by @sunny_hundal: http://t.co/GvYwLzqN

  86. Dan Tillotson

    "He has been the most radically progressive Democrat in 50 years. His legacy will affect the US for decades…" http://t.co/93y9Qg8X

  87. Patrick Dunleavy

    Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years – my piece on supporting him http://t.co/hfrreZ4f

  88. +GT÷

    Why Obama is the most radically progressive US President in over 50 years – my piece on supporting him http://t.co/hfrreZ4f





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