- A global history of the Communist Party Tony Wood, the Nation
- The issue is the issue Scott Sumner, MoneyIllusion
- The case of Ilhan Omar Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
- Early US diplomatic culture and the Native Americans Zachary Conn, Age of Revolutions
I understand things are not the same everywhere in the World, but until just a few years ago, to call yourself “right-wing” in Brazil was virtually unthinkable. The reasons for that are not totally clear, but the fact is that “right-wing” was a name with a very bad connotation. Brazil went through a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. This dictatorship was set in place to prevent a perceived communist threat in the country, especially after the Cuba Revolution of 1959. Therefore, it was an anticommunist dictatorship.
My understanding is that, because of that, to be “right-wing” in Brazil was understood as “being in favor of dictatorship”, and left-wing to be “for democracy”. Of course, examining things with just a little more care, nothing could be further from the truth. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were no democrats. Actually, the military dictatorship in Cuba lives on. Mao Zedong was a horrendous dictator. So were Stalin and Lenin. There is no reason to believe that Trotsky would have been any less authoritarian.
There is no reason to believe that the socialists/communists in Brazil would have been democratic once in power. But they didn’t come to power, and because of that people could fuel the romantic image of revolutionaries unjustly persecuted by the military. Although I disagree with Brazilian philosopher Olavo de Carvalho in many points, I believe he is totally right on this: the military in Brazil was great in fighting the communist guerrilla. Thanks to them, we don’t have something similar to FARC in Brazil today. But when it came to propaganda and cultural war they were just awful. Communists in Brazil (and in other places) were great in selling the image of Che Guevara as a romantic hero fighting against the evil North-American Imperialism.
And this is the paradigm I grew up with. Either you are a freedom fighter, opposing evil capitalists and imperialism, or you are subservient to foreign powers and injustice. Considering this background, of course, nobody would like to be called right-wing. However, things changed.
One of the things that made me turn right was studying the right-wing political ideologies. I discovered that classical liberals and conservatives were not against the poor, just the opposite. The best example I can think of is Adam Smith: his Wealth of Nations is actually a love letter for those who are oppressed by unjust economic exploitation. What Adam Smith was trying to find out is what makes the lives of the simple people better. His answer, in a nutshell, was the free market. Similarly, the Founding Fathers were trying to give the common folk a better living without oppression. And they did. Very different from all the leftist revolutions. In short, free markets and liberal democracy work.
The second thing that made me turn right was the hypocrisy of some leftists. I realized that they want you to have freedom of choice, but only if you choose what they want. If you feel you have homosexual inclinations, they want you to have the freedom to embrace homosexuality. And so do I! But God forbid (or Marx forbid) you decide (for whatever reason) to fight homosexuality and become (or remain) straight. They want women to have the freedom to get jobs. But they don’t want them to have the freedom to stay home to raise the kids. The examples are many, but the summary is this: I realized that many leftists are not ready to defend your right to be different.
I’m really sorry that things come down to what two consenting adults do in a closed room. I really am. But it seems to me that much of the leftist agenda is to have the freedom to choose only if you choose what they want. And this is what made me turn right: to accept other peoples choices as much as I want them to accept mine. Liking it or not.
One thing the Notes on Liberty community may not know about me is that I worked for a while as a research (and writing) extern for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Because of my academic background in history and the arts, most of my work focused on historical communism, especially as related to propagandist representations from inside communist countries. The experience provided me with an opportunity to immerse myself in the documentation and wording of communism.
Most people know how the Soviet and Maoist propagandists portrayed their own people: the moral, brave underdogs who are hated and despised by rich, corrupt weaklings. Any of the sufferings connected to communism – famines, shortages, economic instability – these were all the fault of external forces. Except in the case of the Chinese, to whom Mao refused to offer explanation and simply told the people that their sufferings were glorious and were sacrifices to the revolution. Hua Yu in his memoir China in Ten Words conveys quite poetically exactly how “glorious” everyone’s sufferings were. Even today, we are still treated to a modern iteration in the form of Nicolás Maduro and his wild accusations regarding the cause of Venezuela’s collapse. Most of the time, the perpetrators are the White House and CIA, though in August 2018 he blamed Colombia and some unidentified Floridians and in December 2018 he threw in Brazil, along with the traditional “White House did it” trope.
What is less commonly known – outside of film and literature aficionados – about Cold War era portrayals is their representation of those who live on the other side of the divide, i.e. in capitalism. Across the board, the portrayals were fairly simplistic – the rich were evil, the poor were good. The premise was always that the former were useless and the latter were meritorious, belonging in a socialist workers’ paradise, instead of in a system that metaphorically chewed them up and spat them out. The propagandists were masters of imposing this interpretive paradigm universally, from traditional Western literature (or even their own traditional literature in the case of China) to news items. For example, the failed yachtsman and minor-league conman Donald Crowhurst became a proletariat hero in the Soviet film Race of the Century in which he is driven to his death by a greedy, capitalist sponsor (in real life, Crowhurst’s angel investor). The propaganda point being that in capitalism human life is expendable. One has only to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago to see under which system an indifference to human life was, and still is, ingrained.
There is a reason that Marxist and post-structuralist theory and criticism focus on the concept of “the other.” It is because communism can only arise from chaos and conflict. In order to justify its existence and explain its ills and failures, there must be an “other” which opposes it. The other can be the White House, foreign intelligence services, or foreign bankers. “Othering” can be imposed on practically any person or group of people, and the dynamic can be read into any relationship. If one wants to find an “other” in Solzhenitsyn, a very good candidate is Fetyukov from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. For a literary criticism standpoint, Ivan Denisovich Shukov’s contempt for Fetyukov is a case of the former “othering” the latter. “Othering,” while a development of Marxist thought, is not a domain exclusive to communist writing. Ian Fleming used the paradigm, consciously or unconsciously, in his James Bond series, with their black-and-white portrayals of who was the good and who was the bad party.
Study of the language and structures of Marxist thought and propaganda is both lacking and overwhelming today. Yes, on the one hand, our universities have been overtaken with grievance studies and criticism classes. But on the other, the tropes and thought processes of Marxism have subtly appeared in contemporary American dialogue. More insidiously, they are not coming necessarily from the overt socialists, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but from figures that identify as center and right. Ocasio-Cortez and her idol Bernie Sanders might be pardoned for regurgitating Marxist tropes, given that at least these politicians have had the decency to acknowledge their ideological leanings, but for “Conservative” [note the big “C”] intellectuals to do so is indicative of either ignorance or manipulation, both of which are unforgivable.
Consider what Michael Lind, a prominent neo-conservative, wrote in an article titled “Classless utopia versus class compromise,”published in American Affairs in summer 2018,
Democracy, then, requires strategically strengthening institutions that working-class people can control or at least influence. That means, among other things, defending the institutional independence of diverse religious communities, while sometimes favoring pragmatic municipal socialism. Whatever form an authentic grassroots working-class movement might take in the twenty-first-century United States, it is likely to look like historic precedents, including old-fashioned Milwaukee-style “sewer socialism” (municipal ownership of public utilities) and the Salvation Army. It will not look like the campus-based social justice and climate-change NGOs of progressive upper-middle-class professionals or, for that matter, free-market agitprop groups funded by the libertarian rich.
Lind has had a decades-old, well-publicized bugbear with libertarian thought, and to some extent his language reflects this. What is concerning about his words is the justification of localized socialism (history shows that this would not remain local for long) using the language of agency. The entire argument is built upon the fundamental Marxist assumption that the proletariat has no agency, wants it, and must collectivize to have it. In Marxist speak, Lind’s acceptance of the laborer-has-only-his-labor paradigm effectively “others” everyone on the other side of an indeterminate class line – upper-middle-class professionals (progressive or not), college students, free-marketeers, oh, and rich libertarians (one wonders where poor student classical liberals and middle-class libertarians fall in this equation).
In old fairy tales, a common theme is a beloved plant, usually a tree, that begins to wither away. The tree is externally healthy, and no one can discern a logical reason for it to be dying. After a long search, consulting of necromancers, and other typical fairy tale activities, the hero digs around the tree’s roots and discovers that there is a repulsive, venomous animal, usually a snake or a toad, living there, and it is the cause of the plant’s slow decline. Marxist thought and paradigms, not Marxism as an ideology, have become that snake for American Conservatism and center-right politics. Its poison is exacerbated by the fact that its acolytes and proselytizers appear to be unconscious of its presence as they argue that their only desire is to preserve the American Republic through preventing class conflict. But if they are doing is to hurl us faster and faster, more inexorably toward this very breakdown, as their ideas begin to overlap with those of the acknowledged far-left.
- West Coast jazz revival Ted Gioia, City Journal
- Augustine’s Cogito David Potts, Policy of Truth
- Iraq: A failure of ideas Sam Roggeveen, War on the Rocks
- Confucian patriarchy and the allure of communism in China Alan Roberts, Not Even Past
I’ve been so busy enjoying Jacques’ series on immigration that I almost forgot to link to my latest over at RealClearHistory. A slice:
Grenada is a small island in the Caribbean about 100 miles to the north of Venezuela. The island gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1974 and held elections that year. In 1979, communists violently overthrew the democratically elected government of Grenada and installed a dictatorship. By 1983, infighting between communist factions produced yet another coup, and the leader of the first coup was murdered and replaced by a more hardline Marxist faction (the New Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education, and Liberation, or New JEWEL, movement). Pleas from democrats inside Grenada were heard by Reagan and he ordered the invasion of Grenada, which was bolstered by troops from most of Grenada’s neighbors. Today, Oct. 25 is celebrated in Grenada as Thanksgiving Day, in honor of the United States coming to the defense of Grenada’s fledgling democracy.
Please, read the rest.
We have a lot of fresh faces in my philosophy club this semester. On one hand, the new perspectives remind our old heads about some of the basic questions we studied when we first arrived at university, and it’s nice to introduce new students to philosophy; on the other, it makes us behave like a wolf pack, moving at the pace of the slowest member. Sometimes, I want to be an elitist and focus on more complex areas, utilizing the knowledge of our most experienced members. This would mean we lose all of our new members. Ultimately, semester after semester, keeping a high membership (and keeping students participating) always proves to be more important.
This fall I assigned Bertrand Russell’s Problems of Philosophy, as an easy intro text. As he introduces ideas, he injects his own interpretations and potential solutions, and I find I usually disagree with him. However, Russell is great at moving between analytic argument and simple, digestible prose, so I started seeking his other writing out, as one of the canonical popularizers. Here is an essay I thought I’d share, on his meeting with Lenin, Trotsky and Maksim Gorky, when, as a self-identified Communist seeking out the new post-capitalist order, he inadvertently ended up completely disillusioned with the “Bolshevik religion.” He would publish The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism shortly after in 1920, condemning the historical materialist philosophy and system he saw just three years after the October Revolution.
Russell remained somewhere between a social democrat and a democratic socialist throughout his life (e.g., his 1932 “In Praise of Idleness” on libcom.org), but a vocal critic of Soviet repression. He was also a devout pacifist, which explains his early infatuation with the Russian political party which advocated an end to WWI. He died of influenza in 1970 after appealing to the United Nations to investigate the Pentagon for war crimes in South Vietnam.
From his article on meeting Lenin:
Perhaps love of liberty is incompatible with wholehearted belief in a panacea for all human ills. If so, I cannot but rejoice in the skeptical temper of the Western world. I went to Russia believing myself a communist; but contact with those who have no doubts has intensified a thousandfold my own doubts, not only of communism, but of every creed so firmly held that for its sake men are willing to inflict widespread misery.