June 9, 2007


Party politics: Communism destroyed millions of lives, but its critics are now branded "neocons". Why has the left's poisoned love affair with it endured? (Robert Service, 07 June 2007, New Statesman)

Communism, like nuclear fuel, has a long afterlife. In country after country across Europe - from Russia to Albania - it has been discredited for its record in power. No government in Africa or the Americas subscribes to it except the Castro regime in Cuba. In Asia, the communist flag is waved in Vietnam and China without anyone denying that the economic future lies with capitalism; only North Korea stands by the basic precepts of Marxism-Leninism.

What happened in the October 1917 revolution in Russia was an ideological bank robbery. Its leaders were nothing if not daring. Lenin and his party took over a state and then declared that no other kind of socialism was worthy of the name. They instituted a red terror. They seized hold of an entire economy, persecuted all religious faith, imposed a one-ideology media and treated society as a resource to be mobilised on their whim. These are historical facts that no communist in the 1920s sought to deny. Quite the opposite: the facts were advertised by the Communist International as the only way to do away with "bourgeois rule" and induce the birth of true socialism.

A minority of socialists around the world accepted this case, formed communist parties and joined the Communist International. None of these parties, except for the Mongolian one, stood a serious chance of coming to power until after the Second World War. Geopolitics changed after 1945. The Yugoslav communists had won supremacy in wartime. The Soviet army, being the occupying force elsewhere in eastern Europe, imposed a communist state order east of the river Elbe. In 1949, China experienced a communist military and political take-over. Ten years later, Cuba went the same way.

In doing the research for my book Comrades: A World History of Communism, I tried to find whether there was a basic pattern to the regimes that resulted. The conclusion was a stark one. In all cases of durable state communism, there was some approximation to the Soviet "model". A single party kept itself in power without concern for electoral mandate. A nomenklatura system of personnel appointment was introduced. Religion was harassed. National traditions were emasculated. The rule of law was flouted. The political police was ubiquitous and ruthless; labour camps were established. Foreign travel permits were made hard to come by. Radio and TV broadcasts from abroad were banned. A prim public culture was installed.

This was the pattern despite the many national differences. Popular music in Cuba remained lively and beautiful even though its exponents could not take themselves and their instruments to other countries. In Poland, the Catholic Church was allowed to function in the open. In China, there was some pride - except during the cultural revolution of the late 1960s - in those emperors who had governed a unified nation.

The new communist states, like the Soviet Union before them, undoubtedly engineered rapid industrial growth. The exception was Cambodia under Pol Pot, who emptied the towns of their entire populations. The same states fostered programmes of mass education. They also facilitated the promotion of people who had previously suffered from negative social discrimination. Reading and numeracy flourished. While capitalist economies failed to solve the problems of unemployment, everyone could find work under communism and had access to free health care and cheap housing.

All this I mentioned repeatedly in my book, but it was not quite what one reviewer, the Guardian's Seumas Milne, wanted. He denied that I stated that communist leaders unleashed a drive towards industrial and cultural modernisation. Next, he alleged that I followed a "neoconservative" agenda. He also maintained that the so-called "revisionist" school of Soviet history was not getting a fair wind in the western media.

His Stalinoid form and content of argument involved deliberate misrepresentation. It would seem that Milne and his like consider it fair game to denounce anybody who comes to a considered anti-communist standpoint as a neocon. This is a shoddy way to handle a serious political discussion. If this farrago had not come from the editor of the comment pages of one of our national newspapers, it would not be worth bothering about. What is more, Milne is typical of a more general trend that retains a nostalgia for communism, and it is a trend that ought to be repudiated.

...then the folks on the Left have to accept that they wasted the entire 20th Century (or at least the portion each of them was around for). Rare is the person who can accept having been that wrong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 9, 2007 8:16 AM

... nostalgia for Communism. I don't think so. They're nostalgic for the halcyon days of their youth when they really believed they were saving the world for Kumbaya.

Posted by: erp at June 9, 2007 8:42 AM

They're smarter than you and me, and they know it. If only they could be given power over everyone else, they would institute sweeping changes that would bring about paradise on earth. Under a Communist system, people like them would have that necessary power. That's why the nostalgia.

Posted by: Mike Morley at June 9, 2007 9:14 AM

It's a given they're smarter than us proles, but even so, that argument doesn't work because people like them did have the necessary power under Communism and things were, and are, very far from paradisiacal, therein lies the rub.

Posted by: erp at June 9, 2007 9:54 AM

Ah, Mrs. Erp, the previous attempts failed because there were people(the U.S.) out there cheating. Once the cheaters are put in their place, the natural superiority of Communism will be so successful as to End History. Thus their spawning like need to destroy America, which remains past any hope of victory....

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at June 9, 2007 10:02 AM

There is only one kind of good Communist.


Never forget that Communism was evil to its core, evil in its motivs, ideals and aspirations, not merely in its operation.

When I go to the range tomorrow to practice for the Fathers' Day match, I shall take my S&W Bodyguard, the gun in the picture, to help me reflect upon this.

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 9, 2007 10:28 AM

I suddenly realize that I am naturally applying a variant of Godwin's Law (i.e. "the first debater to bring up the Nazis in his argument immediately loses or is disqualified").

Namely, the instant I even hear the word "neocon" brought up, I immediately dismiss whovever is writing / talking as having absolutely nothing of any interest or value to say. The entire "neocon" concept is a crock. It never existed outside of a few political journals until the Bush admin, and since then has served as a catch-all polite expression of anti-semitism, anti-Americanism, and certainly anti-Bushism (BDS?).

Neo-con! Booga Booga Booga! Hide the kids!

"Neo-con" is short for "turn the page now, and go on to to something worth reading".

Posted by: Andrew X at June 9, 2007 10:33 AM

Mr. M. It's over. Thank God the younger generations are going in different directions.

Posted by: erp at June 9, 2007 10:35 AM

I don't know Mrs. Erp. Bruno and Ptah and some of the others websites I've been reading seem ready to sell their souls to "secure the borders". And the primitive drive of our educated classes to serve on bended knee is still a wonder to behold.

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at June 9, 2007 10:42 AM

There is only one kind of good Communist.


Never forget that Communism was evil to its core, evil in its motives, ideals and aspirations, not merely in its operation.

When I go to the range tomorrow to practice for the Fathers' Day match, I shall take my S&W Bodyguard, the gun in the picture, to help me reflect upon this.

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 9, 2007 11:05 AM

Happy shooting Lou. With you and your friends on our side, I don't worry about the borders ... and Happy Fathers Day to all you dads!

Posted by: erp at June 9, 2007 11:23 AM

Andrew X:

Ditto! It's definitely a top entry in the Weasel-Word Olympics.

Here is a convenient list of all the different groups of people I've heard this term applied to:

1.) Conservative social scientists
2.) Jewish conservatives
3.) Jewish ex-leftists
4.) Individuals who have been conservatives their entire lives
5.) Democratic members of the Senate
6.) Military hawks who are Jewish and support Israel
7.) What few social conservatives exist in the universities
8.) Myself (by a liberal aunt who helped run the computer system at the Brookings Institution)
9.) Conservatives who hesitatingly believe in the free market but think it worsens certain social problems
10.) Free-market enthusiasts

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 9, 2007 12:57 PM

I recently read Thomas Sowell's book on Marxism. I think I got a hint of just why this doctrine has fooled so many people. It's a condolence to the poor, it flatters the egos of disaffected intellectuals who dream of a better world and think they are smart enough to run it, and it lets the rich flatter themselves that they have bucked their class interest. It also has a holy book and a messiah, it seems to reject religion and "superstition" while stating that you can still get to heaven, it has an apocalyptic side that excites bored coffee-house radicals and adolescents, it claims to have all the answers and to be inevitable, and it runs on a "logical" foundation that is totally circular so no one can ever disprove it. Whew.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 9, 2007 1:08 PM

Neocons is rather easily defined: they're Jewish (ethnically, not religiously) intellectuals who moved Right because of Democratic indifference (or even hostility) to Israel and the Jews of Eastern Europe and because of affirmative action (and other discrete racial issues).

Posted by: oj at June 9, 2007 3:45 PM

oj, even if your definition is correct, how many of them are there? A couple of dozen, a hundred? Probably not even.

Posted by: erp at June 9, 2007 4:39 PM

They're few, but influential. The leading lights of the movement were Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz and their kids are still around. David Frum and Charles Krauthammer are allies of that second generation.

Posted by: oj at June 9, 2007 8:03 PM

Two generations and Jewish voting habits haven't changed more than a tot.

Posted by: erp at June 9, 2007 9:04 PM

American Jews aren't religious. They're good citizens though. Of course, using y'alls anti-Mexican logic, the nativists were right to oppose letting the Jews because they vote Democrat.

Posted by: oj at June 9, 2007 10:42 PM


Words and labels matter because they faciliate interpersonal communication. You have your own definition of this word. Other people have theirs. Still others, theirs. Me, I've counted ten.

There's no agreed meaning. It's just a Orwellian scarecrow term to frighten rich leftists into donating more cash to the Nation Institute. It also plays on subconscious antisemitic fears of a giant cabal that runs everything, smoothly transferring the odium to conservatives. Is there any good reason for us to keep playing this game by their rules?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 10, 2007 12:42 AM

... using y'alls anti-Mexican logic,... I hope this isn't referring to me. I am neither anti-immigration, legal or illegal, Mexican or any other, nor anti-Semitic, nor anti anything or anybody except, of course, anti lunatic leftwing politics.

My take on the Immigration Bill is that it's just a gambit to keep the kids amused and entertained during summer vacation, so while they "debate" and posture, the adults can continue to keep the world from blowing itself up.

It means nothing and nothing will come out of it.

Posted by: erp at June 10, 2007 7:54 AM

I have to disagree with the premise that it's rare for people to admit that their ideas were mistaken. Free markets tend to force that realization rather easily. The market place of ideas fails because the state attaches itself to one mistaken ideology or another and accumulates power in the process. Only in politics and philosophy will bad products continue to find markets with the endless supply of elitist idiots.

Posted by: hugh at June 10, 2007 7:59 AM

You must not have ever worked for a corporation. The existence of bureaucrats refutes your claim.

Posted by: oj at June 10, 2007 11:21 AM


When Mr. Kristol invented the term I agree with you that he meant it to apply to Jewish ex-leftists who moved right partially in response to Jewish concerns. It also applied to certain social scientists. It clearly has no unified meaning today and since we can't put the toothpaste back in the tube we ought to drop the term entirely. Don't give the other side weapons.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 11, 2007 1:26 AM

It's still exactly the same.

Posted by: oj at June 11, 2007 6:25 AM


When the New York Times says Buckley is one it's obviously time to ditch the concept.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 11, 2007 5:20 PM

His magazine is neocon now. Their confusion is understandable.

Posted by: oj at June 11, 2007 6:21 PM