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Pete Seeger:

David Boaz, writing in The Guardian's "Comment is free":

The New Yorker has another of its affectionate profiles of old Stalinists, this time the folk singer Pete Seeger. A regular old American, they say, a guy who would stand by the side of the road at 85 holding up a sign reading simply "Peace." A "conservative" really, who "believes ardently in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights"....

Oh, sure, they mention in parentheses that he "knew students at Harvard who were Communists and, with the idea in mind of a more equitable world, he eventually became one himself". Outside parentheses, writer Alec Wilkinson reassures us that Seeger did eventually quit the Party.

Somehow, though, they didn't quite find room to detail Seeger's long habit of following the Stalinist line. Take the best example, his twists and turns during the FDR administration. Seeger tells Wilkinson that when he was at Harvard during the late 1930s he was trying to "stop Hitler" and he became disgusted with a professor who counselled appeasement. Maybe so. But after the Hitler-Stalin pact, he and his group the Almanac Singers put out an album titled Songs of John Doe that called Franklin D Roosevelt a warmongering lackey of JP Morgan.

Franklin D, listen to me,
You ain't a-gonna send me 'cross the sea.
You may say it's for defense
That kinda talk ain't got no sense.

Then within months Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. The album was pulled from the market and reportedly destroyed. The Almanac Singers quickly produced a new album, Dear Mr President, that took a different view of FDR and the war:

Now, Mr President
You're commander-in-chief of our armed forces
The ships and the planes and the tanks and the horses
I guess you know best just where I can fight ...
So what I want is you to give me a gun
So we can hurry up and get the job done!
...

Imagine a morally neutral, affectionate profile of a nostalgic 80-year-old Nazi. It doesn't happen, it wouldn't happen. We're still making movies about the crimes of Nazism, a totalitarian regime that lasted 12 years, while you can count on the fingers of one hand the Hollywood movies about the bloody 70-year rule of the Communist Party....

I haven't read the New Yorker piece, but if Boaz is reporting it correctly, then it seems to me his criticisms are quite apt. Seeger may have had his virtues — whether artistic or personal — and may be worth praising for those virtues. But serious profiles of people in serious publications should discuss their subjects' vices as well as virtues.

Being a lockstep supporter of the Soviet Union, after the Ukrainian famine, after the Purges, after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (whether because of moral failing or gullibility about the facts) strikes me as a vice that's much worth noting. I've seen it said that Seeger turned against Stalin eventually, and before 1956; this would be a plus for him, but not one that should lead us to sugarcoat the minuses.

Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
My late father in law, who got his doctorate from Case Western around that period, remarked on how amused he was to see the local lockstep communist students demonstrating.

One week the demonstrations were against FDR's warmongering and trying to get us into a war to support British colonialism, the military-industrial complex, etc.

Then Hitler invaded the USSR.

Next week the exact same people are picketing in favor of fighting against the Nazis.
4.18.2006 3:20pm
Michaelg (mail):
Howard Husock wrote a good piece on Seeger for City Journal.
4.18.2006 3:29pm
CJColucci (mail):
you can count on the fingers of one hand the Hollywood movies about the bloody 70-year rule of the Communist Party....
You need to see more movies. I'll grant you there weren't many good movies of that description, but let's not be silly.
4.18.2006 3:36pm
Tony (mail):
I suspect that Communists get a free pass where Nazis do not because their flavor of evil was considerably more difficult to understand. The Nazis said that they were going to kill Jews, they killed Jews, and the world understood that. Communists, on the other hand, said that they would liberate the oppressed, and that the world would be better off for it - the precise way in which that went wrong is not nearly as obvious.

I'm not a very good student of history, as some have noted from my previous comments ;-) and quite frankly, when I was a student back in the 80s and Reagan was talking about the "Evil Empire", it was hard for me to understand where that was coming from. The way in which "overthrowing the oppressors" translated into "restricting personal liberties", much less "killing dissidents", was less than clear.

More to the point, the conservative rhetoric at the time never bothered to explain why this was true in accessible language, as far as I can recall. It simply asserted, without much justification, that communism was "slavery". Being someone that didn't take much on authority, my assumption as a highschooler was that the justification simply didn't exist, that the rhetoric was empty, and that whatever the troubles the USSR faced, it wasn't a direct result of communism itself.

Couple that with the many explicit evils that the US was perpetrating in Central America at the time - which I heard a LOT about, some of my classmates even having gone there to work on behalf of the leftists, and communism just didn't seem all that bad.
4.18.2006 3:43pm
Jimbeaux (mail):

whatever the troubles the USSR faced, it wasn't a direct result of communism itself.


This reminds me of the old saying (sorry, can't remember who first said it) that "communism is a system that valiantly tries to solve problems that wouldn't exist but for communism" or words to that effect.
4.18.2006 4:01pm
Gordo:
Tony, you state that conservatives in the 1980's did not properly explain their opposition to Communism. But the documentation was there for anyone to see, if only they had been willing to look. Robert Conquest's work on the Stalinist Purges comes to mind. And, of course, Alexander Solsenitsyn's works were in print. The American Left chose to ignore this material in its quest for "detente" and the infamous "nuclear freeze."

As the child and grandchild of refugees from Lenin and Stalin, perhaps I had a unique perspective on the evils of Communism. But the facts were there for anyone who wanted to see them.

Speaking of another American Stalinist, the National Review once put our a cover with Lillian Hellman on it with the caption "Who is the Ugliest of Them All." The occasion was the publication of her shockingly dishonest memoir of the McCarthy era entitled "Scoundrel Time."
4.18.2006 4:09pm
The River Temoc (mail):
Imagine a morally neutral, affectionate profile of a nostalgic 80-year-old Nazi. It doesn't happen, it wouldn't happen. We're still making movies about the crimes of Nazism, a totalitarian regime that lasted 12 years, while you can count on the fingers of one hand the Hollywood movies about the bloody 70-year rule of the Communist Party....

First off, I think it's an exaggeration to say that "communists get a free pass" or that Hollywood never made movies critical of the Soviet Union. (Off the top of my head: EAST-WEST; K-19; GORKY PARK; not to mention all the pop-culture flicks like RAMBO II, RED DAWN, etc.)

That said, I'll agree that Nazis get a lot more condemnation than Communists, and I think the reason is pretty simple. We defeated the Nazis at the height of their monstrosity; by contrast, the Soviet Union lasted about forty years after Stalin died, basically withering way with a couple of energetic interludes under Khrushchev.

While Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko certainly had their faults, a cautious, conservative, geriatric leadership was, perhaps, less morally reprehensible than the Soviet regime under Lenin and Stalin or the Nazi regime under Hitler. At least in 1970s Moscow, you could gather with a couple of close friends in the kitchen, open a bottle of vodka, and bitch about lines in the shops. You wouldn't dare do that under Stalin.
4.18.2006 4:10pm
Gabriel Rossman (www):
There was a good article in Social Forces a couple years ago by Bromberg and Fine on the varying salience of Seeger's Communist reputation.

His bull line about joining the CP because they were the only one's standing up to the Nazis always infuriated me too, given that he remained a Communist during the Hitler-Stalin pact.
4.18.2006 4:10pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Right. There's a category confusion in play here. "Communism," while perhaps infeasible, is not morally blameworthy, unless anyone who opposes private property is evil. (Of course, I expect lots of takers for that "unless" at the VC.)

"Stalinism" (like "Leninism") is not the same thing as "communism." And to the guy on the street, it was long possible to imagine that maybe the purge victims really *were* enemies of the state. At any given time, large numbers of people believe things that look ridiculous in retrospect. (See, e.g., "nuclear-weapons program in Iraq in 2003.")

Whereas it was never really possible to see the Nazis as being "for" anything but themselves, though the odd intellectual like Hendrik de Man or Martin Heidegger tried to kid themselves.
4.18.2006 4:11pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
If an 80-year-old Nazi had had the impact on American popular music that Pete Seeger did, certainly we'd be reading articles about such a person. However, this did not happen.

Yes, a communist wrote If I Had a Hammer and Turn!Turn!Turn! and influenced countless musicians like Bob Dylan. Does his membership in a political party or his ideology rewrite the last fifty years of pop music history?

People should remember that the entire reason that this article was written was to promote Bruce Springsteen's new album of Seeger songs. No one's noticed that irony yet.
4.18.2006 4:12pm
Ira B. Matetsky (mail):
One of the more interesting things I've read on Pete Seeger was a chapter of Irving Younger's memoirs, SOME OF MY LIFE. Younger -- later a judge, professor and lecturer, but then an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York -- drew the assignment of prosecuting Seeger for contempt of Congress. Younger writes about the ambivalence he felt in doing so and the friends he lost as a result.
4.18.2006 4:21pm
Jeek:
"Communism," while perhaps infeasible, is not morally blameworthy, unless anyone who opposes private property is evil.

You're definitely evil if you propose to take my private property!

the Soviet Union lasted about forty years after Stalin died, basically withering way with a couple of energetic interludes under Khrushchev.

It did not "wither away". It was murdered. And a good thing too.

when I was a student back in the 80s and Reagan was talking about the "Evil Empire", it was hard for me to understand where that was coming from.

This is a tribute to the quality of your teachers, to be sure.
4.18.2006 4:25pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Nazis or their sympathizers don't get a break--yeah right. Let's think of some famous ones who managed to not lose their power or influence at all. The former King of England, Henry Ford, the current President's Grandfather, Werner Von Braun (if you can build a rocket all is forgiven), Heisenberg, Charles Lindhberg (St. Louis' airport is named after a Nazi with a secret Nazi family), The freaking Pope (under his own standards for moral responsibility of young people, you can't write off his service to the 3rd Reich as being excusable because of circumstances and youth).
4.18.2006 4:29pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Anderson, Communism as an ideology cannot be divorced from they ways in which it has been implemented. Its various incarnations have been commentary on ideology itself - proof of its corruptibility - that horrendous abuse is inevitable.
4.18.2006 4:32pm
Vovan:
The concepts of Stalin's purges are undergoing quite a study in Russia right now. The figures of older American Historians as well as Russian writers are staggeringly exaggerated - sometimes by as much as 8 million dead. The census records and criminal statutes do not support these assumptions most of which are blatantly false. Furthermore taking Solzenitsin as an authority on anything makes as much sense as taking Michael Crichton's view on global warming as determinative ==> amuzing but very very misleading
4.18.2006 4:32pm
Taimyoboi:
"I'll grant you there weren't many good movies of that description..."

Are you kidding? Two words: Red Dawn.
4.18.2006 4:33pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
You're definitely evil if you propose to take my private property!

Private property was not even a well developed concept in Russia at the time of the Russian Revolution. The Serfs had only been freed 50 years earlier and most peasants farmed communal plots.
4.18.2006 4:39pm
gramm:
There's a category confusion in play here. "Communism," while perhaps infeasible, is not morally blameworthy, unless anyone who opposes private property is evil.... "Stalinism" (like "Leninism") is not the same thing as "communism." And to the guy on the street, it was long possible to imagine that maybe the purge victims really *were* enemies of the state.

Well said, Anderson.
4.18.2006 4:39pm
Jerry Mimsy (www):
Frederik Pohl's autobiography, "The Way the Future Was" (fascinating book) covers the about-face of communist organizations after the invasion as well; I get the impression that the raw hypocrisy turned a lot of supporters (such as Pohl) away from communist politics because it was so blatantly obvious.
4.18.2006 4:40pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Vovan, Solzhenitsyn, despite his life-long antisemitism, current senility and exaggeration of his heroics in WWII, *is* an authority on Soviet atrocities to the extent at least, that he is a first hand source. A lot of people think that "200 Years Together" is a dishonest anisemitic rant. No one that I know of accused "Day in the Life of I.D." of being inaccurate. The fact that the regime subjected not x million of its citizens to the suffering depicted in that book, but x - y, doesn't change much at all.
4.18.2006 4:41pm
Captain Dirk Dandruff, Astronaut (mail):
Anderson says:

"Stalinism" (like "Leninism") is not the same thing as "communism."

Don't tell me, let me guess: The revolution was betrayed, right?

You've got a point, though: Being hit in the head with a red brick is one thing, and with a yellow brick is another, and the general case of being hit in the head with a brick is something else yet again. The trouble is, the differences between the three are cosmetic, and any objective observer would have to question your common sense if you keep on waking up in the head trauma unit insisting that some day you'll find a color of brick that feels good, if you can just keep trying.


Secondly, "...it was long possible to imagine that maybe the purge victims really *were* enemies of the state."

Has it ever occurred to you that killing thousands of people for being "enemies of the state" is stark raving gibbering nuts even if they really are enemies of the state? If somebody were executed for chewing bubble gum, would you be relieved to hear that he got a fair trial?

On second thought, I'd rather not know.


Ship: You ask, "Does his membership in a political party or his ideology rewrite the last fifty years of pop music history?"

That's covered in the post: "Seeger may have had his virtues — whether artistic or personal — and may be worth praising for those virtues. But serious profiles of people in serious publications should discuss their subjects' vices as well as virtues."

You don't have to whitewash Ezra Pound's odd political enthusiasms in order to appreciate his work, and nobody does. Why must we whitewash Seeger, a man who was, in fact, an apologist for Adolf Hitler at one time, however briefly? It's a fair question.
4.18.2006 4:42pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Anderson writes:

Right. There's a category confusion in play here. "Communism," while perhaps infeasible, is not morally blameworthy, unless anyone who opposes private property is evil. (Of course, I expect lots of takers for that "unless" at the VC.)
The problem of Communist was not just that it was economic nonsense, nor was it that some of the implementations of it were by thugs like Stalin. Read The Communist Manifesto, and the moral depravity of it is blatant:
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors", and has left no other nexus between people than naked self-interest, than callous "cash payment". It has drowned out the most heavenly ecstacies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation into a mere money relation.

...

The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it forces the barbarians' intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
Substitute the words "Jews" for "bourgeoisie," and ask yourself if you would be so willing to give Communism the benefit of the doubt for this type of group characterization.

The totalitarian nature of the Soviet Union and China were not accidents. They were specified at the origins of Communism, in the Communist Manifesto. There are ten points that are part of their program:

6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state.

...

8. Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
Is there anything more obviously totalitarian than the state taking upon itself not simply ownership of property, but telling everyone where and at what jobs they will work and live?
4.18.2006 4:42pm
Taimyoboi:
"Nazis or their sympathizers..."

I think you've changed the dynamic of the original accusation by adding in sympathizers. While still morally repugnant, they are still not Nazis themselves. Sympathizing doesn't mean you are culpable for the actions of the regime you sympathize with, just that you have some serious issues that you need to work out.

And, as far as I can tell, you didn't include any actual Nazis. And three of your examples, Lindberg, Ford and the Pope are taking a very liberal and questionably view of history.
4.18.2006 4:44pm
David Matthews (mail):
"If an 80-year-old Nazi had had the impact on American popular music that Pete Seeger did, certainly we'd be reading articles about such a person."

I think the point is not whether or not we'd be reading articles, but the tone those articles would take.
4.18.2006 4:45pm
Vovan:
To Mike

The fact that the regime subjected not x million of its citizens to the suffering depicted in that book, but x - y, doesn't change much at all


Besides all the faults that you are mentioned, he is a first-hand observer. I agree with you. However, a first-hand observer only cannot be relied upon for a historical account of the NUMBERS, and in the discussion of Stalinism and purges - numbers play a big role, and he misinterprets them -of course based on his own personal account of events. I truly enjoy some of his books, but he is unreliable on the numbers, and you cannot study the purges, purely based on the horrific accounts of deaths of which there were many, but NOT nearly as many as both perestroika historians and westerns writers attributed to the regime
4.18.2006 4:51pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Ship Erect:

I'm glad somebody mentioned Bob Dylan vis-a-vis Pete Seeger. I was at the Newport Folk Festival in the late '60s when Bob Dylan first went electric. Seeger and some of his Stalinist buddies had to be physically restrained from mounting an axe-attack on Dylan's sound equipment.

So much for Seeger's support of artistic freedom. Seeger is a pathetic, dyspeptic old man; almost an Archie Bunker parody of a hate-filled, old-style Stalinist. Some of his songs may survive. He will, thankfully, be forgotten; even by his political fellow-travelers, who now find much of his unsavory past to be an embarassment to the cause.
4.18.2006 4:55pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Oh, Vovan, I agree with you that his numbers aren't reliable. I only like him as an articulate victim. I agree also that it's important to know what the real numbers were, but I think we can agree that there was systematic imprisonment and murder of citizens by a state.
4.18.2006 4:55pm
JohnAnnArbor:
Vovan:

So 2 million dead is just a little bad, but 20 million dead is a real problem?

Perhaps you need a trip to Cambodia.
4.18.2006 4:56pm
gramm:
Communism as an ideology cannot be divorced from they ways in which it has been implemented. Its various incarnations have been commentary on ideology itself - proof of its corruptibility - that horrendous abuse is inevitable.
-------------------------------------------
mike busl07, couldn't one assert the same "truism" against capitalism as an ideology? After all, in the united states the gap between the desperate poor and the ultra rich not only persists, but is ever-widening. further, some commentators, such as kevin phillips in his new book, assert that america is so blinded by single-minded greed that it has consigned its military to the role of oil protection force and is ever more willing to use force to secure its unchallenged, imperial economic position.

in these dark days, i worry the gulags can't be far behind.
4.18.2006 4:56pm
JohnAnnArbor:
After all, in the united states the gap between the desperate poor

In America, the poor are overweight in higher numbers than the population as a whole.
4.18.2006 4:59pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Tony:

Your high school failed you. My daughter went to a private high school where they did cover the history of Russia. But they stopped at 1917. Her teacher said he ran out of time and so they had to skip the modern history of Russia and the Soviet Union. But I filled in the missing data. So I guess your parents failed you as well (as least as far as Russian history goes).
4.18.2006 5:00pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):

mike busl07, couldn't one assert the same "truism" against capitalism as an ideology? After all, in the united states the gap between the desperate poor and the ultra rich not only persists, but is ever-widening

You bet. It's a systemic flaw, if you think that a gap between the rich and the poor is indeed a flaw. Assuming that the gap is indeed widening, I think that can be to an extent fairly attributed to capitalism. Good luck coming up with a better system.
4.18.2006 5:01pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Freder Frederson:

Any reason you left off Joe Kennedy your list?
4.18.2006 5:06pm
alkali (mail) (www):
I haven't read the New Yorker piece, but if Boaz is reporting it correctly, then it seems to me his criticisms are quite apt.

And if Boaz is not reporting it correctly, then it seems to me his criticisms are probably inapt. The New Yorker: $3.95 on a newsstand near you, or quite possibly even in the "current periodicals" section of your local library.

In seriousness, having read the Wilkinson piece, I didn't get the sense that it sentimentalized Seeger's involvement with the Communist Party. The focus of the piece was really on Seeger's musical influences and what Seeger has been doing since the 60s (I for one would have guessed that he was dead). Seeger's involvement with Communism doesn't have much relation to all that. It is true that the piece did not go into a great deal of detail on that point but I don't think you need to go into too much detail to make the point.
4.18.2006 5:07pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
And, as far as I can tell, you didn't include any actual Nazis. And three of your examples, Lindberg, Ford and the Pope are taking a very liberal and questionably view of history.

Oh, come on you are blaming members of the American Communist Party--or just associates of known Communists, who may or may not have been "card carrying members" of the Communist party--for the crimes of the Soviet Union and China. I bring up people who were openly sympathetic of Hitler and his policies, some of them, including Lindberg, through the war, and you just say--oh they weren't members of the Nazi party. Germany is one of our closest allies and it is full of unapologetic former Nazis (read Armageddon for some fascinating interviews with a few).

Yes, the Communist party in this country was often manipulated by the Soviet Union. Yes, its members were an odd mix of true believers, naive intellectuals, artists, and assorted oddballs. But to hold anybody who ever was associated with the Communist party in this country as somehow morally culpable for the crimes of the Soviet Union and Stalin is just ridiculous. The Communist party, even at its peak before the War, had minimal influence on the politics of this country. And after the war, it may have scored a couple espionage victories for the Soviet Union (there is still scant evidence that spying helped the Soviet Union's early nuclear and rocket program one iota). And we know by the eighties, KGB operatives in this country were so demoralized and defeated, their "moles" consisted almost perusing newspapers and magazines and delivering "reports" to the Kremlin based entirely on freely available information. The spies they did turn did it purely for selfish, not ideological, reasons.

You can complain about Marx and communism all you want. But do you have any idea how horrible industrial Europe was? Read a freaking Dickens novel. Marx saw the world around him and saw a society that was killing itself. Unregulated and unbridled capitalism was killing the world and destroying the lives, health, and environment of Europe. It took a War that killed 10 million people thirty years after Marx's and destroyed three empires outright and fatally weakened two others before the status quo would change and working people would gain any rights.
4.18.2006 5:11pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
alkali, you ever read a digest, or an amjur or something, and take them on their word that they are correctly reporting the holdings of cases? they are, how-you-say, an authority. when someone establishes a track record for accurate reporting and analysis, it's okay to trust them a little bit.
4.18.2006 5:11pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

mike busl07, couldn't one assert the same "truism" against capitalism as an ideology? After all, in the united states the gap between the desperate poor and the ultra rich not only persists, but is ever-widening.
Do you have a source for this claim? At least where I live, "the desperate poor" are usually that way because of meth, or a refusal to graduate high school.
4.18.2006 5:12pm
Cheburashka (mail):
I don't think Red Dawn counts, in that it took place here, not there, and didn't really describe Communism much.

I would add to the list Firefox, which, when it wasn't a fighter-place movie, was a movie about dissidents and corruption in Brezhnev era Russia.

I'd also suggest White Knights; stereotyped and shallow, its true, but at least they tried.

Come to think of it, I think the original claim was pretty right - there were lots of movies in which Russians were the bad guys, but its hard to find any that took place in the milieu of that society.
4.18.2006 5:12pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Any reason you left off Joe Kennedy your list?

I couldn't remember if Joe Kennedy was a Nazi or just a bootlegger, so I didn't include him. I'm not a big fan of the Kennedys
4.18.2006 5:13pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
So 2 million dead is just a little bad, but 20 million dead is a real problem?

Did you deliberately paraphrase Stalin?

Joseph Stalin, with that sly and charming wit of his, supposedly once said that "one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic."
4.18.2006 5:19pm
Houston Lawyer:
We didn't go to war with the Nazis because they were killing Jews. That was fairly well hidden from the general public until we liberated the concentration camps. I have always thought it dishonest to distinguish between communism in the abstract and communism in practice. Communism has always turned out badly for those subject to it. Those who support communism in the abstract always fight against those fighting communism as actually practiced.
4.18.2006 5:19pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Freder Frederson writes:

You can complain about Marx and communism all you want. But do you have any idea how horrible industrial Europe was? Read a freaking Dickens novel.
Now there's a trustworthy source!

I've done quite a bit of reading about the workhouses of Britain--and the "Please sir, I would like some more?" Dickensian line is crap.

Dickens had a traumatic experience caused by his father's imprisonment for debt in 1824, which led Dickens to go from a reasonably comfortable life to a short term working in a factory. He relied on overwrought and generally inaccurate accounts of the evils of the county poorhouses that were published by the Times of London after passage of the 1834 Poor Law.

Industrial conditions in Europe were very bad, without question. Even British abolitionists admitted that American slaves were better fed, clothed, housed, and treated than their free counterparts in Britain. But relying on a Dickens novel as a source is laughable.
4.18.2006 5:20pm
DiversityHire:
Mark Steyn's Romano Mussolini obituary in this month's Atlantic (He Made the Refrains Run on Time) is a good example of including virtue and vice:

If you were making a movie of his life, it’d be a cinch: the young man finds in wild improvisatory American jazz all the freedom he’s been denied by his oppressive Fascist background. In fact, if you asked him, Romano Mussolini would cheerfully concede he agreed with “90 percent” of his father’s policies, and, apropos the murkier 10 percent, there weren’t many other Fascist scions who could plead in mitigation that some of their best session players were Jewish. In the last couple of years, he began turning out coffee-table books about Daddy that proved big sellers.



And it's funny:

Romano played, to my ears, like a slightly melancholic Oscar Peterson. Occasionally inspired, he was always efficient: he made the refrains run on time. To be honest, I’d only gone to see him because I liked the whimsy in his moniker—“The Romano Mussolini All-Stars.” They weren’t all-stars, just solid Italian molto hip cats; the only star quality, as he recognized early on in his career, was the enduring potency, or at any rate curiosity value, of his pa’s name. But the designation hinted at least at the possibility of some A-list combo of second-generation dictatorial talent. There was a comic in London in those days called Bing Hitler, but I don’t believe he was a blood relative—and, come to think about it, he’s since dropped the Hitler handle and gone on to great success as CBS late-night host Craig Ferguson. The Führer and Eva Braun died without issue and, according to most experts, without much heavy petting. But if only the Mussolini All-Stars had lived up to their billing: Artie Hitler on clarinet, Miles Tse Tung on trumpet, Woody Stalin, Buddy Franco …
4.18.2006 5:21pm
Per Son:
I think we are all forgetting about Spies Like Us!
4.18.2006 5:24pm
Robert F. Patterson (mail):
It is amazing how little some of the commentators know, either about Nazism or about Communism. The reference to the "freaking Pope" as being a friend of the Nazis shows a real surface acquaintance with facts. The Catholic Church hated Communism going back to 1848 (The Communist Manifesto, for those too young to remember) and took a century of gaff, in Spain as well as in Germany, for doing so. Stalin, to those who know history, was not a Communist at all, but rather a beast who adapted Lenin's ideas to his own brand of Fascism. Pete Seeger, like others I have known, sang the same songs as non-singers like Curtis Lamont and the gang from Columbia U. You may like his singing. Does that mean you also must like his politics?


4.18.2006 5:32pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
So where does this great debate leave China? they have a nominally "communist" government but a free-market economic system, or so they claim. Are they evil or not? They certainly seem to have the worst of both worlds, a corrupt, oppressive government and a capitalist system with next to no protection for workers or the environment. Have they redeemed themselves by letting Nike in and making crap to sell at WalMart?
4.18.2006 5:35pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Stalin, to those who know history, was not a Communist at all, but rather a beast who adapted Lenin's ideas to his own brand of Fascism.
I know that this is a very popular idea in some circles, but if Stalin wasn't a Communist, he sure did a great job of fooling Communists not just in the Soviet Union, but throughout the world.
4.18.2006 5:37pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

So where does this great debate leave China? they have a nominally "communist" government but a free-market economic system, or so they claim. Are they evil or not? They certainly seem to have the worst of both worlds, a corrupt, oppressive government and a capitalist system with next to no protection for workers or the environment. Have they redeemed themselves by letting Nike in and making crap to sell at WalMart?
Nope. They have managed to combine the totalitarian instincts of Communism with the economic efficiency of a capitalist (although not free market) system. They are Mussolini with more competence.
4.18.2006 5:39pm
Vovan:
To Mike

Completely agree with you

To JohnAnnArbor

In the study of history, the numbers do play a big enough role to warrant examination, and to my knowledge no one here is claiming that Stalin was not evil - he was. BUT the numbers that died in GULAG's pushed forward by many historians to SUPPORT their assertions that Stalin was a maniacal despot do not pass scrutiny of the archives, nor of the population growth %. I am merely drawing attention to that particular aspect of their historical works.

For the "evilness" concept it does not matter if there was 20 million or 2 million dead, for historical analysis it does, and for better or worse historical analysis forms perceptions of many individuals and thus needs to be corrected accordingly
4.18.2006 5:39pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
The reference to the "freaking Pope" as being a friend of the Nazis shows a real surface acquaintance with facts.

I made the reference to the Pope because I think he should be judged not by my standards (by my standards he would get a pass) but by his own. He has made it clear through his writings that young people of an age that he was when he was conscripted (what was it, 14 or 15) are capable of and must make moral decisions to fight evil. By the standards the Pope has set for young people, he should have resisted conscription with all his might, even if it meant forfitting his freedom or life, not just "gone along". In fact the whole history of the Catholic Church and fascism (which was a phenomenom of Catholic Countries--even in Germany it arose in the Catholic south and its main base of support remained there) was one of just "going along", even into the seventies when the last European Fascist dictator (Franco) died.
4.18.2006 5:44pm
JohnAnnArbor:
By the standards the Pope has set for young people, he should have resisted conscription with all his might,

He abandoned his assigned duties and went AWOL.

I'm sure you would do the same, on pain of death. Not.
4.18.2006 5:48pm
K Parker (mail):
Communists... said that they would liberate the oppressed, and that the world would be better off for it - the precise way in which that went wrong is not nearly as obvious [emphasis added]


It may not be obvious to you, but millions of observers over the years have had no trouble noticing that the Communists didn't actually do what they claimed to. Discount Solzhenitsyn's figures all you want, and you're still left with orders-of-magnitude worse tyranny under Lenin and Stalin than under the Tsars.
4.18.2006 5:51pm
SenatorX (mail):
Mike BUSL07 said: Communism as an ideology cannot be divorced from they ways in which it has been implemented. Its various incarnations have been commentary on ideology itself - proof of its corruptibility - that horrendous abuse is inevitable.

Nicely put! It's interesting how absolutist ideals always seem to end up "enslaving" everyone. Equality for all is only achieved (as if it could be) by state control of EVERYTHING in the case of Communism.

I was recently reading some stuff on L.Ron Hubbard and other Satanists and thought it interesting that they set up a similar principle for their followers. Namely that if you want your followers to be total slaves you promise them total freedom.

Jeek says: You're definitely evil if you propose to take my private property!

Heh I am with you Jeek. If our bodies are defined as our ultimate private property especially. Though personally I dislike the terms Evil/Good I understand the necessity for humor to trump correctness.
4.18.2006 5:54pm
Christopher M (mail):
Clayton Cramer writes:

Substitute the words "Jews" for "bourgeoisie," and ask yourself if you would be so willing to give Communism the benefit of the doubt for this type of group characterization.

That is the most ridiculous thing I've read all day. And it's a slow day full of blog reading, so that's saying something. Where on earth did you come up with this "substitute the word Jews" test? I mean, to paraphrase the saying, substitute balls for my aunt's ovaries, and...you know.

For one thing, the passage would be incoherent if you substituted "Jews." It would read:
"The Jews compel all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the Jewish mode of production; the Jews compel them to introduce what the Jews call civilization into their midst, i.e., to become Jewish themselves"
Huh? What is a "Jewish mode of production"? Are the Jews known for (intentionally or otherwise) threatening "all nations" with "extinction"? Are they alleged to aim at converting the whole world to Judaism? The nonsense is palpable.

More generally, it's just bizarre to think that you can measure the moral worth of a passage of text by substituting the word "Jews" for the most important word in the passage. I mean, seriously, what? Even if the Jews were in some way associated with the bourgeoisie, the passage you quote is clearly making an argument about the bourgeoisie qua economic class. In fact, that particular passage has a rather conservative tone. Check out National Review's "Crunchy Con" blog for another group of people who think capitalism tends to commodify and monetize many social relationships (family, work, etc.) that should not be commodified.

What exactly is it in that passage (as opposed to Communism or its implementation more generally) that strikes you as morally deprived?
4.18.2006 5:55pm
Christopher M (mail):
Or, you know, depraved.
4.18.2006 5:56pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
He abandoned his assigned duties and went AWOL.

In the last week of the war when the country was in total chaos. He just didn't bother to officially surrender. He was told the war was over and went home.

Like I said, I am judging him by his standards, not mine. I can understand his predicament and probably would have done the same thing. But he says today that a young person in the same situation has the moral responsibility to resist.
4.18.2006 5:58pm
Vovan:
Discount Solzhenitsyn's figures all you want, and you're still left with orders-of-magnitude worse tyranny under Lenin and Stalin than under the Tsars.

Just one tsar? or all the Tsars? or the important Tsars that everyone knows about?
What Russians never lacked were their share of cruel despots - be it Peter "the Great", Nicholas "The Saint" or Stalin - that's Russia to you for better or worse.
4.18.2006 5:59pm
Patrick (mail):
I am just delusional, or is gramm asserting a) income inequality equals horrible abuse of capitalism, and b) that this is on some kind of a par with gulags as an, er, horrible abuse of communism?

Leaving aside issues of real and relative incomes and overall prosperity, I am pretty comfortable with income inequality. In fact, I would rather be on the welfare system with no income (presumably therefore at the worst end of the abuse scale) than anywhere in a communist country. Even if only for my conscience's sake, and not just for the greater comfort and standard of living. (Let's not get into the price of the peace of mind that comes with living in a civilised society).
4.18.2006 6:01pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Communism as an ideology cannot be divorced from they ways in which it has been implemented. Its various incarnations have been commentary on ideology itself - proof of its corruptibility - that horrendous abuse is inevitable.

Well, except for the last 60 years, the track record of capitalism hasn't been that stellar either. Depopulated three continents, enslaved a good chunk of the population of a fourth. Practiced chattel slavery until nearly the end of the nineteenth century. Two wars in the twentieth century that killed over a hundred million people. Out of that you get what, a handful of truly free, representative democracies and a bunch of teetering ones, and more crony capitalist or outright broken down corrupt dictatorships.
4.18.2006 6:06pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Even if only for my conscience's sake, and not just for the greater comfort and standard of living. (Let's not get into the price of the peace of mind that comes with living in a civilised society).

But how about poor in Sudan or Cuba?
4.18.2006 6:07pm
Bruce Wilder (www):
I just love these topical discussions on VC. Yawn.
4.18.2006 6:09pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Goodness, slow news day?

Mike: Anderson, Communism as an ideology cannot be divorced from they ways in which it has been implemented.

Anybody want to apply the same standard to democracy? Capitalism? The fact is, "communism" was a fig leaf for Lenin's founding of a murderous dictatorship.

Capt. Dirk thinks that 1000's of people cannot, by definition it seems, be "enemies of the state." Our mileage varies, I guess. Good point about Pound, tho he was never much of a fascist--more like he was flattered to think that Mussolini might agree with him.

Clayton Cramer on how condemning group X as evil because it would be evil if you substitute Y for X in the condemnation ... oooh, the irony is making my head hurt. Gays are more likely to be communists than straights are, right? Isn't there a study proving that?

I suppose if you substitute "Jews" for "the proud," "the mighty," and "the rich" in the Magnificat, that shows what a pernicious document the Magnificat is. And how many of you are card-carrying adorers of the Virgin Mary, eh?

The Industrial Revolution caused a LOT of misery, people. We enjoy the benefits but very little of the cost. Communism and other wacky, well-meaning movements (Saint-Simonism, anyone?) were failed efforts to redress what seemed at the time, and still seems now in many places, an unjust system that oppressed the many to benefit the few.
4.18.2006 6:10pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Gays are more likely to be communists than straights are, right? Isn't there a study proving that?

Untrue, I had a professor in college who was gay and a communist (an apologist for Stalin even). He got kicked out of the American Communist Party for being gay. They told him, "that's what the socialists are for".
4.18.2006 6:13pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

For one thing, the passage would be incoherent if you substituted "Jews." It would read:

"The Jews compel all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the Jewish mode of production; the Jews compel them to introduce what the Jews call civilization into their midst, i.e., to become Jewish themselves"

Huh? What is a "Jewish mode of production"? Are the Jews known for (intentionally or otherwise) threatening "all nations" with "extinction"? Are they alleged to aim at converting the whole world to Judaism? The nonsense is palpable.
It comes out reading like a lot of anti-Semitic literature, actually, which asserts that modern industrial capitalism is a Jewish conspiracy,
4.18.2006 6:23pm
alkali (mail) (www):
Mike BUSL07 writes:

alkali, you ever read a digest, or an amjur or something, and take them on their word that they are correctly reporting the holdings of cases?

No. That leads to trouble. You shouldn't do it.

Addressing your analogy more directly: the reason someone would read a digest is to locate a case, not to determine the holding of a particular case. If you want to evaluate the merits of a particular opinion, you pull that reporter volume off the shelf and read the case. Similarly, if you want to comment on how a writer of a short article in a widely available periodical treats a sensitive question, it would seem best to me to actually read the darn thing (I say that with all due respect to the Lead Conspirator).
4.18.2006 6:26pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Untrue, I had a professor in college who was gay and a communist (an apologist for Stalin even). He got kicked out of the American Communist Party for being gay. They told him, "that's what the socialists are for".

What a hoot. Here in Mississippi, we had a Semi-Kleagle or whatever in the KKK who was outed as ... Jewish! I wrote a snarky letter to the paper about how thrilled I was by the new equal-opportunity Klan. The Sheeted Ones expelled him shortly after, and I think he founded his own Klan knockoff in which he is the Grand Iguana or whatever. (Oh wow, I just googled him up. Wotta freak.)
4.18.2006 6:29pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Well, except for the last 60 years, the track record of capitalism hasn't been that stellar either. Depopulated three continents, enslaved a good chunk of the population of a fourth.
You are going to have to give some specifics here. Which three continents did capitalism "depopulate"? And if it did so, why did world population skyrocket during the time of capitalism's ascendancy?

I suspect that you are referring to Africa when you talk about "enslaved a good chunk of the population of a fourth" but that's also wrong. Slavery has been the rule throughout human history. African governments have been enslaving the losers in warfare for at least a thousand years (well before capitalism) and selling them to Arab traders. (European traders got involved relatively recently.) Of course, a lot of Africans were enslaved by their own tribes to resolve tort claims, and were then resold to other tribes, and to outsiders. The number of Africans enslaved by Europeans (as opposed to slaves who were bought by Europeans) was relatively tiny, because the local diseases made it impractical for Europeans to go on expeditions into the interior.

Practiced chattel slavery until nearly the end of the nineteenth century.
As distiguished from traditional, precapitalist societies, which are still practicing it. Saudi Arabia didn't abolish slavery under 1964, and in the Sudan, slavery lives.

Two wars in the twentieth century that killed over a hundred million people.
One of which was fought by National Socialists on one side, and Communists on the other.

Out of that you get what, a handful of truly free, representative democracies and a bunch of teetering ones, and more crony capitalist or outright broken down corrupt dictatorships.
Your ignorance of history--other than a Michael Moore cartoon-version of it--is astonishing.
4.18.2006 6:32pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
alkali, that baby is best split in half. sure, you will get a more complete picture by reading the primary source, (and if you plan to rely on a case, by all means read it), but in forming at least a preliminary picture, reliable third party digests can be useful. I suppose what i really take issue with is not the fact that you suggested that EV read the actual article, but that you were kind of an ass about it - no offense.
4.18.2006 6:33pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

What a hoot. Here in Mississippi, we had a Semi-Kleagle or whatever in the KKK who was outed as ... Jewish! I wrote a snarky letter to the paper about how thrilled I was by the new equal-opportunity Klan. The Sheeted Ones expelled him shortly after, and I think he founded his own Klan knockoff in which he is the Grand Iguana or whatever. (Oh wow, I just googled him up. Wotta freak.)
I recall the neo-Nazi who organized the Skokie March had some problems when it turned out that his father was not only Jewish--but a concentration camp survivor. This created some serious internal problems with his little group, and I think I read that they split into, "Yes, he's a Jew" and "No, he's not" factions.
4.18.2006 6:34pm
Broncos:

I suspect that you are referring to Africa when you talk about "enslaved a good chunk of the population of a fourth"


Clayton, I'm not sure that Freder really has to stretch all the way to Africa in order to talk about the enslavement of "a good chunk" of a continent's population...
4.18.2006 6:38pm
alkali (mail) (www):
Clayton Cramer quotes a famous passage from the Communist Manifesto, about which Christopher M says:

... the passage you quote is clearly making an argument about the bourgeoisie qua economic class. In fact, that particular passage has a rather conservative tone.

I also read that passage as setting forth a decidedly mixed view of capitalism, not a purely negative view. The point is the comprehensively transformative effect of economic change -- for good and for bad, in the capitalist stage, and (in Marx and Engels' view) for good in the communist stage.

Here is a key portion of that passage which Clayton omits:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.

It seems to me that many admirers of capitalism believe some version of that.
4.18.2006 6:43pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
The three continents depopulated would be North and South America and Australia. And whether we created the market for African slaves or actually went into the interior to capture them, it is estimated that somewhere between 20 and 40 million Africans were forcibly exported from Africa into slavery, most of whom died within one season in the new world. (The slaves imported to the Caribbean for the sugar planations were generally worked to death in one season.)
4.18.2006 6:48pm
Neal R. (mail):
I don't know much about Pete Seeger, but the only evidence of Seeger's alleged "long habit of following the Stalinist line" offered in the Guardian post excerpted above is that he wrote some song lyrics against U.S. involvement in WW2 after the Hitler-Stalin pact and some song lyrics favoring U.S. involvement after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. Even assuming that Seeger was indeed a "communist" (again, I don't know much about the man), I don't think this is enough to establish that he had a "long habit of following the Stalinist line."

To be clear, David Boaz's assessment may or may not be accurate. But it's not well supported by either the Guardian post or Eugene's Volokh's endorsement of it. I certainly wouldn't accuse anyone, dead or alive, of being a "lockstep supporter" or either the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany without citing better evidence.

Doesn't this strike anyone else as a bit unseemly?
4.18.2006 6:51pm
alkali (mail) (www):
Mike BUSL07 writes:

I suppose what i really take issue with is not the fact that you suggested that EV read the actual article, but that you were kind of an ass about it - no offense.

None taken, but I think the point is a sufficiently good one that it should be made a bit strongly. Repeating a harsh criticism of another writer's work without reading that work when that work is readily at hand seems to me to be a practice with very little net benefit, and not far removed from rumor-mongering (again, with all due respect to the Lead Conspirator).
4.18.2006 6:51pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
Freder Frederson,

North and South America and Australia were not depopulated by capitalism. They were depopulated by disease. And don't get any unininformed ideas about that being on purpose. The diseases generally outpaced the conquerors.

Read, Guns, Germs and Steel.

Yours,
Wince
4.18.2006 7:14pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.

The naive optimism characteristic of Marx ....
4.18.2006 7:32pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
I'm, among other things, a serious student of traditional American music and a reasonably good folk and bluegrass musician. One of the unpleasant things about our musical traditions is that some of its most important figures, e.g., Pete Seeger, Bill Monroe, and Earl Scruggs, were/are absolutely despicable human beings (Seeger for many things, including his politics, Monroe for his lechery, including lechery with wives of his band members, and Scruggs for some sharp business practices).

One bit of information on Seeger: I remember an exchange between him and Lee Hays (I think; it may have been Fred Hellerman) in the pages of a music magazine. Hays pointed out that a musician and composer should oppose the fact that the Soviet Union didn't honor copyrights. Seeger, irrelevantly, pointed out that much of American popular music borrowed heavily from traditional music. Ah, yes, the argument that something that isn't perfect is just as bad as something evil.

Seeger's half-brother Mike, however, is a decent guy.
4.18.2006 7:35pm
frankcross (mail):
I would be interested in support for some of the claims asserted here.

First, that the Industrial Revolution cause great misery. I don't doubt that great misery existed during the Industrial Revolution, but I suspect that even greater misery existed before it. What evidence is there that the Industrial Revolution caused greater misery?

Second, that capitalism depopulated the Americas. That was very clearly a statist policy of conquest. To the extent it was motivated by lucre, it was money for state treasuries, I thought. How did capitalism depopulate the Americas?

Third, capitalism caused slavery. I always thought that slavery was essentially a statist policy. Capitalism is of course complicitous in this one, but is there any evidence that a statist economy would have been any different?

Fourth, capitalism caused world wars. These were battles between states, some of which were capitalist and some of which were not. But how did capitalism cause these wars?
4.18.2006 8:05pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
I don't know how capitalism got conflated with democracy and freedom anyway. It is an economic system, nothing more or less. It has existed in the most oppressive countries on earth and some of the freest. It doesn't need freedom or justice to thrive nor does it necessarily encourage the development of democratic institutions.

Likewise to blame Marx or the amorphous concept of communism for the excesses of the Soviet Union and China and their client states during the twentieth century is just ridiculous. I defy anyone to read Marx or Engells and explain to me what the hell their plan for a functioning government was. Anyone who claims they read and understood Das Kapital is a liar. The Manifesto is a call to arms that is heavy on the sins of the bourgeoisie, has a couple good slogans, but at 48 pages, says precious little about what the workers are supposed to do once they have their bosses' heads on pikes.

The societies that have been the most successful at delivering the promise of freedom (whatever that means) and economic progress have been the "mixed economies", call them social democracies, regulated capitalism, whatever. But only when you have a strong central government that recognizes and defends the rights of both workers and the business community is a truly prosperous and free society possible.
4.18.2006 8:36pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Fourth, capitalism caused world wars. These were battles between states, some of which were capitalist and some of which were not. But how did capitalism cause these wars?

Well, it defines how loosely you define "capitalism". Since "communism" was so loosely defined as the entire corrupt economic-political system that grew up in the Soviet Union and (I assume) China after the Russian Revolution and was supposedly based on the economic principles propounded by Marx and Engells in the mid-19th century, I was defining "capitalism" as the mercantilist-industrialist system in Europe and its colonies that grew out of Feudalism and the catastrophe of plague in 14th century. This would include the Imperialism that really took off in the 17th through 19th Century.

Properly, the World War I was the final death throes of the clash between the vestiges of the Feudal system (the imperial families--really by that time, one, big unhappy, interbred, not-too-bright, bleeding family--of Europe), and Capitalism. But as the war dragged on, the resentments of the working classes of Europe, that had been suppressed since the Middle Ages (eventhough their had been a few unsuccessful revolutions in Europe in the nineteenth century) started to make themselves known. World War II was really just the end of the first one that put the final nail in the coffin of the British and French empires--the only ones that survived World War I.
4.18.2006 8:56pm
frankcross (mail):
Well, I suppose definitions are vague but mercantilist is hardly capitalist. You're right that capitalism doesn't necessarily presume any particular type of government beyond recognition of rights in property.

But we do have a history. Where communism has prevailed, mass murder has been a relatively common consequence (Russia, China, Cambodia, perhaps Vietnam) and in probably the best communist state of Cuba there is considerable repression, and poverty. By contrast, there is a lot of empirical evidence showing that property rights correlate closely with other freedoms and with greater social welfare and with at least relative peace.

Rather than going on the theory of Das Kapital, I think it makes more sense to see how the systems work in practice, for which I think we have considerable evidence.
4.18.2006 9:08pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
-- I don't know how capitalism got conflated with democracy and freedom anyway. --

It's because what we know of as "capitalism" and what we know of as "democracy" and "freedom" all emerged together from the same system of political philosophy. It's called "The Enlightenment" and it is what the US is founded on.

I get your point though. "Democracy" is compatible with "socialist" economic systems (like the so called Western European socialist nations). And "capitalism" is compatible with authoritarian or totalitarian political systems like China and many other Asian nations.
4.18.2006 9:09pm
Robert F. Patterson (mail):
Frederson's account of the causes of World War I would have earned a clear F in any of my 42 years of teaching history. The feudal sustem had long gone out of vogue by the 20th century. For instance, the Junkers belonged to the middle class, the industrial class of Germany, and while they supported the kaisers, by the 19th and 20th centuries royaly was a totally different institution to the feudal rulers. The scramble for Africa came about through the greed of imperialism (chiefly bourgeois) nations, long having outgrown feudalism And I could go on....
4.18.2006 10:50pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
First, that the Industrial Revolution cause great misery. I don't doubt that great misery existed during the Industrial Revolution, but I suspect that even greater misery existed before it. What evidence is there that the Industrial Revolution caused greater misery?

Lacking any miserometric readings, one has to simply be familiar to some extent with history and with human nature. Living on a farm in the 18th century had its share of misery; working 14 hours a day in a factory had more, to my mind. Bear in mind that people tolerate the miseries they're traditionally used to, better than novel ones.
4.18.2006 11:39pm
Bleepless (mail):
Everything stupid and evil in Communism can be summed up in one word: Communism.
4.18.2006 11:51pm
frankcross (mail):
On your theory, Anderson, why did people leave the farm to go to work in factories? And why then did they not return to the farm?
4.19.2006 12:17am
Vovan:
On your theory, Anderson, why did people leave the farm to go to work in factories? And why then did they not return to the farm?

I believe that in England, one of the forces that pushed the peasants into factories was the consolidation of land needed for grazing sheep and subesequent produciton of cotton by the landowners. In Russia, the same push occurred after the dissolution of the serf system and the hollow promises of the tsars to redistribute parts of the manor land to the now freed peasants.

On a larger point that you are making professor, when you say that: "By contrast, there is a lot of empirical evidence showing that property rights correlate closely with other freedoms and with greater social welfare and with at least relative peace", I would disagree with you somewhat. Certain studies such as Prezeworksi works, have concluded that a wealth gained by any means including capitalism, is not precursor to democratic change. Rather, once a country attains certain per capita GDP ($5,000), it will not revert from its system of government, be it a democracy, or a dictatorship, but will continue to exist in its present state. Thus while "property interests ceratinly correlate with democracy (social freedoms etc.), they are not the only dispositive factor, and have to be adressed along with other relevant factors.
4.19.2006 12:46am
Perseus:
The Industrial Revolution caused a LOT of misery, people...Lacking any miserometric readings, one has to simply be familiar to some extent with history and with human nature. Living on a farm in the 18th century had its share of misery; working 14 hours a day in a factory had more, to my mind.

This is what Hiram Caton refers to as the "legend of wicked capitalism" that developed in the first quarter of the 19th century (yes, even before Marx arrived on the scene):

"The thirteen-hour day and child labor had taken shape as a public legend of cruelty and inhumanity. 'Factory master' and 'capitalist' were associated with the horrific image of children crucified on iron jennies in the name of progress and profits; of hussars martyring peaceful protesters on the commons of Peterloo. Such icons of suffering had uncoupled the new modes of production from benevolence and linked them with oppression, misery, and metaphysical distress. The legend of wicked capitalism had appeared, and it was destined to become historical orthodoxy.

...The tragedy's sequel features a rally by the oppressed, comprised of workers assisted by intellectuals, who subdue the ravenous beast with the institutions of the welfare state; or, in another scenario, they slay the beast in an apocalyptic revolution. This is a fine story. Its persistence indicates that it serves a cluster of partisan functions and psychological needs. But it is a legend." (The Politics of Progress, p. 542)
4.19.2006 12:51am
Perseus:
1) Having said that, Anderson is onto something when he says that perceived misery can be greater when the ills are novel (e.g., brown lung disease). At the same, I'd point out that we should also compare factory work to the closer substitute, namely, craftwork, which was arguably more difficult as well as repetitive (if less so than factory work) and exacting, and frequently took place in filthy hovels.

And overall, the Industrial Revolution made those participating in it healthier and better-fed than previous generations.


2) In the case of America, the option of going back to the farm was much more viable than in Europe. So at least in America, many people seemed to have felt sufficiently compensated to endure the perceived misery associated with the factory rather than accept lower compensation with possibly less perceived misery on the farm.
4.19.2006 1:49am
Perseus:
One more tidbit from Caton on which type of work was less miserable:

"Not only did they [workingmen] not quail in terror at the factory door, they often sought out factory employment in preference to other types of employment, particularly domestic service" because factory employment paid relatively well, they enjoyed building and using machines, and because it involved less supervision by employers as compared to domestic service. This is not to say that they didn't have any complaints, but their complaints were not sufficient to cause them to seek out other employment.
4.19.2006 2:09am
Rich Rostrom (mail):
Anyone who thinks there was no real connection between the ideas of Marx and the crimes of Lenin and Stalin should study the "war against the peasant", which culminated in the Terror Famine of the 1930s. The Soviet leaders (all of them, including Stalin's rivals and future victims) agreed that this policy was absoutely necessary, because their study of Marx told them so. They all read and studied and discussed Marx for years. They all agreed that the Revolution could not survive if there was a large population of people who owned property and worked for themselves, i.e. peasant farmers on their own land. Such people were functionally "petty bourgeois", and their class situation made them enemies of socialism. Marx told them - and they all believed - that peoples' actions are wholly controlled by their class; therefore the peasants must be collectivized, turned into rural proletarians, even if millions died in the process. The horrors were not accidental or coincidental. They resulted from the application of Marx's ideas by true believers, just as the Holocaust resulted from the racial ideology of the Nazis.
4.19.2006 3:15am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
I like the Communist apologists.

"True Communism has nothing to do with Lennin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Castro, Mao, etc. Those are bad examples. Real national communism true to its utopian ideals can be found in......."

BTW the problem of property is that the poor are excluded from the property system. Or so says DeSoto:

Property.

*
4.19.2006 6:04am
DJW (mail):
I do find this thread more than a bit ironic given the visit to the US today of the Chinese President -- a communist, and former head of the party in Tibet, during a particularly repressive period. Where is the indignation at the Federal or Washington State administrations or at the large firms (Boeing, Microsoft) for appeasing this regime? The only explanations I can imagine are both untenable: (1) a calculation that short-term business interests can overide concerns for democracy and human rights, or (2) an assumption that the Chinese people either do not need, want, or are unable to create a democrat and open society.
4.19.2006 9:15am
Freder Frederson (mail):
Frederson's account of the causes of World War I would have earned a clear F in any of my 42 years of teaching history. The feudal sustem had long gone out of vogue by the 20th century.

Oh really, The Russians freed the serfs in 1861 when more than a third of the population was owned by 100,000 or so rich landowners or the church. So feudalism was alive and well well as an actual economic system well into the 19th century.

And anyway I clearly said the "vestiges of the feudal system" not "the feudal system". The hereditary monarcies in Europe were certainly vestiges of the feudal system and the tensions that led to World War I were certainly partially due to the culmination of years of conflict between the politically underrepresented industrial class who were generating all the wealth for a bloated, non-productive, incompetent, in-bred, archaic, royalty.

And overall, the Industrial Revolution made those participating in it healthier and better-fed than previous generations.

That is certainly not the experience of the British Army in World War I. Recruits from urban areas (those participating in the Industrial Revolution) were overall found to be barely fit for military service. They were underweight, smaller, less physically fit and suffered from diseases, especially lung ailments, at a much greater rate than recruits from rural areas. The differences were so stark and shocking that it led to the massive housing and social reforms in England in the 20's and 30's.

My relatively comfortable life is a direct result of these reforms. My Grandfather was a veteran of the British Army in World War I and moved into a brand new Council House (public housing) in 1930 shortly before my father was born. My father grew up in that house, and though my grandfather never owned any property or a car and died penniless at the age of 62, he was able to provide for his family and give them a decent home. As a result, my father was able to get a decent education and a professional job and emigrate to the U.S.

So call me a commie if you want, but I don't forget where I or my father came from. I know that government programs and housing can lift poor working people out of a life of grinding poverty. My father and his family are living proof.
4.19.2006 9:59am
Freder Frederson (mail):
The only explanations I can imagine are both untenable: (1) a calculation that short-term business interests can overide concerns for democracy and human rights, or (2) an assumption that the Chinese people either do not need, want, or are unable to create a democrat and open society.

Or as Lenin once said: "When it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope"
4.19.2006 10:02am
Anderson (mail) (www):
The Soviet leaders (all of them, including Stalin's rivals and future victims) agreed that this policy was absoutely necessary, because their study of Marx told them so.

Rich, "their study of Marx" told them that in the same sense that Osama bin Laden's "study of the Qur'an" told him that 9/11 was a good idea. In fact, the Osama proposition is more credible.

Marx thought Russia was a *terrible* candidate for the socialist revolution. He believed that economies evolved (loosely speaking) and that the most advanced capitalist societies were those closest to socialism.

Russia, in Marx's eyes (&in fact), was an economic backwater, which Marx dismissed as an Asiatic despotism. Lenin and Stalin did nothing to correct that impression. Their supposed reliance on Marx was a sham, meant to convey that History was dictating their murders and other crimes.
4.19.2006 11:07am
Anderson (mail) (www):
This is what Hiram Caton refers to as the "legend of wicked capitalism" that developed in the first quarter of the 19th century.

It was good of Prof. Caton to take time out from debunking Darwin and writing The AIDS Mirage to tell us that the Industrial Revolution wasn't so bad after all.

Of course, the fact that people took factory jobs doesn't say anything as to the misery thereof. There certainly weren't enough domestic jobs to go around, and if the wages were better for factory work, that implies that some additional incentive was needed.
4.19.2006 11:28am
Dr. Z. (mail):
For a discussion of Hollywood films - produced, not produced, and hypothetical - on the topic of life under Communism, see a June 2000 Reason Magazine article by K.L. Billingsley entitled "Hollywood's Missing Movies:"

http://reason.com/0006/fe.kb.hollywoods.shtml

For comments on the article by John Hospers and others, see:

http://reason.com/0010/letters.shtml
4.19.2006 11:43am
Seamus (mail):

If an 80-year-old Nazi had had the impact on American popular music that Pete Seeger did, certainly we'd be reading articles about such a person.



Well, it wasn't American popular music that he was involved in, but we used to read articles about old Nazi Herbert von Karajan all the time.



if Stalin wasn't a Communist, he sure did a great job of fooling Communists not just in the Soviet Union, but throughout the world.


Among those who fooled, it would appear, was Pete Seeger.


One bit of information on Seeger: I remember an exchange between him and Lee Hays (I think; it may have been Fred Hellerman) in the pages of a music magazine. Hays pointed out that a musician and composer should oppose the fact that the Soviet Union didn't honor copyrights. Seeger, irrelevantly, pointed out that much of American popular music borrowed heavily from traditional music.


Well, Seeger not only "borrowed," but outright stole "Mbube," a song that was under copyright in South Africa, when he and the Weavers recorded it as "Wimoweh" (later to be recorded by the Tokens as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
4.19.2006 11:48am
frankcross (mail):
Anderson, the point is that those jobs were not slavery. They were chosen by workers. Perhaps because the alternatives were terrible ones. Nevertheless, they were better than the alternatives, or they would not have been chosen.
4.19.2006 12:02pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

The three continents depopulated would be North and South America and Australia. And whether we created the market for African slaves or actually went into the interior to capture them, it is estimated that somewhere between 20 and 40 million Africans were forcibly exported from Africa into slavery, most of whom died within one season in the new world. (The slaves imported to the Caribbean for the sugar planations were generally worked to death in one season.)
Someone needs to read a bit more about the subject.

The population of what is now the U.S. and Canada at the time of the Columbian contact was probably less than three million--perhaps as little as one million. There is reason to believe that the population might have been higher during the Moundbuilder civilization period--but something rather dramatic seems to have changed before Columbus arrived. Let's see, there's the Little Ice Age in Europe. Something tells me that it wasn't confined to Europe.

No question: disease caused great loss of life in central Mexico after the arrival of Cortez and his men. But Mayan civilization had already suffered an enormous decline (and apparent population collapse) before Columbus. There's a lot of different theories about this--none of which involve the Europeans.

There is one incident in which blankets from smallpox infected soldiers were sent to Indians, apparently with the goal of causing infection. From what I have read, there are sound reasons to believe that this would not have worked, because of the time involved.

In any case, as others have pointed out, the operative force and motivation wasn't capitalism, but your beloved governments.

Trans-Atlantic slavery, without question, was operated as a capitalist venture (with governmental monopolies granted to encourage it). But slavery was hardly new, and hardly confined to capitalist economies. But there's an extensive body of work about the Atlantic slave trade, and your numbers are too high. Something like 9-12 million slaves who crossed the ocean (with perhaps a 25% mortality rate) during this time. It in any case did not depopulate Africa; a number of staple foods were introduced into Africa at the same time by the Europeans, and these caused a population boom--which in turn helped to feed the slave trade, as various governments started wars specifically to acquire slaves for sale. (It is rather like the Wars of the Flowers fought by the Aztecs with other human sacrifice tribes so that both sides would have prisoners from whom they could cut beating hearts out of conscious prisoners.)

There's no question that slaves were worked to death in sugar cane in the Caribbean--and at least occasionally in Louisiana. (And in mines in the Spanish New World.) You are, I think, overstating the mortality rates. There are a lot of deaths of slaves in their first season, generally because of contact with diseases for which they had no immunities. Death rates from disease for sailors transporting those slaves were even higher than the death rates for the slaves on the ships.

By the way, the claims about genocide in Australia are being given a fresh look, as it becomes apparent that some of the "intentional extermination" claims have been overstated. That isn't to say that there was widespread murder of aborigines, just as there was in the Americas. But "depopulated" is simply too strong a word.
4.19.2006 1:17pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Freder Frederson writes:


Likewise to blame Marx or the amorphous concept of communism for the excesses of the Soviet Union and China and their client states during the twentieth century is just ridiculous. I defy anyone to read Marx or Engells and explain to me what the hell their plan for a functioning government was. Anyone who claims they read and understood Das Kapital is a liar. The Manifesto is a call to arms that is heavy on the sins of the bourgeoisie, has a couple good slogans, but at 48 pages, says precious little about what the workers are supposed to do once they have their bosses' heads on pikes.
You don't think putting "their bosses' heads on pikes" might qualify as the sort of excesses typically of Communist countries?
4.19.2006 1:21pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
DJW writes:


I do find this thread more than a bit ironic given the visit to the US today of the Chinese President -- a communist, and former head of the party in Tibet, during a particularly repressive period. Where is the indignation at the Federal or Washington State administrations or at the large firms (Boeing, Microsoft) for appeasing this regime? The only explanations I can imagine are both untenable: (1) a calculation that short-term business interests can overide concerns for democracy and human rights, or (2) an assumption that the Chinese people either do not need, want, or are unable to create a democrat and open society.
There's quite a bit more of #1 operating than many people want to admit (and this was true under the Clinton Adminstration, too), but there's a third explanation which, while I think it is incorrect, is a legitimate position:

(3) contact with the liberal and capitalist West through business will promote a desire among the Chinese people for human rights and democracy.

I think this can work in some societies. I don't think it is going to work in China--or rather, it is a race between our efforts to promote democracy and human rights among the masses, the efforts of the fascists that run China to acquire the capability to defeat us militarily.

That's why I no longer buy Chinese goods if there is any way to avoid it. (Sometimes, there is no practical way; sometimes you just have to spend a bit more money.)
4.19.2006 1:29pm
Seamus (mail):

Among those who fooled, it would appear, was Pete Seeger.



What I meant to say was "Among those who *were* fooled, it would appear, was Pete Seeger."
4.19.2006 2:12pm
Silicon Valley Jim (mail):
Seamus -

Seeger's stealing "Mbube" doesn't surprise me a bit. I'm not going to check, but it wouldn't surprise me if he then claimed copyright on it himself. He's a thoroughly disgusting human being.
4.19.2006 3:21pm
Perseus:
if the wages were better for factory work, that implies that some additional incentive was needed.

Higher wages can be the result of any number of factors, so it's not obvious that the higher wages were largely the result of the work being more miserable.

Also, I don't consider all misery to be created equal. For example, one type of "misery" associated with the factory is that it requires regular, sober work, which many farmers and artisans were not accustomed to. That part of the Industrial Revolution doesn't strike me as having inflicted an especially painful sort of misery.

And Caton's point about the legend of wicked capitalism is that it was politicians and intellectuals, not the workers themselves (whose complaints were very particular), who began decrying the factory system for allegedly causing great misery and dehumanization.
4.19.2006 3:36pm
John Anderson:
"Imagine a morally neutral, affectionate profile of a nostalgic 80-year-old Nazi. It doesn't happen, it wouldn't happen."

Er, um, Das Boot?
4.19.2006 4:51pm
Perseus:
That is certainly not the experience of the British Army in World War I. Recruits from urban areas (those participating in the Industrial Revolution) were overall found to be barely fit for military service. They were underweight, smaller, less physically fit and suffered from diseases, especially lung ailments, at a much greater rate than recruits from rural areas.

My comparison was to previous--preindustrial--generations (i.e. say, before 1830). Factories were the main substitute for independent craftsmen, not farmers, but it is signficant that in America (unlike in Britain) land was relatively abundant and yet many Americans preferred factory work. If it was so miserable, why did so many Americans prefer factory work?
4.19.2006 7:28pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
My comparison was to previous--preindustrial--generations (i.e. say, before 1830). Factories were the main substitute for independent craftsmen, not farmers, but it is signficant that in America (unlike in Britain) land was relatively abundant and yet many Americans preferred factory work. If it was so miserable, why did so many Americans prefer factory work?

They didn't. In the United States, the country was populated by immigration. Immigrants either came and took the cheap, abundant land (much of which really wasn't that productive) or gravitated to the cities where they ended up in factory work. They didn't migrate from one to the other until after World War I and the economic, climatic and environmental disasters of the depression and the 1927 floods and the dust bowl.

In Europe, conditions in the cities were so bad that they couldn't even maintain self-sustaining populations until early in the twentieth century. They constantly had to draw new workers from the healthier population in the countryside to maintain the disease infested cities and supply workers for dangerous and debilitating factory work. It wasn't until after World War I, when unionization and government social programs really took off (through a combination ordinary working people asserting their rights after their horrendous sacrifices in the pointless slaughter in the trenches and the fear on the part of the ruling classes that if concessions weren't given they might end up like the Romanovs in Russia plus a genuine concern for the plight of the working classes who had sacrificed so much in the war) that work in factories began to become something other than just a subsistence existence and a ticket to an early grave.
4.20.2006 9:49am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Kills me to partly agree with Freder. Fernand Braudel in his "The Mediterranean in The Age of Phillip II", makes the same claim for the cities--although a number of centuries earlier. The great cities of the Med basin did have negative population growth among the native-born, maintained and increased their population by drawing from the hinterland--which ought to give you an idea of how things were in the hinterland. Ever think of that?
Problem for Freder is that the primary causes of mortality were malaria and lower GI diseases (typhus, cholera, dysentery, etc.) from lousy sanitation and water. Little to do with capitalism. Which hadn't been invented at the time.

As to depopulating the Americas, see Mann's "1491" The microbes got to the Americas before capitalism was invented, and in fact went before the white man. Nothing to do with capitalism.

So what we have here is Freder falsely tying two issues--depopulation and capitalism--which were not connected. Which, considering the knowledge he demonstrates, he clearly knows but hopes we don't.
BUS TID, buddy.
4.20.2006 8:17pm