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November 13, 2004

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Brian

The far left has better PR than the far right. They do better in attracing writers and poets.

Jon Ihle

Yeah, like Yeats, Pound and Eliot, to name but three. Oh wait.

Peter Nolan

"...but the salient difference between Pinochet and Castro is that while both men were tyrants and viciously repressed dissent, Castro also managed to beggar his country in the process and remains in power. "

One reason to have more respect for Pinochet - and murderer, torturer, tyrant and embezzler, he undoubtedly was - is that he stepped down when a referendum on his rule went against him in the late eighties. When do you think Castro is to extent the same choice to the Cuban people after forty five years of his rule?

Peter Nolan

This "incorrect opinion" thing is turning into quite a catchprhase. I think I'll rearrange my blogroll accordingly.

J.Cassian

"The far left has better PR than the far right. They do better in attracing writers and poets."

Not necessarily true. The anti-communist line-up is better than the commies could ever muster. The far left also do better at murdering and persecuting writers and poets, although this is rarely mentioned for some strange reason.

Jimmy Sands

Isn't this merely an example of what we traditionally call "whataboutery"? Certainly the point that the left is far too indulgent where Castro is concerned is well made, but it ought to be possible to do so without even an implied mitigation of the horrors of the Pinochet regime.

Frank McGahon

It would be whataboutery if the point was just about Castro's merits or Pinochet's merits per se. But the point was really to say, look both of these are despicable tyrants given that, why is Castro still lionised? The reason to note that by objective standards Castro is worse is really just to cut off at the root the reply that it's because he's "not as bad as Pinochet" not to defend him per se.

I think it's a reasonable observation that there is significantly more indulgence of and tolerance for those who idolise left wing tyrants than right wing tyrants.

Squander Two

There's a great vodka bar in Glasgow called Revolution. It's decorated with hammers and sickles and red stars, etc. It's a nice place, but I couldn't bear to go there often because the Communist memorabilia really spoiled my drinking. I often wonder whether Russians find this offensive: the Western idea that the only way to decorate something to look Russian is to make it look Communist. If German restaurants were covered in Swastikas, there'd be an outcry, but people don't seem to mind being surrounded by Soviet icons. It's odd.

J.Cassian

What's even odder, as Nelson Ascher has pointed out, is that not all recent far right Latin American dictatorships receive the same condemnation from the Left as Pinochet's. The junta in Argentina killed an estimated 20,000-30,000 people between 1976 and 1983 (contrast this with Pinochet's approx. 3,000-4,000 victims between 1973 and 1990 - I'm quoting the figures off the top of my head). Yet it has never received the same opprobrium from the anti-Pinochet crowd and during the Falklands War, many South American leftists actually backed the regime against the UK.

Possible reasons for this anomaly:
1. It was a junta. People like to hate individuals (the anonymous collective regime in Burma rarely makes it on to the news compared with, say, Mugabe). Videla and Galtieri are no match for the Chilean general here.
2. As far as I know, the Argentinian regime, though "right wing", was not notably as keen on the free market as their Chilean counterpart.
3. Pinochet overthrew Saint Salvador Allende. The Argentine junta only offed a sleazy Peronist government (and Peron was no longer flavour of the month on the Left).
4. Probably the cruncher for Brit leftists: the Argentine junta was overthrown as a result of the Falklands War, i.e. the dreaded Thatcher was responsible for its demise. However, Thatcher received support from Pinochet during this time, so let's concentrate on him.

(Disclaimer: obviously I have no affection whatsoever for Augusto "Rape Dog" Pinochet

Jimmy Sands

Johnson's aphorism on the degree of precedence between the flea and the louse springs to mind here. I'm no more impressed by Pinochet's economic performance than I am by Mussolini's alleged boost to railway punctuality.

As to why Pinochet remains a particular hate figure, I suspect longevity may have something to do with it, but also that the motifs of his rule,(the Stadium, Victor Jara, Letelier) were, to paraphrase Sellar and Yeatman, more memorable.

The use of socialist realist icons in popular culture appears to me largely tongue in cheek. I cannot imagine a swastika being used in this way. Ultimately I don't accept the comparison. The communists that I have known have tended to be decent if somewhat other-worldly and by definition rather gullible. Fascism, on the other hand, really does say something about you.

Frank McGahon

The communists that I have known have tended to be decent if somewhat other-worldly and by definition rather gullible. Fascism, on the other hand, really does say something about you.

I would suggest that you are begging the question here. You extend a tolerance to the "decent, other-worldly" communist you would (rightly) never dream of extending to the fascist but you haven't provided a rationale for doing so other than, "that's just what I do". The same can be said for the "tongue in cheek" hammer and sickle. I don't maintain that communism and fascism or nazism are perfect analogues but rather that neither should be suitable for the tongue in cheek treatment. Someone who, say, suffered in the Gulag might not quite take the "joke" in the spirit in which it was intended. I claim that if you apply a bit of critical thinking to it, you should have a similar distaste for the wilfully "gullible" communist and the "jokey" communist imagery as you would for the soi-disant fascist and the nazi imagery.

J.Cassian

The Western communists I've known have generally been arrogant, dogmatic hypocrites, with a marked tendency to intellectual bullying - along with a few braindead hippies. I've never met a genuine fascist. "Fascism" is an exceptionally vague term anyway as there are significant differences between Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and Pinochet. . It's a long time since I was an undergraduate and I no longer have much appreciation for the "postmodern irony" of commie chic. In the light of the Great Leap Forward, calling a restaurant "Mao" is as crass as marketing "Pol Pot Noodles".

Jimmy Sands

Ultimately the belief that the state should ensure equality of outcome by means of the command economy is one with which I can sympathise on the basis of having held it myself up until about the age of 15. A belief in, for example, turning jews into soap is of a different moral order. Perhaps a more useful analogue would be our home-grown brand of fascism, which appears to be treated no less indulgently and has certainly done us far more harm.

Frank McGahon

Ultimately the belief that the state should ensure equality of outcome by means of the command economy is one with which I can sympathise on the basis of having held it myself up until about the age of 15

The problem is that for people who are older and should know better it is a nonsense to hold that this miraculous outcome could be achieved without massive coercion and killing. It's not like there haven't been numerous field experiments. Most of these "decent, other-worldy" sorts, such as Eric Hobsbawn, when pushed will accept that millions of eggs do indeed need to be broken to make that omelette.

Jimmy Sands

On the contrary, I think most of them cling to the belief that egg-breaking can be kept to a minimum, and that previous attempts at omlette manufacture would have succeeded had the recipe been followed correctly. The trail of egg-shells is invariably laid at the door of something called "state capitalism". I don't doubt that you're familiar with the argument and find it as jejune as I do, nevertheless I think there is a moral distinction, even if it is small comfort to the eggs.

Frank McGahon

That may well be the case for some deluded individuals but not for kindly old Eric:

IGNATIEFF: In 1934, millions of people are dying in the Soviet experiment. If you had known that, would it have made a difference to you at that time? To your commitment? To being a Communist?

HOBSBAWM: This is the sort of academic question to which an answer is simply not possible...I don't actually know that it has any bearing on the history that I have written. If I were to give you a retrospective answer which is not the answer of a historian, I would have said, 'Probably not.'

IGNATIEFF: Why?

HOBSBAWM: Because in a period in which, as you might imagine, mass murder and mass suffering are absolutely universal, the chance of a new world being born in great suffering would still have been worth backing. Now the point is, looking back as an historian, I would say that the sacrifices made by the Russian people were probably only marginally worthwhile. The sacrifices were enormous; they were excessive by almost any standard and excessively great. But I'm looking back at it now and I'm saying that because it turns out that the Soviet Union was not the beginning of the world revolution. Had it been, I'm not sure.

IGNATIEFF: What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?

HOBSBAWM: Yes.

J.Cassian

Hey, you can't say Pol Pot's regime wouldn't have achieved equality of outcome: eventually every Cambodian would have ended up as part of a mound of faceless skulls. Death is the great leveller after all; perhaps he's a member of the Party.

Eugenics was once a "noble" intellectual ambition too. Turning Jews into soap wasn't an explicitly stated aim of Nazism and was kept well out of sight until the fall of the Third Reich. Just as forcing Ukrainians to resort to cannibalism (Lenin/Stain), publicly humiliating and torturing the mentally disabled (Mao), or disembowelling pregnant women en masse (Pol Pot) weren't the explicitly stated aims of communism. Yet "decent" Westerners supported all these regimes and attempted to stop anyone telling the truth about them.

It also depends how admirable a quality you think hypocrisy is. The Nazis were at least honest (or stupid) in that they never made any attempt to disguise their hatred for the Jews. Whereas Lenin and Stalin claimed to love the workers and peasants of Russia and the other nations they invaded (so much for their anti-imperialism). Likewise, Mao and Pol Pot claimed they were the peasants' best friends.

Todd

You extend a tolerance to the "decent, other-worldly" communist you would (rightly) never dream of extending to the fascist ...

Actually, in cities from LA to Tokyo there are plenty of places that cater to a fascist aesthetic complete with swastikas, jack-boots, and stiff-arm salutes. Many of these skinheads are hardcore devotees of a racist ideology… but some are just dimwitted (and gullible) poseurs who enjoy the music and the social-outcast scene. So, it may be ugly; it may be scary (and it is certainly repugnant) but it is there.

The difference between the skinhead White-Power scene and the “commie chic” coffeehouse scene is that one is a near-universally reviled sub-culture and the other is the center of the pop-culture universe – it is the Zeitgeist of our collegiate youth and pampered-elite.

At least in the United States, radical leftist politics is mostly a matter of fashion… not substance. There are certainly plenty of “arrogant, dogmatic hypocrites, with a marked tendency to intellectual bullying” out there, but most of the self-styled “Commies” or “Lefties” are mostly well intentioned, if hopelessly naïve and/or deluded. However, far from being “brain-dead hippies,” most of these are suburban and middleclass. This is the “Bohemian Bourgeoisie” phenomenon, well described by David Brooks in “Bobos in Paradise.” These ‘bobos’ will follow whatever political trend they perceive as being cool (Clinton bombs Sudan? “My hero!.” Bush bombs Afghanistan? “Fascist!”)

But this ignoramus mob is largely led by the nose by a much more devious group of entrenched hardcore socialists who keep Stalin, Che, and Mao sexy through their influence in positions in media, academia and at NGOs and diplomatic posts around the globe. Among these fellow travelers, there still exists an unrepentant New Left mind-set that fully understands and acknowledges the horrors that communist regimes have wrought (from Russia to China to Cambodia to Cuba) and they excuse these atrocities as necessary evils in the furtherance of the “glorious revolution.” This is a group I know very well from working with them at New York University's Department of Journalism and Mass Communication -- and they are zealots.

To understand them, read David Horowitz’s insider’s take on the rise of the radical “New Left” and it’s support of terrorist/criminal gangs like the Weather Underground, the SLA and the Black Panther Party. His assessment of this group is spot on. And for the intersection of the “Bobo” and the “Pinko” mind, there is Tom Wolfe’s classic “Radical Chic.”

Sorry Frank, I’m afraid that the maniacal tyrants of communism are still considered “chic” and mau-mauing the flak-catchers is still the coolest game in town. But it simply isn't true that this group would "never dream of extending" to the fascist an assumption of “good intentions” that is easily extended to the communist -- that is exactly what is being done by the Illiberal Leftists today: they are portraying the Islamic-Fundamentalist Jihadis as basically “decent, other-worldly” comrades in a shared struggle and murderers like Bin-Laden or Arafat will become the new icons of their REVOLUTION.

Frank McGahon

Todd, the type of people I had in mind who (extending tolerance to communists but not fascists) is just ordinary people, patrons of Dublin's Mao restaurant, etc. Not actual ideologues.

As for Bobos, maybe I got this wrong but my understanding of this grouping is that they exhibit bohemian aesthetics but remain bourgeois in outlook: that is, they might dress like campus lefties but they are more concerned with the traditional bourgeois values, settling down, having kids, getting better jobs, better houses etc. and if politically inclined are more likely to support centrist policies which maintain that "bourgeois" lifestyle. That is quite different from radical chic.

Jimmy Sands

Frank, I still think the distinction remains between murder as a consequence of the pursuit of an ideology and murder as an end of that ideology in itself. The Hobsbawm quote was disturbing at first blush but on re-reading seems to posit no more than the idea that the deaths of these millions might (and he puts it no higher than that) be a price worth paying for a brave new world which would spare, one assumes, countless more millions the suffering they would otherwise endure absent the revolution. He goes on to say that it cannot be justified by reference to what was indeed achieved. As the saying goes, I see the broken eggs, but where's the omlette?

As to hypocrisy, I take Larochefoucauld's saw to be correct, that it is the homage that vice pays to virtue, and even if the only distinction here is that communists pay homage to virtue where fascists do not, that still seems to me to be a moral distinction of substance.

Todd

Frank - If you're a fan of Queer Eye, you certainly understanding the dramatic possibilities of a makeover.

My point is exactly that the Bobo's are not ideologues but fashion victims -- it is the "radical chic" of Hollywood and academia who serve as their style gurus. And this Leftist-elite has successfully hoodwinked the average-Joe into believing that they are the true champions of traditional bourgeois values. When you are being indoctrinated by this elite that the communist regimes of the world have been laboring under the noble “belief that the state should ensure equality of outcome by means of the command economy” it is very easy to admire them as being well-intentioned and forgive them for the unfortunate outcomes of their ambitious plans.

I’d bet that the ordinary people of Dublin would not have patronized Mao’s in 1966 – but it likely would have been a favorite hangout of the city’s radical chic. Thirty years from now, perhaps we can discuss this over a beer at Osama’s.

Frank McGahon

Todd:Thirty years from now, perhaps we can discuss this over a beer at Osama’s.

Tragedy plus time equals comedy?

JS: I still think the distinction remains between murder as a consequence of the pursuit of an ideology and murder as an end of that ideology in itself

But the latter is not an accurate characterisation of, say, Mussolini's fascism never mind right wing dictators like Pinochet or Los Generales. It's even arguable if we are going to take expressed intentions as given that it's not an accurate characterisation of Nazism: We know now what Hitler's "final solution" entailed but the extermination of European Jewry was not made explicit prior to WW2.

What all such ideologies have in common is the notion of a brave new future which will probably require some bloodshed along the way - how many times have you heard the half-joking-whole-in-earnest promise from communists that come the revolution, such and such will be put to the wall? Your distinction between the utopian revolutionary creeds of communism and fascism is a distinction without a difference.

Peter Nolan

A contributory factor is the geographic distance. In general, most Irish people would probably think that Mao still runs China. Vice versa, there was this famous case a while back...

Ed Snack

Based on Hobsbawm's comments, then Pinochet was definitely a "good thing" for Chile, when you consider what they would have suffered had Allende remained in power. Why should one extend such concessions to Stalin (and others of the left), but not to those far more paltry extremely petit demons of the right like Pinochet. Eevn in proportion to population, Pinochet can be blamed for a total killed of less than 1% of any major communist leader's toll.

In the end you're fighting a losing battle frank, the myth of the humanist and generous communists, perverted by state capitalism, is too deeply intrenched to make significant inroads into.

Frank McGahon

Probably true but as the Chairman himself liked to say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step...

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