Monday, February 19, 2018

Real-world capitalism is better than real-world communism (part II)

(this is a continuation of the discussion which began here)

(My OP) Second, I’m arguing that the actually existing, real world versions of state-regulated market capitalism are superior to the actually existing, real world versions of self-described communist states, both historically and today.


Steve: To your second point, on what basis are you making this argument? It certainly can't be education or healthcare, all socialist governments have achieved much more in those areas than capitalist societies have in their hundreds of years of existence. Homelessness, food security and other such basic issues follow this pattern as well.

Me: My case for argument #2 has three primary sub-arguments, and they’re each long-winded.
1. Capitalism
is the greatest engine for creating widespread wealth and improving human living conditions that the world has ever seen.

The standard of living for the average or median human over the course of human history looks much like a hockey stick, and the base of the crook of that stick is about the time capitalism emerged as the dominant economic system. This is not a coincidence.

For the vast majority of human history, the vast majority of humans were desperately poor. Some were serfs, some were nomads, some were conscripted to fight for one empire or another – but most were subsistence farmers, by necessity. Most created their own clothing, and that clothing was threadbare. If they had any shelter at all, it was typically a thatched-roof cottage with dirt floors, or some rough equivalent depending on the region. These homes contained only utilitarian furnishings, no plumbing or electricity, and no source of heat besides fire or the animals they brought inside to sleep alongside them. As late as the start of the 19th century, the only source of entertainment for the average person was books, and most that were available were moral parables. People rarely if ever traveled more than a few miles from where they were born.

The industrial revolutions spurred by capitalism’s emergence indisputably changed that. By the end of the 19th century, the material conditions Western commoners were radically transformed. Most bought their clothing from stores, and most owned clothing whose sole function was to make them attractive. They ate food that had come from all over the country. They drank cold beer and ate ice cream. In cities, they shopped at department stores. In the country, they purchased goods via catalogs and mail order. They read dime novels whose sole purpose was to provide them with fun. They attended amusement parks, movie theaters, and vaudeville shows. They went dancing. They rode on trains. They used electricity. Many had a host of employment opportunities to choose from. For the first time in human history, capitalism enabled parents to ask their children “what do you want to be when you grow up?” – since, for the first time, options besides “a farmer so I can eat” were on the table.

This trend accelerated throughout the 20th century, producing quality of life standards in capitalist nations that were simply unfathomable before or elsewhere. Capitalist entrepreneurs gave us cars and planes that connected the world like never before, and finally made travel (even international travel!) accessible to common folk. Technological innovations revolutionized the healthcare industry, eradicated diseases, and gave us preservatives and refrigeration that helped food last longer. Coupled with liberalized global economies of scale, these innovations created so much food, medicine and housing that the global population quadrupled in 100 years. Capitalism gave us the radio, and then the television, and then Hollywood, and then (contrary to popular leftist belief) the internet as we know it. It gave us microwaves and coffee makers; video games and Netflix; cell phones and Uber and AirbNb; cheap grocery stores with an abundance that no communist nation could ever rival. It gives us choices to customize our own lives, fashion our own appearance, and pursue our own interests. It gave us a litany of basic hygiene products like toothpaste and deodorant, available in mind-boggling quantity at insignificant cost. Everyone reading this, by virtue of mere Facebook access, has a higher standard of living than even the wealthiest and most powerful emperors on earth had just a few centuries ago. Capitalism is literally why.

These trends were especially pronounced in the West, but not exclusive to it. Nor have these trends slowed in recent decades. China’s 1970’s switch away from Mao’s communist economic theories and towards a capitalist labor market open to foreign investment is credited with lifting a BILLION Chinese from extreme poverty in 40 years. In the world at large, over a billion were lifted above the international poverty line in just 20 years from 1990-2010, including 500,000 from 2005-2010 alone. The UN’s 1990 Millennium Goal to halve the portion of people living on less than $1.25 per day by 2015 was achieved nearly a decade ahead of schedule. All of this is almost universally understood to be a DIRECT RESULT of economic globalization. (sources: 1. here 2. here 3. here).  Economies of scale have silently accomplished far more in the fight against poverty than Marxism was ever been able to achieve.

The capitalism-dominated world has never been perfect, of course, and it is not perfect today - in before you try to blame capitalism for war, slavery, racism, colonization, and everything else bad in the past two centuries. But even if I conceded that such ails were capitalism’s fault (which I don’t), they’ve only become less prevalent while capitalism was the dominant economic system than they were before. Read Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of our Nature.” War, crime and violence of all sorts has been going steadily down for centuries, at the same time this incessant and exponential increase in living conditions has taken place. There is no other time in history so far that I'd rather live in, and that sentiment would rationally hold true for most residents of most capitalist countries on the planet.


Daniel: Aight, so the crux of your argument is that capitalism is responsible for human progress. This can definitely be debated — many would argue that scientific progress was the key to humanity’s “lofty” existence today.

Kevin: It seems disingenuous to me to attribute all of technological innovation to capitalism, simply because we live in a period of violently enforced western hegemony (remember that the USSR brought production up to 80% of US production in just 30 years). There's no reason why we can't have Amazon and Microsoft without Gates, Bezos, and Buffet owning as much wealth as 160 million americans. Why is private ownership of the means of production necessary for us to have 'nice things'? You realize that plenty of socialist places look quite "modern" and for example in China, over 60% of production comes from companies that are under public ownership. 

Me: Of course scientific progress is the key to elevating living standards, but scientific progress doesn’t drive itself. Why did so much scientific progress happen all of a sudden, in such relatively recent times? What triggered and motivated those innovations? I think there’s excellent reason to believe capitalism played a significant role, and not just due to chronological coincidence. Markets equipped innovative minds with a wider array of tools and products and ideas than they’d ever had access to before. At the same time, markets made it possible to get rich from inventing for the first time. The profit motive isn't all of what motivates innovation, but it's certainly part of it.

Also, in order for scientific discovery to improve the human condition, that knowledge must be made useful. For example, the US government technically invented the earliest form of the internet back in the 1960s, but then it sat on it for 30 years without realizing its life-improving potential. It wasn’t until ARPANet was decommissioned in 1990 and the technology made its way to the private sector that free market creativity and entrepreneurial vision took over and made the internet the glorious thing it is today. Finding innovative uses for existing technologies is as important to bettering the human condition as the forging of new technologies. In both cases, communism just doesn’t have the same incentives. Technological breakthroughs do occur in socialist states in whichever fields the government prioritizes and funds research, but they happen much more organically and in all directions in capitalist countries.

The larger the portion of production that is comprised of government spending, the more useless aggregate production or “GDP” becomes as an indicator of the residents’ actual wealth. This is because the things governments choose to produce on behalf of its citizens can never improve their lives as efficiently as the things people choose to buy for themselves, for a litany of well-established economic reasons (different people have different preferences, central planners lack the knowledge necessary to allocate resources as efficiently as dispersed decision makers reading market signals, the state has different priorities than the people it governs, etc).

Accordingly, saying the USSR “brought production up to 80% of US production in just 30 years” does not mean the average Soviet resident was 80% as wealthy as the average US resident, and in reality they were much less wealthy than that. The USSR produced massive quantities of things its people didn’t much want and couldn’t much use, including unreliable cars, drab housing, and military spending.

Steve: Let me first state some basic facts.  Sweden, Germany etc are not socialist. China is socialist, and the attempts to reclassify them as a capitalist economy only proves their success in building socialism and the threat they pose to global capitalism.

It makes no sense to speak of "communist nations" in the first place. Any example we would be taking of "communism" is in fact a socialist state, run by a communist party in every case I can think of.

"The USSR produced massive quantities of things its people didn't much want and couldn't mich use, including ubreliable cars, drab housing and military spending"

^it's hilarious how this is equally applicable to the US. But when the USSR goes from a mostly feudal economy to that in 30 years, where the US took hundreds of years and got the headstart of being born a capitalist state, it means nothing apparently.
To your actual argument: Marxists don't deny the advantages of capitalism over previous societies. Historical materialism shows us that indeed capitalism is a necessary stage of development, serving the historical function of exponentially multiplying the means of production. However in doing so it creates the new revolutionary class, the proletariat, a class which owns no property but sells itself to survive. The reason that we now oppose capitalism is because it is dying, and to sustain itself it deprives the worker of more and more of their basic needs.

The natural, historical course of capitalism has transformed productive forces to be incredibly social in nature (think of the level of cooperation that goes on in any modern workplace), and the old relations of production established by the bourgeoisie during their revolution have become a burden on humanity's ability to produce what it needs. Because the relations of production demand profit for the few elites who have over the years accumulated large sums of capital, we throw away dumpsters full of food while people starve, we let apartments sit empty while people sleep in the streets, etc.

In summary, yes capitalism is better than feudalism. Marxists don't advocate a return to feudalism, we advocate the advancement of society to it's next stage, now that capitalism has become a burden on productive forces (just as feudalism did before it was overthrown).

Me: Whether China is socialist or not is clearly a subject of great dispute, even among self-described communists. Your opinion on that subject is surely reasonable and I look forward to hearing it, but it’s not a “statement of basic facts.

The idea that “capitalism is dying” or in some later stage of it’s life would be much more compelling if it hadn’t been exactly what communists have been saying for the entire past century plus, only for it to keep on chugging. Meanwhile, I can count the number of communist nations (erm, “socialist states led by Communist Parties,” excuse me) remaining in the world on just one hand. Seems pretty counterintuitive to me if the natural, historical materialist progression is as inevitable as you say it is. Remember God’s famous quote: “Nietzsche is dead.”

The most tragic “burden on humanity’s ability to produce what it needs” has historically been government coercion, of the sort so characteristic of the Communist Party. Bringing up starvation is probably not the best strategy for someone upholding China and North Korea as socialist paragons. You cannot blame capitalism for throwing away food no one will buy without crediting capitalism for creating such relative abundance of food in the first place. 


Daniel: even if we accept that your argument is true, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t aim at improving our global economic system. Surely capitalism itself went through many changes over its history. Why can’t we accept the benefits of capitalism and move on to a better model? Particularly now, when many successful states are implementing socialist policies with heavily regulated markets, socialized medicine and education, etc.

Here’s why I subscribe to leftist ideology over capitalist one. I’m ready to make a claim, that the wide range of socialist ideas provides for a far better future of humanity than the wide range of capitalist ideas. In fact, I’ll argue that socialist ideology is instrumental for survival in today’s world. While all brands of capitalism put betterment of an individual and material values on the pedestal, the left ideas emphasize betterment of society and post-material values.


To understand the superiority of leftist economic ideology over the free market economic ideology we need to see how successful socialist or quasi-socialist institutions became in the last two centuries. Free education, medicine and heavily state-controlled economy has proven to be successful and attractive all around the world — even in some states which we normally don’t think as “communist”. They are successful in both providing living standards and in ensuring power of its state. 

However, even if you want to proceed with arguing that self-described capitalist states are vastly superior to self-described communist states I will disagree. However, I won’t argue that “communist states were always superior! All hail Stalin!” My argument is much more subtle. My argument is that strong “communist” states were able to ensure state power and provide living standards with various degrees of success, but they didn’t do a vastly worse job than “capitalist” states. For instance, USSR during Khrushchev rule was providing free education, free housing, free medicine, minus most of the bad stuff you normally hear about the USSR - no slave labor, and no mass repressions.

Weak “communist” states weren’t exactly successful in state power and prosperity, but weak “capitalist” states weren’t either. For each Global North country that benefited from capitalism you have some poor Global South country which got screwed over by capitalism in the worst possible way.

I don’t think I need to lecture you on how global capitalism harms the planet, because it doesn’t care about humanity in the long term. Neither do I need to prove that the world today is extremely small, interconnected and is barely surviving many existential threats, some of which are direct result of consumerist capitalism. Once we analyze it we see, that capitalism isn’t some abstract “evil”, because it oppressed people within controlled states. We see that capitalism overall is bad for humanity and for the planet overall. The times when we could survive a system in which everyone cares for their self-interest are over. 

Thus accepting leftist ideas will lead for better future for our planet and is essentially instrumental for humans’ survival.


Me: While it's true that a free market and communism are opposite poles of a spectrum between which reasonable compromises may lie, I would argue that most of the successful states you're mentioning are primarily capitalist societies. Sweden is closer to a capitalist nation than it is to a communist one, particularly after it's market-oriented reforms back in the 1990s. Germany is a capitalist nation with a safety net, etc.

Had my premise been "Free market capitalism is vastly superior to socialism" this would be a better rebuttal.

Kevin: Do you think the economic policies responsible for China lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty were capitalist in nature?

You rightly attributed lifting a billion out of poverty to China, but wrongly attributed that to capitalism. (A similar dedicated effort to eliminating poverty would never be conceivable in the US.) China doesn't even have free hold property. It's far from capitalist. Before you can compare and contrast with integrity you have to understand what is at the core of the two modes of production.

...the reduction in poverty you are referring to is more accurately described as the growth in productive forces and the proletarianization of millions of peasants during the wave of decolonization in the 60s onwards during which many places won independent bourgeois states.

Me: The forces which lifted hundreds of millions from poverty in China were capitalist in nature. Global trade is primarily what lifted those people from poverty, and it wasn’t possible until China opened itself to foreign investment under Deng Xiaoping. In this sense it was more the *removal* of economic policies which led to a more market-based economy. China also allowed farmers to choose what crops to grow and to sell any surplus for profit, amended their constitution to allow private property and even joined the World Trade Organization. They certainly still have vastly too much state intervention in the economy (and everything else) for my libertarian sensibilities, but so does the US for what it’s worth. The point remains that the trigger for such rapid poverty reduction was lurching in a much more capitalist direction after Mao’s death.

Natalie: Argument two: the actually existing capitalism of history and today has largely benefited off of either slave or cheap labor. This cheap labor creating a lower class that struggles to make ends meet in terms of healthcare, nutrition and the education of their children. Though free market capitalism might generate the most money for the economy, is it ethical to have a human equivalent of government run natural selection?

Me: First, slave labor and cheap labor shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath as if they are comparable evils. If we want to talk about nonconsensual chattel slavery, that's a separate conversation - and one which cannot ignore the central role such "at-gunpoint" slave labor played in communist regimes nearly a century it was prohibited in the United States.

Second, cheap labor does not "create" a lower class. Cheap labor is made possible by in the first place by the existence of a lower class, or at least a class of people poor enough to see those wages as an improvement at the outset. Poverty was not created by capitalism; it is the default condition of humankind. People have ALWAYS struggled to acquire healthcare, nutrition and education for so long as they've walked the earth, and capitalism has been more successful than any other system yet devised at alleviating that state of affairs (i.e, making it easier to acquire those things than it ever was before).

Steve: Slavery still exists in the US, look at how prison labor works and how it is explicitly exempted from the 13th amendment. As to your comment about socialist governments, I can't really answer without more specific instances of what you're describing as slave labor.



Vinesh: I'm in a bar and drunk so for now Id just like to point out the global supply chain perpetuates the existence of suicide factories in Bangladesh.


Me: 2. Communism failed everywhere it was tried, directly resulted in tens of millions of deaths, and was fled or repudiated by the people who lived it.

By my count, the list of countries which remain communist today is only four:
-North Korea: (1948-present)
-Cuba: (1959-present)
-Laos (1975-present)
-Vietnam (1976-present)

Each of these four countries are desperately poor. Go figure.

The list of countries that tried communism at some point over the 20th century, only to later collapse or abandon it, is much larger. To wit, it is as follows:
-USSR: 1917-1989 (and their various European puppets, including):
-Albania: 1946-1992
-Bulgaria: 1944-1990
-Yugoslavia: 1945-1992
-Czechloslovakia: 1948-1968
-Romania: 1947-1989
-East Germany: 1948-1989
-Hungary: 1948-1989
-Poland: 1948-1990

-Mongolia: 1924-1992
-Maoist China: 1949-1980 or so (but certainly no later than 2004, when their constitution was amended to recognize private property)
-Yemen: 1970-1990
-Ethiopia: 1974-1991
-Mozambique: 1975-1990
-Angola: 1975-1992
-Cambodia: 1975-1993
-Afghanistan: 1978-1992
-Nicaragua: 1979-1990

That’s about 10-20 additional nations, depending on whether you count the USSR satellite nations as one country, or several. Today, most of these nations are also still desperately poor. The only two which are not so poor (Russia and China) are wealthy in direct proportion to the extent to which they’ve abandoned communism.

In any case, the fact that the list of nations which tried communism but abandoned it (and returned to capitalism) is so much longer than the number of nations which remain communist today does not speak highly of communism’s staying power, popular appeal, or ability to enrich and improve the lives of its citizens.

More importantly, the historical path which these 15-25 or so nations took towards attaining and implementing communism is astoundingly bloody. Everywhere communism was tried it resulted in power struggle, deadly political purges, and extrajudicial executions. In the two places it was tried on the largest scale – USSR and Maoist China – it additionally resulted in lethal gulags, forced labor, fatal mass-deportations, man-made famines and genocide.

The sheer scale of human misery imposed directly by communist regimes on their own people over a mere 60 years of rule is difficult to comprehend. The authoritative Black Book of Communism estimates the total at 80 to 100 million dead, greater than that caused by all other twentieth century tyrannies combined. Lower estimates put it at 60 million; higher estimates (like this one from Professor Rudolph Rummel) put it at 110-140 million.

I know many communists quibble with those figures. Perhaps you think they’re inflated by Western propaganda. Surely communist estimates are equally biased in the opposite direction, and without having done our own independent own research I’m inclined to trust the mainstream historians. But it’s at least fair to argue; perhaps they are exaggerated. So for the sake of argument, suppose the actual death toll is a meager HALF of the LOW estimate from the Black Book – just 40 million dead. That absurdly generous low-ball estimate still the equivalent of 5-7 holocausts. It’s more than the 38 million that were killed in all 20th century military battles combined. And again, in all likelihood, that figure is less than were killed by each of the Soviet Union and Maoist China independently (and probably less than were killed by the Great Leap Forward alone, where mainstream estimates range from 36-55 million).

Further evidence for communism’s inferiority is the almost exclusively one-directional migratory preferences of communist citizens. Almost everywhere communism has been tried, vastly more people living there wanted to escape it than there were people elsewhere who wanted to join it. In many of those places, the communist governments were so embarrassed by this that they instructed armed soldiers to kill anyone trying to escape. This was true in East Germany, where the infamous Berlin wall was unable to keep out roughly 5,000 fleeing Germans, of which at least 138 were killed. This was true in Cuba, where up to 1.5 million Cubans risked their lives to escape Castro’s island on tiny boats in rough waters, and 60,000 perished in the attempt. And it’s true today in North Korea, where 30,000 have defected since the end of the Korean war, at risk of death or enslavement for them and their entire extended families should they fail. Professor Rummel estimates that “something like 35,000,000 people fled communist countries as refugees – as though the countries of Argentina or Columbia had been totally emptied of all their people.” Clearly, many of the people who actually lived through communism agreed with me that capitalism is vastly superior – so superior that they were willing to risk their life to get back to it.

The unpopularity of communism even in communist places is underscored by the complete absence of democratic input or legal dissent in those places. One-party “elections,” state run media and rampant political censorship are the norm in communist states. Governments operating for the sincere good of their people do not need to fear granting those people a voice, nor allowing those people to encounter opposing points of view; but, communist governments do fear those things.

In conjunction, these facts make it resoundingly clear that communism in practice was an abysmal failure that killed and impoverished many people, and that nearly everyone with a choice today picks capitalism.


Daniel: You’re blaming communist regimes in deaths of thousands, however, you fail to prove an inseparable connection between communism and those deaths. If you assume that these people were killed by Communism because they were killed by Communist regimes and in the name of communist ideals your argument is lost this instance. I don’t think there’s a black book for capitalism, but kill count of capitalist regimes and capitalist ideas is way higher — slavery, wars, etc, etc. If you claim, as you do, that these evils are not inherent to capitalism (btw global warming totally is) you have no basis to claim that evils of communist regimes are inherent to Communism. In order to win your argument you’d need to prove that leftist economic system is simply unattainable without enormous quantity of human deaths, which isn’t true.

Me: You are right to point out that not all of the evils committed by states can be fairly attributed to their economic system. So, why am I blaming communism for (most) genocides committed by communist states, but not capitalism for (most) genocides committed by capitalist states?

The TL;DR answer is that the death toll I described in argument #2 resulted directly from unique and defining traits of communist states, which are either impossible by definition or much less likely in capitalist states. Inversely, most deaths communists try to pin on capitalism are mostly due to extra-capitalist phenomena which long predate capitalism, and which capitalism has if anything reduced during it’s 200-year run as the dominant economic system.

Most of market capitalism’s alleged international crimes were not its invention. Wars of aggression, slavery and foreign imperialism went on long before the emergence of markets for goods and services. Empires have been invading and subjugating one another for millennium – literally since the beginning of human civilization – with minimal interruption. That such abuses continued under capitalist democracies is hardly evidence that capitalism or democracy was the primary driver; indeed, had they immediately ceased, capitalist democracy would have been even more miraculous a boon for human progress than it already was. Even so, the prevalence of these tragedies HAS decreased remarkably since capitalism emerged as the dominant system. I again point to Steven Pinker, and also to democratic peace theory. Today we see that capitalism and slavery are quite separable, and there’s less war between states than ever before. How, then, is capitalism to blame for those deaths? Just because Marx says so?

(though even if it were responsible, I again remind you that the sum of all battle-dead from ALL wars in the entire 20th century is under 39 million. Blame capitalism for literally all of them, and communism still beats its death toll handily.)

In fairness, nor were all the evils perpetrated by communist governments the result of their politico-economic system’s inferiority. An example is the USSR’s 1980’s war in Afghanistan. This war *intentionally* butchered between 1-2 million civilian non-combatants. But while the USSR was communist, these atrocities are not included in my communist body count, because they were the result of expansive proxy war with an external geopolitical threat – unfortunately, something all military superpowers commit. The USSR fought a war in Afghanistan NOT as a fundamental and universal progression of communist ideology, but because they were competing with the US to become the next global hegemon and it was in their strategic interest to extend influence in that region. This is basically also what the US did in Vietnam. Both were evil, but neither were a direct consequence of the respective economic system, so neither economic system should be blamed for them.

What I AM blaming communism for are deaths inflicted by the *defining traits* of communism, on the very people communism was intended to help. For example, a defining trait of communism is revolution to overthrow the bourgeoisie, and subsequent abolition of private property. Everywhere this has ever been done, it required armed civil conflict that wound up killing people, both in the initial overthrow and subsequent internal power struggles. These deaths are communism’s fault.

Another defining trait of communism is the nationalization of industry and centralized planning of all economic production. In most places this has been tried, it failed so spectacularly that it resulted in massive famine, killing millions of people. These famines were not the result of natural disaster that might have struck capitalist and communist nations equally. They directly resulted from economic mismanagement by the Communist Party, which either lacked the knowledge necessary to manage and distribute production as efficiently as the market had previously, or callously didn’t care about how many starved so long as some competing priority of the state was met.

This was true in the Soviet Union, where man-made famines killed 5 million from 1921-1923 and another 7 million from 1932-1933. It was certainly true in Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Backward, which starved between 27-55 million people in just four years from 1958-1962, making it arguably the evilest policy in world history, period. Vietnamese and Cambodian and North Korean communism triggered similar famines proportional to the respective populations of those nations. When a state seizes all private property, prohibits most economic activity, and then steals (erm, “collects”) the food you farmed on the pretense of giving it back to you “according to your need”, it’s subsequent failure to provide the food you need becomes murder.

Another defining trait of communism is one-party rule: a so-called “dictatorship of the proletariat” that cannot tolerate political dissent. Totalitarian (sorry Samuel, that’s what they are) governments with state-run media, zero free speech and zero restrictions on what they may legally do are ubiquitous in communism. They exist in North Korea, and in Cuba, and in Vietnam. There are no communist nations I know of (but plenty of capitalist ones) where they do not exist. Such a government remains in China despite the liberalization of their economy. And in each of those places, thousands if not millions of innocent people (erm, excuse me, “reactionaries”) were butchered by the state for no crime other than stating or hinting at opposition to their Glorious Revolution. Those deaths are plainly communism’s fault.

Daniel:
I’d like to contradict you on the idea that Russia abandoned communism — many services in Russia successfully work in the same manner they did in the USSR. Ukraine, in fact, was the most rapidly de-communized one, which worked out quite poorly for its economy.

As to the migration point it is important to emphasize that despite large numbers of people did try to escape, these numbers are lost in the sea of people who wholeheartedly supported their regimes (eg: any opinion poll in Russia, look up Levada Center, I’m too lazy). Moreover, isn’t there like constant migration from capitalist countries? I think the US even wants to build a wall for it or something.


Me: A sea of people who “wholeheartedly supported their regimes” is much less impressive when all the ones who didn’t wholeheartedly support their regimes were already killed off. If you don’t love Big Brother, the threat of the Gulag will teach you how to fake it really quick. And once you’ve started faking it, a few decades of communist propaganda may make you (or your children) decide you really do love Big Brother after all.

David: The number of dissidents in the USSR was quite impressive. Right after the end of Stalinism political prisoners were rehabilitated, and although they faced lotsa social difficulties they were in no way killed off and were influencing the soviet society: eg Solzhenitsyn, Snegov, etc. The so-called Ezopian dissent popular among people like Shwarz or Frazil Iscander went normally unpunished at all.

Your assumption that propaganda can make people turn a blind eye on their everyday life contradicts reality — historically propaganda was in no way a substitute for food and a place to live. (Like come on, Orwell is already spinning in his grave, in 1984 propaganda was never even turned onto the proles)

Me: It’s unclear to me how a number of dissidents in a country can be impressive, whether it's small or large. Is there an ideal number of dissidents? If there is a large number of dissidents, it only means lots of people are not happy with the way the country operates. Capitalist countries don’t have to boast about how many dissidents they have just to prove they tolerate them, because it’s just taken for granted that loudly opposing your government is okay here, and doesn’t even entail “lotsa social difficulties."

Daniel:
Majority of people polled name socioeconomic conditions as the reason for their nostalgia for the USSR. Even in Ukraine where USSR is despised on state level, most of old people I know are sympathetic to the USSR. (Mostly applicable for eastern Ukraine though) And if you ask people from Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan you’ll get almost 100% sympathy.


Honestly the traditional and really annoying western assumption that “peoples of USSR were turned into soulless communism-loving automatons by some decades of Stalinism” contradicts not only objective reality that I’m more than familiar with (yay, idpol) but the historical fact of tremendously diverse and monumental cultural, philosophical and artistic heritage left by the USSR.

Me: I’m not saying the people were turned into soulless automatons, I’m just saying you can’t point to a “sea of people who wholeheartedly supported their regimes” as if they had many other options besides supporting those regimes that wouldn’t (as you mentioned) come with stern social consequences at the minimum, or as if state-media and state-education doesn’t play a role in creating loyalists everywhere its used. Even with our relatively freer multi-source media, I’m pretty sure Steve thinks I’m an unthinking automaton reciting the neoliberal propaganda of my bourgeoisie puppet-masters; if that's true, it cuts both ways!

Almost everyone is nostalgic for their childhoods. If I see one more “90’s kids know what this is!” post on Facebook I’ll rip out what little hair I have. Surely the old geezers who lived in 1960’s USSR were nostalgic for their feudalistic childhoods too. It doesn’t negate the fact that vastly more people wanted to leave those places for capitalist ones, than there were who wanted to immigrate there from capitalist places. Besides, your statistics only refer to the USSR, while the same patterns were replicated in Cuba and North Korea.

Also still not much rebuttal to my flagship argument about how the defining traits of communism are more directly linked to death and hardship than capitalism is linked to expansionist war.

Daniel: I brought up dissidents to argue your claim about the entire opposition being shot. Also to my knowledge, dissidents in the global north faced oppression and social difficulties as well, see civil rights movement, McCartysm, etc

“people are nostalgic of their childhood = they support USSR” doesn’t seem to be historically accurate, since the old people from Poland don’t have much sympathy for communism.

You’ve dropped my arg that people migrated not because they prefer communism over capitalism, but migrate because they find conditions in their target country more satisfying — people from poor commie countries like NK or Cuba wouldn’t want to migrate to Somali. People from Great Depression US or post-colonial African countries wanted to migrate to USSR. Overwhelming majority of soviets who emigrated from the USSR we’re Jews who were essentially exiled after the anti-Semitic campaign. This is to negate your point that people overwhelmingly run away from communism just cause it’s communism.

Me: 
I dropped that arg because it supports my arg. Of course people migrate from desolate and violent places to nicer places with "conditions they find more satisfying." The whole point was that moving from bad --> good was so much likelier to coincide with moving from communist --> capitalist than vice-versa. I'd have to see the numbers on the alleged exodus of Africans and great-depression era Americans you speak of, but I know roughly a million Cubans fled Castro alone, which is a pretty hefty chunk of their current population of 11 million.

They don't overwhelmingly run away from communism "just cause it's communism." They run away from communism cause communism made their home nation...dare I say it?...a repressive shithole.

Daniel: see, my arg is that people flee from poor countries, not from commie countries necessarily. Not much people fled the USSR, but a lot of people fled Somali. Not a lot of people fled the US, but a lot of people fled Cuba. Once we look at these examples we can see that they support my flagship argument — both capitalism and socialism can be successful and unsuccessful, while neither is vastly superior to another.

The fate of communist states is truly unfortunate today. However (puts his Cold War history ushanka on) we need to realize that their success was directly linked to success of their largest sponsor — the USSR. USSR collapsed mainly because of US meddling with oil prices, and US-engineered Afghan war (source: not some lefty propaganda, but Bzezhinsky himself.), so you can’t even blame communism at its collapse.

Me: This is an odd thing to say for someone whose previous comments used “ensuring the power of its state” as part of the metric for evaluating an economic system’s success. That’s not my metric, mind you, since I don’t much care for states. But if that’s part of how you determine which economic system is superior, you CAN blame communism for its own collapse (for failing to ultimately ensure the power of its state under conditions of international competition), and thus the fact that the United States outlasted it in the Cold War would be evidence for its superiority.

Daniel: oh, my argument is not that SOVIET ЯUSSIA WILL TURN ITS ENEMIES INTO DUST. It’s just that socialism/communism/whatever doesn’t do vastly worst job at things like state power compared to capitalism. Since you buy this argument you gotta consider that USSR was able to overpower any capitalist state at the time be it through hard or soft power, except perhaps the US or UK.

It took a 10-years long intense war in a country which was never conquered in the human history, and antagonism from more than half of the world, to land a blow on its economy. And even then, the act of dissolution is commonly blamed at political reasons like Afghanistan and Gorbachev (I can explain more if you want, but I’m lazy)

Moreover, weren’t there capitalist empires in human history which failed miserably?



Erica: I don't understand why any failures of the state of Cuba or Venezuela are automatically attributed to socialism, while the failures of Guatemala (which has worse nutrition rates than every single socialist country including North Korea) aren't attributed to capitalism.

Me: Not all economic failures are intrinsic to universal flaws an economic system. Poor and malnourished people have been a mainstay on this planet since the dawn of human civilization. But while capitalism has greatly reduced their number and continues to do so steadily, attempting communism in a given country repeatedly caused sudden spikes in the number of such people in that country, almost without fail. There is a moral difference between a state that fails to alleviate your pre-existing poverty, and a state which actively worsens the poverty of its citizens through coercive centralized planning gone awry.

Similarly, many nations commit human rights abuses. But capitalist nations do not *characteristically* silence internal political opposition with mass executions. In most capitalist governments, extrajudicial executions of one’s own citizens are rare and frowned upon; in most communist governments, they have been commonplace. People were murdered by communist governments, for reasons and in quantities unthinkable in Western liberal democracies, due directly to *defining elements* of communism like intolerance of dissent. That’s why the “failures” (defined as either deaths or malnourishment) are not equivalent.

No comments:

Post a Comment