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May Day: The Conspiracy of Silence Around the Romance of Evil

May 1, 2010

“The Soviet system, according to Malcolm Cowley, the American writer, ‘was capable of supplying the moral qualities that writers missed in bourgeois society: comradeship in struggle, the self-imposed discipline, the ultimate purpose . . . the opportunity for heroism and human dignity.’ Leon Feuchtwanger, the German writer, rejoiced in the ‘invigorating atmosphere’ of the Soviet Union where he found ‘clarity and resolution.’ John Dewey compared the ethos prevailing in the Soviet Union to ‘the moving spirit and force of primitive Christianity,’ and Edmund Wilson confessed that ‘you feel in the Soviet Union that you are on the moral top of the world where the light never really goes out.’ J.D. Bernal, the British scientist, found ‘sense of purpose and achievement’ and was persuaded that ‘the cornerstone of the [Soviet] Marxist state was the utilization of human knowledge, science and technique, directly for human welfare.’”

–Paul Hollander, “Judgments and Misjudgments,” in Lee Edwards, The Collapse of Communism

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul.  Lo-lee-ta:  the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.  Lo.  Lee.  Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock.  She was Lola in slacks.  She was Dolly at school.  She was Dolores on the dotted line.  But in my arms she was always Lolita.

–Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Romance is no excuse for evil.

The slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” stimulates our atavistic moral impulses much as the sight of a woman’s body stimulates a man’s primitive reproductive impulses. Both impulses can be perverted.

Marxism conflated the desire to help those in need with an intellectual system and political agenda based explicitly on violence and deceit. This redirection of primitive moral desire towards an evil end is just as much a perversion of human nature as is the redirecting of sexual desire towards a child. Romantic illusions, such as

“you feel in the Soviet Union that you are on the moral top of the world where the light never really goes out”

or

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul.”

are not an excuse for evil.

The lingering effects of this romance corrupt the intellectual world to this day. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I should not need to remind readers that communism explicitly celebrated the idea of violent revolution leading to a “dictatorship of the proletariat,” and according to which most known forms of morality, including human rights and justice, were dismissed as merely “bourgeois morality.” Respect for human life was regarded as a bourgeois prejudice that could be overcome for the Marxist cause at any time, as Lenin stated explicitly in a speech published in Pravda in 1920:

“We say: morality is what serves to destroy the old exploiting society and to unite all the working people around the proletariat, which is building up a new, communist society.”

If killing human beings “served to destroy the old exploiting society” then killing human beings was regarded as moral. The subsequent actions of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and other Marxist leaders made it perfectly clear that the idealistic goal of building up a “new, communist society” led to the justification of mass murder. Ideas have consequences.

Marxist communism was based on an intellectual system that openly justified dishonesty, violence, and murder in countless public writings that were debated as respectable intellectual material in universities around the world throughout the 20th century. More than a hundred million people died as a result, and easily a billion more are unnecessarily poor today. Thousands of years of cultural capital – trust, work ethics, craftsmanship, traditions, civility, and morality itself – were cheerfully obliterated in an unbelievably stupid, sadistic, and ineffective system. We will never know the full human cost of Marxist communism.

Absurdly, when I bring up the crimes of communism to many people, they often respond with comments such as “we all have blood on our hands” or “capitalist wars have killed millions as well.” But while the theory of communism explicitly advocated violence and dishonesty, the theory of classical liberalism was explicitly based on voluntary consent and honesty. Advocates of classical liberalism in both the 19th century and 20th century have been among the leading opponents of imperialism and war precisely because they saw imperialism and war as betrayals of classical liberal principles. Violence is unambiguously a betrayal of classical liberal principles. Violence was unambiguously a legitimized element of Marxist theory and practice. It was not an accident.

The intellectual reputations and moral credibility of Martin Heidegger and Paul De Man are forever tainted by their support for the Nazis. They are still influential intellectuals, but their judgment is questioned, they cannot be taken as intellectually or morally authoritative insofar as their intellectual prowess failed to prevent them from making a horrible mistake in moral judgment.

Leading 20th century intellectuals advocated communism, were “fellow travelers,” or apologized for communist crimes, and yet more than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall there has been no reckoning of this failure of moral judgment. While there were certainly people who innocently allied themselves with communism who were ignorant of the Marxist endorsement of violence and deceit, there were plenty of intellectuals who were fully aware of comments such as that of Lenin above. The conspiracy of silence around this particular romance of evil continues.

What can one do when one lives in a world in which the accomplices of evil are living peacefully all around us? What can one do when the iconography of Che and Mao remain fashion statements? How does one communicate the revulsion that we all ought to feel towards an ideology of violence that was beloved by many of the most respected thinkers of the 20th century?

A woman I once dated had an uncle who exposed himself to young girls in her family. In the social climate of the 1960s, everyone knew that he did it, but no one talked about it and no one stopped it. I had a great uncle, a drunk, who hit on all the nubile young girls at family gatherings, and only much later did I hear about it from various cousins who had been hit on by him. Many families had such an uncle, or cousin, or friend, or whatever, and the tradition was not to talk about it.

A sea change in moral perspective has occurred, thanks to feminism, in which we now realize that these issues must be addressed openly and directly, or else they will continue to take place and the perpetrators will continue to walk among us. The pope is currently under scrutiny for allegedly allowing pedophile priests to escape condemnation and prosecution. Roman Polanski was recently arrested for raping a thirteen-year old girl nearly thirty years ago. Teachers are liable for criminal prosecution for not reporting suspicions of child abuse. Our society has created a bright moral line around the issue of pedophilia; there is nothing funny, charming, or romantic about it.

And yet Nabokov’s Lolita creates a sympathetic narrative in which the reader experiences pedophilia as romance. The morally mature reader is expected to transcend the narrative created by Humbert, and realize what a moral monster he is. Yet no doubt countless less morally mature readers are drawn into the erotic fantasy of Humbert’s world without realizing the moral monstrosity they have thereby become.

The romance of communism stimulated the political fantasy life of intellectuals for more than a hundred years. A few morally mature intellectuals realized what a moral monster communism was, and yet countless less morally mature intellectuals were drawn into the political fantasy of communism without ever realizing what moral monsters they had become.

John Kenneth Galbraith was one of the most celebrated intellectuals of the 20th century. A PEN prize was recently named after him. And yet he celebrated Mao’s cultural revolution in his 1973 account of his trip to China (All Galbraith quotations below are from Theodore Dalrymple’s excellent article in City Journal).

Milton Friedman was one of the most hated intellectuals of the 20th century. There were protests when he won his Nobel Prize in the 1970s, and more recently when the University of Chicago proposed a Milton Friedman Center for Economic Research, more than a hundred faculty members protested the creation of such a center.

Friedman’s crime was that he provided economic advice to the military dictator Pinochet, whose regime is responsible for the deaths of several thousand people. As Friedman pointed out, he also advised the Chinese government, which even post-Mao was certainly responsible for more deaths than was the Pinochet regime. Mao was responsible for four orders of magnitude more death than was Pinochet:

  • 4,000 * 10 = 40,000 * 10 = 400,000 * 10 = 4,000,000 * 10 = 40,000,000.

For those who are not math majors: Forty million is a LOT more than 4,000.

Friedman did not endorse the Pinochet regime or the Chinese communist regime. He was only interested in helping to alleviate poverty in both regimes, not in supporting the regimes themselves. He is analogous to a health care worker who is aware of an abusive situation that he cannot stop, but who continues to provide health care for the child despite awareness of the ongoing abuse.

Yes, Friedman sat down with Pinochet and with the post-Mao Chinese dictators, both of whom were murderers. But he did so in order to help the poor of both nations, and in both cases he succeeded in helping millions of people escape poverty by means of the more sensible economic policies that he proposed.

Galbraith, on the other hand, actually praised Mao’s policies. In the midst of the Cultural Revolution, after his visit to China, he managed to support the following claim by Sinologist John K. Fairbanks:

The big generalizations have all been agreed upon:  There has been a tremendous betterment of the material life and morale of the common people.

Compare this with the description by Jung Chang, who actually lived through the Cultural Revolution:

“Relaxation” had become an obsolete concept:  books, paintings, musical instruments, sports, cards, chess, teahouses, bars – all had disappeared.  The parks were desolate, vandalized wastelands in which the flowers and the grass had been uprooted and the tame birds and goldfish killed.  Films, plays, and concerts had all been banned . . . The atmosphere outside was terrifying, with all the violent street-corner denunciation meetings and all the sinister wall posters and slogans; people were walking around like zombies, with harsh or cowed expressions on their faces…

As an indication of the terror of the day, no one dared to burn or throw away any newspapers.  Every front page carried Mao’s portrait, and every few lines Mao’s quotations.  These papers had to be treasured and it would bring disaster if anyone saw you disposing of them.  Keeping them was also a problem:  mice might gnaw into Mao’s portrait, or the papers might simply rot – either of these would be interpreted as a crime against Mao…

A tremendous betterment in the morale of the people?  Galbraith’s own descriptions of violence reveal a fond romanticism, “The workers were rather proud of having confined their fighting to the morning…Sadly some windows did get broken.”  After the deception and sadism of Stalin’s Soviet Union, which was widely known by the 1950s, why did Galbraith and other intellectuals blindly fall in love with Mao’s China all over again in the 1960s and 70s?

Galbraith is the moral equivalent of a man who goes around telling everyone how much the girl enjoyed her “date” with Polanski (“a tremendous betterment of her morale!”), and who writes a book on how beneficially Polanski had used hot tubs, champagne, and Quaaludes to enjoy the company of young girls (“The girls rather enjoy the tussle . . . Sadly one may have to use a bit of force in the end”).  From a Humbert Humbert perspective, such a book might be a good read, but some of us have the moral maturity to realize that anyone who praised Mao’s China is as much of a moral monster as Humbert was.  Romance, even sincere romance, is no excuse.  Humbert really did have romantic feelings for Lolita, just as Galbraith really believed his own romantic fantasy version of Maoist China.

There are cultures in which pedophilia is normal and accepted; there are tribes in New Guinea, for instance, in which young adolescent boys are taught that the more semen they swallow the stronger warriors they’ll become.  There are cultures in which Marxist communism is normal and accepted; most of twentieth century academia.

When should we let bygones be bygones? The New York Times believes that the pope’s neglect of pedophiliac priests in the past is a story worth writing today.  But one can’t imagine The New York Times doing an expose on academics (or reporters) who failed to report communist crimes, or who actively excused communist crimes, because there were too many, it was too normal – and The New York Times itself was too complicit in the crimes.

Marxist communism was more culturally accepted, and thereby more seductive, than pedophilia, while in sheer numbers far more human lives have been harmed.  Yet its advocates live proudly among us to this day, and many of those advocates and apologists who have died continue to be honored as the leading intellectuals of the 20th century.

When will the culture of intellectuals, academia and the media, be morally mature enough to repudiate this evil, and end this conspiracy of silence?

Romance is no excuse for evil.

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. Max permalink
    May 1, 2010 3:01 pm

    This is a side question, which doesn’t have much bearing on the fundamental point of your essay (which is excellent, btw). But is it possible for an older person and a teen to have a legitimate consensual relationship without it being evil? We might agree that H.H.’s relationship with Lolita, for example, was wrong where we find coercion. But are there instances in which such a relationship might not be coercive, nor in violation of any non-harm principle we can imagine? Might there be 15 even 14 year-olds that could be considered rational agents capable of responsibly experiencing pleasure with someone who is older? They are certainly biologically “of age”. Should we always be willing to accept Victorian taboos about the age of consent? Surely there is an age we can all agree that a child is too young to have sex. But the stages in between present something of a grey area. Thoughts?

    • J.J. Sefton permalink
      May 2, 2010 11:07 am

      Max:

      You are on the wrong pate. I think if you go to Whitehouse.gov, there’s bound to be a link to the NAMBLA page courtesy of the Safe Schools czar.

  2. May 1, 2010 3:42 pm

    In traditional societies, of course, the age of consent was closer to the age of puberty, much younger than is considered acceptable in modern societies. I expect that there will be a long cultural conversation about this over the next hundred years, with more variation in respected opinions at the end of this century than is the case today.

    That said, I don’t want to get into that conversation here simply because people are attracted to that conversation like a magnet, while ignoring the fundamental point. I am still shocked that before 1989 it was perfectly normal for nice, kind left-liberal intellectuals to walk around talking about violent revolution and whether or not Marxist revolutions were necessary. It was normal for such nice people to be concerned that we needed violence because democratic socialism was too slow or too ineffective a means of destroying capitalism.

    There are traditional cultures in which violence is normal as well, tribes which have gone to war with neighboring tribes for as long as they can remember, and in which killing one’s enemies was a mark of pride and honor. Traditional societies thus have very different notions regarding both sex and violence than do we.

    What is shocking is that the dominant academic culture, which prides itself on being civilized and humane, could accept the viciousness and stupidity of Marxist communism for so long. Just as we are all shocked by the fact that cultured Germans listened to Mozart while gassing the Jews, so too should we be shocked that kind, bearded professors in the U.S. and Europe had long, earnest intellectual conversations about the need for violent Marxist revolutions decade after decade throughout the 20th century.

    Moreover, while this should have been shocking all along, one is dumbfounded when one realizes that this strange reality continued after Stalin’s crimes were acknowledged, and then continued even after the crimes of Mao and Pol Pot were acknowledged much later. The romance of Marxist communism was the sickest and deadliest meme in all of human history. The fact that it persisted in academia, among our culture’s most educated and intelligent people, despite countless well-documented human tragedies caused by that meme, reveals just how dangerously seductive an intellectual virus it was.

    Because Marxist communism was so seductive, it is all the more important to cultivate a visceral revulsion towards this meme. It should become normal to experience a visceral revulsion towards those who advocated Marxist revolutions or who defended Marxist regimes at least as powerful as are the contemporary revulsions towards pedophilia or Nazism.

  3. Max permalink
    May 1, 2010 6:37 pm

    I understand. Sorry to gotten sidetracked.

    “I am still shocked that before 1989 it was perfectly normal for nice, kind left-liberal intellectuals to walk around talking about violent revolution and whether or not Marxist revolutions were necessary. It was normal for such nice people to be concerned that we needed violence because democratic socialism was too slow or too ineffective a means of destroying capitalism.”

    These are the same voices who are now calling the tea party protesters ‘violent,’ ‘racist’ and ‘flirting with sedition’.

  4. May 2, 2010 12:19 am

    John Quiggin discussed the difference between Friedman and Hayek re Pinochet here.

    I think Dan Klein’s People’s Romance deserves a shout-out here as well.

  5. kurt9 permalink
    May 2, 2010 8:34 pm

    I think the Romantic movement, in and of itself, was something that is very sick and twisted. It is very pathological. Historically, the Romantic movement was the emotional backlash against the Renaissance and Enlightenment. The Romantic movement has always glorified gesture and emotionalism over competence and real accomplishments. Some Romantics have even been known to glorify disease and sickness. I believe there were a group of Romantics in France that painted their faces white to look like TB patients about the time the vaccine for TB was developed.

    I fully agree that both the Nazi and Soviet ideologies are outgrowths of the Romantic Movement. This cannot be stated enough. It also makes me furious whenever a Christian right person tries to pin the blame for Nazism and Soviet Communism on the Enlightenment,when in fact the blame should be pinned on the Romantics. I think the reason for this slander against the enlightenment is because religions such as Christianity actually have more in common with the Romantic movement than with the reason and individualism inherent to the Enlightenment and that the Christian right people are fully aware of this.

    Romanticism is truly evil.

    • Galina permalink
      August 30, 2012 12:09 pm

      I think it has more to do with the fact that most people are poorly educated about the Romantics. in highschool, one is taught Western Civilisation in “hops”….ignore early civilisations, hop onto Egypt of the Pyramids briefly because everyone loves pyramids, hop to Ancient Greece, ignore Hellenism, hop to the late Roman republic and the early imperium, hop over most of Roman history, hop over the Dark Ages, touch briefly the heights of the medieval period before landing on the Renaissance, moves quickly through the Enlightenment, and then the age of industrialisation and Colonialism to the 20th Century. Philosophy, arts, and even the actual politics of the era much less how it all played out in the arts and literature and philosophy is barely, if at all touched upon. If it is, it is in the most superficial manner.

      The Romantic movement was just full of junkie poets, anyway….right?

      If the child has no interest in history or “liberal arts” when he goes to college, odds are he will take only those courses he HAS to take to get the credits he needs for his degree program and he is not going to spend time learning about anything that was skipped or misrepresented in Highschool.

  6. Brad permalink
    May 2, 2010 11:28 pm

    One symptom of the moral rot of romanticizing communism is the controversy over the Pulitzer Prize granted to the infamous communist apologist Walter Duranty.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Duranty#Calls_for_revocation_of_Pulitzer_Prize

    I think anyone granted the Pulitzer Prize should keep it stored in a jar of p*ss, in protest of the Pulitzer Board’s decision. And until the Board rescinds the prize given Duranty, the Pulitzer Prize should be known as the “Duranty Prize” for the moral weight such recognition bestows.

    • kurt9 permalink
      May 4, 2010 1:21 am

      I consider journalism to be a completely corrupt and useless field. I have no respect for the industry and anyone in it. They are all complete parasites.

  7. May 4, 2010 4:24 am

    Bravo Michael!

    It pains me to see these despicable souls soiling the academy of all developed nations, and also infesting in many developing nations. Exhibit A: India. The Marxists (literally) in the academy have destroyed all vestiges of historical and cultural scholarship, heaped scorn on Indian civilization, promoted the barbarism of Islam over the sublime nature of ancient Indian thought, entrenched caste-based affirmative action policies so deeply (49% quotas in universities), that we have the grotesque scene of castes/groups rioting to be declared backwards! They have destroyed and killed political opponents for decades.

    Nehruvian socialism is still praised for “uniting the country” (when it divided it – Kashmir), no moral weight is placed upon the hundreds of millions of souls lost to poverty because Mr. Nehru felt that the little people need to be controlled thru the Planning Commission.
    Whats worse is that the same Nehru-Gandhi family still rules the roost in India, and is considered to be the “natural Governing family.” – an aristocracy. These people who killed and maimed the nascent, bubbling, vibrant, extremely-promising small-scale manufacturing economy which was seen at the time of Independence are still celebrated.

    One can forget that it needn’t have been so. When Nehru was to select the direction of economic policy for Independent India, there were two tracks – the socialist command-and-control view of the statistician Mahalanobis of marxist West Bengal or the free marketeers from the capitalist Gujarat. Nehru of course chose Mahalanobis, and the results need no elaboration.

    • May 17, 2010 7:56 am

      There are some problems with this type of argument- deeply satisfying as they are to make, or (for a lazy bloke like me) peruse- viz.
      1) Ideologies are utterly divorced from ‘praxis’. The big bearded Pathan, at the local all night grocers, who sold me my bottle of Bacardi at 4 A.M was breaking not just British law but also the Shariah law that was absolutely central to his world view. The best bootleggers in Gujerat are Muslims. Prior to flying out there you are well advised to get a few of their cell phone numbers. Essentially a person’s delusional system has little or nothing to do with actual behaviour.
      2) For x to gain or retain power in state y at time t- there is a sort of least action principle such that the madness, the killing, the fucking of the economy etc. tends to cash out as the minimum that particular x had to go in for. In other words, it’s no good saying Nehru could have done this, or Mao could have done that- they just wouldn’t have had the sort of power they were after if they did. Least action principle. And Nehru wouldn’t have been Nehru (remember his Chanakya article?)- he’d have been Gulzarilal effing Nanda- if he hadn’t wanted power, that too of a heritable, dynastic, sort- so how else was he to proceed?
      3) Mahalanobis- but also people like Kosambi, or Julian Huxley for that matter- were just going with conventional wisdom at the time. Jadgish Bhagvati was still under that spell, as he admits. Veer Savarkar came out for Socialism coz he thought that was the model that delivers fastest growth. And, of course, it really does. India’s failure is that it did not go in for conscription and compulsory education- the two defining elements of a ‘hard’ rather than ‘soft’ state. That’s why we’re in trouble- rather than the State having the monop0ly of coercive power, it is a kind of shuttlecock between Nuisance value battledores.
      4) Narendra Modi may have delivered some astonishing results, in terms of balanced and environmentally sustainable development- BUT as K.M. Munshi pointed out, Gujerati caste system, Gujerati Lebenswelt, is fundamentally different from Orrissa or Chattisgarh and so on. Furthermore, not even Modi can destroy the nexus between the police and the land-sharks and the communal politicians. His brave attempt to disintermediate the bureacracy/political class from Anti Poverty programmes is, in my view, bound to fail. Indian politics don’t work that way. It’s about rent seeking. Always has been- always will.

  8. John Quiggin permalink
    May 5, 2010 5:20 am

    Since I’ve been linked, I’ll repeat an observation I made at greater length here and here. While the Nazis lied about all sorts of things, they never pretended to be anything other than militarist and racist. Those who supported them knew what they were doing.

    By contrast, the Communists presented themselves as peace-loving democrats, and a lot of the time (though not when they had contrary orders from Moscow), Communist parties in Western countries acted as if they were just that. So, a lot of fellow-travellers were guilty mainly of gullibility and wishful thinking – most of them eventually wised up to the true nature of the beast.

    Of course, as the post points out such gullibility can have devastating consequences for thousands or millions of people. But you don’t need to go back to Communism to find examples like this. The supporters of the Iraq war didn’t intend the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, but they helpted to cause them (in support of noble objectives, of course). And the attempts to deny or downplay the scale of that disaster exhibit all the defense mechanisms used by fellow-travellers faced with evidence of Stalin’s crimes.

  9. May 5, 2010 3:19 pm

    UI think you understimate the importance of, I wouldn’t call it romance, but of having a national ambition. At one stage Russians really did believe that thjey were building for the future. What happened is that as Communist economics failed & they saw they were underperforming rather than outperforming the West they lost the hope & the mere dictatorship & censorship left a hollow shell which collapsed so utterly.

    Nonetheless it is a lesson for the West. Cyrrently we have no national goals, having left the last one on the Moon. The eco-fascist nihilists can move in only because there is no better goal. If America )or anywhere else) set a real idealistic national goal to which people were prepared to put serious money the nation would feel much more selfconfident & united. I wouldcsay the goals should be space industrialisation or ending aging or energy independence or bringing education to the entire world & that the method should be putting up truly enormous X-Prizes. That way lies progress without government dictat.

  10. senach permalink
    May 6, 2010 3:17 pm

    Why do you still assume that only Men lust after children,contary to the new evidence,there is no mention of the Auntie that enjoyed the company of young boy’s in your family or that of your girlfriend’s,are you not aware of that or do you yourself still close your eye’s to that possibility.

    You praise feminism for bringing this to the forefront of discussion,when these same feminist’s call the Statuory rape of a young female by a lesbian as “a good rape” http://www.wendymcelroy.com/rockwell/mcelroy000403.html

    You ignore the female Paedophiles,not mention,and lay this a the feet of men.
    http://antimisandry.com/female-paedophiles/

    You mention the Church the Pope and Priests,but fail to mention the Nuns.
    http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2006/05_06/2006_06_24_Miller_ComplaintsOf.htm

    The evidence show’s that you care nought for Men or Boy’s and you worship female’s as some morally superior being.

    • June 11, 2012 3:48 am

      There are certainly a lot of deialts like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but I am sure that your job is clearly identified as a fair game. Both boys and girls feel the impact of just a moment’s pleasure, for the rest of their lives.

    • Galina permalink
      August 30, 2012 12:18 pm

      Probably because the article uses paedophilia as a example of romanticised evil and is not a study of any depth of paedophilia. The use of extracts from “Lolita” makes sense since that novel has to be the best known literary work that shows a “romantic” view of the moral delusion of the main character…..a moral delusion similar to the delusion of academic communists (or all flavours)

  11. May 16, 2010 11:31 pm

    That was simply excellent! What a well done and thought provoking essay. A great read. Thank you very much.

  12. May 17, 2010 10:33 am

    Far from socialism really working if you take it far enough the places that have gone from close to India’s standard of living to a great degree of wealth – Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan & South Korea, have all been examples of market freedom.

    • Vivek permalink
      May 18, 2010 3:26 am

      I think the reason India’s mistaken economic policies (especially as compared to the Tiger economies) might be erroneously attributed to ‘the Romance of Evil’ is because it was true that a lot of Indians, including Nehru, believed that Stalinism had made Russia stronger rather than weaker than it would otherwise have been (a highly questionable assumption) and this was the reason it hadn’t collapsed in the second world war in the same manner as it had done in the first.

      However, the Indian State had neither the will nor the strength to assert control over the most basic resource- viz the productive capacity of labor. The State neither had the capacity to conscript, nor even the capacity to enforce education on its young people. Thus there could be no question of building Socialism. All that was possible was ‘rent seeking’- the license Raj- which was immediately subject to Agency Capture.

      Why was the Indian state so weak? The answer is that, historically, the State was parasitic rather than constitutive. It had paramountcy not by monopolizing coercive power but by maintaining a mobile reserve which could could tilt local conflicts one way or the other.
      This was understood by all serious politicians.
      All revolutionary organizations in India, whether of the left or the right, had to face up to a humiliating record of failure. Before M.N. Roy became Stalin’s emissary to Chiang Kai Shek, he had been Tiger Jatin’s right hand man. But Jatin was shot and the whole Jugantar revolutionary movement was rolled up without the Viceroy losing a moment’s sleep. Moonje and Hegdewar, of the right wing R.S.S, resolved to keep their organization out of politics- revolution was simply impossible in such a big and diverse country with a highly mobile and heavy handed security apparatus. The brutal suppression of the Telengana uprising and the vast post-independence expansion of State level para-military and police capacity (documented by Judith Brown) sent a strong signal. However, it remained the case that there was still very little direct influence that the Government could bring to bear on the lives of the vast mass of the people- not just on the issue of education but also land reform, caste discrimination, superstitious practices and so on.
      The Commies only succeeded in Russian and China because of defeat in War and the complete collapse of the Central Government permitted the emergence of a large cadre based mass movement which could take over the state apparatus and ruthlessly dispose of its enemies. This condition never did obtain in India.

      In this context, we might ask why the Indians persisted with a planned economy, import substitution rather than export led growth and so on? The answer comes in two parts- initially, the State mouthed Socialistic platitudes to distract from its impotence to bring about land reform (such as Taiwan had already implemented) and abolish the privy purses of the princes and so fort. The second factor had to do with the fear of being dominated by foreign capital- in other words, a return of the East India Company which in fact had been financed by Indian merchants in its initial expansion. This fear was irrational, it was bad economics- but it is also the case that it gave Delhi an importance it would not otherwise have had- in other words autarkic policies concentrated people’s minds on the Center whereas Indian history has generally been periphery led.
      The Partition riots had shown that the whole machinery of Government could, at any moment, simply become irrelevant. You can’t collect taxes from people fleeing their homes. No taxes means you can’t pay your troops. You have no army. Revanchist killing squads sooner or later coalesce and set up their own regional satrapies. India no longer exists save as a geographical expression.
      Thus India was saddled with bad policies- often implemented in a manner so corrupt as to undo any possible positive side effect- and the result was a shrinking of horizons, a dimunition of life chances, a decrease in relative Industrial and Trading strength on an unprecedented scale.
      Socialism doesn’t really come into the argument- save as a slogan- what you have is the opportunism of a parasitic State seeking to prolong its existence by seizing upon any tactical expedient including maximizing corrupt ‘rents’ and buying off opposition with a share of the same.
      But precisely because the State was parasitic rather than mediating or catalysing social processes, over the last sixty years, more and more Indians have come to see that they are in symbiotic relationship with each other- an Indian identity has been forged. Delhi, itself, has emerged as an important commercial center. India can come forward without fearing dissolution and anarchy in the process.
      But, to come forward, the State has to (as it does in the Asian tigers, or Communist China) provide & enforce the basic legal framework, maintain law and order, provide public and infrastructural goods and services and so on.
      But for this to happen the State can’t continue to see itself as a foreign parasite feeding off an alien and ungrateful host, but as fulfilling an organic function, and that the highest, within it.
      Like the Tigers and Communist China, the Indian State has to make promoting business its business. Where this has already happened, as in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, growth rates are comparable with those in China. However, not till the Center changes its thinking can even Gujarat really take off and fulfill its potential.

  13. May 18, 2010 10:08 am

    That is an impressive assessment Vivek.

    Does that mean the way India should have gone at independence, & perhaps still should, would be to have become a confederation with the central “government” having little more power than to prevent states setting up tariffs or going to war with each other & maybe having authority to build roads, railways & perhaps communication satellites? That is an attractive proposition & while it would have led to some provinces achieving Singapore style growth & some stagnation (a disparity observable between Chinese coastal & hinterland provinces) would probably have benefited even the most remote areas by showing them what could be done.

    • Vivek permalink
      May 18, 2010 4:41 pm

      Neil,
      I think what you suggest would have been best not just for economic development but also quality of life and cultural and intellectual efflorescence. Furthermore, the nasty sectarian and ‘caste’ divides that have become institutionalized under , ostensibly redistributive, ‘vote-bank’ politics would have been greatly ameliorated and the ‘political instrumentalization of disorder’ arising from riots/terrorism, strikes/’bandhs’ (i.e. closing of shops and places of business) , rasta roko (blocking of highways), and so on would not exist.
      India is too big to tackle the problem of Populist Legislation which defeats its own purpose- e.g Rent Control which worsens the housing situation for those who can’t afford to buy homes, prohibition on sacking a worker which results in much lower employment in the organized sector and thus destroys the foundation of blue-collar prosperity, crazy giveaways to the farm lobby which are unsustainable from both the fiscal and environmental point of view, etc. etc. All these problems can be tackled if power is kept close to the people, but the Center insists that its job is to protect the weaker from the stronger and views high growth in a State or Region with suspicion- alleging that this growth is at the expense of the weaker sections of society.

      It is important to make clear that Indian political theory has always been about disintermediation, decision making being made as close as possible to the people involved and, ideally, on the basis of consensus.
      Thus, Gandhian politics is actually an anarchism based on self rule by small village ‘panchayats’. Unfortunately it is also autarkic.
      The problem of caste and sect is resolved if each can have an area where it has the majority and enforces its own preferred norms. Indeed, this was the pattern that enabled Indians o live together in harmony. People simply moved to the location where the provision of public goods best matched their preferences.
      Since the ’70′s a new generation of Indian intellectuals, influenced by RAND Corp type Mathematical Politics, and people like Schelling, Coase, but also now Elnor Ostrom and so on, have been able to recast even the paternalist mindset of the Govt. in a language that isn’t ‘Big Govt’ or ‘Statist’.
      However, there are fundamental problems which make this more than a problem of shoddy thinking and borrowed ideologies. Thus, in 1947, the State had perforce to take a Centralizing direction because
      1) The Center was too weak to provide the basis for Federalism and devolved power- including such things as enforcing a Zollverein, providing external defense and internal law and order etc.
      2) The Partition riots, and the risk of conflict moving from a confessional to a caste or class basis, showed that the entire machinery of Govt. could become irrelevant and simply fade away.
      It is important to note that the Indian State was a parasitic resource extraction tool which relied upon the fossilized forms of previous parasitic coercive systems. In India the word ‘joogard’ means something that is cobbled together- like the country made vehicles which are a combination of tractor motor, truck chassis, bullock cart and so on- and which lacks brakes or precision steering equipment. The British Raj, and every succeeding coalition of interest groups in democratic India has been a joogard of this type. Thus the State never actually became strong enough, or could not steer its strength with sufficient precision, to lay the foundation for devolution and disintermediation.
      This is shown by the fact that, starting under the Raj, there was no actual Zollverein between states and regions allowing toll free transport of goods. On the contrary, even with food grains, you had Provinces banning the export of food grains to each other. Though labor movement was (and remains) free, this was not so for other factors of production. The ban on ‘non-cultivator’ castes from acquiring land created serious distortions with the unintended consequence of worsening the lot of the ‘untouchables’- i.e. the lowest on the caste ladder- while (this is bizarre) greatly enriching the trading caste. (What happened was that land already owned by traders multiplied in value, increasing their capital base- while the farming caste (being forbidden to alienate their land) experienced no similar bonanza
      2) Mischievous demagogues were touting Confessional States which-even to this day- are conceived along Fascist lines. The lesson was not learned that Fascism fails on the battlefield. These assholes wanted to take over the State apparatus and believed that its nature would be changed merely by changing its rhetoric.
      3) The Liberals simply surrendered to the Populists because of a feeling that they weren’t Indian enough. This was utterly mad. The great Dr. Ambedkar (leader of the ‘untouchables) castigated them- but, at that time, he didn’t have the mass following and thus the clout to rescue India from the Narodniks (Populists) who were opening the door for the Bolshevik nut jobs.

      It seems to me that India keeps going wrong because it is afraid that if it doesn’t take the stupidest measure possible then the strong will eat the weak (the ancient Indian ‘law of the fishes’). The problem with Paternalism of this sort is that it creates murderous sibling rivalry amongst a population no longer able to think or do anything for themselves.

      Well, okay, there is one thing they can do- Exit into a separate world- i.e. create a new caste- which, like the world of dark matter physicists postulate, exists alongside our own but does not interact with us, save gravitationally.

  14. microcosme permalink
    March 14, 2012 7:03 pm

    There’s an interesting book on the subject: United in Hate: The Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror by Jamie Glazov (Hardcover – Mar 3, 2009).

  15. UNRECONSTRUCTED permalink
    March 18, 2012 12:21 am

    Trust me, the Marxist communists have infiltrated the schools. It’s *bad*.

    • June 8, 2012 12:06 pm

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  16. gerrydorrian66 permalink
    May 2, 2013 5:43 am

    Communist revolutions were the same old story of “popular” revolutions: bourgeois intelligentsia using the plebs to bring down the government so said intelligentsia could take its place, then get on with the usual business of oppressing the plebs. Give me capitalism and the ballot-box any day.

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