Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Missing Communism (A Bit) — by Steve Manacek

 

The unfolding drama in the Ukraine brings back memories — for those of us old enough to remember it — of the bad old era of Brezhnev and the Evil Empire. But also a certain nostalgia. Because, in those days, the badness of the USSR was understood — by most people not living on university campuses — to flow in large part directly from its (leftist) ideology. If the State is responsible for everything, then the State can do anything — and ultimately will.

While the better sort of classical liberals — the Moynihans — took care to point out that they believed there were things the State should not be responsible for, most ordinary people intuitively understood that if you pushed leftism beyond a certain point, bad things would happen. In effect, the Soviet Union stood as a kind of grim specter behind leftism, providing an ever-present reality check to liberal visions of the beneficent State. Whenever the true nature of the Soviet Union intruded into the consciousness of large numbers of Americans, conservatives, while sincerely empathizing with whoever the victims were, at least had the satisfaction of seeing their core beliefs validated, their ideas, arguments, and personalities taken a bit more seriously, and those of their opponents to some degree discredited.

But when the true nature of today’s Russia and its leader — kleptocracy, thug, respectively — intrudes, there is no ideological silver lining. That Putin is a thug and Russia a gangster state reflects no more on Barack Obama and his brand of progressivism — in the minds of most people — than that Saudi Arabia is a theocracy. Yes, there is a case to be made that any excessive concentration of power in the state is corrupting, and that while Putin exhibits his in ways that Obama probably wouldn’t, the ultimate end-game of progressivism will lead to equally bad, if different, results. But that argument is too abstract and conceptual. Most people, even conservatives who abhor Obama, don’t exactly see him as a step on the road to Putinism.

Now that that specter of communism is essentially buried — and has been buried long enough that even early middle-aged people have no real memory of it — the leftist vision of the beneficent State carries less obvious baggage. There’s Europe, of course — most people are dimly aware that much of Europe is plagued by sluggish growth, high unemployment, and various cultural frictions. But none of this carries the weight of tanks in Budapest or Prague, the invasion of Afghanistan, or the gulag. I suspect this may be part of the reason why Millennials, or younger people generally, (in polls such as the recent one from Pew that has generated so much ink) seem less ideologically averse to “big government” than prior generations.

Could it be that, in defeating communism, we actually killed off one of our most effective assets?

There are 21 comments.

  1. Pelayo Member

    We can to point to Venezuela as the example of how communism/socialism/collectivism destroys a country.

    • #1
    • March 19, 2014, at 6:43 AM PST
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  2. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    Not so much an asset as an illustration. The USSR was the bogey man under the bed that kept the liberal children in check.

    • #2
    • March 19, 2014, at 6:43 AM PST
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  3. Horace Svácz Inactive

    I agree. Furthermore, the failed policies of Putin suggest to some that things were better with the old communist guard. For young people there, and young people here, the specter of communism doesn’t look so bad now.

    • #3
    • March 19, 2014, at 6:44 AM PST
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  4. Zafar Member

    Steve Manacek:
    Could it be that, in defeating communism, we actually killed off one of our most effective assets?

    Could be. Though until Capitalism also defeats poverty State ownership and action will always have some attraction for people. Including in places like Europe or Australia where it results in some good things (universal health insurance) without really cramping the style of the bulk of the free market – and certainly in countries like India or the Philippines where truly pre-(French)revolutionary conditions keep cropping up.

    Wrt Gulags etc. – yes, you’re right. Though we undercut our own position (or rather the contrast) with things like the Patriot Act and Guantanamo. (And invading Afghanistan as well. jmho.)

    • #4
    • March 19, 2014, at 7:04 AM PST
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  5. Bob Wainwright Member

    I hear your point but mid-twentieth century American liberalism was even more self-assured than liberalism today, even at the height of the cold war. Liberals were afraid of the Soviet Union but they were still glad it existed, because it acted as a check on American power and arrogance. So the existence of communism in Russia did little to undermine the liberal vision in the west. Many liberals even held it up as an example to learn from, about how NOT to run the true socialist utopia for which they continued to yearn.

    • #5
    • March 19, 2014, at 8:16 AM PST
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  6. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    Mario the Gator:
    We can to point to Venezuela as the example of how communism/socialism/collectivism destroys a country.

     Yup. If people cannot look at North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba and see what having total government control leads to, having the Soviet Union around wouldn’t convince them.

    • #6
    • March 19, 2014, at 8:35 AM PST
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  7. George Savage Contributor

    If I could nominate two books as required reading for Millennials, they would be Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics and Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism.

    • #7
    • March 19, 2014, at 9:17 AM PST
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  8. Fricosis Guy Listener

    I dunno, the demise of the Commies was a nearer run thing than many remember. Putin, if nothing else, is reminding is of this.

    • #8
    • March 19, 2014, at 9:32 AM PST
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  9. David Obst Member

    We use to say ‘look at the USSR and tell people ‘don’t go there’, then we said ‘look at Europe, don’t go there’. Maybe we should use Argentina as an example of where not to go. They progressed to a great economy and life style and through Leftism, their country has been destroyed.

    • #9
    • March 19, 2014, at 9:40 AM PST
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  10. Umbra Fractus Lincoln

    Zafar:
    Could be. Though until Capitalism also defeats poverty State ownership and action will always have some attraction for people. Including in places like Europe or Australia where it results in some good things (universal health insurance) without really cramping the style of the bulk of the free market – and certainly in countries like India or the Philippines where truly pre-(French)revolutionary conditions keep cropping up.
    Wrt Gulags etc. – yes, you’re right. Though we undercut our own position (or rather the contrast) with things like the Patriot Act and Guantanamo. (And invading Afghanistan as well. jmho.)

     1) Poverty can never be “defeated.” The free market’s track record in alleviating poverty is so far beyond anything state run economies have accomplished there’s no contest.

    2) False equivalence. There is no one in Gitmo whose crime is something as silly as criticizing the government. Contrary to what Code Pink might tell you, Howard Dean was never in danger of being hauled off in the middle of the night. That’s what the Gulag was. Comparing the two insults both us and the Soviets’ victims.

    • #10
    • March 19, 2014, at 10:23 AM PST
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  11. Mark Wilson Member

    Randy Weivoda:

    Mario the Gator: We can to point to Venezuela as the example of how communism/socialism/collectivism destroys a country.

    Yup. If people cannot look at North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba and see what having total government control leads to, having the Soviet Union around wouldn’t convince them.

     All they have to do is tell themselves what they are doing is different, for no other reason than they know they have good intentions.

    • #11
    • March 19, 2014, at 10:46 AM PST
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  12. Umbra Fractus Lincoln

    Remember, the USSR wasn’t real communism. Just give them one more chance, and they swear they’ll get it right this time.

    • #12
    • March 19, 2014, at 10:49 AM PST
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  13. genferei Member


    in those days, the badness of the USSR was understood — by most people not living on university campuses — to flow in large part directly from its (leftist) ideology.

     I think this is to accept the airbrushing the left have done of their real support for Leninist and Stalinist regimes and systems right up to 1989.

    • #13
    • March 19, 2014, at 11:21 AM PST
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  14. Profile Photo Member

    My reactions, in order, upon logging on to Ricochet, seeing the hammer and sickle staring me in the face, and reading an article about nostalgia for the USSR and our communist ‘asset’:

    1. Holy bleep. Holy bleep.

    2. I am so glad that the imprisonment, torture, and murder of so many of my family, not to mention millions upon millions upon millions of others, gave you such effective rhetorical ammo in your coffee shop arguments with ‘millenials.’

    3. When Hollywood makes some insipid action movie where it turns out the real bad guys aren’t the terrorists, but some twisted American general who just wanted to relive the glory days by re-starting the cold war, I always dismissed it as an idiotic stereotype by liberals. Apparently you are very real. I apologize to Hollywood.

    4. You know, I kinda miss Hitler. Sure, he was “evil” I guess, and there was that whole concentration camp thing, but at least the world understood the dangers of antisemitism. Now, more and more millenials boycott Israel, so I wish old Adolf were still around doing his thing to help my side of the argument, you know?

    5. Holy bleep again.

    • #14
    • March 19, 2014, at 11:22 AM PST
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  15. Tim H. Member

    On the converse(?), I wonder if the demise of communism in Russia has also freed the American Left to oppose Russia’s foreign policy. The Left doesn’t see the Russian government as their comrades-in-arms any more, so there’s no reason to make excuses for them when they invade the Crimea.
    Remember Ted Kennedy running interference for the Russians when they shot down Korean Air Lines flight 007? I was in elementary school, but I was paying attention, and I remember Kennedy arguing that the Reagan administration had doctored the audio tapes of the attack, trying to hide something nefarious done on our part.

    • #15
    • March 19, 2014, at 11:46 AM PST
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  16. Drusus Coolidge

    I understand your reaction, but maybe you are overstating the author’s point a little bit? Pointing out that a present negative example helps keep leftist tendencies in check is not wishing for that example back.

    • #16
    • March 19, 2014, at 11:48 AM PST
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  17. Umbra Fractus Lincoln

    While I don’t doubt that what you say is true, this point could have (and probably should have) been much more clear in the original post.

    • #17
    • March 19, 2014, at 1:31 PM PST
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  18. Troy Senik Contributor

    Umbra Fractus:

    Zafar: Could be. Though until Capitalism also defeats poverty State ownership and action will always have some attraction for people. Including in places like Europe or Australia where it results in some good things (universal health insurance) without really cramping the style of the bulk of the free market – and certainly in countries like India or the Philippines where truly pre-(French)revolutionary conditions keep cropping up. Wrt Gulags etc. – yes, you’re right. Though we undercut our own position (or rather the contrast) with things like the Patriot Act and Guantanamo. (And invading Afghanistan as well. jmho.)

    2) False equivalence. There is no one in Gitmo whose crime is something as silly as criticizing the government. Contrary to what Code Pink might tell you, Howard Dean was never in danger of being hauled off in the middle of the night.

     An important point. And an equally important one for the Code Pink crowd: the same would not have been true had Dean been born 100 years earlier and had the temerity to criticize their beloved Woodrow Wilson.

    • #18
    • March 19, 2014, at 5:05 PM PST
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  19. barbara lydick Coolidge

    Reagan assigned Don Segner to the White House to head the investigation of the KAL 007 shoot down and to act as Chief Delegate for the U.S.A. to the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization on this matter. Later he was assigned as the US Chief of Delegation, by the Secretary of State, to negotiate an agreement among the US, USSR and Japanese governments to improve and implement future air travel safety along the North Pacific air routes.
     
    Some time later I worked with Don on a project for a client, and what he had to say about Kennedy’s outrageous comments,…well, the CoC forbids my sharing with ya’ll.
     
    BTW, I was on a KAL flight from Seoul to the US the same day 007 was shot down and knew (slightly) 2 of the passengers on that ill-fated flight.

    • #19
    • March 19, 2014, at 8:19 PM PST
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  20. Peter Robinson Founder

    I loved Steve’s post. Just loved it. It said what I’ve been thinking for a few days now–only it said it better than I’d been thinking it, if you see what I mean.

    Thanks, Mr. Manacek. Very nicely done.

    • #20
    • March 19, 2014, at 8:37 PM PST
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  21. Zafar Member

    Umbra Fractus: 1) Poverty can never be “defeated.” The free market’s track record in alleviating poverty is so far beyond anything state run economies have accomplished there’s no contest. 2) False equivalence. There is no one in Gitmo whose crime is something as silly as criticizing the government. Contrary to what Code Pink might tell you, Howard Dean was never in danger of being hauled off in the middle of the night. That’s what the Gulag was. Comparing the two insults both us and the Soviets’ victims.

    I agree with you about the free market creating the most wealth in the long run, but it’s not a myth that the transition to industrialised economies (and cash crop agriculture) involved displacing people and actually reducing their access (in the short to medium term) to assets they had previously enjoyed. (Like grazing land. Or forests to gather wood in. Or community use of land to grow crops on, but without individual legal title.) Yes, in the long run people moved to secondary production and enjoyed a much higher standard of living, but the transition was tough and not everybody was better off before they died. Marxism wasn’t just some random idea taht came along – it was a (flawed) response to some of the social outcomes of the industrial revolution. A process which is repeating itself in parts of the world today, with predictable results. Why are we surprised when the result is a support for redistributive policies (ie some form of Marxism) among the people who are affected?

    Re Guantanamo – no, of course the crimes are different, but the suspension of rule of law is similar in nature if not in extent. And it will look a lot similar to someone who thinks they’re there for no good reason. Keep in mind, you don’t need to convince yourselves, we already agree with ourselves.

    [Edited for typos.]

    • #21
    • March 19, 2014, at 9:48 PM PST
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