Wednesday 18 November 2015

Capitalism Kills: Why, For The Right, The Left Is Always Wrong.


THE IDEA that the Left can do nothing right is central to the Right’s world view. In terms of both competency and morality, leftists are held to be irremediably deficient. All evidence contradicting this proposition is either ignored or denied. But any claim, no matter how absurd, which confirms the Right’s view of the Left’s deficiencies, immediately becomes holy writ. It’s as if even the slightest suggestion that the Right might be wrong has the power, if accepted, to unravel its entire understanding of the world.
This hyper-sensitivity to left-wing judgement is entirely understandable. What differentiates the Left from the Right is the former’s fundamental objection to the strongest human-beings’ urge to dominate, coerce and exploit the weakest. Absent this urge, however, none of the economic and social systems elaborated by armed minorities throughout history could have endured. Not the empires of the ancient world; not the feudal structures of the middle ages; and certainly not the capitalist system of the modern era. All of these civilisations were built on the ruthless exploitation of the weak by the strong – exploitation enforced by extreme and unreproved violence.
As it was, so it is still. Strip away all the piety, mythology and outright lies about our present, capitalist, civilisation and you will find, at its core, the domination, coercion and exploitation that its political guardians, the Right, recognise as its true essence, and will defend – to the death.
One of the Right’s most important misunderstandings of the Left is that it can, somehow, embrace domination, coercion and exploitation – and remain the Left. Notwithstanding its logical absurdity, it is the condemnation one hears most often from the Right: that the Left, in the shape of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, or the Communist Party of China, is responsible for upwards of 100 million deaths.
They forget, of course, that the vast majority of those killed were individuals who refused to accept the right of either of these parties to impose their will on the people in whose name they had accomplished the overthrow of the old oppressors. Whether it be the rebellious Russian sailors at Kronstadt in 1921, or workers and peasants across the whole of China from 1949 to the present day, whoever, in the name of justice and equity, takes a stand against an oppressive system of domination, coercion and exploitation is, by definition, a leftist.
Though the Right’s inability to properly understand this simple truth is astonishing, it is hardly surprising. If they were not able to convince themselves that the Left is an irredeemably evil political phenomenon, driven by greed and envy to confiscate the hard-earned wealth of all who are superior to their neighbours in intelligence, enterprise and skill, then the Right would have to face the true character of the system it has created, operates and defends.
That would mean casting its eyes back over history and calculating the human and environmental damage it has done. Even if this exercise is limited to the capitalist era, the results are damning. The slave trade that built the fortunes of so many of Britain’s leading capitalist families. The depredations of the East India Company, whose rapacious pursuit of profit ravaged the entire Indian sub-continent. The opium trade to China, which, under the protection of the British navy, addicted millions. The list could be extended indefinitely for each of the great capitalist powers, and the death toll laboriously calculated, but it would still fall short. Because it would not include the untold millions of lives blighted and shortened by years of economic exploitation and neglect. Capitalism kills. It has done so from its earliest beginnings, and it does so still. The only distinction between the history of capitalism and the history of the Mexican drug cartels, is that the cartels have never pretended to be advancing the progress of humankind. (See here and here for Dr Wayne Hope's analysis of drug-dealing and capitalism.)
Oh, how the Right will bridle at that last sentence! How loudly they’ll protest that capitalism has lifted millions – no, billions! – out of poverty. That it was capitalism which boosted incomes, upgraded housing, delivered improved health and education, and generally uplifted and prolonged the lives of the masses.
Poor creatures. They have to believe this. Because not to believe it: not to be absolutely certain that the system that sent gun-thugs to break-up strikes; adulterated food; presided over slums; polluted whole regions; and sent entire nations off to war; was (and is) the sole source of all that is wholesome and good in the world raises the awful possibility that something, or someone, else is responsible for making life under capitalism just that little bit happier and more fulfilling for humankind.
And who could that possibly be? Surely not the trade unionists, who forced up workers’ wages? Or the social reformers, scientists and doctors, who discovered how to ward off illness and disease? Or the progressive architects and city planners, who designed cheap and sturdy housing for the poor? Or the progressive, social-democratic and labour parties, who gathered together all the agents of economic and social progress, won state power, and fastened a strong regulatory collar around the capitalist beast?
Surely, it wasn’t – no, no, it couldn’t possibly have been – the Left?
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Wednesday, 18 November 2015.


peteswriteplace said...

The right are always wrong.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Oh well Peter, Charles and jigsaw will be along as soon as they wake up to explain how Chris is completely wrong, and we are all evil/childish/moronic/add epithet here.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Hell, the drug cartels of whatever stripe are the epitome of capitalism. Interesting though, since the legalisation of marijuana and various American states I was expecting the appearance of various brand names – remember that 1970s idea that various large American companies had trademarked marijuana brand names? In anticipation so to speak. Seems they actually missed out on an opportunity here :-).

Len said...

Capitalism is the first system of exploitation and coercion that does not rely on political/military force to keep the stream of wealth flowing upwards. Its prime engine of exploitation is economic. Wage slavery, backed by the judicial underpinnings of the state, is its game. Work for wages; produce our profits; if not, then on the scrapheap with you!

Anonymous said...

Economics, according to Durkheim, is one of the means by which some members of society control others.

Wayne Mapp said...


I am somewhat surprised you have so easily excused the death of 100 million people in the Soviet Union under Stalin and in China under Mao, on the basis that the dead were unwilling to accept the victory of the left. Or least that is how I have understood what you have written. Perhaps I have misunderstood what you wrote.

Were the deaths of 100 million really necessary to secure the revolution? Did there need to be a man made famine in Ukraine that killed maybe 8 million? Was the scale of the Gulag necessary? Even Khrushchev in his 1956 denunciation did not think so.

In any event wasn't the great failure of the Soviet Union the fact that it could not accept that the people deserved a choice, as is also the problem in China today.

This might seem a bit simplistic, but don't the results of democracy show that by and large people will not embrace extremism that sees the death of millions of their fellow citizens. One of the first things Hitler did once he had power was to effectively scrap democracy. Would the German people have continued to vote for Hitler once his extreme policies were implemented?

At least since WW2 in countries where people do vote there are not extreme excesses. People recognize that it is too dangerous both to their liberty and to their property. Fundamentally people want limited government. Whether that limit is 50% of the economy as is common in Western Europe or 30 to 35% as is typical of the Anglo countries, there is pretty much a universal desire to keep government out of the private domain.

In no democracy has there ever been the wholesale confiscation of houses, farms or businesses as occurred in the USSR after 1920, Eastern Europe after WW2 and China between 1950 and 1985.

There is a very good reason why all democratic societies have one variety or another of a mixed economy. People to a greater or lesser extent vote for their own personal freedom as much as they do for society. And with the regularity of the vote they can always cure government excess.

lprent said...

Of course I have a variant different take on this (while essentially agreeing). But I owe you a bottle or two of that acidic vinegar you like. Both for inspiring me to write about your post (Chris Trotter is on fire), and the level of outright quote plagiarism I did while writing it.

My apologies for the latter, but you are getting those posts damn tight and hard to separate when opining on them.

Your post was excellent, and I'm sure we can agree to disagree about the details.

Chris Trotter said...

I am constantly bemused, Wayne, how you ever managed to secure a doctorate.

It was certainly not be reading texts closely.

Or understanding them, it would seem.

Since the Soviet and Chinese governments were engaged in the domination, coercion and exploitation of their own peoples, they could not - by definition - be governments of the Left.

To be of the Left one must be opposed to the domination, coercion and exploitation of one's fellow human-beings. The Soviet and Chinese Communist regimes may have called themselves left-wing, but their actions say otherwise.

Read the piece again, man. And then attempt to answer the charges levelled against capitalism contained within it.

As things now stand, all you have done is prove how deaf the Right is to logic, history and criticism.

Anonymous said...

Your comment
"Since the Soviet and Chinese governments were engaged in the domination, coercion and exploitation of their own peoples, they could not - by definition - be governments of the Left."
is a classic 'no true Scotsman' argument.

You dismiss with a sneer the fact that capitalism has, in the last 30 years , lifted 100s of millions out of poverty , mostly in Asia.

Unions, social campaigners and similar have been vital in curbing the excesses of capitalism, and redistributing much of it's wealth.
(I personally pay 40% of every dollar I earn to the govt in GST and Income tax - plus rates, excise duty etc).
But without the wealth generated by capitalism everyone but a tiny minority would be in poverty.

What is you alternative?
Sneering is fun, but you must propose a credible alternative.
Sure the current system isn't perfect, and perhaps could use some significant changes.
But full socialist systems rapidly descend into Soviet Style police states.
To oppose the government is to oppose the people.

I ask you:
East Germany - West Germany?
North Korea - South Korea?

greywarbler said...

A timely piece Chris. And perhaps an answer to my query on a former post. "Surely no-one wants to continue this destruction of a state, a country's culture and finest achievements, its people's lives and wellbeing, its infrastructure, it's environment and life giving fertility? "

The Right have an agenda and the things I mentioned aren't near the top.
Capitalism takes the fruits of collectivism to be utilised by an elite group on behalf of all. This would be established at first by agreement of all, but later is maintained by coercion as the fruits are channelled away from the group to the deserving elite.

That's rather like the NZ Labour Party, who helped improve everybody's lives at first so all could afford an inside toilet. Now they sit on the pot themselves and won't allow others access, while many of the public can't even afford an outhouse.

Grant said...

And right on cue Wayne Mapp turns up with his utterly contemptible, intellectually dishonest conflation of Socialist Democrats (the ones he laughably calls "hard left") and the Totalitarian police state dictatorships of Stalin and Mao. Does Mapp understand how political ideologies are defined? Of course he does. Mapp knows perfectly well that in practical terms there isn't room to slide a piece of paper between the Nazis and Stalinists. At a certain point in their TYPE of organization it becomes useless to define a State as Left or Right. It simply becomes Totalitarian. The reason I hold him in greater contempt than most people who spin his line of bullshit is precisely because he is a professional politician with an advanced education who doesn't just repeat the lies of others, he knowingly peddles the lies his charmed circle of right wing ideologues created in the first instance.

Wayne Mapp said...


It was the way you tied the two paragraphs together, in particular the paragraph starting "They forget of course ..."

That paragraph following on from the prior seem to accept that the actions were undertaken because they did not accept the "dictatorship of the proletariat."

So based on your comment, should I accept that it is your view that it is not possible to describe any state that is a one party state that professes to be of the left to actually be of the left. Since all one party states have to repress anyone who wants an alternative. This of course cuts out just about every state that has ever professed to be of the left. For instance Vietnam and Cuba to take two contemporary examples.

That means that leftist governments can only exist in democracies, because only democracies believe in the rule of law and the ability of each individual to make a choice that does not rely on repression of other pints of view.

Bushbaptist said...

I will be blunt Wayne, having a Doctorate doesn't absolve people from stupidity. You and others just don't seem to get it, Stalin and Mao were never "Left", they were extreme "Rightwing" FASCISTS and I suggest you go and learn the difference. The statement that they killed 100 million is ridiculous, 10 million maybe, and that is a stretch. In fact, there have been more killed by Rightwing Tyrants and ever were by any Leftwing Govts.

Anon 9.37; "But full socialist systems rapidly descend into Soviet Style police states." Obviously you weren't around in the '50's and '60's when we had a Socialist economy. And we never descended into a Police State, compare that with today with all the spying on us by our lovely Govt.

Anonymous said...

Capitalism kills and is a beast of the right and also Communism (of the chinese and soviet types) kills and is thus a beast of the right. What then is an economy of the left - any ideas chris, any examples of course not.

Like all lefties your good at blowing out hot wind, double wages, half prices, everyone in great jobs, free education and health care for all, free housing, tolerance for minorities and while we are at it world peace and the conversion of ISIS into passivist do gooders.

We will achieve this miracle quite easily - Chris has a direct phone link to the tooth fairy, the fundamental core of all leftwing fantasy - wave a wand and gold will fall from the sky.

This more than anything explains the contempt the right hold for the hard left (I feel nothing but respect for Clark/Key centrism).

If you want to criticise economic systems you had better be very clear about what your yardstick is and even better show us it in practice. Im guessing youve given up on soviet communism, Venezuelan inflationism and north korean gulag communism cum wild west catpitalism.

That leaves only the utopian past - the golden 1970's lets roll back to the good old days of big Norm and Muldoon.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Come on BB. In the 1950s and 60s we had a mixed economy. There has never been a "full socialist economy" to descend into a police state from. I suspect it's a bit of a pipe dream. Mind you, I think we might have something close to it in the future, what with the individualisation of production, which is coming, and the automation of production. Whether we'll enjoy it or not I don't know.

Chris Trotter said...

Lord be praised! Dr Mapp finally grasps the distinction between social-democracy and totalitarianism! (There's a reason for the inclusion of the word "democracy" after "social", Wayne - did you never wonder what it was?)

What was erected in the Soviet Union and still exists in China is "state capitalism". The wages system, with all its hidden coercion (see Len's comment above) remains in place, as does the market - albeit in a highly attenuated form. What's different, of course, is that these capitalist enterprises are not owned by private individuals. Nominally, they are owned collectively, by all the citizens of the state and administered on their behalf by suitably trained and qualified managers. In reality, of course, the control of these enterprises is in the hands of the Communist Party, whose members and bureaucratic enablers constitute a new kind of ruling class.

It is a class made all the more formidable by virtue of the fact that the wealth it controls cannot be (or, at least, should not be) transferred to its members individually, nor to their offspring. Politics, not property, is the basis of this new kind of ruling class's power. Which is why no actual, or potential, challengers to its monopoly of political power can be tolerated. Its future depends, absolutely, on the maintenance of total economic, social and political control through the self-replenishing oligarchy of the Communist Party.

And there's absolutely nothing even remotely "Left" about that.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:37 here!
Bushbaptist, Chris
I think we need to define some terms.
What do you mean by 'capitalist' , 'socialist' and 'social democracy'?

If you are free to trade, manufacture, and accumulate wealth , then it is (in large part) a capitalist system.
I believe (though I was not there) that NZ of the 50s and 60s meets this definition, though there was heavy regulation and tax.

What IS the model of society you are proposing?

Andrew Nichols said...

In no democracy has there ever been the wholesale confiscation of houses, farms or businesses as occurred in the USSR after 1920, Eastern Europe after WW2 and China between 1950 and 1985.

I guess then Wayne...Israel since 1967 doesnt count as a democracy...

Andrew Nichols said...

Where Left and Right both sahe a pathological sin is that both cheerfully screw the planetary ecosystem. That's why I'm a Green.

Loz said...

This is an important piece Chris & I’m grateful for Wayne’s contribution. I can understand why some people wish to draw a circle around numerous dictators of the 20th Century and decide crimes against humanity can be attributed to the left. What is ignored is that many of the most popular, elected governments, of the past century have been of self-avowed as socialists.

The death toll from totalitarian dictatorships over the 20th Century is incredible. Between the worst offenders (Stalin, Mao, Hitler, King Leopold II, Hideki Tojo and Ismail Pash) a 145 million people are thought to have perished.

Totalitarianism is the common thread amongst murderous dictators, not being of “left” or “right”. However, if we dwell on dictatorships that have risen by overthrowing democracies, almost all of them have occurred against popular left wing governments. The list is quite astounding and all have been supported by the wealthy and privileged groups within their nations.

For the record, democratic governments have been forcibly overthrown in: Costa Rica 1917, Bulgaria 1923, Chile 1924, Brazil 1930, Spain 1936, Venezuela 1945, Syria 1949, Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, Argentina 1955, Costa Rica 1948, Bolivia 1951, Syria 1956, Indonesia 1957, British Guiana 1953, Ecuador 1963, Honduras 1963, Congo 1960, South Korea 1961, Brazil 1962, Burma 1962, Dominican Republic 1963, Bolivia 1964, Ghana 1966, Panama 1968, Ghana 1972, Chile 1973, Cyprus 1974, Greece 1967, Bolivia 1970, Grenada 1979, Bangladesh 1982, Fiji 1987, Haiti 2004, Honduras 2009.

The list of countries where democracy has been subverted by powerful interests is much longer.

There is no intellectual requirement for the left to support Stalin, just as there is none for the right to support Hitler. There is however a requirement for all supporters of democracy to question why it is, almost without exception, undermined by groups of the same political leanings. The historical threat to popular democratic governments has always been the willingness of privileged elites to resort to violent oppression in safeguarding their private accumulation of power and wealth.

Anonymous said...

Chris, 'Capitalism kills' is an untruth and you know it. The regimes of Stalin and Mao were 'left' in the political language of the times and I would also contend that modern political language would state they were leftist regimes. Both regimes were certainly not Capitalist and that's a fact. The leftist apologists like GS, Bushbaptist and Grant now conveniently call them Fascist/Capitalist regimes, what bollocks. Cannot you drongo's accept the facts of history. Countless millions have been needlessly killed by these 'leftist' governments in the name of Socialism. In our Government of NZ the Labour party is the 'leftist' party, I will contend that John Key and much of his front bench are more pragmatic and leftist in practice than the present front bench of Labour will ever be. Labour is about dumping on the poor to reward the middle class, ie; wanting to pay a subsidy to a person who earns $150,000 per year and has 3 children from, in part, workers tax's who earn $21,000 to $50,0000 per year. Labour have not repealed that policy. I told GS this self- deception virus is going around, you can get prescription pills from a Dr, they are called realism pills. A good piece of writing but bollocks can be made to look good by a skilful writer, well done.

greywarbler said...

Slavoj Zizek has something to say on democracy and capitalism. This is not new but worth listening to again - its points may be apposite here. About 17 mins.

Grant said...

@ Loz. Great comment.

Anonymous said...

Do you accept money for your writing?
From someone other than the government?
Do you sell articles?
Have you written, marketed and sold books?

Then you are a capitalist.

Wayne Mapp said...

OK, so I get the debate as you have now framed it.

In your view the only true left is social democracy as practised in democracies. Perhaps you would therefore allow that the only true capitalism is that which is also only practised in democracies. Fundamentally more accountable and governed by the rule of law than elsewhere.

However on your premise (within democracies) the left good, the right bad. Well I guess we will all have our own opinion of that

All other variations, to a greater or lesser degree are perversions.

But we seem to all accept that China definitely practises a form of capitalism, at least since 1985, which has been beneficial to both China and the rest of the world and which is far superior to what occurred between 1949 and 1985.

David said...

I've been thinking in the past couple of months that consciously or unconsciously, the genocide of indigenous people, among the most famous in North America, was about destroying any other system that could prove humans could exist comfortably and in great numbers in economic systems like those used by the American Indians. It is now thought that there were upward of 50 million indigenous peoples living in North America when Columbus arrived. It wouldn't have all been wine and roses but their levels of happiness and prosperity were probably not much different than what is being achieved now.

schmoepooh said...

I thought the consensus was that revolution in Europe induced wiser heads in the UK to implement reforms. Many factors contributed to the evolution of parliamentary democracy but the Scottish Enlightenment idea that the worst aspects of human nature can be mitigated by public measures such as housing, employment and education.

Anonymous said...

Loz.12.59, So what, the truth is that socialism is equal to capitalism in the killing stakes, capitalism is equal to socialism in the killing stakes, just face the real facts. You are know all fuck all to the reality of history,

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous@13:29

Wow! You righties just keep on walking straight into our bullets, don't you?

Hint: When your opponents confidently predict your first response to their arguments, it is utterly counter-productive to prove them right by fulfilling their predictions to the letter.

The changing perceptions of the Soviet Union, over the course of its 74-year history, mirror fairly neatly the steady re-definition of what is meant by the term Left.

Following the overthrow of the Tsarist regime by the democratically-organised Councils (soviets) of workers, soldiers and peasants - led by the Bolsheviks (who, alongside the more radical elements of the peasant-based Social Revolutionary Party, constituted a majority in the key councils of Petrograd and Moscow) - there was an entirely understandable explosion of hope and confidence among leftists all over the world. In NZ, the Labour Party activist, Peter Fraser, declared that, were he in Russia, he would be a Bolshevik.

This exuberant optimism about the Bolshevik Revolution took quite a long time to fade. The atrocities committed by both sides in the ensuing civil war took much of the gilt off the revolutionary gingerbread, as did the forced collectivisation of the peasantry, the unrelenting crackdown on working-class dissent, and the purging of former Bolshevik leaders.

This loss of faith would have continued had it not been for the Nazi takeover in Germany in 1933 and the fascist attack on the left-leaning Spanish Republic in 1936. Between 1941 and 1945, of course, the Soviet Union was our wartime ally and "Uncle Joe" Stalin our friend.

The descent of the "Iron Curtain" sealing off the nations of eastern Europe raised even more doubts about the true character of the Soviet Union.

Khrushchev's famous speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party confirmed the worst suspicions of many that Stalin had been responsible for the most terrible crimes against humanity. The clincher, however, was the Soviet Union's suppression of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956. All over the world, Communists tore up their party cards in disgust. The Marxist-Leninist model had failed. From that moment on, the arguments of writers like Hannah Arendt and Isaiah Berlin persuaded more and more leftists that without democracy there could never be socialism.

The social-democratic and labour parties - long derided by the Communists as "sell-outs" to, and lackeys of, capitalism - had been vindicated by history. The diehards who, in spite of the shocking revelations of writers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, kept faith with the Marxist-Leninist ideology of the Soviets (like the Socialist Unity Party in NZ) found less-and-less political purchase in the West, especially among the young. When the USSR finally blipped off the screen in 1991, there were few that mourned its passing.

It is important to remember that hard evidence about the crimes of the Soviet regime have only emerged in the years since its fall. Before then it was extremely difficult to separate fact from capitalist propaganda. Discovering the truth about communism was a slow and emotionally wrenching process for the world's leftists, but as it emerged their need to separate their own beliefs from those of the perpetrators of Soviet tyranny grew stronger.

Today, the number of people who believe that the Soviet Union represented the triumph of anything but domination, coercion, exploitation and extraordinary violence, is infinitesimal.

Only the Right still feels any attachment to the Soviet Union - and for all the wrong reasons.

Anonymous said...

Wayne Mapp, 14.55, what is also a fact that it does not kill it citizens but in its determination to improve the life of the Chinese people it rejects socialism.

Nick R said...

Geez, Chris. Did you really just blame the millions of victims of the Russian and Chinese revolutions for their own deaths?

That's... breathtaking.

And by what "right" did the party in both cases seize power? The only right I can discern is the one that grew from the barrel of a gun. So very, very different to the regimes they overthrew. Not.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Nick R.

Um, no, I did not.

I merely pointed out that the vast bulk of people murdered by those two communist regimes weren't rightists (as Stalin and Mao insisted) but leftists who had, either covertly or overtly, indicated their revulsion at the new order's growing barbarity.

Is English your second language?

Chris Trotter said...

To: Wayne Mapp.

You trying telling the leaders of the People's Republic of China that they are abandoning socialism and see how far you get.

(My bet is not much further than the nearest People's Re-Education Through Labour concentration camp!)

Anonymous said...

Chris. 17.21 you are really saying ,the left fucked up badly but lets blame the right, the truth matters little. shame on you.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The leftist apologists like GS, Bushbaptist and Grant now conveniently call them Fascist/Capitalist regimes, what bollocks. "

Can't speak for Bushbaptist, but I have never called them anything but totalitarian dictatorships. Give me an example where I called them capitalist or shut up. Because YOU are speaking bollocks. I would never make excuses for them any more than you (I hope) would make excuses for Hitler. And there are plenty as does that.

Nick R said...

Chris - No, English is my first language and that is a cheap shot.

It looks like you are trying to explain away millions of deaths on the basis that the people responsible weren't really "left". Because the monsters are all and only on the right. I don't buy that.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
Didn't anyone read Animal Farm?
Can we all agree that whatever system we live under it must be an effective democracy ? With all it's inefficiencies its the only regime that carries within it the facility for change and improvement when the need becomes apparent ; without a revolution.
Cheers David J S

Anonymous said...

Today, the number of people who believe that the Soviet Union represented the triumph of anything but domination, coercion, exploitation and extraordinary violence, is infinitesimal.

Depends. The Soviet Union had many many faults (some of which were a product of policy, others were a product of political necessity. Stalin's brutal and rapid industrialisation programme was launched because he thought, not without reason, that the West would crush his regime otherwise). But the Soviets also achieved a lot of good too:

- Fear of the Soviets is what kept the Right wedded to the post-war social democratic consensus. It is no accident that the post-1991 era has seen the Right tearing up the Western welfare states.
- It defeated the Nazis. In less than thirty years Russia went from being a country that sent peasants with pitchforks against machine guns (WWI) to repelling the greatest invasion in human history (WWII).
- It backed the ANC at a time when the struggle of the ANC was considered hopeless (China, curiously enough, has a much less impressive record at supporting liberation movements).
- Its efforts at educating the masses brought millions out of the Middle Ages.
- Central Planning mechanisms weren't invented by the Soviets (they were actually borrowed off Imperial Germany), but they were subsequently picked up by many capitalist countries.
- Progressive view of women in the workforce.
- First man in space.
- Other odd bits and pieces (fun fact - Stalin of all people outlawed lobotomies on mental patients because it was considered inhumane. This was decades before the West did likewise).

In short, you're looking at a complex, deeply flawed, yet very human creation. Brutal? Yes. Guilty of terrible crimes? Yes. But capable of something better? Yes.

Paul said...


Unknown said...

Speaking of capitalism the tourism industry is having a conference. It is interesting to see what is said because the left and right both slant the way it is reported.
"Tourism is *booming*": when wool was booming it reached the equivalent of $175 / kg. When tourism booms it means per GDP not GDP per capita. Business owners want to *free up red tape* - means more low paid minions and foreign workers to (eg) drive buses.

Bahrain Sturgeon said...

A quote from Animal Farm, about page 15

“The best known among them was a small pig named Squealer, with very round cheeks , twinkling eyes, nimble movements, and a shrill voice. He was a brilliant talker, and when he was arguing some difficult point he had a way of skipping from side to side and wishing his tail which somehow was very persuasive. The others said of Squealer that he could turn black into white.”

Possibly that last sentence should be “…. he could turn left into right”?

Bushbaptist said...

A great discussion on Trickle-down Economics;

"Every extra dollar going into the pockets of low-wage workers, standard economic multiplier models tell us, adds about $1.21 to the national economy. Every extra dollar going into the pockets of a high-income American, by contrast, only adds about 39 cents to the GDP. These pennies add up considerably on $26.7 billion in earnings. If the $26.7 billion Wall Streeters pulled in on bonuses in 2013 had gone to minimum wage workers instead, our GDP would have grown by about $32.3 billion, over triple the $10.4 billion boost expected from the Wall Street bonuses."

Even the IMF and the OECD are saying that it is not working.

Bushbaptist said...

For those who don't seem to understand what Communism is, I will explain it again;

Communism is when the workers own the means of production, that is; they own the factories and farms. That was not the case in Russia under Stalin and China under Mao, the Govt. owned the means of production not the workers. Nor have I ever said that they were Capitalist in any form except to say that they were Mega-Corporatist, that is to say:- The country is run like a giant corporate and everyone works for branches of it. The "Communist Party" was the Board of Directors of said company. That is a form of RIGHTWING FASCISM not Communism!!!

GS @18.10; One can not change the views of the rightie wingnuts mate. They have an almost religious view of the world. Whilst they know that their belief is not based on anything tangible they steadfastly stick to it. All I try to do is correct their mis-conceptions, whether they understand those mis-conceptions or not, is up to them. One can have an IQ of 140 and still be pig stupid!

Grant said...

@ Wayne Mapp 19:11-14.55

"In your view the only true left is social democracy as practised in democracies. Perhaps you would therefore allow that the only true capitalism is that which is also only practised in democracies."

Are you really as obtuse as you appear Wayne? You do realise that this is a discussion about political systems? Left v Right? Capitalism is and ECONOMIC system which can be employed to a greater or lesser extent by political systems of any hue.

Both you and some of your fellow travelers appear to require a primer in basic political theory as you appear not to even understand the origins of the political system you support.

Here is something to start with:

Anonymous said...

Look, it's just fundamentally dishonest to say that the Soviet Union and Maoist China were not left wing regimes. "Left" is a vague term with a rich secondary connotation. Similarly, it's dishonest for the right not to accept that Hitler was a right winger and that fascism is a right wing political pathology. In the end all it shows is that some of the regimes that bear these vague terms are deeply unpleasant, and that saying you're a left winger isn't saying much unless you say what type you are.

Nor is it reasonable to think that the good aspects of the Soviet Union were necessarily wedded to the bad. History is highly contingent, and results may vary given different starting conditions (for example, it's obvious that a central planner would have a much easier time starting out with today's level of technology than with what the Bolsheviks had – that's not to say that the results would be good, but we just don't know).

However, as someone pointed out, much of what the west achieved in the 20th century was attempted only because of the threat of communism. Once that threat was removed, we basically lost all vision and political life descended to the level of the Woman's Weekly. I actually think that Ayn Rand, had she lived into the 21st century, would have become a Democrat (she loved modernity more than she loved capitalism, and only loved the latter because she thought it necessary for the former).

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Interesting thing about capitalism. I heard someone on the BBC in the depths of the night last night say that" a world where the temperature increases 2°C is uninsurable." Now that's going to be interesting. See I've always said, capitalism doesn't handle externalities at all well, it tends to lump the costs onto ordinary people, and cream off the profits. And were in for one huge set of externalities perhaps.

Richard McGrath said...

The fundamental tenets of capitalism are individual rights (including private property), a society based on peaceful co-existence under the rule of law, with free exchange of goods and services. Underlying this is the existence of an objective reality, man's unique capacity to reason and the need to use this reasoning power as a means of survival, the existence of free will and the ability for each person to think for themselves independently. In a capitalist society the role of government is to uphold the rights of all people by providing police, justice and national defence systems that operate under the rule of law and are answerable to a constitution which includes a Bill of Rights.

The alternative to a capitalism is a collectivist society with suppression of individual sovereignty, the abolition of private property, activist government with sacrifice of some individuals for the benefit of others, restricted trade, corporate welfare, rent-seeking, bailouts, manipulation and debasement of currency, progressive taxation, Donald Trump-style theft of people's land by eminent domain and ultimately totalitarianism by the Hitlers, Stalins, Pol Pots and Castros of this world.

It is indisputable and inevitable that some people will do better than others under capitalism, just as some people will be better rugby players than others. But as long as there are rules that allow and incentivise everyone to function in society to better themselves by their own efforts, the mass of people will be able to better their lives and those of the people they care for.

Chris, your cynical dismissal of the role of free trade and increasing respect for individual rights in the rise in the standard of living for the vast majority of the world's population in the centuries since the Enlightenment denies the reality that almost everyone in a Western capitalist society lives better than the absolute monarchs of 200 years ago. Our houses are warmer and drier, we have electricity, running water and all manner of home comforts that would be the envy of the kings of old.

Grant said...

@ Anon 19:11-23.39

"Look, it's just fundamentally dishonest to say that the Soviet Union and Maoist China were not left wing regimes. "Left" is a vague term with a rich secondary connotation. Similarly, it's dishonest for the right not to accept that Hitler was a right winger and that fascism is a right wing political pathology."

Firstly, I wish all you Anon's would use a 'handle' so that it's possible to address you in a way that makes you easily recognizable by those trying to follow the conversation.

Secondly, It is not dishonest for either the right or left wings of politics which are committed to operating in democratic systems to disavow regimes whose character or typolology identifies them as Totalitarian or Authoritarian. It seems to me that many commenters don't seem to understand that political classification isn't done on a linear spectrum with left at one end and right at the other.

Imagine a circle. At the top is Totalitarian. At the bottom is Libertarian / Anarchist. To the left is Left and to the right is Right. Now draw two diameters connecting the opposite points. Virtually all political ideologies / regime types can be assigned a place somewhere in the circle. Stalin / Hitler / Mao / Pol Pot etc. meet each other in the hell-hole at the top of the circle. Whatever they say their ideology is, whatever their original motivation was, the CHARACTER of their regimes identifies them as neither left nor right but Totalitarian. Anti-humanist. Anti individual, where all agency belongs to the State. This is not a position endorsed by either the Liberal Right or the Progressive Left.

I'm not an expert at Pol Sci, but I'm planting my interpretation here so that it's easy to see how I define my terminology when I'm expressing an opinion.

Grant said...

@ Nick R. I know your heart's in the right place, but you need to go back and carefully read what Chris wrote and then do it again until the penny drops. He didn't say what you think he said.

Tiger Mountain said...

this article has been widely lauded and rightly so, as the reappearance of dear old “anti communism” from the woodwork somewhat illustrates as the right apologists arguments were mown down as if by a US imperialist “daisy cutter” bomb

the salient point about Russia and China is that they became “degenerate worker states” as the trotskyites called them because they deviated from text book marxism and went the authoritarian route, albeit in response to hostile capitalist encirclement and an economy sucking ultimately futile nuclear arms race, Germany should have been first cab off the rank etc. etc. but that history is now written

history did not end with the USSR as Prof F. Fukuyama prematurely gloated (he has somewhat recanted recently) and some form of revolution resulting in a fundamental shift of class power from global capitalists to the 99% is needed more than ever in every country of the world, this time it is a race to save the planet for habitation

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Underlying this is the existence of an objective reality, man's unique capacity to reason and the need to use this reasoning power as a means of survival, the existence of free will and the ability for each person to think for themselves independently"

Considering that psychologists have already shown that people don't behave the way classical economists think they do, and there is definite capacity for community, and sacrificed towards the general good – then this is bullshit. It has however caused some economists to study psychology and they are beginning to come to to different conclusions. Unfortunately most right-wing people are in the grip of classical or neoclassical economists, not so much a science as a religion :-).

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I phrased that badly. It's not so much capacity to sacrifice for the common good, as a psychological tendency.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Richard McGrath.

A beautiful summation of what a liberal democracy (as opposed to a capitalist economic system) should entail, Richard. A desideratum - if you will.

An historical investigation into the behaviour of capitalism, and the liberal democratic forms with which it clothes itself, would, however, reveal a much less praiseworthy reality.

It is history that always proves the Right's undoing: the vast gulf between the glittering ideal, and the bloody reality.

Similar investigations into the history of democratic-socialist regimes - such as our own 1935-49 Labour Government - while not entirely lacking in examples of authoritarian behaviour, offer nothing remotely comparable to the infamous "June Days" in Paris in 1848, or to Pinochet's Chile 1973-1990.

If it's a choice between the maintenance of capitalist economic relations, and the survival of liberal-democratic norms, the bourgeoisie invariably offers a plea of nolo contendere - no contest.

Charles E said...

Two quotes from above say it all:

Bahrain Sturgeon said...
A quote from Animal Farm, about page 15
“The best known among them was a small pig named Squealer, with very round cheeks , twinkling eyes, nimble movements, and a shrill voice. He was a brilliant talker, and when he was arguing some difficult point he had a way of skipping from side to side and wishing his tail which somehow was very persuasive. The others said of Squealer that he could turn black into white.”

Possibly that last sentence should be “…. he could turn left into right”?

Chris Trotter said...
I am constantly bemused, Wayne, how you ever managed to secure a doctorate.

Chris, I expect you think of yourself as an intellectual. Your latest desperate rant followed by furious backtracking and abuse proves you are not. However you certainly are an intellectual snob.

Now you may see this as abusive, but it pales against the background of the comments above from you and your fellow travellers. The abuse you dish out betrays the insecurity you feel having marched out on thin ice.

Bahrain, I was going to quote that brilliant conservative George Orwell myself but yours is way way better and entirely apposite. I was just going to say Chris’ whole thesis in life boils down to Left: good. Right: bad.

I’m delighted to have led you to make such a blot on your copy book Chris. This post shows your true colours indeed. The ‘100million’ is your albatross. Next you’ll tell us you did not shoot it, it was the right winger in you that did it.

Olwyn said...

Thanks Tiger Mountain, for your mention of Fukuyama - it is a reminder that capitalism too has its 'end of history' story. In common with others who cleave to alternative versions of the last big idea, capitalists do not trust the "everyone will come to see that this is the best way to live" bit of their projection, and instead try to force their way of doing things down everyone else's throat.

And thanks Chris, for reminding us all of where the left/right battle lines lie, at a time when much effort goes into obscuring them.

Charles E said...

The '100 million' (actually many more) were left wingers now eh? Orwellian logic is what we should call that proposition.
Next, no doubt the left's apologists here will try to tell us the 6 million Jews were left-wingers not Jews and that's why they were killed by the National Socialists.
How causally you deny millions of peoples' identity Chris.

Orwell actually recognised that the true enemy of this murderous left which calls itself socialist, like the mafia calls itself 'papa', is the individual who refuses the collective impulse. The ordinary every day battler, the small business owners, the humble, good, kind and always conservative folk who form the real backbone of a sound society. The same people who Tolkien saw as heroes in WW1 and who Hobbits are modelled on. These conservatives are the perennial enemy of the left because they refuse to be collectivised, the essential & fatal flaw of the left.
We conservatives are the majority in all good societies and the first target for destruction by the left. Fascists, who also target conservatives must therefore be left wingers too, using the Trotter definition turned on itself.

Bernard said...

The old left/right political paradigms are anachronistic. The right will always view the left from within, and according to their cherished principles, standards and values. So too does the left view the right according to their principles, standards and values.
The Blairite model - The Third Way - was originally purported to be an ideology that superseded the old left/right split. However, it became obvious it was merely an attempt to dress up old-school capitalism in new-age drag. There was no way you could get rid of the stench of that old turd by rolling it in the glitter of “neoliberalism”.
There are obvious strengths on both sides of the divide. We can’t, as a society, progress forward by continuing to walk in circles with only one foot. We need the best of both, left and right, in order to get any real traction.
The right needs to update their modus operandi of creating wealth via extraction, despoliation, exploitation, domination and coercion.
The left needs to update their modus operandi of effecting social change via condemnation, coercion, renunciation and victimology.
We need to be flexible in our ideologies - particularly our own, in fact we need to examine them and question them with the same fervour as we often embrace and espouse them. The urgency required from us to address the environmental, economic and political challenges posed by climate change, wealth inequality, terrorism - and other interrelated global issues - can’t be addressed with a divided focus. These issues affect all of us, right and left.
We can’t afford to maintain this feuding and bickering. We have to find another way.
The Buddhists philosophy of “The Middle Way” may open up a crack of light in the midst of this polarization. It suggests a balance between two extremes (indulgence and asceticism). With a bit of reflection we can apply this approach to our respective ideologies.
There are many strengths each side brings to the table: From the right - industriousness, fiscal & self-responsibility, business entrepreneurship, innovation, wealth creation etc. From the left: social and environmental responsibility, social entrepreneurship, social justice, social cohesion etc.
No one side can claim a monopoly of the truth. The truth might be absolute, but our perceptions and understandings of it are relative. The search for it is an on-going quest for all of us.

Victor said...


I empathise with your ire over having to cope with constant references to Pol Pot, Gulags et al whenever anything other than neo-liberal orthodoxy is suggested.

But I also empathise with the apocryphal Soviet schoolboy who, when asked to define the difference twixt Capitalism and Socialism, confidently replied: "Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man whereas Socialism is exactly the reverse!"

Perhaps a non-exploitative form of Socialism might one day come about. But we ain't seen it yet on anything resembling a sustained basis. And I have my doubts that we ever will.

In the meantime, I tend to agree with the late Tony Judt that, whereas Socialism has failed everywhere, Social Democracy succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its proponents and would still be doing so if only we'd let it.

Chris Trotter said...

Ah, Charles, at last, you make your appearance!

And all decked out in Orwellian false flags - just like those CIA types in the 1950s, who contrived to adapt Orwell's wonderful democratic-socialist parable - "Animal Farm" - to the screen, and succeeded only in transforming his masterpiece into just another example of cheap McCarthyite red-baiting.

Speaking of which, let us return (again!) to the infamous "100 million" victims of Stalinism and Maoism. This is no albatross around my neck, Charles, but, rather, the figure endlessly cited by right-wingers, like yourself, as proof of the Left's monstrousness.

And yet, the truth remains that the vast majority of those murdered by the Soviet and Chinese communists were individuals who had initially supported the revolution against Tsarism, and the destruction of the corrupt Nationalist regime of Chiang Kai-shek.

Precisely because they were people of strong principles - and some community standing - they were among the first to be murdered by Stalin and Mao. Revolutionary regimes, when they fall into the hands of tyrants, invariably seek to eliminate all such outspoken opponents of oppression. That's why I insisted on describing them as the true leftists in these tragic encounters. It was their killers who had abandoned left-wing ideals in the ruthless pursuit of power.

Any reasonable person, with a modicum of historical knowledge, would have understood this, but then, Charles, you are not a reasonable person, are you? Nor, seemingly, do you possess even a modicum of historical knowledge.

Like all right-wingers, you are engaged in a perpetual struggle to justify your support of the insupportable - mostly by conjuring up an endless series of garish pantomime demons and calling them "The Left". Stalin and Mao are, of course, the most garish demons of all - and where would you be without them?

The fact that both of these dictators had to wipe out nearly all of their old comrades as they fought their way to absolute power, never causes you to pause, even for a moment, and consider whether that might have been because these former friends and allies understood just how far from the left-wing path they intended to stray.

But this is wearisome and pointless work! Because you are not susceptible to rational discourse or historical reproof - are you Charles? And we know why, don't we? Because the moment you surrender even one point to the pantomime demons, you're entire ideological house of cards threatens to come tumbling down.

So, rant-on Old Lear. Harangue the storms and hurricanoes with your fantastical tales and petty insults. It simply cannot be helped that you are fast becoming an object of both hilarity and chagrin.

Hilarity, on account of your ever more fervent efforts to extol the virtues of the "ordinary every day battler, the small business owners, the humble, good, kind and always conservative folk who form the real backbone of a sound society." (Marvellous stuff!)

Chagrin, because the rest of us at Bowalley Road feel obliged to correct your errors - and they are legion!

Grant said...

Chris. I was hoping you'd put Orwell in his correct place and look, you've gone and saved me the trouble. Perhaps Charles et al would care to read Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London before coming back to give us a book report? Note how the second sentence of the Wiki Bio below notes Orwell's "..outspoken support of Democratic Socialism."!

Unknown said...

This is sort of a battle of the paradigms. What is missing is an ecological perspective (as usual): a niche is expanded but population keeps on growing.

Victor said...


"And yet, the truth remains that the vast majority of those murdered by the Soviet and Chinese communists were individuals who had initially supported the revolution against Tsarism, and the destruction of the corrupt Nationalist regime of Chiang Kai-shek."

My impression is that the vast majority of victims of both Soviet and Chinese communism were just ordinary apolitical folk trying to survive in bad times.

Grant & Charles

To my mind, you're both right about Orwell. He was a culturally conservative man who disliked the regimentation, homogenization, dishonesty and power worship that he viewed as characteristic of modern life.

He saw these trends exemplified in both corporate capitalism and the totalitarian, oligarchic collectivism that seemed to be taking over the Left. Indeed, he believed that, if unopposed, the two phenomena would ultimately congeal, although the collectivists would probably be the ultimate winners.

His answer to this threat was "Democratic Socialism", although he never fully explained what he meant by that. Someone (can't remember who) once described him as a "Tory Anarchist", which is an interesting formulation although I don't think it quite fits.

Unlike most of the mid-century Left, Orwell wasn't a pie-eyed believer in "Progress" with a capital "P". He distrusted intellectuals, was against "smelly little orthodoxies" and in favour of ordinary people ("If there is hope, it lies with the proles").

He was, I need hardly add, one of the greatest masters ever of English prose. And, dammit, he should be living in this hour! We have need of him!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written directly or indirectly against totalitarianism and for Democratic Socialism as I understand it."
George Orwell was a man of rigorous intellectual honesty, (not my words) so calling him a conservative is rather insulting.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Charles, considering you are constantly blacking on about Stalin and Mao Tse Tung, how do you cope with Hitler? He's your guy after all :-).

Puddleglum said...

"The others said of Squealer that he could turn black into white.”

Possibly that last sentence should be “…. he could turn left into right”?"

Hi Bahrain Sturgeon,

I think you'll find that what Eric Blair meant by the words he put into "the others'' mouths to describe Squealer was more likely to represent the fact that "he could turn right into left".

Knowing Blair's political views reasonably well, I'd say that is by far the most likely interpretation of the analogy.

@Richard McGrath 8:04 - you cite a mix of aspects of capitalism (private property rights), aspects of modern liberal democracies and many other governmental forms (e.g., to live in peaceful coexistence under the rule of law) and an eclectic assortment of philosophical positions which bear no necessary or sufficient connection to capitalism, though they are assumed under some economic theories (e.g., free will, ability to reason, etc.).

I'd point out that one of the irksome things, for me, of the libertarian (or 'classical liberal'?) position you appear to occupy is that it cleaves to a set of principles as if ordained by God and asserts them even when large numbers of people palpably suffer under their application - a kind of long-run means-ends analysis that justifies any amount of hardship, deprivation and misery in terms of a future material bounty.

Take private property rights. As a quick glance at global history makes clear, prior to such 'enlightened' principles as private property rights most people in the world had wide-ranging rights (e.g., customary rights, common rights, etc.) generated by millennia of the practice of human sociality. These rights were cast aside when land, in particular, was, through entirely undemocratic force, converted into private property (the enclosures, the history of colonialism, etc.). This led to huge material, political and social hardship for countless millions.

In fact, it isn't much of a stretch to suggest that the more violent revolutionary events and movements that followed were largely a direct and entirely predictable and understandable consequence of this barbaric, undemocratic assertion of 'private property rights' over pre-existing, long-term and enduring social relationships vis a vis human rights as they affect the ability of people to survive materially.

When you utterly destroy peoples means of existence and their broader way of life by - at the point of a gun - asserting 'private property rights' the prudent person would expect some 'equal and opposite' violent historical reaction.

As Chris Trotter has argued, the left came out of a resistance to just these kinds of elite assertions of power over the many. Assertions of power aimed principally at the preservation and enhancement of their wealth, privilege and power.

The only antidote to this blind adherence to the 'principles of capitalism' come what may in terms of human welfare is democracy - perhaps the most subversive idea in human history (and pretty much the standard operating principle of pre-history).

Nolajo said...

Gosh. So much heat. So little light. Thanks for the original piece Chris. There seem to be no agreed definitions of the meaning of left and right. Because movements have used labels like socialist and communist does not mean that they were necessarily anything other than camouflage for whoever wanted to grab power. We could perhaps agree that the GDR was in fact not democratic at all. We claim to be a democracy, and yes we have elections every three years. But the playing field is so far from level as to be absurd. How else to explain why the electorate votes for a party which actually does not give a fig for democracy except as a fig leaf for its greedy agenda. It is not because of capitalism that there are fewer people in extreme poverty (if indeed this is the truth) but despite capitalism. Anyway, roll on the radical alternative, which has nothing to do with state control, but is all about democratic management of our productive capacity and enjoyment of its surplus, and recovery of the commons.

greywarbler said...

Your view that democratic management of our productive capacity which also applies to enjoyment of its surplus and recovery of the commons, sounds like one of those concise mottoes that a whole methodology can be hung from.
Democratic management rather than despotic management is my succinct protest poster call.

Grant said...

@ Victor: Orwell called himself a 'Tory Anarchist' until his time fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Here is a Part of the essay I've linked to below.

"Orwell’s socialism was humane and practical, in an era of dogma and ideology. He was anti-doctrine; he described the socialist idea in childlike terms:

“The world is a raft sailing through space with, potentially, plenty of provisions for everybody; the idea that we must all co-operate and see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one could possibly fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system.”

In 1945 the writer (and rapist) Arthur Koestler, pacifist Bertrand Russell, publisher Victor Gollancz and George Orwell attempted to establish a ‘League for the Dignity and Rights of Man’. They failed, although some of the ideas surfaced twenty years later with the foundation of Amnesty International. Orwell, a brilliant writer but shambolic organiser, drafted a manifesto for the new league. He wrote that the main functions of the state should be:

1. To guarantee the newborn citizen his equality of chance.
2. To protect him against economic exploitation by individuals or groups.
3. To protect him against the fettering or misappropriation of his creative faculties and achievements.
4. To fulfil these tasks with maximum efficiency and a minimum of interference.

This provides as good a definition as any of the state in a socialist society. It is not the overarching state, but the enabling state, helping the individual to get on in life, to be creative and fulfilled, but with the maximum of efficiency and minimum of interference."

Grant said...

@Nolajo: I may have contributed to some of the heat, for which I do not apologise in the least. I also provided many explanations and links to try and clarify terms and issues as I see them. Did you read any of those? I refer in particular to the Wikipedia definitions of Right and Left wing politics and my explanation of the political compass and how it clearly helps to define the difference between the democratic progressive left and Authoritarian or Totalitarian regimes of any stamp. If you did read all of that I'm at a loss as to why you would still be feeling confused.

Victor said...


I think you're idealising pre-capitalist societies somewhat. Neither feudalism nor chattel slavery were pleasant conditions. And, prior to their introduction, few people survived much beyond their thirties.

Even so, I'm in broad agreement with your argument, which I find admirably and refreshingly conservative. Let me explain this apparent paradox, with reference to the previous posts about Orwell.

Much of the left in his day was "modernist" in both its politics and its aesthetics. It wanted to create a "Socialist New Man", with all the untidy and unplanned bric-a-brac of previous centuries swept away.

But Orwell loved "Old Adam" at his most idiosyncratic, real, time-bound and convoluted. It's the convolutions that make us fully human.

Winston Smith holds onto a sunlit image of the past and is drawn to the glass ornament that reminds him of an age before Big Brother. Winston and Julia are human, whereas the totalitarian world that crushes them is not.

But the same is true of "Gordon, Last of the Comstocks" in "Keep the Aspidistra Flying" holding out for his apparently dated sense of integrity, in a capitalist world increasingly dominated by marketing lies and slickness. "Coming Up For Air" is not dissimilar.

The miners and other working people in "The Road to Wigan Pier" are also human. Orwell doesn't want their world turned upside down in the name of some abstract notion of justice or progress. He likes and admires them too much for that, even though he speaks with an Etonian plum in his mouth.

He just wants them to be able to sit at home by the fire at night, reading the racing pages, after a hard day's work, without having to worry about falling sick, paying the landlord or feeding the kids. He acknowledges this as a nostalgic vision based on how he imagines life was in the good old days before 1914. And if recreating these circumstances means nationalising the mines or putting them under workers' control, then so be it.

I think that you, I and our host Mr Trotter are all broadly conservative in this sense of valuing the real, the time-bound and the human, as, I suspect, are most current day Social Democrats and Democratic Socialists and as was Orwell. We're on the side of Old Adam, Old Eve and their equally idiosyncratic progeny.

But whereas, in Orwell's day (and particularly from the late 1930s onwards),the threat to just being human seemed to come primarily from totalitarianism, including that of the Left, today it comes more from the pro-market Right.

Our society has re-adopted some long-discedited (originally liberal) Victorian nostrums about the centrality to human life of markets and their values, in the name of which we're happy to turn upside down the hopes, expectations, institutions and and practices that help us define our humanity.

There's nothing remotely conservative about this constant upturning of all that gives life shape and meaning. And there's certainly nothing conservative about the doctrine of "creative destruction". So, just like the word "liberal" and the terms "left" and "right", the term "conservative" may be starting to lose all explicative value.

In the meantime, you're a conservative in my book. I'm not sure about Charles, though. Sometimes I think he's one. But sometimes I think he's just another theory-driven Victorian liberal.

Victor said...

Thank you Grant

I hadn't come across that summary before. It's brilliant

Mark Wilson said...

Hi Chris,

(1) You say that the various mass murderers could not be left as their evil actions disqualifies them from being left which of course must mean that the right can claim the same.

(2) To tar all on the right as evil as you have is really "four legs good, two legs bad" silliness.

(3) One thing cannot be denied - left wing run economies don't work. Venezuela, Russia, all their vassal states and all the rest of the socialist paradises.
In the former case a relatively wealthy economy has ben destroyed.
The left's answer to the usual state run economy failure is more and more repression.
The fact is Russia and the rest were left wing states and changed for the worse when that failed.

(4) Your personal abuse of Mapp - you are better than that.

(5) Most people on the right are not trying to grind the faces of the poor and the weak - they just don't believe based on the evidence of history that socialist economies work.

(6) Of course there are flaws in the capitalist system but no other system has bought has much relative wealth to so many.
Ask the refuges fleeing to Europe how their non capitalist countries are doing.

Grant said...

@ Victor. I agree with much of what you said in your reply to Puddleglum, including your assessment of our acquaintance Charles. Personally, I'm progressive enough that since my teenage years I've wanted to see the worst aspects of what you call theory driven Victorian Liberalism tossed out, along with the various forms of Conservative bigotry which blight the lives of so many. But I've also got a love and respect for many of the traditional forms of our society and I sometimes despair at how everything that was once familiar seems to be getting swept away. Very much a case of throwing babies out with the bathwater. It's paradoxical and I'm not sure how to reconcile the two things, but it probably explains why I'm a fan of Eric Blair / Orwell.

Charles E said...

This has turned out to be one of the most interesting discussions I have seen on your blog Chris so thanks for that. Perhaps a record number of responses too?

Victor & Grant, I agree with quite a lot of your views. A couple of things may surprise you about me since you ask:
Orwell is one of my heroes: truly a sage, and an English scholar. I would not place him left or right, as that would seem crude when applied to such a great broad church thinker.
I am a centre right conservative because that position just feels a better fit to me for achieving human progress. But I accept centre left can be similarly ‘safe’. By which I mean safe from destructive governmental interference in our independent lives. I instinctively fear the far left more than the far right and I would argue Orwell had the same feeling. I find the far right just plain stupid; easier to spot & suppress; self-limiting as they tend to burn out. Whereas, in my view the far left are truly dangerous and capable of destroying humanity in order to save it. I think they do not like human nature, and that by definition is inhumane. The far right are narcissists and the far left self-haters, explains it to me.

I have been an active member of AI for 35 years, partly because that NGO is one of the few that is neither left nor right. Like it I believe in legally enforced human rights. That requires the rule of law, not the rule of the men with guns. Too often, in my humble opinion Socialism (note capital C) soon becomes the rule of those men, done in the name of the people of course but necessarily backed by the so-called peoples' army.
Certainly capitalism can become the rule of the rich men but it's less likely to go so bad and end up with death camps. That would be bad for business. Capitalists want to rule for sure, but they want to rule a thriving going concern.

Grant those ideals of Orwell’s you summarised could at a stretch fit the philosophy of the National Party I believe so if that is socialism (small c) I'm fine with it.
Except it's not really is it. It's liberal, welfare democracy and both the centre right and centre left in many Western countries today could fit it.

Getting back to our host's argument though, that the horrendous murderous regimes last century, although started by the left, then went right. Even if it were true, the left still has to take responsibility for its children, doesn’t it?
As for Hitler GS, probably another Socialist turned bad. He certainly claimed to be leading the masses, the true heroic German volk, against the terrible Jew backed capitalists. Sounds like a Socialist to me.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Typical hypocrisy Charles. I'm supposed to take responsibility for Stalin, even though I regard him as an extremist dictator, yet you manage to slide round Hitler. Or for that matter Gen Franco, who systematically murdered hundreds of thousands. Whatever keeps you sane Charles. But the next time you mention Stalin and me in the same breath, I shall do the same to you and Hitler :-). You might also note that while Hitler claimed the Jews were capitalists, he also claimed that they were communists. One of the many contradictions in the extreme right position.

Interesting also that you regard yourself as moderate. Your comments in these posts label you extreme right to me. And the extreme right have always wanted to moderate democracy so that they get their way. It's not that capitalism CAN become the rule of the rich men, rather that it DOES, particularly without regulation. You only have to look at the Koch Bros in the US who are spending close to $1 billion to elect a Republican/tea party president.

The idea that extreme right governments are less likely to Institute death camps however is simply laughable. All dictatorships eventually institute concentration camps. Unless they simply drop people out of helicopters like your right-wing friends in Argentina.

Victor said...


We're more or less on the same page. A difference is, though, that, whilst I've always voted for Centre-Left political parties, I've never considered myself as "Progressive" but rather as a philosophic conservative.

The term "Progressive" implies, to my mind, a belief in "Progress" (viz. that an improvement in human ethics and welfare is inevitable and represents the direction of history).

I'm a philosophic conservative because I don't believe in the "inevitability of Progress". Instead, my concern is with preserving the hard-won achievements of past generations and (qua Edmund Burke) the values, institutions, loyalties and practices that made these possible.

Putting this in a specific historical context, I'm part of the "luckiest generation", the kids of the people that Americans rightly call the "Greatest Generation". And they're not just the generation that defeated Hitler (itself no small matter). Across the Western World, they also built the wealthiest, most secure, most philanthropic and most egalitarian societies the world has ever seen.

No, they weren't perfect. They tended towards racism (though my wonderful ex-RAF dad certainly didn't). They regarded homophobia as sound morality. They were excessively prone to worshiping national totems. And, "Rosie the Riveter" notwithstanding, they weren't quite sure about what role women should play in society. In some ways, we've done better than they, although there's still much room for improvement.

But it's their heritage that's kept us afloat despite being constantly under threat from the delusional ideological necrophilia of neo-liberalism, these last thirty plus years.

Nor should we be surprised at this threat. Benign periods in human history rarely last long. But that doesn't, to my way of thinking, remove the obligation to learn from the past, to defend the values that made ostensible "Progress" possible and to do our best to mitigate the threats posed by an uncertain future.

So that's why this "small c" conservative is a Social Democrat and also why this Social Democrat is a small c conservative.

Earlier on this thread, I referred to the late Tony Judt. A couple of years ago, I read his impassioned defence of the Social Democratic legacy, "Ill Fares the Land". From memory, the two major thinkers from the past that Judt quoted most frequently were Edmund Burke and John Maynard Keynes (who was also an acknowledged Burkeian).

So maybe my views aren't quite as idiosyncratic as they might appear at first instance. And that, needless to say, is why I too am an Orwell fan. There's few things he relished more than a good paradox.

BTW last night I dreamed I returned to the UK and wandered into a fine old traditional pub. Propping up the bar was this tall, gaunt man in a thread-bear hacking jacket, who was smoking "Old Shag" in a roll-your-own, whilst conversing in an animated manner with a strangely assorted bunch of pals. I'd found "The Moon under Water"! Thanks for provoking the dream.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

" Benign periods in human history rarely last long."

I'm not so sure. I think the nine periods in human history generally last longer than wars, plagues and famines. I think the past consists of relatively benign periods that last for 50 to a 100 years interspersed by brief periods of sheer horror. And even then, it depends on where you are.
I'm sorry Victor I think you have a rather romantic view of the great generation. I'm one generation removed, and I think probably you are too, to be honest – unless you fought in World War II? (Which is extremely unlikely if your father was in the RAF rather than the RFC :-).)
They tended towards racism – and to some extent still do, although they were taught by the next generation that it was socially unacceptable to express it in public. And to be fair many of them came to believe that it was wrong. But then when dementia takes hold at the end, they often revert. I'm not quite sure what this means, but it may mean that it ran deep.
Similarly with the position of women. They were absolutely certain what role women should play in society, and it was subordinate. Otherwise it wouldn't have been quite so much a struggle to achieve what equality women have today, and there wouldn't be the inequalities that still remain.
And again – homosexuality – they have passed on many of their attitudes towards this to their children, and there is not quite the same reluctance to express it in public. I largely blame religion for this however. They couldn't really articulate a reason for their homophobia often either. I remember my father – ex-R.N. – a nice guy. But all he could say about homosexuals was that it was "bread and bread" and therefore wrong. Despite the fact that he worked with many gay people, and wouldn't have dreamed of being anything other than polite and friendly to them.
But it was these ingrained attitudes that meant laws were passed that discriminated against women, nonwhite people, and gays. I'm not sure that younger people are tremendously different, but it's instructive that a friend of my son came out as gay a wee while ago, and it was pretty much a non-issue. I can't imagine this being the case 50 years ago. One only has to think of Turing, whose talent was wasted by the government persecuting him to the point of suicide.
So it is not enough to look to the past and its values/institutions, but how we might change these flawed things to better reflect a fairer and more equal society.

Grant said...

Hi Victor.

I'm glad to have been the unwitting prompt for your pleasant dream about 'the perfect pub'. I must read 'The Moon Under Water' some time. I've heard of it but never came across a copy in my browsing. As with most things in life, I guess politics is all about striking a balance and the tipping point is further to left or right for different people. Thanks for bringing the concept of Creative Destruction to my notice. It's a new one to me but perfectly describes a phenomenon which I've noticed and detested all my adult life but never had a name to describe it. I can see why you detest it too. You've given me food for thought and pointed me in the direction of new reading. Thanks for that.

Grant said...


Apropos of nothing in particular this popped into my head, prompted (I think) by various things mentioned above.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

And on that joyous note..

Victor said...


I'm not sure I disagree with any of the points you've made. In fact they seem pretty similar to the points I've made, give or take a bit of emphasis or choice of rhetoric.

But the fact remains that this was a generation which bequeathed us universal health care, decent housing and education accessible to a far broader segment of society than ever before.

Its faults it shared with yet older generations which didn't have these achievements to their credit, unless of course we're talking about some of the more enlightened leaders drawn from those even older generations who were in office during the post war decades.

Not that I see us as a generation of dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants. Rather we're standing on the shoulders of multiple previous generations of dwarfs (with only a few giants amongst them). Even so, we really should be able to see further and shouldn't preen ourselves too much for so doing.

Puddleglum said...

Hi Victor,

Thanks for your comment in response to mine.

Like you, I'm not enamoured by the general ideology of progress - the idea that human 'potential' is somehow infinite and history is some thrusting and noble exploration of human possibility. All very exciting but, as a consequence, it demeans the simple (but quite incredible) experience of being alive - it implies that such an experience is somehow not enough to make a life worthy of having been lived.

I'm much more concerned with people living 'ordinary' lives within a social world that supports and enables that modest aim. That's why I'm not into all this 'aspirational' messaging we get in today's politics. What innovation that happens should simply be a side-effect of that kind of straightforward existence; it shouldn't be the aim around which our efforts are organised.

The process of life (biological animal life) is fundamentally an interaction between stability and change. The mantra today that 'change is inevitable/desirable/the essence of life itself, etc.' is grossly overstating its place. Without stability and continuity change is purely destructive (and there's nothing remotely 'creative' about that kind of destruction).

On your first point - and in my 'defence' - I've never been a sentimentalist about the past - especially the historical past. The entire period of recorded history I see as a bit of short-term deviation from a tried and true species-level adaptive formula. My reference to 'customary rights', etc. was mainly to demonstrate to Richard McGrath that the institution of private property rights (in their 'enlightenment' form) actually involved the destruction of previous rights. I wouldn't want to claim that all was rosy with those previous set of rights, customs, etc. and I completely agree that oppression morphs through history into whatever form necessary for its successful continuation.

In fact, when I talk about 'the past' I'm far more likely to be thinking of somewhere around 100,000 years ago than 100 years ago. To an extent that I realise is quite unusual, I see humans as primarily a species of animal with a long 'history' that blurs and merges into the 'history' of other primate species and on back.

So I suppose I could claim to be a remarkably radical conservative when it comes to human beings. That is, much of the way the world is today needs to change just in order to reclaim the kind of 'conservative' form of the social world, and relationship to the natural world, that we're set up for.

Victor said...


My apologies for mis-spelling your intriguing online moniker.

Thank you for a very rich and thoughtful response. I too try to see humans as a species of animal but I also value civilization (where it exists)and cherish the heritage of post stone-age human-kind's better moments.

Of course, as GS demands, we should be willing to reform and change things, where there is manifest injustice or where previous approaches have ceased to be viable.

But, as Boris Paternak wrote: "Man is meant to live, not to prepare for life".

And the primary task of government is surely not to encourage change for the sake of change but to provide, maintain and defend a framework in which we can live with comfort, security and dignity.

That's surely a conservative task and one that's best achieved, most of the time, by taking practical experience into account rather than relying too much on theory.

By its nature, practical wisdom is hard to formulate. But of one thing I'm certain: it precludes thinking either that governments can do everything or that they can and should do nothing, whilst abandoning us to the often absurd logic of the market.

Grant said...

@ Victor.

Puddleglum is a character from C S Lewis's Narnia series.

Victor said...

Live and learn!

Thanks Grant. For once I can't claim to be too old to have heard of the character.

And apologies to the mighty shade of Boris Pasternak for missing the "s" in his name.