Did Communist regimes have their virtues?

This is a much expanded version of something I wrote recently

For many people the appeal of socialism is a form of idealism. As many writers over the years have pointed out (e.g. Carvalho) its underlying vision is a dream of a new Eden, where people live in simple harmony together and where resources are available to all, like apples off a tree. And that Edenic dream is a persistent one. The story of Eden may well be the most influential of all the Bible stories.

So efforts to turn that dream into reality have often been made, with Communism being the most determined effort in that direction. There are always some lamentable people who think that the dream is so good and important that it should be forced into existence at any price. "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs" is the way they excuse their brutal and arrogant thinking

As all passably informed people know or should know however, attempts to force that dream into existence always degenerate into a gory despotism, with the original attempt in that direction -- the French revolution -- exemplifing that all too well. And notable subsequent attempts under the aegis of Stalin, Mao etc have added many more years of life to such tyranny. So we now know well how ghastly that ill-informed or grimly determined idealism can become

But has nothing become of that idealism? Is there still some good in Communist regimes? Westerners have observed and commented at length on the great Commuinist experiments of the 20th century. And we know what they saw. Most people were horrified but substantial elements of the Western Left saw in the Communists just "socialism in a hurry" They perceived an idealism that was similar to their own and systematically denied the murderous and tyrannical actual nature of those regimes.

But reality denial is the stock in trade of the Western Left. They make a fine art of the human talent for self deception -- of perceiving only what they want to see. So are there realistic grounds for seeing some good things in the vast and tragic experiments that Communists have inflicted on the world? There may be.

I am very pro-Russian but even I could see nothing good about the Soviet system. Was I missing something?

Several older ladies of Russian ancestry inhabit my social environment. One I get on particularly well with is very Right-wing. She admires Donald Trump and thinks Muslim refugees should be sent back to the hellholes where they came from, for instance. So I was a little surprised to hear her express great regret for the loss of the Soviet system in Russia. What was that about?

Her reasons were in fact straightforward. As a Russian-speaker, she watches the Russian news so is much more aware of what is going on there than most Westerners. And she also has Russian relatives in several parts of the old Soviet empire with whom she keeps in touch.

And what particularly grieves her is the loss of the peace and unity that prevailed in the Soviet system.. There were no race riots, Muslim uprisings or nationalist mini-wars in the old days. People from different ethnicities could and did live anywhere in the Soviet empire and lived their lives in peace together with the people around them. Russians could live in places like Kazakhstan and still live normal Russian lives there without fear of hostility towards them. And it worked the other way: Muslim Chechens could and did move to Moscow for the economic opportunities there without harassing Russians about Jihad.

In more recent times that has all changed. Eastern and Western Ukraine are at war with one-another, Georgia is openly hostile to its Russian minority, There was a brutal war of independence in Chechnya which is still bubbling beneath the surface. And Chechens have carried out grave atrocities in Russia itself. So Russia is now not much better than the United States when it comes to huge disharmony and violent upheavals. The urban riots of Black Lives Matter and Antifa would have been unthinkable in the Soviet Union.

So what my friend mourns is the loss of social harmony. Departures from social harmony were simply not allowed in Soviet times. Regardless of what might be bubbling beneath the surface, social peace and order was maintained.

So is she being unreasonable? Is she overlooking the limitations of Soviet life? She is not. She knows perfectly well how the material circumstances of Soviet life differed from the consumer society she now inhabits. But she is quite simply not materialistic. She thinks that people in Soviet society had "enough" materially for a satisfactory life and that the calm and order there were much more important to a happy life.

A peaceful and relaxed life is not necessarily opposed to a materially prosperous life. Both she and I live in Australia, where we have both those things. But Australia is something of an outlier. Australians hear with horror stories about the seething hatreds of American society but nothing bothers us much on our way to the beach. So you CAN have it all but not so much in the USA or Russia

This whole discussion reminds me of the East German experience, something I have previously written about. East Germans too tended to regret the loss of their old Communist system and its predictabilities.

East Germany, a brief account

The Communist State of East Germany (the DDR or Deutsche Demokratische Republik) has something to tell us about change. The regime is now long gone but its demise is particularly instructive.

When the Gorbachev reforms in Russia allowed it, thousands of East Germans breached the Berlin wall, leading to the downfall of the East German regime and a peaceful takeover of the Eastern lands by the West Germans in 1990.

Easterners had not generally foreseen any negative consequences of reunion but some soon emerged. In particular, the businesses and industries of the East were not remotely competitive with their Western counterparts and rapidly went broke.  This led to very high levels of unemployment and economic depression generally in the East and there very soon emerged among some people "Ostalgie" -- a longing for the old Communist regime, a longing that continues among some to this day

What Easterners miss from the old regime was stability, particularly stability of employment, but they also missed the orderly and predictable availability of goods and services as well.  You didn't have to compete for anything.  All was provided, albeit at a low level. So there was a brotherly feeling among Easterners and that is missed by some too.

So it is clear that some of the aspects of extreme socialism were and are appreciated by some people. The entire developed world does have a degree of socialism (welfare measures etc.) so there is clearly something basic in the appeal of socialism. 

East Germany gives us a clue.  The one thing that "Ossis" particularly liked was stability, the absence of change.  In particular they liked economic stability -- confidence that you would have a job tomorrow and that the job is easy to do.

That is in fact a thoroughly conservative wish.  Stability and an absence of change are good conservative values.  So where have we gone wrong?  Why did it take a Communist state to put conservative values into practice?  The answer is that all of life is a tradeoff.  Only feminists think you can have it all. And we have traded too much for economic liberty.  East Germany was poorer but more secure and relaxed and that tradeoff suited many people.

For fuller comments on East Germany, see here

1 comment:

  1. I am a sucker for what is (interesting and) well written, so thank you for making the effort.

    It took a Communist state to put stability into practise because they would gladly force others to give up essential liberty to obtain temporary safety/stability.

    Trump did not bring stability, but he did bring clarity to those who wish to see the left more clearly. They have become more brazen.

    shorturl.at/dvKQU @ 0:08


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