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"The Soviet Union was right wing - discuss." Topic


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Dn Jackson Supporting Member of TMP31 Jul 2023 8:02 p.m. PST

Every year I take my Scouts camping for a week in the summer. I always bring a couple of books with me so I have something to do while they're at their merit badge classes. This year I brought a copy of George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia." I've been wanting to read this for a while and got lucky at a used book store just before the trip. I highly recommend this book. I'd forgotten what a great writer Orwell was.

One thing that struck me was his observation that the Soviet Union was a right-wing state. He classified it as such because it was a centralized dictatorship, and it used the Communist Party to protect its rulers. For example, he notes that French and British communists didn't support the POUM and the true revolutionary groups in Spain because to do so would cause the conservative governments of their countries to react negatively and would be a threat to the Soviet Union.

Now, to be fair, he was writing just a few months after escaping the Communist lead purges in Spain that destroyed the POUM and Anarchists. He escaped arrest and probable execution by hours. He even states that he thinks the Soviet Union might reintroduce capitalism if it would strengthen the party's control over Russia!

His observations got me to thinking about how we classify political groups of the past. He still despised 'Fasicists', but lumped them and the Soviets on the same side of the political divide. Anyway, great book well worth reading.

Thoughts…

Bunkermeister Supporting Member of TMP31 Jul 2023 8:35 p.m. PST

Typically fascists are nationalists and mostly don't care about spreading their ideology. Hitler did that more as a German thing I think than a fascist ideology, but Nazism had to deal with WWI so I think that's where his wars came from.

Communism is always international. Moscow supported communist wars all over the world. Even gave Gus Hall vast amounts of money. Communism seeks to make us all mindless worker drones with a tiny elite at the top pretending to be worker drones. See North Korea and most of Communist China's history.

Fascists don't seem to care if people are rich and supports highly regulated capitalism. You can own a house, land, farms, and such, you can't under communism.

Fascists control and regulate the means of production, but communism always has the state own them.

Both sides censor free speech, and restrict most civil liberties. Communism always opposes the church and it's members, Christian, Islamic or others. Fascists don't necessarily, they take on and often amplify want the nation was doing before they came around.

I am not a fan of either.

Dictators will do whatever is necessary to maintain power, that's usually more important than their ideology. So communist Chinese becoming capitalist, but with the power of the state behind them is not a surprise.

Mike Bunkermeister Creek

Tgerritsen Supporting Member of TMP31 Jul 2023 8:41 p.m. PST

Probably depends on your personal perspective.

If you are far enough right, anything you don't like is 'leftist' and if you are far left, anything you don't like is 'right' or 'alt-right' (as the kids say these days).

So, if you are on the left, and find what the Soviets did 'icky' then you are likely to say they are right, since that puts you in a place of not having to defend them since 'they were really on the right all along'.

But, really, labels are just stupid. Nothing in the world fits neatly into the political labels we tend to create.

smithsco31 Jul 2023 9:20 p.m. PST

I don't like left v right when talking communism and fascism and the 20th century. I think it's better to look at the 20th century through the lens of freedom vs totalitarianism as a lived experience. I always tell my students the real difference between fascism and communism is why you ended up in a death camp (not if you end up in the camp). Either way it's evil. Both favored total government control and violent death for their enemies.

Dn Jackson Supporting Member of TMP31 Jul 2023 11:32 p.m. PST

I can't disagree with any of y'all's points. For Orwell the breaking point was when the worker's collectives were broken up by the government and replaced with government-controlled organizations to placate the Soviets. After that the purges started, POUM and the Anarchists were suppressed, (after being labeled Trotskyists) and then people started disappearing.

Martin Rapier01 Aug 2023 12:05 a.m. PST

The groups Orwell associated with were left libertarians, the PCE and Soviet Community Party were anything but libertarian.

advocate01 Aug 2023 1:17 a.m. PST

There was a considerable spat on Twitter saying the Nazis were socialists. While both points of view can be argued, I'm not convinced that they are more than debating points.
By the time a regime becomes a dictatorship ruled by fear, measuring left or right ceases to matter.

hornblaeser01 Aug 2023 1:56 a.m. PST

Communism was international, but stalinism isnt, and that was the situation in the thirties and forties. Stalin and later soviet dictators wieved the international communist parties as servants to the needs of the russian interests.
A couple of months ago i read an interesting article about union militancy in california in 1944 and 45 among machinist, where there was different unions competing, and one union not dominated by commuist was active and striking, and others didnt strike as that would mean less production for russia. They didnt care for their members wages. So yes, communism was /is rigth wing as defined as used tto strenthen the state instead of the people.

14Bore01 Aug 2023 2:58 a.m. PST

Read of life in Nazi Germany, you will see its Socialism.
My Social Studies teacher tried to make me believe it was Dictatorship on the Right and Communists on the Left too, I didn't believe him them and know way more now it's BS.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2023 3:48 a.m. PST

Oh, give it a break. Orwell was a very lonely man. At the time, it was the Great Leftist Paradise, praised as such by the Left Book Club, the vast majority of Socialists and virtually all Communists. They held this stance through massacres, censorship, secret police, expulsions and confiscations. Leftist parties throughout the world gave the interests of the Soviet Union priority over their national interests because it was the Worker's State. They spied for it and tracked down its enemies. When leftists overwhelmingly claim a state as theirs, I think we should take them at their word.

Only when it became a domestic political liability--generally about 1956--did they suddenly discover it had been "right-wing" all along--or at least since Lenin was replaced by a man without a university degree. This is approaching a Turing Test. If it takes 30+ years to discover that a regime isn't leftist, it's leftist.

And note that Orwell himself was perfectly happy with the Soviet Union as a left-wing state as it suppressed dissent, massacred troublesome people and classes and collectivized agriculture. His first attempt to go to Spain was under the auspices of the CPGB, and would have put him in the International Brigades. Only when the Spanish Communists came for his Catalan friends, did he suddenly "discover" the Right-wing nature of Stalinism. Oceania and Eastasia, anyone?

Umpapa01 Aug 2023 3:50 a.m. PST

There were surely some elements of far-right in USSR structure. Soviet Communism was not completely international. It was just a useful mask for outsiders. There was quite a lot of ethnical cleansing and a lot of moscovian chauvinism. USSR liquidated dozen nations. Here is the list:
TMP link

Racism in USSR was systemic. Muslim have a lot of problems to be high ranking officers (f.ex. Armenia in USSR had many officers while Azerbeijan had not, thats why Azers were losing in 90').
One retired high ranking officer of Polish communist army told me personally a story while being on Warsaw Pact exercises in USSR in 80' (in Kiev? maybe) he was invited to the dining table "only for Russians and guests", while Ukrainian officers had separate table. He felt it was "kind of apartheid" his own words.

I was born as a slave to totalitarian regime. I can assure You that Soviet style communism had a lot of common with teocracy. Quasireligious rituals. Anti-teistic "priests". Communist Saints. Red Bibles. New morality. Communism was jealous of other religion because from practical point of view it was a quasireligion (the same with nazism).

Royal Air Force01 Aug 2023 4:28 a.m. PST

I don't want to de-rail the discussion, but I will say the week at scout camp is when I got my best reading done. My reading this year was cut short by a noro-virus outbreak.

BillyNM01 Aug 2023 5:32 a.m. PST

+1 smithsco, it's better to focus on freedom vs totalitarianism.

The terms Right and Left and both much over-used and misunderstood. For an interesting discussion on what these terms mean and how they relate to libertarianism / totalitarianism (spoiler: they don't) try this link:

link

DyeHard01 Aug 2023 7:15 a.m. PST

BillyNM beat me to it.

It is very tempting to try and simplify things to A vs Z.
But people and history are rarely so simple, the two dimensional scale of "Political Compass" is a good start.

It is helpful to recall where and when terms like Right-wing and Left-wing come from, the French Revolution.

Liberal started out meaning anything goes Capitalism, (now more often called libertarian in the USA) But not really what people associate with the term.

Some terms are more about the frame you look at things from more than a set of policies. Capitalism = maximizing the accumulation of money, Communism = bringing the maximum number of people up to a minimum standard, Socialism = maximizing the wealth (not necessarily just money) of a society.

Labels are convenient, especially when you want to insult someone, but will never convey the full story. And can become very confusing when people of different traditions attempt to use the same label for very different things.

While rather self promotional, the Political Campus video is a nice intro:
YouTube link

to thinking about things beyond the common, and confused, labels.

rmaker01 Aug 2023 10:36 a.m. PST

I think the whole Left v. Right thing is silly. First, I don't think politics is a one-dimensional, linear set. Second, even if that idea is accepted, guessing where the subject would have sat in the French National Assembly of 1789 (which is what Left and Right derives from) is a chump's game anyway.

The Soviet Union was a totalitarian state and was never anything else.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2023 1:21 p.m. PST

RAF, annual two weeks training in the Air National Guard was also good that way. I used Gibbon to put me to sleep, but by my second or third camp, I was reading him right along.

Still, this gets in the way of the leftists pretending Stalin belongs to someone else. I haven't seen one of these since the late Susan Sontag collided with glasnost.

hornblaeser01 Aug 2023 3:02 p.m. PST

Strange ideas come up, and it is probably a result of everything, not extreme rigthwing, called communism i USA.
There are a lot of socialist ideas and parties, that are not communists, and controlled by moscow.
Also there is clear line of political thougth from rigth to left, and no it is not a circle.
There is also a line of whether you want people to self organize or not. Not many rigth wing leaders wants people to think for themselves and get organized.

Mark Plant01 Aug 2023 4:56 p.m. PST

There is also a line of whether you want people to self organize or not. Not many right wing leaders wants people to think for themselves and get organized.

It is the Communists who are worst on this. Any separate association is viewed extremely poorly. That extends to, say, toy soldier clubs -- nothing is to be done outside the state.

Right wing governments are generally freer in this regard. Pinochet didn't close down every club and association in the way that the USSR did.

Hitler allowed churches, even though he persecuted many Christians for their beliefs. Stalin tried his best to eradicate Christianity.

This is one practical difference between "right" and "left". The right, even totalitarian, doesn't want to organise everything. This is one reason why countries escaping rightist dictatorship (say Chile) struggle much less to set up a stable democracy, while those escaping leftist dictatorships (say Burma) struggle -- they have literally zero systems set up outside the state with which to form civil society.

Legionarius01 Aug 2023 7:05 p.m. PST

When the extreme right meets the extreme left we have dictatorship and totalitarianism.

Dn Jackson Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2023 9:34 p.m. PST

"And note that Orwell himself was perfectly happy with the Soviet Union as a left-wing state as it suppressed dissent, massacred troublesome people and classes and collectivized agriculture. His first attempt to go to Spain was under the auspices of the CPGB, and would have put him in the International Brigades. Only when the Spanish Communists came for his Catalan friends, did he suddenly "discover" the Right-wing nature of Stalinism. Oceania and Eastasia, anyone?"

Orwell was in Spain when the International Brigades were formed, at least according to his book. He went to Spain to fight against fascism which is how he saw the Franco revolt. He joined POUM because he saw the creation of various worker's collectives and militias as the start of the worker's paradise. He did consider joining the International Brigade, but had his eyes opened by the purge and seeing loyal leftists arrested, jailed, and disappeared. No doubt these were the seeds of 1984.

I found it interesting that, even with his love of the left-wing groups, he didn't pull any punches and noted all the bullet pocked walls in small villages where "fascists" had been executed. He also notes that every church he saw in Spain had been desecrated/destroyed, (except one in Barcelona saved because of it's architectural significance).

I've seen a couple of shows and news reports on Spain coming out of the Franco years. The shows talk about reconciliation and dealing with those who disappeared or were known to have been murdered under his rule, (understandably since he ruled for 40 years), but they never mention that the other side was doing to exact same thing.

Dn Jackson Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2023 9:44 p.m. PST

"I don't want to de-rail the discussion, but I will say the week at scout camp is when I got my best reading done. My reading this year was cut short by a noro-virus outbreak."

Same here, except for the noro-virus. Three books this year and plenty of nap time!

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP03 Aug 2023 6:25 p.m. PST

I was going by the description in Rodden's Becoming George Orwell. The first person he attempted to arrange passage with was a CPGB member. Had that worked, he'd have been in the pipeline for the Internationals, which were forming.

Point remains. In 1936, the Soviet Union was a single-party state with censorship, secret police, camps for political prisoners and the famines of collectivization. The Great Purges were just warming up, but everything else had been going on for a decade or more. It wasn't some vast secret. The victims included socialist parties, and Eric Blair was fine with it. Only when the victims were his friends in Spain did he somehow discover that the Soviet Union was "right wing." I don't think that says much for him as a political diagnostician.

I suspect it was actually his return to Britain and his discovery that most of his leftist friends simply did not care what the truth was--only what the party line dictated--which began a maturation process that would, eventually, result in Animal Farm and 1984. But if being a centralized dictatorship and using the party to protect the rulers is the definition of "right wing," we're not talking the Soviet Union, but every Communist state of the 2oth and 21st Centuries, and "left" and "right" as political terms lose much if not all of their utility.

Orwell never really got past a negative critique, and it's not clear to me how a state could amass the power he wanted it to have to achieve the goals he wanted a state to pursue and not turn into a reasonable facsimile of the Soviet Union. One of the advantages of being a writer is that you can avoid questions anyone running a country would have to deal with, but I wish he'd given it a try near the end.

Dn Jackson Supporting Member of TMP04 Aug 2023 9:46 p.m. PST

Good points Robert.

I would disagree a bit with his, or anyone's, knowledge about what was going on inside Russia. With much more primitive media than today, the various Communist parties within western countries toeing the party line, and plenty of people willing to lie about what was happening inside Russia, (Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer for writing about how great things were in the Soviet Union during the famine), he might not have realized what the Communists really were.

He seems to me, based on his writings, to have been an idealist and a true believer who had a rude awakening. At least he did wake up, all too many, even today, are happy to stay asleep even when shown the horrors of the various Communist contries.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP05 Aug 2023 2:44 p.m. PST

Could be, Dn. I'm not inclined to cut "idealists" as much slack as they want. The New York Times had to run Duranty's lies because word was getting out, and there was honest coverage in the New York Tribune selling in the same news stands. The "Philosophy Steamers" had sailed. Most of the people Brook-Shepherd calls "The Storm Petrels" were already out of Russia. The list is quite long.

The persistent pattern of the "idealists" is that they disregard unpleasant truths by means of ad hominem attacks: anything they prefer not to confront can be disregarded because it comes from an anti-regime source--the proof of which is that they say such terrible things about the regime. You can't do that, and claim to have any sort of intellectual integrity, and I don't see why anyone else should pay attention to pleas of ignorance from people who go to such lengths not to be informed. In fairness, Orwell never says he was deceived about the Soviet Union c. 1936--but that does go back to my initial assessment that he was OK with it until it hit close to home.

Frederick Pohl describes a meeting of about 1938, in which he and his fellow Young Communists IN THE SAME MEETING celebrated the Soviet Union's lack of a death penalty and its "liquidation" of tens of thousands of "bandits." Orwell had (later) a word for that sort of thing, and it wasn't "idealism."

Dn Jackson Supporting Member of TMP05 Aug 2023 9:19 p.m. PST

I can't disagree Robert. I don't know what Orwell knew, or professed to know, about the Soviet Union prior to Spain. I cannot discount willful ignorance on his part, or even self-delusion. Humans have an amazing ability to ignore what doesn't support their view.

I am grateful the communists came after him and his friends. It opened his eyes, and he wrote some wonderful warnings for us.

Makhno191810 Aug 2023 7:18 a.m. PST

Thanks for bringing this up, DN Jackson, and to everyone who has pitched in to this interesting discussion. I love this book, especially the first chapter, which brilliantly describes the anarchist social revolution that gripped Barcelona.

I much prefer the square, 4-sectored political compus linked earlier in this thread to the simple left to right line, and appreciated the reference to left and right wings' origin in Paris.

As my UN namesake learned, the Russian communists may have come to power using anarchistic slogans which Orwell would have appreciated, but their immediate efforts to co-opt and shut down worker and peasant self management and experimentation in favor of p
one party dominance foreshadowed what type of system the Bolsheviks were building.
I won't wade into the debate about what is right or left, but what Lenin and his successors did was set back communism by a century (and counting).

Communism, today widely understood as a one-party dictatorship, is supposed to mean a decentralized society of free, directly-democratic communities who self govern, work and share what they produce, and confederate regionally and internationally to support each other and trade.

The argument really goes back to the debate between Bakunin and Marx in the first international, about whether communism should be achieved by mass social movements which reflect their ideals and goals (ie, free, democratic, etc, ala Bakunin) or brought about by Marx's (problematically dubbed) "dictatorship of the proletariat."

Marx proved Bakunin right immediately by throwing Bakunin and the anarchists out of the International. Lenin and Trotsky proved Bakunin right again by destroying the free communism created by the Ukrainian anarchists and the Krondstandt sailors and others. Orwell got to witness history repeating again in Spain, a country who's massive anarchist workers and peasants movement owed its origin largely to Bakunin, and its core ideology to his disciple, Kropotkin.

Some of you may say that communism is doomed to follow Marx's playbook, but the mass movements of millions in Ukraine and Spain who did create free, anarchist communism demostrated the viability of this form of social organization. Both were only defeated militarily (a large part of what brings me into this hobby!!). Modern movements, including small-scale revolutionary societies, currently exist under this libertarian-communist tradition, including the Zapatistas in southern Mexico (who were also defeated militarily but used the internet, then new, to drum up international support and keep themselves safe in their jungle communes) and the Kurd's and their many and ethnically diverse allies in northern Syria ("Rojava"). Rojava has been quite successful militarily, kicking Isis's ass for the rest of us, and even more so in their geopolitical gymnastics tricks which have kept them in existence between 3 hostile countries (Syria, Turkey, and Iraqi Kurdistan, who are their political rivals).

I'd recommend to those who are unfamiliar with what the heck I'm talking about to check some of these examples out, as I think libertarian communism brings together the best elements of what we often boil down to "right" and "left."
Both freedom and equality.

Lastly, Orwell actually described himself later in life as a Tory Anarchist, which is super contradictory of course, but also illuminates his and our complexity and internal struggles as humans, as well as his preference (I think) for a free and pastoral existence.

Thank you all for allowing this rant. I look forward to the hate mail ;-)

QUATERMASS12 Aug 2023 5:30 p.m. PST

"Let me have men about me that are fat,Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,He thinks too much; such men are dangerous."

Thanks all for your posts.
I won't join in as when I comment on politics my posts get sniped.

'If Liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear'
😕

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