Park, Pinochet, Putin

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Eric Margolis published an interesting column yesterday on the former KGB's consolidation of power in Vladimir Putin's Russia. Much of the story's been told before, but Margolis adds a bit of unexpected background:

The USSR crumbled in 1991.

That year, I reported from Moscow that the younger generation of KGB—the USSR's best educated and brightest youth, with extensive experience abroad and contempt for communist ideology—were going to ditch the moribund Communist party and attempt to seize power themselves.

Intriguingly, the KGB's Young Turks repeatedly told me their role models for the "new" Russia were two right-wing military strongmen, South Korea's Gen. Park Chung-hee, and Chile's Gen. Augusto Pinochet. "We will make Russians work at bayonet point," were the words of an exasperated KGB colonel.

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  1. The thing about the right wing dictators is that both Park and Pinochet allowed a transition to a more democratic regime once they felt they had gotten their countries on the right track. This was especially true of Pinochet who explicitly promised such a transition. You can also see a similar transition in Taiwan.

    So yes. The right wing thugs are better for a country (generally) than the left. Their plan is to maintain stability until their countries are economically viable as democracies (about $3K to $4K per year per capita very roughly).

    So if Putin’s gang has chosen Pinochet as the model I think in the long term things will turn out all right.

  2. Right-wing dictators make much better role models [than left-wing ones].

    The primary difference between left-wing and right-wing dictators is that in a left-wing dictatorship, you starve to death before the death squads can get to you. 🙂

    It’s also easier for right-wing dictatorships to transition to stable democracy, simply because they’re less-likely to have completely destroyed their economy.

  3. The primary difference between left-wing and right-wing dictators is that in a left-wing dictatorship, you starve to death before the death squads can get to you. 🙂

    That about sums it up! 🙂

    It’s also easier for right-wing dictatorships to transition to stable democracy, simply because they’re less-likely to have completely destroyed their economy.

    Good point. But I doubt that’s much consolation to those who have lived under right-wing dictatorships that the US sponsored. Telling them “Oh, trust us, it would have been even worse if the other dictator had taken over” probably won’t inspire much confidence.

    In summary, right-wing dictators may be lesser-evils compared to many left-wing dictators, but they’re hardly worth supporting.

  4. Pinochet may have called in the Chicago Boys, but he didn’t “let the free market run wild.” The typical right-wing dictator’s idea of “getting things on the right track” includes:

    1) selling off government assets to international corporations for a tiny fraction of their value, when those assets had been created at taxpayer expense to profit those same corporations in the first place.

    2) using secret police or death squad terror to suppress labor organizers, cooperatives, and every other institution in civil society that might enable ordinary people to bargain in the marketplace as equals.

    Of course, once the working population has been brutally terrorized into thinking like coolies or peons, and beaten into obedience, and civil society has been gutted of any power to resist the masters, it finally becomes safe to let some neoliberal version of “democracy” be installed. The masses get to choose, every two years, which of two men in suits will be taking orders from the IMF.

    Real democracy (direct, participatory, and organized from the bottom up) is possible only when people are in the habit of discussing, debating, participating in decisions, and questioning authority. It’s no wonder right-wing dictators feel it is safe to introduce some kind of spectator democracy once the population has had these habits beaten out of them.

    As just one example, consider the right-wing dictator Suharto, who was installed by the U.S. Until after his overthrow, organizing an independent labor union was a criminal offense. It’s still, unofficially, a pretty dangerous thing to do. Anybody wonder why Indonesia is one of the favorite locations for sweatshop employers?

    Too bad Uncle Milty wasn’t around to advise Hitler on introducing “free market” reforms. I’m sure when Adolf had got things “on the right track,” and got the population’s minds right, he would eventually have gotten around to restoring some kind of democracy.

  5. M Simon wrote:

    The thing about the right wing dictators is that both Park and Pinochet allowed a transition to a more democratic regime once they felt they had gotten their countries on the right track. This was especially true of Pinochet who explicitly promised such a transition. You can also see a similar transition in Taiwan.

    I think that there is some pretty good evidence for this. Consider the following:

    Taiwan versus China
    South Korea versus North Korea
    Chile versus Cuba

    In each case the United States backed up a right-leaning strongman to oppose having the Soviets take over a nation. The right-wing strongman did admittedly do some pretty terrible things but we were able to eventually push for more liberalized reforms into a stable more republican form of government. In contrast with the dictatorships set up by the Soviets along Marxist lines, the atrocities were generally worse, more oppression with less freedom, lower economic growth, and they?re still there.

    All things considered, we probably chose the better of several bad options during the Cold War when we consider the most likely alternatives in China, North Korea, and Cuba.

  6. So yes. The right wing thugs are better for a country (generally) than the left. Their plan is to maintain stability until their countries are economically viable as democracies (about $3K to $4K per year per capita very roughly).

    I am a bit more skeptical, if I may extend the concept of ‘right-wing’ to include ‘theocratic’ as a way of describing a regime.

    I highly doubt a lot of countries with, for example, radical religious leadership can stand to gain as much economic development as more left-wing ones if they insist on treating half of their population as mere breeding units and impose deadly penalties for engaging in irreligious activities or businesses. Any society that would outlaw porn by is missing out on a 6-billion-dollar industry, for example.

    Put differently: If by ‘left-wing’ you include societies that ensure rights for women and homosexuals, then I respectfully disagree with your claim. Afghanistan needed to be dragged into the 20th century, and while I’m glad it was the Americans and not the Soviets that accomplished this, I think the people would have been more free – secularly speaking – under either one. Even the people of the USSR and Vietnam were able to bring about change, why couldn’t we expect the same of a Taliban-free Afghanistan?

  7. “The thing about the right wing dictators is that both Park and Pinochet allowed a transition to a more democratic regime once they felt they had gotten their countries on the right track.”

    That wasn’t true of Park; nor was it true of Franco really (in the latter case, Franco’s right-hand stooge was killed by Eta and this ended Franco’s designs for continuing his dictatorship after his death).

    “The right wing thugs are better for a country (generally) than the left.”

    That has not been established; nor have you included right-wing dictatorships that were clearly very bad for their countries (and the rest of the planet I might add) – those experienced in Japan, Germany and Italy.

    “Their plan is to maintain stability until their countries are economically viable as democracies (about $3K to $4K per year per capita very roughly).”

    How do you know that this is “their plan?”

    BTW, does the following history of Park’s regime engender one to his dictatorship?:

    In May 1961 the second republic’s government (only formed recently after a coup against authoritarian and corrupt President Syngman Rhee) was overthrown by a military coup led by General Park Chung Lee who established a military Junta. In 1962 the military rule ended and Park became the civilian President of the third republic. President Park was reelected in 1967 and 1971 under suspicious circumstances; during this period labor and political strife was common; as were “disappearances,” extra-judicialy executions, etc. In October 1972 President Park suspended the constitution and dissolved the National Assembly, following which he established a new and greater authoritarian constitution which broadened his presidential powers. During the 1970’s there were protests and growing unrest with demands for greater liberalization. In Dec. 1978 President Park won a rigged reelected and on Oct. 26, 1979 was assassinated by the head of the secret police he had used to fight the call for liberalization. In December 1979 a military coup seized control of the government and in August 1980 Chun Doo Hwan assumed the presidency while in October the fifth republic’s constitution was inaugurated.

    Whatever liberalization occurred, started after Park was dead at the hands of his own secret police; furthermore, whatever “stability” occurred during this period was clearly not because of Park’s policies, but perhaps in spite of them.

    I find it despicable that libetarians would defend regimes like this.

  8. BTW, everyone also forgets that the reason why Pinochet was booted from power was not because he designed the 1980 constitution to do this, but because his economic policies (crony capitalism at best) led to a deep recession in Chile in the 1980s, fueling protests in the streets, which in turn forced Pinochet’s hand in arranging for a plebiscite that he arrogantly assumed that he would win (which he in turn lost). After this, under threat that he would call out the armed forces and suspend the constitution, he negotiated a deal that saved his ass. Please let’s not “romanticize” tyrants.

  9. FML wrote:

    I am a bit more skeptical, if I may extend the concept of ‘right-wing’ to include ‘theocratic’ as a way of describing a regime.

    If you did, you?d be wrong since most of the theocracies in Middle East tended to (a) side with the Soviets over the Americans and (b) despite their purportedly religious leanings, tended to blend the Marxian Political Economy with their Islamic Schema to create ?revolutionary Islam? (particularly in Iran).

  10. Jean Bart wrote:

    Please let’s not “romanticize” tyrants.

    Romanticize? No.

    Support them when the next most likely (and worse) alternative was a Soviet-backed regime in the hopes that the one we supported can be pressured to reform and/or removed? Yes.

  11. A few things:

    First, it’s always fun to play the game of “which dictator is worse?” and I admit to playing it. For instance, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Pinochet wasn’t as bad as Hitler or Stalin. And I’ll even concede that some right-wing despots haven’t been as disastrous as a lot of left-wing despots.

    BUT, if given a choice between a lefty despot and a right-wing despot, I’d probably do like Captain Kirk in that no-win simulation (I forget which Star Trek movie it was in) and find a third option, i.e. immigrate to a country with more freedom.

    Also, however much realpolitik sense it might have made to back certain despots as lesser evils compared to other despots, we shouldn’t be shocked if a lot of people nonetheless get angry over it. If your spouse gets taken by the death squads, you won’t be too interested in explanations of how a comparatively more liberal economy will ease the eventual transition to a democratic state, whereas centralized planning would have introduced inefficience that would have made it even worse in the long run. People at funerals generally prefer eulogies over lectures on political and economic development.

    Finally, before we get too rosy in our evaluation of the great economic programs implemented by right-wing despots, the fact remains that the removal of a right-wing dictator usually leads to greater prosperity, just like the removal of a left-wing dictator. Clearly the right-wing dictators aren’t exactly economic boons, but rather they simply do less damage than their left-wing counterparts. Indeed, how much economic freedom do you have if your business can be shut down the second you offend the secret police?

  12. Thorley Winston,

    “Support them when the next most likely (and worse) alternative was a Soviet-backed regime in the hopes that the one we supported can be pressured to reform and/or removed? Yes.”

    Well, there was never any pressure to do either; indeed, turning a “blind eye” is a more appropriate statement. I mean if your policy is to support the enemy of my enemy, etc., fine; but don’t go claiming that when that regime turns out to be run by thugs, etc., that you were really doing to support “human rights.” In other words, don’t be a hypocrite.

  13. Thorley Winston,

    In most cases, I think the threat of a “pro-Soviet” regime was just an ideological mechanism the leadership used to sell its policies to itself and to the public. If you look at cases like the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala, Suhart on Indonesia, Mossadegh in Iran, etc., the strongest immediate pressure for intervention came from United Fruit Company, Royal Dutch Shell, or some other corporation whose interests were threatened by a left-leaning government.

    Since the forumulation of the “Grand Area” concept during WWII, and the U.S. rise to “hegemonic power in a system of world order,” any refusal to have one’s markets and resources incorporated into that world order has been treated as equivalent, in operational terms, to being pro-Soviet. But there’s a high degree of continuity between the pre-WWII era gunboat diplomacy and backing of right-wing dictators, described by Smedley Butler, with the Cold War and post-Cold War coups, counter-insurgency operations, etc.

    As the authors of NSC-68 pointed out, the basic structure of the world order the U.S. created post-1945 (the Bretton Woods agencies, the U.S. national security state, etc.) would have existed even without the USSR. The US has seen itself as the guarantor, on a global scale, of a particular political-economic order. And any local regime that refuses to be incorporated into that order is seen as a threat, regardless of the particular enemy (fascism, communism, islamism) that it is allegedly defecting to.

    In fact, most such left-wing nationalists would have preferred to be non-aligned and to continue trade with the U.S. Even genuine Marxist-Leninist regimes, had they been free to pursue an independent foreign policy without regard to the superpower competition, would have likely evolved some independent variety of national communism while trading with all sides.

    Both Ho and Castro, for example, were initially open to friendly relations with the U.S. Even when it was forced to rely on foreign military aid from communist regimes, Vietnam uneasily tried to play the Soviets and Chinese off against each other. Castro, although certainly a left-wing thug, was far from a doctrinaire Marxist-Leninist when he came to power. It was only after his tilt toward Soviet patronage, in the face of U.S. hostility, that he proclaimed himself a Leninist; and he had to carry out a massive purge in his own guerrilla movement in order to force it to accept a merger with the Communist Party (with which he had not initially been affiliated).

    Although it is ridiculed, there is nothing inherently ridiculous in the idea that a Third World left-wing regime might become more authoritarian under the influence of superpower competition and the need to turn to the Soviets for strategic support. There are degrees of authoritarianism, and the most authoritarian elements of a regime find perpetual warfare with a superpower a very useful pretext for consolidating their own power.

    And as thoreau suggested above, authoritarian regimes of both left and right differ a great deal among themselves in their degree of authoritarianism. The brutality of Pol Pot and of the Indonesians in East Timor are at the high end of the scale. The Stalinist purges of the ’30s and the hundreds of thousands of death squad murders in Central America are a step down. And a bureaucratic, authoritarian state like Franco’s Spain, Brezhnev’s USSR, or Castro’s Cuba, is a step further down still.

    It is a mistake to say that Pinochet’s regime even approximated a free market. In every form of statist society, the free market is allowed to function only in the interstices, to the extent that it is compatible with the privieges of the ruling class. That is true in the corporate capitalist countries, as well: although they use “free market” as a legitimizing term, it conceals a high degree of state intervention on behalf of the privileged classes. Various forms of legal privilege, that restrain the bargaining power of labor, small business, and the conumer, are disguised as a “neutral” legal framework. It is only within the parameters of this structure that a market price system is allowed to operate. The neoliberal version of the “free market” is like one of those old “automatic” chess-playing machine that had a dwarf hidden inside, moving the levers.

  14. (a) side with the Soviets over the Americans

    About what, pray tell? If Afghanistan, the specific example I used, was so Soviet-friendly, why were they engaged in war with them?

    (b) despite their purportedly religious leanings, tended to blend the Marxian Political Economy with their Islamic Schema to create ?revolutionary Islam? (particularly in Iran).

    You’re going to have to expound on this a bit. Iranians, in my opinion, had every right to protest the torture and brutality under SAVAK, regardless of the hint of future benefits. If a moral code (i.e, Islam) which protested these methods (which I’ll wager most religions do) that were a logical extension of morality-free market capitalism, then I suppose you could use the term ‘Marxian’, but I think it’s a stretch to expand the label of all Middle-Eastern theocratic states to refer to ‘left-wing dictatorships’, depending on what side of the left-right divide religion should fall (not easy to do, admittedly).

  15. thoreau,

    Again, some people get all romantic about right-wing thugs; just as some people get all romantic about left-wing thugs (Castro for example). Look at how American conservatives wet their pants over the pathetically corrupt regime of Lon Nol in Cambodia, trying to describe him as the “George Washington” of Cambodia. Indeed, a regime that was so corrupt that entire enclaves of his regime paid the Khmer Rouge protecton money; indeed, even U.S. military estimates show that 80% of the Khmer Rouge’s arms from 1970-1975 came from the U.S. because members of the Lon Nol regime sold them the arms after they received them from the U.S. Not only was his regime hopelessly authoritarian, it was so corrupt that it could not even stop from killing itself.

    “…the fact remains that the removal of a right-wing dictator usually leads to greater prosperity, just like the removal of a left-wing dictator.”

    Right-wing dictatorships are marked by crony capitalism; indeed, one of the reasons why they tend to implode is due to the corruption and political repression that eats away at whatever popular support they might have. A perfect example of this is the right-wing dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. Again, given that three of the most destructive regimes in the 20th century were right-wing dictatorships, its hard for me to see how such are any better than the left-wing variety.

  16. Shannon Love,

    Well, Park never called in the Chicago boys as far as I can tell; and Pinochet used their economic theories to gloss his cronyism with. The level of corruption seen in his regime had been unknown since the 1930s. This is readily apparent in the pension funds scandal that helped bring down his regime.

  17. Backing right-wing dicators hasn’t always worked for the US. It failed in Vietnam and we paid a very heavy price for it.

    As for left-wing versus right-wing dicators, what about the various ex-Warsaw Pact countries? A number of them have done fairly well.

  18. Thoreau wrote:

    BUT, if given a choice between a lefty despot and a right-wing despot, I’d probably do like Captain Kirk in that no-win simulation (I forget which Star Trek movie it was in) and find a third option, i.e. immigrate to a country with more freedom.

    The Kobayashi Maru test from ST II: The Wrath of Khan.

    Oh and it?s William Shatner?s seventy-first birthday today.

  19. dragoon,

    Yes, I think the success of Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics, etc. completely undermines the argument that right-wing dictatorships end up with “better results.” Excellent observation.

  20. I don’t think the Young Turks Soviet era education taught them much of the details of of either Park’s or Pinochet’s economic policies. I don’t see Putin calling in the Chicago boys and letting the free market run wild.

  21. Well, as we discussed in a thread below, at least they didn’t take their cues from left-wing dictators. That would be a disaster. Right-wing dictators make much better role models.

    Or something…

  22. As usual KC hits it on the head. Do you neoliberals/neocons think the US is a market economy? Well think again! It is the *same* as North Korea or Cuba.

    In fact, since all inequality is because the State, we can see that the US and Russia are even more fascist since they are even more inequal and have corporate rule, while Cuba does’t. If it wasnt for corporations like United Fruit or AT&T sheming at the table (like Godfather Part 2) Cuba would probably be richer than the corporate-rule US.

  23. Well, how ’bout this one, then, Jean Bart.

    All the right wing dictatorships in the entire 20th century, didn’t amass even half the pile of corpses created by the top left wing dictatorship, China (over 100 million served).

    How ’bout this one then. All the fascist and right wing dictatorships in the world during the 20th century didn’t amass the pile of corspes stacked up by the #2 left wing dictatorship, the Soviets.

    It seems to me that Hayek was right – there isn’t a whole lot of difference between right and left wing collectivist totalitarianism. Maybe the difference is the right wing totalitarians don’t try as hard to kill off all the customers. For whatever reason, they seem a hell of a lot less efficient at it, maybe because corrupt corporatism is still corporatism, and it’s not aimed at wiping out capitalism.

    I don’t know why you are so offended by by the observation, Jean Bart.

    And Rothbardtucker, please go back to reading Rothbard. It is distinctly anti-libertarian to presume that we would all be equal, but for the action of the state. The functioning of the free market is premised on the notion of inequality – otherwise, everything would always be at equilibrium, and there’d be no commerce whatsoever.

  24. Stephen Fetchet,

    “All the right wing dictatorships in the entire 20th century, didn’t amass even half the pile of corpses created by the top left wing dictatorship, China (over 100 million served).”

    If your argument depends on measuring body counts then I think you’ve lost the argument. Furthermore, given that 19th century China saw equally large numbers dead when Europeans “ruled” China, its hardly a unique situation for the communists.

  25. exactly, how dare right wingers use a comparison of citizens murdered by the their own governemnt! A cheap shot! Sometimes you must break a few skulls, to make an omlett.

  26. Stephen Fetchet,

    I think you’ve been had. “Rothbardtucker” obviously intended a satire of my views.

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