"Everyone Makes Mistakes"

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With three monuments of old Uncle Joe in the works, Stalin nostalgia appears to be spreading in Russia. Says one young man:

"Look, everyone makes mistakes," Mr Vassilyev said. "Stalin wasn't a saint, but he was a great man who built up a strong state.

"After years of lies about him, the truth is coming out. We owe a lot to him. He turned the Soviet Union into a superpower that was feared and respected. A man like Stalin is what Russia needs now."

Putin, well, you know, he tries, but it's just not the same, is it?

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  1. A man like Stalin is what Russia needs now.

    seems as though the cultural memory is about two generations to a blank slate.

  2. I’m tempted not to worry until American far-leftists stop saying that Stalin was actually a capitalist, but they could get behind the curve.

  3. Well, there are folks in Germany who yearn for the good old days of you-know-who…

  4. If Putin starts growing a squirrelly-ass moustache, then watch out.

  5. Yeah but in Germany, everyone else seems to shun the neo-Nazi’s to the point of outlawing some of their activities, but from what I’ve heard of this recent Stalin-nostaligia in Russia, there seems to be a definite lack of widespread outrage about it.

    For *some* reason, I keep thinking about the episode of the Simpsons where the tanks and missle launchers burst out of the parade floats and Lenin punches his way out his glass tomb. It was fucking hilarious, but now its starting to look like less of a joke…

  6. “A man like Stalin is what Russia needs now.

    seems as though the cultural memory is about two generations to a blank slate.”

    Sounds about right. I’m always being told by my grandparents that I’m at a blank slate because I don’t remember the depression or WW2. Those things combined to make everyone VERY comfortable with the good intentions of big government.

    An interesting question: Who knows more, he who lived through it or he who only reads about it? I don’t think the answer is obvious in the case of big events. There is no perspective. Having lived it provides local perspective, but tells us almost nothing about general causes or paths for the future. Those who lived through it have a tendency to overestimate the generality of their feelings, too.

  7. What every town in America needs is a set of statues depicting the Great Monsters of the 20th Century. Hitler, Stalin, Pot, Mao, Bull Conner, etc. With a concession stand selling eggs across the street. Every school kid gets to visit the statues, and gets to throw an egg for every fact about a Monster the kid utters.

    We could put up a new Monster of the 20th Century every year, and when we run out of those (in about 70 years), we can start in on Monsters of the 21st Century.

  8. everybody makes mistakes

    Ten million here, ten million there. Sooner or later it adds up to real murder.

  9. This is the part where people say I’m defending Stalin.

  10. Stalin nostalgia actually has many elements that American conservatives ought to identify with. Many of the complaints about what Russia has lost (compared with the good old days) sound very familiar: They were tough on criminals in those days! Young folks didn’t sass their elders! You didn’t see porn everywhere! Everyone respected the military! Other countries didn’t dare thumb their noses at us like even small ones do today! There were no damn terrorists running around! Etc., etc.

  11. What every town in America needs is a set of statues depicting the Great Monsters of the 20th Century. Hitler, Stalin, Pot, Mao, Bull Conner, etc. With a concession stand selling eggs across the street. Every school kid gets to visit the statues, and gets to throw an egg for every fact about a Monster the kid utters.

    Don’t forget Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein, Ghoulardi, Vampira, and LaToya and Michael Jackson.

  12. I’m curious how many people in Russia think they live under “capitalism.”

    The end of the Soviet Empire reformed almost nothing about how Russia itself functions. The former communist elite dissolved the public industries they managed and “sold” them to each other for next to nothing. The “people’s” industries became the kleptocrats’ industries. The politburo became the “freely elected” security service elite.

    Words do a good job of disguising the fact that virtually nothing has changed in Russia for the last century.

  13. They were tough on criminals in those days!

    “In Russia, they mug you after you get to police station!” — Yakov Smirnov

  14. Thanks, wellfellow. You da man! I will have to check these out.

  15. Pavel, crony capitalism may not be your preferred flavor, but it is capitalism nonetheless.

  16. Pavel, crony capitalism may not be your preferred flavor, but it is capitalism nonetheless.

    And cannibalism may not be your preferred flavor, but it is still meat.

    Blue whales and shrews are bothe mammals.

    What a pointless, semantic argument.

  17. “Just get the government out of the way, and let unregulated capitalism do its thing. Things will be so much better for everyone, and communism will be discredited,”

    Here let me correct a few things. . .

    “Just get the government out of the way, and let unregulated individualism do its thing. Things will be so much better for most of the people (though those used to living off of others will suffer), and collectivism will be discredited,”

  18. Ironchef, and in Russia, how’d that work out?

    Hint: Vladimir Putin dominated the last election, and the largest anti-Putin group is the Communist Party.

  19. The anti-Stalin campaign has been occurring for half a century. The anti-communists try to rewrite history, but there are millions that still remember the accomplishments of Stalin, the Soviet workers and their Red Army. In the dark days of World War II, when Hitler was seemingly unstoppable and threatened the world with the most brutal dictatorship ever seen, it was Stalin and the Soviet Union who first stopped the Nazis, and then marched all the way back to Berlin.

    For those who may have forgotten and for the many others who are too young to remember, it is instructive to read what one of the most anti-communist of all the bosses had to say about Stalin and the USSR in 1942. Time Magazine, of the Henry Luce Time-Life-Fortune empire, selected Stalin as “Man of the Year” in 1942. In its January 4, 1943 issue, with Stalin?s picture on the cover, Time entitled its story, “Joseph Stalin: Die, But Do Not Retreat.”

  20. Smacky-The classic in the genre is Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose. Captialism and Freedom is also good.

    As was suggested above, you may want to go to lfb.com and spend some time browsing the econ section.

  21. “This is the part where people say I’m defending Stalin.”

    Well, you aren’t THAT bad joe!

    But the crony capitalism you rightly condemn was the RESULT of the government’s connivance, so you can hardly claim governmnet was gotten out of the way.

    Also, see Poland and the Checzh republic for more favorable versions of the transistion to capitalism.

  22. Joe,

    How is “crony capitalism” not just another word for a mixed economy? Doesn’t “crony capitalism” involve government intervention which benefits a small group of people? It seems to me that “crony capitalism” bears little resemblance to the laissez-faire capitalism ironchef is talking about. Perhaps they are alike in the same way that a house plant is like a power plant.

  23. My appologies to wellfellow, I didn’t see your post before my posting my comment above which pretty much echos your post.

  24. What the world needs is a few good liberals to save capitalism from the capitalists.

    in other words, fascism — which, after all, was conceived as the middle ground between laissez-faire lawlessness and decay and marxist utopianism. i don’t see you at all defending stalin in this — bully for you. 🙂

    putting aside the baggage of the word (which means something today that it didn’t in 1933), fascism was conceived as the cooperation of the state with industry to save capitalism (and western civilization) from the excesses which were perceived as having led to the social catastrophes and anarchism of the late 19th/early 20th c. essentially all modern mixed economies (including our own) are now built on the fascist model. keynesianism is fascist economics.

    don’t get me wrong — this isn’t to insult your argument, mr joe. i think you’re right; i think a return to the laissez-faire which allowed the triangle shirtwaist fire is an invitation for violence and popular insurrection in the age of self-empowerment. but we should all understand what it is to so closely involve government with the affairs of business, and what the potential failings of the system are so that we can guard against them.

  25. joe,

    What regulation is missing in Russia that would solve its problems?

    I’m no expert in what’s going on in Russia, but my impression is that it’s not a matter of too little government but of corrupt government, ie a qualitative problem, not a quantitative one. Russia’s government doesn’t seem very weak when it comes to clamping down on businessmen who dare mess with politics. Another of the primary problems I believe is there is a lack of enforcement of property rights, ie criminal gangs shaking people down for protection and interfering with the free exercise of capitalism, which is technically illegal but all too often unenforced. Although “less government” is a mantra for many libertarians, any serious libber (who doesn’t double as an anarchist) wants a state that’s strong enough to have the teeth to enforce the laws that are legitimate for it to enforce. This, I believe, is a key missing ingredient in Russia. Why is it like that there? I don’t claim to know for sure, probably a result of years of cynicism and/or underground networks built up under Communism. So what’s needed is to better enforce the laws already on the books. I’m not sure how to get there, but I sure don’t see how introducing more regulatory laws would do it. But then, as my initial question implies, I’m willing to listen if you wanna say, rather than just abstractly blame Russia’s problems on unmitigated capitalism.

  26. In the dark days of World War II, when Hitler was seemingly unstoppable and threatened the world with the most brutal dictatorship ever seen, it was Stalin and the Soviet Union who first stopped the Nazis, and then marched all the way back to Berlin.

    Stalin purged thousands of his best military officers, gutting his army. He consistently fucked up every military operation in which he tried to intervene. He declared retreat to be a capital offence. He ordered millions of frightened young men to rush machine guns and tanks unarmed when there were only half as many rifles as there were soldiers.

    A hero, indeed.

    I would rather live in Nazi Germany than in Soviet Russia.

  27. I’m not sure how to get there

    the answer, mr fyodor, may end up being despotism, hopefully “enlightened”. these problems with decayed rule of law (which are quite frequent in new democracies) are most often resolved that way, and i think that explains much of putin’s (and authoritarianism’s) popularity.

  28. Thank you, gaius. Every time I mention that cooperation between the state and industry is called fascism and that America is a fascist country by this definition, I get the feeling that people think I’m talking out my arse or that my tinfoil hat has cut off circulation to my brain.

    Both of which are probably true more often than not, but not in the case of equating America’s economy with fascism.

  29. Lord Duppy said

    “I would rather live in Nazi Germany than in Soviet Russia.”

    Well if you were a German Aryan that is probally true. I doubt many jews or others targeted by the Nazi’s would agree with this. Now Stalin murdered millions also, so I am not defending him either or choosing to live in Soviet Russia. Although I would rather live in Soviet Russia than Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

  30. Lowdog,

    Is there any nation on earth that does NOT have some cooperation between the state and industry? If not, that’s not a very useful definition.

    The dictionary, which is based on a survey of how people use words, defines it as:

    1. A. A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.
    B. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government.

    2. Oppressive, dictatorial control.

    No wonder people misunderstand you.

  31. i think it’s important to say that what fascism means colloquially now — post-1939 — is not what it meant in 1922-1935 when mussolini was seen in much of the west as a knight of civilization and men like churchill and fdr — and indeed many western intellectuals and social leaders — openly admired him. dictatorship and militarism have become inseparable from the word.

    and perhaps that is right. the neoconservatives are the closest thing america has to an operating fascist party, and their willingness to overwrite law and dissent for their ambitions and engage is populist militarism and jingoism is frighteningly similar.

  32. Russia needs institutions. Law and order are not the natural order of things until people have become accustomed to them.

    Russia does not need liberals to save capitalism from the capitalists. An EPA isn’t going to help things. I bet they even have one, for all the good it does. Russia needs property rights to be enforced and government corruption to be eliminated, neither of which modern liberals are especially good at. Granting the government great authority to redistribute to the ‘needy’ is indistinguishable from what joe refers to as crony capitalism. Enforce property rights, put all crooks you find in jail and not just the ones without the means to buy off the cops, and keep violent crime down. You are on your way.

  33. What gaius said. Fascism, in it’s beginnings, was not defined thusly. The meaning of the word has been changed, so perhaps I should stop using it? Fair enough, but I don’t have another word that fits very well. And there is another definition that you missed that may help you see my side of things: fascismn : a political theory advocating an authoritarian hierarchical government (as opposed to democracy or liberalism).

    And I’m not saying that most other countries aren’t fascist (economically), just saying we’ve been there for a while, too.

    Fannie Mae, anyone?

  34. If the communists had really believed in their ideology, instead of “selling” billions in assets to well-connected beauracrats; they would have divided everything of value in Russia into shares and then distributed an equal number of shares to each citizen. I mean if the “owner” of everything in the country prior to the fall of communism was “the people”, what other way to distribute property could there have been?

  35. With regard to the meanings of words:

    I really don’t care what the original meaning was. If everybody understands a word a certain way now, well, that’s what it is. Deal.

    It would be like a Latin professor going to Italy and being upset that nobody understands him. “Well, it’s not my fault that everybody has bastardized the meanings and pronunciations from what they originally were.”

    Or, as another example, suppose that I have a good time at a wedding for a straight couple in San Francisco and I tell everybody “I went to a gay wedding in San Francisco.” If I have to explain to everybody that I meant gay in the sense of “happy”, well, whose fault is the misunderstanding?

  36. smacky:

    check out Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Freidman. The first couple chapters are especially relevant to your question.

  37. Also, sort of, 1985 by Anthony Burgess. Has anybody else read this? Its really good. Only kind of relevant though.

  38. shit, didn’t see the post from number 6

  39. Actually, I can think of a couple of sorts of government activity, carried out with competence and fairness, that would have helped out Russia and some of the worse-off ex-Soviet nations: a decent civil and criminal court system and capable law enforcement.

    Not particularly “liberal” areas of interest, compared to sending tons of aid that would have ended up in the hands of Russian mobsters, but rather crucial to the functioning of a genuinely liberal society.

  40. thoreau,

    Good examples regarding changing language. My aunt the linguist is fond of saying that English is just poorly spoken Anglo-Saxon….

  41. I really don’t care what the original meaning was. If everybody understands a word a certain way now, well, that’s what it is. Deal.

    i agree that fascism isn’t quite the right word anymore. “corporatism” is a useful substitute, though it lacks the widespread currency of fascism.

    it’s difficult, though, to concede to new terminology constantly as we’re wont to in the age of euphemism. i think there’s some value in insisting on calling the american/west european system “fascist” because it clearly does have very negative connotations that should remind us of where the path of government–financial-industrial complexing can lead (is leading, if you’re me).

  42. I really don’t care what the original meaning was. If everybody understands a word a certain way now, well, that’s what it is. Deal.

    For the record, linguistically, I agree with thoreau. But I still think that if someone can explain their (mis?)use of a word in a coherent and logical manner, then it can be used in the particular way they want, too, if it’s not entirely off-base. This is especially true of political words, which are subject to rapid change. Maybe the definition of fascism will change again someday — who knows?….

  43. gaius marius,

    I just saw your post after I posted. And the “negative connotations” you mentioned are exactly the reason someone might choose to describe the US as fascist, which is why I didn’t entirely disagree with your and lowdog’s use of the term. It’s spin, really…..but it’s not untrue to suggest that things could lead in that direction, if and when there is a monolith government-industrial complex.

  44. joe,

    Regarding your post at 9:21 AM, I think we’re in complete agreement. Only I hope you picked up on my point that a lack of “basic rule of law and individual rights protections” as well as rampant government corruption and lack of transparency are decidedly NOT what a libertarian’s idea of laissez-faire capitalism is about. Even a “limited” government is not supposed to leave folks alone who are threatening their countrymen with unprovoked violence.

  45. fyodor, I cetainly agree with that point, and I’m not claiming that Russia is operating as a free market republic right now. My point was that the attempt to base the reconstruction of the Soviet system on radically free-market principles failed to establish the levels of economic and personal security necessary to allow respect for liberal institutions to become entrenched.

    There used to be a great deal of hay made of the difference between the noble constitution of the USSR and the reality. Very seldom was it claimed that the solution to the corruption was to hew more closely to the ideals of the constitution. Yet now, with Russia sinking into fascism, partisan capitalists look at the Friedmanesque intentions of those who created the new order, and explain that the failure stemmed from the imperfect application of their perfect ideas, and certainly not from any weakness in the ideology itself. Well, I’ve heard that song before.

  46. Brian Courts,

    Good post. Although I’d say the essential point is not what we lump with what per se, but rather what are the key ingredients that are at play. If Russia has not attained the key ingredients of a free market that have been widely attained elsewhere in the world, one can hardly say that those ingredients are to blame for its troubles (or that those ingredients are simply unattainable).

  47. “…says essentially nothing about whether those building blocks work best when left alone.”

    Said “blocks” are NEVER “left alone.” Economic systems are imposed, and develop, within a real world system of people with needs, expectations, and beliefs. No matter how well a model works in the lab, if it seizes up as soon as it’s exposed to dust, it’s a lousy machine, with no hope of actually getting the job done.

    The example you seek is the United States during the Great Depression. The possibility of a Red or Brown takeover was very real at that time, and if we’d continued with Herbert Hoover’s relief plan (restauranteurs should let the poor bus tables and eat the scraps off the plates), it very well might have happened. But it didn’t happen, because relief and work projects were created to mitigate the pain of the depression on the public, and the dynamic functioning of a capitalist system eventually brought back growth and prosperity. You can argue that a theoretically perfect free market would have brought us out sooner, if allowed to function, but such an argument ignores the fact that such an economic system would not have been allowed to function.

    The True Believers who were allowed to create Russia’s new economy decided to build them a Ferrarri. Surprise, surprise, the roads are full of potholes, the mechanic’s a crook, and gas is adulterated, and no parts are available. They would have been better off with a deuce and a half – the fact that a Ferrarri goes faster on a test track notwithstanding.

  48. thoreau – I am dealing. Just explaining my position.

    smacky – ok, it’s spin, to an extent, but thank you for agreeing that it is a fairly descriptive word.

    Corporatism – fine, I’ll go with that, but a lot of people have never even heard that word.

    Of course, language evolves, and that’s a good thing. Sometimes you just need to sit down and explain your intentions so everyone can get on the same page semantically.

    Ok, I think we’re all ok now. 🙂

  49. Sigh…

    Said “blocks” are NEVER “left alone.”

    “Left alone” is a figure of speech. I was using it as a reference to the literal translation of “laiseez-faire.” The phrase has a particular meaning that we can most likely agree on, regardless of whether it should be taken so literally.

    The example you seek is the United States during the Great Depression.

    Changing the subject, eh?

    such an argument ignores the fact that such an economic system would not have been allowed to function.

    I agree that libertarian policies face many serious hurdles in the political arena, but I don’t see how advocating them ignores this. Nor does it mean that their advance is impossible.

    The True Believers who were allowed to create Russia’s new economy

    Once again we return to the crux of our disagreement. Are Russia’s problems due to problems in the free market model (and unattainability would indeed count as one such problem, a rather significant one if it were unattainable even in part), or are they due to internal problems that derailed efforts to install aspects of that model that have been widely realized to great benefit elsewhere around the world? I suspect the latter; you repeatedly assert the former as if you have some strong evidence for it, yet you offer none.

  50. joe,

    Using your “failed model” metaphor, consider that a machine might work perfectly fine on paper and in the real world–if one properly cleans the gears. If one doesn’t do so, the model is tarnished and the machne fails. Now, if it is impossible to get the gears clean enough for the machine to work right, then you’re correct, the model for the machine is worthless. This is how I view Communism. I think there are plenty of examples that the gears for Capitalism can be cleaned just fine. If the folks who set about rebuilding Russia neglected to clean those gears before proceeding, it does not demonstrate that the model is faulty, only that they failed to properly clean the gears as others have done just fine. Whether that’s because they didn’t try to or because the gears were impossibly dirty, I do not know. But either way, Russia’s example has little to say about the potential efficacy of libertarian policies because said policies depend on things they’re not doing there. I know this “machine” metaphor is rather crickety, but you’re the one who used it first.

  51. I should explain that by “internal problems” in my 5:17 post, I meant internal problems in the newly de-Communized Russian state, as opposed to internal problems in the free market model, just in case there were any doubts.

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