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Communists, competence and birthers

I don’t consider myself an expert on Communism, but I did recently read a book1 that contained a good deal of detail about the Russian Revolution and the Communist government that ensued. What struck me about the Russian Communists is that they put political ideology ahead of competence, placing persons in charge of factories who knew nothing about running factories but were loyal to the party. The workers who found themselves in charge rewarded loyalty rather than competence. There were agricultural disasters leading to famine because people in charge of agriculture were crackpots. Even Khrushchev considered himself an expert on agriculture just because he was raised in an agricultural region, and engaged in a massive program to grow corn, where corn was unsuited to the climate and adequate fertilizer was not available, ignoring real expert advice. Both Khrushchev and Stalin had an inflated view of their own competence (the Dunning-Kruger effect supersized). It was a disaster.

What does this have to do with birthers? Birthers are hardly communists—most have libertarian sympathies—but they do share the disdain for intellect and competence. The competent class capable of “complex mental labor” is described in Russian and English with the same word, “intelligentsia.” In Marxist theory the word carries a negative connotation as it does with birthers, although they would prefer the term “elite” (or worse “liberal elite”). Birthers draw their self-conferred expertise from their own ranks rather than from recognized experts with academic training and earned credentials–or to repeat a line from what I said above, birthers “put political ideology ahead of competence.”

The other parallel I would draw is in the area of the rule of law. When the workers in Russia gained power, they tossed the existing legal structure and fashioned something new based on their own view of things. Of course people should make their own laws, but without a structure and traditions, liberty can “go rogue2.” In the United States we were fortunate, most fortunate, in the enlightened leadership who guided the formation of our government. They were very aware by the mistakes and successes of other societies. It was the thinkers and the elite who set us on a good course, and that Founding elite was as much afraid of mob rule as it was foreign intrigue. Birthers are a class of low intellect who also think that the law should be whatever they think it is (look at their crackpot views on the definition of “natural born citizen,” standing in court, the “magic reset button,” their citizen grand juries, and their fantasy of the military arresting Obama and frog marching him out of the White House in handcuffs). Birthers use the rhetoric of the Constitution, but only follow their own notion of what they think it ought to be.

If birthers ever got power, it would be a disaster for the nation. It would a very ugly form of populism.


1A Concise History of Russia (Cambridge Concise Histories) by Paul Bushkovitch

2In his recent filing in Seattle federal court, Douglas Vogt said:

The loss of the Grand Jury in its traditional, authentic, or runaway form, leaves the modern federal government with few natural enemies capable of delivering any sort of damaging blows against it.

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24 Responses to Communists, competence and birthers

  1. avatar
    The Magic M November 14, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    If birthers ever got power, it would be a disaster for the nation. It would a very ugly form of populism.

    No, it would be plain tyranny. Just look at all the birther Presidential candidates – most of them indulge(d) in fantasies of “jailing everyone who disagrees”, “throwing out all citizens who are Muslims”, “replacing judges and joint chiefs of staff with loyal people” and worse. You would be looking at a purge that Stalin would be proud of.

  2. avatar
    The Magic M November 14, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    In Marxist theory the word carries a negative connotation as it does with birthers, although they would prefer the term “elite” (or worse “liberal elite”).

    While it’s true that Marxism is often favoured by intellectuals, it’s an ideology that does not treat them kindly.
    That’s the ugliest part of Marxism because it promotes the “us vs. them” ideology. Most ideologies need a villain; for nationalists, it’s “foreigners”; for Marxists, it’s “the elite”; for religious fanatics it’s “the infidels” etc.
    And of course most ideologies hate intellectuals because they are less likely to fall for it.

  3. avatar
    JPotter November 14, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    The Magic M: No, it would be plain tyranny.

    Tyranny of the ‘in’ crowd. “Ugly populism” as Doc said. The dreaded ‘f’ word … fascism. Popular tyranny, that would result in the ascension of tyrants, or a tyrannical system.

    Buy in and agree with the rhetoric, or be persecuted. You can find these fantasies at your local wingnut comment section, and espoused on rightwing talk radio daily.

  4. avatar
    Krosis November 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    Frankly, this summary of Russian/Soviet history is unintentionally hilarious. I doubt that this is what Cambridge Uni Press publishes now.

  5. avatar
    justlw November 14, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    without a structure and traditions, liberty can “go rogue.”

    But I thought “going rogue” was an awesome trait to exhibit! I mean, why else would you name your memoir after such an act if it was anything other than just swell!

    (Most tone-deaf “politician” ever.)

  6. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy November 14, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Going rogue is what Vogt hints at, longing for the time of the runaway grand jury.

  7. avatar
    Kiwiwriter November 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    Fascinating post, Doc.

    Radical ideologies always hate intellectuals, because intellectuals can make an intelligent argument to the idiotic positions, usually backed up with scholarly research and historical examples. They can easily tear apart some of the more idiotic arguments of lunatics…like the ones I’ve been seeing lately over at SPLC’s Hatewatch: that the Jews are a satanically-spawned species that is forcing miscegenation on the whites, and controls NAMBLA.

    Both the Nazis and Communists quickly closed universities, burned books, and rewrote academic curricula after taking power in Germany and Russia.

    The tyranny the birthers dream of creating would first manifest itself by show trials and executions of their favorite enemies. It would be followed by adherents to the new regime doing what all such victorious adherents do win their revolution wins: fatten their pockets and settle old scores. The new elite will demand the contents of the cashbox, kick their enemies out of their homes and businesses and take them over, and then humiliate, torture, and murder said enemies. Probably going back as far as the fourth grade bully who de-pantsed them in school, and the eighth-grade teacher who gave them a failing grade on their term paper: “Adolf Hitler: Misunderstood genius.”

    After that, they’ll have a few victory parties, and after the hangover, they’ll face very real and very serious problems…running the town, county, state, and country they have taken over, finding ways to keep the machine running, appointing politically reliable people to positions of power, addressing the increasing number of complaints about their new and semi-competent rule, and worrying about the counter-revolution that often follows.

    They’ll have to deal with each other, of course, as they will have problems when things go wrong, problems aren’t solved, utopia does not appear, and the only reason all these issues will exist will be the usual one: treason within the ranks. Revolutions are often nourished by the blood of their makers, and the birther revolution will be no different. Robespierre and Trotsky both got the axe, figuratively and literally. So will Orly. or maybe Zullo. Or Klayman.

    The victors will start living in fear, either of their old allies, or their increasingly irritated citizenry, who will not respond well to increasing incompetence, growing corruption, and various massacres — doubtless there will be horrific acts of “ethnic cleansing.” The people will get annoyed when the lack of luxuries turns to massive shortages of ordinary necessities. The leaders, who will be living in luxury, will have to start creating secret police agencies, informers, spies, and surveillance, if only to protect their fortified villas. They won’t be able to trust their butlers.

    Eventually the new regime will coalesce around a charismatic and powerful leader, who will take power either through a military move or a backstairs bureaucratic coup, and the nation will become a popularity cult based on Il Duce, or the Pontifex Maximus, or the Glorious Leader, and it will go on that way until his death.

    At which time, the government would likely pass to whoever is strongest, or perhaps the President-for-Life’s eldest son, and the dictatorship would go on.

  8. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy November 14, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    I wouldn’t call what I wrote in any way a “summary of Russian/Soviet history,” only an impression I got from reading the book. The book itself is quite new (2011).

    Speaking of the period 1928-1932 Bushkovich wrote:

    In those years the party authorities carried out a systematic attack on the leaders of virtually every field of culture, accusing them of failure to live up to the demands of “socialist construction” and of harboring old-regime views and hostility to the new order. These attacks came in the press and in meetings held in various institutions and workplaces, where mostly young and enthusiastic Communists were encouraged to attack their elders and teachers in the name of the revolution. In addition, the OGPU carried out systematic arrests of leading intellectuals – historians, engineers, writers, and some scientists. Most were accused of participation in various, presumably mythical, underground organizations aimed at undermining or overthrowing Soviet power.

    Bushkovitch, Paul (2011-12-15). A Concise History of Russia (Cambridge Concise Histories) (Kindle Locations 6930-6936). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

    and of Khrushchev:

    Khrushchev, for all his anti-Stalinism, remained a convinced supporter of Trofim Lysenko and his officially sponsored 1949 condemnation of modern genetics. Lysenko had his own fiefdom in the network of agricultural research institutes, but the Academy of Sciences kept most of his cronies out. Early in 1964 Khrushchev tried to get a number of these cronies elected to the Academy of Sciences, but the physicists, led by Andrei Sakharov and Igor Tamm, mobilized so much opposition that the prospects were voted down. Khrushchev was furious, though his own scientist daughter tried to persuade him that Lysenko’s work was simply wrong. At a full meeting of the Central Committee in July, after a long rambling speech about agriculture, Khrushchev suddenly announced that part of the problem was with the scientists, with Sakharov’s and the Academy’s meddling in politics, as he saw it, to reject the Lysenkoites. Then he announced that they should just abolish the Academy as a relic of the nineteenth century.

    Bushkovitch, Paul (2011-12-15). A Concise History of Russia (Cambridge Concise Histories) (pp. 406-407). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

    It is certainly true that Khrushchev tried to grow corn in Siberia, and that Soviet production was geared towards hard goods and not chemicals like pesticides and fertilizer which were needed for corn production.

    Bushkovich wrote:

    The Stalinist industrialization model had consciously favored metallurgy and coal over chemicals and oil, as they were more suited to the then level of economic development as well as more important for defense production. This decision meant that increases in agricultural production, which did occur after the mid-1930s, came from mechanization, hybridization of plants, and more systematic crop rotation, rather than from the use of fertilizer or pesticides. None of these methods did more than keep pace with rapidly increasing urbanization, and to make matters worse Stalin and his agricultural bosses had accepted various crank schemes in agronomy like the notorious “grass-field” system.

    Bushkovitch, Paul (2011-12-15). A Concise History of Russia (Cambridge Concise Histories) (p. 403). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

    Krosis: Frankly, this summary of Russian/Soviet history is unintentionally hilarious. I doubt that this is what Cambridge Uni Press publishes now.

  9. avatar
    alg November 14, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    Most Americans haven’t a clue as to what both socialism and communism are. First…they often mixed the two up and together. Second…they erroneously conclude that anything associated with “more” government is socialist or communist.

    The single most important feature of socialism is that the ownership of the means of production is held by the “state” – in other words – government. This means farmers don’t own the land they farm and industrialists don’t own the factories they run. It’s all owned by Uncle Sam. That doesn’t not exist, nor could ever exist under our form of constitutional government. Even so-called “socialistic” states such as Sweden are not really examples of socialism. Not even close.

    And communism only exists as a post-socialist condition with the collapse of the state altogether as no longer necessary. It’s not “more” government, it’s “no” government. While both the Soviet Union and China were supposedly run by the “communist party” neither was anything anywhere close to being an example of communism.

    Frankly, true libertarian values have more in common with communism than they do with the platform of the Republican Party.

    Birthers call Obama and his supporters “socialists” and communists” because they don’t know what either is and it’s a convenient way to monger hate.

    Let’s face it, Obama is a true-blood capitalist in the most straightforward way possible. Obamacare, for example, doesn’t have the “state” assuming ownership of the means of production for medical insurance and services. Not even close. Nor could Obamacare exist in a communist society. Not even close.

    It’s

  10. avatar
    Krosis November 14, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    It’s just that by the late 1920’ies the OGPU and Party authorities can be said to represent the “Russian workers” in quite a distant way. “Workers in charge” is quite an idealistic way of putting it. Not to mention calling Russian workers “a class of low intelligence” after that. Pretty weird combination of pro-Soviet (it were the workers who were in charge) and anti-Soviet (but these workers were all dumb brutes) stereotypes.

  11. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy November 14, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    OK, that’s fair. I really had birthers on my mind when I said low intelligence more than soviet workers. I’ll change the wording.

    Krosis:
    It’s just that by the late 1920′ies the OGPU and Party authorities can be said to represent the “Russian workers” in quite a distant way. “Workers in charge” is quite an idealistic way of putting it. Not to mention calling Russian workers “a class of low intelligence” after that. Pretty weird combination of pro-Soviet (it were the workers who were in charge) and anti-Soviet (but these workers were all dumb brutes) stereotypes.

  12. avatar
    Slartibartfast November 14, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

    I would say that most of the American right doesn’t have a clue (or intentionally misrepresents) what socialism and communism are. Which is entirely unsurprising given that right-wing demagogues have been trying to demonize the left by using their propaganda machine to turn those terms into smears for decades.

    I do, however, disagree with your use of the terms (or, I should say, I define them differently than you do). I would consider the state owning the means of production to be one of the defining characteristics of communism (along with centralized control of the economy) while using “socialism” in much the same way as countries like Sweden. While this is just a semantic difference, I did want to point out that, while you are correct that millions of Americans don’t have a clue what the words really mean (and only use them as a pejorative), your connotations are not universally accepted amongst the rest of us.

    alg:
    Most Americans haven’t a clue as to what both socialism and communism are.

  13. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG November 14, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

    Slartibartfast:
    I would say that most of the American right doesn’t have a clue (or intentionally misrepresents) what socialism and communism are.Which is entirely unsurprising given that right-wing demagogues have been trying to demonize the left by using their propaganda machine to turn those terms into smears for decades.

    Oh, to the right anything that describes what they are not, is an insult and/or unAmerican!
    It must baffle them to see how ineffectual their insults are to others.
    “I don’t understand! I called that commie liberal “gay”, but it didn’t seem to phase him in the least!”

  14. avatar
    RoadScholar November 14, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    Douglas Vogt said:

    “The loss of the Grand Jury…leaves the modern federal government with few natural enemies capable of delivering any sort of damaging blows against it.”

    You know what those “natural enemies” are called, Dougie?

    TRAITORS.

  15. avatar
    Keith November 14, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    War is Peace.

    Freedom is Slavery

    Ignorance is Strength

    No, that was not written by Sarah Palin, though I can understand your confusion.

  16. avatar
    Birfoon Rebirf November 14, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    Birfoons are so incompetent they probably did obamacare behind the scenes!

  17. avatar
    justlw November 14, 2013 at 11:17 pm #

    Birfoon Rebirf:
    Birfoons are so incompetent they probably did obamacare behind the scenes!

    Swing and a miss.

  18. avatar
    Lupin November 15, 2013 at 3:38 am #

    Slartibartfast: I would say that most of the American right doesn’t have a clue (or intentionally misrepresents) what socialism and communism are. Which is entirely unsurprising given that right-wing demagogues have been trying to demonize the left by using their propaganda machine to turn those terms into smears for decades.

    I do, however, disagree with your use of the terms (or, I should say, I define them differently than you do). I would consider the state owning the means of production to be one of the defining characteristics of communism (along with centralized control of the economy) while using “socialism” in much the same way as countries like Sweden. While this is just a semantic difference, I did want to point out that, while you are correct that millions of Americans don’t have a clue what the words really mean (and only use them as a pejorative), your connotations are not universally accepted amongst the rest of us.

    I was going to post something very much like this.

    In Europe the label ” socialism” is understood in its social-democratic sense, and not in its strict Marxist meaning.

    England, Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, Spain (to name but a few) all have had social-democratic governments at one time or another, none of which were truly Marxist.

    Political labels can be deceiving: in Europe for instance, we use the word “liberal” to describe a set of right-wing economic policies, Friedmanesque in the extreme. In the US, you use “liberal” to describe people on the left of the political spectrum. Two very very different kettles of fish.

  19. avatar
    The Magic M November 15, 2013 at 4:16 am #

    Slartibartfast: correct that millions of Americans don’t have a clue what the words really mean (and only use them as a pejorative)

    Pretty much like children who use “gay” as a synonym for “lame”. But it’s an insult to children to compare them to adults who should know better.

  20. avatar
    Norbrook November 15, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    One of the other things that any study of history would tell them is that the people who were the most strident about calling for a revolution were also often among the first people to be put against a wall (or marched to the gallows) after said revolution happened.

  21. avatar
    Kiwiwriter November 15, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    Andrew Vrba, PmG: Oh, to the right anything that describes what they are not, is an insult and/or unAmerican!
    It must baffle them to see how ineffectual their insults are to others.
    “I don’t understand! I called that commie liberal “gay”, but it didn’t seem to phase him in the least!”

    The extreme right-wing is obsessed with homosexuality.

  22. avatar
    The Magic M November 15, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    Norbrook: One of the other things that any study of history would tell them is that the people who were the most strident about calling for a revolution were also often among the first people to be put against a wall (or marched to the gallows) after said revolution happened.

    Quoting Douglas Adams:

    The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing division of the
    Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as ‘a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the
    first against the wall when the revolution comes’ […]
    Curiously enough, an edition of the Encyclopaedia Galactica that
    had the good fortune to fall through a time warp from a thousand years in
    the future defined the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics
    Corporation as ‘a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the
    wall when the revolution came’.

  23. avatar
    The European November 15, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    /quote

    None of these methods did more than keep pace with rapidly increasing urbanization, and to make matters worse Stalin and his agricultural bosses had accepted various crank schemes in agronomy like the notorious “grass-field” system.

    /endquote

    This i what I found about the “grass-field” System”

    /qote
    http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Grass-Field+Crop+Cultivation+System

    Warning! The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.
    Grass-Field Crop Cultivation System

    a system of crop cultivation in which part of the arable land is occupied by perennial legumes and cereals, which restore and improve soil fertility. (See also .)

    The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

    /endquote

    I would not call this a “crank” system. This is the system our forefathers used since agriculture was developed. We call it the “Three fields system”, where one third of the arable land – changing every year – is not used for crop but is planted with herbs and legumes which are plowed under to fertilize the soil.

  24. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy November 15, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

    A bit more from my book: “[The grass field system] was the notion, accepted by the authorities from the late 1930s, that food grains should be rotated with grasses rather than clover or other plants that aid nitrogen fixation.”

    Bushkovitch, Paul (2011-12-15). A Concise History of Russia (Cambridge Concise Histories) (p. 403). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

    Clover is a legume. It may that the Great Soviet Encyclopedia is “fixing” Soviet history again. My Russian professor said that they sent out mandatory updates to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia whenever they wanted to rewrite history.

    The European: I would not call this a “crank” system. This is the system our forefathers used since agriculture was developed. We call it the “Three fields system”, where one third of the arable land – changing every year – is not used for crop but is planted with herbs and legumes which are plowed under to fertilize the soil.