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Russia has been horrible for a long time

Amidst some of the commentary about the recent murders – attributed by the UK government to Russian operatives – in the UK, much has been written and said about the less-than-stellar response, in the eyes of many (including those on the political left) of Jeremy Corbyn. Now, my take on Corbyn is rather like that of George Orwell on leftist intellectuals (he was one of them, mind), which is that they’d sooner be caught stealing from a church charity plate than admitting they loved their country.

Even so, it is worth asking the question of quite why certain folk on the left are so beguiled by Russia. After all, in certain respects Putin is not their kind of hero. For a start, he is quite a “man’s man”, strutting about bare-chested, holding guns and riding horses; his regime isn’t nice to homosexuals, seems to extract a lot of CO2-producing gasses, and so on. There are no “safe spaces” in Russian schools and universities, I would guess.

However, it is worth noting that there was never really a time when the situation, particularly post-1917 and up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, was better. And this Daily Mirror writer comes up with a comment so flawed that for a second I thought it was some sort of parody. For the writer (adopting a sort of pen-name) suggests that poor old Corbyn is besotted with the shining image of a glorious Soviet Union that once – in the writer’s opinion – existed in its early years before certain things, inexplicably, went wrong. It had “free” healthcare, employment “rights” and a nifty big public sector. And it was egalitarian! The writer appears to buy this rosy view of Soviet Russia (the fact that opponents of Communism were murdered from day one appears not to register). The writer does not note the most important divide of all: the split between those who have power, and those who don’t, over others. The inequality in wealth of early 21st Century America or Europe is nothing compared to the inequality between the party bosses in, say, 1950 and that which exists in wealth terms in a Western liberal democracy. Wealth and coercive power are entirely different things.

The things that went wrong in the Soviet Empire were integral the very nature of collectivism itself; failure to understand that wealth inequality is entirely different from differences in coercive power is at the root of why leftists, and collectivists of all hues, get things like the Soviet Union wrong. The project was doomed because its underlying rationale was built on sand. (Here is a new and acclaimed biography of Lenin, making the point that what was set up in Russia was evil and mad from the start.)

So far from being an incisive takedown of Corbyn, the Daily Mirror article sort of affirms his infatuation with communism and says the main problem now is that Russia is run by thugs, as if what happened from 1917 onwards was ever going to be any different. When power is centralised, what does this writer expect will happen? And perhaps it is fitting to conclude that anyone who wonders “where did the dream of Soviet Russia go wrong?” should sit down with this 1944 masterpiece by a certain FA Hayek.

21 comments to Russia has been horrible for a long time

  • The reason people like this like Russia is Putin pays them to like Russia

  • Mr Ed

    The reason people like this like Russia is Putin pays them to like Russia

    Sir, I won’t have that said of Mr Corbyn. I am sure that he is so ideologically pure, that he would pay to like Russia, and anyway, it was Iran who were paying Mr Corbyn, not Russia.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    The inequality of early 21st Century America or Europe is nothing compared to the inequality between the party bosses in, say, 1950 and that which exists in wealth terms in a Western liberal democracy.

    Funnily enough I was just recently re-reading a 1960 article by Robert Heinlein called “Inside Intourist” describing the visit he and his wife made to the USSR. Heinlein writes,

    Even the most arrogant Soviet citizen suffers from an inferiority complex when faced with free citizens of the Western world, especially Americans. The questions they ask most frequently are: How much money do you make? How big is your house? Do you own an automobile? Each one is a dead give-away.

    So if you make it clear that Intourist service is contemptible by free-world standards, a Russian may want to take a poke at you, but he is much more likely to attempt to restore face by meeting those standards. The rest of the picture has to do with socialist “equality,” another example of Communist semantics, because in the egalitarian paradise there is no equality, nowhere anything like the easy-going equality between an American taxi driver and his fare. In the USSR you are either on top or underneath – never even.

    (Inside Intourist is one of the pieces in the Heinlein collection Expanded Universe, published by Ace Books in 1980.)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Natalie, another great essay, contained in Republican Party Reptile, by P J O’Rourke, is called Ship of Fools. It is a gloriously funny and also scary portrait of a bunch of leftwing American tourists going on a trip on the Volga, during the last few years of the Soviet Union.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Just given my copy Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible another outing: here come the bad old days just like the good old days.

  • pete

    People on the left are beguiled by Russia because they are beguiled by authoritarianism.

    That’s why they have a soft spot for Islam too.

    They are vain enough to imagine that if we ever did live in a totalitarian regime they would be the ones doing the bossing about and therefore everything would be just fine.

  • Corbyn is anti-America, that’s why he’s pro-Russia.

  • RRS

    I wonder if Brian Micklethwait could elicit from Emmanuel Todd, or from his writings, how, what we are calling “Russia” has come to take its current form and activities – with sufficient public acquiescence.

  • Mr Ecks

    Corbog HATES the UK and would kiss Satan’s arse if that stood a chance of damaging the UK.

    If the SOS ever should get in–God Forbid–he would give Gib to the Spanish and the Falklands to the Argos just to humiliate his native land.

    It wouldn’t of matter who had been accused in the Nerve Agent Affair, he would have been on their team.

  • Thailover

    The big unmentionable secret is that the Left think that evil is stronger than the good. The good, which they view as desirable and preferble, but weaker than evil. So, though they’ll whine and cry for “goodness”, when faced with actual totalitarianism, they get weak in the knees and giddy as school girls. Note the Left’s love afair with totalitarian regimes now and in the past, not to mention the abusive, homophobic and bigoted patriarchy of Islam.

  • Stonyground

    Socialist enterprises seem to be powered mostly by good intentions. That seems to be why its advocates are always so baffled when it all goes horribly wrong. How could it fail when everyone was so well intentioned?

  • Did the Czar’s go in for killing Russian exiles ?

    Getting rid of socialism in favor of what Putinism has at least insured that ordinary Russians can eat.

    Which reminds me of one of my favorite post Cold War stories.

    An ex KGB is having a drink with an ex CIA “Its all over now you can admit it, Chernobyl, that was you guys right ?”

    To which the ex CIA replied “Nah Chernobyl wasn’t us, Gosagroprom (State food and agriculture super ministry) THAT was us.”

  • Some relevant Orwell quotes:

    … the defeatism of the intelligentsia … persisted long after it had become clear that the Axis powers could not win. Many people were undisguisedly pleased when Singapore fell or when the British were driven out of Greece and there was a remarkable unwillingness to believe in good news … I have heard it confidently stated for instance, that the American troops had been brought to Europe not to fight the Germans but to crush an English revolution. One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe a thing like that; no ordinary man could be such a fool. [Notes on Nationalism, 1945]

    … deepest of all there was admiration – though only in a very few cases conscious admiration – for the power, energy and cruelty of the Nazi regime. It would be a useful though tedious labour to go through the left-wing press and enumerate all the hostile references to Nazism through the years 1935-45. One would find, I have little doubt, that they reached their high water mark in 1937-8 and 1944-5, and dropped off noticeably in the years 1939-42 – that is, during the period when Germany seemed to be winning. [review of Burnham, The Managerial Revolution in Polemic No 3, May 1946]

    Since the Corbyns of the last generation found even Hitler preferable to their own country (OK he was a national socialist but he was also a – very! – national socialist), we should be unsurprised to see Corbyn carrying water for Putin. Would anyone be at all surprised if an old photo revealed that Corbyn was in the crowd of left-wingers who were screaming about Argentinian fascists (and Thatcher’s alleged links to them) in March 1982 and were chanting ‘Argentinas Malvinas’ in April. Only the hatred for Britain is real; all else is scum on the surface of a pond.

    It seems so superflous to add that defending those who come to Britain to kill, and not those who come here to evade them, is consistent with his other attitudes on immigration.

  • APL

    I’m interested to understand the link with Russia and this double agent.

    Why would the Russians use a nerve agent rather than, for example, a Glock 9mm?

    It seems equally likely that this whole affair has been ‘blown up’ by the British in an attempt to knock yet another Islamic molestation scandal off the front pages. It now seems the Somali’s are moving into the child sex abuse franchise. At least we can take comfort that the little girls of Telford, Manchester, and Bristol, are being raped by ‘qualified’ Somali’s, in whatever profession, be it Doctor, Engineer or Physicist.

    It seems the Tory Party is taking a leaf from the Democrat’s playbook, conduct your domestic politics on the International plane. That strikes me as reckless and dangerous.

  • Chester Draws

    the fact that opponents of Communism were murdered from day one appears not to register

    Lots of regimes murder opponents.

    the fact that supporters of Communism, but insufficiently Bolshevik, were murdered from day one appears not to register

  • Mr Ed

    the fact that supporters of Communism, but insufficiently Bolshevik, were murdered from day one appears not to register

    Chester, you are too kind in adding ‘insufficiently‘, there were quotas to be met and ‘plots’ to be found, the most fanatical, slavishly obidient Party hacks were also murdered by the beast they nourished. Their only hope was how the dice of fate rolled.

  • Stonyground

    If you hate your country in this day and age, why would you not just move to live in a country that you like? Or at least move to live in a country that you don’t hate?

  • Alisa

    Stonyground, it is hatred in a sense rather different from mere dislike. Think about the difference between disliking something and thus keeping one’s distance from that thing, and hating something to the point of wanting to destroy it, or at least change it beyond recognition.

  • Paul Marks

    A classic mistake is to take Russian tax rate figures are face value.

    “Look their taxes are lower than ours!”

    Accept that Mr Putin and his friends can take (by force) anything they want – at any moment. So, as with so many Latin American countries, the official “facts” for the size and scope of the Russian government are meaningless.

    If the politically connected can take your stuff, for themselves, whenever they feel like it – then one is in a bad position. Yes there are horrible abuses in the West – but in Russia they are not abuses, they are THE SYSTEM.

  • Paul Marks

    I believe that, drunk though he was, President Yeltsin sincerely wanted to build a country with the rule of law – security of property, trial by jury, an independent media, and so on.

    But President Putin was never sincere.

    People who are waiting for such things as trial by jury or an independent media under President Putin, are wasting their time. Mr Putin is essentially a mafia boss – he and his friends can take (for themselves) anything they want, at any moment. And they imprison or KILL anyone they fell like hitting.

  • APL

    Paul Marks: “Mr Putin is essentially a mafia boss – he and his friends can take (for themselves) anything they want, .. ”

    Why did you ever think differently? The whole history of Russia is in opposition to the idea. Russia has never had, nor very likely ever will have a Western style liberal democracy. Russians are authoritarian in their blood.

    Hoping that Russia might be converted to a liberal style Western democracy, is like advocating for the invasion of Iraq to bring democracy to the Yazidi.

    Reasonable people have learned that lesson.