The Vast Achievements of Communism

It promised the moon, but achieved mostly hell on earth. Unwilling to admit such failure, the Marxist Göran Therborn writing in the latest New Left Review attempts to make a case that Communism did achieve great things.

After one sentence acknowledging that Communist regimes inflicted repression, cruelty, and suffering, Therborn proceeds to several paragraphs listing several (alleged) achievements, as follows:

  • Communist rulers turned backward Russia into a superpower and ended China’s era of decline.

Question: when did building up the geopolitical power of oppressive imperial states become something admirable for the Left? Answer: only as long as the powers in question are not of the West.

  • The Communist threat inspired reform in capitalism. Therborn here mentions the welfare state (Western Europe), land reform (Japan, Taiwan, S. Korea) and reforms (unspecified) in Latin America.

This reverses the truth. The welfare state was an achievement of the enemies of Communism, not of Communism. Communists always pooh poohed the welfare state.

  • It weakened Euro-American racism and colonialism. “Eisenhower would not have sent federal troops to enforce desegregation in Arkansas if he had not been concerned about winning the propaganda battle with Moscow. Two decades later, Cuban troops held back the South African army as it tried to conquer Angola, and the apartheid regime could not have been isolated so effectively without the shadow cast by the Soviet Union in global politics.”

These are confident assertions of counterfactuals – without any backing. Actually liberalism was the main force against segregation and apartheid not “the shadow cast by the Soviet Union” whatever that means. No mention of course of Soviet and Chinese colonialism, invasions, and conquests.

  • “the Communist movement produced an extraordinary number of self-sacrificing, dedicated militants in every corner of the world.”

Translation: Communism produced lots of fanatics and ideologues – but so too did many other ideological and religious movements.

  • Russia and China (“the states of the two great revolutions”) are essential counterweights preserving “geo-political pluralism.”

Again with the geopolitics! Well of course Russia and China are counterweights to America; but that is due to their size, not to their Communist past.

  • “The persistence of Communist-led states after 1989–91 means that a socialist option remains open to some degree. If the rulers of the People’s Republic were to conclude that China requires a socialist economic base to underpin its national strength, or that further progress along the capitalist road would imperil social cohesion, they still have the power and the resources to change track.”

Let there be no mistake: this “socialist option” would be the decree of an autocracy – not the outcome of a democratic and constitutional process. Looks like Therborn has learned nothing about why Communism has had so few actual achievements.

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