Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Conservative Communism? Absurd! Communist Conservatism, Now . . .


Many people, offended by Jonah Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism have proposed to retaliate with a counter-volume, Conservative Communism. This book will set out to prove that Communism was actually an ideology of the Right. They are being ridiculous, of course. To call American Conservatives today Communists is even more absurd that to call liberals fascists (if only because Communism, unlike fascism, has a clear definition). Indeed, many such proposals mock Goldberg by intentionally choosing the most specious paralells possible between Communism and modern American Republicans.

But if one leaves Republicans aside and simply argues the basic conservative nature of entrenched Communism, the argument begins to look more persuasive. Consider, for instance, this proposed blurb (adapted from Goldberg's real blurb):
Joseph Stalin, upon taking power after the death of Lenin, was the first of the "Conunists" when he disregarded the original Communist concept of the dissolution of the state, and instead strengthened and greatly expanded executive power over that of the Politburo and reorganised the government and the military under the same model as was in place during the reign of the former conservative monarchy under the Czar. Furthermore, Stalin re-instituted conservative divorce and abortion laws, replaced liberal and experimental education with rigid instruction in "the basics", incorporated the Orthodox church into the state, re-invigorated nationalism and rejected Western liberal democracy.

As Ms Silverstein correctly asserts, authoritarianism is a product of the right and all such governments are inherently conservative. Monarchy, dictatorship, plutocracy, theocracy and totalitarian regimes such as fascism and communism are all conservative forms of government. . . .

In the Soviet Union, liberalism was replaced with a plutocratic police state, where the communist leadership became the new privileged conservative elite in place of the aristocracy and became in sole control of it's economy based primarily on a entrenched military industrial complex fueled by intense nationalism and fear of outside threats. The communist government of the Soviet Union was undeniably conservative, not liberal. Communists in Russia today are considered conservative not liberal.
There are some clearly specious arguments here that conservatives have every right to take offense at. Particularly offensive is the one that "[A]uthoritarianism is a product of the right and all such governments are inherently conservative." This perfectly embodies the Goldberg principle that you can prove any thesis to be true if you make up your own definitions of words. (Rather like Robert Altemeyer defining a loyal Communist as a "right wing authoritarian" for supporting the established authorities, instead of a more neutral term like "status quo authoritarian" or "authoritarian follower.")

But the basic argument about the conservatism of entrenched Communism is sound. It is not too far-fetched to define conservatism as "maintaining the status quo of power." Under that definition, the people in power are conservative more or less by definition. So really the title should not be Conservative Communism, but Communist Conservatism.

I believe one could write a fairly serious book with that title. It would have to drop any foolish attempt to show that American conservatives are really Communists and focus instead on Communist governments and their basic conservatism. A good place to begin would be with the definition of conservatism as "maintaining the status quo of power." Demonstrate how many ideas that began as revolutionary challenges to the status quo (such as laissez faire liberalism) became conservative when in power.

Describe the bloody history of the rise of industrial (or pre-industial) capitalism; show how justifed Marx was in saying "capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt." Demonstrate without flinching the bloodthirsty industrialization under Stalin and Mao, with the question of whether this was any more than the bloodthirsty rise of capitalism, all packed into a single generation. Detail how Communists reduced unions to mere "transmission belts" for Party orders, how they abolished the right to strike, and how Communists subjugated labor to capital with a thoroughness any capitalist would envy. (And how many capitalists liked doing business with the Soviet Union for that very reason). Set forth how a purportedly international ideology embraced the most xenophobic forms of nationalism. And (as the above blurb particularly emphasizes) show the basic social conservatism that Communism ultimately embraced. (Did you realize that no woman has ever been leader of a Communist country?)

Of course, Communist Conservatism will not demonstrate that American conservatives today are really Communists. They are not. But it may show that apologists for the status quo, any status quo, have more in common with each other than they may care to admit.

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