Friday, February 17, 2006

Dead Man Walking

I meant to write yesterday - but signally failed - on this simply extraordinary article by Seumas Milne in Al-Graun yesterday - bemoaning the bad press that is dished out in the direction of communism.

Here is the accused. Pretty grim looking if you ask me. The "Pixellation" on scaling up seems somehow appropriate, rather like a bad photo-fit of a dangerous criminal.

Quite a number of people noted this article also:
For my part, there are two lines in this that really sum up this whole sorry tale:
"For all its brutalities and failures, communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality. It encompassed genuine idealism and commitment ..."
Rapid Industrialisation, eh?

I remember it well. The miserable capitalist "West", impoverished and lacking in any idealism or commitment, had to make do with such ghastly vehicles such as these:

and these:

And of course, this:

Oh the tyranny of consumer choice. It was awful.

In the same period, the glorious industrialised communist "East" managed to produce this:

OK, so that's not a very flattering publicity shot. How about this?


All right, but the idealism and commitment bit was cracking though, wasn't it?

Especially if you suggested ideas about how to do things differently and maybe better:

Errmmm.... We all make mistakes and it's the thought that counts. Everyone meant well really.
The particular form of society created by 20th-century communist parties will never be replicated. But there are lessons to be learned from its successes as well as its failures.
Never be replicated? Zimbabwe anyone?

But I suppose he does have a point: there are indeed lessons to be learned from the successes of communism:
  1. that they were eclipsed entirely by greater achievements in the free world in every field;
  2. and that they were predicated entirely upon totalitarianism without which the system crumbled completely.
  3. the little car analogy is rather apt. The closest that the UK got to this form of nonsense was during the 1970s. What did we produce then? This:

P-G Verdict: A quick glance at my manifesto is illuminating. When I set down my thoughts, "Advocating communism" was such a ridiculous idea that the offence is not even covered, which makes this judgement a little tricky. I suppose this article could be covered by:
Advocating Socialism for communities larger than a small farm, when one is in a position of power
but, somehow, I don't think that A Sound Flogging, to be administered on the steps of the perpetrator's club is either sufficient punishment or deterent for a mind so twisted as Mr Milne's.

However, I am minded to ask what is communism if it is not the act of "Preferring equality of outcome over equality of opportunity"? This gets us into a more sensible section of the P-G Penal Code.

There is, however, a more serious charge here. In his attempt to equate Nazism and Colonialism as progenitors of systematic, deliberate, state-sponsored murder (whilst simultaneously distancing communism from this little institutional flaw), he states:
Tens of millions perished in avoidable or enforced famines in British-ruled India
I shall borrow Tim J for a moment here:
Presumably Milne is referring to the two famines that affected Bengal during British rule. The first was in 1769-73, six years after control of Bengal had been established. ... The reason for the famine was that the two previous harvests had failed.


The second famine happened in 1943. This was less severe and better ameliorated, but deaths were still in the region of 3 million. The dearth was largely the result of the fact that Burma, which had provided up to a third of Indian imports of rice, was at this point almost entirely overrun by the Japanese, while scarce food was concetrated on Calcutta, in an attempt to protect the city from defeat or siege.
Avoidable? Enforced? Deliberate? State sponsored? Comparable? Tim J again:
The only 'enforced' famines have occurred in Communist countries - the Ukraine, Ethiopia under Mengistu, North Korea. To talk of 'enforced famines' in British India is both ignorant and malicious. To do so in an attempt to make them seem worse than Communist countries that did enforce famines is revolting.
That's moral equivalence to you and me. And that's a hanging offence.


Lord Pasternack said...

*Titters* I must forge an alliance with you sometime. With you and my mate Ben, whom I'll show this to in due course.

Together we can mock the Communists!

lurkerative said...

Very well said. The Graun really has become a despicable rag in these last few months.

Go one - one wee gerund. It won't hurt

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...


Gerund: Noun from (usually transitive) verb, e.g. "hitter", "chaser", "lover"
Gerundive: Adjective from verb, e.g. "hated", "loved"

more later.


Katy Newton said...

Moral equivalence is how the Guardian makes its living. It is so disgracefully sloppy on every single level of journalism - from basic printing to basic fact-checking - that I don't know how anyone with a brain can read it, whether they are left wing or right wing.

Kevin the Lurker said...

OT - but I would be remiss if I didn't reply... and as Proverbs says, whoso loveth knowledge loveth correction.

There is no gerundive in English grammar, only Latin. Sorry, it was a trick question.

As for the gerund, you're right in principle but wrong in the examples you provide. A gerund (according to Chambers, Fowler and OED) is indeed a verb made from a noun, but resembling the participle (ie ending in -ing) - in these phrases the words ending in -ing are all gerunds:

The changing of the Guard
Your answering my questions
My badgering you for replies

I wouldn't make such a fuss ordinarily, but I know that at least one teenage Glaswegian girl is reading this and it's important that the young get a good example from their elders - don't you agree.

I remain your humble servant

Kevin the Lurker

Lord Pasternack said...

Hehe. You missed the apostrophe in "you're" and forgot your question mark at "don't you agree".

I wouldn't make such a fuss ordinarily as it's human error, and all that, but it's beautifully ironic.

Yes, I do think that I should be getting a good example from you elders, Kevin. *Prods in the ribs* But don't let me think for a minute that you're trying to show off.

Sure, you could be anywhere from about my age to about 50 - but you just, don't let me think that for a minute, or a second.

I'll presume your motives are honourable unless you give me reason to believe otherwise.

But you toe the line!

(Think I could make a good dominatrix? *snort, snort, chortle*)

fisharefun said...

Methinks the PG doth overegg his angel delight. Enforced famines outside the communist world? Try Irish Potato famine - prolonged, rather than caused, by refusal of Robert Peel's government to do anything about it. Corn Laws, etc, etc. It might be argued that that was malign neglect rather than enforcement, but I'm fairly sure comrade Stalin would have proffered the same explanation. And on the communist front, you missed out China. Or have we now forgotten they're a totalitarian communist regime because they make such good stuff for next to nothing?

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...


Some interesting points, I grant you. My thoughts:

Enforced Famines does mean just that: whether or not Stalin would argue that malign neglect prolonged the famines in Ukraine etc, he would have a tough time arguing that the collectivisation etc did not actually CAUSE the thing in the first place.

This is a fairly crucial difference. In fact, it is the whole point.

"And on the communist front, you missed out China. Or have we now forgotten they're a totalitarian communist regime because they make such good stuff for next to nothing?"

But it is not really a very good example of Rapid Industrialisation AND Job Security AND Gender Equality, which was Seuaeuamaeus's point.

FishAreFun said...

You're probably bored of this thread by now, but thank you for the reply, and congratulations on the fine blog - always an informative place to look in.
I think my point was that it's less black-and-white (Communism all bad, Capitalism all good) than your original post suggested.
As to your reply, caused and enforced are not synonymous, and causes are often highly contentious, particularly in retrospect. Was collectivisation the ONLY cause of the Ukrainian famine? Unfortunately, my ignorance precludes any comment. In the Irish case, refusal to address the growing famine pretty much amounts to enforcement, IMHO - though again, that's an arguable point involving guessing at the motives of people we cannot directly question. Enough already!! As I wrote, y'all have had enough of this one.

Devil's Kitchen said...


Was collectivisation the ONLY cause of the Ukrainian famine?

No. The fact that much of the food was collected by the Communist government and then exported -- as much to save face as anything else, to keep up the pretence that the USSR wasn't a total basketcase -- was also a massive contributing factor.