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Will the Chavistas Please Stand Up?

In a recent reflection on a Black Lives Matter protest, Burt Likko remarked that he was uncomfortable with one of the speakers who wanted to “dismantle the system.” Some of our left-wing commenters came to the support of such an action, remarking that the system was so rotten it had to be destroyed/restructured wholesale.

This is a recurring conflict between lefties and liberals. Proper left opinion stipulates that liberal’s nibble around an issue because they inherently support the existing economic/social/political/whatever system and thus fail to see the necessity for revolution to alter the course of history and actually change the state of things. Incremental and institutional change is seen as reformist at best and defeating at worst.

What my left-wing counterparts often avoid is how disastrous revolutionary change can be. Case in point: Venezuela. Via The New York Times:

The courts? Closed most days. The bureau to start a business? Same thing. The public defender’s office? That’s been converted into a food bank for government employees.

Step by step, Venezuela has been shutting down.

This country has long been accustomed to painful shortages, even of basic foods. But Venezuela keeps drifting further into uncharted territory.

In recent weeks, the government has taken what may be one of the most desperate measures ever by a country to save electricity: A shutdown of many of its offices for all but two half-days each week.

But that is only the start of the country’s woes. Electricity and water are being rationed, and huge areas of the country have spent months with little of either.

Many people cannot make international calls from their phones because of a dispute between the government and phone companies over currency regulations and rates.

Coca-Cola Femsa, the Mexican company that bottles Coke in the country, has even said it was halting production of sugary soft drinks because it was running out of sugar.

Last week, protests turned violent in parts of the country where demonstrators demanded empty supermarkets be resupplied. And on Friday, the government said it would continue its truncated workweek for an additional 15 days.

“There’s been plenty of problems, but one thing I haven’t seen until now is protests simply to get food,” said David Smilde, a Caracas-based analyst for the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group, referring to the demonstrations last week.

The Atlantic argues why this isn’t just another run-of-the-mill recession:

Developing countries, like teenagers, are prone to accidents. One pretty much expects them to suffer an economic crash, a political crisis, or both, with some regularity. The news coming from Venezuela—including shortages as well as, most recently, riots over blackouts; the imposition of a two-day workweek for government employees, supposedly aimed at saving electricity; and an accelerating drive to recall the president—is dire, but also easy to dismiss as representing just one more of these recurrent episodes.

That would be a mistake. What our country is going through is monstrously unique: It’s nothing less than the collapse of a large, wealthy, seemingly modern, seemingly democratic nation just a few hours’ flight from the United States.

In the last two years Venezuela has experienced the kind of implosion that hardly ever occurs in a middle-income country like it outside of war. Mortality rates are skyrocketing; one public service after another is collapsing; triple-digit inflation has left more than 70 percent of the population in poverty; an unmanageable crime wave keeps people locked indoors at night; shoppers have to stand in line for hours to buy food; babies die in large numbers for lack of simple, inexpensive medicines and equipment in hospitals, as do the elderly and those suffering from chronic illnesses.

 

Prior to these predictable turns of events, Chavez and his revolution in Venezuela had won the hearts of would-be revolutionaries in the West. Magazines like The Nation and Counter-Punch, along with left-wing newspapers like the Guardian often published a weekly article celebrating Chavez, his economic program and brash personal style. Prominent scholars and activists like Cornel West and Noam Chomsky expressed support for changes being made to Venezuelan society. My friends and comrades were also infected with this revolutionary enthusiasm: looking back at Facebook feed in the mid-2000s reads like an official propaganda program of the Bolivarian Revolution.

Now that the country is falling into disarray, there is silence from those who once championed Hugo’s cause. The always-splendid Nick Cohen put it best:

Venezuela stroked [western radical’s] erogenous zones. Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro were anti-American and “anti-imperialist”. That both allied with imperial powers, most notably Russia, did not appear to concern them in the slightest. Venezuela, cried Seumas Milne in the Guardian, has “redistributed wealth and power, rejected western neoliberal orthodoxy, and challenged imperial domination”. What more could a breathless Western punter ask for?

….

The show is over now. Their fantasies fulfilled, the western tourists have left a ruined country behind without a guilty glance over their shoulder. Venezuela looks as if it has been pillaged by a hostile army, though there has been no war.

I wish I could say that Venezuela was the first time western leftists played weekend radical at the expense of others. Unfortunately, the left has a long history of supporting and apologizing for some of the worst regimes and political systems this world has yet seen. Walter Duranty, writing for The Nation” in 1936, called Stalin’s purges a little “tidying up.” In the magazine’s April 22nd issue that same year, they stated, “There can be no doubt that dictatorship in Russia is dying and that a new democracy is slowly being born.” Mind you, a million lives were destroyed the very next year by the Soviet Union.

I suppose, at my core, my temperament is one of a liberal. Perhaps it has to do with my upbringing, my gender, or my ethnicity. Maybe it has to do with the privilege apparent in my life as a middle class American. All of that may explain why I am reluctant to jump impetuously into revolutionary zeal, but I would argue that a cursory reading of the death and destruction wrought from 20th century revolution is a far better motive. Yes, revolutions can be necessary: had their not been violent resistance to the status quo, we may still be struggling as serfs on our lord’s fiefdom as our ancestors did hundreds of years prior. I am not pacifist who sees history as one of gradual, incremental change existing only in established institutions. But if I am going to commit to radical change, I would like more than a vague promise of success that often graces the lips of my leftwing counterparts. The stakes are too high to upend the system without a clear vision of an alternative from those who seem to hop from one revolutionary movement to the next as fleetingly as they change underpants.


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Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father just north of San Francisco who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren't teetotalers). He is a regular contributor at Harry's Place and Ordinary Times.

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305 thoughts on “Will the Chavistas Please Stand Up?

  1. The revolution stands in the shadow of the guillotine; it has ever been thus and we forget it at our peril.

    The furthest left, like their right wing cousins, support ideologies that cannot fail; only be failed. The difference, however, is that in much of the world and more strongly in the minds of the developed world the left wing ideologies are mostly discredited and are adhered to only by a mostly powerless fringe. Even the “left wing” insurgencies here in the US, the UK etc are primarily liberalism with a plumage of leftism over the surface rather than genuine leftism. The same cannot be said for the right.

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    • “The furthest left, like their right wing cousins, support ideologies that cannot fail; only be failed.”

      That is a great line and I will probably steal it in the future i.e. Melania Trump.

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    • I think the difference between the radical right & left is one of patience. The radical left wants to upend the system NOW! The radical right seems more willing to move at a measured pace.

      Bith approaches have their pros & cons.

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      • I think another difference is that the radical left has seen many of their most extreme theories tried out in real world governance (failing spectacularly). The far right, in contrast, has mostly never had their extreme theories tried out or they were tried out and failed so long ago that they can obfuscate that fact.

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        • Radical right tends toward Theocracy, Monarchy, etc.? Correct? Depending on how far one wants to go, things start looping around until you wind up at a place that has a powerful figure leading the cause (and doing so with no holds barred). Then the difference is just the flavor of control the strongman prefers.

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          • I don’t have time to unpack this, but I don’t quite think this is right.

            That there are radical left/right regimes that exist, fail, and thrive seem to be the case… its even hard to determine what exactly do we mean by radical right? Suadi Arabia? Thrive? Saudi Arabia?

            Here’s a simple list of all countries by regime type… when we open it up we start to see that left/right and radical regime doesn’t quite have the predictive power we might think in terms of comparative politics.

            Franco’s Spain and Salazar’s Portugal compare more favorably to Chavez and less favorable to others – depending again on what we want to prioritize and how heavily we want to engage in counter-factual.

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    • Liberalism continues to crash hard into the cold hard realities of life, but fuck it, why mess with a good thing?

      And if you don’t acknowledge that, then you are the problem, just as much as the crazy lefties or righties are.

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      • Liberalism grinds along the cold hard realities of life as it always has. It’s bumpy and imperfect but at this point it’s basically also unrivalled. What are the popular alternatives? China’s basically a washed up command economy with some kind of market liberalism slowly eating its way out from the inside. Russia is a capitalist market liberal state being hijacked by a plundering oligarchy using nationalism and religion as a cover. Iran’s theocratic model has no admirers outside the shifting quagmire of the middle east. What is the rival model?

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        • Let’s see, we have neoliberalism, neoconservatism, some sort of Reactionary far-right stuff, — yes, yes, China, Russia, Iran, Myanmar too. Wait, which one’s liberalism again?

          I was more thinking small scale, rather than large scale. Large scale, the handwaving doesn’t matter as much. (although neoliberalism is still choking on it’s own vomit).

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          • Neoliberalism is liberalism with extra numeracy to keep it from the foibles of classical liberalism and a vulnerability to corporatism. Neoconservativsm is liberalism exported at the end of guns and George W’s throbbing erection. China and Russia are respectively a non-liberal regime being kept alive by increasing infusions of liberalism and a nascent liberal order hijacked by corrupt kleptocrats.

            None of them are both illiberal and a philosophical challenge to the liberal order.

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            • Does the idea that neoliberalism is anti-democratic bother you? That its own policies create enough resentment and motion on the part of the democratic body that the pendulum swings away from it at every opportunity?

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              • The need for expertise and knowledge in office always exists in tension with the need for the masses to have their desires expressed and transmitted accurately to the administrations. Neoliberalism has no inherent anti-democratic characteristics beyond that.

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                  • In the US I see a festering carcass of political conservatism jamming up the works. It seems to me that the system is creaking but the carcass is more likely to reform/get out of the way or be ejected than the system is to collapse.

                    In Europe it depends on what part of Europe you look at. The Europeans have always had a very distinct mode of approaching things and they have very different norms and expectations. To say nothing of the curious case of the EU itself.

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              • My flavor of neoliberalism is emphatically center left. Vitally needed institutions to support its function would be a legal system for framework and an electoral system to provide the vital feedback loop between the masses and the decision makers.
                Vital political elements would involve a strong liberal wing to keep it compassionate and a vocal libertarian faction to keep it honest and numerate.

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                • I like your flavor of neoliberalism.
                  I wish it existed.

                  The neoliberal “Powers that Be” are the ones who hired rapists to destroy your “strong liberal wing.” Fact check me on this one. [I’m speaking in particular about Occupy Wall Street, the last time anyone really gave a fuck about the left in this country. Divide and conquer is working, sir. It is a deliberate strategy, and people are going to die because of it (well, more people. future looks bleak enough as is)]

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  2. Revolutions that end badly always seem to have one thing in common; a powerful singular figure. Usually one who is more than just a little unhinged.

    Us humans have a bad habit of mistaking bold vision & action with competence. Especially when it aligns with our priors.

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    • The French Revolution doesn’t (so far as I know, but I don’t claim to be an expert) seem to have someone like this. Robespierre might come closest, but he doesn’t really strike me as a singular figure in the process.

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        • Napoleon came in later.

          As for Robespierre, and I would be totally open to an argument to the contrary, as this isn’t my area of expertise, he certainly was a leader early on, but not the charismatic movement leader I thought of when I read “powerful singular figure.”

          Or, to put it another way, was he more of a powerful singular figure than was George Washington?

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          • I think that it must be acknowledged that the truly remarkable person here was George Washington. He could have been King of America if he had wanted to. But he didn’t want to. Instead, he said, in effect, “You guys figure out some form of government, and I’ll give you the street cred to get it started.”

            And then he called it quits after two terms.

            George Washington was really extraordinary. You can’t count on people being George Washington. People are far more likely to be Robespierre than Go W.

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            • When, years after you have surrendered power, you die and a national fight promptly breaks out over who gets to have the honor of hosting your burial place you know you’ve got a remarkable person on your hands.

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          • Here’s how I look at it.

            The American Revolution started with considerably smaller goals than the French Revolution (independence), climaxed successfully in the Treaty of Paris and was then placed in the hands of Washington who upheld its core character and put it to bed as the new status quos.

            The French Revolution started with enormously larger goals (not merely independence but a transformation of society) climaxed in the terror and was placed in the hands of Napoleon who subverted and inverted its core character and led it on a spree of conquest ending in defeat and a restoration of the French Monarchy.

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            • If you look closely, the restored constitutional monarchy of 1814/15 and its Charter of 1814 embraced most of the objectives of the 1789-91 revolution, and established France’s (and most of continental Europe’s) political model up to WWI.

              In that respect, the French Revolution succeeded in its initially stated objectives, and is the base of what you have in France today.

              The 1792/95 Terror and the Bonaparte Dictatorship that rose as reaction to it were just twisted offshoots that did not bear any fruit in history. Had Louis XVI had the political ability of his younger brother Louis XVIII he should have assumed the Revolution objectives as his own, and “give” them to his people, like Louis XVIII did when he “gave” the Charter of 1814. But he made the same mistake as Nicholas II. He felt duty bound to preserve intact a power he personally didn’t care about.

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      • Was the French Revolution such a failure? I mean, it certainly wasn’t a fun time, but IIRC the goals of the revolution were met and largely persist to this day.

        As for Napoleon, while he was certainly a prominent figure of the revolution, he came to power after it started, and was not a chief instigator (unlike Robespierre).

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        • The French Revolution is an interesting case. While we still have “Liberté, égalité, fraternity,” much of the revolutionary zeal and vision faded rather quickly. I am always reminded of the story of Robespierre’s last days. Apparently, as he was being prepped for execution, the barber (hair had to be removed for the guillotine to work properly) said to him “at least we still have that” and pointed to the national motto.

          Goes to show that even destructive revolutions that eat themselves can still produce something of value that lasts the ages.

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          • That’s another thing about revolutions, you need to have that goal in mind, and the ability to shut it down when the goal is met (which brings us back to your point about how you need to have a plan). The French broke the aristocracy, but (and my history isn’t strong here) didn’t have a plan to haul back the revolutionary fervor, so things kinda got out of hand for a while, until everyone got tired of the instability and started trying to put things back together.

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        • Hannah Arendt judged it a failure. in On Revolutions, she studies why the American Revolution was successful and the French Revolution was not but also why all subsequent revolutions seem to follow the French model.

          I read the book 15 years ago but the basic answer seems to be that the French Revolution and all subsequent revolutions needed to come up with answers for the Social Problem (aka as poverty). The American Revolution was more or less a revolution of middle-class to wealthy merchants/landowners/lawyers and did not concern itself or need to concern itself with answering questions on poverty and starvation. If you look at foreigner observations on Colonial and Early Republic America, you will find a lot of people amazed how much even the poorest of the poor have to eat because of a huge amount of natural resources with a small number of people.

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          • So revolutions that are, at their core, about robbing the treasury*, fail once the treasury is empty? Seems about right.

            *I know this is being flippant, but if a revolution is all about redistributing wealth without a plan for how to keep the treasury full, then you are going to have another problem when the treasury is empty.

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            • Maybe. The issue is that the French people (and the Russians) really were starving in ways that the Americans were not and probably were being taxed at levels that were already broken. As horrible as the Communists were, I am sympathetic to people who wanted to overthrow the Czars.

              The French treasury was already empty by the time the French Revolution started because Louis XVI bankrupted the nation by supporting the American Revolution and wanting to stick it to the British. France might have been teetering on collapse from both the monarchy and the Revolutionaries.

              Kolohe brings up a good point, the majority of successful independence movements might be more like secession movements than anything else. Besides the U.S., you have Israel, Singapore, India, etc. as successful independence movements.

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              • Agreed. Understand that I don’t think the French or Russians were wrong to revolt, because things were really bad, but getting back to a point from the OP, you need to have a plan, a good plan, for what happens when the current order falls. A lot of revolutionary plans involve letting the guy with the bold vision and action do his thing, while ignoring the obvious crazy said guy suffers from.

                I can understand WHY that happens, but that doesn’t make for very many successful revolutions.

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              • Singapore’s independence was somewhat accidental. We separated from the british intending to become one state among others in Malaysia. In fact, Brunei was also initally supposed to come along. Then, 2 years later, Malaysia kicked us out.

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            • Great-great grandson. Louis XV was the grandson of Louis XIV and Louis XVI was the grandson of Louis XV, the Bourbons like the Windsors being a long living family when not facing revolutionary violence.

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          • This isn’t strictly true. France did all right for itself during most of the late 17th and 18th centuries. French peasants tended to be much more secure in their land tenure than British tenant farmers. Its one reason why the French had so much trouble getting people to emigrate to their New World territories. The French nobility could be less of a jerk than the average English land owner. Thanks to their Caribbean colonies, France controlled most of the coffee, sugar, and indigo crops heading for Europe. Really but for the foreign adventure known as the American Revolution, they really did alright for themselves. The French Revolution could have been avoided.

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          • I think another problem that the French had was geography. The United States where a far away land and we posed no threat to the monarchs and established churches of Europe with our new ideas on government and civil liberties. France was a lot closer and posed a greater threat to the existence of the powers that be. There was no way they could let the French get away with declaring a functioning republic.

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        • The French Revolution is always going to be a complicated issue for many reasons. It was certainly an early and major outburst of raw liberalism. It really depends on how you measure it.

          As an economic and military issue the French Revolution was a resounding success. The old structures, customs and restrictions were blasted to flinders and in place of them merit and new ideals poured in allowing post revolution France to stand basically by herself against the near united array of hostile monarchist governments.

          Politically, however, the revolution was a failure. It spawned a series of chaotic assemblies leading up to the bloody spasm of the Terror and then declined into muddling confusion until a single highly capable strong man (Napoleon) seized control and forged France into a historic imperialist conquering state. It was only in a historic fight led by Europe’s’ second most liberal state (England, an island, had long had a weaker Monarchy due to the reduced need for a huge standing army) that Napoleons ambitions were checked.

          Philosophically the revolution was a success. The ideals it spawned rocketed around the world and inspire to this day.

          Over all, mixed bag. But in terms of producing a liberal competent government the revolution was a narrow failure.

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  3. The radical left and the radical right are equally divorced from reality. This observation is unremarkable. The central point in present-day American politics, however, is that the radical left is irrelevant, while the radical right is very much relevant. Critiques of the radical left, even when true on the merits, tend therefore to have the air of avoiding the elephant in the room.

    As for Venezuela in particular, the lesson to take away is that if your economy is based on the extraction of a single product, it is easy to look good when the price of that commodity is high. Yes, there was a lot of naivete about why things looked good (until they didn’t). But then again the same can be said of the economies of various US states with significant oil production, except that there the naivete came from the right. I’m not sure that there is any bigger point here than the tendency of people to cheer lead.

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    • Bolshevism and Maoism may be spent forces, but the radical left is far from irrelevant. One has to go no further than a BLM protest to see how the ideas and language of the far left still galvanize and push groups forward.

      The radical right is on the rise in the US and in the West, but the far left is not dead.

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      • meh. BLM is based on the critique of police violence against blacks. This is not inherently radical left (or even left at all, come to that). This sort of thing inevitably brings out the radical lefities, and radical lefty rhetoric therefore gets associated with it. But this doesn’t mean that much, and it isn’t what is pushing BLM forward, stipulating for the sake of discussion that such is in fact occurring.

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        • I see BLM a lot like the anti-war movement of the 1960s. You have a larger idea (police reform) that is being approached from many different angles. There is the mainstream, liberal-reform minded portion, but you definitely have far-left elements as well. Much like in the 60s, you have church groups marching against the draft as well as groups calling for solidarity with the Vietcong.

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        • I agree with you on this point. Every time I look at a BLM list of demands, I see a focused set of reforms, not some vague cry to “dismantle the system”. They have a lot of far-left allies, and like good political actors, they try not to alienate those allies. But I do not at all see BLM as “far-left”.

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      • I’m with Richard here, the BLM instances of leftism are mostly just pasting it in to pad out their demands. They’re after police accountability and racial equality and, because concrete proposals to really get there are either straight forward or really hard, they paste in the leftist pap to pad it out.

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        • So, why pad the platform with all that at all? As those more radical elements seem to be where BLM finds the most dissension, it seems wiser to stick to the major rallying cry, which is police accountability and reform.

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          • Why? Because when you’re an out group you tend to glom onto other out-ideologies and then when you have an opportunity to come in out of the cold you try and bring them with you. Gays, for instance, were especially prone to trying illegal drugs and frowned upon fetishes not because of some character of homosexuality itself but because they were already banished from the social order so there was no impediment to doing so.

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          • Because you can’t stop them from showing up?

            That’s how it’s always been with any protest movement. You’ve got the people there to whom the protest proper is the “big issue” and then you have a lot of people who agree with the protest’s issue, and think “Let’s get out there and show some solidarity, and also promote my pet crazy cause!”.

            Large crowds of political protest attract crazy people, because they think “I agree with them on [This War Sucks][Police brutality][Acid Rain] so clearly they will agree with me on [Fluoridated water is mind control][Anarchy!][Seize the means of production!] — or can be convinced to agree with me”.

            Call it crazy person PR. They’re getting their ideas out there, both pitching it to a crowd they think is receptive AND tying their pet cause to a more popular one.

            And since it’s a protest, and not an invitation only event, you can’t keep them out.

            Same problem with the rock-throwers. 99.9% of the crowd might be devoted to peaceful protest, but 0.1% shows up to throw rocks and start crap.

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            • since it’s a protest, and not an invitation only event, you can’t keep them out.

              … sure you can’t. Tell that to the psyops crowd. There’s always a way to keep people out — you just can’t take the high road while doing it.

              The left leaves itself vulnerable to horrid game theory by taking the high road.

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      • I don’t see BLM as being that radical. Maybe by the standards of American politics in some quarters (which shows how far we drifted to the right) but they are far from being Maoists or supporters of FARC.

        As far as I know BLM does not advocate for the kind of economic system that would lead to something like Venzeuela. They probably care about income inequality and want higher taxes on the rich but basically keep a capitalist framework.

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  4. So, um, Russia and Iran? Also too leftist movements?
    Or just alsotoo petroeconomies in the dumps?

    Nuclear Winter, coming soon to a world near you.
    Or meybee not.
    Time vill tell.

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    • Russia is so not left it’s not funny. A strongman oligarchy corrupt capitalist plunder state using nationalism, nativism and religious conservatism as cover? Can you get further from the left than that? Iran? The hard right conservative religious theocracy? How much bourbon do you have to drink to make that look like a left wing state?

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        • Seems like there are many petro states that have not seen the meteoric crash Venezuela has seen. This line of defense is one I have seen with other failed socialist experiments like NK and Cuba (they failed not due to policy but X,Y,Z).

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          • NK and Cuba are different. Perhaps if you didn’t want to get made fun of, you might have mentioned them (and then we might have had an interesting discussion on the American versus English system, and how much that has to do with the demise of Iceland as a free and sovereign nation). Using more than one example is a good way to make sure others understand the similarities you want to point out.

            Do you understand why there is a war in Yemen right now?

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              • Yes. I do. However, I think that Russia and Iran and to some extent Saudi Arabia share a lot more with Venezuela than Venezuela shares with North Korea.

                Venezuela trades, has “reasonably” free elections (British style, maybe? 5% tweaking?), and hasn’t turned into a MartialLawNoMansLand like Argentina did.

                Venezuela is still ahead of liberal-lovechild Argentina. Yup.
                Also fucking liberal lovechild and heartsqueeze of the moment Myanmar. Venezuela ain’t been bought for white slavery, either.

                I don’t even LIKE Venezuela, by the way. I just know liberals make things worse.

                (And I haven’t even started in on Miami’s epic upcoming shitstorm! Housing Bubble still growing there, by the way. How many refugees can Florida possibly produce??)

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                • *sigh* They aren’t starving to death en masse in Argentina or Myanmar. They aren’t shutting down the state in Miami.

                  Venezuela was a petrostate and was taken over by Chavez. To address the previous massive illiberal problems Chavez broke out the leftism hard core and the petrodollars have him the wherewithal to do so even as he simultaneously laid the groundwork for the current crisis. The command economy structures Chavezism drove businesses out of Venezuela and when the party ended with the oil revenue the command economy responses (capital controls, price controls) swiftly generated the famine and scarcity that those discredited policies reliably do.

                  Russia and Iran, for all their manifest failings as governments, did not reimpose the old school command economy controls that Chavez did so when the oil prices tanked it hurt but their systems adapted.

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                  • They were starving to death in Argentina, as well as being needlessly killed when lawlessness reigned. I’m allowed to choose the timeperiod, the argument isn’t that “everything’s hunky right now, so capitalism is awesome” it is “capitalism is awesome because it doesn’t do that”.

                    In Myanmar they’re still killing people in pointless civil war. And we welcome them back to the world, because now they’re willing to spread em and get fucked. Literally.

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  5. Most people tend to see themselves as fairly normal in the views they believe in, mostly not knowing or socializing with people who’s views are radically different then what they believe. So, if you are middle (left/right) you feel that your views are pretty normal, and the far (left/right) that corresponds to your view is out there, but not deranged. On the other hand, the far (left/right) of the other side is TOTALLY INSANE!!!!

    I had some far leftists in my family. Not too surprising from the branch of the family that was based in Berkeley. People who emigrated east in the ’60’s, to communist block countries. True believers, if you will. They, by all opinion, thought they were in the right and were going the way that history does, to the left. Very bitter when the wall came down and the Germans were happy with it (they were in Berlin.) Just couldn’t understand how people could want, well, this…

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    • “People who emigrated east in the ’60’s, to communist block countries.”

      Did they actually move from the US to Eastern Europe, or am I reading this wrong? If so, that would be a story I would love to hear!

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      • Cuba first and then to East Germany. Odd, as they were Jewish. But he was a doctor and she (my grandfathers sister) was an organic chemist. I don’t know too much of the actual story, as they are a few generations above me, but as I get older and I think about it more, I do wonder if they were soviet agents at some level. Idle speculation more than anything.

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  6. Extremist Revolutionary checklist:

    Right wing:
    will each of us grow our own neccessary food? check.
    will each of us engage in production of local fuel and electricity? check.
    will each of us build a shelter after the great fire? check.
    will each of us produce to sustain local needs? check.
    will each of us muster local firepower? check.
    Who’s running the show? we drew straws and it’s Lennys cousin, Burt.
    what happens if we don’t succeed? certain death.
    will it be awesome? nope, pretty much a shit sandwich where no one agrees on anything.

    Left wing:
    can we burn down the front door of the government? check.
    can we put our agent in the highest position? check.
    can we verify he is the biggest control freak ever? that’s why he is the chosen one.
    can we redistribute the wealth? maybe, our agent says he is agreeable.
    can we muster local firepower? we agreed to outsource that to violent group XYZ.
    can we keep all these social thingys working? sure, what could go wrong?
    will it be awesome? after the transformation, yes it will be truly awesome for everyone.

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    • After Lenny told me the news, I have a few ideas for y’all. I’d been thinking that a Burtocracy would wind up working out pretty well, so here we go.

      First of all, audible car alarms that are not silenced within fifteen seconds of non-theft related activation may now be disabled by passers-by armed with, inter alia, aluminum baseball bats.

      Secondly, failure to return your grocery carts (aka “buggies”) to the stall after loading your groceries in the car trunk will result in a one-month suspension of your driving privileges. Second offense, two months, and so on. Furthermore, the sentence shall be doubled if the offense occurs during a period of high winds.

      Third, Pokemon Go! and any other similar electronic program shall be required to integrate an in-game warning light indicating when a user is entering private property or traffic, which is to include a warning reading “PUT THE PHONE DOWN AND LOOK AROUND AT THE REAL WORLD RIGHT NOW!” or words of similar import. Remember, everyone’s armed.

      There shall be further decrees to follow. Thank you for your cooperation.

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  7. It’s all well and good to have “revolution”. Shit tends to get real when the killing starts. One’s glorious dreams of “whatever” run up against folks who don’t want that and will fight hard, and dirty, to keep theirs or what they consider theirs. And no one really knows what the end result will be, but usually it means more and more dead. Folk out to remember that.

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    • And in the end, people still want the garbage to be picked up, the electricity to stay on, and the water to work. A lot of revolutionists dream about the revolution, about burning down the system — but just assume the parts of the system they like will keep ticking over without effort.

      Like the natural order of mankind is twice a week garbage pick-up and a reliable water system.

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      • Yes, most folks do. But people have been groomed to assumed “free stuff”, stuff that their taxes pay for but aren’t line itemed out clearly so know exactly what they pay for. That’s why when gov’ts have financials problems, they cut garbage pickups and library services…so taxpayers can see the “crisis” and the gov’t has more leverage for that tax increase, whether or not the gov’t could slow spending somewhere else to and maintain the level of garbage svcs.

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  8. As others have pointed out, the left and right at their extremes are both Utopians and suffer from the same belief that ideology can’t fail, it can only be failed.

    You don’t even need to go to Chavez to see this. Look at the Corbyn supporters. He is far from being Chavez but currently way too far for the left for most of the British electorate and even many of his own MPs who remembered the years of 1979-1997 as ones of exile. Yet a significant portion of the Labour base still believes in the old Clause IV socialism and will say things like “Labour has never offered the British people a real left-wing vision.”

    The same is true for the die-hard among the Bernie Bros and those switching to Jill Stein. Now it never occurs to them that the Labour and Democratic Parties stick to the center-left because they have studied the issues and they figure this is as far as they can go without isolating the majority of the public.

    My brother would point out that the far-left in this country never really learned to get along with the Democratic Party and adopted a purity sneer. They are largely reduced to select cities and enclaves where the political battles are between mainstream Democrats and further left voices. A good example would be fights for who gets to represent SF in the California Legislature. You have liberal but rather mainstream Democrats like David Chiu and Scott Weiner battling it out with further left people like David Campos and Jane Kim.

    The far-right, for better or for worse, always found a space in the Republican Party and embraced the identification. Jane Kim only became a Democrat because San Francisco is a Democratic town and she needed to in order to gain a seat on the Board of Supervisors. Just like Sanders only became a Democrat when he needed to.

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    • Well said. I have a piece on Jill Stein in the wings to address the Bernie supporters who say they will jump to her bandwagon. Since I worked for Nader in 2000, I know a thing or two about how misguided youthful political purity can result in real negative consequences.

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      • It is the old “heighten the contradictions” debate combined with the fact that a good chunk of the left seems to see their vote as being about how pure and good they are. The right-wing seems fine with getting 20 percent of their social agenda. A small chunk of the left basically wants to do re-do the entire bourgeois world order instead of making it more fair. They want a world that resembles a commune, not what we have now with more equality.

        I imagine that most people who voted for Nader were just fine under Bush II. Same with those who will vote for Stein.

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    • Mostly I agree. I am uncertain about the characterization of Corbyn, since there is so much media consolidation in England, and it’s all in the hands of his enemies, it makes it really hard to get a clear read on Corbyn’s popularity.

      I mean, it might be true, I just don’t know…

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    • Whats really interesting is the Labour base that really believes in old Clause IV socialism seems to mainly consist of academics and activists. Very few actual working class British people really seem to believe in Clause IV socialism. They haven’t believed in it since 1979 if election results are anything to go by. What makes the Corbyn supporters interesting is they combine Clause IV socialism with the variety of Leftist beliefs that developed during the 1960s, anti-colonialism, intersectionality, and social justice for a great big, incoherent mess.

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    • I have a real problem with, when I’m confronted with the appearance of at least potentially deep corruption in both major political parties and I raise an objection to them on that basis, being told that what I’m asking for is purity. I don’t want purity; I just want a certain basic level of integrity, transparency, and substantive commitment to policy values. “Purity” is a pure invention of those who are bought-in to the prevailing us-because-not-them dynamic of our system, and don’t like hearing people suggest that pressure could be applied to make things better, or even different, in a way that their preferred party wouldn’t like. ‘Just don’t do anything to make my side less likely to win – after all, can’t you see how bad the other side is??’

      It’s not a demand for purity to say that neither side is meeting basic standards. The problem is not that our parties are not pure; it’s that they’re bad.

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  9. I think that anyone who calls for a revolution probably hasn’t been through one. Because the way I figure it, many of those who call for it are those who might well be in the first wave up against the wall.

    And so, it often seems to me, they call for revolution as a way of managing their public identity. “I’m not really that!” it seems to say. Which is to say, they want an actual revolution about as much as Boris Johnson wanted Brexit.

    My personal feeling is that when someone wants me to endorse “dismantle the system” they are asking me not just to trust them, but every other person who might be able to influence events once the system is in pieces and people are trying to put it back together. I don’t have that much trust.

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      • Well, it’s probably foolish to engage in a cynicism contest with you, , but I happen to think that most humans, not just the Powers That Be, are pro-genocide, provided you pick the right tribe to wipe out. That’s the part we have trouble agreeing on.

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  10. To make a qualified defense of the Venezuelan revolution, as long as the oil was flowing and Chavez was in charge, things seemed to be working well, by leftie revolutionary standards. Even various international groups couldn’t say life for the average Venezuelan wasn’t getting better, even if life for say the limited middle class of Venezuela who could access the Internet was feeling a bit of a pinch. Also yeah freedom of speech and freedom of the press but that’s going to be a bad argument against lefties who believe those are bourgeois freedoms used by the powerful to shut out the powerless. Oh no, the massive billionaire who owned large chunks of the media can on longer affect elections. Poor him!

    Unfortunately, the oil ran out and it turned out Maduro was a world class idiot unlike Chavez who seemed to at least listen to people how to run a leftie country, even if some people here might disagree with his tactics. On the first part, that seems to be happening to a lot of places (hello Alberta!) and for the second part, that’s why you don’t install successors who are complete idiots just because they can’t politically outmaneuver you. I mean, look at Lula in Brazil. He did everything democratically and his successor still might get thrown out because Brazil makes Louisiana look like Minnesota when it comes to corruption and there was a drop in prices of the various natural resources and commodities that make the Brazil economy hum.

    If I’m a Chavista in Venezeula, I hope the military gets the right idea to kick Maduro out, find a few leftie bland economists and political scientists to actually run the country while you have a junta and straighten things out so the country doesn’t get handed back over to the old elite.

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    • If the effective operation of your revolutionary government is highly dependant upon the competency of a central authority figure, you are doing it wrong, which will become painfully apparent should that figurehead die, and the successor(s) have had their incompetence covered up by the sycophants of the regime.

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    • A quibble, the oil did not “run out” the price of oil descended from historic highs and Venezuela’s capacity to pump oil has declined steadily since Chavez chased all the oil men out and diverted money from developing oil fields to other social projects so Venezuela couldn’t pump more oil to make up for the lost sale price.

      Otherwise great comment from a more left perspective.

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  11. States fail…for whom?

    Every state succeeds wonderfully, at least for a certain segment, just as every state has failed some constituency or another.

    Stalinist Russia was a wonderful place to live, if you were a high ranking party boss. Batista’s Cuba was a wildly successful place, for generals and American gangsters. Haiti has long been a marvelous jewel of opulence and luxury, for a tiny select few.

    We tend to forget that for a lot of people, even the apparent failure of any new regime is a step up from what they had before, so talk about how it “failed” only sounds like sour grapes from the losing side.

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      • Its almost a tautology, that a state is popular among those who benefit from it.

        If every person in Venezuela was miserable, something would change.
        But as with any country, there are enough people in positions of power who enjoy things the way they are, or at least prefer them to the proffered alternative.

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      • At the risk of rising to a half crouch in defense of Chavez…

        And who do we regard as the authentic “Voice Of The People”?
        The starving mother in Caracas, or some government minister who swears things are the best they’ve ever been?

        And are we willing to apply this same sort of metric to America, and have oh, I don’t know, Russia Times print an article written by a poor mother in Ferguson telling the world how America is a failed state?

        In all truth, I think the Chavistas DID fail Venezuela, and I sure wouldn’t want to live under them.

        My point is not to do some sort of international BSDI, but to point out that tyranny, dictatorship, wretched corruption and incompetence are pretty widespread, and the governments that host them have their defenders because misery is never uniformly spread out in any country.

        Misery is always applied unevenly, afflicting some people terribly while others live lives of comfort and happiness.

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  12. Just FYI: Kind of hard to comment here… I theoretically should read all 100 or so comments posted in the last 7 or so hours. But I didn’t. I will simply respond to Mr. Dodds’ OP.

    One reason that left wing revolutions fail is that the capitalists — not just the United States and Europe, but also the capitalist classes in those countries — oppose them not merely with with their massive economic weight but with the most the most savage brutality. To a certain extent, that’s no excuse: if one is going to shoot the king, he had better not miss, but to say that they have failed just because of their internal weaknesses is nonsense.

    Also, we “leftists” (I dislike the simplistic linearity of the label) are not yet doing revolution correctly. See, for example, Ian Welsh’s post, Seven Rules for Running a Real Left-Wing Government. I will admit, too many “leftists” think we can beat death squads and terrorism (and that’s just the United States police forces) by holding hands and singing Kumbaya.

    In any event, what people like me are talking about has little to do with Venezuela or Cuba. These tiny little countries do not have the power to stand up to the capitalist world system.

    No, we do not yet have the power to take on the capitalist world system, but you are weakening by the day. Indeed, y’all made a fateful choice: Trump over Sanders (I don’t make much distinction between the Democratic and Republican capitalist parties). I’m not a big Sanders fan — he’s no socialist — but he was the best chance you had for pulling capitalism out its death spiral. Even if Trump doesn’t win (he probably won’t, but he might), Hillary Clinton will be the worst Democratic president since Carter, and the fascists will realize that if a buffoon like Trump can make a real run, a real fascist can actually win. (Actually, y’all would be better off with Trump than Clinton: if elected, Trump could easily botch the job so badly that fascism might decline. But who knows, if y’all can canonize Ronald Reagan, you can canonize anyone.)

    What’s going to happen, sadly, is that fascism is going to beat capitalism, because y’all have allowed only fascism to stand in opposition to capitalism, hoping that the fascists would scare the workers into your camp. A very good plan, except for the part when the capitalists become decadent and unable to actually defeat fascism.

    So, the fascists will defeat you, and we communists and socialists are going to have to beat fascism. That’s the scenario you capitalists put in motion.

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    • I am going to need to firmly disagree with your stance on the Ds and the Rs. Both are capitalist but the Ds are a much more socially liberal party that embrace the welfare state or aspects of it and are not climate change denialists.

      What do you want? A party that is 100 percent for everything you want. Doesn’t exist. How do you deal with all the people who disagree with your economics? Explain it away with “false consciousness”?

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        • Communism murdered tens of millions of people with gulags, great leap forwards, five year plans, etc. that led to wide-spread famine and misery. There is still the case of North Korea.

          Now we shall call up No Real Communist….

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            • What is your evidence that Capitalism kills millions?

              I am not super-fond of Capitalism always. I don’t think it is a flawless system. No system created by humans is flawless because there is no such thing as an unflawed human being.

              Capitalism can destroy the lives of many as we have seen from the great recession and other crisis moments. I am not going to debate that. I am not going to debate or deny incidents of capitalists turning guns on people striking for better pay and their rights. I do support trade unions and don’t cross lines.

              But Capitalism did not produce the computers we are typing on and have increased human wealth in many ways.

              Capitalism is to be watched. It should not be left alone to do as it pleases especially when it hires 23 year old frat boys as analysts in investment banks and lets them run wild without consequence.

              But in the end, there is no utopia and no after life. Guard and regulate the worst excesses of capitalism and business. Have a generous welfare state to protect those suffering downturns. But Communism collapsed and did not work.

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              • What is your evidence that Capitalism kills millions?

                In no particular order and just off the top of my head: two world wars and countless lesser wars, up to Iraq and Afghanistan, an influenza epidemic, genocide of the indigenous American peoples, slavery, death squads in most every Latin American country, the colonization of the Philippines, the Irish potato famine. Shall I go on?

                But Capitalism did not [sic?] produce the computers we are typing on and have increased human wealth in many ways.

                Sure, but what have you done for us lately?

                But in the end, there is no utopia…

                Depends on what you mean by “utopia.” We don’t have to have rainbows and unicorns to do better than capitalism.

                Guard and regulate the worst excesses of capitalism and business. Have a generous welfare state to protect those suffering downturns.

                I’ve been watching the capitalist world for a half-century, and these measures seem less practically realistic than communism.

                But Communism collapsed and did not work.

                Communism was defeated; we are not yet strong enough — and capitalism is not yet weak enough — for us to prevail. This will not always be so.

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                • In no particular order and just off the top of my head: two world wars and countless lesser wars, up to Iraq and Afghanistan, an influenza epidemic, genocide of the indigenous American peoples, slavery, death squads in most every Latin American country, the colonization of the Philippines, the Irish potato famine. Shall I go on?

                  Please go on, b/c I’d like to know what revisionist/fantasy history text you are reading from.

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          • Eh, I am not keen on the phrasing here, about how “Communism” killed people.

            Stalin killed people. The fact that he used Communist ideology doesn’t shift things;
            In any counterfactual world where Stalin, or Mao, or Pol Pot rose to power thru some other means, millions of people were going to be slaughtered.

            Charging abstract ideologies with murder only allows us indulge in a grim sort of determinism, where economic ideas propel people inevitably towards some sort of ends.

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            • I disagree. Communism like every other utopian ideology thought it could run riot over the basic needs, wants, and rights of the people. Communists, fascists, theocrats, anarchists, and company all have some very definite ideas of what human society should look like. When they get power, they seem intent to turn their fantasies into reality regardless of how much suffering is caused in the mean time.

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              • As I have argued in other contexts earlier today, it’s the fanaticism that really invites the violence, a polarized, Manichean, morally-imperative world view. Even liberal democracy can turn bloody when it becomes invested with that sort of moral urgency, as the French learned to their woe in the years between the high-minded Estates-General and the military dictatorship of Napoleon.

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                • I think that’s well said.

                  The deterministic view that adherence to the concepts of public ownership of property somehow compels people to become murderous doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.

                  I’m thinking of how people accuse religion of being murderous and cruel, yet examples abound of religious people behaving in ways that are wonderfully kind and loving. Sometimes even the very same people who torture a heretic, can offer tender mercy to someone else.
                  This is because people are complex and contradictory, loving one moment then hateful the next.

                  Casting the guilt on some ideology flattens out the complexity, making it polarized, and well, Manichean.

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            • I love Clement Attlee and Anuerin Bevan as much as the next democratic socialist. I still consider Communism to be a failed ideology and find that Larry’s avoidance of the claims while simply repeating “capitalism killed millions” does not help his argument.

              I don’t think I am exactly a fanatical defender of capitalism. But I am suspicious of ideologies that offer no middle ground and revolutionary communism sounds like it doesn’t have a middle ground.

              I’m not that spiritual or religious or convinced of a next life. I don’t see why people should abstain from pleasure and comfort in this world. I’m not a monastic person. For all its faults (of which there are many), capitalism combined with a welfare state offers the most people, the highest standards of living. One of the reasons I have trouble getting on with the Christian Left is because they want to drag everyone along with their concept of scripture, whether said people are religious or not. They might not intend to but they often do because for some reason certain forms of Christianity make people feel icky around the idea of material comfort.

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              • I still consider Communism to be a failed ideology

                The problem with communism is the same problem that libertarianism has; it assumes that everybody is good. If not, well, you’re never going to get out of the dictatorship of the proletariat because some strongman will step forth and take advantage of these lovingly provided levers of power. (Or, in the case of the impressive regression to the mean that Venezuela is going through, the strongman will assume he’s immortal and not plan for the future.)

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        • I’m no libertarian, capitalism and the market are not perfect systems. As a liberal, I think that they need a corrective mechanism to prevent many abuses and create a certain base outcome that everybody deserves simply by virtue of being a human and alive. However, capitalism and the market have done more to provide more happiness, wealth, and prosperity to more people than Marxism. The atrocities of capitalism have nothing on the brutality of the many varieties of Marxism. Leftism without the restraints of liberalism, including rule of law, due process, freedom of speech and other bourgeois freedoms, is nothing more than naked authoritarianism.

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          • As a liberal, I think that they need a corrective mechanism to prevent many abuses and create a certain base outcome that everybody deserves simply by virtue of being a human and alive.

            I’m still waiting for capitalism to deliver on these measures.

            However, capitalism and the market have done more to provide more happiness, wealth, and prosperity to more people than Marxism.

            Dunno. I mean, capitalism’s been around longer, and Marx considered it a necessary precursor to communism. Still, the Marxists have posted some impressive gains, including defeating the Nazis, resisting the Japanese (when Chiang Kai-shek refused to do so), and building two agrarian nations into world powers. But resting on your laurels is not, I think, the most persuasive strategy.

            Leftism without the restraints of liberalism, including rule of law, due process, freedom of speech and other bourgeois freedoms, is nothing more than naked authoritarianism.

            Well, clearly, some restraints are necessary. Looking around, though, the United States seems to be very successfully implementing authoritarianism with these liberal “restraints.”

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    • This is one of those cases where I find this a meaningful comment, but limited by not knowing what you mean by certain words. As I said on a recent thread, capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production, but when you write it I get the sense that you mean much more.

      For instance, what do you mean when you speak of a capitalist death spiral? Economies go through cycles, that’s just the way it works. The global financial crisis of 2007-8 was a big deal, but I’m not sure how it’s going to be the beginning of the end of capitalism. Maybe you mean something more structural, like the expansion of technology and globalization that threatens the “hollowing out” of the middle class. If that’s the case, it is not clear how this will inevitably give way to facism. And for that matter, what do you mean when you say “fascism.”

      I guess it makes sense that socialism is going to involve a whole bunch of statements about historical determinism, but it’s such a closed system that it is difficult for those of us not immersed in that system to parse. Which I guess is why socialist systems tend to rely on overt command systems of political education instead of the more subtle forms that happen in the first world.

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      • capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production

        An excellent definition. As a communist, I am for the democratic, public, ownership of the means of production.

        For instance, what do you mean when you speak of a capitalist death spiral?

        I mean that capitalism is losing popular legitimacy; it is increasingly reliant on its ability to project pure force, rather than gaining the trust and consent of the governed.

        And for that matter, what do you mean when you say “fascism.”

        I mean legitimacy established directly by the use of force.

        I guess it makes sense that socialism is going to involve a whole bunch of statements about historical determinism….

        Marx is (a) much misunderstood on the topic and (b) makes substantial mistakes. I’d be happy to discuss the topic with you at greater length in another venue.

        Which I guess is why socialist systems tend to rely on overt command systems of political education instead of the more subtle forms that happen in the first world.

        To some extent, this is correct, but not, I think, on good theoretical grounds, but rather on practical and expedient grounds. Generally speaking, fighting a war is not a fertile arena for subtlety.

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        • I mean that capitalism is losing popular legitimacy; it is increasingly reliant on its ability to project pure force, rather than gaining the trust and consent of the governed.

          This claim is specious. Right now there is lots of popular discontent with lots of aspects of the contemporary liberal democratic state. If you choose to call that capitalism losing its popular legitimacy, there’s not much that I can do to stop you, but I see no evidence that any significant number of people are clamoring for the government seizing the means of production.

          You claim that communism involves political indoctrination for reasons of expediency. I disagree. Communism necessitates political indoctrination in an attempt to overcome the fact that people tend to like private property and individual rights and the chance to start a business and keep most of what they make and most aren’t eager to hand everything over to some central authority controlled by political cadres, even when you try to disguise that fact by calling it “democratic, public ownership.”

          By way of an analogy, lots of people don’t like McDonald’s – of course, lots of people do, which is why they are so successful. For the sake of argument, though, let’s say that McDonald’s success is a function of unethical business practices that deprive consumers of any real choice. The overwhelming majority of people who dislike McDonald’s don’t want want to see it replaced by the system that gives us school cafeteria lunches. They want something like In-n-Out or Shake Shack. That is people want something more local, less homogeneous, not more centralized control and enforced sameness.

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          • “… I see no evidence that any significant number of people are clamoring for the government seizing the means of production.”

            This is an interesting statement. Not really because of you, , in large part because none of the beliefs I’m about to describe are ones I’d ascribe to you beyond your general disagreement with the quoted section of ‘s comment.

            I’d venture to guess that many people — and an overwhelming majority of “the right” — would agree with you that there is no great clambering for government seizing the means of production. These folks would likely all call socialism a fringe ideology that only nutjobs would get behind.

            And, yet, many of those very same people (note: I will reiterate that I do not include among them) are quick to call things like the ACA “socialist” and anyone who supports it “socialist”. They call the sitting President a socialist. They call those who support him socialists.

            In essence, they are trying to have their cake and eat it to. “Capitalism is the best and everyone knows it. BUT OH MY GOD THE SOCIALISTS ARE EVERYWHERE AND THEY ARE COMING FOR YOU?”

            So which is it?

            For the record, I’ve discussed here that I actually think calling things like the ACA — or public schools or libraries — “socialist” shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what that ideology is about. The ACA doesn’t produce medicine. Libraries don’t publish books. There is no “production” that has been seized by the government. Distribution? Funding? Yea, sure, maybe. But until the government itself is producing drugs and making medical equipment and publishing books and barring all private actors from doing so, none of those things are socialist. They may be problematic and perhaps to the point of opposing them, but that doesn’t make them socialist.

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          • Communism necessitates political indoctrination in an attempt to overcome the fact that people tend to like private property and individual rights and the chance to start a business and keep most of what they make and most aren’t eager to hand everything over to some central authority controlled by political cadres, even when you try to disguise that fact by calling it “democratic, public ownership.”

            I suppose people might like those things; it’s notable that under capitalism, only a very small few get to enjoy them to any substantive degree. For the proletariat, the choice is not whether but to whom we hand everything over: the landlords and the bosses or to a government in which we have a voice. Read The Communist Manifesto at the very least:

            You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society. (ch. II)

            That is people want something more local, less homogeneous, not more centralized control and enforced sameness.

            Nothing in communism requires centralized control and enforced sameness. That such things might (or might not) have existed could be explained by specific historical circumstances, i.e. trying (and largely succeeding) to do in a couple of generations what took capitalism a couple of centuries.

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            • So your claim is that nine-tenths of the residents of the First World (meaning the capitalist world in the original usage of the term) enjoy no substantive claim on “private property and individual rights and the chance to start a business and keep most of what they make?”

              If that’s not your claim, then please clarify. Say something falsifiable.

              For the proletariat, the choice is not whether but to whom we hand everything over: the landlords and the bosses or to a government in which we have a voice.

              This sort of stuff makes for wonderful copy, until you break it down.

              Here is my claim: the working class of the First World (using that term in its original meaning) have more property, higher living standards, and more enforceable rights with recourse to an independent justice system than have any similar cohort of people that have ever walked on this earth. Is it perfect? Nope, but it’s more than the median member of the second world ever got.

              My guess is that you disagree with that statement. Fine. Let’s figure out how to quantify these claims and test the hypothesis.

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              • How much of that is that we’re exporting fetishes to the Third World?
                If you wanted snuff porn, at one point you did that in England or America, and the working class was murdered for it. (okay, not all of them)

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          • “Communism necessitates political indoctrination in an attempt to overcome the fact that people tend to like private property and individual rights and the chance to start a business and keep most of what they make and most aren’t eager to hand everything over to some central authority controlled by political cadres, even when you try to disguise that fact by calling it “democratic, public ownership.””

            Do we know for a fact that people naturally tend to like these things? And, further, all that is required for systems of private ownership to exist? Or is it that they are indoctrinated to in capitalist societies?

            It is really easy to say, “Well, our worldview is natural and obvious and we all arrived at it organically. Those guys? They’re brainwashed.”

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        • About half reason, half emotion I’d estimate. If the link generally outlines your own thinking on matters of current governance (Which I’d characterize as one third policy, one third conspiracy mongering and one third authoritarianism) then I think I’m okay with describing my reaction that way.

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            • In essence I am a liberal, worse, a numerate practical minded liberal who can easily identify with neoliberalism (depending on how one defines that quixotic term). Leftism, unrestrained by the “bourgeois” principles of liberalism seems to me merely a species of naked authoritarianism different from its religiously or militantly themed cousins on the right only on slogans.

              I type this hesitantly since I’m basing my impression primarily off the thoughts expressed in “Seven Rules for Running a Real Left Wing Government” and a very light glance through the other links you provided.

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                • Yes but where it’s not blaming the failures of communism on the nefarious actions of capitalists or subversive elites it seems to me it is simply ascribing to capitalism the sins of human beings in general.

                  Che Guevara once observed that in order for communism to work properly it had to create a new communist man. They never could, never did and communism doesn’t work on account of it.

                  Communism and the leftist critiques certainly have feathers in their caps. For toppling illiberal feudal or near feudal states and developing heavy industry and scaring illiberal capitalist states into paying mind to the desires of their masses it clearly proved to have some competency but when measured against the outcomes of liberal capitalist states communism seems to come up pretty badly wanting.

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  13. For that matter, it could also be said that leftist revolutions fail because they are the only kind.

    When rightwing governments come to power it is never called a revolution, merely a restoration.

    Franco’s regime lasted about the same length of time as the Soviet Union, and was reversed about the same time, yet no one went around pondering why the Fascist revolution failed to live up to its utopian ideals.

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  14. Still no Chavistas standing up. Could it be OT doesn’t actually have any?

    Can someone point me to a comment on the initial thread that was defending the notion that “the system” (however defined) is so rotten it needs to be destroyed wholesale? I found one instance of the word “rotten” in the original thread, and it doesn’t really align with the description here.

    Similar results when searching for words like “revolution”, “wholesale” or “destroy”.

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    • It was, in fact, referring to @larry-hamelin’s support of revolution (he also has a similar point above). I generally just used the instance to address the larger issue with revolution/reform and the consequences of sweeping changes without a plan.

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          • No. I am a much more radical democrat. What I mean by democracy is literally “rule by the people.” The people, all the people, take an active, central, and sovereign role in the management of society. Radical democracy will, of course, require developing radically new institutions of governance and economic management.

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              • What precisely do you mean by the “tyranny of the majority”? I’m not sure the concept is coherent: the tyrant is traditionally an individual exercising arbitrary power over without popular or traditional legitimacy. It seems logically impossible for an actual majority to operate without the legitimacy of at least a majority, which seems preferable to a system that can, potentially, operate without the legitimacy of a majority.

                If we look at the Federalist Papers, especially (IIRC) #51, the “tyranny” the apologists for the Constitution were mostly concerned about was the people seizing private property from the landed and mostly slave-owning class. It should be noted that the goal of communists and “true” socialists is precisely to exercise this sort of “tyranny”.

                Fundamentally, I see objections about the “tyranny of the majority” as code for, “How do we prevent the people from taking away my privileges?”

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                • Right now, in our representative gov’t, there are barriers (constitution, etc.) to protect the minority from the majority.

                  So, for example, that the majority decided, and voted, that Baptism should be the official religion and that no other religion would be tolerated. What safeguards in this “literally “rule by the people.”” have for that possibility? What about abortion, gay marriage, pick your poison?

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                  • [Suppose] the majority decided, and voted, that Baptism should be the official religion and that no other religion would be tolerated.

                    That actually happened under our representative government; until the 14th (?) Amendment, state governments, also with constitutional, representative governments, did actually establish religions. And that only changed when a majority of people voted for the 14th Amendment and extended constitutional rights to state governments.

                    Similarly, abortion and gay marriage became legal only when a large enough minority yelled for it loudly enough that the majority complied; that the mechanism under an unrepresentative government was through the courts instead of the legislature does not, I think, particularly matter.

                    So I’m not sure what additional protections you’re asking for. If you want social change, you have to convince a majority to at least tolerate it.

                    I’m not saying that radical democracy cannot have things like constitutions and courts. But even constitutions must be (as ours was) democratically established.

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                    • “Similarly, abortion and gay marriage became legal only when a large enough minority yelled for it loudly enough that the majority complied; that the mechanism under an unrepresentative government was through the courts instead of the legislature does not, I think, particularly matter.”

                      Oh really? Abortion didn’t become legal because people were voting for it in state elections (although that was happening), it became legal by a single supreme court decision. (The only “compliance” was the majority acquiesced rather than demanding the gov’t remove them or taking them outside the Court building and shooting them.) If you can’t see the difference between a few justices making a decision vs a legislature, I’m not sure you what kind of “democracy” you’re thinking of.

                      Maybe I should ask a different question. If, under your preferred form of governing, what would your reaction be to the majority deciding that “all illegal immigrants have 48 hours to leave or they will be shot on sight”?

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    • If you’re considering my comments to be a local exemplar of Chavism, well, I think I’m a pretty tepid excuse for a revolutionary. But I’ll make at least an attempt at standing up as a Chavist:

      I’ve got the impression that any meaningful remediation of the structural oppression along racial and other lines in the police and penal system would be such a massive overhaul that it probably would amount to “dismantling” the system and reassembling it from parts, not tinkering with it in place.

      As in, whole ‘prison towns’ would lose their anchor employer. They would either become ghost towns, or they would completely restructure their economies.

      As in, the structure of police unions, toothless civilian oversight boards, the rare cops so violent as to get fired going right back into police work in the next county, the basic police procedure of entering every interaction with dominance in mind, interrogation room and body cameras regularly “malfunctioning” and the town still having the same police chief the next week – all that would be so changed it would be practically unrecognizable to us today. So much of those structures are set up to resist that kind of change, each providing diagonal bracing to the ones beside it, such a project would probably entail actions drastic enough to count as replacing the old structure with a new one, rather than altering the old one in place.

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  15. To start to harp on the whole “High Trust/High Collaboration” thing some more, Communism says that we need to institute a High Collaboration society. You know, where people produce according to what they are able to produce and the excess goes to those who need it. Surely there would be so much excess under such a system that there’s be enough bounty that people would be able to have their needs met just working a half day. The afternoon could be spent fishing. The evening dedicated to literary criticism.

    Heaven, right?

    The problem is that, in practice, people defect. They cheat. They don’t make as much as they could possibly make because… well, maybe it doesn’t matter why they don’t make as much as they could. They just don’t.

    And there isn’t enough to go around.

    The government does one of the few things that it is very, very good at and that is punishing defectors. Oh, you drag your heels? Off to the Gulag. Your coffee break is too long? Off to the Gulag. You spend too much time complaining about the government sending people off to the Gulag? Off to the Gulag.

    A High-Collaboration society *IS* possible. A handful of societies has pulled such a thing off.

    It’s fragile, however.

    It requires Trust. High-Trust.

    And Gulags are not conducive to that.

    Capitalism, and say what you will about Capitalism, does not require High-Trust to function. Just fair-to-middlin’-Trust. Enough Trust to engage in a transaction. I won’t rip you off and you won’t rip me off and we’ll trade again in a week. Doesn’t take “please watch my baby” levels of trust to accomplish that. Just “well, if I want to trade again next week, and I do, I’d better not rip that guy off”.

    Which, compared to High-Trust, sucks.
    Compared to defecting? Eh. It’s okay.

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    • Speaking spefically about American-style capitalism… Imagine the following…

      “I want to buy a widget.”
      “That’ll be $25.”
      “Seems like a lot. I’ll check next door.”
      “Good luck. Thing is, we have the only widget-selling license in town. The government has a long list of requirements to sell widgets. Which only we meet. For safey reasons.”
      “Okay then. Here’s my money.”
      “We’ll have your widget tomorrow.”
      “But…”
      “Wanna go next door?”
      [tomorrow]
      “Where’s my widget?”
      “Oh, we went bankrupt this morning.”
      “I’ll sue.”
      “Who? We’re an LLC and the company has no assets.”
      “Fine. I’ll write a bad review on Yelp.”
      “Oh we’ll sue the pants of you for that. Don’t you remember the NDA we put on the back of the sales slip you signed?”
      [the next day]
      “Welcome to Same-Day-Widgets.”
      “I’ll take… Hey, aren’t you the guys from Next-Day-Widgets?”
      “No idea what you’re talking about. We’re the only widger business in town. $35/widget… Or 2-for-$60… Cuz we like you.”

      Is that capitalism? Where is the trust? Where is the collab?

      Now maybe you’ll say that AIN’T capitalism. And isn’t how it ought to be. But given that our supposedly-capitalist system yield this outcome, why assume capitalism is the better route? Or is the argument that we NEVER had capitalism?

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      • Who’s even talking about how something *OUGHT* to be?

        How’s this? People ought to live in a high-trust/high-collaboration society.

        How’s that for an ought?

        So what happens when we pass laws mandating that everyone acts like they live highly collaboratively?

        Off to the gulag.

        I mean, it wasn’t just once that this happened. It’s happened in lotsa places. It’s happening now in fewer places because the many places it used to be happening in collapsed or had a bunch of people revolt against the government or the government just upped and gave up. (Have you ever read this story about Yeltsin visiting a US grocery store? Read it.)

        So mandating that we have a high-collaboration society has failed in the lion’s share of the times it’s been attempted (and the ones that are still standing are looking… well, they don’t look well).

        So what about capitalism? Well, at it’s bare bones, it’s two people trading. You can play with people with short time horizons (“I’m gonna rip this guy off!”) and you can play with people with long time horizons (“I’d better not rip this guy off, if I want him to trade with me next week”) but when you start doing things like mandating that people have to engage in trade with each other, you start needing stuff like Gulags for the people who defect.

        Sometimes this is appropriate. You get something like Jim Crow laws and you need people to go to jail if they don’t sell to minority peoples. Well, I mean. The Jim Crow laws kind of prevent people from selling to minorities in the first place. So you pass new laws and the new laws are good this time. Enforce the new good laws. Yay enforcement of good laws!

        But sometimes it’s inappropriate and you get stuff like the government enforcing company towns where people get paid in scrip and have to spend it at the (overpriced!) company store which happens to have a monopoly over everybody. And that’s bad. So you need to pass a new law making those monopolies bad. Well, you have to get the government to not enforce the old law and enforce the new law. Then that’s good.

        And sometimes you have grey areas like Alcohol Prohibition or the War on Drugs where you know why the government doesn’t want people buying or selling beer or wine or weed and so it’s appropriate for the government to kick down doors and shoot people who are suspected of being an associate of someone who sells drugs.

        So you can’t just let capitalism happen. You need to have regulations on it. You just need to make sure that they’re the right regulations, enforced by the right people.

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        • I guess it seems to me that communism and capitalism can both lead to gulags. So saying, “Communism is wrong because gulags,” is a little silly.

          Then again, you did frame one with language like “regulation” and the other with language like “gulag”. Let’s split the difference and call it all regulagation.

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          • Thinking more, it seems you are saying that communism requires gulags to work. So what does it mean for commuism to work? Enough bread and toasters and electricity to work those toasters?

            When can we say capitalism is working? Is it outcome oriented or process oriented? It seems the latter, which makes it fundamentally different from communism which is outcome oriented. So we really can’t apply the same standards to how well it “works”, can we?

            “OMG, the communists have gulags!”
            “OMG, the capitalists don’t all have bread!”

            Maybe they’re cool with gulags. Just like maybe we’re cool with breadless people.

            “BUT THEY HAVE BREADLESS PEOPLE, TOO!”
            True.

            But we gave gula…. Er… Regulations.

            So they haven’t achieved communist utopia (“EVERYONE’S GOT BREAD!”) and we haven’t achieved capitalist utopia (“WE DON’T NEED REGULATION NOT EVEN ANTI-JIM CROW BECAUSE!”).

            So if the criticism is gulags, that seems hypocritical. If the criticism is breadless people, that seems hypocritical. If the criticism is they haven’t achieved their goal, that seems hypocritical, too!

            None of this is an attack (or defense) of capitalism or a defense (or attack) of communism… Just a recognition that we need a better means to judge each system than gulags.

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            • I think that you are failing to recognize that is, in part, simply relaying what the communists/revolutionaries are saying themselves. This is from the link that shared on the rules for running a left-wing government:

              Obey the Laws of Purges
              Let’s not dance around. Your first steps will be breaking the power of current economic and political elites who are not willing to convincingly join you or at least let you rule without trying to sabotage you…

              Let’s give a concrete example. Assume Obama was really a left-winger. He gets into power in 2009, and he really wants to change things. He needs to take out the financial elite: Wall Street and the Big Banks.

              They’ve handed him the opportunity. Here’s part of how he does it: He declares all banks involved in the sub-prime fraud racket (all of the big ones most of the small ones) conspiracies under RICO.

              He then says that all the individual executives’ money are proceeds from crime and confiscates it. (This is 100 percent legal under laws as they exist). He charges them, and they are forced to use public defenders.

              They are now powerless. This is the second law of purges: Anyone you damage, you must destroy utterly. If you take away half their power, and leave them half, they will hate you forever and use their remaining power to destroy you…

              Break your enemy’s power. If you’re any sort of left-winger worth your salt, you ethically do not believe in huge concentrations of power and money in the hands of a few people anyway. Act on your beliefs.

              And if they’ve committed a pile of crimes (and they almost always have), use those crimes against them.

              I don’t contend that this guy speaks for every communist/leftist or that his word is authoritative, but I also see no reason to doubt people when they try to tell you who they are.

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              • I don’t think I’m doubting gulags exist. Only that the communists see them as a reasonable meand to an end. And we can apply our moral code to that and call them monsters but by what authority? Our lack of gulags? Cuz that’s both circular and sort of false.

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                • I don’t think I’m doubting genocide exists. Only that the nazis see them as a reasonable means to an end. And we can apply our moral code to that and call them monsters but by what authority?

                  Maybe the same moral authority here?

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                  • Given our own history of genocide, and continuing perpetration of mass murder to establish and maintain imperialism, I do in fact think our moral authority regarding genocide is at least suspect.

                    I do not think Kazzy is saying that we cannot condemn mass incarceration. I think she is saying that we cannot judge between capitalism and communism based on differences in mass incarceration, because any such difference, if it exists at all, is too small to support that judgment.

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                    • You’ve asserted Murder and Genocide a couple of times now… that’s fine, but I’m old school and need to confess to specific murders and genocides, not the genocide in my heart. Can you help a fellow out with which murders and genocides we’re repenting?

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                  • I think we need to make a better argument than “Because gulags!” I’d actually push back slightly against Larry and say that we can still oppose something which we are historically guilty of. It is a bit of a needle that needs threading but it is doable. It is harder — maybe impossible? — to oppose something we actively are doing. Though at that point we need to look at some other factors like the source of their criticism and their role/support of our own actions.

                    But to act as if gulags are self-evidently immoral seems shortsighted.

                    Growing up in a Western capitalist society, we were imparted with certain morals, values, and frameworks by which we are going to look favorably upon capitalism. The same thing happens in communist countries. So, as I said above, we look at gulags and think, “Holy crap that is so obviously evil!” And they look at billionaires with house employees making minimum wage and think, “Holy crap that is so obviously evil!” Because, from our respective worldviews, it is obviously evil. But that doesn’t make it objectively wrong.

                    John Dewey said once that we can’t pretend we aren’t indoctrinated with certain mindsets. He asked (I’m paraphrasing), “Do you think it is by chance that most Russian children grown up to hold communist views and most Americans grow up to hold capitalist views?”

                    FYI, I’m a guy. Little curious why you assumed female. Not in a, “I’m insulted!” way. Just in a, “Huh… I wonder what created that impression?” way.

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                    • I was really responding to your question about what “moral authority” we had?

                      Welp, we don’t generally put political prisoners in a system of camps. We don’t wipe out whole cultures (supporting those who do is different enough to parse this). I’m not including the native americans ’cause technically they weren’t wiped out and two, I’m really talking 20th century here.

                      And even if you wanted to include everything in a comparison, it’s not western (alleged) capitalism that’s responsible for hundreds of millions of dead in the last few centuries..that’s religious fanaticism and leftist socialist/communist gov’ts.

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                      • Now we’re getting somewhere, . Saying, “Communism has led to the deaths of tens of million of people!” is a *really* good argument against communism. At least, the way in which those states practiced communism. If the deaths of those tens of millions was inherent to or necessary for communism, then we’re probably like 99.9% of the way to showing that communism is an immoral system (The remaining .1% is probably showing that those tens of millions of people shouldn’t have been killed… which is a relatively easy argument to make but again one that is not entirely self-evident).

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                          • If we’re including deaths due to famine from bad ideological policies on the head of communism, then to be fair and not taint the pool of comparisons we should stack them against the capitalist ideological policies which produced mass-death famines of their own, most famously in India and Ireland.

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                      • Welp, we don’t generally put political prisoners in a system of camps.

                        That’s true-ish – and yet, the US imprisons a greater percentage of its population (about 1%) than the USSR ever managed, even at the height of the gulag system (about 0.8%).

                        So, chalk one up to the efficiency of whatever you want to call the current US politico-economic system.

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                          • This isn’t on the basis of official Soviet figures – it’s on the basis of post-Soviet historical scholarship. The Soviets may not have published accurate figures at the time, but they kept pretty good records for historians to study afterward

                            So, the best estimates we have, with acknowledgement that it’s not perfect.

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                              • I would expect not – people who die in prison generally stop being counted as part of the prison population.

                                I suppose the alternative would be counting them as “deceased prisoners” until the scheduled end of their sentence.

                                Interestingly, I don’t think that would affect the raw numbers – about half of all deaths in the gulags took place from 1941 to 1943, but the hightest rates of imprisonment in the gulags wasn’t until the early 50s.

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                    • I understand your desire to be fair to all sides, but in this case I think that it is really misplaced. This does not need to be a contest between capitalism and communism. The Cold War is over.

                      The only reason that we are having this particular conversation is because chose to offer “capitalism kills millions” as a defense of socialist revolution, which is a move straight out of the revolutionary playbook. Seriously, read his own words. Read his link. Study the history of totalitarian revolutions. They follow a script: aid the old system along on its way to implosion, exploit the resulting confusion to seize power, purge your enemies, establish the institutions of perpetual revolution.

                      That’s how the Bolsheviks took power in 1917. That’s how Hitler and Mussolini came to power. And that’s how Erdogan is turning Turkey into a more authoritarian country right now.

                      I don’t need to defend the United States’ over-incarceration problem to say that political purges and gulags are wrong. The ethics of one has little to do with the existence of the other. And more importantly I have no desire to defend the US’ over-incarceration, because it is largely indefensible. We can and we should do better, but better ain’t the proletarian revolution and the establishment of a totalitarian socialist state.

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                      • I am not defending communism or socialism. I am not saying that references to gulags and purges are inaccurate. Rather, I am saying that if we really want to engage in a conversation on the various merits of organizing political, economic, and social structures, individually we each need to recognize the particular worldview we hold and the context in which it arose.

                        As you said, we need look no further than these people’s own words: they are *calling* for gulags and purges. They genuinely believe that gulags and purges are, at worst, defensible but necessary and, at best, good and desirable. Saying, “You’re wrong because gulags,” isn’t going to change their mind. Just as if a communist said to you, “You’re wrong to support capitalism because capitalism leads to wealth acquisition.” You’d say, “Fuck yea it does and that is why I support it!”

                        Focusing on gulags and purges and the assumed and obvious immorality of both does a good job of rallying one’s own troops… but it doesn’t change minds of people who think those things are not obviously immoral.

                        I’m not saying to abandon the argument that they are. I’m saying *make* the argument. Explain why they are immoral. Don’t just say they are. Show why communism is a worse system and why it leads to worse outcomes and why the outcomes it does seek are not outcomes that should be sought. Make the case. That is the position I am staking out here.

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                • And we can apply our moral code to that and call them monsters but by what authority?

                  That’s not how ethics works. The morality of an act is defined by the act, not the relative morality of the person calling out act as immoral.

                  Again, you don’t have to look very hard for communists and revolutionary leftists talking about the need for purges or for political indoctrination and yet you balk when I point that out. How much more proof do you need?

                  I defend capitalism, but if someone said, “capitalism is powered by the profit motive and not by its concern for humanity,” I wouldn’t respond by saying, “not all capitalists are motivated by profits; some care about humanity.” It’s a feature of the system, so I own it. Sometimes it’s OK to call a spade is a spade.

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                  • The argument isn’t whether indoctrination is taking place or whether Russian had gulags. Such points are conceded. The question is: Is indoctrination wrong? Are gulags wrong?

                    Those cases need to be made. They can be made. But acting as if such things are self-evidently wrong doesn’t make the case. And attempting to do so is undermined when we have our own analogues to both actions.

                    I’m not saying that jailing people for opposing communism is morally equivalent to jailing people for murder. But what I am saying is that we need a better argument that jailing people for opposing communism is wrong than, “Because that is what a communist does!”

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                    • Taking a look at the U.S. systems of prisons, there at least is a distribution of some authority on the way to prison. Justice in the creation of courts, juries and judges. Also justice from the vantage point of individuals. There is also a sense of justice from outlining individual rights, written in law.

                      When communism reaches a point of formation of gulags, what mechanisms of justice are created?

                      I would also like to doubly note that the form of communism brought to the table the last two days demands complete power be taken for communism. This requires the individual to release any claim on justice at the formation of that society and embeds it completely to the agents determining justice.

                      How is trust supposed to work when the first step of formation of that society isn’t to empower ones subjective justice, but deny it?

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              • I’m not sure what your objection is.

                As to ends, Welsh says that if you take power, you have to take all the power. This principle has been around since Machiavelli, and was exercised by the bourgeoisie in their own revolutions: they did not leave any substantive power to the feudal aristocracy or the monarchy. And it is definitely true that the bourgeoisie is hardly willing to share power with any other class, even the professional-managerial class, who saved them after the Great Depression nearly ushered in a communist revolution. (Note that communists such as myself in some sense admire the bourgeoisie’s commitment to holding power, and recognize that they will not be defeated until they become weak and sentimental.)

                As to means, Welsh argues for prosecuting actual criminals under existing laws, with due process, and imposing the penalties specified by those laws.

                Socialism is fundamentally opposed to capitalism; they are incompatible systems. You obviously do not agree that socialism is preferable to capitalism, but to argue that socialism is bad just because we want to win, and win by the rules that the capitalists have set in place, does not seem coherent.

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                • I’m not sure what your objection is.

                  My objection is a stubborn belief in limited government and the rule of law. I don’t want governments taking all power. I want governments operating strictly within the defined powers allotted to them by sensible and cautious democratic processes. And beyond that, I think that democracy itself has limited claim on the sovereignty of the individual.

                  As to means, Welsh argues for prosecuting actual criminals under existing laws, with due process, and imposing the penalties specified by those laws.

                  No, he does not, because that’s not what RICO is and that’s not how RICO was meant to be used. RICO is not just a class action criminal prosecution.

                  You obviously do not agree that socialism is preferable to capitalism, but to argue that socialism is bad just because we want to win, and win by the rules that the capitalists have set in place, does not seem coherent.

                  I don’t think that you want to get into a conversation about coherence. You’re not going to win that. You’re talking about winning by the rules that capitalists put in place while simultaneously advocating for using criminal codes to execute a political purge. You keep mentioning the millions of victims of capitalism, while coyly talking about leftists singing kumbaya and failing to mention those murdered by communist governments.

                  I get why you do it; that’s the playbook. Just don’t try to pretend that I’m saying something weird or contradictory in sticking up for capitalism and liberal democracy.

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          • So, instead of the gulag, let’s say “stick”. Make it nice and sanitary.

            When it comes to regulation, we’re talking about regulation of markets, I presume, and so we’re going to cover everything from limited licensure to zoning to truth-in-advertising to monopolies to… ugh. Boring.

            How’s this instead? We’ll use the happy terms of “trust” and “collaboration”.

            And we’ll look at the examples that you gave.
            In order:
            licensing
            safety regulations
            bankruptcy laws (?)
            Limited Liability (?)
            Non-disclosure Agreements for customers (?) (seriously, are you calling for tort reform in your criticism of capitalism?)
            (did I get them all?)

            So when you ask “where is the trust? where is the collaboration?”, I’d say that we’ve got a fairly solid example of the government, once again, using its government force to mandate that people act as if they have higher trust/higher collaboration than they actually do.

            And in response to people threatening to defect, there is the constant threat hanging over their heads of The Stick.

            What’s wacky is that, in each case, we’re talking about a corporation using the force of government behind it to mandate that you, the consumer, act as if you have higher-trust/higher collaboration than you actually do.

            For licensing, ideally, we’re talking about the government saying something like “we know you need this product but it’s a tricky product to sell, it’s a tricky product to hold on the shelves, and it creates externalities… so we’re going to make sure than only people who have received proper training can dole it out to you.”

            All well and good, right? I see what they’re going for, there.
            The problem comes when we’re talking about stuff that might not be quite as tricky as you think it might be, might not be as tricky to hold on the shelves, and might not create the externalities you think it might… but still holding the argument of the importance of licensure over your head (with the threat of the stick behind it!) without real care for that.

            That’s a betrayal of trust.

            You might be too young to remember back when you could buy cold medicine that actually worked. You’re probably old enough to remember when drug store owners said that they didn’t feel like stocking birth control.

            What the heck, here’s a comment that I wrote back when we were discussing that thing:

            So, let’s see. We’ve got a situation where the government has handed out a license to sell Product X.

            If I try to sell Product X without a license, I will be arrested and go to jail.
            If I try to buy Product X from someone who doesn’t have a license to sell it, I will be arrested and go to jail.
            If I try to sell Product X with a license to someone who does not have a prescription for Product X from his doctor, I will be arrested and go to jail.
            If I try to buy Product X without a prescription from my doctor, I will be arrested and go to jail.
            The licenses to sell Product X at all are kept artificially scarce by the government who is colluding with both the manufacturers and distributors of Product X.

            And the complaint is “but what about Liberty?” when it comes to the conscience of the people who actually have a license to distribute Product X to people?

            Welcome to the struggle for human freedom, Comrade. I hope you did not strain anything in your hurry to get to the front line.

            Do you see the game being played by the people calling for liberty there? They don’t mean liberty for the person who wishes to buy X. They only mean liberty for the pharmacist.

            In any relationship, if your law artificially demands a certain level of collaboration on only *ONE* side of the transaction, you’re going to start having troubles the moment that the trust in that relationship gets under that level of collaboration.

            In theory, the license is a way for the government to say “We trust this guy with the minimum level of trust to hand out birth control.”

            In practice, it results in a guy who says “You know what? I have no desire to hand out birth control but there’s no other game in town.” Why isn’t there any other game in town? Because you need a license to hand out birth control. It’s a trust thing.

            Next example: Safety regulations
            Another trust thing. “Hey, you can trust this product even though you don’t know who made it, who packaged it, who transported it, or who handled the initial ingredients.”

            In theory, good. It allows for stuff like birth control to be made in Tacoma, Warshington and be sold in El Plano, Texas without you worrying about it.

            But in your example, for some reason, it’s being used as a reason that other people can’t compete with the big monopoly player in town… under threat of the stick.

            Hey, I meet the government level of trust so if you want to collaborate with anybody, you have to collaborate with the people who have achieved the government level of trust required to collaborate without getting The Stick.

            “Oh, and by the way, I’m not *ACTUALLY* trustworthy.”

            As for bankruptcy, Limited Liability, and NDAs for customers… well, we’re a little past criticisms of capitalism in any given capitalism vs. communism discussion, aren’t we?

            We can just say that, at their best, they’re government guarantees that the risk of doing a thing won’t be too bad and, at their worst, they’re ways to force a level of collaboration between two parties to the benefit of one of the parties and to the detriment of the other.

            And what was our problem with Communism?
            It was that the government forced a level of collaboration between two parties to the benefit of one of the parties and to the detriment of the other. Or they get the stick.

            So in every example we might give in the future, check to see if the level of collaboration expected exceeds the level of trust and if there’s a threat of the stick behind it.

            If there is:
            THAT’S BAD.
            Even if it happens in capitalism.

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          • I am not saying that communism is wrong because gulags.

            I’m saying that gulags being used as punishment for defection when defection is defined by not acting with a level of high collaboration when there is not a high level of trust is wrong… and that communism, for some reason, tends to end up in places where people get thrown in gulags for not acting with a level of high collaboration when there is not a high level of trust.

            Let’s say that 10 is a society with high trust/high collaboration. Yay! Heaven!
            If you visited, you’d probably think that it was downright communist. In many very important ways, it would be.

            A 1 is the worst place in the world. Places where you have to carry a sword in your hand and set up booby traps or thick walls before you go to sleep.

            Capitalism consistently is able to provide a solid 5 on the trust scale. Maybe a 6.

            So if you’re asking whether we shouldn’t live in an 8. Or a 9? Or a 10?!?!?

            Yeah, sure. Fine. Whatever.

            The places that instituted Communist Policies didn’t end up with 5s. They ended up with lower than that. They ended up with secret police. They ended up with gulags. They ended up with mass graves.

            “But what about limited liability?!?!?”

            Yeah, a 6 ain’t a 7, 8, 9, or 10.

            What’re you gonna do?

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      • Kazzy, for a moment I would like to consider all the things that led to the distortions of your example.
        1. $25===a price that was derived in fiat currency. something that was created in a social context by a group of people.
        2.license===a thing created by a licensing body, created by a group of people.
        3.government requirements===created by a group of people
        4.bankruptcy===created by a group of people
        5.LLC===created by a group of people
        6.company===created by a group of people
        7.Yelp===created by a group of people
        8.sue===ability created by a group of people
        9.NDA===has authority only given legitimacy by a group of people
        10.signature===only given legal binding by a group of people

        and the leftist solution to all this?
        we need more authority invested in………a group of people

        How is this different than what Jay proposes below:
        “Well, at it’s bare bones, it’s two people trading.”

        I’ll be damned if 90% of the critics of capitalism can’t spot the difference there.

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          • It’s not a fault of capitalism that groups of people do what groups of people do. There is a very specific connotation for that, not particularly distant from foundational bricks of communism. Is that not an argument/contrast we should be making?

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              • How did the persistent intrusion of -groups of people- weigh into what individual agency you had (at each step above). Did it add value to your individual agency or subtract from it?

                From that observation what do you propose would happen to your agency if only groups of people had totalitarian control of the entire transaction? How big a slice of individual agency would you suppose would remain?

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                • I think it’s more that large groups of people set up institutions, of a sort, that allow for trust to exist between strangers (or, if not trust, an institution says “feel free to take risks because we will do what we can to minimize the downside (e.g., limited liability, bankruptcy laws, intellectual property protection laws, etc)).

                  And Kazzy’s criticism is that some people will game the system.

                  Indeed.

                  Some people will, in fact, game the system.

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                  • “I think it’s more that large groups of people set up institutions, of a sort, that allow for trust to exist between strangers”

                    We look at this completely different. I think large groups of people setup institutions because the have conflicts they can’t work out. People build the institutions to solve their problems, not to produce trust.

                    The institution is likely a expression of a solution to a problem. If people had mad trust-collaboration skillz they wouldn’t need the institutions.

                    I just want to note there is a difference between gaming the system and making the system the game (which in my view, is what communism does).

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          • It’s not that Communism tends toward Gulags, it’s that defection tends to result in gulags. It results in gulags under capitalism too! Indeed, both sides punish defection with gulags.

            It’s more interesting to explore whether Communism creates more defections than Capitalism, whether Communism has fewer tools to deal with defection than Capitalism, or whether Capitalism cares less about defection (or cares about very different kinds of defection).

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    • To start to harp on the whole “High Trust/High Collaboration” thing some more, Communism says that we need to institute a High Collaboration society. You know, where people produce according to what they are able to produce and the excess goes to those who need it. Surely there would be so much excess under such a system that there’s be enough bounty that people would be able to have their needs met just working a half day. The afternoon could be spent fishing. The evening dedicated to literary criticism.

      You’ve read Marx! Good on ya, mate!

      I mostly agree with your exposition about trust. A high-trust, high-collaboration society is indeed very difficult to develop. Indeed, I see the millennial project of western civilization as slowly and painfully building trust among groups of people too large for familial and tribal affiliation to work. That communism requires even higher trust than capitalism is a feature, not a bug.

      I also agree that gulags are not necessarily the best mechanism for building a high trust society. That’s ok: Stalin was not a prophet, and we don’t have to repeat his mistakes; communism is not “everything that Marx, Engels, Stalin, and Mao said, even the parts that contradict the other parts.”

      And arguably Stalin implemented the gulags not because he himself thought they were necessary for communism, but because the Soviets had to have an absolutely thorough commitment to defeating the two greatest industrial powers (Germany and the United States), both of whom explicitly declared that the annihilation of the Russian people was both desirable and feasible.

      (And, of course, complaining about the gulags in the United States in 2016 seems a bit, well, naive.)

      Capitalism, and say what you will about Capitalism, does not require High-Trust to function.

      I disagree. Capitalism requires less trust than communism, but it still requires quite a lot of trust, as Kazzy humorously illustrates.

      But what’s our goal? Is it to build more trust and cooperation? Or is our goal to eliminate trust, to find a society that can operate without any trust at all? Would such a society be desirable?

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      • But what’s our goal?

        That’s a good freakin’ question.

        Are there ways to measure whether we have gone so badly off course from where we probably ought to be that we should quit while we’re ahead? Or abandon the sunk costs we’ve already dumped into the hole in the ground?

        Capitalism, and say what you will about Capitalism, does not require High-Trust to function.

        I disagree. Capitalism requires less trust than communism, but it still requires quite a lot of trust, as Kazzy humorously illustrates.

        Would you say that it might require a middle-level of trust/collaboration?

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