Friday, May 14, 2010

The Lives Of Others - Getting the crooked timber of humanity to yield to your vision

I saw The Lives Of Others last night.
If you haven't seen it, the film tells the story of an East German couple (prior to The Wall coming down), a member of the Stazi (the notorious secret police), and how the experience of spying on the couple leads the policeman to his redemption. 

It's probably one of the 10 best movies I've ever seen.

One of the saddest things about watching a film like this? 
1)  Not just the Socialist Body Count, which is a staggering number....
2)  Or understanding the diminished lives of everyone who had to live in the Communist system, but....
3)  Realizing that very few people in the U.S. understand the magnitude of the crimes committed by the Socialist regimes that were in power for most of the previous century.  I'd bet that typical college graduates can tell you more about the anti-Communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era than can tell you about the body counts achieved by the socialist governments that prompted the witch hunts. 

(In the U.S. during the McCarthy era, somewhere around 10,000 people lost their jobs or had to take less than desirable employment because of their previous association with the Communist party.  An army dentist who was promoted despite being unwilling to answer questions about his political loyalties became the subject of a media whirlwind.  93 people were convicted of belonging to organizations that advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government.  Around 300 actors and screenwriters were blacklisted and were unable to write for Leave It To Beaver.)
None of these things should have happened.  It was a bad time.  But let's look at what prompted the Red Scare: 

According to The Black Book Of Communisim, originally published in France, english translation published in 1999, these are the civilian lives claimed by Communism:

U.S.S.R. - 20 million deaths
China - 65 million deaths
Vietnam - 1 million deaths
North Korea - 2 million deaths
Cambodia - 2 million deaths
Eastern Europe - 1 million deaths
Latin American - 150,000 deaths
Africa - 1.7 million deaths
Afghanistan - 1.5 million deaths
The international Communist movement and Communist parties not in power: 10,000 deaths

The total approaches 100 million people killed.  I don't think that the crimes of the Socialists and the crimes of the United States can be seen as moral equivalents.   

Here's Claire Berlinski, writing for City Journal:

In the world’s collective consciousness, the word “Nazi” is synonymous with evil. It is widely understood that the Nazis’ ideology—nationalism, anti-Semitism, the autarkic ethnic state, the Führer principle—led directly to the furnaces of Auschwitz. It is not nearly as well understood that Communism led just as inexorably, everywhere on the globe where it was applied, to starvation, torture, and slave-labor camps. Nor is it widely acknowledged that Communism was responsible for the deaths of some 150 million human beings during the twentieth century. The world remains inexplicably indifferent and uncurious about the deadliest ideology in history.

For evidence of this indifference, consider the unread Soviet archives. Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London, has on his computer 50,000 unpublished, untranslated, top-secret Kremlin documents, mostly dating from the close of the Cold War. He stole them in 2003 and fled Russia. Within living memory, they would have been worth millions to the CIA; they surely tell a story about Communism and its collapse that the world needs to know. Yet he can’t get anyone to house them in a reputable library, publish them, or fund their translation. In fact, he can’t get anyone to take much interest in them at all.

Then there’s Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who once spent 12 years in the USSR’s prisons, labor camps, and psikhushkas—political psychiatric hospitals—after being convicted of copying anti-Soviet literature. He, too, possesses a massive collection of stolen and smuggled papers from the archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which, as he writes, “contain the beginnings and the ends of all the tragedies of our bloodstained century.” These documents are available online at, but most are not translated. They are unorganized; there are no summaries; there is no search or index function. “I offer them free of charge to the most influential newspapers and journals in the world, but nobody wants to print them,” Bukovsky writes. “Editors shrug indifferently: So what? Who cares?”

The question is not so much "Who cares?" as "Why do we feel this way?"

For reasons that I'll never understand, a lot of intelligent people are able to give Socialism a free pass because the goals of Socialism are so "humane" and "egalitarian".   The death camps, which you have to have for the people who decline to be Socialized, are overlooked as a fluke, or the unfortunate products of Socialism veering from the true path.  (The Black Book Of Communism, which I'm only 1/10th of the way into, puts that myth to rest nicely.  The tragedy in Russia wasn't caused by Stalin corrupting the ideals laid down by Lenin.  Both of those jokers operated from the same playbook.)

Remember the 1960's era hippies, with their copies of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book
How many Fidel Castro apologists have you met in your life?  I've known about a dozen, and read pieces by dozens of others. 
Look at Sean Penn, praising Socialist nutcase Hugo Chavez

Now....what would happen to Sean Penn's career if he praised a Nazi?  What if Penn defended someone really horrible like Joseph Goebbels, but whose policies, if you look at the death count, were less harmful than those of Karl Marx ?  Would Sean Penn ever be in another movie?  But for some reason, the Chavez crimes against humanity and property are more wholesome and his defenders are more politically "aware". 

If someone praised Auschwitz "Doctor" Josef Mengele, invited him to speak at a church in New York City, and then crowed online about Mengele's greatness and wisdom, do you think that person would deserved to be shunned for the rest of his life? 
But why do we accept this with a shrug, when the guest of honor is mass-murderer Fidel Castro?   

Free-market capitalism isn't perfect either.  However, if capitalism is left alone (and if it's participants aren't declared Too Big To Fail), it has some self-correcting aspects that provide an incredible amount of wealth and prosperity to a massive number of people.  Here's Jonah Goldberg on the strengths and weaknesses of Capitalism vs. Socialism:

If by “capitalist” you mean someone who cares more about his own profit than yours; if you mean someone who cares more about providing for his family than providing for yours; if you mean someone who trusts that he is a better caretaker of his own interests and desires than a bureaucrat he’s never met, often in a city he’s never been to: then we are all capitalists. Because, by that standard, capitalism isn’t some far-off theory about the allocation of capital; it is a commonsense description of what motivates pretty much all human beings everywhere.

And that was one of the reasons why the hard socialism of the Soviet Union failed, and it is why the soft socialism of Western Europe is so anemic. At the end of the day, it is entirely natural for humans to work the system — any system — for their own betterment, whatever kind of system that may be. That’s why the black-market economy of the Soviet Union might have in fact been bigger than the official socialist economy. That is why devoted socialists worked the bureaucracy to get the best homes, get their kids into the best schools, (see: Obama, Sasha and Malia) and provide their families with the best food, clothes, and amenities they could. Just like people in capitalist countries.

It’s why labor unions demanded exemptions and “carve-outs” from Obamacare for their own health-care plans. And why very rich liberals still try their best to minimize their taxes.  (see: Hypocrisy Awards: The Whiteys)

The problem with socialism is socialism, because there are no socialists. Socialism is a system based upon an assumption about human nature that simply isn’t true. I can design a perfect canine community in which dogs never chase squirrels or groom their nether regions in an indelicate manner. But the moment I take that idea from the drawing board to the real world, I will discover that I cannot get dogs to behave against their nature — at least not without inflicting a terrible amount of punishment. Likewise, it’s easy to design a society that rewards each according to his need instead of his ability. The hard part is getting the crooked timber of humanity to yield to your vision.
"The hard part is getting the crooked timber of humanity to yield to your vision."   What a great sentence.  That's why the Socialists had to have the death camps, the thousands of torture rooms, the firing squads, the Gulags, and the re-education centers to straighten out the dissenters. 
It's also why the Stazi officer in The Lives Of Others was camped out above the German couple's apartment, listening in with a set of headphones.  There was always someone, somewhere, who wasn't loyal to the vision. 
I hope you'll rent the movie.     


Dr Ralph said...

Sounds like an interesting movie. I'll have to give it a look. As for the other...

Unfortunately you then descend into the "Communism = Socialism" pit, which usually concludes with "and Socialism = Liberals = Democrats."

Oh hum.

Not that I'm particularly surprised, given the general ideological tilt of your source for the remainder (The Manhattan Institute).

And don't hand me the "they called *themselves* socialists." Most totalitarian regimes like to slather the word "Democratic" and "Republic" in their official names as well and they are hardly either.

As the saying goes "just because a cat has kittens in the oven doesn't make them biscuits."

Anyway, thanks for the movie recommendation!

Nick Rowe said...

A communist is a socialist who has achieved military victory.
A socialist is a liberal who is secure in their political victory.
A liberal is a socialist who would lose if he said he was really a socialist.
A "New Democrat", "progressive" or whatever euphemism they're using today is a liberal who has suffered political defeat.

Political scientists will differentiate between a hundred different types of leftists, but they are all the same. They want more centralized government power, in particular the ability to control the economy, impose high taxes, and redistribute wealth. They build their political bases on different demographic groups. The distinctions between the names are meaningless. If we had a government more like Spain, I'm quite sure most liberals would PROUDLY call themselves a socialist. In places like Austin, Madison, Berkeley, and San Francisco they make no effort to hide this fact because they have no natural predators.

I have no doubt many liberals have a kind heart and good intentions. I think they underestimate how far they'd take their political innovations if there was nothing or no one to stop them. Many conservatives would abridge liberties, but they aren't in the majority of their party. Most Republicans are NOT closet fascists, theocrats, plutocrats, or Klansmen; there's no political symmetry between left and right in America. Libertarians should chain the steering wheel to prevent their own abuse of power.

For the left, what you call yourself is a PR problem, not a philosophical distinction. All those "neo-cons" were mugged by reality and figured out the truth the hard way.

But back to the movie: It won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It's easily on my top ten list. It reveals to the world the insidious and inevitable extension of ALL socialist machinations. I've been to East Germany before the wall fell and I saw how those people suffered. We tolerate the same crap in North Korea, China, Cuba, Venezuela and other countries today. Why?

There was no "Red Scare." There was a "Red Threat." KGB files opened after the fall of the USSR revealed that Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, the Rosenbergs, Salvador Allende and many others were ALL paid Soviet agents. McCarthy wasn't wrong - his list was too short.

I can abide many exercises of liberty which I consider unpalatable, but working to undermine the basic principles of our democracy and plotting to bring about a violent end to our government is TREASON, punishable by death. Treason, sedition, and subversion are NOT free speech. I do not know why Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn are still breathing my air, much less teaching radical agendas at public universities.

The biggest problem with socialism is that no one wants to live in such a society unless they're at the top.

Nick Rowe said...

BTW, here is a link to excerpts of Elena Kagan's thesis from Princeton. Not surprisingly, the topic was the demise of socialism in America. Note well the expression of remorse at the end and the gratitude in her acknowledgments to her brother for introducing her to radicalism.

This is the perfect example of how someone can, without apology or equivocation, call themselves a Socialist when it's socially acceptable to do so and then morph through political expediency into a "liberal" with a kind regard to moderation.

Unlike Michelle Obama's Princeton thesis which remains available, Princeton recently CENSORED Kagan's thesis.

MO's thesis, by the way, was on how and whether blacks can preserve their "blackness" while attending Ivy League colleges and becoming professionals. Isn't that special?

My honors thesis as an undergrad was an empirical study on the impact of macroeconomic variables on the number, cost, and duration of workers compensation claims. I suppose I don't possess enough social consciousness to address "real" scholarly issues like Kagan and Obama.

Oh, and where are Barack Obama's theses?

Dr Ralph said...

Nick, I'm afraid my thesis (which sits at UNT, up the road a piece) is not near so interesting as the others under discussion. Its title: "An Investigation Into The Relationship Between Media and Content."

I will say I agree with your statement "working to undermine the basic principles of our democracy and plotting to bring about a violent end to our government is TREASON," - whether on the left *or* right.

And by the way, if I've not said it before, I respect and honor your years of service in uniform to this country.

Since I don't have the energy for a long political discussion, I'll just say, with two recommendations, I'll put "The Lives of Others" on my NetFlix queue.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

I'm reminded of the old joke: Communism = Socialism + Time

Hope you'll watch the movie and let us know what you think. I loved it.

alisainwonderwords said...

Indeed one of the best films ever anywhere. Great post Allen.

Danish said...

After watching
The Lives of Others, I remember about East Berlin, November 1984. Five years before its downfall the GDR seeks to maintain its power with the help of a merciless system of control and observation. When Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz puts loyal Stasi-Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler on to the famous writer Georg Dreymann and his girlfriend Christa Maria Sieland who is a famous actress herself, he expects career advancement for himself. For most important politicians are responsible for this "operative act".

Max said...

One often hears of the ‘Communism death toll’, an enormous count of victims of Russia and China which were never Communist in the first place.
But how often do you hear of the Capitalism death toll? Never?
Thomas Pogge of Yale University quotes a United Nations document, "Roughly one third of all human deaths, some 18 million annually, are due to poverty-related causes, easily preventable through better nutrition, safe drinking water, mosquito nets, re-hydration packs, vaccines and other medicines. This sums up to over 300 million deaths in just the 17 years since the end of the Cold War — many more than were caused by all the wars, civil wars, and government repression of the entire 20th century. Children under five account for nearly 60% or 10.6 million of the annual death toll from poverty-related causes (UNICEF 2005: inside front cover).

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Ah, Max, Max, Max,
Sorry I'm so late in commenting.
Are those deaths caused by a well-functioning capitalist system?
Or is there some other economy in place where those deaths are happening?