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Old 07-22-2008, 02:04 PM
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Why was Communism so scary?

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were watching a movie (or something) that was set during the Cold War. One of the characters was stridently, almost violently anti-Communist, which my boyfriend and I found a bit baffling. We're both in our late 20s; our first awareness of Communism was the fall of the Berlin Wall, and later, the Soviet Union. Growing up after the cold war was over, it's hard for us to understand what the big deal was. Neither of us ever felt threatened by Communism, and yet many people obviously did, in a way that seems to have gone beyond the fear of a nuclear war. Can some of you who lived during the height of the Cold War help me understand what was so threatening about Communism, and why some people were so strongly anti-Communist?
Old 07-22-2008, 02:22 PM
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Imagine you grew up in the Great Depression. The entire world-wide economy is in crisis, the dust bowl has ruined a billion acres of crops, the American west is experiencing a human migration on a scale unseen since the Indian wars, and some assface over in Europe is rattling his saber.

Now imagine you've just spent four years of your life fighting a war on a scale never seen before (or since.) There is unprecedented destruction, hundreds of millions of people dead, the former British Empire dissolving, and the US and Soviet Union stand alone as the only remaining superpowers.

Now here's the problem: while the US, Britain and France collaborate to rebuild western Europe into a group of economically stable democracies, the Soviet Union thrusts their ideology onto their occupied territories in Eastern Europe, kills or suppresses anybody working against them, refuses to leave (despite their earlier agreements to do so) and announces their intention to take over the world. Worse, it looks like they just might be able to do it.

Given your life experiences in this scenario, your memories of economic disaster and a somewhat unfavorable opinion of dictators, your desire to not want to fight another world war, the fact that at its height the Soviet sphere of influence engulfed nearly two billion people, they had lots nuclear weapons, a sophisticated intelligence apparatus, and holy shit submarines all over the god damn place! You can see how people might succumb to a tad of paranoia.

Last edited by friedo; 07-22-2008 at 02:23 PM.
Old 07-22-2008, 02:26 PM
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The fact that Josef Stalin was one of the greatest mass murderers in history may have had something to do with it.

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(1) Joseph Stalin, 43 million dead, 1929-'53; (2) Mao Tse-tung, 38 million, 1923-'76; (3) Adolf Hitler, 21 million, 1933-'45; (4) Chiang Kai-shek, 10 million, 1921-'48; (5) Vladimir Lenin, 4 million, 1917-'24; (6) Tojo Hideki (Japan), 4 million, 1941-'45; (7) Pol Pot, 2.4 million, 1968-'87; (8) Yahya Khan (Pakistan), 1.5 million, 1971; (9) Josip Broz, better known as Marshal Tito (Yugoslavia), 1.2 million, 1941-'80.
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Old 07-22-2008, 02:37 PM
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Old 07-22-2008, 02:46 PM
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Because the Russians were going to bomb us to smithereens. We were a step away from someone pushing a button somewhere, the other side matching it, and the world as we know it gone.

Alternatively, they were a superpower who could go on the move and invade other nations, prompting a Big War that would include nuclear bombs.

I was just thinking recently what it was like to grow up like that, and I grew up in the 70s and 80s when it wasn't even as bad.
Old 07-22-2008, 02:57 PM
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The thing is, for most Americans, Communism was something from a textbook. Smart-sounding eccentrics (Coffee shop Communists) made it sound great. It was a theory. Asians and Europeans learned differently.

Everything the Nazis did, the Communists did in spades. But they tended to do it in far-away places behind guarded borders. It was not until the Soviets squished the Hungarians that the American Left really turned their back on Communism.

There were no newsreels dealing with the Gulag. "Reasonable" Americans can (and do) overlook the horror behind the Iron Curtain. Better-informed people were anti-Communists and have often been portrayed as nutjobs.
Old 07-22-2008, 03:01 PM
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What — a few thousand nukes pointing at you isn't enough?

Communism generally came bundled with authoritarianism, in practice. Not that that was a requirement of the purely economic system Marx and Engels had described. But, in the wild, the two were inevitably linked. Dictators used the rhetoric of communism, and the appeal it had to the poor and laboring classes, as leverage to overthrow governments of the day and get themselves into power. After achieving power, communist politicians generally didn't act like they gave a damn about Marxist theory or economic fairness, and instead turned their attention to controlling anything and everything in their societies: economic output, prices, property, art, speech, thought, etc.

I remember maps of the world in my childhood (mid 1970s) that showed the communist countries and their satellites — all colored red, of course — and they certainly seemed like they might be the coming thing. If you're a Westerner who values the economic and political freedoms we've grown accustomed to, then the general trend during the Cold War would certainly have been a little troubling.

Perhaps we overdid the fear thing just a bit. As it turns out, communism is a really crappy economic system that stifles creativity, growth, and incentives. It was pretty much doomed from Day One. But, we didn't really know that at the time.
Old 07-22-2008, 03:18 PM
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I don't think that people feared Communism per se, it's just that Communism is inextricably linked with brutal totalitarianism. So much so that many people think that Communism IS brutal totalitarianism.
Old 07-22-2008, 03:22 PM
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Personally, I think Mao outdid Stalin in true numbers, but in terms of utterly insanely pointless horror I think that Pol Pot kicks both of them out of bed. Imagine being executed (after digging your own grave) for the crime of being nearsighted, or knowing how to read. Even the Nazi Final Solution had some type of sickly twisted racial improvement rationale, and The Great Leap Forward was based on a reasonable (but impossible) goal, but Year Zero was a campaign of bizarrely arbitrary mass murder.

Anyway, yeah, the Commies killed a lot of stiffs. They also built a big border--you heard a lot about the Berlin Wall, of course, but they actually built a more or less continuous border barrier across most of Central Europe--and put a hard smackdown on the Hungarians, and later the Czechs for even the most facile criticisms of COMINFORM and the Warsaw Pact. It would be equivalent to the United States having invaded France and deposed De Gaulle, replacing him with a puppet governor, for even suggesting distancing itself from NATO.

Then there was, of course, The Bomb. The US built it (albeit by borrowing a hell of a lot of talent from the UK, and a lot of that refugees from Europe) and maintained a monopoly until 1949 when the USSR displayed its own capability; as it turned out, a significant amount of information about the construction of the device was leaked from Los Alamos by two spies which contributed to the Russian atomic bomb effort (although the Russians would have built it eventually anyway). At this point, in the post-WWII environment, the Soviets were far more concerned about consolidating their position in Europe and creating a buffer zone to prevent invasion than expanding the worldwide Communist alliance, but public literature continued to espouse Marxist dogma and Communist International ideals (even though COMINTERN had been dissolved), and so the American and Western European public was looking for Reds under every bed. Evidence that the Commie menace was afoot--much of it exaggerated and often outright fabricated--was trumpeted by politically-minded people like Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon who saw an opportunity to grab the public spotlight. The HUAC investigations and the Second Red Scare invoked memories of the first "scare" in the late 'Teens and early 'Twenties (Wobbly and union strikes, bomb threats, et cetera) that could destabilize the post-WWII economic boom and suburban stability.

Then came the H-Bomb (hydrogen bomb or thermonuclear fusion bomb) which had a destructive power vastly larger (and potentially unlimited) compared to mere atomic fission bombs. The United States detonated the first thermonuclear device in the "Ivy Mike" test in 1952, and then authorities claimed that it would take the Soviet Union a decade to catch up. These were painfully inedible words that had to be eaten as the Soviets then detonated a "layer cake" Sloika device (based on Andrei Sakharov's "First Idea") the next year, and a true multistage Teller-Ulam configuration (Sakharov's "Third Idea") in 1955, becoming a direct competitor to the United States in the field of Blowing Stuff Up In A Really Big Way. Fears that the Soviets would develop an ICBM delivery system--the Soviets, owing to their continued interest and development in post-WWII had a leg up in the early 'Fifties--John Kennedy rode to the Presidency on the strength of fears of a "Missile Gap", even though as it later turned out, any advantage at the time would have been to the United States.

By the early 'Sixties, both nations had the ability to nuke each other into Third World status within the space of a few hours with little room for reflection, and continued to build arsenals and technologies (submarine launched retaliatory systems, nascent missile defense, fractional orbital bombardment delivery, satellite weapons, et cetera) that expanded the destructive capacity beyond any reasonable measure, and meanwhile funding proxy wars in Southeast Asia and Latin America as an alternative to direct face-off. It was, to Americans at least, all the fault of those dirty rat Commies (and they no doubt said the same about exploitative imperialist pigs); the lack of dialog or empathy between the two sides led to a new sort of animosity, replacing intellectual and ideological fueds and fears with one that the Commies would destroy us just because they were having a bad day. ("Your Commie has no regard for human life, not even his own.") The Yellow Peril menace (i.e. the "fifth column" of Chinese Communists), feeding off of paranoia and racism that was still acceptable in the United States at that time, also exacerbated this from the fallacious believe that Soviet and Chinese Communists were in a strong international collusion (even though traditional cultural animosity and the Sino-Soviet Split made it more likely that they would nuke one another than cooperate in attacking Europe and America.)

By the early 'Eightes, the ideological battle had been replaced by a bizarre competition of egos; the Russians weren't yelling about the bourgeois and the proletariat any more, and the United States wasn't making videos like "Make Mine Freedom!"'; instead, you had a collection of old men on the verge of senility and/or terminal illness running the US and USSR, and it seemed that they'd attack each other out of ignorant bombast ("We begin bombing in ten minutes!") or to take everything with them. While nobody was really looking for Commies at that point (the CPUSA had pretty much imploded, Communism in Great Britain was pretty much a bad joke), the actual amount of effective espionage was as high or higher than ever before, and as it turns out the Soviets captured some pretty significant information about weapon and communications systems. So there were still a lot of reasons to fear Commies, even though the label was mostly nominal at that point.

Now that Communism has almost utterly collapsed, and with such an unanticipated rapidness that hardline Cold War hawks spent years looking for some kind of subterfuge, it all seems like a sophomoric prank; it is hard to believe anybody genuinely feared Communism, and the writings of Marx come off as a grade "C" freshman political philosophy essay. But back when the economy was really uncertain (I don't mean the Dow losing a few hundred points but the entire economy collapsing into anarchy) and war seemed permanently imminent, Communism seemed like a genuine threat. And to the people whose countries were ruled by Communist governments, it really was.

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Old 07-22-2008, 03:26 PM
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There was also the fact that they were officially atheist, which at least in America and other religious circles was and is regarded as the ultimate evil, justifying anything. It got fascism a great deal of support, for example.
Old 07-22-2008, 03:33 PM
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I almost started a thread asking the same thing a while back. I understand why people were afraid and suspicious of Russia - I mean, they had lots of nukes pointed at us, as has been stated, but that's not really my point. Why was (and is) America so opposed to the principle of communism? I mean, in its purest and most basic "everyone works together and everyone shares everything" sense, is it really such an evil idea? True, in practice it hasn't been implemented that way, but I do wonder why it provokes such a strong reaction, even today.
Old 07-22-2008, 03:33 PM
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Because it was decently likely that the USSR would destroy us and the entire planet. They were trying to sneak weapons in as close as they could get, take over our government and people, create communist states/allies throughout the world for the day that the US and them finally duked it out, etc.

We were at war, the odds of winning weren't necessarily better than 50/50 and either outcome--having all life on the planet destroyed or the entire planet subverted by mass murdering communist regimes--wasn't a joyous one.

What about it isn't scary?
Old 07-22-2008, 03:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colophon
I almost started a thread asking the same thing a while back. I understand why people were afraid and suspicious of Russia - I mean, they had lots of nukes pointed at us, as has been stated, but that's not really my point. Why was (and is) America so opposed to the principle of communism? I mean, in its purest and most basic "everyone works together and everyone shares everything" sense, is it really such an evil idea? True, in practice it hasn't been implemented that way, but I do wonder why it provokes such a strong reaction, even today.
Because every single Communist regime ever includes mass murder on scales that's right up there with the Nazis. Because they were funding Communist revolutionaries in any country that had them, and slowly increasing the number of Communist states around the planet. Because they'd go in and simply conquer more territories whenever they could.
Old 07-22-2008, 03:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bytegeist
What — a few thousand nukes pointing at you isn't enough?
I understand being afraid of nuclear war, but were "nuclear war" and "Communism" synonymous? Iran's making me a bit nervous at the moment, but I'm nervous about Ahmadinejad starting a nuclear war, not taking over the world.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bytegeist
Perhaps we overdid the fear thing just a bit. As it turns out, communism is a really crappy economic system that stifles creativity, growth, and incentives. It was pretty much doomed from Day One. But, we didn't really know that at the time.
I didn't mean to suggest that people shouldn't have been afraid, I'm really just trying to better understand why they were. I definitely "get it" better than I did when I started this thread. friedo, that was especially helpful in grasping where people were coming from. All those events were always treated as separate incidents in our history books, and I always thought of them that way.
Old 07-22-2008, 03:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Paul in Saudi
Everything the Nazis did, the Communists did in spades. But they tended to do it in far-away places behind guarded borders. It was not until the Soviets squished the Hungarians that the American Left really turned their back on Communism.
And it wasn't until the repressive Soviet response to the "Prague Spring" and the publication of Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in the West that European far-left political thought abandoned Marxist dogma. After that, even the European nations that were Communist but not aligned with the Warsaw Pact tended to distance themselves from the dogma.

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Old 07-22-2008, 03:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colophon
I almost started a thread asking the same thing a while back. I understand why people were afraid and suspicious of Russia - I mean, they had lots of nukes pointed at us, as has been stated, but that's not really my point. Why was (and is) America so opposed to the principle of communism? I mean, in its purest and most basic "everyone works together and everyone shares everything" sense, is it really such an evil idea? True, in practice it hasn't been implemented that way, but I do wonder why it provokes such a strong reaction, even today.
Because the principle of Communism was totally unrealistic, and the practice led to some animals being more equal than others.

Something not mentioned was the stated purpose of the Communists to spread the revolution to other countries, and their funding of revolutionary movements to do it.

The wall that Stranger mentioned was a big factor. I knew a guy at work who defected from a Czech soccer team in Germany, and who could never go home. A neighbor from Hungary, I think, got divorced. His wife took his kid back, which meant that he could never see her (until the wall fell.) We went to Austria in 1980 and explored visiting Prague, but the visa and currency requirements were so absurd we soon gave up. Lots of people died trying to get out.

I often got reprint requests for papers from Eastern Europe - because they weren't allowed free access to copiers, which made it much easier to ask the author for a copy than to get it from a friend. (This was way pre-Internet.)

It's no accident that as soon as there was a chink in the wall, the entire thing collapsed.
Old 07-22-2008, 03:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Weird One
I understand being afraid of nuclear war, but were "nuclear war" and "Communism" synonymous? Iran's making me a bit nervous at the moment, but I'm nervous about Ahmadinejad starting a nuclear war, not taking over the world.
WW II was a nuclear war. There is a big difference between one or two nukes, bad as that is, and every city in the country being bombed. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is the closest we ever came to war, 11 year old me was scared. Damn scared. End of the world movie todays involve ice ages and zombies - end of the world movies back then involved stuff that could easily happen, and which many people expected to happen.
Old 07-22-2008, 04:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colophon
Why was (and is) America so opposed to the principle of communism? I mean, in its purest and most basic "everyone works together and everyone shares everything" sense, is it really such an evil idea? True, in practice it hasn't been implemented that way, but I do wonder why it provokes such a strong reaction, even today.
What you describe is collectivism, essentially an idealization of Rousseau’s "Social Contract", i.e. that workers and doers should own their own means and be paid a dividend of profits rather than live at the pleasure of land owners and capital holders; indeed, Industrial and post-Industrial society has allowed us to naturally move away from serfdom and into a quasi-egalitarianism in which anyone can own a share of a company (stock), purchase real estate, or move residences and jobs without undue legal strictures. Few people would disagree with this in principle (though many still staunchly advocate individual profit motive and unregulated laissez faire capitalism as an economic ideal), but the ideals of Communism philosophy, as outlined by Marx, involve a common ownership of all production and real estate without choice; initially (in transitional stages) by an authoritarian State (run, of course, by benevolent-but-firm dictators and technocrats) and eventually a Stateless but self-regulating Communist anarchy in which each does what he should and takes only his own needs, like cogs in a big machine.

If the last doesn't strike you as absurd--even natural self-organizing systems have internal conflicts and mechanisms for regulation and resolution--then you need to put down the bong and step back for a while. As for Communism, it tends to get stuck at the initial post-revolutionary steps, where the dictators tend to be no so much benevolent and the technocrats, free from success metrics (you write your own production reports with whatever the numbers ought to be plus ten percent) and peer reviews (anybody who thinks that vernalization is pseudoscientific nonsense is stripped of degrees and sent to the GULAG), are incompetent to a laughable degree. Nobody knows what "real Communism" would actually look like, because human nature and fallibility render it nothing more than a dormroom bull session fantasy.

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Originally Posted by Sage Rat
Because it was decently likely that the USSR would destroy us and the entire planet. They were trying to sneak weapons in as close as they could get, take over our government and people, create communist states/allies throughout the world for the day that the US and them finally duked it out, etc.
And the average Soviet-era Russian or Ukrainian would say the same thing about the United States. And they'd have been right. The tragedy of the Cold War is how utterly unnecessary and unproductive it was for everyone involved; a wastage of human lives and talent that could have been much better utilized. But it's like that somewhere in nearly any period of history you choose.

Stranger

Last edited by Stranger On A Train; 07-22-2008 at 04:09 PM.
Old 07-22-2008, 04:09 PM
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The Weird One - The phrase at the time was the "Domino Effect". As each new country fell to communism, it came one step closer to our shores. Europe may not like an American military presence now, but right after WWII, when half of Europe was divided almost overnight, the Communist menace was very real and having Americans there to keep what was left was appreciated. And Americans saw communism overtaking Asia and Europe. It was like watching the tsunami reaching your shores, and you feel like you're the only wall for it to break on. Add to that politicians building careers on rhetoric and fear, you've got a national, government-sanctioned paranoia.

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Old 07-22-2008, 04:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Sage Rat
Because every single Communist regime ever includes mass murder on scales that's right up there with the Nazis.
I was under the impression that it took some time for the truth about the mass murders and starvation that occurred under Stalin and Mao to come out, such that Americans in the 60's and 70's wouldn't have known much about them. Am I mistaken?

Stranger, that was an excellent and informative read.
Old 07-22-2008, 04:23 PM
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In 1985 my father went back to Hungary for the first time in 50 years. Not only did he feel he was being watched every moment of his time their, but every time he tried to talk to a local, he saw that someone immediately came up and talked to them as soon as he was out of earshot.

Now imagine your entire society feeling like that, every day, for 40 years.
Old 07-22-2008, 04:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Voyager
It's no accident that as soon as there was a chink in the wall, the entire thing collapsed.
Yeah, but it was surprising to pretty much everyone just how quickly it came apart. In the span of about 18 months, half of Europe went from being an empire effectively ruled from Moscow to IKEA-buying, Big Mac-eating, Gap-wearing, Chuck Norris-watching, money grubbing imperialists; there was virtually no support for Communist ideology at any level, even among the upper crust leftist intellectuals, and even moderate economic socialism held a waning view (although people being human, they still wanted stuff for free). Communism was held together with bailing wire and cheap Russian duct tape, the kind that peels away when the humidity gets above 70%. It turns out that instead of broadcasting about how great freedom is over Voice Of America and threatening nuclear retaliation we should have been bombing Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union with People magazine and Duran Duran videos.

Political revolutions have occurred before, and once mighty empires have fallen in history like clockwork, but never so rapidly and virtually without bloodshed. Even the Revolutions of 1848 were not so dramatic and lacking in destruction as the 1989-90 fall of the Iron Curtain. It was like charging at a dragon only to realize that it was actually made of papier-mâché; kind of embarrassing for everyone, really.

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Old 07-22-2008, 05:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Stranger On A Train
It was like charging at a dragon only to realize that it was actually made of papier-mâché; kind of embarrassing for everyone, really.
Actually, it was more like being afraid of the giant dragon that was towering over your bed, and then discovering that the whole thing was made of Legos by your little brother. We didn't tear down the wall. The Germans did. Once everybody realized that Gorby was serious about his repudiation of the Breznev Doctrine, everybody and their mother headed for the border.

Excellent summation, BTW.
Old 07-22-2008, 05:09 PM
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Well, they would call up babysitters and ask if they had checked the children.
Old 07-22-2008, 05:21 PM
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In addition to all of its strengths as an external threat, Communism was also an internal threat. It made no secret of the fact that part of its strategy was to plant loyal agents inside non-Communist countries who would work to subvert those countries from within. So Communism made people distrust the people around them.
Old 07-22-2008, 05:25 PM
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Why was (and is) America so opposed to the principle of communism? I mean, in its purest and most basic "everyone works together and everyone shares everything" sense, is it really such an evil idea? True, in practice it hasn't been implemented that way, but I do wonder why it provokes such a strong reaction, even today.
We're a country in which 99% of the people believe they're better than average. We all figure that if everything gets divided up equally, we'll be getting less.

Last edited by Little Nemo; 07-22-2008 at 05:26 PM.
Old 07-22-2008, 05:29 PM
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Face facts--Communism had mass murder down pat.
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Old 07-22-2008, 05:31 PM
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Old 07-22-2008, 05:37 PM
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Communist!
Old 07-22-2008, 05:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor
Face facts--Communism had mass murder down pat.
Josip Broz 'Tito' managed not to kill many people; aside from a little bit of political suppression (largely over ethnic issues which later tore the nation apart in the post-Communist era) Yugoslavia was largely free of the kind of human rights abuses found behind the Iron Curtain. Of course, Yugoslavia withdrew from the Warsaw Pact early on, engaged in liberal economic and social relations with the West, and Tito rarely missed a chance to thumb his nose at the Russians.

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Originally Posted by silenus
Communist!
Fascist pig!

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Old 07-22-2008, 05:41 PM
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I think there's been a lot of echoing the overt reasons for anti-Communism (some of which have a basis in reality), but there were certainly social dynamics that made many elements of US Society find anti-communism very convenient:

As Eisenhower warned, and Joe McCarthy proved, creating a bogeyman to be scared of is a great way of keeping political power and spending on the military.

And of course, one of the central foundations of Communism as a political movement is the undeniable fact that what's good for the guy earning a paycheck is not always good for the guy who owns the factory, and vice versa.
In general, factory owners would prefer that point to be ignored and/or ridiculed, and so demonizing Communism as something that can't even be discussed is something they'd like to bring about. In other words, anti-communism was a very convenient stance for those opposing unions and labor organizations, which had made significant gains in the 30's and 40's.
Old 07-22-2008, 05:46 PM
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Communist!
It's a well known fact that moderators are Nazis. Communists have really ugly jackboots.

Old 07-22-2008, 05:58 PM
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There was also the fact that they were officially atheist, which at least in America and other religious circles was and is regarded as the ultimate evil, justifying anything. It got fascism a great deal of support, for example.
It was more than merely "officially atheist", Communist regimes actively suppressed individual religious observance and expression, something that Americans, who treasure our right to worship whom we please as we please would very much fear. On top of that, the fact that the hammer (and sickle) fell more heavily on Jews than on adherents of other religions inevitably led to Nazi flashbacks, and if there was any greater epitome of evil than Communists during the cold war, it's Nazis.
Old 07-22-2008, 06:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Quercus
...In other words, anti-communism was a very convenient stance for those opposing unions and labor organizations, which had made significant gains in the 30's and 40's.
Ironically, though, trade unions were largely banned within Communist countries, until the rise of Solidarity.
Old 07-22-2008, 06:22 PM
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Originally Posted by cmkeller
It was more than merely "officially atheist", Communist regimes actively suppressed individual religious observance and expression, something that Americans, who treasure our right to worship whom we please as we please would very much fear. On top of that, the fact that the hammer (and sickle) fell more heavily on Jews than on adherents of other religions inevitably led to Nazi flashbacks, and if there was any greater epitome of evil than Communists during the cold war, it's Nazis.
I think he has a reasonable point. It wasn't "oppressors of religion Commie reds", after all, it was "atheist Commie reds".
Old 07-22-2008, 06:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Weird One
I understand being afraid of nuclear war, but were "nuclear war" and "Communism" synonymous? Iran's making me a bit nervous at the moment, but I'm nervous about Ahmadinejad starting a nuclear war, not taking over the world.

Maybe not you, but many people are really nervous (if not just scared) about the islamists taking over the world.


Despite the actual threat just not being on the same scale.
Old 07-22-2008, 07:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Frank
I think he has a reasonable point. It wasn't "oppressors of religion Commie reds", after all, it was "atheist Commie reds".
Yeah, but was it because they were (supposed to be) atheist, as Der Trihs naturally claims, or was it because they were Communist, and being atheist was just another brick in the wall?
Old 07-22-2008, 07:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Sage Rat
Because every single Communist regime ever includes mass murder on scales that's right up there with the Nazis. Because they were funding Communist revolutionaries in any country that had them, and slowly increasing the number of Communist states around the planet. Because they'd go in and simply conquer more territories whenever they could.
Every sing one? Even, say, Kerela in India. And I suppose the socialist-ish systems in Scandinavia don't count for whatever reason. IMHO authoritarianism has mass murder down pat, and that can exist in any kind of economic system.
Old 07-22-2008, 07:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Colophon
I almost started a thread asking the same thing a while back. I understand why people were afraid and suspicious of Russia - I mean, they had lots of nukes pointed at us, as has been stated, but that's not really my point. Why was (and is) America so opposed to the principle of communism? I mean, in its purest and most basic "everyone works together and everyone shares everything" sense, is it really such an evil idea? True, in practice it hasn't been implemented that way, but I do wonder why it provokes such a strong reaction, even today.
With respect, the view you posit was almost a cliche thirty years ago (Earnest idealistic college freshman: "Communism's great, man, it's just that no one's ever really practiced it right!"). If a particular ideology proves incapable of being implemented "right" or even close to "right" even one time, then you might begin suspect that it is the ideology (and not just the implementers) that is at fault.

And the ideology was faulty. "Everyone works together and everyone shares everything" works pretty well in an extended family (but inevitably, there's a deadbeat brother in law, but you just agree to tolerate him). It might work in a small village, to some extent, or a religious commune of people with exactly the same beliefs. Even then, there always seems to be some friction.

To make the leap from these small groups (where, crucially, everyone knows each other and supports basically a common goal) to expecting me to help out strangers, or get on board with a plan that is going to cost me but benefit some guy six time zones away, or that forces me to be "generous" (remember, families and villages are based on elective affinities), is a big gamble and one that immediately revealed flaws in the theory. Hume said that sympathy is a limited commodity. It is not human nature (probably for very good Darwinian reasons) to sacrifice in aid of abstract concepts such as "the state" or "the proletariat" or "the five year plan," or even "Ivan who lives 350 km away."

So the fact that people were willing to kill to advance a theory that could never work was scary. Crazy people are scary and there is something crazy about believing that you can fundamentally change human nature. The Cold War was the origin of the phrase "human nature has no history." The commies thought it did. (Paradoxically, while they thought human nature could evolve, they had a distinctly romantic and unrealistic view of a worker's paradise that would play out as some sort of low-tech agrarian-industrial utopia, just as we in the West were figuring out ways that technology and free markets could free us from farm and factory labor).

Next thing is that communist doctrine was replete with references to violence, to the need to force the dictatorship of the proletariat upon a reluctant bourgeois establishment. It envisioned (correctly) that no society would spontaneously or democratically decide to adopt the radical doctrines of property redistribution, so generally it contemplated a bloody (but ultimately salutary) overthrow of the established order. If a couple of million kulaks or the like had to be liquidated to make this happen -- well, omelette, eggs, etc. By the 1950s there were enough examples of what the bloodbaths actually looked like (and again, there's the pesky fact that no nation ever actually managed to go red without lots and lots and lots of blood being spilled) that people had plenty of fodder for their worst fears about what would happen if communism spread to the West. Maybe it would be even worse -- the reds managed to contrive reasons to kill millions of enemies of the people in relatively backward, poor countries like Russia and Korea. Imagine the frenzy of gulag-building and shots in the back of the head that one could reasonably anticipate if the great proletarian horde got their hooks into the true capitalist exploiter classes in decadent, wealthy America and Western Europe.

Finally "communism" as a doctrine was explicitly expansionist. At least until recently, American or British democracy was not explicitly founded on the principle that democracy had to be forced on everyone else at gun-point. The U.S. could have Congress, Italy could have some sort of Parliament, Morocco could have a king, and the West was okay with that. Or, Hell, Saddam could preach Baath doctrine but there was never any danger that he'd start trying to convert/subvert other governments to the Baath way, or the dominos would begin falling and we'd confront a Baath insurgency in our own polity. But commie doctrine could never really be okay with anywhere else not being commie, because it was the One True System. When someone is breathing down your neck telling you that the overthrow of your way of life is inevitable and that your life is going to change dramatically and (to your view) for the worse, you tend to get nervous. People fear change, and the one thing communism predicted and required was massive change in social, political, and economic orders.
Old 07-22-2008, 07:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Leaper
Yeah, but was it because they were (supposed to be) atheist, as Der Trihs naturally claims, or was it because they were Communist, and being atheist was just another brick in the wall?
Look back on the prevalance of Christianity in the national culture of the 50s and 60s. Even Jews, though tolerated, couldn't join most country clubs. Atheism was meant to be derogatory, meant to be an accusation.
Old 07-22-2008, 07:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Stranger On A Train
Yeah, but it was surprising to pretty much everyone just how quickly it came apart. In the span of about 18 months, half of Europe went from being an empire effectively ruled from Moscow to IKEA-buying, Big Mac-eating, Gap-wearing, Chuck Norris-watching, money grubbing imperialists; there was virtually no support for Communist ideology at any level, even among the upper crust leftist intellectuals, and even moderate economic socialism held a waning view (although people being human, they still wanted stuff for free). Communism was held together with bailing wire and cheap Russian duct tape, the kind that peels away when the humidity gets above 70%. It turns out that instead of broadcasting about how great freedom is over Voice Of America and threatening nuclear retaliation we should have been bombing Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union with People magazine and Duran Duran videos.
I think most of them knew about the West. When there was a route to escape, those who took it started pouring out, and clearly those who didn't wanted to. I think liberalization was helped by the realization that if they didn't, no one would be left.
However bad the Soviet economy was, there were plenty of people in the West who had good reason to make them seem stronger - for bigger defense budgets, for one thing. Plus, you don't need a thriving economy to launch missiles. We were lucky that when the cracks became too big to ignore there was someone in charge whose reaction was toward freedom, not oppression.
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Political revolutions have occurred before, and once mighty empires have fallen in history like clockwork, but never so rapidly and virtually without bloodshed. Even the Revolutions of 1848 were not so dramatic and lacking in destruction as the 1989-90 fall of the Iron Curtain. It was like charging at a dragon only to realize that it was actually made of papier-mâché; kind of embarrassing for everyone, really.

Stranger
The fall of the Iron Curtain and the transition in South Africa are two events I don't remember being predicted by any sf story. Most that I can recall had South Africa achieving black rule by bloodshed.

I just remembered one. There was a novel about WW III taking place in the late '90s, written by a British general and a committee. (I can give the title when I get home.) The War ended with the exchange of bombs of two cities (Birmingham and Kiev, I think) after which the Eastern bloc collapsed much like it actually did. The authors recognized that the Warsaw Pact was papier-mâché. When I read it before the fall, it seemed unduly optimistic, but they got it right.
Old 07-22-2008, 07:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Frank
Look back on the prevalance of Christianity in the national culture of the 50s and 60s. Even Jews, though tolerated, couldn't join most country clubs. Atheism was meant to be derogatory, meant to be an accusation.
So if Communism had a state religion, say Eastern Orthodox, everything would've been hunky dory?

I was asking whether atheism was a contributing factor, or the foundation, as Der Trihs was arguing. Assuming you knew that, I take it you agree with him?

ETA: It just occurred to me that it may depend on who and what groups within the U.S. we're talking about here. Obviously the general populace (which the OP seems most concerned about) probably had different reasons than the Washington folks. It seems to me that those in power might've pushed the atheist thing because of what you mentioned (and that said powers probably didn't care that much about it themselves), but that still leaves me with the question of where the majority of the weight belongs.

Last edited by Leaper; 07-22-2008 at 07:27 PM.
Old 07-22-2008, 07:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Stranger On A Train
Josip Broz 'Tito' managed not to kill many people; aside from a little bit of political suppression (largely over ethnic issues which later tore the nation apart in the post-Communist era) Yugoslavia was largely free of the kind of human rights abuses found behind the Iron Curtain. Of course, Yugoslavia withdrew from the Warsaw Pact early on, engaged in liberal economic and social relations with the West, and Tito rarely missed a chance to thumb his nose at the Russians.

Fascist pig!

Stranger

IIRC, though, Tito was actually one of our allies, believe it or not. If only because he was anti-Russian.

I had a professor who defected from Russia, who had previously been sent to Siberia. I believe at one point, the Reds kidnapped and held his son for ransom. All because the man had owned some records produced in the US-it got blown up into a big thing. Not because the actual RECORDS were outlawed, but because gradually, he was accused of disloyalty, and being a spy.


(Strangely, though, one of his closest friends is Dr. Sergei Khruschev, son of Nikita)
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Old 07-22-2008, 07:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Leaper
I was asking whether atheism was a contributing factor, or the foundation, as Der Trihs was arguing. Assuming you knew that, I take it you agree with him?
Ah. Well, Der Trihs wasn't arguing that it was the foundation - I don't think, anyway.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Der Trihs
There was also the fact that they were officially atheist ...
"... also ..." suggests to me that he was stating it as a contributing factor, though given his particular bugaboo, I can understand that you might interpret it differently.

And, no, if anyone argued that that was the foundation of fear, I would not agree. I do agree with anyone who argues that it was a contributing factor.
Old 07-22-2008, 07:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Leaper
So if Communism had a state religion, say Eastern Orthodox, everything would've been hunky dory?

I was asking whether atheism was a contributing factor, or the foundation, as Der Trihs was arguing. Assuming you knew that, I take it you agree with him?

ETA: It just occurred to me that it may depend on who and what groups within the U.S. we're talking about here. Obviously the general populace (which the OP seems most concerned about) probably had different reasons than the Washington folks. It seems to me that those in power might've pushed the atheist thing because of what you mentioned (and that said powers probably didn't care that much about it themselves), but that still leaves me with the question of where the majority of the weight belongs.
I suspect atheism was a necessary part of consolidating all power in the State -- can't have independent loci of authority. I don't think that atheism was the basis or inspiration for communism, of course. They were right, too, in the sense that religious groups gave them some of their biggest headaches (think of the Church is Poland, which was so difficult to suppress that the "communization" there was the least successful of any of the Eastern European satellites -- or think of the Jewish refuseniks).

Another factor that I think inspired fear was that communists believed that the ends justified the means, and specifically, that subterfuge and subversion were a-okay if they advanced the People's cause. The "Red Scare" was not an exercise in mass paranoia, and pretty much everyone accused of being a communist agent turned out to be one. Well gee, when you see an ideology that is so cunning and effective (so it seemed at the time) that they have even managed to subvert high-ranking people within your own country to be spies or sympathizers -- it induces a possibly-paranoid but not crazy sense that the commies could be just days away from attempting takeover from within.
Old 07-22-2008, 08:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Guinastasia
IIRC, though, Tito was actually one of our allies, believe it or not. If only because he was anti-Russian.
Yugoslavia was part of the Non-Aligned Movement, which allowed it, like Egypt and India, to avoid doctrinal alliances and would engage with and accept patronage from NATO or the Warsaw Pact or members thereof as benefited it. (Members of the Warsaw Pact were mostly blocked from any dealings with Yugoslavia after its break Tito's break from the Warsaw Pact mostly out of spite and to the detriment of the USSR.) At any rate, Yugoslavia was, in contradiction to statements made by a couple of posters, a Communist nation that did not engage upon a campaign of mass murder or widespread human rights abuses; indeed, Tito's efforts to suppress ethnic strife and get Yugoslavians to identify as one people rather than vying ethnic groups prevented the kind of wholesale slaughter that occurred after the breakup of Yugoslavia. Even its political prisoner situation was less objectionable than that of many Western nations; Goli Otok wasn't a pleasant place, but I'd rather be sent there than Île du Diable or stuck in an Argentine prison.

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Old 07-22-2008, 08:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Stranger On A Train
Yeah, but it was surprising to pretty much everyone just how quickly it came apart. In the span of about 18 months, half of Europe went from being an empire effectively ruled from Moscow to IKEA-buying, Big Mac-eating, Gap-wearing, Chuck Norris-watching, money grubbing imperialists; there was virtually no support for Communist ideology at any level, even among
Can't find it offhand and can't remember whether it was Dennis Miller or A. Whitney Brown. And I'm probably not quoting it right;

"Who'd have thought the problem with Communism would be that there was no money in it?"

Googling shows a couple of variations after the fact.

Communism, and even hard socialism, is based on an alleged "equality" that is in fact, a negative. The flawed idea that we can reduce poverty by eliminating the rich. That's like saying that no one will starve anymore if we just kill all the fat people. Ok, maybe that's a flawed analogy, but even so. Confiscating wealth and property doesn't eliminate poverty, it equalizes and institutionalizes poverty by *impoverishing everyone* and removing incentives to create and build wealth.


By way of an example of the counter-productive nature of Communism: Time and again we've seen that if you put one person on each of 500 plots of land and allow them to sell what they grow, they'll out produce the 500 people on one large plot of land who get no share of the product; every single time, and very often by quite a large margin.

I can see how that works very easily, using something I read about the first disasterous years at the Jamestown colony and thinking how I and other would act in that circumstance.

A> Community farms. Ok, someone else has to work out all the details, figure out how much we need to grow, organize the manpower, equipment and seed. I just need to show up whenever they can convince me to do so and do what I'm assigned to do. It's up to the management to work out how to get it all done and make sure we have enough to survive. Not My Responsibility. I'll be in the pub.

Result: Massive Starvation.

B> Private Plots (after most die off in Plan A). Oh shit. I need to grow enough to live on for the next year? Without any clue as to the weather, the yields, the Indians, storage losses, etc? Fuck everything else, I'm growing every damned thing I can grow! If you want me, I'll be in the fields, working!

Result: Hey, we actually have enough food!
Old 07-22-2008, 08:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Stranger On A Train
At any rate, Yugoslavia was, in contradiction to statements made by a couple of posters, a Communist nation that did not engage upon a campaign of mass murder or widespread human rights abuses; indeed, Tito's efforts to suppress ethnic strife and get Yugoslavians to identify as one people rather than vying ethnic groups prevented the kind of wholesale slaughter that occurred after the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia was certainly less repressive than the Warsaw Pact states, but it did have slave labor and reeducation camps for political dissidents, like Goli Otok, as you mentioned, there was the Bleiburg massacre after World War II, there weren't free elections or freedom of speech, there was censorship of the press, there was wiretapping of telephones, etc.

Communist Yugoslavia wasn't exactly a respecter of human rights; they were just better than most of the other Communist states.
Old 07-22-2008, 08:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Captain Amazing
Communist Yugoslavia wasn't exactly a respecter of human rights; they were just better than most of the other Communist states.
And better than most of the other nations of the world at the time, as well. But yes, they were an outlier of Communism, and are not representative.
Old 07-22-2008, 09:04 PM
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Originally Posted by even sven
And I suppose the socialist-ish systems in Scandinavia don't count for whatever reason.
None of the Scandanavian countries have ever had Communist governments. Norway and Sweden have been dominated politically by Social Democratic parties, and Denmark has flipped between Social Democrats and classical Liberals. They don't count because Social Democracy and Communism are different ideologies.
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