|Anthony McIntyre & Mark Hayes|
MH: So let's be clear here. Are you saying there is no meaningful difference between say Castro and Hitler? I find that hard to accept. This is where I fundamentally disagree. A dictatorship that educates people, provides a first-class health service and sends doctors around the world is different to a dictatorship that invades other countries and sees fellow human beings as a racial disease. This seems to me to be so obvious that it doesn't require further elaboration.
AM: There are degrees of difference between all dictators just as there are degrees of difference between war criminals. But they are all war criminals. There are no good war criminals and no good dictators. Ask the Cuban gays what they think of being treated as diseased. First class health service is tosh. Myself and Tommy Gorman met a Marxist professor who had worked and studied in Cuba. He put us right to the PR on that. He defended it as anything but first class, while still superior to others. The Dark hated the rich-poor divide in the country. Came back disillusioned.
MH: But it's still different. The aims are different, the intent is different, the context is different, and its qualitative. Lumping them together is hopelessly reductive. It's like saying all democracies are good. They aren't. You have already conceded that implicitly by accepting some kind of differentiation. And that applies to lumping together so-called “totalitarian” regimes too. It doesn't really provide enough detail. It’s just a boo word. It’s applied to anything they don't like. Like “terrorism” or “extremism”, the terms don't enlighten, they obfuscate. As for Cuba I have many friends who have been and are supportive despite the problems (caused primarily by the embargo). As for gays in Cuba Castro got it hopelessly wrong and I think you'll find he acknowledged that later on. That doesn't make him a role model. But I don't remember Hitler or Mussolini displaying any such reflexive self-awareness. The differences are far more important than the similarities in this case.
AM: The discourse is different, but the aims cannot be separated from the delivery. Any thug can promise a good time. It is real time we must address not the promise of a good time. Communist parties the world over are known for everything but delivering equality. Ideology is just a wank-word when the goals are abandoned. They are just discourses. If they were genuine ideas they would be at least held onto rather than jettisoned. For all its imperfections democracy is a much healthier concept than dictatorship. The historic project of the Left has to be maximum democracy not dictatorship. Castro was just another rights suppressor. I am always on the side of the people being suppressed and never with their suppressor. I support the rights of Cuban society without endorsing its dictator. Just as I do the rights of Ukrainian society without endorsing its government. US imperialism has no more right to interfere in Cuba than Russian imperialism has to interfere in Ukraine. But the Tankie Left have given the US every justification it needs for its stance on Cuba. I actually told one he would end up seeing his Cuban solidarity group avoided because of his support for Russia's war. Surprisingly he agreed. Hitler and Mussolini were cunts just like Stalin, Hoeneker and Ceaucescu. They all shared an ideology of brute force domination. That is the one idea they all cling tenaciously to, right until the firing squad.
MH: You will get no argument from me that the names you mentioned are cunts. That's a given. But we have to treat every case sui generis. There are levels on the cunt-o-meter. I also think some communist societies have made great progress despite the authoritarianism Vietnam is a good example, Cuba is too. This confirms my point. A lazy typology that fails to differentiate isn't just inaccurate, it's deceitful. To put it in more personal terms, your “canary in the coal mine” trouble-making might perform an invaluable function, and under some authoritarian regimes you may be in deep water, perhaps risking your liberty. In others, and under fascism for sure, you would be dead. We both would (probably me first). That's a distinct qualitative difference right there. As for Tankies, who knows? They can be wrong on Russia but right on Ukraine - I think that's possible. I don't think the use of force constitutes an ideology. It's a method. It can be used in different ways for different purposes.
AM: There are levels with communists and fascists at top and bottom of both. The deceitful typology has to lie in a model that holds for one group of mass murderers to be excused over another. The data is what determines, not the excuses. And the data unfailingly points to mass repression in communist societies. The Tankies struggle with that and rely on suppression rather than engagement. I would survive under no authoritarian regime whether of the Left, Right or religious. And people do survive fascist regimes while they can often fail to survive Stalinist ones. Camp ideologies operate that way. Not everybody sent to camps fails to come out. There is nothing wrong with the Tankies criticising Ukraine. It has a far right problem that has been understated. The history of NATO merits serious criticism also. The Tankie problem is that they support a right wing Russian imperialist war. That will make them more irrelevant than ever. They don't contest elections here because they would get fewer votes than Screaming Lord Sutch. The state needs the CP. While it carries on like the Westboro Baptist Church it reinforces a perception that Left ideas amount to wankology. The rest of us have to contend with that. We don't really think the CP is so infiltrated because of any threat it poses. It is because it is a valuable asset in the state’s ideological battle to maintain hegemony. Have it as the carrier of useless ideas and it's job done for the state. Force is an ideological driven method not a technical one. Otherwise the Holocaust is just method. The Holocaust is the outworking of Nazi ideology just as the Holodomor is the outworking of Stalinist ideology. It lies in the existential need of both ideological systems to crush and control. We never judge a religion by its own ideological account of itself. Why would we judge communist ideology any differently?
MH: I think that is real empirical evidence of progress and some communist or left wing societies. Literacy rates, life expectancy, healthcare provision etc - look at Chavez in Venezuela. So it's not just blagging. The use of force or violence should never be divorced from intent and purpose. That's not unusual even when it comes to criminal violence juries are always encouraged to take account of circumstances. Just focusing on violence and assuming they are all the same means, for instance, that the violence perpetrated by Republicans and Loyalists was the same. That's not sustainable. In the same way state violence to socialise production isn't the same as state violence to exterminate a community seen as subhuman. You are right - the Holocaust was the logical outcome of ideology. Maybe Holodomor was too. The huge difference is that Stalin betrayed his professed ideology. Hitler followed his meticulously. So Stalin can't invalidate the communist idea. Hitler confirmed the malevolence of his ideology perfectly. I don't see the Tankies constituting any real presence or significance. Maybe they have that role in Ireland. Over here that role is played by assorted Trots. As MI5 author Peter Wright said, they are “as dangerous as a pond full of quacking ducks”. I have had close contact with them over many years. There are some very decent individuals, but overall a nuisance. The problem is that the Left has completely deserted the working class. There is no organic connection to workers. When that happens ideology is just facile wishful thinking. Wankology indeed.
AM: Is there a society of any hue where progress has not occurred? Pinker traces this very well. Nor is it a matter of just focusing on violence. All states use violence. The focus is on crimes against humanity. Where Republicans and Loyalists commit war crimes there are no differences. Kingsmill is no different from Dublin, Monaghan or Bloody Sunday. They're all war crimes and context does not mitigate that. State mass murder to socialise production is every bit as egregious as state mass murder to exterminate races. Both are abominations. The ends never justify the means. Communism is what communism does. Stalin merely applied what Engels said was the most authoritarian of processes - revolution. Hitler did likewise. The Jews were to be expelled, resettled, the Holocaust came along the way. The argument that Stalin betrayed the ideology doesn't work. Lenin was as much an authoritarian as Stalin. Poulantzas made the point that statism was the problem and it was essential to communist ideology. Ideology is not a number plate to be stuck on the front of something. It is lived. Marx arguably held a different view if we read his Paris Commune perspective literally. But Marx can only be defended and salvaged by a total rejection of 1917 Bolshevism and post-1917 communism. Anything else leads to the camps. The communists have always deserted the working class. Their route to power necessitates that abandonment. The last thing to die is not hope or ideas but that lust for power.
MH: I don't think communism is what communism does at all. In effect you are applying the number plate “same as Nazis” or “doomed to fail”. I think Marxism as an ideology offers a convincing explanation of the way society works - give me a better alternative. It doesn't need to be tied to any particular communist practice. Having said that I would endorse Lenin’s effort at revolution in 1917 as the only sane option in the circumstances. What good alternative was there when you are starving and sent to the trenches with no weapons? Democratic centralism was a logical organisational response to tsarist tyranny especially the Okhrana. Stalin exploited and misused it. So I think there is credibility in the Trot analysis. The logic of your entire argument is that there is no real ideological difference between me and many of my comrades and members of Combat 18 or Azov. That is bordering on the absurd. And of course the ends justify the means - what else could? Nothing would get done otherwise. The real question is proportionality. Here war crimes also get dragged into the swamp of hypocrisy. Curtis Le May’s US Air Force killed 100,000 Japanese civilians every night (not A bombs – incendiaries). He knew it was a war crime. He also knew if you win you never get called on it. I agree every state uses violence and there is structural violence embedded in social organisations and processes. Poverty is the consequence of an inherently violent social order. The promise of revolution is that this may precipitate an end to this sorry state of affairs. You reject that. Fine. And I have a pretty clear idea what you are against. What's not clear is exactly what you are offering as an alternative. Democracy isn't saying very much there have been some pretty hideous versions (the “liberal” one I am experienced at the moment is imperialist, racist, corrupt, exploitative and rotten to the core).
AM: A person is what a person does. Jimmy Savile is not what he said he was. He is what he did. Same with communism, religion and Nazism. I very much stick a number-plate on the lot of them. It is an empirical number plate not an ideological one. Everybody claims that their own ideology offers the most convincing explanation of how the world works. That is the function of ideology. It universalises the particular. What religion doesn't think the same thing? They all tell you this in the way a man might think his wife is the most beautiful and his children the most intelligent. But we know to pay no attention to their claims. Others will assess them on those claims. Even though I see the world through a Marxian lens it can only describe. It has been an abysmal failure in prescribing. Lenin was a gangster who knew he was abandoning the crucial essence of Marxism in pursuit of a power grab for him and his cronies. Seriously, allowing a communist dictatorship! That's like asking Jimmy Savile to give you one. He is not gonna refuse. Democratic centralism was all central and no democracy. How capitalism benefited from that and ultimately defeated the Soviets in the Cold War. The difference between you and Azov is that you both claim to believe in different things. You both claim your very different discourses offer the best explanation of what is wrong with the world and the best way to fix it. But your dictatorship is no better than theirs. You just happen to think it is and I don't.
MH: We don't claim to believe in different things we actually do. So the consequences were never likely to be identical - they aren't and haven't been. You might not like either of them but they are substantially different (your heroic efforts to claim otherwise notwithstanding). And in May I will be paying my respects to one of those dictatorships (Soviet) for defeating another (Nazi) because without that epochal event I'd probably be speaking German now. My (Irish) Grandfather, who fought in the war against the Nazis, knew that. So do I. (PS I don't think Savile was gay mate he was a pedo-necrophiliac).
AM: Stalinists and Nazis believe in different forms of dictatorship. Each delude themselves that their murderous dictatorship is better than the other murderous dictatorship. To the rest of us who aspire to a dictator free existence it's like two bald men arguing over a comb. I too will remember the Soviet citizens but not the regime. The old Molotov-Ribbentrop pact still rankles as does their carve up of Poland. And the bastard was willing to give Ukraine to the Nazis to save his skin. His ambassador refused to make the approach, telling him that even if he pulled back to the Urals he would win in the end. The millions of Soviet citizens sacrificed by the bastards in power through incompetence and evil including the murderous purge in 1937 will forever demonstrate the true character of the regime. Pigs of the same murderous sow - their faux differences another ideological myth.
MH: Some murderous dictatorships are better than others. That seems to me to be an obvious fact. One tried to invade my country, bombed my community, and killed several of my relatives. Another saved me and my family from racist fanatics. My grandchildren will benefit. I agree that all dictatorships are bad. I would not choose that system of government. But if we can't differentiate, then the Sultan of Brunei or the king of Swaziland are the same as Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein. They clearly aren't. We make informed choices on the basis of the historical and empirical evidence. Sometimes in dire circumstances we are actually forced to choose. You don't see any differences. I do.
AM: Just as some Nazis are better than others, but it hardly recommends itself. The denial of democracy by despots is the one issue the Left should set its face against. Society should not be left scavenging for crumbs that fall from dictators' tables. We can and do differentiate when we are forced to choose. But we never lose sight of the fact that it is the lesser of evils we choose. We do not pretend we are choosing on the basis of any good. We can easily differentiate but we employ a moral calculus and not an ideological one which extols crimes against humanity when the perpetrators share our ideas. We do not claim to be Marxists who support a right-wing capitalist invasion of its neighbour. That's not an inability to differentiate, it’s a derangement. In a world where there are only two choices - the Stalinists who threaten to murder 3 million or the Nazis who threaten to murder 3 thousand, we are forced to opt for the Nazis as the lesser evil. The real world is never like that but as a thought experiment it leads us to think how it could be.
MH: Lesser evil is absolutely right. And those decisions are never easy. In fact they are torturous. It's exactly the reason why we struggled to pick a side in the current war. Which is exactly where we started.
AM: I don't struggle to pick a side. It's very simple. A right-wing capitalist regime invades its neighbour. There is only one side to pick. The side subject to the supreme international crime.
MH: We are back with exactly the same problem. Provocation, proportional response etc - the problem I have is that this has been portrayed as good versus evil. That's a simplistic hypocritical western narrative and a grotesque distortion of the truth. I don't see it that way at all. There are no good guys and I'm surprised we can't agree on that. If you acknowledged Ukraine as a lesser evil, we would at least be in the same ball park. Ukraine is a nest of Nazi Vipers engaged in, or sanctioning, ethnic cleansing. Russia is an evil gangster capitalist state defending ethnic Russians and trying to allay security concerns. You find it easy to choose in this case - I really don't. The best solution is a negotiated settlement and an end to the carnage. We can look forward to a similar debate when China invades Taiwan. By the way I lean towards China, but you probably guessed that.
AM: A right wing imperialist project invaded its neighbour. The Left in general did what it was supposed to do. It supported those attacked not those attacking. Much as the left opposes US drone strikes against the theocratic fascists. The Tankie element went up its own backside because essentially it is attracted by the authoritarianism of the Kremlin just as it always has been. The history of Nazism in Ukraine is best understood by an inability to distinguish between the Soviet repression and the Nazi repression. The moral choice between murderous SS and murderous NKVD was pretty much a flip of a coin. Ukraine’s losses were enormous and now it is besmirched to suit the propaganda of the invader. The Russian state has more of the traits of fascism than Ukraine in both how it rules internally and its expansionist foreign policy. The grotesque distortion of the truth is one that holds that both sides are equally at fault. That is reactionary Right and regressive Left narrative. What unites regressive Left and reactionary Right is a shared antipathy towards a democratic ethos. There are good guys in this war. The citizens of the attacked society are good guys. The attackers are the bad guys. Simple. Even if we ignore the moral categories of good and evil we can apply the political ones of right and wrong. The supreme international crime is wrong. The opposition to that crime is right. Russia has been manipulating the ethnic Russian issue for years in a bid to have greater influence over its neighbours. To think that this is about defending ethnic Russians is to fall for Kremlin PR. It is essentially saying that for the first time ever a capitalist state has made a humanitarian military intervention in a neighbouring country. What are the chances of that being true? The regressive Left is forgetting everything it ever learned in order to defend its love for its warped application of the Brezhnev Doctrine. In doing so it again reveals that totalitarianism not Left ideas is what drives it. Even if we revert to the lesser of evils you found it simple to approve the lesser evil when the Nazis invaded the USSR. It should be a relatively simple choice to approve the lesser evil here. Chinese authoritarianism? But I guess you will understand why I'm not surprised.
MH: I see no equivalence between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. That is falling for the US-created totalitarian trope. It has no merit because it simply concentrated on method. It's like saying anyone using violence is bad. It is a simplistic device to tar people you don't like with the same brush. Like the terrorism trope. I really don't equate the SS and the NKVD at all. Both horrible, but one is clearly far more obnoxious than the other. I think you stray from the legitimate parameters of debate by bringing civilians in here - no one ever said civilians weren't innocent. They are in the Ukrainian and Russian case. I think you underestimate the terror inflicted by Azov in Donbas. 14,000 dead isn't a pretext. Roasting Russian people alive in Odessa and then celebrating the fact seems, to me, to be provocative. In backing Ukraine you have albeit inadvertently aligned yourself with Nazi ideologues and activists, corrupt and racist politicians, and the imperialist West. I do not fancy them as bedfellows. Nor do I like the idea of supporting Putin. Hence my decision to sit on my hands. If you simply assume that my political decision not to weigh in against Russia reveals my (or the Left’s) penchant for authoritarianism - you would have to explain why I fought fascists (literally). What would be the point? Then you'd have to acknowledge that the reason is they are very different! The alternative is to argue anti-fascists and fascists are the same - I actually think that is the logic of your argument.
AM: Yet you are unable to present a model that would plausibly show the differences above the similarities. The US academics are only wrong for trying to differentiate between totalitarianism and authoritarianism. Holodomor and Holocaust have more in common than not. Using violence is bad and should always be the last resort. And when used, done so in a way that minimises harm to the innocent. The mass murder by camp ideologies has failed that criterion and should be shunned by humankind. I see no difference between NKVD and SS. Both murder gangs were used to butcher civilian populations. But even if there is some theological difference, we can hardly blame Ukrainians for not seeing it. Who is seriously going to listen to we murder your children because we are good. They murder your children because they are bad? As Billy Connolly would say "fuck off." It seems to me you fought fascists for no good reason. A zebra with black stripes hating a zebra with white stripes. You endorse their methodology. It's very much Tweedledum fighting Tweedledee unless you eschew the camp ideologies. A Left road to the camp is much the same as a Right road. Our death camp good - your death camp bad just merits ridicule. In my view if there were only two parties to join - the Nazis or the Social Democrats - the Stalinists would join the Nazis. Then they would come up with all the twisted logic to justify it and the authoritarian methods to suppress opposition to it. The regressive Left smearing of people as lining up with Nazis for taking up the Left position is just that and analytically inane. The entire progressive Left supports Ukraine. Only the regressive Left fails to. Genuine anti-fascist are very different from Nazis. Stalinists are not very different from Nazis.
MH: You have made your position absolutely clear. Politically we have very little (if anything) in common. Fighting fascism is a moral obligation, even in Ukraine, by all means necessary. It will remain so. I’m a communist Mackers and you are an anti-communist. I respect your perspective only because you are articulating it (you have earned that and deserve it as a friend). But I am in a minority – your views simply reflect western (neo) liberal orthodoxy. There is absolutely nothing in what you have said that hasn’t been said before by Hayek and Friedman (Thatcher or Pinochet). What is really odd is that you obviously know what fascists are like (Loyalism is simply a nasty parochial version) but you deride (there is no other word for it) militant anti-fascists. I am never going to disrespect that political heritage. It is part of who I am. No pasaran!