Beguiling the Left, One Charlatan and Crackpot Scheme at a Time

imagesThere was a time with the writings of “Karl and Fred” (Marx and Engels) were prominent on my reading list.  During my growing up years, their followers controlled a third of the world’s population and most of its nuclear weapons.  During my career in the family business I spent a great deal of time in countries which were (in theory at least) built on their idea, or coming off same (you can see this here and here and here.

So this piece from Philip Jenkins about Engels, Lucian and the danger of frauds and charlatans in movements caught my attention.  The Roman satirist Lucian told the tale of one Peregrinus, who had conned (among others) a Christian church, and in doing so gave us an outside view of Roman Empire Christianity in its early years.

Engels, whose relationship with Christianity was more complicated than his professed atheism would admit, actually had a more sympathetic view of the Christian church than Lucian had. Why? Because he had seen the same types of con pulled on the left-wing movements of nineteenth century Europe. He and Marx laboured to keep the “main thing” (i.e., economics and the class struggle) the main thing, but even they fought an uphill battle.  As he ruefully noted:

Today such extreme cases, at least in the large centers, have become impossible; but in remote districts where the movement has won new ground a small Peregrinus of this kind can still count on a temporary limited success. And just as all those who have nothing to look forward to from the official world or have come to the end of their tether with it — opponents of inoculation, supporters of abstemiousness, vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists, nature-healers, free-community preachers whose communities have fallen to pieces, authors of new theories on the origin of the universe, unsuccessful or unfortunate inventors, victims of real or imaginary injustice who are termed “good-for-nothing pettifoggers” by all bureaucracy, honest fools and dishonest swindlers — all throng to the working-class parties in all countries — so it was with the first Christians.

Most all the movements Engels decried in his stay are still, in one form or another, with us, and many with honoured place in the American Left.  I used the “Obama socialism” poster at the start for a little fun, but the truth is that the communists, for all of their cruelty, built great industrial powers, even though their own theory in the end ran them down.  Our left can only run down without building up, and they can’t even fix income inequality while they’re at it.

Comparing Obama and the American Left to communism is unfair. To the communists.

7 Replies to “Beguiling the Left, One Charlatan and Crackpot Scheme at a Time”

  1. “During my growing up years, their followers controlled a third of the world’s population and most of its nuclear weapons. ”

    Don,

    Do you have a source, time, and numbers for the Soviet Union, or all Communist governed countries combined, having more nuclear weapons than the United States, or than the NATO powers combined?

    Best,

    -dlj.

    1. Since you brought that up…

      In the growing up years, you may be right: the “missile gap” much taunted was in fact exaggerated, although it doesn’t take many nuclear weapons to make a problem.

      However, by the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, that gap was certainly closed. Reagan’s “calling of the Soviet Union’s bluff” was riskier than most people realised and could have gone another way, esp. if Yuri Andropov hadn’t died when he did.

      My source for all of this is here.

  2. Don,

    Your html anchor leads to an Amazon sales page, not to any source of information. Are you claiming that your Leebaert’s book shows some time when the Soviet Union had more nuclear weapons than the United States?

    The “missile gap” was never a Soviet lead in weaponized missiles. It was a purely rhetorical invention of the 1960 Kennedy campaign, and evaporated into the thin air it came out of as soon as he was elected.

    -dlj.

  3. Don,

    Clearly you didn’t hear about when Brezhnev’s mother visited him at the Kremlin.

    He showed her all around. “Look, Mama, this is my wonderful apartment, with the ten thousand dollar curtains given me by the President of France.”

    “That’s nice. That’s nice,” said Mama.

    Don’t you like my lovely English suit, made from fine wool, given me by the Prime Minister of England?”

    “That’s nice. That’s nice,” said Mama.

    “And here’s my Cadillac car, given me by President Johnson of the United States.”

    “That’s nice. That’s nice,” said Mama.

    “But Leonid, there’s one thing I’m worried about…”

    “What’s that, Mama?”

    “What if the Communists come back?”

    The point is serious: The Soviet Union was a walking corpse, as I pointed out in stuff I wrote after travelling across it in 1971, years before your Saint Ronald came along. Andropov and Gorbachev were struggling to prop it up, not quite finding the Deng Xiao Ping line.

    Unwisely they didn’t take my advice, to sign a peace treaty with Japan, give the Northern Islands back, and flood the place with Japanese consumer goods with red flags on them. This would have kept the whole thing going for at least another, well, six months maybe…

    Reagan didn’t defeat The Soviets. The Soviet system collapsed from lunatic fairyland economic dogma.

    -dlj.

    1. I am as aware as you are of the Soviet Union’s economic deficiencies. Maybe more so; it was easier to get “inside” the system when I went. Or perhaps you experienced this.

      The problem was on our end; the United States, in the wake of the Sixties and Vietnam, experienced a collective nervous breakdown and basically lost a great deal of its collective will. At that point it was a race to the bottom: would our loss of will or their going broke happen first?

      Reagan’s contribution was that he repaired the will, which meant that the Soviets went over the cliff first.

      As far as your proposal is concerned, I don’t think the Soviets had either the capacity or the quality or the initiative to flood Iwo Jima with consumer goods, let alone Japan.

      On my first trip to the USSR, my Russian rep asked me whether the Russians or the Chinese were the better business people. I said the latter, they were more practical. That’s certainly been borne out this past quarter century.

      1. Don,

        *Japanese* consumer goods, you silly bunny.

        What on Earth do you think signing a peace treaty and giving back the Northern Islands were doing in the same paragraph? They were the way of paying for the consumer goods.

        -dlj.

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