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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Farewell « Previous | |Next »
June 13, 2004

There has been a lot hype about this American conservative. Media adulation and myth-building by the conservative cheerleaders is everywhere. A lot of the commentary in the US is mostly gush and nonsense.There is little being said about the illusions fostered by his sunny messages delivered with a folksy charm. These were designed to help Americans feel better about themselves.

Domestically, a media-savvy Reagan signified the rupture with the New Deal since he delegitimized the federal government, slashed the social safety net, hugely increased the budget deficit through doubling military spending, targeted a big tax cuts for the rich, broke the unions, massively deregulated businesses, and deregulation the Savings and Loans sector. These are indicators of "trickle down" economics, an anti-government and market-fundamentalist philosophy that has since become hegemonic in American political thought.

Steve Bell

The conservatives are magnifying Reagan through conflating the war on communism with the war on terrorism. They are campaigning as if America is watching TV with the sound turned down.

Michael Leeden says that:

"The Left truly hates Reagan, and those who worked with him, because he demonstrated the emptiness of their greatest conceit: that the ideals embodied in the Communist revolution were both just and destined to triumph. The Leftist intelligentsia will never forgive him and his people for destroying the Soviet Empire, and they still strive desperately to pretend that he didn't do it. But it won't work."

Not at all. The Soviet Empire deserved to collapse. Most of the momentum for change came from within that empire.

It is the war that Reagan waged by proxy in Central America that is Reagan's legacy. Reagan pretty much fostered and funded fascism in Latin America. That proxy war was a perversion of the goals of freedom and democracy. The US supported the El Salvador military slaughtering hundreds of peasants, mostly women, children and the elderly. The US funded the aggression against the Sandinista government by terrorists (Contra death squads) who murdered upwards of 40,000 civilians. Freedom-loving Reagan supported the genocidal regimes of Guatemala

The Iran-Contra affair disclosed how deeply corrupt and rapacious his Republican administration was.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:19 PM | | Comments (15)


The paroxysms of eulogy that the republicans are displaying in the neighborhood of Reagan's corpse are narrowly disguised self-congratulation verging on self-worship. At the same time, paradoxically, the example of Bush's website morphing into a Reagan memorabelia site suggests that most republicans would prefer to have a different presidential candidate if they possibly could. Even Bush, it would appear, would rather be somebody else.

My own thoughts on Reagan's legacy are very similar to yours:

You'll enjoy this cartoon summary of the great man's oeuvre:

There is a devastating and ultimately depressing article on Slate on how Reagan inadvertantly got Osama Bin Laden started


According to your logic, I guess we should have refused to fight the Italians in WWII because they were our allies in WWI.

The world changes, and so does the political landscape. And, national policy must adapt to those changes.

It made sense to help the mujahadin in Afghanistan against the Soviets. That war helped hasten the demise of the USSR, thus bringing about the liberation of hundreds of millions from communist tyrany.

That 20 or so years later some of those guys have now decided to take on the West? Look at the annals of international relations and see how many times shifting alliances made yesterdays friends todays enemies. France and Britain were sworn foes since the Conquest, and yet, they fought two major world wars together in the last century. Oldest story in the history book.

And, as for Iran-Contra, I fail to see how halting the spread of Marxism in Latin America is a manifestation of rapaciousness. Unless, of course, you happen to be a booster of the likes of the Ortega brothers, who arrogated millions of dollars in private property before leaving office, not to mention sexually molesting certain young female relations.

The Ortegas were a helluva lot more rapacious than Ronaldus Magnus (Ronald the Great) ever was.

Reagan was an outstanding president who hastened the downfall of the Soviet Union. To understand these matters one only has to read the recent op ed by Jewish political prisoner Anatoly Scharansky, who was exhilarated by Reagan's willingness to call the USSR what it was - an empire of evil . Reagan's brave words reverberated throughout the gulag system, bringing joy to political dissidents like Scharansky that a western leader was finally willing to stand up to communist repression. Within three years of reading about Reagan's speech in his cell, Scharansky was freed and was able to visit the Oval Office to thank the man who was substantially responsible for his liberation.

Poor VoS, just like its M-L on the flip side of the coin, unable to see the world in anything but Manichean terms.


Sometimes Manichean terms are the only terms that make sense. When you are confronted by pure, unadulterated evil, to respond with nuance is both unethical and self-destructive.

The Soviet Union WAS evil entity, predicated internally on cruel repression and externally on ruthless expansion. The innocent victims of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Kruschev, Breznev, etc... total well over 30 million. Your implication that the USSR wasn't really such a bad thing reflects ill on you and your value system.

You sound like Jimmy Carter, who never met a murderous dictator he didn't want to hug. Or Neville Chamberlain, who went to Munich with the thought that seeing Adolf Hitler in Manichean terms would not be cricket.

While the kneejerk application of Manichean terms would be folly, the unwillingness to apply them where they belong is moral cowardice. As in most things, the key to success is wise judgement.

If you, like Scharansky, had spent 9 years in a Soviet Gulag for the henious offence of wishing to emigrate to your homeland, perhaps you'd be a bit more inclined to apply Manichean terms to totalitarian brutality, as well.

By the way, what's this "M-L" business?

Unfortunately, much of the Left analysis on Reagan is just windbagging. Indeed, the Right is guilty of this too.

The actual historical record of Reagan shows something entirely different. He was in fact

-a Social Security bailer outer to the tune of $165 billion US.

-the major architect of the Earned Income Tax Credit

-a serial tax-hiker

-a total anti-nuke peacenik who enraged the conservative movement, not to mention Margaret Thatcher

Reagan was not a foreign policy extremist or even particularly belligerent. He behaved modestly in foregin policy and was primarily a pragmatist. Examples include:

-Supporting proxies rather than getting US forces involved in messy conflicts, examples including Nicaragua and Afghanistan

-Aiming for a complete phase-out of nuclear weapons, a comprehensive strategy that required an initial four to five year arms build-up and a cut in the world oil price (that was to convince the Soviets he was serious)

-Supporting Radio Free Europe and other such "soft" initiatives aimed at winning hearts and minds

The thinking Left over at the Washington Monthly have actually examined the historical record and found a pragmatist. Unfortunately, the majority of the Left are unable to think in anything but abstractions, which would explain statements like this:

"Domestically, a media-savvy Reagan signified the rupture with the New Deal since he delegitimized the federal government, slashed the social safety net, hugely increased the budget deficit through doubling military spending, targeted a big tax cuts for the rich, broke the unions, massively deregulated businesses, and deregulation the Savings and Loans sector. These are indicators of "trickle down" economics, an anti-government and market-fundamentalist philosophy that has since become hegemonic in American political thought."

Naturally, none of these terms have come with any actual examples.

I tend to find the same of people who think they know something about the Hawke Government. The typical claim is that Hawke was an extremist neo-liberal who massively deregulated the economy and unleashed the extremes of market forces.

Naturally, none of this confirms to the historical record. Anyone who has read anything about the Hawke Government's policies (as opposed to the ideologies of some of those who supported Hawke policies) would point out that there was a large expansion in the availability of credit under Hawke, some piecemeal privatisations, a paying down of some national debt, higher taxes on business activities, with a highly regimented labour market.

All of this was followed by further regimentation of the labour market and a blowout of national debt.

But let's leave aside annoying policy facts and repeat after me: Reagan and Hawke were neoliberals!

vos do you really have a clue? If she'd been living in Russia at the time of the Bolshevisation of the Revolution, Voltairine would have been locked up just like Scharansky. There were plenty of socialists and anarchists who were put in gaol by good old Vladimir Ilyich, who on being visited by Emma Goldmann and Alexander Berkman told them that only the 'pretend' anarchists were in prison.

Good old Icepick Leon loved nothing more than trotting out the tautology that the State was the workers and thus workers opposing the Bolsheviks must be petit bourgeois. So by all means continue to live in your fantasy world where the only people who opposed the Bolsheviks, Stalinists, etc. were those who you consider to be your ideological forbears and remember just who it was that let Adolf have a practice run on Guernica.

I mean its almost as funny as seeing old Stalinists and Maoists like Albert Langer and Barry York being trotted out by the Australian as if there somehow sane now.

M-L means Marxist-Leninist and by my experience their just as humourless as you.

Eh, Kate, so am I to understand that because I am an admirer of Ronald Reagan, that necessarily makes me a booster of Fransisco Franco? You are painting with a bit of a broad brush of your own, doncha think?

Yes, there was some opposition to Soviet brutality on the Left, but it was relatively inconsequential in terms of numbers and influence. While, perhaps critical of Stalin, many of the soft-leftie types still preached accomodation with the Soviet Union. And, to Anatole Scharansky, Jimmy Carter-esque conciliation equaled more years in the gulag.

As for Voltairene, based on her comments above, she would have been just as likely to have cheered the storming of the Winter Palace, or even participated in it, shoulder to shoulder with ol' VI hisself.

The Western left bears considerable indirect moral responsibility for the crimes of the Soviet Union because it (with a few exceptions) provided aid and comfort to that evil empire.

NYT Moscow reporter Walter Duranty comes to mind. He spent the late 20s and much of the 30s denying that millions were perishing under Stalinist repression. He even coined the infamous exculpatory quip "can't make an omlet without breaking some eggs." And, adding insult to injury, the Pulitzer committee actually refused to recind that asshole's prize. Disgraceful!

And, while the old Stalinists might be mirth-inducing from your perspective, what about the newer variety - the John Pilgers, Noam Chomskys and Tariq Alis who receive rapturous applause from the hard left wherever they go?

Why is it that someone like Tariq Ali, who thinks Milosevic is a hero, and who actively supports the Islamist dross who are fighting against the coalition in Iraq (of course, talk is cheap. Tariq Ali is far too much of a wuss to go to Baghdad and pick up an AK47 on his own) invited to be the keynote speaker at last year's Melbourne Writer's Festival when his views are on the same ethical plane as your run of the mill white supremacist?

Notwithstanding your urge to write off the M-L crowd as a bunch of has beens, current political discourse reveals that it ain't necesarily so, as they said in Porgy and Bess.

As for my purported humorlessness, I guess I find it hard to be mirthful when I'm dealing with the intellectual heirs of cold war detante. Appeasers, said Winston Churchill, are those who would feed the crocodile in the hopes of being eaten last. And, I find little to laugh about that.

The bottom line is that it was Reagan's unyielding policies towards the Soviet Union that substantially precipitated the evil empire's demise. Even Gorbie admits as much in his memoirs. Sometimes, it's pure toughness that gets the job done

There are plenty of political leaders who talk grand notions of democracy but repeatedly show that their not really interested in it. Granted their interests sometimes intersect with the expansion of autonomy and ability to live a comfortable life of us great unwashed, but that doesn't mean they actually care for us. The real language of these people is usually spoken in briefings and communiques not the newspapers.

That's what I mean about Franco. There were plenty of politicians who were eugenicists, despisers of unions and imperialists who lined up against Adolf, but like the apparatchiks they didn't really care too much until he became a bit too big for his boots. You may well be committed to democratic praxis in all areas of your life, I have no real way of telling, so that remark was not implied to suggest a personal love of Franco, merely that 'democracy' is an oft-abused and re-defined term that is used to cover unspeakable acts.

Voltairine may well have fought against the Tsar and those who supported him, though she may have found that beyond her. Unlikely to have done so alongside V.I. Lenin (nowhere near as funky as I.V. Lenin), who really was quite happy to sit back while others did the work. In doing so that would not mean she would have in any way supported the distortion of the Soviets that occurred under the Bolsheviks.

I think you're stretching the bow on calling Chomsky a Stalinist. You may disagree with him, and I tire of the hero worship of him, but I think Stalinist is an inaccurate description. I can't say I have read much of Pilger or Ali, I've really only seen Pilger doing his best to make a South African mining executive squirm.

The tradition that I would see myself as 'belonging' to has undboubtedly made mistakes, but it is not one that supported Stalinism (indeed it actively opposed it). I have had stand up arguments with people in the DSP and the ISO about their authoritarianism and active dislike of working class people who dare to stand up for themselves.

I prefer to see politics as more like a Venn diagram than a horizontal model adopted from the way people sat down in Revolutionary France. People will have different motives for doing the same thing and alliances will come and go on different matters.

So Ronnie may have helped end the Cold War - that certainly fits the Great Man view of history, where Gorby and Ronnie sit it out and the Iron Curtain just dissolves away. I'm a bit dubious about the way that it's all neatly distilled down to that. It ignores the kleptomania of the Soviet bureaucrats, the democratic impulses of the ordinary citizen of the USSR and the numerous people who influnced events.

I'm also dubious that Reagan (or Gorby) was really concerned about the fate of any person not born into wealth or part of his own social circles. Like most politicians whatever the professed ideology, I suspect we were/are just grist for the mill of abstract ideas and the will to power.

Eh, Fransico Franco was entirely devoid of any democratic pretense. He made no bones about his dictatorial bent. Therefore, I fail to see how talked about "grand notions of democracy." So, if that's what you "mean about Franco," you are considerably off the mark.

Chomsky is, indeed a neo-Stalinist. He spent most of the 1970s defending the Khmer Rouge against what he described as Western attempts to defame Pol Pot with accusations of genocide. More recently, he has adopted a similar attitude towards Milosevic. He's never seen a leftist despot he hasn't wanted to support. He truly is a latter-day Walter Duranty.

And, the same holds true for Pilger. According to him there were no massacres in Kosovo and the whole crisis in 1999 was a deliberate plot by the evil US of A to take over the Balkans. Last year he wrote a piece in the New Statesman which began with a paragraph to the effect that he had travelled in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule and had never felt safer anywhere. Of course, Pilger isn't a Kurd or a Shia Marsh Arab, ethnic groups that were subjected to the genocidal attentions of the Ba'athist regime.

And, you write much the same stuff in an only slightly diluted form.

"The tradition that I would see myself as 'belonging' to has undboubtedly made mistakes, but it is not one that supported Stalinism (indeed it actively opposed it)."

Opposed Stalinism? How? Merely with words? Or were your democratic socialists willing to adopt the tough policies that forced the Soviets' back to the wall and hastened their demise?

Talk is cheap. And, the Sovs paid little mind to mere rhetoric.

The "tradition to which you belong" spent most of the Cold War mouthing effete criticisms of Stalinism and the USSR, but simultaneously working to undermine the only thing that would ever cause the collapse of Soviet tyranny - hardnosed containment and opposition to the Marxist expansionism.

So, my dear, I'm sorry, but you can't have it both ways. Your anti-Soviet rhetoric does not absolve you of the moral opprobrium your "tradition" incurred by adopting policies of conciliation that extended the life of one of the most repressive, murderous systems in recorded human history.

Alleged voice of sanity is full of shit about cambodia.
I was living in thailand in those years and had friends running refugeee camps for cambodians.
Inanity criticises chomsky but conveniently ignores the fact that the US and us supported the KR who were a criminal rump in the forests of north west cambodia at the UN as the legitimate government.
This lasted for several years,as did the US through the thai military supplying weapons to the KR.I was there,I have seen it.

Not talking about Franco, never was in the first place. There were plenty of 'democrats' who left Spain to slip into facism (actually making it illegal to fight for Republican Spain) and let Adolf let the Condor legion loose and bomb Guernica.

And how did the people from my 'tradition' pay? With their fucking blood you wanker just like the kulaks - in the Ukraine (where they fought the Red and White Armies); at Kronstadt; in Spain 1936 and after in Eastern Europe. I've talked to men and women from Europe who fled fascism and Stalinism and they left the lands they loved often after fighting for their lives. They are not and were not Stalinists or Leninist or even Marxists but they weren't capitalists. If that makes them guilty of loving Stalin, well then I question your self-appointed moniker.

That is the problem, you think that the world is easily diluted down to a binary system of A vs. B and if someone isn't with A, then they must be for B. Sorry, but life isn't one big game of AFL, where we barrack for one team no matter what.

So let me get this straight. You witnessed the Thai military supplying weapons to the Khmer Rouge? Sorry, never happened. The US did supply arms to the faction of Prince Sihanouk that was fighting against the Vietnamese invasion. But Sihanouk's guys were hardly fighting on behalf of the KR, given that Pol Pot's boys were wild-eyed Maoists and Sihanouk's people were constitutional monarchists.

This is typical of the crap peddled by Noam Chomsky, et al, who attempt to divert attention away from the unsavoury fact that they supported a genocidal movement that slaughtered millions of innocent Cambodians.

Eh... Stuart... my comments about "your tradition" were obviously not directed towards you, but rather towards the person who employed that phrase before I did - elisee reclus, who in fact did talk about Franco.

As for your annecdotes of discussions with refugees from Stalinism and Nazism, they are fine, so far as they go. But annecdotal evidence is just that... annecdotal. In order to see the broad sweep of intellectual history during the era in which the free world was confronted by Soviet communism, something a bit more substantive is in order.

I have not denied the existence of a socialist left that talked the talk of opposing communism. I'm merely pointing out that this movement failed to walk the walk by working to undermine the only thing that contained communist expansionism, and ultimately destroyed it - military force, either as a deterrent or in an active combatant role.

By the way, have you ever read the list of demands made by the Kronstadt mutineers? They wanted freedom of speech, but only for "workers, peasants, Anarchists and Left-socialist parties." I guess if you didn't belong to one of those categories you were SOL.

Not particularly democratic of those swabbies, now was it? Nor, in fact, were Orwell's comrades in the Trotskyite POUM militia fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Trotsky wrote, amongst other things, a charming little tract entitled "In Defense of Terrorism," and was a true believer in a armed overthrow of "bourgois democracy" by an armed worker class. Somehow I don't think that his followers were interested in creating a truly democratic government in Spain or anywhere else.

Orwell saw the light, but I'm not sure how many others did or would.

So, what does this prove? It proves that to be anti-Stalinist doesn't ipso facto make you into a supporter of Jeffersonian democracy. Some of Stalin's biggest opponents were quite partial to totalitarian rule, as long as they were at the apex of the pyramid.