Putin Making the Trains Run on Time?

Nicholas Kristof has written an sinister article as an op-ed piece in the December 15, 2004, NYT, an article worthy of Neville Chamberlain, Joe Kennedy, possibly even Pierre Laval. Kristof blithely states that Vladimir Putin is not 'guiding Russia toward free market democracy, but into fascism' as a way to solve its economic problems. 'Mussolini, Franco, Pinochet, Park Chung Hee, all emerged in societies suffering from political and economic chaos. All consolidated power because they made the trains – or planes run on time.'

First of all, all fascists come to power to suppress working class movements and none improved their societies. Unlike all socialist countries, which brought jobs, education, health care, as matters of human rights and vastly improved not only the material living standards but the quality of life that the people in the former Soviet Union, the Peoples Republic of China, et al, experienced, the fascist states were, as Marxists understood, open terroristic dictatorships by which capitalist classes rule. The smaller weaker ones acted like lower level Mafia capos, keeping their territories in line for their bosses. The larger ones acted like powerful Don, seeking to expand their power through the conquest of territory. Just as is true of organized crime today, non-gangsters supported gangsters either at the point of a gun or because they had something for themselves to gain from the mob, just as non Fascists like Kristof advocate friendship or tolerance with fascists to keep Communists, socialists, and others whom they considered a real threat to their economic system and belief system out of power.

Since fascism is a political expression of modern corporate capitalism, thinkers since the 1920s in the tradition of Kristof have looked at it favorably in a more mundane way so that they could continue to own their stocks and bonds, exploit labor, and maintain their privileged positions.

In the 1920s, for example those who praised Mussolini did so because he terrorized socialists, communists, and those middle class liberals who didn’t go along with the regime. Fascism in Italy and other nations produced a smoke mirrors society where poverty and deepening social injustice were hidden behind military parades and monumental construction projects. Italy was a weak nation when Mussolini through in his lot with Hitler in a war of conquest during World War II. Along with its atrocities against the people of Ethiopia, its invasions of Albania and Greece, Mussolini’s Fascist regime brought general devastation to Italy during World War II. The Italian anti-Fascist partisans, not any 'middle class,' produced by Mussolini’s new Roman Empire were those who restored the honor of the Italian people.

In the late 1930s, Italian troops and German bombers provided by Hitler and Mussolini gave Franco power during the Spanish Civil War. The non-Fascist capitalist states, led by Britain, refused to provide arms to the Spanish Republic, whose major aid came only from the Soviet Union. Like Kristof, Britain’s Neville Chamberlain believed that a fascist Spain was far preferable to a Spain with an elected government in which Socialists and Communists played a leading role and the Soviet Union had great influence.

Spain turned out to be a dress rehearsal for WWII for the fascist powers. Although Soviet leader Joseph Stalin broached the question of ousting Franco at wartime allied power conferences and Spanish anti-Fascists were training to achieve that end, Franco’s polite refusal to formally join the Axis alliance and the development of the cold war, along with postwar U.S. aid in exchange for military bases, enabled his brutal and backward regime to live for thirty years after the fall of the Axis

The Spain that Franco 'led' from 1939-1975, after carrying out mass murder in prison camps during WWII against supporters of the Republic, was a pariah nation in Western Europe. When Eisenhower visited Spain and was greeted by a fawning Franco, Soviet media published pictures of a fawning Franco greeting Hitler twenty years earlier. Everyone in Europe got the point, although Nicholas Kristof still hasn’t.

Pinochet’s regime was in its economic policy a new wrinkle on fascism, but one consistent with the Comintern’s classic definition of fascism, that is an open terroristic regime of the most reactionary sectors of the capitalist class in the service of finance (monopoly) capitalism. Pinochet’s 'free market' fascism,' combined the politics of Hitler with the economics of Milton Friedman, and was largely brought to power and supported in and after its bloody coup by the Nixon administration, its Central Intelligence Agency, ITT, and other powerful U.S. corporations.

It was about Chile that Henry Kissinger said we will not permit a country to become Communist just because its people are stupid enough to elect a Communist government (that elected President Salvador Allende was the Socialist Party leader in a Peoples Front alliance with the Communist Party, similar to the alliance that Hitler aided Franco to destroy in 1936 – meant nothing to Kissinger).

Also, stories of 'Chile’s progress' are grotesque lies. Pinochet devastated workers rights that had been built up over generations and greatly expanded by the Allende regime. Chile became a laboratory for both neo-Fascist murderers and privatizing supply side economists under Pinochet. It’s 'development' produced little beyond an expanded white collar class trying to mimic the consumerism of Europeans and North Americans in a society where workers and the poor wore used clothes imported from the U.S. and lived off other rejected goods dumped on Chilean markets from the rich countries. Today its 'privatized' social security system, a disaster for Chile’s workers, is a 'model' for the Bush administration in its campaign to 'partially' privatize U.S. Social Security.

Park Chung Hee was merely one more military dictator in a South Korea created by U.S. cold warriors after World War II. I wouldn’t lump him with Mussolini, Franco and Pinochet, although Kristof does.

The ruling classes of the most powerful empires in the world, Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, and the U.S. after World War II, certainly preferred and where they had to aided Mussolini, Hitler (until he became too dangerous) and Franco, in order to defeat the movements of the left.

U.S. cold warrior preferred a dictatorial South Korea in the 1940s and a Fascist Chile in the 1970s to any unified Korea or to Allende’s Popular Unity government and gave those brutal regimes massive aid to insure their survival – in the case of Chile against not only the Soviet Union and its allies but against virtually all of the major European NATO states, who had no stomach to support such an open fascist regime thirty years after they had been liberated from fascist domination and occupation.

Perhaps in response to what he perceives as what is politically permissible after Bush’s election Kristof is emboldened to add insult to injury when he contends that 'Still a fascist Russia is a far better thing than a Communist Russia. Communism was a failed economic system while Franco’s Spain, General Pinochet’s Chile and the others generated solid economic growth, a middle class, and international contacts – ultimately laying the groundwork for democracy. Eventually we will see pro-democracy demonstrations in Moscow like those in Kiev.'

That statement is Hitlerian in its fullest Big Lie sense. If Kristof’s standard is economic, then Nazi Germany, which experienced the greatest economic expansion by building the first modern military industrial complex and conquering most of Europe at the beginning of WWII should be his favorite regime.

Also, Hitler through the Axis alliance and his army of appeasers and collaborators, many of whom saw his regime as 'far better' than the Soviets, certainly had international contacts. If Kristof draws the line at Hitler as he winks at Hitler’s old friends Mussolini and Franco, it is a line that makes little sense. While I would not characterize the Putin regime today as a fascist state by any means, it is certainly moving in a dictatorial direction. A real establishment of a fascist regime in either the U.S. or Russia, two states who retain nuclear overkill capacities, would in all likelihood make a full-fledged nuclear war a strong likelihood, just as the victory of fascism in Germany, in industrial and military terms potentially the most powerful nation in Europe in the 1930s made war a strong likelihood. Pro-fascist policies in the name of anti-Communism of the kind that Kristof today suggests eventually led to World War II.

The fascism that Kristof fantasizes about in reality took nearly sixty million lives in the Second World War. It was defeated by an alliance of anti-fascist states, in which the Soviet Union played the most important role and suffered by far the greatest number of casualties. The Communists or China, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, France, Italy and other nations led resistance movements and sometimes large partisan armies that were significant in the anti-fascist victory.

Those who praised Mussolini in the 1920s and leaned to Hitler in the 1930s often contended that the fascist regimes, based on capitalist private property relations, would liberalize over time and were a necessary 'defense mechanism' against Communist revolutions. The conservative German juridical philosopher Karl Schmidt, who helped popularize the 'totalitarian theory'(the term 'total state' derived initially from Italian fascist, them picked up with mystical racist changes by the Nazis) argued that one should accept the Nazis because they represented a more benign form of 'totalitarianism.' Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Reagan’s UN ambassador had some variations on this theme in contending that the U.S. should actively support 'authoritarian' regimes of the Right like Pinochet’s Chile, the brutal Argentinian Junta, and others on the principle that they were, unlike 'totalitarian' regimes of the left, Cuba, the Soviet Union at the time, able to 'evolve toward 'democracy.'

Rather than being a 'failed economic system,' the countries that established socialism under Communist leadership provided enormous advances for both themselves and for the world’s peoples. They struggled to eliminate ethnocultural prejudices rather than greatly expanding them. They developed military power to defend themselves in a hostile capitalist world, not to launch wars of aggression to conquer other peoples. They educated masses in the necessity and morality of peace rather than glorifying war. Although they were capital poor, and forced to build socialism on a base of poverty, they established the first universal health care and full employment fully free education systems in the world and through their influence major reforms throughout the capitalist world, including the U.S. where Communists fought for and helped to establish during the New Deal era unemployment insurance minimum wages, social security and other workers policies that were destroyed in Chile under the Pinochet regime with the endorsement of right-wing U.S. economists.

Only those who are attracted to fascism because it protects their class privileges or, through its dual cults of violence and order fills some psychological need in them, would contend that Pinochet’s Chile with all of its U.S., aid was in any way a better place than socialist Cuba, against whom the U.S. has fought an economic war since 1960. Or the Soviet Union during its darkest days when it was struggling to collectivize agriculture and build heavy industry without adequate capital and skilled labor, with Mussolini’s Italy or Franco’s Spain. What were these states trying to build? What did these states ever build for their people? It was the economic and political successes of the Soviet Union, along with its opposition to imperialism that made the capitalist countries spend trillions to defeat and destroy it. To brush it off as a 'failed economic system' as absurd as a 16th century Spanish feudal aristocrat, looking at the wealth of Spain and the gold coming in from the Americas in comparison to the relative poverty of early merchant capitalist societies, to mock England and Holland as 'failed economic systems.'

I have given Kristof’s superficial and historically ignorant (meaning his understanding of the context of events is very shallow and limited) and stupid (meaning that his anti-Communist fixed ideas make it impossible to think straight about foreign affairs) so much space not only because friends and comrades were troubled by it but because it, coming from a mid-level New York Times pundit, harkens back to the worst rationales for fascist regimes that aided and abetted first Mussolini, then Hitler, then Franco, and subsequently Pinochet.

The Communist movement that Kristof dismisses raised the slogans 'Against Fascism and War,' and 'For Democracy and Peace' against the fascist states in the 1930s. Kristof has in essence contended 'better fascism than Communism' as the French Right said publicly in the 1930s, 'better Hitler than Blum' (socialist leader Leon Blum) and Nixon and Kissinger both said and implemented a policy of better Pinochet than Allende. He has also stated in the crackpot tradition of Schmidt and Kirkpatrick that this is somehow a road to eventual liberalization as the 'middle class' will emerge to bring the blessings of liberal democracy to societies run by torturers and murderers who justify their torture and murder in terms of political ideology.

We have our own huge problems with the fascist tendencies within the Bush administration, their identification with unilateral military intervention and general militarism, their undermining of traditional civil liberties in the name of fighting a 'war on terrorism,' their attacks on workers right and crude and open service to monopoly capital from Halliburton to the transnational oil companies. Kristof’s flip and flimsy acceptance of fascism is an ugly expression of our present political climate, one that deserves to be exposed for its irrationality and condemned for its callousness.

--Norman Markowitz is a contributing editor of Political Affairs and writes frequently for the online edition. Reach him by e-mail at pa-letters@politicalaffairs.net.

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