I’ve been obsessing over the evils of 20th century Soviet Communism for the past year or so (maybe longer!), but have felt confusion about where my agitation was coming from. It can’t be at the impotent contemporary American Left, because they don’t represent a threat to anybody. More recently I thought perhaps it’s the American Far Right, the Tea Party, which closely parallels the Communist political mentality that makes me grind my teeth so very much.
Because I stink at writing essays (because I am not an essayist), I’ll just list things like bullet points:
The Tea Party is radicalized and energized, like the militant Bolsheviks in Russia. The Tea Party would object to the comparison obviously, they see themselves as Right-Wing Traditionalists, but extreme Traditionalism is the same as extreme Revolutionary fervor, whether it’s Left or Right. It’s a fixation on a mythical moment in past, “When Things Were Good”, a moment that would arrive again if only other people would stop getting in the way.
Like the Communists, the American Far Right promises “wealth” to the working classes, (a group whose interests are actually poorly served by the Party they support). They are promised a fictitious Utopian prosperity, which will never arrive in reality. I’ve heard many people speak of the way that working people in America prioritize protecting the wealth of the very-rich, because they themselves imagine that one day it will be they who are the millionaires.
The Utopia would arrive, if the Party could take and hold power.
Therefore, bringing the Party to power and advancement of the Party is the foremost goal of the Party, well ahead of governing or political compromise. The Republican Party makes a goal of sabotaging the Democratic Presidency by means of rigid obstructionism. The ends (Party advancement) justify the means (destructive governing).
Militant Messaging: members of the Party sticks to the script. Nobody is off-message. There’s no internal debate and no nuance. Those who veer off-message are denounced. (RINOS).
The Democrats do a poor job of sticking to their Party script, not because they are weaker or even more honest, but because they aren’t as good at behaving ideologically.
A couple others, possibly weaker:
Dialectical twisting of meaning. Orwell’s “War is Peace” “Freedom is Slavery”, etc. I’m not so sure about this one, but I think about the Modern Republican Party mastery at taking an opponents perceived strength and making it their weakness. That Karl Rove tactic. Universal Healthcare for all, twisted so the majority of people are suspicious that the government is trying to take away their healthcare. Progressive policies that would help advance disadvantaged minorities, labeled “racist”. Again, not sure about this one…
Also, thinking about parallels in the history of Communism and the History of Movement Republicanism. Who would the Karl Marx be? Someone like William F. Buckley Jr? (Or, more likely, an economic thinker from earlier in History, whose name I probably should know).
It’s easier to think who’d be the Lenin or the Stalin of the movement. I recently read this quote about Lenin: “[his] outstanding characteristic was freedom from doubt about his message of the moment, although the very next instant he might be saying the opposite with the same absolute certainty”.
This seems an accurate description for many so much of the Right Wing, judging by how often The Daily Show does bits contrasting someone’s statements with their earlier contradictory positions. But, I think of the Radio Show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, who really personify this absolute certainty about the correctness of whatever it is they may be saying at the moment.
Obviously so many of the similarities are cosmetic, and there are many differences. My personal opinion (and maybe it’s naively optimistic), is that unlike the Bolsheviks of 1918, a movement on the rise, the Tea Party of 2012 is a party in decline. The loud death rattles of movement conservatism, that peaked in the 1980’s, but was brought down by the George W. Bush presidency. I think it’s always worth remembering, for all of the air-time and media attention the Tea Party receives, they still ended up nominating a Massachusetts moderate with absolutely no ideological core as their next Presidential candidate. This does not seem to me like a group that has got it together.
Is there a contrast to the Bolsheviks there? Not sure… at first blush I’d say no, but on the other hand, Stalin just ended up being a Bolshevik version of the Tsars, rather than a man of the people. So… I don’t know.
If you want to see some more of the pages from the comic excerpted above, the rest of them are here. A version of my adaptation of this essay will be a part of my new book, which I’m in the midst of working out.