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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/9936/neither-brown-nor-red/

Neither Brown Nor Red

May 12, 2009 by

The process of right-wing statism giving way to left-wing statism, and back again, provides a summary narrative of the last 100 years of political history, and it is a particularly maddening one for old-style liberals and libertarians, since we see how the two work together, often unbeknownst to the partisans, to build the leviathan state step by step. It is surely not a far-flung hope that someday societies will learn to reject the militarism and regimentation of the Right without embracing the collectivism and violence against property offered by the Left. FULL ARTICLE


Matt R. May 12, 2009 at 9:29 am


“Show me an Obama fanatic, someone for whom this man can do no wrong, no matter how brainless his economic policies or how violent his foreign policies, and I’ll show you a person who hates the guts of George W. Bush — and mostly for the right reasons.”

– Excellent point! This sums up some immediate members of my family, who, for whatever reason, can’t hold both sides accountable. It’s maddening to listen to them.

Barry Loberfeld May 12, 2009 at 9:34 am

From “What’s Really Reactionary?”:

The Russian Revolution was a “revolution” only in the sense that it was a revolt — against 1905, the “apogee of Russian liberalism” (Pipes). Lenin and his fellow socialists proceeded to turn back the clock on every advance of that liberalism. For instance, in 1716 the Emperor was defined as an “absolute monarch, who is not obligated to answer for his actions in the world but has the power and the authority to govern … in accord with his desire.” Similarly, the (old) Fundamental Laws declared his power “unlimited” and “autocratic.” And when the Bolsheviks came to power, they abolished Russia’s first democratic assembly ever and established an explicit “dictatorship” that Lenin himself described as “power that is limited by nothing, by no laws, that is restrained by absolutely no rules, that rests directly on coercion.” Small wonder that so many across the globe came to refer to the succession of Soviet premiers as the “new Tsars.”

Absolute monarchy wasn’t the only “old European order” elite restored by the Bolsheviks. They also gave Mother Russia a new hereditary aristocracy: the nomenklatura, who filled the offices necessitated by socialism’s “use of political command.” To quote one of its members:

[T]he nomenklatura is on another planet…. It’s not simply a matter of good cars or apartments. It’s the continuous satisfaction of your own whims…. All the little apparatchiks are ready to do everything for you. Your every wish is fulfilled…. You are like a king: just point your finger and it is done.

Ironically, notes Pipes, the nomenklatura soon grew to match the “proportion of service nobles under tsarism in the eighteenth century.” (Even more ironically, Heilbroner reveals that the reason why the “distribution of income must undergo radical change” under socialism is to ensure that the “class structure of the old society is not to reappear, perhaps with new occupants, in the new.”)

The return of the old in a superficially “new” (e.g., inverted) form — a paradigm that would ultimately expand beyond Marxism to all Leftism — was epitomized by the treatment of religion. Whereas conservative Orthodox theocracy predated (and eventually resisted) the liberal concept of Church-State separation, reactionary Bolshevism overthrew it — and made opinions on the supernatural once again a matter of state coercion. But instead of persecuting all nonbelievers in a specific type of theism, it persecuted all nonbelievers in a specific type of atheism (viz., “dialectical materialism”). The only “progress” this policy made was on toward different targets. And as a policy, atheocracy would ultimately expand beyond Bolshevism to all Communism.

And what of Russia’s laboring masses, notably its peasants?

Collectivization degraded the peasant more than did pre-1861 serfdom, since as a serf he had owned (in practice, if not in theory) his crops and livestock. His new status was that of a slave laborer who received the bare minimum of subsistence: for backbreaking work in 1935 a peasant household earned from the kolkhoz 247 rubles a year, just enough to purchase one pair of shoes.

Admittedly, it’s arguable that, in a Russian context, this was not at all “reactionary,” i.e., turning the peasant back into a serf, but genuinely evolutionary, i.e., mutating him into a slave. Along those lines, we cannot fail to mention the slave repositories of the Gulag, which also provided much of the “compulsory labor” essential to “attaining socialism.”

Finally, what about the most fundamental feature of Communism, which “may be summed up in a single sentence: Abolition of private property”? Did “War Communism,” the Bolsheviks’ all-out effort to annihilate and supplant every manifestation of capitalism, represent a new, unprecedented stage of economic organization, one born of the ascendancy of the proletariat? Again, Pipes:

State control (though not ownership) of production and distribution of commodities and labor had been introduced by Imperial Germany during World War I. These emergency policies, known as “War Socialism” (Kriegssozialismus), made a great impression on Lenin and his economic adviser, Iurii Larin. The replacement of the free market for commodities with a network of state-run distribution centers was patterned on the ideas of Louis Blanc and the ateliers introduced in France in 1848 under his influence. In spirit, however, War Communism resembled most the patrimonial regime (tiagloe gosudarstvo) of medieval Russia, under which the monarchy treated the entire country, with its inhabitants and resources, as its private domain.

Such was the revolutionary “future” beheld by the admirers of socialism in the West (e.g., Lincoln Steffens, Rexford Tugwell).

And so real was that illusion of the “future” in the eyes of the implementers of socialism, so vital was that conceit to its core justification, that they defined and dehumanized all who lay in their (i.e., History’s) way as nothing more than manifestations of “counter-revolution,” that magnum crimen. Communist practice thus proceeded decisively to effect the “disappearance” of “reactionary classes” (e.g., liquidation of the kulaks, the Cultural Revolution), “reactionary peoples” (e.g., Soviet starvation of non-Russians, Khmer Rouge atrocities against ethnic Vietnamese), and any and all “reactionary” individuals — with that chorus of Western fellow travelers praising the savagery as a “step forward,” even a Great Leap.


Franklin May 12, 2009 at 10:46 am

“If you walk out on it now, what does your whole life mean?”
And the answer would be, “It means that I ‘grew up,’ and recognized the truth.”

Having seen the film only once, when it was first released, it has stuck. Brilliantly executed, images carefully staged. After decades, I still see the woman praying before the Easter Orthodox icon, seeking solace among the misery. Ah, yes, something else the fascists sought to destroy as well.

“If you walk out now….?”
Would that they all did.

And so I await the day when so-called small government Republicans leave their party, cherishing their religions in private, in their own homes and churches.
I await the day the Democrats shake the clichés of (false) hope and greedy bureacrats and childish emotion, like the logger eschewing the forest gnats who interminably chase at his sweaty brow.

I look for signs of hope. It shall not occur in my lifetime, but there are glimmers — the monks at Mises, the peaceful bloggers above and those walking the halls of this site, who are accosted for their earnings, and accused of greed, yet who are the kindest souls on the planet. They are here, thinking, writing against the medieval tide, awaiting the new renaissance.
“Neither brown nor red” indeed.

Jeffrey never ceases to amaze — analytical, incisive, tempered. Such care and focus in every essay. Always “complete.”
Like DiMaggio on the field, stellar in a thousand ways.

Richard Garner May 12, 2009 at 11:57 am

I thoroughly enjoyed this film and have seen it a number of times. Mind you, I was a “left” anarchist at the time, and loved the portrayal of Emma Goldman. “Voting is the Opiate of the Masses!”

theblob May 12, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Thanks, I never knew about this movie!
Now I just need to get it.

Inquisitor May 12, 2009 at 12:51 pm

The funny thing is that the Right fucks things up (sorry for the language), and then the Left tries to correct its errors only perpetrating atrocities of its own, for the so-called Right to then come and “correct”, leading to a somewhat vicious circle.

gene May 12, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Excellent article.

Freedom from the right and left.

Mark May 12, 2009 at 2:24 pm

A lot of good points in this essay, but I don’t understand Tucker’s accusation of how right-wing presidents always start pointless wars and vastly increase regulatory power. Neither Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, nor Reagan started a war. If you’re looking for presidents who started wars in the last 100 years, all you see is Democrats and Bushes who govern like Democrats. Reagan didn’t increase regulatory power. I don’t believe Ford, Eisenhower, Coolidge or Harding did either. Again, all you have is Bushes and Nixon, who also governed like Democrat, doing that since Hoover.

I’m no fan of Republicans for the other reasons Tucker mentions, but it doesn’t do any good to falsely charge Republicans in general with starting wars and increasing regulation. Another interesting point about Tucker’s charges is that they all apply much more strongly to Democrats in the last 100 years, yet he charges Republicans with them.

kmeisthax May 12, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Who’s the troll that tagged the article “libertarians are on average 12 years old”?

Lester Hunt May 12, 2009 at 3:10 pm


I had always avoided this movie because I assumed it was a mere whitewash of the Bolsheviki. You make me want to see it at last.

David Bratton May 12, 2009 at 3:17 pm

I wasn’t too impressed with Reds. I thought the movie sought to perpetuate the myth that it was just the Russians and not socialism per se that failed.

wilderness May 12, 2009 at 3:26 pm

I didn’t see any mention of “Republicans”. I noticed the right-left simple dichotomy being used, but not political parties that swing back and forth from right to left in history. Tucker explained what right and left he was referring to and nothing about parties:

“It is surely not a far-flung hope that someday societies will learn to reject the militarism and regimentation of the Right without embracing the collectivism and violence against property offered by the Left.”

Any party can be Right or Left. The neo-cons are explicitly Right in tune with the above definition. Neo-cons were the Republicans politically pinnacled by Bush the second as president. Obama is a stereotypical Leftist looking to subvert natural property with his push to seat the Supreme Court with somebody that has redistribution of wealth and pragmatism (opposed to natural rights) in mind. This being only one example that is openly being discussed currently by this administration.

Don’t forget that political parties switch from acting stereotypically Right or Left so I wouldn’t get stuck thinking Republicans are always Right and Democrats are always Left. The Right and Left have switched parties throughout the history of this country.

wilderness May 12, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Excellent article!
Also had me thinking about how leftist collectively consolidate the State (thus why called socialism), which therefore builds the growing danger of a strong rightist to govern an ever-growing State. Socialism grows the State power and thus provides rightists perpetually more power to swing their military inclinations. I see that as being part of the feedback loop as well.


Mark May 13, 2009 at 12:32 am

From wilderness:
“I didn’t see any mention of “Republicans”. I noticed the right-left simple dichotomy being used, but not political parties that swing back and forth from right to left in history.”

I agree. I’m sure not every Republican fits Tucker’s definition of “right-wing”, but after reading this essay, I wonder who he means. I seems to me he was stereotyping Republicans, and I disagreed with that.

wilderness May 13, 2009 at 8:04 am

He gave you a definition of what he meant by Right-Left. I quoted it. I think you’re looking for a ghost in your own head. Nothing in the article talks about Republicans or Democrats in the way you keep going on about. You even say here, “…I wonder who he means.” ghosts…

Gunderdog May 13, 2009 at 4:29 pm

This is a great article. Really awesome. The author says:

“It is surely not a far-flung hope that someday societies will learn to reject the militarism and regimentation of the Right without embracing the collectivism and violence against property offered by the Left.”

WRONG. It is a completely far-flung hope, I am afraid, unless you mean by “someday” long after I am dead. As a person who is very liberal (pro-gay marriage, pro-immigrant, anti-imperialist, pro-environmental protection, pro-massively reduced military) but also libertarian (small government, small taxes, free markets, pro-gold standard, anti-imperialist, pro-massively reduced military) I find nobody I know agrees with me!!! I argue with left and right all the time, and get just as angry responses from both ends.

mstob May 13, 2009 at 11:57 pm


republicans may not have started formal, official wars, but both parties have tendencies for militarism and increasing US military power globally throughout the decades.

Paul May 14, 2009 at 8:45 pm

I’m no Bush apologist, and Jeff is one of my favorite writers, but I though that I should bang together a short response to this article. The way this article tried to draw parallels between the history of the Russian Revolution and the Bush years particularly problematic.

“Show me an Obama fanatic …and I’ll show you a person who hates the guts of George W. Bush — and mostly for the right reasons.

… [Bush] used his power the way Republicans always have: betray election promises, explode spending, start pointless wars that garner global enemies, vastly increase regulatory power, and attempt a regimentation of cultural life that impedes on people’s civil rights and liberties.”

In what way has Bush exploded spending that has troubled the left, aside from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Are the enemies the American’s gather as angelic as Tucker assumes?
In what practical and real way have the civil rights and liberties of Americans been curtailed?
And most astonishingly what precisely does Tucker mean by ‘attempt a regimentation of cultural life’?

So what have the left really been worried about? Lower taxes on the wealthy, the decline of trade unions, lack of socialised medicine, lack of further educational subsidisation, lack of movement to reduce carbon emissions, Bush’s religious conservatism, selection of ‘conservative’ judges, banning a partial birth abortions, lack of funding for abortions, lack of provision of abortions in US military hospitals, lack of ‘recognition’ for same-sex ‘marriages’. I could easily continue the list.

Hence, the left is either inconsistent in its opposition to Bush or merely opposing him on the basis of wanting to create their own, grander, oppressive statist agenda.

Anyone who thinks that Bush had in mind at all some kind of theocratic takeover is purely paranoid and has no justification whatsoever.

Here we have it: sadly, libertarians just want to stick it into conservatives of all and every kind.

Certainly, George Bush has been one of the worst presidents in US history. But to deny him an objective analysis and descend into ideological scaremongering is unfair.

GunderDog May 15, 2009 at 5:48 pm


It’s not that George Bush the man but rather the Republican party that has become very theocratic. They completely abandoned McCain until he got his fundamental christian running mate. If you are gay for gay marriage but agree with the Republicans on every single other issue, you are out. Same thing if you are a Muslim, or an out-of-the-closet atheist. This is not all Bush’s doing, but it all happened on his watch and with his consent.

As for how Bush has expanded government spending:

Prescription drug benefit – this is a MASSIVE entitlement that many democrats called corporate welfare. This had to have been bigger in $$ than anything Clinton pushed through.

The Federal budget overall, across the board, went up significantly over Bush’s 8 years. Look it up.

I think leftists are more indigent about the hypocrisy of this rather than the actual increase in spending.

How are our civil rights being infringed? Well, Obama just used the laws and apparatus Bush created to label returning military and people opposed to abortion as potential terrorist threats. Bush also set up the plan (that Obama can now implement) to force people to get vaccinated against their will should their be a bio-weapon attack – or threat thereof.

Bush laid the groundwork for a lot of fascist stuff – now Obama or his successor get to implement it.

The bottom line is that the Republican party, as the official arm of mainstream conservatism, has had no moral authority since Eisenhower. Many people love Reagan, but I don’t because he never lowered Federal spending. He just lowered taxes (a good thing) while increasing debt. Once the Republicans stop talking about lowering taxes and start actually lowering spending, they may have my support.

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