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Louis Untermeyer


The Politics of Bad Faith

By David Horowitz
The Free Press, 214 pp, 1998

David Horowitz is tough.

A former leftist whose parents were members of the Communist Party, Horowitz is now a conservative, and he spends most of his time writing about his former comrades, their ideas, and their agenda. He minces no words, spares no feelings, and devastates with cold-blooded logic. The Politics of Bad Faith is a fine example.

“Totalitarianism,” he writes, “is the possession of reality by a political Idea – the Idea of the socialist kingdom on earth: the redemption of humanity by political force.” To Horowitz, the implementation of socialism requires an all-powerful, totalitarian government that tramples liberty and harms people, which is why socialism doesn’t work. In fact, that’s been demonstrated everywhere socialism has been tried, most notably the former Soviet Union. So why are there still socialists? After such a convincing record of failure, how can anyone still think socialism works?

Horowitz answers this by first defining the terms. Former radicals, leftists, progressives, Marxists, socialists, and communists don the “liberal” label in a quest for respectability to make people forget who they really are. In so doing, they distort the traditional meaning of liberal while still pursuing their radical, collectivist, and anti-liberty agenda. Their ideals and goals have not changed, just the methods and rhetoric. It’s a fundamentally dishonest movement, one of bad faith. Being a liberal used to mean support for property rights, the free market, representative government, and individual liberty. All these positions are now associated with the Right – conservatives and libertarians. The Left has totally tarnished the “liberal” label and turned it into something totally opposite from its original meaning.

Make no mistake, says Horowitz, they’re still Leftists. They still support socialism and try to explain away its brutality and failures. He cites Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm’s book Age of Extremes. According to Hobsbawm, socialism itself wasn’t at fault for its failure. As Horowitz puts it: “The practical disasters of socialism should not be taken as a refutation of the socialist idea and its utopian premise.” In other words, the Soviet Union either did not fully implement socialism or applied it incorrectly. Of course, this reasoning fails to account for the fact that socialism has failed pretty much everywhere, every time. Hobsbawm also completely discounts the unprecedented prosperity created by the capitalist West, and the United States in particular, citing the period from 1973 to the present as the Crisis Decades. Horowitz finds this incredible. During that same time, the Soviet Union collapses, Eastern Europe breaks free from the Iron Curtain, untold millions finally have a chance at prosperity, while in the U.S. peace and prosperity reign, and the crisis was in the West? Such a notion reveals two “destructive” Leftist illusions: “the inherent evil of capitalist society and the humanitarian promise of the socialist future.”

But Horowitz does not stop there. He goes on.

Nihilism and destruction arise naturally from radical and socialist idealism. Socialism has caused the suffering and death of hundreds of millions of people, and the socialists do their best to excuse it. They primarily use two methods to do this:

  1. In the Soviet Union, socialism was fine until the reforms screwed it up. It wasn’t socialism’s fault, it was Gorbachev’s.
  2. Socialists accept the failure of the Soviet Union but deny its has any implications for the socialist dream. They claim that communism was not true socialism, yet rarely cite any evidence for this, such as how such devout students of Marx like Lenin and Stalin somehow got it wrong.
Leftists ignore the results of their own theory put to practice while still seeking the downfall of the capitalist West, though they have nothing to offer in return, no viable alternative. All they have to offer is destruction.

Do you see what I mean? Horowitz is brutal. And this is all in the introduction and first chapter!

The rest of the book, save for the last chapter, is not quite as strong, but it still has its moments. Horowitz reprints two letters he writes to a former comrade and a former mentor, explaining his decision to leave the Left. In these letters, he expands on the arguments made in the first chapter, but adds a few new wrinkles. For example, he claims that socialists do not really care about the same people they claim to want to help. The cause, the socialist Idea, is what they truly serve, and everything, and everyone, else is secondary.

In the letter to the former mentor, Horowitz offers one of the most stinging indictments of socialism and communism I’ve ever read. It’s powerful stuff, only this time he outlines the facts, and they’re worth repeating at length (the letter was written in October 1990, just months before the Soviet Union fell):

Let us consider, rather, the simple poverty of ordinary people, whose redress was the most fundamental premise of the revolutionary plan. Let us look at what has been revealed by glasnost about the quality of the ordinary lives of ordinary people after seventy years of socialist effort – not forgetting that 20 million human beings (the figure is from current Soviet sources) were eliminated to make possible this revolutionary achievement.

Official Soviet statistics released during glasnost indicate that following seventy years of socialist development, 40 percent of the Soviet population and 79 percent of its older citizens live in poverty. Of course, judged by the standards of “exploitative” capitalist systems, the entire Soviet people live in a state of poverty.

Thus, the Soviet Union’s per capita income is estimated by Soviet economists as about one-seventh that of the United States, more or less on a par with Communist China. In the Soviet Union in 1989, there was rationing of meat and sugar, in peacetime. The rations revealed that the average intake of red meat for a Soviet citizen was half of what it had been for a subject of the czar in 1913. At the same time, a vast supermarket of fruits, vegetables and household goods, available to the most humble inhabitant of a capitalist economy, was permanently out of reach for the people of the socialist state. Indeed, one of the principle demands of a Siberian miners’ strike in 1989 was for an item as mundane and basic to a sense of personal well-being as a bar of soap. In a land of expansive virgin forests, there was a toilet paper shortage. In an industrial country with one of the harshest and coldest climates in the world, two-thirds of the household had no hot water, and a third had no running water at all. Not only was the construction of housing notoriously shabby, but space was so scarce, according to the government paper Izvestia, that a typical working-class family of four was forces to live for eight years in single eight-by-eight-foot room, before marginally better accommodation was available. The housing shortage was so acute that at all times 17 percent of Soviet families had to be physically separated for want of adequate space.

After sixty years of socialist industrialization, the Soviet Union’s per capita output of nonmilitary goods and services placed it somewhere between fiftieth and sixtieth among the nations of the world. More manufactured goods were exported annually by Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea or Switzerland, while blacks in apartheid South Africa owned more cars per capita than did citizens of the socialist state. The only area of consumption in which the Soviets excelled was the ingestion of hard liquor. In this, they led the world by a wide margin, consuming 17.4 liters of pure alcohol or 43.5 liters of vodka per person per year, which was five times what their forebears had consumed in the days of the czar. At the same time, the average welfare mother in the United States received more income in a month than the average Soviet worker could earn in a year.

Nor was the general deprivation confined to private households and individuals. The public sector was equally desolate. In the name of progress, the Soviets had devastated the environment to a degree unknown in other industrial states. More than 70 percent of the Soviet atmosphere was polluted with five times the permissible limit of toxic chemicals, and thousands of square miles of the Soviet land mass was poisoned by radiation. Thirty percent of all Soviet foods contained hazardous pesticides, and six million acres of productive farmland were lost to erosion. More than 130 nuclear explosions had been detonated in European Russia for geophysical investigations to create underground pressure in oil and gas fields, or just to move earth for building dams. The Aral Sea, the world’ largest inland body of water, was dried up as the result of a misguided plan to irrigate a desert. Soviet industry operated under no controls, and the accidental spillage of oil into the country’s ecosystems took place at the rate of nearly a million barrels a day.

Even in traditional areas of socialist concern, the results were catastrophic. Soviet spending on health was the lowest of any developed nation, and basic health conditions were on a level with those in the poorest of Third World countries. Thirty percent of Soviet hospitals had no running water, the training of medical personnel was poor, equipment was primitive and medical supplies scarce. (By way of comparison, U.S. expenditures on medical technology alone were twice as much as the entire Soviet health budget.) The bribery of doctors and nurses to get decent medical attention and even amenities like blankets in Soviet hospitals was not only common, but routine. So backward was Soviet medical care, thirty years after the launching of Sputnik, that 40 percent of the Soviet Union’s pharmacological drugs had to be imported, and much of these were lost to spoilage due to primitive and inadequate storage facilities. Bad as these conditions were generally, in the ethnic republics they were even worse. In Turkmenistan, fully two-thirds of the hospitals had no indoor plumbing. In Uzbekistan, 50 percent of the villages were reported to have no running water and 93 percent no sewers. In socialist Tajikistan, according to a report in Izvestia, only 25 to 30 percent of the schoolchildren were found to be healthy. As a result of bad living conditions and inadequate medical care, life expectancy for males throughout the Soviet Union was twelve years less than for males in Japan and nine years less than in the United States, and less for Soviet males themselves than it had been in 1939.

Educational conditions were no less extreme. “For the country as a whole,” according to one Soviet report, “21 percent of pupils are trained at school buildings without central heating, 30 percent without water piping, and 40 percent lacking sewage.” In other words, despite subzero temperatures, the socialist state was able to provide schools with only outhouse facilities for nearly half its children. Even at this impoverished level, only nine years of secondary schooling were provided on average, compared to twelve years in the United States, while only 15 percent of Soviet youth were able to attend institutions of higher learning, compared to 34 percent in the U.S.

Don’t you wish you could have lived there?

The original Bolsheviks (Lenin, Stalin, etc) were also quite a bloodthirsty lot. From June 1918 to October 1919, more than sixteen thousand people were shot, a rate of more than one thousand a month. These dastardly criminals were actually political prisoners who dared to oppose Lenin. Stalin’s purges were worse, though. In 1937 and 1938, half a million political prisoners were executed, a rate of 20,000 per month. In contrast, the Spanish Inquisition, during the height of its power, condemned ten people per month.

As I said, Horowitz pulls no punches. He lets the Leftists have it with both barrels, and demands how they can still call themselves socialists. In return, the Left hates him, which shouldn’t be surprising.

Horowitz ends the book with a controversial chapter. He claims that gay radicals, really just Marxist revolutionaries, are responsible for the birth and spread of AIDS. Since this review is already eons long, I won’t detail his arguments here. Suffice to say, they are just as logical, factual, and devastating as his critique of socialism. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the issue.

What do I think of Horowitz, and this book? I think he’s right on about the failure and tragedy of socialism. I love the fact that he does not apologize for his opinions, and backs them up so well. He stands up under slander and hateful diatribes from the Left, and gives as good as he gets, though he never gets personal. I loved the book.

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