Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why Are Left-Wing Dictators More Popular Than Right-Wing Ones?

The recent death of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet has prompted a fascinating article by John O'Sullivan in the Chicago Sun-Times about the differences between the public reaction to and opinion of right-wing and left-wing dictators. As O'Sullivan notes:

General Augusto Pinochet, who died on Sunday, was the most successful dictator of the 20th century -- and also one of the most vilified. How do we explain the discrepancy?

Dictators are supposedly judged by two tests. How many people did they kill? And did they bring prosperity to their people? These two tests hang together because Marxists believed that their various ideological despotisms (in Cuba, in China, in the USSR) would eventually midwife a new utopia. Such a triumph would justify their mass murders retroactively.

So how did individual dictators fare? Stalin, Hitler and Mao each murdered tens of millions in labor camps, purges, forced famines and war. But they were less successful at improving their societies. The USSR could not feed itself, depended for survival upon external subsidies and eventually collapsed in economic ruins. Hitler committed suicide in the literal ruins of Berlin with the German people digging for scraps in the rubble of the Third Reich. And Mao killed as many millions unintentionally through his industrial "Great Leap Forward" as he did in his purges and "cultural revolution." With the understandable exception of Hitler, these mass murderers received respectful obituaries in the Western media.

Franco and Castro cannot quite match such achievements. Each of them murdered no more than tens of thousands of people after their victories in civil war and rebellion. On economic policy, moreover, their paths diverged. Castro squandered billions in Russian subsidies in the course of ruining the Cuban economy. Deprived of Soviet subsidies, Cuba is a tragedy: a naturally prosperous island reduced to beggary and prostitution by personal vanity and economic illiteracy. Franco transformed Spain into a dynamic market economy, built its middle class and created a stable society that was modern in every respect except its political system. Within five years of his death, Spain was a democracy.

Franco received contemptuously hostile obituaries; Castro's are currently being revised by editors in the hope that rumors of his death have not been greatly exaggerated.

That brings us to Pinochet. His victims are estimated at 3,200. One innocent murdered is one too many. But if we are talking comparisons, Pinochet's total of innocents murdered is about one-20th of Castro's.

As for Pinochet's economic legacy, it outstrips that of most advanced democracies, let alone the economic rubble of all the communist dictators. Within a decade of the 1973 coup, Chile was a stable growing economy transformed by monetary, supply-side, trade and labor market reforms introduced by Pinochet. When Chile returned to democracy in the late 1980s, the Christian Democrat government of Patricio Aylwin continued his free-market approach. The whole world noticed this.

If successful economic transformation could justify political mass murder -- the Marxist test, remember -- Pinochet would be celebrated without reserve as the savior of his country. Contra the Marxists, however, murder is not an economic policy, and the soundest economic policy cannot justify murder. If Pinochet authorized murders, he should have been tried for them -- provided that the same rule applies to Castro, other surviving dictators, and those supporters of President Salvador Allende who killed opponents in the Chilean civil war.

O'Sullivan never really answers his own question: What explains this difference? Students will walk around wearing t-shirts or sporting buttons bearing the likeness of Che or Mao; people will proudly display posters of Soviet or Chinese propaganda with pictures of Mao, Lenin, or even Stalin. And yet, as O'Sullivan notes, right-wing dictators like Franco or Pinochet do not get the same treatment, and are much more, and much more vehemently, vilified. Why?

The answer is, I suspect, because murder in the name of equality -- the left-wing project -- is some how more excusable than is murder in the name of economic reform -- the goal of right-wing dictators. I hear this all the time when I teach Marx in my Introduction to Political Philosophy course: communism is such a noble ideal; it just goes wrong in the application. The idea of equality is good, but it gets corrupted by evil people who lead the glorious revolution astray. However, the historical record is clear. The left-wing dictators -- Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Castro -- in the name of equality, have killed hundreds of millions of people and only produced economic misery, political backwardness and oppression, and their societies are still struggling to emerge from under the wreckage. The right-wing dictators like Franco and Pinochet (true, Hitler was a right-winger, but he's the exception) killed far FAR fewer people and the societies they left behind are now vibrant successful liberal market democracies.

As O'Sullivan puts it, one murder for political change is too many. But let's call a spade a spade.


speed_demon said...

Left-wing politicians, if done correctly, always take care of their constituents. They're usually appealing to the working middle-class and the poor people because they provide ample social programs and do not exploit the people.

Take a look at Mexico and, very recently, Ecuador, where it is a billionaire banana tycoon versus an American-educated economist. The billionaire wants to enhance Ecuador's market to international trade, whereas, the leftist want to put more into public social program. Which one, do you think, looks better in a resident's eye?

Although, there'll be more jobs once the market is opened to the international trade, but will it benefit the people? Or, will it benefit the elites? Most likely the elites and the workers will be heavily exploited. Although the worker will have a job, the job itself will not substantial alleviate his/hers financial burden. So, what's the benefit in that and why do I, as an Ecuadorian, have to gone through this hardship just to earn a mere few cents?

No wonder people like left-wing politicians more than right-wing. But, sadly, both wings often turned to infamous dictators, as you've observed.

Anonymous said...

Left dictators potray themselves more as the peoples'leaders. Their general denial of the established order of the West (ie Bush and Blair) gives them a favorable position in the eyes of both the citizens and the dispossessed, as well as disenchanted left wingers and ethnic minorities of the West.

Anonymous said...

According to Ohmyrus, this is a problem of democracy because the popularity of the left's ideal(amongst the more economically disadvantaged) of equality and the welfare-state would lead to economic collapse. Ohmyrus advocates the use of market forces to resolve this imbalance.


Subalternate said...

Why is Castro in the same camp as Mao and Stalin? I must have messed that day in class where they talked about the thousands that Fidel killed.

Seth Weinberger said...

WeeZie: You need to be more thoughtful and less flippant in your answers. No one claims that Castro has killed as many people as Mao or Stalin...but that's not the point. Castro certainly killed more people than did Pinochet and Cuba is most definitely in a worse state than is Chile, and yet Pinochet is reviled while Castro receives sympathy and admiration. Why? The only explanation, since Castro is demonstrably worse than Pinochet on every dimension, is that people "understand" and sympathize with left-wing dictators (good ideas, bad implementation) and not with right-wing ones.

Subalternate said...

It might also do with the fact that Pinochet destroyed the democratically elected government of Allende whereas Castro took power from a dictator. That is also an important consideration.

Left-wing politicians are more popular because they care about their people and often, implement bad policies. Right wingers don't really care about their people, only a specific few people (usually from their race or with close family ties) and they pretty much screw everyone else over.

Anonymous said...

I don't see many standard of living surveys ranking Cuba low relative to other latin american countries. They are well educated, eat well, and have the best health of all developing countries.

On the Human Poverty Index. they seem to rank quite high.

Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, they were much better off than their neighbors.

Castro probably gets a pass from some people because he wasn't violent, had public support, and did improve the lives of the people.

Anonymous said...

Left wing dictators are OBVIOUSLY more popular, because they have the support of the masses, not the intellectual. It's like asking why is Hip Hop more popular than progressive classical rock.
There is also the fact that they buy poor people's votes with the money we pay the state, it recently happened in my country, Argentina, where the difference between the european descendants and the native indians is in the numbers. The poor families have between 8 and 15 children...so, expect the left wing dictators to "legally" retain their power.