Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “FDR,” served the longest number of presidential terms. He became President during the height of the Great Depression, which lasted years and devastated the American people. The poverty was crushing. Meanwhile, fascism arose in Italy, Germany, and Spain. Imperial Japan was ready for war. The implications of FDR’s choices had a monumental effect in determining the post war world.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The Great Depression
FDR was up to the task. Despite being a paraplegic from polio he created the New Deal to repair the nation’s infrastructure and put people back to work. As Britain was about to fall to the Germans the U.S. entered WWII after Pearl Harbor.
FDR also approved the development of the atomic bomb, which would forever change the face of total war.
The meeting of the Allied leaders at Yalta during WWII—Churchill, FDR, and Stalin.
Barack Obama was President during the 2008 Great Recession. His stimulus program helped prevent another depression. His major policy achievement was the Affordable Care Act, which greatly increased the number of Americans with medical insurance, saving lives.
America was in crisis during the Obama period. But Obama’s main legacy was to continue the neoliberal capitalist system which he had inherited. He also expanded the role of the imperial presidency. Obama engaged in thousands of drone strikes around the world. The U.S. also supported the disastrous coup in Libya, upending the Quaddafi government and causing Libya to be a failed state.
Quaddafi was leader of Libya for 40 years, and was the wealthiest and most successful African nation until it was destroyed.
In Libya there are public slave auctions thanks to the U.S. backed coup which killed Quaddafi. Some people even find it hilarious:
And if you aren’t convinced yet, consider the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s leadership and strength held the nation together during the bloody American Civil War. There would be no United States but for Lincoln’s leadership.
Brigadier General Gregg with his staff, near Fredricksburg, 1862. Colorized.
They didn’t. Only Pol Pot’s regime was guilty of this. And based on his actual deeds it is clear Pol Pot wasn’t actually a Marxist Leninist, aka “communist,” either.
Lenin and Stalin radically increased literacy and provided free universal education. Stalin himself encouraged the building of engineering schools so the Soviet Union could industrialize, modernize, and arm itself against a potential German or Japanese invasion. You don’t lead the Space Race by exterminating all of your educated people.
Mao Zedong and his revolution also increased literacy and provided universal education. Mao also wanted to modernize as quickly as possible to defend the nation against imperial attacks. The purpose of the Cultural Revolution was to increase the public engagement of the masses, educate the youth about socialism, and enable the oppressed peasants to vent their frustrations with the former landlords who had oppressed them. They didn’t “kill all the educated people.”
Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and other communist revolutionary leaders were friends of education, not enemies.
Perhaps you are thinking about the U.S., which sponsored Operation Condor, a CIA operation which enabled right wing dictators to round up, torture, and exterminate working class intellectuals, communists, Catholic priests, and other opponents to the U.S. enabling neoliberal capitalism throughout Latin America to maintain its economic domination of “it’s backyard,” as the Monroe Doctrine so goes. Or maybe the political imprisonment of Julian Assange, a journalist who has exposed the horrors of the U.S. empire.
This is how the U.S. treats its dissident journalists:
No, they’re not. They have been taught to fear the communist bogeyman for a reason—because it serves their capitalist masters.
Communism never killed 100 million people. Most of the propaganda developed against communism and the Soviet Union was first developed by Goebbels and the Nazis. Communism took a semi feudal, agrarian, illiterate peasant nation and within 40 years it had defeated Hitler, dramatically raised the living standard and life expectancy, became the second largest industrial economy and a superpower, and was leading the Space Race. In China, Mao Zedong had also taken a semi feudal, agrarian, illiterate and drug addicted, superstitious peasant nation and unified it, ended slavery, drove out the Japanese, and laid the foundation for modern China.
66% of Russians regret the breakup of the Soviet Union.
It scandalized the Communist Party. It put into question Stalin’s role as hero of the Soviet Union, who industrialized the nation and saved it from Nazi extermination. It would be the equivalent of President Obama coming out and revealing that George Washington was a mass murderer. The role of national heroes helps build a narrative for a nation which provides a sense of cohesion. Nations live or die by such narratives. Stalin represented Marxism Leninism. He represented the planned economy and socialism. Suddenly nothing was sacred anymore. And Khrushchev then began the process of dismantling the socialist state. He began the process which ultimately caused the Soviet Union to move far away from socialism, and ultimately, fail.
Mao Zedong and members of the CCP were horrified by Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin. Mao knew Khrushchev was a liar. But he also knew that denouncing Stalin meant undermining the socialist cause itself. Khrushchev’s arrogant and condescending behavior toward Mao and the denunciation of Stalin ultimately led to the Sino-Soviet split, which Nixon was later able to manipulate to put pressure on the Soviet Union.
It was hypocritical. Khrushchev was known to be one of the most partisan and bloodthirsty purveyors of the Great Purges. In fact Stalin had to intervene to reduce Khrushchev’s requests for increased violence. Everybody in the Politburo knew that Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin was nothing more than scapegoating to send a message to other members of the Communist Party in an attempt to consolidate Khrushchev’s own power.
Khrushchev later “rehabilitated” those convicted during the Great Purges, some of them posthumously. The purpose was clearly political, in an attempt to vilify Stalin and Stalinism because Khrushchev began the process of dismantling socialism to make way for “market reforms.”
The Gulag system was a prison system. Gulag was simply the name of that system.
The Gulag was built not by Stalin or Lenin, but by the Tsars.
The vast majority of people in the Gulag were actual convicted criminals, not political prisoners.
Political prisoners included actual conspirators against the government, along with some who were victims of unjust oppression. There were actual conspiracies against the government by Trotskyists, right wingers, and many military officials.
Most people who entered the Gulag survived.
Solzhenitsyn’s account of the Gulag was highly fictionalized. The actual state of the Gulag depended upon the level of security involved, the seriousness of one’s offense, work detail, and in many instances, the personalities of one’s prison officials. This is typical of prison life anywhere. Some guards are sadistic, some not.
Only very small percentage of the overall Soviet population was in the Gulag.
Prisoners were paid. Rewards and bonuses given for hard work.
The Conditions of the Prisons
A 1957 CIA document titled “Forced Labor Camps in the USSR: Transfer of Prisoners between Camps” reveals the following information about the Soviet Gulag in pages two to six:
1. Until 1952, the prisoners were given a guaranteed amount food, plus extra food for over-fulfillment of quotas
2. From 1952 onward, the Gulag system operated upon “economic accountability” such that the more the prisoners worked, the more they were paid.
3. For over-fulfilling the norms by 105%, one day of sentence was counted as two, thus reducing the time spent in the Gulag by one day.
4. Furthermore, because of the socialist reconstruction post-war, the Soviet government had more funds and so they increased prisoners’ food supplies.
5. Until 1954, the prisoners worked 10 hours per day, whereas the free workers worked 8 hours per day. From 1954 onward, both prisoners and free workers worked 8 hours per day.
6. A CIA study of a sample camp showed that 95% of the prisoners were actual criminals.
7. In 1953, amnesty was given to 70% of the “ordinary criminals” of a sample camp studied by the CIA. Within the next 3 months, most of them were re-arrested for committing new crimes.
The following are excerpts of the CIA document, underlined and put together for the reader:
These facts negate the narrative that Gulag prisoners were unpaid. The labour was indeed forced; however, material rewards were provided. The prisoners were paid from 1952 onward, and rewarded by food prior to 1952.
According to bourgeois fantasies, the Soviet “regime” sought to deliberately starve the Gulag populations. However, as a matter of fact, there indeed were Soviet efforts to increase the food supply of prisoners, after World War II.
The fact that the working day was only two hours more than that of the free workers until 1954, and equal to that of the free worker from 1954 onward is a clear demonstration of the egalitarian tendencies of the Soviet State.
All the while, the noteworthy fact is that criminals, not “pro-democracy revolutionaries” were sent to the Gulags. Like all justice systems, there certainly were errors and some innocent people were sent to the prisons; the point though is that this fact has been exaggerated by the imperial press.
Let’s compare the Soviet system to that of the United States. The 13th amendment permits prison slavery, with many prisoners victimized by racial profiling. Even the Clinton Dynasty had slaves in the Arkansas Province (News 2017).
According to page four of another CIA (1989) document titled “The Soviet Labour System: An Update,” the number of Gulag prisoners “grew to about 2 million” during Stalin’s time.
These figures match Soviet statistics as well, from declassified Soviet achieves. The following is a 1954 declassified Soviet archival document (Pyakhov), an excerpt of which is translated into English:
“During the period from 1921 to the present time for counterrevolutionary crimes were convicted 3,777,380 people, including to capital punishment – 642,980 people to the conent in the camps and prisons for a period of 25 years old and under – 2,369,220 into exile and expulsion – 765,190 people.
“Of the total number of convicts, approximately convicted: 2,900,000 people – College of OGPU, NKVD and triples Special meeting and 877,000 people – courts by military tribunals, and Spetskollegiev Military Collegium.
“It should be noted… that established by Decree … on November 3, 1934 Special Meeting of the NKVD which lasted until September 1, 1953 – 442,531 people were convicted, including to capital punishment – 10,101 people to prison – 360,921 people to exile and expulsion (within the country) – 57,539 people and other punishments (offset time in detention, deportation abroad, compulsory treatment) – 3,970 people…
Attorney General R. Rudenko
Interior Minister S. Kruglov
Justice Minister K. Gorshenin”
The Soviet archives remained declassified for decades, only to be released near or after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In addition, after Stalin died, the pro-Stalin head of the NKVD (Soviet interior ministry) Lavrenty Beria had already been executed by Khrushchev, a staunch anti-Stalinist (History in an hour 2010). These facts make it very unlikely that the Soviet intelligence would have a pro-Stalin bias.
The Italian-American historian Michael Parenti (1997, pp. 79-80) further analyzes the data provided from the Soviet archives:
“In 1993, for the first time, several historians gained access to previously secret Soviet police archives and were able to establish well-documented estimates of prison and labor camp populations. They found that the total population of the entire gulag as of January 1939, near the end of the Great Purges, was 2,022,976. At about that time, there began a purge of the purgers, including many intelligence and secret police (NKVD) officials and members of the judiciary and other investigative committees, who were suddenly held responsible for the excesses of the terror despite their protestations of fidelity to the regime.
“Soviet labor camps were not death camps like those the Nazis built across Europe. There was no systematic extermination of inmates, no gas chambers or crematoria to dispose of millions of bodies…. [T]he great majority of gulag inmates survived and eventually returned to society when granted amnesty or when their terms were finished. In any given year, 20 to 40 percent of the inmates were released, according to archive records. Oblivious to these facts, the Moscow correspondent of the New York Times (7/31/96) continues to describe the gulag as ‘the largest system of death camps in modern history’.
“Almost a million gulag prisoners were released during World War II to serve in the military. The archives reveal that more than half of all gulag deaths for the 1934-53 period occurred during the war years (1941-45), mostly from malnutrition, when severe privation was the common lot of the entire Soviet population. (Some 22 million Soviet citizens perished in the war.) In 1944, for instance, the labor-camp death rate was 92 per 1000. By 1953, with the postwar recovery, camp deaths had declined to 3 per 1000.
“Should all gulag inmates be considered innocent victims of Red repression? Contrary to what we have been led to believe, those arrested for political crimes (‘counterrevolutionary offenses’) numbered from 12 to 33 percent of the prison population, varying from year to year. The vast majority of inmates were charged with nonpolitical offenses: murder, assault, theft, banditry, smuggling, swindling, and other violations punishable in any society.”
Thus, according to the CIA, approximately two million people were sent to the Gulag in the 1930s, whereas according to declassified Soviet archives, 2,369,220 up until 1954. When compared to the population of the USSR at the time, as well as the statistics of a country like the United States, the Gulag percent population in the USSR throughout its history was lower than that of the United States today or since the 1990s. In fact, based on Sousa’s (1998)research, there was a larger percentage of prisoners (relative to the whole population) in the US, than there ever was in the USSR:
“In a rather small news item appearing in the newspapers of August 1997, the FLT-AP news agency reported that in the US there had never previously been so many people in the prison system as the 5.5 million held in 1996. This represents an increase of 200,000 people since 1995 and means that the number of criminals in the US equals 2.8% of the adult population. These data are available to all those who are part of the North American department of justice…. The number of convicts in the US today is 3 million higher than the maximum number ever held in the Soviet Union! In the Soviet Union, there was a maximum of 2.4% of the adult population in prison for their crimes – in the US the figure is 2.8% and rising! According to a press release put out by the US department of justice on 18 January 1998, the number of convicts in the US in 1997 rose by 96,100.”
Seeing the USSR as a major ideological challenge, the Western imperial bourgeoisie demonized Stalin and the Soviet Union. Yet after decades of propaganda, declassified archives from both the US and USSR together debunk these anti-Soviet slanders. Worth our attention is the fact that the CIA – a fiercely anti-Soviet source – has published declassified documents debunking the very anti-Soviet myths it promoted and continues to promote in the mainstream media. Together with declassified Soviet archives, the CIA files have demonstrated that the bourgeois press has lied about the Gulags.
History is the story of class struggle, and capitalism is built on the private ownership of the means of production, which due to competition, requires that workers get paid as little as possible as their labor is performed but not fully paid, as employers create profits—this leads to alienation, oppression, and exploitation, as workers become wage slaves—capitalism incentivizes the development of automation, which will cause such high levels of unemployment that the people will revolt and seize the means of production and usher in a new age, that age of communism, which is a moneyless, stateless, and classless society which is owned and managed by the workers, under the philosophy of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
Communism—Marx said that capitalism will give rise to automation to eliminate labor costs. Competition will lead to automation. But this will displace so many jobs that unemployment will rise, causing misery and suffering that would make the Great Depression look like nothing. People will rise up and seize the means of production for themselves. Workers will own the means of production and managethemselves. A new age will begin, the age of communism. Society will become moneyless, stateless, and classless. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
“Communism”—colloquialism. In America the term “communist” is used to describe Marxist Leninist socialist nations like the USSR, China, and Cuba. As indicated by the definition above, these nations did not meet the definition of true communism as they still used money and still had a state. Colloquialisms are words that are everyday meanings used by people but which are not accurate.
Socialism—Workers own the means of production. There is still money and a state.
Marxism-Leninism—a form of socialist government that relies upon a vanguard party of revolutionary intelligentsia that help lead the proletariat toward increased class consciousness and understands Marxist theory. The means of production are owned by the workers and held by the state. There is one party, the Communist Party. It maintains ideological purity and filters out candidates that don’t believe in socialism. State managers must be members of the Communist Party.
How would I feel if the government changed to communism?
Here’s a hint:
It would be the best day of my life if the U.S. government changed to Marxism Leninism. All of my struggles over the years to defeat capitalism will have paid off. Americans would finally be able to get guaranteed employment, universal healthcare, free education from preschool to graduate school, a sustainable economy like Cuba, and guaranteed housing.
The economy would go from robber baron capitalism to a planned economy using big data, modern logistics, and modern computing. It would be as efficient as the privately owned planned economies which already exist—Amazon and Wal Mart)— except this economy would be owned for the people and by the people, held by the public. We would shutter the Republican and Democratic Party offices forever. There would only be one party, the Communist Party. It would be composed of dedicated communists. There would be term limits, mandatory age of retirement requirements for Politburo members, and anti-corruption probes to keep the Communist Party with as little corruption as possible. To keep the Party ideologically pure and committed, there must be a regular rotation of cadres. We would put people to work rebuilding the crumbling U.S. infrastructure, making it environmentally sustainable and fossil fuel free. To spur innovation there would be opportunities for the government sponsorship of new high technology divisions within the government, working with the planned economy so it was all integrated. There would be bonuses available for the hardest working and most innovative engineers, workers, and other comrades. Stalin had these types of bonuses and even internal competition among divisions to be more innovative. It all ended after Khrushchev took over.
But what about those who refused to be communist?
America is a very rugged individualist, business loving, and Puritanical society. The fundamentalist Right Wing in the U.S. won’t be happy. Of course all large and mid sized companies would be nationalized. The banks would be nationalized too. The oil companies would be nationalized and slowly phased out as green energy replaced it. Marx predicted there would be a fierce counter-revolutionary response. The bourgeoisie get cranky when you nationalize their means of production.
What to do?
If the anti-communist Americans take up arms against the government then they will face the firm hand of the dictatorship of the proletariat. America has plenty of prisons. Anyone who violently fights the new government would be met with all the military might the government possesses. Those captured would be sent to prison, where they would learn the value of hard labor by day and Marxist classes at night. Many of the wealthy like Jamie Dimon, billionaire and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, would begin to understand how hard it is to work on your feet all day, and to see your soft hands grow hard from hard manual labor.
A Lesson from history
In the Soviet Union the pampered landowning class, the kulaks, resisted communism, ferociously. It only ended when Lenin ordered Red Terror (aka Revolutionary Terror)—not terrorism, but the use of overwhelming force to stop them. In fact Marx predicted this, and said:
It may seem tough, but remember, capitalism kills far more people each and every day. The difference is because of attenuation of cause we fail to make the connection. The capitalist system is the most murderous system imaginable.
What would my role be?
I have no interest in holding office or running a political party. I would be happy to do now as I am doing, which is to support communism. If the Communist Party wanted me to write for them, that I would be happy to do. I might even teach one of those nighttime Marxist classes to a room of students like Jamie Dimon, Mitch McConnell, and Michael Bloomberg.
Trump has said that even if he were to “shoot someone in plain sight,” people would still support him. He is polling at 60% approval of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. His response has been disastrous and an utter failure. Trump is the ultimate salesman. He knows how to tap into the darker, more primal impulse of the American psyche. He knows what makes them tick and uses their own fears and concerns to craft his language. He provides a simple, direct, and tangible explanation of the political situation that his supporters can understand. To make matters worse the Democrats are controlled by corporate America and a bourgeoisie that is enamored with identity politics and neoliberalism. These things have harmed the working classes by favoring deindustrialization. For example, by nominating the worst possible candidate imaginable—Hillary Clinton, the Democrats virtually assured their own defeat. Clinton has always been seen as a polarizing figure for working class people. She and her husband were supporters of NAFTA and the eradication of the coal industry, which have done enormous economic harm to the working classes. During the election Trump’s criticisms about the deindustrialization of America were accurate. But this didn’t mean he was going to end all globalization. However, he has taken some steps toward reducing the harmful impacts of NAFTA by restructuring it.
There are segments of Trump’s base that are racist. Not all, of course. But there is an undercurrent of racism to the opposition to social welfare programs. There is a fear that “lazy blacks and Mexicans will get free stuff.” These were brought to the fore when Obama was President. Obama was not perceived as a “real American.” He was a foreigner, an other—like a communist, born in another country and not a citizen, or a Muslim. Trump built his early political career on supporting the Birther Movement, claiming Obama was born in Kenya and thus not able to be President.
The GOP base is now a coalition of right wingers, fundamentalist Christians, and folks who are anti-science, anti-intellectual, and opposed to anything collective. These elements have always existed in the U.S. since its founding.
Trump is a symptom of a larger problem, and not the primary cause. He is the product of both political parties owned by corporate America and the desperation of the working poor, who at times are their own worst enemies. He is a sign of their vices and their virtues, and he has exploited their suffering to enrich himself and his family even further.
Morris Berman has said that America is a culture built by rugged individualists who were always “on the make.” But since everyone is this way then how can you build a cohesive social structure? You cannot. There is no social glue which holds the society together. It can remain while that country is making money. But when it stops then everything begins to fall apart.
The original purpose of centralized control was to ensure the survival of the ML state against external forces such as the U.S., Germany, and Japan. It was also to protect against internal enemies, such as right wing elements, violent kulaks, and class enemies. History has shown that without centralized control there would not be the efficient leveraging of force to repel capitalist enemies who see a socialist nation as a “bad example” for workers in their own nations who might expect things like a living wage, universal healthcare, and even co-ownership of the means of production. The Paris Commune of 1871 was a beautiful anarchist community which was massacred by imperial forces. Likewise, Revolutionary Catalonia was an anarchist society torn to pieces by fascists. After the Soviet Union was founded it didn’t take long for the White Army to form. It was a collection of Tsarists, right wingers, fascists, and anti-communists hell bent on smashing the Soviet Union. To make matters worse, 17 nations aided the White Army. Thus began the bloody Russian Civil War. By mobilizing the people of the newly formed state Lenin was able to defeat the White Army with the strength of Soviet power. The infastructure of the nation was destroyed. Roads, rail lines, buildings—it was total devastation. Given the time of crisis Lenin instituted the NEP, which permitted a form of state capitalism which limited capitalism. It was intended only as an emergency matter. It worked to avoid economic collapse, but the nation was still relatively undeveloped with respect to industrialization. Kulaks were small landowners who often had peasant farmers working for them. Peasants did the bulk of the work while kulaks lived lives of relative affluence. Farming was terribly inefficient. The agricultural output was just enough to feed the nation, but in many years of inclement weather there were droughts and famines.
Famines had been a regular part of life under the Tsar going back hundreds of years. To industrialize there needed to be a large increase in agricultural output, thus enabling peasants to move to the cities to work in the factories. The NEP and kulak system was incapable of this. To move from a semi-feudal, peasant agricultural economy to an industrial superpower within 10 years was required for the nation to survive. External enemies wouldn’t permit a “bad example” socialist nation to survive for long. Stalin said, prophetically in 1929:
We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or they will crush us.
The plan was to collectivize agriculture and make it more efficient, including updating farming methods and techniques. Economy of scale was utilized, and a master plan was designed to increase yields so people could move to the cities to work in factories. The problem was the resistance posed by the kulaks. They sabotaged food production, including killing 50% of the animals used to work the land. They also violently lashed out to prevent the loss of their comfortable lives. A mixture of drought, sabotage, and other factors caused the Ukrainian Famine.  It was never deliberately caused by Stalin or the Soviet government, despite what Ukrainian nationalists, Nazis, and Western propagandists like Robert Conquest tell you. There was a famine, yes. But it was not intentionally caused. Relief measures were provided as well. After the kulaks were forcibly relocated the grain yields improved significantly. The process of industrialization hummed forward, and the Soviet Union would become the world’s second largest industrial superpower, defeat the massive Nazi forces, and prosper.
Collectivization updated farming methods
The beginning of any nation is a time of great trouble, particularly if the nation was founded by revolution. But in time things do settle. The Soviet Union was in great turmoil up until the death of Stalin. After this time there was the Cold War, but internally most of the strong opposition had been defeated. Things calmed. It was possible to relax the political repression without having the nation collapse. However, Khrushchev made several mistakes which began the long process of decay which culminated with Gorbachev and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Under Stalin there was strong centralized government and planning.  Khrushchev introduced “market reforms” which were ill conceived and only led to the creation of a capitalist black market which threatened the official economy. After Stalin the process of rotating cadres ended. Instead of term limits and anti-corruption measures (as done in China), a permanent class of entitled nomenklatura developed. Corruption set in, and the strength of the Communist Party was greatly weakened and ultimately destroyed.Without a strong Communist Party a ML nation cannot survive.
Contrast this with China and the CCP, which has survived and thrived. To this day China is a one party, Marxist Leninist state. There is still considerable central planning. Transportation, finance, defense, and other major industries are state owned or at least have CCP cells in them. The overall direction of the economy is planned, and key industries are subsidized. For example, during the recent COVID-19 pandemic the government was able to quarantine an entire region, one consisting of 60 million people. This prevented the larger spread of the virus, which threatened to infect the entire nation and destroy its economy. For those effected by the lockdown, the government replaced the people’s wages, provided free healthcare and testing, and built several new hospitals and treatment centers from ground up. The government decided as a nation that it would absorb the economic losses associated with the pandemic. Contrast this with the U.S. Trump is preparing to end the lockdown by Easter which is holding back the rate of infection so the hospital system is not overwhelmed by those infected and seriously ill. The lockdowns save lives. The pandemic in the U.S. is expected to peak at the same time Trump wants to “unleash” the American economy. It is going to be a murderous disaster. This came after Trump had a telephone conference with the leaders of the largest hedge funds in the U.S. Under capitalist systems money is more important than human life. Profit is king.
Modern China is not perfect. Deng Xiaoping and capitalist roaders introduced “market reforms” which watered down the socialist nature of China but thankfully did not destroy its socialist character. The means of production in China are still substantially owned by the people via the state, and ultimate control of the nation still lies with the CCP. Since 2010 inequality in China is coming down. Social services are constantly being implemented. The hard work and creativity of the Chinese people have lifted over a billion people out of poverty. President Xi was a product of the Cultural Revolution and has tried to move more toward socialism, as the means of production are owned by the public and not privately. In fact it is these reforms which have angered the West as China becomes a major world power. In real terms the Chinese economy has already surpassed that of the U.S.
But the U.S. and Western powers will not peacefully coexist with a strong China. The existence of imperial aggressors will always pose an existential threat. The centralized power of the CCP and its ability to mobilize the productive forces to compete is what makes it strong. Until the world is united in socialist brotherhood, local self governance without a strong centralized government is impossible.
If Hitler were a psychopath it would have made things so much easier. Psychopaths have no empathy, are unrepentant for their crimes, and act out of sheer self-interest, everyone else be damned. But Hitler wasn’t a psychopath. And that is what should send chills down the spine of those who wish to prevent another Adolf Hitler.
Hitler had compassion for animals. He was a vegetarian because of it. He eliminated the practice of human zoos, which were horrifically permitted at that time. Psychopaths are motivated by power and wealth. Hitler wanted power, but not for itself. He wanted power to implement his vision of a “better” world. Horrifically, he was motivated by higher aspirations. The problem was that his aspirations were monstrous.
As a child Hitler was close with his mother, but had a terrible relationship with his father, who used to beat him. German children were raised with an authoritarian parenting style, which meant blind obedience to the father, submission to authority generally, conformity, and embracing traditional values. For many children this creates internal anger toward the parent. But because this cannot be expressed outwardly, it is expressed in other ways.
Of course having an authoritarian parenting style and being abused is not enough by itself to turn you into Adolf Hitler.
During WWI Hitler was involved in fighting in trench warfare. He was nearly killed, but somehow survived. He was very dedicated and brave. He volunteered for things that were dangerous and others were reluctant to do. He was horrified by the German defeat. He began to believe that it was Jewish bankers and elites that were responsible for getting Germany into WWI in the first place, and he also hated Marxists, whom he called “Judeo-Bolsheviks.” He believed in the genetic superiority of certain races and eugenics, which were popular at this time in the West. In some nations the mentally disabled were sterilized without their consent. Hitler believed that Aryans were superior to other groups. These were blond-haired, blue-eyed, strong, tall, and beautiful people. He believed that Jews never assimilated into the cultures of other nations, and remained a tribe unto themselves, with no loyalty to anyone but themselves. He believed that Marxists promoted race mixing, which would lead to genetic degradation of the species. Jews were also considered immoral, as he believed they only worshiped money. Hitler believed in the value of traditional German culture. So in a very warped and anti-Semitic way, he wanted the world to be a better place for at least some people. He was not acting in a purely selfish manner. He had morals, but the problem was that his morals and the way to implement them were unspeakably harmful and murderous to millions of people.
In many ways the Marxist and the fascist are inversions of each other. The value systems are completely opposite of one another. This also explains why the fascists and the communists were engaged in street fights in pre-WWII Germany, and why Hitler promised to get rid of the communists if he were to gain power. And the German Middle Class endorsed this. Hitler was actually very honest about his intentions, and had the widespread support of the people.
Example of an Aryan
Hitler believed Jews were greedy and obsessed with money above all else.
Nazis believed the U.S. was under the negative influence of blacks and Jews. This caused them moral degeneration. “Negro music” was considered a particularly bad influence.
Jews scheme to undermine the morality of non-Jews.
Hitler believed communist Jews were responsible for the destruction of Germany.
We learn a great deal about the connection between racism and “purity” from Hitler and the Nazis.
Many racists have authoritarian personalities. They believe some races are genetically better than others. They believe in obedience, conformity, listening to the leader “father figure” who scapegoats minority groups to consolidate his own power.
For example, Hitler hated Jews because many of them were communists. Even called them Judeo-Bolsheviks, as a very large number of Bolsheviks were Jews. In Hitler’s mind equality, fraternity, solidarity, and anti-racism are immoral, because these values go against the natural order of things, which is futile and wrong. In his mind it was arrogance to go against the law of nature that made Aryans superior. Because they are genetically inferior, then the only way to get rid of them is a Final Solution—extermination. He believed some groups were not merely less valuable, but were natural slaves—Slavs and blacks, for example.
Racists also are obsessed with the nature of “purity.” Communists and left-leaning people promote impurity, which is bad. Racists fear being tainted, and studies have shown they are more easily grossed out than liberals. That is why they refer to the Aryans as a “pure” race. Even having sex with a black person or a Jew makes you “tainted.” In the porn industry some female stars don’t perform with black stars because it would anger their racist fan base.
The racism and anti-Semitism of Hitler and the Nazis was not unique to them at the time. In fact, the German lawyers that wrote the laws to persecute the Jews were influenced by the U.S. miscegenation laws, which forbade marriage between whites and blacks.
This kind of racial anti-Semitism, with its elements of physical revulsion, sexual panic and assumption of clear, easily recognizable physical differences, had obvious parallels with European and American racism towards Africans and, later, African Americans. Like other forms of racism, including that of the slaveholding American South, this anti-Semitism associated pejorative qualities of inward character with specific physiological attributes. The Jewish body implied a Jewish character, associated with cowardice, sexual rapacity, crime, murderous attacks on women and children, lack of patriotism and subversion of the nation. This kind of pornographic and biological anti-Semitism certainly fostered a climate of hatred and revulsion in which mass murder was a possibility. It was central to the murders of the mentally ill and physically handicapped, and to barbaric “medical experiments” undertaken by Nazi physicians. It played an important role in the development of techniques of mass gassing and lent the prestige of science to inhumanity, and in so doing contributed to a climate of opinion in which a genocide could take place. Yet arguments resting on racial biology were not the decisive ones made by Hitler when he launched and implemented the Holocaust, nor those made by other Nazi leaders, notably Joseph Goebbels, in justifying the ongoing extermination. The Nazi anti-Semitism of the 1930s was similar in its outcomes to the white racism that had justified slavery before the Civil War and legalized segregation and discrimination afterwards. Ideological assertions about the supposed physical and moral inferiority of the Jews, like comparable assertions about African Americans, were components of both eras of persecution, associated with both forms of racism.
One of the most chilling things we learn from Adolf Hitler is that he was not some lunatic acting on his own. He was no Pied Piper, leading the unaware German people to start WWII and begin the Holocaust, and in the end leave Germany in ruins and 80 million people dead. He told the German people what they wanted to hear, and at some level they agreed with him.
Hitler was a product of childhood abuse, of a society in which many were raised by authoritarian parenting styles, in which the demands for submissiveness, conformity, obedience, hierarchy, and “everyone having a place” were demanded and deeply ingrained. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, in which he openly told the people about his anti-Semitic, racist, and horrible viewpoints. The people liked these, and agreed with them. The German Middle Classes voted overwhelmingly for him because he promised to do what he said he would do. He even told the people that once elected he would make himself an authoritarian ruler!
Fascist demagogues use scapegoating to take the anger and resentment of the masses and direct them toward an “outside” group. Similarly, the authoritarian personality cannot express anger and rage toward the parent and directs it at the family scapegoat. This enables the family to pull together in their shared hatred. It is an emotional illusion, because it doesn’t solve anything. The Jews were not the cause of Germany’s problems. In the U.S. the “illegals” are blamed for the collapse of the American Middle Class. Trump used the “illegals” as a scapegoat, and it worked. The battle over the border wall had nothing to do with national security. It was political and nothing more. Are there problems with immigration that need to be addressed? Yes. But not with the zeal Trump with which approaches it.
Modern-day fascists employ many of the techniques used by Hitler: scapegoating, appeal to an earlier, nostalgic, “better past” of the nation. In fact, Hitler said he was going to make “Germany great again.”
Obviously Trump and Hitler are far from the same. And it would be too much to lump them together. But the underlying psychological mechanisms that give rise to a Hitler also give rise to a Trump. What we should be worried about is not Trump, but the next demagogue, who may be far, far more dangerous than Trump.
Both the U.S. and pre-WWII Germany saw the Middle Classes being destroyed and the financial prospects of the people in ruins. When capitalism is in decay the people move toward fascism. Right-wing ideology is appealing to people because studies have shown that people become more conservative and security-oriented. Leaders who appeal to things like “protecting us from the enemies,” building up the military to keep us safe, celebrating militarism, traditional family values, fighting against moral degeneracy, racism, and xenophobia. All these are about purity, disgust, protection, and not not being “tainted.” Interestingly, when Trump is not nailing porn stars he is indeed worried about being tainted, and won’t shake people’s hands because he considers it “filthy.”
Fascism promises to protect the private property rights of the bourgeoisie. This is appealing because as capitalist systems fall apart there is the threat of the people rising up and causing unrest. They might even seize the means of production and become a socialist nation, as happened in Cuba and the former Soviet Union. That terrifies the élites, so with the fascists you have the strength of a dictator to ensure smooth operation of the government and military enforcement of private property rights. While Marxist-Leninist regimes are authoritarian, they are against private property rights with respect to the ownership of the means of production. They are based not on racism but on equality, and ethno-nationalism and bigotry are outlawed.
USSR propaganda. We aren’t in Nazi Germany anymore, folks!
Authoritarianism and racism go hand in hand. If there were a battle between fascism and communism for the future of America, fascism would win every time. In fact, it is very likely that if the U.S. government began exterminating illegal immigrants at the border and it was not confirmed but suspected, U.S. citizens would not do anything about it, or pretend to not know. We have reached that point.
In the early 2000s, as researchers began to make use of the NES data to understand how authoritarianism affected US politics, their work revealed three insights that help explain not just the rise of Trump, but seemingly a half-century of American political dynamics.
The first was Hetherington and Weiler’s insight into partisan polarization. In the 1960s, the Republican Party had reinvented itself as the party of law, order, and traditional values — a position that naturally appealed to order- and tradition-focused authoritarians. Over the decades that followed, authoritarians increasingly gravitated toward the GOP, where their concentration gave them more and more influence over time.
The second was Stenner’s theory of “activation.” In an influential 2005 book called The Authoritarian Dynamic, Stenner argued that many authoritarians might be latent — that they might not necessarily support authoritarian leaders or policies until their authoritarianism had been “activated.”
THE SOCIAL THREAT THEORY HELPS EXPLAIN WHY AUTHORITARIANS SEEM SO PRONE TO REJECT NOT JUST ONE SPECIFIC KIND OF OUTSIDER OR SOCIAL CHANGE, SUCH AS MUSLIMS OR SAME-SEX COUPLES OR HISPANIC MIGRANTS, BUT RATHER TO REJECT ALL OF THEM
This activation could come from feeling threatened by social changes such as evolving social norms or increasing diversity, or any other change that they believe will profoundly alter the social order they want to protect. In response, previously more moderate individuals would come to support leaders and policies we might now call Trump-esque.
Other researchers, like Hetherington, take a slightly different view. They believe that authoritarians aren’t “activated” — they’ve always held their authoritarian preferences — but that they only come to express those preferences once they feel threatened by social change or some kind of threat from outsiders.
But both schools of thought agree on the basic causality of authoritarianism. People do not support extreme policies and strongman leaders just out of an affirmative desire for authoritarianism, but rather as a response to experiencing certain kinds of threats.
The third insight came from Hetherington and American University professor Elizabeth Suhay, who found that when non-authoritarians feel sufficiently scared, they also start to behave, politically, like authoritarians.
But Hetherington and Suhay found a distinction between physical threats such as terrorism, which could lead non-authoritarians to behave like authoritarians, and more abstract social threats, such as eroding social norms or demographic changes, which do not have that effect. That distinction would turn out to be important, but it also meant that in times when many Americans perceived imminent physical threats, the population of authoritarians could seem to swell rapidly.
Together, those three insights added up to one terrifying theory: that if social change and physical threats coincided at the same time, it could awaken a potentially enormous population of American authoritarians, who would demand a strongman leader and the extreme policies necessary, in their view, to meet the rising threats.
This theory would seem to predict the rise of an American political constituency that looks an awful lot like the support base that has emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, to propel Donald Trump from sideshow loser of the 2012 GOP primary to runaway frontrunner in 2016.
Beyond being almost alarmingly prescient, this theory speaks to an oft-stated concern about Trump: that what’s scariest is not the candidate, but rather the extent and fervor of his support.
And it raises a question: If this rise in American authoritarianism is so powerful as to drive Trump’s ascent, then how else might it be shaping American politics? And what effect could it have even after the 2016 race has ended?
IV. What can authoritarianism explain?
Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images
In early February, shortly after Trump finished second in the Iowa caucus and ended any doubts about his support, Ibegan talking to Feldman, Hetherington, and MacWilliams to try to answer these questions.
MacWilliams had already demonstrated a link between authoritarianism and support for Trump. But we wanted to know how else authoritarianism was playing out in American life, from policy positions to party politics to social issues, and what it might mean for America’s future.
It was time to call Kyle Dropp. Dropp is a political scientist and pollster whom one of my colleagues described as “the Doogie Howser of polling.” He does indeed appear jarringly young for a Dartmouth professor. But he is also the co-founder of a media and polling company, Morning Consult, that had worked with Vox on several other projects.
When we approached Morning Consult, Dropp and his colleagues were excited. Dropp was familiar with Hetherington’s work and the authoritarianism measure, he said, and was instantly intrigued by how we could test its relevance to the election. Hetherington and the other political scientists were, in turn, eager to more fully explore the theories that had suddenly become much more relevant.
NON-AUTHORITARIANS WHO WERE SUFFICIENTLY FRIGHTENED OF THREATS LIKE TERRORISM COULD ESSENTIALLY BE SCARED INTO ACTING LIKE AUTHORITARIANS
We put together five sets of questions. The first set, of course, was the test for authoritarianism that Feldman had developed. This would allow us to measure how authoritarianism coincided or didn’t with our other sets of questions.
The second set asked standard election-season questions on preferred candidates and party affiliation.
The third set tested voters’ fears of a series of physical threats, ranging from ISIS and Russia to viruses and car accidents.
The fourth set tested policy preferences, in an attempt to see how authoritarianism might lead voters to support particular policies.
If the research were right, then we’d expect people who scored highly on authoritarianism to express outsize fear of “outsider” threats such as ISIS or foreign governments versus other threats. We also expected that non-authoritarians who expressed high levels of fear would be more likely to support Trump. This would speak to physical fears as triggering a kind of authoritarian upsurge, which would in turn lead to Trump support.
WE WANTED TO LOOK AT THE ROLE AUTHORITARIANS ARE PLAYING IN THE ELECTION
The final set of questions was intended to test fear of social change. We asked people to rate a series of social changes — both actual and hypothetical — on a scale of “very good” to “very bad” for the country. These included same-sex marriage, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the United States, and American Muslims building more mosques in US cities.
If the theory about social change provoking stress amongst authoritarians turned out to be correct, then authoritarians would be more likely to rate the changes as bad for the country.
In the aggregate, we were hoping to do a few things. We wanted to understand who these people are, in simple demographic terms, and to test the basic hypotheses about how authoritarianism, in theory, is supposed to work. We wanted to look at the role authoritarians are playing in the election: Were they driving certain policy positions, for example?
We wanted to better understand the larger forces that had suddenly made authoritarians so numerous and so extreme — was it migration, terrorism, perhaps the decline of working-class whites? And maybe most of all, we wanted to develop some theories about what the rise of American authoritarianism meant for the future of polarization between the parties as well as a Republican Party that had become both more extreme and internally divided.
About 10 days later, shortly after Trump won the New Hampshire primary, the poll went into the field. In less than two weeks, we had our results.
V. How the GOP became the party of authoritarians
Donald Trump and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sign autographs during a Trump campaign event in Texas. Tom Pennington/Getty Images
The first thing that jumped out from the data on authoritarians is just how many there are. Our results found that 44 percent of white respondents nationwide scored as “high” or “very high” authoritarians, with 19 percent as “very high.” That’s actually not unusual, and lines up with previous national surveys that found that the authoritarian disposition is far from rare1.
The key thing to understand is that authoritarianism is often latent; people in this 44 percent only vote or otherwise act as authoritarians once triggered by some perceived threat, physical or social. But that latency is part of how, over the past few decades, authoritarians have quietly become a powerful political constituency without anyone realizing it.
Today, according to our survey, authoritarians skew heavily Republican. More than 65 percent of people who scored highest on the authoritarianism questions were GOP voters. More than 55 percent of surveyed Republicans scored as “high” or “very high” authoritarians.
And at the other end of the scale, that pattern reversed. People whose scores were most non-authoritarian — meaning they always chose the non-authoritarian parenting answer — were almost 75 percent Democrats.
But this hasn’t always been the case. According to Hetherington and Weiler’s research, this is not a story about how Republicans are from Mars and Democrats are from Venus. It’s a story of polarization that increased over time.
They trace the trend to the 1960s, when the Republican Party shifted electoral strategies to try to win disaffected Southern Democrats, in part by speaking to fears of changing social norms — for example, the racial hierarchies upset by civil rights. The GOP also embraced a “law and order” platform with a heavily racial appeal to white voters who were concerned about race riots.
This positioned the GOP as the party of traditional values and social structures — a role that it has maintained ever since. That promise to stave off social change and, if necessary, to impose order happened to speak powerfully to voters with authoritarian inclinations.
Democrats, by contrast, have positioned themselves as the party of civil rights, equality, and social progress — in other words, as the party of social change, a position that not only fails to attract but actively repels change-averse authoritarians.
Over the next several decades, Hetherington explained to me, this led authoritarians to naturally “sort” themselves into the Republican Party.
That matters, because as more authoritarians sort themselves into the GOP, they have more influence over its policies and candidates. It is not for nothing that our poll found that more than half of the Republican respondents score as authoritarian.
Perhaps more importantly, the party has less and less ability to ignore authoritarians’ voting preferences — even if those preferences clash with the mainstream party establishment.
VI. Trump, authoritarians, and fear
Based on our data, Morning Consult data scientist Adam Petrihos said that “among Republicans, very high/high authoritarianism is very predictive of support for Trump.” Trump has 42 percent support among Republicans but, according to our survey, a full 52 percent support among very high authoritarians.
Authoritarianism was the best single predictor of support for Trump, although having a high school education also came close. And as Hetherington noted after reviewing our results, the relationship between authoritarianism and Trump support remained robust, even after controlling for education level and gender.
Trump support was much lower among Republicans who scored low on authoritarianism: only 38 percent.
But that’s still awfully high. So what could explain Trump’s support among non-authoritarians?
I suspected the answer might lie at least partly in Hetherington and Suhay’s research on how fear affects non-authoritarian voters, so I called them to discuss the data. Hetherington crunched some numbers on physical threats and noticed two things.
The first was that authoritarians tend to fear very specific kinds of physical threats.
Authoritarians, we found in our survey, tend to most fear threats that come from abroad, such as ISIS or Russia or Iran. These are threats, the researchers point out, to which people can put a face; a scary terrorist or an Iranian ayatollah. Non-authoritarians were much less afraid of those threats. For instance, 73 percent of very high-scoring authoritarians believed that terrorist organizations like ISIS posed a “very high risk” to them, but only 45 percent of very low-scoring authoritarians did. Domestic threats like car accidents, by contrast, were much less frightening to authoritarians.
But Hetherington also noticed something else: A subgroup of non-authoritarians were very afraid of threats like Iran or ISIS. And the more fear of these threats they expressed, the more likely they were to support Trump.
This seemed to confirm his and Suhay’s theory: that non-authoritarians who are sufficiently frightened of physical threats such as terrorism could essentially be scared into acting like authoritarians.
That’s important, because for years now, Republican politicians and Republican-leaning media such as Fox News have been telling viewers nonstop that the world is a terrifying place and that President Obama isn’t doing enough to keep Americans safe.
There are a variety of political and media incentives for why this happens. But the point is that, as a result, Republican voters have been continually exposed to messages warning of physical dangers. As the perception of physical threat has risen, this fear appears to have led a number of non-authoritarians to vote like authoritarians — to support Trump.
An irony of this primary is that the Republican establishment has tried to stop Trump by, among other things, co-opting his message. But when establishment candidates such as Marco Rubio try to match Trump’s rhetoric on ISIS or on American Muslims, they may end up deepening the fear that can only lead voters back to Trump.
VII. Is America’s changing social landscape “activating” authoritarianism?
But the research on authoritarianism suggests it’s not just physical threats driving all this. There should be another kind of threat — larger, slower, less obvious, but potentially even more powerful — pushing authoritarians to these extremes: the threat of social change.
This could come in the form of evolving social norms, such as the erosion of traditional gender roles or evolving standards in how to discuss sexual orientation. It could come in the form of rising diversity, whether that means demographic changes from immigration or merely changes in the colors of the faces on TV. Or it could be any changes, political or economic, that disrupt social hierarchies.
What these changes have in common is that, to authoritarians, they threaten to take away the status quo as they know it — familiar, orderly, secure — and replace it with something that feels scary because it is different and destabilizing, but also sometimes because it upends their own place in society. According to the literature, authoritarians will seek, in response, a strong leader who promises to suppress the scary changes, if necessary by force, and to preserve the status quo.
This is why, in our survey, we wanted to study the degree to which authoritarians versus non-authoritarians expressed a fear of social change — and whether this, as expected, led them to desire heavy-handed responses.
Our results seemed to confirm this: Authoritarians were significantly more likely to rate almost all of the actual and hypothetical social issues we asked about as “bad” or “very bad” for the country.
For instance, our results suggested that an astonishing 44 percent of authoritarians believe same-sex marriage is harmful to the country. Twenty-eight percent rated same-sex marriage as “very bad” for America, and another 16 percent said that it’s “bad.” Only about 35 percent of high-scoring authoritarians said same-sex marriage was “good” or “very good” for the country.
Tellingly, non-authoritarians’ responses skewed in the opposite direction. Non-authoritarians tended to rate same-sex marriage as “good” or “very good” for the country.
The fact that authoritarians and non-authoritarians split over something as seemingly personal and nonthreatening as same-sex marriage is crucial for understanding how authoritarianism can be triggered by even a social change as minor as expanding marriage rights.
We also asked respondents to rate whether Muslims building more mosques in American cities was a good thing. This was intended to test respondents’ comfort level with sharing their communities with Muslims — an issue that has been particularly contentious this primary election.
A whopping 56.5 percent of very high-scoring authoritarians said it was either “bad” or “very bad” for the country when Muslims built more mosques. Only 14 percent of that group said more mosques would be “good” or “very good.”
The literature on authoritarianism suggests this is not just simple Islamophobia, but rather reflects a broader phenomenon wherein authoritarians feel threatened by people they identify as “outsiders” and by the possibility of changes to the status quo makeup of their communities.
This would help explain why authoritarians seem so prone to reject not just one specific kind of outsider or social change, such as Muslims or same-sex couples or Hispanic migrants, but rather to reject all of them. What these seemingly disparate groups have in common is the perceived threat they pose to the status quo order, which authoritarians experience as a threat to themselves.
And America is at a point when the status quo social order is changing rapidly; when several social changes are converging. And they are converging especially on working-class white people.
It is conventional wisdom to ascribe the rise of first the Tea Party right and now Trump to the notion that working-class white Americans are angry.
Indeed they are, but this data helps explain that they are also under certain demographic and economic pressures that, according to this research, are highly likely to trigger authoritarianism — and thus suggests there is something a little more complex going on than simple “anger” that helps explain their gravitation toward extreme political responses.
Working-class communities have come under tremendous economic strain since the recession. And white people are also facing the loss of the privileged position that they previously were able to take for granted. Whites are now projected to become a minority group over the next few decades, owing to migration and other factors. The president is a black man, and nonwhite faces are growing more common in popular culture. Nonwhite groups are raising increasingly prominent political demands, and often those demands coincide with issues such as policing that also speak to authoritarian concerns.
Some of these factors might be considered more or less legitimately threatening than others — the loss of working-class jobs in this country is a real and important issue, no matter how one feels about fading white privilege — but that is not the point.
The point, rather, is that the increasingly important political phenomenon we identify as right-wing populism, or white working-class populism, seems to line up, with almost astonishing precision, with the research on how authoritarianism is both caused and expressed.
That is not to dismiss white working-class concerns as invalid because they might be expressed by authoritarians or through authoritarian politics, but rather to better understand why this is happening — and why it’s having such a profound and extreme effect on American politics.
HAVE WE MISUNDERSTOOD HARD-LINE SOCIAL CONSERVATISM ALL ALONG?
Most of the other social-threat questions followed a similar pattern1. On its surface, this might seem to suggest that authoritarianism is just a proxy for especially hard-line manifestations of social conservatism. But when examined more carefully, it suggests something more interesting about the nature of social conservatism itself.
For liberals, it may be easy to conclude that opposition to things like same-sex marriage, immigration, and diversity is rooted in bigotry against those groups — that it’s the manifestation of specific homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia.
But the results of the Vox/Morning Consult poll, along with prior research on authoritarianism, suggests there might be something else going on.
There is no particular reason, after all, why parenting goals should coincide with animus against specific groups. We weren’t asking questions about whether it was important for children to respect people of different races, but about whether they should respect authority and rules generally. So why do they coincide so heavily?
WHAT MIGHT LOOK ON THE SURFACE LIKE BIGOTRY WAS REALLY MUCH CLOSER TO STENNER’S THEORY OF “ACTIVATION”
What is most likely, Hetherington suggested, is that authoritarians are much more susceptible to messages that tell them to fear a specific “other” — whether or not they have a preexisting animus against that group. Those fears would therefore change over time as events made different groups seem more or less threatening.
It all depends, he said, on whether a particular group of people has been made into an outgroup or not — whether they had been identified as a dangerous other.
Since September 2001, some media outlets and politicians have painted Muslims as the other and as dangerous to America. Authoritarians, by nature, are more susceptible to these messages, and thus more likely to come to oppose the presence of mosques in their communities.
When told to fear a particular outgroup, Hetherington said, “On average people who score low in authoritarianism will be like, ‘I’m not that worried about that,’ while people who score high in authoritarianism will be like, ‘Oh, my god! I’m worried about that, because the world is a dangerous place.'”
In other words, what might look on the surface like bigotry was really much closer to Stenner’s theory of “activation”: that authoritarians are unusually susceptible to messages about the ways outsiders and social changes threaten America, and so lash out at groups that are identified as objects of concern at that given moment.
That’s not to say that such an attitude is in some way better than simple racism or xenophobia — it is still dangerous and damaging, especially if it empowers frightening demagogues like Donald Trump.
Perhaps more to the point, it helps explain how Trump’s supporters have come to so quickly embrace such extreme policies targeting these outgroups: mass deportation of millions of people, a ban on foreign Muslims visiting the US. When you think about those policy preferences as driven by authoritarianism, in which social threats are perceived as especially dangerous and as demanding extreme responses, rather than the sudden emergence of specific bigotries, this starts to make a lot more sense.
VIII. What authoritarians want
From our parenting questions, we learned who the GOP authoritarians are. From our questions about threats and social change, we learned what’s motivating them. But the final set of questions, on policy preferences, might be the most important of all: So what? What do authoritarians actually want?
The responses to our policy questions showed that authoritarians have their own set of policy preferences, distinct from GOP orthodoxy. And those preferences mean that, in real and important ways, authoritarians are their own distinct constituency: effectively a new political party within the GOP.
What stands out from the results, Feldman wrote after reviewing our data, is that authoritarians “are most willing to want to use force, to crack down on immigration, and limit civil liberties.”
This “action side” of authoritarianism, he believed, was the key thing that distinguished Trump supporters from supporters of other GOP candidates. “The willingness to use government power to eliminate the threats — that is most clear among Trump supporters.”
Authoritarians generally and Trump voters specifically, we found, were highly likely to support five policies:
Using military force over diplomacy against countries that threaten the United States
Changing the Constitution to bar citizenship for children of illegal immigrants
Imposing extra airport checks on passengers who appear to be of Middle Eastern descent in order to curb terrorism
Requiring all citizens to carry a national ID card at all times to show to a police officer on request, to curb terrorism
Allowing the federal government to scan all phone calls for calls to any number linked to terrorism
What these policies share in common is an outsize fear of threats, physical and social, and, more than that, a desire to meet those threats with severe government action — with policies that are authoritarian not just in style but in actuality. The scale of the desired response is, in some ways, what most distinguishes authoritarians from the rest of the GOP.
“Many Republicans seem to be threatened by terrorism, violence, and cultural diversity, but that’s not unique to Trump supporters,” Feldman told me.
“It seems to be the action side of authoritarianism — the willingness to use government power to eliminate the threats — that is most clear among Trump supporters,” he added.
IF TRUMP LOSES THE ELECTION, THAT WON’T REMOVE THE THREATS AND SOCIAL CHANGES THAT TRIGGER THE “ACTION SIDE” OF AUTHORITARIANISM
This helps explain why the GOP has had such a hard time co-opting Trump’s supporters, even though those supporters’ immediate policy concerns, such as limiting immigration or protecting national security, line up with party orthodoxy. The real divide is over how far to go in responding. And the party establishment is simply unwilling to call for such explicitly authoritarian policies.
Just as striking is what was missing from authoritarians’ concerns. There was no clear correlation between authoritarianism and support for tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 per year, for example. And the same was true of support for international trade agreements.
These are both issues associated with mainstream GOP economic policies. All groups opposed the tax cuts, and support for trade agreements was evenly lukewarm across all degrees of authoritarianism. So there is no real divide on these issues.
But there is one more factor that our data couldn’t capture but is nevertheless important: Trump’s style.
Trump’s specific policies aren’t the thing that most sets him apart from the rest of the field of GOP candidates. Rather, it’s his rhetoric and style. The way he reduces everything to black-and-white extremes of strong versus weak, greatest versus worst. His simple, direct promises that he can solve problems that other politicians are too weak to manage.
And, perhaps most importantly, his willingness to flout all the conventions of civilized discourse when it comes to the minority groups that authoritarians find so threatening. That’s why it’s a benefit rather than a liability for Trump when he says Mexicans are rapists or speaks gleefully of massacring Muslims with pig-blood-tainted bullets: He is sending a signal to his authoritarian supporters that he won’t let “political correctness” hold him back from attacking the outgroups they fear.
This, Feldman explained to me, is “classic authoritarian leadership style: simple, powerful, and punitive.”
Hitler is no relic of the past. He is but one example of an authoritarian leader who gained power by activating the support of millions of other authoritarians given the right set of economic and social conditions, conditions we are seeing in modern politics today.
Authoritarian-minded people have empathy only for those within their group. The group is people like them. Everyone else is “the other.” And if the leader demonizes them, then any kind of savagery against them is considered morally permissible. Many authoritarians derive their sense of morality from what is legal and what is “permitted” by the authority figures. And so if the leader says that exterminating a group of subhumans is okay, then in their minds it is okay. Most people do not advance beyond Stage 4.
3. Here on Quora I am finding more and more people who say that Hitler did nothing wrong, or that he was no worse than any other leader, just that Germany lost the war. I am not joking. So as the Greatest Generation dies out, the memories of what happened fade away. The Holocaust survivors are dying out too. As a society our collective revulsion for the Nazis is diminishing.
4. Hitler was not a psychopath. He was capable of empathy, and showed it very selectively. That speaks volumes. This means normal people can be this way too. And this is how Hitler was able to harness the authoritarian darker impulses of the people and direct them into such a cyclone of death and destruction.
6. According to Walter Scheidel, author of The Great Leveler, throughout history there is a pattern of nations growing more and more unequal. As the inequality increases, social unrest increases. The élites refuse to accept these changes, and continue on as before. He found that there has never been a peaceful political resolution to inequality. Wars, plagues, and communist revolutions are the only historical examples of resolving massive inequality. As globalization has caused inequality to skyrocket, we are again seeing massive unrest among the people. Instead of turning to communism, they are turning to demagogues and fascist strongmen. Fascists find it irresistible to stay within their own borders. Franco is perhaps the exception to the rule, but most fascists start wars. Sadly, there are very few examples of fascists being defeated by peaceful measures. You cannot reason with a fascist. So the result is violence. WWII was an example. My fear is that the world is going to have a redo. Except this time there are nuclear weapons. At least we might see some regional wars that turn very ugly.
EDIT: I find it absolutely amazing that people are complaining about the post being “too long.”
Considering something “too long” is a result of the systematic reduction in attention spans of modern people living in Twitter and texting culture. You cannot explore a topic and debunk popular beliefs in a few paragraphs. This is discussed by Noam Chomsky when he talks about the power of concision.
To destroy lies it takes work. It means the layout of facts. You can’t just regurgitate some groupthink and move on. People don’t like to cover the facts. But without them you cannot understand things. During the time of Dickens and Melville your average person had no problem reading giant novels. The attention spans of people were trained to be longer. A literary attention span is different from a modern Twitter, texting, or hyperlink attention span. In his book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr talks about how the brains of modern people have been changed by interacting with modern media. It makes us uncomfortable to read something that is long.
But this means that we are allergic to deep thought. Perhaps the most brilliant weapon of the masters of the universe is to promote the use of shallow social media, 30 minute sitcoms, reality TV, and other forms of entertainment that don’t really require us to think.
I write long posts. Please don’t complain to me that the posts are “too long.” I will never make my posts shorter because you have a short attention span. I am not going to degrade my analysis to fit your Twitter sized attention span. If reading a long post isn’t for you, stop, but don’t complain to me about it. If you don’t like the channel, change it.
Chomsky makes the excellent point that to debunk a lie takes 10x longer than it does to repeat it. Why? Because lies are lazy. They rely on groupthink. So you must address and knock down improper assumptions if you are to uncover the lie. The problem is that the news media doesn’t have time for that. Second, most people are too lazy to read longer things. The prevailing logic is “Don’t make me think.”
Perhaps the most ridiculous thing I have heard was from someone who claimed that I am full of it because my answers are “too long,” “based on sophistry,” “cherry-picked for the facts,” and “If you cannot explain something simply, you don’t understand it.” Einstein said this. However, he was required to show his work, and not present his theories in cartoon form. Unpacking lies takes time, especially when dealing with a heavily indoctrinated audience.
The other issue is novelty. If you make statements that are outside the groupthink, you need to support them. They will sound crazy to the closed-minded. But the open-minded will hear you.
Marxism-Leninism is the practical application of Marxism to the modern world. It’s the adaptation of Marxism by the writings and theories of Vladimir Lenin. It’s a universally applicable ideology and is by far the most widespread and historically significant version of Marxism.
Once upon a time I started of on Quora as a libertarian, not approving of Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat at first, but still very interested in his analysis and criticism of capitalism. Anyone who has followed me since last November will remember me talking about revolutionary Catalonia non-stop, while at the same time trying to disregard Marxism-Leninism as “not real Socialism”. I presume that’s how most Socialists would have generally started off.
A few months later, I took an interest in Leninism, and I actually bothered to read about the USSR from a Marxist perspective. I looked through many sources, but I mostly began reading from this website:
It was at that point that I was convinced that what I thought about the history of Socialism was wrong, but I was unaware about how much I didn’t know. Honestly, bourgeois propaganda works pretty well.
I also began reading some of Alexander Finnegan’s posts, which convinced me even more. I’m pretty sure he was the only active Marxist-Leninist on Quora at the time. I still didn’t support Stalin or Mao though, as I still believed in many of the lies about them, such as the one about those damn sparrows.
I also started using this image of Lenin as my profile picture around this time:
Most of you will remember it. (I should probably change back to it at some point)
I referred to myself as a Leninist, still not wanting to be associated with Stalin or Mao or any other Marxist-Leninist leader because honestly this is what I was unfortunatelyimagining the USSR to be like the minute after Lenin died:
But now I realize, this is actually what happened after the USSR collapsed.
I dismissed any attempt at establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat after Lenin to be perversion of his and Marx’s ideas.
Fast forward a few months of radicalization and realization and we have Che as my profile picture:
It was at that point, after learning more about prominent Socialist figures and Socialist countries, that I said “screw it” and I refered to myself as a Marxist-Leninist. I was fully convinced at this point that Marxism-Leninism wasn’t as bad as I was made to believe.
Basically, my reason for changing to Marxism-Leninism is mainly because of me, overtime realizing that much of what I thought about about Socialism, or more specifically, it’s history, was wrong. I now know that Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, etc…were not bad people, and I see Marxism-Leninism to be the most realistic method of transitioning from capitalism to Communism. It’s the only ideology capable of defending itself from capitalism, and has proven to be the most workable and stable alternative to capitalism.
Every Socialist country in history, Marxist-Leninist or not, has been attacked by the imperialist capitalist nations attempting to defend their interests. Even Marxist-Leninist countries have had an extremely hard time defending themselves from capitalists and revisionists. How would you expect less authoritarian systems to survive?
Is it a form of revisionism?The Marxist understanding of revisionism is understood as the attempt to revise Marxisms revolutionary theory to an anti-revolutionary character. It turns Marxism into something which serves the interests of the bourgeoisie rather than the workers.
“The questions of whether revolution should be upheld or opposed and whether the dictatorship of the proletariat should be upheld or opposed have always been the focus of struggle between Marxism-Leninism and all brands of revisionism”.
-Mao tse Tung
Based on the theoretical advancements gained in the experience of class struggle and the scientific analysis of revolutionary activities throughout the 20th century, Marxism-Leninism cannot be revisionist.
As Stalin said, “Leninism is Marxism in the era of imperialism”. What this basically means is that it is, as I have mentioned before, the practical application of Marxism to the modern world, where capitalism developed into it’s highest stage. Marx didn’t live to write about this development of capitalism, but Lenin certainly did.
Also, why have I chosen to use Stalin as my profile picture? To the majority of people, a dictatorial angry man with a caterpillar mustache is generally comes to mind first when they think of Socialism.
Stalin is one of the most iconic Socialist figures in history, he will forever be associated with Socialism, however, he is unfortunately mostly regarded some sort of Leftists version of Hitler.
We Socialists have two options here:
Continue to demonize Stalin in an attempt to disassociate ourselves from him as Cold War propaganda has already convinced most people that he was the spawn of Satan who killed +60 million people singlehandedly with a spork and ate babies for breakfast.
Try to expose the lies about Stalin, fight against the decades of propaganda and openly embrace his ideas and learn about his successes and failures so we’ve can learn from them.
So the reason why I have a portrait of Stalin as my profile picture is mostly to protest against the demonization against him from both capitalists and Socialists.