Monday, January 7, 2013

Interesting Political Parallels

I am about half way through Pulitzer Prize winning Anne Applebaum’s “The Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 “.  Very interesting, and disturbing account of the Soviet  transformation of Post WWII East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia into Soviet dominated communist satellite states.

Note that I said “interesting and disturbing” account.  Obviously, with the space constraints of the Pub, all I can do is offer my summary of what she said happened and how, but I think I can distill those interesting events in to a reasonably accurate picture, and then explain why it is also “disturbing”.

Of all the techniques employed by the local communists and Soviets that Applebaum has covered so far in my reading, the co-opting of each country’s political system is by far the one I would like to toss out for discussion.

As the Red Army “liberated” Eastern Europe from the Nazi’s, they gained legitimate occupation “control” over peoples who were dealing with what appeared to have been a failure of the pre-Nazi regimes to adequately defend them.  Effectively, all social, economic and political structures were in disarray, at best, and destroyed, at worst.  In short, a new and fresh start seemed necessary.  Moscow, saw this as extremely fertile ground for the easy cultivation of a dominant Socialist Workers’ regime in these countries.  After all, Marxism was the ultimate antithesis of the hated Nazi-Fascist form of government.  With help from local pre War communist figures already amongst the population, rallying the masses to support a Soviet style regime would be piece of cake, at least in Moscow’s eyes.  It worked in Russia.  Moscow was confident that the Yalta and Potsdam agreed upon “free elections” could be easily counted upon to deliver a communist victory, given a good preparation with stock in trade propaganda and a little skullduggery.

The truth was that other, albeit left leaning, parties far outdrew the local communist parties for the support of the population.   What would be typically called  “Social Democrats” and “Christian Democrats” was what was  widely desired, not the “extreme Left” of the Soviets.  The task, then was how to finesse a communist win while still conducting elections.  A communist win that had all the appearances of a local political party, while ensuring it be Marxist and subservient to Moscow.  While fear, election fraud and the like were indeed used, other, more interesting techniques helped immeasurably.

One technique was to coerce or convince other parties to merge into a left leaning “coalition party” with the local communist party.  Of course, the communists rarely operated under that particular name, lest they be seen as being in league with the Soviets.   By “combining” a few left leaning political groups, the possibility for a “ruling majority” was increased significantly, an attractive offer to all the parties concerned.  And, the former competing parties' identities disappeared in forming the "new" party.  Now “inside” a new party that is  elected into power, the communists could then drive out the leadership of their “rivals”, manipulate the party to become totally under the control of the communist element, and then move forward to extinguish external opposition parties in the minority.  Thus, a party that had a minority of the popular support could create a new party with 50% or more support, and rewicker that party, once it was in power, to execute only the will of the communist minority (soon to become majority), obtaining an extreme left wing government under the mantle of what originally was a more mainstream, left learning official identity.

Now, of course, the satellite states’ communists had the power (military and financial) of the Soviet Union to assist when necessary, but it became apparent (much to Moscow’s surprise) that overtly singing the “Moscow Party Line” was not a widely popular approach.  So the political pitch was given a coat of “national movement”, populist, only left leaning lipstick to appeal to the more moderate beliefs and national identities of each country.  And, in conjunction with a host of other factors, it worked.  While Moscow was never quite able to create complete “little Soviet Unions”, they were able to facilitate the emergence of tyrannical communist regimes, totally loyal to, and dependent upon, Moscow.

Now, as to the disturbing part.  Fast forward to recent years in the US.  When many in the GOP saw the need to moderate their stand on a variety of issues to maintain any semblance of popular support, a new political “movement” arose.  Not a “party”, but a “movement” – the Teabaggers. How many candidates for office in the US have run as a "member of the Tea Party" on the Tea Party ticket?  NONE.  Rather, they may run as TeaBaggers for nomination to represent the GOP.  Or run as "Tea Party endorsed" Republicans".  How many GOP elected officials live in fear of a TeaBagger challenge – not in an election, but in a primary?  Rather than stand on their own two feet, the TeaBaggers, radical right wingers, have entered a party that in many ways, would be an “opposition party”, if they were honest about it.   Then by pure and simple intimidation, such as the threat of outside funding of  a candidate the TeaBaggers support in party primaries, have co-opted many Republicans into either tolerating or embracing TeaBagger excesses.  Thus, elected GOP representatives, in the TeaBaggers’ view, must be either card carrying Teabaggers or puppets of the Teabaggers.  And, while the TeaBaggers claim to be a “grassroots” movement, they receive the bulk of their money from wealthy individuals in large lump sums.  A minority financed by an even smaller minority, and more often than not, a financing minority from outside the jurisdiction in which they are supporting candidates to influence elections.  And thus, the GOP slowly, but surely, becomes a arm of the Tea Party "Movement" and the "Movements" deep pocketed "foreign" (to the electoral jurisdiction) financiers.  Only without a name change.

In short, a deeply ideological minority, backed by disproportionate outside resources, imposing their will on a much greater majority, under the guise of the “democratic process”.  And where they can’t impose their will totally, they take every and any opportunity to thwart the will of the majority via loopholes in the existing system.  Is this not tyranny in the guise of “democracy”?

And that I find "disturbing”.  Am I missing something that might refute or at least mitigate that?  If not, it is just another reason why WASF.


  1. Al, interesting questions.

    I see your point about big money being behind them, and obviously, that is a huge advantage. But isn't there also big money behind their primary opponents through PACs? My understanding of how things work is that the GOP itself controls that PAC money, and as long as moderate GOP run the party, they will continue to fund and back less radical. We saw what almost looked like a purge of Teabaggers from key positions by Boehner, I can only assume that means that the more moderate GOP still have control (for now).

    At the end of the day, Tea Party endorsed candidates are still elected in a popular election. What I find disturbing is that it appears that the more Politics in DC becomes polarized, the more polarized candidates become as a reaction of the dysfunction. Which of course, leads to more polarization, etc. The electorate are voting in these radical candidates because they have no faith that less radical candidates will be effective. That is the trend that really scares me.

  2. Is this not tyranny in the guise of “democracy”?

    No and I really don't see the comparison you're making. Whatever one thinks of the "teabaggers" or whatever you want to call them, they have a domestic constituency and domestic support. I don't see how that's at all comparable to the creation of a post-war order through manipulation by an occupying foreign power.

  3. Al -

    I concur. I have long seen this GOP drift which is why I drifted away. The party of Lincoln, TR, and Eisenhower is now using the ploys and stratagems of Marx, Lenin and Stalin.

    - party enforcers, check
    - takeover of radio and TV stations, check
    - arrogation of churches & their message, check
    - agitprop, check
    - exaggeration/falsification of events, check
    - proselytization of youth groups, check

    And now, as you point out, usurpation of the Tea Party. But then I believe they have done that or tried to do it previously with the U.S. Taxpayers Party, the America First Party and a few others. I knew several early Tea Party members/supporters. They were mostly my age, concerned with their grandchildren's future, and sick of both Dem and Republican budgets. Most have dropped out disillusioned, except for one diehard fan of Glenn Beck.

  4. @bg - "We saw what almost looked like a purge of Teabaggers from key positions by Boehner,..."

    Not sure I am following that line of thought. Cantor and McCarthy are still in critical positions in the House. The only reason that the Senate Minority Whip changed was Kyl's retirement and besides the new whip, the self styled 'Big Bad John' Cornyn, is just as extreme.

    A lot of Tea Party endorsed candidates did win in the primaries but lost badly in the general election because of their extreme positions. Walsh in Illinois, West in Florida and Mourdock in Indiana come to mind but there were several more. So perhaps the National GOP will start endorsing non-teaparty movement fols in future primaries. But I suspect they will just get them to tone down their rhetoric until after the general election.

  5. A lot of Tea Party endorsed candidates did win in the primaries but lost badly in the general election because of their extreme positions.

    If that's true, then what's the problem? Sounds like the system is working as intended.

  6. Andy - Not well enough is the system working. When an extremely narrow minority can siphon huge amounts of money into radical candidates with no transparency is the problem as I see it. That goes back to Al's point that the movement has been taken over. Or as Al says much better than I: "...a deeply ideological minority, backed by disproportionate outside resources, imposing their will on a much greater majority,..." Sounds like textbook Lenin to me.

  7. That goes back to Al's point that the movement has been taken over.

    Taken over how? Last I checked they didn't do so well in the election and their popularity is plummeting. The supposed "Huge" amounts of money didn't get them any electoral gains. I'll be surprised if there are any left in a few years.

  8. Andy

    While the Tea Party calls itself a "Movement" they are indeed resplendent with all the trappings of a "Party". However, they do not put "Tea Party Candidates" onto any ballot. Rather, they campaign in GOP primaries as "Tea Partiers" or "Tea Party Endorsed", and if nominated, run as GOP standard bearers, with loyalties to the Tea Party. In short, a tactic to enter into and drive out more mainstream GOP members and thought. Yes, this is "democracy", but believe it or not, it was "democracy" in Eastern Europe. The communists changed their tactics when they got gobsmacked in a few elections, thus resulting in the "merge with other parties" approach. While the two scenarios are not identical, there are, as I titled the threat, "parallels". A double reverse using a tailback is no less a double reverse than using a split end. As MicroSoft would call it, "Embrace, Extend, Extinguish"

    As to campaign monies, if the candidates for Congress and Governor, for example, were being supported by money from contributors legally qualified to vote for or against them, I would be less concerned. Most Congressional money comes from outside their district, no less outside their state. Scott Walker received millions from outside Wisconsin in his recall defense. People no longer "hear" or "see" campaign information solely from their fellow voters or the candidates themselves in a given race, but more likely from Sheldon Adelstein in Las Vegas. When the most powerful "constituency" for an elected official has no voting authority in that official's being elected, one has to wonder.

    Has the Tea Party been "successful"? Basing one's view of that on one or two election cycles is a bit short sighted. They are still in town, and the conversation amongst their biggest money sources is not one of throwing in the towel, but just directing that money towards operatives who were more successful than, for example, Karl Rove.

    However, the OP was not about the "success or failure" of the TeaBaggers, but rather the similarities with the tactics of the communists in Eastern Europe. And, I only offered that one parallel of "Embrace, Extend, Extinguish". Mike hits several similarities on the head.

  9. Not quite OT, but an interesting snippet from the book:

    "We teach that it is proper to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to render unto God the things that are God's. But when Caesar sits himself on the altar, we respond curtly: he may not."

    - - Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, 1953

    Wonder how the Religious Right would interpret this?

  10. Al-

    Interesting post. I'll let you guys discuss the parallels with the Tea Party. Personally, I'm interested in Soviet occupation policy. I was wondering how Applebaum's description varies from that of Jan Gross . . .

    I wrote a review of his book 12 years ago on amazon mentioning the phases of Soviet occupation that Gross describes. This of course was a different political context - Poland 1939-1941 rather than Eastern Europe 1944-1956, but I'm still interested in "parallels" . . . any comments from your reading? Does Applebaum mention the earlier Soviet occupation?

  11. seydlitz

    She mentions it, but since the region occupied in 39-41 was annexed into Soviet Ukraine and Belorus (Part of the USSR), and Post War Poland was ostensibly a new "sovereign", she doesn't do so in any great detail. Moscow more openly enforced "Moscow Rules" in the former as a "conqueror", versus an alleged "liberator" in the latter.

    In western Poland, the Soviets seemed to expect the populace to rally to the communist party, and used Polish Communists to the greatest extent possible to achieve their goals. They still, through the Polish proxies, used many of the "cleansing techniques" to eliminate Fascist sympathizers (a pretty all inclusive term), of course, but initially things were not so "brutal".

    Again, what stumped the Soviets was that the Poles, E. Germans, Hungarians and Czechs did not respond to the same rallying cries as the Russians in 1917-19. They were so sold on their own ideology that they couldn't see beyond their noses. Of course, reality sank in after a while, and tactics changed in all the means used once the original approach failed.

    Unfortunately, so far, Applebaum has covered the subject matter topically (Police, Youth, Violence, Radio, Politics, Economics, etc) jumping back and forth between countries as she goes, so it's a bit rough putting together how things were "synchronized" (or not) within a given country. Thus my sticking to the take over of political parties as the topic here, as similar tactics were used in the four countries under discussion.

  12. seydlitz-

    Keep in mind that the Soviets gained "control" of Eastern European territory (direct or "satellite") in four different ways.

    The annexation of Polish and Baltic lands by invasion. (1939 - 1941)

    The "liberation" of Nazi occupied territories and subsequent creation of communist governments.

    The "Occupation" of Nazi and Nazi allied lands as the representative of the Allied Control Commission, with subsequent creation of communist governments.

    Eastern European lands from which the Nazis withdrew, or never really occupied and went Communist by pre existing internal forces and aligned with the USSR at the end of WWII.

    Only the fourth category really represents actual national politics alone creating a communist state. (Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia)

  13. Al,

    In short, a tactic to enter into and drive out more mainstream GOP members and thought. Yes, this is "democracy", but believe it or not, it was "democracy" in Eastern Europe.

    Not sure what's so extraordinary about that. "Progressives" don't run for office under their own party either. Libertarians? Both parties have long been subject to the push and pull as various factions vie for influence.

    And so I don't see the parallel with communism. We live in a democracy and that is more than just a couple of elections. Democracy never really existed behind the iron curtain.

    The Tea Party is, unlike the communists, a marginal movement which is not about to become a majority, much less use the mechanism of elections and party infiltration to gain absolute power over an entire country.

  14. Scott Walker received millions from outside Wisconsin in his recall defense. People no longer "hear" or "see" campaign information solely from their fellow voters or the candidates themselves in a given race, but more likely from Sheldon Adelstein in Las Vegas. When the most powerful "constituency" for an elected official has no voting authority in that official's being elected, one has to wonder.

    Do you really think this is only happens on the right wing? There was plenty of "out of state" money that poured into Wisconsin to oppose Walker. There are plenty of rich liberals who are willing to donate to causes they believe in. None of this is really new, so I don't understand the point you're making here.

    Has the Tea Party been "successful"? Basing one's view of that on one or two election cycles is a bit short sighted.

    Well, they've only been around for two election cycles so what else do we have to go on? Is there any evidence that they are going to rebound? While anything is possible, it seems pretty clear to me the Tea Party is pretty far outside the mainstream and I don't see how they can be more than a marginal influence over the long term unless the American people or the Tea party changes.

  15. Nady

    I'm not suggesting the Tea Party has the potential of the communists on Eastern Europe as much as they have used an approach similar to that used in Eastern Europe.

    The Tea Party is, unlike the communists, a marginal movement which is not about to become a majority, much less use the mechanism of elections and party infiltration to gain absolute power over an entire country.

    The communists never really became a majority in Poland, E. Germany, or Hungary. They gained control of what was effectively not a communist merged political party which then gave them a majority of elected officials, while still appealing to only a significant minority of the populace.

    There is a reason the TeaBaggers choose to use the GOP as their means, rather than being a standalone "extreme" party such as the Libertarians, Greens or Socialists.

    Again, offering parallels, not predictions. The situation and vulnerabilities in Eastern Europe at that time were vastly different than what is happening in the US today.


    Nady should have been Andy. I'm getting "dystypeic" in my Golden Years.

  17. Al -

    I picked up a copy of the Applebaum book you mention. I note it has 41 five-star reader ratings on Amazon so you are not the only one plugging it. And the only two really low ratings appear to be about the price of the kindle version. So I look forward to the read. Although I wish the author had spent more time on Bulgaria and Rumania and on the Baltics during the Soviet takeover in 1940, as I went through school with a Lithuanian kid whose parents had managed to escape at that time.

  18. Interesting questions, Al, but I think you've mixed up the cart and the horse.

    Remember, the Tea Party was originally conceived by the Republicans as a short-lived "spontaneous" movement similar to the Swift Boat movement. The organization had a web site, signs, documentation spelling out its basic goals before it erupted onto the national scene.

    But two unexpected things happened.
    1. The movement was extremely popular with wealthy people who started spending enormous amounts of money steering it in their preferred directions
    2. The movement was enormously popular with a large body disaffected but energetic voters who had dropped out of the Republican party (and the voting process)

    This combination of large quantities of extremely energetic potential voters and extremely large quantities of cash was irresistible to the Republican party leadership who did everything they could to co-opt the new political supernova. Unfortunately for the Republicans, this meant that they had to change themselves as well.

    As the movement matured, two things became self-evident.
    1. While the rank-and-file Tea Partiers were energetic; they were also also closed-minded and a bit batty. You couldn't change their minds and you couldn't get them to shut up
    2. The wealthy leaders of the Tea Party were not thwarted by the Republican take-over. Instead they viewed this as an opportunity to take over the Republican party, which they have largely succeeded in doing

    The 2012 election cycle has shown that the Tea Party has become a major liability for the Republican Party. But the non-Tea Party Republican party is now just a shadow of itself and is not likely to be able to stand on its own anymore. Furthermore, the Tea Partiers blame the relatively few non-Tea Partiers for their loss.

    The Tea Partiers seem to believe that they'd have won the election if only the Republicans had a 100 percent belief in their theories instead of a 95% belief. As any political scientist will tell you, fewer but more fervent supporters will not win elections.

    I am very interested in the evolution of the Republican party. Will the Tea Partiers take their money and votes and leave? Will they go the opposite direction and finish their takeover of the Republicans? Will a third party be created from this mess?

    This is a great opportunity for the Democrats if they can get their act together and show some self-discipline.

  19. Al, great quote from Cardinal Wyszynski. I think I know the answer.

    Today's religious right would explain that they are unwilling to render unto Caesar while he is on the alter. And because Caesar's blocking the way to the alter, God must not want for them to render unto God as well.

    Then they'd take some of the excess money to hire lobbyists to urge Caesar to stand his ground on the subject. Because the religious right so into their own wealth and how God wants for them to increase it.

  20. To me the fascinating things about this are:

    1. The extinction of a major species of U.S. political animal; the republicanensis rockefelleri or "Rockefeller Republican", and

    2. The extreme marginalization of the U.S. Left.

    In the case of the former, I suspect that the beast was already weakening back in the Sixties, well before the teatards were a glimmer in the Koch's eyes. My suspicion is that a lot of Rocky Republicans were in the party because of "tradition" - northern Republicans tended to be fairly liberal as Republicans went, there really was very little going on in the SW at the time, and there WERE no Southern Republicans.

    Add to that the hiding that the plutocrats had taken in the Thirties and were just emerging from and you got a whole slew of Republicans that effectively accepted the New Deal as a fact.

    But along came Civil Rights about the same time you had a GOP that saw a massively cynical opportunity to grab off the racist Democrats fleeing the donkeys (the "Southern Strategy"). That began a massive rightward shift in the GOP whose natural culmination was, I would opine, the Teabaggers. Yeah, it was astroturfed, but if it hadn't have been I suspect you'd still have had a hell of a lot of ignorant racist sludge accumulating at the right-hand side of the GOP.

    That had the effect of pulling the GOP waaayyyyy to the right (while the party was skewing right as its corporate masters recovered their balls in the Reagan years and began opening tacking back towards the Gilded Age) and targeting the old Rockys as RINOs.

    And don't underestimate the rise of the GOP Pretty Hate Machine; FOX and the radio shouters, Limbaugh and the like. They did a lot to chase the fiscal and political sanity out of the GOP.

    Meanwhile the Red purges of the Fifties and the backlash to the New Left of the Sixties has all but destroyed any actual "Left" in the U.S. I mean, look at the current Democratic Party; the current Chief Executive, a notional Democrat, is indistinguishable in his actual policies from a Rockefeller Republican!

    You've got an ineffective handful of genuine lefties in Congress, none of them near the levers of power. And grassroots? Even worse. There's NOTHING on the Left with the effectiveness of the teatards - who's heard of some Democrat being "primaried" from the left? Yeah, thought so.

    The overall effect is to pull the U.S. government - never exactly a populist instrument - closer to the openly corporate-cronyism that ruled between the consolidation of industrialism in the 1860's and the crash of 1929.

    This does not strike me as good for the non-two-yacht-family in the U.S., but neither do I see an alternative on the immediate or even middle term horizon.