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June 23, 2009

Comments

Two words: "psychological projection."

"But with these possible exceptions, none of the people I have known, in a long life of knowing leftists, has been 'fine with dictatorship.'"

I've known two, though they wouldn't agree with that description of themselves. One was a Maoist, and the other a Trotskyite of or another of the tiny American sects. But that was back in the Seventies and early Eighties.

But I've known thousands and thousands of people, with a very high proportion of them being from outlying areas of the political spectrum, particularly in science fiction fandom, which tends to attract a lot of... unusual... thinkers.

And I've encountered a handful of other such people, who worked in, respectively, two hardcore leftist bookstores in Seattle in the Seventies (Red And Black Books, and Left Bank Books, if my memory isn't too confused; one on 15th Avenue E on Capitol Hill, and the other in the Pike Place Market). Plus that small bookstore the CPUSA used to run in Manhattan, which disappeared many years ago.

But offhand, there weren't more than a couple of thousand such Americans back then, I'd estimate, and I'm quite sure their numbers haven't grown in recent decades. They're fairly rare beasts.

I really should write up again my brief encounter with the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade in my extremely brief college days. I haven't done that since Usenet days, and I'm not sure I wrote a very full account even then. Mind, we're talking about a group of six-to-eight people. They never were able to recruit a larger group, and that was in 1975.

Even paranoids are right once in a while. Just not today.

Getting overheated about the US President is a widely-observed tradition. Just run down the various foolish remarks usually described as Bush Derangement Syndrome.

At least one John Bircher said Eisenhower was a conscious dedicated agent of the International Communist Conspiracy.

Best to let it drift on by. Bill Ayers is of a much harder left, so some of it rubs off on his co-worker, Obama. And so on.

"Like most people, they would prefer that the policies they think are best get adopted, but none of them would want to impose those policies by force if they lost the political argument. "

What does losing the political argument mean? Does it mean being outvoted? Does it mean losing the vote but suing to declare the vote illegal (for example same sex marriage referendum in California being taken to court)?

If 'you should help your neighbor' is the debate topic.
Do argue your side and let each person decide on his own how to act? Or do you legislate a program and force the few to pay for the many against their will?

Gotta watch out for the Trotskyite wing of the Democratic Party.

Krawk!

Re Gary's reminiscences
I didn't spend much time in the much-missed Red & Black Books (gone for at least five years now, along with the (unrelated) co-operative Mercantile store across the street), but it's worth noting that the name of the store came from the Red flag of Communism and the Black flag of Anarchism. Now, I happen to think that Anarchism isn't practical, but without getting into that debate I'm not at all familiar with the argument that Anarchism is compatible with dictatorship.

I will concede that anyone in tune with full-on Stalinism would probably have hung out at Red & Black, but that's because it was a place for extreme fringe politics, especially of the left, not because it was managed by Stalinists. Crunchier lefties would probably have spent more time at Horizon books, across the street and now also sadly gone, or at Bailey-Coy, up the hill a bit.

hilzoy, I can only speak from a European perspective and it depends on how you want to interpret "in principle fine with dictatorship". Of course few hard leftists would want a full-blown dictatorship in the country they live in, though paternalistic and undemocratic tendencies are common enough among the left here (which annoys the hell out of me, so much so that my rather feeble inner libertarian sometimes wins out over the much stronger social democrat in me).

But when it comes to judging other countries and their political systems, it is really not very uncommon for hard leftists to be fine in principle with (party-) dictatorship as the many apologists for e.g. Castro or the GDR prove, and you only have to look as far as Crooked Timber to find some of those. There is and has always been a rift on the left between human/civil rights absolutists like myself and those that are willing to compromise on these issues because it suits their political agenda. But then this attitude is not exclusive to the left and can also be found among free marketeers and right wingers.

I didn't know there was a Revolution Books in Harvard Square! I occasionally went into the Berkeley branch back in the late 80s and early 90s, though, and yes, I think they did qualify as "hard left". And the posters of Stalin and Mao suggested to me that they didn't mind dictatorship.

Not that I'm claiming Obama has anything to do with the Avakianist left, of course, or anything stupid like that. Just a data point that the "hard left" isn't completely a figment of the right-wingers' imaginations. It's tiny, insignificant, and ludicrous, but it does exist.

"Getting overheated about the US President is a widely-observed tradition."

And getting all crazy like McCarthy is a lesser known cousin to that tradition... namely the 'I'm all crazy' tradition.

"Best to let it drift on by. Bill Ayers is of a much harder left, so some of it rubs off on his co-worker, Obama. And so on."

Yeah. And what's really up with ACORN anyway?

novakant: there were several reasons why I limited what I said to the US, and that's one. (More important reasons: I have been to East Germany and Yugoslavia, back when they were East Germany and Yugoslavia; and to Hungary during the same period.) (Also, there's my uncle who was, last I heard, a Maoist of some sort, but the only time I've actually met him that I can remember was over 15 years ago. I suspect I might have met him when I was little, though I don't recall it. In any case, he's in Sweden.)

My favorite poster on the sandwichboard outside Revolution Books in Berkeley, after communism collapsed in the Soviet Union: "Down with phony communism! Up with real communism! Mao more than ever!"

Seriously, even in Berkeley, you have to look pretty hard to find more than a handful of real hard-core commies anymore, and they're not about revolution anymore, they're about complaining.

"Horizon books, across the street and now also sadly gone"

I'm sad to hear it, though hardly surprised. Horizon seemed a bit of an anachronism even in the Seventies. It was for a time a meeting place of the completely unorganized longtime science fiction social group, "the Nameless," from whence, for a while, the Hugo winning fanzine Cry of the Nameless (later just "Cry") came.

Les Sample managed Horizon for decades, and employed a series of hard-up Seattlites, many sf fans, as employees, of whom Gene Perkins was the one I knew best and was friendliest with.

Sample issue of Cry mostly available on the web.

This short piece by my old friend (now long sadly deceased) Terry Carr really gives a sense of 1962. Check it out. Jessica Salmonson's piece on Les Sample and Horizon Books that I link above is quite accurately atmospheric, as well.

The Nameless still had a vague meeting every month at Horizon when I arrived in Seattle at the beginning of 1978, but this pretty much consisted of 6-8 people wandering around the extremely narrow and twisty passages between the bookshelves, occasionally engaging in some conversation, and often just pulling out books and reading to one's self. It was this close-to-moribund quality that led me to take the initiative to, along with Denys Howard (one of the aforementioned communists), to found the completely non-competing, and hardly more organized, but far more active and larger, monthly sf party we called The Vanguard Party (ho); last I looked, as of a few months ago, it was still meeting.

My first dwelling in Seattle was a block down the street from Horizon, in a large house rented by Loren MacGregor, at 606 15th Avenue E.; when a few months later, the rent on the house was raised by $500 a month (over the I think then $250/month), we all had to move, and my then-sweetie, Anna Vargo, and I, moved a couple of blocks down to 602 12th Avenue E., to the top floor very small attic apartment of a three apartment house. After a while we moved to a vastly larger house in the U. District at 4227 Eighth Avenue NE.

I mention all this so as to aid those in future who wish to make pilgrimages. And cuz I'm nostalgic.

Horizon was never a political bookstore, though; it was just a mess of used books of all sorts, according to whatever struck Les' interest, although it always had a good collection of sf and mysteries. The other political bookstore I'm thinking of was across the street, down the street, for a while downstairs, but after a while upstairs over what became an ice cream parlor with a deck. There was a very nice bakery two or so stores down from it, and a couple of more blocks down 15th was the lovely B&O Expresso, with fantastic chocolate truffles and other hand-made chocolate items. This was all before the invention of Starbucks and Seattle being known for coffee.

I should probably add that Horizon was just an old house, stuffed with bookshelves. Thus wandering around it was one of the more unusual book store experiences I've ever engaged in; I've never seen another book store like it.

hilzoy, your point is supported by the fact that the US is generally to the right of Europe and that leftists run a much higher risk of being ostracized. However, I bet at least half of the commentators praising Castro's and Suharto's accomplishments at CT are from the US, so support for dictatorships and disregard for human/civil rights cannot be all that uncommon there either.

"Or do you legislate a program"

Yes, democracy is certainly a terrible system.

There were always a few Spartacist Youth types floating around Cambridge selling newspapers when I was there. Occasionally one or two would show up at "soft left" meetings and express surprise that we weren't envisioning the liquidation of the bourgeoisie after the revolution.

I never thought of them as the "hard left." Just the loony left...

mccarthy's favorite president was fine with dictatorship, "...just so long as i'm the dictator."

more projection.

Heck, this doesn't seem to have posted:

"Horizon books, across the street and now also sadly gone"

I'm sad to hear it, though hardly surprised. Horizon seemed a bit of an anachronism even in the Seventies. It was for a time a meeting place of the completely unorganized longtime science fiction social group, "the Nameless," from whence, for a while, the Hugo winning fanzine Cry of the Nameless (later just "Cry") came.

Les Sample managed Horizon for decades, and employed a series of hard-up Seattlites, many sf fans, as employees, of whom Gene Perkins was the one I knew best and was friendliest with.

Sample issue of Cry mostly available on the web.

This short piece by my old friend (now long sadly deceased) Terry Carr really gives a sense of 1962. Check it out. Jessica Salmonson's piece on Les Sample and Horizon Books that I link above is quite accurately atmospheric, as well.

The Nameless still had a vague meeting every month at Horizon when I arrived in Seattle at the beginning of 1978, but this pretty much consisted of 6-8 people wandering around the extremely narrow and twisty passages between the bookshelves, occasionally engaging in some conversation, and often just pulling out books and reading to one's self. It was this close-to-moribund quality that led me to take the initiative to, along with Denys Howard (one of the aforementioned communists), to found the completely non-competing, and hardly more organized, but far more active and larger, monthly sf party we called The Vanguard Party (ho); last I looked, as of a few months ago, it was still meeting.

My first dwelling in Seattle was a block down the street from Horizon, in a large house rented by Loren MacGregor, at 606 15th Avenue E.; when a few months later, the rent on the house was raised by $500 a month (over the I think then $250/month), we all had to move, and my then-sweetie, Anna Vargo, and I, moved a couple of blocks down to 602 12th Avenue E., to the top floor very small attic apartment of a three apartment house. After a while we moved to a vastly larger house in the U. District at 4227 Eighth Avenue NE.

I mention all this so as to aid those in future who wish to make pilgrimages. And cuz I'm nostalgic.

Horizon was never a political bookstore, though; it was just a mess of used books of all sorts, according to whatever struck Les' interest, although it always had a good collection of sf and mysteries. The other political bookstore I'm thinking of was across the street, down the street, for a while downstairs, but after a while upstairs over what became an ice cream parlor with a deck. There was a very nice bakery two or so stores down from it, and a couple of more blocks down 15th was the lovely B&O Expresso, with fantastic chocolate truffles and other hand-made chocolate items. This was all before the invention of Starbucks and Seattle being known for coffee.

Frack! Four fricking tries to publish this, and Typepad still keeps claiming it's posted, and won't!

Okay, now Typepad, after five different variant attempts, just won't post *anything* by me.

And now some of them show up.

So how's that move to another platform than Typepad coming?

Too many links, Gary? Then perhaps compounding that by reposting too fast? Anti-spam measures often miss their targets.

BTW, I checked out the first of novakant's links over to Crooked Timber. Just a bunch of lefties saying that Castro actually did some good for his people besides being a repressive dictator and the usual righties saying that the lefties don't put enough weight on the fact that Castro is a repressive dictator and thus discard any good which came out of his regime as tainted. In other words, the usual arguments past one another, bouncing between freewheeling and good-natured discourse on toward willful misinterpretation and distortion of opponents' points of view.

Such intellectual mixing-it-up is par for the course over there, of course, making it easy to quote-mine for whatever material you're looking for. But nowhere did I see anyone claiming that they thought it was a good thing that Castro was a dictator, just that Cuba under Castro somehow eked out more progress than its Caribbean neighbors (aside from the US, of course). So I don't think novakant's point is supported, but it's not hard to see how someone else might think it is.

The hard left certainly exists, but if Obama is part of it, he's doing a fair job of hiding it. OTOH, like most politicians, I expect he's got more than a little dictator envy, and no particular patience for anybody who doesn't want to do as he says. But that just makes him a common type in politics.

But, yeah, the hard left exists, I've encountered them. And the bit softer left, who admire tyrants abroad, but disclaim any desire for one here, are a lot more common.

Wish I could actually believe they'd continue to oppose a tyrant here if they had the chance for one.

Also, there's my uncle who was, last I heard, a Maoist of some sort

An actual Maoist, or a follower of the popular cult of (largely mythical) Mao?

I'm guessing that most Maoists were largely ignorant of who Mao actually was, and what Mao actually did, thought, and stood for.

And the bit softer left, who admire tyrants abroad, but disclaim any desire for one here, are a lot more common.

got any examples?

and let's not hear anything about Saudi Arabia. or China. and we all know how to find the picture of Rumsfeld glad-handing Saddam. and let's not forget Reagan's arms sales to Iran.

Hello, I did say that dictator envy was a common trait among politicians. And there are precious few politicians I actually admire.

"'m guessing that most Maoists were largely ignorant of who Mao actually was, and what Mao actually did, thought, and stood for."

And, as with Stalin, maintaining that degree of ignorance of what Mao actually did requires a fair degree of effort. Effort you wouldn't expect out of somebody who didn't on at least some level know what they were avoiding learning. So it's not much of a defense for the soft Maoists.

"And, as with Stalin, maintaining that degree of ignorance of what Mao actually did requires a fair degree of effort."

Not really all that much effort. It's not as if China has been an open book since the turn of the 20th century, or anything.

But, yes, Mao was bad enough before you get into the fine detail. He was able to effectively ascribe some of the Great Leap's millions of deaths to crop failures, though, even though there was nothing of the kind going on.

Right off the bat, Matt Osborne has said it: projection, pure and simple. No matter how wildly wrong these whack-jobs are, it's hard to call them liars with conviction, due to *their* conviction: they aren't really lying if they really believe it.

Which reduces things to the questions: how can intelligent adult believe such patent nonsense? And, how long must we as a nation pretend they are not raving mad?

I've had people trying to sell me this mess of pottage since I was a kid and was forced to attend John Birch Society meetings. Despite continual effort, I've never been able to find any signal in this noise. I too have known plenty of committed doctrinaire leftists & I've found their humorless, stringent monomania to be so very much like the outpourings from the right (as we have received them these last 20 years or so).

It seems to me incontrovertible that extremists *ARE* extremists because very few people are able to discount the bulk of their experience. These people can only draw from those as close to the fringe as they are themselves. This is why the 'Left' never made much headway in the US politically: extremists relegate themselves to the extreme...which perfectly explains the current implosion of the so-called 'Right'.

So I don't think novakant's point is supported, but it's not hard to see how someone else might think it is.

Well, I have no interest in refighting old battles from another blog, but unsurprisingly
I disagree with your summary - people can judge for themselves.

nowhere did I see anyone claiming that they thought it was a good thing that Castro was a dictator

This is not how it works, most modern dictatorships don't call themselves dictatorships, but rather "democratic republic" or something along those lines. The leaders of such countries don't think of themselves as tyrants, but honestly believe or pretend to believe that they are restricting civil and human rights in order to achieve a greater good. Similarly, quite a few commentators on these threads have highlighted the greater good and merely paid lip service to civil and human rights.

got any examples?

A whole lot of people on the left admire and/or defend Castro for various reasons. Conversely A whole lot of people on the right have admired and/or defended Pinochet. There's no way out of this mess unless one takes a principled stance on human and civil rights.

The picture of Nixon shaking hands with Mao is nothing, cleek. Politicians shake hands with other politicians, no">http://cache.boston.com/bonzai-fba/Globe_Photo/2009/02/13/breznev__1234557771_8575.jpg">no matter how vile.

Now, what Nixon and Kissinger did behind the scenes with Mao and China, those are another thing altogether, and worthy of attention. Basically, they were going to conspire to give China a number of things, including advanced jet engines, in exchange for...nothing, as far as I could see. And pretty much without anyone knowing about it, was the sense. Possibly Nixon thought he could use China as a check on Russia, but China had other plans, mostly of the power-grubbing variety.

Mao was really upset when Nixon was forced out. He completely didn't understand why that had to happen, and it prevented any of Nixon's promises of covert aid from being kept.

The picture of Nixon shaking hands with Mao is nothing, cleek. Politicians shake hands with other politicians, no matter how vile.

of course. i was obviously trying to preemptively fend off any weak-tea examples of tyrant-loving lefties that Brett might come back with. well, i thought it was obvious, anyway.

A whole lot of people on the left admire and/or defend Castro for various reasons

with all due respect, two posts at CR doesn't really equal "a whole lot". i personally don't know anyone who thinks fondly of Castro or Mao or Stalin, etc.. it seems like "a whole lot" should be sufficiently large that i might meet one, someday.

who is dirigiste by nature

"Dirigiste"? Whoa, now there's a blast from the past. Apparently what McCarthy means is that Obama is actually on the right like de Gaulle and Pompidou.

And the bit softer left, who admire tyrants abroad, but disclaim any desire for one here, are a lot more common.

I'm with cleek; I'd like a list of "softer left" types who admire tyrants abroad. And no, simply repeating "plenty of people think Castro is terrific" by taking CT comments out of context still doesn't count.

A lot of this is because I don't see where the hard vs. soft line is being drawn. Does Bernie Sanders admire tyrants abroad? Chomsky is pretty far left, but is a Wobblie and an anarchist. So I'm just not seeing how those who aren't hard-left by any reasonable definition "admire tyrants abroad."

I personally don't know anyone who thinks fondly of Castro or Mao or Stalin, etc..

Well, I personally don't know Olli Stone, Sean Penn, Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Nelson Mandela - but they sure display a certain reverence for Castro. I'll give you Stalin, but Mao posters and the Red Book were also quite popular in left-wing flat-shares back in the day.

The President's given several speeches which demonstrate he's on the side of democracy and human rights. In his inaugural address, his remarks to the Iranian people to mark the national anniversary, and in the Cairo speech, he stood for these things.

Moreover, he's reached out to the societies in the Middle East in a respectful way that makes clear he understands that change in these areas should be organic and home grown. Just like our civil rights movement.

On this point, over the weekend, the President cited Martin Luther King's quote about the arc of history bending to justice in addressing the Green movement.

Consider this--in response to a citizens movement for voting and human rights whose participants are being beaten, tear gassed, and shot in the streets by police as they non-violently protest, a black American president says that this reminds him of what Martin Luther King said about justice.

No one with any intellectual honesty about the moral history of our country, and the President's place in it, can doubt who and what he supports.

"Not really all that much effort."

If you're at all public about being a Maoist, people will be throwing what he did in your face, so, yes, it does require a fair degree of effort.

I'll grant you that there was a period there, when enough communists in the media, (Walter Duranty, for instance.) were covering up, that innocent ignorance was feasible. That period is long since past. Of more concern is that ignorance we see in the generation since the cold war ended. I could see a resurgence of communist thinking among people who just weren't around when everybody knew how nasty communism really was.

"i personally don't know anyone who thinks fondly of Castro or Mao or Stalin, etc"

Somebody's buying all those Che shirts. I assume they're not people who think he was a monster.


Brett,

[Dillinger's] body was then taken to the Cook County morgue where the body was repeatedly photographed and death masks were made by local morticians in training, who inadvertently damaged the facial skin. Throughout that night and most of the next day, a huge throng of curiosity seekers paraded through the morgue to catch a glimpse of Dillinger. The chief coroner finally complained that this mob was interfering with work, and Cook County sheriff's deputies were posted to keep the crowds at bay. There were also reports of people dipping their handkerchiefs and skirts into the pools of blood that had formed as Dillinger lay in the alley in order to secure keepsakes of the entire affair.

Dillinger was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery (Section: 44 Lot: 94 )[12] in Indianapolis. His gravestone is often vandalized by people removing pieces as souvenirs.

Fans continue to observe "John Dillinger Day" (July 22) as a way to remember the fabled bank robber. Members of the "John Dillinger Died for You Society" traditionally gather at the Biograph Theater on the anniversary of Dillinger's death and retrace his last walk to the alley where he died, following a bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace".

There are hundreds of people who were morally odious, but whose death at the hands of authorities allows them to take on a quality that has people hang on their identity. Taking che posters as true indicators of political beliefs rather than items of fashion reveals a true sense of cluelessness.

"No one with any intellectual honesty about the moral history of our country, and the President's place in it, can doubt who and what he supports."

Actually, we can doubt who he supports. It would be foolish to continue to take Obama's speeches at face value. His praise for justice in Middle East is elections is obviously a sham--Hamas is still being marginalized and he still supports the repressive Egyptian and Saudi regimes. While still bombing Iraq and Afghanistan, his calls for non-violence as the way to peace is even sillier.

Of course, these things exist because Obama is a centrist US president.

Of course it's easy to exaggerate the significance of the Leninist left in America, but it wasn't quite as tiny as Hilzoy's saying, and it had influence beyond its hardcore membership. In the 1930s, the Nation, New Republic and New York Times all supported the Moscow Trials. When SDS split up, there were rival chants of "Mao Tse Tung" and "Ho Chi Minh".

Trotskyists and Shachtmanites have had a substantial, if underground, impact on American intellectual life, left and right.

Andy McCarthy is still a nut, with an apt last name. But Hilzoy's exaggerating.

Somebody's buying all those Che shirts.

true. i still don't know any of them, though.

i know more wiccans than i know fans of Che.

Brett: Che was a symbol of rebellion and change - little was actually known about him at that time (which I'm sure you don't personally remember), and the shirt/poster was a very effective way of being edgy & pissing off the straights.

Looks like it's *still* working, to judge by the import you place on it....

Somebody's buying all those Che shirts.

That's your evidence? There are people buying Che T-shirts primarily marketed to them by for-profit entities; ergo, the "softer" Left admire tyrants? Sheesh, if you're going to include Che Guevara on your list of tyrants, based on when he ruled Cuba or something, you could at least use Nelson Mandela as a legitimate example of a "softer leftist" who admired him. Or Murray Rothbard... Whoops, you probably don't want to go there.

Hey, guys, if anyone here still lives in Cambridge, never take Mr. Bellmore to People's Republik for drinks, okay?

i know more wiccans than i know fans of Che.

Oh come on, didn't we just see an epic, two-part biopic called "Che" by Steven Soderbergh. And what about "The Motorcycle Diaries" by Walter Salles a couple of years ago? The legend is alive and well. And no, I'm not saying he was the devil incarnate, but denying that there's still quite widespread adoration for him is simply wrong.

No, my evidence is that I've met such people. Regrettably, I don't keep a list.

But, yeah, don't invite me out to enjoy communist or nazi chic, I'll be a real killjoy. I just don't find anything entertaining about mass murder.

An actual Maoist, or a follower of the popular cult of (largely mythical) Mao?

See, if you know Hilzoy's real identity, you can look up the Wikipedia article on him. "Maoist" isn't completely unfair, although his views are a bit more complciated than that.

I'm just not seeing how those who aren't hard-left by any reasonable definition "admire tyrants abroad."

That's because they don't exist (in the US) in any appreciable quantity. People like McCarthy just can't let go of the late 60s, or the 1930s-40.

Somebody's buying all those Che shirts. I assume they're not people who think he was a monster.

You were on to something, Brett, when you mentioned ignorance. They have no idea who Che really was; they just think it 'looks cool'. If you look next to the Che T-Shirt, there is a shirt with a Playboy Bunny on it, and next to that there is some other essentially meaningless logo. Welcome to the postmodern, flat, overwhelmingly capitalist world. There has also been a vogue recently for 30s style soviet design - does that mean the people who buy that stuff long for a return of the USSR? How could they long for something they know little or nothing about? I also notice that 60s style Peace Signs are stylish again, this time in a *strictly* 'stylish' way.

Some people admire Che for his initial good intentions. Others admire W Bush for *his* good intentions (such as they were). So what?

Note to people who think they're conservative: capitalism won, and may even be a 'catastrophic success' at the moment. There has never been a strong Left in this country, and there certainly isn't one now. McCarthy is indefensible because he's irrelevant. Defending him puts you in danger of being irrelevant, too. I would prefer you to be in the game, frankly.

I'll give you Stalin, but Mao posters and the Red Book were also quite popular in left-wing flat-shares back in the day.

Posted by: novakant

Oh, please. Black Sabbath was dubbed 'Satanic' in the early 70's, ditto for anyone who played the original D&D. There were also media reports of Satan-worshiping teens; among the evidence cited against them was displaying the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath poster.

Sometimes a poster is . . . just a poster.

Truth to tell, even genuine liberals are hard to find on the ground, or rather, either they're hard to find or about three out of every five adults in the U.S. are 'liberal'.

Novakant, I remember (and participated in) the CT thread you linked (though I didn't actually check). I hope you aren't claiming that people who say that dictator X might have done some good in the area of economics or public health (I have therefore covered Suharto, Pinochet, and Castro) are therefore apologists for that dictator. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren't. I'm willing to grant that some murderer might have done some good in some areas without thinking this cancels out the murders they are responsible for.

For that matter, the same is true of a few American Presidents I can think of. Even Dubya did one or two things that were good--hilzoy posted on them, iirc.

You're right, though, that there are a fair number of lefties who go beyond saying that Castro is good on public health (a claim which I'm not in a position to evaluate) and seem to admire him. The same is obviously true on the right with respect to Pinochet and many others.

Of course it's easy to exaggerate the significance of the Leninist left in America, but it wasn't quite as tiny as Hilzoy's saying, and it had influence beyond its hardcore membership. In the 1930s, the Nation, New Republic and New York Times all supported the Moscow Trials.

Say that there were 100,000 members of the 'Leninist Left', an implausibly high count. Out of 100 million people, that's one tenth of one percent, i.e., a tiny number. You can't say anything about the size of a political faction without noting what percentage of the electorate they constitute.

You've also got to do something to nail down what 'influence' means in this context, but that's another kettle of fish.

Interesting how McCarthy has managed to provoke something of a spirited discussion here about the existence of a "hard left" in the US (now or in the past)--while his main point, that Barack Freaking Obama is a card-carrying member thereof, is too ridiculous to even merit consideration.

I've got no beef with 100+ comment threads about college kids with Che posters in their dorm rooms, but I would have thought the fact that the flagship journal of American conservatism is regularly publishing the meanderings of certifiable lunatics would be worth a bit of discussion as well. Nobody's going to invite the college kid on to CNN to ask him what we should be doing about Iran, after all.

Of course, there *is* such a thing as a 'hard right' in the US, and it's been quite influential many times over the years, particularly the last 25.

There was a Revolution Books in Berkeley? Like the one in Cambridge? (I think there's a creperie there now, or a DIY pottery place - even more subversive!)

Does anyone else find it odd that Revolution Books seems to have been a franchise operation? Probably owned by McDonald's.

cleek, thanks for that link. [to others, I suggest you click for wry amusement.]

"Maoist" isn't completely unfair, although his views are a bit more complciated than that.

Oh, holy crap. I just read that guy's name as a cite in another book on Mao. Not good, I think. But Mao had a lot of people fooled, I think. He showed the outside world just what he wanted them to see, and not much more.

I'm going to have to go look up that passage. If I recall correctly, the book he wrote was given as an example of how Mao used people to propagandize the rest of the world.

Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren't.

True. It depends on context, tone, intention and weighting, all of which can be hard to determine. If a historian soberly acknowledges that Stalin and Hitler have initiated some progress in sanitation, infrastructure or whatever, I have no problem with that. But in the cases in question it was blatantly obvious that this was not the case.

Pithlord, most Western observers thought the Moscow trials were above board. Ironically, (with your cite of Trotskyists and Shachtmanites), it was the Dewey commission, which was initiated out of a desire to show that Trotsky was innocent, that showed that they were show trials.

And what about "The Motorcycle Diaries" by Walter Salles a couple of years ago? The legend is alive and well.

Not to mention Lord Lloyd Webber's musical, Evita, in which young Che is the male lead character . . .

Trotskyists and Shachtmanites have had a substantial, if underground, impact on American intellectual life, left and right.

Well, Trotskyists hate Stalin too. And the International Committee of the Fourth International were never all that keen on Castro, either.

Meanwhile, could you sketch out a little more clearly the effect the Leninist Left had on America? I guess I'm missing the substantial impact Trotskyites and Schachtmanites had on American intellectual life, unless we're including the original neoconservatives. Though I'll admit that the SDS, anti-communist until 1966, and quickly well rid of Bernadine and her gang, became a titanic influence on every politician to the left of Ben Nelson.

Anyway, I do appreciate that none of the resident right-wing experts on the beliefs of the American Left has brought up Jane Fonda.

I just don't find anything entertaining about mass murder.

Oh, I'll bet you're a real wet blanket on the Fourth of July.

Here's a hint about People's Republik: the West won. Reducing the once-feared symbols of the "Evil Empire" to kitsch in order to make a buck is not actually an endorsement of Stalinism. It's triumphalist dancing on its grave. Oh, wait, that's right, it's not dead yet, because those of us on the left "admire tyrants."

Nobody's going to invite the college kid on to CNN to ask him what we should be doing about Iran, after all.

Well, according to Brett Bellmore, that's who he has in mind when he accuses the "softer left" in this country of admiring tyrants. But he doesn't keep a list, since he's talking about complete nobodies. He can't come up with an example of that sort of leftist who has a platform comparable to McCarthy's, because there's no such animal. Which was part of hilzoy's original point.

As usual, there's also a determined will not to nail down what, precisely, it means to be a member of the 'hard left', or indeed, what it means to be 'hard left' period. Being a facts and figures sort of guy, I've got to wonder what sort of specific events, issues, and legislation a member of the 'hard left' would supposedly plump for, as opposed to someone who is merely 'of the left' or a 'liberal'.

The trick is an obvious one, of course - cue the ominous music and the black-and-white PSA-style advert with the voice-over that solemnly informs us that the 'hard left' supports a public health plan. Well, yes, yes they do. So does >70% of the American people. But that fact never seems to get mentioned, does it? In fact, I think Digby had a post to that effect a few days back.

Slarti: yeah. He's one of the reasons I never, ever hold people's peculiar relatives against them. Besides being a Maoist (though my sense is that his views have to some extent evolved with the actual China, so that he now has pretty seriously conservative bits along with the general anti-colonialism), he also supported Pol Pot.

Supporting Pol Pot: that takes some doing.

About knowing what Mao did: I think it's very important to specify when you're talking about. The PRC was very, very closed until after Mao's death. Even if you could get in, you tended to be led around by minders, and not able to judge things for yourself. Growing up, I knew some people who worked on China, and a lot of other people who were interested in, and relatively well-informed about, other countries, and none of them had much of a clue what was actually going on. This is especially true of 'big picture' things: some anecdotes were around, but it was (iirc) almost impossible to get any sense of whether they were isolated, part of a larger trend, or what.

The people I knew were not, best I could tell, apologists for the PRC, since they had the sense not to pronounce about stuff they were ignorant of. But there really was very little information out there. And what there was was unreliable: breathless accounts of barefoot doctors on the one hand, utter demonization on the other, in both cases by people who seemed to have serious agendas. (About the right: bear in mind not just that some of them, e.g. Luce, plainly had specific axes to grind on China, but also that analyses of Vietnam by these very same people had just turned out to be spectacularly wrong in a particularly awful way.) Pretty much everyone I knew just felt ignorant.

That completely changed after Mao's death, of course. And after that, I think Brett is right. But before, it was very very hard to know these things, from the outside.

Also: I didn't mean to deny that there was a Hard Left, in McCarthy's sense, in (say) the 1930s. Just not for the last few decades.

About knowing what Mao did: I think it's very important to specify when you're talking about. The PRC was very, very closed until after Mao's death. Even if you could get in, you tended to be led around by minders, and not able to judge things for yourself.

Yes, this is exactly what I was talking about, and why I tend to give folks who supported Mao based on some portrayed fiction of what China was like a bit of leeway.

That brought me up short, though, that this fellow that I just saw cited in a book that I just finished is your uncle. It truly is a small world.

I can talk only about Europe as far as Che is concerned. My estimate is that the iconic image is the only thing that more than 90% of the people over here (Germany) know about him. The image is so iconic that there exist numerous spin-offs (e.g. google [images] "Libertad para los patos").

If I had to make a choice to live under either Castro or Pinochet, I'd choose the former without much hesitation. And I think that he is significantly less bad than the typical (often US backed) Caribbean junta heads. That does not mean that I support him.

As for shaking the hands of scum that happens to be Head of State somewhere, I think it play a role, whether it is done out of necessity (the Soviets could not be shunned), out of opportunism or out of genuine 'affection'. Btw, the Nixon-Mao handshake is now considered toxic enough by some on the right that FOX News actually tried to claim that the Chinese guy in the picture was not actually Mao.

There's these guys:


The Stalin Society was formed in 1991 to
defend Stalin and his work on the basis of fact and to refute capitalist, revisionist, opportunist and Trotskyist propaganda directed against him.

But you can find examples of anything on the web. Like Pol Pot fansites. But I don't think they have much more significance than Time Cube.

The McCarthy/Lowry vaudeville act reminds me of a particular Beavis and Butthead scene. Beavis goes off on some rant about not being able to get laid, Butthead responds with his typical "Settle down, Beavis," and Beavis uncharacteristically says "NO! I WON'T SETTLE DOWN!"

Leave aside the fact that this is completely insane.

Sorry, I can't do it. Every time I try to analyze this further, my mind stops at the word "bastsh*t".

"If I had to make a choice to live under either Castro or Pinochet" I'd chose Pinochet in an instant.

He'd let me leave, which is what I'd be doing. That's not a minor difference.

he now has pretty seriously conservative bits along with the general anti-colonialism

Yeah, it's surprising to find out that he thinks it necessary to save the institution of marriage from gays.

Time to bring up that classic quote

One of your mother's more endearing traits is her tendency to refer to anyone who disagrees with her about anything as a Communist.

Still fits the loudmouths a la Andy McCarthy.
---
'plays' not 'play' in my last post above
---
Rummy and Saddam was imo a meeting between businessbeings without a conscience

Brett, 'live under' was a deliberate choice of words with leaving not an option. Btw, Pinochet had that nasty habit to send killers after people he really disliked. I don't know about Castrist assassination squads deployed in the US

McCarthy's "hard left" smear is obviously an attempt to de-legitimize Obama by implying he's radically outside the mainstream. the fact that nobody with half a brain could take it seriously makes it clear (to me anyway) that McCarthy is either astoundingly ignorant himself or he thinks he's talking to astoundingly ignorant people. either way, he's selling dumb to dumbers.

"But when it comes to judging other countries and their political systems, it is really not very uncommon for hard leftists to be fine in principle with (party-) dictatorship as the many apologists for e.g. Castro or the GDR prove, and you only have to look as far as Crooked Timber to find some of those."

I agree with this and pretty much everything else that novakant has written on this thread. Including the part where he correctly notes that it isn't an exclusive feature of people on the left.

That said, Obama is pretty clearly not a hard leftist, or a Che admirer, or a Castro lover.

In fact he seems to be a person with liberal-influenced politics and a conservative temperament. I'd prefer someone with right-influenced politics and a liberal temperament, but since I can't get that Obama looks pretty good over all.

Yeah, I know, "live under" was deliberately chosen to exclude a major difference between the two. And I'm not having any of it. They were both tyrants, one of them usually let people leave, the other didn't.

Brett, 'live under' was a deliberate choice of words with leaving not an option.

Still, not letting people leave is a good indication that the regime in question is total [email protected]

Of more concern is that ignorance we see in the generation since the cold war ended. I could see a resurgence of communist thinking among people who just weren't around when everybody knew how nasty communism really was.

Right. Substitute the first instance of "communism" for "even slightly left-of-center," and this is definitely already happening, and we're all lucky for it.

I would have thought the fact that the flagship journal of American conservatism is regularly publishing the meanderings of certifiable lunatics would be worth a bit of discussion as well.

Not really. It's well understood that the leadership of modern American conservatives are insane, or at least, highly committed and specialized demogogues. (No offense intended to self-identified conservatives who are not among the leadership of modern American conservatives.)

So norbiz, I take it you're not The Hard Left then?

OK, so: Stalinists from the 30's, SDS members from the 60's and 70's, folks that buy Che T-shirts (including executives at AIG), and hilzoy's uncle, except he's not in the US.

Oops, sorry, I forgot Bernie Sanders and Noam Chomsky, a pair of true authoritarians if ever there was one.

And maybe that famously annoying life-long grad student who used to hector everyone at the bus stop when I was at Stony Brook, unless he's sold out in the intervening 30 or so years and is short-selling condos in Manhattan now.

That's the American hard left.

"In fact he seems to be a person with liberal-influenced politics and a conservative temperament."

I think that about nails it.

But when it comes to judging other countries and their political systems, it is really not very uncommon for hard leftists to be fine in principle with (party-) dictatorship as the many apologists for e.g. Castro or the GDR prove, and you only have to look as far as Crooked Timber to find some of those.

Yes, and hilzoy's point was that such "hard leftists," especially in the US, are a vanishingly small group. Hence phrases like "substantial number" and "appreciable numbers." And your repeated apparent attempts to refute this by the example of a couple of commenters on Crooked Timber doesn't actually disprove hilzoy's hypothesis, any more than Mr. Bellmore's anecdotal encounters with hordes of pro-tyranny soft leftists does.

Substitute the first instance of "communism" for "even slightly left-of-center," and this is definitely already happening, and we're all lucky for it.

Why substitute? "Even slightly left-of-center" still admires tyrants, so is practically indistinguishable from communism.

Russell, you forgot Sacco and Vanzetti.

I have to admit the accusation against Obama is so stupid it doesn't interest me even as something to ridicule. So I'm going back to novakant's issue. Consider this apologetics for threadjacking.

The problem I have is that anyone who says dictator X actually did do something good is automatically accused of apologetics and often the claim is denied out-of-hand. Now in some cases it is a question of apologetics, but even if it is, I still want to know if it is true that the Castro regime has a good record on public health and even whether life expectancy under Mao (one of the great mass murderers of all time) actually went up by a factor of two (a claim I have read). Public health is not a minor thing and no, it doesn't cancel out the crimes.

The same is true on the right--Pinochet is always being credited with saving the Chilean economy, though I've read some lefties who say this is false. It'd be nice to know what's true and sometimes the cries of "apologetics for tyranny" just get in the way. Though I also think that in America, apologetics for Pinochet as a savior of the free market system get much more sympathetic coverage than the claims of Castro as the hero of lower infant mortality rates.

Andy McCarthy has gone off his meds again:

Is it just me or is the rhetorical phrase "gone off his meds" a bit off-putting? Some folks legitimately need medication for various reasons. I dont think they should be implicitly mocked.

For that matter, suppose McCarthy actually does take meds. He shouldnt be villified for that.

Surely we can use a better turn of phrase to describe when someone is writing nutty stuff.

and even whether life expectancy under Mao (one of the great mass murderers of all time) actually went up by a factor of two (a claim I have read).

No idea about the factor of two factoid. Anything as precise as that sounds like it belongs in the family of Dubious Statistics.

A lot of what I'd heard was true about post-Revolutionary China (mostly via Europeans who had visited China or Chinese who did not live there) turned out to be not true, or true only in a very limited sense (true for educated people/for town or city dwellers: not true for peasants).

But given that India and China started at about the same level in 1948 (which I think is true) it may be significant that in China after sixty years of Communism life expectancy is 73.47 (105th in the world), while in India after sixty years of capitalism life expectancy is 69.89 (145th in the world).

In addition, even the pro-dictatorial "hard left" (in the times and places where there was one), like the pro-dictatorial hard right, drew distinctions among dictatorships.

And Iran's current regime doesn't exactly fit the model of the kind of dictatorship that even the (now tiny to the point of irrelevance) pro-dictatorial "hard left" would have cottoned to.

Michel Foucault did support the very earliest days of the Iranian revolution, but even he said it had taken a wrong turn by 1979.

Are there any leftists, anywhere, who are vigorous supporters of Ahmadinejad?

"Though I also think that in America, apologetics for Pinochet as a savior of the free market system get much more sympathetic coverage than the claims of Castro as the hero of lower infant mortality rates. "

Word up.

I haven't read the Crooked Timber thread, but I'm happy to see novakant's CT and raise him a RedState.

I never thought I'd read a serious, not-meant-to-be-a-bad-joke defense of, literally and specifically, throwing people out of airplanes, but there you go.

Because, you know, Castro gave Allende a rifle.

Live and learn.

"Surely we can use a better turn of phrase to describe when someone is writing nutty stuff."

How about "believes his own lies"?

Is it just me or is the rhetorical phrase "gone off his meds" a bit off-putting?

I dunno--I will freely admit to being a med-taker myself (and I'm not talking about blood pressure medication here, but one of those SSRI 'happy pills'), and it really doesn't bother me. But I can see where it might rub some people the wrong way.

And with that in mind, I hereby apologize for my use of "certifiable lunatics" upthread to describe Andy McCarthy and those of his ilk. It was grossly unfair and defamatory to actual certifiable lunatics.

"Somebody's buying all those Che shirts. I assume they're not people who think he was a monster."

I never actually had a Che T-shirt, but I do recall that back in the day I thought Che was the zigzag cigarette paper guy and that his T-shirts and posters were about pot, not politics.

On a more serious note I think that an awful lot of people are hardwired to invest faith in leaders and that projecting qualities on those leaders that make them seem worthy of faith is part of the psychology.

Having once invested faith, it is painful to withdraw it, but lots of people do go through that disappointment. The more blatant the feet of clay, the harder to retain faith.

I think that twenty eight percenters who still believe that Bush was a good President are a better example of Americans being unable to face up to the deficiencies of a leader than hypothetical people who still admire Mao or Che.

Besides the little I know about Che is sort of romantic--he was a freedom fighter who died before his side won and before his cause was made manifest as Castro's dictatorship. In other words, he wasn't around when things went sour, so I suppose one could absolve him of responsiblity.

Not thah I absolve him--I don't know enough to have an opnion one way or another.

Jes, the wikepedia on Mao contains some of the life expectancy claims. link


Life expectancy in 1949 was allegedly around 35 and at the end of his life it was in the mid 60's or maybe 70.

I suspect it went up dramatically in many countries without the accompanying prison camps, the Cultural Revolution and at one point an economic policy so stupid it caused tens of millions of famine deaths.

Che was around when things were going sour during his revolution.

"Surely we can use a better turn of phrase to describe when someone is writing nutty stuff."

My mom used to use "intellectual self-deception".

"intellectual self-deception".

aka: Bullshit

And your repeated apparent attempts to refute this by the example of a couple of commenters on Crooked Timber doesn't actually disprove hilzoy's hypothesis

I have also mentioned a very popular Nobel prize winning politician, a very popular Nobel prize winning writer, and some very popular actors and directors - just from the top of my head, I'm sure we could come up with more people who admire Castro to varying extents.

It'd be nice to know what's true and sometimes the cries of "apologetics for tyranny" just get in the way.

Donald, why not read a book on the history of Cuba or Chile, I don't know of any, but I'm sure there must be something substantial and objective out there on these topics. Maybe you should ask Randy Paul.

Given a long history of famine being used as a deliberate tool in China, and the established fact that Mao wasn't averse to mass murder, I'd be a bit antsy about assuming those famines were inadvertant.

"About knowing what Mao did: I think it's very important to specify when you're talking about. The PRC was very, very closed until after Mao's death. Even if you could get in, you tended to be led around by minders, and not able to judge things for yourself."

Second that, and the rest of what Hilzoy said there, most emphatically. China before Mao died was endlessly more opague to the world than North Korea is today, and that doesn't convey it, because it's perfectly clear how evil and totalitarian North Korea is, due to the huge number of defectors, and the details of concentration camps, starvation, and totalitarianism in general.

China under Mao was like the far side of the moon to the West: a land of fable and rumor, and, yes, a small number of credulous outsiders were let in and led around and let out to report of wondrous sucesses, but there were very few countervailing facts available, or even accounts. Just more rumors. Yes, there were very much, in those days, a significant number among the small numbers of the left who romanticized Mao: absolutely. But that was in the light of almost no actual knowledge, and simply because of wishful and credulous believing in propaganda (The Little Red Book!), rather than an unwillingness to face a flood of contrary fact.

OK, so: Stalinists from the 30's, SDS members from the 60's and 70's...."


No, no, no: first of all, there were a huge variety of factions of Communists in the U.S. from the 1890s through the 1930s. Have you never seen Reds, my good man? The factional fights went on and on. It was hardly just Stalinists.

And SDS, which came into existence in 1960 with the Port Huron Statement, wasn't at all communist as an organizaiton until the splits at the 9th national convention in 1969, with the communist Progressive Labor Party faction, the Revolutionary Youth Movement, and a variety of other factions of Maoists, Trots, and so on, rose in power. At that convention RYM split off, and expelled PL, and SDS now consisted of two different organizations. RYM then promptly split into two more organizations. The rest of SDS petered out after that.

Mind, we're talking about the massive numbers of all of 500 people in RYM, both RYM I, which was entirely opposed to violence, and RYM II, which led to the Weather Underground, which supported violence, and consisted of a few dozen people: and that was the peak of communism in the American left in my lifetime. We're not exactly talking about a mass movement.

(There were also a few hundred Old Left Moscow-supporting communists in the CPUSA, but all they did by the Sixties was sit around and have coffee and complain and have ideological arguments. They were as threatening as a bowling league.)

Donald: I suspect it went up dramatically in many countries without the accompanying prison camps, the Cultural Revolution and at one point an economic policy so stupid it caused tens of millions of famine deaths.

I'm sure it did. That's why I was citing present-day differences between life expectancy in India and life expectancy in China as indicators that public health is better in China than in India.

Brett: Given a long history of famine being used as a deliberate tool in China, and the established fact that Mao wasn't averse to mass murder, I'd be a bit antsy about assuming those famines were inadvertant.

Capitalists tend not to care very much about predictable and preventable famines caused by world capitalism.

hunger stats:

- About 25,000 people die every day from hunger and related causes:

- 10.9 million children under five die in developing countries each year: malnutrition and hunger-related diseases cause 60 percent of the deaths;

Famines in China did not begin with Communism, and millions of people die each year because of famine who don't live in Communist countries - who are dying, often, because their country's most-fertile land is not being used to grow food to feed the people who live there, but used in the service of capitalism to give people who live in wealthier countries profitable out-of-season fruit and vegetables.

Someone noted that while you can have a little black book that lists number of deaths due to Communism, it would take a big black library to list the number of deaths due to capitalism.

And yes, this makes me a hard leftist - certainly by US standards, though in the UK I am merely a moderate socialist: yet, funnily enough, I'm really not a supporter of dictatorships nor of militant Islam.

"Some folks legitimately need medication for various reasons. I dont think they should be implicitly mocked."

I take psychiatric meds, for depression, and I don't think it's inherently mocking to all people who take psychiatric meds to say of someone that they've "gone off their meds." The phrase arose because a lot of people who take such drugs do some times choose to go off their meds, and often fall back into some form of craziness. My father, who was extremely manic-depressive (we say "bipolar" nowadays) did this regularly, and was really nuts when he did it. Using the phrase as a metaphor doesn't strike me as inherently insulting to med-users in general. (Any metaphor can be used in an inappropriately insulting way, to be sure.)

an economic policy so stupid it caused tens of millions of famine deaths

I'm not sure that I would characterize the forcible deprivation of food as famine; famine has more of an accidental, act-of-nature flavor. Technically, though, famine may be correct.

What was Mao doing with the food? Selling it back to the Soviet Union, or even giving it away.

And SDS, which came into existence in 1960 with the Port Huron Statement, wasn't at all communist as an organizaiton until the splits at the 9th national convention in 1969

Well, actually, the explicit "anti-communist" provision was stripped out at the 1965 convention, allowing the PL to gain a foothold in 1966.

And come to think of it, I'm surprised Tom Hayden's name hasn't shown up yet, given the vast influence he wields via the tyrant-admiring Progessive Democrats of America.

I'm somewhat suprised that no-one has mentioned the Frankfurt School and its influence in intellectual and university circles, both in the US and in Europe, in the postwar period up to the middle 60's.

The "new left" and organizations like the SDS come out of that, certainly, but I think their influence wasn't limited to those groups.

I don't really have the chops to comment on them further than just making note of their presence, but if you're looking for a real, influential left in recent US history I think you'd need to include them.

There were always a few Spartacist Youth types floating around Cambridge selling newspapers when I was there. Occasionally one or two would show up at "soft left" meetings and express surprise that we weren't envisioning the liquidation of the bourgeoisie after the revolution.

I never thought of them as the "hard left." Just the loony left...

I went to Oberlin, reputedly one of the leftiest colleges in the universe. Even there, the Sparts were generally regarded as loopy, and rumored to actually be agents provocateurs seeking to discredit other liberal political groups by associating with them.

I wonder if Andy is sitting in his mom's basement (or wherever he does his writing and posting) chortling and cackling Got 'em again! Got 'em again?

I love this blog, the posters and [most of] the commenters, but a lot of you Very Serious People rise to the bait with predictable regularity. The more wacko the wingut declaration, the quicker and harder you rise. Over 100 posts! Wow!

I mean, the whackjob and his fellow-travelers offend me, too. Viscerally. But remember: the primary raison d'etre of certain provocative conservatives is to piss off the liberals.

Did a helluva' job, didn't he?

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