links for 2008-05-10
Paul Krugman Reads the New Yorker

In Which We Add Ralph Miliband to the Infamous, Mighty, and Numerous Noam-Norm Axis...

Chris Bertram attacks Oliver Kamm for being a "vicious little merchant banker." It seems Kamm complained about the late Ralph Miliband's support for Pol Pot. It seems to me that anybody who--like Ralph Miliband--says that the North Vietnamese overthrow of Pol Pot was a bad thing because dictators deserve to be left in peace unless they are WROSE THAN HILTER1!!! and Pol Pot was not--well, that they deserve as many intellectual flamethrowers as can be brought to bear. It seems to me that Oliver Kamm does a fine job here and here, and deserves our critical support.

Here is Chris Bertram:

Crooked Timber » » A vicious little merchant banker: The merchant banker Oliver Kamm has a vicious little post today attacking the memory of the late Ralph Miliband for a paper he published in 1980. Miliband... a Marxist theoretician and a member of the British new left.... [A]s a member of that new left, he had an ambivalent relationship to the Soviet bloc. On the one hand he lamented the lack of democracy in those countries; on the other he thought they had achieved various social gains. Well he was (largely) wrong about the latter, but 1980 is a long time ago, and, back then he wasn’t alone in that false belief. In fact, he shared it with people for whom Kamm now declares his admiration and support and who then wrote for those same journals. The difference is, of course, that they are alive and he is dead. Miliband cannot reconsider.

Kamm’s post attacks Miliband’s paper “Military Intervention and Socialist Internationalism” (Socialist Register, 1980 ) on the grounds that [Miliband] doesn’t think the crimes of Pol Pot were sufficient to justify the Vietnamese invasion. Reading the paper today, it has an odd and stilted feel: Miliband is wrestling with a set of issues and problems that seem deeply alien today. I think Miliband was wrong about that case, and badly so. But I presume (and hope) that he didn’t appreciate how horrific the Pol Pot regime had been, or didn’t believe all the reports. What the casual reader wouldn’t glean from reading Kamm’s nasty little post, though, is that the substance of Miliband’s article was an attack on the idea that the socialist ideal should be advanced by “socialist” states invading other countries. In other words, it was principally an attack on the idea that socialists should support the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. Miliband argues, correctly, that all that resulted from such interventions was alienation from the socialist cause, and the installation of weak puppet regimes without popular legitimacy. You’d never gather that from reading Kamm’s blog, though. He presents Miliband’s attack on Soviet tankism as an apologia for massacre. That wasn’t how it would have been read at the time. In fact, it isn’t how a fair-minded person would read it now.

Actually, it is how a fair-minded person would read it now. Ralph Miliband's position is that military intervention against the likes of Pol Pot or Idi Amin is illegitimate because they are not as bad as Adolf Hitler.

Here is Miliband:

A subsidiary argument, which has sometimes been used to justify some military interventions, notably the Vietnamese intervention in Kampuchea, may be considered at this point. This is the argument that, whatever may be said against military intervention in most cases, it is defensible in some exceptional cases, namely in the case of particularly tyrannical and murderous regimes, for instance the regime of Idi Amin in Uganda and of Pol Pot in Kampuchea....

The argument is obviously attractive: one cannot but breathe a sigh of relief when an exceptionally vicious tyranny is overthrown. But attractive though the argument is, it is also dangerous. For who is to decide, and on what criteria, that a regime has become sufficiently tyrannical to justify overthrow by military intervention? There is no good answer to this sort of question; and acceptance of the legitimacy of military intervention on the ground of the exceptionally tyrannical nature of a regime opens the way to even more military adventurism, predatoriness, conquest and subjugation than is already rife in the world today.

The rejection of military intervention on this score is not meant to claim immunity and protection for tyrannical regimes. Nor does it. For there are other forms of intervention than military ones: for instance economic pressure by way of sanctions, boycott and even blockade. Tyrannical regimes make opposition extremely difficult: but they do not make it impossible. And the point is to help internal opposition rather than engage in military 'substitutism'. As noted earlier, there are rare and extreme circumstances where nothing else may be possible--for instance the war against Nazism. Hitler's Third Reich was not only a tyranny. Nor was it merely guilty of border incursions against other states. It was quite clearly bent on war and the subjugation of Europe. But neither Uganda nor Kampuchea are in this order of circumstances...