“Reason” cherry-picks statistics to attack USSR

The libertarian magazine “Reason” tends to be very selective about information when reporting on communism and past socialist states due to the magazine’s right-wing bias. Here’s an example. A particularly rabid anti-communist writer named Marian Tupy published an article attacking the Soviet Union titled, “100 Years After the Russian Revolution, Russians Are Still Paying“. What should be an extensive analysis is only four paragraphs long and is followed by several charts comparing the Soviet Union to Portugal in the 20th century, with the readers expected to draw their own conclusions.

The article begins by recalling Lenin’s return to Russia in April 1917 with a sum of German money, and mentions that the German government willingly provided Lenin the money and the means to return to Russia to overthrow the Tsarist government. This certainly did happen, therefore this paragraph is the only one out of four in the article which is fully factual and not propaganda. It goes downhill quickly.

The second paragraph summarizes how the civil war began in Russia in 1917 and then notes the establishment of the party-state and the Gulag system. We are almost halfway through this very short article and we have seen only a summary of the beginning of the revolution and of the Soviet state, with no argument as to how Russians are “paying” for the revolution or how they “suffered” from communism. The loaded question in the article’s subtitle also assumes that Russia would be in a better, more developed position today without the USSR, but there is no argument yet for this either. The second paragraph ends with “horrors” of the Soviet Union, which are not mentioned. Does the author refer to free healthcare as horrendous? Or full employment and housing? Or is it expected that the party-state and the Gulag network be considered horrors on their own? The opposition parties like the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, the Cadets and the Mensheviks were reactionary groupings which supported the imperialist intervention into Russia in 1918 by over a dozen countries, which is not mentioned by the article. Because the opposition parties were reactionary and trying to destroy the revolution, they were banned and the Communist Party became the sole state party. The Gulag system was an institution of labor reform in order to rehabilitate prisoners through public works programs, and the maximum sentence was 10 years. Statistics show that, each year that it existed, tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands were released and the incarceration rate at its highest point was lower than the present incarceration rate of the United States. When provided the context, these cannot be considered “horrors”, though perhaps they were for the imperialist countries and the wreckers at their service.

The third paragraph in essence simply states that there was violence under the leadership of Lenin and Stalin. This was certainly the case. Violence was indeed inherent. But was it not inherent in the Tsarist semi-feudal regime that they overthrew? How many millions died in the Russian Empire, not including the World War I deaths? How many millions did the White Army and the invading imperialist armies kill? Bolshevik violence was in response to violence from these forces. Executions, camps and hostage-taking were all utilized by those fighting the Bolsheviks, therefore it is ignorant and one-sided to blame the Bolsheviks for violence.

In the last paragraph, the author considers the Soviet period to be “depressing”, simply because the Soviets had means to defend their government from internal and external enemies. The author completely ignores the fact that this country massively increased its life expectancy to the point of catching up to that of the U.S., achieved universal literacy, communalized housing for millions, became an industrial superpower, defeated the Nazis, and led the Space Race against the U.S. by launching the first satellite (Sputnik I in 1957), the first man into space (Yuri Gagarin), the first woman into space (Valentina Tereshkova), the first dog into orbit (Laika in 1957), the first dogs in space to return safely (Belka and Strelka in 1960) and other such achievements. For the author, none of these achievements matter because they are not convenient.

Finally, the author shows several graphs comparing the Soviet Union to Portugal, the latter being a country deemed by the author to be comparable due to having a similar per capita income to that of Russia in 1917, even though Portugal had a global empire that it brutally exploited until the 1970s while the Soviet Union held no colonies and colonial populations. The author makes no attempt to compare to any other countries, especially any in the colonial world, or account for imperialist intervention against the USSR economically, politically and militarily. This is a very grotesque form of cherry-picking. The author’s other articles show similar examples of selective use of information such as in the article comparing Cuba to Chile, not accounting for the vicious sanctions of the U.S. on Cuba which exist to this day, seemingly praising the regime of Augusto Pinochet (which committed mass torture, detainment and rape while being backed by the U.S. after overthrowing Salvador Allende’s government by coup), and arguing that Cuba’s infant mortality reduction was “underwhelming” even though the graph shows infant mortality in Cuba dropping to nearly zero by 2015 and cannot decrease any further since negative infant mortality would be impossible. Chile is a cherry-picked example because it is one that suits the author’s point and there are no comparisons to any capitalist governments in Africa or Asia. The rest of Latin America is shown together in the graphs, performing below Cuba in life expectancy and infant mortality, which goes against the author’s point. The author probably finds it inconvenient to mention Cuba’s achievements in drastically reducing HIV transmissions, providing healthcare and education to many countries in the Global South and the fact that Cuba has slightly higher life expectancy than the United States.

Arguments entail large amounts of cherry-picking and this is true especially for politics. Nothing should be taken at face value and everything should be researched and verified individually by readers, with the fullest context and information possible. That also goes for this post and the “Reason” article which this post responds to. Prepackaged arguments regarding human nature and social relations should not be accepted on their own. The imperialist world – Europe, North America, Oceania – has interest in promoting these arguments. They fall apart upon careful examination.

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