A Masterclass of Whataboutism

Another YouTuber that I have unsubscribed from is Second Thought. It was after his latest video We Need To Talk About “Authoritarianism”. I am not going to link to that video because it is a piece of shit and it does not deserve views. If you are interested in its contents, I recommend Vaush’s critique (see further after I have my say).

What Second Thought is doing in this video is nothing but an elaborate form of the nonsensical syllogism (The USA = BAD)=>(The USSR = GOOD). I hate this shit with a burning passion because I have actually either first-hand or at most second-hand experience with many of the things this world-class twit talks about. I mean, however bad the US police is, however bad the US surveillance state is, it really cannot hold a candle to what the USSR has done or what China is doing.

To anyone reading this who might not be a regular on this blog, I have a whole series of blog posts “Behind the Iron Curtain” where I write about my experience with the regime. I was 13 when it collapsed, and the regime was mellowing towards the end, so I did not personally witness the worst things. Yet there is still one visceral fear that people had that I do remember personally, a fear that I feel confident is not widely spread in the USA. The fear that when kids say something wrong in front of the wrong person, their parents can go to jail. My father was in the communist party and even I was told that I must not say some things in public because it could put someone in my family in jail. Children were taught to say one thing at home and a different thing in public. Even though the time of the 1968 invasion was long in the past and the worst of the totalitarian shit did not happen anymore, people still feared to criticize the regime. One day my father came home from a local party assembly and he told my mother “I might go to jail, we will see”. And why did he fear that? Did he steal something? Did he kill anybody? No, he did what he was, in principle, supposed to do at the assembly. He raised valid points of critique at the wealthy oligarchs in the party leadership and said that they should actually listen to what people really need and want and do something about it. Luckily for him, it was towards the end of the regime and as I said, it was starting to mellow a bit at that point. Still, that he even considered that he might be going to jail, despite being a lifelong communist, says a lot about the regime and the culture of fear it fomented.

And now this sheltered, privileged WEIRD WASP asshole is equivocating between the USA and the USSR as if they were both similarly totalitarian but somehow when the USA does a thing, it is bad, but when the USSR did it, it somehow, magically, becomes good and necessary! WTF? I must have been blind to not spot the signs in his previous videos, but this is what here, in the former USSR sphere of influence, gives leftists a bad name. It is already difficult to explain to even highly educated people that the things that were bad about the previous regime were not socialism, but authoritarian oppression. Assholes like this one make it really easy for opponents of socialism here, because he actually says, albeit covertly and obliquely, what those opponents preach – that socialism is inextricably linked with authoritarianism. (I wrote about this in the Behind the Iron Curtain series too -click-).

Further, this clueless clown is using his public platform to critique (mostly validly!) the regime in which he lives and at the same time sings praises of a regime that would have him at best imprisoned and at worst outright killed for criticizing it in even much, much milder form! And he totally fails to spot the irony when he accuses the USA, where he lives, of being worse.

Alas, it is apparent now that he is a tankie and a leftie American exceptionalist I have no track with either. Saying that if the USA does a thing it is bad but when the USSR does the very same thing it is good and necessary is not a moral stance. And to top it off, I have also learned that he actually condoned Hamas attack on Israeli civilians, again applying the same “logic” – when Israel does a bad thing, thing bad, when Hamas does the same thing, thing suddenly good. The reality which this fucking piece of amoral shitstain fails to grasp is that sometimes it really is possible that both sides in a conflict can be bad and differing only in a degree. His political principle is not to help the common people around the world, his main political principle is the USA bashing and the USSR glorifying. That is not coherent leftist policy, that is edgy leftist posing. He can do that without me watching his videos.

If you have spare time, you can listen to Vaush’s excellent rebuttal. It is rather long, I listened to it whilst cleaning my room today.

I do not like everything about Vaush, for example, he uses way too many ableist slurs and comes off as arrogant, but the essence of what he is saying here is IMO sound.


  1. says

    The wall fell when I was 22. But growing up as a young kid in the Netherlands I felt that there was a distinct possibility that at some point I’d end up in the army trying to stop a Soviet invasion.

    Long before that it was abundantly clear to me that the wall and the razor wire border fences were to keep people in, not out. You don’t see people risk life and limb to escape if life is good.

    I guess I can somewhat understand older Russians being nostalgic about the soviet union, because Russia seems kind of a shithole. But I would remind all the Tankies that a state that does well by its citizens generally doesn’t need 300.000 internal security troops.

  2. lochaber says

    I feel like people look at a lot of conflicts/comparisons as if things are a see-saw, if one side is down(bad?), then the opposing side is up (good?). And they don’t seem to be able to view any conflict/comparison outside of a strict binary/dichotomy, or that there is nuance and complications.

    I don’t know, I’m getting exasperated at all the coverage around the Israel/Palestine conflict, and all the bad-faith arguments that go along with it.

    I grew up in a very rural, very conservative, very homogeneous, and very ignorant part of the U.S. during the ending of the cold war. Was subjected to a lot of rather excessive (and disgusting) anti communism, anti-U.S.S.R., anti-Russia propaganda. Upon escaping that hellhole, and getting broader exposure to information, I realized that much of the ideas I grew up with were flat-out wrong, yet I don’t deny there were a lot of problems with the U.S.S.R.. And, living in the U.S., our version of capitalism sucks for pretty much everyone not in the top ~5% or so. I’m going to have to work until I die (or, die when I stop working…), and really hope I don’t get hit by an automobile during my bicycle commute, because even if the medical costs don’t bankrupt me, I don’t know if I’d be able to survive the injury recovery period without working. And I’m luckier than a lot of people, in that I’m not terribly prone to illness/injury (survivorship bias? if I weren’t, I would have died through all those years without medical coverage…)

    I’m not trying to say cold-war era U.S.S.R. was better, not at all, just saying that life in the U.S. sucks for a lot of people, and especially for those who grew up after the cold-war anti-communist propaganda slowed down a bit, I don’t think it’s surprising that a lot of the younger people are interested in leftist economic ideas, because ours sure as hell isn’t working for most people. Also, I think there is a bit of the ‘boy who cried wolf!’ thing going on -- a lot of people grew up after the collapse of the U.S.S.R., and have been hearing right wingers call everything from public libraries to anti-drunk-driving campaigns “communism”, to the point where I think it’s really lost any sort of meaning.

    I haven’t watched the video, don’t generally have the time/energy/focus for something that long on a work day, but maybe I’ll give it a try this weekend.

  3. Dunc says

    Well, I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke: “Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man, whereas the Soviet system is the exact opposite!”

    I think there’s a couple of other things going on here as well… Firstly, it’s genuinely difficult to comprehend the sheer scale of state surveillance and repression in many (most? all?) Eastern Block countries during the Cold War era. It’s just really hard for someone in the modern, liberal(ish) West to get their head around the idea of having a non-trivial percentage of the entire population dedicated to spying on everybody else, or that ordinary people had a genuine and justified fear of ending up in the gulag for 20 years because of some off-hand remark. Couple that with the realisation that the West was pumping out lots of anti-communist propaganda, and it’s easy to end up thinking that it couldn’t really have been that bad, could it? Well, yes, it could, it was, and just because there’s a lot of propaganda flying around doesn’t mean everything is a lie. We have the files to prove it.

    I also think there’s just a generational thing going on here. It’s a lot more real for those of us who are old enough to actually remember it first hand.

    But yes, there is a really depressing amount of simplistic, zero-sum thinking out there, that if X is bad then not-X must be good… Turns out, the opposite of one bad idea is very often another bad idea.

  4. jenorafeuer says


    Firstly, it’s genuinely difficult to comprehend the sheer scale of state surveillance and repression in many (most? all?) Eastern Block countries during the Cold War era.

    It doesn’t help that a good chunk of the conspiracy-theory crowd seem to believe that they are living in a situation that bad. I say ‘seem’ because they obviously haven’t followed their own line of thinking very far; as many people have pointed out, all these people screaming that they’re being ‘silenced’ still seem to have pretty big megaphones and audiences. Then again, that sort seems pretty good with the double-think.

    Once you take it as an article of faith that anybody who speaks out against the ‘official orthodoxy’ gets punished or vanished in some way (because why else would the general public seem to believe some story that you ‘know’ must be wrong), then even the propaganda version of the U.S.S.R. doesn’t look any worse than what you’re living in. In fact the propaganda that such places actually exist just shows your belief is true!

  5. billseymour says

    I was in Berlin several years ago for some meetings at DIN.  I don’t remember exactly when, but the HbF was still under construction, so that might give an approximate time frame.

    A German fellow in our group took us on a tour of a Stasi prison.  I still get terrified just thinking about it.

  6. says

    A German fellow in our group took us on a tour of a Stasi prison. I still get terrified just thinking about it.

    If you think the prisons were bad, other methods were actually worse:

    By the 1970s, the Stasi had decided that the methods of overt persecution that had been employed up to that time, such as arrest and torture, were too crude and obvious. Such forms of oppression were drawing significant international condemnation. It was realised that psychological harassment was far less likely to be recognised for what it was, so its victims, and their supporters, were less likely to be provoked into active resistance, given that they would often not be aware of the source of their problems, or even its exact nature. International condemnation could also be avoided. Zersetzung was designed to side-track and “switch off” perceived enemies so that they would lose the will to continue any “inappropriate” activities.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the regime was mellowing towards the end…

    A regular pattern, and why serious authoritarians (fascist & communist alike) have strict rules against mellowness.

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