Is the death penalty ever necessary?
1) Though I would prefer a more direct answer, I will not force you to give an answer that you cannot give. Frankly, it still seems a bit vague. It also seems that your answer applies to ostensibly communist nations, and that other countries would not be justified in using the death penalty. That itself raises many questions, which you can answer in other contexts, as this has really begun to derail.
Disregard the comment above. It was a response to another comment, and I accidentally posted it individually.
I don’t think so
Then allow us to take the question to its extreme. Was the execution of Nazi officials after WWII for committing crimes against humanity justified?
Yes, during revolution
Does revolution always justify executions?
No, but it can
In what specific cases?
For example, look at China post 1949. I think it was okay to execute some, many of the former landlords to set an example. Many of them were compassionately sent to rehabilitation, but many were also executed. I think when the people's revolution is threatened, authoritarian methods are completely legitimate.
You believe that establishing a new authoritarian regime is more important than the lives of individuals who disagree with the new order?
When the individuals in question are wealthy landlords who have committed countless crimes against the people, yes. There is nothing more heinous.
While many of them were indeed ruthless, many were just punished for being rich. Furthermore, the authoritarian government that was established when all people who disagreed with it were murdered did a great deal of harm to the people of China. What about the famines following the “Great Leap Forward”? What about the lack of political freedom that exists to this day? How can we justify giving a government giving itself the right to kill its own people if it results in the government harming the remainder of the population?
I like China, both in the 60s and today, but the subject of this poll is the death penalty in particular, so I'm going to try to stay on topic.
The People's Republic of China, even at the height of the "terror" in the early 50s, did not execute opposition. The people who received the death penalty were those who committed the most heinous crimes against the people. Opposition to people's power were treated compassionately. The Chinese believed strongly in the possibility of rehabilitation, which is a humanistic position, in light of the fact that the alternative would be to execute all the former oppressors of the people.
Recently there was a former Vice-mayor of a city, I believe Shanghai, who was sentenced to death for corruption charges. These are the type of people who get executed. I don't really have a problem with that. Don't oppose the people, and you will be fine. That's what a people's republic is all about.
That’s my point though. In a government where the government has been given so much control over the people that it has the right to kill them, it is not surprising that freedom of speech is in limited supply in that nation. My argument, in part, is that the government is not a fair judge of morals if it is responsible for various injustices. Who are they to say that someone has the right to live or die? And is corruption really a valid reason for death? I have heard of an eye for an eye being cruel, but that sounds like an eye for a head. Remember, he/she was one of the people too. Is he not to be protected by the government as well? This debate is, in part, about the authority of the government, and while justice is a very precious value in the views of many across the world, we must question who has the right to wield it.
I should also mention that re-education under a one party authoritarian state is not a form of compassion.
Your criticisms of China are indicative of a neoliberal worldview. I don't know where to begin. It's so off.
The Chinese government is surprisingly responsive to the demands of the masses and has focused a good amount of resources to the improvement of their lives.
China defends the people from the neoliberal globalization which has subjugated the rest of the globe.
When the government is acting in the interests of the people, then it is acceptable for the government to suppress opposition to the rule of the people, opposition to popular power poses a threat to the life of the entire nation.
No, China does not have sufficient mass participation in the political process, but thanks to the project of Maoist construction, the masses are quite engaged in the political process and through their activism push the government to act in favor of the masses.
Firstly, I would not classify myself as a neoliberal. This is simply a counter argument that I am using to see the entirety of your argument and how it holds up to criticism. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to the debate.
You haven’t addressed my point on the justification for execution. You have stated that when it is done in the name of the masses under a revolution, such action is justified. However, that could imply many things. If an official has been shown to be corrupt, is that truly justification for death? Why does the slightest action against the majority warrant that? Would littering Ben justification for execution? The answer you provide is quite vague and I would like some clarification.
All of that being said, the freedom of speech in China is quite limited, and I will not allow you to act as though that is incorrect. China is much better than we in the West generally perceive it, but the amount of restrictions on the Internet from even mentioning things like the Tiananmen Square incident is quite alarming. It’s government is not perfect, though it likely wasn’t the intention of Mao for it to be that way. The state has quite a bit of power, and in a conversation about the limits of government it is worth mentioning.
I don't generally support the death penalty. The exception that I've made for the death penalty is in cases where it's necessary for the success of the revolution.
So making an example of a corrupt leader of the people is important. Executing someone for littering would be quite excessive.
It's not a completely objective answer, because it is up to the subjective perspective of the people to answer the question for themselves about which specific acts merit it and which don't. What I've done is establish a principle by which I believe we should determine which acts could merit the death penalty.
Freedom of speech is restricted among the ruling class of Chinese society. The government doesn't tolerate opposition from the wealthy classes.
There is much less restriction on the masses. They can more or less say what they want and participate in whatever mass movements they want to struggle for rights or justice, like in any other country. The right to protest is defended.
I don't really want to go through the Tiananmen Square affair, but in short, it wasn't a brutal government against peaceful protesters. It was a docile government against rioters. The protesters weren't so innocent. They were attacking the soldiers, who demonstrated a remarkable amount of restraint.
Plus, the protesters were western backed cronies, not some authentic mass resistance to oppression. That was their narrative, but it doesn't reflect reality.
1) While the principle you have established is a fair one, it still seems quite vague. At what point does execution become necessary? Would a lower government official committing corruption be justified? I understand that it is subjective, but I would just like an answer that is a bit more straightforward. Laws are built on words, and for us to ensure the creation of properly functioning system, we must have a direct answer.
2) The people of the wealthier class are still people. It is noteworthy that their freedom can be limited even if they haven’t necessarily done anything wrong. In the viewpoint of many people, restricting such freedoms is simply indefensible, so how do you justify it?
3) I’m not defending the Tiananmen incident itself, I’m merely stating that people are not free to talk about it online. Neoliberal or not, should certain ideas be withheld from the public if the public truly is the final decider of justice?
And once again, I am simply playing Devil’s Advocate. I want to learn about your opinion by challenging it. Your viewpoint is very interesting, and I would like to understand the finer details of it. Please do not misinterpret my curiosity for anger or contempt. I enjoy a good debate sometimes, and I believe this is a good example of one.
1) I really can't give a generalized answer. It's due in part to my own philosophy that we should avoid over-generalizations. My ethics remain largely consistent across all contexts, but how they are to be implemented depends widely. In Cuba, for example, the revolutionary government is on the path towards ending the death penalty, and that makes sense in their country. But China is a world superpower, and the strength of anti-popular classes is flagrant. Additionally, having opened more to private initiative than Cuba, the Chinese officials are caught in acts of corruption with wealthy elites, of which there are simply fewer in Cuba. Or we can look at north Korea. Technically they're still at war, so the fact that they use the death penalty is another unique situation, because treason during wartime is a bigger deal than during peace.
I really can't give you a more precise answer than "it depends," because conditions from one case to another and from one country to another are vast.
2) According to the Maoist formulation, which I find convincing, the capitalist class is by nature opportunistic. If it is in its interests, it can support anti-imperialist revolution. If it is not, it will side with the imperialists against the revolution. The goal of the phase of Maoist construction was to allow the capitalist class to contribute to the economic life of the country without controlling its political life, which needs to represent all the people. The capitalist class, when it possesses exclusive political power, alienates the masses and permits the country to become subjugated to imperialism and neocolonialism. This is not the case when the working classes are the leaders of the revolution.
We have to recognize the reality that there is a difference between the capitalist class and the masses. We need to recognize the diversity in order to unite the struggle, to paraphrase revolutionary Egyptian economist Samir Amin.
That means that we need to be prepared to operate with different policies against the capitalist class compared to how we treat the masses. The masses should be at the heart of the revolutionary struggle, and the capitalist class can come along for the ride, but, conscious of their opportunistic nature, the capitalist class can not operate with all the liberty that the masses should be permitted.
Furthermore, it is important to remember the famous formulation by Lenin in his book, "The State and the Revolution": he says that freedom in capitalism is like freedom in the Ancient Greek city-states: freedom for the slave owners. How is this relevant to China? It means that due to their wealth, the capitalist class already enjoins a great amount of freedom compared to the masses. In order that the freedom for capitalists doesn't trample freedom for everyone else, it is necessary for the state to take certain interventions in so-called individual, liberal rights.
3) Sure, I can grant that public discussion of events is generally a good idea. Although, as I mentioned in part 1), I tend to eschew generalizations, and I can understand why certain issues won't be discussed as others would. That being said, I'm not convinced one way or another that the Tiananmen Square incident qualifies one way or another. I'd need to investigate the Chinese policy towards its discussion more carefully.
On that note, do you have a source saying that online discussion of the incident is prohibited? How about real-life discussion in universities or what not?
Wasdarb, do you support the dekulakization?
It's complicated. Russia during the revolution was faced with the reality that the peasantry was looking for private property (contrary to the peasantry in East Asian revolutions, e.g. China, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.). So the Bolsheviks passed the New Economic Policy after the end of the civil war granting the peasantry private ownership of the land and the right to engage in market transactions. With time, wealthy peasants (kulaks) amassed large amounts of land and were exploiting masses of poor, now landless peasants. So on the one hand, clearly something had to be done, because the current state of affairs by the late 20s was intolerable.
Thank you. Can you elaborate on how they were exploiting the poor?
The Party chose to solve the problem through collectivization. They believed that agriculture would be more efficient if it operated like industry. As we know, factories were more productive than small handicrafts, so it's natural to believe that collectivized farms would be more efficient than individual private plots.
We understand today that that wasn't the reality, but if either you or I were in their shoes with the conventional wisdom of their time, we would have made the same choice.
That being said, collectivization was particularly violent in some respects. While it had a lot of support from poor peasants, there was a looot of violent resistance to it, from burning crops to slaughtering livestock. This is due to the fact that the peasantry was still linked to their desire for land and private property.
The manner in which collectivization was undertaken was also done with the perspective of reproducing the proletariat and developing industry. Essentially, collectivization broke the alliance between the working class and the peasantry, subjugating the latter to the former.
In conclusion, I think it's easy for us to criticize in hindsight, but given the information they had at the time, I don't think it's a basis for denunciation of the policy. We should learn from their record, from their successes and their mistakes.
As far as how kulaks were exploiting the poor, it's pretty simple. They hired farm hands to do all the labor, while they sat back and generated profit because their name was on the deed.
2) The problem that many people have with this formulation is that the government is just as capable of oppression. Exploitation isn’t a fact of capitalism, it is done by many who are put into power. I fail to see why that would warrant a limitation on their rights either way.
3) There is ample evidence of this issue. If you would like to see some sources, check the links below:
4) On the topic of the Kulaks, they were killed by the Soviet government in a genocide. Don’t sugarcoat it. They were killed simply for their wealth. How was that justified? A single race or socioeconomic group cannot be blamed for all of the world’s problems. The death penalty was one thing. This was state-led genocide. The actions of the Soviet government were unjustified and gratuitous. I do not care how many of them owned private property. I cannot see any rational argument behind a defense of this event.
1) I wish I could give you a satisfactory answer. I just can't without more precise circumstances.
Concerning communist vs non-communist governments, I think you've acknowledged something important, although superficial. What's important to me isn't the name of the government, but the interests that the government serves. China is no longer 'socialist' (whatever that means), and Nasser's Egypt never was, yet I support both, because the serve the interests of the masses.
In nations which oppose the interests of the people, like most western and African nations, I oppose the death penalty because it will be necessarily used against the people and not against the enemies of the people, as the enemies of the people are found in league with the governments.
2) Of course the state is oppressive. That's the point of a state. The question is how it oppresses. Ideally, it oppresses the enemies of the people, and not the other way around.
Exploitation is a fact of capitalism. Labor produces merchandise. The capitalist sells it, and the laborer necessarily receives less than it's worth, because otherwise there's no profit. That's the basis of capitalism. Additionally, the laborer doesn't even own what they produce. It goes directly into the hands of the capitalist to be sold. Alienation is a real phenomenon and it has its roots in the workplace. You can say that capitalism also has progressive elements, and I'd agree with you, but you can't deny that it is simultaneously exploitative.
3) I'm aware that the internet was censored. I thought we were discussing specifically discussion of the Tiananmen Square incident.
4) Firstly, the kulaks weren't killed. They were sent to gulags. This is not the same thing, far from it.
No one was being blamed for "all of the world's problems." Kulaks were being blamed for exploiting agricultural workers. That's a fact.
They weren't targeted for their wealth, but for their exploitation of workers. The fact that they tend to be rich is because of exploitation, but it's not because of their wealth that they were targeted. Correlation is not causation.
The rational defense consists of recognizing that kulaks were exploiting agricultural workers, and that something had to change, and that, although it's easy to criticize in hindsight, the Soviets acted according to the knowledge they had before them, and they did there best.
On a side note, just for some statistics: at their height, gulags had a maximum of 2.5 million people, which is still a lot, but we shouldn't exaggerate and say five or ten million, and then say they were all executed, because this is not the case.
Secondly, even if kulaks were systematically executed, it wouldn't constitute genocide because according to international law, genocide is perpetrated against a "national, racial, ethnical, or religious group." Targeting socioeconomic groups is not genocide.
And to be clear, I'm not suggesting that such events need to be relived. Obviously it was brutal, and with our current knowledge, not a proper response in the first place. I'm simply asking that we don't look at it through the lens of "communism evil," but something a bit more nuanced.
1) It seems that we have hit a wall on this particular argument. I am still curious about which particular states have the right to use the death penalty, but either way this is becoming repetitive.
2) The main deterrent from generally Marxist ideologies is that it often produces totalitarian regimes that begin to reduce the quality of life for everyone. Look at the Khmer Rouge or the Soviet Union. It would be a fine ideology if it didn’t work so terribly in practice. The state, in these governments, get the support of the masses and use it to produce a 1984-like society. I would like the state to only go against those who harm the people, but that is not the nature of the state. If anything, capitalist governments divide power between the capitalists and the politicians, while also giving everyone the ability to gain wealth through a bit of hard work. We shouldn’t demonize the capitalists, as their intentions are the same as the state’s: gain power. At least in a capitalist state, it isn’t just the government who holds that power.
3) My point on media censorship is that free discussion should not be taken by the state. The state needs to be criticized and reformed on many occasions, and not allowing such conversation to occur only hurts the people in the long run. No government can call itself the liberator of the people if it puts the people into greater restraint simply for the prosperity of the government.
4) Many of the kulaks were killed, one to five million of them in fact. While many were arrested and sent to the gulags, it should be noted that some were killed. And again, the justification for this was them gaining wealth, which the government allowed them to do at the time. The government demonized the kulak class and victimized the masses for not doing as well. While they weren’t blamed for all of the world’s problems, the peasantry was led to believe that the kulaks exploited and robbed them of their wealth. The kulaks were a scapegoat for the shortcomings of a dysfunctional system. Being economically prosperous is not justification for punishment of that degree.
Perhaps genocide was a wrong term. It was a classicide. Neither can be justified without attributing many of the world’s problems to a specific group. Both involve large-scale suppression and killing. Both stem from the victimization of the commoner. It was an honest confusion between the two words, but either way it has been rectified.
I never claimed that it was “communist evil”. It did, however, happen under a communist government, it led to the starvation of millions, and it cannot be justified by classism. It is nuanced, but the state had a role to play in this, which I think we can agree is not a good thing.
2) I think the Soviet Union (at least prior to WWII) and the Khmer Rouge are significantly better than the hostile sources we're taught.
I'm not a Marxist personally, but I think the Marxist conception of the state is compelling. The state does not have any independent interests. It merely acts in the interests of social classes. It's not an absolute rule, but I don't know of any exceptions, at least now that tributary means of exploitation have been largely eradicated.
3) I'm willing to make a similar criticism of the Chinese state, but I'm not willing to categorize it in such harsh terms. In other words, I support China because I support their goals, but I think that discouraging public debate only hinders the realization of their goals.
4) It was not 1-5 million. The Soviet government executed in TOTAL under 800,000 people during the entire time from 1924-1953, including during the purges of the late 30s and during the war.
Yes, some kulaks died of starvation, also from cold conditions in gulags. But there wasn't deliberate and systematic extermination of kulaks.
The government did not blame the poor peasants for their exploitation. They blamed the kulaks. And the peasantry wasn't just "led to believe" they were exploited – they WERE exploited. Kulaks weren't just a scapegoat. The system was working wonderfully in the late 20s (although poverty remained widespread in the countryside, due to the continued existence of private ownership and a market economy).
Again, still wasn't classicide, because kulaks weren't systematically exterminated.
Again, the commoner was not victimized.
Classism isn't good, sure, but when one class is obstructing progress, we can't just do nothing.
And a word on famine – there was indeed a famine in 1932-33, but it's not the fault of the Soviet government (beyond the blame they could be attributed for pissing off the kulaks). The famine was caused by particularly negative weather conditions, which is usually the case, and was exacerbated by the obstruction of collectivization led by the kulaks (destroying land and livestock), which is why they were deported in the first place.
As I mentioned, I'm not defending the Soviet goal of collectivization, due to hindsight and lessons from history, not only the Soviet but also the East Asian experiences. But given their goal, they didn't have much of a choice concerning the rest of what happened, and I don't think it's historically honest to engage in the demonization of the Soviet government over the actions which they were forced to take by their historical circumstances.
2) While I do believe that Marxism in both the Khmer Rouge and in the Soviet Union were initially intended to bring positive change, we must acknowledge that the systems simply don’t work. They are examples of states that failed at achieving their goal of a perfected society while establishing an authoritarian regime. I have respect for Marx’s criticisms, as capitalism does have a variety of problems. His solution, however, failed miserably. I wish it hadn’t, but I’m not going to pretend that it didn’t.
3) I’m glad that we agree that the Chinese government needs to revise its policy on freedom of speech. I can see that our ideologies are very different but I am glad to see that we agree that an open dialogue is necessary for reform.
4) I would like to see where you got those numbers. Every source I can find usually gives a range similar to what I have given.
Private ownership under the New Economic Plan was not the sole cause of starvation. Much more widespread hunger would occur later under Stalin’s Five Year Plan. The Soviet government punished the most efficient part of the population and was unable to redistribute the food effectively. That really isn’t the best economic strategy in my opinion.
The kulaks were a scapegoat. Take a look at any piece of Soviet propaganda on the matter.
Even if you believe that the kulak’s wealth was not justified, punishing them in such a brutal manner is not justified either.
Classicide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of a social class through persecution and violence. If you don’t believe that violence against the kulaks did not take place, then you are simply denying the facts on the issue.
I don’t seek to demonize the Soviet Union. It’s just important to note the failures of authoritarian governments. In my opinion, they just don’t work. I arrived at this conclusion by examining the facts. When things like this are caused by the government, it calls the role of the government into question. That is the reason we are having this debate.
5) This has gotten very off-topic. I will make a poll on this issue specifically in the future, but for now we have to focus on the matter at hand. I enjoyed this little debate, and I hope to have another with you in the future.
2) It's not a question of "did it work"? They did some things right, and some things wrong. The Soviet Union was the first large scale attempt at building an alternative to capitalism. So we should study their successes and failures in order to improve our struggle today. Unlike most western communists, I don't really care for Lenin. He said some good things, but he doesn't interest me more than that. The Bolsheviks made a ton of mistakes, and I don't think reading Lenin dogmatically will improve our struggle.
To say that this is the failure of Marxism, or Leninism, or something else seems reductionist to me. The Soviet Union wasn't trash economically like it is often accused of. We shouldn't compare it to the US, whose success comes from exploiting the rest of the globe. But if we compare Russia before and after 1917, it seems evident that it brought a net positive development to the nation, even while producing new problems.
Concerning the Khmer Rouge, I'm one of *very* few leftists interested in rehabilitating Pol Pot's legacy. I wrote an article on the subject this weekend, if you're interested.
I addressed the economics of the country briefly, although it wasn't really the center of my article. It is abundantly clear that the Cambodian economy was shit prior to 1975, and during the 3-4 years in power, the Khmer Rouge never had the opportunity to pull the country out of it. I think given a few more decades, they would have done very well, even if growth would be slow, because the economy would have a very firm foundation, not expanded excessively quickly just for the hell of it and for industrialization. Concerning the famine, I address that in the article. The famine wasn't the fault of the government. It's completely normal in a war torn country.
I preferred this hostile source to something you'd denounce as propaganda.
Private ownership wasn't the sole cause. There was also weather patterns, and likely a certain degree of inefficiency in distribution.
I disagree with the notion that the "efficient" workers were punished, and the "lazy" ones were promoted. That's not only reductionist, but it also ignores the excessive role the Soviets gave to technicians (part of the stagnation of the political system following the war).
Violence took place, of course, but not to the degree claimed by anti-Soviet historians. We can criticize their policy without descending into hysteria.
I don't think the dichotomy between authoritarian and non-authoritarian governments is significant. All states are authoritarian against some. It matters against whom.
5) If you're going to post a poll on the subject of our discussion, please tag me in the comments.
I’m not saying that this was an issue of Marxism itself, it is more of an issue with authoritarianism as a whole. I don’t want to overgeneralize, as I do agree that this is a very nuanced issue, but you cannot have mass extermination on this scale without a government implementing it. Yes, the Soviet Union was the first country to adopt this system, but we have witnessed many nations try and fail at implementing a Marxist government, and many different variations of the model.
While neocolonialism does contribute to the United States’ wealth, it is not the only factor. America was prospering economically long before neocolonialism was a thing. It is a terrible system that must be abolished. I agree with you on that. But it does not warrant revolution. It must also be noted that China takes part in neocolonial exploitation.
Russia has changed significantly after the Soviet Union, yet I don’t think that it was a net positive gain. Many died, and millions more suffered.
I must thank you for a good debate, as this is clearly both off topic and extraneous. I will debate with you again in the future when the topic is a bit closer to political ideology itself.
Also I should note that the source you provided said “more than 800,000”, not 800,000 itself. Either way it appears a bit excessive to me, but that brings us back to the main argument again.
In turn, it's been nice to debate someone who seems less virulently opposed to my ideology, so thanks for that.
I also want to thank both of you for getting so in depth. It was an interesting and insightful read.
I for one rarely have the opportunity to go into so much depth on SOH, because my interlocutors are too hostile to take me seriously, so I appreciate it too.