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Ron Radosh

Clark comes up with statistics meant to prove how life became horrible in the Czech Republic after privatization. He cites a study that one million died due to health problems which resulted. We see no statistics about how many died during Communist rule, both in political prisons or from the polluted lakes and rivers and air from uncontrolled industrial pollution, which under Communism was a concern no government addressed. And horror of horrors, there is now “income inequality” in the Czech Republic. Certainly, Communism took care of that problem. All were equal, and shared the scarce resources available, making everyone poor except the Party rulers.

Even worse, Havel had the temerity to support “the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999,” and then “sided with the rightwing Republican hawks on Iraq.” As we look at both cases, it is clear that Havel had it right both times. NATO intervened to destroy massacres carried out by the Serbs under the leadership of the last brutal ruler of post-Tito Yugoslavia, and under the Bush doctrine, the Iraqi people were freed from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. Clark ends by saying we should “look at the bigger picture,” and realize how Havel  supported the killing of innocent men, women and children” conducted by “western military adventures he supported.”

Writing at The Daily Beast, Geoffrey Robertson also is displeased with Havel, but even more displeased with the fact, as he sees it, that “the American right has claimed him as their own,” while in fact, he believes Havel wanted only to “balance socialism and freedom.” Havel, he argues, wanted most of all “to lift the Stalinist miasma that had wearily settled over Czechoslovakia,” so that in its place there could be created “the democratic socialism in which he believed.”

Unlike Clark, who thinks Stalinism was good for the Czech people, Robertson knows it was bad, but claims that Havel was himself a socialist. Robertson at least knows how bad life was under Communism, and how repressive the government was. A supporter of Czech dissidents at the time and of their Charter 77, he tells us how “its leading members were sacked from their jobs” and later “arrested on charges of ‘unlicensed trading.’”

Certainly, Havel talked about “socialist legality,” a mechanism for showing how the regime ignored its own vaunted standards, which never meant much. But Robertson writes that “Havel’s presidency was plagued by…the difficulties of keeping any socialist faith at all in a free-market free-for-all.” And Robertson shows his own, but not Havel’s, disappointment that the Czechs wanted “guidance in contract law and in the conveyancing of private property.” In other words, having ended communism, they failed to move on to the kind of socialism favored by Robertson.

Robertson, unlike Clark, honors Havel for things like support of the NATO intervention against Yugoslavia, which he writes “was an influential contribution to the evolving principle of humanitarian intervention,” and he honors him for standing “with Sakharov at the head of the pantheon of people prepared to sacrifice their own liberty so others could enjoy theirs.” But he faults him for being unable to “reconcile his beliefs in both socialism and freedom.”

In 2002, the writer Joshua Muravchik wrote a book about socialism’s failure called Heaven on Earth:The Rise and Fall of Socialism. On the book’s back is a blurb from none other than Vaclav Havel, who wrote: “I have always been suspicious of people who claim to have the key to heaven on earth. This book shows why.” Muravchik’s book is the story of the failure of any form of socialism, not just its Soviet style variant. Would Havel have endorsed its central conclusion if he still was a socialist?

In both the case of Neil Clark, who believes Havel was bad for destroying communism, and Geoffrey Robertson, who is sad that he didn’t bring democratic socialism in Communism’s place, you have the two poles of Leftist criticism of Havel. They amount to sadness that the socialist alternative to democratic capitalism ended with the destruction of the Soviet client states.  That tells us more about the writers of these pieces than it does about Vaclav Havel.

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