Thugs “R” Us

Thugs “R” Us

Andrew L. Urban

The meeting in Moscow was kept secret. The Soviet leadership had agreed to a low key exchange of views with one of the private policy advisers of the UK’s then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. In 1981, George R. Urban, my father, had been invited to join “Thatcher’s private band” (as The Times put it) to give her direct access to his expertise in communism in all its manifestations; and how best to manage communist regimes. He and a small team went prepared for an ideological tussle, contrasting communism with free market capitalism, questions of personal freedoms and such attributes of a democracy versus command economies and oppressed, fearful citizens.

It was the early 80s, the USSR was the Cold War enemy of the West, and my father was known as an intellectual ‘cold war warrior’, as The Times called him up to and including the flattering obituary they published on his eventual death in October 1997. “In his many interviews, seminars and books, he uncovered the true workings of communism,” wrote The Times in his obituary. He was also a crusader for European unity. The Guardian’s obituary began: “In a hypothetical post-communist state of Mitteleuropa there would have been one candidate for Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and maybe President – George Urban.”

He eventually became disillusioned with Thatcher. He had always been disillusioned by communism and fled the Soviets soon after they set up camp in Hungary after the war. There followed the thuggish Stalin years of brutal oppression, its horrors documented in retrospect by books and films, forecast in George Orwell’s novel, 1984, and recorded with emotive power in The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. My own childhood memories are covered by the cloud of communist oppression and fear of the State.

This is the context in which I argue that we can connect the 2022 thuggery of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine to the entire history of communist regimes. From the USSR and now Russia, Cuba to China, from North Korea to Venezuela. When he returned from Moscow, my father explained what he had added to his knowledge about communist leaderships: “We expected a robust exchange on ideology and the like … we found a bunch of thugs.”

As is well known, Putin is a former KGB officer. The KGB was the Thug in Chief of the Soviet administration. The KGB template was adopted in all the Soviet satellites, where torture and the threat of it was the primary tool of controlling a population not disposed to communist rule. The misplaced ideological basis for Putin’s behaviour is more complex than that, the brutality justified by a grandiosity of vision, with him at its apex.

What must also be remembered is that members of the secret police were among the elite of the Communist Party, enjoying the many financial and lifestyle benefits that were denied the others. Why this is important is because it provided the strongest motivation for supporting the party line. The higher standard of living in a society where poverty was forever knocking on the door, is a powerful attraction. More so than ideology, comrade.

And therein lies a potent negotiating tool against communist dictators: threaten their perks. Threaten the perks of their inner circle.

Now, Russia’s President Thug is one of the clan, a clan that includes (among others) Lenin, Khrushchev, Castro, Tito, Mao, Maduro, Ho Chi Minh and the aforementioned Stalin. None of these thugs went hungry when their people did.

The clan has its genesis in Marxism and the birth of communism, when thugs took power by force and kept it by force. That movement was a product of its times. But times have changed. Forced child labour, for example, is no longer a scourge of the capitalist class. ‘Workers unite’ is an obsolete slogan.

These communist leaders are living versions of Animal Farm ‘bosses’, so let’s not be surprised by their violent behaviour, even towards their own people.

As if to demonstrate the accuracy of my father’s observation about the thugs of Moscow, there came the uprising known as The Prague Spring (1968). He wrote about the Prague Spring as “a landmark in the history of the world Communist movement. Its significance, however, lies not in its short-lived success, but in its suppression.”

Some 30 years prior, there had been the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which, after its short-lived success, had also been suppressed, also by Soviet force.

China’s ‘boss’ for life Xi Jinping is a communist thug with Chinese characteristics – but equally vulnerable where all such thugs are. In their own family home. The West must remember that.



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2 Responses to Thugs “R” Us

  1. Garry Stannus says:

    …then again, there is the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Another tragedy in which Hungarians wanted a more freedoms, in the aftermath of Stalin. The Russians, under Khrushchev crushed the new government, sending in tanks and the Red Army. Just like today’s Ukraine? The result was heroic resistance by the Hungarians but ultimate victory for the Russians. Many were displaced, just as in the Ukraine today. They came as refugees, I suppose. One dated my elder sister. Another was in my class at school. It was a long way from their home – on the other side of the world.

    I haven’t mentioned Cuba or Yugoslavia: Cuba! In late October of 1962, we were facing the prospect of a nuclear war between the USA and Russia. The Cuban missile crisis. In class, at my school, I remember how our normal class did not proceed and how in the classroom we prayed as a whole class that the crisis would end peacefully. Thank goodness it did. You see, we in Melbourne had been privy to the making of the film ‘On the Beach’. And Melbourne had been part of the story of that film as humanity succumbed the the spread of the radioactive fallout of a nuclear war between Russia and the USA.

    I knew a man in Melbourne – in the 70s – who was going to go back to Yugoslavia when he retired. This was while Tito was still alive. I don’t know if he ever did, I lost touch when I moved to Tasmania. He had (with over 800 others) arrived at Port Melbourne in 1949 as part of a refugee /displaced persons program. Then, with Tito’s death, the Yugoslav state began to fracture and we saw horrors and genocide occur in a modern-day, European country.

    We must pursue peace and democracy, but how to do so in the face of evil?

  2. Garry Stannus says:


    thank you for this article. My delay in commenting is not at all to do with any disinterest or lack of sustained interest in the evil that is/was Marxism-Leninism.

    I’m not sure that I can put together a coherent comment that has an introduction, main part and then a conclusion, but here goes…

    I studied Marxism, in its theory, in its practice … the phrase was the ‘unity of theory and praxis’. I took in lectures which included the First International, the anarchists, the English socialists (the Fabians), the union movement and so forth.

    I read everything … ok – for a Melbourne boy – I read a fair bit: the ‘Communist Manifesto’, the … hang on … I’m just trying to remember … the ‘Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon’. Yep, and I remember how somewhere in all that … with that mechanical dialectic kicking in, how at the critical revolutionary moment, the intellectuals would break free and join the working class and that would bring about the human utopia. I read the philosophers … Kant, Hegel, Mill and so forth. I understood these things. I understood thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

    I admired the complexity of Marxist writing. I read the poetry of the early Marx. Marx the young man. I liked it. I read Feuerbach and the others.

    I read of – and knew people who told me of – the repressions, the killings, the uncaring nature of the Russian Communist leadership.

    I read of Sun Yat Sen … of the Japanese invasion, of the Kuomingtan, Chiang Kai Chek and so forth. I read Turgenev, Gogol, Dostoievsky, Tolstoy – incidentally one of Putin’s mouth-pieces is … I can’t remember his title … hang on … here it is (Courtesy of Google): Vladimir Tolstoy, Adviser to the Russian President on culture and great-grandson of Leo Tolstoy.

    I read Shololov, Solzenitsin and Sartre (I read his ‘Being and Non-Being’ in the French … existentialist ‘mal foi’ etc. I read Ibsen’s ‘Leader of the People’ and Chekhov’s ‘Cherry Orchard’.

    I read Mao Tse Tung’s ‘Little Red Book’.

    I read (Koestler’s is it?) ‘Darkness at Noon’. I read ‘Les Mains Sales’ (and named our first son after its author).

    I lived my life. I joined a union. I became a delegate to the Trades Hall (Victoria). I saw how a fellow delegate had been ostracised by his left-faction comrades … because he had spoken up against the Russian repression of the ‘Prague Spring.”

    This meant that at our regular THC meetings, he would be shunned, and if he spoke on an issue on the Council’s agenda, he would be mocked and opposed – no matter what he said. Why? Apparently because at the time (post 1968) the Victorian Socialist Left supported ‘socialist’ Russia against the capitalist ‘West’.

    There are lies everywhere… they come from the USA, from La France, from the UK … from Aust, but the Russians and Chinese do it ‘in spades’. Mao had his ‘Great Leap Forward [‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ … where the ‘of’ is ambiguous … i.e. whether the proletariat is doing the dictating and being dictated to]. Just as they hid the Ukraine’s ‘Holodomor’.

    How is it we Australians seem to know or remember so little? Finland. Poland. The Baltic States (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia). Chechnya. What else should I include? Tibet? East Turkestan? Port of Darwin? The Godmother of one of our children is Ukranian. A brilliant, active person, Catholic, not Orthodox. The many hardships.

    The riddles: Pasternak’s survival under Stalin’s protection… yet his Zhivago has to be ‘smuggled out’ to be published in the West. Need I go further? … Ceausescu? I think Orwell had it down to rights. How ‘truth’ becomes a plaything -a construct – of those in power. ‘Power grows out of the barrel of a gun’ said Mao. He was speaking the truth there, but it is an evil lesson to learn. So often Marxists seem to win gold medals in Newspeak: e.g., the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov. He said President Putin has “an unwavering respect for the Ukrainian people,” and that “we do not intend in any way to infringe on the interests of the citizens of Ukraine.” I suppose that I might be incorrect in calling Lavrov a ‘Marxist’, though his career began in those years. On a final note, one only has to scan the list of the Tass Newsagency Articles [] to see whether ‘spin’ is ‘spin’:

    “Russian troops welcomed with flags in Ukraine’s Melitopol” …”There are no threats whatsoever to the civilian population”
    “Press review: Putin launches operation to denazify Ukraine and its economic implications” “On the morning of February 24, Russia officially launched a “special military operation” against Ukraine, designed, as Russian President Vladimir Putin explained, to “demilitarize” and “denazify” the neighboring state. The goal of the operation is to protect the people of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR), he said.”

    But the lies…

    George Orwell:
    “The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth.”
    “The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental , nor do they result from from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink”.

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