Remember communism: Lessons learned
More than a decade after the collapse of what Ronald Reagan rightly called the Evil Empire, some continue to not take the evils of communism seriously enough. According to the Black Book of Communism, this monstrous ideology killed over 100 million people. Yet for some reason, many people don’t intuitively view it as being as evil as Nazism. Stalin’s name does not arouse the same visceral loathing, the same recoiling in the face of pure evil, Hitler’s does.
British novelist Martin Amis has written a new book Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million to increase public familiarity with Stalin’s crimes against humanity. We know Nazism is evil because the images of Auschwitz and trains full of naked human beings stuffed together like sardines en route to gas chambers is written indelibly into our minds. This horrific genocidal slaughter is known as the Holocaust, but communist mass murder, such as the slaughter of 20 million in the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1933 Amis alludes to in his book’s title, has no equivalent name.
Hence, when hard-right and neo-fascist political parties win a surprising number of votes, when clownish anti-Semites and figures like Vladimir Zhirinovsky gain public support, there is a storm of protests throughout the free world as people warn of the consequences of a resurgence of fascism and Nazism. Renamed and reformed communist parties throughout Western Europe do not elicit the same reaction when they win elections; similarly, few people have expressed concern about the level of support being enjoyed by Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva in Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections.
It is considered quaint to find college professors and intellectuals who are former communists, or who even retain some vestigial affection for Marxism. If they were former Nazis or had any lingering affinity for such noxious ideas, they certainly wouldn’t talk about it. To do so would besmirch their reputations and damage their careers.
Nazism, of course, is synonymous with concentration camps and the cold-blooded murder of 6 million Jews. By contrast, communism is often thought of as communism in theory – the writings of Marx and Engels – rather than communism in practice, the gulag and the liquidation of the Kulaks.
Amis seeks to right this wrong in his latest book, to carve a place for Soviet atrocities in the public consciousness. He notes that while Auschwitz and Belsen are well known, relatively few people have heard of Vorkuta and Solovetsky. But he doesn’t stop with describing the horrors of the Soviet police state – he dares to criticize those writers and intellectuals who defended the Soviets during those years while living in the comfort and freedom of the West. This procession of dupes and useful idiots stretches from H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw all the way through Christopher Hitchens.
I have not read more than a few excerpts of Amis’ book, so I don’t want to pretend this is a review. But his book is an occasion to remember how truly evil communism was and the naiveté – and in some cases, duplicity – of all the leftists who held it out as a beacon of idealism and progress.
Amazon.com cites a review of Koba the Dread from the New York Times: “Amis create[s] a compelling narrative, summarizing vast amounts of information and presenting it in a lucid, accessible form.“ No word on whether that review contained a denunciation of Walter Duranty, the infamous Times reporter who lied about Stalin’s man-made Ukrainian famines, claiming that “no actual starvation” was occurring and any reports to the contrary were simply “malignant propaganda.” The Times did eventually call Duranty’s pro-Soviet propaganda “some of the worst reporting to appear in [this] newspaper” as it published favorable reviews of S.J. Taylor’s biography Stalin’s Apologist. But Duranty is still listed in the paper’s annual honor roll of Pulitzer Prize winners.
Why was communism so attractive to so many in the free world? Why is it still not judged by the same standard as Nazism, the 20th century’s other totalitarian nightmare, today? “Unlike Nazism,” Cathy Young wrote in a column about Amis’ book that appeared in the Boston Globe, “Communism claimed to champion the noble ideals of equality, fairness, and brotherhood. To many well-meaning liberals and progressives, it was an expression of the enduring human hope for a good and just society; a nostalgic fondness for that hope, Amis argues, endures to this day.” Writers Joseph Sobran and Tom Bethell might be less charitable, arguing that liberalism and communism belong to the same collectivist “hive.”
Whatever the reason, it matters. Collectivist and totalitarian impulses are still strong today. While most people understand the evil that can be done when racial hatred is incited, few understand the negative consequences of class warfare. We rightly condemn genocide while turning a blind eye to equal-opportunity killers. Political persecution remains real and governments are still willing to use famine as a lethal weapon – witness Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
Lessons learned about the Third Reich will help us avoid future horrors and tragedies of that variety. But the same is true for communism, if only enough people will gain an appreciation for what a horror and tragedy it represented. And why it belongs on the ash heap of history.
“Published originally at EtherZone.com : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact.”