Came the rev­o­lu­tion

The per­plex­ing and dis­tress­ing phe­nom­e­non of nos­tal­gia for Com­mu­nism

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Clif­ford D. May Clif­ford D. May is pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies and a colum­nist for The Washington Times.

My po­lit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion has evolved slowly over decades. With one ex­cep­tion: I be­came anti-Soviet and anti-Com­mu­nist overnight. More quickly than that, ac­tu­ally. The year was 1972. I was an un­der­grad­u­ate ex­change stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Len­ingrad. A Rus­sian cou­ple I’d come to know and trust in­vited me to meet a friend of theirs.

She was old and frail but her mind was sharp. Over strong cof­fee and count­less cig­a­rettes, we talked in muted tones, the ra­dio play­ing in the back­ground to (hope­fully) di­min­ish the ef­fec­tive­ness of any lis­ten­ing de­vices that might be in the room.

She men­tioned that dur­ing the Stalin era she had spent 10 years in a Siberian la­bor camp. Young and nosey as I was, I asked why she had re­ceived such pun­ish­ment. She re­peated that she had been ex­iled and im­pris­oned for 10 years. I as­sured her that I didn’t mean to im­ply that she had done any­thing wrong. I sim­ply won­dered: What was the charge? Again, she said: “It was for 10 years.”

I apol­o­gized for my poor Rus­sian, but she cor­rected me: “Your Rus­sian is fine, dear. It’s Soviet Rus­sia that you don’t un­der­stand. I was sen­tenced to 10 years. When they sen­tence you to 10 years, they don’t bother to come up with a charge. It’s be­cause you’re a mem­ber of the bour­geoisie or an in­tel­lec­tual or maybe some­one pow­er­ful doesn’t like you.”

Af­ter a pause, she added: “Now if they’re go­ing to ex­e­cute you, that’s dif­fer­ent. For ex­am­ple,” she said evenly, “they ex­e­cuted my daugh­ter.” Ten­ta­tively, I asked what law her daugh­ter had been ac­cused of break­ing. The woman replied: “She formed a Marx­ist/Lenin­ist study group.”

But in the Soviet Union, I protested, how could that be a crime? “Well, you see, my dear,” she said, “it wasn’t a Marx­ist/ Lenin­ist / Stal­in­ist study group.”

The evil at the heart of com­mu­nism be­came sud­denly — glar­ingly — ob­vi­ous to me. I would re­gard the col­lapse of the Ber­lin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989 and the im­plo­sion of the Soviet Union on Dec. 26, 1991 as great ad­vances for civ­i­liza­tion. So it’s per­plex­ing and dis­tress­ing to now see a head­line like this: “Mil­len­ni­als would rather live in so­cial­ist or com­mu­nist na­tion than un­der cap­i­tal­ism: Poll.”

Mar­ion Smith, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Vic­tims of Com­mu­nism Me­mo­rial Foun­da­tion, blames “wide­spread his­tor­i­cal il­lit­er­acy in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety re­gard­ing so­cial­ism and the sys­temic fail­ure of our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to teach stu­dents about the geno­cide, de­struc­tion and mis­ery caused by Com­mu­nism since the Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion one hun­dred years ago.”

True enough, but it’s not just what young peo­ple don’t know, it’s also what too many older in­tel­lec­tu­als know that isn’t so. Ex­hibit A: the se­ries that has been run­ning all this year in The New York Times.

Not all the con­tri­bu­tions to “Red Cen­tury: Ex­plor­ing the his­tory and legacy of Com­mu­nism, 100 years af­ter the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion” are mis­lead­ing or an at­tempt to white­wash op­pres­sion and mass mur­der. But those that are — well, they’re humdingers.

I’d award First Prize to “Why Women Had Bet­ter Sex Un­der So­cial­ism,” by Kris­ten R. Gh­od­see, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia. Her ex­pla­na­tion for this pu­ta­tive phe­nom­e­non in­cludes this: “State-run women’s com­mit­tees sought to re-ed­u­cate boys to ac­cept girls as full com­rades, and they at­tempted to con­vince their com­pa­tri­ots that male chau­vin­ism was a rem­nant of the pre-so­cial­ist past.” I should add that Ms. Gh­od­see does take Stalin to task — for “out­law­ing abortion and pro­mot­ing the nu­clear fam­ily.”

A close run­ner-up: “Lenin’s Eco-War­riors.” Yale lec­turer Fred Stre­beigh salutes the au­thor of the Red Ter­ror (thou­sands sum­mar­ily ex­e­cuted by the Cheka, the Bol­she­vik se­cret po­lice), the philoso­pher who in­structed: “A lie told of­ten enough be­comes the truth.” Mr. Stre­beigh calls V.I. Lenin “a long­time en­thu­si­ast for hik­ing and camp­ing” who be­lieved that “pro­tect­ing na­ture had ‘ur­gent value.’ ”

Try to imag­ine The New York Times run­ning nos­tal­gic pieces with ti­tles like “Why Women Had Bet­ter Sex Un­der the Third Re­ich” or “Mus­solini’s Eco-War­riors.”

Keep in mind: Com­mu­nism’s grim har­vest dur­ing the “Red Cen­tury” ap­proached 100 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to “The Black Book of Com­mu­nism: Crimes, Ter­ror, Re­pres­sion.” The au­thor­i­ta­tive study edited by French his­to­rian Stephane Cour­tois puts China atop the list with 65 mil­lion mur­dered. Next comes the Soviet Union with 20 mil­lion (a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate). North Korea and Cam­bo­dia tie for third at roughly 2 mil­lion each. Mr. Cour­tois cal­cu­lates that th­ese and other Com­mu­nist regimes are re­spon­si­ble for more deaths than any other ide­ol­ogy or move­ment — Nazism and Fas­cism very much in­cluded.

The athe­ist to­tal­i­tar­ian ide­olo­gies of the 20th cen­tury in­flu­enced what has be­come the most dy­namic con­tem­po­rary ex­pres­sion of to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism: Is­lamism, which comes in both Sunni and Shia vari­a­tions. Whereas Com­mu­nism was based on class supremacism, and Nazism on racial supremacism, Is­lamism is based on re­li­gious supremacism. This should be a rich sub­ject for schol­arly re­search but at most Amer­i­can and Euro­pean uni­ver­si­ties, grap­pling with such ques­tions is a sure-fire way to ruin an oth­er­wise promis­ing aca­demic ca­reer.

There are ex­cep­tions: Last week­end in the United King­dom’s Sun­day Times, his­to­rian Niall Fer­gu­son, a pro­fes­sor at Har­vard and a se­nior fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, ob­served that a cen­tury ago “it was the West’s great blun­der to think it would not mat­ter if Lenin and his con­fed­er­ates took over the Rus­sian Em­pire, de­spite their stated in­ten­tion to plot world rev­o­lu­tion and over­throw both democ­racy and cap­i­tal­ism.”

He added: “In­cred­i­ble as it may seem, I be­lieve we are ca­pa­ble of re­peat­ing that cat­a­strophic error. I fear that, one day, we shall wake with a start to dis­cover that the Is­lamists have re­peated the Bol­she­vik achieve­ment, which was to ac­quire the re­sources and ca­pa­bil­ity to threaten our ex­is­tence.” Ac­tu­ally, that no longer seem in­cred­i­ble to me.


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