Why they still need their big lies about socialism
Why Bad Governments Happen to Good People, looks into the surge of anti-communist diatribes on the anniversary of the Russian Revolution., author of
AS OFFICIAL U.S. politics continues to ping pong along between the dismal and the depraved, it's nice to be reminded every once in a while that much of this country's working class majority stands far to the left.
So I'd like to thank the witch-hunting trolls at Turning Point USA for their recent meme: "New Poll: 44% of Millennials Want to Live Under Socialism." Pretty cool, huh?
Okay, that's not the entire meme. Like much of their propaganda, Turning Point sticks to a complex two-part structure, as in: "You think socialism is good. Actually it sucks!" In the case of the Millenials poll meme, the second part is a photo of a soldier aiming a gun at a child. (Good thing that could never happen in capitalist America!)
But we'll come back to that. Part one of the meme was referring to a recent YouGov poll commissioned by something called the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, whose executive director Marion Smith decried the results:
This troubling turn highlights 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.
Of course, it's the teachers' fault. How else could it be that America's youth--1.5 million of whom experienced homelessness in the past year--don't appreciate the glories of capitalism?
But pushing for more anti-socialist ideology is Marion Smith's job. His foundation is a state-sponsored propaganda organization established by right-wingers in Congress--and signed into law by Bill Clinton--in 1993 to commemorate the "the deaths of over 100,000,000 victims in an unprecedented imperial communist holocaust."
That very round number of "100 million killed by Communism," which is tossed around frequently on the right, may have originated with The Black Book of Communism. Published in France 20 years ago, The Black Book is a purportedly scientific examination of the very real crimes of the 20th century regimes that called themselves communist, which comes to two outlandish and unreal conclusions.
First, communism is no different from Nazism--one is simply based on race hatred and the other on class hatred, to paraphrase Bret Stephens' concise summary in the New York Times.
And second, communism is actually worse, because while Hitler famously killed 6 million Jews and millions more Roma, gays and others, he and other fascists didn't come near that 100 million mark.
At the same time, if socialists are going to make any headway in the coming years, we're going to have to aim higher than "we're better than Nazis." So it's worth thinking about our response to this charge, which will only get louder the more our movement grows.
AS YOU might have guessed, at the heart of the 100 million claim is the double standard that "communism" is responsible for all the crimes committed in its name, while "capitalism" gets off scot free for all the rest.
For example, the majority of deaths listed in The Black Book come from the estimation of 60 million--other sources put the number at half as many--who died from famine and repression in China, between 1958-1962 from famine and repression during the horrific Great Leap Forward under Mao Zedong, one history's worst atrocities.
But it does nothing to minimize this horror to also note, as Noam Chomsky does citing the work of Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, that non-Communist India actually saw more deaths than China during the 1950s and '60s due to poverty and hunger.
Then there are the two world wars that killed over 100 million people in the battle to determine which countries would dominate the world. Other wars for imperial domination in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and elsewhere killed many millions more.
All of these could be chapters in the Black Book of Capitalism, but that one is still being written. Almost 33 million people have died from hunger this year, while 10 million children die from a lack of health care. Another 2.7 million are killed each year by their jobs, either through workplace accidents or occupational disease.
Socialism is based on the belief that in a world of vast wealth, all of these crimes should be relegated to humanity's brutal past--from Mao's famine and Stalin's prison camps to King Leopold's murder of 10 million in the Congo and many tens of millions more who died from slavery.
Those of us in the Americas have a special responsibility to remember and memorialize the hundreds of civilizations that were wiped out through Indian genocide.
Yet when we try to do just that by protesting the celebration of Christopher Columbus, we're accused by many of the right-wingers so concerned with documenting Stalin's atrocities in the USSR that we're being tyrannical thought police.
ULTIMATELY, THESE and other historical crimes of capital don't count to right-wingers--because they actually think that mass murder is at the heart of the socialist ideal.
"Communism's freely expressed penchant for homicide was and is an integral trait," wrote Josh London for the American Spectator in a review of The Black Book. "Communism's philosophy and practical politics, which promised to erase class distinctions, necessarily entailed erasing classes and the living humans that populated them."
This is the same logic employed by white supremacists who view those of us who want to eradicate racism as wanting to commit mass murder of all the racists.
Not only can does the program of mass murder that London alleges appear nowhere in the writings of Marx, Lenin or other socialists, but it has nothing to do with what took place, even in the inherently violent process of the Russian Revolution, when Bolsheviks aimed to--and for a time partially succeeded in--convincing or compelling many upper-class Russians to work for the new workers' state.
It was only once the revolution was internationally isolated and internally destroyed by a state bureaucracy led by Joseph Stalin that a program of mass murder took place--as part of a consolidation of power by Stalin that also included killing nearly every survigin g leader of the Bolshevik Party from the time of the revolution.
It was this literally anti-Bolshevik and anti-communist government that then became the model for the "communism" adopted by Mao and many other would-be revolutionaries.
This is the awful truth that allows anyone to even claim that "communism killed 100 million." The collapse of the Russian Revolution began a process that in which "communism" no longer stood for liberation and justice, and instead became an ideology for governments attempting to accelerate capitalist development on the backs of workers.
Quotes from Marx and Lenin were used as justification for these hierarchical and repressive societies in the same way Mississippi slave owners justified themselves with selective quotes from the Bible, and Pentagon generals bomb Iraqi cities to smithereens while muttering something about democracy.
Obviously, when people today say they want socialism, they mean single-payer health care, not Siberian prisons. Right-wingers know this. They merely hope to use the bogeyman of gulags to stop the struggle for social change that working people desperately need.
We need to counter these distortions that are used to promote the right wing's agenda today--but we also need to restore the memories of the glimpses of a liberated future after the Russian Revolution and others, before the meaning of socialism and communism was twisted and subverted for most people.
SocialistWorker.org has been running a series of accounts giving a grassroots view of the Russian Revolution--the recent one about the transformation of prisoners in a Siberian penal colony after the revolution is particularly inspiring. It goes without saying that there are no inspiring stories from any point in the Nazi takeover of Germany.
Bret Stephens ended his screed with the following:
Winston Churchill wrote that when the Germans allowed the leader of the Bolsheviks to travel from Switzerland to St. Petersburg in 1917, "they turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus.
A century on, the bacillus isn't eradicated, and our immunity to it is still in doubt.
The plague that Lenin brought back to Russia was, in fact, the ideal that had already arisen in Russia itself--that the soldiers, workers and peasants who desperately wanted to stop fighting and dying in the First World War had the ability to take over the barracks, factories and estates, and make it so.
That was the primordial fear of Churchill and every other member of every ruling class in history. It's not a plague but an antidote--and one we desperately need to recover.