By George Irbe
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The 20th century will be remembered for the totalitarian monsters of various stripes who conceived, planned and executed programs of selective mass extermination of humans. I think that all Leftists, without exception, including the meekest of democratic socialists, have been implicated - knowingly or in consciously cultivated ignorance as apologists for, or accomplices and abettors to the crimes of the totalitarians.
I am stating this categorical proposition so bluntly rather late in life, although I have been convinced of its verity for as long as I can remember being able to recognize the evidence, i.e. since my teens. I can say further that I have lived my entire adult life in Canada in a society teeming with Leftists.
First of all, let me clarify what I mean by "Leftists". To me the appellation has a wider meaning than merely a political designation, although politics is a major component of it. During 50 years of observation of the characteristics of people I label as Leftists, I have concluded that Leftism is not just a group attribute but is rather an individual attribute of a type of mind-set. Outrageous as it may sound, I am tempted to speculate that this mind-set is an inborn trait, and that all humans can be classified into two basic groups: a) those that are born with the potential to be Leftists, and b) those that are not.
The "Leftist" designation has been with us since the French Revolution, and still is a popular term, understood by all to mean a particular sector in the political spectrum. Therefore I have retained the use of it, although from my perspective the term "coercive utopian" would be more fitting. I encountered this term in the title of a book: "Coercive Utopians", by Rael Jean and Erich Isaac, published in 1983, in which they report on the activities of Leftists in the United States.
The character of a potential Leftist has as the basic component a mix of overly intense envy, covetousness, a desire for power and domination, and aggressiveness. Potential Leftists are inclined to rationalize the use of coercive methods the crudest one being ordinary robbery - to take from those who they perceive as being excessively wealthy . They regard seizing by force for themselves of the property of someone else as sanctioned by a natural right to eliminate material inequality. Stronger yet than the covetousness after unearned wealth is the lust for domineering, coercive power over society. The proffered rationale for autocratic domination over people is the interest of the common good. This lust to be in charge attracts Leftists to revolutionary politics and to popular social and environmental causes and movements.
In contrast, a potential free market entrepreneurial wizard, who is also motivated by greed, will use persuasive, imaginative trading practices to convince others to relinquish their money or property to him. He may also have an inordinate desire for power, but that power will have the form of dominance in a sector of the economy or industry, and will only indirectly influence the behavior of other members of society.
A coercive utopian explains all our societal (and lately also environmental) problems and injustices in terms of conflict between groups or classes of people having unequal economic power and social status. The coercive utopian believes that absolutely perfect collectivistic solutions exist for all problems. The solutions are arrived at by constructive rational reasoning and must be implemented - by coercive means, if necessary (and it always is necessary!) - to create the perfect egalitarian society. The belief is akin to faith in a religious dogma, strongly held and mostly impervious to counter-argument. The coercive utopian feels that by participating in some active capacity in the struggle (whatever that may be) he/she earns the right, once victory is attained, to be in charge: to have authority, status and influence.
The particular cause that energizes an individual who has the mind-set of a coercive utopian need not be founded on hard ideology or party politics. For example, coercive utopians agitate for a multitude of issues that we classify broadly as belonging under the 'political correctness' (PC) label. Almost every PC issue is a social slight or injustice perceived to be festering in public attitudes and practices regarding things like gender, race, culture, sexuality, and so on. Coercive utopians always form the leadership cadre when a public campaign is staged against the 'injustice', and the means of ameliorating of the injustice recommended by them invariably calls for some kind of universally enforced coercive measure that would change social behavior.
Although coercive utopians who are engaged in PC activities do not necessarily proclaim affiliation with a Leftist political party, their political sympathies are almost without exception with the Left. Sadly, the same also applies to various movements and organizations concerned with environmental issues. For example, it would be exceptional to encounter a member in the Greenpeace organization with conservative political leanings, and rare indeed to find an avowed anti-Communist in that group.
Leftists are inclined to be aggressive activists, promoting their utopian convictions publicly with evangelical zeal. Through their fervor, in the heat of the moment, they often unveil the ugly side of their character by inadvertently blurting out their eager anticipation of the time when they will administer, with relish, the coercive measures upon their perceived enemies. For the Leftist politician the desire is to enact legislation for grandiose collectivistic and economically leveling undertakings. For the Leftist academician and intellectual the desire is, to put it simply, to force everyone to think and act in a manner that would conform with a model of human behavior in an ideal egalitarian society conceptualized by Leftist philosophy. For the blue-collar Leftist street fighter the underlying motivation can be as simple as hatred for the boss.
The nature of the Leftists character inescapably shapes their ideology. There is an unpleasant truth about Leftism that its followers will of course hotly deny. The fundamental, subliminal allure of Leftism is not its call to altruistic service to improve the lot of man, but rather it is the promise of power to those who participate in implementing the necessary coercive measures. Expressed in its crudest form, the Leftist ideology attempts to justify looting of wealth and labor, and the complete regimentation of society. It advocates, first of all, that it is quite all right that those who have not take by force from those who have, and secondly, that nobody has an inviolable right to permanent ownership of anything. That premise serves to justify taxation as well as confiscation and that grand old euphemism - nationalization.
The traditional pre-requisite for power is property and wealth. The conservative believes that wealth confers a privilege to hold power. The classical liberal (myself included) denies inherited privilege to anyone, but nevertheless recognizes the relationship between wealth and power. When private ownership of property is declared null and void, power is there simply for the taking by the bold Leftist activist.
I am sure that there are many others who, like I, were able to infer almost instinctively, the subliminal motivation of the Leftists during the "cold war" decades. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear could discern the masked utopian yearnings for coercive - even sanguinary - solutions, beneath the noise of the Leftists' propaganda and protest demonstrations, much like sonar discerns the echo of the target deep below the surface through the incidental background noise. However, very few people have had the courage to state publicly the incontrovertible historical evidence of the ugly undercurrents that course through the Leftist philosophy, and the sociopathic predispositions of its followers.
The wide-spread reticence to indict the Left publicly is in part due to instilled social mores. Our culture conditions us to practice politeness as a matter of course. Furthermore, from a very pragmatic standpoint, sweeping accusatory declarations against all followers of a particular religious or ideological dogma inevitably offends individuals with whom one may wish to maintain civil or even cordial relations. Getting along in a democratic society precludes the uttering of some things in public, freedom of speech notwithstanding.
Above all, the main reason for the Left's inviolability is the certainty that wrath and condemnation, generated by the strongly integrated Leftist support system, will pour forth from every conceivable media and institutional outlet upon the accusing party. At best, a person who dares to spotlight the sympathetic connections between the Left of democratic societies and totalitarian killers, is simply called a "wing-nut", not to be taken seriously. At worst, the person is subjected to a very effective campaign of vilification, being branded as a McCarthyite, a Nazi, or the like. Often enough, the Left's organized counter-thrust has destroyed the career and reputation of the accuser, so that most individuals whose livelihood depends on a good public reputation weigh the consequences carefully before attacking the Left.
Nevertheless, numerous exposes, reports and histories on the horrendous atrocities perpetrated by Leftist tyrannies have appeared since WW II. Some of these, like the works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Robert Conquest, have even achieved some literary standing and popularity in the western democracies. But more general philosophical discourses on the pathologies of the Leftist movement as such have been received with blatant hostility in democratic societies. Widespread dissemination of these works has been discouraged through subtle intimidation of the better-known publishing houses into not accepting such works for publication, and by non-recognition of such works by the literary reviewers of major newspapers and periodicals. Therefore, works by authors such as Friedrich A. Hayek, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn and Jean-Francois Revel, which penetrate to the psychogenic roots of Leftism, are consigned to relative obscurity.
During his long and outstanding life as a political philosopher and economist Hayek has performed one of the most complete examinations of Leftist ideology from the standpoint of its effect on the economy, the law, societal mores, and political institutions. His first notable work on the subject was "The Road to Serfdom", published in 1944. Considering the circumstances of the times - the Soviet Union was a comrade-in-arms of the West - the book caused great consternation in the Leftist camp. Hayek could expound on the topic with exceptional perspicacity. In "The Road to Serfdom" Hayek had this to say about 'ends' justifying 'means':
'Like formal law, the rules of individualist ethics, however imprecise they may be in many respects, are general and absolute; they prescribe or prohibit a general type of action irrespective of whether in the particular instance the ultimate purpose is good or bad.
The principle that the end justifies the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily the supreme rule: there is literally nothing which the consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves "the good of the whole," because the "good of the whole" is to him the only criterion of what ought to be done.'
In light of the above it can be reasoned that individualist ethics and collectivist ethics stand diametrically opposed. The question arises whether the term 'consistent collectivist' implies that there can also be an 'inconsistent collectivist'? Upon reflection, the answer turns out to be: not really. I think that the degree of consistency with which the collectivist pursues his ends depends entirely on the circumstances of the particular place and time - mostly, the political and juridical maturity of the host society that sets the ethical and moral thresholds, if any, beyond which the Leftist dares not venture. I will return to this thought later on.
For the moment, let us stipulate only the obvious: All Leftists believe that the end justifies the means. One can observe that the ends and proposed means of the western democratic socialist are not exactly Stalinist, but his means are coercive nevertheless.
One can test the limit of the collectivistic resolve of our rather tame indigenous Leftists in an intellectual way by proposing a hypothetical scenario in which increasingly brutal means are posited as necessary to achieve one of their 'good of the whole' ends. In this theoretical exercise, as the coerciveness of the means is escalated, they will begin to squirm at some point, and eventually perhaps balk at taking the next 'necessary measure'. However, it is important to remember that in the setting of some theoretical limit to coercive action in a hypothetical scenario the reasoning of our Leftists is naturally framed by our social milieu of constitutionally entrenched rights, the Rule of Law, and tradition-bound centers of political power.
It is a fact that the Left of the western democracies has never condemned and always at least acquiesced to and excused, if not applauded, the atrocities of the totalitarians. It is a favorite tactic of the Left to find moral equivalence in the outrageous actions of totalitarian regimes and the defensive responses to such actions by the western democracies. In similar fashion, the Left has obstinately refused to acknowledge the guilt of Leftists who have been caught and convicted for spying and other traitorous activities against the democracies. If anything, our Leftists have consistently regarded Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Ho-Chi-Minh, Pol Pot, for a while Hitler, and all their minions as being kindred spirits of the same faith. And if anything, these bloody dictators are admired by Leftists to this day for their bold actions.
Yes, Hitler also belongs in the suite of Leftist icons. As any serious student of the history of socialism will testify, Hitler was a national socialist (the name "Nazi" derives from Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' Party). There are more similarities than differences between Nazism and communism, particularly as to methods of coercion. By definition National Socialism is extremely nationalistic and racist, while communism purports to be international, although in practice it has also exhibited strong racial and nationalistic prejudices. Both variants recruit their cadre from the same pool of individuals with the mind-sets of coercive utopians, or to use the other name - Leftists. Doubters of this fact should recall that, before Hitler attacked Stalin, Leftists in the western democracies considered him to be their brother-in-arms in the fight against the warmongering imperialist West.
Thus we have the same Leftists who say that, theoretically at least, there are limits to the coercive action they would take in order to overcome resistance to one of their programs in a mature western democracy, but who approve of practically every brutal 'necessary measure' that has been taken by the totalitarian regimes. From that I can only conclude that our Leftists' temperance is not due to any moral qualms but is rather a pragmatic assessment of what they could get away with in a mature and stable democratic society. I contend that these selfsame Leftists would have no such limits in a totalitarian setting. Their coercive utopian mind-set would ensure at least their collaboration and very likely active participation even in the grossest of totalitarian misdeeds.
Returning now to the quote from Hayek and the question regarding the consistency of collectivists, the answer is that the collectivist is as consistent as conditions allow, and that the character of the collectivist is simply an amoral one, devoid of ethics as we understand them.
Kuehnelt-Leddihn has conducted studies into the historical origins of modern Leftism. His first book, published in 1974 as "Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse", was updated in 1990 as "Leftism Revisited". In his view, humans are subject to two basic drives: identity and diversity. The drive for diversity creates a demand for individual liberty. But the co-existing drive for identity, which, incidentally, Hayek ascribes to the inherited vestiges of ancient tribalism, nurtures a desire to be identified with a group and to seek conformity, sameness and equality within that group. Kuehnelt-Leddihn proposes that undesirable characteristics like fear and hatred of people outside ones group, and envy of classes of people perceived to be better off or superior to ones own class are psychological malignancies inherent in the drive for identity; and that the bloody outrages of Leftist revolutions are manifestations of unrestrained mass venting of the blind rage aroused by envy and xenophobic hatred.
Kuehnelt-Leddihn makes the following observations about the first instance of organized selective mass murders in modern times that occurred during the French Revolution:
'In spite of Rousseauistic fancies, the depravity of which the average man is capable soon became evident. People literally danced around the guillotines. Various military and civil commanders openly and officially boasted about their bestial deeds, which in all their sick horror were perpetrated above all against the "internal enemy".
Kuehnelt-Leddihn relates from the available historical record of the French Revolution graphic descriptions of macabre atrocities and of campaigns to exterminate entire populations in the name of the revolution. In his words: 'Mass murder had become the order of the day in France'.
Further on he draws a telling comparison between the French Revolution and those that followed in the 20th century:
'The picture painted by dogmatic socialism in action is strikingly similar to that of the French Revolution. And no wonder, since the leadership had a very similar sociological structure: bitter and confused members of the nobility, murderously idealistic intellectual bourgeois, and alienated wicked priests, friars, and seminarians. There was almost the same mob violence, high-flown speeches, declamatory writings, destruction of ancient buildings, desecration of tombs and cemeteries, furious attacks against religion, one-track political thinking, and turmoil in the countryside accompanied by arson and robbery'.
At least since Marx and Engels, if not before, Leftists have explained their revolutions in terms of class struggle, and have postured themselves as devoted champions of the noble cause of the working class. In the above quotation Kuehnelt-Leddihn reminds us that the coercive utopians and the simply opportunistic criminal rogues who led the revolutions came from every social and economic class.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has not helped much to bring the Left to account. Suppression of the evidence is in the interests of both the surviving Soviet nomenclatura and the Leftists of the western democracies. National Review magazine featured the question in its May 2, 1994 issue under the cover headline: "The Holocaust We Excused". In that issue Paul Hollander tries, not very successfully, to identify the causes for American amnesia when it comes to communist terror. In the same issue Lee Edwards gives a short summary of communist atrocities of this century. There is one very pertinent quote of Solzhenitsyn in the Edwards' article:
'Ideology - that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others' eyes, so that he won't hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors'.
The key words in the above quote are 'ideology', 'evildoer', and 'justification'. Solzhenitsyn certainly should know the character of the beast, having spent years in its belly. Although he concedes that ideology is the vehicle for the realization of sociopathic urges, the singularity of the evildoer is stated very clearly indeed. Solzhenitsyn would never accept a 'mistakes were made' statement, which is the ludicrous disclaimer - consigning all fault to an amorphous mass of impersonal agents - that the Leftists often throw with flippant casualness at the evidence of mass atrocities by Leftist regimes. But Solzhenitsyn knows that the evil acts were committed by evil individuals.
George Watson, a historian of the modern era who is presently engaged in writing a comprehensive history of socialism, puts it well in an article in the Dec.31, 1995 issue of the National Review, titled "Never blame the left". He writes: "The Left is perceived as kind and caring, despite its extensive history of promoting genocide."; and further: ".. in modern Europe, genocide has been exclusively a socialist idea, ever since Engels proclaimed it in Marx's journal the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in January-February 1849. Ever since then everyone who has advocated genocide has called himself a socialist, without exception." He concludes the article with: "What we need now is a serious and unblinking study of socialism, of what it said and what it did: one that does not fudge the evidence: one that is brave enough to tell it as it was."
If the doctrine of coercive collectivist ideology predictably leads to evil actions of massive dimensions, then the individuals attracted to it must also have within themselves the predisposition for evil. I believe that it is this latent malevolence, or the absence of it, that differentiates humankind into the two groups I previously identified as: a) those that have the potential to be Leftists from birth, and b) those that do not. That explains why some individuals are attracted to Leftism, seem so mesmerized by it, while others dislike it, in some cases instinctively abhor it.
The above theory sounds preposterous, to say the least. How can it be claimed that the millions of compassionate, well-intentioned Leftists who populate the Western democracies all harbor within them such malevolence? The answer is that here we are dealing with the deep recesses of human nature, where a predisposition for evil can lie dormant for an entire lifetime and never surface, unless the ambient social conditions invite its development. For example, we recognize envy, which is in all of us to some degree, as a powerful motivator for evil actions. And without a doubt, intense envy hides beneath the patina of righteous egalitarianism of the Leftist.
The urge to coerce others to do our bidding, by persuasion or force, is also in all of us. That urge compels us to strive for power and domination. I recall reading an article many years ago, but unfortunately do not remember the publication, which reported on the results of an experiment into human potential for cruelty. A very realistic scenario of prison cells with equipment for various forms of torture was created. Competing teams of 'interrogators' were asked to extract certain information from 'prisoners'. The team who was the first to make a prisoner talk was the winner. The unstated real objective of the experiment was to investigate to what extent the moral and ethical standards of the interrogators would inhibit them from cruel treatment of captives.
Of course, because it was only a game, the prisoners did not anticipate being subjected to any serious physical harm as penalty for remaining silent. After each unproductive session of interrogation the interrogators of a team were directed to discuss and decide among themselves what methods to employ next to make the prisoner talk. To the shocking surprise of the attending psychologists, a large number of the frustrated interrogators had no qualms about recommending physical torture and volunteering to be the ones who would inflict it. They were willing to commit an evil act merely for the sake of winning a game!
In the real world also, premeditated evil acts, including mass extermination, are commonplace events, carried out with nonchalance. The psychologists who have been assessing the personalities of individuals who are known to have participated in the organized programs of mass torture, rape and extermination in Bosnia, recently reported that the most remarkable aspect about the personalities of those who participated in the atrocities was precisely their unremarkable ordinariness. No wonder then that 'the depravity of which the average man is capable' noted by Kuehnelt-Leddihn during the French Revolution, has been confirmed by events several times over since then.
Perhaps my presumption that people are either potential Leftists or non-Leftists from birth has validity after all. The human character is a very complex mosaic of noble as well as ignoble qualities. It is a fact that undesirable traits such as envy, greed and sociopathic tendencies often are the dominant ones in the character make-up of an individual. More often than not, an individual with such character flaws is also philosophically moribund and politically indifferent. Living in a society that observes a modicum of moral standards and adherence to the Rule of Law, this individual might engage in some commonplace criminal activity, or more likely, suppress the bad tendencies voluntarily and live a very ordinary life. But, admix philosophical and political inquisitiveness with the undesirable character traits and sociopathic tendencies and, behold, a recruit for Leftist causes is born. This individual will exploit the confrontational politics of the Left, adroitly cloaking his base desires in the mantle of an egalitarian knight. One will usually discover that behind the Robin Hood image hides just a plain hood.
The rewards of power and opulence that accrue to the Leftist nomenclatura naturally attract the malcontented, envious and greedy types who can then, under the guise of egalitarianism and economic leveling, rob others of their material wealth and usurp their social status. The looting is cleverly bureaucratized. Wielding raw power out of offices with inscrutable names, the looters maintain a luxurious existence by simply helping themselves to as much as they desire of the wealth produced by a subjugated population. They rationalize their own enrichment as just compensation for their hard 'work' on behalf of the common people.
That is about as far as the Leftists can go when they attain political power in a western democracy. In the fully developed totalitarian state, under the aegis of a grotesquely perverted caricature of justice, the Leftists can vent their sociopathic malevolence with unrestrained brutality upon captive, helpless victims who have been designated as 'enemies of the state'. The Leftists of western democratic socialist parties can only dream of this ultimate fulfillment.
Through their pervasive influence in academia, the media, the judiciary, the labor movement and, most importantly, in the bureaucracies and legislatures of governments, the Leftists of the western democracies have done a nearly perfect job of protecting their totalitarian brethren by stifling all investigations of their atrocities and by frustrating any attempts to bring the perpetrators to justice. Consequently, in the minds of the general public, tales of mass atrocities by communist regimes have about as much significance and command as much attention as do fables from antiquity. And if there is no more than a passing curiosity about the crimes, then bringing the criminals to justice is but a pipe dream.
I believe that I have argued convincingly in support of my proposition that all Leftists, without exception, including the meekest of democratic socialists, have been - knowingly or in consciously cultivated ignorance - accomplices or abettors either before, during or after the fact of communist atrocities. I have been convinced of that for a lifetime.
No doubt because of my own background and personal experiences, even mundane propaganda tirades by 'moderate' Leftists involuntarily trigger in my mind's eye haunting images: of rifle butts pounding on doors in the early hours and people dragged from their bed never to sleep in it again, of mutilated bodies of torture victims, of puddles of blood on floors of prison cells, of huge pits of decomposing corpses in beautiful pine forests, of deportation trains, of skeletal vestiges of humans being worked to death in the Gulag. Thus, whenever I encounter a Leftist, in person or via the media, I always have an eerie sensation that I am detecting a miasmal emanation that surrounds him or her. Perhaps that explains why I feel that I can spot Leftists almost instinctively. They need utter but a couple of sentences and I have them typed. Sometimes it seems that even their body language gives them away. As I listen to their 'social justice' sermons and observe their facial expressions and bodily gestures, I am imagining what achievements they would be capable of in a totalitarian setting.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union it has been in fashion to aver that communism and socialism have been consigned forever to the ash heap of history. But it is foolhardy to think so. Revolutions and totalitarian regimes may come and go, but Leftism has lived in the minds and souls of men since time immemorial and will continue on in the future. The waning of the global threat from the Soviet Union has actually benefited the Leftists substantially. No longer can the stigma of treason be affixed to any of their activities. Leftists have cleverly infused kernels of their philosophy into the aims and missions of populist organizations that espouse environmental and human welfare issues. These organizations serve as reservoirs for the incubation and sustenance of Leftist cadres, whence they can be recruited for political activities.
There are plenty of Leftists in positions of influence and power in Canada today. Most of them find their political home either in the Liberal party or the New Democratic party. To pick just two exemplars from the Canadian political scene who at the moment are ardently imposing their agendas on a mostly unsuspecting populace: there is the particularly sinister Leftist federal minister Allan Rock who was until recently in charge of the Department of Justice where he worked with great zeal to skew the laws of the nation to suit his ideology, and there is Lloyd Axworthy who as minister of External Affairs has gone out of his way to embrace Fidel Castro, even as he pontificates on the injustice of the Helms-Burton law and castigates the U.S. government for refusing to remove land mines from the DMZ in Korea.
In my opinion, it does not bode well for the future political development of mankind that the gigantic atrocities committed by the Left in this century pass into history without a full judicial investigation and documentation, conducted under the auspices of an international body such as the UN. The individuals responsible for the atrocities should be formally identified, tried (in absentia if necessary), sentenced and, when it is feasible, punished according to international law. If nothing more, at least the guilty individuals, living or dead, would be permanently branded as evil in the eyes of the world. A properly conducted judicial process would also serve to expose the badly tainted Leftist ideology as the breeder of evil deeds that it assuredly is. Both the Leftist theories and the individuals who espouse them need to be shorn of the respectability and legitimacy that they still so widely command in democratic societies at the present time. Unless that happens, it is a near certainty that Leftism will erupt into new holocausts in the future.
I finished writing this essay in November of 1997. It is now two years later. In the intervening period a book was published, in French, that reached the European best-seller list. In October of 1999 this book was published in English by Harvard University Press. Its title is "The Black Book of Communism", authored by Stephane Courtois, Nicolas Werth and four other contributors. The Black Book is a monumental comprehensive account of atrocities committed by the communist regimes of this century. The authors draw on much new archival documentation that has become accessible since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It looks like many of my observations about the characteristics of Leftists are corroborated by the Black Book of Communism. I will quote selections from the Foreword by Martin Malia and the Introduction by Stephane Courtois of the book.
From the Foreword, by Malia:
Pg X - The Black Book offers us the first attempt to determine, overall, the actual magnitude of what occurred, by systematically detailing Leninism's "crimes, terror, and repression" from Russia in 1917 to Afghanistan in1989. This factual approach puts Communism in what is, after all, its basic human perspective. For it was in truth a "tragedy of planetary dimensions" (in the French publisher's characterization), with a grand total of victims variously estimated by contributors to the volume at between 85 million and 100 million. Either way, the Communist record offers the most colossal case of political carnage in history.
Pg XI - . . . Courtois explicitly equated the "class genocide" of Communism with the "race genocide" of Nazism, and categorized both as "crimes against humanity."
Pg XII - Communism's fall . . . brought with it no Nuremberg trial, and hence no de-Communization to solemnly put Leninism beyond the pale of civilization; and of course there still exist Communist regimes in international good standing.
Pg XIII - The status of ex-Communists carries with it no stigma, even when unaccompanied by any expression of regret; . . . No Gulag camps have been turned into museums to commemorate their inmates; . . . Throughout the former Communist world, moreover, virtually none of its responsible officials has been put on trial or punished. Indeed, everywhere Communist parties, though usually under new names, compete in politics.
Pg XIV - Granted, card-carrying Western literati and latter-day Eastern apparatchiki never served as executioners for Stalin. Even so, does the present silence about their past mean that Communism was all that less bad than Nazism?
Pg XVI - . . . in 1939 the Gestapo employed 7,500 people in contrast to the NKVD's 366,000 (including Gulag personnel); and the Communist Party made denunciation an obligation, whereas the Nazi Party did not. . . . the bloody Soviet experiment is banalized in one great gray anthropological blur; and the Soviet Union is transmogrified into just another country in just another age, neither more nor less evil than any other regime going. But this is obviously nonsense. Here we are back with the problem of moral judgment, which is inseparable from any real understanding of the past - indeed, inseparable from being human.
Pg XVII - . . . Communist regimes did not just commit criminal acts (all states do on occasion); they were criminal enterprises in their very essence: on principle, so to speak, they all ruled lawlessly, by violence, and without regard for human life.
Pg XVIII - . . . there never was a benign, initial phase of Communism before some mythical "wrong turn" threw it off track. From the start Lenin expected, indeed wanted, civil war to crush all "class enemies"; and this war, principally against the peasants, continued with only short pauses until 1953. . . . mass violence against the population was a deliberate policy of the new revolutionary order; and its scope and inhumanity far exceeded anything in the national past.
Pg XIX - . . . Communism's recourse to "permanent civil war" rested on the "scientific" Marxist belief in class struggle as the "violent midwife of history," in Marx's famous metaphor. Similarly, Courtois adds, Nazi violence was founded on a scientistic social Darwinism promising national regeneration through racial struggle.
Pg XX - . . . an effort at retrospective justice [for the victims of Communism] will always encounter one intractable obstacle. Any realistic accounting of Communist crime would effectively shut the door on Utopia; and too many good souls in this unjust world cannot abandon hope for an absolute end to inequality (and some less good souls will always offer them "rational" curative nostrums). And so, all comrade-questers after historical truth should gird their loins for a very Long March indeed before Communism is accorded its fair share of absolute evil.
From the Introduction, by Courtois:
Pg 2 - Having gone beyond individual crimes and small-scale ad-hoc massacres, the Communist regimes, in order to consolidate their grip on power, turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government.
Pg 3 - . . . the crimes of Communism have yet to receive a fair and just assessment from both historical and moral viewpoints. . . . Communism has committed a multitude of crimes not only against individual human beings but also against world civilization and national cultures.
Pg 4 - These crimes tend to fit a recognizable pattern even if the practices vary to some extent by regime. The pattern includes execution by various means, such as firing squads, hanging, drowning, battering, and, in certain cases, gassing, poisoning, or "car accidents"; destruction of the population by starvation, through man-made famine, the withholding of food, or both; deportation, through which death can occur in transit (either through physical exhaustion or through confinement in an enclosed space), at one's place of residence, or through forced labor (exhaustion, illness, hunger, cold).
Pg 9 - . . . the genocide of a "class" may well be tantamount to the genocide of a "race" - the deliberate starvation of a child of a Ukrainian kulak as a result of the famine caused by Stalin's regime "is equal to" the starvation of a Jewish child in the Warsaw ghetto as a result of the famine caused by the Nazi regime.
Pg 15 - The methods implemented by Lenin and perfected by Stalin and their henchmen bring to mind the methods used by the Nazis, but most often this is because the latter adopted the techniques developed by the former. Rudolf Hess, charged with organizing the camp at Auschwitz and later appointed its commandant, is a perfect example: "The Reich Security Head Office issued to the commandants a full collection of reports concerning the Russian concentration camps. These described in great detail the conditions in, and organization of, the Russian camps, as supplied by former prisoners who had managed to escape. Great emphasis was placed on the fact that the Russians, by their massive employment of forced labor, had destroyed whole peoples."
Pg 16 - Time and again the focus of the terror was less on targeted individuals than on groups of people. The purpose of the terror was to exterminate a group that had been designated as the enemy. Even though it might be only a small fraction of society, it had to be stamped out to satisfy this genocidal impulse.
Pg 17 - But the revelations concerning Communist crimes cause barely a stir. Why is there such an awkward silence from politicians? Why such a deafening silence from the academic world regarding the Communist catastrophe, which touched the lives of about one-third of humanity on four continents during a period spanning eighty years? Why is there such widespread reluctance to make such a crucial factor as crime - mass crime, systematic crime, and crime against humanity - a central factor in the analysis of Communism? . . . are we talking about a refusal to scrutinize the subject too closely for fear of learning the truth about it?
Pg 20 - Cupidity, spinelessness, vanity, fascination with power, violence, and revolutionary fervor - whatever the motivation, totalitarian dictatorships have always found plenty of diehard supporters when they had need of them, and the same is true of Communist as of other dictatorships. Confronted with this onslaught of Communist propaganda, the West has long labored under an extraordinary self-deception, simultaneously fueled by naivete in the face of a particularly devious system, by the fear of Soviet power, and by the cynicism of politicians.
Pg 21 - Whether intentional or not, when dealing with this ignorance of the criminal dimension of Communism, our contemporaries' indifference to their fellow humans can never be forgotten.
Pg 23 - . . . a single-minded focus on the Jewish genocide in an attempt to characterize the Holocaust as a unique atrocity has also prevented an assessment of other episodes of comparable magnitude in the Communist world. After all, it seems scarcely plausible that the victors who had helped bring about the destruction of a genocidal apparatus might themselves have put the very same methods into practice. When faced with this paradox, people generally preferred to bury their heads in the sand.
Pg 27 - The internal archives maintained by the repressive apparatuses of the former Soviet Union, of the former "people's democracies," and of Cambodia bring to light the ghastly truth of the massive and systematic nature of the terror, which all too often resulted in full-scale crimes against humanity.
Pg 28 - There is a moral obligation to honor the memory of the innocent and anonymous victims of a juggernaut that has systematically sought to erase even their memory. . . . This book is our contribution to that effort.
The Left is very much like a virus that can never be eradicated. It can only be kept under control. Only recently, I came across a book by David Horowitz which confirms almost all the deductions I have made about Leftists in this essay.
Like greed and envy, Leftism is indeed a generally undesirable character trait which is commonly found throughout the human species. And like envy, it is quite likely that Leftism is the modern manifestation of ancient tribalism, something so primitive that it has become a part of the genetic pattern of the race. Like other undesirable genetic traits, then, it can never be eradicated but can only be contained and discredited as the bad idea that it is. Leftism is the deadly enemy of what Friedrich Hayek calls the Great Society and Karl Popper the Open Society. Both terms denote the modern liberal democracy which is the only workable model for advancing civilization. One would think that the horrid Leftist experiences of the 20th century would have guaranteed an emphatic and universal renunciation of Leftism and a strict isolation of Leftist ideas from the main-stream of society. But such is not the case. To the contrary, the crimes of the Left have been ignored and already forgotten by the collective memory of mankind. Not surprisingly, then, the Left is now flourishing better than ever. We should get ready for the inevitable next attempt to impose the Leftist ideas on society by violent means.
David Horowitz gives a comprehensive over-view on the status of the Left as it has developed in the years immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the book "The Politics of Bad Faith : The Radical Assault on Americas Future", published by the Free Press, 1998. David Horowitz is the son of life-long Marxist parents, and was himself a follower of the creed until the famous Khrushchev denunciation of Stalinism in 1956 began to open his eyes to the realities of the communist faith. Obviously, David Horowitz had been made into a Marxist by habituation, rather than being one by innate predisposition. His many years spent in the Marxist milieu and contacts with, and knowledge about, the leading personalities in that milieu, makes him an eminently qualified and veracious commentator on the status of the Left today.
Horowitz describes how the Left has discovered the effectiveness of camouflaging itself under the "liberal" label. He remarks on Irving Kristols reference to the corruption of American life by the "liberal ethos":
. . . the "liberal ethos" is really not liberal, but the radical enterprise that now dresses itself up in "liberal" colors. Group collectivism, racial preferences, "substantive equality" and moral relativism these are the rallying themes of contemporary liberals. But they have little in common with the liberalism of the pre-Sixties era, or with its classical antecedents. In fact, they make up a radical creed. . . . It is true that the Left is rhetorically in retreat and for the moment has adopted more moderate self-descriptions. But that is hardly the same as surrendering its agendas or vacating the field of battle. It is more like adopting political camouflage on entering a hostile terrain. (p.3)
The camouflage is very effective. Horowitz remarks that there is an established culture in our society which is "instinctively protective of the Left and that reflects the long-standing dominion of socialist sentiments"(p.4). Furthermore, there is a general fear among political commentators to use the Leftist label on anyone, lest they themselves be immediately labeled as "McCarthyist":
As a result, even self-avowed Communists like Angela Davis are regularly identified as "liberals" by the media, unless they themselves choose otherwise. The very idiom "to red-bait" shows how ingrained this universal reflex is. There is no comparable term to describe the hostile exposure of loyalties on the Right.
The same protective impulse is manifest in the standards used in public opinion surveys, which are calibrated on scales that range from "liberal" to "conservative" and "ultraconservative", but lack the balance of a "Left". (p.4)
This imbalance in the scaling of the political spectrum is used in public discourse to conceal a persons affiliation with the radical Left:
Noam Chomsky, the America-loathing MIT socialist is routinely described in the press as a "liberal", while a political adversary like sociologist Charles Murray, who is a libertarian, is normally referred to as "conservative". In the current cultural lexicon, a liberal is thus no longer one who ascribes to the principles of Madison or Locke, or to the institutions of private property and free markets, but almost anyone who is not labeled a "conservative". (p.5)
Fortunately, in Europe ". . . parties described as "liberal" still reflect the classical origins of the term itself and are associated with economic individualism and free markets."(p.5)
David Horowitz also recognizes that the Left has escaped serious or lasting condemnation for its past crimes and that the ideas propounded by the Left still have credibility and appeal in society today:
If mankind were really capable of closing the book on this long, sorry episode of human folly and evil, then its painful memory could finally be laid to rest. . . . But, in fact, these millennial dreams of a brave new world are with us still, and it is increasingly obvious that the most crucial lessons of this history have not been learned. This observation applies most of all to those whose complicity in its calamities were most profound the progressive intelligentsia of the democratic West. (p.18)
Horowitz uses the book of communist apologetics, Age of Extremes, by the life-long communist Eric Hobsbawm, to illustrate how enthusiastically the intellectual elites of the West have accepted the blatant twisting of truth and misrepresentation of facts in order to absolve the Left of its complicity in totalitarian crimes. Horowitz explains the reason for Hobsbawms literary fame:
A member of the British Communist Party during the heyday of Stalinism and for decades after, Hobsbawm is today one of the most honored figures in the academic pantheon. He is so make no mistake not despite, but because of his deplorable past; because he continues to be an unrepentant (if moderately chastened) Marxist; because he is a passionate reviler of democratic capitalism, a believer still in thrall to the radical myth. . . . His argument goes like this: Even if "progressives" were wrong, they were right. The practical disasters of socialism should not be taken as a refutation of the idea and its utopian premise. The tragedies produced by socialist revolutionaries are not reasons to abandon the quest for "social justice", or a society based on equality of outcomes and some kind of social plan. (p.19)
David Horowitz delivers the same indictment of Western Leftist intellectuals with which I start this essay:
Few intellectual doctrines have been so systematically refuted over so many generations as the socialist vision of Karl Marx. None has been the cause of so much human misery and suffering. Yet false doctrines of this proportion are not sustained by ignorance alone. Throughout the history of the Marxist faith, there has never been a lack of first-rate intellectuals to validate its "truths", or to lend reputation and talent to its most malignant agendas; to lie when it was necessary to lie; to believe when it should not have been possible to believe; to justify murder and defend what is indefensible.
The socialist experiments of the Twentieth Century ruined the economies of whole continents and destroyed the lives of hundreds of millions, all with the acquiescence and support of intellectuals who thought of themselves as progressive. When the experiments were over, these progressives were faced with an existential choice. On the one hand, they could confront their complicity in socialist crimes and give up the illusion that made them inevitable. In short they could abandon the Left. Or, like Eric Hobsbawm, they could renew the illusion and get on with their war against the democracies of the West.
In the years following the Communist collapse, the vast majority of progressive intellectuals chose the second course. . . . it was easier to avoid than to face unpleasant truth. But this avoidance was possible only through an act of historical denial psychologically speaking, a progressive bad faith. (p.27)
Horowitz also talks about the tactic of the Left by which it explains crimes against humanity as "mistakes" (i.e. "mistakes were made", but no one is responsible), and tries to earn "moral credit for acknowledging "mistakes". (p.31) In any case, our intellectual Left denies that they would ever commit the crimes their predecessors have committed, and they claim to have progressed to more humane forms of Marxism. As Horowitz says:
To the contemporary Left, those who did fail, who actually committed socialist crimes have no relationship to them. The response of the Left to the disasters that its political ideas have produced is the response of nihilism and bad faith. This bad faith has been rationalized by a new generation of academic intellectuals who have opened a Pandoras box of radical theories that are derivative of Marxism while pretending to transcend it. (p.31)
The Left has largely succeeded already in taking control of the academic sphere and the institutions of education in general, leading Horowitz to ask:
Is it surprising that discredited Marxism still provides the paradigm for every current radical ideology from feminism to queer theory? Or that the totalitarian attitudes endemic to Marxism are also everywhere in evidence in the academic discourse of the tenured Left? The literary critic Harold Bloom describes in horror the current political trends in the university as "Stalinism without Stalin". "All of the traits of the Stalinists in the 1930s and 1940s are being repeated . . . in the universities in the 1990s". (p.33)
The profusion of Marxists on university faculties today is unprecedented, while the theories that Marxism has spawned now provide the principal texts for the next generations. . . . The comparable schools of conservative and libertarian thought are hardly extant within university walls. (p.47)
I will finish with a condemnatory statement by Horowitz in a letter to an old (and still radically Leftist) acquaintance, which echoes my claim that a Leftist will be as radical and vicious as the circumstances and political culture of a society will allow him to be:
The Red Terror is the terror that "idealistic" Communists (like our parents) and "anti-Stalinist" Leftists (like ourselves) [Horowitz used to be one of them] have helped to spread around the world. You and I and our parents were totalitarians in democratic America. The democratic fact of America prevented us from committing the atrocities willed by our faith. Impotence was our only innocence. In struggles all over the world, we pledged our support to perpetrators of the totalitarian deed. Our solidarity with them, like the crimes they committed, was justified in the name of the revolutionary Idea. Our capabilities were different from theirs, but our passion was the same.
And yours [his old acquaintances] is still. You might not condone some of the crimes committed by the Vietnamese or Cubans, or the Nicaraguan comandantes. But you would not condemn them. Or withhold from their perpetrators your comradely support. No, despite all your enlightenment since the time of Stalin, are your thoughts really very different from theirs. (p.59)
It is quite apparent to those who trouble to think about it that we desperately need an inspired rejuvenation of the ideas of classical Liberalism. It is classical Liberalism, not conservatism (whatever that entails), nor Libertarianism, which can mount an ideological counterattack on Marxist collectivism. As long as there is no convincing and engaging attempt at a political and ideological offensive against the Leftist ideology, we can count on new totalitarian attacks on civilized society, perhaps as gruesome in their own new and today unimaginable ways, as those of the 20th Century.
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