Earlier this week, Sean Guillory of The Moscow Times wrote an article defending Sen. Bernie Sanders’s recent comments praising deceased Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. According to Guillory, anti-communism has been used in the United States as a cudgel to suppress legitimate grievances of minorities, the poor, and anyone who has ever fought for a more equitable society. Sadly, Guillory’s viewpoint distorts the true history of communism, flagrantly insults the millions who suffered under socialist regimes, and tars the honorable history of anti-communism in the United States.
Instead of condemning Sanders’s praise of one of the most brutal dictators in the Western Hemisphere’s history, Guillory says Sanders should’ve never apologized: “no matter how much Sanders genuflects in the ritual denunciation of communist authoritarianism… he will continue to be treated as if his signature had been alongside Stalin’s on NKVD execution orders.”
Guillory is attacking a strawman. No one is acting as if Sanders is as guilty as Joseph Stalin. That doesn’t exculpate him from making excuses for Castro.
Just imagine if the shoe were on the other foot. What if Sen. Ted Cruz had spoken positively of Augusto Pinochet’s liberalization of the Chilean economy, while downplaying or ignoring the thousands of deaths he caused? What if President Trump had praised Adolf Hitler for his great work on the autobahn? What if Sen. Marco Rubio sang the praises of Francisco Franco?
Any politician who praised a fascist dictator would get dragged over the coals, with good reason. Yet Sanders got away with a relative slap on the wrist.
Communism: Still Killing People
Guillory bemoans that “communism still haunts our mind and memory, even in the inane forms we see today in American politics and punditry.” One wonders how “inane” communism is in Venezuela, where more than 4 million people have escaped a country destroyed by socialism; in China, where up to 2 million Muslims are living a miserable existence in de facto concentration camps; or in Sanders’s beloved Cuba, which still languishes in grinding poverty under a totalitarian regime.
Guillory ignores this reality in the service of his political ideology. Instead, he states that focusing on the evils of communism is too “Eurocentric.” You see, many non-Europeans in Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia remember communist nations like “the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc and China” for their “solidarity and material support for anticolonial struggles and nation building.”
Conveniently, he neglects to mention which non-European nations benefitted from a communist struggle for national liberation. Is it communist North Vietnam, which fought to enslave its southern neighbor and throw one million of its citizens into re-education camps? Is it Cambodia, where the communist dictator Pol Pot murdered up to a third of his own population?
Is it Cuba, where the heroic anti-imperialist Castro formed a totalitarian prison state and murdered thousands? Is it Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez’s anti-imperialist struggle transformed one of the richest countries in the Western Hemisphere into a hellhole where people eat zoo animals to survive? Which one of these nations benefitted from a communist “anti-colonial” struggle?
Forced Solidarity Isn’t Solidarity
It’s especially insulting that Gillory throws the Eastern Bloc into the mix as an example of “solidarity.” The Eastern Bloc was made up of once-sovereign nations that were invaded and occupied by the Soviets after World War II, who then proceeded to impose unpopular communist regimes. My family grew up in Communist Romania under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu, a mad tyrant who impoverished the country, murdered thousands, and instituted a secret police matched only by the KGB.
Not just Romania, but also Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and other countries suffered for decades under communist enslavement because of the Soviet Union. Tens of millions of people were made to live under regimes that starved them, tortured them, and forced them to live in fear. But we’re supposed to ignore all of that because some Marxists remember Eastern Europe for its “solidarity” and “anti-colonialism.”
Guillory continues his whitewashing by claiming that historical research has “buttressed a more complex memory of the communist experience,” one that paints “a more sophisticated picture of life under communism that challenges Cold War binaries of victims and perpetrators and dispels assumptions about atomized societies paralyzed by fear.”
A more “sophisticated” picture of life under communism? Seriously? How do you “dispel” the idea of an “atomized society paralyzed by fear?” The average Soviet citizen lived under constant fear of the dreaded “knock in the night,” of being arbitrarily arrested and sent into a frozen hellhole of a gulag in the middle of Siberia, never to see his or her family again. Should they have been more grateful for living in a “sophisticated” society that encouraged workers’ solidarity?
Yes, Socialism Leads to the Gulag
Guillory’s most outrageous comment is that “while research on purges and gulags continues — and presents richer narratives of those horrors as well — most historians look beyond them. Our historical understanding of really-existing socialism is all the better for it.”
What exactly is “really-existing socialism,” if not the gulag? The Soviet Union—and Cambodia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, the entire Eastern Bloc, etc.—is a perfect example of Karl Marx’s idea of a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” The regimes in all of these countries came to power due to bloody revolutions, as Marx intended. They destroyed the bourgeoisie, and they eventually instituted dictatorships that purged, murdered, and tortured any opponents—real or imagined. You can no more “look beyond” the gulag than you can “look beyond” Auschwitz.
Communism will always lead to tyranny because rule by force is baked into its very nature. Any ideology that calls for the abolition of private property requires force to accomplish its goals, and force to maintain them once accomplished. Very few people, if any, are willing to give up their money, land, or business in the service of some vague, amorphous “greater good” unless they are made to do so at the point of a gun.
The Soviet collectivization campaign provides a good example. Stalin’s policy of collectivization involved mass theft of farmlands from well-to-do farmers known as Kulaks. Knowing the Kulaks would never consent to being robbed of their property, and needing a convenient scapegoat on which to blame recurrent famines, Stalin launched a campaign of repression against the Kulaks that resulted in millions of deaths and deportations. Activists at the time repeated slogans such as “we will make soap of kulaks” and “our class enemies must be wiped off the face of the earth.”
Nor is the USSR the only example. Mao Zedong’s collectivization program in China, the Great Leap Forward, routinely used extreme force to punish anyone cultivating a private plot of land, to force starving laborers to work in collective farms under terrible conditions, and to punish anyone caught stealing food to survive. One man was punished for stealing a potato by having “one of his ears chopped off, his legs tied up with iron wire and a 10-kilogram stone dropped on his back before he was branded with a sizzling tool.”
One of the socialist movement’s greatest black pearls of stupidity is to assume that any regime that obtains power through murder and fraud, then maintains that power through tyranny, will ever declare its mission to be fulfilled and just fade away. There will always remain the need for more repression and more tyranny, and the sunny goal of a perfect society will always remain just over the horizon.
Like Communism? Go and Get Some
It’s a curious thing that communism always has many more fans in capitalist countries than it does in communist countries. Throughout the Cold War, West Berliners never risked their lives to make it over the Wall to East Berlin. During the Vietnam War, those who praised the Viet Cong most loudly in the United States refused to give up their cushy lives and go live under Ho Chi Minh’s brutal regime. Today, it’s extremely rare to see leftist activists risking life and limb on rickety wooden boats to make it to the Cuban workers’ paradise.
Guillory’s call to adopt “anti-anti-communism” should anger every American with more than two brain cells. Because of the United States’s persistent and steadfast anti-communism, millions today are breathing free who might still be in chains.
The fact that people like Guillory are besmirching that proud history and even calling for “anti-anti-communism” should outrage us all. It is our duty to remember the millions of poor souls who suffered and died under communism, and we cannot let socialists today whitewash the crimes of history’s worst ideology in the service of policy victories.