Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Cruising the Web

This week we're commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. In light of poll results showing how many young people look favorably on socialism, I sure hope that those deluded millennials are reading some of what has been published in the past week about the bloody legacy of that revolution. All I can think is that historical ignorance is leading people to forget or downplay the evils wrought by communism in the past century.

Daniel Satter, author of Age of Delirium: The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union, writes about how the mass murders of communism were all for the purpose of remaking mankind.
If we add to this list the deaths caused by communist regimes that the Soviet Union created and supported—including those in Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia—the total number of victims is closer to 100 million. That makes communism the greatest catastrophe in human history.

The effect of murder on this scale was to create a “new man” supposedly influenced by nothing but the good of the Soviet cause. The meaning of this was demonstrated during the battle of Stalingrad, when Red Army blocking units shot thousands of their fellow soldiers who tried to flee. Soviet forces also shot civilians who sought shelter on the German side, children who filled German water bottles in the Volga, and civilians forced at gunpoint to recover the bodies of German soldiers. Gen. Vasily Chuikov, the army commander in Stalingrad, justified these tactics in his memoirs by saying “a Soviet citizen cannot conceive of his life apart from his Soviet country.”

That these sentiments were neither accidental nor ephemeral was made clear in 2008, when the Russian Parliament, the Duma, for the first time adopted a resolution regarding the 1932-33 famine that had killed millions. The famine was caused by draconian grain requisition undertaken to finance Soviet industrialization. Although the Duma acknowledged the tragedy, it added that “the industrial giants of the Soviet Union,” the Magnitogorsk steel mill and the Dnieper dam, would be “eternal monuments” to the victims.

While the Soviet Union redefined human nature, it also spread intellectual chaos. The term “political correctness” has its origin in the assumption that socialism, a system of collective ownership, was virtuous in itself, without need to evaluate its operations in light of transcendent moral criteria.
Sadly, despite all the evidence of what communism led to, too many westerners ignored that evidence because they embraced the goal. As long as the goal sounded noble, it didn't matter what was done in reality to accomplish it. Intentions are more important than actions.
When the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, Western intellectuals, influenced by the same lack of an ethical point of reference that led to Bolshevism in the first place, closed their eyes to the atrocities. When the killing became too obvious to deny, sympathizers excused what was happening because of the Soviets’ supposed noble intentions.

Many in the West were deeply indifferent. They used Russia to settle their own quarrels. Their reasoning, as the historian Robert Conquest wrote, was simple: Capitalism was unjust; socialism would end this injustice; so socialism had to be supported unconditionally, notwithstanding any amount of its own injustice.

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Stephen Kotikin, a new biography of Stalin, Stalin:Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928, writes about "Communism's Bloody Century.." Despite high-sounding goals, Bolshevism, from the very beginning was about expanding the power of a state led by the party.
The process set in motion by the communists entailed the vast expansion of a secret-police apparatus to handle the arrest, internal deportation and execution of “class enemies.” The dispossession of capitalists also enriched a new class of state functionaries, who gained control over the country’s wealth. All parties and points of view outside the official doctrine were repressed, eliminating politics as a corrective mechanism.

The declared goals of the revolution of 1917 were abundance and social justice, but the commitment to destroy capitalism gave rise to structures that made it impossible to attain those goals.

Anne Applebaum, author of the excellent Gulag and her new book on how Stalin deliberately created a famine in Ukraine, Red Famine, writes about the dishonesty that was at the core of the Bolshevik propaganda.
The Bolsheviks lied about the past — the relationships some of them had with the czarist police, Lenin’s secret pact with Germany — and they lied about the future, too. All through the spring and summer of 1917, Trotsky and Lenin repeatedly made promises that would never be kept. “Peace, Land, and Bread”? Their offer of “peace” concealed their faith in the coming world revolution and their determination to use force to bring it about. Their offer of “land” disguised a plan to keep all property in state hands. Their offer of “bread” concealed an ideological obsession with centralized food production that would keep Russians hungry or decades.

But in 1917, the fairy tales told by Lenin, Trotsky, and the others won the day. They certainly did not persuade all Russians, or even a majority of the Russians, to support them. They did not persuade the Petrograd Soviet or the other socialist parties. But they did persuade a fanatical and devoted minority, one that would kill for the cause. And in the political chaos that followed the czar’s abdication, in a city that was paralyzed by food shortages, distracted by rumors and haunted by an unpopular war, a fanatical and devoted minority proved sufficient.
I know that my students sometimes see Lenin as the "good guy" compared to Stalin, perhaps because of the New Economic Policy. They don't realize at first how much violence was an integral part of Lenin's plan.
But from the beginning, the Bolsheviks always envisioned actual class warfare, accompanied by actual mass violence, which would physically destroy the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, physically destroy their shops and factories, physically destroy the schools, the courts, the press. In October 1917, they began using that mass violence. In the subsequent Russian and Ukrainian civil wars that consumed the former empire between 1918 and 1921, hundreds of thousands of people died. Millions more would die in waves of terror in the years that followed.
The Bolsheviks saw violence as necessary, much as Robespierre had seen the Terror as a necessary part of the French Revolution. Stalin's murderous tactics were simply following the template set up by Lenin.
Also in that year, the peak year of the Great Terror, Stalin eliminated anyone in the country whom he suspected might have dissenting views of any kind. Lenin had already eliminated the other socialist parties. Stalin focused on the “enemies” inside his own party, both real and imaginary, in a bloody mass purge. Like Lenin, Stalin never accepted any form of legal opposition — indeed he never believed that there could be such a thing as constructive opposition at all. Truth was defined by the leader. The direction of state policy was defined by the leader. Everyone and everything that opposed the leader — parties, courts, media — was an “enemy of the people,” a phrase that Lenin stole from the French Revolution.

Within two decades of October 1917, the Revolution had devoured not only its children, but also its founders — the men and women who had been motivated by such passion for destruction. It created not a beautiful new civilization but an angry, unhappy, and embittered society, one that squandered its resources, built ugly, inhuman cities, and broke new ground in atrocity and mass murder. Even as the Soviet Union became less violent, in the years following Stalin’s death in 1953, it remained dishonest and intolerant, insisting on a facade of unity. As the philosopher Roger Scruton has observed, Bolshevism eventually became so cocooned in layers of dishonesty that it lost touch with reality
But, as Applebaum warns us, Bolshevism is back. There are modern politicians who don't mind embracing Bolshevism. THink of Jeremy Corbyn, head of the British Labour Party.
The current leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, also comes out of the old pro-Soviet far left. He has voiced anti-American, anti-NATO, anti-Israel, and even anti-British (and pro-IRA) sentiments for decades — predictable views that no longer sound shocking to a generation that cannot remember who sponsored them in the past. Within his party there is a core of radicals who speak of overthrowing capitalism and bringing back nationalization.

In the United States, the Marxist left has also consolidated on the fringes of the Democratic Party — and sometimes not even on the fringes — as well as on campuses, where it polices the speech of its members, fights to prevent students from hearing opposing viewpoints, and teaches a dark, negative version of American history, one calculated to create doubts about democracy and to cast shadows on all political debate. The followers of this new alt-left spurn basic patriotism and support America’s opponents, whether in Russia or the Middle East. As in Britain, they don’t remember the antecedents of their ideas and they don’t make a connection between their language and the words used by fanatics of a different era.
Applebaum is worried that what we're seeing now on the alt-right have nothing to do with what is traditionally regarded as conservatism or being on the right. And they are offering a vision of the future that is as false as Lenin's vision back in 1917. It's an adventurous analogy that, I think, goes too far to equate extremist rhetoric today with violent revolutionaries. I dislike Lenin comparisons to today's politicians the same way that I don't like Hitler comparisons. But she is correct to single out ugly rhetoric that seeks to tar any opponents as "enemies of the people." We see some of that rhetoric on the alt-right, but we also see it on the left. But, for example, Steve Bannon actually encourages the analogy when he said that he, like Lenin, has the goal of destroying the state. "I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment." There is nothing conservative in such a goal.

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Alan Charles Kors marvels at how, given how many tens of millions died under communism, how little accounting there has been since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The contrast to how the Nazis are treated historically to how communists are treated by historians and the public is discouraging and depressing.
What should one have expected after the fall of the Berlin wall? What didn’t occur? Where were the celebrations and the accountings? Where was the recognition of the ineffable value of a truly limited government? Our schools, universities and media do not teach our children any differently now about the human consequences of liberty, of voluntary economic societies, and of limited government in the real world. Our children do not know in any domain what happened under communism. Those who depend on our media and our films do not know. We live without self-belief and without any moral understanding of the extraordinary place of America, of its values, of its liberty, and of those leaders who won the Cold War for the dignity and the benefit of humankind.

What might a sane and moral individual have expected? An anti-communist epiphany, a festival of celebration, a flowering of comparative scholarship, a full accounting of the communist reality—political, economic, moral, ecological, social and cultural—a revision of curriculum, a recognition of the ineffable value of those ideals for which we paid the fullest price? Where did any of this occur? Imagine if World War II had ended in a stalemate with a European Nazi empire from the Urals to the English Channel soon to be armed with nuclear weapons and in mortal contest with the United States in a peace kept only by deterrence. Would progressive children have sung, “All we are saying is give peace a chance” beneath symbols of unilateral disarmament? Would our intellectuals have mocked the phrase “evil empire”? What were the differences? Deaths? Camps? The desolation of the flesh and of the spirit? Solzhenitsyn had it exactly right about the Soviets, “No other regime on earth could compare with it either in the number of those it had done to death, in heartiness, in the range of its ambitions, in its thoroughgoing and unmitigated totalitarianism—no, not even the regime of its pupil, Hitler” (from the Gulag Archipelago). What would the celebration have been like if after two generations the swastika at last had fallen in place of the hammer and the sickle?

After all that we know, do our historians today teach their students any differently about the human consequences of free markets and the rule of law in a world of comparative phenomena? How breathtaking that we do not have an intellectual, moral and, above all, historical accounting of who was right and who was wrong, and why, in their analyses of communism. We live in an era of appalling bad faith. “You put private property ahead of people” remains a powerful anathema, as if in the light of all those lessons, private property were not absolutely essential to the well-being, dignity, liberty and lives of human beings in society, and as if profits were not the measure of the satisfaction of other people’s wants and desires. Indeed, it is precisely to avoid the revitalization of the principles of a voluntary society, limited government, and individual responsibility and liberty that our teachers, professors, information media, and filmmakers ignore the comparative inquiry that our time so urgently demands.

The communist holocaust, like the Nazi, should have brought forth a flowering of Western art, witness, sympathy, and an ocean of tears, and then a celebration at its downfall. Instead, it has called forth a glacier of indifference. Kids who in the 1960s hung portraits of Lenin, Mao, and Che on their college walls—the moral equivalent of having hung portraits of Hitler, Goebbels, or Horst Wessel in one’s dorm—came to teach our children about the moral superiority of their generation. Every historical textbook lingers on the crimes of Nazism—rightly so—seeks their root causes, draws a lesson from them, and everybody knows the number six million. By contrast, the same textbooks remain silent about the catastrophe of communism, everywhere it held or holds power. Ask any college freshman—try it if you don’t believe me— how many died under Stalin’s regime and they will answer even now, “Thousands? Tens of thousands?” It is the equivalent of believing that Hitler killed hundreds of Jews.

The scandal of such ignorance derives from an intellectual culture’s willful blindness to the catastrophe of its relative sympathies. Most of Europe has outlawed the neo-Nazis, but the French Communist Party from 1999 to 2002 was part of a ruling government. One may not fly the swastika, but one may hoist the hammer and sickle at official events. The denial of Hitler’s dead or the minimization of the Jewish Holocaust is literally a crime in most of Europe. The denial or minimization of communist crimes is an intellectual and political art form, and the fast track to a successful academic career. “Anti-fascist” is a term of honor; “anti-communist” is a term of ridicule and abuse.

The result is the sort of ignorance that the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has found in a recent survey.
For starters, as of this year, more Millennials would prefer to live in a socialist country (44%) than in a capitalist one (42%). Or even a communist country (7%). The percentage of Millennials who would prefer socialism to capitalism is a full ten points higher than that of the general population.

The significance of this finding cannot be overstated—as of last year, Millennials surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest generational cohort in American society.

The largest generation in America would prefer to live under socialism or communism than under a free market system that respects the rule of law, private property, and limited state intervention. This finding is coupled with the fact that, despite Millennials’ enthusiasm for socialism and communism, they do not, in fact, know what those words mean.

Our study indicates that the attraction of socialism for Millennials has less to do with their familiarity with the ideology and more to do with their discontent with the current economic system, the flaws of which they blame on free-market capitalism.
I suspect that a lot of this positive feeling for socialism is due to Bernie Sanders' labeling himself a socialist. It all seems very sweet and noble if you know absolutely nothing about history. The media don't help by not reporting more about what is happening in Venezuela today.
Given the apparent growing preference for socialism, one might think that Millennials would be familiar with the world’s newest socialist country—Venezuela.

Unfortunately, Americans are as ignorant of the developing situation in socialist Venezuela as they are of the definition of socialism itself. Six out of every ten Americans surveyed were wholly unfamiliar with Venezuela’s socialist dictator, Nicol├ís Maduro, and the economic crisis and human rights abuses that have occurred under his rule.
But ignorance of Venezuela isn't unique. They're basically totally ignorant.
Seven in ten Americans drastically underestimate the number of people killed at the hands of communist regimes over the last century. This is unsurprising, given the fact that half of all Millennials say they have never heard of Mao Zedong, a man whose policies killed nearly 60 million people, making him the greatest mass murderer of the twentieth century.

Unfortunately, these data points are not the only indication of the pervasive ignorance in the West regarding communism’s legacy of fear, genocide, and destruction. This year, communist ensigns emblazoned with hammer and sickle waved opposite Nazi flags in Charlottesville. Ireland issued stamps of Ernesto “Che” Guevara—a racist, homophobic murderer—as thousands gathered in Cuba, Bolivia, and Argentina on the 50th anniversary of his death. A West Point cadet and Afghanistan veteran wore Che’s image in uniform while publicly proclaiming that “communism will win.” Violent, militant groups on the far left intimidate and antagonize in the name of “anti-fascism” and are praised in the media for doing so. News outlets publish articles extolling the virtues of life under communism, pointing out “all the good things” that communism accomplished.

Meanwhile, communist China’s leader—newly christened the most powerful man in the world—rules the most populous nation on earth with an iron fist while his underlings proclaim him the new Mao Zedong. At home, he uses force and intimidation to consolidate his power while denying his people the most basic human rights. Abroad, he uses deceit, misinformation, and cyber espionage to shut down publishing houses and drown out critical voices while engaging in the most ambitious imperial project since the Soviet Union’s “Evil Empire” days.

Communism isn’t back: It never left. We simply forgot about it. And as it rears its ugly head once more, openly and shamelessly, we seem far less prepared to meet the ideological challenge in this century compared to the last.

Christine Rosen takes a visit to the Museum of Capitalism in Oakland for a look at what those who purport to dislike capitalism so much that they're indulging in fantasies about what life would be like without such evils as free markets and risk-taking entrepreneurs. They indulge themselves in this hatred of capitalism while scrolling through their smart phones or buying Karl Marx puppets in the gift shops. Irony eludes them. But they do know that Bernie Sanders and his besties are promising lots of free stuff for everyone. And they really like that idea.
It’s not clear, however, that this generation knows what socialism actually is. Another Reason-Rupe survey noted a far lower level of support for state control of the economy than for socialism among the young (only 32 percent said a “government-managed economy” was a good thing), even though such control is one of the pillars of a socialist system.

Alec Dent, a 20-year-old junior at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, agrees. “I don’t think my fellow young people really understand what socialism is. To most of us it’s just an abstract concept, identified more with the ‘lovable crazy uncle’ image of Bernie Sanders than the tyranny of Stalin.” He understands its appeal to his peers, however. “Socialism promises all these amazing things, like free education, free health care, and a living wage that Sanders’s fans mistakenly believe could just be tacked onto American society, with everything else remaining exactly the same,” he says. As comedian Bill Maher observed on HBO’s Real Time, when kids today think of socialism, they don’t think of Soviet-era repression but “of naked Danish people on a month-long paid vacation.”

Millennials appear just as stymied by capitalism. Many of the younger folks I spoke to noted that they had been taught little about our political and economic system in either high school or college. Dent says his high school teachers never mentioned capitalism, but they did mention socialism. “It was presented as just another political system, an acceptable alternative to democracy,” he recalls.
It makes one tremble for a future when these do-gooders, ignorant of history, are running the country.

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I will be heading up to Washington, D.C. for the Victims of Communism Centennial Commemoration. One of my students won an essay contest that the Foundation sponsored for students to write about the sacrifices and legacy of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, who died in captivity in China this summer. As part of his prize for winning the contest, he and his family and his teacher (me!) have been invited to the Commemoration banquet Thursday night which will honor Natan Sharansky.