WASHINGTON, October 26, 2017 ⏤ Russia is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The Communist era was a bloody one. There were more than 20 million deaths in the Soviet Union resulting from deliberately engineered famines and Joseph Stalin’s Great Terror. Communist regimes inflicted 65 million deaths in China and millions more in Cambodia, Vietnam, North Korea, Africa and Latin America.
Yet even in the worst years of the Stalinist and Maoist repressions, many in the West found Communist philosophy appealing, and none more so than western intellectuals.
Consider the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.
In a July 1954 interview with Liberation, Sartre, who had just returned from a visit to Russia, said that Soviet citizens did not travel. Not because they were prevented from doing so, but because they had no desire to leave their wonderful country.
“The Soviet citizens,” he declared, “criticize their government much more and more effectively than we do.” He maintained that “There is total freedom of criticism in the Soviet Union.”
Another intellectual defender of tyranny was American playwright Lillian Hellman. She visited Russia in October 1937, when Stalin’s purge trials were at their height. On her return to the U.S., she said she knew nothing about them. In 1938, she was among the signatories to an ad in the Communist publication “New Masses,” which approved the trials.
She supported the 1939 Soviet invasion of Finland. “I don’t believe in that fine, lovable little Republic of Finland that everyone gets so weepy about. I’ve been there and it looks like a pro-Nazi little republic to me.”
There is no evidence that Hellman ever visited Finland.
The intellectual forerunner of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin was Karl Marx. Marx became a hero to many in the West, and remains so to some at the present time.
In fact, Karl Marx was a racist.
Although of Jewish background himself, he wrote a book, “World Without Jews,” which is considered by many a forerunner to Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” Although his American admirers may not know it, Marx championed slavery in North America. When Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, probably the leading socialist thinker in France at the time, published a book called “The Philosophy of Poverty,” Marx replied with a vitriolic rebuttal, “The Poverty of Philosophy” in 1874.
Proudhon had advocated the emancipation of slaves in the U.S. Marx replied,
“Without slavery, North America, the most progressive of countries, would be transformed into a patriarchal country. Wipe out North America from the map of the world and you will have anarchy⏤the complete decay of modern commerce and civilization. Abolish slavery and you will have wiped America off the map of nations.”
In the U.S. in the early 20th century, socialists adopted Marx’s racist views.
On Sept.14, 1901, the Social Democratic Herald characterized blacks as inferior, depraved elements who went around “raping women and children.”
In an article in the paper dated May 31, 1902, Victor Berger, one of the leaders of the Socialist Party who would be elected to Congress, wrote:
“There can be no doubt that the Negroes and mulattos constitute a lower race.”
Karl Marx himself referred to black people as “ahistoric” and praised the French author Pierre Tremaux, who argued that the human race was the product of evolution, but that black Africans resulted from degeneration. Marx supported European colonialism in Asia because he considered Asian culture so inferior that it was incapable of entering historic development without a European push.
He called China and India “semi-barbarian and semi-civilized.”
In Russia, Stalin, the mass murderer of millions, is viewed by some as a heroic figure. In June, Russians were asked in a poll to name “the top ten outstanding people of all time and all nations.” The person named by the largest number of Russians as “the most outstanding” person in world history was Joseph Stalin.
Douglas Murray, author of “The Strange Death of Europe,” observed,
“Were the greatest mass murderer in Russian history able to return from his grave today, he could resume power without even needing to fix the ballot.”
In a National Review, “One Hundred Years Of Evil,” Murray notes that,
“If Adolf Hitler remained the most popular figure in modern Germany, the world would be worried … Five years ago, on a visit to Stalin’s birthplace in Georgia, I paid a visit to the Soviet-era museum that still stands alongside the tiny wooden hut where the dictator was born and is still preserved like a relic. Here you can view the train carriage in which Stalin traveled, a suitcase he used, his writing implements and furniture, and, of course, gifts from the many people who admired him.
“The last room you enter on this tour of the house is somber and contains his death mask. The whole tour uncritically celebrated the great leader.”
More recently, two rooms were added to the museum, to commemorate all the people who died in the Gulag, with a desk to re-create an interrogation cell from the time of his rule.
“It was,” Murray recalls, “like visiting a museum dedicated to the career of Adolf Hitler only to, learn at the last moment (after due recognition of the Fuhrer’s skill as a watercolorist) that there had been this thing called Auschwitz. The gift shop sold Stalin wine (red), lighters, and pens. No memorial to the victims of Fascism can finish with an attempt to sell visitors a Heinrich Himmler tea towel.”
Communism may no longer be in control of Russia, but Russian President Vladimir Putin spent most of his life advancing its cause as a KGB officer. He is currently involved in destabilizing the West, including blatant interference in our 2016 presidential election, as well as in the elections in France, Germany, and other Western countries.
Strobe Talbott, former president of the Brookings Institute and deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, writes,
“The current leader of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is known to toast Stalin’s birthday with nostalgia and respect for Russia’s nightmare years. More to the point, he is turning back the clock, not (yet) to totalitarianism, but to something akin to it. He has resumed Russian expansion of its sphere of domination, repressed his critics and, almost certainly, ordered or condoned ‘wet affairs’ (assassinations) for dealing with political enemies.”
Germany’s new generations
In Germany, no effort has been spared to teach the new generation of Germans the evils of Nazism. Across the country there are museums detailing its horrors. In Russia, quite to the contrary, Lenin and Stalin remain heroic figures. There are long lines daily to visit Lenin’s tomb.
The Putin regime has not embraced democracy as did post-Nazi Germany. And while it is not murdering millions of its citizens, as Stalin did, it has invaded Ukraine, is meddling in the internal affairs of other countries and has denied real freedom to its own people.
Putin has spent most of his life advancing Communism. Germany did not find a place in its post-World War II leadership for those who held the highest positions in the Nazi regime.
What the future holds for Russia is difficult to predict. But until it comes to terms with the evils of the Communist system, whose birth it is now commemorating, that future represents a danger to its people and its neighbors. But, hopefully, those in the West who embraced Marx, Lenin and Stalin have learned something from the experience.
Given the praise Marxism still receives in some sectors of the Academy, this may be an unrealistic hope. It would a good thing for all of us if we could disprove the maxim that the one thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.