Taking Communism Seriously
The publication in France of "The Black Book of Communism" (reviewed here by Ben and Daniel Wattenberg, January 8) is setting off shockwaves in French political circles. But the book's real impact could be in America. At long last, we will have the tools to confront "Communism-The Idea."
Three centuries in the making, communism has offered the only challenge to the principles of the American Founding. It has done so under a bewildering variety of labels, all based on the identical doctrine: that human reason is supreme, and that certain people are capable of comprehending and arranging the world around us; that such people should guide all others toward an increasingly perfect and just society in which all desires will have been either eliminated or satisfied.
Unlike the American quest for the best possible world, communism thus promises the perfect world. For Lenin, that meant a world where no one owned anything. For Hitler, one without Jews and ruled by Germans. Stalin combined it all-no Jews, no ownership, and world domination by Russia. Mao hunted down those who possessed Western books.
All for social justice. All "in the best interest of the people."
Eyebrows were raised when my 1995 essay "The Battle for America's Soul" detailed the parallels between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union as "The Unlikely Twins." Even more skepticism greeted the assertion that both grew out of nineteenth-century German philosophy. It comes as a relief that Tony Judt (New York Times, December 22, 1997) and Alain Besançon (Commentary, January 1998) published the same conclusions. Having grown up under both tyrannies, there was the troubling possibility that I had developed obsessions and mistaken them for reality.
For sure, a lot is asked of native-born Americans with no experience of foreign occupation or tyranny, to see all this in the same light as those who lived through it. Even the often-shown horror pictures of the nazi concentration camps must appear as something from another planet. Visual record of the horrible deeds elsewhere is not accessible, and reports of them have been obscured by the beguiling language of socialism: "peace, compassion, international brotherhood."
But reality is that even Mussolini was a socialist who, thrown out by fellow-socialists, formed his own socialist party named "fascist" after a symbol from ancient Rome. Reality is that Hitler's outfit was called the National Socialist German Workers' Party, with a manifesto copied from Marx. Reality is that Lenin's Bolshevik Party was based on German books. Differences merely reflected local conditions. Jiang Zemin, China's current president speaks of "Socialism with Chinese characteristics."
Might some people be working on socialism with American characteristics?
Most Americans prefer the notion that communism went out with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. But communism, remember, was not born in the Soviet Union. Why would it have died with the Soviet Union? Is it likely that the millions who signed on to The Idea just shrugged their shoulders in 1991 and drank a toast to the rule of law and free enterprise?
Remember also: socialists, whether they realize it or not, are committed to building communism because socialism-President Jiang Zemin reminds us-is but a phase on the road to communism.
Many see a difference between socialists and communists. But Marx, in the Communist Manifesto of 1848, already differentiates among seven types of socialism, dismissing all except his own. Since his doctrines are described as "socialist" and the publication is called "Communist Manifesto," it is just a game with words. The most successful word game was devised by Stalin, who renamed Hitler's regime "fascist" to cover up the fact that it, too, was socialist.
For several decades, we have been fooled about nazism and communism as "opposites." Nazis were the ultimate evil but communists-Hollywood assured us during the 50th anniversary of the HUAC hearings-were good people. The "Hollywood Ten" of 1948, and many others since, believed that communism was really a good idea with a few "mistakes" along the way.
By mistake, a hundred million people were killed in various terrible ways, so the "Black Book of Communism" informs us. That, and the irrefutable evidence of methods identical to those of Nazi Germany, should open many eyes at last. There is nothing we can do about the past. But we can do something for the future. We can change the words we use.
As Alain Besançon points out in Commentary, the current vocabulary for our political spectrum is of Soviet origin. It placed socialists and communists on the left, "capitalists, imperialists" on the right. Once nazis entered the picture, they became the far right, and room was created for "moderates" in the middle.
Each of these propositions is a deception.
Placing communist socialists and national socialists at opposite ends feigned a quality difference between their agendas, and the people who joined them. It also hinted that everyone on the "right" was in some proximity to the hated nazis. Recently, "extremist" has been added to move those on the "right," rhetorically, ever closer to nazis.
Accompanying this has been the refusal by persons who espouse classic socialist tools to be called socialist. What else should we call people who advocate redistribution, class warfare, classification by ancestry, political correctness, revisionist history, school-to-work, speech codes? Or do they not realize they are socialists?
If so, millions of Americans might reconsider their stance once they realize its origins. Millions more might rediscover America's founding principles once they accept that nazism was just another form of socialism. So let us restore clarity.
There are the principles of the American Founding: the rule of law, individual rights, guaranteed property, and a common American identity. They bring, maintain, and defend freedom.
Then there is the road to socialism: "social justice," group rights, redistribution through entitlements, and multiculturalism. They crush the human spirit, and enslave the participants.
One is home-grown, secured by the sacrifice of countless generations, and uniquely successful. The other is of foreign origin, propagated around the world by political operatives, and has produced the greatest tragedies of recorded history.
It should not be difficult to choose.
But there is no middle.