Friday, 17 November 2017

A Morally Perverse Myopia

Western Progressives Continue to Romanticise Communism

Liam Hehir

Fifty years after his death, Che Guevera, the Butcher of la Cabana, remains a romantic icon of radical chic.
Fifty years after his death, Che Guevera, the Butcher of la Cabana, remains a romantic icon of radical chic.
 Ever seen an ordinary young person in a T-shirt bearing the visage of Benito Mussolini? Ever dined at a restaurant bedecked with Third Reich propaganda? Ever listened to a new recording of the Horst Wessel song by a popular contemporary folk singer?

It would be unthinkable for the National Party leader to quote Alfred Rosenberg, ideological architect of National Socialism. No prime minister would ever declare a sympathetic treatment of Reinhard Heydrich to be his or her favourite movie. No credible political figure would argue that the problem with fascism is that it has never been tried properly.

Yet on the centenary of The October Revolution – the coup d'etat that saw the creation of the Soviet Union – communism retains a grasp on the imaginations of Western progressives.

I went out to dinner in Wellington recently.
The restaurant, not chosen by me, shared its name with a Soviet propaganda outfit. On the counter stood a giant bust of Vladimir Lenin. The same Lenin who, to give just one example, approved of the summary execution of more than 50,000 prisoners of war and civilians in the Crimea in 1920. The same Lenin who said "we need the real, nation-wide terror which reinvigorates the country and through which the Great French Revolution achieved".

You also know you're in Wellington when the cafe and bookshop patrons are wearing Che Guevera T-shirts. Fifty years after his death, the Butcher of la Cabana remains a romantic icon of radical chic.

Most of them probably don their garments in ignorance of his role in the enslavement, torture and murder of class enemies. One can only hope that they have no idea that this was a man who said "a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate".

Now, most would grant that the Nazis were worse than the Soviets. The British historian Robert Conquest, a fierce critic of the USSR and Stalin's Western dupes, certainly thought so. When asked if Nazism was worse than communism, the great chronicler of Soviet mass murder said it was. Asked to explain himself, Conquest said he "could only answer honestly with 'I feel so'".

I agree. There is a unique perversity about the Nazis. Their position as the signal evil of the 20th century is uncontestable. "Not as bad as the Nazis" is a pretty weak defence, mind you. Ted Bundy, an American serial killer, may have murdered more than 100 people. The Zodiac Killer, on the other hand, claimed to have killed less than 40. You still wouldn't hire him to babysit your kids.

And communists have killed an awful number of people. The Black Book of Communism, published in 1997, is a scholarly work aimed at determining the extent of communism's crimes. Looking at things like man-made famines, extrajudicial killings and full-blown genocides, the authors arrived at a total of 94 million fatalities. This number included, among others, 65 million deaths in the People's Republic of China, 20 million in the Soviet Union and 2 million apiece for Cambodia and North Korea.

The conclusion of The Black Book is not without critics. But let's say that there were only 50 million victims. Is that really all that much better? When you're quibbling over how many millions of murders, the precise number of millions seems to be a bit beside the point.

Venezuela has been conducting its "Bolivarian Revolution" against neoliberalism for the past two decades. For much of this time, it has been left-wing intellectuals, journalists and celebrities who have cheered it along. The cheerleaders have included plenty of New Zealanders, excited by the regime's leftist and anti-American populism.

But Venezuela's government could not expropriate private property without resorting to tyranny.

Having crossed that bridge, it has found central planning to be as ineffective as ever. With more and more poverty and misery, more and more tyranny is needed to hold things together.

At the start of the revolution, Venezuela was a flawed democracy. Today, it is well down the path to totalitarian dictatorship. No surprises there.  But we don't hear much about Venezuela from the cheerleaders anymore. There are few defences, it is true. But nor has there been any introspection about their prior support. Certainly no words of regret.

It's all gone down the memory hole. As if Venezuela simply does not exist.

If things continue to worsen in that benighted country, that might have to change. Then we will probably be in for all the excuses we have heard before. The theory is good! It just wasn't implemented properly! They just went a bit too far! They didn't go far enough! It will work out better next time! It was because of outside interference!  You can't say state socialism is inherently tyrannical just because it has ended in tyranny everywhere it's been tried!

And so on, and so on and so on.

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