On June 12, 2007, the 20th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech, then-President George W. Bush gave a speech during the much-publicized opening of the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington DC. Bush’s speech included the usual nonsense one would expect to hear surrounding the opening of such a museum, including a reference to the alleged “100 million victims of communism,” a nonsensical claim made popular by the Black Book of Communism. Naturally he also likened communism to his present enemies, ignoring the fact that the US repeatedly supported Islamic fundamentalists throughout the Cold War against “communism.” We should expect no less—during the Cold War the American government used the idea of an international communist conspiracy to justify countless military interventions and CIA shenanigans. Now they have the international terrorist conspiracy; so why not just crown one the successor of the other?
The American Party of Labor doesn’t necessarily feel the need to write a long response condemning the inaccuracy, ignorance and fallaciousness of the whole accusation. The hypocrisy is simply too obvious. After all, it is not difficult to point out how many people perished in the process of building the capitalist system, or how many nations were wiped out and brutally colonized in the process of accumulation which led to modern capitalism. We also don’t need to point out that the strength of the U.S. economy owes much to countries like China and Vietnam. Any Marxist-Leninist knows that both of these countries turned revisionist and neither can really be called socialist in any Marxist sense. However, do not forget that those who accuse Marxism of 100 million murders thought nothing of lumping in various left-wing and sometimes even nationalistic movements with communists; they would certainly think nothing of including even modern-day “communist” China in that group. What’s more, the infrastructure upon which contemporary capitalist China’s massive commerce is built is based on the work of Mao, the man with whom Richard Nixon shook hands and they blame for anything from 40-70 million deaths, supposedly the bulk of the 100 million figure. To some Cold Warriors, even non-aligned regimes such as that of Iran’s Mosaddegh, Iraq’s Kassim or Chile’s Allende were far too close to the communists or Marxism to escape the wrath of the Free World’s intelligence services. By their standards America’s best buddy China has to be included.
Hypocrisy is to be expected from radical anti-communist pundits. These are the same people that turn a blind eye to hundreds of millions of deaths due to capitalism, either directly or indirectly, which continues to this day in many countries, while insisting that a famine occurring under any socialist government is a direct result of communist policies despite any history of famine or agricultural problems said country may have. With all the depopulation in the former Eastern Bloc today, with all the needless death, uncertainty, ethnic wars, prostitution and sex slavery, where is the righteous moral indignation of the body-counters?
This work is also not intended to give another exhausting examination of the faulty reasoning and methodology used in finding such ludicrous numbers. Rabid anti-communist reactionaries always have, and always will, resort to emotional, hypocritical, idealistic and often hysterical arguments. There is simply no concept large or idiotic enough which reactionaries would not try to put out with a straight face. That they will accuse communists of a crime while ignoring an almost identical event happening under a capitalist regime is not surprising in the least. That they will ignore all historical context surrounding events and apply to “communist” standards which they apply nowhere else is no surprise either. Likewise, we of the APL will not do here what we will doubtlessly do in later issues of the Revolutionary Spirit, and bring up archival research by J. Arch Getty, Mark Tauger and a host of other sources—including many times our own government—regarding the true nature of Marxism-Leninism. Debunking these commonplace and sometimes hundred-year-old accusations is something a communist should be able to do, and in future, lengthier issues we will contribute further to that effort to the greatest extent possible. Right now, we will simply stress that more often than not, the accusation leveled at any particular socialist regime has had its historical counterpart occurring in a capitalist country at some time, often with an infinitely larger amount of brutality.
As the compulsion to lash out at these constantly re-emerging accusations, which continue to spring like heads from a Hydra, becomes more severe, perhaps it’s time to consider what is going on behind these accusations. What is the cultural mechanism at work here? Deep within is a powerful lesson about class, class consciousness and in general an issue of perspective. Why do anti-communist reactionaries, and in particular anti-communist philosophers, pundits and intellectuals engage in such glaring hypocrisy? To put it simply, from their perspective they do not. They do not acknowledge the crimes of capitalism, or if they do acknowledge one particular problem they are likely to reduce the argument and attribute the problem to some person, group or something otherwise vague rather than to attribute the problem as inherent the system of capitalism. It’s not as if they ignore mass slaughter or famine under non-socialist or non-communist regimes, it’s just that these things are simply regarded as unfortunate tragedies or aberrations, usually the fault of some single person or a small cabal. That however, does not explain the whole story. This is a question of legitimacy—when one understands the perspective of the bourgeoisie, or at least the perspective they have been promoting and continue to promote; you eventually realize that the 100 million deaths attributed to communism are not necessary.
What matters is not about how many people died or how many were killed; what matters is who was wielding the force. In the context of that epiphany, one realizes that for these people, one death under Marxism-Leninism or even revisionism would be too many. If one remembers the Manifesto, they remember that the ruling ideas of any age have always been the ideas of its ruling class. This can be applied to concepts like morality, i.e., what is considered acceptable and what is considered “good” and “bad.” The revolutions of the bourgeoisie against the ruling feudal aristocracy were challenging ideas that had been around for centuries. Concepts like divine right, natural hierarchies and what the role of the church should be were challenged. Imagine how you would view the rising capitalist class if were you a member of the feudal aristocracy. From the perspective of the ruling class, that is, the class which wields authority, challenges to that authority are automatically illegitimate. If a conflict should arise between these two classes (as they did), to whom do you think those having the ruling class perspective of the era would have attributed all the bloodshed involved on both sides? Of course the ruling class attributes the death to the revolutionaries—they tried to upset the natural order. If extreme cruelty and brutality are carried out in suppression of the revolutionary class, they brought it on themselves. It’s no secret that those on top are the ones most concerned with “stability” and “order.”
When we take this lesson into consideration, it becomes clear that to many Cold Warriors and their allies, it’s not a matter of who killed whom, when or why. One side’s killing is generally legitimate while the others’ is not. There are exceptions. Except for various Neo-Nazis and fellow travelers, Cold Warriors and rabid anti-communists generally will not abide such an aberration as the Holocaust, for example. Instead, the Holocaust is portrayed as sweeping in terms of who it affected and is reduced so that the entire history of fascism in Europe revolves around a few “evil men” like Hitler and his henchmen. The role that capitalism, big business and even “left-wing” social-democratic parties had in aiding and encouraging Hitler and the Axis is ignored in favor of the ludicrous and audacious likening of Hitler and his Nazis to Stalin and the Bolsheviks. Aside from the occasional undeniable atrocity by a non-communist regime, which is often reduced to a certain collection of personalities and never discussed in the context of the capitalist system, for anti-communists any atrocity committed in the name of fighting communism is legitimate.
The historical examples of Korea and Vietnam are relevant to this topic. In both countries, the communists consisted of partisans who at one time were fighting the enemy of the United States, Britain, France and the Netherlands. In the case of Korea, the partisans had been fighting the Japanese occupiers for quite some time. In Vietnam, the guerillas did devote a great deal of time to fighting the French under Japanese administration, but this had more to do with the situation wherein the Japanese were for the time being allowing the French to run the colony without too much interference. In both scenarios, the U.S. maneuvered to manipulate and prevent democratic votes which would have united Korea and Vietnam, respectively. Now we all know the result of this; the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In the case of Korea, there is a plethora of evidence that blame for the war cannot so easily be laid at the feet of Kim Il-Sung. If the reader cannot agree with the APL’s assertion that the attack was the response of numerous and repeated armed incursions and public threats from the South, then one should at least acknowledge the evidence of those incursions and say honestly that the North had far more reason to invade South Korea than the U.S. had to invade Iraq.
In Vietnam, the war began as an insurrection led by the National Liberation Front. To a rabid anti-communist of virtually any stripe, any and all bloodshed in these wars can be laid at the feet of the communists. Never mind the fact that the U.S. allowed right-wing nationalists in Korea the opportunity of suppressing the people’s councils and in effect allowed many former pro-Japanese collaborators to subvert the will of the Korean nation. That was necessary—the alternative was a victory for communism. The same is the case with South Vietnam. Forget Diem’s corruption, ineptitude and murder, and forget that America devastated the Vietnamese country side, turned the cities into whorehouses and killed several million of those they were supposedly trying to protect. That doesn’t matter—the communists started it, and when the communists didn’t necessarily start a conflict, their mere presence justifies repression. If they resist that repression, they and anyone caught in the crossfire become fair game.
That is the mentality; one could speculate on how consciously they apply this formula. Surely the authors of the Black Book of Communism and those like them must have sat around at some point imagining all the conflicts involving “communism” as per their definition, in the 20th century. It is also not difficult to imagine that before they set out on such a task, they had already decided that communism is directly responsible for an alarmingly high amount of deaths. After that, it is a matter of trying to calculate. How many people died in this conflict? How many of those can be attributed to communism? There have to be limits. These scholars could not take something like World War II, calculate how many casualties the Red Army caused and claim that they were all “deaths due to communism.” However, the issue of people dying under a communist government, whether revisionist or not, gives one a lot more room to maneuver. Since famines, usually seen as natural phenomena even though they are structurally commonplace and easily preventable in capitalist countries, are claimed to be directly attributable to government policy under communism, that is seen as fair game. Another advantage of the “Holocaust by hunger” angle is that you can use deceptive methods to calculate death tolls. After all, who is going to check demographic records for the country in question to see if the numbers you put forward add up?
All that being said, it’s hard to believe that these people sit around and consciously say; “I’m going to use faulty logic and flawed methodology to over-inflate death rates in communist countries and then attribute all those deaths to communism as an ideology regardless of vast ideological and political differences between said states!” After all, they don’t need to do that because the mentality they have is that communism, being opposed to the ruling order, is automatically illegal and illegitimate. Non-socialist countries favored by anti-communists can persecute and execute people, particularly if they are believed to be communists, because that is their right to defend their state and the general concept of law and order.
Marxist-Leninist governments and revisionist governments, despite wielding state power, are not granted this same right no matter how egregious the offender. If the charge is serious, like treason, we are led to believe that the victim must have been falsely accused and was surely innocent. For any other political prisoner, we are to assume that they were all morally upright, pure-as-snow dissidents, speaking out against the soul-crushing iron fist of communism. When one reads about the Phoenix Project in Vietnam, some have claimed that it took somewhere around 30,000 lives. It has also been claimed that the vast majority of people who were taken in during the Project’s run never returned, and that the vast majority of victims were either totally innocent or simply rank-and-file types. No issue is ever made public about this project though, since South Vietnam’s sovereign state had to be protected from communism! With enough time one could imagine dozens of other historical examples that fit this mold.
Another key aspect of this mentality is the ideology of the anti-communists in question. Often, irresponsible labels such as “fascists” are thrown around, but to be fair many of these people may be simply mainstream conservatives or even liberals. It helps to read more of the specific author’s works, particularly those works in which the author writes at length about their political history and values, if available. Therein you can get an idea of their perspective, and that perspective can often shine a light on the mentality which serves as the topic of this article. How do these people portray the ruling class in a certain revolution or conflict? Are they portrayed as “natural betters,” as fascists often love to imply, or could they be portrayed as somewhat repressive but more or less benevolent? What is their treatment on the subject of appropriation of private property? Is it simply nationalized or is it repeatedly referred to as theft or plunder? What is the treatment of the masses? Are they portrayed as ignorant and simply deceived, or are all those loyal to a particular communist movement portrayed as the dregs of a particular country? Consider these matters when you read self-righteous anti-communist literature; they help us to understand the mentality of the ruling class and their intellectuals.
There is one more important aspect of this kind of mentality as well, which centers on the morality behind the issue. Anti-Marxists on the left-wing often attack capitalism, even more so since the end of the Eastern Bloc. Yet at the same time they are notorious for applying an absolutist view toward “human rights,” ignoring the class character of those rights and often simply equating targeted capitalist regimes with socialist ones. Moral equivalence can be derailed by comparing the two alleged “crimes.” Is it a good analogy? How do the actual death tolls in question compare? Which side was more arbitrary, and so forth. Socialist revolution is, like all revolutions before, a long and bloody struggle. Creating a better, real democracy means taking power from those who currently hold it and distributing it to a wider base of people; those who currently hold that power aren’t going to give it up without a fight. Hard-pressed one would be to find a ruling class in history that willingly and consciously gave up its power without bloodshed. This is why it is called class struggle and not “class tea party.” Thus we can look at something like the Civil War and determine that despite the havoc and bloodshed they wrought, the Unionists had the moral high ground in that particular conflict. They were the progressive force.
We can say the same when we discuss any kind of repression which occurs under capitalist and communist regimes. That repression occurred under socialist regimes is undeniable. The question is who was repressed, why, and how. In terms of human and social development, if a capitalist and a socialist state use their instruments of force to preserve their respective states, is the socialist state not the moral victor seeing that it seeks to create a progressive society and its repression is in favor of the masses rather than the minority? Of course, that’s when your anti-communist opponent, with self-righteous feigned moral indignation asks, “Are you saying the ends justify the means?” Look them in the eye and say “yes” with confidence. For what means have they to defend their repression, which continues even to this day? What ends justified the means of killing tens of thousands of Iraqis? Does the ruling class even have ends to begin with? Ultimately capitalist repression occurs in the interest of preserving the power of a few, at the expense of the many, and in general preserving a system that is clearly not anywhere near the full potential of humanity in terms of democracy and civilization. The ends of ending that system and creating something that is more humane all around does indeed justify the means of socialist revolution, and the fact that this will entail bloodshed is not the will of the masses or communists but rather a realistic understanding of what the ruling class will oppose on the revolutionary people in defense of its power.
So why is understanding this mentality important in the first place? For people new to Marxism-Leninism, it is a good lesson in the very concept of class and how people of different classes generally have radically opposing perspectives based on their position in society. What might seem grossly unfair, illogical, immoral or repressive to the masses might seem harmless, desirable or simply a law of nature to those on top of society, depending on the issue. Upon realizing that, from the difference of perspectives follows the understanding as to the necessity of revolution and the seizure of state power. Words like “freedom” and “democracy” will be tossed around by all opponents of all stripes, both parried by the question “for whom, for which class?”
What is apparent is that the only freedom the ruling class is truly concerned about is the right to private property, the right to exploit, to preserve their privileges and so on. This is nothing new to Marxist-Leninists. While that is the case, the bourgeoisie are not stupid. When putting forth their ideological arguments and attacks on communism, they’re basically going to mention everything under the sun but ideology itself. After all, the right of private property doesn’t sound so sacred to the vast majority of people, whom do not own such property in the first place. That doesn’t get young men to join the military and get shot full of holes fighting a “communist” threat. No, it needs to be about religion, human rights, freedom of speech, morality, democracy and anything that will keep the proletariat from noticing the chasm between them and the bourgeoisie, and the contradiction which is bound up in that relationship.
Arguing about dead bodies with anti-communists may not be a complete waste of time, but in general it is useless because they cannot be made to see their hypocrisy. If they could, they wouldn’t be trying to hang communism on body counts. After all, capitalism has accounted for far more than 100 million deaths were we to apply the standards used against communism, and that death toll continues to this day. This continues, not in the interest of building a new society which would ultimately be better for the vast majority of humanity, but simply to preserve and advance the profit demands of a privileged few. Like Zeno’s paradox, there is virtually no way that communists, were they to establish significant influence again in the near future, would be able to create a death toll on par with capitalism even if they tried. Besides that simple fact, many of the accusations bound up with the 100 million are based on faulty reasoning, flawed methodology, unsubstantiated claims, accusations toward regimes which were not Marxist-Leninist and sometimes just outright deception. Lastly, when one considers the historical conditions of the two socialist countries, the USSR and Albania, both struggled to overcome historical problems with backwardness, industrialization and defense from foreign invasion (in the case of the USSR, there was also overcoming of famine). Both more or less succeeded in that realm. More importantly, the idea of attacking modern-day communists over something like collectivization in the Soviet Union is sheer idiocy. Communists do not aim to “go back” to any kind of society as their opponents allege. There is no need to replicate on every exact level the societies that existed within the context of those countries in order to replicate all the essential tenets of anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism.
The important thing is to recognize that kind of mentality amongst the opponents of Marxism-Leninism. No matter how many claims you debunk, no matter how many comparisons you can bring up, it makes no difference, because in their mind their reasoning used to connect communism with these deaths is legitimate. Repression used in the name of fighting Marxism, real or phony, is legitimate, and is the application and defense of law and order. The lesson being that conciliatory positions will not sate the extreme hatred these people have for a society that has the very real potential of being more fair and democratic. Once you accept that argument, without exposing the mentality and the framework these people try to construct around such debates, they control the terms. If you’ve accepted that framework, whatever your proposal is, it can be linked to communism and communism will always be linked with nothing but death and repression. By all means, continue debunking ridiculous claims of anti-communists whenever and wherever you may find them, in any way you can.
Yet, victory lies not simply in defeating individual claims like some kind of historical-ideological game, but rather in exposing the audience to the rationale behind those arguments, thus providing a clear image and example of class consciousness and contradiction. Give the fanatics enough rope and they hang themselves. Their memorial, for example, does nothing but immortalize their dishonesty, hypocrisy, arrogance and idiocy in stone.
Consider the following quotes, in regards to 20th century Russian history: “The greater the terror, the greater our victories.” Then, this little gem: “We must save Russia! Even if we have to set fire to half of it and shed the blood of three-fourths of all the Russians!” Exactly who said such inflammatory words? Perhaps it was Dzerzhinsky? Yagoda? Yezhov or Beria? Or, maybe they are from the bourgeoisie’s devil incarnate, J.V. Stalin? If you guessed any of those names, you would be wrong. Actually, you would be wrong if you had named anyone associated with the Bolsheviks or the communist movement in general. The reason being that the quotes above came from General Lavr Kornilov, a famous military leader of the White Guards. This quote sounds an awful lot like “the ends justify the means” to my ears, the same dictum for which communists have been routinely condemned by their opponents.
Ultimately, the practice of debunking the accusations of anti-communists in regards to atrocities and body counts is usually unproductive. It is always important to do so in the interests of promoting accurate history and refuting lies which serve a system of exploitation, if only for the sake of the bystanders among the working class. Yet, without elaborating on the class character of these accusations, these debates can be little more than a historical pie-fight with atrocity accusations flying back and forth. Let us not for a moment deny that excesses have been committed by regimes which were indeed socialist and Marxist-Leninist in character. The idea that any state or society in the throes of revolution and faced with annihilation could possibly correctly differentiate from real threats and more-or-less harmless individuals is sheer insanity. Certainly no capitalist state does so to this day, and the “War on Terror” provides plenty of examples to that end. What the working class really needs to get out of our debates with anti-communists are lessons on class consciousness and how the use of state power is viewed by people with opposing interests.
There are a few insights which can be added regarding common phrases that are often brought up in relation to these various accusations and in debates with anti-communists. For a contemporary example of the use of the catchphrase in propaganda, consider the slogan, “Support the Troops.” When “support” for “the troops” is brought up in American political debates, everyone immediately starts pontificating as to who is actually supporting the troops and who supports them more. Nobody thinks to stop the debate and ask as to just what “supporting the troops” means. The power of that simple phrase is such that it confounds even some of the most educated opponents of Bush’s war. That example having been given, let us look at a common catchphrase in relation to the history of communism in the 20th century. This is the common accusation that wherever socialist revolutionaries take power, they always wipe out the intelligentsia either by death or imprisonment, conveying the idea of cutting off the head of society so as to establish total mental control over a population. Echoes of that high school reading list novel 1984 are palpable. Too bad the anti-communists throwing that rock are taking refuge in a glass house.
Firstly, did communism have no intelligentsia? Bookcases could be filled with tomes detailing the extermination of leftist and Marxist intellectuals worldwide by regimes ranging from fascist to liberal “democratic.” This position of anti-communists borders on schizophrenia. Ironically, another common catchphrase is the suggestion that Marxists are usually nothing but student radicals and intellectuals severed from the reality of the working class which they wish to lead. Yet, when the issue of the intelligentsia is brought up as an accusation against communist regimes, it is often portrayed as the action of ignorant, uneducated masses overthrowing their “natural betters,” the ill-defined intellectuals being their rightful intellectual leaders. It cannot be both ways; either the anti-communists can continue asserting ideas that communism is the fanciful dream of pure intellectuals, or it is a revolt of the unwashed masses against such intellectuals.
This also naturally leads to the question, should we be so alarmed at the reality of intellectuals and intelligentsia being made casualties of such a decisive struggle between an out-dated exploitive society and a new progressive one? I venture to say that we should not, stemming from my firm belief that with the advent of capitalism mankind would do well to “grow up” and realize that individuals who pose great danger to human life need not be limited to those who wear military uniforms. Without digressing onto the serious issue of hypocrisy associated with the International Tribunal for war crimes, it is high time we recognize that men in suits such as George Soros or Abramovich have clearly caused far more physical damage and suffering in the world than a General Gotovina or Mladic. This realization is not intended to reduce blame on actual war criminals worldwide, but rather to simply point out that death and destruction in the modern world can be caused far outside of the military sphere of civilization, and of course we also realize that the nature of capitalism often drives those wars which do break out so frequently. Just as we ought to recognize international businessman as being capable of as much, if not more destruction as a General responsible for war crimes, so too, should we recognize that intellectuals, journalists, professors and even schoolteachers are not necessarily innocent bystanders in the decisive struggle between two forms of civilization.
Parallel to war of arms is the war of ideas, the latter often driving the former. It is in the intellectual realm that the justification for creating a new society or preserving the old one is formed. Young men would rarely risk their life and limb to fight a war far from home on the pay they get, were there no ideas in which they had been indoctrinated often long before they decide to join the military. A person’s decision to vote for this or that candidate in an election hinges on the information they receive or the lack thereof, as well as the ideological slant which accompanies that information. A population’s support, tacit approval, or passive acceptance of an overseas military adventure hinges on the same. In that context, would it be wrong merely to suggest that perhaps members of the press who deliberately or even out of negligence aid aggressive military action, should be held to some degree of accountability? In relation to the Iraq War, many mainstream journalists spoke up long after the beginning of hostilities to talk about how they were intimidated and wooed by the military and the Bush Administration. This is nonsense of course; look at the coverage they gave running up to the war and compare it with public opinions around the time these members of the press started expressing regret. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million are now dead, but the American press is sorry!
What of professors? If you are familiar with David Horowitz, you already know that the right-wing certainly doesn’t see them as being harmless individuals. Conservative pundits have been making allegations of a conspiracy of liberal professors corrupting the minds of America’s youth for over a decade now. They are accused of anything from giving moral support to terrorists, to being communists, to being terrorists and traitors themselves. Clearly, the bourgeoisie itself understands the influence that intellectuals can have on society, especially in academia. Their assertions about the dominance of liberal professors are demonstrably false, far more so in regards to their claims about “Marxist” professors. Nonetheless, they recognize the need to hold the ground of academia and dominate the intelligentsia in the interests of shaping society to fit their needs. As already mentioned, in the past reactionary regimes and movements were more than willing to physically liquidate the intelligentsia in academia if it served their ends.
Why is it assumed that the liquidation or imprisonment under a socialist or revisionist regime is a great travesty of justice? If states fighting a socialist insurgent movement were justified in doing the same to Marxist intellectuals on the accusation that they were agitators leading and building the insurgent movement, the worker’s movement should enjoy the same privilege. We should accept the casualties incurred to our intelligentsia as par for the course in revolutionary struggle, but by this same token we should not bear such accusations against our movement without pointing out these basic facts. Just as a university professor may agitate students to embrace the Marxist cause, so did reactionary intellectuals in socialist states agitate in hopes of inspiring some part of the masses to revolt against the new state. If the ideology of anti-communists, from liberal “human rights” absolutists to right-wing crypto-fascists, is rational, if it is mature, it would recognize these simple historical facts and accept the fact that in a struggle that encompasses all of society and human civilization, casualties will not be limited to men of arms.
Our aim is not to justify wholesale persecution of intelligentsia, nor would we suggest that all intellectuals repressed under revisionist or actual socialist regimes were fanatical agitators against the state. Excesses did happen and they will happen in the future. Since a better form of society is the end goal of communists, we do have a responsibility to recognize these facts and modify our actions so as to pre-empt and avoid such excesses in the future. History has proven time and time again that reaction will not hesitate to murder anyone to the left of whatever position they require during a time of revolution. They will do so because as the ruling establishment they have at their disposal all means but no end other than the preservation of the status quo. The quotes with which the article opened demonstrate the mentality of those who serve the interests of the ruling class.
This topic leads us back to the issue of legitimacy, murder and imprisonment. The earlier quotes from the White Guard general Lavr Kornilov came from a military opponent of the October Revolution; in short, this represents a piece of the mentality of those opposed to the Bolsheviks. There is no mention of “human rights,” “freedom of speech,” “dissent” or “democracy” there, but a simple expression of the will to slaughter three-fourths of the Russians and set fire to half of Russia in the interests of “saving” her, which in reality meant preserving Russia‘s existence as a backward and ignorant near-feudal state. The quote will remind some of another infamous line which originated from the Vietnam War: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” This was the mentality that the Bolsheviks and the Soviet Union faced.
In this context, is it really surprising or abhorrent that people who were or even thought to be associated with reaction faced repression? If a communist insurgent leader somewhere in the world voiced similar words prior to the opening of their revolutionary campaign, would not the government forces be lauded for putting the revolt down with all means necessary? The struggle facing the Bolsheviks, particularly in the Stalin era, was a matter of total annihilation. Nationalist traitors, be they mercenaries to the Axis invaders or clergy and intelligentsia inspiring and justifying the actions of the former, had good reason to come under suspicion and face the repression of the Soviet government. In fact, were any capitalist state facing the same grave situation we should expect no less severe treatment; and we should also understand that just as civilians may be caught in the crossfire of wars, so can intellectuals find themselves the victims of repression aimed at preserving state power.
In the end, it all comes down to who wins the struggle. A major fundamental of Marxism-Leninism is the seizure of state power by the working class. Just as a bourgeois state has its instruments to maintain its control, the working class must have its own through which it exercises state power in its interests, so long as the social conditions continue to make the state as we know it a necessity. Bourgeois “democracy” had and still has its share of political prisoners and victims, and this has always been in the interest of maintaining the integrity of the state. So it has been with socialist regimes who rightfully sought to preserve worker’s power through the state. That they ultimately failed to preserve that power makes a very profound point. The ramblings of revered “dissidents” had real-world consequences for hundreds of millions worldwide, and perhaps they would have never been heard had they no treasonous benefactors such as Khrushchev.
All ‘dissidents’ shot or locked up under socialist regimes, guilty or innocent, suffered their fates on the basis that they were a threat to the state and nation, and often was the case that while their guilt might not be genuine, the grave external and internal threats did indeed exist. By stark contrast, take a look at the statistics of people arrested and imprisoned in the U.S. on charges of drug possession and use, going back for decades. Imprisoning someone on the suspicion of conspiring to overthrow the government has a bit more legitimacy in any state than locking a teenager up with violent offenders over some marijuana. The American War on Drugs has led to countless deaths, imprisonment on a massive scale, and hundreds of billions of dollars wasted—almost all of its force of it directed against African-Americans, youth and the poor. If the “human rights” or “civil liberties” crowd want to throw stones, this is certainly not a matter of apples and oranges. It merely better highlights the “we can do it but you can’t” mentality of anti-communists; that not only do they see bourgeois regimes’ efforts to preserve their state power from internal threats as being justified while it is not the case for socialist regimes, they also will often totally ignore millions of arrests and imprisonment over drug possession and use. At best totally harmless not only to the state but the individual, and at worst a harmful personal decision.
Reiterating the subject, one should not flinch in answering the accusations of anti-communists. However, it is crucial that one not accept their framework. It is utterly pointless to get dragged into a debate where the accusation can apply so readily to the opposition without even discussing the details. Modern parlance gives us these words like “intelligentsia,” “human rights,” “civil liberties,” and “democracy”; not simple words with universally-understood definitions, but rather loaded words which hold intrinsic value while their true nature in relation with physical reality is not to be discussed. Whenever specific accusations of anti-communists are refuted with facts, they will always take refuge behind those words, so why not pre-empt them? Capitalism and its ideals survive to this day not because they are correct, but because they have built up a framework of ideas which are not being sufficiently questioned.
Leaders preach democracy and freedom, but what you’re not supposed to do is ask for a definition or compare that definition to observable reality. Thus it is quite necessary to consider that rather than continually refuting anti-communist accusations, it is far more beneficial to attack the very grounds on which such accusations are made. Seeing that the past is done, and it is we and not they who carry the burden of learning from past mistakes, endless debate over past events real or imagined is in a practical sense, useless to the proletariat. It is far more useful to shatter the myths which preserve the system in its present form, to expose the hypocrisy and class character of the opposition and its ideas. They who label and accuse us do so from their glass houses. Pick up a rock.