It is true, that certain living creatures, as Bees, and Ants, live sociably one with another…therefore some man perhaps desire to know, why Man-kind cannot do the same.
The twentieth century can be well argued to be one of the one of the most savage and destructive times in all recorded periods of human history. Between 1904 when the German army in southwest Africa wiped out most of the Hereros, a part of the Bantu tribal peoples, [ Jon Bridgman and Leslie J. Worley, “Genocide of the Hereros” Century of Genocide) 17-50] and 1994 when the Hutu in Rwanda slaughtered 800,000 of their rival Tutsi tribesman in 100 days, somewhere between 600,000 to 1.5 million Armenians were murdered by the Turks in the collapsing Ottoman empire during WWI, Spain fought a bloody, atrocity-filled civil war, two world wars raged in which perished not only millions of actual combatants, but thirty-eight to fifty-six civilians as well, many of them dispatched by their own governments who regarded them (women, children, old & infirmed) as enemies and sub-humans.
One and one-half million Cambodians are estimated to have been destroyed by the Communist Party of Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge) in the 1970s. The Khmer Rouge was arguably the most lethal regime in the twentieth century. Pol Pot, who imbibed the Marxist inspiration for his social experiment in Paris, has the distinction of having butchered the greatest percentage (20 to 25 percent) of his countrymen, more than of any the accomplished mass-murders of the era. [Robert Service, Camaradas: Breve Historia del Comunismo, 2007 566] The co-religionist of Iran and Iraq fought each other from 1980 to 1988 (longest conventional war of the 20th century) and managed to kill or maim between and quarter to a half a million people. And, there were many other “lesser” massacres during the twentieth century sponsored by governments or political movements in former East Pakistan, Central America, Indonesia, Burundi, and the Balkans. The history of the twentieth century can be summed up with one short phrase – an orgy of mass murder.
The careers of the best known arch-killers of the century spanned the middle decades from the 1930s through the 1960s. Stalin and Hitler, after imprisoning and liquidating their political rivals, building and populating concentration camps, and unleashing the organs of terror on their own people, then turned their armies on each other and made Europe a chard ruin, a slaughter house. The massive human and economic damage of Mao’s Great Leap Forward and his Cultural Revolution in the 1950s and 1960s have tested the skills of historians and demographers over several decades as they speculate on and calculate how many tens of millions Chinese had likely perished directly from the Chairman’s strenuous efforts to make the Chinese people into obedient, happy Communists. The low-end estimates come in at around 26 million people. [Frank Dikotter, Mao’s Great Famine: the History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962, New York, 2010, xx] Overall, if we look at the numbers put together by demographer R.J. Rummel in his Death by Government the estimates of people killed by the regimes of Stalin, Hitler and Mao amounts to approximately 118 million people. [R.J., Rummel, Death by Government, 1994, 4]
Nazism and Communism were catastrophes that fell upon huge numbers of innocent people in the twentieth century. They were evils of the highest order. Communism, however, with its universalist aspirations and promises and with its highly self-regarded theoretical apparatus turned out to be much more dishonest than Nazism. Communism was launched with the loftiest of ideals and optimistic promises which were immediately betrayed in implementation and then persistently and skillfully lied about. Hitler signaled early on his intentions for the Jews and acted on them when he had power. The Nazi’s while never hesitating to lie when they thought it was necessary, nevertheless were to the outside world largely what they said they were. The Stalinists however always claimed to be on the side of the angels never ceasing to identify themselves with oppressed, exploited and impoverished peoples from every corner of the earth, promising them hope and change.
Stalinism with its self-crowning humanism, unlike Nazism became highly exportable and easy to mold and popularize to suit particular local settings. The “humanist” Stalinist regimes were multiplied across the planet, and as well the dishonesty, misery and brutality of the original one. The fake trials, the party purges, the forced famines, the repression, the corruption were all replayed many times in many different languages and countries. The names and specifics varied, but the script was the same, the outcome predictable.
National Socialism played itself out as a one act drama. Stalinism on the other hand had many. China’s Communist government in the fifties and sixties followed with a remarkable resemblance the Russian agenda from the twenties and thirties: overthrow and physical destruction of the old ruling class, expropriation of private property, forced collectivization of the peasantry, forced requisition of food with resulting mass-starvation, party purges, continuous terror, and a cult of personality. Both in Russia and in China when the long-ruling chief Ideologue-Mesmerist was finally dead, the successive collective leadership scrambled to tamp down the terror. However, they continued to punish ferociously dissent and to tolerate no competitors for power.
At the end of WWII the Jewish philosopher, Hannah Arendt, a student of Martin Heidegger, attempted to explain the what had happened in Europe with a generic “Totalitarian” type of political system into which fit both Fascism (Nazism as the most virulent species of a generic Fascism) and Communism with Stalinism as the most Totalitarian of the existing Communist regimes. These efforts at a Totalitarian modeling and the close comparison of Nazism and Stalinism came under increasing attack during the course of the Cold War from Sovietologists and others in the West who came to view the Soviet Union, post-Stalin, as a legitimate state, operating in pursuit of its own self-interest. Stalin was dead. After 1953 his terror had been relaxed. His successors had made the transition from “ideology trumps everything” Marxist revolutionaries to “just like any other” pragmatic politicians. [Martin Malia, The Soviet Tragedy: a History of Socialism in Russia,1917-1991, New York, Free Press, 1996, 512] The Soviet model of governance, as the revisionists came to describe it, was good in some ways, bad in others. They castigated the Cold War Warriors in the west as moralizers of the conflict (the Good Guy Western Democracies versus the Evil Communists) rather than attempting to understand it as a geopolitical conflict. They were appalled when President Reagan in 1983 referred to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” which, a few short years later given the widespread loathing of the people under its domination for its Communist hierarchy and the eagerness of its captive satellite peoples to be done with it, may not have been quite so outrageous a choice of words.
Unlike the Soviets until 1991, Hitler, the Nazi state and all of their crimes were pure history and the holocaust a fully documented unique evil. The Totalitarian concept with its Nazi-Communist moral and political equation was vehemently resisted by the historical enablers on the Left who argued that though Stalin was flawed, he was nevertheless in a bad place. He had played his best cards from a bad hand, but in some serious measures he was in retrospect, accomplished.
Efforts to expose to the world fully the monstrous character of Mao and Maoism continue to this day to be thwarted by the CCP whose genealogy goes directly to Mao and whose legitimacy depends upon a false, air brushed version of Mao. The CCP works strenuously to keep the Chinese people ignorant of what Mao and his followers did to millions of their own neighbors and relatives a few short decades ago. “In short, the entire record of the Maoist era, as reflected in official and internally published sources, is a skillful exercise in obfuscation and, as such, an inadequate basis for historical research.” [Dikotter, Mao’s Great Famine, 344] Mao’s real history is officially off limits in China. His many Chinese apologists, attempting to make some concession to historical reality of the mass starvation he wrought, even today speak of him as “seventy percent good; thirty percent bad.” Perhaps the “thirty percent” is derived from the commonly estimated thirty million Chinese that died as a result of his rule.
Stalinism thus, in spite of its practical and ideological affinities with Nazism, came to be viewed and treated differently. The robust anti-Communism of the 1950s in the U.S. and the antipathy felt for the work of Stalin and his successors by the 1990s had largely evaporated. The Vietnam war initially launched and justified as a rollback of Communism’s advance in Southeast Asia, was a disaster for the U.S. in so many ways that never could have been foreseen. The war quickly became unpopular in part because it was fought with conscripts harvested by a selective service system that offered the sons of the well-off more opportunities for exemption and in part because of the arrogance of the war’s principal architect, Robert McNamara, who with his “whiz kid” credentials approached it as a kind of technical “systems” problem that he could easily engineer to a favorable outcome. The America that John Kennedy in his 1961 inauguration speech promised would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty” quickly came to be perceived as an imperial power that in South Vietnam had propped up its own corrupt puppet-client who ruled with little popular support. The North Vietnamese Communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, became for the young Left in the West, a populist democrat who heroically resisted the U.S. imperialist aggressors.
The collapse of the Soviet Communist empire at the beginning of the 1990s, however, now meant that the two twentieth century pillar-states of terror, Hitler’s Third Reich, and Stalin’s Soviet Union now both existed only in the past tense. Both were history. The ideological under-pinning of the Soviet Union had persisted through the Cold War but was now rejected. Both ideocratic states had wreaked havoc upon their own peoples as well as others. They had been set up and run by men for whom mass murder was an acceptable solution for their political challenges. Moreover, the documentation of Soviet crimes and atrocities, covered up and hidden by the highest ranking officials in the regime for decades, was finally open to at least partial inspection with its collapse. Only in the 1990s for example were researchers able to see Stalin’s signed order for the execution of the 20,000 Polish officers at Katyn. In 2011, seventy-one years after the crime, the Communist delegation in the Duma was still denying that Stalin ordered and the Soviets carried it out.
Communism, unlike Nazism, has not finished its career. Perhaps it never will. Its persistence and endurance derives from more than just the fact that, unlike its Nazi counterpart, it did not suffer a complete military defeat. It was and still is a much more compelling ideology with a universal appeal and a remarkable capacity for playing to the strong human propensities for envy, self-righteous moralizing and self-delusion. Like Nazism, the intellectual edifice of Communism though more sophisticated is completely false. Like Nazism the Party-theorists had ample opportunity to put their ideas into practice with the result of tyranny and mass murder.
Communism as an ideology, however, is much more persistent and hydra-headed than Nazism. The inevitable perversion of its proclaimed ideals has always been afforded protection and insulation through the ample bulk of its universal and humanitarian pretenses. The attainment of social equality, the driving force and goal of Communism, remains always somewhere in the future, never quite within a short reach. Against this shiny image stands an imperfect, tainted status quo, and perforce, those responsible for it make perennial villains deserving execration. The perennially flawed, unfair and messy present, therefore, will never be able to compete with the ideal and perfect future of full equality promised by moralizing utopians. Nazism was burlesque; Communism is romance.