“To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students, the foreign students, the Chicanos, the Marxist Professors and the structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets…. At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz [sic] Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy. When we ground out our cigarettes in the hallway carpet or set our stereos so loud that the walls began to shake, we were resisting bourgeois society's stifling constraints. We weren't indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated."
Barack Obama, Dreams from my Father
In a recently published book, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, (2010) Yale historian Timothy Snyder takes the reader back to central Europe during the years of World War II where the police and armies of Stalin and Hitler took turns killing millions of the people who lived there. While pretending, as always, to be peace-loving liberators of the oppressed and exploited, the Communists under Stalin’s leadership were indistinguishable from the Nazis in their brutality and criminality. For the unfortunate peoples in the central Europe death came from the west in the color of Brown; from the east it was Red.
After Stalin’s brief courtship with Hitler went badly in 1941, his good fortune was to become regarded as the lesser of two evils by the leadership of the democracies Hitler’s armies were on the way to obliterating. Stalin thus was opportunistically embraced by Churchill and FDR in the vein of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and to him were given timely and useful gifts -- Lend Lease, Studebaker trucks and eventually a Western front that enabled him to participate in, and claim credit for the defeat of his ex-comrade who had double-crossed him but with whom only a few short years before he had shared the ravaging of Poland and the Baltic states. Stalin’s Red Army and his NKVD, instruments of so much of the murder described by Snyder in his book, then were instrumental in imposing for much of the rest of the century a state of helotry on much of central Europe once Hitler had been dispatched. Hitler’s reign of terror was of relatively brief duration – twelve years -- in comparison with that of Stalin’s which endured long beyond his personal demise in 1953. While Hitler produced no replications, many “Stalins” came into power following the end of WWII – Mao, Castro, Kim Il-sung, not to mention the likes of Nicolae Ceaușescu,, Erich Honecker and the rest of the satraps who ruled over the Soviet vassal states of the eastern block.
Unlike the Communists who adroitly concealed their vast iniquities under the rubric of “anti-Fascism” the Nazis had always been more open and forthcoming about what they were really about. With the military and political collapse of the Third Reich and the destruction of Germany the Nazi leaders were branded and tried as war criminals. Side by side with the Americans and the British, the Soviets sat in judgment over the Germans at Nuremburg. The man who organized and prepared the Soviet participation in the International Military Tribunal that prosecuted the defendants was none other than Andrey Vyshinsky, the same man who led the prosecution of Nickolai Bukharin and other high ranking Bolsheviks in the mid-1930s Moscow “show trials”, legal farces that Stalin engineered to eliminate rivals and critics in the party. Vyshinsky’s forte was vitriol, calumny and abuse always in service to his boss, Stalin who had him on a very short leash. Here is one of his more memorable productions at the conclusion of the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial in Moscow, 1936.
Shoot these rabid dogs. Death to this gang who hide their ferocious teeth, their eagle claws, from the people! Down with that vulture Trotsky, from whose mouth a bloody venom drips, putrefying the great ideals of Marxism!... Down with these abject animals! Let's put an end once and for all to these miserable hybrids of foxes and pigs, these stinking corpses! Let's exterminate the mad dogs of capitalism, who want to tear to pieces the flower of our new Soviet nation! Let's push the bestial hatred they bear our leaders back down their own throats!
This was how Stalin treated his distinguished colleagues who had helped Lenin seize power in 1917. None of these “rabid dogs” or “stinking corpses”, as Vyshinsky would have them, were guilty of any of the charges against them. The crimes were fabricated, the defendants were tortured, and the entire proceedings were rigged. Zinoviev and Kamenev in exchange for confessions to things they had never done were promised that their lives and those of their families would be spared They were killed as were the families. Keeping promises was not in Stalin’s moral repertoire. The “vulture Trotsky” remained a dedicated Marxist until another Stalin-stooge Ramon Marcader took his life with a pick ax in Mexico City four years later.
In spite of all that the Communists have actually done – the lying, murder, and betrayal of purpose -- they have never over the years relinquished their pretense to moral rectitude and service to humanity. In this they have had copious assistance from the legions of enablers (“fellow travelers”, as they used to called; “useful idiots” as Lenin saw them) from those bourgeois societies they loathed and had from the beginning planned to destroy. These enablers still play the role even today. They used to go to the Soviet Union and Mao’s China. They now go to Venezuela and still to Cuba.
Hitler and Stalin persist as poles of extreme ideological identification, as labels of execration, symbols and markers that are constantly used to focus unabated loathing and denunciation. “Far,” “extreme,” “rabid,” “fanatical” are the adjectives that often accompany the mention of “Left” and “Right” in current political commentary. “Far Left” and “far Right” (remarkably similar in practice and appearance) are where we now locate the ultimate source of moral and political evil. Communism in its Stalinist form has come to be viewed as the Left’s consummate stage of degeneracy. This has happened gradually, reluctantly and is incomplete. Nazism, personalized by Hitler and the regime of the Third Reich, immediately upon conclusion of WWII became the symbol of Right-wing ideology at its worst, although National Socialism was in definition and practice an instantiation of socialism.
During his Presidency George W. Bush was frequently likened to Hitler by those on the Left, with comments like those of British playwright, Harold Pinter in the Guardian in 2003: “The U.S. is really beyond reason now. It is beyond our imagining to know what they are going to do next and what they are prepared to do. There is only one comparison: Nazi Germany.” President Obama to his most antipathetic detractors is a Marxist-Communist. His Republican opponent, Allan Keyes, in the 2004 U.S. Senate race referred to him as a “hard-core academic Marxist.” The parallelism, however, is less than perfect since nowhere can we find documentation or evidence of Bush’s admiration for Hitler, an affinity for his ideas or an association with Fascist writers or organizations. Whereas in the first of President Obama’s two autobiographies, Dreams from my Father, there is explicitly expressed his youthful infatuation – never repudiated or seemingly regretted – with Marxists writers, particularly the violence-worshipping Franz Fanon, and his revulsion with the old order. His mentor-pastor and spiritual advisor for two decades, an avowed Marxist, was the inspiration for his second autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, a title taken from one of Pastor Wright’s sermons.
“Nazi” is today not just a word reserved for historians and political philosophers to designate an extinct and odious political movement and party that flourished in one of the world’s most cultured and scientifically advanced countries in the middle decades of the last century. Its denotation has been overwhelmed by its connotation. “Nazi” is now a frequently resorted-to term of abuse, an entry in a specialized lexicon assembled from historically related terms like “Fascist,” “Brown Shirt,” “Gestapo” selected primarily for political vilification and nullification. For the historically ignorant, “Nazi” comes into play as a vague image of murderous bigotry, a label of pure insult and abuse, devoid of historical or empirical content. This lexicon is favored particularly by those on the Left to vent their frustrations and as a source from which to retrieve and frame their insults and make grotesque caricatures of their political opponents in the center and on the right.
From the real, live, flesh-and-blood Nazis that were completely vanquished in the smoldering ruins of Berlin in1945 an ever present specter of Fascism has been conjured out of the ashes by the Left that seems to need a threatening Nazi lurking forever in the shadows as a malevolent, atavistic counterpoise to its own romantic mythology of humanism, progressivism and heroic resistance to evil. Today’s world lacks real Nazis; yet they remain for the Left as necessary, menacing abstractions of pure evil, their permanence assured.