Being “anti-communist” feels like being nostalgic for a time I never knew. For all of the problems that I have with the economic and social ambitions of the modern left they bear little resemblance to those of Mr Marx. Loud denunciations of Stalin, Mao and so forth also feel a tad too easy for conservatives; allowing us to be righteous without confronting the problems that face is in the present day.
Still, sometimes we must recapture a bit of the Cold War spirit. Leftists rarely indulge in outright apologetics for Stalin and Mao but sometimes their attitude towards communist evil is so slimy and slippery that one has to pin them on the tip of a nail. Take an obituary of the Marxist historian Dominico Losurdo in Jacobin. Mr Losurdo had some interesting ideas but he was also a craven apologist for Stalin. Watson Ladd – a leftist – writes that in Losurdo’s view:
Stalin…is the Soviet Ghandi, fighting against colonialism with methods no more dictatorial than the global crisis of the 1930s demanded.
How one can align this supposed anti-colonialism with Stalin’s brutal oppression of Eastern Europeans, Kazakhs, Chechens and so on is beyond me.
Still, I would have no problem with a claim that someone had valuable and obscene ideas. What I dislike are disingenuous attempts to excuse the latter. For David Broder, a contributing editor for Jacobin:
Losurdo sought to recast our view of the twentieth century by centering it on colonialism. The Nazi war for “living space in the East” was a colonial war of aggression against the USSR…
It was a war of aggression against Poles, Czechs, Estonians and others too but Mr Broder doesn’t mention them, perhaps because Stalin’s swallowing of them after World War Two makes Losurdo’s thesis so ridiculous.
Why do we hear so much more of the Katyn Massacre or Holodomor than the slaughter of the Mau Mau or the Bengal Famine? In Losurdo’s view, to compare Stalin to Hitler was like placing Toussaint Louverture, leader of the Haitian slave rebellion, on the same moral footing as the French slaveholders, simply because both sides had “authoritarian” leaderships.
This was, without doubt, a provocative reframing.
It is not “provocative”. It is absurd and obscene. First, in what universe are we often told of the Holodomor and Katyn? As Samuel Fawcett pointed out on Twitter, if you asked the average Englishman or American if they had heard of the Holodomor they would be liable to think it was a reference to a Game of Thrones character. Second, for all might one might say about Louverture he defended his own people. Stalin massacred his people and countless foreigners who had never done so much as pose a threat to him.
Losurdo was untroubled by treading on toes but was sometimes tinged with contrarianism.
Treading on bones, more like. And I’m sure David Irving is “tinged with contranianism” as well.
While he recognized the exorbitant, paranoid aspects of Stalin’s leadership, his efforts to relativize it were often governed by a polemical zeal unjustified by the evidence marshaled. This made his reframing of Stalinism more “interesting” than necessarily persuasive.
“Exorbitant” is an interesting adjective for a mass murderer. “Interesting” is also an interesting adjective for a man who excuses the mass murderer. I know history is not a child’s morality tale with “good guys” and “bad guys” but come on. This is a man who killed thousands after laughable show trials. This is a man who worked people to death in camps. This is a man who massacred Poland’s officer class in order that its people could not resist him. This is a man who deported millions of people and allowed millions more to starve. If history has monsters, he is one of them.
Now, I do not think that modern leftists have a keen desire to establish gulags and exterminate the kulaks. Having said that, I do think this miserable sliminess betrays a keen desire to rationalise left-wing atrocities in a manner that we be abhorred if conservatives did the same for Hitler or even Franco and Mussolini. I also think that it displays the scale of a delusional ideology when an insistence on analysing “material conditions” depends on minimising or ignoring historical facts.