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”.
Wellington has Pravda, Fidel’s and Havana. All very good eating places. But Hehir is right that no one would name a restaurant after a fascist leader.
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”.
He both proclaimed that violence was necessary for socialism, and put it into practice. He also said that newspapers must be eliminated as a free press is a barrier to socialism.
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.
Great analogy. Slightly less evil doesn’t do it.
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.
94 million dead due to a failed ideology.