Fifteen years after communizm was officially pronounced dead, its spectre seems once again to be haunting Europe. Last month, the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly voted to condemn the—crimes of totalitarian communist regimes, “linking them with Nazism and complaining that communist parties are still—legal and active in some countries.” Now Goran Lindblad, the conservative Swedish MP behind the resolution, wants to go further. Demands that European Ministers launch a continent-wide anti-communist campaign œ including school textbook revisions, official memorial days, and museums œ only narrowly missed the necessary two-thirds majority. Mr Lindblad pledged to bring the wider plans back to the Council of Europe in the coming months.
He has chosen a good year for his ideological offensive: this is the 50th anniversary of Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Josef Stalin and the subsequent Hungarian uprising, which will doubtless be the cue for further excoriation of the communist record. Paradoxically, given that there is no communist government left in Europe outside Moldova, the attacks have if anything, become more extreme as time has gone on. A clue as to why that might be can be found in the rambling report by Mr Lindblad that led to the Council of
Europe declaration. Blaming class struggle and public ownership, he explained—different elements of communist ideology such as equality or social justice still seduce many “and— a sort of nostalgia for communism is still alive.” Perhaps the real problem for Mr Lindblad and his right-wing allies in Eastern Europe is that communizm is not dead enough and they will only be content when they have driven a stake through its heart.
The fashionable attempt to equate communism and Nazism is in reality a moral and historical nonsense. Despite the cruelties of the Stalin terror, there was no Soviet Treblinka or Sorbibor, no extermination camps built to murder millions. Nor did the Soviet Union launch the most devastating war in history at a cost of more than 50 million lives. In fact, it played the decisive role in the defeat of the German war machine. Mr Lindblad and the Council of Europe adopt as fact the wildest estimates of those—“killed by communist regimes” (mostly in famines) from the fiercely contested Black Book of Communizm, which also underplays the number of deaths attributable to Hitler. But, in any case, none of this explains why anyone might be nostalgic in former communist states, now enjoying the delights of capitalist restoration. The dominant account gives no sense of how communist regimes renewed themselves after 1956 or why Western leaders feared they might overtake the capitalist world well into the 1960s. For all its brutalities and failures, communizm in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialization, mass education, job security, and huge advances in social and gender equality. Its existence helped to drive up welfare standards in the West, and provided a powerful counterweight to Western global domination.
It would be easier to take the Council of Europe’s condemnation of communist state crimes seriously if it had also seen fit to denounce the far bloodier record of European colonializm
œ which only finally came to an end in the 1970s. This was a system of racist despotism, which dominated the globe in Stalin‘s time. And while there is precious little connection between the ideas of fascism and communism, there is an intimate link between colonialism and Nazism.
The terms lebensraum and konzentrationslagerwere both first used by the German colonial regime in south-west Africa (now Namibia), which committed genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples and bequeathed its ideas and personnel directly to the Nazi party.
Around 10 million Congolese died as a result of Belgian forced labour and mass murder in the early twentieth century; tens of millions perished in avoidable or enforced famines in British-ruled India; up to a million Algerians died in their war for independence, while controversy now rages in France about a new law requiring teachers to put a positive spin on colonial history. Comparable atrocities were carried out by all European colonialists, but not a word of condemnation from the Council of Europe. Presumably, European lives count for more.
No major twentieth century political tradition is without blood on its hands, but battles over history are more about the future than the past. Part of the current enthusiazm in official Western circles for dancing on the grave of communizm is no doubt about relations with today’s Russia and Chin(a). But it also reflects a determination to prove there is no alternative to the new global capitalist order œ and that any attempt to find one is bound to lead to suffering. With the new imperializm now being resisted in the Muslim world and Latin America, growing international demands for social justice and ever greater doubts about whether the environmental crisis can be solved within the existing economic system, the pressure for alternatives will increase.
The author cites examples of atrocities perpetrated by European colonial regimes in order to: