At long last there will be some official American recognition of the victims of Communism. The U.S. Congress has passed, and President Clinton has signed, a public law authorizing an international memorial–for which a private organization, the Victims of Communism Memorial Fund, is raising money — to be constructed at “an appropriate location within the boundaries of the District of Columbia,” i.e., on the Mall, where millions of tourists and every American President can see it.
In their deliberate mass murder of civilians, the Communists are the blood-stained world champions. According to conservative estimates, more than 100 million people have been murdered by the Communist rulers of the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Eastern Europe since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The killing continues in countries like China today.
A few dedicated scholars, starting with Robert Conquest, have written about the Communist holocaust. Conquest’s The Great Terror, published in 1968, was the first work to suggest the magnitude of Stalin’s murders. Later, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn carefully detailed the operation of the Soviet Union’s slave-labor camps in The Gulag Archipelago. Now R. J. Rummel, in his epic work in progress on what he calls democide (the killing of peoples), suggests that even these works may have underestimated the magnitude of this holocaust.
Drawing upon sources ranging from Conquest to Solzhenitsyn and using a conservative mathematical formula, Rummel calculates that approximately 61.9 million people were murdered by the Communist government of the Soviet Union in the seven decades between 1917 and 1987.
This mass killing included the wholesale murder of several hundred thousand Don Cossacks in 1919, the starving to death of about 5 million Ukrainian peasants in 1932-33, the extermination of perhaps 6.5 million kulaks (well-off peasants) from 1930 to 1937, the execution of 1 million Party members in the Great Terror of 1937-38, and the massacre of all Trotskyists in the Gulag.
Attempting to explain how Lenin and Stalin could knowingly command the death of millions, Solzhenitsyn wrote: “Ideology–that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors.”
An image that came to Conquest’s mind when thinking of Stalin was Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Children. But Stalin was Saturn magnified one million times, for the Soviet dictator devoured men, women and children, the equivalent of entire nations. Milovan Djilas said bluntly: “All in all, Stalin was a monster.”
But his crimes against humanity were almost equaled by those of another monster, the Great Helmsman of China, Mao Tse-tung. Rummel estimates that from 1949 through 1987, the Chinese Communists killed 38.7 million Chinese, Tibetans, and other minorities. Communist democide has been four times more deadly for the Chinese people than all the wars and rebellions of this century in which China has been involved, including the Boxer Rebellion and the Sino-Japanese, Korean, and Civil Wars.
For Chinese Communists, the enemy was the landlord, the wealthy peasant, the middle class, all to be exterminated or “won over.” They set out to transform the most populous nation in the world into a Communist society, regardless of the cost.
Mao reveled in the blood-letting, once boasting: “What’s so unusual about Emperor Shih Huang of the Chin Dynasty? He had buried alive 460 scholars only, but we have buried alive 46,000 scholars.”
It is understandable that Communists would be still as a grave about their blood-stained history, but what excuse do liberals offer for their silence?
Lincoln Steffens laid down the liberal dictum decades ago when he declared: “Treason to the Tsar wasn’t a sin; treason to Communism is.”
Whether or not most American intellectuals would express that credo so openly, they clearly live by it. There was, for example, Professor Paul Samuelson’s confident assertion in 1976 that it was “a vulgar mistake to think that most people in Eastern Europe are miserable.” There was Professor Jerry Hough’s argument that Brezhnev’s regime was a modern pluralist state much like our own. Hough is most (in)famous for insisting in print and on television that the number of victims of Stalin’s purges was really rather low: “A figure in the low hundreds of thousands seems much more probable than one in the high hundreds of thousands, and even tens of thousands is quite conceivable, maybe even probable.”
There was John Kenneth Galbraith, the man of a thousand opinions, who wrote in 1984, just a few months before Mikhail Gorbachev proclaimed an economic crisis: “That the Soviet system has made great material progress . . . is evident both from the statistics and from the general urban scene. . . . One sees it in the appearance of solid well-being of the people on the streets. . . . Partly the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast with the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower.”
For the Princeton Sovietologist Stephen F. Cohen, the critical issue of the 1980s was not the invasion of Afghanistan, or the aiming of SS-18s and SS-20s at Europe, or the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate, but the necessity of accepting Moscow’s proper place in the world community. He denied the Soviet Union was a “closed” society (Andrei Sakharov was apparently a figment of the CIA’s imagination). In fact, Cohen claimed that the post-Stalin leadership enjoyed a high level of popular support because it had made good on basic promises like comprehensive welfare protection and improved living standards for each succeeding generation.
Such staggering statements continue to be made. In 1992, Sovietologist Robert W. Thurston roundly criticized a brochure that the Library of Congress published about a Soviet exhibit because it “highlighted only the repressive nature of the Soviet regime, ignoring its positive [though] flawed accomplishments.” “Nothing appeared,” he complained, “on the growth of education, upward social mobility, increased availability of medical care, urbanization or anything that might be considered positive.” There was indeed considerable “upward social mobility” in the Soviet Union, as Arnold Beichman has noted, after Stalin executed several thousand marshals, generals, and other officers in the 1930s. In allowing lieutenants to become colonels and captains to become generals, Stalin gave new meaning to the term meritocracy.
But being liberal means never having to say you’re sorry, and one wonders whether, for these people, the Victims of Communism monument will be any more visible than the victims it memorializes.