Stéphane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panné, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek, Jean-Louis Margolin
Excerpt from Introduction: the crimes of communism by Stéphane Courtois
[pg. 3] However, the memory of the terror has continued to preserve the credibility, and thus the effectiveness, of the threat of repression. None of the Communist regimes currently in vogue in the West is an exception to this rule–not the China of the “Great Helmsman,” nor the North Korea of Kim Il Sung, nor even the Vietnam of “good old Uncle Ho” or the Cuba of the flamboyant Fidel Castro, flanked by the hard-liner Che Guevara. Nor can we forget Ethiopia under Mengistu Haile Mariam, Angola under Agostinho Neto, or Afghanistan under Mohammed Najibullah.
Incredibly, the crimes of Communism have yet to receive a fair and just assessment from both historical and moral viewpoints. This book is one of the first attempts to study Communism with a focus on its criminal dimensions, in both the central regions of Communist rule and the farthest reaches of the globe. Some will say that most of these crimes were actions conducted in accordance with a system of law that was enforced by the regimes’ official institutions, which were recognized internationally and whose heads of state continued to be welcomed with open arms. But was this not the case with Nazism as well? The crimes we shall expose are to be judged not by the standards of Communist regimes, but by the unwritten code of the natural laws of humanity.
The history of Communist regimes and parties, their policies, and their relations with their own national societies and with the international community are of course not purely synonymous with criminal behavior, let alone with terror and repression. In the US.S.R. and in the “people’s democracies” after Stalin’s death, as well as in China after Mao, terror became less pronounced, society began to recover something of its old normalcy, and “peaceful coexistence”–if only as “the pursuit of the class struggle by other means”–had become an international fact of life. Nevertheless, many archives and witnesses prove conclusively that terror has always been one of the basic ingredients of modern Communism. Let us abandon once and for all the idea that the execution of hostages by firing squads, the slaughter of rebellious workers, and the forced starvation of the peasantry were only short-term “accidents” peculiar to a specific country or era. Our approach will encompass all geographic areas and focus on crime as a defining characteristic of the Communist system throughout its existence.
Exactly what crimes are we going to examine? Communism has committed a multitude of crimes not only against individual human beings but also against world civilization and national cultures. Stalin demolished dozens of churches in Moscow; Nicolae Ceausescu destroyed the historical heart of Bucharest to give free rein to his megalomania; Pol Pot dismantled the Phnom Penh cathedral stone by stone and allowed the jungle to take over the temples of Angkor Wat; and during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, priceless treasures were smashed or burned by the Red Guards. Yet however terrible this destruction may ultimately prove for the nations in question and for humanity as a whole, how does it compare with the mass murder of human beings–of men, women, and children?
Thus we have delimited crimes against civilians as the essence of the phenomenon of terror. These crimes tend to fit a recognizable pattern even if the practices vary to some extent by regime. The pattern includes execution by various means, such as firing squads, hanging, drowning, battering, and, in certain cases, gassing, poisoning, or “car accidents”; destruction of the population by starvation, through man-made famine, the withholding of food, or both; deportation, through which death can occur in transit (either through physical exhaustion or through confinement in an enclosed space), at one’s place of residence, or through forced labor (exhaustion, illness, hunger, cold). Periods described as times of “civil war” are more complex–it is not always easy to distinguish between events caused by fighting between rulers and rebels and events that can properly be described only as a massacre of the civilian population.
Nonetheless, we have to start somewhere. The following rough approximation, based on unofficial estimates, gives some sense of the scale and gravity of these crimes:
U.S.S.R.: 20 million deaths
China: 65 million deaths
Vietnam: 1 million deaths
North Korea: 2 million deaths
Cambodia: 2 million deaths
Eastern Europe: 1 million deaths
Latin America: 150,000 deaths
Africa: 1.7 million deaths
Afghanistan: 1.5 million deaths
International Communist parties not in power: about 10,000 deaths
The total approaches 100 million people killed.
China: 65 million deaths
Vietnam: 1 million deaths
North Korea: 2 million deaths
Cambodia: 2 million deaths
Eastern Europe: 1 million deaths
Latin America: 150,000 deaths
Africa: 1.7 million deaths
Afghanistan: 1.5 million deaths
International Communist parties not in power: about 10,000 deaths
The total approaches 100 million people killed.
The immense number of deaths conceals some wide disparities according to context. Unquestionably, if we approach these figures in terms of relative weight, first place goes to Cambodia, where Pol Pot, in three and a half years, engaged in the most atrocious slaughter, through torture and widespread famine, of about one-fourth of the country’s total population. However, China’s experience under Mao is unprecedented in terms of the sheer number of people who lost their lives. As for the Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin, the blood turns cold at its venture into planned, logical, and “politically correct” mass slaughter.
This bare-bones approach inevitably fails to do justice to the numerous issues involved. A thorough investigation requires a “qualitative” study based on a meaningful definition of the term “crime.” Objective and legal criteria are also important. The legal ramifications of crimes committed by a specific country were first confronted in 1945 at the Nuremberg Tribunal, which was organized by the Allies to consider the atrocities committed by the Nazis. The nature of these crimes was defined by Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, which identified three major offenses: crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. An examination of all the crimes committed by the Leninist/Stalinist regime, and in the Communist world as a whole, reveals crimes that fit into each of these three categories.
Crimes against peace, defined by Article 6a, are concerned with the “planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of wars of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements, or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing.” Unquestionably, Stalin committed such a crime by secretly negotiating two treaties with Hitler–those of 23 August and 28 September 1939 on the partition of Poland and on the annexation of the Baltic states, northern Bukovina, and Bessarabia to the U.S.S.R., respectively. By freeing Germany from the risk of waging war on two fronts, the treaty of 23 August 1939 led directly to the outbreak of World War II. Stalin perpetrated yet another crime against peace by attacking Finland on 30 November 1939. The unexpected incursion into South Korea by North Korea on 25 June 1950 and the massive intervention in that war by the Chinese army are of comparable magnitude. The methods of subversion long used by the Moscow-backed Communist parties likewise deserve categorization as crimes against peace, since they began wars; thus a Communist coup in Afghanistan led to a massive Soviet military intervention on 27 December 1979, unleashing a conflict that continues to this day.
War crimes are defined in Article 6b as “violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, the ill-treatment or deportation of civilian residents of an occupied territory to slave labor camps or for any other purpose, the murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, the killing of hostages, the plunder of public or private property, the wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, and any devastation not justified by military necessity.” The laws and customs of war are written down in various conventions, particularly the Hague Convention of 1907, which states that in times of war “the inhabitants and the belligerents remain under the protection and the rule of the principles of the law of nations, as they result from the usages established among civilized peoples, from laws of humanity, and the dictates of the public conscience.”
Stalin gave the go-ahead for large numbers of war crimes. The liquidation of almost all the Polish officers taken prisoner in 1939, with 4,500 men butchered at Katyn, is only one such episode, albeit the most spectacular. However, other crimes on a much larger scale are habitually overlooked, including the murder or death in the gulag of tens of thousands of German soldiers taken prisoner from 1943 to 1945. Nor should we forget the rape of countless German women by Red Army soldiers in occupied Germany, as well as the systematic plundering of all industrial equipment in the countries occupied by the Red Army. Also coveted by Article 6b would be the organized resistance fighters who openly waged war against Communist rulers and who were executed by firing squads or deported after being taken prisoner–for example, the soldiers of the anti-Nazi Polish resistance organizations, members of various Ukrainian and Baltic armed partisan organizations, and Afghan resistance fighters.
The expression “crime against humanity” first appeared on 19 May 1915 in a joint French, British, and Russian declaration condemning Turkey’s massacre of the Armenians as a “new crime by Turkey against humanity and civilization.” The atrocities committed by the Nazis obliged the Nuremberg Tribunal to redefine the concept, as stated in Article 6c: “Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.”
In his arguments at Nuremberg the French prosecutor general, Francois de Menthon, emphasized the ideological dimension of these crimes: “I propose today to prove to you that all this organized and vast criminality springs from what I may be allowed to call a crime against the spirit, I mean a doctrine that, by denying all spiritual, rational, or moral values by which nations have tried for thousands of years to improve human conditions, aims to plunge humanity back into barbarism, no longer the natural and spontaneous barbarism of primitive nations, but into a diabolical barbarism, conscious of itself and using for its ends all material means put at the disposal of humanity by contemporary science. This sin against the spirit is the original sin of National Socialism from which all crimes spring. This monstrous doctrine is that of racism. . . .Whether we consider a crime against peace or war crimes, we are therefore not faced by an accidental or an occasional criminality that events could explain without justifying it. We are in fact faced by systematic criminality, which derives directly and of necessity from a monstrous doctrine put into practice with deliberate intent by the masters of Nazi Germany.”
Francois de Menthon also noted that deportations were meant to provide additional labor for the German war machine, and the fact that the Nazis sought to exterminate their opponents was merely “a natural consequence of the National Socialist doctrine for which man has no intrinsic value unless he serves the German race.” All statements made to the Nuremberg Tribunal stressed one of the chief characteristics of crimes against humanity–the fact that the power of the state is placed in the service of criminal policies and practice. However, the jurisdiction of the Nuremberg Tribunal was limited to crimes committed during World War II. Therefore, we must broaden the legal definition of war crimes to include situations that extend beyond that war. The new French criminal code, adopted on 23 July 1992, defines war crimes in the following way: “The deportation, enslavement, or mass-scale and systematic practice of summary executions, abduction of persons following their disappearance, torture, or inhuman acts inspired by political, philosophical, racial, or religious motives, and organized for the purpose of implementing a concerted effort against a civilian population group” (emphasis added).
All these definitions, especially the recent French definition, are relevant to any number of crimes committed by Lenin and above all by Stalin and subsequently by the leaders of all Communist countries, with the exception (we hope) of Cuba and the Nicaragua of the Sandinistas. Nevertheless, the main conclusions are inescapable–Communist regimes have acted “in the name of a state practicing a policy of ideological hegemony.” Thus in the name of an ideological belief system were tens of millions of innocent victims systematically butchered, unless of course it is a crime to be middle-class, of noble birth, a kulak, a Ukrainian, or even a worker or a member of the Communist Party. Active intolerance was high on the Communists’ agenda. It was Mikhail Tomsky, the leader of the Soviet trade unions, who in the 13 November 1927 issue of Trud (Labor) stated: “We allow other parties to exist. However, the fundamental principle that distinguishes us from the West is as follows: one party rules, and all the others are in jail!”
The concept of a crime against humanity is a complex one and is directly relevant to the crimes under consideration here. One of the most specific is genocide. Following the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis, and in order to clarify Article 6c of the Nuremberg Tribunal, crimes against humanity were defined by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide of 9 December 1948 in the following way: “Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
The new French criminal code defines genocide still more broadly: “The deed of executing a concerted effort that strives to destroy totally or partially a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, or a group that has been determined on the basis of any other arbitrary criterion” (emphasis added). This legal definition is not inconsistent with the philosophical approach of Andre Frossard, who believes that “it is a crime against humanity when someone is put to death purely by virtue of his or her birth.” And in his short but magnificent novel Forever Flowing, Vasily Grossman says of his hero, Ivan Grigorevich, who has returned from the camps, “he had remained exactly what he had been from his birth: a human being.” That, of course, was precisely why he was singled out in the first place. The French definition helps remind us that genocide comes in many shapes and sizes–it can be racial (as in the case of the Jews), but it can also target social groups. In The Red Terror in Russia, published in Berlin in 1924, the Russian historian and socialist Sergei Melgunov cited Martin Latsis, one of the first leaders of the Cheka (the Soviet political police), as giving the following order on 1 November 1918 to his henchmen: “We don’t make war against any people in particular. We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class. In your investigations don’t look for documents and pieces of evidence about what the defendant has done, whether in deed or in speaking or acting against Soviet authority. The first question you should ask him is what class he comes from, what are his roots, his education, his training, and his occupation.”
Lenin and his comrades initially found themselves embroiled in a merciless “class war,” in which political and ideological adversaries, as well as the more recalcitrant members of the general public, were branded as enemies and marked for destruction. The Bolsheviks had decided to eliminate, by legal and physical means, any challenge or resistance, even if passive, to their absolute power. This strategy applied not only to groups with opposing political views, but also to such social groups as the nobility, the middle class, the intelligentsia, and the clergy, as well as professional groups such as military officers and the police. Sometimes the Bolsheviks subjected these people to genocide. The policy of “de-Cossackization” begun in 1920 corresponds largely to our definition of genocide: a population group firmly established in a particular territory, the Cossacks as such were exterminated, the men shot, the women, children, and the elderly deported, and the villages razed or handed over to new, non-Cossack occupants. Lenin compared the Cossacks to the Vendee during the French Revolution and gladly subjected them to a program of what Gracchus Babeuf, the “inventor” of modern Communism, characterized in 1795 as “populicide.”
The “dekulakization” of 1930-1932 repeated the policy of “de-Cossackization” but on a much grander scale. Its primary objective, in accordance with the official order issued for this operation (and the regime’s propaganda), was “to exterminate the kulaks as a class.” The kulaks who resisted collectivization were shot, and the others were deported with their wives, children, and elderly family members. Although not all kulaks were exterminated directly, sentences of forced labor in wilderness areas of Siberia or the far north left them with scant chance of survival. Several tens of thousands perished there; the exact number of victims remains unknown. As for the great famine in Ukraine in 1932-33, which resulted from the rural population’s resistance to forced collectivization, 6 million died in a period of several months.
Here, the genocide of a “class” may well be tantamount to the genocide of a “race”–the deliberate starvation of a child of a Ukrainian kulak as a result of the famine caused by Stalin’s regime “is equal to” the starvation of a Jewish child in the Warsaw ghetto as a result of the famine caused by the Nazi regime. Such arguments in no way detract from the unique nature of Auschwitz–the mobilization of leading-edge technological resources and their use in an “industrial process” involving the construction of an “extermination factory,” the use of gas, and cremation. However, this argument highlights one particular feature of many Communist regimes–their systematic use of famine as a weapon. The regime aimed to control the total available food supply and, with immense ingenuity, to distribute food purely on the basis of “merits” and “demerits” earned by individuals. This policy was a recipe for creating famine on a massive scale. Remember that in the period after 1918, only Communist countries experienced such famines, which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions, of people. And again in the 1980s, two African countries that claimed to be Marxist-Leninist, Ethiopia and Mozambique, were the only such countries to suffer these deadly famines.
A preliminary global accounting of the crimes committed by Communist regimes shows the following: The execution of tens of thousands of hostages and prisoners without trial, and the murder of hundreds of thousands or rebellious workers and peasants from 1918 to 1922; The famine of 1922, which caused the deaths of 5 million people; The extermination and deportation of the Don Cossacks in 1920; The murder of tens of thousands in concentration camps from 1918 to 1930; The liquidation of almost 690,000 people in the Great Purge of 1937-38; The deportation of 2 million kulaks (and so-called kulaks) in 1930-1932; The destruction of 4 million Ukrainians and 2 million others by means of an artificial and systematically perpetuated famine in 1932-33; The deportation of hundreds of thousands of Poles, Ukrainians, Balts, Moldovans, and Bessarabians from 1939 to 1941, and again in 1944-45; The deportation of the Volga Germans in 1941; The wholesale deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1943; The wholesale deportation of the Chechens in 1944; The wholesale deportation of the Ingush in 1944; The deportation and extermination of the urban population in Cambodia from 1975 to 1978; The slow destruction of the Tibetans by the Chinese since 1950.
No list of the crimes committed in the name of Leninism and Stalinism would be complete without mentioning the virtually identical crimes committed by the regimes of Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung, and Pol Pot.
A difficult epistemological question remains: Should the historian employ the primarily legal categories of “crime against humanity” and “genocide”? Are these concepts not unduly time specific–focusing on the condemnation of Nazism at Nuremberg–for use in historical research aimed at deriving relevant medium-term conclusions? On the other hand, are these concepts not somewhat tainted with questionable “values” that distort the objectivity of historical research?
First and foremost, the, history of the twentieth century has shown us that the Nazis had no monopoly over the use of mass murder by states and party-states. The recent experiences in Bosnia and Rwanda indicate that this practice continues as one of the hallmarks of this century.
Second, although it might not be appropriate to revive historical methods of the nineteenth century, whereby historians performed research more for the purpose of passing judgment than for understanding the issue in question, the immense human tragedies directly caused by certain ideologies and political concepts make it impossible to ignore the humanist ideas implicit in our Judeo-Christian civilization and democratic traditions–for example, the idea of respect for human life. A number of renowned historians readily use the expression “crime against humanity” to describe Nazi crimes, including Jean Perre Azema in his article “Auschwitz” and Pierre Vidal-Naquet on the trial of Paul Touvier. Therefore, it does not seem inappropriate to use such terms and concepts to characterize the crimes committed by Communist regimes.
In addition to the question of whether the Communists in power were directly responsible for these crimes, there is also the issue of complicity. Article 7(3.77) of the Canadian criminal code, amended in 1987, states that crimes against humanity include infractions of attempting, conspiring, counseling, aiding, and providing encouragement for de facto complicity. This accords with the definition of crimes against humanity in Article 7(3.76) of the same code: “attempting or conspiring to commit, counseling any person to commit, aiding or abetting any person in the commission of, or being an accessory after the fact in relation to the act” (emphasis added). Incredibly, from the 1920s to the 1950s, when hundreds of thousands of people served in the ranks of the Communist International and local sections of the “world party of the revolution,” Communists and fellow-travelers around the world warmly approved Lenin’s and subsequently Stalin’s policies. From the 1950s to the 1970s, hundreds of thousands of people sang the praises of the “Great Helmsman” of the Chinese Revolution and extolled the virtues of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Much closer to our time, there was widespread rejoicing when Pol Pot came to power. Many will say that they “didn’t know.” Undoubtedly, of course, it was not always easy to learn the facts or to discover the truth, for Communist regimes had mastered the art of censorship as their favorite technique for concealing their true activities. But quite often this ignorance was merely the result of ideologically motivated self-deception. Starting in the 1940s and 1950s, many facts about these atrocities had become public knowledge and undeniable. And although many of these apologists have cast aside their gods of yesterday, they have done so quietly and discreetly. What are we to make of a profoundly amoral doctrine that seeks to stamp out every last trace of civic-mindedness in men’s souls, and damn the consequences?
In 1968 one of the pioneers in the study of Communist terror, Robert Conquest, wrote: “The fact that so many people ‘swallowed’ [the Great Terror] hook, line, and sinker was probably one of the reasons that the Terror succeeded so well. In particular, the trials would not be so significant had they not received the blessing of some ‘independent’ foreign commentators. These pundits should be held accountable as accomplices in the bloody politics of the purges or at least blamed for the fact that the political assassinations resumed when the first show trial, regarding Zinoviev in 1936, was given an ill-deserved stamp of approval.” If the moral and intellectual complicity of a number of non-Communists is judged by this criterion, what can be said of the complicity of the Communists? Louis Aragon, for one, has publicly expressed regret for having appealed in a 1931 poem for the creation of a Communist political police in France.
[… pg. 14] Before World War II, crackdowns against the Jews were widespread; persecution reached its peak during Kristallnacht, with several hundred deaths and 35,000 rounded up for internment in concentration camps. These figures apply only to the period before the invasion of the Soviet Union. Thereafter the full terror of the Nazis was unleashed, producing the following body count-15 million civilians killed in occupied countries, 6 million Jews, 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war, 1.1 million deportees who died in the camps, and several hundred thousand Gypsies. We should add another 8 million who succumbed to the ravages of forced labor and 1.6 million surviving inmates of the concentration camps.
The Nazi terror captures the imagination for three reasons. First, it touched the lives of Europeans so closely. Second, because the Nazis were vanquished and their leaders prosecuted at Nuremberg, their crimes have been officially exposed and categorized as crimes. And finally, the revelation of the genocide carried out against the Jews outraged the conscience of humanity by its irrationality, racism, and unprecedented bloodthirstiness.
[… pg. 16] Efforts to draw parallels between Nazism and Communism on the basis of their respective extermination tactics may give offense to some people. However, we should recall how in Forever FlowingVasily Grossman, whose mother was killed by the Nazis in the Berdychiv ghetto, who authored the first work on Treblinka, and who was one of the editors of the Black Book on the extermination of Soviet Jews, has one of his characters describe the famine in Ukraine: “writers kept writing. . . Stalin himself, too: the kulaks are parasites; they are burning grain; they are killing children. And it was openly proclaimed “that the rage and wrath of the masses must be inflamed against them, they must be destroyed as a class, because they are accursed.” He adds: “To massacre them, it was necessary to proclaim that kulaks are not human beings, just as the Germans proclaimed that Jews are not human beings. Thus did Lenin and Stalin say: kulaks are not human beings.” In conclusion, Grossman says of the children of the kulaks: “That is exactly how the Nazis put the Jewish children into the Nazi gas chambers: ‘You are not allowed to live, you are all Jews!'”
Time and again the focus of the terror was less on targeted individuals than on groups of people. The purpose of the terror was to exterminate a group that had been designated as the enemy. Even though it might be only a small fraction of society, it had to be stamped out to satisfy this genocidal impulse. Thus, the techniques of segregation and exclusion employed in a “class-based totalitarianism” closely resemble the techniques of “race-based totalitarianism.” The future Nazi society was to be built upon a “pure race,” and the future Communist society was to be built upon a proletarian people purified of the dregs of the bourgeoisie. The restructuring of these two societies was envisioned in the same way, even if the crackdowns were different. Therefore, it would be foolish to pretend that Communism is a form of universalism. Communism may have a worldwide purpose, but like Nazism it deems a part of humanity unworthy of existence. The difference is that the Communist model is based on the class system, the Nazi model on race and territory. Thus the transgressions of Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, and the Khmer Rouge pose a fresh challenge for humanity, and particularly for legal scholars and historians: specifically, how do we describe a crime designed to exterminate not merely individuals or opposing groups but entire segments of society on a massive scale for their political and ideological beliefs? A whole new language is needed for this. Some authors in the English-speaking countries use the term “politicide.” Or is the term “Communist crimes,” suggested by Czech legal scholars, preferable?
How are we to assess Communism’s crimes? What lessons are we to learn from them? Why has it been necessary to wait until the end of the twentieth century for this subject to show up on the academic radar screen? It is undoubtedly the case that the study of Stalinist and Communist terror, when compared to the study of Nazi crimes, has a great deal of catching-up to do (although such research is gaining popularity in Eastern Europe).
One cannot help noticing the strong contrast between the study of Nazi and Communist crimes. The victors of 1945 legitimately made Nazi crimes– and especially the genocide of the Jews–the central focus of their condemnation of Nazism. A number of researchers around the world have been working on these issues for decades. Thousands of books and dozens of films–most notably Night and Fog, Shoah, Sophie’s Choice, and Schindler’s List–have been devoted to the subject. Raul Hilberg, to name but one example, has centered his major work upon a detailed description of the methods used to put Jews to death in the Third Reich.
Yet scholars have neglected the crimes committed by the Communists. While names such as Himmler and Eichmann are recognized around the world as bywords for twentieth-century barbarism, the names of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, Genrikh Yagoda, and Nikolai Ezhov languish in obscurity. As for Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and even Stalin, they have always enjoyed a surprising reverence. A French government agency, the National Lottery, was crazy enough to use Stalin and Mao in one of its advertising campaigns. Would anyone even dare to come up with the idea of featuring Hitler or Goebbels in commercials?
The extraordinary attention paid to Hitler’s crimes is entirely justified. It respects the wishes of the surviving witnesses, it satisfies the needs of researchers trying to understand these events, and it reflects the desire of moral and political authorities to strengthen democratic values. But the revelations Concerning Communist crimes cause barely a stir. Why is there such an awkward silence from politicians? Why such a deafening silence from the academic world regarding the Communist catastrophe, which touched the lives of about one-third of humanity on four continents during a period spanning eighty years? Why is there such widespread reluctance to make such a crucial factor as crime–mass crime, systematic crime, and crime against humanity–a central factor in the analysis of Communism?
[… pg. 28] It is untenable to draw a veil over the issue to ensure that the history of Communism is narrowed to its national, social, and cultural dimensions. The justice of this argument is amply confirmed by the fact that the phenomenon of totalitarianism was not limited to Europe ‘and the Soviet period. The same applies to Maoist China, North Korea, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Each national Communism has been linked by an umbilical cord to the Soviet womb, with its goal of expanding the worldwide movement. The history with which we are dealing is the history of a phenomenon that has spread throughout the world and that concerns all of humanity.
The second purpose of this book is to serve as a memorial. There is a moral obligation to honor the memory of the innocent and anonymous victims of a juggernaut that has systematically sought to erase even their memory. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism’s center of power in Moscow, Europe, the continent that played host to the twentieth century’s many tragedies, has set itself the task of reconstructing popular memory. This book is our contribution to that effort. The authors of this book carry that memory within themselves. Two of our contributors have a particular attachment to Central Europe, while the others are connected by firsthand experience with the theory and practice of revolution in 1968 or more recently.
This book, as both memorial and history, covers very diverse settings. It touches on countries in which Communism had almost no practical influence, either on society or on government power–Great Britain, Australia, Belgium, and others. Elsewhere Communism would show up as a powerful source of fear–in the United States after 1946–or as a strong movement (even if it never actually seized power there), as in France, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal. In still other countries, where it had lost its decades-long grip on power, Communism is again reasserting itself–in Eastern Europe and Russia. Finally, its small flame is wavering in countries in which Communism still formally prevails–China, North Korea, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam.
Others may have different perspectives on the issues of history and memory. In countries in which Communism had little influence or was, merely dreaded, these issues will require a simple course of study and understanding. The countries that actually experienced the Communist system will have to address the issue of national reconciliation and decide whether the former Communist rulers are to be punished. In this connection, the reunified Germany may represent the most surprising and “miraculous” example–one need only think of the Yugoslav disaster by way of contrast. However, the former Czechoslovakia–now the Czech Republic and Slovakia–Poland, and Cambodia alike confront considerable trauma and suffering in their memory and history of Communism. In such places a modicum of amnesia, whether conscious or unconscious, may seem indispensable in helping to heal the spiritual, mental, emotional, personal, and collective wounds inflicted by a half-century or more of Communism. Where Communism still clings to power, the tyrants and their successors have either systematically covered up their actions, as in Cuba and China, or have continued to promote terror as a form of government, as in North Korea.
The responsibility for preserving history and memory undoubtedly has a moral dimension. Those whom we condemn may respond, “Who has given you the authority to say what is Good and what is Bad?”
According to the criteria proposed here, this issue was addressed well by the Catholic Church when Pope Pius XI condemned Nazism and Communism respectively in the encyclicals Mit Brennender Sorge of 14 March 1937 and Divini redemptoris of 19 March 1937. The latter proclaimed that God endowed humanity with certain rights, “the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the necessary means of existence; the right to pursue one’s ultimate goal in the path marked out for him by God; the right of association, and the right to possess and use property.” Even though there is a certain hypocrisy in the church’s pronouncement against the excessive enrichment of one class of people at the expense of others, the importance of the pope’s appeal for the respect of human dignity is beyond question.
As early as 1931, Pius XI had proclaimed in the encyclical Quadragesimo anno: “Communism teaches and seeks two objectives: unrelenting class warfare and the complete eradication of private ownership. Not secretly or by hidden methods does it do this, but publicly, openly, and by employing any means possible, even the most violent. To achieve these objectives there is nothing it is afraid to do, nothing for which it has respect or reverence. When it comes to power, it is ferocious in its cruelty and inhumanity. The horrible slaughter and destruction through which it has laid waste to vast regions of Eastern Europe and Asia give evidence of this.” Admittedly, these words originated from an institution that for several centuries had systematically justified the murder of non-Christians, spread the Inquisition, stifled freedom of thought, and supported dictatorial regimes such as those of General Francisco Franco and Antonio Salazar.
However, even if the church was functioning in its capacity as a guardian of morality, how is a historian to respond when confronted by a “heroic” saga of Communist partisans or by a heartbreaking account from their victims? In his Memoirs Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand wrote: “When in the silence of abjection, no sound can be heard save that of the chains of the slave and the voice of the informer; when all tremble before the tyrant, and it is as dangerous to incur his favor as to merit his displeasure, the historian appears, entrusted with the vengeance of the people.