Saturday, February 15, 2014

Hipsters and Lenin

I recently read this comment on the bizarre phenomenon of so-called educated people wearing communist regalia, Lenin t-shirts, etc. I couldn't agree more with the parts in bold below:

When I see hipsters wearing Mao hats or Lenin T-shirts, I’m grateful. It’s like truth-in-labeling. For now I know you are: Woefully ignorant, morally stunted, purposively asinine, or all three.

If you aren’t an anti-Communist — a passionate anti-Communist, not an anti-Communist of the rhetorical box-checking variety — please don’t talk to me about how the Iraq War was immoral or how Bashar Assad is evil or how imperialism, slavery, and colonialism are forever stains on the American soul. Because there is no indictment of America — or any other nations! —  that can be delivered credibly by someone willing to defend the record of Soviet (or Chinese) Communism.
As I note in my column, it’s generally agreed upon that the Nazi Holocaust was worse than the Soviet Terror. I am reminded of when Robert Conquest, one of the greatest chroniclers of Communism’s evil, was asked by a writer for Le Monde, if the Holocaust was “worse” than Stalin’s crimes:
“I answered yes I did,” Conquest recalls, “but when the interviewer asked why, I could only answer honestly with ‘I feel so.’” Nonetheless, he adds, “Whatever view one takes, without feeling the Holocaust one cannot feel, or understand, Stalinism.”
I think this gets it as right as you can. If the Holocaust was worse it is because it feels so. But only barely and for reasons that are impossible to articulate, given the enormity of Communism’s transgressions. I agree with Conquest, but I would never want to make that case to a Ukrainian. To tally up the barbarities one-against-the-other is to translate two incomprehensible horrors into a game of points and demonic trump cards.
That said, there is at least one way in which the Soviet horrors were far worse than the Nazis’. As a cultural matter, the Soviets pretty much got away with it. Nazism is forever synonymous with evil (at least in the West). Communism is not. Meredith Vieira would never call the symbolic end of Nazism at a German Olympic ceremony, “a bittersweet moment.” Call Hitler a monster and you are repeating a boring truism. Call Lenin or Stalin monsters and you are revealing your silly obsessions or hang-ups. “Who cares?” comes the sophisticated response or, even worse, “Who?”

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