Tag Archives: communism

The Lingering Love for Stalin

A poll by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation found that millennials, particularly younger ones, showed either an abysmal ignorance of communism, abysmal support for it or both. Almost half of Americans between the ages of 16 and 20 “said they would vote for a socialist, while 21% would go so far as to back a Communist.

Even more startling was that a” third of millennials say they believe more people were killed under George W. Bush than Joseph Stalin.”   In short, they knew nothing of Stalin’s body count, which, under current estimates, is 20 million.

Of the 2,300 Americans polled by YouGov, 80% of baby boomers and 91% of the elderly agree with the statement that “Communism was and still is a problem” in the world today. Among millennials, the figure was 55%.

From the vantage point of teaching college-level History courses, I’m not surprised by the ignorance. I regularly stun my classes when I assign Martin Amis’ devastating critique of Stalin, Koba The Dread.  What kick-started this book was Amis observing a group of old Leftists laughing when speaker Christopher Hitchens reminded them of their Communist past.  Outraged, Amis attacked the Old Left for deliberately forgetting the “demonic energy…embedded in their hope” for a perfect society.  But for the younger generation, Amis sought to educate them about what happened at events they are not exposed to such as how Stalin’s famine alone killed as many people—6 million—as Hitler’s Holocaust.

My class was both sickened and startled.  Many come forward after reading it asking why the real Stalin isn’t revealed in other history classes (the most disturbing and perhaps revealing of one of their comments was that “America isn’t perfect either”).  But all agreed that Stalin was rarely mentioned, except in the context of fighting Hitler.

My experiences as a graduate student in a New York school was not theirs. Stalin was not a neglected topic; far from it– he was an obsession for my hero-prone professors, many of whom could qualify as “tenured radicals.”   George W. Bush, by turns, was the real monster (this may account for those polled who find Stalin much more pacific than Bush).

I was personally privy to such ideological gymnastics when I served as a teaching assistant for a professor–I won’t name names—who asserted that people need to “realize the good Stalin was trying to do.” Part of that “good” was assigning quotas

of those to be shot in each village and region—he didn’t care who the victims were, only that the killing quotas be met.

Like one of those one-man shows in which actors like James Whitmore played Teddy Roosevelt or Harry Truman—even going so far regarding realism to talk to the audience while in character–I was presented with an example of the Old Stalinist Left, circa 1936.  All the rationalizations and defenses of Stalin were dusted off and presented sledgehammer fashion to my fellow students: Stalin was encircled by capitalist-imperialist countries; his Purge Trials were not rigged to murder his opposition but were a necessary measure to get rid of home-grown Nazis in the pay of Hitler, and countries which he military occupied and then mutated into his satellites actually welcomed his benign rule.

Moreover, she brandished such books as Mission to Moscow by Joseph E. Davies, a shameless Stalin apologist and American diplomat present at many of the Purge trials. He defended them as Pravda did: those accused and shot were agents of Hitler.   She also displayed the willingness to use anyone or anything to support Stalin. So she was willing to embrace an old imperialist such as Winston Churchill because he agreed with Stalin that the postwar world should be made up of each country’s own policed “zones” (this would have in effect legitimized Stalin’s absorption of Europe).

My fellow adjuncts mirrored such sentiments.  In a labor history class, I heard students laud Lenin as one of the “great men” of history (those feminists who went ballistic when anyone used such sexist, oppressive terms put aside their outrage when the subject was Lenin).  I was greeted with boos and a bad grade when I reminded them that Lenin once called “intellectuals” “shit” and wanted them all shot.

Even more surreal was how professors and students tried to mix post-modernism with Stalinism.  Perhaps they feared that logical inquiry based on fact-finding would present a convincing indictment of Stalin’s crimes. So they argued that empiricism was a form of “fascism.”

This atmosphere was so wedded to Communism that the ideological spectrum had shifted far left, with Communists being liberals, and authentic liberals such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. were “reactionaries.”  When I asked about where that put Ronald Reagan, they told me he stood shoulder to shoulder with Schlesinger and other New Dealers.

Today it would not be a leap on my part to assume that these colleagues are teaching millennials, as I am, and honoring their former professors by cheerleading for Communist dictators.

So I am not surprised not by the ignorance found in the polls—students, from most generations, don’t know or care about the past–but also by their support for Communist dictators.  Ignorance only partially explains it.  What the poll shows is their indoctrination by left-wing professors.

And it is my generation, along with the Old Left, who is responsible.

The Leftist Intellectuals Hovering over the Campuses

Political correctness – the academic aping of the class struggle — has increasingly generated campus hijinks unintentionally redolent of the cartoonist Al Capp’s 1960s depiction of S.W.I.N.E. (Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything). Recently, referring to the plague of campus hoaxes regarding rape and race, capped off by the ruckus at Oberlin College because of the cultural “disrespect” shown by serving General Tso’s Chicken with steamed instead of fried rice, I was asked by a well-educated friend, “how did academia come to this sorry pass?”

Obscure but Powerful

It was, I replied, a long story but suggested that she read the British philosopher Roger Scruton’s Fools Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left.” It’s an engaging update of Scruton’s 1985 politically incorrect book that got Scruton ejected from English academia. The figures Scruton discusses, such as George Lukacs, Louis Althusser, Michel Foucault and Slavo Zizek, “may seem like obscure intellectuals to the man in the street but they are still dominant on the humanities curriculum,” he explains. Humanities students have to swallow a whole load of what Scruton describes as their “nonsense machine.”

“The postmodern campus aggrievement industry,” notes Arthur Milikh, writing in City Journal, aims to introduce a new standard of wisdom: judging the highest achievements of human knowledge by the unreasoned, spontaneous feelings of uncultivated minds.

Intellectuals as Saviors

In order to chart the growth of “the aggrievement industry,” Scruton twines together two strands of twaddle: Western– that is cultural– Marxism, and the intellectual and psychological derangements of its practitioners. Western Marxism can be best understood as the class struggle without the proletariat. It retains the passionate hatred of the bourgeoisie but like Lenin puts forth intellectuals as the saviors of mankind.

Capitalism Deforms the Psyche

Lukacs claimed, “The entire human psyche is so deformed by capitalism” that “it is not possible to be human in bourgeois society…. The “bourgeoisie possesses only the semblance of a human existence.”  Anticipating the black nationalists who insisted whites couldn’t understand black culture and the apologist for Palestinian terrorism Edward Said, who claimed Arab and Islamic culture was beyond the ken of Westerners, Lukacs instructed that Soviet culture was entirely opaque to the bourgeois intellect.

The challenge was never met.

A Lone Persecuted Voice

Scruton first encountered the writing of Louis Althusser on “aleatory Marxism” when he was visiting France during the ectopic revolution of the May 1968 events.  Althusser, a professor at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure in Paris depicted himself “as a lone persecuted voice.”  It was but one of his bizarre impostures.  Althusser, who was in and out of mental institutions for his entire life, depicted his time in a German P.O.W camp as one of the few times he experienced freedom.  Althusser, a Communist Party member who invited his many students to join him in the supposed solitude of his persecution, found the site of totalitarianism in neither Stalin’s Russia nor Mao’s China, but rather in “that most frightful, appalling and horrifying of all the ideological state apparatuses . . . namely, the family.”

Few readers other than those looking to be initiates into this occult version of academic Gnosticism can escape from the “dense fog of” Althusser’s “portentous verbiage.” But in 1980 at age 62, Althusser ceased spreading smog directly when he strangled his wife and largely got away with it by pleading professorial incapacitation.  But his work was carried on by his students, who produced Slavo Zizek, the current reigning champion of academic incantation who predictably fabricates one or two books a year.

Disregard Majorities

Zizek, speaking for the line of argument from Lukacs to Althusser that has infested our campuses, explained, “Revolutionary politics is not a matter of opinions but of the truth on behalf of which one often is compelled to disregard the opinion of the majority and to impose the revolutionary will against it.”  Revolutionary will has no need for evidence and argumentation. Nor, Zizek explains, is there any need for ordinary bourgeois logic. You can simultaneously argue, through what he calls paraconsistent logic born of the dialectic, for X and not X.

Speaking at the 2012 Occupy Wall Street protests Zizek, in defiance of conventional evidence, insisted that the United State was more repressive than the government of mainland China, which jails dissenters and their lawyers. “[In] 2011, the Chinese government prohibited on TV and films and in novels all stories that contain alternate reality or time travel,” Zizek noted. “This is a good sign for China; it means that people still dream about alternatives, so you have to prohibit this dream. Here, we don’t think of prohibition, because the ruling system has even oppressed our capacity to dream. Look at the movies that we see all the time. It’s easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life and so on. But you cannot imagine the end of capitalism.”  In another words, the absence of prohibitions proves the presence of repression.

Neglect of Palpable Facts

At the turn of the twentieth century, the democratic socialist Eduard Bernstein explained presciently, once you go in for an “almost incredible neglect of the most palpable facts,” you end up soon enough at “a truly miraculous belief in the creative power of force.” Zizek, one of the most popular speakers on American campuses, is the fulfillment of Bernstein’s prediction.

“We seem,” says Zizek, “to need Lenin’s insights more than ever…because it is only by throwing off our attachment to liberal democracy that we can become effectively anti-capitalist.” “The ultimate and defining experience of the twentieth century,” he explains, “was the direct experience of the Real as distinct from everyday social reality – the Real, in its extreme violence, is the price to be paid for peeling off the deceiving layers of reality.”  Hence Lenin’s greatness.

In The Leninist Freedom, he cheerfully noted Lenin’s response to Menshevik defenders of democracy in 1920: ‘Of course, gentlemen, you have the right to publish this critique – but, then, gentlemen, be so kind as to allow us to line you up against the wall and shoot you!’ Now that’s direct action for you.  Direct action as in the numerous campus protests of the past year allows for the authenticity of action impossible when ordinary procedures are invoked.

The Sokol Hoax

What’s puzzling is why such a wide variety of protests has recently broken out across American campuses.  Postmodernism seemed to have been beaten back in the early 21st century. The embarrassment of the Sokal hoax (the pomo magazine Social Text printed as genuine a spoof claiming to deconstruct gravity); the revelations that two of the key influences on postmodernism, the philosopher Martin Heidegger and the literary critic Paul de Man, were deeply implicated in European fascism; and the defection of literary critics suggested that postmodernism was on the rocks or at the very least had become old hat.

But while pomo might have become old hat, the selective process whereby the radicals of the 60s had become the college administrators of recent years was part of a development whereby a narrowing number of novitiates were looking to take their vows for the priesthood of the humanities. For many years, students of moderate or conservative views and those perhaps looking for a more promising path to the future chose other careers. But the radicalized rump was energized by the Ferguson protests and motivated by the sense that the dwindling days of the Obama years impelled the need for immediate action.  The upshot has been the return of S.W.I.N.E’s hijinks as academia or at least an increasingly cartoonish section of the humanities seems determined to discredit itself.


Fred Siegel is a Scholar in Residence at St Francis College, Brooklyn, and a contributing editor to Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

Rallying Around Che at a ‘Literary’ Conference

che-guevara-shirt.jpgWhen charges of doctrinaire Marxism are leveled against professors, the standard procedure is to charge the accusers with misinterpretation—they just can’t understand the subtleties of the literary and philosophical profundities being dispensed. In English departments these theories have touched deconstruction, new historicism, post-colonialism, gender studies, disability studies, etc. Most in the field–promoters and detractors alike–know that these theories have roots in Marxism. For those of us alarmed by the politicization of literary studies, it’s a difficult message to get out to the world because the cloud of academic verbiage obscures the real sources and aims of such theories.

But when announcements for a world literature conference begin with a long quotation from The Communist Manifesto and a co-director approvingly quotes the left’s most popular dead Stalinist, Che Guevara, the aim became clear: the conference wasn’t really going to be about literature. The first International World Literature Conference at Kennesaw State University in suburban Cobb County, Georgia, on March 16, announced the purpose of the conference in the call for papers and on the English Department’s website with the quotation that reads in part, “The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. . . .The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.”

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A Fresh View of Cold-War America

DeltonJennifer.jpgTeaching in the universities about the so-called McCarthy era has become an area most susceptible to politically correct and one-sided views of what the period was all about. One historian who strenuously objects to the accepted left-wing interpretation that prevails in the academy is Jennifer Delton, Chairman of the Department of History at Skidmore College.
In the March issue of The Journal of the Historical Society Delton writes:

However fiercely historians disagree about the merits of American Communism, they almost universally agree that the post-World War II Red scare signified a rightward turn in American politics. The consensus is that an exaggerated, irrational fear of communism, bolstered by a few spectacular spy cases, created an atmosphere of persecution and hysteria that was exploited and fanned by conservative opportunists such as Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy. This hysteria suppressed rival ideologies and curtailed the New Deal, leading to a resurgence of conservative ideas and corporate influence in government. We may add detail and nuance to this story, but this, basically, is what we tell our students and ourselves about post-World War II anti-Communism, also known as McCarthyism. It is fundamentally
the same story that liberals have told since Whittaker Chambers accused Alger Hiss of being a Communist spy in 1948.

This conventional narrative of the left has been told over and over for so many years that it has all but become the established truth to most Americans. It was exemplified in a best-selling book of the late 1970’s, David Caute’s The Great Fear, and from the most quoted one from the recent past, Ellen Schrecker’s Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America. My favorite title is one written by the late Cedric Belfrage, The American Inquisition 1945-1960: A Profile of the “McCarthy Era.” In his book, Belfrage told the story of how he, an independent journalist who founded the fellow-traveling weekly The National Guardian, was hounded by the authorities and finally deported home to Britain. American concerns about Soviet espionage, he argued, were simply paranoia.

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Tear Down What Wall?

According to a 2007 poll, 95% of Sweden’s young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty know what Auschwitz was, yet 90% don’t know what the word ‘Gulag’ refers to, despite the Russians having dispatched to these infamous labor camps thousands of innocent people.

This lack of knowledge is not the fault of the young, but of the media and of other social institutions, whose proper role is the capturing and transmission of truth. Sweden is a Socialist country, and one suspects that the failure to accurately portray Communism is a consequence of the sense of kinship the Swedish Left feels for Socialism’s rabid brother. Because of this betrayal of the truth, the generation about to assume leadership in Sweden will face that grave responsibility stuffed with false information. For example, some 43% of those polled believe that Communism has spread prosperity – not famine – wherever its chill grip has extended. Although they realize Communism has cost some innocent lives, 20% of these young people estimate that loss of life at 10,000. 43% come slightly closer to the mark, with an estimate of 1 million. Few, however, realize that the actual total exceeds, by 50%, the combined total deaths of the two World Wars. The correct estimate of lives destroyed by Communism already exceeds 100 million, a tally that continues to mount today.

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