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.