This month, we remember the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik coup d’etat, popularly misnamed the Russian Revolution (the real Russian revolution, abolishing the monarchy and introducing democracy, took place in February of 1917). This monumental historical event, “ten days that shook the world” in the words of an American sympathiser John Reed, ushered in more than seventy years of Soviet communism and inspired similar movements elsewhere, consigning hundreds of millions of people to death or modern serfdom and the world as a whole to half a century of the cold war.
To mark the occasion, some of the more thoughtful commentators around are asking themselves essentially the same question, for example Bret Stephens in “The New York Times”: “Communism through rose-colored glasses: why can’t the left condemn this evil as it does its historical equivalents?” and Daniel Hannan in “The Daily Telegraph”: “100 years and 100 million deaths later, Communism still has its converts. Why?”
The answer, to me, has always been very simple: because the left judges itself by its intentions and everyone else by their actions and results.
Thus, the communism, however horrific in practice – and to be fair, most now acknowledge its crimes and failures – is a lofty ideal. It’s about equality, justice, brotherhood of men (the sexist language is a 19th century holdover), or at least it has been for the majority of genuine, idealistic and uncynical followers and fellow travellers. And let’s face, equality, justice and brotherhood sound much better (at least on paper) than Nazism’s ideas such as racial purity. There’s really no competition in theory. Because that those leading the “revolution” were actually always less interested in equality than in power pure and simple, or at least ended up being corrupted by it, well, that’s just tragic, but hey, “good and noble intentions” and all that. Never has the proverb about the road to hell been truer than in the context of the potholed Marxist highway to perdition.
The natural consequence of this privileging (sometimes I love using leftie vocabulary and hating myself for it) of intentions over implementation is the more or less thinly disguised belief that the end justifies the means. How many times have you heard in the context of communism the phrase “you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs”? Yes, but 100 million eggs? And for what? Sure, Russia, for example, did industrialise under Stalin, but it was already undergoing vast modernisation in the last years of tsardom, and there is little doubt that she would have industrialized at least as successfully under any other form of government, and more importantly, without such massive and criminal waste of human lives.
Actually, the answer to the question why communism is still considered more respectable than fascism despite a much higher death toll is more complex, because there are really two answers. The other one is this: to paraphrase Von Clausewitz, communism is merely the continuation of socialism/leftism/progressivism/radicalism by other means. If you are on the left, to unequivocally condemn communism is to essentially cast doubt on the morality, practicality and efficacy of your own left-wing ideas and ideals, including such concepts as equality and equalitarianism, collectivism and statism, regulation and control.
This contrasts sharply with one of the most popular and most self-serving myths perpetuated by the left: that Nazism is a right-wing ideology and that Nazism is “far-right” (as communism is far-left). If you keep moving left past Obama or Bernie Sanders or [insert the name of your favour left-wing figure] on the ideological continuum, you will eventually get to Lenin, Stalin, Mao or Fidel Castro. But if you keep moving right past Winston Churchill or Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher you will not get to Hitler. Or to put in de-personalised terms: the extremism in the pursuit of equality will get you communism, with all its gulags and killing fields and misery; the extremism in the pursuit of liberty will get you Milton Friedman, and not Heinrich Hess.
I am aware that I am simplifying the situation somewhat; whereas the left is a reasonably (internally) coherent ideology, the label of the right applies to diverse streams of ideas; primarily liberalism and conservatism. But even if you identify and equate conservatism with the right to the exclusion of every other ideology, the extreme conservatism at worst will give you General Franco, who was neither a Nazi nor a fascist but an old-fashioned authoritarian, or naive collaboration with the real Nazism, as in Germany in the 1930s.
The truth, universally denied by the left to this day, is that Nazism and fascism are not right-wing ideologies: they are anti-capitalist, anti-individualist, anti-liberty, anti-democratic, and pro-(big)state and government, pro-control, pro-collective. There is really nothing that classical liberalism has in common with Nazism. This is one of the reasons why we, on the right, have absolutely no problem condemning fascism and seeing it as an evil and repulsive ideology that it is, which has been rightly condemned to the ash heap of history (to borrow from Reagan).
When twitting his “Telegraph” article, Hannan wrote “Fascism killed 17 million people, so we detest it. Communism killed 100 million, so why do we keep falling for it?”
That’s why. Because the ideas and ideals that drive communism are essentially the same as those that drive the so called democratic socialism. The only difference is that communists take them even further towards the extreme and use more forceful methods trying (though always failing) to implement them. This is not to say that the Western leftists and social democrats are morally responsible for the crimes and misdeeds of communism; they’re not, unless they actually support or excuse them. So if you can’t be right, at least be like George Orwell; you might still be wrong in many regards but not criminally so.