But while progressives decried any reasoned discussion of Trump as normalization, one of the left's leading organs, The New York Times devoted all of 2017 to normalizing communism, one of the ideologies that along with Nazism, and fascism, made much of the 20th century a charnel house.
Last year, the Times ran a 40-part series called "Red Century: Exploring the history and legacy of Communism, 100 years after the Russian Revolution". The series included, as you would expect for a normalization project, a great deal of civilized discussion about the pros and cons of the communist experiment.
But it was also carefully curated so it found no space in its forty episodes to discuss communism in Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, or the recent experiment in Venezuela. It was also remarkably unreflective about what went wrong with little discussion of dissidents, leading critics with the communist system such as Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia. Most surprisingly there was no assessment of the monumental impact of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's revelations on the tottering edifice of Soviet Communism. And there was a complete absence of the big picture questions - how does human nature fit into the idea of the Soviet New Man? Is it possible for any communist society from ever descending into the darkness that every such regime has done so far?
What the articles in the series did unintentionally highlight was the ability of idealists, or ideologues if you prefer (ideologues being idealists you disagree with), to walk optimistically into the future with their heads held high as they search the skies for their new world, which enables them to avoid seeing the sea of blood they wade through.
Let's look at some examples from start to finish:
What's Left of Communism by David Priestland (February 24), an Oxford historian and man of the Left, in which he espouses communism with a smiley face, without ever reflecting on its feasibility. Here are some snippets:
"So did I witness Communism’s last hurrah that day in Moscow, or is a Communism remodeled for the 21st century struggling to be born?"This piece was quickly supplemented with a very amusing correction by the Times:
"But the flaws of laissez-faire soon came to Communism’s rescue. The Wall Street crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed made socialist ideas of equality and state planning a compelling alternative to the invisible hand of the market. Communist militancy also emerged as one of the few political forces prepared to resist the threat of fascism." [THC here: Priestland ignores that in the end game of the Weimar Republic, Stalin ordered the German Communist Party to focus on destruction of the centrist parties and not attack the Nazis. And, of course, we have the communist parties of Western Europe and the U.S. happily supporting Stalin and Hitler from 1939 to 1941.]
"A new left might then succeed in uniting the losers, both white-collar and blue-collar, in the new economic order. Already, we’re seeing demands for a more redistributive state. Ideas like the universal basic income, which the Netherlands and Finland are experimenting with, are close in spirit to Marx’s vision of Communism’s ability to supply the wants of all — “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” [THC: And how exactly is that to occur without the use of government force]
"There will be no return to the Communism of five-year plans and gulags." [THC: Glad he feels so confident about that.]
"Lenin no longer lives, the old Communism may be dead, but the sense of injustice that animated them is very much alive."
Correction: February 24, 2017
A picture supplied by Getty Images was initially posted with this essay. Editors later learned that the photograph, of Lenin giving a speech, had been manipulated by the Soviet authorities to erase several figures near Lenin, notably Leon Trotsky. The picture has been replaced because such unacknowledged alterations violate Times standards.
On March 13, we had Angels and Demons in the Cold War and Today, by Stephen Boykewich, described as a consultant to social justice organizations. His piece isn't even about the communist revolution or communism, it's merely an anti-American screed blaming the United States for everything that's gone wrong with the Soviet Union and Russia.
Only a week later he have Francis Beckett, yet another British Leftist, trotting out the old theme of "Lenin was on the right track, it was that nasty guy Stalin who made it all go wrong"; a theme buried by Solzhenitsyn and the revelations of the Soviet archives after the Evil Empire's fall. Some sample excerpts:
After the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917, the Soviet state became a beacon of hope for the left, and Moscow a place for pilgrimage. It was four decades before the magic faded, and the world is still waiting for something to replace it. [THC: the kind of people who are still waiting for something to replace it are precisely the people you do not want anywhere near the levers of power.]
To be sure, Communist parties around the world kept the allegiance of many hard-liners and still recruited some young idealists, but 1956 was a turning point, and the Soviet Union as an idea was irretrievably tainted. Thereafter, Communists were as likely to define themselves as against Moscow as for it. [THC: Yes, they would always turn to the next group of Communist heroes who would finally get it right - we had Mao (40-50 million dead), then Ho Chi Minh killing anyone who opposed him; next was Cambodia Year Zero (20% of the population dead) and Fidel (arbitrary executions, imprisonment of homosexuals, destruction of one of Latin America's best economies).]
On April 3 it was the turn of Tariq Ali, of the New Left Review, and fanboy of Hugo Chavez, on What Was Lenin Thinking?, furthering Beckett's theme of the prior week regarding the brilliance of Lenin and the sadness that under Stalin things went awry.
"While its final details were obviously not advertised beforehand, the takeover was swift and involved minimal violence. [THC: Ali is actually describing a coup against the real revolutionary government, consisting of social democrats! There is also no mention in his paen to the great man, that a month later he ordered the forcible dissolution of the only legislative assembly ever elected by the Russian people.]
That all changed with the ensuing civil war, in which the nascent Soviet state’s enemies were backed by the czar’s former Western allies. Amid the resulting chaos and millions of casualties, the Bolsheviks finally prevailed — but at a terrible political and moral cost, including the virtual extinction of the working class that had originally made the revolution. [THC: Tariq Ali is not stupid. Here he is deliberately misleading readers not familiar with history by blaming what happened next on Lenin's enemies. Anyone who has read Lenin's own bloodthirsty words and directives, which do not distinguish between innocent and guilty, and were designed to instill terror, knows better.]Nor should we forget that a few decades later, it was the Red Army — originally forged in the civil war by Trotsky, Mikhail Tukhachevsky and Mikhail Frunze (the former two killed later by Stalin) — that broke the military might of the Third Reich in the epic battles of Kursk and Stalingrad. [THC: No mention of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939. I guess it must have slipped the author's mind.]"
April 29 brought us a pathetic piece by Vivian Gornick, When Communism Inspired Americans. The author was raised in an American communist family and was twenty years old when Khruschev's denunciation of Stalin occurred, revealing their beliefs were based on a lie. Sadly, she is still trying to give meaning to that lie so many years later, to salvage something from the deluded beliefs of her parents and herself. In reality, her family were members of an organization under the direction of a foreign power dedicated to the destruction of American democracy. A sampling of her continuing delusions:
“America was fortunate to have had the Communists here. They, more than most, prodded the country into becoming the democracy it always said it was.”"The effective life of the Communist Party in the United States was approximately 40 years in length. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were Communists at one time or another during those 40 years. Many of these people endured social isolation, financial and professional ruin, and even imprisonment. They were two generations of Americans whose lives were formed by political history as were no other American lives save those of the original Revolutionists. History is in them — and they are in history."
Sarah Jaffe of The Nation informed us of The Unexpected Afterlife of American Communism (June 6), in which it turns out commies were just
The Communist, in the American imagination, has always been the ultimate outside agitator.
In short, American Communism was a movement that grew out of what the historian Robin D. G. Kelley, the author of “Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression,” calls “the most despised and dispossessed elements of American society.” It was the black workers drawn to the party, Professor Kelley argues, who shaped its political choices as much as the varying dictates that came from the Communist International, Moscow’s directorate for foreign parties.
These arguments were championed by organizers like Claudia Jones, a black leader within the Communist Party U.S.A. and a journalist for its newspaper, The Daily Worker. According to Charlene Carruthers, the national director of Black Youth Project 100, Ms. Jones expounded the idea now known as intersectionality decades before that term became so ubiquitous that Hillary Clinton used it in a tweet on the campaign trail. For Ms. Jones, understanding the lives of black women and the economic and social position they occupied would create a better understanding of the system of capitalism as a whole. It followed, Ms. Carruthers explains, that black women’s work was central in the struggle to replace the system.
What American Communists, at their best, pioneered was to show how effectively grass-roots movements can challenge the racism, state violence and economic exploitation that people face in their daily lives, and connect those fights to a broader vision of a just world.
One hundred years after Lenin’s sealed train arrived at Finland Station and set into motion the events that led to Stalin’s gulags, the idea that we should return to this history for inspiration might sound absurd. But there was good reason that the Bolsheviks once called themselves “social democrats.” They were part of a broad movement of growing parties that aimed to fight for greater political democracy and, using the wealth and the new working class created by capitalism, extend democratic rights into the social and economic spheres, which no capitalist would permit.
Most socialists have been chastened by the lessons of 20th-century Communism. Today, many who would have cheered on the October Revolution have less confidence about the prospects for radically transforming the world in a single generation. They put an emphasis instead on political pluralism, dissent and diversity.
If humanity in the 21st century is to be rescued from its tailspin descent into the abyss, we must recall the choice offered by the alien visitor from the 1951 sci-fi film classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
“Join us and live in peace,” Klaatu said, “or pursue your present course and face obliteration.”
I think of it as science fiction’s useful paraphrasing of Rosa Luxemburg’s revolutionary ultimatum: “socialism or barbarism.”
August 7 Lenin's Eco-Warriors
ut Lenin, a longtime enthusiast for hiking and camping, agreed that protecting nature had “urgent value.”
August 12 Better Sex Under Socialism
Some might remember that Eastern bloc women enjoyed many rights and privileges unknown in liberal democracies at the time, including major state investments in their education and training, their full incorporation into the labor force, generous maternity leave allowances and guaranteed free child care. But there’s one advantage that has received little attention: Women under Communism enjoyed more sexual pleasure.
Agnieszka Koscianska, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Warsaw, told me that pre-1989 Polish sexologists “didn’t limit sex to bodily experiences and stressed the importance of social and cultural contexts for sexual pleasure.” It was state socialism’s answer to work-life balance: “Even the best stimulation, they argued, will not help to achieve pleasure if a woman is stressed or overworked, worried about her future and financial stability.”
Aug 28 Cold War and America's Delusion of Victory Harvard Professor JFK School of Government
While post-World War II clashes and rivalries were certainly unavoidable — Stalin’s policies alone were enough to produce those — it is hard to argue that a global Cold War that was to last for almost 50 years and threaten the obliteration of the world could not have been avoided. There were points along the way when leaders could have held back, especially on military rivalry and the arms race. But the ideological conflict at the root of the tension made such sensible thinking very difficult to achieve.
People of good will on both sides believed that they were representing an idea whose very existence was threatened. It led them to take otherwise avoidable risks with their own lives and the lives of others.
Sept 25 Women in China
Oct 2 The Communist Party's Party People by the unbelieveable shallow Allesandra Stanley
There was no better time or place to be a Communist than in San Francisco in the spring of 1945.
Oct 9 Reds in Muslim World
One effect of the failure of revolutionary forces to mobilize under the joint banner of Communism and Islam was to deeply divide Muslims, weakening their capacity first to fight colonialism during the first half of 20th century and then to resist the rise of authoritarianism across the Muslim world.
Oct 15 On John Reed
Across time, place and context, revolutions occur when a whiff of possibility appears, a broadening of horizons, tangible evidence that the status quo is not immutable. Wherever we are, we are all capable of picking up that scent. Of course, the full history of Russia’s revolution contains great shafts of darkness as well as light.
Oct 20 NYC as Capital of American Communism Maurice Isserman
With the onset of the Cold War, and of a second Red Scare more pervasive and longer-lasting than the original, Communists found themselves persecuted and isolated.