Note: Most of my adult life and all of my childhood were dominated by the threat of Communism. People of my generation who wanted to know understood well the horrors of Communist societies. We knew of the slave-labor camps, of the mass executions, of the constant spying on ordinary citizens by the secret police, of the betrayals of friend by friend that were everyday life in Communist countries. We were well aware also of the grinding poverty in those countries.
I am concerned that thinking individuals who are in their twenties and even in their thirties now might know little about the reality of Communism as it was practiced. It seems to me that no one asked them to study the matter. A Russian friend of mine is going back to Russia this summer for a couple of months. If a few readers ask, I will request of my friend that he contribute to this blog from there, drawing on the memories of older friends and relatives who survived the Soviet period.
There was once a “Communist” movement whose followers were often motivated by generous impulses and by economic ignorance, in more or less equal parts. There has never been a Communist state, whatever that would be. Historically several Communist parties did achieve political power. None did so through democratic means, although the Czechoslovak Communists may have come close, in 1948. We will never know because the presence of a large contingent of the Soviet Red Army in the country forever mars the analysis.
Every Communist party that ever reached power proceeded to establish a variety of fascist state, soon indistinguishable from its nominally “Fascist” counterparts and sometimes enemies. The flexibly fascist so-called “People’s,” so-called “Republic” of China may yet constitute an exception to the generalization that fascist governments only bring economic misery. It looks today like an economically successful fascist country.
In countries, such as Italy and France, where nominally fascist and communist parties exist side by side and where it is possible to conduct analyses, it turns out that the two recruit largely from the same social groups. People who don’t like the free exercise of democracy will join any collectivist movement. Stickers do not seem to matter much.
I think it’s not an insignificant coincidence that the most dramatic and best studied fascist movement called itself, “Nazi.” The word is a contraction of the real name of the party, “National-Socialist.” Hitler ranted regularly against the Communists, whom he called “Bolsheviks,” by their old, pre-1917 name. Yet the kinship of their action with what he was trying to accomplish did not escape his attention. Mussolini, the inventor of political fascism, of Fascism as an ideology, was formerly a Socialist journalist.
Victor Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary is replete with examples of leftists activists who joined and even helped grow explicitly fascist parties as soon as those became available. (Note: Victor Serge was an Anarchist who first supported the Soviet Revolution and then, denounced it in vigorous and well-informed terms. His book makes a good reading and it’s a wonderful introduction to the revolutionary history of the first half of the 20th century. Victor Serge was an intellectually honest leftist, in my estimation.)
Every Communist Party upon coming to power immediately implemented a foreign policy difficult to distinguish from that of Hitler, although usually less successfully. (Not every fascist dictator has the luck to work with Germans as a raw material.) Thus, the Chinese Communists invaded Tibet within only one year of achieving power over China.
A casual study of the life and death of the Romanian dictator Nikola Ceausescu illustrates well the idea that communism is simply a variety of fascism, often, a variety by name only. In 1974, Ceausescu came to power from within the Communist Party, as a reformer and amidst general rejoicing. In December 1989, he was forced to flee from a speech he was giving in the Romanian capital by popular acclamations. On Christmas Day 1989, he was shot on television after a brief summary trial.