While strolling through the local Barnes and Noble the other day, I decided to see what I could find on the shelves by Solzhenitsyn. There were two thin copies of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. That’s it! No Cancer Ward, no The First Circle, and, most depressing of all, no copies of The Gulag Archipelago. So much for the work chosen by Time Magazine as the “best non-fiction book of the 20th century.” If it were up to me, a copy would be in every hotel room along with the Bible. Communism was the greatest secular religion of all time. It came complete with its own “scientific” morality, and when it had finished eradicating “evil” in the world in order to clear the way for “good,” it had claimed 10’s of millions of victims, shot, tortured, and starved to death under conditions of almost inconceivable brutality. Solzhenitsyn was an eyewitness, and Gulag records the accounts of many others.
It would seem, assuming we place any value on our own survival, that every one of us should know something about these events, including historical background, and have more than a vague idea of what happened to some of the individual victims. Millions of those victims, typically including the most intelligent and productive members of the societies in which these events occurred, were murdered in the death cellars and camps, all within living memory and in a relatively short space of time, by the zealots of a religion whose God was a future utopia here on earth rather than a superman in the sky. It is hardly out of the question that something similar could happen again. Assuming we want to avert that possibility, would it not be useful to understand how it happened in the past?
Instead of taking heed and learning from the past when it comes to Communism we seem to be afflicted with a remarkable level of historical myopia. It’s as if we just wanted to forget the whole subject. Why? Our children are drenched with victimology in our schools and universities, learning versions of history that are often one-sided and distorted. Somehow the Communists are off limits as victimizers. Human morality works in wondrous ways.
I suspect one of the reasons for the blind spot when it comes to Communism is the fact that too many connections still exist to people who collaborated in the crime. For example, Hollywood cheerfully promoted the new faith in the 30’s in spite of the fact that the crimes Solzhenitsyn chronicled were already happening in plain sight. The notion that Communism in Hollywood was just a myth concocted in the fevered imaginations of delusional latter day John Birchers is nonsense. Many stars, directors and writers made no secret of the Communist connections, but were perfectly open about their promotion of the “great cause.” Their support was a matter of pride, not some guilty secret. Thumb through the copies of The American Mercury for, say, 1939 and 1940, if you seriously believe the whole episode was just a McCarthyite fairy tale. Today we are expected to wring our hands over the fates of those who ended up on the blacklist, suffering damage to their precious careers, but ignore the victims, many thousands of times greater in number, who were arrested and murdered to fill some apparatchik’s quota of bodies while these same stooges cheered on their murderers.
The identity of history’s “victims” is entirely dependent on who is telling the story. We gain some insight into the political complexion of the story tellers from Malcolm Muggeridge in his book, The Thirties, where he writes that, at the beginning of the decade it was rare to find a university professor who was a Marxist, but at its end it was hard to find one who wasn’t. Of course, British intellectuals prided themselves on being way ahead of their dense American cousins in that regard. Fellow travelers were hardly a rarity in many other professions, and they made no secret of their political affinities. They were reliable shills for Stalin, keeping a perfectly straight face during the Great Purge Trials, and swallowing any propaganda he saw fit to feed them, no matter how absurd. Stalin was gone in the 60’s and 70’s, but the intellectual descendants of his earlier apologists were still there, loudly cheering the likes of Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot. Many of them are still around. Obviously, it is more pleasing for them to pose as the saviors of other victims than to dredge up inconvenient truths about the ones they helped to bury.
The Gulag Archipelago should be required reading for every student in every public high school in the country. If it were necessary for them to learn about the millions who were shot in the back of the head, or had their teeth knocked out and their genitals crushed in brutal interrogations, or were slowly starved or frozen to death in the squalid islands of the Archipelago, perhaps there might be some slight reduction in the chances that they and their children will suffer a similar fate. It’s not likely to happen, though. Instead, if the data point of my local Barnes and Noble is in any way representative, “the best non-fiction book of the 20th century” is being gradually forgotten. Victims are all the rage; just not the victims of Communism, by far the largest and most savagely brutalized class of victims in human history. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. As Stalin so astutely pointed out, “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”