Has anyone else observed a striking pattern in the New York Times recently? They’ve hosted a series of fond, nostalgic recollections about the good old days of 20th-century Communism—the optimism, the idealism, the moral authority. Not to mention the gulags, the squalor, and the soul-crushing conformity.
Actually, they don’t usually mention those things. These articles are part of a series called “Red Century,” which is supposedly dedicated to “exploring the history and legacy of Communism, 100 years after the Russian Revolution.” But that history and legacy turn out to be very selectively explored. The editors of the Times could easily spend a year filling their newspaper with a hair-raising litany of Communism’s crimes across the globe, stuff that would keep their readers up at night for weeks. There’s certainly no shortage of material: the terror, the gulags, the Holodomor, the Cultural Revolution, and so on. Yet in this series, the crimes of Communism are mostly just hinted at.
There are a few articles that deal forthrightly with the horrors of the Soviet regime. Others present being a member of the secret police as a morally complex issue—”it was way to build the future and be a part of something larger than themselves”—something I doubt the Times would be foolish enough to publish if it were about a former member of the Gestapo or the Klan. Disturbingly, most entries are in this vein of talking about the idealism and human warmth and just plain caring of the people who denied the gulags and the mass starvation in Ukraine. Sure, they may have abetted the torture and murder of millions, but their “devotion to creating a more just world was infectious,” “the party was possessed of a moral authority that lent shape and substance…to an urgent sense of social injustice,” and all of it was infused by “an inherent optimism for the future, implied by socialism and progressivism.”
The overall thrust of the series is summed up in a call to try Communism again, but maybe this time try not to have any gulags. No, really.
This time, people get to vote. Well, debate and deliberate and then vote—and have faith that people can organize together to chart new destinations for humanity….
We may reject the version of Lenin and the Bolsheviks as crazed demons and choose to see them as well-intentioned people trying to build a better world out of a crisis, but we must work out how to avoid their failures.
Meanwhile, we can actually tune in live and see what happens when someone tries to act on this idea of reviving the Communist ideal. A few years ago, leftist pundits were praising Venezuela as a socialist miracle. Then the socialist regime hit the Thatcher Line: it ran out of other people’s money (in this case, oil company money) and the illusion came crashing down. The result: desperate poverty, shortages, squalor, children dying in hospitals from lack of medicine and equipment, refugees fleeing in makeshift boats.
In other words: your basic rundown for a radical socialist regime. It’s not the first time this has happened. It’s not even the tenth time.
And the socialist “revolutionaries” respond the way they always have: they try to save the revolution by exterminating political freedom. In the past few weeks, while folks at the New York Times were airily speculating about reviving Communism, but in a good way, Venezuela’s socialist revolutionaries staged a flagrantly rigged vote to overturn representative government, and now they have brought back the “midnight knock on the door,” with the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of opposition leaders.
At home, the left is calling for “resistance” against the “authoritarianism” of Donald Trump—while their most prominent mouthpieces are actively whitewashing a movement that stands for totalitarianism, and the actual young idealists in places like Venezuela are getting gunned down in the streets by the regime. Some of this has even been reported in the New York Times. Maybe somebody ought to inform the opinion editors.
What is it about a thoroughly discredited doctrine like Communism that just won’t die? My overall sense from the “Red Century” series is that enough years have passed since the fall of the Iron Curtain that Western intellectuals now feel they can get away with downplaying Communism’s crimes and failures and return to rapturous descriptions of its abstract ideals, without the need any longer to take a serious look at what those ideals really meant in practice.
The theory of Communism—the elevation of the collective over the individual and of government dictates above free, private decision-making—is the fundamental cause of all of its evils. But it’s also a moral theory with old roots, on that has established itself in many people’s minds as synonymous with morality itself. Of course everyone should put the collective “public good” over private interests—what could possibly go wrong? Well, we found out what could go wrong, over and over again. We have plenty of reasons to think that individual rights and private interests are actually essential to a free and prosperous society—not to mention that they might help keep us out of the gulag.
But if you can’t bring yourself to question whether the theory of socialism is synonymous with the very idea of morality and progress, you won’t be able to relinquish the socialist dream, even after it has been exposed as a nightmare.
This deep vein of denial has troubling consequences. One sign—still on a very small scale—is the reconstitution of “Young Communist Clubs,” something I haven’t seen much of since I was in college in 1989, the year reality pulled the rug out from under all of the earnest young socialists. This can only be happening again because today’s young people have been allowed to grow up ignorant of the nature of Communism, both in the past and in the present. And this is aided and abetted by publications at the top of the culture, like the New York Times, as they draw a gauzy curtain of nostalgia across the history of 20th-Century Communism.
One of those “Red Century” encomiums to Communist idealism sums up its case by recalling “Rosa Luxemburg’s revolutionary ultimatum: ‘socialism or barbarism.'” But the lesson of history—heck, the lesson of our own time—is that socialism is barbarism.
Don’t let the New York Times send this truth down the memory hole.