March 3, 2007


Utopia and its Discontents: a review of Paul Hollander, ed., From the Gulag to the Killing Fields: Personal Accounts of Political Violence and Repression in Communist States and Paul Hollander, The End of Commitment: Intellectuals, Revolutionaries, and Political Morality (Juliana Geron Pilon, 03.01.2007, National Interest)

IF MORAL clarity graced our times, the publication of Paul Hollander's comprehensive compilation of first-hand accounts by former communist victims, From the Gulag to the Killing Fields, would elicit a collective shudder of horror and sorrow.

"Systematic evil at work: evil without conscience." So does Harvard University professor Harvey Mansfield describe the grotesque crimes the selections illustrate. The book provides "an indispensable experience for the understanding of our times." No wonder it lingered in manuscript for several years: One publisher after another, simply reflecting readers' priorities, turned down the project until finally the Intercollegiate Studies Institute saved the day. Having failed to predict communism's collapse, our political experts now seem eager to forget about it altogether.

Indeed, as Hollander notes in his introduction, "it is difficult to identify a single American scholar specializing in Communist political violence, either as a comparative endeavor or as one focused on a particular Communist system." The incomparable Robert Conquest of the Hoover Institution, among the first to expose the enormity of Soviet crimes, was born in Great Britain, and Anne Applebaum, whose breathtaking 2005 work Gulag: A History earned her a Pulitzer Prize, is a journalist. Hollander, who taught sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was born in Hungary, which he fled after the abortive revolution of 1956. His tome demonstrates that comparative communist political violence is a field eminently ripe for academic study. It is also an impressive tribute to the most horrific event of the last century apart from the Holocaust. [...]

Marx and Engels' oxymoronic "dialectical materialism", juxtaposing the inevitability of revolution with the imperative of party leadership and predicated on a quasi-divine belief in history as progress, allowed zealous disciples to justify terror and murder by transforming "is" into "ought." Lenin understood perfectly that the next stage of history must be right, hence any means to bring it about were justified. Therefore, expediting the proletarian nirvana requires "eliminating" those who doubt the omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence of history's anointed force, the vanguard of the proletariat, the Communist Party.

Not unexpectedly, as nirvana became more elusive, the number of concentration camp inmates grew. Their crimes were often simply accusations--or having been arrested. As the gap between reality and promise increased, so did the need to eliminate those most likely to notice. Repressive measures, including imprisonment and torture, were most frequently taken not against declared ideological opponents, but against members of an inherently "counterrevolutionary class."

It's only reasonable that if you've rationally determined how to perfect society but are failing to do so that some folks need killing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 3, 2007 7:51 AM

It's not just rationalists who think that wholesale killing is the necessary step towards a golden future.

Posted by: Brandon at March 3, 2007 10:15 AM

No, but the rationalists attachment to a metaphysical belief system and calling it science is a unique twist in state sponsored homocide.

Posted by: at March 3, 2007 11:19 AM

"It is also an impressive tribute to the most horrific event of the last century apart from the Holocaust. [...]"

Hitler's holocaust is always cited as the exemplar of 20th century evil, yet he pales in comparison to the democide of the communists.

"Now, I have to change all the world democide totals that populate my websites, blogs, and publications. The total for the communist democide before and after Mao took over the mainland is thus 3,446,000 + 35,226,000 + 38,000,000 = 76,692,000, or to round off, 77,000,000 murdered. This is now in line with the 65 million toll estimated for China in the Black Book of Communism, and Chang and Halliday's estimate of "well over 70 million."

This exceeds the 61,911,000 murdered by the Soviet Union 1917-1987, with Hitler far behind at 20,946,000 wiped out 1933-1945.

For perspective on Mao's most bloody rule, all wars 1900-1987 cost in combat dead 34,021,000--including WWI and II, Vietnam, Korea, and the Mexican and Russian Revolutions. Mao alone murdered over twice as many as were killed in combat in all these wars." -- Rudy Rummel, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Hawaii

Posted by: jd watson at March 3, 2007 12:34 PM

Yes, it is.

Posted by: oj at March 3, 2007 2:48 PM

Islamists are looking for heaven on earth and believe killing will get them there but they're hardly rationalists.

Posted by: at March 3, 2007 4:06 PM

Yes, they are. The Salafists are rationalized. Qutb was as Western as it gets.

Posted by: oj at March 3, 2007 7:52 PM

The basis for the ideological assumptions are different. 'Western' may include 'rationalism' but they are not the same things. Where has Islamicism ever assumed the mantle of 'science'? Marxism is based on a fictional, highly determined 'science of history'. What is Islamicism based on other than theology and Qutb's reaction to American style equality and it's theistic, i.e. Judeo/ Christian, basis? I suppose one could say that Islamicism and 'rationalism' are both reactions against the theistic principles around which American society is organized but the similarities end there.

Posted by: at March 4, 2007 8:32 AM

Islamicism is based on Marxism, Nazism, etc.:

Were it still Islamic it would simply seek to convert people, as the Shi'a are.

Posted by: oj at March 4, 2007 3:47 PM

Islamicism is based on a particular reading of the Q'ran. Wahab was no Marxist.

Posted by: at March 4, 2007 4:58 PM

A Western reading. Qutb was thoroughly Westernized.

Posted by: oj at March 4, 2007 7:56 PM