Friday the NY Times published an opinion column by Bret Stephens titled “Communism Through Rose-Colored Glasses” which makes the not very novel argument that fascism is everywhere denounced even while the left still seems to harbor a schoolgirl crush that makes excuses for even more deadly communism. Stephens writes:
These aren’t original questions. But they’re worth asking because so many of today’s progressives remain in a permanent and dangerous state of semi-denial about the legacy of Communism a century after its birth in Russia.
No, they are not true-believing Communists. No, they are not unaware of the toll of the Great Leap Forward or the Killing Fields. No, they are not plotting to undermine democracy.
But they will insist that there is an essential difference between Nazism and Communism — between race-hatred and class-hatred; Buchenwald and the gulag — that morally favors the latter. They will attempt to dissociate Communist theory from practice in an effort to acquit the former. They will balance acknowledgment of the repression and mass murder of Communism with references to its “real advances and achievements.” They will say that true communism has never been tried. They will write about Stalinist playwright Lillian Hellman in tones of sympathy and understanding they never extend to film director Elia Kazan.
A few paragraphs later Stephens points to the results of this left-wing fondness for a utopia that never seems to work out in practice:
Venezuela is today in the throes of socialist dictatorship and humanitarian ruin, having been cheered along its predictable and unmerry course by the usual progressive suspects.
One of those suspects, Jeremy Corbyn, may be Britain’s next prime minister, in part because a generation of Britons has come of age not knowing that the line running from “progressive social commitments” to catastrophic economic results is short and straight.
Bernie Sanders captured the heart, if not yet the brain, of the Democratic Party last year by portraying “democratic socialism” as nothing more than an extension of New Deal liberalism. But the Vermont senator also insists that “the business model of Wall Street is fraud.” Efforts to criminalize capitalism and financial services also have predictable results.
In response to this, there are hundreds of NY Times readers weighing in to attack Stephens and defend a) Democratic socialism, b) Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, and c) American progressives in general. I’m not going to name any names here because my point is not to single people out. But I do want to react to some of their arguments:
I am puzzled by this column. I am not aware of anyone in the US or Britain who is an apologist for Soviet Communism, or it followers in China, Cuba or Venezuela. It is clear to all that they are economic failures and toxic corrupt and autocratic regimes.
I have not recently seen protesters marching with hammer and sickle banners in US cities, or neo-Communists supporting major party candidates.
Then you descended into an anti-historical vilification of Bernie Sanders, equating democratic socialism (aka social democracy) with Venezuela’s version of Mussolini, Nicolas Maduro. It’s a free country, you don’t have to agree with social democracy but don’t make stuff up.
It goes on:
I live in New York City and spend plenty of times in hipster ‘hoods and have yet to see anyone wearing a Mao or Lenin t-shirt.
Granted I’m cherry-picking but there really are a lot of arguments like this, i.e. I don’t see any communists around here and, besides, everyone knows the real communists in places like Venezuela and Cuba are bad people. Except of course that there are real communists here. You can see their signs at every major left-wing street protest from the anti-war marches during the Bush years to Ferguson to these events being scheduled across the country for next weekend. According to this article from March, the Communist Party U.S.A., which is headquartered in New York, has had 5,000 people join online in the past five years:
Since Trump’s election, the Communist Party USA has seen a slight uptick in membership — about 600 new members since Election Day.
During the past five years, about 5,000 Americans have joined the Communist Party USA via the internet, party officials said. Most of these members haven’t join the party’s clubs, or grassroots organizations. There are 3,000 clubs nationwide.
There are apparently even some genuine communists in the U.S. military. Granted 5,000 members is a tiny number in a country as large as the U.S. but so are the number of people supporting outright racists like Richard Spencer. Spencer gets routinely condemned (and rightly so) by the media while U.S. communists rarely get mentioned.
As for everyone knowing it’s wrong to support dictatorial communists (as opposed to wonderful Euro-socialists) I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone wearing a Stalin shirt in the U.S. but I’ve certainly seen people wearing Che Guevara paraphernalia. He has his own online apparel store. And Colin Kaepernick, who has been in the news a lot recently for starting a new protest in the NFL, wore a t-shirt praising Fidel Castro last year:
— The Daily Rapid (@dailyrapid) October 20, 2017
The left has certainly gotten very quiet about Venezuela in the past year but many of them adored Hugo Chavez, including Sean Penn, Michael Moore, and Oliver Stone. Another person who praised Chavez, as Bret Stephens correctly points out, was Jeremy Corbyn. Here he is in 2013, praising Chavez’ legacy and calling the election of Chavez’ hand-picked successor Nicolas Maduro a “seminal election.”
Here’s Corbyn just a couple months ago still refusing to say he regrets his support for dictator Maduro:
It’s worth noting that Corbyn did not see Venezuela as an example of extremism, communism, etc. He saw it (and apparently still sees it) as a model of “socialism” done right. Bret Stephens is absolutely correct about the tendency of the far left to excuse communist excesses even while going on about the pressing need to eradicate fascism in our midst is a problem. The fact that so many NY Times’ readers are eager to shield socialists like Corbyn even as Corbyn refuses to distance himself from dictators like Maduro suggests we still have a long way to go in recognizing that problem. Simply put, there really is solidarity between far-left leaders here and in Europe and far-left dictatorships like the one in Venezuela. That it becomes inconvenient for the left to acknowledge that at times does not make that solidarity cease to exist.