Translation of an article by Peter Decker in Kalaschnikow Feb. 1998
5 theses on a sham debate
Communism = Crime!
As was to be expected, the “Black Book of Communism” from France has attracted interest in Germany too. The corpses of Stalin, Beria and Pol Pot are enthusiastically recounted in feature articles and talk shows. The big number is the argument – and provides the intrigued audience with the desired proof: Communism is mass murder, nothing else. Quite a few left-wing and left-liberal position statements see themselves challenged and attempt a rebuttal: Courtois and his authors have done sloppy research, there were not as many corpses as claimed. In addition, the author is biased: He says nothing about the victims that capitalism demands even in peacetime. On the one hand, the call for accuracy in the “body count” and for balance in denunciations shows how deeply the French ex-Maoist has stung the left’s soul. On the other hand, it shows before whom and by which standards these leftists want to be judged. They see the moral bonus of a tradition destroyed, one they somehow think gives them the right to criticize capitalism, despite all their distancing from Eastern bloc socialism: they want to at least defend the good, humanist, and anti-fascist intentions of the former communist movements against accusers and discussion partners who really wouldn’t convert to communism if it won the human rights prize. It is therefore not advisable to justify the moral right of left criticism by the standards of the Black Book.1. Why are present-day critics of capitalism concerned with the dead bodies of Stalin?
The criticism of the poverty of the vast majority, which in capitalism is necessary and useful, and the criticism of the democratic state power that safeguards this poverty and the wealth facing it, does not need to refer to Stalin’s great achievements – and can’t be damaged or proved wronged by his misdeeds. The present-day criticism of present-day capitalism – after all, of the system that exists and which has proven to be more powerful – even more powerful in war – than that “horror show” in the East, does not depend on whether the enemies of capitalism who once came to power were accomplished political economists or crackpots, critics of state power or social state reformers, sensitive fellow human beings or heartless despots.
In any case, capitalism does not get any better, and criticism of it is no less valid because the alternative that appeared in the last century was not exactly an ideal solution.2. Nobody wants to know the reasons for the revolutions, purges, wars, and famines in the third of the world that was red anyway!
It’s wide of the mark to address, on the occasion of the “Black Book,” the madness of the bloody party discipline and the errors of the agrarian reforms with its many victims in Russia, if only because neither Stéphane Courtois nor his fellow discussants wants to know what the added-up piles of corpses has to do with communism. They already know: the dead fell within the vicinity of this revolution, so much so that the murder of as many people as possible and self-serving terror against those not yet slaughtered must obviously have been the sole aim of this revolution. The question of guilt, as well as the sentencing, is certain, without any need to investigate the root causes. Courtois can therefore focus all his attention on making the number of “victims of communism” as large as possible. Because the more corpses, the more despicable the thing they are accused of. The huge figure of 100,000,000 dead says it all.
In order to bring them together, Courtois has all those who died of poverty or violence in the course of 80 years of real socialism indiscriminately testify to the same thing – regardless of whether any identity at all connects the offenders and perpetrators: the Bolsheviks from the very start, hardened veterans of the civil war, and Stalin, who put them on show trials; the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot and the Vietnamese who later removed them from power in Cambodia. Coutrois is equally indifferent to the nature of the conflicts which claimed these numerous victims: Whether the Bolsheviks had to defend themselves in a civil war at home equipped by the imperialists; whether Mao mobilized the rural population for a “Great Leap” and his brutal attempt at accelerated industrialization ended in famine; whether Stalin collectivized agriculture and terrorized the small property owners in return, or whether the Americans had bombed Vietnam back into the Stone Age – it’s always the same “blame communism.” If revolutionaries had not rebelled against the old order, victims of their self-assertion would also not have followed!
Communism is convicted of infringing on humanity and human rights not because of a particular, definably wrong objective, but by its pure existence – which was contended during the period of its self-assertion. It’s just a crime – according to this intellectually weak determination. The whole system with its economy, its world power, its people’s democracy and its cultural and sports nonsense is fully grasped if one understands it as – a rule violation against the principles which are proper.3. The moral annihilation of defunct communism remains an enduring need of freedom
One might think that with the end of communism, anti-communism would also become boring. But far from it: the more the alternative to the victorious system has become a dead letter, the sharper the reckoning with it.
The moral annihilation of real socialism follows hot on the heals of its downfall because, once the question of power had finally been settled, the only reason to show this always hated deviation from the only blessed reason of state – the capitalist one – the little bit of respect that supporters of state power pay to every “real existing” system of rule was gone. As long as the West felt compelled to accept the existence of the Eastern bloc with its alternative system and its power, and by recognizing the states of the Warsaw Pact sought the lever to soften it – then the “Evil Empire” was relativized by the calculating respect that the self-interest of these states enjoyed on the diplomatic carpet. To receive a Brezhnev or Honecker with honors – whatever the hostile calculation – meant that the West was conferring with the Eastern Bloc and recognizing that its concerns were relatively justified.
Now, finally, since there is no longer any alternative to the system without alternatives, the idea must finally be dispelled that there was ever an alternative to freedom: Capitalism alone corresponds to human nature, and anyone who wants something different sins against humanity! At least, nobody dies here for political reasons – according to the cynical self-praise of “our state,” which is civil because it has a firm grip on power. And if anyone dies of starvation, they eat too little! If those who have been brutally killed in wars or in the crises afflicting the countries of the free West must be counted, then the numbers do not indicate a crime, but the “price of freedom” which just falls due again and expresses what high goods freedom and nation must be if they are worth “our” sacrifices. Not all corpses are the same!4. A rescue of the honor of bygone communism misses the mark
It’s wrong to reverse Courtois’ moral destruction of communist revolutions and states and now denounce capitalism as a crime against humanity: Anyone who outs a form of state as a violation and a crime, outs himself above all: He denounces a sin against the tasks of “good rule,” precisely because he has a distinct idea of good rule. Rule, however, is never “good,” but institutionalized violence over land and people which is only needed where both are taken for purposes that do not benefit the ruled human material. The question as to whether the sacrifices demanded by a democratically constituted rule, measured by higher values, are better or more justifiable than those of a “people's democratic” rule is none of the business of those who are not enthusiastic about rule in one form or another. Only someone who wants to make his peace with a power over himself wraps the purpose of rule in more or less successful service to higher values.
“Real socialism” entered itself in this competition. It replaced criticism of the bourgeois state power with distinctions between its good and bad sides, and devoted itself to carrying out a “good, truly social rule” with all the relentlessness that goes with it. This then was a mistake that one should neither take part in nor excuse by pointing to bad historical conditions.5. By the way, the latest slander of communism does no damage!
And not just because communists don’t have a good reputation to lose anyway. A better reputation wouldn’t do their cause any good: The insight that wage-dependent humanity condemns itself to dependency and poverty as long as it seeks its livelihood in wages can’t be achieved by its representatives making themselves popular with the people. And anyway, it never happens that someone actually wants to associate themselves with this insight, but is deterred from doing so because they have heard about Stalin’s “Gulag.” It’s the other way round: anyone who, by referring to the moral crimes committed by “communism,” allows himself to be deterred from putting his own needs into a critical relation with the dominant interests and from getting to the bottom of this, has in fact no intention of doing so. In other words, those who make their convictions dependent on the moral image of leaders who compete for their trust are well served by their democratic and fascist bosses.