A debate between Anne Applebaum and Anatol Lievenby Anne Applebaum / October 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
Let me be clear. I hate communism. I am vicariously proud of my great uncle’s fight against the Bolsheviks during the civil war in the Baltic from 1918-20, and of my father’s role in helping to undermine communism as head of the Russian and later the East European Services of the BBC in the 1960s and 1970s. I went as a journalist to report on the Mujahedin fight against Soviet occupation in the late 1980s, and the Baltic independence struggle of the early 1990s, partly as a result of this anti-communist sentiment. And I agree with every word of Nicolas Werth’s recent chronicle of Soviet atrocities in The Black Book of Communism, which destroys for good the left-wing fiction that a line can be drawn between the “good” Lenin and the “wicked” Stalin.
But I also agree with Werth in rejecting the new conventional wisdom-represented in the Black Book by St?ane Courtois-which asserts that communism was worse than Nazism. Courtois argues that there is an essential similarity between communism and Nazism, and then, by comparing the number of alleged victims, comes up with a neat figure of 95m dead for communism against 25m for Nazism. Ergo, communism must have been worse.
Courtois’s approach has four main flaws. First, it blurs the distinction between directly-willed actions and unintended consequences. The Soviet famine of 1921-2 was a consequence of the revolution and civil war, but it was not willed by the Bolsheviks, who even sought western aid. However, its victims are simply added by Courtois to those of the artificially created Ukrainian/Cossack famine of 1932-33. Second, there is a dangerous looseness in Courtois’s use of the word “genocide”-a looseness characteristic of the old hard left. Third, Courtois fails to examine the very different nature of communist and Nazi ideology, above all on issues of race and nationality. Marxism preaches the common progress of mankind towards communism, which could not be more different from the Nazi beliefs in racial superiority and war as a good in itself.
Finally, Courtois and company fail to draw proper distinctions between communist regimes in different countries and at different times. To an unwary reader, the Soviet Union under Brezhnev might seem broadly the same as under Stalin; and Castro the same as Pol Pot. Understanding both the multi-nationalism and the not wholly unreal “socialist legality” of the Khrushchev and Brezhnev years is crucial to understanding…