The evil of totalitarian Nazism is a living memory, due in particular to the establishment of Holocaust museums. However, memory of totalitarian communism – in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, Cambodia, Vietnam and North Korea – is fading in the West. That’s why James Bartholomew, UK author and leader writer, The Daily Telegraph, wants to establish a Museum of Communist Terror in London. To discuss his work and the reasons for it, James Bartholomew addressed The Sydney Institute on Monday 22 October 2018. James Bartholomew’s visit to Australia was sponsored by the Centre for Independent Studies.
TWENTIETH CENTURY COMMUNISM – WHAT MILLENNIALS NEED TO KNOW
Many millennials truly want to hear serious analysis about how the world works and are seeking ways in which they can do good in the world.
It is therefore a major problem that most millennials have been going through school and university without being told much about what happened under Communism in the twentieth century. And where they have been taught about it, they have tended to be told a grey-washed version of events. In Britain, I found a revision guide for students studying history. It included the collectivisation of farms under Stalin. This was a process so disastrous that it cost millions of lives. The revision guide asked student to consider what might be the pros and cons of the collectivisation. This is not very different from asking what were the pros and cons of the Holocaust. The guide also suggested “pros” that are highly dubious.
This was a process so disastrous that it cost millions of lives. The revision guide asked student to consider what might be the pros and cons of the collectivisation.
The lack of teaching may be an even worse problem than distorted or perverse teaching. In Britain, a survey of 16-24 year-olds revealed that 70 per cent had not heard of Mao Tse Tung at all. In a recent poll, young people aged 16-24 were asked who they would associate with crimes against humanity. A higher proportion chose Tony Blair than either Mao Tse Tung or Lenin. Of course, they did not choose Mao because they had not even heard of him.
This is a reflection of who is doing the teaching in schools and universities. Teaching across most of the world appears to be dominated by the Left. In many cases, the lecturers and teachers are probably of the moderate Left. They might not agree with full-scale Communism but it seems that they do not condemn it as willingly as they would, say, Nazism. There is also a minority of real Marxists. A student in Melbourne last week told me that a lecturer announced at the beginning of the semester that if he had not converted 90 per cent of the students to Marxism by the end of it that he would have failed.
A student in Melbourne last week told me that a lecturer announced at the beginning of the semester that if he had not converted 90 per cent of the students to Marxism by the end of it that he would have failed.
With such teaching, in varying degrees, around the anglophone world and other countries, too, it is not surprising that in the USA, more supporters of the Democrat party have a favourable view of socialism now than of capitalism.
Here in Australia, 58 per cent of millennials have a favourable view of socialism. Tellingly the proportion is higher among those who have been to university. Among them, it rises to 63 per cent.
Of course, most young people do not see socialism as Marx did, as the stepping stone to Communism. They are mostly unaware that he recommended violent revolution. Their concept of Socialism is probably not clearly formed. But there is a tendency of many of them to be sympathetic to the concept of socialism. Meanwhile there are others who are truly dedicated Marxist-Leninists, determined to fulfil the same dreams as the young Mao, Lenin and Ho Chi Minh. Who knows how badly this could end? It is impossible to be sure. But it is clearly in the interests of our society and our nations to try to head off the danger of a resurgence of communism or neo-communism. And I suggest the way to do this is through knowledge.
Their concept of Socialism is probably not clearly formed. But there is a tendency of many of them to be sympathetic to the concept of socialism.
What do millennials need to know? A lot.
They need to know the true history of Communism in the twentieth century and beyond: the stories of the carve-up of Poland by Hitler and the Soviet Union; the take-over of Ukraine and the famine imposed on that unfortunate country; the attempts to break free by Hungary and then Czechoslovakia that were crushed by Soviet tanks; the purges of Stalin; the Great Leap Forward in China and the horrific Cultural Revolution; the killing of people in Cambodia because they wore glasses that indicated they must be bourgeois or professionals and so on and on.
the killing of people in Cambodia because they wore glasses that indicated they must be bourgeois or professionals and so on and on
On this visit to Australia I have had the privilege of recording video-interviews with six people, so far, of whom five had direct experience of Communist rule. The sixth was lucky enough to be out of the Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge took over, but three members of his immediate family were killed in this, the Communist revolution that claimed the highest proportion of deaths among its populace.
Last week, here in Sydney, I interviewed Amy Li, a woman almost exactly my own age. For me, personally, that increased the sense of “there but for the grace of God go I”. She had direct experience of the Cultural Revolution. She explained how she had a friend called Sali. Sali came to Amy’s home. Amy helped her with her school work. She was treated by Amy’s mother as one of the family. The Communists had divided people in red people and black people. The red people were the children of peasants or workers. As such they were regarded as good. The black people were the bourgeois or the children of bourgeois, such as Amy. When the Cultural Revolution came, this differentiation became more emphasised. The reds were told to be warm and friendly to other reds but to view coldly any blacks. Suddenly Sali did not look Amy in the eye, let alone talk to her. Sali had taken in and absorbed all the relentless propaganda as absolute truth and had reacted to it as a credulous child. She was, after all, only 16 years old.
Sali had taken in and absorbed all the relentless propaganda as absolute truth and had reacted to it as a credulous child. She was, after all, only 16 years old.
Sali was involved in ransacking the home of Amy with the Red Guards. Sali was involved in beating up teachers in the school which they both attended. Mao had told them to revolt against authority. Each person had to prove him or herself to be an enthusiastic revolutionary, otherwise there was a risk of being considered a bourgeois sympathiser and anti-revolutionary. Amy had to watch as teachers were made to run around in a circle. If any fell, they were beaten. In the stress of this torture which the students were made to watch, one of the young girls vomited. Sali, Amy’s former friend, told the unfortunate child to eat her own vomit. The stories Amy remembers go on like this. Amy was in a room in the school next door to where the headmistress and the Communist Party representative at the school – known as the Party Secretary – were persistently beaten. The beating of the Party Secretary in particular continued for hour after hour. Amy heard the cries and groans. The unfortunate woman finally died because of the repeated attacks. Amy saw a white coffin being brought to collect her corpse the next morning. I am sorry that this is so graphic and horrible. But frankly anyone who tells the story of Communism without making one feeling sickened and shocked is not telling the full story.
Amy had to watch as teachers were made to run around in a circle. If any fell, they were beaten. In the stress of this torture which the students were made to watch, one of the young girls vomited.
Another person I have talked to in Australia has been Nguyen Dinh. He was in the South Vietnamese army. When the Communists invaded from the North, he was sent to a so-called “re-education camp”. The soldiers were told it would be a 10 day re-education course. But after ten days, they were still kept in the camp. They thought, “Ah well, it might be two weeks”. But then two weeks passed and they thought it might be a month. But a month passed. Dinh was kept in the camp for six and a half years. He says emphatically it should not be called a “re-education camp”. It was a concentration camp.
Then two weeks passed and they thought it might be a month. But a month passed. Dinh was kept in the camp for six and a half years. He says emphatically it should not be called a “re-education camp”. It was a concentration camp.
Another woman I interviewed, Jiazen Qi, was sent to a “Laogai” for ten years. I had not heard the term before. It means “Reform through work”. This is chillingly reminiscent of the sign over some of the Nazi concentration camps, “Work makes you free”. She had to do hard labour during the day and take part in propaganda and self-criticism during the evenings. She was underfed, like most people in all the Communist camps. She weighed 45 kilos when she eventually emerged.
One incidental thing I have noticed in these interviews is that people do not become tearful when they describe what happened to themselves. Tears come to their eyes for two reasons: one is when they remember the devoted action of someone – usually a parent – which revealed self-sacrificing love for them. The other is when they recall the suffering of others. Dinh – a soldier and no sentimentalist – only became upset once. That was when he recalled a fellow prisoner who had also been told he would be re-educated for only 10 days. He had put his children in the care of someone as a temporary arrangement. When the ten days passed, this father became greatly disturbed and worried about would be happening to his children. How would they be looked after? That’s what make Dinh feel upset.
When the ten days passed, this father became greatly disturbed and worried about would be happening to his children. How would they be looked after? That’s what make Dinh feel upset.
These are, of course, just a few snapshots of a vast array of tragic events that spread out across the world after the October Revolution in 1917.
What are the recurring features of Communist rule over this past century?
For many of you who are of my generation, they will seem obvious and well-known and I therefore apologise for what follows. But these features are not well known to subsequent generations so they should be spelled out:
– The takeovers of power by Communist parties were overwhelmingly not democratic. They were not popular revolutions in the sense that people voted in favour of them. To take the prime example: the Bolsheviks, of which Lenin was the leader, were not elected to power. On the contrary, after the October revolution – a coup – an election was held as had been promised. The Bolsheviks received a minority of the votes. On the first day the parliament met, the Bolshevik representatives were heavily outnumbered by representatives of other parties. Lenin was not pleased. So he ordered the doors of the parliament to be closed. A demonstration of 40,000 people protested at the closing of the Parliament. The Bolsheviks turned machine guns on them.
– Terror was a normal. People lived in fear of being suspected of opposing not just Communism but whatever was the kind of Communism espoused at that moment by the current leadership. Fear was simply a common-sense reaction to the ruthlessness of the Communist rulers. Jiazen Qi, who I referred to as serving 10 years in a Laogai, was sentenced because, at the age of 20, she had suggested to a friend that perhaps the government could have done better with regard to the terrible famine that took place in China. Her friend informed on her. That was enough.
Terror was a normal. People lived in fear of being suspected of opposing not just Communism but whatever was the kind of Communism espoused at that moment by the current leadership.
– That is another feature. People were told they must inform on each other or else be regarded as suspect themselves. The Cambodian I interviewed last week told me of children who would crouch under huts and listen to private conversations to see if they could hear any comments against the Khmer Rouge. Consequently, people did not know whom to trust, if anybody. They had to be careful with regard even to their spouses and children. A woman I interviewed in Berlin looked at the Stasi files on her when they were opened to the public. She found that 54 different people had informed on her.
– It follows very obviously that free speech was impossible. Speaking your mind could literally endanger your life.
– Even those in art and music had to watch out for the careers and their lives. Shostakovich composed some music which Stalin considered not properly Communist. Fully aware of the danger he was now in, Shostakovich began sleeping outside his flat so that if the men in the black car came to take him away in the middle of the night, the event need not disturb his family. (http://www.pbs.org/keepingscore/shostakovich-symphony-5.html)
Fully aware of the danger he was now in, Shostakovich began sleeping outside his flat so that if the men in the black car came to take him away in the middle of the night, the event need not disturb his family.
– The propaganda was relentless. A Vietnamese man told me how there were loudspeakers at every street corner repeating slogans about hating the Americans and how Ho Chi Minh was wonderful. Propaganda made the two biggest mass murderers of the twentieth century, Stalin and Mao, into revered – almost god-like beings.
– Another disturbing feature is that the propaganda was far more effective than we might like to think. The two Chinese women I have met here in Australia both said that they did not have any other information, so they believed the propaganda.
– Demonisation has been another common feature of Communist regimes. When things went badly – economic failure, food shortages or revolts – Communist rulers habitually asserted that it was the fault of others. It was the Kulaks (peasants with a little bit of land or an employee or two in the Soviet Union) or it was the bourgeoisie or foreign agents or some other group.
Demonisation has been another common feature of Communist regimes. When things went badly – economic failure, food shortages or revolts – Communist rulers habitually asserted that it was the fault of others.
– A universal feature of Communist regimes has been economic failure amounting, in terrible cases, to death by starvation. Starvation occurred most famously in the Soviet Union and China but also elsewhere. But even when famine has not taken place, there has been spectacular underperformance compared to capitalist countries. One of the most famous maps of our time is a satellite photo of Korea at night. The southern part is ablaze with light in Seoul and other prosperous cities. In North Korea, where there have been famines, the country barely shows a speck of light.
– Another less-well known feature of Communism is the corruption. Over and over again I have been told by escapees that they got away by paying bribes. You could also call it a kind of corruption that in many Communist countries superior goods were available only for Communist party officials. In the Soviet Union and elsewhere there were special stores exclusively for party members. And in some countries, the self-indulgence of the leaders was grotesque. Ceaucescu mowed down seven square kilometres of urban Bucharest which contained old houses, monasteries and 37 factories and workshops to build himself a palace with 1,100 rooms.
Ceaucescu mowed down seven square kilometres of urban Bucharest which contained old houses, monasteries and 37 factories and workshops to build himself a palace with 1,100 rooms.
– Then there are the deaths. Not everyone who suffered died. Not all those sent to gulag camps or re-education camps or whatever they cared to call these hard labour prisons actually died although many did. In all, the deaths under Communism through execution, torture, cold and hunger in camps or outright starvation amount to some 80 to 100 million human beings. It has been the biggest man-made catastrophe in human history.
Why did all this happen? What is it about the Communist idea – an idea that many consider to be idealistic – that resulted over and over again in terror, death and economic failure? It is no simple matter to answer this question. Different people have offered a variety of explanations.
My attempt to answer it begins with the Communist Manifesto itself which was written almost entirely by Karl Marx. The manifesto explicitly calls for a violent revolution. The violence is said to be justified because it will ultimately lead to a utopia which is said to be both desirable and inevitable.
The workers, on behalf of whom the revolution is to take place, are said not to fully understand their own best interests so the Communist leaders, who do understand, must do things on their behalf.
The workers, on behalf of whom the revolution is to take place, are said not to fully understand their own best interests so the Communist leaders, who do understand, must do things on their behalf.
In other words, Marx gives the leaders of a Communist party a licence to kill. Convinced they are on the side of righteousness and of history, they come to think it is morally right, even morally compulsory, to kill, torture and imprison.
In other words, the terror starts with Marx.
What should we try to do about this – the failure of the educational system to teach people about what happened and the danger in which that puts modern civilisation?
After I visited the House of Terror, in Budapest, I came to think that there ought to be a permanent museum in London so that future generations of my countrymen would come to know about Communist rule and would, as it were, be inoculated against the temptation to going down the same path. Creating a permanent museum is a major undertaking and I am only at the foothills of this project. My immediate need is to be able to get funding for a chief operations manager for three years to get to the next stage. In the meantime, I have been able to do four things:
After I visited the House of Terror, in Budapest, I came to think that there ought to be a permanent museum in London so that future generations of my countrymen would come to know about Communist rule
- Record video interviews with survivors. These videos are vitally important because it is natural for people to be sceptical. But when they see videos of one person after another telling their personal experiences, I find that the scepticism falls away. So, this is the top priority.
- I am also acquiring artefacts that can be exhibited, ultimately, in a museum but in the meantime, I hope, in temporary exhibitions.
- Thirdly, I am trying to arrange for speakers in universities and schools
- Fourth and most publicly, the interviews I have recorded are being edited and put on social media – particularly Twitter (@CommunistTerror) and Facebook (@MuseumofCommunistTerror) as well as on the website:www.museumofCommunistterror.com. One recent video has been seen on Facebook and Twitter by over 100,000 people. That, I hope, constitutes some influence. And I hope that we will build up to an even bigger audience.
Two other things I want to do when resources permit are:
- Create teaching materials on the subject for schools.
- Get to the existing school and university curricula and text books, challenging what is currently being taught and lobbying for fuller, more accurate information.
Before I finish, I will just add something in parenthesis. The Sydney Institute has made available copies of my recent book, The Welfare of Nations, on sale. The book is on a very different subject: welfare states around the world. I travelled to 11 different countries in my research and Sydney was one of the places where I came to do that research. Naturally having worked on welfare states, I have thought about what connections and differences there are between welfare states and Communism. I have two observations:
Naturally having worked on welfare states, I have thought about what connections and differences there are between welfare states and Communism. I have two observations
- Though many see welfare states as half way to Communism – and of course welfare states do involve big government just as Socialism does – there are some big contrasts, too. A striking example is the fact that Stalin abolished unemployment benefit.
- The development of welfare states was partly in reaction to the threat of Communism. I tell some of the story of this in the first chapter. Bismarck concluded he must begin a welfare state precisely in order to make it less likely that workers would revolt.
It is hard to know the political future of the world. I certainly don’t know it. But it worries me that extreme left-wing thought and indeed Communism are making a comeback. There is a need to try to head off the danger. This does not mean doing any propaganda. It only means giving true information. No exaggeration is necessary. The truth is terrible enough.