‘Fascism has been defeated in the West. The time has come to treat its evil twin, communism, the same way’
During a recent trip to Auschwitz, the Mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, defined the Holocaust as “the ultimate evil” and “the gravest event in modern history”. This was echoed by Gianfranco Fini, the Speaker of Italy’s Lower House, who said: “Anti-Jewish hatred today is mostly directed against Israel. Anti-Zionism denies the inspirational sources of the Jewish state, targeting the reasons for its birth yesterday and its security today.”
These two rising stars of Italian politics have one thing in common: they are both post-fascist leaders who have made the long journey from the political isolation reserved for the European far-Right to the inner sanctum of political power. For them and their political colleagues the journey began with remorse. Critics claim that their rejection of fascism is only skin-deep — a calculated and cynical ploy to gain power. Whatever their reasons, these leaders are bound by more than 15 years of firm rejection of fascism. Those among their former counterparts elsewhere in Europe who have so far failed to do so remain in the political wilderness — and deservedly so.
The fact is that Western European societies have largely succeeded in building anti-fascist immune systems. This outcome is in no small part the product of fascism’s total defeat in 1945 and the subsequent trials that exposed and punished its crimes. Crucially, right-wing totalitarianism was defeated in war, it was put on trial for its crimes and purged from politics, culture and society.
But our societies are not immune from sliding back into a totalitarian mindset, largely because communism, unlike fascism, was never given the treatment it deserved. Thanks to its temporary alignment with democratic forces in the battle against fascism, communism could claim the moral high ground in 1945. Its emergence as a mass movement that had successfully fought Nazism enabled communist parties and their fellow-travellers to avoid both the purges and the kind of moral stigma reserved for fascists. The Cold War — where a slow implosion over decades, rather than a decisive military defeat, marked the death of communism — meant that its ideological supporters could keep their place in the sun even as their past crimes were finally revealed.
This difference is highly significant. Communist forces across Europe adopted Antonio Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony — “the long march through the institutions” — to outflank their enemies. Although communists could not control ministries, they colonised universities — especially departments of the humanities and social sciences. They took to the publishing houses, the newspapers, TV and magazines. They set out to shape public discourse, educate the new generations of leaders and, in typical Marxist fashion, marginalise their intellectual opponents. Even as communism collapsed in the East, its apologists in the West almost paid no moral price for covering up, condoning or defending its worst crimes.
Not only did they make no amends for continuing to promote anti-Western foreign policy agendas, they also appropriated the liberal jargon of human rights for their own illiberal causes. In the process, they ensured that communism’s ferocious past would be treated kindly.
It is time to repair the damage. Communism, after all, was a strain of totalitarianism. To recognise its viciousness is not an attempt to trivialise (or indeed overshadow) the monstrosity of Nazi crimes. The gulag and the Holocaust should never be made to compete for first prize in the galaxy of evil. But they both belong there, because of the horrors committed in the name of ideology and the number of their victims.
Likewise, our free societies should become immune to the temptation of left-wing totalitarianism through the same processes that immunised us from its fascist next of kin. Museums should be built in memory of the millions of victims of communism, and archives and foundations should shed historical light on the terrible injustices committed in its name. Reparations should be made where possible. Living remnants of that repression should be tried and punished, at least symbolically. The leaders responsible for communist crimes should not be immortalised through streets and monuments. And programmes to educate the new generations in the crimes of communism should be introduced in schools.
Meanwhile, the apologists of left-wing totalitarianism remain entrenched at the centre of intellectual and cultural life. The best antidote to their pernicious influence is to expose the evil premises of their world view and hold them properly accountable for their moral bankruptcy.
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