The left has a soft spot for communism

The left has a soft spot for communism, by Bret Stephens.

Why is Marxism still taken seriously on college campuses and in the progressive press? Do the same people who rightly demand the removal of Confederate statues ever feel even a shiver of inner revulsion at hipsters in Lenin or Mao T-shirts?

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. …

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. …

An ideology that at one point enslaved and immiserated roughly a third of the world collapsed without a fight and was exposed for all to see. Yet we still have trouble condemning it as we do equivalent evils. And we treat its sympathizers as romantics and idealists, rather than as the fools, fanatics or cynics they really were and are.

John Sexton comments:

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. …

There really are a lot of arguments like… 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 … 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. …

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.”

hat-tip Scott of the Pacific