Communist chic is back. Or rather, it never really went away. When Fidel Castro died last year, he was eulogised by the coolest of Western leaders, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, among many others. Nostalgia for the heyday of Marxism still motivates countless academics and intellectuals in the West. For them the ideology is a vocation; in China or North Korea that ideology is still a matter of life and death.
This nostalgia for Communism may take a highly commercial form. A signed first edition of Das Kapital now costs more than £1.3 million. In February the British Communist newspaper, the Morning Star, featured an eight-page section to mark the death of a nonagenarian comrade, Kevin Halpin, whose widow Anita just happens to be the heiress to a large fortune. One of the works of art she inherited recently sold for £20 million. Nothing, as Communists used to say, is too good for the workers.
The public sector is also gullible. For instance: a collection of agitprop footage from the USSR, China, Cuba, Vietnam and Eastern Europe – assembled by Stanley Forman, a British Communist, “from his personal contacts in the socialist world” – has just been acquired by the publicly-funded British Film Institute to “provide a counter-view to Western perceptions of Communist states and their actions”. How would taxpayers feel about their money being used to buy Nazi propaganda?
For anyone who remembers the Cold War, or who knows countries where Communism is still the established religion, the persistence of its glamour and influence into the Twenty-First Century makes one shudder. Communism’s death toll may never be definitive, but the international team of scholars who compiled The Black Book of Communism two decades ago put the grand total at 94 million. That number has not been seriously challenged and the total has risen since, perhaps to 100 million, as old estimates are revised upwards and Communism claims new victims.
More than half of all these victims, some 60 million, were killed by the Chinese Communist Party. Last January, the elite of the capitalist West gathered in Davos to listen to the leader of that party, Xi Jinping, extol the virtues of globalisation, in an implied contrast to President Trump. The masters of the universe gave Mr Xi a rapturous reception. How many of them had given a thought to the thousands still incarcerated in China’s equivalent of the Soviet Gulag, the Laogai?
Unlike the Gulag, few ever survived the Laogai, let alone escaped. One who did was Xu Hongci. He spent 14 years in a labour camp under Mao, but escaped in 1972. His memoir, No Wall Too High, has been posthumously translated and edited by Erling Hoh. “I am one of the tens of millions of victims of [the Party’s] countless political campaigns, and an incredibly lucky survivor.”
The odds against Xu’s survival were a million to one. Harry Wu, who wrote the history of the Laogai, said that escape was impossible: “All of China was a prison in those days.” Though much else has changed in China, its totalitarian theory and practice have not.
In the late 1980s, I served as Daily Telegraph correspondent in Germany and Central Europe. In 1989 I had a ringside seat to watch the 1917 revolution go into reverse. What haunts me is not just the obvious contrast in wealth between the Eastern and Western sides of the Iron Curtain, nor even the bloody trail of death and destruction that Communists left behind, but the human cost paid by more than a billion people over the past century who lived under these evil empires.
Those who survived had their lives blighted by Lenin’s legacy just as surely as those who did not. And there are hundreds of millions more who were never even born because their parents dared not bring them into the world under such a system. I am not just thinking of China’s cruel One Child policy, but of the fall in birthrates and life expectancy in Soviet Russia. In 1917, Russia and the United States had populations of similar size. A century later, even taking into account the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Russian population has stagnated while the American has more than doubled. The contrast is even greater if living standards are taken into account.
Yet we are failing to learn the lessons of this all too recent history. A recent report by Dennis Sewell revealed that among Britons born since 1989, most know little about the Cold War, much less about Communism. Half of 16-24 year olds have never heard of Lenin; seven out of ten know nothing of Mao. They are less likely to associate crimes against humanity with Communist dictators than with Tony Blair.
In British universities where, as a recent Adam Smith Institute report demonstrated, only 10 per cent of academics vote Conservative, students live in a monoculture which is blind to the carnage done in the name of the Left. Academics are more likely to romanticise the 1960s than to teach undergraduates how Castro was then putting gay Cubans into concentration camps, or how Mao’s Cultural Revolution did the same to professors, while vandalising the art and architecture of ancient China.
Half of 16-24 year olds have never heard of Lenin; seven out of ten know nothing of Mao.
Nostalgia has consequences. About one in seven Germans have convinced themselves that the Communist regime under which many of them lived for 40 years was “not all bad”, to the extent that they are prepared to vote for Die Linke, a party that brazenly defends that regime. It is quite possible that after September’s federal election these crypto-Communists could be in government as part of a coalition of the Left.
What this means is that those of us old enough to bear witness to what Communism did in the past, and is still doing to millions, have a duty to ensure that future generations never forget the results of this inhuman experiment. If we do not, then humanity is doomed to repeat them.