The Winter Palace, Stalingrad, Dien Bien Phu; battlegrounds where vanguards of socialism warred against reactionary ideologues who thought themselves their masters. Now, it seems that the St. Albert Gazette can be added to that list, given the immense volume of “letters to the editor” condemning the atrocities done in the name of socialism. Letters that leave the historian in me quite concerned, frankly. Some of these pieces, such as the subtle “Socialism is a murderous ideology” by Brent Heit, sarcastically quip that “We should follow Stalin’s lead.” An amusing talking point that not only confuses Joseph Stalin for Vladimir Lenin, the man responsible for the October Revolution, and ignores historical realities of why people flock to collectivist ideology.
I ask Mr. Heit to place himself within a specific context, that context being the First World War. Imagine losing your children in such a conflict, and when asking why they did, you’re thrown in prison for dissent by the Okhrana (ironically, you might have been arrested by Stalin himself). You try to read the paper, though you struggle to make sense of some words (You were educated by your father, after all, and he died in a naval accident, so he couldn’t finish teaching you.) Your sister picks up where you left off and tells you the king has spent the last two years listening to the advice of a self-professed wizard, that the Germans have been making steady gains across the rural farmland territories, which you realize means another food shortage. Under these circumstances, what ideology do you think you would flock to?
But of course, there is the subject of Stalin himself, a monumentally complex figure who, despite what Mr. Heit states, has never been considered a “freedom fighter” by anybody educated on the man or his policies. A common trend exhibited by ideologues with a stake in the Stalin conversation is to either dismiss or exaggerate the crimes committed during his tenure as party leader, and with Mr. Heit invoking socialism as “The most murderous ideology the world has ever known”, I can’t help but feel as though he is arguing from a position of bad faith, and I’m compelled to ask what his sources may be.
Ultimately, ethics is not my department, history is, and here are some concluding facts: The Soviet Union has an enormously complex history that must be examined with immense care. There is no other nation whose history has been more propagandized, inside and out, and there is no other nation in modern history that was forced to fight on its back foot against an enemy wholly dedicated to the extermination of its people. It is a fact that many ardent supporters of Nazi ideology made their way into academia after the war (Look no further than Albert Speer, or the myriad generals who exonerated themselves by perpetuating the Clean Wehrmacht myth), and that has undoubtedly coloured Western discourse on “Red” matters.
Critique socialism for what is by invoking what is there, rather than broadly criticizing all left schools of thought by invoking a history that never was.
Noah Smith, St. Albert