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Paul T Horgan: The Soviet gulag was just as evil as the Nazi gas chamber


Back in 2011, the satirical magazine Private Eye proudly reproduced on its first editorial page a positive comment about its investigative journalism:

“Whether it is consultancies and directorships for MPs, the revolving door between top state officials, government advisers and business corporations, the regulation racket when it comes to the City, the railways and gas and electricity distribution or the massive corruption in Britain’s financial, armaments, construction and other sectors, Private Eye reports more in one fortnightly issue than in the rest of Britain’s mass media put together.”

These words came from the pen of one Robert Griffiths, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain. I found it curious exactly why Private Eye thought that the comments of a communist needed such prominence, especially when it was an extract from a rather rambling and unfocused article. I wrote to the magazine the following correspondence:

I am wondering whether receiving an attaboy from the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain is a bit like being damned with faint praise. Would Robert Griffiths’ comments have received such prominence had they been penned by Nick Griffin? I think we should be told.

I suppose it comes down to which is better, the gulag or the gas chamber. Clearly it is the former.”

To their credit, Private Eye published the letter in their next issue. They also published the responses from three communists in the issue after that. The thrust of arguments were twofold. The first was that I had used the wrong party in my communication. The horror.

Apparently the ‘Communist Party of Britain’ is completely different from the ‘Communist Party of Great Britain’. Well, excuse me for mistaking the ‘People’s Front of Judea’ from the ‘Judean People’s Front’. The second criticism was that I had made ‘no distinction between genocide and those who opposed and defeated it.’

Ah, that old chestnut. We all should respect communism because of the leading role the USSR had in the defeat of Germany in World War II. The twenty million or so lives taken to ensure that the scourge of the swastika was removed from Europe means that we should respect the memory of the USSR.

Well, not really. The USSR was as bad as Nazi Germany, if not worse. It was a pity they could not both have lost. People forget that the USSR was on Hitler’s side for close to two years until Germany attacked and all of the warning signs were ignored by Stalin.  The nightmare of Hitlerism lasted twelve years, about one-sixth of the life of the USSR. The body-count of communism is, in fact, substantially higher than that of the Nazis. Not that this is ever made clear in any modern political commentary.

The military strategy of Field Marshal Haig in World War I has been a subject of criticism by the Left for decades. It has, however, been silent on that of Marshal Zhukov’s, which was almost identical. The irony was that the enemy was the same, only the decade and direction were different. The loss of twenty million lives fighting Nazism in the East is in part due to military incompetence that started with the first day of fighting when Stalin’s forces were ordered not to fight back when Germany attacked. Neither side respected the Geneva Convention, which added to the body-count. Another factor was the Soviet military strategy of retreat into the hinterlands combined with a scorched-earth policy which meant that large tracts of devastated territory fell into German hands, permitting them to carry out their policy of extermination on the civilians that were left to the mercy of the Nazi genocide squads. Wars are not won by thousand-mile retreats.

In fact the evil of communism is a permanent blind-spot of the British media, especially the liberal wing. Television channels broadcast a seemingly endless sequence of documentaries about Nazi repression and their cruel policies. Not so the Soviets and their incompetent and disastrous economic policies. The gulags are invisible. And it is this blind-spot that explains why Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour Party and why the trades unions, which have largely retreated to the non-profit-making sector thanks to Margaret Thatcher, are little more than pressure groups for a socialist one-party republic.

The reason for this blind-spot may be partially explained by the fact that the whole apparatus of repression in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics has never been placed under the same glare of publicity that took place during and after the fall of National Socialist Germany. Unlike their fascist rivals, there were no foreign boots setting foot into the horror of the gulag death-camps. Richard Dimbleby never gave a moving commentary on the dead and dying behind barbed wire in Siberia. There has been no newsreel footage of the ruined bodies of the dead and the almost-dead on the Steppes. The Russians have never been forced by any agency, internal or external, to come to terms with the atrocities performed ostensibly in their name. There were no trials for those clearly guilty of crimes against humanity. There have been no exhibits in museums around the world showing the Soviet murder-factories where thousands upon thousands were worked to death in hostile climates or those who starved to death in state-engineered famines. There has been more truth and reconciliation over apartheid in South Africa than there ever was in Russia over communism.

The poisoning of the Soviet heartlands through official incompetence on a literally industrial scale has never been denounced by environmentalists. The Chernobyl disaster is only one of several contamination episodes that have scarred the Soviet mainland. The only difference was that the strong radioactive cloud that contaminated parts of Western Europe could not be denied once the scale had been determined, but this was not for want of trying. The initial reports included denials from Soviet officials that they had caused the world’s worst nuclear disaster. Greenpeace was silent about the world’s largest polluter, and the West and capitalism generally were portrayed as the biggest spoilers of the planet.

The important difference was that in free societies, environmental issues could be openly aired and clear cases of poisoning remedied. We had the Clean Air Act after the smog of 1953. Erin Brokovich won her lawsuit in the USA against a polluting big business. Meanwhile, the Soviets continued to poison their own people without let or hindrance. The birth defects caused by a lack of proper precautions during Soviet airborne nuclear testing were a state secret for decades.

When the Soviets wanted to create a cordon sanitaire to prevent further attacks from the West after 1945, they did so not by creating a band of neutralised countries free to govern themselves with certain parameters as happened with Finland, but by creating a chain of vicious dictatorships. Any of these subject nations who stepped out of line by yearning to be free were punished by being invaded by Soviet armies. Calling these puppet states ‘Peoples’ Republics’ or the like when their rule was enforced by Soviet tanks was an insult to the intelligence and an obvious misnomer.  By the 1980s, where there should have been agitation by journalists on the left against communist oppression and an admission that the values of capitalism were clearly pulling ahead, there was studied silence and a steady denigration of the better economic system that ironically paid their wages. Not even the fall of the Berlin Wall changed this.

The Soviet economy was a basket-case for decades. Forced into economic collapse by trying to match American defence spending, it was reported that the Soviets were spending up to forty per cent of their economy on the military. In percentage terms, this was some ten times what the UK was spending. Such levels of spending were unsustainable, but the Soviet economy was in dire straits for decades before. Soviet finances were in such a desperate condition back in 1957 that the state confiscated all the savings bonds that their unwilling subjects had been forced to buy through compulsory wage deductions imposed on an unwilling proletarians since shortly after the revolution. 1957 was also the year that the USSR launched Sputnik One, the world’s first artificial satellite on the back of money openly stolen from Soviet citizens. Somehow the organised theft by the state was largely forgotten in the whirlwind of propaganda willingly reproduced by Western media.

Why is this all important now? Well, the USSR only exists in the history books and no-one under the age of about forty really understands how bad communism was to the people who were obliged to live under it. Once China abandoned communist economics, it became a powerhouse with stupendous growth rates. The examples of North Korea and Cuba do not translate well and are seen as aberrations and targets of ridicule. However, there remains in this country thousands of mainly young people for whom communism is appealing as a social and economic system, due to the absence of popular critique and denunciation of its provable failures by the media.

This is because they do not know it as communism. This is the politics that dares not speak its name. And the blind-spot in the British media reinforces this. Instead communism has been repackaged as ‘anti-capitalism’, ‘Trotskyism’ – because for some reason Trotskyism is seen as nicer than Stalinism – and environmentalism. The politics of the Green Party are communist. Owen Jones’ ‘People’s Assembly’ is also communist. This is because of a single policy that means that the state takes over the economy in totality. They all call for the nationalisation of the banking system.

This is distinct from the emergency nationalisations needed to recapitalise some UK banks after Gordon Brown’s so-called reforms allowed reckless borrowing when these institutions were taken over by people with no banking qualifications and the Bank of England’s regulatory role was deliberately stifled. Instead, all these neo-communist organisations wish all the banks to be absorbed into a single state bank. If this is allied to strict controls on capital flows in and out of the country, state directed investment and the use of the printing press to make up for capital shortfalls, you have communism. The State would also be in charge of everyone’s savings, just like in Russia in 1957. Your bank account would not belong to you.

Businesses rely on capital in the form of loans from banks. Once the State is the only source of capital, then the State has the power of life and death over the businesses. It effectively owns the businesses. The state would have the power to dictate how the businesses operated and who ran them for political and social reasons instead of the fundamental reason of adding value by creating wealth. Failing businesses that destroyed wealth by misuse of capital would be propped up as workers’ cooperatives when their demise would allow new business to grow with the capital that would otherwise be wasted. Using the printing press in a perversion of quantitative easing with a bogus legitimacy applied by prefixing it with the word ‘People’s’ would debauch the currency. Lenin stated that this would be the best way to destroy capitalism. It is therefore not too surprising that printing-press economics is supported by Jeremy Corbyn and his ilk. Yet the media are now almost silent about this core Labour economic policy.

Why do the media not focus on the communist polices of these parties and groups? If a Conservative MP was to make speeches at a rally of a group like Britain First or the English Defence League, then the media furore would exceed that which would, say, surround a Labour MP sending obscene text messages to a teenage girl. It would be career-ending. And yet when Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott speak at rallies in support of communist policies, these are simply ignored or explained away as ‘broad-church’ politics. The media blind-spot about communism means that supporting communist economics does their careers no harm.

Well, where does this much-vaunted broadness end? Clearly not at Stalinism. Pol Pot, perhaps? It is actually a glib answer and covers up the blatant internal contradictions of the Labour party that only its fissioning would rectify. More attention has been devoted to support for international terrorism and declining dictatorships by these people than to what their economic affiliations are. Communism is a provably evil destroyer of human life and hope. Its economics are morally, politically and fiscally bankrupt. But it is clear that the hammer-and-sickle is not viewed with the same horror as the swastika by political commentators and politicians alike. But it is not Macarthyism to denounce communist infiltration when it actually occurs.

The blind-spot is probably why the media do not regard state ownership of the banking system combined with the use of the printing press to finance state expenditure as communistic, despite the fact that no capitalist country has ever had these economic policies and not become an economic dictatorship and heaped misery on its unfortunate people. The reason for this may be that journalism is related to the liberal arts and that professional networking requires overt and persistent declarations of sympathy for socialism. This is probably mandatory at the BBC.

Certainly arts and humanities at university have been under the jackboot of socialism for decades. The recent intolerance of dissenting opinions at British universities is an example of this. It may be a matter of professional survival for a journalist deliberately to ignore communism when it is blatantly obvious such that they wilfully blind themselves to keep their jobs. Not even the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ is described as communist, even when a leading participant is a member of the ‘Stalin Society’, a group that insanely ignores the incompetence and murderous paranoia of Russia’s worst-ever leader as part of a surely impossible process of so-called rehabilitation. There is no good reason, apart from the blind-spot for this.

It is about time that the mainstream media closed this blind-spot and stopped using what are effectively euphemisms and start calling out the communists infiltrating mainstream politics for what they are. It was Beaudelaire who stated that “the finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist”. This ‘finest trick’ is now taking place in the Labour party, which with the neo-communist organisations is slowly taking over the Left in British politics and poisoning the minds of those too young to have known the human disaster of communism with an odious cocktail of sloganeering and abuse. The gulag was as evil as the gas chamber and it is high time that people, other than those with long memories, were made aware of this. There should be no generation gap over such an important issue. The media have been too blind for too long.


(Image Courtesy Andrew Kitzmiller, Flickr)

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Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan worked in the IT Sector. He lives in Berkshire.

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