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Demonization and Hagiography in the Reading of the Contemporary World


Domenico Losurdo

From the Omission of Russia’s Second Time of Troubles, to the Omission of China’s Century of Humiliation

Starting with the Cold War in particular, for decades the West’s anti-communist campaign had centered on the demonization of Stalin. Up until the Soviet Union’s overthrow, there weren’t such exaggerated polemics against Mao, nor even against Pol Pot, who was supported until the end by Washington against the Vietnamese and their Soviet protectors. Hitler had only one monstrous twin, and he had ruled in Moscow for thirty years and continued to loom over the country that had dared to challenge the US’s hegemony.

This portrait could only change with China’s prodigious rise: now the great Asian country must be persecuted until it loses its identity and self-esteem. In addition to Stalin, the ruling ideologues are also determined to identify Hitler’s other monstrous twins. Thus, there is one book, which achieved great international success, that classifies Mao Zedong as the greatest criminal of the twentieth century, or maybe of all time.948

The ”investigative” methods are those we’ve already encountered: they start from the monster’s childhood instead of China’s history. It’s necessary to fill that gap, then. With a long history behind it, China had for centuries and millennia been in a prominent position in the development of human civilization: as late as 1820 it had a gross domestic product of 32.4% of world GDP. However, in 1949, at the time of modern China’s foundation, the People’s Republic of China was the poorest, or among the poorest, countries in the world.949 The colonialist and imperialist aggression that began with the Opium Wars caused this drastic fall. A period that is even emphatically celebrated by the most illustrious representatives of the liberal West (think of Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill), those infamous wars open a decidedly tragic chapter in the history of the great Asian country. 

948. Chang, Halliday (2006).

949. Davies (2001), p. 299.

The  Chinese trade deficit caused by the victory of the “British narco-traffickers”, the terrible humiliation suffered (“they have relations with Chinese women and they are raped” by the invaders; “graves are violated in the name of scientific curiosity; a woman’s tiny wrapped foot is exhumed from her grave”) and the crisis represented by the country’s inability to defend itself from external aggression, play a primary role in provoking the Taiping Revolt (1851-1864), which made the struggle against opium the order of the day. It was “the bloodiest civil war in world history, with an estimate between twenty and thirty million deaths."950 After having contributed in a powerful way to provoking it, the West became its beneficiary, given that it could extend its control over a country gripped by an increasingly deeper crisis making it increasingly defenseless. A historical period of a “crucified China” begins (during which Russia and Japan had joined the Western executioners). Indeed:

As the end of the nineteenth century approached, China appears to become the victim of a fate against which it cannot fight. It’s a universal conspiracy by men and nature. The China of 1850 to 1950, the era of the most terrible insurrections in history, the target of foreign cannons, the country of invasions and civil wars, is also the country with the greatest natural cataclysms. Without a doubt, in the history of the world the number of victims was never so elevated.

The generalized and drastic reduction in living standards, the collapse of the state apparatus and government, together with its general incapacity, corruption and growing subaltern status and subjugation to the outside world, all of this made the impact of floods and famines all the more devastating: “The Great Famine in North China in 1877-1878 [...] killed more than nine million people."951 Such tragedies occurred periodically: in 1928, the number of deaths reached “almost three million in Shanxi province alone."952 There was no way to flee the hunger nor the cold: “The wooden beams of homes were burned so that they could stay warm."953

It’s not only a question of a devastating economic crisis: “The state is almost destroyed." One figure is in itself significant: “between 1911 and 1928, 1,300 wars between warlords had taken place”, with each opposing “military faction” being supported at times by this or that foreign power. Moreover, “the repeated civil wars between 1919 and 1925 could be considered the new opium wars. 

950. Losurdo (2005), ch. IX, § 5 and VIII, § 3 (for Tocqueville and J.S. Mill); Davis (2001), pp. 22 and 16; Spence (1998), pp. 53, 62, 134-35 and 234-35 ( for the atrocities by the invaders and the struggle of the Taiping Revolt against opium).

951. Gernet (1978), p. 579; Roux (2007), p. 40.

952. Gernet (1978), p. 580.

953. Roux (2007), p. 41

What’s at stake is the control of their production and their transportation."954 Aside from the warlords’ armed groups, proper banditry was widespread, fed by army deserters and by weapons sold by soldiers. “It’s calculated that by around 1930 the number of bandits in China reached 20 million, in other words, 10% of the total male population."955 In these conditions, it’s not difficult to imagine the fate that awaits women. Overall, there's the dissolution of all social bonds: “Sometimes the peasant sells his wife and children. The press describes columns of young women who’ve been sold passing through the streets, taken by traffickers in Shanxi province, devastated by the famine of 1928. They become domestic slaves or prostitutes." In Shanghai alone there are “around 50,000 regular prostitutes." And both banditry and prostitution can count on the support or the complicity of Western concessions, toward which they constitute “profitable activities."956 The lives of the Chinese are worth very little, and the oppressed tend to share that point of view with their oppressors. In 1948, in attempting to halt the Japanese invasion, Chiang Kai-shek’s air force bombed the Yellow River’s dykes: 900,000 peasants drowned with another 4 million forced to flee.957 Nearly fifteen years earlier, Sun Yat-sen had expressed his fear that “the extinction of the nation and the annihilation of our race” could come to pass; yes, maybe the Chinese had expected to suffer the fate inflicted on the “redskins” on the American continent.958

That tragic history behind the revolution vanishes in the historiography and propaganda that encompasses the negative cult of heroes. While in their reading of Russian history they pursue the repression of the Second Time of Troubles, for the great Asian country they skip over the Century  of Humiliation (the period that stretches from the First Opium War to the seizure of power by the communists). Just as in Russia, in China it’s ultimately the revolution led by the communist party that saves the nation and even the state. In the biography of Mao Zedong earlier cited, not only do they ignore the historical background briefly restated here, but they blame the Chinese communist leader for most of the horrors caused by the starvation and famines that affected China. A rigorous silence is maintained with regard to the embargo imposed on that great Asia country after the communists came to power.

On that last point, it’s worthwhile to consult a book by an American author that sympathetically describes the primary role played by a Cold War policy of siege and economic strangulated carried out by Washington at the expense of the People’s Republic of China. In October of 1949, China finds itself in a desperate situation.

954. Roux (2007), pp. 34-36.

955. Roux (2007), pp. 39 and 37.

956. Roux (2007), pp. 41 and 37.

957. Roux (2007), p. 72.

958. Sun Yat-sen (1976), pp. 27 and 42-43.

It’s necessary to note, however, that the Civil War hadn’t completely ended. The bulk of the Kuomintang army had taken shelter in Taiwan, and from there they continued to threaten the new state with air attacks and incursions, on top of the isolated spots of resistance that continued to operate on the continent. But that’s not the principal aspect: “After decades of civil wars and foreign invasions, the national economy was on the brink of total collapse." The fall in agricultural and industrial production was followed by inflation. And that’s not all: “In those years, great floods had devastated a large part of the nation, and more than 40 million people had been affected by that natural calamity."959

The embargo quickly decreed by the United States makes this extremely serious economic and humanitarian crisis more catastrophic than ever. The objectives of the United States clearly emerge in the studies and plans by the Truman administration and the admissions or declarations by its leaders: make it so that China “suffers a plague” and “a standard of living at or below the level of subsistence”; provoke “economic backwardness”, “cultural backwardness”, a “primitive and uncontrolled birth rate”, “mass disorder”; inflict “a heavy and very prolonged cost on its internal social structure” and ultimately create “a situation of chaos."960 It’s a concept that’s obsessively repeated: it’s necessary to reduce a country to “desperate necessity”, to a “situation of economic catastrophe”, “to disaster” and “collapse."961 This “economic weapon” pointed at an overpopulated country is lethal, but for the CIA it’s not enough: the situation that was caused by “the measures of economic warfare and by the naval blockade” could be made even worse with a “naval and aerial bombing campaign against selected ports, railways, industrial structures and storage sites”; with US assistance, the Kuomintang bombing campaigns continued against industrial cities on continental China, including Shanghai.962

One president after another takes office in the White House, but the embargo remains and expands to medicine, tractors and fertilizers.963 At the start of the 1960s, an advisor in the Kennedy administration, namely Walt W. Rostow, observes that, thanks to this policy, the economic development of China was delayed by at least “decades”, while CIA reports highlight “communist China’s grave agricultural situation”, now seriously weakened by “overwork and malnutrition."964 Is  it a question, then, of reducing the pressure on a people reduced to a state of hunger? On the contrary, it’s important not to loosen the embargo, “not even for humanitarian relief." 

959. Zhang (2001), pp. 52-56.

960. Zhang (2001), pp. 20-21.

961. Zhang (2001), pp. 22. 25 and 27.

962. Zhang (2001), pp. 34, 32 and 71.

963. Zhang (2001), pp. 83, 179 and 198.

964. Zhang (2001), pp. Pp. 250 and 244.

 Taking advantage of the fact that “China doesn’t have key natural resources, particularly oil and fertile  land”, and also exploiting the serious crisis occurring at the time between China and the USSR, they could try to land the definitive blow: “explore the possibilities of a total Western embargo against China” and block as much as possible the sale of oil and grain.965

Does it make sense, then, to exclusively assign Mao blame for the economic catastrophe that for a long time struck China and was intentionally and ruthlessly planned by Washington beginning in October of 1949? Committed as they are in making a caricature out of Mao and denouncing his crazy experiments, the authors of that successful monograph don’t ask that question. However, while they imposed their embargo, the leaders of the United States were well aware of the fact that  it would be even more devastating due to “communist inexperience when it comes to the urban economy."966 It’s no coincidence that we’ve seen them speak explicitly of “economic warfare'' and an “economic weapon."

It’s a practice that doesn’t even disappear after the end of the Cold War. A few years before China’s entry into The World Trade Organization, an American journalist in 1996 describes Washington’s behavior as follows: “The American leaders unsheathed one of the heaviest weapons in their commercial arsenal, openly pointed at China, to then menacingly discuss whether or not to pull the trigger." Once put into action, their threatened cancellation of normal commercial relations would have constituted, “in dollar terms, the biggest commercial sanctions in the history of the US, excluding the two world wars”; it would have been “the commercial equivalent to a nuclear attack."967 That was also the opinion of a prominent American politician, namely Edward Luttwak: “Metaphorically one could state that the blocking of Chinese imports is the nuclear weapon that America has pointed at China."968 Brandished as a threat in the 1990s, the economic “nuclear weapon” was systematically deployed during the Cold War against the great Asian country, while Washington openly and repeatedly reserved the right to use actual nuclear weapons.

Upon seizing power, Mao is very well aware that a “very difficult task of economic reconstruction” awaits him; yes, it’s necessary “to undertake work in the industrial and economic fields” and “learn from every expert (whoever it may be)."969 In that context, the Great Leap Forward appears to be a desperate and catastrophic attempt at confronting the embargo.970 

965. Zhang (2001), pp. 249-52.

966. Zhang (2001), p. 22.

967. Dale (1996).

968. Luttwak (1999), p. 151.

969. Zhang (2001), pp. 53 and 55.

970. Zhang (2001), pp. 218 and 235.

 This is true in part for the Cultural Revolution itself, characterized as well by the illusion of political power promoting a rapid economic development, appealing to the mobilization of the masses and to methods successfully used in the armed struggle. All of this is always in the hope of putting an end, once and for all, to  the devastation of the “economic war”, behind which lurked the threat of an even more total war. With respect to Mao’s behavior as an oriental despot, especially during the Cultural Revolution, both the history of China as well as the ideology and personality of the man who exercises power help to explain it; the fact is that never has a country democratized while it was savagely attacked economically, isolated diplomatically, and subjected to a terrible and constant military threat. The situation being as it is, it’s all the more grotesque to exclusively blame Mao for “more than seventy million [...] peacetime deaths due to his inability to govern."971

In reality, “the social conquests of the Mao era” are “extraordinary”, conquests that achieved a clear improvement in economic, social and cultural conditions, and a big increase in the Chinese people’s “life expectancy." Without that basis, one can’t understand the prodigious economic development that later freed hundreds of millions of people from hunger and even starvation.972 But in the ruling ideology, one witnesses a true inversion of responsibilities: the political leadership that put an end to the Century of Humiliation becomes a gang of criminals, while those responsible for the immense century long tragedy, and those that with their embargo did everything to prolong it, become the champions of freedom and civilization. We saw Goebbels in 1929 label Trotsky as “possibly” the man who could be considered the greatest criminal of all time (supra, ch. 5, § 15); in the years that followed, maybe Goebbels had made Stalin the number one criminal. In any case, the argument by the Third Reich’s chief of propaganda and manipulation must have seemed too flawed for the authors of the Mao biography acclaimed in the West. They have no doubts: the title of number one criminal in universal history now belongs to the Chinese leader!

971. Zhang, Halliday (2006), p. 734.

972. Arrighi (2008), pp. 406-407.

The Omission of War and the Production of a Series of Monstrous Twins to Hitler

The omission of history, and especially the history of colonialism and war, is a constant in the mythology determined to transform all communist and anti-colonialist leaders into Hitler’s twin monsters, more or less. This is quite an easy task with Pol Pot.   And it’s therefore worthwhile to dwell on him, certainly not to rehabilitate him or to reconsider the dimension of the horrors for which he became responsible, but with the aim of better clarifying the ways with which the dominant mythology today is constructed. In doing this, I will make almost exclusive use of a book by an American scholar on Asia and a monograph about Cambodia written by a journalist who worked for The Times, The Economist, and The BBC. We therefore start by asking one question: when and how did the tragedy that culminated in the horrors of the Pol Pot regime start? Here’s an initial answer, offered by the American scholar:

At the start of the 1970s, President Richard Nixon and his national security advisor Henry Kissinger ordered a bombing campaign against rural Cambodia that included more bombs than had been dropped on Japan during World War II, killing at least 750,000 Cambodians.973

The figure that appears in the monograph on Pol Pot’s Cambodia is more cautious: the number of victims reached “half a million." However, it’s evident that “the bombs fell en masse, and especially on the civilian population”, which was decimated, with the survivors’ bodies often horrendously wounded, and at any rate traumatized by the daily experience of the terror bombings and by the escape from the countryside (reduced to “a lunar landscape”) to the cities in the hands of government troops, and therefore spared of the inferno, but increasingly subjected to the chaos that following the growing influx of refugees, forced to endure “a precarious existence on the brink of starvation." By the end of the war, in the capital alone there were two million displaced people and they were housed in “shacks” and “slums”, with the sick and injured housed in hospitals, but with “little hope for survival."974 To all of this it must be added the “large scale massacres” carried out by the troops led by Lon Nol, who comes to power in 1970 with a coup d’état engineered by Washington. Here’s how the regime backed by the US, supported with “hundreds of millions of dollars”, confronts the problem represented by ethnic minorities: “In the Vietnamese villages to the north of Phnom Penh, at least three thousand residents, all males above the age of fifteen, were rounded up and taken to the river bank and then shot dead. The women that remained were raped." Or: “In the region called Parrot’s Beak, the [Vietnamese] prisoners in the camp were warned of an imminent Vietcong attack and were given the order to flee. While they ran, the Cambodian guards [allies or in service to the US] opened fire with their machine guns." Those are only two examples. Authoritative journalists recall their impression at having visited places similar to the one we just saw: “It looked like a slaughterhouse, and it had the smell of a slaughterhouse."975

973. Johnson (2001), p. 31

974. Short (2005), pp. 351, 287, 289-90, 334 and 361-62.

975. Short (2005), pp. 18 and 277-78.

Let it be clear: the fury of Lon Nol’s troops didn’t just target the Vietnamese: “the communists taken prisoner were often eliminated”; moreover, those responsible for those deaths enjoyed being photographed while they showed off, proud and smiling, the severed heads of guerrillas.976 On the other hand, it would wrong to exclusively blame Asians for the atrocities that took place in Cambodia, and more generally in Indochina. Consider the story by an American teacher, told an American magazine, about a CIA agent who lived in Laos “in a house decorated with a collection of ears pulled from the heads of dead [Indochinese] communists."977

At this point a new question must be asked: is there a connection between the first act of the Cambodian tragedy and the ones that follow? In attempting to minimize that relationship, the book that I cited is not without contradictions and oscillations: “It’s possible that the bombing campaigns had contributed to an atmosphere that would lead to extremism. But the ground war would have caused that, in any case." Was the “ground war” inevitable? Shouldn’t we start with the war itself ? “The equation ‘no Vietnam War, no Khmer Rouge’ is too simplistic, but it reflects an ‘undeniable truth’."978 The British journalist has trouble admitting, despite his inconvenient logic, that those primarily responsible for the tragedy have to be sought out in Washington. And from his reporting emerges a truth that’s inconvenient to the simplifications that are commonplace today. Here’s how the monograph on Cambodia reports the conquest of Phnom Penh by the guerrillas: after all that had happened, “it could have been much, much worse."979 At least with regard to the very first phase of holding power, there’s a moderation in Pol Pot that could hardly be found in Washington’s leaders!

On the other hand, the new rulers were facing real and dramatic difficulties: will the US begin a new round of terror bombing? And how to feed an urban population that had grown too much, with agriculture devastated by the transformation of the countryside into a “lunar landscape”? And how to face the CIA threat which in the cities “had installed secret radio transmitters and clandestine spy cells”?980 Certainly, Pol Pot’s extremist and messianic populism was also behind the decision to evacuate the cities, but that very behavior is driven by the sight of terribly overcrowded cities, exposed to the enemy threat and surrounded by chaos, with a large part of the population unable to play any productive role.

976. Short (2005), p. 331; the photograph on pages 376 and 377.

977. Wikler (1999).

978. Short (2005), pp. 289 and 586.

979. Short (2005), p. 359.

980. Short (2005), pp. 380-81.

To conclude, why should the moral judgement on Pol Pot be more severe than the one on Nixon and Kissinger (those responsible for the war)? The same British author I’ve repeatedly cited, while on the one hand he rejects the intentionalist explanation for the massacres to which Pol Pot’s adventure lead (“that was never the political line of the KCP”, that is the Cambodian communist party; “the objective wasn’t to destroy, but to transform”), on the other hand, he observes regarding the ferocity of the American war: “The bombing campaigns had turned into a symbol of virility."981 It must be added that, after seizing power, and during the war with Vietnam that follows, Pol Pot is supported politically and diplomatically by the US. However, ruling class ideology remains silent on the crucial and decisive role by Nixon and Kissinger in the Cambodian tragedy. It’s well known that the barbarians are always outside the West; if political leaders must be criminalized, it’s those responsible for the revolution, never those responsible for the war.

That hypocrisy is even more repugnant for the fact that, while the torture and killing by Pol Pot comes to an end, the full weight of the American war and all its impacts continue to be felt. “Throughout Indochina there’s people dying of hunger, disease and unexploded projectiles."982 At least with respect to Vietnam, it’s necessary to have in mind the figure reached a while ago by a conservative French paper according to which, thirty years after the end of hostilities, there were still “four million” victims disfigured by the “terrible agent orange” (referring to the color of the dioxin endlessly dumped by American planes on an entire people).983 And in Cambodia? Let’s put aside the devastating physical injuries. How many Cambodians still suffer from the devastating and irreversible “psychological damage” caused by the bombing campaign?984 One conclusion is unavoidable: to concentrate exclusively on Pol Pot means being satisfied with a half truth, which in reality ends up constituting a complete lie, guilty of remaining silent on those principally responsible for  the horrors.

Socialism and Nazism, Aryans and Anglo-Celtics

After having assimilated the “monsters of totalitarianism”, the ruling ideology of today goes further. Aside from the individual personalities that have historically embodied it, communism as such would be closely linked, by elective affinities and by sympathetic ties, to Nazism. Conquest is the one most committed to that approach; he begins its “demonstration” by affirming with respect to Hitler:

981. Short (2005), pp. 382 and 326.

982. Chomsky, German (2005), p. 60.

983. Hauter (2004).

984. Short (2005), p. 289 and 290.

 “Although he hated ‘Jewish’ communism, he didn’t hate communists."985 The hostilities between the two political movements is only an illusion. What to say about this new thesis?

Soon after coming to power, the Führer explains to the leadership of the armed forces that he first intends to liquidate the “poison” represented by “pacifism, Marxism and Bolshevism."986 A few days later, Göring further clarifies the new government’s combative program against Marxism (and Bolshevism): “Not only will we annihilate this pest, we will rip out the word Marxism from every book. In fifty years no man in Germany will know what that word means."987 On the eve of Operation Barbarossa, Goebbels notes in his diary:

Bolshevism is dead (ist gewesen). Thus we will achieve before history our true task [...]. The Bolshevik poison must be expelled from Europe. Against that enterprise Churchill himself and Roosevelt have no reason to object. Maybe we’ll even convince the episcopate of both German denominations to bless this war as desired by God [...]. Now we will truly annihilate that which we have fought against for all our lives. I spoke about this with the Führer, and he is in complete agreement with me.988

It’s not just a matter of words, as demonstrated by the systematic annihilation of communist party members, ordered by Hitler on the eve of Operation Barbarossa. There’s more: “By the end of  1941, the Germans had captured three million Soviet prisoners. In February of 1942, two million of these prisoners were dead, the majority from starvation, disease and mistreatment. On top of that, the Germans immediately executed prisoners suspected of being communists."989 That means that  in the very first months of Operation Barbarossa, the Nazis had killed more than two million Soviets, with the communists as their first target. And that’s not all. While he is forced to hide to escape the “final solution”, Klemperer, the prominent German intellectual of Jewish origin that we already came across, writes a diary entry that’s worth reflecting on. It’s August of 1942 and Zeiss- Ikon makes use of the forced labor by Polish, French, Danish, Jewish and Russian workers; the conditions of the latter are particularly tough: “They so desperately suffer from hunger that Jewish comrades come to their aid. That was prohibited; but they drop a slice of bread. Soon after the Russian bends down and then runs off to the bathroom with the slice of bread."990 Therefore, going off that account, the conditions of Russian (or Soviet) slaves was, at times, even worse than those of the Jewish slaves.

In his peremptory statements, Conquest won’t stop half way. It’s a matter of proving the theory of the elective affinities between communism and Nazism well beyond Stalin’s personality and the borders of the Soviet Union. Therefore, the “long and mutual hostility” between the “totalitarian parties” is entirely superficial. The reality is quite the opposite: “Gramsci, for example, was one of Mussolini’s most intimate companions."991 And yet, all should know that, while the communist leader languished in fascist prisons, his tormentor received the praise of the leading representatives of the liberal world. Let’s consider Churchill in particular, who in speaking of the Duce in 1933, declares: “The brilliant Roman personified by Mussolini, the greatest living legislator, showed many nations how to resist the pressures of socialism and showed the path that a nation can follow when it’s courageously led."992 Four years later―while Italy had barbarically carried out its conquest of Ethiopia and is deeply invested in the overthrow of the Spanish Republic―the British statesman repeats his statement: “It would be an act of dangerous madness for the British people to underestimate the long lasting position Mussolini will occupy in world history and the admirable qualities of courage, intelligence, self-control and perseverance that he personifies."993

It’s especially worthwhile to read the evaluation made by Croce at the end of World War II. The target of his criticism is the “submissive attitude by the British conservatives toward the leaders of Germany, Italy and Spain."994 Moreover, at least with respect to Italian fascism, Britain went further: “its politicians, including some of its greatest, paid homage to and flirted with fascism and visited their leader and some of them were decorated with fascist insignia."995 Yes, Mussolini “received tributes from all over the world, with British politicians at the front of the line and [...], at least judging by what was said to me by people living in England, he is still considered a great man by British public opinion."996 The pro-fascist position by the West even finds its consecration in the philosophical field. Let’s consider an author like Ludwig von Mises, who is still today labeled as the master of liberalism, and who in 1927 praised the coup d’état by Mussolini that had stopped the communist threat and saved civilization: “the resulting merit achieved by fascism will live on forever in history."997

In 1937, even Hitler is painted in flattering terms by Churchill, who appreciates him not only as an “extremely competent” politician, but also his “gallant manner”, his “disarming smile” and his “subtle personal magnetism” that is difficult to escape.998 More emphatic is former prime minister David Lloyd George, who speaks of the Führer as a “great man”, at a time when the start of the  war is not far off, and the challenge announced in Mein Kampf (the subjugation and enslavement of the Slavs) is still considered acceptable to the British ambassador in Berlin, so long as it isn’t “at the same time turned against the British Empire."999 At any rate, regardless of any opinion on the Führer, according to the opinion expressed in 1938 by the American ambassador in Paris, everything must be done to build a common front against “Asiatic despotism”, with the goal of saving “European civilization” (supra, ch. 5, § 3). In his Prison Notebooks, Gramsci in 1935 instead writes: “after the demonstrations of brutality and unprecedented ignominy of German ‘culture’ dominated by Nazism”, it’s time for everyone to make note of how “fragile modern culture” really is.1000

Finally, in completing his crusade that, aside from communism, also targets political currents in  some way influenced by socialism, Conquest affirms: “eugenics, with all its racist implications, was also popular among the Fabians."1001 It’s at this time that the tour de force reaches its conclusion, now any vague reformist ambitions toward existing capitalist society is enough to get labeled as Hitler’s associate or twin. Naturally, to make such an argument one can’t be hindered by empirical historical research; as a term, and even as a “science”, eugenics is born in liberal Britain and immediately experienced great popularity in the United States. The Austrian and German authors who, before even Hitler, recommended “racial hygiene” take the American Republic as their reference; similar to what was happening on the other side of the Atlantic, they tried to introduce norms in Austria and Germany that prohibited sexual relations and marriage between different and unequal races. It’s not by chance that the key term of the Third Reich’s eugenic and racial program, Untermensch, is just a translation of the American term Under Man, a definition coined by Lothrop Stoddard, an author celebrated both in the US and in Germany and legitimized by the praise of two American presidents (Harding and Hoover) as well as by the Third Reich’s Führer, and who was personally received with the highest honors.1002 It’s worthwhile to note that the person who criticizes that line of thinking, committed to celebrating white and Nordic supremacy and its application to eugenics, is Antonio Gramsci, the communist leader and theorist targeted by Conquest.1003

To that author, obsessed with discovering ideological affinities to Nazis in the most remote places and in the most overlooked movements and individuals, I want to make a suggestion: he could try to submit his books to the same treatment he gives to the books of even the vaguest socialist orientation. Consider the thesis formulated in one of Conquest’s last published works: true civilization finds its most complete expression in the “English speaking community”, and the primacy of that community has a precise ethnic basis, constituted by “Anglo-Celtics."1004 The Anglo- Celtic mythology traced here recalls the terrible memory of Aryan mythology. There’s only one  detail to add. Aryan mythology, cherished by a long tradition that developed on both sides of the Atlantic and later led to Nazism, tended to identify itself with white mythology; in any case, it paid tribute to the Nordic nations and all nations that had their origin on German soil, therefore including the British and the Americans. The Anglo-Celtic community, however, is not only defined in total opposition to those foreign to the West, but also to those on the European continent. The club of truly civilized nations dear to Conquest is, without a doubt, more exclusive.

985. Conquest (1992), p. 174.

986. Ruge, Schumann (1977), p. 24.

987. Ruge, Schumann (1977), pp. 32-33.

988. Goebbels (1992), pp. 1585 and 1603 (May 25th and June 16th, 1941).

989. Roberts (2006), p. 85.

 990. Klemperer (1996), vol. 2, p. 194.

991. Conquest (1992), p. 174

992. Canfora (2006), p. 232.

993. Baker (2008), p. 73.

994. Croce (1993), vol. 2, p. 88.

995. Croce (1993), vol. 2. p. 408.

996. Croce (1993), vol. 2. p. 366.

997. Mises (1927), p. 45.

998. Baker (2008), p. 70.

999. Kershaw (2005), pp. 52 and 75 and 288.

1000. Gramsci (1975), p. 2326.

1001. Conquest (1992), p. 175.

1002. Losurdo (2007), ch. 3, § 4-5.

1003. Gramsci (1975), p. 199 (mainly the reference to Madison Grant). 1004. Conquest (2001), pp. 275 and 307.

 1005. Short (2005), pp. 289 and 290.

1006. McAllister Linn (1989), p. 27.

1007. Chomsky, Herman (2005), pp. 227-29.

1008. Woodward, in Losurdo (2005), ch. 10, § 5.

1009. Ginzburg (1988), pp. 220-22, 205 and 211.

The Anti-Communist Nuremberg and the Denial of the Principle of Tu Quoque

By now the trend is now clear. On the side of the victors there are no small number of voices being raised that recommend or demand a type of anti-communist Nuremberg; and that’s the orientation that inspires the ruling ideology and historiography. It’s known that during the Nuremberg trials the Nazi defendants were denied the principle of tu quoque, in other words, that based on the charges being contended they could call attention to similar crimes committed by their accusers. The Tokyo trials play out in a similar way. It’s the justice of the victor, of course. Moreover, at the conclusion of the gigantic conflict, that had also played out as an international civil war and as a planetary clash between revolution and counter-revolution (think of the Nazis’ theorization of the master race’s right to enslave the “inferior races”, with a frightening and substantial leap backwards in relation to the process of the abolition of colonial slavery), we see revolutionary tribunals emerge in a number countries (think of Italy), that in the case of Germany and Japan (where the internal front held out until the end) are imposed from above and from outside. The current historical trials of the anti- communist Nuremberg are a farcical replica of a great tragedy. It’s evident that a historical  judgement is unthinkable without the reconstruction of the time’s atmosphere: comparisons and the recourse to the principle of tu quoque are absolutely inevitable. It’s with that criteria that I intend to analyze the usual criminalization of the events initiated with the October Revolution and Stalin in particular.

There are no doubts about the terroristic methods of power exercised by him. But let’s make use of the principle of tu quoque. We now know about the hundreds of thousands of victims caused by the American bombing campaign against Cambodia. Here I intend to call attention to one detail in particular:

The peasants became captive to a blind terror. “Their minds were paralyzed and they wandered around silently, without speaking for three or four days”, a young village resident recalled. “Their brains were completely disoriented [...] they couldn’t even have a meal." And many, driven “partly mad by the terror”, were never able to become themselves again.1005

The terror isn’t always exercised at a safe distance, bombarding from high above in the sky. With regard to the US, at the start of the twentieth century a guerrilla war is still underway in the Philippines, and it was repressed―an American historian reports―with the “massacre of entire villages”, or with the execution of all males over the age of ten.1006

Other times, the terror is carried out by delegating the dirtiest tasks to third parties, who are always aided in that task. Let’s see how the US got rid of its political opponents in Indonesia: hundreds of thousands of communists were killed after the 1965 coup d’état, orchestrated and supported by Washington. The recourse to terror and even sadism is systematic:

The mass killings began in October of 1965 [...]. The army had made and distributed lists of “communists” to right-wing Muslim groups, armed with parangs and transported by truck to villages where they killed and mutilated the inhabitants. School children were encouraged to identify “communists”, many of whom were killed on the spot, along with their entire family. Many people were denounced over personal disputes, and “a word or a finger pointed at someone was enough for them to be taken outside and shot dead." The number of victims was so elevated that it caused serious health problems in the east of Java and the north of Sumatra, where the smell of rotting corpses filled the air and the bodies obstructed navigation on the rivers [...]. In 1968 they ordered mass executions, and at once the army and the civil guard killed in the center of Java “3,500 supporters of the PKI, beating them on the head with iron bars” [...]. According to Amnesty International, boys less than thirteen years old, the elderly, the injured and sick, weren’t exempt from torture, used not only in interrogations, but also as punishment or out of mere sadism.1007

Is the terror by the liberal West only practiced outside their national borders? No, it is not; one just needs to think of the violence that, in the first decades of the twentieth century, is still carried out against blacks, and that is often organized as a mass pedagogical spectacle:

News about lynchings was published in local newspapers, and they added additional wagons to trains to transport spectators, at times thousands of them, coming from locations miles away. To allow them to attend the lynching, school children could have the day off. The spectacle could include castration, skinning, immolation, and gunshots. The souvenirs that could be taken include fingers, toes, teeth, bones, and even the victim’s genitals, as well as illustrated postcards of the event.1008

Moreover, “the final solution to our Indian question” drags on in Canada even after achieving its independence.

But let’s concentrate on the 1930s, the decade when we see Stalin’s terror unfold in the USSR. In the US, the headlines and stories in the local newspapers are in themselves revealing. “Big preparations for tonight’s lynching." Not a single detail should be neglected: “They fear that shots fired against the negro may miss its target and strike innocent spectators, including women carrying their children”; but if everyone sticks to the rules, “no one will be disappointed." Let’s look at other headlines: “the lynching was more or less carried out as advertised”; “the crowd applauded and laughed at the negro’s horrible death."1009 It’s correct to speak of terror, and not just in  consideration of the effects that such a cruel, happily announced and advertised spectacle had on  the black community. There’s more. It wasn’t just black men accused of “rape”―or in the majority cases consensual relations with a white woman―who were lynched. Much more minor offenses were enough to be sentenced to death. The Atlanta Constitution of July 11th, 1934, reported the execution of a 25 year old black man “accused of having written an ‘indecent and insulting’ letter to a young white woman in Hinds County”; in this case “the crowd of armed citizens” were satisfied at firing rounds of gunshots at the body of the unfortunate soul.1010 Moreover, besides striking the “guilty”, death, more or less inflicted in a sadistic way, also loomed over mere suspects. Let’s continue to examine the newspapers from that time and read the headlines: “Declared innocent by the jury, then lynched”; “Suspect hung from oak tree in Bastrop’s public square”; “The wrong man lynched."1011 Lastly, the violence isn’t limited to the culprit or the suspected culprit: it has happened that, before carrying out a man’s lynching, the cabin where his family lived was set on fire and completely burned.1012

In addition to blacks, the terror also strikes at whites who, in becoming excessively close to blacks, become traitors to their race. It’s what emerges in the title of an article in the Galveston Tribune on  July 21st, 1934: “A white girl is put in prison and her black friend is lynched." The fact is that―an editorial in the Chicago Defender comments a few days later―a white woman can more freely pair-up with a dog than with a black man.1013 And if she doesn’t take that into account, the terroristic regime of white supremacy lashes out at her twice over: depriving her of her personal freedom and attacking her loved ones. Therefore, terror also strikes at citizens (blacks and whites) who don’t carry out any political activity, but are considered guilty for having a private life contrary to societal norms.

“Betrayal” in relation to the white race can take on even more serious forms. Communists are called “nigger lovers” for taking part in a campaign against the practice of lynching, and are therefore targeted by the terror wielded by the regime of white supremacy and forced to “face the possibility of prison, beatings, kidnapping and even murder."1014 Once again, the stories from the newspapers of the time are revealing: “‘Fear of communism’ cited as the cause of lynchings."1015

Let’s return to Stalin’s USSR. There’s no doubt that, especially starting with the forced collectivization of agriculture, the concentrationary universe, that had already begun taking form soon after the October Revolution, experienced a ghastly expansion. But let’s also apply the principle of tu quoque in this case. Skipping over the concentrationary universe (that we already came across) enforced in the US South at around the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, let’s instead see what happens around the middle of the twentieth century. Between 1952 and 1959 the Mau Mau revolt breaks out in Kenya. Here’s how the London government maintains order in its colony: in the Kamiti concentration camp, the women:

Were whipped, starved and subjected to hard labor that included filling mass graves with the bodies arriving from other concentration camps. Many of them gave birth in Kamiti, but the mortality rate among the children was overwhelming. The women buried their children six at a time.1016

Also with regard to genocidal practices, the principle of tu quoque still applies for that accusation. I don’t know if it’s possible to define the massacre of communists in Indonesia (promoted or encouraged by the CIA) as “the second biggest holocaust of the twentieth century." In any case, it’s  a massacre carried out without the industrial efficiency of the Nazis, and therefore with an added level of sadism. At any rate, it should be to everyone’s knowledge that, even after the end of the Third Reich, the liberal West’s interventions in its colonies and semi-colonies not only led to the establishment of ferocious dictatorships, it also aided in the realization of “acts of genocide”; the “Truth Commission” in Guatemala stresses this, referring to the fate suffered by the Maya, guilty of having sympathized with the opponents to the regime supported by Washington.1017

Finally, we saw how the Jacobins are “horrible cannibals” in the eyes of the Thermidorian bourgeoisie; later, however, it will be the descendants of that bourgeoisie who will endure the Paris Commune’s denouncement of the “cannibalistic acts by the Versailles bandits."1018 Regarding the twentieth century, while the civil war rages on, the Bolsheviks call for the struggle against “bourgeois cannibalism."1019 Later, as we are well aware, it was Stalin himself who classified antisemitism as an expression of “cannibalism." Nowadays, however, they take the tragedy and horrors of Nazino island, where real cases of cannibalism took place, to reduce the events that began with the October Revolution to pure barbarism and to denounce “red cannibalism."1020

In truth, episodes of cannibalism had previously occurred: in 1921, the gravity of  the famine  reaches “the point of provoking cases of anthropophagy."1021 A year later, the liberal Italian philosopher Guido de Ruggiero observes:

The Entente’s blockade, that sought to annihilate Bolshevism, instead killed Russian men, women and children; could the poor going hungry compete in democratic elegance with those from the Entente causing the hunger? As was natural, they rallied around their own government and identified its enemies as their own.1022

As you can see, the liberal philosopher blames the Entente more than Soviet rule. “Witnessed cases of anthropophagy” also occur in certain parts of China in 1928,1023 cases that could hardly be  blamed on the communists, who will seize power more than twenty years later; they will eventually blame the West, starting with the Opium Wars, of having sent that great Asian country into the  abyss. But let’s return to the 1930s, yet relocating from Stalin’s Soviet Union to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s United States. Here’s how a fiendish crowd furiously attacks a black man:

The first thing they did was cut off his penis and forced him to eat it. Later they cut off his testicles and forced him to eat them and say that he enjoyed it. Next, they used knives to cut off strips of skin from his torso and stomach, and anyone, one by one, could rip off fingers or toes from his hands or feet. Red hot iron was used to burn the negro from top to bottom. From time to time a rope was tied around Neal’s neck and they removed the stand from under him, until he almost died, strangulated; but then the tortured resumed, starting over from the beginning. After various hours of that punishment they decided to kill him. Neal’s body was tied to the back of a car and dragged through the street all the way to Cannidy’s house. There, a crowd of between 3,000 and 7,000 people, coming from various southern states, excitedly awaited his arrival.

The entertainment around the body continues for a long time and concludes with the sale of photographs, “fifty cents each”,1024 but we’ll stop there. It’s clear that the application of the principle of tu quoque has led us to discover in F.D. Roosevelt’s United States a case, not of cannibalism provoked by general scarcity, disorder and hunger, but rather self-inflicted cannibalism, forced and organized as a mass spectacle in a society otherwise enjoying a high standard of living.

In conclusion, the usual comparison of the communist movement on one side, and the liberal West on the other, makes abstraction, regarding the latter, of the fate reserved to the colonial peoples or people of colonial origin, and the measures approved in situations of more or less acute crisis. The comparison of the two heterogeneous set of measures ends up being Manichaean: one world exclusively analyzed by its sacred spaces and its periods of normality is triumphantly counterposed to a world that, having challenged the barrier that separates the sacred space from the profane space, the civilized and the barbarians, is forced to confront a prolonged state of emergency and the irreducible hostility from the guardians of that exclusive sacred space.

1010. Ginzburg (1988), p. 220.

1011. Ginzburg (1988), pp. 212, 219 and 232.

1012. Ginzburg (1988), p. 222.

1013. Ginzburg (1988), pp. 217-18.

1014. Kelley (1990), pp. xii-xiii.

1015. Ginzburg (1988), p. 203.

1016. Ascherson (2005), p. 29.

1017. Navarro (1999).

1018. Marx (1955-1989), vol. 17, p. 334.

1019. Bukharin, Preobrazenski (1920), p. 106.

1020. Werth (2007b); Galli della Loggia (2007). 1021. Souvarine (2003), p. 401.

1022. De Ruggiero (1963), p. 437.

1023. Roux (2007), p. 41.

Demonization and Hagiography: the Example of the “Greatest Modern Living Historian”

According to Conquest, the catastrophe of the twentieth century begins, in fact, with the emergence of the Manifesto of the Communist Party within the West’s “civil and democratic order”: the ideas expressed by Marx and Engels “caused significant problems in the world for more than five generations."1025

Let’s look, then, at the world situation of 1848, the year of the Manifesto’s fatal publication. Let’s begin with Great Britain, which for Conquest is one of the two centers for the exclusive and superior “Anglo-Celtic” community, and therefore true civilization. And yet, around the middle of the nineteenth century, according to Tocqueville the industrial area of Manchester and the working class neighborhoods look like an “infected labyrinth” and “hell” itself: the miserable slums are “the last refuge that man can find between misery and death." Nevertheless, “the unfortunate souls who live in those hovels draw the jealously of some of their peers." Let’s now move on to the work houses, again turning to the French liberal: they are the site of the “most horrendous and repugnant misery”; on one side those unable to work or who await their death, on the other women and children were crammed together “like pigs in the mud of their pigsty; it’s hard to avoid stepping on a half-naked body."

In France, the popular classes don’t accept these conditions. Here’s how Tocqueville called for the Revolt of June 1848 to be confronted: anyone who is caught in a “defense stance” must be shot dead on the spot. Yet one can’t be satisfied with “palliatives”: it’s necessary to liquidate once and for all the centers of subversion, eliminating not just the Mountain of Jacobin inspiration, but “all its surrounding hills”; one must not hesitate at all in taking a “heroic [...] remedy."

Around the middle of the nineteenth century, Ireland is an integral part of Great Britain; there we see the “proto-Eichmann” condemn hundreds of thousands of people to death by starvation. In the United Kingdom’s other colonies, the situation is no better. In 1835, the viceroy of India informs London about the consequences from the destruction of the local textile artisanry, wiped out by British industry: “It’s a state of misery that can hardly find precedents in the history of commerce. The bones of textile workers whiten the plains of India." The tragedy doesn’t stop there. Two years later, a famine takes place that is so terrible that―another British source, completely committed to celebrating the glory of the empire, candidly remarks―”the British residents [...] are forced to cancel their usual evening walks due to the awful smell of bodies, too numerous to be buried." There doesn’t appear to be any improved prospects for evening walks: “the successive outbreaks of cholera and smallpox decimated a part of the population that had survived the famine."1026 The slaughter isn’t just the result of “objective” economic processes: in New Zealand―The Times observes in 1864―the settlers, strengthened by the support from the London government, carried out the “extermination of the natives."

And now we’ll see what happens in the other center of the “Anglo-Celtic” community and true civilization. While in Europe the Manifesto of the Communist Party ruinously emerges, slavery is in full bloom in the United States, which had just earlier reintroduced it in Texas, taken from Mexico by force of arms, and that had previously declared, under Jefferson, its goal of reducing the people of Haiti to starvation, guilty for having broken the bonds of slavery. In the United States, the tragedy suffered by the Native Americans is added to the tragedy suffered by black people. Regarding the Native Americans, we will cite just one episode, summarized as follows by an American historian: “The degradation and annihilation of California’s Native Americans is one of the most shameful pages in United States history, an indelible stain to the honor and intelligence of the United States. It wasn’t a war, but a type of public sport."

In relation to the colonial peoples or the people of colonial origin, the brutality of Western “civil  and democratic order” is not only put into practice, but also explicitly theorized by authors embraced as part of the liberal pantheon without any issues. Tocqueville invites his fellow patriots to not allow themselves to be hindered by residual moral scruples and to accept reality: to complete the conquest of Algeria, which in no way can be renounced, it’s inevitable “that crops will be burned,silos will be emptied, and finally we will overpower unarmed men, women and children." Yet, it’s necessary to go further, as is revealed by a terrible slogan: “Destroy everything that resembles a permanent concentration of people, in other words, a city [...]. Don’t allow any city to survive or emerge in the regions controlled by Abdel-Kader” (the resistance leader).1027

The flattering depiction that Conquest traces of the world before the publication of the Manifesto of the Communist Party can be compared to a similar one that is traced of slave society by a critic of abolitionism at the start of the nineteenth century:

Protected against the adversities of life, surrounded by comforts unknown to most European countries, secure in the enjoyment of their property (indeed, they had property and it was sacred), treated in illness with expenses and attention that you will search for in vain in those celebrated hospitals in England; protected and respected during the pains of old age, with their children and their families in peace [...] relieved once they had performed important services; this was the true, unembellished picture of how our negros were administered [...]. The most sincere affection linked the master to his slave; we slept soundly among these men, that had become our sons, and many of us didn’t keep locks or bolts on our doors.1028

Conquest, the “Cold War veteran”, is celebrated, however, as the “greatest living modern historian”, although it’s yet another court historian who expresses that opinion.1029 It’s obvious, the reductio ad Hitlerum of the events that began with the October Revolution, and especially with the figure who for more time than any other led the Soviet Union, is only the flip side to the insipid hagiography of the world before 1917, and even the world before the publication of the Manifesto of the Communist Party.

1024. Ginzburg (1988), p. 223.

1025. Conquest (2001b), p. 48.

1026. Chamberlain (1937), p. 997 and footnote 2; Martineau (1857), p. 297.

1027. On all of this cf. Losurdo (2005), ch. V, §8; VI,§3; III, § 2; X § 1; VII, § 1; XI, §2 and VII, §6.

1028. James (1968), p. 105.

1029. The praise is from Paul Johnson and is cited in the Conquest’s book flap (2001).

Abolitionist Revolutions and the Demonization of the “Anti-Whites” and the Barbarians

The comparative approach can once again help clarify the underlying logic of these ideological processes. There are three great revolutionary movements that, in different ways, had radically challenged the slavery or semi-slavery of the colonial regime, and the racist regime of white supremacy that existed at both the national and international level. We must first consider the great revolution by black slaves that broke out in Saint-Domingue in the wake of the French Revolution. Led by Toussaint Louverture, the ‘black Jacobin’, that revolution leads to Saint-Domingue-Haiti’s declaration of independence, the first country in the Americas to shake off  the institution of  slavery. The second great revolutionary movement is that which in the United States, following abolitionist agitation and the American Civil War, leads to the establishment of a multiracial society for a brief period of time (the years of Reconstruction), within which the newly freed blacks enjoy not only full civil rights, but also political rights. Lastly, we must reference the October Revolution that calls upon the colonial slaves to break their chains, and that powerfully encourages those that until then were considered the “inferior races” in the struggle for decolonization and emancipation.

All of these three great movements suffered, and still in part suffer, summary liquidation or their confinement to the darkness or shadows of history. Let’s take the revolution led by Toussaint Louverture. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, those who are sympathetic to it are called “anti-white and murderers."1030 Regarding Saint-Domingue, Tocqueville merely alludes to the “bloody catastrophe that had put an end to its existence." Paradoxically, the island ceases to exist at the very moment in which it puts an end to, for the first time on the American continent, the institution of slavery! But to reconstruct the atmosphere of that time, it’s perhaps necessary to specifically cite a popular novel by Heinrich von Kleist (The Betrothal in Santo Domingo), set at the start of the nineteenth century, “when blacks killed whites” and carried out a “massacre of whites” in the name of a “disorientating, generalized revenge." The criminalization of this great revolution went unchallenged for a long time. It continued on into the start of the twentieth century with Lothrop Stoddard: together with the revolution by black slaves in Saint-Domingue, the theorist of white supremacy also condemns the second and third stages represented by the anti-slavery and anti-tsarist struggles, and naturally brands as traitors to the white race the French Jacobins, the American supporters of radical abolition and the cause of racial equality, as well as the Bolsheviks.

With respect to so-called Reconstruction, one must have in mind the warning from an eminent American historian: “Despite its military defeat, the South won the ideological civil war a long time ago."1031 It would appear that, at least in this case, there should be no doubt: after centuries of slavery in the fullest sense of the word, Reconstruction is forced to make way to a regime of anti-black terror, so ferocious that it can be identified as the most tragic moment in African-American history.

1030. Grégoire (1996), p. 75.

1031. Davis (2000).

However, let’s see how Wilson summarizes that time in history: “the household slaves were almost always indulgently and even warmly treated by their masters." In the wake of emancipation Reconstruction sets in, during which majorities are formed in the South that rely on blacks: it’s “an incredible carnival of public crime”, to which “the natural and inevitable rise of the whites” fortunately puts an end.1032 A figure who went on to enter the pantheons of the United States and the West is not filled with horror at the time when the slave owner exercises absolute power over his human cattle, nor is it the time when the regime of white supremacy organizes the public spectacle of lynching and the slow martyrdom of the former slaves; synonymous with “public crime” is the brief period of time that followed the American Civil War and during which there’s the effort, despite everything, to take the human rights of African Americans seriously.

For a time, Black Reconstruction, or Radical Reconstruction, had been considered synonymous with “totalitarianism”, or as the phenomenon that preceded “fascism and Nazism." Imposed at the conclusion of a war that was very similar to the “total war by the Nazis”, it had intended to forcefully realize the principle of equality and racial intermixing, trampling on the will of (white) majority and appealing to the savage population, with the consequent “victory achieved through physical force by civilization over barbarism." Fortunately, the stainless and fearless knights of the Ku Klux Klan were ready to challenge or contain those horrors; the KKK was the organization that kept alive the “knightly order” that had for so long characterized the US South! These are the themes that are promoted by a historiography that continued to make its influence felt well after the collapse of the Third Reich.1033

Finally, the events that began in October 1917, with the appeal directed to the colonial slaves to break their chains, culminated with the arrival of Stalin’s autocracy.

Naturally, it’s not in any way a matter of idealizing the protagonists of these three  great  emancipatory struggles. An eminent historian on the revolution by black slaves in Saint-Domingue argued against “the contemporary legend according to which the abolition of slavery had meant the extermination of the whites”;1034 but it’s undeniable that massacres took place on both sides. Nor is their doubt about the brutality, at that time unprecedented, with which the American Civil War was carried out by the North, and particularly by Sherman, who explicitly proposed striking at the civilian population and to “make Georgia howl”,1035 and it’s no coincidence that Hitler appears to look to him as a model. Finally, the ruthless nature of the dictatorship maintained first by Lenin, and especially by Stalin later, is not up for debate. At least the second war brought up here now appears to have been lost by the slave owning South in the field of history as well: it is no longer politically correct to regret the end of slavery or the regime of white supremacy. In contrast, commonplace is the understanding of “Stalinism” (and the history of the October Revolution) as merely criminal, as well as the comparison of Stalin to Hitler, who―inheriting and radicalizing the colonial tradition―explicitly demanded the right of the “master race” to decimate and enslave the “inferior races”: it’s a sign that the champions of colonialism still haven't lost the battle at either the political level or in the field of history.

1032. In Blackmon (2008), p. 358.

1033. For the praise of the Southern tradition, cf. Weaver (1987), pp. 78, 161, 160-70; in a critical direction cf. Franklin (1989), pp. 10-40 and Davis (2000).

1034. James (1968), p. 117.

1035. In Weaver (1987), p. 168.

Universal History as a “Grotesque Succession of Monsters” and as “Teratology”?

The movement in history condemned to damnatio memoriae is the one that more than any other radically challenged the arrogance of the “master race” that had ruled for centuries, from the classic colonial tradition, to the attempt by the Third Reich to radicalize it and apply it in the very heart of Europe.

But there’s no movement in history that can’t be subjected to a similar process of criminalization. Take liberalism, for example. If we ignore the best pages written by it (the need for limitations on power, the rule of law, or its understanding of the powerful boost to the development of the productive forces and social wealth that can come from the market, competition, and individual initiative), and we concentrated exclusively on the fate suffered by the colonial peoples or those of colonial origin (for centuries subjected to enslavement, to the more or less brutal forms of forced labor and genocidal practices and even “holocausts”, according to the term increasingly used by historians), even liberalism can be read in a more or less criminal perspective.

In the current climate of the “War on Terror”, there’s certainly no lack of books that, in referencing the horrific suicide attacks in Beslan, Russia in 2004 (when an indiscriminate and limitless violence takes even children as targets), reconstruct the expansion of Islam as a history of a bloody and cruel conquest, that savagely rules over the defeated and only leaves behind a trail of blood. The role of Islam in the creation of the grand multiethnic and multicultural civilization that characterizes Spain before the Christian reconquest is hidden and forgotten, as is its radical questioning of caste society in India, and more generally of its promotion, beginning in the nineteenth century, of the emancipation struggle by colonial peoples.

In the opposition direction, however, we can cite the publication of the monumental Criminal History of Christianity, completely dedicated to denouncing the intolerance and violence inherent to its pretension of knowing the only true god; it contains an angry condemnation of the crusades of extermination (proclaimed against external infidels and internal heretics), the religious wars, the Inquisition, the witch hunts, the legitimization of the West’s colonial expansion and the horrors in its wake, the support given even in the twentieth century to tyrannical and bloody regimes.1036 And again resourcefulness is combined with omission. Preaching the idea of equality between men, and as late as the eighteenth and nineteenth century feeding the abolitionist and anti-slavery movement, Christianity is an essential part in the formation of the democratic society. In his lucid hatred, Nietzsche understood this well; it was precisely for that reason that he denounces the intrinsically violent and criminal impulse that, despite its appearances, characterizes Christianity and the early Judaism of the prophets; rallying around the idea of equality and against wealth, power and the status of masters in general, the Jewish prophets would be first among those responsible for the massacres that took place during the peasant wars, the Puritan Revolution, the French Revolution and the Paris Commune. A line of continuity which nineteenth century antisemitism and Hitler extend to the communist movement and the “Judeo-Bolshevik” revolution of October 1917.

Moreover, the communist movement was quite often compared to early Christianity or to Islam. Thus, this depiction of universal history, understood as the universal history of crime, is almost complete. That sequencing of crimes not only avoids their motivations, but also the reasons for their uninterrupted duration, such that history as a whole is portrayed, as Hegel would say, as a “slaughterhouse” of planetary dimensions,1037 or as an immensely unfathomable mysterium iniquitatis. At this moment―we can observe like Gramsci―the past as such looks “irrational” and “monstrous” to us: history as a whole is portrayed as a “grotesque succession of monsters”, as “teratology."1038

Opposing the reduction of the events that began with October 1917 to a crime or to criminal madness, authors and figures committed in some way to defending communism’s honor react, at times, by distancing themselves from the darker pages of that movement’s history and branding them as the betrayal or the degeneration of the original ideas of the Bolshevik revolution and the teachings by Lenin and Marx. Looking closely, that approach also leads to an outcome not very different from that we just finished analyzing. Are all the pages ruthlessly described in the Criminal History of Christianity examples of “betrayal” and “degeneration”? How about the Reformation (and the principle of each Christian’s freedom, solemnly proclaimed by Luther) and the regimes that later side with Protestantism? Following that line, Cromwell is a “degenerate” in relation to the original protagonists of the Puritan Revolution, and the Terror by the Jacobins is a “degeneration” of the ideals of 1789. Is modern Islamic fundamentalism a “degeneration” in relation to the Quran and Muhammad’s teachings? Remaining coherent to this approach, anyone can consider the liberal West’s enslavement and annihilation of the colonial peoples to be a degeneration of “liberalism."

1036. Deschner (1988).

1037. Hegel (1969-1979), vol. 12, p. 35.

1038. Gramsci (1975), p. 1417.

Therefore, the “traitors” would be Washington, Jefferson, Madison―all slave owners―and also Franklin, according to whom “the uprooting of those savages [the Native Americans] has been planned by Providence, for the purposes of clearing space for the cultivators of the land." Locke should also then be classified as a traitor to liberalism, as he is generally considered the father of that line of thinking, and not only did he legitimize the expropriation (and the deportation) of the Native Americans, but he was also, as observed by an eminent scholar (David B. Davis), “the last great philosopher who sought to justify absolute and perpetual slavery." Proceeding in that way, we thus transform the pantheon of the great figures of liberalism into a gallery of traitors without honor.

That sort of argument is even more suspect if we consider the fact that, in the eyes of a great liberal theorist of slavery like John C. Calhoun, It’s precisely the abolitionists with their Jacobinism and anti-slavery fanaticism who betray liberal ideas of tolerance and respect for property rights in all  their forms. That approach isn’t much more persuasive if we apply it to the history of Marxism and communism. Especially beginning with the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, Stalin is the criminal traitor par excellence. But it’s necessary not to forget that those very champions of de-stalinization are accused of betrayal and “revisionism” by the Chinese and Albanian communist parties. In our days, the criminalization process also targets Lenin, Mao Zedong, Tito―without even mentioning Pol Pot―, and not even Ho Chi Minh and Castro are spared. A truly miserable outcome is reached by relying on the category of betrayal. The history of the communist movement as a crime in itself, triumphantly written by the ruling ideology, is simply rebranded―by those who are unable to identify with the ruling ideology―as the history of betrayal of its original ideals. Not all that different results would be reached in the reading of liberalism or Christianity if we wanted to describe their darkest chapters as the betrayal of their original ideals. To conclude, the approach criticized here commits the mistake of erasing the real and profane history, which is substituted by a history of the unfortunate and mysterious corruption and distortion of doctrines elevated a priori to the status of purity and holiness.

Theory is never innocent, however. The reading of Soviet Russia’s history in terms of the “betrayal” and “degeneration” of its noble original ideas is, most of the time, dismissively rejected by modern historiography, deeply committed not only to the collective criminalization of the Bolsheviks, but also in denouncing the authors that inspired the Bolsheviks as the original theorists of the Terror and the Gulag. While it’s necessary to avoid drawing hard lines of continuity and mixing up quite different kinds of responsibility, it is nevertheless permitted and even obligatory to question the role (however indirect and limited) played by Marx and Engels, rejecting the myth of their innocence and investigating the real history of their impact and the reasons for that impact. But then it’s necessary to take a similar approach toward all the great intellectuals, including those who are placed within a different and opposing intellectual tradition. Take Locke, for example. Is there a relation between his refusal to extend tolerance and even “compassion” to the “Papists” and the massacres the Catholics suffered in Ireland? And what of the underlying connection between his theoretical justification of slavery in the colonies and the slave trade, and the tragedy suffered by blacks, that which some African Americans today prefer to call the Black Holocaust? We can also turn to the time of Marx and Engels: must a theorist, like John Stuart Mill, of the West’s “despotism” over the “lesser” races (who must show “absolute obedience”) and the beneficial nature of slavery imposed on “savage tribes” alien to work and discipline, be considered in part responsible for the terror and massacres that accompany colonial expansion?

Not a single movement or person can escape those questions. We saw Nietzsche refer to the fiery tirades against power and wealth by the Jewish prophets and founders of the Church to explain the destructive and bloody nature of the revolutionary cycle. In the opposite direction, those that denounce the protagonists of crusades as traitors to Christianity would do well not to overlook a commonly neglected detail: an integral part of that religion’s holy scriptures is the Old Testament, which legitimizes and celebrates the “Lord’s wars” even in its cruelest forms. In this case, it’s also misleading to counterpose the nobility of the original ideas to the mediocrity and the horrors of its real history.

Having confirmed theory’s non-innocence, it’s a matter of identifying the different levels of responsibility. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the bodies of black slaves were branded with the letters RAC, the Royal African Company (the corporation that managed the slave trade), in which Locke was a shareholder. The least that one could say is that the authors of the Manifesto of the Communist Party didn’t profit from the forced labor that, a few decades after their deaths, will characterize the Gulag. Marx and Engels can be accused of having legitimized in  advance violence that, at any rate, will be put into practice after their deaths, and with decades separating them. Mill, however, legitimizes practices that are contemporary to him; similarly, in Tocqueville we can read the explicit recommendation of colonial practices that are more or less genocidal (the systematic destruction of urban centers found in areas controlled by the rebels) that don’t refer to the future, but the immediate present.1039 In other words, regarding the atrocities of colonialism that take place under their watch and, at times, with their direct approval, the representatives of the liberal tradition cited here have much more direct responsibility than that attributed to Marx and Engels regarding the shameful aspects of the Soviet regime and “Stalinism." While the path that leads from Marx to Stalin and the Gulag is problematic, bumpy and at any rate mediated by totally unpredictable events like World War II and the permanent state of emergency, it’s immediately evident the link that connects Locke to the slave trade or Mill and Tocqueville to the forced labor imposed on the indigenous people and the colonial massacres.

As a theory, neither can utopianism claim any innocence. Liberals are correct on that point, though unfortunately they resort to that argument in a dogmatic way, applying it only to their adversaries and not to themselves: what were the terrible human and social costs of the utopia of a self- regulated market, with the subsequent rejection of any state intervention, a utopia to which Britain was loyal to even when, around the middle of the nineteenth century, a disease destroyed the potato harvest and the subsequent famine consumed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Irish people? 

1039. Cf. Losurdo (2005), ch. I, § 6 and VII, § 3 and 6.

Or, to give a more recent example: how many catastrophes were provoked and continue to be provoked by the utopia (supported by Wilson even before Bush Jr., as well as by prominent modern  philosophers like Popper) of a permanent peace to be achieved by spreading democracy around the world through the force of arms? To avoid falling into that very dogmatism, a similar question is  also raised in relation to the history of the Soviet Union. There are, of course, those that read the history of the country born out of the October Revolution by lamenting the gradual “betrayal” of the ideals elaborated by Marx and Engels; in reality, and in certain aspects, it’s precisely those “original” ideals (the millenarian hopes for a society without a state and juridical norms, without national borders and without the market and money, where there’s ultimately no real conflicts at all) that played a harmful role, obstructing the transition to a state of normality and prolonging and intensifying the state of emergency (caused by the crisis of the old regime, by the war and by the subsequent invasions).

Despite their differences, the two approaches criticized here, that respectively base themselves on the category of crime (or criminal madness) or betrayal, have a shared characteristic: they have a tendency to focus their attention on either the criminal or the treacherous nature of individuals. In fact, they refuse to understand the real historical development and historical effectiveness of the social, political and religious movements that have a worldwide ability to draw people in and whose influence unfolds over quite a long period of time.

Such an approach also proves to be inconclusive and misleading with regard to the Third Reich (which lasts for only 12 years and was only able to appeal to those included in the “master race”). It’s way too easy to exclusively blame Hitler for the atrocities of Nazism, suppressing the fact that he extracted from the world that preceded him―and then radicalized―the two essential parts of his ideology: the celebration of the white race’s colonial mission and the West itself, now called upon to further extend its dominion into Eastern Europe; the understanding of the October Revolution as a Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy that, in encouraging the rebellion by the colonial peoples and undermining the natural racial hierarchy and, more generally, infecting society like a pathogen, constituted a frightening threat to civilization, to be confronted using all means, including the “final solution." In other words, to comprehend the genesis of the Third Reich’s horrors, it’s not  a question of reconstructing Hitler’s childhood or adolescence; nor does it make sense to start with Stalin’s very beginnings to analyze an institution (the Gulag) that has its roots in the history of  Tsarist Russia and which, in ways that are always different, of which the countries of liberal West also made use, both during periods of colonial expansion as well as during the state of emergency caused by the Second Thirty Years’ War. Similarly misleading would be wanting to explain slavery and the decimation and extermination of the Native Americans based primarily on the individual characteristics of the US Founding Fathers, or seeking to explain the strategic and atomic bombings of German and Japanese cities through Churchill’s, Roosevelt’s and Truman’s perverse nature. It would be equally unreasonable to seek to explain the horrors of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib by starting with Bush Jr.’s adolescence or childhood.

But let’s return to Stalin. Is it a case of moral indifference to reject the approach that interprets everything as a crime (or criminal madness) or as the betrayal of the original ideals? Historians today still debate individuals and events that go back nearly two thousand years: must we unhesitatingly accept the sinister portrait of Nero traced by both the senatorial aristocracy and by the Christians?  In particular, must we accept without question the Christian propaganda that accused the Roman emperor of having started a fire in Rome in order to blame and persecute the innocent followers of the new religion? Or, as suggested by some scholars, was it possibly started by fundamentalist and apocalyptic tendencies within early Latin Christianity, which sought to see reduced to ashes the place par excellence of superstition and sin, and to accelerate the fulfillment of their eschatological hopes?1040 Let’s skip ahead a few centuries. Regarding the large-scale anti-Christian persecution unleashed by Diocletian, historians continue to ask themselves if it was only the result of an inexplicable religious hatred that was alien to Roman traditions, or did genuine concern regarding the future of the state play a role, as its military was being undermined by Christian pacifist agitation, precisely at a time when the danger of barbarian invasions became more threatening? The historians who ask those questions are hardly accused of wanting to downplay the persecution that Christians endured, or of wanting to again send them to the beasts and to the most heinous forms of torment.

Unfortunately, it’s easier to critically analyze the sacred history of Christianity than it is to express doubts regarding the sacred aura that usually surrounds the history of the West and the country that leads it; due to it being much further in the past and its much smaller impact on the interests and passions of the present, it’s much easier to understand the motives of those who were defeated by Christianity than to identify the motives of those whose defeat cleared the way for the triumph of the “American century." And that explains the heavy influence of demonization and hagiography in the understanding of the twentieth century, as well as the stubborn popularity enjoyed by the negative cult of heroes.

1040. Baudy (1991), pp. 9-10 and 43.

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