A new generation of left-wingers seems ready to try Marxism again
34 minutes long it brings together short clips of much longer interviews with the likes of David Aaronovitch, John O’Sullivan, David Pryce-Jones and Giles Udy. In this series, that we call “From the cutting room floor“, we publish a selection of the rough, unedited interviews with some of these great minds. Previously we’ve done the same with Professor Niall Ferguson and journalist Paul Mason – who both gave illuminating, and contrasting interviews to Juliet Samuel as part of her documentary on the crisis facing western capitalism. Next week we’ll be publishing the audios of interviews with Andrew Keen, Jonathan Taplin and Joe Trippi that were used within Nigel Cameron’s recent ‘Zuckerberg for President?’ investigation.
Today, we publish the fifteen minutes that Douglas and Sean had with Anne Applebaum.
Professor Applebaum is now based at the London School of Economics’ Institute of Global Affairs and as well as a columnist for the Washington Post, her latest book – Red Famine, Stalin’s War on Ukraine – could not be more pertinent to Douglas’ documentary.
You can listen to her interview by clicking on the SoundCloud link below.
I recommend you do so but – for those of you who are short of time – here are four of the key observations she makes…
- The historical ignorance of British youngsters about Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot has to be seen – she argues – in the context of the wider failure of the British education system to teach history properly: “My children went all the way through you know the very best part of the British school system and also learned nothing about the British Empire… if we’re going to talk about why we don’t teach Soviet Communism? We should also look at why we don’t teach Victorian Britain.” Could the same criticisms be made of the curricula in American, French and Italian etc schools – where “pictures of Lenin or hammers and sickles appear on people’s t-shirts and in popular culture they’re used in advertising and so on, in a way that you just can’t imagine a swastika being used”.
- The reluctance to criticise communism wasn’t consistent across the century it dominated. Anne tells Douglas how in the 1930s, for example, during capitalism’s post-crash crisis there was much more openness to its ideas than in the 1920s – as evidenced by the visits of the Webbs to the USSR and of key members of Roosevelt’s team. The same could also be said of the 1970s. ‘Ostpolitik‘ was fashionable in the 1970s when – post-Vietnam, post-Watergate and post-the-Keynesian-good-years – the West was lacking confidence. A more confident anti-communism characterised the 1980s when Kohl, Thatcher and Reagan seemed to return mojo to the non-communist economies.
- Deaths under communism were by design, not by neglect: Contrasting her work with that of Robert Conquest, the great chronicler of communism’s crimes, Anne notes that her access to the archives of former eastern bloc regimes means that “I can demonstrate that the famine wasn’t just the result of chaos and neglect and collectivisation but it was the result of particular decisions taken in real time”. She continues: “The difference between my book about the gulag and Solzhenitsyn book (and Solzhenitsyn’s book actually largely got the outline of the story right, you know the chronology of the gulag and so on), he didn’t have the names and dates and he didn’t have the numbers of camps which we now know or the orders that were given to set them up”.
- Asked to comment on the attitude of the British Left to communism, Anne Applebaum draws a distinction between older and younger socialists. “You have an older generation of people who in the past sympathised with the Soviet Union… who spent a lot of time making excuses for the Soviet Union and ignoring atrocities. Who have now gone very silent about that, they don’t talk about it anymore in public. They’ve never renounced it or said I was wrong but they don’t talk about it.” Perhaps because they can keenly remember the events of 1989 when the peoples imprisoned by communism so gladly embraced the opportunity for freedom, when it arrived? But them, notes Applebaum, we “have a younger generation who have rediscovered Marxism and some Soviet policies but have no understanding of the atrocities or what they led to in the Soviet Union and have no real interest in that as far as I can tell. You know, if you say well goodness this is what was done by Stalin and or even this is what was done by the far left in the 1940s, they say ‘well so what, this is a new era and we want to try it again’.” Anne is right to make this warning. Excuses are often made for the crimes of Stalin. And for Exhibit A in that sloppy thinking, there’s The Guardian’s Abi Wilkinson, who Tweeted: “I’m not about to defend Stalin, but there’s a difference between an *ideology* that’s genocidal and one that’s based on idea of equality”. Anyone who wrote “I’m not about to defend Hitler, but…” would be rightly rebuked. Anyone who writes “I’m not about to defend Stalin, but…” deserves little better.