One of the most unfortunate realities of historical revisionism is that it frequently lends itself to ideologues with a particular political agenda. This is true of many forms of heterodoxy, journalism included, but it is far from the worst trait of which revisionism should be ashamed. The chief problem is in the name; history should not be open to reinterpretation or modification. If something in the past has been ‘revised’, then quite frankly, it isn’t true. Josef Stalin was the master of such chronological doctoring, and practiced this art in a despotic tyranny that used the education system in the Soviet Union as a vehicle for state propaganda. It is therefore remarkably ironic that many of his harshest critics have also used this duplicitous trick when evaluating his reign over the U.S.S.R.
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was a murderous tyrant who imposed his will on the Russian people in a country where civil liberties were abused, and public figures were frequently executed without a fair trial. These facts are unavoidable, and it is foolish for his apologists, such as the usually exemplary writer Harpal Brar, to try to either deny or excuse these crimes. The problem, however, is that many conservative and moderate pundits like to depict Stalin as a man on par with, if not more evil than, Adolf Hitler. To make such a claim is not only daft, but slightly surreal too.
The usual statistic trotted out is that Adolf Hitler slaughtered six million Jewish people in the Holocaust, while Josef Stalin was responsible for the deaths of more than twenty million people in the Siberian gulags. But the word “responsible” represents a key distinction, and more importantly, a distinction with a difference. The Gulags were not built with the intention of murdering the prisoners who were sent there; rather it was the result of an unsustainable system of harsh labour camps coupled with the untimely arrival of famine. To hold Stalin accountable for “murder” in this regard would, as the excellent Guardian journalist Seamus Milne notes, be equivalent to holding Winston Churchill responsible for the four million souls who lost their lives in the avoidable Bengal famine of 1943. I am course, perfectly happy for people to do this too, but the level of inconsistent outrage on display from people who describe themselves as historians is a little baffling.
There is another major difference in the offensive comparison between Dachau and the Soviet Gulags. While the disparity between intentional genocide and mass manslaughter has already been dealt with, there remains the crucial question of why these victims were sent to these respective locations in the first place. Hitler and Stalin both rounded up and punished people who disagreed with them, be they socialists, Masons or Trotskyists, but only one of them rounded up a race of people. Stalin did indeed wage class warfare on the Muzhiks, but only an apologist for fascism could in any way believe that this is comparable with the attempted extermination of an entire ethnic group. Class is a consequence of societal and political structure. Ethnicity is a consequence of birth.
When the argument inevitably fails that the Soviet Union was as wicked as Nazi Germany, many conservative pundits pull an inexplicable trick. Rather than continuing to press the idea that Josef was worse than Adolf, they instead absolve right-wing ideology of Hitler all together, and try to pin him on leftism. To describe this attempt as pitiful would be an understatement. Glenn Beck, in a live television interview with the admittedly unimpressive Sam Webb, tried to make this claim based on the fact that Hitler was head of the “National Socialist Party”. If Beck seriously intends to use logic based on false semantics, then we should be left to wonder why members of all the ‘Green’ parties are not wondering around clad head-to-toe in emerald. The policies of “National Socialism” bear no relation in reality to Marxism, and I can assure you this is not a “no true Scotsman” argument. Socialism is the idea of a classless society, while Nazi Germany was heavily class-oriented. The party was also financed by big industrialists, factory owners and bankers, such as Fitz Tysen and Emil Kirdorff. Quite the Marxist paradise, eh? The reason the Nazis initially styled themselves in this way was based on the perverse logic of their founder, Anton Drexler, who believed that giving“social welfare to German citizens deemed part of the Aryan race” would appeal to the working classes who might otherwise be tempted into supporting Marxism. Ask any of the neo-Nazis around today what they think of socialism, and I’m fairly sure they won’t be waxing lyrical about it.
Another argument that is casually and flimsily thrown into this debate (if I can glorify this by describing it as one), is that Stalin was an opportunist who initially aligned himself with Hitler. The Stalin-Hitler pact, so often referenced by critics of the Soviet Union was made as a result of the fact that Britain and France alienated Stalin by refusing to make such a pact with him. Incidentally, this was also how Czechoslovakia were treated before being sold down the river by the Western Allies in the Munich Agreement of 1938. Stalin, for all his faults, despised fascism with a passion, and were it not for his admirable leadership and the blood of many of the Soviet soldiers under his command, the malevolent tyranny of Nazism may never have been defeated.It isn’t true that the extremes of both the right and the left are equally reprehensible. The old adage that right and left both meet each other and merge in the form of communism and fascism is untrue. I don’t believe in balance for the sake of balance. Hitler’s ideology was inherently evil, while Stalin’s was not. Hitler ordered one of the most revolting acts of genocide in human history, while Stalin did not. Hitler was the arguably the most evil man to ever set foot on this planet, and Stalin, despite all the despicable things he did, was not.