Reflections on Anti-Communism
Miliband, Ralph, Liebman, Marcel, Monthly Review
Ever since the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, anti-communism has been a dominant theme in the political warfare waged by conservative forces against the entire left, Communist and non-Communist; and since 1945 and the onset of the Cold War in particular, anti-communism has been ceaselessly disseminated by a multitude of different sources and means--newspapers, radio, television, films, articles, pamphlets, books, speeches, sermons, official documents--in a massive enterprise of propaganda and indoctrination. No subject other than "communism" has received anything like the same volume of criticism and denunciation. The intensity and forms of this propaganda have varied from country to country and from period to period, with the United States well in the lead among capitalist democracies in the intensity and pervasiveness of its anti-communism; but at no time since 1917 has anti-communism failed to occupy a major, even a central, place in the politics and policies of the capitalist world. Different Communist countries have at various times been the main target of attack--China at the time of the Korean war, Vietnam at the time of the Vietnam war. But it is the Soviet Union which has always been taken to be the principal and most dangerous enemy; and it is with anti-communism as it refers to the Soviet Union that we shall be mainly concerned here.
For all the diverse forms which it has assumed, anti-communism is based on two fundamental contentions: the first is that "communism" is a supreme and unqualified evil; and the second is that it is an evil which the Soviet leaders are seeking to impose upon the rest of the world. It is these two contentions which we propose to discuss here; and we do so from an independent socialist position which, although very critical of many aspects of Soviet "communism," is also very sharply at odds with anti-communism.
From the first days of the Bolshevik Revolution, anti-communism has painted Soviet "communism" in the darkest possible colors. For their part, Communists and many other people on the left sought, from 1917 until the Twentieth Soviet Communist Party Congress of 1956 and Khrushchev's "secret speech," to paint the regime in the brightest possible colors, and resolutely dismissed all criticism of the Soviet Union as mere bourgeois propaganda, inventions, and lies. A great deal of it undoubtedly was: anti-communism has always relied on, and has itself produced, much false and tendentious information about the Soviet Union. But a lot of the adverse information and comment, even of an extreme kind, was not lies and inventions at all; and it was grievously misguided for the defenders of the Soviet Union to give total and unqualified endorsement to everything that the Soviet regime did, if only because no regime, whatever its intentions and even its achievements, should ever be given this sort of endorsement. The point is valid at all times, but has exceptional force in relation to the years of Stalin's rule, from the late 1920s to his death in 1953, when immense crimes were committed by the regime.
There are many reasons to account for the wholehearted support which Communists and others on the left gave to Stalinist policies and actions; and it is worth dwelling on them, since they are usually ignored by anti-communists. One such reason is that alongside massive repression and murder, there was also great construction and advance; and the latter served to occlude the former. So did the derelictions and crimes of Western capitalism and imperialism strengthen the will to believe that the Soviet Union, poor, beleaguered, and vilified, was a land where socialism was being built: on no account must its endeavors be weakened and its enemies strengthened by adverse comment. The rise of Nazism enormously encouraged this view; so did the appeasement of the fascist dictators by Britain, France, and other capitalist regimes. The Soviet Union and the Communist parties at its command played their own considerable part by insisting that anyone on the left who did criticize the Soviet Union was "objectively" allied to reactionaries and fascists, and must be mercilessly denounced. …