It’s Time for a Nuremberg Trial for Communism
Why did we punish the horrific crimes of the national socialists yet let the murderous international socialists off scot-free?
In 1945, the victorious Allies convened a trial in Nuremberg, Germany, in an attempt to come to legal terms with the crimes that had been committed by the National Socialists since the 1930s. The event was unprecedented. Criminality had outstripped the law. While the jurists and justices at Nuremberg wrestled with how to mete out justice to some of the most heinous offenders in human memory, a cruel irony was brewing even in their company. Soviet jurists at Nuremberg were themselves guilty of crimes that in many ways were even darker than what the Nazis had done.
And yet, while Nuremberg put the stamp of humankind’s disgust on everything National Socialist, for reasons of political expediency and gullibility, there never was a trial for the international socialists, the Bolsheviks and Stalinists and other Soviets who racked up a death count some 10 times higher than their Teutonic socialist counterparts. The Nazis sat in the dock and then swung from the gallows. The Russians, however, walked off scot-free. In the years after Nuremberg, they kept on killing. Their communist counterparts in China, Eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, the Middle East, and beyond kept on killing too. There has never been a Nuremberg for communism.
It is time for that to change. Last year, the world lost perhaps the greatest, bravest Russian dissident who’s ever lived. Vladimir Bukovsky spent some dozen years in a psychiatric prison in the Soviet Union—hellish years detailed in his classic work of zek literature, To Build a Castle—all for the “crime” of refusing to be a socialist. Tortured, threatened, harassed, Bukovsky never backed down. When he was finally released to the West, he spent the rest of his life telling the world what was really going on behind the Iron Curtain. Few listened, for the same reasons that few at Nuremberg thought to throw their Soviet colleagues into jail where they belonged.
But now that the world can see, again, what communism really looks like—cover-ups that cost hundreds of thousands of lives as Party Central grows ever stronger, the police state spreading where communities and human life once thrived—the day is here when the Nuremberg Trial for Communism can, and should, be convened.
TAC contributor and legal history researcher Jason Morgan recently interviewed Italian professor of philosophy Renato Cristin, the leader of the worldwide movement to achieve Bukovsky’s dream and see communism, like Nazism, forever exiled from among the human race.
What first interested you in Vladimir Bukovsky and his work?
I knew the works of Vladimir Bukovsky because, together with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov, Natan Sharansky and others, he was one of the main dissidents of the Soviet regime, and in particular because he had developed a pointed political criticism, as well as cultural and historical, of the communist system and ideology.
Did you ever have the opportunity meet Bukovsky?
My meeting with Bukovsky was quite recent, dating back to 2005, when I invited him to give a speech at a conference that I organized as director of the Italian Cultural Institute in memory of the victims of both totalitarianisms, Nazi and Soviet. It was then that Bukovsky told me about his idea to hold a Nuremberg Trial for Communism.
It seemed to me an exceptional idea, the expression of a historical, political, and ethical need that could no longer be postponed: an historical and moral judgment of condemnation, similar to the rightful condemnation and banishment of Nazism from the civilized world.
How did Bukovsky’s idea progress after that?
In the summer of 2019, I wrote to Bukovsky proposing to launch his idea with an appeal. I thought that this could serve as the basis for an international initiative. Although debilitated by disease, he enthusiastically agreed to take part. Together we wrote the text of the appeal and decided to launch it with a collection of signatures, to present it to the public on the symbolic date of November 9—the day in 1989 when the Berlin Wall began to be torn down.
Unfortunately, Bukovsky died on October 27, two weeks before the appeal was to be announced. His death left a great void in all of us, the many people around the world who had applauded his decades-long battle against communism.
But Bukovsky’s spirit was greater than his disease. His legacy lived and stirred among us, and his commitment to hold communism accountable spurred his admirers to action. What he dreamed of, we would finally achieve. It is fitting, in a way, that the men who tormented Bukovsky, and the inhuman system they used to justify their torment, be judged after Bukovsky was already at peace. His fight was always about so much more than himself anyway.
Bukovsky argued that it was just one form of control that collapsed in 1991 in the Soviet Union, and before that in Eastern Europe. He thought that the impulse to control other human beings outlived the fall of communism and continues to plague us today. According to Bukovsky, the people who had been responsible for the misery of communism were almost never faced with consequences for what they had done.
Bukovsky was right. This is the key point. The collapse of the structures of the Soviet regime and its satellites in Eastern Europe was not accompanied by a systematic judicial action against the people who had been guilty of crimes in various regimes. A particular regime fell, but nobody who was a part of it faced justice at all. It’s as if the Soviet Union was the scapegoat for the people who actually committed all the crimes.
There are a few reasons for this strange disconnect. First of all, the situation was objectively very complex. It was simply not possible at the time to establish a single general court for all the formerly communist countries. Also, since liberal-democratic development was different from country to country, the degree of infiltration of former communist leaders into the structures of the new societies was also different. It would have been impossible to hold a real trial as one huge social structure was collapsing and morphing into two dozen other, smaller structures.
There was also the reluctance of the West to take a firm stand. Many believed that the collapse of communist regimes entailed the disappearance of communist ideology. This is still the general consensus today. There was a huge sense of relief when East Germany and the Soviet Union fell, and many wanted to believe that with those regimes also fell the ideology which had made them. However, there is a darker reason. Many left-wing political and cultural movements supported communism and helped conceal the crimes of communists. Many still do.
You have said that communism is a dangerous false religion. What do you mean by this?
Despite the undeniable evidence of the crimes committed by communist totalitarianism, communism has an aura of mysticism, a sort of taboo: it is believed that the idea of communism is good, that its only fault is that it has not yet been fully realized. This false millenarianism inspires the weak of mind and causes reason to be clouded by utopian romanticism. This colors historical understanding, too. Communist regimes are seen as merely unfinished forms of communism, and therefore the idea retains all its saving potential despite the horrors that communism brings to human societies everywhere. This is nothing less than a secular religion. One must continue to believe despite all evidence to the contrary.
Thanks to its persuasive force, this form of secular mysticism has managed to penetrate even into authentic religion, into Christianity. Catholic thought and response were not enough to defeat the anti-Christianism of Marxism-Leninism. In fact, Catholic communism, which is in all respects an oxymoron, has become a point of reference for many people throughout the West, forming one of the aspects of neo-communism in circulation today.
After decades of collaboration between Liberation Theologians and Latin American revolutionary and terrorist movements, the current forms of this Christian communism have overcome militant atheism but with apotheosized communism, and not with authentic Christian faith. Our new, religious communism is not the hard-edged atheism of old, but a much more palatable, even “spiritual atheism,” which has the religious fanaticism of German Reformation preacher Thomas Müntzer’s all-out rebellionism.
This “spiritual atheism” is promiscuously polytheistic, as can be seen, for example, in the theses that accompanied the Synod for the Amazon. One cannot be a Christian and a communist, but if enough high-ranking Christians seem to be making it work then millions of others will be led along.
Who are the communists? What do they really want?
The symbol of the communist regimes and of the ideology that underlies them is the Gulag, the analogue of the Nazi concentration camp. The Gulag, where the state imprisoned anyone for any reason, even the mere suspicion of dissent, had different “denominations” according to the different communist states. But the basic idea is always the same: total control of human lives. The Gulag is the symbol not only of massacres, but also of the dictatorial control over individuals and societies that is the very essence of communism.
Total control over human life is what communists want. It is who they are: controllers, insatiable and ruthless controllers of other human beings.
We must not be confused by terminology, though. What is sometimes called “real socialism,” for example, is not an aberration of the Marxist-Leninist theory, but the political-state form with which this theory is sometimes instantiated. Therefore, criticism of real socialism, that is, of the Soviet Union and all those states which have continued to practice that theory even after the collapse of the USSR, must imply criticism of the communist ideology from the outset. There is no difference, because the personnel are the same. It is not what the thing is called, but what the people in a given system do, that ultimately matters.
Consequently, assuming towards this historical-political monstrosity an ambiguous or even simply neutral position means giving voice to a disease that has proved deadly for any people who have had the misfortune to experience it.
Do you see any trends or events or people in the world today, in 2020, against whom or which Bukovsky would have been opposed? What would he have thought of the Wuhan virus situation, for instance?
In 2001, together with Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng and German human rights champion Gerhard Löwenthal, Bukovsky published an article requesting that the International Olympic Committee reject Beijing’s candidacy to host the 2008 Olympic Games. Their argument was that the Olympics would provide Chinese communism with further legitimacy among the free world.
What Bukovsky, Wei, and Löwenthal here call Chinese “tyranny” repressed individual freedoms and civil rights and was rooted in the same Gulag archipelago as is found in every other communist state, past and present. Disregard for human rights was, and is, the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party. The Wuhan virus outbreak reflects all of this perfectly. Communists simply do not care about any human life except their own. As a result, millions upon millions suffer and die.
What is the Nuremberg Trial and why should it be applied to communism?
On September 19, 2019, the European Parliament resolved that Nazism and communism are equally at fault. I think this resolution must be substantially and finally buttressed by a Nuremberg Trial for Communism.
But to have a trial we must have the courage and the intellectual honesty to call the crimes of communism by their real name. The massacres and genocides, the murder of hundreds of millions of consciences, the destruction of religion, the devastation of entire societies, the economic and moral misery visited upon continent after continent. The mass graves, the shattered lives of entire generations. All of these things happened. Many who are alive today remember. We must not be afraid to say that a horrific crime of world-historical proportion has taken place. We must first prepare ourselves for the psychological toll it will take on us to learn the full truth about the communist past, and present.
To give just one example, seven million Ukrainians were exterminated—subjected to genocide—by the Soviet Union in order to clear the ground in the Ukraine for the Soviets’ criminal ideology. Seven million murders. The world will never stop mourning the six million Jews killed by the Nazis: the Shoah is an authentic manifestation of absolute evil, and it is out of human solidarity with the living and the dead that we join our Jewish brothers and sisters in rejecting that evil completely. By the same token, we must be strong enough to face the truth about communism, whatever it costs us. Justice demands at least that much.