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Can Dead Commies Be Good?

Up to 20 million died because of Lenin -- yet he was an English boy's hero (Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

My son Matt has very strong views on communism. He went through a two-year period in which he was deeply interested in Soviet Russia, and read everything he could get his hands on about Soviet history, including Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. A kid who will read The Gulag Archipelago at 14 is bound to be strong-minded.

He is deeply bothered by the double standard our contemporary culture has regarding Nazism and communism. He’s like me in that way. When I lived in DC in the early 1990s, a new bar opened, the theme of which was Soviet kitsch. I went there once with friends for a drink, but found I couldn’t stay. The ideology that the bar made celebrated ironically was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions, and untold human suffering. The Cold War was over, but this was still not funny, and never should be. That was my view.

That became Matt’s view too, not because he heard it from me, but because he read deeply into Soviet history. And Matt, because he had read so deeply, trying to understand how something like that could have happened to Russia, had vastly more facts to draw on to reach that conclusion than I did. Not too long ago, he was in a t-shirt shop looking around, and was so offended by the Che Guevara shirt and other communist kitsch on sale there that he left the store. I was talking to him about it afterward, and he was genuinely upset, saying that he did not understand why it’s okay to traffick in symbols of communism, but not Nazism. In his view, if we don’t see communism as equally evil as Nazism, we are not seeing it clearly, and we do a great injustice to its victims.

I told him I believe he’s right about that. I explained that the main reason for the double standard is that the left dominates the news and entertainment media, and therefore cultural framing of issues like this. You won’t find many of them endorsing communism, but by far the greater sin is anti-communism. They are less bothered by going soft on Stalin than by going soft on Joe McCarthy. Besides, there are a lot of liberals who would agree that communism went too far, but forgive the Soviets because they think their hearts were in the right place. They just wanted a better world for all (goes the thinking). I think this is morally obscene sentimentalism, but that’s how a lot of people are.

Which brings me to the case of Max Edwards, a 16-year-old Englishman who made a name for himself with a precociously written blog, The Anonymous Revolutionary, in which he expounded insightfully on the many virtues of Marxism. There was not the slightest bit of irony in this kid. Excerpts:

The USSR believed it would reach ‘true’ communism by 1980, yet was proven wrong. China, sixty-seven years after the revolution, still asserts that it’s at the beginning of the road to equality (as if it was ever on it in the first place). This is very much a final conclusion, and will certainly not be achieved with ease. Yet the communist project is not a simple, and often not a glamorous one, but one both inevitable and necessary. In the words of Fidel Castro, ‘A revolution is not a bed of roses. A revolution is a struggle between the future and the past’.

If we applied this reasoning, reaching a completely equal society in the relatively near future may not be beyond our grasp.

And this credo:

I am a Marxist, Leninist, Bolshevist and internationalist. I’d consider myself a Marxist in the 31H6tzfox4L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_orthodox sense, which is to say that I uphold the traditional view that the tyrannies of capitalism shall only be quashed through class struggle. In that sense, I’m also an anti-revisionist and am opposed to tendencies like Post-Marxism.

To develop a more in-depth understanding of the ideals I hold, you can look at writings by and about individuals such as Marx, Engels or Lenin. I’d recommend the free online source Marxists Internet Archive to do this.

Additionally, my posts provide some of my own ideas and theoretical contributions to Marxist theory, although my views have changed significantly over the course of writing this blog, meaning that they may not be a reliable account of my current opinions. For example, I once referred to myself as a Trotskyist. No longer the case.

He even shared my son’s astonishment at the commercialization of communism. Excerpt:

Yet what really puzzles me is how the capitalist world can endorse communist imagery in such a way. Yes, it’s joked about, but not in a way that seems nearly sufficient given what the industry is actually doing. It also seems as if, by promoting the ideas of revolution, even in the shallowest sense possible, the capitalists are advertising the struggle against capitalism itself, yet I think the manufacturers (who would probably rather view themselves as someone simply building their own business and making a living, rather than a link in the global capitalist network) are probably too short-sighted to care.

In any case, I certainly believe that whoever has managed to pull this off deserves a reward. Nothing in the communist world, not even the Stalinist regime of terror and political repression, claiming to act in the interests of socialism – and thus humanity – has managed to get away with such blatant irony. Those behind the manufacturing of these products have exemplified something fascinating: they have clearly demonstrated capitalism’s remarkable ability to sell you absolutely anything, even the face of its greatest opposition.

Later, Max Edwards wrote, “Long live Bolshevism.”

Well. Grigory Zinoviev, one of the top leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution, said in 1918:

To overcome our enemies we must have our own socialist militarism. We must carry along with us 90 million out of the 100 million of Soviet Russia’s population. As for the rest, we have nothing to say to them. They must be annihilated.

And Lenin, once in power, telegrammed to Bolsheviks outside of Moscow, ordering them to engage in “mass terror.” One of his telegrams, concerning the liquidation of the kulaks (prosperous peasants) read:

“Comrades! The kulak uprising in your five districts must be crushed without pity … You must make example of these people. (1) Hang (I mean hang publicly, so that people see it) at least 100 kulaks, rich bastards, and known bloodsuckers. (2) Publish their names. (3) Seize all their grain. (4) Single out the hostages per my instructions in yesterday’s telegram. Do all this so that for miles around people see it all, understand it, tremble, and tell themselves that we are killing the bloodthirsty kulaks and that we will continue to do so …

Yours, Lenin.

P.S. Find tougher people.”

This was Max Edwards’s hero. Hey, a revolution is not a bed of roses.

Adam Jones, a genocide scholar at Yale University, has written that aside from Maoist China and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, “there is very little in the record of human experience to match the violence unleashed between 1917, when the Bolsheviks took power, and 1953, when Joseph Stalin died and the Soviet Union moved to adopt a more restrained and largely non-murderous domestic policy.” Robert Conquest, the great scholar of Stalinism, estimated that the number of victims of Bolshevism is 20 million, and in no case is lower that between 13-15 million.

As John J. Walters wrote a few years ago:

The 94 million that perished in China, the Soviet Union, North Korea, Afghanistan, and Eastern Europe easily (and tragically) trump the 28 million that died under fascist regimes during the same period.

During the century measured, more people died as a result of communism than from homicide (58 million) and genocide (30 million) put together. The combined death tolls of WWI (37 million) and WWII (66 million) exceed communism’s total by only 9 million.

And yet … Max Edwards.

I used the past tense to write about Max Edwards, because he died a few days ago at the age of 16, from cancer.  In a piece published in The Guardian a week before his death, Edwards wrote:

Finally, I feel it has helped to process the whole issue selflessly. Some people might find it helpful to know that they are loved, that people care about them and that they won’t be forgotten when they die. I can understand this and I see how it’s comforting, but I also find it consoling to take the opposing view: stop dwelling on personal suffering and carry on as before.

This approach seems to help deflate the hype that terminal diagnoses carry. Pity, grief and sympathy are all natural emotions, and they certainly have their place, but I’ve found the message of “Stop whining and get on with it” far more effective. Stoicism, I feel, is more effective than grief: a simple reality-check helps to set my perspectives in place.

It helps to remind myself that even if I’m dying, it’s not all about me. At the end of the day I’m one in seven billion, a number that – like my cancer – will continue to grow and multiply over the coming months and years. While my life may be all I know, I’m nothing more than a dot on this planet. When you take into account the dozens of people I know, the billions I don’t, the thousands of miles that separate us, and the ever running river of time on which we all finitely float, you may come to the inevitable and strangely comforting realisation that we are all going to die: me, you and everyone else. Get over it.

That is both astonishingly brave and ice-cold. I could imagine the young man who wrote this saying the same thing to the wife and children of the kulak he ordered to be shot for the sake of Bolshevism.

Still, Max Edwards was a beautiful boy, and it is a terrible thing to die at 16. He was loved by his parents, who are suffering the worst thing a parent can suffer. God help them. Max recently published a book of his communist writings, which, unlike the pensées of whiz-kid fascists, is available in bookstores all over England.

Max Edwards was the same age as my son. I told Matt about Max Edwards last night, and about his death. Matt detected in my voice a sense of sorrow. He said, “Let me ask you: if he had been a teenage Nazi, would you feel the same way?”

It was a very good question. As a parent, it’s impossible for me not to feel sorrow at the death of a child, so yes, I would have felt sorrow for the dead boy’s parents, and for him, having wasted his short life propagating an evil philosophy. Besides, it’s not unheard of for smart teenagers to get obsessed with comprehensive ways of thinking about the world, to fall so in love with the ideal that they fail to see the human cost of that ideal in practice. Idealism is both the blessing and the curse of youth. Max Edwards, so far as we know, never hurt anybody. May he rest in peace, and may his family be comforted. As a Christian, I see Max as a beloved child of God, a God in Whom he did not believe, and I hope that God received Max home safe.

But I take Matt’s point: if Max Edwards had written an equally intelligent blog called, “The Anonymous National Socialist,” he would not have had a book deal, and he would not be remembered fondly in the pages of The Guardian, or any newspaper.

This is wrong. This is deeply, horribly wrong. And this is not Max Edwards’s fault. It’s the fault of our hypocritical society.

Here is a link to a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago, quoting survivors of the Rumanian gulag. In truth, this the world our young Bolshevik saint, Max Edwards, extolled. I suppose those who survived the communist dungeons should just “get over it.” Take a look at this 33-minute documentary on the horrors of the Rumanian communist prison camp called Pitesti. 

This is what we honor when we play with the symbols of communism. Max Edwards dedicated himself to an evil that was no less wicked than Nazism. Why won’t we recognize that?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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