2. The Black Past of Red Communism

We read recently in the news that former Estonian prime minister Mart Laar gave a speech at the Ronald Reagan Library in America where he condemned the attempts by certain countries (particularly Russia) to justify the crimes of Communism. In actual fact, the world has still not fully recognized neither the extent nor the seriousness of the crimes of Communism. But if we want to avoid the repetition of similar tragedies, we must continue to remind the world of these crimes.

In the following article, I have taken information that has been previously published and have retold it with my own emphasis. It is therefore not a scholarly work but an opinion piece.

Some years ago “The Black Book Of Communism” was published – a very instructive and matter-of-fact book, which first saw the light of day in France, and whose authors were former members of the local Communist Party. The book is heavy – both in weight and content. Since the book compares the extent and number of victims of the Communists and the Nazis, the publication created quite a sensation, especially in left-wing circles. The comparison of the number of victims of Communism – 100 million, with the Nazi’s 25 million, explains their shock and surprise.

Although I have not yet read the book cover to cover, I have referred in this article to opinions and data used in numerous book reviews. These statistics alone provides a staggering picture of the extent of Communism’s crimes. Information on Estonia is provided on pages 208, 211, 236, 278-79 and 372. I will attempt to provide the reader with an overview, based on the introduction to the book, and on commentaries written by authors more expert than I. This cannot be comprehensive, but nevertheless sufficient to provide a picture of the massive extent of Communist crimes. Even if, after reading this article, only a small proportion is remembered, it will provide a useful topic of conversation with a neighbour or friend, and it would be possible to do something positive for a better future for us and our children.

It also deserves to be mentioned that, after many years of effort and uncertainty, the Estonian parliament (Riigikogu) finally managed to declare the Communist Party and its organs to be criminal. It is particularly because of such delays, and attempts to avoid the issue, that it is important for us to constantly remind ourselves of these issues. In forming their futures, our future generations must also not forget these facts.

The 20th century has been the era of great human catastrophes – two world wars, Nazism, the Armenian and Rwandan tragedies. Central to these was the dominance of Communism, which having grown out from World War I and ending in Moscow in 1991, was the most terrible in a series of tragic events. It pre-empted Fascism and Nazism, and survived them both, thereby spreading to four continents.

We must, however, differentiate between Communist doctrine and practice. On paper, Communism is indeed rather attractive and romantic. But people are by nature such selfish beings that putting utopian Communism into practice is absolutely impossible. Practical Communism was implemented in Russia in 1917, and with the aim of staying in power, developed mass crimes into an actual system of government. Lenin, and later Stalin, laid the foundation for modern Communism, and through the Bolshevik revolution, Russia became the engine for an international system. The slow initial development speeded up dramatically after 1945, and spread across the world.

The French Revolution of 1793-94 is seen as the beginning of revolutionary terror, with the revolutionary tribunals sending over 19 000 people under the guillotine. History has demonstrated that terror has always been used by the Russians to achieve their aims. The tsar Ivan the Terrible founded the infamous Oprichnina, in order to destroy his presumed opponents. He even had his own son killed. Peter the Great murdered his son with his own hands. Lenin too adopted the Russian terror tradition, and institutionalized it. The Russian culture of brutality suited this admirably. Terror was the sole instrument for ensuring and maintaining power.

As a brief aside it could be noted that, of the two dictators, Hitler did not personally deal with the implementation of measures of force, leaving these to his subordinates. Stalin, however, personally signed the decisions to execute thousands, and also forced signatures from members of the Politburo.

To date, there has been no legal or moral judgment made regarding the crimes of Communism, from either a historical or moral viewpoint. It has been always claimed that most of the crimes under discussion have a legal camouflage – that the crimes were carried out by the regimes in power who had international recognition, and whose leaders were received with great ceremony by the democratic governments. But wasn’t this the case with Nazism as well? Such crimes, however, surely cannot be categorized to fall under the jurisdiction of Communist or Nazi regimes, but under the unwritten law of natural human rights.

Archives and numerous witnesses demonstrate that terror has been, right from the beginning, one of the basic dimensions of modern Communism. Arguments need to be cast aside that claim as if the execution of hostages, blood baths to suppress rebellious workers, starving to death millions of peasants, were merely isolated mistakes, which occurred only in a particular country, or during a specific phase of development. Studies have concluded that the criminal dimension is characteristic of the Communist system as a whole, covering the entire development period of this system.

The estimated numbers of the Communist regimes’ human victims will give some idea of the extent of the crimes, and the seriousness of this topic. The estimates include those killed through executions and political assassinations, those who died from famines that were provoked by government, as a result of deportations, as well as those who died in forced labour camps from exhaustion, malnutrition, disease and the cold. The periods designated as “civil wars” prove to be more complicated to asses since it is difficult to differentiate the numbers of those killed in battle from the murdered civilians.

The estimates are as follows:
• Soviet Union 20 million dead
• Communist China 65 “ “
• Vietnam 1 “ “
• North-Korea 2 “ “
• Cambodia 2 “ “
• Eastern-Euroopa 1 “ “
• Latin-America 150 000 “
• Africa 1.7 million “
• Afganistan 1.5 million “
• Comintern and Communist
parties (not in power) over 10 000 “
The total is close to 100 million.

We now need to define crime. Crimes committed by a state were first dealt with from a legal aspect at the Nurenberg trials in 1945, where three major categories of the crime were defined as:
• crimes against peace
• war crimes
• crimes against humanity.

A crime against peace is conducting an aggressive war – i.e. preparing, launching and carrying out an aggressive war. The same also applies to a war which breaks agreements, obligations or international treaties. Stalin’s crimes here are: two secret pacts with Hitler to divide Poland and to annex the Baltic states, Northern-Bukovina and Bessarabia, and aggression against Finland. North Korea’s attack on South Korea also belongs in this category. A Communist coup was the excuse for the Soviet Union’s massive military intervention in Afghanistan.

War crimes have been defined by the Nurenberg trials and also by the Hague Convention. These include the murder, mistreatment and deportation into forced labour of the civilians on occupied territories, as well as the murder and mistreatment of prisoners of war, taking hostages, looting of property, the unjustified looting or destruction of settlements. The most notable of Stalin’s war crimes are the almost complete destruction of the Polish officer corps who were prisoners of war in Katyn and elsewhere, the killing or death of hundreds of thousands of German prisoners of war in the Gulag, the mass rape of German women in occupied Germany by Red Army soldiers, the systematic theft of all possible industrial fittings by the Soviet Union from occupied areas.

Crimes against humanity were defined by the Nurenberg trials as follows: killing the civilian population, also educing them to slavery, deportation and all other inhumane acts that are committed prior to or during war, as well as persecution on political, racial or religious motives. The 1992 French criminal code defines crimes against humanity as: acts inspired by political, philosophical, racial or religious motives such as deportation, being reduced to slavery, carrying out mass and systematic executions of groups, kidnapping that results in the disappearance, torture or inhuman treatment of the hostage, also acts carried out on the basis of a coordinated plan against a certain group in the civilian population. It is particularly the latter definition that applies to the numerous crimes committed by Communist regimes. In the name of the hegemony of Communist ideology and the absolute rule of the Communist Party, tens of millions of innocent people were murdered – accused of belonging to a certain social or ethnic group, such as aristocrat, bourgeoisie, kulak, Ukrainian, Tatar, etc.

A particular form of crimes against humanity is genocide. Again, the French criminal code defines it as: carrying out a coordinated plan that is directed towards the complete or partial destruction of a certain national, ethnic, racial or religious group, or destroying a group that has been defined on the basis of an arbitrary criterion.

One of the first heads of the Cheka, Lacis, instructed his subordinates saying that: We are not waging war against individuals, we are destroying the bourgeoisie as a class. You don’t have to search for documents or proof on what the accused has done or said against Soviet authority. The first question that you must pose is what class do you belong to, what is your background, your education, your profession.

The destruction of the Don Cossacks in 1920 is very close to the definition of genocide. The men were shot, the women, children and elderly were deported, the villages razed or given to new settlers. The destruction of the kulaks in 1930-32 was a repeat of what happened to the Cossacks, except on a greater scale. The official objective was to destroy the kulaks as a class. Those kulaks who resisted the collectivization were shot, whereas the rest, and their families, were deported to Siberia and the Far-North, where their chances of survival were meagre.

The Great Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33, which was preceded by the resistance of the rural population to forcible collectivization, resulted in the death of 6 million people over a period of some months. Here we have a connection between genocide against class and clearly racial genocide. One child of a Ukrainian peasant knowingly condemned to die of hunger by Stalin can be seen as being “equal” to a Jewish child condemned by the Nazis to die of hunger in the Warsaw ghetto.

An initial global balance sheet of Communist crimes associated with genocide would look as follows:
• 1918-1922 – execution without trial of tens of thousands of hostages and arrested persons, mass murder of hundreds of thousands of rebellious workers and peasants
• 1922 – famine in Russia, resulting in the death of 5 million
• 1920 – killing and deportation of the Don Cossacks
• 1918-1930 – tens of thousands died in Soviet concentration camps
• 1930-1932 – 2 million kulaks deported
• 1932-1933 – death of 6 million Ukrainians as a result of famine that was brought about by Moscow
• 1937 -1938 – killing of 690 000 during the Great Purge of the Communist Party
• 1939-41 and 1944-49 – deportation of hundreds of thousands of Poles, Ukrainians, Balts and Moldovans
• 1941 – Volga Germans deported
• 1943 – Crimean Tatars deported
• 1944 – Chechens and Ingush deported
• 1975-78 – Cambodian urban dwellers deported and killed
• As of the 1950s – gradual destruction of the Tibetans, etc.

In addition to the Communists’ direct responsibility for the crimes committed, there is also the issue of shared guilt. As of the 1920s just about all the world’s Communists as well as large numbers of others heartily applauded the policies of Lenin and Stalin. Many hundreds of thousands officially joined the Communist International or became members of local Communist parties. In the period 1950-1970 hundreds of thousands glorified the achievements of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution in China. Many were happy about Pol Pot coming to power in Cambodia. And when Pol Pot’s organized mass murders came to light, the response by his enthusiastic Western supporters was: we didn’t know. Often, the reason for such not-knowing is actually intellectual blindness that is created by some kind of faith. Nowadays, many Communists have quietly and secretly deserted their idols, but they have nevertheless drawn no conclusions publicly, and few have admitted their mistakes.

Robert Conquest, one of the pioneer researchers of Communist terror, said in 1969 that the fact that many people actually acquiesced to the 1930s Great Purge in the Communist Party was undoubtedly one of the factors that actually made the purge possible. The infamous show trials would not achieved such a reaction if certain “independent” foreign commentators had not deemed them to be valid.

Joseph Berger, a former Comintern employee, wrote that the Communists of his generation recognized Stalin’s authority and approved of his crimes. He added that this was not only the case with Soviet Communists but also with Communists throughout the world, and that such a stain shames people both individually and collectively.

The collaboration of those who voluntarily became dependent on totalitarianism has never been, and is also not now, either abstract or theoretical. The simple personal decision by an individual to accept and/or transmit totalitarian propaganda, which has the aim of concealing the truth, has been associated, and is associated with active collaboration. And this is also valid for many of the leaders of our homeland today. Objective information on current events, and making this public, is the only way to hinder mass murder and other crimes that are carried out in secret, shaded from the view of outsiders.

The so-called tsarist terror regime, against which the Bolsheviks were fighting, pales in comparison to the terror unleashed by the Bolsheviks when they came to power. In 1825-1917, 6360 persons were condemned to death in Russia for political beliefs and actions, of whom 3932 were executed. Most of the latter, 3741, took place during the 1905 Revolution. But in 1825-1905, during a 80-year period, only 191 persons were executed for political reasons. The Bolsheviks exceeded the 90-year figure in just four months – in March 1918.

In the 1930s, there were a few hundred political prisoners in Mussolini’s Italy, as well as a few hundred persons placed under local supervision. Until the start of the war, the Nazi regime directed its terror actions against certain groups – primarily Communists, sotsialists, anarchists and some trade unions. These were openly repressed, shut away in prisons and concentration camps, and treated ruthlessly. In 1933-39 around 20 000 left-wing opposition supporters were killed, both with and without court decisions. The second category of victims covered the mentally ill, handicapped, elderly. In 1939-41 around 70 000 Germans were killed in gas chambers as part of the euthanasia programme. The extent of this programme, however, was limited due to the joint protest of church groups.

The third category of victims covered the Jews. Their persecution started quietly, but culminated with the Crystal Night pogrom on 9 November 1938, resulting in many hundreds killed and 35 000 persons sent to concentration camps. With the beginning of the war in 1939, but particularly once the attack on the Soviet Union had begun, Nazi terror acquired an incredible extent. The balance of this terror is as follows:
• 15 million civilians killed in occupied countries
• 5.1 million murdered Jews
• 3.3 million dead Soviet prisoners of war
• 1.1 million dead in concentration camps
• many hundreds of thousands murdered Roma.
Total of around 25 million victims.

If we compare Nazi terror with Communist terror, the number of victims of Communism (ca 100 million) is more than four times the number of victims of Nazism (ca 25 million). Of course, the issue is not about statistics but the quality of comparisons and assessments.

The Nazi regime has been seen, since the Nurenberg trials, as the most criminal of the 20th century. But, Communism, which is comparable to Nazism as regards its criminality, and which exceeded it considerably as regards the number of victims, enjoyed complete international legitimacy until 1991, and is still clinging to power in a number of countries around the world, and even maintaining supporters in many others. Yet, the terror methods planned by Lenin and systematized by Stalin, were not only similar to those of the Nazis, but mostly surpassed them.

Rudolf Hess, the founder of the Auschwitz concentration camp admitted that the Gestapo sent the commanders of concentration camps detailed documentation on the Russian concentration camps. The conditions in those camps were analyzed at length, also referring to the statements of those who had escaped from the camps. Attention was particularly drawn to how the Russians had managed to get rid of whole population groups by using forced labour.

What is known about the crimes of Communism? Or more precisely – what do people want to know? Why did we have to wait until the end of the century before this topic became a subject for scholarly research? It is obvious that, compared to the study of Nazi crimes, there is a huge gap in the study of Communist crimes.

The winners of World War II, in condemning Nazism in 1945, drew attention to the criminal aspects of this regime, particularly regarding the genocide against the Jews. Since then, innumerable researchers throughout the world have been working, and thousands of books and dozens of films have also been dedicated to the topic.

But all this activity is missing as regards the crimes of Communism. Names, such as Himmler and Eichmann, are known throughout the world as metaphors for modern barbarism, but the names of Dzerzhinski, Jagoda, Jezhov are unknown to most people. Even worse, Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and even Stalin, have a surprisingly large fan club.

The special attention accorded to the crimes of Hitlerism is completely justified. But why have the crimes of Communism received such a weak reaction from the public? Why does the vague silence of politicians continue? And, primarily, how can we justify the academic silence on the Communist catastrophe, which has affected one-third of humanity on four continents for over 80 years? Why is there such an inability to examine vital factors such as mass crimes, systematic crimes, crimes against humanity? Is this not a case of a calculated lack of will about getting such information, a fear of having to attempt to understand it all?

There are varied reasons for such a situation. Primarily the classical and constant attempt by executioners to conceal the evidence of their crimes, and to justify that which could not be concealed. Khrushchev’s “secret speech” at the 1956 Party congress – the first time that Communist leaders themselves had admitted to Communist crimes – was actually an executioner’s speech, trying at the same time to cover up his own terror crimes as head of the infamous Ukrainian party, blaming Stalin for everything, and justifiying himself and his comrades: we were just following orders. He justified the continuation of the same regime, on the basis of the same principles, with the same structures and officials.

Denying access to archives in Communist states, complete control of the media and over foreign travel, promoting the “progress” of Communist regimes, ignoring the past “misuse of power”- these were all used in the system to stop the truth from being revealed. But against those who tried to tell the truth, the executioners used the entire arsenal of methods available to a modern major power. Those who revealed the truth were discredited and terrorised: Solzhenitsyn, Bukovski, Zinovyev, Plyushch were exiled abroad. Andrei Sahharov was sent into exile in Gorki, General Grigorenko was isolated in a psychiatric institution.

Most victims feared going public with their statements because of the force of the Communist counter-propaganda. Even after being freed, the victims of Communism often had no possibility of being re-integrated into society. Neither they nor even their descendants could register or preserve the facts of the crimes and sufferings they had experienced since such activity was forbidden and dangerous.

As regards Communist propaganda, the West demonstrated unusual and long-term “night-blindness”, which helped to preserve not only naivety about the treacherous system, but also fear of the military might of the Soviet Union, and the cynicism of politicians and businessmen. This night-blindness already marked the Yalta Conference, where President Roosevelt handed Stalin Eastern-Europe in return for Stalin’s promise to organize free elections as soon as possible. This night-blindness was supported and almost legitimized by the belief by Western Communists and numerous left-wingers that an exciting historical experiment to build an actual socialist state was being conducted in the Soviet Union and in other Communist states, that the Communist utopia, which in democratic societies was only fodder for feeding social and political conflicts, had become reality, “over there”, in the Soviet Union where they were bringing to life – struggling against enormous difficulties – the dreams of social empancipation and actual equality.

In addition to such genuine, or also conscious, ignorance about the criminal dimension of Communism, there was also, as always, the apathy of our contemporaries regarding the fate of our brethren. Not that people’s hearts are of stone. But our own grief and worries hinder us in recognizing the suffering of others. Are there any peoples at all in Europe or Asia who haven’t had to concentrate on alleviating their own suffering and tragedies after the first or second world wars? During this century of catastrophes each nation has had too much to handle with its own woes to be capable of comparing them to the woes of others.

There are another three particular reasons for why the criminal nature of Communism has been obscured. The first is associated with revolution, as such. Even today many people think that despite the failures, the idea of a social revolution is attractive and deserves to be carried through. The symbols of revolution – the Red Flag, the International, the clenched fist – keep appearing with every larger social movement. A second reason is associated with the role of the Soviet Union in crushing Nazism, which enabled the Communists to conceal, behind the mask of patriotism, their ultimate goal – to seize sole power, using whatever means. In June 1941, the Communists in lands occupied by the Nazis began to actively participate in resistance movements, essentially taking them over.

One of the strongest cards held by the Communists has been the ability to tie itself to anti-fascism, presenting themselves as the best and most consistent respresentatives of the movement, although after the 1939 Hitler-Stalin friendship pact all Communist Parties retreated from their anti-fascist views. It is in particular this use of the anti-fascism label that has been the most successful strategy for the Communists to confuse their critics.

The last reason for why the crimes of Communism continue to be obscured is more delicate. In one way or another, the constant emphasis on genocide against the Jews has hindered the perception of similar crimes having been committed in the Communist world. It has been very difficult to persuade western public opinion that those – who with their victory helped to destroy the Nazi genocide system – could have implemented similar methods in their own country. It was undoubtedly a natural reflex to refuse to accept such a paradox.

The desire by people who have survived Communist crimes to give witness to their experiences is just as great as those who are victims of the Nazi bloodbath. But these witnesses have been heard only reluctantly or not at all. Western society refuses to this day to face the facts, and see that every Communist system in principle conceals a criminal dimension. In his 1995 book, titled “Judgment in Moscow”, Vladimir Bukovski calls for a new Nurenberg trial to pass sentence on Communist regimes.

The history of Communist terror forms a very important part of European history. We know the Hitler version of totalitarianism, but the Lenin-Stalin version is quite obscure. But the formation of a partial history is no longer acceptable. Stubborn attempts to reduce the history of Communism to a national, social or cultural dimension are also not acceptable.

Besides the obligation to history, we also have another aim: an obligation to memory. The moral obligation of every person is to honour the memory of the dead, particularly when the dead are innocent and unknown victims, and when authority has attempted to erase them – and the memory of them – from the pages of history. Now that the Berlin Wall has been torn down and the Moscow centre of Communist power has collapsed, it is high time to restore our common memory.

Raivo Kalamäe