My new op-ed in our excellent local small town paper, The Low Down to Hull and Back News.
This was not meant as a defence specifically of the planned memorial to the victims of communism in Ottawa, but to explain why, more fundamentally, we should respect and understand this theme of 20th century history.
In John Urban’s recent contribution to Valley Voices (Aug. 12), he derides Ottawa’s planned monument to victims of communism as irrelevant. “Communism is tres passé,” he says, before obliquely defending it, by critiquing capitalism.
That attitude is proof of how important it is to remember. In the three years of Communist China’s Great Leap Forward, tens of millions of Chinese starved, due solely to political reasons. Last week I was out with a Chinese-Canadian friend. Discussing his family coming to Canada he explained simply, “My father escaped the communists after they murdered my grandmother.” Do refugees escaping capitalist North America tell stories like this?
People don’t like to talk about this history. About Pol Pot’s killing fields, or Stalin’s purges, or the Ukrainian Holodomor. The 20th century was an era of tremendous human-caused terror, but no cause, including Nazism, killed a tenth as many as communism. We should not forget.
Mr. Urban asks scoffingly who the real victims of communism are. To answer, no, it is not people using a Chinese computer (which would have been built, in fact, by a private company, and since we’re on the topic, China has lifted tens of millions of people from poverty by abandoning communist dogma). But just asking that question, who the victims of communism are, illustrates the problem. These victims are not hidden. I wish I could say it takes great imagination to pretend they don’t exist, but apparently many want to forget: tens of millions killed by dictatorial followers of a seductive panacea for the world. Many fled those regimes to seek haven in Canada. Not the other way around. In particular, we owe remembrance because so many of our own intellectual leaders were apologists for those regimes.
By lumping all that is not related to communist nations as being “capitalist history”, we can blame capitalism for all the catastrophes in human experience. Slavery is not a by-product of capitalism. It existed in tribal societies, and feudal; in Christian empires and Islamic fiefdoms. The elimination of slavery from the world began with democratic, capitalist Great Britain. Slavery is not uniquely tied to capitalism, but democracy historically has been.
To sweep aside the horrors of communism by saying, well, bad things have happened outside communist countries too, is to abdicate our ability to make moral judgments about our world. I note that our current MP began his political career in affiliation with the Communist party. In the 1940s, my grandfather was imprisoned for passing technological secrets to the Soviets. Then, we didn’t know the extent of destruction communism was already causing. I can only wonder how, since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the documentation of the atrocities committed by the Eastern regimes, anyone could now wish to stand under their banner.
David Sachs is a Chelsea resident and author of the bestselling thriller, ‘The Flood’.