Book Review: Iron Curtain

As promised, I am putting in another installment of my very irregular review of movies or books that I think are relevant to politics. In this case, the book is Anne Applebaum’s Iron Curtain, a history of the Stalinist era in Eastern Europe with particular emphasis on Poland, East Germany and Hungary.

Iron Curtain is not as overwhelming as her previous book, Gulag. But it relentless in documenting how the Eastern Bloc and the Iron Curtain were created by the Soviet Union to create a series of puppet states along their border. It is a stinging rebuke to the revisionist historians who have tried desperately to rewrite the history of the Cold War so that the United States is the aggressor. According to these historians, the Iron Curtain was a response to the Western “aggression” of building up its own anti-Soviet bloc. Applebaum shows that the foundations of the Iron Curtain were laid before the war was even over. The Soviets planned every detail of it. They ethnically cleansed the region to put all the Poles in one place and all the Ukranians in another. They destroyed social institutions such as youth groups and replaced them with Communist ones. They took control of the media. And they entrusted the rule of these countries to their puppets: Stalinists who had spent the war in Russia being trained to rule the Communist satellites. Communists who had stayed in their countries, even those who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis, weren’t trusted. Only those under the Soviet thumb were suitable.

It’s true that they had elections after the war. It’s also true the Communists lost those election badly despite having control of social groups, the government and the media. And when those elections went badly, they put communist governments in place anyway, outlawed opposition parties, suppressed political dissent and cancelled future elections. That was all before NATO was created in 1949.

Last week, I referred to Naomi Klein’s new book. One of her earlier books was The Shock Doctrine which alleged, with little evidence to support it, that free market supporters rush into countries that have experienced disasters to impose their vision of capitalism on a frightened populace. But the post-World War II era is the clearest depiction of a shock doctrine you could ever want. Eastern Europe had endured one of the greatest calamities in history: an invasion by both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany; a subsequent back and forth war between the two; the deliberate genocide of millions. This was followed by the Soviets unilaterally redrawing the borders and ethnically cleansing the region (as well as starvation, poverty, rape and chaos). The Soviets had a pre-arranged plan to use that horror to institute Communist governments across every country their soldiers could loot and occupy. And they managed to maintain that regime for decades using oppression, terror and murder. Applebaum backs all of this up with first-hand accounts and original documents.

(Applebaum doesn’t cover this, but these tactics were not unique to post-World War II Europe. Half a world away, the Commies would do the same thing, setting up Marxist regimes in war-ravaged China, Indochina and Korea. And this pattern remained their modus operandi to the end. Until the 1990′s, there was hardly a famine, hardly a civil war, hardly a genocide that didn’t have a bunch of Communists in the middle of it, trying to advance their cause.)

I would not recommend Iron Curtain as much as I would Gulag. But I would recommend it for those interested in the bloody history of Communism. And I commend Applebaum for helping to make sure that hideous chapter in history is not glossed over by pseudo-historians who are still sympathetic to Communist ideas.

The Diseased Opposition

I’m currently reading Anne Applebaum’s excellent Iron Curtain, a follow-on to her masterful Gulag. In this book, she details how the oppressive tyrannies of Eastern Europe were created by the Soviet Union and how they were run for forty years. I’ll likely post a full review when I’m finished.

I did want to single out one point, however.

One of the recurring themes in the early days of communism was the communists’ confusion as to why the couldn’t win the hearts and minds of the people. In the early days of the Cold War, they actually held elections, figuring that with control of the secret police, the media and social groups, they would win easily. They were crushed and those became the last free elections in Eastern Europe for two generations. This pattern would repeat itself later in the late 80′s when communist regimes had open elections and were stunned when they lost again. They kept returning to the theme of why the “masses” were voting against “their interests”.

That should sound familiar. There’s a whole book about it called “What’s the matter with Kansas”. We continually hear liberals lamenting that Americans vote against “their interests” by refusing to embrace wealth redistribution and other socialist schemes. Like their Communist forbears, it simply never occurs to them that most people don’t want to succeed in life by taking things away from someone else; that people regard “redistributed” wealth as stolen wealth.

But there’s another thing the modern Left shares with the Communists. When people opposed Communism, the Communists believed this was because of the evil influence of shadowy bourgeois interests or even because of mental illness. Entire societies were reshaped so that citizens only heard “correct” view from the day they were born and were continually re-educated into proper thinking.

But what does the modern Left do but say that people vote Republican because they are “full of hate” or “don’t care about people who aren’t like them” or “are influenced by special interests”? No one can oppose abortion because of a concern for the unborn; they have to hate women and want to control them. No one can oppose gay marriage because they are leery of changing a fundamental pillar of society; they have to be filled with hate. No one can oppose the welfare state because they think it’s a long walk off a short plank; they have to be incapable of caring for people. No on can think global warming is overblown because they don’t trust the science; they have to be under the influence of Big Oil (this post was stimulated by the creation of a website designed to smear climate “dirty denier$” by linking them to fossil fuel interests).

That’s not to say that there are aren’t Right-Wingers who think their opponents are mentally defective or that there aren’t Leftists who understand that there are genuine differences in philosophy. But the need to see the opposition as defective or under baleful influence is much stronger on the Left and particularly among the hard Lefties who think Obama is a centrist wuss. It informs things like campaign finance reform and political correctness. It manifests in the enthusiasm for public school systems and public pre-K, in particular, so that children can be influenced to “correct” views at earlier and earlier ages.

But reading Applebaum’s account of the machinations of the Communists reveals that this attitude is not new or terribly original or particularly insightful. The belief that government can transform human beings — make them work harder, be less racist or get along better — is an offshoot of behaviorism: the belief that human beings are empty vessels waiting to be shaped by outside influences. And if they don’t take the desired shape, it is either because the vessel was defective or there are other forces at work.

The idea of self-determination simply never occurs to them.

Massacre Denial

Thanks to Miguelito, who tipped me to this video of a English Professor denying that Stalin specifically and Communism generally murdered people by the tens of millions:

Some choice quotes:

“I know they say he killed 20, 30, 40 million people,” continued Grover Furr, a professor in Medieval English at Montclair State University.

“It’s bullshit.”

Professor Grover Furr of Montclair State University said he has yet to find “one crime that Stalin committed.”

Following the debate, a student pressed Furr on his comments reminding the professor that most historians believe “100 to 150 million people [were] killed by communist regimes.”

The professor, however, doubled down on his original comment.

“What you said is bullshit,” said Furr. “It’s wrong. It’s a lie.”

“The history of the Soviet Union is the most falsified,” he added.

(Note that while some idiot students applaud his remarks, other boo. There is a strong social stigma that makes it difficult for students to boo and taunt a professor. These students didn’t accept it. And kudos to the student for challenging this shitwit on his alternative reality.)

I’ve banged this drum quite a bit. Denying that the Communists murdered people by the tens of millions is no different than Holocaust denial. They admitted it; they boasted about it. It has been relentlessly documented by writers like Anne Applebaum and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The Communists even extended their tentacles into other countries with the murders of such as Leon Trotsky and Georgi Markov. And that’s not even talking about World War II which started when the Nazi and the Communists cooperated in the invasion and conquest of Eastern Europe.

That’s just the people they deliberately murdered. They also killed millions in pointless “revolutions” in a hundred nations. They killed tens of millions when collectivized farming starved entire regions to death. They were known to use starvation as a tool to surpress rebellion.

Professors of narrow esoteric disciplines are used to having captive audiences and being able to articular bizarre and often counter-factual points of view on anything outside their own narrow field of study. Well … welcome to the Age of Youtube, Professor Furr. I suspect that, by the end of the week, everyone in America is going to know what a twerp you are.

May is the month of the collectivists and their follies.

And that’s why I like to remind people that the Black Book of Communism estimates this evil ideology killed anywhere between 80 to 100 million people while imprisoning over 1 billion others lucky enough to survive in constant misery. That’s just what the communists did, and I bet those numbers are low balled. I am not even going to bother with the fascists, which despite the left’s orchestrated 5 decade long attempt at brainwashing people to believe is an evil ideology from the right, are nothing but another offshoot of the whole collectivism model where the state owns/controls everything and everyone. Keep the evils of collectivism inn mind when you watch the world wide OWS May protests, and have no doubt of the significance behind why the OWS crowd chose this month to do their thing. Also, be prepared for Team Obama’s roll out of their campaign slogan, and its historical significance.

Yeah, sure. It’s all a coincidence and I am a conspiracist nut job. How dare I point out that the left remains enamored of things that when put into practice murdered a hundred million plus people and consigned over a billion others to live hell on earth? How dare I point out that the OWS movement was nothing but another closet marxist movement and that the Community Organizer in Chief’s campaign, collectivist hard core that they are, picked a new rallying cry that conspicuously goes back to the early days of the marxist movement! Shame on me for daring to point this out. Don’t expect the media to bring up any of this BTW.

Victims of Communism Day

This is a great idea:

May Day began as a holiday for socialists and labor union activists, not just communists. But over time, the date was taken over by the Soviet Union and other communist regimes and used as a propaganda tool to prop up their regimes. I suggest that we instead use it as a day to commemorate those regimes’ millions of victims. The authoritative Black Book of Communism estimates the total at 80 to 100 million dead, greater than that caused by all other twentieth century tyrannies combined. We appropriately have a Holocaust Memorial Day. It is equally appropriate to commemorate the victims of the twentieth century’s other great totalitarian tyranny. And May Day is the most fitting day to do so.

People are far too willing to forget the horrifying body count the Communists piled up. They are also too willing to forget the people in this country who enabled or ignored the bloodshed. But we should never, ever forget or allow ourselves to think that communism is somehow “cute” or “idealistic”. The brutal totalitarianism of communism was not an accident; the foundations of it were laid down in the writings of Lenin and Mao, who believed that people were nothing — the Revolution was everything.

So on today’s Victims of Communism Day, I give my highest recommendation to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago and Anne Applebaum’s haunting Gulag – A History. I recommend Farewell My Concubine, which is a good movie and incidentally shows a little bit of what happened in China under Mao. Read the story of Shin Dong-Huyk, one of the only people to escape from North Korea’s existing gulag. And read the Somin post above and the links she provides.

We don’t have the luxury of pretending it didn’t happen.