AR-Online logo 



Posted Monday, October 12, 1998


Careless talk: apologists for Hitler and Stalin have faced unequal treatment


London, October 11 1998


Best-selling author and columnist ROBERT HARRIS ("Fatherland") comments:


The West prefers its dictators red


HERE ARE two little tales of modern history that tell us a lot about the world we live in and which, by chance, happened to surface together last week.

The first concerns the historian Vladimir Brovkin, whose story is described in a fascinating article in the current issue of the American magazine The New Republic. Brovkin's specialist field is Soviet history (he is "perhaps the West's finest scholar of that period", according to Robert Conquest) and last year he was invited to submit a proposal for a study of the Gulag system.

The academic work was to be published by Yale University Press as part of its Annuals of Communism series - a prestigious project designed to make newly released Soviet documents more widely available to scholars.

Brovkin's idea was to produce several volumes which would, he wrote, "explain how and why a monstrous system of mass terror came into being, developed, and ultimately was phased out". The editor of the Yale series was enthusiastic ("I strongly support your work and your point of view"), but on August 19 he wrote to Brovkin to tell him that he couldn't do the books after all.

The reason, it now emerges, was that Brovkin's academic peers on the Yale advisory panel thought he was too hostile to the Soviet Union. When the editor circulated Brovkin's proposal for consideration he was admonished by one colleague for "its excessively anti-Bolshevik tone . . . I have no doubt that the system was repressive and that millions suffered and died at its hands. But do you really want to publish three volumes of documents that do nothing else but beat this fact into the reader's consciousness?" It would, he said, "piss off a lot of people". Another shocked Sovietologist insisted that the Gulag prisoners were in any case only sent there "in accordance with the laws of the land".

As The New Republic points out, this is not an isolated incident of "historical correctness". Brovkin has been unable to find a full-time teaching post anywhere in America, while historians who are more sympathetic to the old Soviet Union are everywhere ascendant: historians like Robert W Thurston, who argues that "Stalin was not guilty of mass first-degree murder from 1934 to 1941"; Professor J Arch Getty of the University of California, who numbers the victims of Stalin's purges in "thousands" rather than the widely accepted millions; Mark von Hagen of Columbia, who described the Gulag as containing "the kinds of criminals who are incarcerated in every viable state"; Donald J Raleigh, who bemoans recent attempts "to demonise Vladimir Lenin"; and Sheila Fitzpatrick of the University of Chicago, who applauds the "high social mobility" of the Stalin era.

The point about all this is not so much that these historians are wrong (although I think they are) or that they are entitled to their views. It is that they all, in their various ways, offer apologies for, or seek to excuse, aspects of a murderous system that killed more people than Hitler's.

And they do so, moreover, in a way which - were they to apply similar arguments to the Third Reich - would certainly lose them their jobs and would possibly land them in prison.


   Which brings us to the week's second tale from history. On Tuesday the European parliament decided, by 420 votes to 20, to suspend the legal immunity of one of its members, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front. This clears the way for Le Pen to be tried in Bavaria for remarks that he made there last December. "I have said and I repeat, at the risk of being sacrilegious, that the gas chambers are a detail of the history of the second world war," he said.

"If you take a 1,000-page book on [the war] the concentration camps take up only two pages and the gas chambers 10 to 15 lines. This is what one calls a detail."

Now, it is not the function of this column to defend the views of French fascists, or any other kinds of fascist for that matter. But I cannot for the life of me, having puzzled over it for several days, see how Le Pen's behaviour is essentially much different from that of the American Sovietologists. One side dismisses an overemphasis on the Gulag as "anti-Bolshevik", the other calls the Holocaust "a detail". Both invite us to consider the Nazi and communist regimes in a wider context. Indeed, it is arguable that Le Pen is less offensive than the Americans because his Bavarian speech did not (as far as I know) get into the revisionist game of questioning the numbers killed, which revisionist Sovietologists do all the time. It would be tempting to dismiss all this as another classic example of the left's capacity for Orwellian double-think - millions killed by fascism equals evil, millions killed by communism equals justified by the necessities of history - but that is too easy. Look at that vote in the European parliament: such a majority must mean that almost the entire centre-right also voted for the suspension of Le Pen's immunity. Similarly, it is right-wing politicians, traditionally, who have been most willing to turn a blind eye to the crimes of communist mass-murderers: one thinks of Churchill's letter of "sympathy and regret" on the death of Josef Stalin, or the warm embraces Richard Nixon and Edward Heath bestowed upon Mao Tse-tung.

No. Regretfully, there is only one conclusion to be drawn: that the whole of western political morality is founded on the most gross hypocrisy. The 840-page Black Book of Communism - compiled by six French academics and published in Paris nearly a year ago but still not available here - estimates that communism has killed four times as many people as Nazism: roughly 100m to Hitler's 25m.

Yet it is only the Nazis we seem to bother about. They are the "warning from history", the useful totem of evil before which we can make our routine gestures of loathing and disgust. Why is this? Is it because Stalin's cause was somehow nobler than Hitler's? (Possibly so: one can, I suppose, name some noble men and women who used to be communists; it is hard to think of any decent ex-fascists.)

But the fundamental reason is surely simpler and less palatable. It is that communism defeated fascism. If the war had turned out the other way, I suspect we would now live in a mirror world, in which western statesmen would visit Albert Speer's Berlin, proclaiming their belief in detente and trade.

Of course, they might raise matters of human rights as well, as Tony Blair did in China last week (whose death toll from communism, incidentally, is 65m so far) but you can be confident that it would always be off-camera, behind closed doors, as it was with the British in Beijing a few days ago.

So the lesson of the week is to choose your dictator wisely. What you say about Hitler in chilly Bavaria may put you in a prison cell. But say the same thing about Stalin in sunny California and your reward, my boy, will be a comfortable tenure in Soviet studies. 

The above news item is reproduced without editing other than typographical

 Register your name and address to go on the Mailing List to receive

[ Go back to AR Online Index | Index to AR.#14 | Go to Main Action Report Index ]

Order books | Auschwitz Index | Irving Index | Irving Page | Irving Book-List | Other FP Authors
Buchladen | Auschwitz | Irving-Verzeichnis | -Hauptseite | -Bücher | Weitere FP-Autoren
© Focal Point 1998 write to David Irving