Sunday, July 05, 2009


It seems that this self-satirizing government of ours is planning a memorial to the victims of Communism. I suppose there's nothing wrong with raising the consciousness of those who have not experienced the excesses of Stalinism first-hand, but it does seem oddly selective.

I was a member for some time of the Friends of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, the latter being volunteers who fought on the side of the Republic during the Spanish Civil War. The FBI had a wonderful term for these men--"premature anti-fascists." You only get to be anti-fascist, you see, when the government says it's OK, and at the time of that war a lot of governments weren't sure. Some battle-hardened veterans of the Mac-Paps weren't even permitted to join up when the Second World War was declared. National security or some-such.

Our group tried--in vain--to have these veterans recognized officially by the Canadian government, so that the dwindling number of them could qualify for benefits--and, more importantly, recognition. We were unsuccessful. At least we managed to have a memorial put up near the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2001. By that time there were scarcely a dozen of these brave people alive. Only three--of the original 1600--were able to attend the unveiling. The then-Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, participated unofficially.

The struggle in which these volunteers took part was thus remembered. A monument against fascism? One, I would say, of many that do, or should already, exist. But it has specificity, a place and time: it commemorates real people with real names. It's not a memorial that lacks all human reference, in spite of its claims, and becomes just another abstract, ideological weapon of war.

It's pointless counting victims and saying that one form of totalitarianism is worse than another. One wrongful death is too many. All totalitarianisms are a perversion of the human spirit. But the National Post and the Harper government are picking and choosing. One must wonder why this would be the case. Don't the millions of victims of the Axis powers count?

And what, as my fellow-blogger Chrystal Ocean rightly asks, about the millions more victims of neoliberalism, a doctrine not officially recognized as totalitarian, who died because of deep slashes in social services demanded of Third World nations by the IMF and the World Bank in various "restructuring programs?" What of the countless victims of imperialism--two million Vietnamese alone, for example, killed during the Vietnam War?

I'd be first in line to support a monument to all the victims of twentieth-century political inhumanity--and the many lessons we failed to learn. But that's not what's on the horizon.

Here's what the chief proponent of the memorial, one Zuzana Hahn, has to say:

The Jews have been so verbal, and would not let us forget. But when you talk to people about communism ... many feel, 'oh, it wasn't so bad.'

Why, those pushy Jews! And for Ukrainian nationalist Lubomyr Luciuk, about whom I've written before, even a memorial is insufficient--nothing less than a museum will do.

Needless to say, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, who wears his politics on his sleeve, is hot to trot on this one. Why not have another run at the ethnic vote?

In the meantime, an important truth is being lost. Easy explanations of the human condition kill people. Lots of people. There is nothing inherently murderous in the Marxist notion of equality and class struggle, as there is, almost by definition, in the fascist view of humanity. But even the vision of the Communist Manifesto, in the hands of malign, grotesque boobs like Josef Stalin, can be turned into its opposite: national chauvinism, mass slaughters on a formerly inconceivable scale, mind control, amoral bureaucracy.

And neoliberalism, a doctrine of the privileged First World that has wreaked havoc upon the peoples of the Third World, was not intended to kill. Not all of its progenitors were cynical and ruthless: they believed in capitalism and its oh-so-wonderful benefits, and then they discovered what they had done. Some of them, anyway.

Perhaps a healthier discussion might focus on learning from mistakes--vast, monstrous mistakes--and figuring out how we might move ahead with humane values and new and genuinely accountable forms of governance. Fighting the long-dead Cold War with ideological memorials to nameless victims is not only anachronistic: it intercepts a debate whose time has surely come, and seeks to co-opt it for crass partisan purposes. Can we not think about building new forms of democracy at this point in our history, rather than erecting blank gravestones?

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