The 20th century will be remembered for the totalitarian monsters of various stripes who conceived, planned and executed programs of selective mass extermination of humans. I think that all Leftists, without exception, including the meekest of democratic socialists, have been implicated - knowingly or in consciously cultivated ignorance – as apologists for, or accomplices and abettors to the crimes of the totalitarians.
I am stating this categorical proposition so bluntly rather late in life, although I have been convinced of its verity for as long as I can remember being able to recognize the evidence, i.e. since my teens. I can say further that I have lived my entire adult life in Canada in a society teeming with Leftists.
First of all, let me clarify what I mean by "Leftists". To me the appellation has a wider meaning than merely a political designation, although politics is a major component of it. During 50 years of observation of the characteristics of people I label as Leftists, I have concluded that Leftism is not just a group attribute but is rather an individual attribute of a type of mind-set. Outrageous as it may sound, I am tempted to speculate that this mind-set is an inborn trait, and that all humans can be classified into two basic groups: a) - those that are born with the potential to be Leftists, and b) - those that are not.
The "Leftist" designation has been with us since the French Revolution, and still is a popular term, understood by all to mean a particular sector in the political spectrum. Therefore I have retained the use of it, although from my perspective the term "coercive utopian" would be more fitting. I encountered this term in the title of a book: "Coercive Utopians", by Rael Jean and Erich Isaac, published in 1983, in which they report on the activities of Leftists in the United States.
The character of a potential Leftist has as the basic component a mix of overly intense envy, covetousness, a desire for power and domination, and aggresiveness. Potential Leftists are inclined to rationalize the use of coercive methods – the crudest one being ordinary robbery - to take from those who they perceive as being excessively wealthy . They regard seizing by force for themselves of the property of someone else as sanctioned by a natural right to eliminate material inequality. Stronger yet than the covetousness after unearned wealth is the lust for domineering, coercive power over society. The proferred rationale for autocratic domination over people is ‘the interest of the common good’. This lust to be ‘in charge’ attracts Leftists to revolutionary politics and to popular social and environmental causes and movements.
In contrast, a potential free market entrepreneurial wizard, who is also motivated by greed, will use persuasive, imaginative trading practices to convince others to relinquish their money or property to him. He may also have an inordinate desire for power, but that power will have the form of dominance in a sector of the economy or industry, and will only indirectly influence the behavior of other members of society.
A coercive utopian explains all our societal (and lately also environmental) problems and injustices in terms of conflict between groups or classes of people having unequal economic power and social status. The coercive utopian believes that absolutely perfect collectivistic solutions exist for all problems. The solutions are arrived at by constructive rational reasoning and must be implemented - by coercive means, if necessary (and it always is necessary!) - to create the perfect egalitarian society. The belief is akin to faith in a religious dogma, strongly held and mostly impervious to counter-argument. The coercive utopian feels that by participating in some active capacity in the ‘struggle’ (whatever that may be) he/she earns the right, once victory is attained, to be ‘in charge’: to have authority, status and influence.
The particular cause that energizes an individual who has the mind-set of a coercive utopian need not be founded on hard ideology or party politics. For example, coercive utopians agitate for a multitude of issues that we classify broadly as belonging under the 'political correctness' (PC) label. Almost every PC issue is a social slight or injustice perceived to be festering in public attitudes and practices regarding things like gender, race, culture, sexuality, and so on. Coercive utopians always form the leadership cadre when a public campaign is staged against the 'injustice', and the means of ameliorating of the injustice recommended by them invariably calls for some kind of universally enforced coercive measure that would change social behavior.
Although coercive utopians who are engaged in PC activities do not necessarily proclaim affiliation with a Leftist political party, their political sympathies are almost without exception with the Left. Sadly, the same also applies to various movements and organizations concerned with environmental issues. For example, it would be exceptional to encounter a member in the Greenpeace organization with conservative political leanings, and rare indeed to find an avowed anti-Communist in that group.
Leftists are inclined to be aggressive activists, promoting their utopian convictions publicly with evangelical zeal. Through their fervor, in the heat of the moment, they often unveil the ugly side of their character by inadvertently blurting out their eager anticipation of the time when they will administer, with relish, the coercive measures upon their perceived enemies. For the Leftist politician the desire is to enact legislation for grandiose collectivistic and economically leveling undertakings. For the Leftist academician and intellectual the desire is, to put it simply, to force everyone to think and act in a manner that would conform with a model of human behavior in an ideal egalitarian society conceptualized by Leftist philosophy. For the blue-collar Leftist street fighter the underlying motivation can be as simple as hatred for the boss.
The nature of the Leftists’ character inescapably shapes their ideology. There is an unpleasant truth about Leftism that its followers will of course hotly deny. The fundamental, subliminal allure of Leftism is not its call to altruistic service to improve the lot of man, but rather it is the promise of power to those who participate in implementing the necessary coercive measures. Expressed in its crudest form, the Leftist ideology attempts to justify looting of wealth and labor, and the complete regimentation of society. It advocates, first of all, that it is quite all right that those who have not take by force from those who have, and secondly, that nobody has an inviolable right to permanent ownership of anything. That premise serves to justify taxation as well as confiscation and that grand old euphemism - nationalization.
The traditional pre-requisite for power is property and wealth. The conservative believes that wealth confers a privilege to hold power. The classical liberal (myself included) denies inherited privilege to anyone, but nevertheless recognizes the relationship between wealth and power. When private ownership of property is declared null and void, power is there simply for the taking by the bold Leftist activist.
I am sure that there are many others who, like I, were able to infer almost instinctively, the subliminal motivation of the Leftists during the "cold war" decades. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear could discern the masked utopian yearnings for coercive - even sanguinary - solutions, beneath the noise of the Leftists' propaganda and protest demonstrations, much like sonar discerns the echo of the target deep below the surface through the incidental background noise. However, very few people have had the courage to state publicly the incontrovertible historical evidence of the ugly undercurrents that course through the Leftist philosophy, and the sociopathic predispositions of its followers.
The wide-spread reticence to indict the Left publicly is in part due to instilled social mores. Our culture conditions us to practice politeness as a matter of course. Furthermore, from a very pragmatic standpoint, sweeping accusatory declarations against all followers of a particular religious or ideological dogma inevitably offends individuals with whom one may wish to maintain civil or even cordial relations. Getting along in a democratic society precludes the uttering of some things in public, freedom of speech notwithstanding.
Above all, the main reason for the Left's inviolability is the certainty that wrath and condemnation, generated by the strongly integrated Leftist support system, will pour forth from every conceivable media and institutional outlet upon the accusing party. At best, a person who dares to spotlight the sympathetic connections between the Left of democratic societies and totalitarian killers, is simply called a "wing-nut", not to be taken seriously. At worst, the person is subjected to a very effective campaign of vilification, being branded as a McCarthyite, a Nazi, or the like. Often enough, the Left's organized counter-thrust has destroyed the career and reputation of the accuser, so that most individuals whose livelihood depends on a good public reputation weigh the consequences carefully before attacking the Left.
Nevertheless, numerous exposes, reports and histories on the horrendous atrocities perpetrated by Leftist tyrannies have appeared since WW II. Some of these, like the works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Robert Conquest, have even achieved some literary standing and popularity in the western democracies. But more general philosophical discourses on the pathologies of the Leftist movement as such have been received with blatant hostility in democratic societies. Widespread dissemination of these works has been discouraged through subtle intimidation of the better-known publishing houses into not accepting such works for publication, and by non-recognition of such works by the literary reviewers of major newspapers and periodicals. Therefore, works by authors such as Friedrich A. Hayek, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn and Jean-Francois Revel, which penetrate to the psychogenic roots of Leftism, are consigned to relative obscurity.
During his long and outstanding life as a political philosopher and economist Hayek has performed one of the most complete examinations of Leftist ideology from the standpoint of its effect on the economy, the law, societal mores, and political institutions. His first notable work on the subject was "The Road to Serfdom", published in 1944. Considering the circumstances of the times - the Soviet Union was a comrade-in-arms of the West - the book caused great consternation in the Leftist camp. Hayek could expound on the topic with exceptional perspicacity. In "The Road to Serfdom" Hayek had this to say about 'ends' justifying 'means':
'Like formal law, the rules of individualist ethics, however imprecise they may be in many respects, are general and absolute; they prescribe or prohibit a general type of action irrespective of whether in the particular instance the ultimate purpose is good or bad.
The principle that the end justifies the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily the supreme rule: there is literally nothing which the consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves "the good of the whole," because the "good of the whole" is to him the only criterion of what ought to be done.'
In light of the above it can be reasoned that individualist ethics and collectivist ethics stand diametrically opposed. The question arises whether the term 'consistent collectivist' implies that there can also be an 'inconsistent collectivist'? Upon reflection, the answer turns ou to be: not really. I think that the degree of consistency with which the collectivist pursues his ends depends entirely on the circumstances of the particular place and time - mostly, the political and juridical maturity of the host society that sets the ethical and moral thresholds, if any, beyond which the Leftist dares not venture. I will return to this thought later on.
For the moment, let us stipulate only the obvious: All Leftists believe that the end justifies the means. One can observe that the ends and proposed means of the western democratic socialist are not exactly Stalinist, but his means are coercive nevertheless.
One can test the limit of the collectivistic resolve of our rather tame indigenous Leftists in an intellectual way by proposing a hypothetical scenario in which increasingly brutal means are posited as necessary to achieve one of their 'good of the whole' ends. In this theoretical exercise, as the coerciveness of the means is escalated, they will begin to squirm at some point, and eventually perhaps balk at taking the next 'necessary measure'. However, it is important to remember that in the setting of some theoretical limit to coercive action in a hypothetical scenario the reasoning of our Leftists is naturally framed by our social milieu of constitutionally entrenched rights, the Rule of Law, and tradition-bound centers of political power.
It is a fact that the Left of the western democracies has never condemned and always at least acquiesced to and excused, if not applauded, the atrocities of the totalitarians. It is a favorite tactic of the Left to find moral equivalence in the outrageous actions of totalitarian regimes and the defensive responses to such actions by the western democracies. In similar fashion, the Left has obstinately refused to acknowledge the guilt of Leftists who have been caught and convicted for spying and other traitorous activities against the democracies. If anything, our Leftists have consistently regarded Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Ho-Chi-Minh, Pol Pot, for a while Hitler, and all their minions as being kindred spirits of the same faith. And if anything, these bloody dictators are admired by Leftists to this day for their bold actions.
Yes, Hitler also belongs in the suite of Leftist icons. As any serious student of the history of socialism will testify, Hitler was a national socialist (the name "Nazi" derives from Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' Party). There are more similarities than differences between Nazism and communism, particularly as to methods of coercion. By definition National Socialism is extremely nationalistic and racist, while communism purports to be international, although in practice it has also exhibited strong racial and nationalistic prejudices. Both variants recruit their cadre from the same pool of individuals with the mind-sets of coercive utopians, or to use the other name - Leftists. Doubters of this fact should recall that, before Hitler attacked Stalin, Leftists in the western democracies considered him to be their brother-in-arms in the fight against the warmongering imperialist West.
Thus we have the same Leftists who say that, theoretically at least, there are limits to the coercive action they would take in order to overcome resistance to one of their programs in a mature western democracy, but who approve of practically every brutal 'necessary measure' that has been taken by the totalitarian regimes. From that I can only conclude that our Leftists' temperance is not due to any moral qualms but is rather a pragmatic assessment of what they could get away with in a mature and stable democratic society. I contend that these selfsame Leftists would have no such limits in a totalitarian setting. Their coercive utopian mind-set would ensure at least their collaboration and very likely active participation even in the grossest of totalitarian misdeeds.
Returning now to the quote from Hayek and the question regarding the consistency of collectivists, the answer is that the collectivist is as consistent as conditions allow, and that the character of the collectivist is simply an amoral one, devoid of ethics as we understand them.
Kuehnelt-Leddihn has conducted studies into the historical origins of modern Leftism. His first book, published in 1974 as "Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse", was updated in 1990 as "Leftism Revisited". In his view, humans are subject to two basic drives: identity and diversity. The drive for diversity creates a demand for individual liberty. But the co-existing drive for identity, which, incidentally, Hayek ascribes to the inherited vestiges of ancient tribalism, nurtures a desire to be identified with a group and to seek conformity, sameness and equality within that group. Kuehnelt-Leddihn proposes that undesirable characteristics like fear and hatred of people outside ones group, and envy of classes of people perceived to be better off or superior to ones own class are psychological malignancies inherent in the drive for identity; and that the bloody outrages of Leftist revolutions are manifestations of unrestrained mass venting of the blind rage aroused by envy and xenophobic hatred.
Kuehnelt-Leddihn makes the following observations about the first instance of organized selective mass murders in modern times that occurred during the French Revolution:
'In spite of Rousseauistic fancies, the depravity of which the average man is capable soon became evident. People literally danced around the guillotines. Various military and civil commanders openly and officially boasted about their bestial deeds, which in all their sick horror were perpetrated above all against the "internal enemy".
Kuehnelt-Leddihn relates from the available historical record of the French Revolution graphic descriptions of macabre atrocities and of campaigns to exterminate entire populations in the name of the revolution. In his words: 'Mass murder had become the order of the day in France'.
Further on he draws a telling comparison between the French Revolution and those that followed in the 20th century:
'The picture painted by dogmatic socialism in action is strikingly similar to that of the French Revolution. And no wonder, since the leadership had a very similar sociological structure: bitter and confused members of the nobility, murderously idealistic intellectual bourgeois, and alienated wicked priests, friars, and seminarians. There was almost the same mob violence, high-flown speeches, declamatory writings, destruction of ancient buildings, desecration of tombs and cemeteries, furious attacks against religion, one-track political thinking, and turmoil in the countryside accompanied by arson and robbery'.
At least since Marx and Engels, if not before, Leftists have explained their revolutions in terms of class struggle, and have postured themselves as devoted champions of the noble cause of the working class. In the above quotation Kuehnelt-Leddihn reminds us that the coercive utopians and the simply opportunistic criminal rogues who led the revolutions came from every social and economic class.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has not helped much to bring the Left to account. Suppression of the evidence is in the interests of both the surviving Soviet nomenclatura and the Leftists of the western democracies. National Review magazine featured the question in its May 2, 1994 issue under the cover headline: "The Holocaust We Excused". In that issue Paul Hollander tries, not very successfully, to identify the causes for American amnesia when it comes to communist terror. In the same issue Lee Edwards gives a short summary of communist atrocities of this century. There is one very pertinent quote of Solzhenitsyn in the Edwards' article:
'Ideology - that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others' eyes, so that he won't hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors'.
The key words in the above quote are 'ideology', 'evildoer', and 'justification'. Solzhenitsyn certainly should know the character of the beast, having spent years in its belly. Although he concedes that ideology is the vehicle for the realization of sociopathic urges, the singularity of the evildoer is stated very clearly indeed. Solzhenitsyn would never accept a 'mistakes were made' statement, which is the ludicrous disclaimer - consigning all fault to an amorphous mass of impersonal agents - that the Leftists often throw with flippant casualness at the evidence of mass atrocities by Leftist regimes. But Solzhenitsyn knows that the evil acts were committed by evil individuals.
George Watson, a historian of the modern era who is presently engaged in writing a comprehensive history of socialism, puts it well in an article in the Dec.31, 1995 issue of the National Review, titled "Never blame the left". He writes: "The Left is perceived as kind and caring, despite its extensive history of promoting genocide."; and further: ".. in modern Europe, genocide has been exclusively a socialist idea, ever since Engels proclaimed it in Marx's journal the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in January-February 1849. Ever since then everyone who has advocated genocide has called himself a socialist, without exception." He concludes the article with: “What we need now is a serious and unblinking study of socialism, of what it said and what it did: one that does not fudge the evidence: one that is brave enough to tell it as it was.”
If the doctrine of coercive collectivist ideology predictably leads to evil actions of massive dimensions, then the individuals attracted to it must also have within themselves the predisposition for evil. I believe that it is this latent malevolence, or the absence of it, that differentiates humankind into the two groups I previously identified as: a) - those that have the potential to be Leftists from birth, and b) - those that do not. That explains why some individuals are attracted to Leftism, seem so mesmerized by it, while others dislike it, in some cases instinctively abhor it.
The above theory sounds preposterous, to say the least. How can it be claimed that the millions of compassionate, well-intentioned Leftists who populate the Western democracies all harbor within them such malevolence? The answer is that here we are dealing with the deep recesses of human nature, where a predisposition for evil can lie dormant for an entire lifetime and never surface, unless the ambient social conditions invite its development. For example, we recognize envy, which is in all of us to some degree, as a powerful motivator for evil actions. And without a doubt, intense envy hides beneath the patina of righteous egalitarianism of the Leftist.
The urge to coerce others to do our bidding, by persuasion or force, is also in all of us. That urge complels us to strive for power and domination. I recall reading an article many years ago, but unfortunately do not remember the publication, which reported on the results of an experiment into human potential for cruelty. A very realistic scenario of prison cells with equipment for various forms of torture was created. Competing teams of 'interrogators' were asked to extract certain information from 'prisoners'. The team who was the first to make a prisoner talk was the winner. The unstated real objective of the experiment was to investigate to what extent the moral and ethical standards of the interrogators would inhibit them from cruel treatment of captives.
Of course, because it was only a game, the prisoners did not anticipate being subjected to any serious physical harm as penalty for remaining silent. After each unproductive session of interrogation the interrogators of a team were directed to discuss and decide among themselves what methods to employ next to make the prisoner talk. To the shocking surprise of the attending psychologists, a large number of the frustrated interrogators had no qualms about recommending physical torture and volunteering to be the ones who would inflict it. They were willing to commit an evil act merely for the sake of winning a game!
In the real world also, premeditated evil acts, including mass extermination, are commonplace events, carried out with nonchalance. The psychologists who have been assessing the personalities of individuals who are known to have participated in the organized programs of mass torture, rape and extermination in Bosnia, recently reported that the most remarkable aspect about the personalities of those who participated in the atrocities was precisely their unremarkable ordinariness. No wonder then that 'the depravity of which the average man is capable' noted by Kuehnelt-Leddihn during the French Revolution, has been confirmed by events several times over since then.
Perhaps my presumption that people are either potential Leftists or non-Leftists from birth has validity after all. The human character is a very complex mosaic of noble as well as ignoble qualities. It is a fact that undesirable traits such as envy, greed and sociopathic tendencies often are the dominant ones in the character make-up of an individual. More often than not, an individual with such character flaws is also philosophically moribund and politically indifferent. Living in a society that observes a modicum of moral standards and adherence to the Rule of Law, this individual might engage in some commonplace criminal activity, or more likely, suppress the bad tendencies voluntarily and live a very ordinary life. But, admix philosophical and political inquisitiveness with the undesirable character traits and sociopathic tendencies and, behold, a recruit for Leftist causes is born. This individual will exploit the confrontational politics of the Left, adroitly cloaking his base desires in the mantle of an egalitarian knight. One will usually discover that behind the Robin Hood image hides just a plain hood.
The rewards of power and opulence that accrue to the Leftist nomenclatura naturally attract the malcontented, envious and greedy types who can then, under the guise of egalitarianism and economic leveling, rob others of their material wealth and usurp their social status. The looting is cleverly bureaucratized. Wielding raw power out of offices with inscrutable names, the looters maintain a luxurious existence by simply helping themselves to as much as they desire of the wealth produced by a subjugated population. They rationalize their own enrichment as just compensation for their hard 'work' on behalf of the common people.
That is about as far as the Leftists can go when they attain political power in a western democracy. In the fully developed totalitarian state, under the aegis of a grotesquely perverted caricature of justice, the Leftists can vent their sociopathic malevolence with unrestrained brutality upon captive, helpless victims who have been designated as 'enemies of the state'. The Leftists of western democratic socialist parties can only dream of this ultimate fulfillment.
Through their pervasive influence in academia, the media, the judiciary, the labor movement and, most importantly, in the bureaucracies and legislatures of governments, the Leftists of the western democracies have done a nearly perfect job of protecting their totalitarian brethren by stifling all investigations of their atrocities and by frustrating any attempts to bring the perpetrators to justice. Consequently, in the minds of the general public, tales of mass atrocities by communist regimes have about as much significance and command as much attention as do fables from antiquity. And if there is no more than a passing curiosity about the crimes, then bringing the criminals to justice is but a pipe dream.
I believe that I have argued convincingly in support of my proposition that all Leftists, without exception, including the meekest of democratic socialists, have been - knowingly or in consciously cultivated ignorance - accomplices or abettors either before, during or after the fact of communist atrocities. I have been convinced of that for a lifetime.
No doubt because of my own background and personal experiences, even mundane propaganda tirades by 'moderate' Leftists involuntarily trigger in my mind's eye haunting images: of rifle butts pounding on doors in the early hours and people dragged from their bed never to sleep in it again, of mutilated bodies of torture victims, of puddles of blood on floors of prison cells, of huge pits of decomposing corpses in beautiful pine forests, of deportation trains, of skeletal vestiges of humans being worked to death in the Gulag. Thus, whenever I encounter a Leftist, in person or via the media, I always have an eerie sensation that I am detecting a miasmal emanation that surrounds him or her. Perhaps that explains why I feel that I can spot Leftists almost instinctively. They need utter but a couple of sentences and I have them typed. Sometimes it seems that even their body language gives them away. As I listen to their 'social justice' sermons and observe their facial expressions and bodily gestures, I am imagining what achievements they would be capable of in a totalitarian setting.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union it has been in fashion to aver that communism and socialism have been consigned forever to the ash heap of history. But it is foolhardy to think so. Revolutions and totalitarian regimes may come and go, but Leftism has lived in the minds and souls of men since time immemorial and will continue on in the future. The waning of the global threat from the Soviet Union has actually benefited the Leftists substantially. No longer can the stigma of treason be affixed to any of their activities. Leftists have cleverly infused kernels of their philosophy into the aims and missions of populist organizations that espouse environmental and human welfare issues. These organizations serve as reservoirs for the incubation and sustenance of Leftist cadres, whence they can be recruited for political activities.
There are plenty of Leftists in positions of influence and power in Canada today. Most of them find their political home either in the Liberal party or the New Democratic party. To pick just two exemplars from the Canadian political scene who at the moment are ardently imposing their agendas on a mostly unsuspecting populace: there is the particularly sinister Leftist federal minister Allan Rock who was until recently in charge of the Department of Justice where he worked with great zeal to skew the laws of the nation to suit his ideology, and there is Lloyd Axworthy who as minister of External Affairs has gone out of his way to embrace Fidel Castro, even as he pontificates on the injustice of the Helms-Burton law and castigates the U.S. government for refusing to remove land mines from the DMZ in Korea .
In my opinion, it does not bode well for the future political development
of mankind that the gigantic atrocities committed by the Left in this century
pass into history without a full judicial investigation and documentation,
conducted under the auspices of an international body such as the UN. The
individuals responsible for the atrocities should be formally identified,
tried (in absentia if necessary), sentenced and, when it is feasible, punished
according to international law. If nothing more, at least the guilty individuals,
living or dead, would be permanently branded as evil in the eyes of the
world. A properly conducted judicial process would also serve to expose
the badly tainted Leftist ideology as the breeder of evil deeds that it
assuredly is. Both the Leftist theories and the individuals who espouse
them need to be shorn of the respectability and legitimacy that they still
so widely command in democratic societies at the present time. Unless that
happens, it is a near certainty that Leftism will erupt into new holocausts
in the future.
George J. Irbe
337 Centre St. East
Richmond Hill, ON
Canada L4C 1B3