As it does every year, The Volokh Conspiracy blog reminds us today that May 1 should be known as Victims of Communism Day. I heartily agree. Though we don’t hear much about workers’ solidarity in the struggle against capitalism on this date any more, the generation that has grown up in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall may have lost touch with the fundamental reality of what the Communist nightmare cost humanity in the last century.
As Ilya Somin first noted back in 2007:
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. I suggest that May Day be turned into Victims of Communism Day….
The main alternative to May 1 is November 7, the anniversary of the communist coup in Russia. However, choosing that date might be interpreted as focusing exclusively on the Soviet Union, while ignoring the equally horrendous communist mass murders in China, Cambodia, and elsewhere. So May 1 is the best choice.
It’s little surprise that the Catholic Church’s designation of May 1—the feats of St. Joseph the worker—as a date to commemorate the victims of Communism had little traction. For decades anti-Communism in this country was wrongly associated with the antics of Senator Joseph McCarthy and blacklists of left-wing artists.
Some wrongly resented any attempt to honor the tens of millions who died at the hands of the Communists as somehow diminishing efforts to remember those who were slaughtered by the Nazis.
Others deprecated any measure that would sharpen the ideological differences between the West and the East as something that would undermine détente with the former Soviet Union (the same reason some on the left were slow to embrace the cause of freedom for Soviet Jewry). Other liberals felt that any talk of Communist atrocities or the captive nations of Eastern Europe would justify the War in Vietnam (where the American defeat added hundreds of thousands to the toll of Communist atrocities) or later bolster Ronald Reagan’s efforts to stand up to Soviet expansionism and eventually topple the Wall.
Sadly, the collapse of Soviet Communism, a bizarre nostalgia for the bad old days of totalitarianism, has emerged in Eastern Europe and Russia. Here in the West, radical chic heroes like Che Guevara, who was deeply implicated in mass murders after Castro seized power in Cuba, remain popular icons on T-shirts worn by kids who have no idea who or what they are glorifying. This is an offense to history and to the memories of the millions who were sacrificed on the altar of Marx’s mad experiment.
But there is more to this issue than mere sentiment or a desire to refight the political battles of the past. In the 21st century, freedom faces different foes than it did in the 20th, but the stakes are the same. As mad as it might be today to envision radical Islam gaining the kind of power that Communists once possessed, a lapse of vigilance on the part of the West could have unimaginable consequences. If an Islamist regime in Iran is allowed to posses a nuclear weapon or if Islamist governments in Arab countries escalate their war on non-Muslim minorities, anything is possible.
We should remember the victims of Communism for their own sake, but we must continue the struggle for freedom for the sake of uncounted millions whose lives will hang in the balance in the future.