The Left

Marxism and Terror

In discussing Andrew Anthony’s article on Malcolm Caldwell, Norm says:

The article also poses a general question about apologia for murderous communist tyranny, and it is something Andrew says in this connection that I want to reflect on here. He writes:

Somehow the link between Marxist-Leninist ideology and communist terror has never been firmly established in the way, for instance, that we understand Nazi ideology to have led inexorably to Auschwitz.

I take him to be making a political point primarily, one that is both true and important. In left-liberal circles and even beyond, making excuses for Hitlerite dictatorship and genocide is pretty well a recipe for self-exclusion from being taken seriously, being regarded as a morally credible person, as worth listening to or engaging with. Making excuses for the mass crimes of the tyrannies of the left, on the other hand, remains possible consistently with being able to hold your head up in the offices of a liberal newspaper, and being accepted more generally as a ‘kosher’ voice within a democratic political milieu. This is a sorry fact, and in our time one being ‘elongated’ by left-liberal apologetics for Islamist terrorism.

One can also say, I think, that a link, if not the link, has been established ‘between Marxist-Leninist ideology and communist terror’. The failure, in the moral and political theory of classical Marxism, to give any weight to the rights of living human beings left a moral hole in the strategic calculations made by revolutionaries, through which justification of the very worst excesses could pass. There was no equivalent within theoretical Marxism to the doctrine of ius in bello in just war theory: the insistence that the struggle for a just cause must be fought by just means, that the lives of innocent people are not to be wantonly sacrificed, that murder is murder and a crime even when committed in a putatively good cause. On the contrary, the idea that the means could be justified by long-range and, in truth, speculative ends sufficed for the dismissal of human rights, as being a merely bourgeois prejudice. Immediately after the lines I’ve quoted Andrew goes on to give an example of precisely this kind of thinking – still alive and ill, but unaware of the illness.