The false hope of communism
More then 1/4 of Americans have never been taught about communism while 1.5 billion people still live in single-party Marxist distatorships. It's more then in 1989, when communism fell in Poland. Mr. Marion Smith, Executive Director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (Washington, DC) explains why communism is still an issue in 21st century.
Poland.pl: Poland had a very drastic experience of communism. In our collective consciousness, though, the problem was over after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Could you explain why the communism is still an issue?
Mr. Marion Smith: Sadly, communism is as much of an issue now as during the heyday of the USSR. More people live under single party Marxist dictatorships today than did in 1989. The free world is shrinking, not growing—Venezuela, Hong Kong, and Nicaragua have all recently succumbed to the imposition of Marxist ideology. And even post-communist states that have seen freedom and prosperity after the collapse of the USSR have a lot of work to do, seeking justice, teaching truth, and preserving memory.
What are the main activities of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation? Does the foundation provide tangible help for the victims of communism?
We preserve memory, conducting numerous studies and reports about the history of communism and the contemporary attitudes toward communism in the world today. We seek justice, bringing together dissidents from China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea to work toward a world free from the false hope of communism. We teach truth, training teachers and students about the dangers of communism through formal curricula and creative multimedia projects. We’ve already dedicated a memorial to the victims of communism in Washington DC, and our goal is to build a museum, thanks in no small part to the generous donation from the people of Poland.
In Poland, despite the years of communistic propaganda, people are aware of the communistic crimes. Unfortunately, in the Western countries even well-educated citizens sometimes don’t know about GULAGs, Soviet famine, mass killings or just poor economic situation under communistic rule. What is the reason of the lack of consciousness? What is your experience in this matter?
We conduct an annual poll on US Attitudes toward Socialism to try and figure out this very issue. In the 2018 poll, we found that 26% of Americans have never been taught about communism in any educational or professional setting, and most of these are young people. The problematic consequence of this lack of education, is that 52% of American millennials would prefer to live in a Socialist or communist country. The solution is education, education, education. It is a herculean task, but we’re up to the challenge.
Why do you think communistic ideas can be still attractive to young people? Is it related to the consumerist character of the European and American culture nowadays?
Our poll showed that these ideas are still attractive to young people because they simply misunderstand what they are. Half of Americans associate socialism with welfare states in Western Europe and Scandinavia—not Marxist dictatorships. When Americans talk about socialism, they’re primarily thinking about healthcare and inequality. We are trying to correct those misconceptions by educating Americans about what socialism and socialist policies mean in most of the world through most of history. Perhaps if more Americans knew about Gulags in the USSR and Laogai in China where dissidents died in the name of socialism, they would choose another byword for healthcare.
In the 20th century many western intellectualists seemed to ignore information about crimes in the Soviet Union and other communistic countries. Can we observe the same phenomena nowadays?
Certainly, although it’s a lot more difficult to get away with massive crimes in the information age. China is currently imprisoning upward of a million Uyghurs in reeducation camps, but the world has caught on much quicker than they did to the Gulags. The question now is whether there is the same political will to do anything about it, and I’m not so sure. We sanctioned, isolated, and pushed the USSR right to the brink of collapse because of their human rights abuses. We ought to be doing the same to North Korea and China.
It’s hard to imagine wearing a T-Shirt with Hitler, but one can see people hanging around with Lenin, Mao or Che Guevara on their chest. Why in your opinion some of the communistic ideas or characters have been absorbed by popular culture?
The reason nobody wears Hitler T-shirts is precisely because it’s grossly taboo and wholly unacceptable. One would be a social pariah for wearing fascist iconography. We want to do the same to Mao and Lenin and Che shirts. Without censorship or infringement on freedom of expression, we believe that through systemic education and cultural pressure, we can make it taboo to flaunt communist iconography as well.
Do you think Poland, as a country that shook off the yoke of communism, could help societies that still remain under the regime? How an ordinary citizen could contribute?
Of course. We host regular round tables where we bring together dissidents from contemporary communist countries like Cuba with dissidents from former communist countries in Europe to discuss tactics and strategy. The Solidarity movement in Poland is the textbook example for anti-communist resistance—the world has so much to learn. The people of Poland can help us free the world from the false hope of communism by telling their story. Get online, get to your schools, talk to your friends in other countries. Your story gives hope to the 1.5 billion people living in single-party Marxist dictatorships who are still deprived of their freedom every single day.
Marion Smith is a civil society leader and expert in international affairs, and has been executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation since March 2014. As Executive Director, he provides strategic leadership for VOC and spearheads its educational initiatives. He is also founding president of the Common Sense Society, an international foundation that promotes civic engagement, entrepreneurship, and leadership virtues among young professionals in the United States and Europe.
Marion is a native of South Carolina and chairman of the National Civic Art Society. He was previously a visiting fellow at the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation. His articles have appeared in publications including USA Today, The Hill, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, National Review, and The Weekly Standard. He is a regular guest analyst on major network and cable television news channels, including ABC, NBC, MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN.
The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation is an educational and human rights nonprofit organization authorized by a unanimous Congressional Act, which was signed as Public Law 103-199 by President William J. Clinton on December 17, 1993. From 2003 to 2009, President George W. Bush was Honorary Chairman of the Foundation. On June 12, 2007, he dedicated the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Every third week of July we mark National Captive Nations Week. Established by Public Law 86-90 in 1959 under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, it is a time set aside to recognize those peoples and nations suffering under communist and other totalitarian regimes.
On the 14th of November 2018 Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced the Republic of Poland’s $10 million gift to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s project to build a museum in Washington DC.
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