October 7, 2015

Harper’s History Lesson: anti-communism and war

Brendan Campisi

The Harper government's planned 'Memorial to the Victims of Communism', which will take its place in Ottawa between the Supreme Court and Library and Archives Canada, has come under scrutiny lately because of the significant and growing cost of the project. Shirley Blumberg, an architect who was on the jury that selected the design for the 'memorial', said in December that there is no way it will be completed for the government's estimated cost of $5.5 million. A growing chorus of establishment figures have criticized the project for its costs, the aesthetic damage they say it will do to central Ottawa, and the (at least) questionable necessity of such a memorial. The government has committed to paying $3 million of the cost of the project, while the rest is supposed to be paid by Tribute to Liberty, the anti-communist organization formed in 2008 to advocate for the project. However, they have so far had trouble raising the money. In fact there seems to be very little public interest in or support for the memorial, as any glance at the comments under a story on the project will reveal. Even many Canadians with no particular sympathy for communism cannot understand why the Harper government wants to spend several million dollars to put up a memorial to the victims of communism on prime central Ottawa real estate.

What are the reasons behind this project, then? There are a few, and at least one should be obvious. The ruling class in every capitalist country, including Canada, has sought to stigmatize communism for over a century, as they can be expected to do with a movement that threatens their wealth and power. That this involves enormous hypocrisy from defenders of a capitalist system that has generated slavery, colonialism, genocide of Indigenous peoples, imperialist wars and lives of utter misery and exploitation for the vast majority of humanity is of no importance to Harper, who once said that Canada had “no history of colonialism,” or his supporters. The capitalist class has paid its propagandists, like the recently deceased Robert Conquest, to paint communist movements and socialist societies in the darkest colours, racking up more and more extravagant body counts, with little regard for basic principles of historical scholarship or accuracy. This memorial, in the words of Justin Trudeau, to “the pain and suffering entire generations endured under Communist rule,” is just another addition to this decades-long effort to stigmatize socialism.

Another aspect of the context for the memorial is revealed by examining the list of sponsoring organizations on Tribute to Liberty's website. Most of these are enthno-national organizations claiming to represent nationalities which live or have lived under 'communist tyranny,' such as the Ukrainian, Polish or Vietnamese communities. These organizations in fact represent only the most right-wing section of their communities and in many cases can only pretend to represent the nationality as a whole because progressive organizations which supported the socialist governments in their countries of origin have been repressed by the Canadian state. These organizations can influence sizable voting blocs, such as the over one million strong Ukrainian-Canadian community. There is, then, an element of cynical ethnic bloc politics in the Tories’ memorial. But looking further into the history of these organizations also reveals another, more sinister context for the project.

Members of the Ukrainian division of the SS, recruited from
Stepan Bandera's OUN
Even before the Second World War ended, the Western imperialist powers began to focus their energy to efforts to block the advance of socialism and contain the Soviet Union, still officially their ally. To do this, they turned to the most reliably anticommunist forces available. This very often meant fascists and Nazi collaborators, including those who had participated in the worst crimes of Nazism. Western intelligence agencies established connections with fascist forces from across Eastern Europe, including Stepan Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and its armed wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. These groups had fought the Red Army alongside the Germans and enthusiastically participated in the Holocaust. Tribute to Liberty describes on its website how “34,000 Ukrainians came to Canada after World War II as DPs or “displaced persons,” not wanting to return to the repression they faced in the Soviet Union,” naturally not mentioning the fact that many of these supposed refugees were fascists fleeing accountability for their crimes. These far right exiles established or took over Eastern European national organizations in Canada, turning them into instruments of the Cold War campaign against socialism. NATO continued to use these groups in their efforts to subvert socialism in Eastern Europe down to the end of the Cold War.

After the overthrow of socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the anti-communist ideological offensive escalated even further. The fascist forces nurtured for decades by the West became influential political players in the socially and economically ruined post-socialist countries. New governments began officially rehabilitating the fascists of the 1940s, describing them as patriots who had fought for their country and downplaying their participation in Nazism’s campaigns of mass murder. Soon the claim became common that the Soviets and local communists had in fact been even worse than the fascists. In countries like Latvia, SS veterans have been officially honored with a holiday. In Ukraine today OUN veterans receive state benefits. This wave of reaction in Eastern Europe received official Western approval in 2006 when the European Union recognized ‘Black Ribbon Day, officially honouring the victims of the ‘two totalitarianisms,’ but effectively serving to displace the stigma of fascism onto socialism. The Western-backed coup in Ukraine in 2013 relied on fascist forces who openly parade with Bandera’s portrait and Nazi insignia as its shock troops. Canada continues to provide support for groups like the Nazi Azov battalion, despite official denials. This new Western subversion in Eastern Europe has received intellectual backing from historians like Timothy Snyder, who between op-eds comparing Russia to Nazi Germany wrote a book arguing that Hitler’s crimes were in many ways a reaction to Stalin’s, and that the Jewish resistance and other partisan movements fighting Nazism provoked German reprisals and would have been better off obeying the
Supporters of fascist Svoboda party with Bandera's
portrait in 2014
conventional laws of war. For a Western popular imagination raised on propaganda about ‘Soviet Russia’, the USSR and contemporary capitalist Russia can be difficult to distinguish. This means that anti-Soviet propaganda, like Snyder’s ‘historical’ work, serves usefully as a supplement to anti-Russian propaganda in the news media. Although this work effectively blames the victims of Nazism, it appears even this is made acceptable by anti-communism and contemporary Western agendas in Eastern Europe.

In the end, elite opposition, public disinterest and a possible Conservative defeat in this fall's election may spell the end of the Memorial to the Victims of Communism. What will remain to be defeated, however, is the ideological offensive that seeks to demonize socialism and to whitewash fascism and the capitalist system which gives birth to it.


This article is printed in Issue 19 of Rebel Youth which is now available! The issue deals has a focus on student struggles and the federal elections. Find out more and subscribe today!

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