In a country known for ignorance of and unconcern for history, it is not surprising that few, at least in the mainstream media, have remembered the centenary of an earth-shaking event—the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. And this despite the fact that the revolution had a profound impact on India, especially in economic policy and foreign affairs, even though the country didn’t go communist as many Reds had hoped ardently. The lack of remembrance, however, doesn’t mean that communists—and their various cognates and agnates—have been relegated to oblivion. They remain a danger.
A danger because communism is a violent ideology, responsible for the death of (by various estimates) 60-100 million people in the 20th century. And yet, it is not just in India, notorious for being forgetful of history, but even in the West that the mass murderers owing allegiance to Karl Marx are not properly recognised, let alone roundly condemned. Consider this: Last year, the opinion poll firm Survation carried out a survey for the New Cultural Forum in the UK. It revealed that 34% of 883 youngsters, in the 16-24 age group, associated crimes against humanity with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but only 20% thought the same about Mao and 19% about Pol Pot. Unsurprisingly, former US President George W. Bush fared worse than Blair, with 39%.
Now, Bush and Blair may have messed up in Iraq, as Left-liberals claim, but crimes against humanity? And to be regarded as worse than Mao and Pol Pot! There is no evidence to suggest that the Bush-Blair duo ordered the mass murder of innocents, set up concentration camps and triggered a reign of terror. By no rational standard can an error of judgement on the part of the duo—if there was any—can be compared with the unconscionable, murderous conduct of Mao, Pol Pot, and other communist leaders.
Under Mao, anywhere between 30 million to 70 million people perished because of purges, executions, and policy-triggered famines. Even the left-leaning Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has accepted that in China “the total mortality from the famine was at least 30 million”. During Pol Pot’s rule (1975-79), about two million people were slaughtered in the tiny Cambodia—that is, every fourth citizen.
There is something wrong, very wrong, with our education system, the mainstream media, the culture establishment, and other opinion-making apparatuses. Much of what students and people get as news and comments comes through the filters imposed by academics and editors, many of whom are parlour pinks. So, we know (rightly so) about all the horrors about Auschwitz and the Third Reich’s pathologies, but hardly anything about the catastrophe that communism has been. Therefore, while 87% of the Survation poll respondents correctly associated Hitler with crimes against humanity, 70% of them hadn’t even heard of Mao, and 72% of Pol Pot.
In India, the situation is worse, for while there is a right-wing intellectual establishment in the West that regularly highlights the crimes of communism, in our country there is brazen whitewash of the humongous criminality of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, et al. For instance, generations of high school students in India were fed with such communist propaganda as: “The October Revolution had been almost completely peaceful. Only two persons were reported killed in Petrograd on the day the Revolution took place. However, soon after the new state was involved in a civil war. The officers of the army of the fallen Czar organised an armed rebellion against the Soviet state.”
So, the civil war and the reign of terror unleashed first by Lenin and then by Stalin are almost explained away as justified reaction. The truth was what Encyclopaedia Britannica describes: “Their [Bolsheviks’] growing unpopularity moved them to resort to unbridled terror. The Cheka [secret police] had carried out not a few summary executions in the first half of 1918. In July, on Lenin’s orders, the ex-tsar and his entire family were murdered… The formal ‘Red Terror’ began in September 1918. The pretext was a nearly successful attempt on the life of Lenin by a Socialist Revolutionary, Fannie Kaplan. As soon as he recovered from what could have been fatal wounds, Lenin ordered the Cheka to carry out mass executions of suspected opponents. Thousands of political prisoners held without charges were shot. To prevent further attempts on his life and those of his associates, Lenin instituted the practice of taking hostages from among officials of the old regime and well-to-do citizenry: these were to be executed whenever the state’s interests required it. In the resulting carnage, an estimated 140,000 persons perished.”
But that was just the trailer; under Stalin, millions perished—something he dismissed as a statistic.
Yet, all over the world, and especially in India, communism is regarded as a good, humane ideology whose implementation, though, led to some “excesses”. This is because the influence of the communists and fellow travellers persists in our country. Some of the monsters and monstrosities created by the 1917 revolution may be dead; but their spectres are not.