Today is May Day. Since 2007, I have advocated turning this date into Victims of Communism Day (though I should note that I didn’t invent the idea). In my very first post on the subject, I outlined the rationale for this step:
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.
In this 2009 post, I discussed the issue of why the relative neglect of communist crimes matters. In a post last year, I defended the choice of May 1 against other possible alternatives, such as November 7 and August 23, the anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. To briefly summarize, May 1 is better than November 7 because it does not primarily focus on any one country. It trumps August 23 for the same reason, and also because that date is understandably a time for commemorating Nazi crimes as well as communist ones. The victims of the latter deserve a separate date of their own. If August 23 commemorations do not obviate the need for Holocaust Memorial Day, they also do not eliminate the need for a separate Victims of Communism Day. I also defended the choice of May 1 against the criticism that this date should be retained as a holiday for workers and labor unionists instead.
That said, as I have previously noted, I am not opposed to choosing a different date if we can forge a consensus around November 7, August 23, or some other date, but not May 1. The best possible date for Victims of Communism Day should not be the enemy of the merely good.