Today is May 1, May Day. Back in 2007 and 2008, I advocated the idea of transforming this long-time communist holiday into Victims of Communism Day – a day of remembrance for the victims of history’s bloodiest ideology. This year, several bloggers are joining in an effort to commemorate the occasion. Jonathan Wilde of Distributed Republic deserves credit for organizing this effort.
I think that the rationale I offered for turning May Day into Victims of Communism Day in my first post on the subject still holds true:
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, Camobodia, and elsewhere. So May 1 is the best choice.
In this November 2009 post, I explained in some detail why the longstanding relative neglect of communist crimes is deplorable – not just from the standpoint of understanding the past, but also that of doing justice in the here and now and ensuring a better future.
In recent decades, the question of acknowledging communist crimes has become something of a left-right issue in many quarters. That situation is deeply unfortunate, but far from inevitable. Among those who fully recognized the evils of communism in the past were liberals such as Harry Truman and Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson and leftists such as George Orwell. In Eastern Europe, some of the most important leaders of the anti-communist dissident movement were social democrats such as Vaclav Havel and Andrei Sakharov. It is not too late for today’s noncommunist left to follow their example.
Efforts to downplay or ignore communist crimes are also common among Russian and Chinese nationalists. But if a committed Russian nationalist such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn once took the lead in exposing those crimes, it may be possible for his ideological heirs today to take the same view.
UPDATE: Bryan Caplan has an interesting post related to this subject here. Wilde will be posting relevant links throughout the day at Distributed Republic. Stay tuned!
UPDATE #2: Political scientist Rudolph Rummel, a leading academic expert on mass murder, wrote a helpful post entitled “The Red Plague” summarizing the massive death toll of communism for May Day commemoration back in 2005. Jonathan Wilde has links to posts by various bloggers for this year’s commemoration here. And here is a link to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, one of the leading nonprofit organizations working on these issues.