The dream of perfectibility turns sour

Jean-Marie Le Pen’s success in the first round of the French presidential elections – Jacques Chirac’s victory in the runoff vote was based on an uneasy support by his political adversaries – sent shock waves throughout Europe. Rightful as the chorus of concerns against the ascent of right-wing extremism may have been, it deflected attention from another political trauma: the return of leftist extremism. Notable as the differences between the two movements may be, Nazism and communism are united by a horrifying historical legacy of terror and violent repression. However, while the gruesome crimes and atrocities committed by Nazi regimes are treated as an undeniable historical fact, communist terror still remains a somewhat taboo subject. Communism in the West, and particularly in Europe, enjoys a status of relative immunity. Communism and fascism are weighed on different moral scales, as the moral indictments of communism tend to be mitigated by the Nazi evil it crushed. The mantle of fascism has allowed communists in the West to portray themselves as champions of liberal democratic values. Anyone who dares question the benignity of the communist movement and ideas is immediately branded an anti-democrat or a fascist. Accordingly, many liberals avoid criticizing communists for fear of playing into the hands of the right. Not surprisingly, the recent publication of «The Black Book of Communism,» which was based on new evidence from previously undisclosed archives in ex-communist states, was seen as an apologia for fascism, even though the majority of its contributors are former communists. Similar reactions were to be seen in Greece as leftist commentators questioned its scientific and historical validity, often saying that it was reminiscent of Cold War propaganda pamphlets. In any case, although «The Black Book of Communism» – or, more precisely, Stephane Courtois, who wrote the controversial introduction and conclusion to the book – claims that communism is an intrinsically violent philosophy, it lacks philosophical underpinnings as little is said about communism’s historicist and utilitarian view of violence.