A Note on Anticommunism

David Schweickart, After Capitalism (2002).

            Looking back over the twentieth century, we cannot fail to notice how deeply the ideology of anticommunism shaped Western foreign policy. From the beginning, communism has triggered hostile passions among the upper classes. Long before the Russian Revolution, long before the Soviet Union had any sort of serious military capability, fear of communism was promoted by the dominant political, educational, economic, and religious institutions of society. Communism came to be hated with far greater intensity than fascism or Nazism or any other sort of non-democratic rule. Indeed the polyarchical Western powers not only did not intervene when democratic institutions disappeared in Italy, Germany, and Spain during the inter-war years but were also quite "tolerant" of the new governments. After all, Mussolini's Italy, Hitler's Germany and Franco's Spain were all vehemently and murderously anticommunist.
            But why has capitalism been so profoundly opposed to communism, while tolerating all other kinds of repressive anti-democratic regimes?  At first sight the answer would seem to be straightforwardly economic: capitalism needs access to cheap raw materials, foreign markets, and cheap labor. Communism denies them all that. The problem with this answer, so plausible on the surface, is that communism has not denied capitalist corporations these things. Communist regimes have always wanted to trade with the West and have often been eager for foreign investment. It is the West, led by the United States, that has imposed trade sanctions, embargoes and blockades.[1]
            It is true that capitalist enterprises, when allowed to operate in Communist countries, have been more closely regulated than they would doubtless have preferred, but foreign corporations have been tightly regulated in other capitalist countries as well (in Japan, for example) without provoking a hostile response, let alone a Cold War that a slight miscalculation could have turned annihilatorily hot.
            In my judgment, the real motivation behind anticommunism runs deeper.  It's the profound worry on the part of the capitalist class that the communists could in fact be right: that capitalism is not the end of history, that there is a brighter future beyond capitalism, and that sooner or later their own workers (i.e., the vast majority of their fellow citizens) will come to realize this and take appropriate action.  Recall the dominant metaphor. Communism is a disease. It spreads. Infected countries must be quarantined. No country is safe from the deadly germ, no matter how healthy and prosperous. It must be mercilessly fought at home and abroad.
            Which it has been. To grasp the magnitude of this relentless war, try to imagine what the history of the twentieth century might have been like had Western foreign policy been guided by the ideals of democracy instead of anticommunism. To confine ourselves only to the most important player, let us suppose that the United States had been truly committed to democracy. Then:

It would not have sent troops into Russia in 1918 to oppose that revolution.

n         It would not have looked so kindly on Mussolini's seizure of power in Italy, or supported so readily a policy of "economic appeasement" of Hitler.

n         It would not have endorsed the coming to power in the 1930s of the patriarchal dictatorships in Central America and the Caribbean (Hernandez Martinez in El Salvador, Somoza in Nicaragua, Ubico in Guatemala, Carias in Honduras, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Batista in Cuba).

n         It might have aided Republican Spain in its fight against Franco's antidemocratic revolt (which was supported materially and with personnel by both Hitler and Mussolini).

n         It would not have supported the brutal, corrupt rule of Chiang Kai-shek in China, supplying his government with some $6 billion in aid during its civil war with a Communist insurgency that eventually triumphed.

n         It would not have supported the efforts of the French to regain control over Indochina after World War II.

n         It would not have insisted on partitioning Korea after World War II, or supported the installation of a brutal right-wing dictatorship in the South (and hence would have avoided the Korean War).

n         It would not have engineered the overthrow of the Iranian government and the installation of the Shah in 1953 (and hence would not be regarded today as The Great Satan by the government that drove the Shah from power a quarter of a century later).

n         It would not have orchestrated the destruction of democracy in Guatemala in 1954, nor encouraged the spread of military rule (with death squad supplements) there and elsewhere in Central America.

n         It would have recognized the right of the Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese people to choose their own future, and hence avoided the war that claimed some fifty thousand American lives and as many as four million Indochinese.

n         It would not have opposed until the very last moment the black liberation struggles in southern Africa.

n         It would not have looked the other way (to put the best face on the matter) when the Indonesian military seized power in 1965 and massacred a million "communists."

n         It would not have aided and abetted the establishment of military rule of monumental savagery throughout most of Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, among other places in Chile, where it deliberately undermined Latin America's most deeply established democracy.

n         It would not have embraced the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines from its onset in 1972 until its next-to-the-last moment in 1986.

n         It would not have bankrolled murderous armed struggle against the popular governments that came to power in the 1970s after overthrowing a hated dictator or a colonial power in Angola, Mozambique, and Nicaragua.

n         It would not have given the green light to our trusted anticommunist ally, General Suharto of Indonesia, to invade newly independent East Timor and begin a reign of terror that has claimed the lives of a third of the population.

n         It would not have worked ceaselessly, to this very day, to destroy the one society in Latin America that has eliminated starvation and homelessness, namely "communist" Cuba.

            This is by no means an exhaustive list. The United States has backed many more anti- democratic regimes than enumerated here. Nor has the United States stood alone in its anticommunist crusade. Most of the major European countries have backed most of these policies. Body-count comparisons have an obscene feel about them, but still it should be noted: the wars, coups, killings, terror, and torture that have been justified in the name of anticommunism have destroyed at least as many people as did Hitler or Stalin.

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