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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.
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.
nIt 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.
nIt 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).
nIt 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).
nIt 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.
nIt would not have supported the efforts
of the French to regain control over Indochina after
World War II.
nIt 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
nIt 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).
nIt 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.
nIt 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.
nIt would not have opposed until the
very last moment the black liberation struggles in southern Africa.
nIt 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."
nIt 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.
nIt would not have embraced the Marcos
dictatorship in the Philippines from its onset in 1972 until its next-to-the-last moment in
nIt 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,
nIt 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
nIt 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.