- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2000

It caused a sensation when it appeared in France in 1997, but nearly a year after Harvard University Press published an English translation, "The Black Book of Communism" has yet to spark a similar uproar in the United States.
The book "Livre Noir du Communisme" in French by six leading left-wing French intellectuals chronicles the murderous tendencies of communist regimes around the world.
Subtitled "Crimes, Terror, Repression," the book cites evidence that 85 million to 100 million people have been killed by communists in the Soviet Union, China, Eastern Europe, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Latin America and Africa.
"In the 20th century, more citizens were killed by their own governments than by foreign enemies," says Arnold Beichman, research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. The bloody record documented in "The Black Book of Communism," he says, shows "that totalitarianism first of all regards its own people as the enemy."
In France, "The Black Book" hit with explosive force. The 856-page volume by Stephane Courtois and his colleagues "instigated an intellectual ruckus," according to one American reviewer. Another reviewer said the book "touched off a storm of controversy."
Amid the uproar, the French newspaper Le Monde accused Mr. Courtois of anti-Semitism for daring to compare the crimes of communism to the crimes of Nazism. The book's revelations were fiercely debated throughout Europe.
And in America?
"It's been very well-reviewed," says George Washington University historian Ron Radosh, "but I don't think it has had any major impact on the intellectual community."
"I don't think it's made a great impression [in the United States], certainly compared to France, where it was a blockbuster book," agrees Richard Pipes of Harvard University.
The difference in the book's reception, historians agree, is that communism was much more influential in France.
"France lived for years by the slogan, 'Pas d'enemies a gauche' no enemies to the left," says John Earl Haynes, a historian at the Library of Congress. "What this book showed is that the enemy is the left. French culture always leaned to the left… . This book has exorcised, in my opinion, the demon of gauchism, or leftism."
"The French have been paying for the French Revolution, which started this whole business," Mr. Beichman says. "You have this fantastic tradition in France of justifying the French Revolution and everything that went with it."
"France had an enormous communist party," says Mr. Pipes, "so communism in France was a domestic problem, and to some extent still is, whereas in America it was only a problem of foreign policy. Once the Soviet Union collapsed [in 1991], the problem to some extent vanished."
The revelation that Marxist-Leninist regimes killed tens of millions of their own citizens might be controversial in Europe, but is less shocking to Americans, who have generally opposed communism.
"In this country, the bulk of the population has always been hostile to communism," Mr. Radosh says. "In France, where the mass support for communism has been weakening rapidly, the book spoke to the concerns and fears of a great many more people than it has here."
While "The Black Book" hasn't caused any high-profile controversy in America, it is still a valuable work.
"It's aimed at shoving people's faces in the reality of the millions who were deliberately killed by communist governments," Mr. Haynes says. "It's very difficult for someone who has had sympathy for communism … to read about the millions murdered and killed and not have some feeling they should reconsider their views."
And communism has not been without sympathizers in the United States.
"While the bulk of the [American] population has been hostile to communism … that's not been true of what you might call our intellectual class," Mr. Haynes explains. "Their opinion has been much different."
While relatively few American intellectuals have been openly pro-communist, Mr. Haynes notes, many have been "anti-anticommunist" regarding anti-communism as a greater threat than communism itself. Others have adopted the "revisionist" view of communism as morally equal to Western democracy.
"Those in the academic, intellectual world who had an anti-anticommunist position, their stance has not generally been one of defending communism, but of averting their eyes to the nature of communist regimes," Mr. Haynes says. "Many of them, I suspect, will avert their eyes from this book. Their initial reaction will probably be one of silence, rather hoping it will go away."
"You can be sure of one thing, that most academics will spurn this book," Mr. Beichman says. "There are more Marxists on the American academic scene than there are in all of Europe."
While the defeat of Nazi Germany and the subsequent trials of war criminals exposed the evils of the Holocaust, Mr. Radosh notes, the collapse of the Soviet Union "has not had the impact that our understanding of fascism did in the years after World War II. Everybody is anti-fascist, but not everybody is anti-communist."
Mr. Pipes agrees: "Everyone is aware of the atrocities committed by the Nazis, but the atrocities committed by the communists have been ignored or downplayed."
Public reaction to Elian Gonzales the boy who was sent back to Cuba after surviving his mother's attempt to escape Fidel Castro's communist dictatorship illustrates the difference, Mr. Radosh says.
Most Americans thought Elian was "being sent back to a nice Caribbean nation … a decent place with a different system that is no better or worse than ours," says Mr. Radosh. "The Black Book" documents that, among other atrocities, Cuban communists executed more than 1,000 "counterrevolutionaries" during their first year in power.
No communist regime has been more murderous than the People's Republic of China. According to "The Black Book," Mao Tse-tung and his followers have slaughtered or starved to death an estimated 65 million Chinese since 1949. The "perhaps 1,000" killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre were insignificant compared to the estimated 20 million to 43 million Chinese who died in the 1959-61 famine caused by Mao's "Great Leap Forward," according to Jean-Louis Margolin's contribution to "The Black Book."
"The Black Book" details the enormous scale of communist mass murder from the 1922 Russian famine instigated by Vladimir Lenin that killed 5 million, to dictator Pol Pot's wholesale extermination of more than a million Cambodians in the 1970s.
While communism "now is pretty much dead, there is no assurance it will not revive," warns Mr. Pipes. Some people may believe, he says, that communism failed because "it was tried in the wrong country and mistakes were made that the idea is a good one and we should try again."
Given the horrors chronicled in "The Black Book," Mr. Pipes thinks otherwise: "It's not a good idea that went wrong, but it's a bad idea."



Click to Read More

Click to Hide