From The Battle of Cable Street and the International Brigades in Spain in the 1930s through to the present day, communists pride themselves in being in the front rank of fighting racism and fascism. Along with the rise of the far-right, fascists and neo-nazis across Europe, a new danger presents itself. Below, Phil Katz describes a growing movement to draw an equivalence between those who created Auschwitz and those who liberated it. (26/01/20)
ON Monday evening, in Westminster’s Portcullis House, Sir Anthony Beevor gave the Lord Merlyn-Rees memorial lecture, arranged annually by the Holocaust Educational Trust.
The work of the trust is exceptional. It has nurtured survivors and encouraged them, now as British citizens, to tell their story to younger audiences.
This has been achieved through a schools programme that has reached hundreds of thousands, working with education unions to produce resources such as Mosaic, Paul’s Journey and Martin and Ericas Story. Its Lessons from Auschwitz programme has allowed many thousands of pupils to visit the concentration camp.
There were points made by Beevor that, in years to come, will be very important in the way we look at the industrialised destruction of the Jews in eastern Europe — not least because the survivors are now very few in number, and because there is a rise of Holocaust obfuscation, Holocaust denial and the repugnant theory of “red-brown” symmetry.
It is significant that despite the growth of anti-communism in major Jewish communities in Britain and abroad, not a single spokesperson can be found to articulate the false symmetry between perpetrator and victim that “red-brown” represents.
Legendary nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff, no supporter of the communists, has written: “For all the terrible crimes of the USSR, you can’t compare the people who built Auschwitz with the people who liberated it. Nazi Germany would probably not have been defeated if it weren’t for Russia.”
Yet in countries that supported the Axis and on the once killing-grounds of eastern Europe and the Baltics, politicians are queueing up to tell us how the communists, in some cases, were even worse than the nazis.
One right-wing MEP has claimed in the EU Parliament that Stalin killed 10 million slaves building the White Canal. These are lies of Goebbels proportions.
Beevor’s main point was that the Holocaust cannot and indeed should not be separated from the dynamics of the second world war as a whole.
The near destruction of the Jewish people was one of Hitler’s war aims, and its importance to him grew, as defeat became a possibility.
Beevor’s thesis, which is powerful and substantiated by military historians, is that the Germans were aware of the real possibility of strategic defeat as early as December 1941, when the Red Army first blocked the Wehrmacht outside Moscow and the US entered the war.
At this point, death squads followed behind invading troops (they were in there from day one of the invasion of Poland and substantially assisted in both Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania by local forces) but were failing to kill Jews in big enough numbers to satisfy the nazi bloodlust. So a search began to develop other methods.
This search reached a new phase in the establishment of the network of six death camps in occupied Poland at Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
We now know other phases were also mooted, said Beevor. For example what to do with the Jews if Hitler captured the Middle East, and who else would share a similar fate.
The Slavs were high on the list to be destroyed next. Plans existed to flood Moscow and create a lake over it.
Areas in Ukraine were delineated in which to starve entire populations, numbering many millions. The first experiments in the use of gas for mass murder were conducted on Soviet prisoners of war.
Beevor quoted the great Jewish communist writer Vasily Grossman, who referred to this emblematic shift of 1941 as the “Shoah of the gun, to the Shoah of the gas” to describe the almost crazed and haphazard search by the nazis for a way to literally wipe the Jews out.
This year, Holocaust Memorial Day cannot be looked on as in previous years, because of the passing in 2019 by the EU Parliament, of a pathbreaking motion: “On the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe.”
This motion changes the debate and the struggle around it because it has strengthened the forces of Holocaust obfuscation and mainstreams the politics of “red-brown” symmetry.
The new phase of struggle reinforces the need for the British government to get involved even as it disentangles itself from the EU because it will surely spill over into the corridors and voting floor of the UN and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It raises the pressure within our labour movement to not sit quiet and hope things will blow over.
The struggle has been a long time brewing. For some of the forces involved, the end of the war is considered unfinished business.
Even today, countries in the east continue to claim restitution for land lost and challenge the ’45 border settlements to make boundary claims against each other.
In 2004 Tony Blair acquiesced in the addition of 10 new, mainly central and east European “accession” states, into the EU.
The toxic nature of the revanchist politics of a number of these governments was bound to skew debate in the EU towards the hard right.
Some of them, in the Baltics and the east, advocated a post-1945 “shared European legacy.” In other words, there was no difference between those countries which had fought nazism and those who, in some cases enthusiastically, joined it. The EU could become a means of imposing their view on everyone else.
Back in June 2008 the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism was signed, bringing together a really disreputable bunch of ex-presidents and past “dissidents,” along with US and Canadian representatives in a round-up of the usual anti-communist organisations, sponsored by the Czech Republic.
Its aim was to create a European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, which has since been adopted by the EU and the OSCE.
This was but a thinly veiled attempt to knock out the widely accepted Holocaust Memorial Day.
Despite huge sums spent and media campaigns to use “European Day” to eclipse Holocaust Memorial Day, so far it has gained no support in Britain, and very little elsewhere.
In 2010, things were ramped up. An all-party group of MEPs established a reconciliation of European histories group to “reconcile the different historical narratives in Europe and to consolidate them into a united European memory of the past.”
This is the start of a serious attempt to equate nazism with communism and to equate the actions of the Red Army as it liberated eastern Europe from the nazis with those of the occupiers.
The aim of the declaration’s supporters was to force this subject matter into the school curriculum in all countries in the EU.
Later in August, the EU Parliament sponsored the European Day of Remembrance to coincide with the anniversary of the signing of the German-Soviet Pact of Non-Aggression. This is now a fixed star in the EU firmament.
In December that year, the EU Commission was pressed by Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic to make “the approval, denial or belittling of communist crimes” an EU-wide criminal offence.
The commission was divided and the British representative strongly opposed the rationale behind the request.
But in true EU style — the commission said it would not stand in the way of constituent countries which wanted to endorse that. And thus began in earnest the move in various countries to outlaw the “symbols of communism.”
Just a few weeks before, the ambassadors of eight countries including Britain sent a letter to the president of Lithuania complaining of an Interior Ministry historian referring to the Holocaust as a “legend” and the decision of its courts to designate the swastika as a traditional Lithuanian symbol. It also happened to be the symbol of nazism, genocide and warmongering.
In October 2011 the EU, under Polish presidency, brought together government agencies and NGOs to pump significant funds into the project.
Some of the more outlandish original demands, such as reopening the Nuremberg trials and their extension to communists, were quietly dropped, as was a reference to China as a mass murderer, although the representative of the Dalai Lama signed up to the original Prague Declaration.
Since 2008, when the movement of “red-brown” equivalence was exposed and denounced by the all-party parliamentary group on anti-semitism, led by John Mann MP, it has secured virtually no adherents in Britain — until last year’s EU vote when Labour MEPs added their support.
In that decade or so, things have changed dramatically. Social democracy across Europe is in decline and strategic retreat.
When in May 2010 my book Freedom From Tyranny was published I wrote that the Prague Convention was still a round-up of the usual anti-communists and Holocaust obfuscators, but that, as yet, it had not been able to put real boots on the ground.
Since then a lot has happened. The Maidan coup in Ukraine and attacks on Roma people in Hungary have changed the temperature around the “red-brown” thesis.
At first, the declaration resulted in government pseudo-inquiries, lavish meetings of NGOs in presidential palaces and the establishment of a network of ridiculous “Holocaust museums,” which only mention Russian occupation.
Now, attempts to influence school curriculums have been supplemented with bans on publishing newspapers and even on legal participation in parliamentary processes.
The declaration has acquired the power of EU institutions and domestic lawmakers and in a number of countries, footsoldiers too.
The tempo is picking up everywhere.
In 2018, Poland made it a criminal offence to accuse it of complicity in nazi crimes. Protests forced a retreat, so that it would be considered a civil crime instead. Three million Jewish Polish citizens were murdered by the nazis.
In this last month, Slovenian courts have voided the conviction and execution of Leon Rupnik, Germany’s war-time puppet ruler of the country.
Last week, the Lithuanian parliament drafted a Bill to outlaw any attempt to claim its citizens participated in the Holocaust.
Lithuania lost more than 90 per cent of its Jewish citizens during WWII. The names of heroic Lithuanians who sacrificed their lives to save Jewish neighbours or who fought as partisans are removed from street signs.
In Ukraine, more than street names are changing. Stepan Bandera, up there with Vidkun Quisling, Carl Mannerheim and the pathetic Philippe Petain of Vichy notoriety, is restored with government honours.
Last week, Israel and Poland jointly protested against his rehabilitation, citing his organisation as responsible for the murder of up to 100,000 Poles and Jews.
President Vladimir Putin recently clashed with Poland over its pre-war record. Referring to Poland’s ambassador to Germany between 1936 and ‘39, as “a bastard, an anti-semitic pig.” He went on to say: “It is people like those who negotiated with Hitler — it is people like that who today are tearing down monuments to the liberating warriors, the Red Army soldiers who freed Europe and the European people from the nazis.”
In 2019 the EU Parliament discussed a joint motion on the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe.
The motion refers fleetingly to fascism and only a bit more to its German variant, nazism. And that, in a two-page resolution about World War II.
This may seem extraordinary, but it is quite deliberate, as the formulation of wording allows it to be supported by most shades of rightwinger, including pro-fascists.
It calls for “including the history and analysis of the consequences of totalitarian regimes in the curricula and textbooks of all schools in the EU.”
In Britain we already teach about Hitler and nazism. But movers of the motion had different ideas. And who would write these lessons and how would it be incorporated? What would happen to the subject matter already taught?
It further calls for May 25 “to be established as International Day of Heroes of the Fight against Totalitarianism.”
This is a crude attempt to take out Holocaust Memorial Day. Points 15 and 16 are a tirade against Russia and an attempt to isolate it.
In the hands of such advocates, May 25 could only be an international day against communists and workers’ movements, against those who uphold the accepted narrative of the Holocaust and who assert the right of the freedom to publish.
Adoption of this motion set off alarm bells across Europe. It was met by a demonstration of 10,000 in Rome.
Here in Britain, for the first time, the issue was discussed within the labour movement, largely as a result of the infamous decision of Labour MEPs to vote for it, because “they could see no alternative.”
Of course it was beyond them to write one and canvass for it. Luckily when the motion is voted on again this year, they won’t be there to repeat their shameful act.
The decision to support those who are outlawing labour movements and press freedom in other countries absolutely should be discussed throughout the labour and trade-union movement here, where they can be held to account.
Historical revisionism is no longer a sideshow.
The revisionist case which continually distorts and blurs lines now has multilateral government power behind it.
In some of these countries, in Hungary, for example, and elsewhere, Jews are reinvented and repackaged — from pre-1939 demonisation as bankers and moneylenders to post-1945 communists.
In recognition of this blurring, I have urged communists, who rightly are aggrieved at being lumped with their historic foe the fascists, to recognise this is a struggle for more than putting history straight. Nor even is it just about the outlawing of communist parties, their symbols and newspapers.
Historically, where communist parties are destroyed, labour movements are quickly suppressed and minorities left vulnerable to attack. Press freedom is erased and parliaments are broken.
This process is actually happening now in countries such as Ukraine, Hungary, Romania and Lithuania.
Therefore, to fight effectively against “red-brown” symmetry and Holocaust obfuscation, we have to bring together all of those under threat.
It will be necessary and is possible to cast aside real differences to establish that common front against historical revisionism, now a clear and present danger.
Phil Katz is a designer and author of ‘The People, Organised—War on the Home Front’ and ‘Freedom From Tyranny—Against Fascism and the Falsification of History’.