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Commentary by František Kostlán: Why I am an anti-communist

Prague, 19.7.2011 17:08, (ROMEA)

I am convinced that defenders of democracy must be anti-communists. In the former "Eastern Bloc" this is doubly so. A democrat cannot help but oppose totalitarianism, authoritarianism, autocracy, any of the hateful, ideologically underscored ways of solving issues and problems that these regimes involve, incomparably more so than democratic regimes do.

It was communist parties (and not only in our region of Europe) participating in this conformity (?????????????? ???? ???????????????? ? ??????? ??????) that established totalitarianism, and later “goulash”-style totalitarianism. Even the “goulash” regime sent many great people to prison for no reason. In this country, for example, they were: Rudolf Battěk (a total of 10 years), Petr Uhl (more than nine years), Petr Cibulka (five years) and Václav Benda (four years), etc. The regime ousted people from their schools and jobs, intimidated them, and negatively influenced their fates.

Those who to this day profess to be communists were the people who murdered (or permitted the murder of) the defenders of democracy, of anyone who owned anything at all, and of the unlucky ones who wanted to cross the borders of the state freely. It was the communists who infused the entire society with spies and thus controlled it, using secret service people and informants who brainwashed us daily with a non-stop onslaught of totalitarian propaganda.

All this bothered me at the time and bothers me still. Even in this sense, I am an anti-communist just like I am an anti-Nazi, an anti-fascist and an anti-authoritarian. Perhaps this could all be summed up as “anti-totalitarianist”. All of the non-democratic regimes of the 20th century used the same methods (although their ideologies, of course, differed).

I am not, and never have been, against communist ideology, by which I mean the goals for which socialist society was aiming prior to November 1989 (so-called "real socialism"). I am convinced that communism is an ideology that is too utopian and unrealistic (either for a society or for humanity at large), because it does not acknowledge human nature (or human characteristics). However, that doesn’t mean the ideas are ruined for me. What I abhor are "only" the bloody methods which were supposedly going to lead to the fulfillment of the communist illusion.

"Anti-communism is a peculiar thing. It has a political impact even though it basically has nothing to do with reality. What figures prominently in it could best be labeled a Lacanian phantasm - an image which defies reflection and which offers a pleasure-pain dichotomy (jouissance). Its motto could be: “I can't help myself, but I must hate communism and everything connected to it. Simultaneously, something is preventing me from asking what communism actually is.” This exact barrier is precisely that pleasure-painphenomenon which my hate (or more accurately, the fear that I could lose my hate), brings about. That is why an anti-communist never discusses communism and never compares it to its opposing planes, the historical reality of 'communist regimes', or communism as a social experiment in which fundamental equality and freedom for all reigns," writes Michael Hauser on news server Deníkreferendum.cz in an article entitled, “The Plague of Anti-Communism”.

I do not know what "grade" Hauser would give me for the remarks above in which I briefly summarize why I am an anti-communist. I am personally convinced that opposition to unjustified, ideological violence actually does honor reality, and rather strongly at that. I don't feel any pleasure stemming from my anti-communism either. Rather, I feel bitterness, a bad taste in my mouth from feeling helpless and put down every time I remember all of the types of communist atrocities committed during the 20th century and being committed even today (for instance, concentration camps in North Korea and China, long-term sentences in Cuba, etc.).

I used to chat over beer (at the Congress Center) with Jiří Dolejš and other communists. I don't consider them Satan. It would, however, bother me if the Communist Party came to power again. In the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM), Father Stalin has much too sizable of a fan club even among the very young. This issue would normally leave me cold, but there are too many people around who still defend the manipulated political court proceedings and the murders of people on the border - too many opponents of democracy.

I am aware, of course, of the fact that there are people in the party who condemn hateful ways of solving issues and societal problems, but I can also be certain whose opinions in that party currently outweigh whose. Perhaps being in power as a coalition government with the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) would refine the KSČM, but it might also merely degrade the ČSSD. What bothers me is the uncertainty, not the fact that someone is a communist.

I am not too surprised that Michael Houser is taking a fierce approach to this topic. When I listen to the ubiquitous primitives in this society who spend no time entertaining complexities, who immediately have a simple solution for every complex problem, who constantly spout their shrieking via most of the mainstream media outlets, they don't look good to me either. However, unlike Hauser, I realize that generalizing is a bad habit that is deeply ingrained in the body of our society, and in our collective unconscious. That is why I am always careful about it.

Surely the anti-communists include such primitives (and where aren't there any, after all?) who want to hang communists from lampposts. Surely their numbers include those who do not respect other people's right to personal growth, to change their opinions; those primitives who broadcast the collective guilt of the communists and call for others to do penance without repenting their own transgressions.

Even worse – the defenders of other totalitarian regimes are also counted as anti-communists. In addition to racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, those on the ultra-right also cherish anti-communism as one of their main aims. Back when I occasionally still tried to debate with them (clearly in vain), I used to tell them: It's not enough to be an anti-communist; it's more important to also be a democrat, and therefore also an “anti-totalitarist”.

Erich Maria Remarque captured this well in his book, Spark of Life. The main protagonist of this story set in a Nazi concentration camp, a Muslim, responds to his fellow prisoner’s suggestion that he join the Communist Party by saying: “I cannot, because you (communists) will need these concentration camps after the war.” His interlocutor, also Muslim, replies: “Yes, but only for the enemies of the people.” (This is an approximation as I don't remember the exact words).

For those anti-communists who are simultaneously admirers of another totalitarian system (usually the brown kind), these words of Hauser’s apply: "Anti-communism is closer to anti-Semitism or modern-day forms of racism. It's formed on the basis of the phantasm of 'communism' as its own kind of evil and it searches for its current offshoots. When we replace the term ‘communist’ with the words ‘Jew’ or ‘Roma’, we realize how much in common anti-communism has with anti-Semitism or racism."

This applies only to this specific type of anti-communists, however. Otherwise Hauser's words are not true, and for this reason: While the Roma and the Jews are born Romani and Jewish, a communist becomes a communist through free choice (of course, sometimes forced by circumstance). That is the fundamental difference. To hate someone because of the way he was born is different from the reproach aimed at a person who joined the Communist Party as an independent adult even after the consequences of the political trials or the occupation of Czechoslovakia by our "fraternal" armies were well-known. Unlike the Jew or the Rom, whose births and existences are no crime, a communist does bear responsibility for the crimes committed by the regime he or she supported (and for any he or she personally committed, in which case he or she would need to be tried).

"We might possibly find a similar type of secret admiration of the actions of the former regime in all anti-communists. The flipside of their anger against the crimes of 'communism' is their ignoring or endorsing of the crimes committed by the current regime. In other words, the motto that everything is excusable in the name of preserving the given order is the same motto that bothered the signatories of Charter 77. The fact that anti-communism today has a 'communist' core is also supported by the fact that, with few exceptions, Charter signatories have not become anti-communists," Hauser deduces – although from what, I have no idea.

Again, these are generalizations and idle words. The current regime is worthless - I critique it often myself, but it is visibly approaching democracy (we have the mechanisms in place, and what is needed now is the content that is necessary for the operation of democracy -- but about this another time). Even a democratic regime sometimes commits violence or injustice, and I do not like it the either, but these are not systemic problems, as is the case with totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. On the contrary, authoritarians survive only "thanks" to violence - otherwise people's natural desire for freedom would sooner or later overthrow the system. In a democracy (unlike in authoritarian regimes) it is possible to criticize these methods, and sometimes even to find a way to correct them (if correction is still possible).

Ascribing the characteristics of someone under criticism to the critic him or herself is enjoying a vogue today. It is especially in vogue with those who do not have any good arguments to make, as is the case with Michael Hauser. This is a good rhetorical tactic because it is a way of a priori denouncing a potential debater by relegating him to the role of an inferior dimwit. It has nothing to do with reality, but through this trendy, evasive maneuver, the author is absolved from having to further debate the issue, since discussing it with an inferior dimwit would be useless.

Also, many former dissidents are indeed anti-communists (in the sense I have described here). They just don't feel the need to broadcast it to the world at every opportunity.

In our society, the only anti-communists who "don't ignore or endorse the crimes of the current regime" (but who at the same time are not bothered by the crimes of the brown type of totalitarianism) are neo-Nazis and ultra-right wing extremists. This specific point brings them close to the extreme left wing and to Michael Hauser-type anti-communist fighters. Primitive "anti-regimism" exists across the political spectrum, beginning with the neo-Nazi and ending with the socialist.

Mr. Hauser's article lacks logic. In fact, it abounds with an idealization of matters which it would be better to keep an open mind about. Its way of thinking leads to a black-and-white way of seeing the world which Hauser has demonstrated in its full glory. One more thing was missing from his article: The humility of the socialist who acknowledges that (real) socialism completely failed in our country - which is why it is necessary to "search for socialism" inside the democratic framework.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, František Kostlán, translated by Tereza Bottmann and Gwendolyn Albert
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