In my youth I grew up hating both the major ideologies that had so disfigured the twentieth century. I loathed both fascism and communism, which seemed to me to have a lot in common with each other. Both thought they were morally right, both used state power to excess, both were brutal with anyone who disagreed in places where they had power. Fascism killed the Jews, the disabled and the opponents of the regime. Soviet communism killed the middle class farmers, the dissenters, the “mentally ill”, shot anyone trying to leave their zone without permission and presided over cruel famines. Both ideologies encouraged people to hate other people because of their birth and circumstances.
As a Conservative I agreed with the left when they condemned fascism. Many of them declined to join in when I condemned communism. When I argued with left wing intellectuals they usually played down the Soviet attack on personal liberty, the deaths done in the name of the state and the deaths which came about owing to farming failure and poverty. Alternatively they told me that they believed in a form of communism which worked and created equality for its peoples, a form which unfortunately had never existed in the real world.
The enthusiasm for Soviet communism was surprising given its dreadful record. Cambridge educated men became Soviet spies. Many left wing academics in reputable universities had good things to say about Marx’s thought. Mr Wilson when Prime Minister in his famous “white hot heat of technology” speech was recommending a sanitised version of the Soviet state planning model to modernise the UK economy. Many left wing intellectuals egged on Marxist revolutionaries seeking power in far flung countries. They would praise Castro’s Cuba and support Che Guevara.
All those who have in their past espoused Marxist thought should be asked to explain why. They should be asked if they still agree with it, or which bits they now on reflection think were unwise. They need to be asked why did their egalitarian ideal so miscarry? Why did communism become the embodiment of Animal Farm? Why did the leaders of Soviet communism reserve to themselves a lifestyle the rest of their country could not approach? Why were there privileged schools for the children of the bosses and summer villa second homes for their relaxation? Why did they have special rights to travel where most Soviet people did not?
Facing many clever people who told me that communism was a noble ideal, I used to ask them why it was that so many people wanted to leave the Eastern bloc, and why the guards shot them if they sought to cross into the west? How could you think that was a good system of government? And why had the communist bloc fallen so far behind the west in living standards and output? I never received any satisfactory answers.
Tomorrow I will look at the Communist party Manifesto, to remind us what they were trying to do and to see how far they got in the UK.