So this was another movie I went to (see yesterday's post) and it is wry humour that does the trick in this one. Although you could argue that most of the characters come out of this all too well, there is no doubt that many remarks in the movie have a kick if you realise what they would have meant in practice. The summary executions now are portrayed as comic rather than beastly, and Malenkow now comes across as an obseqious toad, without his direct and indirect responsibilities for the deaths of hundreds of thousands.
I remember reading parts of the Black Book of Communism (which sounds better in the original French) and being stymied by 100,000 deaths per page (for a 1,000 pages long if you can bear it).
The Mayday celebrations and the commemoration of Karl Marx' 200th birthday of course reopened that old discussion. While right wingers dismissed Marx completely and blamed all 100 million deaths of Communism on him, left wingers at least defended his scientific contributions, even if his predictions were widely off.
The allure of Whataboutism
The temptation of taking the easy way out it great. You can go a long way fending of the challenges to your beliefs by pointing out that crimes committed in the name of another belief were worse. We can try and just argue why imperialism was a worse crime than nazism or communism or slavery. As if determining which crime is worse would actually solve our dilemmas today.
So what if communism should prove to have made more deadly victims than any other ' bad thing', would that mean that inequality is okay and slavery too? Do the Gulags justify the Holocaust, or the other way around? Do the Crusades justify the bombing of the Twin Towers? Why even get close to such a trap?
We are not alone
But my promise to myself this year is that I will no longer stand idly by in these discussions. Not by outshouting others or letting go of the good manners in discussion just to win once. Because civilisation is not built on winning one argument, but on setting the conditions for resolving many arguments. Be it through laws, democratic process, rules for argumentation or 'good behaviour'.
In that way, even if we are not as committed to a cause as some others, by sticking to nuance and understanding, we set an example and show the value of those ideas. And we shall be beacons to those like us, also reluctant to join the fray. We are not alone. In fact, we are the majority. And our values are worth standing up for. So we need to be out there (wherever the discussion takes place) and visible/audible and support each other.
We can leave the floor to those on the extremes, but if any of the above commemorations should teach us anything, it is that if one extreme wins out, not just the other extreme loses out, but we all become limited in our freedoms, accomplices in the crimes of murderous regimes and chance victims of the violence they bring.
Like the mother in In Syria, we can't keep the world out. When it knocks on our door, it will be too late.