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Why It's Time to Treat the Hammer and Sickle Like the Swastika

Conveniently, communists can always detach themselves from the horrors of the past.
4 min

If someone were to ask you to think of either extreme of the political spectrum, odds are you would immediately picture a swastika at one end, and a hammer and sickle at the other. Regardless of your views of the left-right paradigm, or whether you subscribe to horseshoe theory or not, we (rightfully) tend to perceive fascism and communism as the standard ideologies of the extreme.

As such, many of us would also feel rather uneasy seeing those two symbols. Upon seeing a swastika, we are immediately reminded of the evils of the Nazi regime, and are accordingly repulsed. To publicly display the logo is even a crime in many European countries. We understand how abhorrent the ideology is, and treat it accordingly with disrespect and disgust.

But how do we react to the hammer and sickle? I don’t have to write an article explaining the millions of deaths that occurred at the hands of communist regimes; like the holocaust, the gulags of the Soviet Union and killing fields of Cambodia are known by many.

Yet, journalists in the UK openly and proudly advocate communism. Statues of Karl Marx are erected. Even the U.S., historically one of the most passionately anti-communist states in history, has a statue of Vladimir Lenin in its Northwestern city of Seattle.

So, why exactly do we treat two equally bloody ideologies in such starkly different ways?

The answer may lie the in misperceptions of virtue. Nazis, rightfully, are seen as hateful and vicious because their ideology is built around the idea that one group is superior to the other. It is an inherently anti-egalitarian ideology, a violent belief that was put into practice only once by those who devised it.

As such, there is no justifiable way in which a fascist could argue ‘but that wasn’t real Nazism’. The same is not true for communism.

On the contrary; we see this line of argument all the time. Those on the far-left have a whole umbrella of communist styles, from Stalinism to Anarchism, Maoism to Trotskyism, or even just classic Marxism. Since Karl Marx never implemented communism himself, the leaders of communist states always have that get-out-of-jail-free card. Any shortcomings, tragedies, or crises a communist regime faces can always be blamed on a misapplication of Marx’s infallible roadmap to utopia.

Conveniently, communists can always detach themselves from the horrors of the past. They can paint themselves as pioneers of an ideology that simply hasn’t had the opportunity to flourish (‘real communism has never been tried!’).

In this way, advocates of communism can continue to paint themselves as protagonists. They are only ever fighting for the liberation of the working class and the creation of workers paradise, and have nothing to do with the false prophets of before. At worst, advocates of communism are seen as misguided, but ultimately well-intentioned.

This is the nub of the issue. While Naziism is intrinsically linked to the crimes of its followers, communism can always be separated. No one would tolerate a t-shirt emblazoned with Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini, yet the wildly oppressive Che Guevara is easily detached and morphed into a symbol of revolution.

But at what do we draw the line? The communist ideology in its purest form might be separated from its implementations, but at what point does it’s awful track record discredit any attempts to advocate it?

As economist Murray Rothbard once said: “It is no crime to be ignorant of economics [...] But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”

We need to say the same about communism. To continue advocating communism despite its dismal track record is neither well-intentioned nor misguided; it is a deliberate attempt to push a provably dangerous ideology. The history of communism is as bloodstained as that of Naziism; much more so, actually. It’s time we treated it as such.

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NOTE TO READERS: The original article misstated Seattle as a Northeastern U.S. city. We apologize for the error.

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Richard Mason

Richard Mason

Richard Mason is editor-in-chief of Speak Freely and a student at Maastricht University, pursuing his Bachelor's degree in European Studies.

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genericpurpleturtle
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"Conveniently, communists can always detach themselves from the horrors of the past."- Conviniently, so can capitalists in western democracies. So ready are they to forget that the wealth of the west was built upon colonialisation and the transatlantic slave trade. To some the Union jack, represents the tens of millions that died in British colonial India due to mutliple famines and the literal enslavement of millions of Africans. To others U.S. flag represents U.S. imperialism which caused the deaths of millions in Vietnam, the brutal carpet bombing, the chemical warfare and the U.S. tigerforce soldiers raping locals and making necklases out of human ears. Or even more recently, the US flag could represent the millions that have died in the middle east, dystopian robotised killings with drones, and the human rights abuses in U.S. military prisons such as Bagram Guantanamo Bay, and Abu Ghraib - the last being the most distrubing of the lot. Why is the west allowed to sweep it's crimes under the rug and say their symbols are actually represent liberty and freedom? Despite centurys, and tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of deaths to the contrary? Why is it differenet when communists, make claims about their own symbols? The author of this piece is pretty bog standard western chauvanist parroting a century of McCarthiest propoganda. He thinks regurgitating views found everywhere in western, yet again is somehow insightful or noteworthy.
 
 

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Achillefs
Conveniently Asians forget the horror past of Ottoman Empire. Colonising Eastern Europe for over 500 years. Trading slaves even 100 years after the USA. Africans forget the horrors of North African moors and Barbary coast pirates. The Native Americans forget the horrors of imperialist Aztec. Butchering all war prisoners. Chinese forget the horrors of Ming dynasties.
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starikip
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As much as I hate Totalitarian Soviet regime (former soviet speaking) I just want to point that democratic socialism in Norway works and does make much more sense than the USA corporate capitalism. Following the author logic we need to ban also the symbols of Christianity that has been guilty of the bloody religious wars, crusades, Inquisition, torture and burning innocents, suppressing freedom of speech and even freedom of thought. Wait, it was just “bad, not true Christians“ who were doing this? ;) So let us put this thing straight. The totalitarian regimes must take majority of the blame - socialistic, fascist, religious or else they were. Saying this I must add that “pure socialism” experiments (started before even the Russians, in fact there were some here in the USA) failed because of sharp decline of the productivity. So we need them both - capitalism for better productivity and socialism for better social justice (and actually for helping the capitalism to not kill itself by its cancer - corporations and monopoly). We need checks and balances, right? We could disagree with Marx regarding the future of capitalism itself, but there is no harm of reading and understanding of his critics on “bad capitalism”. It may help us to make it better. Think about a car with hybrid engine. See the point? Peace :)
 
 

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Achillefs
Norway’s exports is 60% oil. Do you want the USA to increase oil to 60% of oil production exports to pay for social programs? Norway is capitalist country not “democratic socialist”. They have king. Very strict immigration system. No minimum wage.
CharlesHoltIV
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I think your confused. A style of economics can be paired with a style of government and it can good or bad. It all depends on the people's complacency.
 
 

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U. Dick
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“...the people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” — Uncle Joe Dzhugashvili . “Stalin” was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili . . . Dzhugashvili means “son of a Jéw” in Yiddish.
 
 

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Joheinous
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"...deaths that occurred at the hands of communist regimes; like the holocaust" What? The Nazis were not communist. The reasoning of "REAL communism has never been tried!!!" is correct. Your article seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of Communism vs Socialism. USSR, Cuba, DPRK are not examples of Communist states (oxymoron) but instead are examples of Socialism. There is a difference. Maybe you would have known this if you did any research before writing this article. REAL Communism has never been tried intentionally. Communism is the stage after Socialism. A country isn't going to go Communist until the entire world is Socialist. If you want to be educated (I doubt) google "Withering away of the state."
 
 

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Dude80
I think it was meant to be understood as the following, "like the holocaust, the gulags of the Soviet Union and killing fields of Cambodia are known by many."
andresomega21
I agree completely... Just disagree on one thing, Real Communism HAS been tried... and it was amazing! It was probably the closest humans have been to utopia. It has been delayed with the dissolution (not collapse) of the Soviet Union, but China remains, and most Africans and South Americans still want equality and freedom, with left parties. The dream remains here is a song of how happy communism is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHE3BHNoa0Q
andresomega21
Oh sorry I understand your point... Yes Cuba, USSR, China, North Korea are examples of socialism not communism... Their methods were different but the goal was the same: Communism... What I mean is that we should say that was REAL Socialism, and should be tried again, because their achievements were amazing even though the CIA tries to disprove it... With few exceptions like NK, Most people were super happy living with socialism, they had much more freedom, security and faith in the future...
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