Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and Real Clear Politics.
Amid all the far-right nonsense about President Barack Obama being a "communist," it's easy to forget that real apologetics for real communism still exist on the left -- and are condoned by large segments of mainstream liberal culture, a baffling sight for former Soviet citizens like myself.
Take filmmaker Oliver Stone's newest venture: a 10-part miniseries, "The Untold History of the United States," now airing on Showtime, with a best-selling companion book written with American University historian Peter Kuznick. And consider some of the responses to the project.
The upshot of the Stone-Kuznick revisionist history is to paint the United States as the bad guy of the 20th century. The defeat of Nazi Germany? That was Soviet Russia's doing. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's short-lived alliance with Hitler on the eve of World War II in a quest to divide the spoils of conquered Eastern Europe? Also America's fault, for not being sufficiently supportive of the Soviet Union.
The Cold War? You guessed it. The Marshall Plan, which helped war-torn Western Europe rebuild, heightened Soviet fears of encirclement by "hostile capitalist nations." The Berlin Wall? Not only a response to U.S. provocation, but a salutary move that helped avert the peril of war. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? The result of manipulation by American anti-communists in high places, such as President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Along the way, Stone and Kuznick acknowledge the crimes of Stalinism but repeatedly downplay them, referring to "heavy-handed treatment" of Eastern Europe or policies that claimed "many victims." They excuse Soviet apologists who were impressed by reports of Soviet economic successes in the 1930s, glossing over the fact that there were strong reasons to doubt those reports. They attempt to deny the well-documented fact of Soviet support for terrorism in the Cold War years.
These and many other distortions are ably skewered by journalist Michael Moynihan (formerly of Reason magazine, where I am a contributing editor) in a recent article for The Daily Beast. The rebuttal from the authors published a few days later is quite revealing. Stone and Kuznick catch Moynihan in an error: He quotes them as saying that Vice President Henry Wallace described Stalin as "a fine man who wanted to do the right thing," when in fact that remark was made to Wallace by President Harry Truman. But they do not dispute -- or attribute to sarcasm -- their bizarre characterization of this remark as "somewhat overgenerous"; they also explain that they quoted it to show that Truman was "not a blindly unwavering anti-Soviet zealot." The absurd compliment for a mass-murdering dictator is meant to be commendable, if "overgenerous."
Stone and Kuznick also assert that, far from admiring Stalin, they harshly criticize him "for betraying the dream of the Russian Revolution." The mass murder, the ruthless suppression of dissent, hard labor camps for political undesirables -- all this was started by Vladimir Lenin, not Stalin, who raised the barbarism to higher levels.
Stone and Kuznick have a right to peddle far-left propaganda. But why does a mainstream entertainment company such as Showtime give them a platform? Why have publications such as The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor treated their revisionist history with respect? (There are exceptions: a New York Times Magazine piece includes harsh criticism.) While anyone who downplays Nazi crimes is condemned and ostracized, those who downplay communist crimes against humanity still largely get a free pass. In part, this is because communism is seen as a failed but idealistic quest for the dream of perfect social justice and economic equality. It's time to stop seeing this dream as anything other than a nightmare.
Cathy Young is the author of "Growing Up In Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood."