The interview with Mel Gibson that I referenced in my below post is causing something of a stir around the blogosphere. My post below triggered a few emotional responses, which unfortunately no one chose to leave in the comments thread.
But fair use is fair use. The following constitutes the remarks I received in an email from Dave Gudeman of doc rampage. His comments are in italics, and my responses are in normal font.
I'll say right out that Hitler's attempt to exterminate an entire race is no more evil or condemnable than Stalin's attempt to exterminate an entire social class. Does that make me a Holocaust denier?
It makes you at least a Holocaust minimizer, if not a denier. If one were to propose that Stalin attempted to "exterminate an entire social class", then one would have to accept Stalin's view of events such as the forced famine in the Ukraine and the liquidation of the "kulaks." But what Stalin termed class warfare was really just a vehicle for keeping him in power.
For Stalin, death, starvation, the gulag were all tools in his machine of building political paranoia so that no one would dare move against him. He effectively imposed his own paranoid persona on the whole of Soviet Society (and, later, Eastern Europe) by using atrocities as a political weapon to keep his enemies -- whether merely preceived, potential or real -- off-balance. And the closer he got to his "ideal" of a classless society, the more intense the state of paranoia he raised.
The "kulaks," the "bourgeoise"... these were all convenient enemies which allowed Stalin to keep the peacetime Soviet Union on a constant internal war footing, never letting up to give the people a moment to contemplate how they might better their political circumstances. Horrible as his crimes were, it would be a misnomer to suggest that what Stalin did was an "attempt to exterminate an entire social class." That is what he would have liked us to call it, but that isn't what it actually was.
But getting to the heart of your rhetorical question: Is it more contemptible to exterminate an entire race than it is to exterminate a social class?
Yes, it is more contemptible to exterminate a race than a class. Race is, by definition, an ascribed characteristic; i.e., you can do nothing to change it. The unique aspect of the Jewish religion is that one is actually born into it. It is the only great religion (that I can think of) in which ethnicity is inextricably bound up with religion. One can shed one's class by dispossessing oneself of property (although under Stalin this may have only had mildly mitigating effects); a Catholic can renounce his faith; a man can grab a party flag and take up slogans in worship of the supreme dictator. These people at least have a chance. The Jews had none but luck and the perseverence of the few who risked themselves to help.
What distinguishes the Holocaust from Stalin's atrocities is that the Jews were condemned by the Nazis to die because they were born as Jews. They were sent to camps that were specifically designed for extermination. Their extermination was the official policy of the Nazi regime. There was consequently little they could do to save themselves once the extermination machine had begun.
So, yes, even if you accept Stalin's version of events -- that he was attempting to liquidate a "class" of people -- the deliberate extermination of a race is morally more repugnant.
Mr. Gudeman continues:
If so, then you are saying that someone who is willing to excuse and defend Hitler is no worse than someone who has ultimate contempt for Stalin as well has Hitler. Is that really the moral position you want to take? You owe Mel Gibson an apology.
That's not what I said. I hold Stalin in high contempt. He had the blood of tens of millions on his own hands when he died. But Gibson wasn't asked about that. He was asked about the Holocaust, and he gave a mealy-mouthed answer that sounded a lot like the kinds of equivocations that Holocaust deniers engage in.
I think that my view is best described by David Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy, who wrote in reaction to the same comments by Mel Gibson:
I know some people begrudge all the attention that the Holocaust gets, given other tragedies of the 20th centuries that get a lot less attention. But that's a separate issue. Gibson has been accused of promoting anti-Semitism via his new movie. I haven't seen the movie, so I have no opinion on that. His father is a known Holocaust-denying anti-Semite. An interviewer asks, do you believe the Holocaust happened? Gibson doesn't just say, "yes, it did, of course." He doesn't even say, yes, of course, and we should remember it, along with other great tragedies of the 20th century. Instead he gives what appears to be an intentionally ambiguous answer that sounds an awful lot like the answers given by anti-Semitic Holocaust-deniers.
Again, back to Mr. Gudeman:
I'll add that _both_ Stalin and Hitler had criminal intent. What you really seem to mean is that racism is worse than socialism as an underlying motive. This itself is a morally bankrupt position; it excuses and defends socialism in the same way that Holocaust deniers excuse and defend Nazism.
First, if you read this blog you would know that I am no defender of socialism. But socialism has been put into practice in many varying degrees. It is certainly still practiced in my wife's home country, but nobody gets jailed or executed for being a libertarian. Some would argue that socialism is even practiced in this country to a moderate degree, and nobody gets executed for opposing it. Consequently, it is rather perverse to suggest that a defense of socialism is on the same moral plane as a defense of Nazism.
Like I said above, Stalin was a paranoid narcissist who used the political veil of socialism as a means for exercising raw political power. He singled out no particular race, and it would be foolish to believe that he actually cared about class beyond the veneer of political legitimacy it leant to his reign of terror. He deserves his own place in Hell, but again Gibson wasn't asked about Stalin.
The _only_ difference between socialism and Nazism as far as their acceptability to people of good conscious, is that socialists still have a strong political and rhetorical presence.
That's not the only difference. Another (very significant) difference is that socialism as a political movement has adapted itself to working within the structure of modern democratic institutions. This is what Dubcek referred to in 1960s Czechoslovakia as "socialism with a human face", meaning a form of socialism that was responsive to the will of the body politic. Varying degrees of this form of socialism continue to thrive in much of Europe. They are headed for huge demographic problems, and their social welfare structure is unsustainable at current levels, but nobody is being sent to a concentration camp for voicing his or her disagreement with the status quo.
Major political parties in many Western countries are still sympathetic to Stalin and socialism in the same way that Holocaust deniers are sympathetic to Hitler and Nazism, and it is this influence that you are reacting to, not to any underlying moral difference.
In a word, no. I think I'm pretty clear-eyed on both counts. See above.
If it had been Russia that attacked England and France instead of Germany in WWII, the US would have entered on Germany's side, and the Democratic party today would be virulently anti-communist and sympathetic toward Nazis.
As "what ifs" go, that is a pretty huge, and contemptible, "what if". It presupposes much, not the least of which is the tactical problem that the Russians would have faced in attacking France and England while (apparently) ignoring Germany. It also presupposes much about likely political conditions in Germany had such an attack occurred. It is not worthy of a serious response.