Give Me That Old-Time Commie Religion
While spinning through the channels at the higher end of my satellite package, I once again came across The Trotsky. The Canadian film (starring Jay Baruchel) imagines a young Montrealer rejecting his destiny as a schmatta salesman for the socialist identity of Leon Trotsky, one of the founders of the USSR.
It’s all very precious and clever as he tries to unionize his family’s factory. And there’s a love interest.
Until you ask yourself, would we find it similarly amusing if writer/ director Jacob Tierney had created a film called The Himmler or The Mussolini? Would there be the same wry laughter and political-coming-of-age sentiment about the son of liberal professors who decides that their school needs more order and fewer venti lattés?
Because, while history and popular media like to think of Trotsky as the unlucky guy who got the ice pick in Mexico after falling out with Stalin, he was also a founder of one of the great killing machines in history. Like Ché Guevara, he was a big fan of The Red Terror. Till he fell out with the Moscow crowd in 1927, Trotsky was an enthusiastic proponent of the one-party authoritarian state with its apparatus for ruthlessly suppressing dissent.
“There are no absolute rules of conduct in peace or war,” Trotsky observed, “Everything depends on circumstances.”
That he lost a power struggle to Stalin, was exiled and then murdered doesn’t detract from his murderous past, wrote Clive James. Trotsky’s affection for mass political killing puts him on a moral plain with Himmler, the Nazi, or Mussolini, the fascist dictator, or Guevera, the Cuban murderer. The sailors at Kronstadt, who dared to have opinions of their own about the Revolution, were massacred on his order.
But none of this bothers anyone in the arts communities that make movies like The Trotsky or who airbrush the murderous Ché. There is an almost gauzy sentimentality about the horrors of communism, as if the romantic notions of North American radicals like John Read or Bernie Sanders— not the charnel house of communism in Russia, China or Cambodia, to name but three— are the real face of the Left.
No one would ever think of doing a retrospective on Himmler that, while decrying his excesses, suggested that his mobilization of train travel in Europe was extraordinary. Or that Mussolini might have gone a little far with his Hitler friendship, he certainly was a snappy dresser and liked a good poem.
But the Left in North America and western Europe— those never under the boot heel of real communism— is forever rationalizing the Gulags, Ché, Mao and show trials. It was not for nothing that the impressionable Bernie Sanders honeymooned in Moscow at the heart of the USSR’s most thuggish era. Even today there are tours of the salient socialist hot spots as the centennial of the 1917 Russian Revolution is marked.
This affection for communist thugs began in the social tumult as the western world emerged from the Victorian era’s imperial dynasties. The capitalist system described by Adam Smith seemed to be coming apart as Marxist class resentments boiled over. Through two world wars and a worldwide economic collapse, it seemed to idealistic youth that there had to be a better answer.
John LeCarré’s tales of the traitors of Britain’s ruling class who embraced socialism were summed up in stone-cold Kim Philby, who sent friends and colleagues to their deaths and abandoned his family in furthering the revolution.
In 1960s America, economic and racial shortcomings were causing wide-spread rioting, civil disobedience and cultural upheaval. So the blandishments of the USSR Potemkin society and the scrappy murderers of communist North Vietnam were given a pass as U.S. radicals— who spat on Viet Nam vets— sought the Third Way.
In Canada, where mocking America’s is vital to its self-image, Pierre Trudeau courting these heinous dictators was seen as independence and insouciance. Orwell’s line that “some pigs are created more equal than others” was dismissed as so much reactionary agitprop by the Canadian left.
This posturing with killers crumbled with the Berlin Wall during the Reagan years. The pitiless cruelty of Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Castro and many other “socialists” was stripped bare to show plutocrats who’d enriched themselves while murdering tens of millions of their “comrades”. The red of the communist flag was red for all the blood it shed. It seemed that the romantic fantasies of the left in America and Europe had also been reduced to rubble.
But having invested so much time and energy in reviling the capitalist, “don’t-tread on me” principles of the American founders it was hard to let go. The culture industry, which embraced the cynicism of Marx over Madison, kept the flame alive with counter-culture movies describing a wasteland. The cultural left decried violence except, like the Berkeley mob, when it served their purpose. One had only to watch the Left vilifying anodyne Mitt Romney in the 2012 election versus Barack Obama to see their unsparing devotion to transforming America into a progressives paradise.
The Leftist Myth received a boost with the nominations of the volatile Trump and the corrupt Clinton in 2016. The populist base of the Democratic saw Trump’s election and Clinton’s centrist notions as their excuse to shove the Democratic Party leftward. The thugs of antifa, the speech suppressors of academia and the re-orderers of racial quotas are their shock troops.
The goals of leftism and statism, not America, are all what matters. Hence the destruction of historical artifacts and statues. The endgame is anti-American and anathema to the nation that reached 240 years old last year. And it could work.
For zealots like Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who’ve been on the outside for decades, it seems their day has finally come in the era of Trump. For those who want to soft pedal the blood-soaked founders of the movement it’s safe to make movies like The Trotsky or Ché-inspired The Motorcycle Diaries. For the ghosts of their victims? Trotsky is probably having a good laugh.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)