Jean-François Revel’s Last Exit to Utopia is a fantastic book, and I have found it difficult to pull a representative quote that would demonstrate why I love it so much for the simple reason that there are so many points in the book that are worth quoting.  There’s actually one in particular that involves responding to an accident by driving an ambulance directly into a crowd of bystanders that completely cracked me up when I read it, but for some reason I can’t find it (even after a few runs through the multiple post-it flags that are now populating the pages).

Jean-François Revel

Jean-François Revel

In light of current events, however, I think it might be worthwhile to include an extended quote from Revel from Chapter 8 – “Truncated Memory” – on the Katyn Massacre in Poland, the 70th anniversary of which recently passed:

I have often noticed that the place name “Katyn” means nothing to most young people, for the reason that their teachers and the media are careful not to mention it.  So here is a brief summary of the facts: in September 1939, after the defeat of Poland – which had been invaded simultaneously by the Nazis from the west and by the Red armies from the east – an occupation zone of 200,000 square kilometers was tossed by Hitler as a bone to his Soviet friends, along with other territories in the Baltic region, to reward them for their invaluable help.  Stalin immediately set out to purge the Polish office corps of undesirable elements, and on his express written orders, many thousands of prisoners were murdered, including over four thousand at Katyn, a village near Smolensk and the location of the best-known mass grave, and about twenty-one thousand at various other places.  To these must be added some fifteen thousand enlisted troops who were probably drowned in the White Sea.  Carried out over a few days according to a pre-established plan, these mass murders of defeated Poles, exterminated for the sole reason that they were Poles, indisputably were crimes against humanity and not simply war crimes, since the war was over as far as Poland was concerned.  According to the Geneva Conventions, to execute prisoners from a regular army who have fought in uniform constitutes a crime against humanity, especially if the conflict in question has been terminated.  The orders from Moscow were to eliminate all Polish elites in the Soviet-occupied zone: students, judges, landowners, state officials, engineers, professors, lawyers, and of course military officers.

Excavation of Katyn Forest mass graves

Excavation of mass graves in Katyn forest - 1943

When the mass graves were discovered, the Kremlin blamed the killings on the Nazis.  The Western left, naturally, rushed to obey its master’s voice.  Here I am not alleging that all the non-communist left was servile, but those who did have doubts remained very discreet – plaintively perplexed rather than categorically accusing.  For forty-five years, to say out loud that Soviet guilt was highly likely, if only for the simple reason that the crimes were committed in the Soviet-controlled zone and not the German-controlled area, was to get yourself instantly classified as one of those obsessive “viscerals” of  ”simplistic” anticommunist prejudice.Then lo and behold, thanks to Gorbachev and glasnost, the Kremlin in 1990 acknowledged, in a formal TASS communiqué and without attenuating evasions, that “Katyn was a grave crime of the Stalinist era.”  And in 1992, after a preliminary inventory of Moscow’s archives, a secret 1959 report made for the KGB chief Alexander Shelepin was released for international inspection.  It recorded “21,857 Poles of the privileged classes, shot in 1939 on Stalin’s orders.”

The matter thus resolved by the Soviets themselves, one might have hoped that Western revisionists – who for decades had been wheeling out the “fascist” epithet for anyone who believed in the Soviets’ culpability – would now make honorable amends.  But that is not to know them.  Likewise, it would have been nice if the French prime minister had made a small “touristic” gesture of remembrance by visiting the Katyn graves, to show that leftists had recovered their memories and had finally stopped being moral and  intellectual self-amputees.

This persistent discrimination stems from the no less tenacious aberration that holds fascism to be the antithesis of Communism, and hence the victims of the latter, in their tens of millions, to be somehow less victimized than those of the former.  One would like to challenge the deniers and demand of them, “On what grounds do you remain silent?”  It isn’t fascism that is Communism’s foe; it is democracy, that eternal enemy of freedom’s assassins.

A voluntarily truncated memory is not equitable; it is really not memory at all.  Memory will continue to be absent as long as the left and the right alike continue to apply a double standard, treating the conquering criminals differently from the vanquished criminals.

Ravel here and elsewhere demolishes the argument that there is any fundamental difference between the crimes of Naziism and Communism.  Both ideologies are evil; only one is acknowledged as such by left-leaning intelligentsia, to their eternal shame.