Grand mythology still blinds disciples to the crimes of communism
January 10, 2006
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Leftist leaders are eulogised in a manner unthinkable in other circumstances, writes Gerard Henderson.
AdvertisementTHE left may be in decline in most Western societies. Yet left-wing mythology still prevails, especially in the taxpayer-subsidised media. On January 2, ABC television ran a profile of the Aarons family in its Dynasties series. The program was credited to Denise Eriksen, among others, in her capacity as head of factual entertainment. Well, the episode was entertaining but only some of the facts were told.
The Dynasties narrator declared that "the Aarons were once called the royal family of Australian communism". The program focused on Sam Aarons (1895-1971), who headed the Communist Party of Australia in Western Australia, and his sons Laurie (1917-2005) and Eric (1919-), along with Laurie's children Brian and Mark. Laurie and Eric both held the position of national secretary of the communist party, based in Sydney.
What was missing from the program was a proper analysis of what the Aarons dynasty stood for up until the time when Laurie and Eric broke with Moscow, following the Soviet Union's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The fact is that Sam, Laurie and Eric supported every communist totalitarian dictator around - including Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and their ilk.
According to the edited collection The Black Book of Communism, "the total approaches 100 million people killed" under communist regimes during the 20th century.
It is understandable why Brian and Mark look back on their father with love and affection. And no doubt Laurie was a fine family man. Yet Dynasties failed to ask the essential question. What would Australia have been like if the communist party had come to power any time during the 1940s and 1950s? In short, would the Aarons family and their comrades have attempted to set up the kind of totalitarian state which prevailed in Eastern Europe?
The answer is an unequivocal yes. Eric Aarons said as much in his memoirs, What's Left? On page 118 he related how, in 1956, the party's leadership discussed what response it should take to Nikita Khrushchev's confirmation that Stalin was a mass murderer: "I made the point at the central committee meeting which decided the matter that our outlook was such that, had we been in power, we too could have executed people we considered to be objectively, even if not subjectively (that is, by intention), helping our enemies."
In other words, Aarons is an authority for the proposition that if the communist party had gained power in Australia, it "could have executed" not only its outspoken enemies but also those who were opposing communism unintentionally. There should be no surprise here. After all, that is precisely what communist regimes were doing at the time in Eastern Europe and parts of Asia.
It is much the same with Wilfred Burchett (1911-83), whose memoirs have recently been republished, in substantially enlarged form, by UNSW Press under the title Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist. The author was an adventurous and personally charming operative who just happened to support virtually every communist dictator who ever existed.
Burchett's 1951 book People's Democracies is a paean to all Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe. This issue is touched on by some, but not all, of the book's reviewers. Yet most still find occasion to praise the Stalinist hack as a "remarkable man" (historian Stuart Macintyre) who was committed to "decency and fair play" (academic Gavan McCormack).
Then there is Jenny Hocking's book Frank Hardy, which she acknowledges was made possible due to funding by "the Australian Research Council and the award of a QE II Research Fellowship". Lucky author.
This is essentially biography as hagiography, which all but passes over her subject's support for the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939-41 and Hardy's backing for all of Stalin's crimes until he grew disillusioned with communism some time in the 1960s. It is almost as if Hardy's one-time support for Stalin and his heirs was justifiable. It wasn't. Which is why some comrades quit the part as early as 1939.
It is impossible to imagine someone who had supported Nazism or fascism for three decades or more receiving the kind of understanding, if not acclaim, which has recently been bestowed on the Aarons family, Burchett and Hardy.
The tradition continues with the few remaining communist dictators. The leftist newspaper Green Left Weekly frequently runs articles in praise of Fidel Castro's totalitarian regime in Cuba. Last winter, the NSW left-wing Labor MP Meredith Burgmann accepted an invitation from the Cuban Government to attend a conference in Havana. She was reported as having told The Daily Telegraph in November last year: "I spent 36 hours in a room with him [Castro] … He was charismatic and funny."
Susie Carleton, a board member of the New Matilda online newsletter, informed readers on December 22 about "Cuba's extraordinary social achievements" and maintained that "Cuba is living proof that economic growth is not a pre-condition to improving the lives of its people".
In fact, the Castro regime actively persecutes homosexuals and intellectuals, among others, and presides over a bankrupt, controlled economy.
The left retains its heroes only because so many leftists are in denial about the real crimes of communists, or about what their favourite comrades would have done had they attained power.
That's why it's possible for ABC TV to report favourably on the "royal family" of communism. And that's why it would be unacceptable for Dynasties to report favourably on, say, a "royal family" of Nazism or fascism.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of the Sydney Institute.
Communists are bad news. South America's going to learn a lesson I figured anyone with half a brain learned in the 20th century.