The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Today is May Day. Since 2007, I have defended the idea of using this date as an international Victims of Communism Day. I outlined the rationale for this proposal (which is not my original idea) in my very first post on the subject:
May Day began as a holiday for socialists and labor union activists, not just communists. But over time, the date was taken over by the Soviet Union and other communist regimes and used as a propaganda tool to prop up their [authority]. I suggest that we instead use it as a day to commemorate those regimes' millions of victims. The authoritative Black Book of Communism estimates the total at 80 to 100 million dead, greater than that caused by all other twentieth century tyrannies combined. We appropriately have a Holocaust Memorial Day. It is equally appropriate to commemorate the victims of the twentieth century's other great totalitarian tyranny. And May Day is the most fitting day to do so….
The main alternative to May 1 is November 7, the anniversary of the communist coup in Russia. However, choosing that date might be interpreted as focusing exclusively on the Soviet Union, while ignoring the equally horrendous communist mass murders in China, Cambodia, and elsewhere. So May 1 is the best choice.
Our relative neglect of communist crimes carries a real cost. Victims of Communism Day can serve the dual purpose of appropriately commemorating the millions of victims, and diminishing the likelihood that such atrocities will recur. Just as Holocaust Memorial Day and other such commemorations help sensitize us to the dangers of racism, anti-Semitism, and radical nationalism, so Victims of Communism Day can increase awareness of the dangers of far left forms of totalitarianism, and extreme government control of the economy and civil society.
In a 2012 post, I explained why May 1 is a better date for Victims of Communism Day than the available alternatives, such as November 7 (the anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia) and August 23 (the anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet Pact). I also addressed the objection that it would be wrong to take May Day away from non-communist socialists and trade union activists.
However, as I emphasized in my 2013 May Day post, I would be happy to support a different date if it turns out to be easier to build a consensus around it.
Sadly, a point I made in last year's post on this subject remains relevant this year as well:
This year's Victims of Communism post gains added relevance due to recent events in Russia and Ukraine. The ideology of Vladimir Putin's regime is authoritarian nationalism, not communism, and its misdeeds are orders of magnitude smaller than those of the Soviet Union… Nevertheless, it is significant that Russia's current ruler is a former KGB colonel, and a longtime apologist for communism who has called the fall of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the twentieth century. If a former Gestapo or SS colonel became chancellor of Germany and began repressing opposition media, persecuting gays and lesbians, annexing territories that Germany lost in World War II, and calling the fall of the Third Reich the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century, there would be a great outcry even if the ex-Gestapo chancellor did not engage in mass murder and repression on the scale of the Nazis and was generally more cautious and less aggressive than Hitler.
NOTE: Some of the material in the first part of this post was adapted from last year's May Day post, and similar posts in previous years.