Dan Hannan on Communism, ‘Ostalgie’, first loves and enforced atheism.

Dan Hannan on Communism, ‘Ostalgie’, first loves and enforced atheism.

Mr. Hannan, you’re organising a conference
on the legacy of communism and it’s to coincide with the centenary of the Bolshevik revolution. But it seems to me that anybody who can remember
a communist government in Europe must be at least 40 years old and no communist party
is in government or even poised to take power anywhere across Europe. So it has to be asked; why now? So, it’s exactly the centenary year. So 100 years since the beginning of what has
to be reckoned, mathematically, the most murderous ideology ever devised by human intelligence. But I think this is an argument that we have
to have in every generation. You’re right, there is not a communist regime
still standing in Europe and most communist parties have transformed themselves into something
else. But the argument has to be held again in every
generation. I read a poll last month that a third of American
millennials think that more people were murdered by George W. Bush than by Stalin. When you see those idiotic Che Guevara t-shirts,
when people unconsciously adopt Marxist language about the rich getting richer and the poor
getting poorer, very few people realise that they’re indirectly quoting him. You realise that this is something that goes
very deep and you need to show that this is not some respectable alternative among many. The ethic of coercion which was intrinsic
to communist rule leader, sooner or later, to the secret police and the Gulags. You can have it in a mild version or you can
have it in a brutal version, but in the end, it always end in autocracy. I lived in Berlin for six years and had several
East German friends. None of them were nostalgic at all for the
Stasi, or the Berlin wall, or for the fact that they couldn’t leave the country. But there was a certain sense, you’ve heard
of the term Ostalgie, they were nostalgic for that sense of free education, full employment,
effectively rent free accommodation. Obviously none of it was very nice, but it
removed that worry you have in a capitalist rat race society of “how do I pay the bills
every month?”. Is there anything in you, even from the right
end of the spectrum, that can see those lures or attractions of communism? I think something else is going on there. I think people are nostalgic for having been
17 years old. Which is a very natural and human thing. We’re all the centre of our universe. When we think back to the bright primary colours
of our teenage years; the intensity of your first adolescent crush on someone, then the
Stasi and the shortages and the drabness fade into the background. That’s not really what you’re thinking about. But you’re right, it has created this bizarre
nostalgia in every communist country from people who forget what it was really like. They’ll say things like “we had time to talk”. Well, living one week like that again, without
even the most basic necessities being available would be a pretty strong cure if you actually
had to go back and do it. But again, this exactly illustrates why we
need to keep explaining to people where it lead. This wasn’t a system that just meant a bit
more state control and a bit less individual liberty. It was a complete hollowing out of civil society;
the destruction of everything between the individual and the state. And then, ultimately, the NKVD, the knock
in the night, and the torture chambers. Obviously, all communist governments and regimes
were officially atheist and secular. Isn’t there something now, when we’re living
in a period of, supposedly, a clash of civilisations – Islam versus the west or Islam versus Christianity…
wasn’t there something progressive in this idea of secular states? I think there’s a very respectable argument
for secularism on the American model, where the state is effectively holding the ring
and allowing each religion to proselytise. Or even secularism on the French model, where
you say all of this is a private business. But enforcing atheism, which is effectively
what ends up happening because everything is enforced, is every bit as tyrannical as
enforcing Taliban style sharia law, or enforcing fundamentalist Christianity, or any other
belief system. The reason that this still matters is it’s
very difficult, even a generation on, to rebuild where civil society has been systematically
hollowed out and destroyed. In 1948, when the communists took power in
Hungary, János Kádár, who went on to become the Hungarian leader, was given the job of
destroying independent associations. He systematically went through and closed
down every church, every charity, every chess club, every village band, every boy scouts
troupe; everything that fills the space normally between the individual and the government. 5,000 organisations, he boasted, that he’d
liquidated. That’s what we mean by a totalitarian society. And it bizarrely leaves people both atomised
and controlled because people are denied the wherewithal to relate one to the other in
a voluntary way as individuals. Everything is channeled through the party
and the state. I think of you as the libertarian, free market,
property rights end of the right-wing spectrum, but not really the evangelical Christian,
who are more obsessed with issues around handguns, banning abortion. Am I right in thinking that those aren’t your
pet issues? Handguns are not a big issue in the U.K. Actually,
I do regret the handgun ban. I think it was disproportionate and I don’t
think it was anything to do with what had just happened – the abomination that we’d
seen. Nobody serious tried to argue that it would
have made a difference. But, you know, we are where we are. It’s not a campaign of mine to try and reverse
the ban. But I do believe in freedom. I believe, very much, in people perusing their
own happiness by making their own decisions and finding virtue by not having it coerced. And the defining ethic of communism was not
equality, it was coercion. Sort of a Brexit question, the only Brexit
question, and it’s not a totally facetious analogy; but having defeated the EU with Brexit,
and looking at communist regimes, can you see something of that in the EU? Not with the violence or the oppression or
the authoritarianism, but as a supranational institution; pan-states and sucking sovereignty
inwards. Well, that’s a very important albeit. The European Union, not in my worst nightmares
have I ever thought that the European Union is going to take away our passports, throw
us into Gulags or torture us. I suppose that the parallel, and it’s a very
minor and limited one, but it’s an interesting one in so far as it goes, would be this. By the end of the communist era, you really
struggled to find anyone who believed in it. I remember travelling in what we still called
eastern Europe in the late 1980s and I remember thinking this can’t carry on because nobody
believes in it. None of the people running these countries
still believed, if ever they did believe, in the principles of Marxism or Leninism. But on the other hand, how was it going to
end? Because so many people had a vested interest
in the status quo. So many people had learned to rise through
that power structure. And in that limited sense, I think you can
draw a parallel, in that there are very few true believers left in Brussels. But there are an awful lot of people who have
learned how to make a good living out of it. And I don’t just mean Eurocrats. I mean the armies of consultants and contractors,
the big landowners getting money from the CAP, the lobbyists, the professional associations;
all sorts of parastatal actors who have learned how to make a handy living out of the EU,
one way or another. And just like the Nomenklatura in the 1980s,
they will fight very hard to maintain their position, not on dogmatical grounds, but out
of sheer self interest. And certainly, we saw that in the UK referendum
that a lot of the opposition came from organisations that were directly or indirectly funded from
the EU. This wasn’t, in other words, about sovereignty
or federalism or democracy; it was about mortgages and school fees. And that is a very difficult thing to end. But I’ll end on a cheerful note. I think the communist system had been basically
delegitimised after the Prague Spring. Up until 1968, you could find idealistic Marxists
in central and eastern Europe, who believed that they would eventually get to the stage
where they could reintroduce democracy. That once the system had been shown to work,
shown to be more economically productive than capitalism, then they could have free elections
again. After 1968, nobody really believed that and
there were just people clinging on to their position. I think the French and Dutch referendums in
2004 were a similar moment in Brussels. I think after that, people stopped believing
that European federalism would win mass support. But they were determined to cling on to their
positions. What was it in the end that brought the communist
system down? Again, I can remember in the 80s, very few
people saw the end coming. People would say maybe over 20 or 30 years
there will be a gradual move to a more reformed kind of Marxism. And a few isolated dreamers would say, no,
maybe there will be an exogenous shock; a kind of Chernobyl type massive event that
will bring it all down. What was the event that brought down the Marxist
system in the end? It was the smallest thing. It was the decision of the Hungarian interior
ministry to stop requiring exit visas from East Germans who wanted to travel to Austria. Within two weeks, the whole rotten system
had unravelled. And that, I think, does give me hope. Permanence is the illusion of every age. So why Tirana, Albania? Tirana is, if you like, the most vivid physical
place where you can see the legacy of a communist regime. It was the ultimate autocratic system and
the ultimate paranoid system. Enver Hoxha spent an immense amount of money
fortifying the country. It was rather like North Korea is today. And a hungry and immiserated population, to
use a Marxist word, was paying the cost of what had become a leadership cult, because
that’s where it ends.

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11 thoughts on “Dan Hannan on Communism, ‘Ostalgie’, first loves and enforced atheism.

  1. The EU is pseudo communist government, centralising, controlling, ignoring democratic decisions and national democracy – ok no secret police (yet) and gulags yet but the EU can be compared i many ways to any communist regime.

  2. Not just that Mr Hannan seems to not understand what Communism is, it seems he doesn't understand that most socialist and communist despise Stalinism and what it stands for (State Capitalism, enforced by a Militaristic Dictatorship). Just the fact that you keep insisting that it always ends with gulags and autocracy, its clear that you are doing the same as you accuse other people of doing with Ostalgie, you have nothing against communism, you barely understand what it stands for, of course you can't really be for or against something you don't understand. You're against your misconception of Communism, your perception of the Soviet System that you experienced as a teenager and young adult, a sort of Anit-Ostalgie, if you will. Socialism requires democracy to work, what do you think size the means of production meant? Everything is the same, except the CEO is now a inner member of the only Party in the one-party system? No, it means that the workers democratically elect their representatives out of all the workers they share a workplace with to run the "company". Socialism and communism doesn't mean less democracy, quite the opposite, it means why should democracy end at the workplace. Also, while we're at it, it could be easily argued that, even if you count Stalinism as even close to any socialist ideology, capitalism continuous to kill way more people due to it's systemic neglect.

  3. "The most murderous ideology ever devised by human by human intelligence"
    First, Good thing you limited yourself to humans, otherwise we'd HAVE TO include anything devised by (a) God.

    Second, Does this account for inflation? More seriously, how can one even pretend to make this claim? Are we just going for sheer numbers? Because if so, yeah probably, but that doesn't account for nearly enough variables and ignores entire swaths of reason of how it happened – including ideology, the primary factor.

    Because if not, then "for a god" far ought weighs communism. It was the number one cause of murder/human death/suffering/etc. in human history for MOST of human history. It stretches back prior to human history.

    And then again factoring in the gods angle again; well gods are supposedly the cause of the whole of reality – including communism – and the rules by which humans operate. Not to mention the wars fought in their names. Not to mention the direct (supposed) interventions, like this one jackass god I heard about who flooded and killed the entire planet (at least if you believe that sort of thing).

    Just saying, really misses the mark when you talk about "atheism" in this way, surely we can do the same with theism then right?

  4. EU cut funds for education about Communism. Many top EU bureaucrats started as Communists, e.g current EU "foreign minister". It shows in the way EU is run.

  5. capitalists are getting worried about the rate communism is gaining ground ( and they should be) around the world, no true communist system has ever been used by any civilisation in recorded history

  6. This CUCK MEP will be the first to go when the people of britain have enough of this bullshit capitalist rot! I seriously can't wait for the day you're hanged, you capitalist bootlicker.

  7. DANIEL you need to stand up do your fucking duty for the country, you voted leave, you encouraged us to vote leave. So you must be leader. This is YOUR mess. Sort it out now, stop ducking your duty!!!!

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