Making excuses for war crimes has a long and ugly history on the far left.
While all the examples are true, I don't really find the overall narrative tracing this to some particular leftist thought persuasive. Excusing dictators on 'our' side while condemning those on 'theirs' is a shameful but time-honoured tradition across the political spectrum – Pinochet, Hussein, Mobutu, MBS have all received strong support from the right or even the centre, and Assad for example has plenty of fans on both the left and the right because Syrian politics is so complex even the tankies can't figure out whose crimes they're meant to excuse.
I worry that ascribing this tendency to a particular strain of hard leftist though implicitly denies it in the rest of us – that they have this original sin that leads them to whitewash dictators that the rest of us don't. We'd be better off treating this as a human tendency to let taking sides cloud our moral judgement and excuse the inexcusable, and be ever vigilant as a result. I don't think there's a consistent philosophy behind it, just power and tribalism.
Thanks for covering this important topic. I found the historical context particularly helpful. My far-left Democratic friends tend to admit that the CPUSA made such mistakes before Kruschev, but refuse to beleive this is a continuing problem.
While your list of links to prominent left-wingers is quite helpful, I would love to see a sequel post that provides memorable, concrete, recent examples. I think those would prove to be persuasive to a wider audience. It might also help if you showed that moderate Dems do not often make such mistakes.
Very well framed, thank you. It is important now to reaffirm the progress that has been made globally against poverty and disease and note that what is needed is a course correction and not tearing down the house.
One indicator of how common these kinds of views are is that I regularly hear college students excuse violence on the left, agree among themselves that the US is the principal source of evil in the world, and denigrate liberal democracy as a cover for racism and exploitation. Young adults don't arrive at this perspective spontaneously, Instead, academics in many disciplines market this perspective as critical thinking. So the additional benefit of the belief system is that it confers intellectual superiority.
A powerful reminder of the distorting effect of politics on history. And the willingness of political extremists to excuse horror when convenient for their purposes. Humanity cannot be subjugated to politics.
Glad to see Jasmin writing for Persuasion. I'm not convinced by the Engels stuff (and I mean that literally: not convinced), but fully agree with the last paragraph and think the general issue is of central importance.
While I agree totally about "academics, journalists and activists" I think artists are in a very different category. They deserve to be judged on their art. Yes, it is sad that some very famous artists (including poets and novelists) make excuses in their journalist writings for war crimes, etc. But the critique should be limited to these writings and not their art.