In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) introduced this resolution to designate November 7 as Victims of Communism Memorial Day each year. Lipinski is a founder of the bipartisan Victims of Communism Caucus, and spoke of how it important it is for the history of communism and its evils to be recognized:
“I will never forget my experiences in Berlin at the fall of the wall in 1989… In my district, there are many people who suffered under communism, watched relatives and friends perish, and were forced to leave their homes and countries. It is our duty to tell these stories, the truth about communism, and preserve this history for future generations.”
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) supports designating a Victims of Communism Memorial Day. In a November 2018 post on ALEC’s blog, Rep. Kay Christofferson (R-UT) wrote:
“Given the increasing popularity of socialism in America – especially among young people – designating a day to honor the victims of communist governments is not only the right thing to do but also good policy. A commemorative day offers an ideal teachable moment to educate new generations of Americans about the evils perpetrated in the name of communism and socialism – evils that continue to the present day. These educational efforts are desperately needed. As the Cold War recedes into our national memory, socialism and communism are experiencing a resurgence. According to a 2016 Harvard University study, the majority of millennials do not support capitalism and a 2017 Victims of Communism Foundation survey found that more millennials would prefer to live in a socialist or communist society than in a capitalist one. In subsequent Harvard University polls, only respondents over the age of 50 evinced majority support for capitalism. The movement to “rehabilitate” communism is evident in America’s political landscape… While capitalism’s deficiencies are on full display, including the 2008 financial collapse which some economists predict will have a lasting effect on the lifetime earnings of millennials, communism’s horrible legacy is largely forgotten, not fully understood and unacknowledged. Young American communists and socialists confuse ‘socialist’ western European models with communism. They seem unaware that the strong social safety nets in those countries are made possible by robust capitalist economies and high taxes. They also fail to realize that relinquishing economic freedom often leads to the gutting of social and political freedom. The unfortunate truth is that communism continues to destroy people’s lives and national fortunes… Victims of Communism Memorial Day would create an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the brutalities of life under communism.”
The Trump White House released the first-ever statement for National Day of the Victims of Communism on November 7, 2017 (the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution). In its statement, it said:
“Today, the National Day for the Victims of Communism, marks 100 years since the Bolshevik Revolution took place in Russia. The Bolshevik Revolution gave rise to the Soviet Union and its dark decades of oppressive communism, a political philosophy incompatible with liberty, prosperity, and the dignity of human life. Over the past century, communist totalitarian regimes around the world have killed more than 100 million people and subjected countless more to exploitation, violence, and untold devastation. These movements, under the false pretense of liberation, systematically robbed innocent people of their God-given rights of free worship, freedom of association, and countless other rights we hold sacrosanct. Citizens yearning for freedom were subjugated by the state through the use of coercion, violence, and fear… Today, we remember those who have died and all who continue to suffer under communism. In their memory and in honor of the indomitable spirit of those who have fought courageously to spread freedom and opportunity around the world, our Nation reaffirms its steadfast resolve to shine the light of liberty for all who yearn for a brighter, freer future.”
A year later, on November 7, 2018, the White House published another presidential message echoing the 2017 message’s themes.
Criticism of the idea of a Victims of Communism Memorial Day has largely come from the left. Buzzfeed journalist Blake Montgomery has characterized the discussion of anti-communist education as a “white nationalist talking point,” and others have condemned this initiative as an attempt to manipulate voters.
Salon has accused Trump of implicit anti-Semitism, noting that while he’s found strong expressions to condemn communist crimes, Trump has failed to do the same when denouncing Nazi crimes. Salon has also established a parallel between Trump and far-right leaders in Eastern Europe, who use anti-communism as a propaganda tool. In November 2017, Salon writer Taylor Link wrote:
“The rhetoric in the [White House’s] statement [for Victims of Communism Memorial Day] was a stark departure from the language used in January when Trump honored International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Trump White House's statement at the time omitted a reference to the Jewish people, who were targeted and killed by the Nazi regime… The Trump White House's eagerness to condemn communism will likely please his base. Far-right politicians in Europe, especially in Hungary, frequently celebrate a day remembering the victims of communism.”
Russia has offered virtually no reaction to the creation of the Day for the Victims of Communism. This is despite the fact that the Kremlin generally opposes “denigration” of the Sovet past (for example, in 2007, Putin called the opening of the Memorial for the Victims of Communism in Washington, D.C. an anti-Russian action).
This resolution has two Republican cosponsors.
Of Note: Over 100 million people died under commumist regimes in the 20th century, with most of the deaths occurring in the Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China. Despite that history, a 2017 survey by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation found that 58% of young Americans prefer socialism (44% support), communism (7% support), or fascism (7% support) over capitalism (42% support).
Marion Smith, executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, says the study’s results reflect historical illiteracy:
“This troubling turn highlights widespread historical illiteracy in American society regarding socialism and the systemic failure of our education system to teach students about the genocide, destruction, and misery caused by communism since the Bolshevik Revolution one hundred years ago.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / oxinoxi)