Friday, August 29, 2003

In the U.S., arguments between civil libertarians and anti-extremists like the Anti-Defamation League are par for the course. I'm always inclined to side with the ACLU, even when they're defending the Klan. But America's one story. There's the touchier issue of promoting fascism in, say, Germany (where it's illegal); or even closer to home, advocating a communist revolution and "liquidation" of capitalists in the Czech Republic.

David Pecha, editor of far-left magazine Pochoden, is on trial for "spreading intolerance and hatred leading to the suppression of basic rights and freedoms," says Radio Prague. Radio Free Europe talks to human rights advocates both inside and outside the country who say the case is problematic. (One person from the Index on Censorship made an interesting comparison to Sinn Fein. The problem for the prosecution is that Pecha is not linked to any active, violent group -- even if you go so far as to include the "mainstream" Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia in that category.)

I'd probably take the civil liberatarian point of view even if it were a Nazi in the dock. The head of the Communist Youth Union, Zdenek Stefek, takes up a different line defending the use of the phrase "liquidation of capitalists":

A word can have different meanings and interpretations. Liquidation can have several meanings. The difference is that fascism isn't a point of view - it is a crime. Fascism is criminal at its root, whereas communism is a progressive vision of humanity. The fact that it was abused is one thing, but the ideas behind communism are something that would raise humanity to a much higher level than it is now. I don't see anything wrong with it.
Many would snicker at this, rightfully so. We know, we know... the wholesome idealogy of Lenin was usurped by the vicious bully Stalin, giving commies an eternal bad rap. It's one of the most tired debates of the 20th century: Who was worse, Hitler or Stalin? Yet part of me -- maybe the same part that still thinks I'm a socialist at heart-- agrees with the commies that it's simply the wrong question. (Who's worse, the Pope or Osama bin Laden? Hm, let me think about this one... I think it's Osama by a nose. Does that make Catholicism a superior religion to Islam? Uh, no.)

To be sure, there's plenty to laugh at in the quote above -- like the idea that fascism is a crime but socialism is merely a vision -- but if you're going to use the comparison, please don't pretend that fascism and communism are moral equivalents. They're not. Communism is an ideology opposed to private property rights. Fascism is an ideology opposed to basic human rights. How people use those visions of the world to shape their actions is a different matter.

I'd still probably defend the Nazi, in most cases.


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