The website Instapundit, in a recent post, equates communists to Nazis. “Communists are as bad as Nazis,” the post argues, “and their defenders and apologists are as bad as Nazis’ defenders, but far more common. When you meet them, show them no respect. They’re evil, stupid, and dishonest. They should not enjoy the consequences of their behavior.”
The post offers no definition of ‘Communist’. However, its implied definition spans a wide spectrum of philosophies, and includes Marxist academics, the Trotskyite Christopher Hitchens, and Joseph Stalin. The post says, in effect, that all of these people are ‘Communists,’ and therefore equally evil.
I see two flaws with this argument. The first is related to semantics, the second to the logical fallacy of accident.
The various people identified above have very different philosophies. A Marxist, strictly speaking, is someone who ascribes to the original writings of Karl Marx.* Interestingly, Marx made very few predictions about what a communist society might look like or how it should be implemented. The bulk of his analysis focused on contemporary economics and the relationship of workers to their labour. Even today, Marx is thought to have made several helpful contributions to the study of capitalism. A Marxist academic, then, typically means a university professor who agrees with Marx’s views on how capitalism operates and how it shapes our society. These people are also called Marxians.
Hitchens and Stalin, on the other hand, are political creatures. Their Marxism is normative, meaning it deals with how society should be organized. Clearly, their concerns are qualitatively different than those of Marxian economists. In addition to that, there is a vast gap between Hitchens’ politics and Stalin’s: Trotsky’s opposition to Stalin is well documented.
Assigning all these people to a single category – Communist – is a serious flaw. It invalidates the Nazi comparison, since a Nazi is someone who holds very specific political and racial beliefs. To say that Stalinists are as morally bankrupt as Nazis is one thing; to say the same about a Marxian is another.
The Instapundit post says that in all Communist states, “[power] always ends up in the hands of the [elites]” (emphasis mine). In other words, every communist state that ever existed was as awful as Hitler’s Germany; pure evil, basically.** Here, the post commits the fallacy of accident, meaning it ignores obvious exceptions to its assumed rule.
Some Communist regimes – those of Stalin, Mao, etc. – were certainly evil. But others weren’t. The Sandinistas in Nicaragua, for example, lowered illiteracy from 50% to 12% and made important strides in health care, eliminating polio and reducing other diseases. Of course, they were terrible economic managers and are reported to have committed deplorable human rights abuses. But they were not genocidal. The difference between a Sandinista and a National Socialist is enormous.
To add further perspective, consider if this line of argument was deployed against Christianity. The number of Christian states that have committed horrible and inhumane acts is lengthy, yet I assume the Instapundit author would hesitate to equate Christianity to Nazism (Hitchens wouldn’t, though).
Anyways, the point is that it’s both fallacious and meaningless to say that all people who believe in some element of Marxist thought are inherently evil because so too are some Communist regimes.
*And of course Friedrich Engels, too.
** If you think I’m reaching, here’s another excerpt from the Instapundit post: “I’ll repeat: The difference between Communists and Nazis is mostly PR, and the PR is better because more journalists and academics were communists than Nazis.”