I am struggling with the centenary of the Russian Revolution. London is awash with commemorative events and the iconography of socialism is everywhere. Most events, like the art exhibition at the Royal Academy, are thoughtful, measured and interesting. But it's weird to me that the dark symbols of Soviet violence carry no psychological threat for the educated, kindly people standing thoughtfully before them.
The swastika revolts all but a tiny, mad minority of Westerners. Even when we know it to be innocent, as when we see it in the millennia old Eastern religious context from which it was stolen, it evokes a tremor of dread before melting into awkward comedy. Yet the red star of communism is still just a star. And democratic Austria scarcely seems to notice that its national emblem has a hammer and a sickle even though they are now associated with the only human monsters worse than Austria's most famous son.
Nice young people wear T-shirts with CCCP, the Red Star or the leering face of a mass murdering Argentinian psychopath and only a very few of us think less of them for it. Yet we would all be rightly horrified if it were a swastika, an ϟϟ symbol or an Austrian psycho. In any other field our friends on the left would read into this a sign of some deep seated racism.
Milo Yiannopolous, currently nailed metaphorically to Liberty's cross, is the subject of all kinds of slanders but it made me smile to read he was a Nazi because he once wore an Iron Cross — a German (and of course a Christian) symbol. But then I recall reading attacks on Bryan Ferry because he once remarked that Nazi iconography was attractive.
Leni Riefenstahl's movies and Albert Speer's buildings and the mass parades and the flags - just amazing. Really beautiful.
Yes, those SS uniforms were admirably well-tailored. And yes, those attacks were probably written — without a hint of self-awareness — by people wearing Hugo Boss suits. And yes, Ferry whimpered a craven apology rather than be falsely branded evil
So what is this perverse response to symbology telling us? Challenged, most leftists will accept Stalin or Mao was at least as wicked as Hitler. But whereas Hitler's wickedness speaks to them of the wickedness of his ideology, that of the other totalitarian gentry says nothing of theirs. Mao and Stalin are to Socialism apparently as ISIS is to Islam. They are radical socialism-ists, you might say. And so lefties keep on instinctively favouring the cinematic work of Eisenstein over Riefenstahl and smiling nostalgically rather than cringing before the naive agitprop posters of the Bolsheviks.
It all suggests to me the same barely-concealed truth as their fresh enthusiasm every time some barbarian emerges to promise a new and-this-time-genuine revolution. The socialism of the late Hugo Chavez is proving to have had just the same result as that of Lenin and Mao. It is already clear history will place him in the same ledger. His same old same old Marxism was as destructive as always of lives, prosperity and ethics. Yet the echoes of the enthusiasm of Red Brit notables for Chavez have not yet died down. The flush on their cheeks is a fading remainder of their joyful anticipation that this time, this time it will work. It's certainly not the blush of a shame they should feel but never will.
In their minds these people are as far away as it's possible to be from fascism. That's why they cry "fascist" or "Nazi" at everyone they hate. They are secure in their deluded belief that everyone between them and the horizon truly deserves the name. Their not-so-sneaking admiration for the symbols of the USSR tells us rather that they are fascism's near neighbours — emotionally, ideologically and in terms of their intellectual development.
Historically they are only accidental anti-fascists. Were it not for Hitler's stupidity the Third Reich and the Soviet Union would have ended the Second World War as they began it — as allies. Both socialists and fascists believe in the heroic superiority of the state over the individual. Both despise "bourgeois" ideas of freedom. Both believe that state force applied judiciously to the masses will forge them into New Men and Women. Both prefer violent mastery of an economy to the "disorder" of a free market.
We, the classical liberals, libertarians, free marketeers, Austrian School economists, even (on a good day) the old school Shire Tories are the opposites of fascism. And of communism too. National and International Socialisms, powered respectively by race hatred and class hatred are the heads and tails of the same sinister, despicable coin.
So, if all the Soviet imagery around London right now makes you as uncomfortable as would similar exhibitions of Nazi art and propaganda then you are my ethical brother or sister. If not, remind me not to leave you alone with anyone or anything I value.