WASHINGTON—Most people aren’t aware of the full extent of the brutality and deaths under communist rule, according Dr. Paul Kengor, executive director of the Center for Vision and Values and anti-communist expert.
“The grisly history of Red Terror is too often neglected in the modern classroom at the typical American university,” he said, speaking at the news conference “Communism in the Classroom” at the National Press Club on Aug. 20.
The ideological struggle between the West and the Soviet Union was dominant for four decades following World War II. Many intellectuals in the West, however, still fail to acknowledge the Soviet Union’s concentration camps (the gulags), artificial famines, purges, deportations, executions, and its hatred for anything that resembled religious devotion, Kengor asserts. Such reluctance continues into the 21st century in the case of China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba, he says.
Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, Pennsylvania. He concerns himself with how communism is regarded in universities, and the trickle-down effect this has when professors write history and civics textbooks for U.S. high school students. He cites a 2002 study of 20 textbooks representative of the phenomenon used in Wisconsin.
The Black Book of Communism, first published in French in 1997, states that the number of deaths caused by communism in the 20th century was at least 100 million—a figure more than double the combined losses of World War I and II, and far greater than the 25 million attributed to the Nazis.
“Right-wing dictators like Cuba’s Batista and Chile’s Pinochet were treated far more harshly than [communist] Fidel Castro, who generated far more victims and was still in power,” he asserts.
Treatment of Chinese Communists in High School Texts
Kengor was appalled at the uncritical view and, he says, tacit approval in high school texts of the communist regime that has ruled China since 1949. Not only are there no condemnations of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s human rights violations, he says, but the texts offered “rosy descriptions of life in the contemporary Chinese classroom and of youth groups like the Young Pioneers.” The Young Pioneers are the branch of the CCP targeted toward the young generation, aged 6-14 years.
One text, Global Insights: People and Cultures, described the purpose of the Young Pioneers as “to train children to be good citizens,” according Kengor. The Communist Youth League, the next rung up on the Party ladder, is described as “an honor organization for high school students.” The section contains neither critical examination nor explanation, said Kengor, and “literally reads like official agitprop from the Chinese Central Committee.”
Professor Kengor’s lectures about the “savagery of communism” on campuses around the U.S. receive tremendous interest from young students, he says.
Today’s undergraduates are too young to have a strong impression of the falling of the Berlin Wall, and have not lived through the Cold War. Learning about “communist barbarism” for the first time is an eye opener, he says. Some professors, however, are contemptuous toward this particular lecture, and regard it as somehow going too far.
Why is it then that professors at universities can be quite severe on the Nazis, say on Auschwitz, but not the Soviet gulags (or the China’s Re-education Through Labor camps, to use a more contemporary example)? Why the double standard by many intellectuals with respect to the Nazis and Soviets (or Maoists)? The answer says Kengor is not that the professors are Marxists (though some may be) or that they harbor Marxist utopian ideas (though many do), but that they “despise” the anti-communist.
Kengor says they are “anti-anti-communist more so than pro-communist.”
Their dislike for the anti-communist may be a holdover of negative sentiments from the McCarthy era, when public witch hunts of suspected communist sympathizers were in vogue. Latent utopian Marxist ideals still floating around academic circles may also cause some scholars to not want to hear about the atrocities, Kengor says.
Two notable victims of “anti anti-Communism” are the Harvard professors of Russian history, Professor Richard Pipes and his younger colleague, Vladimir Brovkin.
Pipes, who regarded communism as “sheer barbarism,” was consistently attacked by liberal colleagues for being too harsh on communism. Fortunately for Pipes, he was given tenure early in his career and his colleagues couldn’t threaten his job.
Brovkin, on the hand, who came 40 years after Pipes arrived in the U.S., got into trouble for being “too passionately anti-communist” and for “demonizing the Soviet regime.” Lacking the shield of tenure and black-listed by academic Sovietologists, he wound up teaching high school in Florida, said Kengor.
Case Study: Communist Values in University Teaching
The extent of sympathies by liberal professors for communist ideology was mentioned at this conference, but no hard data was provided. However, a professor of education at the University of Illinois, William Ayers, was discussed at length as an example of a “revolutionary” who employs communist and revolutionary sources in the classroom.
William Ayers received media attention in the 2008 presidential election when Republicans tried to make an issue of his past associations with Barack Obama.
It would be hard to find a better example of a teacher sympathetic to revolution and violence than Bill Ayers, the founder of the Weatherman (later known as the Weathermen Underground), which was responsible for bombings of public buildings in 1969 and the early 1970s, during the Vietnam era. He is now a professor of Education at the University of Illinois in Chicago and he and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn—also a founder of the Weatherman, and professor at Northwestern University—have put their violent past behind them.
According to Dr. Mary Grabar who spoke at the news conference, Ayers may have renounced violence, but his radical agenda has not changed. Writer Grabar, who holds a doctorate in English, actively sought out and carefully examined Ayers’ writings and class syllabi and reached the conclusion that Ayers uses his platform as a professor to propagate his revolutionary ideas to his students, with himself as a kind of hero; she asserts that Ayers is contemptuous of “standard principles of education.”
According to Dr. Grabar, Ayers’ disdains the civility normal in the student-teacher relationship. Dr. Grabar said that Ayers encourages student hostility to the “Uniform Discipline Code” of the Chicago Public Schools that requires “teachers’ and students’ ‘cleanliness, modesty, and good grooming, as well as to student responsibilities to ‘be honest and courteous’ and ‘improve your performance upon notice of unsatisfactory progress.’” Her discovery of Ayers statements with regard to this code of conduct may seem unimportant, but it is indication of a disposition that thrives under communism. Mao Zedong, for example, displayed a disregard for personal hygiene and courtesy.
Dr. Grabar discovered that Ayers uses Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed as a required text in one of Ayers’ classes. Freire, a Marxist, refers to Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin, Vladimir Lenin and Fidel Castro as authoritative sources, says Grabar.
The idea behind reading Freire’s book is for students to come to see themselves, “under careful guidance,” as members of the “oppressed,” said Cliff Kincaid, an investigative journalist and president of the conservative U.N. watchdog group America’s Survival, and who also hosted this news conference. Freire’s book is also being used in high schools in Tucson, Arizona, as required reading for Mexican-Americans in “Raza Studies,” said Kincaid, who linked it and similar books to violence in the schools directed at white and black children.
Some educators may argue that the theoretical Marxism discussed in Pedagogy of the Oppressed has a place in today’s pedagogy, but the point made at this news conference, according to the speakers, is that this text and similar required texts provide succor for communism—a barbaric system responsible for over 100 million deaths during the 20th century.