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Holocaust Denial Goes Hollywood
May 6, 2013 6:39 AM   Subscribe

Until a few weeks ago, David Stein was known mainly as a maker of documentaries on the Holocaust for schools and as the man behind Republican Party Animals, a social club for conservatives in film and television. Then it was revealed that Stein is actually David Cole, who achieved notoriety in the 1990s for arguing that the Holocaust wasn't as horrible as it is claimed to have been. Moreover, while Stein's documentaries have reflected the consensus position on the Holocaust, he says he still has doubts: "The best guess is yes, there were gas chambers. But there is still a lot of murkiness about the camps." His former associates, meanwhile, are distancing themselves from him as fast as possible: "The reason we were all so pissed at him," according to one of them, "is it plays into every horrible stereotype about the right."
posted by Cash4Lead (93 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
"The reason we were all so pissed at him," according to one of them, "is it plays into every horrible stereotype about the right."

See, I'd be pissed at him because he is an asshole who doesn't think the Holocaust happened.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:46 AM on May 6, 2013 [94 favorites]


Murkiness? About what, exactly? I've never really understood the grounds for doubting the Holocaust. What do deniers figure happened to all of the people? That they just got lost in the shuffle?
posted by jquinby at 6:48 AM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


it plays into every horrible stereotype about the right

Y'know, if every couple of days you have to complain about somebody being a holocaust denier/downplaying rape culture/claiming Obama did Boston and 9-11/threatening armed marches on DC/making a "harmless joke" about minorities/freaking out about Sharia law and so forth, perhaps the problem isn't people playing into stereotypes.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:53 AM on May 6, 2013 [60 favorites]


The story of a kid of secular Jewish parents who becomes a Holocaust denier, who hides as a Holocaust acknowledger, who outs himself as a denier again is probably a story of much psychological interest, if only the guy weren't fundamentally repugnant.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:55 AM on May 6, 2013 [20 favorites]


He's hardly a major figure in documentary or conservative or libertarian show biz circles. RPA has 306 Likes on Facebook and David Stein has only 213 Twitter followers. I think I'd heard of one event where Larry Elder was speaking.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:56 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


This article on the RPA denies he was ever in charge (he was on the board and "helped out") and purports that he got kicked out early last year, in fact, for "financial wrongdoing".
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:57 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's entirely fair to say that he thinks the Holocaust never happened. From the article:

He became convinced that on some points they were right and that as a Jew, he would undertake a quixotic quest to "correct" the historical record, arguing that Auschwitz was not an extermination camp in the manner of Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzac and Chelmno – which he acknowledged were part of a genocidal programme against Polish Jews; that the Holocaust ended in 1943, when the Nazis realised they needed Jewish slave labour for factories; and that there was no overarching, genocidal plan, but an evolving, morphing policy which claimed perhaps 4 million, rather than 6 million, Jewish lives.

So while he's clearly wrong, it seems to be more of a weird wrongness than an evil one.
posted by Slothrup at 6:57 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a fascinating story, and certainly a conclusive refutation of the idea that "there are no second acts in American lives".
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:58 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Technically what he got was a second life, not a second act to the first one.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:59 AM on May 6, 2013


Holy shit, what an asshole.
posted by rtha at 7:03 AM on May 6, 2013


Murkiness? About what, exactly? I've never really understood the grounds for doubting the Holocaust. What do deniers figure happened to all of the people? That they just got lost in the shuffle?

There are a lot of variants that we lump together as "Holocaust denial." Most are not claiming that Nazis loved the Jews and gave them cupcakes, but rather that things were enormously exaggerated. For example, that maybe a couple tens of thousands died; that bad conditions in a camp here or there plus very-real political persecution gave way to urban legends of GAS CHAMBERS!!1!! for which, they insist, there is no actual serious evidence. And further, lots of civilians died in WWII; the fact that some Jews' relatives didn't make it out is really not that surprising.

But the short version is that we lump in a lot of very different things as "holocaust denial" because they disagree strongly with the generally accepted consensus of historians; they range from "Six million died but it was all from disease" to "You Zionists have invented millions of people just to claim they died, no such people existed."
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:04 AM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah a common refrain in denialism is that there weren't even six million Jews in Europe in the 30s/40s so there's no way six million could have been killed. I don't know enough about denialism to tell you where they get their figures though.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:08 AM on May 6, 2013


unskewedcensus.com
posted by zombieflanders at 7:08 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Auschwitz was not an extermination camp in the manner of Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzac and Chelmno

No, it wasn't, but it was an extermination camp with gas chambers, ovens as well as large factories attached for slaves to be worked to - extermination. it wasn't fucking Butlins.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 7:11 AM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Holocaust is probably the most difficult issue in contemporary history, and there are people diligently working to put together iteratively more accurate pictures of what happened. To say "it was or it wasn't" is a simplification used usually to achieve other ends. Something terrible happened, we all agree on that. As to the scale and human impact, we're still working that one out.

In the meantime, this is what the story is really about:

"I'm very disappointed that someone who abused his Jewishness to get his five minutes of notoriety still stands by his lies. It's disgusting and puts him in the camp of bigotry."
posted by nickrussell at 7:11 AM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's disgusting and puts him in the camp of bigotry.

I see what was done there.
posted by chavenet at 7:14 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


So when does Mel Gibson's production company hire him?
posted by rmd1023 at 7:14 AM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


You know its funny, for all the people saying the holocaust never happened or that it was very small you'd think that the people who actually committed the holocaust would agree with them - but that is not an argument any of them made at the Nuremberg trials.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:17 AM on May 6, 2013 [54 favorites]


Eichmann did admit to faking the moon landing, though.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:19 AM on May 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


To say "it was or it wasn't" is a simplification used usually to achieve other ends.

I can't agree with that. We know about the Holocaust in as much detail as we know about any historical event. No historian disputes that Germany's leadership embarked upon a program to exterminate the Jews of Europe. They might argue about whether the extermination program was initially conceived as a strategic move or whether they basically fell into it, but nobody doubts that there was such a program.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:19 AM on May 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


Holy shit, his father was Leon Cole, the physician Dr. Nick hired to give Elvis shots of demerol.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:20 AM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


So while he's clearly wrong, it seems to be more of a weird wrongness than an evil one.

I think the thing is that if, for some reason, you've convinced yourself that there was no overarching plan to the Holocaust and that the Wannsee Confence was a chess tournament or something (not that you wouldn't have to ignore other things, but that's an obvious one), but still believe Bad Things happened and loads of people got killed, but you also knew that there were people running round denying that Bad Things happened, wouldn't you keep your mouth shut?
posted by hoyland at 7:22 AM on May 6, 2013


wouldn't you keep your mouth shut?

I'm not personally motivated by getting attention.
posted by Slothrup at 7:25 AM on May 6, 2013


I can't agree with that. We know about the Holocaust in as much detail as we know about any historical event. No historian disputes that Germany's leadership embarked upon a program to exterminate the Jews of Europe. They might argue about whether the extermination program was initially conceived as a strategic move or whether they basically fell into it, but nobody doubts that there was such a program.

Also, as far as I know, no one who's not into Holocaust denial disputes the scale in any meaningful way, either. Because, like Joe said, we have much better records than you'd assume.
posted by hoyland at 7:28 AM on May 6, 2013


I've never really understood the grounds for doubting the Holocaust. What do deniers figure happened to all of the people? That they just got lost in the shuffle?

Wikipedia has an extensive page on Holocaust denial, starting with efforts of the Germans to destroy all evidence of mass extermination once it was apparent that Germany would be defeated, former leaders of the SS using their skills in propaganda to defend their actions, and the whole spectrum of denial that started as early as 1961. Warning: rabbit hole of misery.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:29 AM on May 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


The Soviets did the same with their killing fields, and more successfully because they were on the winning side; evidence of places like Butovo is still coming to light (and most Russians don't want to hear about it, understandably).
posted by languagehat at 7:31 AM on May 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


Holy shit, his father was Leon Cole, the physician Dr. Nick hired to give Elvis shots of demerol.

This now seems like the plot for an episode of some B-rate TV detective drama I'd watch at 3am when I was bored, and had already killed most of the stuff on my Netflix queue.

It's just so slightly unbelieveable, if not implausible. With the perfect amount of "at a bar and probably lying" weak celebrity name drop linkage to your own life.
posted by emptythought at 7:33 AM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]




nobody doubts that there was such a program.

Agreed. My point was this:
starting with efforts of the Germans to destroy all evidence of mass extermination

and this:
evidence of places like Butovo is still coming to light

We have a lot of evidence, but there is still a lot more to uncover. Especially when cutting-edge forensic techniques can be applied. It's not a pleasant undertaking, but our humanity requires that we gain the clearest picture possible of what occurred and disseminate that information. That is not an undertaking that has been completed. I expect (and hope) it will continue for some time to come.

For, this is not the kind of thing we can say "It was bad. Hard to think about. Let's just all admit it was bad and move on." Pop culture may need to say that – and maybe it has – but history and science still have a lot to say.
posted by nickrussell at 7:40 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


We have a lot of evidence

The problem with evidence is that there's an implicit assumption that a denier will change their minds if only they shown convincing proof. This is wrong, because the goal of the denier is not truth but confirmation of their twisted world view. And any evidence which does not fit that view will be discarded. There's more than enough evidence already to be convincing for anyone who hasn't already made up their mind.
posted by Slothrup at 7:43 AM on May 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


The problem with evidence is that there's an implicit assumption that a denier will change their minds if only they shown convincing proof.

I don't think that's necessarily the assumption. The point of adding more and more evidence is to make it difficult for those who hold contrary views to maintain legitimacy and push them even further into cognitive dissonance. At the very least this increases the difficulty with which any newcomer to the subject might take up the countervailing view. Sure you can make the assumption that someone who really wants to hold onto their opinion will ignore anything ever for all time, but just because few people undergo spontaneous conversion of opinions on matters like this doesn't mean that they aren't at least somewhat and gradually moved towards opinions more in line with the data over time.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:51 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because, like Joe said, we have much better records than you'd assume

Thanks to IBM and punchcards as I remember being told years ago.

Just imagine the volume of data being gathered in, say, recorded phone calls some future people will use to show the banality of evil.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:52 AM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm curious, at what point do we start giving the Holocaust deniers the same amount of non-attention as the sasquatch/loch ness/crop circle people?
posted by Blue_Villain at 7:53 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm curious, at what point do we start giving the Holocaust deniers the same amount of non-attention as the sasquatch/loch ness/crop circle people?

The problem is that Holocaust denial is largely powered by a ferocious anti-semitism, and ignoring that won't make it go away. Bigfoot / UFO / etc believers are basically harmless. Holocaust deniers are not.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:58 AM on May 6, 2013 [14 favorites]


I didn't make it past the first few graphs. It seemed it was hyping up the "problem" now faced by friends. Maybe it's because I have hard time picturing anyone on the right - especially those in media - being ashamed of anything anymore, even partying with a Holocaust denier. I'm sure FoxNotNews could find a way to spin this.
posted by NorthernLite at 8:00 AM on May 6, 2013


However he grew uneasy when white supremacists and Islamic radicals appropriated his "work", he said,

but

The recanting was fake, he said.

and

A farewell note on his blog announced the end of his involvement with Republican Party Animals, saying he had been "assassinated" by "an exceptionally vindictive young lady". The note did not elaborate or confess his deception.

Oh my god what an asshole. A cowardly, opportunistic asshole. I applaud the young lady for "assassinating" him.
posted by rtha at 8:05 AM on May 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


he got kicked out early last year, in fact, for "financial wrongdoing".

Okay now that is just weird! They essentially kicked him out for being a republican?
posted by srboisvert at 8:09 AM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


He was trolling before the internet was a thing to troll on.

Not only does he bury his Semitic heritage under the last name of "Cole" to deny the holocaust, but then he re-appropriates the name of "Stein" to gain traction in the world of modern day conservatism.

I wonder how much introspection is going on in the minds of his cronies right now?
posted by Renoroc at 8:10 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The reason for presenting proof isn't to convince the Holocaust deniers. Generally speaking, those guys aren't uneducated rubes. They're highly skilled con artists pulling off a pretty slick game. The reason for presenting proof, then, is to warn other people about the con.

That quote about Auschwitz not being an extermination camp is a great example of this. Here's how the con goes. The denialist says "Okay, if I prove to you that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz, will you concede that I'm right?" And his opponent — confident that there were gas chambers there, because everyone knows that, right? —says "Sure, that seems reasonable."

Well, the trouble is, there weren't any gas chambers at the camp that is generally called "Auschwitz" nowadays, so then it comes out looking like the denialist has scored some points and gained credibility.

What just happened? Well, the denialist was deliberately exploiting a bit of confusion about the names of the camps. When people say "Auschwitz," they usually mean Auschwitz I, which was "just" a horrifying slave labor camp where thousands of people were worked to death. Auschwitz II, where the gas chambers were, is usually called "Birkenau" nowadays. That's how that trick is made to work. It's a bit of sleight of hand — rhetorical misdirection with confusing names, instead of physical misdirection with confusing gestures.

But the point is, to pull off a con like that, you need to be very familiar with the historical details. When someone says "There were no gas chambers at Auschwitz," it's not because he's dumb. It's because he thinks he's gonna be able to pull a fast one on you and make you look dumb. And the reason to engage in debate with him isn't to change his mind, but to expose his rhetorical con game so that this particular roomful of people won't fall for it.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:12 AM on May 6, 2013 [92 favorites]


That's a pretty messed up story...
posted by ph00dz at 8:16 AM on May 6, 2013


I'm curious, at what point do we start giving the Holocaust deniers the same amount of non-attention as the sasquatch/loch ness/crop circle people?

Do you realize you are you asking when they will take over 80% of the programming on the science and history cable channels in America?
posted by srboisvert at 8:18 AM on May 6, 2013 [14 favorites]


They essentially kicked him out for being a republican?

A 'real Republican' isn't caught or has enough money for a group of lawyers to make sure the charges never stick.

So no, not "real" enough.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:25 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


At the same time, he started writing op-eds under Stein and other pseudonyms, expressing what he said was his growing fervour for a hawkish foreign policy, a strong Israel and conservative social policy. Posts on his acerbic blog were picked up by mainstream news outlets.

When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, Cole sensed opportunity. Inspired by the writer PJ O'Rourke's brand of rollicking, liquor-fuelled conservativism, he said he launched Republican Party Animals, a networking circle for libertarians and social conservatives which promised spice – "scantily-clad women, drink, fun, loud music" – but not too much.
So he's basically Andrew Breitbart or James O'Keefe with more Holocaust denial and less success, an opportunistic blowhard who caught on early that there would be plenty of buyers for whatever load of crap he wanted to sell.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:37 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


You know its funny, for all the people saying the holocaust never happened or that it was very small you'd think that the people who actually committed the holocaust would agree with them - but that is not an argument any of them made at the Nuremberg trials.

They were all beaten, you see, and coerced into giving their testimony. All of them. And no minor Nazi, or Jewish Overlord, since then has been about to die and called the press for a deathbed confession to the plot. Everyone managed to keep this quiet, which would make it the largest conspiracy ever conceived by humans.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:39 AM on May 6, 2013


I find it funny that no-one recognised him after the name change. It is a bit like when Servelan came back as Slaer and no-one recognised her.
posted by marienbad at 8:39 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's probably gauche to link to StormFront, even to make fun of them, but if you go there, the response is pretty predictable and comical. HE WAS A SPY ALL ALONG, YOU GUYS! OF COURSE HE LIED, HE'S A JEW! And now he's trying to discredit the Republicans just like he discredited proud White Nationalists!
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:56 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Chutzpah.
posted by zarq at 9:17 AM on May 6, 2013


>>> Auschwitz II, where the gas chambers were, is usually called "Birkenau" nowadays.

Hence the hyphenated reference used by the museum itself. Auschwitz-Birkenau.
posted by grabbingsand at 9:17 AM on May 6, 2013


Now there are two, you're absolutely right about the tactic, and thanks for taking the trouble to explain it, but your example is not strictly accurate. People were killed by gassing at the original Auschwitz camp, first of all on an experimental basis in the cellars of Block 11, then in a specially converted bunker, complete with gas chamber and crematorium, between 1941 and 1942. Around 60,000 people were killed in this way. With the development of the Birkenau site, this facility was later converted into an air-raid shelter for SS personnel, which of course led to zealous denialist fuckwits claiming it was never used for any other purpose. Still, the documentary record is unambiguous.
posted by Prince Lazy I at 9:24 AM on May 6, 2013 [18 favorites]


Not only does he bury his Semitic heritage under the last name of "Cole" to deny the holocaust, but then he re-appropriates the name of "Stein" to gain traction in the world of modern day conservatism.

His parents' last name was Cole. While this guy did a lot of terrible things, burying his Semitic history isn't one of them.
posted by mokin at 9:50 AM on May 6, 2013


Still, changing his name from something ethnically vague to something obviously Jewish does seem a little suspect. Especially since he used his Jewish name to make holocaust docs.
posted by mokin at 9:54 AM on May 6, 2013


Scum of the Earth.

I've had debates with other holocaust deniers before. About the best that you can say of their arguments is that it is probable that the margin of error is a lot greater than generally acknowledged, but it's not clear even which way that uncertainty goes - it could be that "only" five million died, it could just as well be that seven million died.

But that's not what they're arguing. It can drive you mad - because they hammer in on tiny details, and you are forced to say, "It could be that these 5,000 people died of dysentery, but this is a drop in the bucket," an argument that feels lame.

It's 2013. We don't have to debate them any more. "Flag" them (i.e. prevent them from having any role in public discourse) and move on.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:29 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I disagree. I find most holocaust deniers are not smart con-artists. They are the stupid already conned.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:37 AM on May 6, 2013


Holocaust deniers of any stripe make me furious. The historical record could not be more clear, or well documented. I truly hate people who try to mess with actual history. And in addition, we lost most of my family on my mom's side to this "exaggerated" event. They were real people, their deaths were real, and our loss was real.
posted by bearwife at 10:45 AM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


You cannot reason a man out of a position he did not reason himself into.
posted by Xoebe at 10:57 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I disagree. I find most holocaust deniers are not smart con-artists. They are the stupid already conned.

That's the AUDIENCE for Holocaust deniers. David Irving and Ernst Zuendel are pretty decent con artists.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:03 AM on May 6, 2013


Holocaust deniers of any stripe make me furious. The historical record could not be more clear, or well documented. I truly hate people who try to mess with actual history.

Holocaust deniers are no different from any other deniers of history driven by extreme ideology - usually of the right. You don't need the history to be very old at all - it can be in the present, with living people, actual events unfolding before our very eyes. "Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Fascist Communist" - have you ever talked to a birther? Evidence, facts, logic, there is nothing, but nothing that can get these people to change their minds. Do you imagine it is a small number of people, perhaps having mental problems? Well, no. It's a HUGE percentage of the population, and 64% of Republicans. This is not some fringe, like Holocaust deniers in the U.S.; it all depends on how motivated the believers are - in some countries (ideologically opposed to Israel) you'll find a substantial portion of the population believe the Holocaust is an invention.

At any given time, there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of conspiracy theories every bit as insane and implausible as Holocaust denial, and the only reason one has more adherents than another one, is that it inflames more political passions.

Despicable as it is, Holocaust denial is not in any way surprising or unique.
posted by VikingSword at 11:04 AM on May 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


The problem is that Holocaust denial is largely powered by a ferocious anti-semitism, and ignoring that won't make it go away. Bigfoot / UFO / etc believers are basically harmless. Holocaust deniers are not.

To be fair, a lot of the the "Ancient Astronauts" stuff has a heavy dose of "the people of [place] couldn't have built [structure] because they were too brown," so not antisemitic, but still kind of nasty. And I used to love conspiracy theory stuff until I realized that pretty much all of it is no more than 3 steps from "it was the Jews." In this, I think the Holocaust deniers kind of fit right in --many of them seem to resent the way that the murder of 6 million Jews gets in the way of the idea that "the Jews run everything."
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:27 AM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


...With the development of the Birkenau site, this facility was later converted into an air-raid shelter for SS personnel, which of course led to zealous denialist fuckwits claiming it was never used for any other purpose. Still, the documentary record is unambiguous.

Good to know. Thanks for setting me straight.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 11:40 AM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Coincidentally, Now there are two, I'd watched this clip just the other day, so it was more than usually fresh in the memory.
posted by Prince Lazy I at 11:55 AM on May 6, 2013


To be fair, a lot of the the "Ancient Astronauts" stuff has a heavy dose of "the people of [place] couldn't have built [structure] because they were too brown," so not antisemitic, but still kind of nasty.

....Okay, I know that such "it must have been a higher extraterrestrial intelligence" language gets bandied about in regards to things like Stonehenge as well. So I'm not 100% certain that all Ancient Astronauts stuff is like that.

Still a whole lotta hooey, though, anyway.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:55 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyway, it sort of doesn't matter whether it's motivated by personal racist attitudes. What matters is whether it's used as a tool for perpetuating systemic racist power structures.

If people are using the Ancient Astronauts thing as a white supremacist dogwhistle, or a conventient wad of FUD to throw at indigenous people's land claims, then that sucks the same way Holocaust denial sucks and we should fight against it just as hard.

If it's not being used that way — and honestly I have no idea whether it is or not, so this "if" is a real "if" in my book — then okay, it's some harmless loonies holding false beliefs. Still suboptimal, but not really dangerous in the same way. Probably easier to leave them alone unless you've got a deep personal investment in teaching people about archaeology.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 12:06 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Soviets did the same with their killing fields, and more successfully because they were on the winning side
Did You Know: Mao wasn't actually that bad, and I can't speak Chinese
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:08 PM on May 6, 2013


Holocaust denial variations:
  • It's all anti-Nazi propaganda - there was no genocide
  • a few Jews were murdered, but there was no systematic attempt at genocide
  • millions of Jews and "other undesirables" were murdered, but maybe only four million, not six
  • events in Germany and German crimes, 1933-1945, can't justify the present mistreatment of Palestinians
If you think that people in that last category aren't really Holocaust deniers, you are as much an anti-Semite as Ahmadinejad.
posted by fredludd at 12:14 PM on May 6, 2013


> Holocaust deniers are no different from any other deniers of history driven by extreme ideology - usually of the right.

"Usually of the right"? I'm willing to bet you that the majority of deniers of history driven by extreme ideology in, say, the last century have been on the left, and I will win that bet.

> Did You Know: Mao wasn't actually that bad, and I can't speak Chinese

Do you have any idea what you're talking about, or are you just punching keys at random?

> If you think that people in that last category aren't really Holocaust deniers, you are as much an anti-Semite as Ahmadinejad.

So anyone who thinks the present mistreatment of Palestinians is unjustifiable is an anti-Semite? Thanks, I'll keep that comment in mind for when people in MetaTalk threads claim "no one ever says that, it's just a straw man."
posted by languagehat at 12:25 PM on May 6, 2013 [17 favorites]


In Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, Deborah Lipstadt argues that Holocaust denial is not about facts - there's no way you can prove to the deniers that they are wrong - but all about legitimizing doubt that the Holocaust actually happened. So when try to prove Holocaust deniers are wrong with facts, we're actually helping deny the Holocaust.

Instead of poking holes in their arguments (which, with all the overwhelming and gruesome, dehumanizing evidence, is a fundamentally degrading thing to do), look instead for why they might be denying the Holocaust happened.

Recently, BC freelance Tom Hawthorn writer did a wonderful thing when he penned an "unofficial" biography of infamous Victoria lawyer Doug Christie, who died recently after spending decades defending Holocaust deniers under the cloak of "free speech."

Christie was never about free speech, since he attempted, through the courts, to silence any and all who wrote or spoke about him.

It was this fundamental contradiction between what Christie said and what he actually did that was illuminating and worth discussing, not how many bodies we can prove were burned in the ovens. We know that already, and don't need to legitimize these assholes by engaging them in argument.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:32 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


zombieflanders: "it plays into every horrible stereotype about the right

Y'know, if every couple of days you have to complain about somebody being a holocaust denier/downplaying rape culture/claiming Obama did Boston and 9-11/threatening armed marches on DC/making a "harmless joke" about minorities/freaking out about Sharia law and so forth, perhaps the problem isn't people playing into stereotypes.
"

I doubt any right winger even complained about one of their own "downplaying rape culture" as they deny that the phenomenon exists in the first place.

I don't think Obama-did-911 is much of anything real, either...I kind of hope it is though, as it would nicely match the left wing, Bush-did-9-11 crap from the early 2000s.

The rest of it is correct, sadly confirmed by my Facebook feed and insane statements from relatives and coworkers.
posted by aerotive at 12:32 PM on May 6, 2013


fredludd: "events in Germany and German crimes, 1933-1945, can't justify the present mistreatment of Palestinians"

languagehat: " So anyone who thinks the present mistreatment of Palestinians is unjustifiable is an anti-Semite? Thanks, I'll keep that comment in mind for when people in MetaTalk threads claim "no one ever says that, it's just a straw man.""

I can't speak for fredludd, but I read the bullet in his comment more as "The Jews of Israel use the Holocaust as an excuse to mistreat the Palestinians." Which I have seen posed as an argument before.

I could be wrong, though.
posted by zarq at 12:37 PM on May 6, 2013


He became convinced that on some points they were right and that as a Jew, he would undertake a quixotic quest to "correct" the historical record, arguing that Auschwitz was not an extermination camp in the manner of Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzac and Chelmno – which he acknowledged were part of a genocidal programme against Polish Jews; that the Holocaust ended in 1943, when the Nazis realised they needed Jewish slave labour for factories; and that there was no overarching, genocidal plan, but an evolving, morphing policy which claimed perhaps 4 million, rather than 6 million, Jewish lives.

See, it's this stuff that I just don't get. Who the f*ck cares that it was 4 million not 6 million Jews? What part of one person who died during this is one too many do they not understand? How is it that revising the figures down to 4 million will in any way make the shit smell better?
posted by Leezie at 12:42 PM on May 6, 2013


“I have never seen a more sublime demonstration of the totalitarian mind, a mind which might be linked unto a system of gears where teeth have been filed off at random. Such snaggle-toothed thought machine, driven by a standard or even by a substandard libido, whirls with the jerky, noisy, gaudy pointlessness of a cuckoo clock in Hell."
posted by KokuRyu at 12:48 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Usually of the right"? I'm willing to bet you that the majority of deniers of history driven by extreme ideology in, say, the last century have been on the left, and I will win that bet.

Genuinely curious: how do you figure? I am assuming that for the purposes of this question we understand that it's a claim about observers, not perpetrators. So, for example, we are not counting actual Nazis from the regime denying that the Holocaust occurred, or Soviet officials denying the Ukrainian starvation, or Chinese Communist Party denying the famine in the wake of the Great Leap Forward, or Pol Pot's apparatchiks denying their mass-murders etc.. My understanding of the common usage of the term "Holocaust Deniers" is as applied to observers not actual participants in the crimes, since it's hardly a revelation that the actual perpetrators will always attempt to deny their crimes.

Now, there was some denialism of history for many on the left during the 30's through 60's about the realities of Soviet political mass murder, especially true for the various Communist parties in the West during the Stalin cult times (before the Khrushchev "secret speech"), but other than that, it's hard for me to think of wide-spread systematic denials of history on the left (by non-perpetrators). But if wrong, I'm happy to consider other perspectives - you learn something new every day.
posted by VikingSword at 1:00 PM on May 6, 2013


I expect that the number of confused leftists who at various points said that things in $COMMUNIST_TOTALITARIAN_STATE really aren't so bad, or that $NOTIONALLY_COMMUNIST_GUERRILLAS really are some solid freedom fighters probably outnumber holocaust deniers.

But I also expect that a lot of those people weren't denying history so much as denying current events, or at most the immediate past.

I'd bet that the number of confused leftists who, now, think that Stalin didn't kill a gazillion people or that the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward were really exaggerated, or that the killing fields of Cambodia were made-up -- a better analog to holocaust deniers -- is pretty small and wouldn't want to bet much on whether there are more of them or the deniers.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:38 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, ROU_Xenophobe, that's why I raised my eyebrows at languagehat's claim. I suspect we don't see eye-to-eye on what constitutes "history denial".

Take the example of leftists denying the existence of gravity of Communist crimes - that was a question, at least for a time, about genuine access to information. The lefties in question - foolishly - discounted absolutely all evidence in favor of the official positions of the perpetrators propaganda. Many genuinely believed that the propagandists wouldn't lie to them, but some were willing accomplices in that propaganda.

But to me, here is the crucial distinction: once incontrovertible evidence started piling up from very disparate sources, that leftist buy-in to history denialism started to melt away. Once Khrushchev gave his speech, Solzhenitzin wrote his books, a wave of refugees from the Soviet Union came to the West with their accounts, the Cultural Revolution was exposed by both the Communist Party (partially) and refugees from China, the vast majority of the leftist denialists changed their tune. Today, there are very few people on the left who don't acknowledge the enormity of totalitarian communist crimes, or try to minimize it.

That is the critical difference. The signal characteristic of Holocaust Denial is that the holders of such views appear to be largely immune to evidence, no matter the source. It's been almost 70 years since the Holocaust, and if anything, Holocaust Denialism appears to grow. It took much less time for the lefties to abandon any defense or denial of communist state crimes - and there is no push to go back to denying history there.

It is about a cast of mind. Anyone can be wrong, ignorant of history, rely on wrong sources, put their trust in untrustworthy sources, make mistakes in reasoning and so forth. The difference is: can you get through to them with evidence in the end, whether it take awhile or is fast? To me, that is the difference between the wrong/ignorant/deceived, and the true denialists. By that criterion, it seems to me, there are far more denialists on the right than on the left. But I am certainly open to evidence to the contrary and am eager to hear the case for the opposite (so hopefully, I'm not being a denialist about leftist denialims vs rightist denialsm, heh).
posted by VikingSword at 2:03 PM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]




The term "leftists" here is a convenient straw man. As the Holocaust should have taught us, we are all humans first.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:25 PM on May 6, 2013


languagehat: Do you have any idea what you're talking about, or are you just punching keys at random?

Pretty sure that was sarcasm, making fun of Western Maoists and Maoist sympathizers, who indeed rarely ever speak Chinese or give any impression that they've read a history book that wasn't written by Party members in their lives. I can see why it seemed like a complete non-sequitur, but if you spend any time in certain corners of the internet (there are surprisingly large numbers of authoritarian hard-leftists of the worst sort all over Tumblr and Twitter), you're bound to run into them, and they definitely get much more of a free pass than Holocaust deniers would, even though, IMO, they really shouldn't. This is probably the case in large part because of exactly what you were saying before about the Soviets being on the winning side- so in short, I think TOCATY was backing up your point by sarcastically posing as an example of it, basically.

VikingSword
: By that criterion, it seems to me, there are far more denialists on the right than on the left. But I am certainly open to evidence to the contrary and am eager to hear the case for the opposite (so hopefully, I'm not being a denialist about leftist denialims vs rightist denialsm, heh).

This whole question is a difficult one to answer because there isn't really an easy way of quantifying the number and significance of right-wing historical atrocity-deniers versus the number of left-wing ones, but ultimately I think languagehat is probably right. I would say that, from my observations, there are rather more current examples of denial of Leninist atrocities out there than one might think, and that they seem to be growing more common if anything. (As mentioned, there seems to be no shortage of Maoists on Tumblr and Twitter.) For an example of present-day denial of Soviet atrocities from a group of some significance, here's the Greek Communist Party's flagrantly Stalinist account of Soviet history, written as recently as 2007 and still proudly displayed on their website, and it would be easy to come up with many other examples like that from less significant political parties. Also, though it's true that the revelations of Khrushchev and Solzhenitsyn and so forth drove lots of people on the left away from the Soviet cause, a number of them simply moved on to cheerleading for other Leninist states- e.g. the fascination with Maoism found in certain parts of the left in the late 60s/early 70s period. As well, there were no shortage of accounts (e.g. those of Emma Goldman and Viktor Kravchenko, among many others) of what was going on in the Soviet Union long before Khrushchev's speech which were simply met with flat denial by all too many on the left- I think the eventual rejection of Leninism among many who had supported it was a much more slow, messy and less rational process than a simple case of revising their views to fit the evidence. I think it's also the case that, to this day, apologists for Leninism tend to get a pass on it in a way that wouldn't be the case for apologists for fascism, and their Leninism is not seen as something that taints everything else they do in the way that fascism would- Heidegger's Nazism is seen as calling the value of his entire philosophy into question to a much greater extent than Sartre's Soviet/Maoist apologia does to his philosophy, and Alain Badiou is a proud Maoist who has defended the Cultural Revolution and doesn't really seem to take much flak for it, certainly not in the way that I'm pretty sure he would if he held far-right views. The reasons why this is the case are many and complicated, but unfortunately, I think I have to disagree with you that the left has come to terms with the darker side of its history as well as it should. (Though it's probably still doing better than the right, which often resorts to simply denying that fascism had anything to do with right-wing ideology- I've seen people on the left try that maneuver when it comes to Leninism, but much less often.)
posted by a louis wain cat at 7:16 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


What are the best estimates as to the number of Jews who died as a result of war in World War II and the number who died by which various means? How many Jews died as a result of typhus for example? How many died as a result of being gassed in a gas chamber (I've seen it claimed that Zyklon B or similar was only an insecticide)? People have mentioned that burning a body in an oven takes consider time and could only have incinerated a few tens of thousands of bodies. I've read the claim that General Patton hated Jewish refugees of which there were a million at war's end. I am trying to get a better idea as to the extent of death. I think estimates are that 50-70 million people died as a result of World War II in Europe.
posted by millardsarpy at 8:05 PM on May 6, 2013


Millardsarpy, two good places to start are the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (click on "Holocaust History" or "Holocaust Encyclopedia" on the left) and Ken McVay's Nizkor Project, which is devoted to refuting holocaust deniers. You can find most of the answers to your questions on this page of Ken McVay's site.

The USHMM says that "the estimated number of Jewish fatalities during the Holocaust is usually given as between 5.1 and 6 million victims", but it depends on your definitions and the assumptions you make.

I have never seen an overall figure for deaths from typhus, but it's a bit of a derail because do you distinguish between Jewish deaths due to typhus before and after deportation? Deaths due to typhus in a ghetto, and those in a concentration camp? What about prisoners who died of typhus after liberation? The best answer I could give is that around four hundred thousand Hungarian Jews were taken to Auschwitz in May, June, and July 1944; most of them were killed soon after arrival; none of those deaths were due to typhus. But does it really make a difference?

You can read about gas chambers here. Yes, Zyklon B can be used as an insecticide. It is also lethal to humans. Bodies were burned in ovens (Auschwitz had many ovens, each capable of burning many corpses, and they didn't bother turning corpses into ash) but corpses were also buried in pits or burned on pyres. Here are some estimates of the number of corpses that were burned each day at Auschwitz.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:07 PM on May 6, 2013


In college I ran into some Communists who were famous around campus for (to at least some extent) minimizing the atrocities that happened under Stalin and Mao.

Even on my far-left leaning campus, among committed leftists who should have been fertile ground for these folks -- especially considering that we all grew up in the 80's and 90's and barely even remembered the Cold War -- nobody would touch them with a ten foot pole.

I don't know enough people on the far right to say how this compares with holocaust denialism.

As far as contagious conspiracy theories go, people I knew back then were much more prone to 9/11 Truth than giving a shit about anything Stalin or Mao did.
posted by Sara C. at 10:37 PM on May 6, 2013


I had some anarcho-commie friends who used to be very reliably against apologetics for Stalin and Mao. I didn't see them for a few weeks and suddenly they were Maoists who'd get very upset at people for bringing up Stalinist atrocities. Utterly bizarre.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:42 PM on May 6, 2013


I mean, don't get me wrong- literally anything the US said about the USSR or China during the Cold War? I'd sooner believe that my mother was from Mars. But the information that came out after the end of the Cold War, you can't and musn't ignore that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:45 PM on May 6, 2013


a louis wain cat, thank you for your insightful answer. I suppose one of the problems in trying to estimate relative numbers on either side is always going to be definitional. I take my cues from my understanding of the phenomenon of Holocaust Denialism, and depending on how that understanding reflects reality, we may reach different conclusions. Perhaps delving into fine shades of definitions may strike some as splitting hairs, but here we are. I think that a lot of what you cited can probably be put down to apologists vs denialists. Many of those extremist far left ideologues don't actually attempt to deny the reality of what happened under communist totalitarian regimes, but rather claim that those were necessary measures however brutal. It's not saying "it never happened" (denialism) but rather "it was necessary" (apologetics).

Regarding, as you put it, "apologists for Leninism", from my understanding, it's a slightly different case. No doubt many outright minimized the significance of his crimes, but again, his crimes were being portrayed by his apologists as necessary sacrifices. Furthermore, in an another important respect, it was radically different than Holocaust denialism, in that on the whole the brutal acts were not seen as some kind of good in and of itself, but a regrettable necessary step, an imperfect and transitory stage of development, as famously quoted in the context of Lenin "you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs" (Nazis didn't see the final solution as regrettable on any level). But more broadly there is something else going on with Leninist apologists - it represents an attempt to rescue Lenin's reputation from the stain of Stalin. The claim is that Stalin distorted Lenin's plan and that the crimes under Stalin would never have happend - or happened on the same scale - had Lenin been in charge. Now, that may be completely mistaken, but it is a speculation about unknowable projection of how history might have looked, rather than a denial about how it actually was... we will never know who was right as Lenin did not survive (same for Trotsky etc.) - although good reasons exist for fearing the worst. But regarding Naziism - we do know what happened, there is no speculation, and there can only be denial.

Finally, in slicing the differences ever more finely, the example of unrepentant Stalinist Greek Communist Party represents yet another - this time very, very, very thin difference from the Holocaust denialists. Because it appears that the Greek Communist Party didn't so much deny the crimes of Stalin, as simply passed over them in silence. Now, I completely agree that it's like asking which shit sandwich tastes better, but there is - dog help me - a difference between someone who outright invents facts and loudly claims the opposite of the blatant evidence and someone who simply fails not claim anything. The denialist will scream loudly "It never happened!!" while these guys basically go "my, what fine weather we have today". Yes, it's a mica thin difference, and I won't quarrel if you claim that that's no difference at all /pedant/. It's despicable in either case.

This is not to absolve apologists, propagandists and the willfully blind on the left (or right) of their myriad crimes - chief among them crimes against Truth - but to describe a particular sub-species of that dismal lot, the history denialists a prominent example of which are Holocaust Deniers.
posted by VikingSword at 10:48 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


To clarify, I should say that I'm using the term "Leninism" as a sort of shorthand for what is properly called Marxism-Leninism, which was the official ideology of the Soviet Union and all of the states that followed in its footsteps. Stalinism, Maoism and Trotskyism (along with other smaller forms of it like Titoism or Hoxhaism) are all subsets of Marxism-Leninism, and whatever their other differences, are all founded on Lenin's idea of the vanguard party guiding the masses to true communism. So, when I refer to apologia for Leninism, that's covering apologia for Stalin, Mao, etc, not just the regime of Lenin himself. Sorry if that wasn't clear- I prefer the term "Leninist" over "Communist" since there are many forms of communist ideology that are very distinct from the guiding ideology of the Soviet Union, and which don't deserve to be lumped in with it.

I think you're right that this sort of thing on the authoritarian far left (at least in the present day) is less likely to take the form of outright denial than it is to take the form of a sort of minimization/justification/pass over in silence approach- I personally don't think it's all that different from a moral standpoint or in terms of the psychology behind it, but I do see your point. Holocaust denial is sort of a unique case, in a way, because the Holocaust itself occupies a unique place in our cultural memory, and deniers of it are trying to overcome that in order to sell people on their true agenda. I'm pretty sure that in the majority of cases, Holocaust denial is basically a ploy- most deniers are neo-Nazis who are trying to win more recruits to their ideology, and I think that most of them actually know full well that it did happen, and know that honestly stating what they think about that would turn virtually everyone off to their true cause, so this is how they attempt to get around it. They know that the fact of the Holocaust guarantees that virtually no one is going to want to follow their ideology, so the only option they see as open to them is to sow doubt about the specific facts of it. In the case of followers of ideologies tied to less infamous atrocities, I think they generally feel less of a need to do this, since (for example) the Cultural Revolution just doesn't have the same sort of cultural resonance here, and claiming that it was basically a noble endeavor that just got slightly out of hand in places is less likely to make the average person recoil in horror right away. This isn't limited to authoritarian leftists- right-wingers who are defending less infamous regimes than that of Nazi Germany (like that of Pinochet, say) also, IME, tend more towards the minimization/justification/pass over in silence techniques rather the outright "it didn't happen" approach.
posted by a louis wain cat at 1:56 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Joe in Australia, yes, the numbers do make a difference. I don't know what the breakdown is as to deaths per cause of death but I do encounter people on the Internet who claim only 200 000 Jews died as a result of World War II. I've seen people claim that it is not possible to burn so many bodies as claimed because of the burn rate of a human body. I've seen it claimed by Holocaust doubters Zyklon B does not harm people. It is difficult to counter such claims when the claimant is adamant and it appears that the numbers that are traditionally accepted were established shortly after the victors' victory after the war and appear to not have undergone thorough scrutiny.
Too many people died as a result of World War II. Massive numbers of war related deaths occur today. For example, I've recently encountered estimates that there have been 5.6 million war related Afghan deaths since 2001 and 4.6 million war related Iraqi deaths since 1990. I also understand that over five million people may have been killed through warfare in eastern Congo over the last few years.
posted by millardsarpy at 2:50 AM on May 7, 2013


I think you will find that the Nizkor Project website addresses every allegation they make, including your question about numbers. In fact the Yad Vashem database has about 4.2 million recorded names of victims of the Holocaust, of which about 2.5 million were entered from testimonies supplied by the victims' own relatives. They're not some numbers just plucked out of the air.

As for the numbers of people who have died from war: every death is an individual tragedy and every person should be remembered. I don't see what this has to do with holocaust denial, though.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:16 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is difficult to counter such claims when the claimant is adamant

One possible solution (for you, as an individual) is to roll your eyes and walk away/close the tab. As has been discussed above, Holocaust deniers are not interested in and will not be convinced by the facts. Their motivation does not come from a desire to establish a more accurate historical record. These are people who are not convinced by records the Nazis themselves kept; they're not going to be convinced by you.
posted by rtha at 6:14 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Holocaust Denial on Trial site is another good resource for rebutting denialist claims. Really though, if deniers were going to be swayed by such paltry things as facts, evidence, and first hand testimony, they wouldn't be deniers to begin with.
posted by Panjandrum at 6:34 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


He was trolling before the internet was a thing to troll on.

Close. It was alt.revisionism on Usenet where he got his start. David Irving, Enrst Zundel, Willis Carto; I remember the lot of them. Cut my teeth arguing against their dangerous nonsense. Not at all surprised at how he turned out.
posted by scalefree at 6:53 AM on May 7, 2013


> Today, there are very few people on the left who don't acknowledge the enormity of totalitarian communist crimes, or try to minimize it.

Isn't it pretty to think so? Fortunately, a louis wain cat has done a better job of explaining than I would likely have; I would just add that you are seriously underestimating the number of Russians who simply don't believe what revisionists (subsidized by Western propagandists!) tell them about the crimes of the Soviet state. And of course only a tiny minority of the billion-plus Chinese would believe the full roster of horrors perpetrated by the CCP, beyond the accepted set of "Mao's errors" authorized by official historians (compare the official list of "Stalin's errors" accepted after Khrushchev's speech, though at first knowledge was restricted to party members).

> The signal characteristic of Holocaust Denial is that the holders of such views appear to be largely immune to evidence, no matter the source.

That is certainly true, and an important point. I hope it's clear that I'm not in any way trying to minimize the awfulness of Holocaust denial; I'm just trying to counteract the near-ubiquitous assumption on the part of those who lean left (which, let's face it, is most of us at MeFi) that Our Guys aren't as bad as Their Guys. For many years that involved a truly disgusting refusal to accept the horribleness of the Soviet Union (people forget how badly Brodsky was treated when he talked about it in the '70s and '80s); now it takes milder forms like "it's mainly right-wingers who deny the facts of history," but I still don't like it and want to nip it in the bud. (One nice thing about being an anarchist is that you have little incentive to play down anybody's crimes and misdemeanors, except maybe a few Ukrainians in the Russian Civil War and a few Spaniards in theirs.)
posted by languagehat at 8:26 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


So, when I refer to apologia for Leninism, that's covering apologia for Stalin, Mao, etc, not just the regime of Lenin himself.

Wait a sec, though. I think there's a HUGE difference between being an "apologist for Marxism-Leninism" and denying the atrocities perpetrated by Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc.

Marxism-Leninism is an ideology. It's not popular in the West today, but in other parts of the world it's still a going concern (which doesn't necessarily result in large-scale atrocities). You can agree or disagree with this ideology, and that has nothing much to do with anything Stalin did.

If you assume all Communists are leftist-atrocity-deniers, then yeah, Languagehat is right, the Holocaust Deniers are a drop in the bucket. Because there are millions of people in places like India who are card-carrying members of Marxist-Leninist parties.

But I don't think that's a fair comparison. The comparison should be between Holocaust Deniers on the right and Stalin/Mao apologists on the left. In that situation, the left might still come out ahead, but it's not really something you can declare by fiat.
posted by Sara C. at 10:11 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks, languagehat, I was curious as to how you reached your conclusions. I hope this exchange has been fruitful. I have zero issue with your vigilance about giving the Left a pass for their extremists, and concur. Perhaps I read too many right-wing sources and sites that wage a perpetual propaganda war against anything to the left of Genghis Khan, but it has made me very careful about agreeing too readily to assumed definitions and unstated assumptions.

"I would just add that you are seriously underestimating the number of Russians who simply don't believe what revisionists (subsidized by Western propagandists!) tell them about the crimes of the Soviet state. And of course only a tiny minority of the billion-plus Chinese would believe the full roster of horrors perpetrated by the CCP, beyond the accepted set of "Mao's errors" authorized by official historians (compare the official list of "Stalin's errors" accepted after Khrushchev's speech, though at first knowledge was restricted to party members)."

I can certainly see how that would make large numbers move to one column or another. However, I must point out that there are many assumptions here which make this a very dubious exercise.

There are indeed millions of Russians and Chinese who are either unaware of communist state crimes, don't believe those crimes existed because they disbelieve/distrust the sources, suppress or deny that such crimes existed. Indisputably true. The problem is different: why do we call these people "of the Left"? Undoubtedly some are, but the vast majority are not.

There is a reason why I didn't call out whole populations as falling along the divide of Left-Right when it comes to f.ex. Holocaust Denial. There are millions upon millions of people in the Arab world, and indeed the Muslim world, who subscribe to various shades of Holocaust Denial. That is undeniable. Yet, I don't count those vast numbers in the column of the Right, which would indeed immediately inflate the numbers. That is because their denial/minimization is driven by a variety of motivations which spring not from the political extremist positions of the Right, but based on nationalism, anti-Zionism, anti-Israel, anti-Semitism, anti-Colonialism, resentments, anger, and so forth. Vast numbers of Muslims who have nothing to do politically with the Right - who are all over the Left-Right spectrum - subscribe to such denialism, including many Muslims who are extreme left communists.

Here is the crucial point: they participate in the denial of a monstrous Right crime - the Holocaust - but don't do it from a political Right position (unlike here in the West). The Holocaust was engineered by the extreme right (Naziism), but the deniers of the Holocaust in the Muslim world are not subscribers to the ideology of Naziism. Their motivation, at bottom, is nationalist, and a reaction against Israel and the West.

This exact same situation obtains for the millions of Russians and Chinese who participate in the minimization/denial/ignorance of monstrous extremist Leftist crimes, but don't do it from the perspective of the political Left. They are essentially driven by nationalism, and a general reaction against the West. And we can see that, because the people who do it come from all over the political spectrum of Left to Right. There are hard-core Communists, but there are tons of fascists and extreme nationalists in Russia, who extol Stalin, not because he was a communist, but because he was a "strong man". It is an authoritarian impulse, driven by extreme nationalism. Now, it would be absurd to call fascists (replete with Sieg Heil salutes at their demonstrations!) adherents of the political Left.

The same obtains for them as obtained for the Muslims vs Holocaust Denial: they participate in the denial of extremist Left crimes (rather than Right crimes like the Holocaust), but are not adherents of the Left (or Right for Muslim Holocaust Denialists).

Indeed, the rise of Putin and his political support is quite interesting in this regard. Putin actually came from the totalitarian left apparatchik background, and its enforcement arm (KGB) - you can hardly get more "extreme leftist" than that. AND he has participated in the white-washing of communist crimes, and the covert semi-rehabilitation of Stalinism.

Yet, he has not done that from a Left political perspective - it was from the perspective of authoritarianism and Nationalism. His support is not on the political Left - not even the hard core Communists - it is on the political Right, and extreme Nationalism. Nobody on the left thinks of Putin as "their guy", either in Russia, or outside of Russia.

Instead, the xenophobia, anti-Semitism, extreme Nationalism, has all the tell-tale signs of fascism - and his supporters, particularly his young supporters are very much like the brawling brownshirts of the extreme right, down to flags, salutes, etc..

Indeed, Putin himself, has resurrected not only the authoritarian appeal of Stalinism, but of Tsarism (and a portion of his support is from extreme nationalist supporters of monarchism) - again, not so much because he thinks that the Tsar was the bees-knees, but because it appeals to authoritarian Nationalism - we certainly are not going to call monarchism as springing from the political left.

Furthermore the growing mutual support of and by the Russian Orthodox Church is yet another manifestation of Putin's desire to strengthen the authoritarian Nationalism in Russia. It would be absurd to call the support of religion and by religious structures a feature of the political Left.

And there you have it: support of Tsarism and the Russian Orthodox Church - the exact thing the Communists have fought against. Bottom line: these people are not the people of the Left.

The same thing is true for the Chinese. The Chinese reaction is a Nationalist reaction. It does not spring from the Left. Their opposition to the West - including political opposition - is not from a Left perspective. It is from a Nationalist perspective. In fact, the Chinese Communist Party doesn't emphasize their old left wing political goals, but uses nationalism to motivate the population.

So, just as I don't count the millions of Muslim subscribers to Holocaust Denial as being on the political right, so too, I don't count the millions of Russians and Chinese who minimize/deny/disbelieve communist crimes as being on the political left. That is because neither are (except for a small fringe in both cases).

The whole discussion started with the phenomenon of history denialism (especially Holocaust Denial) in the West. In this context, I maintain that it's mostly a phenomenon of the right. It certainly exists elsewhere, but the right/left political divide is not a useful metric when it comes to whole populations in the very countries affected by these historical events, that are not part of the Western political discourse.

In the context of the discourse here in the West, however, that's been my observation wrt. historical denialism.
posted by VikingSword at 12:02 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is a reason why I didn't call out whole populations as falling along the divide of Left-Right when it comes to f.ex. Holocaust Denial. There are millions upon millions of people in the Arab world, and indeed the Muslim world, who subscribe to various shades of Holocaust Denial. That is undeniable. Yet, I don't count those vast numbers in the column of the Right, which would indeed immediately inflate the numbers. That is because their denial/minimization is driven by a variety of motivations which spring not from the political extremist positions of the Right, but based on nationalism, anti-Zionism, anti-Israel, anti-Semitism, anti-Colonialism, resentments, anger, and so forth. Vast numbers of Muslims who have nothing to do politically with the Right - who are all over the Left-Right spectrum - subscribe to such denialism, including many Muslims who are extreme left communists.

That makes perfect sense, and I applaud you for limiting your case in such a principled way, but surely once you've restricted it that far you're down to a tiny core of people who are both deniers and clearly on the right of the political divide, and I'm pretty sure they could be beaten to a pulp by the smallish but not quite so tiny crew of leftists who deny leftist crimes. Plus I'm not at all sure that as many Holocaust deniers as you assume are in fact right-wing in any meaningful sense—anti-Semitism is its own thing and historically is no respecter of any particular political alignment. Or to put it another way: "And everybody hates the Jews."
posted by languagehat at 5:11 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]




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