11.1.12

“To tell the truth is revolutionary”

About historical revisionism in “post-bureaucratic socialist States”

Philippe Alcoy

The fall of Stalinist regimes and the reintroduction of the capitalism were radical changes for the “socialist countries” of the East of Europe. During a long time (45 years for some countries and more than 70 years for the Soviet Union) this region of the world escaped from the domination of capitalism : the national bourgeoisies and the imperialist companies were expropriated and the economy nationalized.

In some countries like Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, the so-called “socialist regimes” were “introduced” by the Red Army of Soviet Union in the end of the Second World War. We can call that “Cold Revolutions”. In the same time, in others countries like Yugoslavia and Albania[1], the “socialist regime” was born after the victory of the fight, leaded by communist parties, for national and social liberation. In those cases we can speak about a “Hot Revolution”.

Before the war and/or during it, almost all of those countries were governed by fascist or pro-fascist governments : Ante Pavelic, the leader of Ustaša movement, got the power in the “Independent State of Croatia” after the invasion of Belgrade by the Nazi forces in 1941, his regime committed mass crimes against the Serbs and the Jews ; Miklós Horthy in Hungary, that participated in the attack of the Nazis against Yugoslavia in 1941 ; Ion Antonescu in Romania who fought with Hitler’s troops against the Soviet Union. 

In Serbia, which was occupied by Nazis, there was a collaborationist government leaded by Milan Nedic and a nationalist/monarchist resistance, the Cetniks of Draža Mihailovic. But Mihailovic and his troops were more anti-communist than anti-fascist. In fact, during the War the Cetniks attacked communist resistance ; they committed massacres against the Muslims of Bosnia, against the Roma population, against Jews and Croats of course. Refusing to accept the massacres, many Croatians, Serbs and Muslims of Bosnia joined the “Partisans” leaded by Tito and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY).

The majority of the eastern countries of Europe, before the end of the War and the expropriation of national bourgeoisies and imperialist companies, were agrarians. The nationalization of the economy allowed industrializing those countries, to raise the standards of life and the conditions of work, to educate the people, etc.

But at the same time, authoritarian and bureaucratic political regimes were imposed. There were not democratic rights, freedom of critic or the right to create independent organizations of workers (unions, parties) from the State, etc. Those workers states were bureaucratically deformed. This situation provoked revolutionary movements like “The Revolution of Councils” of 1956 in Hungary, “The Prague Spring” of 1968 or Solidarnosc in Poland in 1980-81.

The defeat of those movements added to the economic crisis, as a consequence of the political and economical isolation, and the pressure of the imperialist governments, conduced those regimes to a deep crisis in the 80’s. In the end of that decade some bureaucrats, using demagogy about “democracy” (associated with some imperialist leaders), launched the process of restoration of capitalism.

The historical revisionism as a form to legitimate the “New” Regime

Every radical change of regime provokes a reinterpretation of the past. The eastern countries of Europe were not an exception. But in this case that wasn’t a simple reinterpretation. That was a deep “revision” of recent history. As Todor Kuljic says : “Historiography entails the continual re-examination of the historical picture to prevent its crystallization into a static legend. Such re-examination differs from revision in that the latter is motivated by clear or covert intentions to justify narrow or broad political objectives. Because the people in government are keenly interested in how the past is interpreted, one always discerns in the interpretation a layer of socio-integrative knowledge used to justify the order. This is why the need to revise history following a radical change of the nature of the regime and the abolition of the traditional socio-integrative thought is understandable. However, revisionists do not merely reinterpret the facts ; they also twist their meaning or contradict them outright. This is revisionism in the narrow sense of the word”[2].

The language is maybe one of the first affected by one special kind of revisionism : “Under the influence of politics, public journalism and science are openly repudiating the terms favoured by the former regime : for instance, the term ‘capitalism’ is giving way to ‘entrepreneurial society’, ‘exploitation’ to ‘disregard for human rights’, ‘working class’ to ‘state-building people or nation’, etc. Distancing oneself from the culture of one’s conceptual enemy by avoiding and condemning his language is a widespread linguistic-sociological phenomenon (…) One of the characteristics of current linguistic revisionism is the disappearance of the word ‘comrade’ ; the word was not exclusively used by communists, having been a customary form of address in German social democracy following the demise of Fascism. ‘Comrade’ was an expression of the class self-consciousness of equals. During the 1950s social democracy began using the words ‘lady’ and ‘gentleman’ in order to emancipate itself from this self-consciousness and ‘comrade’ as a reminder of the old days disappeared (…) Linguistic revisionism is not only a symbol but also an active segment of rewriting the past”[3].

The new ruling ideology in former bureaucratic socialist states had to be clearly anti-communist. Of course, this condemnation of “communist” past become more important when those who are (rather remain) in the top of the state were part of the “communist” nomenklatura ! 

We can say that the new “ideological identity” of the “elite” of those countries is the “national-liberalism”. “New leaders” explain that the “free” market is a guarantee for the democracy and freedom, like in the western countries. The new elite says that it wants to protect the “national interest”, victim of the “internationalist and anti-national Bolshevik ideology” ; they present themselves as defenders of “national victims of communists”… even the national fascist regimes of the WW2 ! 

But this new “ruling ideology” wants to be also anti-totalitarian : anti-communist and anti-fascist in the same time. So, they proceed to a revision of recent history to change the definition of those regimes during the War.

Here we have to make a distinction between different kinds of revisionism: “One should be able to tell the difference between distortion of facts and shift of emphasis, between negating and passing over or relativizing the shadows of the past, between moderate and radical revisionism. (…) The Berlin historian Vipermann has defined historical revisionism in the broadest terms as an inclination to alter the negative image of the Third Reich and to replace it with a more or less positive one. He differentiates between three patterns or degrees of revisionism using three kinds of arguments. The first group simply negates the Nazi crimes : those who treat the Auschwitz story as a lie (Rassinier, Faurrison, Tuðman, Leuchter and others) insist that no mass killings took place in the concentration camps and that no gas chambers were installed there (Reich, 1996). The second group does not deny the crimes but relativizes them : they say that the gas was the only distinctive feature of the Nazi crimes which affected minorities or peripheral groups, and that the Third Reich had its positive sides (Jesse, Zittelmann). The third group does not deny the crimes but likens them to those committed in other countries (comparing Auschwitz mostly to Gulag), attributing them to a general extra-national concourse of events or as a provoked reaction (Nolte)”[4].

Some examples

Ion Antonescu
The first example that we can point is the debate to rehabilitate Ion Antonescu in Romania : “A heated ‘Antonescu debate’ has been going on in that country for ten years already, involving a peculiar combination of relativization, justification of Fascism, revisionist argumentation and anti-Semitic incidents (Totok, 1998). The revisionists assert that Antonescu was a great Romanian patriot who took Hitler’s side out of necessity in order to recover Bessarabia and who spearheaded the fight against atheistic Bolshevism (…) Antonescu is hailed as ‘saviour of the nation’ against Communism and Hungarian revisionism (…) However, it was during the anti-Semitic Romanization under his regime that some 100,000 Jews perished, a point denied by contemporary revisionists. Since the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu streets have been renamed after Antonescu in several Romanian towns, his followers are clamouring for a monument to be erected in his honour, newspapers have been writing about his ‘holy anti-Bolshevik war’ on Hitler’s side, and Parliament observed a minute’s silence in his honour in June 1991”[5]. Recently, the current president of Romania, Traian Basescu, stressed that he would have done the same as Marshal Ion Antonescu did during the war, when he join Germany in invading the Soviet Union : “Yes, because we had an ally and a territory to recover [Moldova]”[6], Basescu said.


Ante Pavelic
In Croatia, revisionism tries to dissociate the Ustaša fascists from the “Independent State of Croatia” (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska – NDH). As former president of Croatia Franjo Tuðman said in 1990 : “The NDH was not only an ordinary quisling fascist creation but the manifestation of the centuries-old aspiration of the Croat people after an independent state”[7]. In this country “official state and scientific revisionism was manifested by rehabilitating various nationalist forces from the past (from Ustashism to the HSS party) and by laying claim to being ‘democratically anti-Fascist’ by criticizing its communist version”[8]. 

Some intellectuals like D. Jelcic say even that “the NDH army was not imbued with Fascism but with the idea of a Croat state, and that there were more antifascist among Ustashas than among partisans”[9].

This research for a democratic national past (anti-fascist and anti-communist) is a tentative to re-create a “national myth” which would be able to justify and legitimate the new (capitalist) State of Croatia. But for that they transform the past occulting the role of communist resistance against fascism and omitting to say that Serbs from Croatia have been part of that resistance against fascism in Croatia !

Draza Mihailovic
In Serbia the argumentation of revisionism is that the communists divided deliberately Serbs in Yugoslavia. That is the case, for instance, of Branko Petranovic : “In Petranovic’s work, the socialist past is still alive, not as a model to be imitated, but as a constant warning against, and a reminder of, the weakening and fragmentation of the national identity. The personification of this negative picture is Tito, and that more among Serb than Croat historians”[10]. 

In Serbia there is also a process of rehabilitation of Draža Mihailovic’s Cetniks who were monarchist, nationalist and anti-communist. As we wrote above, during the World War II they killed thousands of Bosniak Muslims and Croats. Officially they fought also against Nazi occupation but they fought more against communist Partisans.

In this case, there is a pressure from imperialist countries also. In fact, the European Union demands the Serb government to rehabilitate Cetniks to return property to their expropriated families by the revolution. In the name of the respect of the private property they must defend every “victim” of communist expropriations. This is a condition imposed by EU to accept Serbia as a “candidate for European integration”.

Conclusion

The ideological goal of the “demonization” of the “communist” past of the former bureaucratic socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe is evident. But the question is why a significant part of the new political “elite” in those countries adopt a nationalist language and political orientation to legitimate the new social system ?

Maybe we can find an essential part of the answer in the deep transformation of the economic system. The end of the planned economy, the reintroduction of the private property, the privatisation of the nationalized industry and the opening of the national market to the international competition were a big shock for people of Eastern Europe. The unemployment was rise, factories were closed, the standard of living of the working class dropped. In the same time, some former bureaucrats who became the “new national bourgeoisie”, by appropriating a big part of the most profitable nationalized enterprises, needed to defend their economic interests against monopolistic economic groups from “the West”.

It’s like that that the defense of “neo-bourgeoisie” economic interests was transformed in the defense of “national interests”. In this way, “global capitalism”, “internationalist Bolshevism” and “anti-national” elements into the country were the cause of the unemployment, of the misery, of the decline of the national industry, etc.

The project of those political tendencies to resolve the question of the “national suffering” is the utopian and reactionary construction of a “national capitalism”. The sense of the “national revisionism” of the past is to legitimate this project. But for the working class there is no “national salvation” without questioning class oppression, without questioning national oppression against the “national minorities”, without questioning capitalism. So, in this context of historical lies, we can agree with Gramsci’s sentence : “To tell the truth is revolutionary” ! 




NOTES

[1] In Greece there was also a communist party who leaded the fight against the fascists and the Nazis. But the Greek communists were abandoned by Stalin, who signed a secret pact for the partition of the region with Great-Britain leaders, and then by the communist leaders of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia who closed their borders with Greece. In the late 40’s Greek communists were massacred by the forces of the reaction.

[2] Todor KULJIC, “HISTORIOGRAPHIC REVISIONISM in Post-Socialist Regimes”. Article published inThe Balkans Rachomon – Historiography and literature on Dissolution of SFRY”, Helsinki Files No.11, Helsinki Commitee for Human Rights in Serbia, Beograd 2002, pp. 7-47.


[3] Idem.

[4] Idem.

[5] Idem.

[6] NineOclock.ro, “Russian envoy to NATO says Basescu ‘spreads’ Nazi ideas”, 25/7/2011.

[7] Todor Kuljic, « Historiographic revisionism… ».

[8] Idem.

[9] Idem.

[10] Idem.

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