One thing that shocked me when I moved to the UK from Eastern Europe roughly five years ago is how it is acceptable to be a communist supporter among young people here.
Even at Oxford, the number of people who think it’s a totally legitimate ideology is very high. Wolfson has organised a communism-themed bop, and Wadham JCR (sorry, Student Union) was going to vote on whether or not to fly the USSR flag to celebrate the end of World War II later this week. I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not kidding.
Let me reassure you – I do not intend to stage a protest and shut this bop down. I believe every JCR (or GCR for that matter) should be allowed to host whatever event they like and whilst I might find some of them objectionable, I don’t feel I’m in any position to tell people what to do.
What I find staggering, however, are the double standards so many people hold about the two great evils of the twentieth century, communism and national socialism.
Everyone at our university – I should hope – and the vast majority of people in this country would feel absolutely appalled, shocked and mind-blown if someone suggested to host a Nazi-themed bop or fly the Third Reich flag: and rightly so, of course. If someone were to upload a picture of Hitler or Mussolini wearing a party hat as their cover photo on Facebook, they would probably be reported to their college and disciplined. But turning Stalin into a fun, cuddly little creature is totally cool?
So many people at Oxford talk about no-platforming extreme views as shown by the reaction to the OSFL debates in Michaelmas last year and whilst I disagree with them, I would say they have a valid and intellectually defensible claim. What I can’t get my head around though is that after saying we shouldn’t platform Le Pen because she’s a fascist, they’re more than happy let the Oxford Marxist Society sign up members at Freshers’ fair.
They say it’s different, because communism is an ideology of liberation. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy this. The only reason why it’s become acceptable in the UK to be a communist is that the UK has never fought this poisonous ideology directly and has no direct experience of it. Go to the Czech Republic or Poland and you’ll be arrested for denying the crimes of the Soviet rule.
There actually are people at our university who want to fly a flag which symbolises a regime which killed around 20 million people, systematically used rape as a weapon in warfare, and targeted Jews, gay and disabled people in its killings. Flying it is neither cool nor hip: it’s beyond the pale.
Communism is not cool, and communist dictators are not bop costume material. When Prince Harry wore an SS uniform to a fancy dress party a few years ago, he was sent to Auschwitz to realise there are things one doesn’t joke about. I wonder whether it might be worth organising a trip to a few Siberian gulags.