John Laughland

Interview for the project

Fascism-XXI at your door

July 22, 2012.


Mr. Laughland can you tell us please, why is it common today to hear historians, politicians and journalists draw an equal sign between Communism and Nazism?

Well it is a very interesting question. In 1988 when I was still at Oxford the German historian Ernst Nolte was invited to speak small historical seminar and Nolte is the author of this idea that Nazism was in some ways a response, preemptive response to communism. The idea was that the European civil war as Nolte called it had started in 1917 in other words at the time of Bolshevik (regime) revolution. Nolte apparently doesn’t think that there was a war in 1914 and that the Bolshevik revolution set off a dialectical series of events in which communism was the beginning and Nazism was the response and in some ways preemptive response.

And his views in 1988 when he was invited (1988 of course was still the Cold War, admittedly Gorbachev had been in power for 3 years by then but nonetheless rebelling rouble was still standing, the two blocs were still facing each other ideologically) this idea was considered so shocking and so unacceptable that Nolte was disinvited by the head of the college where he’d been invited to give the seminar. Subsequently he was re-invited and he ended up having in the name of freedom of speech he ended up having hundreds and hundreds of listeners where as if he’d come to the original seminar he would’ve probably had 20 but the fact that he was disinvited and the fact that he was disinvited by the head of Wolfson college who said incredulously this man equates Hitler with Stalin should remind us that 20 years ago the equivalence between Nazism and Communism was considered completely outlandish.

It was completely unacceptable at least to some people to even say it. And yet in the 20 years since the end of the Cold War this idea has now become common currency. It’s become officially sanctioned historical truth. When by officially sanctioned I mean that there have been resolutions in the European Parliament, resolutions in the Council of Europe and no doubt various unofficial statements which equate Stalinism as they call it and Nazism.

Now my view, when you ask why is this the case, why in other words in the 20 year period in which we could have been having a rapprochement between Russia and former Soviet States and the rest of Europe why instead has there been this radicalization of the difference between communism and the West.

Why in other words has the ideological battle been sharpened in the last 20 years? Sharpened to an extent it was greater than it was even under the Cold War. And I think the answer lies in international geopolitics. At the end of the Cold War NATO, the West, had put in place large apparatus, military and political apparatus, military being NATO, political being the European Union and that apparatus had been created extensively to defend the West against communist aggression. I don’t incidentally think that there was ever any danger, that Stalin would have (attacked Eastern Europe) attacked Western Europe unprovoked, I think that was a fantasy, but that’s not a question.

Anyway these organizations were created and instead of them being dissolved particularly NATO in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed when the Warsaw Pact was dissolved. The West decided instead that they have to be preserved at all costs. And in order to preserve them at all costs they exaggerated and radicalized the ideological battle with Russia. And they actually made things worse when they could’ve become better. They said things that even during the Cold War they would never have said.

So I think that the reason for this equation between communism and Nazism lies quite simply in the desire to establish a unipolar world with American domination of the whole world. Programme which is being laid out quite explicitly in numerous policy papers ever appeared in 20 years by various people from democrats and republicans. And in order to pursue this project of establishing a full hegemony where in under the Cold War there have only been partial hegemony because America obviously only had hegemony over its part of the world where the Soviet Union obviously had hegemony or influence over the Eastern and Communist countries. The West decided the Americans particularly decided to go for what we used to call a Carthaginian peace in other words to completely eradicate their enemy whereas the Russians, the Soviets who initiated the programme, the process which led to the end of the Cold War (Gorbachev, to some extent Primakov, obviously Yeltsin) whereas they thought that this would mean Russia would be accepted as an equal partner as a cooperative element in a new (more) less you know tension ridden international system.

Instead the Americans decided to destroy former competitor as far as they possibly could. And they did this with the ideological battle that we’ve discussed but also of course in supporting the breakup of the Soviet Union itself which I know this is a different issue but this is part of the general determination to push Russia as far as possible out of Europe. It explains for instance the recuperation of the Ukraine and obviously of the Baltic States which in the latter case have obviously joined both NATO and European Union. So that’s why we see specifically in the Baltic States and to some extent in Poland and to some extent in Ukraine we see this radicalization of the ideological battle because these are the geographical zones where obviously the competition between East and West is most acute.

Ukraine and the Baltic States are historic Russian territories in the case of the Baltic States they were Russian for as long as Scotland was a part of the United Kingdom (Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom) but they were integrated into the Russian Empire at the beginning of the XVIIIth century in other words at the moment when the United Kingdom was founded. Ukraine obviously is the very heartland of the historic Russia and so on. But because these zones now have been recuperated by the Americans that’s why the ideological battle is particularly strong there.

Thanks. Can you, John, tell us please about the image of modern Russia in the West as a former communist country?

Yes, I mean, I don’t think that the mass media particularly talk about this equivalence between Nazism and Communism. I think that is more (something) that is more an idea that has become to circulate in political-science circles and in political circles, in parliaments and as I’ve said the European Parliament, the Council of Europe on its own. I think the mass media play a slightly different role but it is connected to this desire to as I say radicalize the ideological enmity towards Russia.

The way they play it is by presenting Russia as authoritarian irredeemably communist or Soviet state and above all this is where the geopolitics really comes in by equating Communism, Soviet communism or Communism generally by presenting Communism as an exclusively Russian imperialist phenomenon.

This idea is one of the most deeply held views now which poses as a completely accepted truth all over the world. The idea that the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union itself were purely Russian imperialist phenomena, this idea is completely false. There were plenty communists in all of the countries where communism was installed, admittedly, yes - by the presence of the Red Army but that in its turn was part of the dynamic of the Cold War.

Stalin’s original plan for Central Europe was not to have Communist Soviet satellite states in Central Europe. Yes, he wanted Poland to be politically neutralized. He wanted Poland, for obvious reasons, he wanted Poland to be effectively under Soviet control but that was not his plan for Czechoslovakia or Hungary or indeed for Germany itself.

Stalin wanted for Germany and for Central Europe including Czechoslovakia the model which he eventually achieved for Austria and for Finland in other words he was perfectly happy for those countries to be capitalist to belong into the western economic system providing that they remain military neutral. That was his plan for Germany and for Czechoslovakia.

Now the events of the Prague coup in 1948 and so on meant that never happened but the Prague coup the taking over of Czechoslovakia by communists was itself part of the break down an agreement between East and West. But it was also home generated there were enough communists in Czechoslovakia just as there were to be in Poland and in Hungary and in all of these countries to a greater or lesser extent of course but there were nonetheless people there who were prepared to take on this role and to govern their countries in a way that was pro-Soviet.

In other words it is completely historically untrue to present (the Warsaw ) ... even the Warsaw Pact, never mind the Soviet Union as a purely Russian imperialist phenomenon. But the reason why this is presented now in the western media and indeed in academic circles is once again to encourage this ideological enmity towards Russia to show that the West is progressive, modern, liberal, democratic; where is Russia whether soviet or post-soviet is reactionary, authoritarian and backward. And so communism which throughout the 60s and 70s (50s, 60s and 70s and probably even into the 80s) inspired people all over the world you know from Havana to Hanoi irregardless of whether or not they were Russians it was literally an international phenomenon.

The West instead wants to present itself as more progressive than that dream which for good or ill inspired so many people all over the world. And it’s in that myth it’s in presenting that myth of communism as a purely Russian imperialist phenomenon that the west seeks to show to demonstrate that Russia is irredeemably reactionary and authoritarian. And so we see it of course with the comments the endless obsessive comments about Putin. This idea that you know there is this evil genius in the Kremlin who controls every single thing that happens in Russia.

It’s a sort of paranoid vision a paranoid vision encouraged by the way by disaffected and largely marginal liberal oppositionists in Russia itself who have very little audience in their own country but a very willing audience in the West and because they very often speak English or indeed are paid for by the Americans which is very often the case. Their sayings are listened to even if it’s very low grade and of course very biased stuff.

This people and of course their paymasters and their allies in the west have a strange obsession with the personality of Vladimir Putin and indeed with Russia in general so every single piece of news you get out of Russia is always negative you know you never have, at least it has been under Putin. Under Yeltsin it was the other way around, under Yeltsin every single piece of news coming out of Russia was positive because Yeltsin was a western poodle so even though the country was in a state of terrific chaos at that stage.

Huge numbers of people dying at old age in poverty and the country was in a terrible downward spiral at that stage you only had propaganda in the western media about reform and how Russia was making progress and so on. Now that reform and progress economic progress has actually started and has been going on now for more than 10 years instead all we hear is about you know floods in Krasnodar or the fires last year or you know whatever negative information can be put out it’s put out and it’s always the evil Mr. Putin’s fault. He is always the all controlling evil genius who as everybody keeps repeating (was the head of the) they always say he was a head of the KGB even though when it was the KGB he was only a relatively junior official. So they always remind everyone of this Soviet past as if Russia had continued to be Soviet while everybody else had moved on. The truth of course is precisely the opposite.

It is that Russia itself the Soviet Union itself for good or ill initiated the process which led to the collapse of communism in Europe and the dislocation of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. The initiative did not come from …. it came to some extent from Poland and the “Solidarity” movement that was a fact, but the really decisive moves came from Gorbachev himself. We all remember that Honecker and the other eastern European leaders refused to follow Gorbachev they refused to follow him in his policies and yet they were of course finally defeated but they were defeated because Gorbachev was more powerful than they were and managed to impose his vision then everything ended badly for Russia but nonetheless nobody can deny that it was the people in the Kremlin and particularly Gorbachev who initiated this process and yet that is all now being forgotten and instead as I say Russia is presented as effectively totalitarian state.

John, could you explain to us what would Russia have to do in your opinion to join the European Union one day (which is inevitable process)? Do they have to denounce their communist past? Would it be one of the conditions on which Russia would be accepted?

I don’t agree that it’s inevitable that Russia would join the European Union in fact nobody is talking about it and my own view is that the European Union will’ve ceased to exist by the time anybody starts talking about Russia joining. The European Union is not going to last forever. We can already see that it’s suffering from very severe internal tensions over the Euro so I don’t agree that it’s inevitable. But of course I sympathize with your basic question which is what must Russia do to rejoin the European family.

I’m afraid for as long as the Americans continue to exert the hegemony over the European Union and over European states and it is a hegemony which they exert because we must never forget that the European Union was like NATO creation of the Cold War.

The Americans wanted the Europeans to come together precisely because they wanted to make the western bloc cohesive against the soviets, cohesive even when Germany itself of course was divided, in other words they wanted to make the European the pan-European sentiment stronger even on the national sentiment of the Germans. So the European Union is an American instrument and remains an American instrument even to this day. It’s populated by people who look to America, it’s run by people who look to America or at least look to this sort of post-national future which they think America embodies, post-modern future ultimately.

So to answer your question: what must Russia do? For as long as America exists as it still is now today, 20 years after the end of the Cold War as the dominant world power. The only way Russia could be accepted into the European family would be for it to disappear as a state. There is no way that Russia can be integrated into the European family because Russia’s integration into the European family would radically upset the current geopolitical balance which is one where of course America calls the shots. If Russia went into the European family fully as of course it should then you know there can’t be two super powers or at least two big powers in the European continent.

And when I say Russia would have to disappear as a state I mean that in a real sense of word. There are plenty of people including in Russia itself but obviously also abroad who would like to see the Russian territory reduced even further. It already of course was drastically and indeed incidentally artificially reduced when the Soviet Union broke up.

Because it should always be remembered that the Soviet Union was not the creation of the Soviets, it was not the creation of the Bolsheviks, it wasn’t Lenin who created the territory of the Soviet Union. The territory of the Soviet Union was the territory of Russia, historical Russia; it was the territory of the Russian Empire.

Lenin created on the territory of the single Russian state a number of administrative units in order to promote his idea that the Soviet Union was in the avant-garde of the world revolution and that the Soviet Union was a union of peoples and that eventually the whole world would unite along similar lines. That’s why he federalized Russia, not just Russia but the whole of the Russian Empire.

And he created of course this Russian Federation as the centerpiece of the Soviet Union. But he federalized what had been a unitary territory. And then those units were then put forward as states. Many of them, most of them in fact, had never been states, Ukraine for instance; the Baltic States had never been states. The Central Asian khanates had of course existed into the 19th century and so on, but in Europe they had never been states, so they had no background at all in independent state existence. Their existence had, in the case of the Baltic States, been under various powers – Sweden, Germany, and Russia - but in the case of Ukraine and Belarus they had obviously always been part of the Russian state, the Russian empire, except when they were under Polish occupation.

So having achieved this dislocation of the historic Russian territory by dismantling the Soviet Union, people are still pushing for further territorial loss within the borders of the Russian Federation itself – I’m thinking of course of the Caucasus states, Chechnya and so on. The Chechen separatists were strongly supported by the American neo-conservatives even though they were obviously Islamist radicals and terrorists. But there was, and still is as far as I know an American committee for ‘Peace in Chechnya’ which effectively supported the Chechen cause. London as you know has given political asylum to some of the leading Chechen terrorists and so on.

But I think even more importantly than that, Russia would have to abandon the national values which she has rediscovered in the post-Soviet period – this is one of the most remarkable things really about the Soviet period. That underneath this, sort of Soviet, (what we in the West generally thought of) Soviet permafrost, once there had been the thaw, once the permafrost had melted away, we see and have seen now for twenty years in Russia, roots reappearing. Leaves, little shoots reappearing – and they are growing into significant plants – of Russian national feeling. People ... I don’t want to say rediscovering, because I think these feelings probably always existed, but [these feelings] have now been strengthened, particularly through the rebirth of the Russian Orthodox Church, the opening of monasteries and churches and all the rest of it.

And I think in the last ten or twelve years, in other words, since the end of the Yeltsin period, a realization in Russia that the West is not, what people may have thought it was at the beginning of the post-Soviet period. I expect many people thought “the West is fabulous, it means freedom, prosperity, liberalism” and so on. Now they see that it’s cynical, manipulative, hypocritical and domineering. And faced with that obvious fact, people in Russia (as far as I can tell) without any particular hostility or aggressiveness, they are just turning to their own national feelings again in a totally harmless way, but in a very constructive way.

Now, this is completely unacceptable to the West and to the European elite. The European elite, and the whole construction is based on a denial of national values and a denial of all broadly called conservative values. For example, one of the real litmus tests, one of the ways in which so-called European (in fact post-modern) values are imposed on post-communist countries, is through gay pride marches.

All over Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, it’s one of the key things that Europe demands. There was a gay pride march in Split, in Croatia six weeks ago. I was in Belgrade at the end of June (2012) and they’d just had it that week, so it was at the end of June in Split. And it was an absurd nonsense, it was much like the march in Belgrade itself, there were more police than marchers.

It was pushed?

Yes of course it was pushed, absolutely, it was definitely pushed and the people, the Croat politicians who pushed it, did so because they thought that the Europeans wanted it, which they do, to show that these countries were evolving towards a post-modern and post-Christian future, which is what Europe demands. So in as much as Russia has taken the opposite path in the last twenty years, it would have to undo all that work in order to be accepted (as you put it) as a member of the European family.

John, moving away towards the events in Baltic States, political situation, how the political elite of the Baltic States views the future of the relationship between Baltic States and Russia? And what would you say about this great rise of Nazism, particularly in Latvia?

Well, it’s a long story. I mean the rise of ... or the renaissance of Nazism has been going on for a long time now in Latvia, particularly in Latvia, much more so than the other two Baltic States. There’s been a certain amount in Estonia and, I believe a certain amount in Lithuania, but it’s mainly in Latvia, Latvia is the real problem. I believe that the Occupation Museum in Tallinn is worse, from that point of view, than the one in Riga, but in Latvia you have this extraordinary cemetery in the village of Lestene, and of course you have the annual wreath-laying ceremony which as far as I know you have only in Riga, not in the other Baltic countries. And I have personally met, spontaneously met people in Latvia, who have boasted, old men, who have boasted (having fought in the Latvian Legion, in other words having been members of the SS) and spontaneously told me that Hitler will soon be ... that Europe will soon be putting up statues to Adolf Hitler. That is my personal experience; I have personally met people who have come up to me in the street, thinking I was German actually (or at least speaking to me in German) and telling me that they thought that this was the case.

But it’s a long story. Whether there is a rise right now in 2012 I don’t know, I haven’t been to the Baltic States for a while, so I can’t tell you if there is a rise or a decrease. But ultimately whether there is or not, I repeat, will depend on geo-politics. The Latvian elite, like the other two Baltic States needed to ... in 1991 needed to find some sort of legitimacy. They needed to present themselves as embodying the legitimate regime of their new state. So they did this as you know by inventing the theory of constitutional continuity.

So they said that the states which were created, or re-created in 1991 had in fact existed, had a continuous existence since 1940, but it had been interrupted by the so-called occupation. So they used this occupation theory to present themselves as the continuation of states which in fact had ceased to exist about two generations previously. And one of the ways they bolstered their legitimacy was of course to show ... to present the entire Soviet experience as a purely Russian imperialist intervention, as a foreign colonization as a foreign occupation of their country. Now, they were able to do this, because they were useful to the West. They were in particularly useful to the Americans.  Let’s not forget where the Baltic States are situated. They occupy a long stretch of coastline, Russia doesn’t have much coastline (it has plenty of coastlines in the North, but obviously those ports cannot be used for half the year). So it’s obvious that the Baltic region is extremely strategically important. And as we know the Estonian border is a very short distance (only 60miles or something) from St Petersburg.

So it’s a very, very close to the historic part of Russia. And that is why the successive heads of state of the Baltic states, have been in fact Americans or Canadians of, effectively, Nazi families. The most striking example being that of Valdas Adamkus in Lithuania: while he was President of Lithuania, he advertised the fact on his own presidential website that he had fought the Soviets in 1944. In 1944 there were not three sides in that war, there were two sides – the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, so by saying he’d fought the Soviet in 1944, he was admitting that he’d fought with the Nazis, for the Nazis. And indeed he then went with his family to Munich, which was still Nazi Germany at that point, continued his studies and then left for Chicago.

But, the same is true of Mrs Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who’s family come from the same sort of background and to some extent its true, I believe also, of the current Estonian President. So these people have been allowed to get away with it for purely geo-political reasons. Because, Russia was the bad guy, anyone who was against Russia was by definition – good. So, for as long as the geo-political incentive is there and for as long as the money is there – for as long as these people get money from the European Union.

You mean the Elite?

Yes, the Elite, then these kinds of movements will be tolerated or encouraged. And, as soon as the money stops, as soon as the geo-political imperative disappears, if it ever does, then, I think, those movements will go. Because I think they are a product of purely geo-political calculation.

Thank you. And, this will be our last question “About the reaction of the European Union institutions to the events in Latvia”. Why there is no so far any strong denunciation to these processes?

Well, there is no strong denunciation because the European Union is a profoundly ideological organization and it chooses its friends and enemies on ideological criteria so to the extent that people are hostile to Russia, they are regarded as friends of the European Union, because European integration can never occur with Russia, Russia is simply too big and Russia also embodies, now, various values which are considered incompatible.

But, just geographically Russia is too big, so all, throughout history, for the centuries that people have dreamt of European integration they have never, ever considered integrating Russia or for that matter even Constantinople. You go back to the late 18th century, German romantic idealizations of Medieval Europe and united Christendom - Christendom was not united in the middle ages, Christendom had been divided since 1020, 1054 and indeed in some sense since the 9th century. So, Christendom has not been united for a very long time, and yet when people romanticize this dream, of a united Europe in the late 18th and then the 19th century, they never thought of including Russia.

When Napoleon attacked Russia, he did it specifically to accelerate the process of European integration. He wrote this in his own correspondence. The same is true of Hitler, when he fought for European integration, obviously under German domination; he naturally wanted to defeat Russia first. The pattern is the same today and that’s why any activity, even if it’s of a Fascist nature is tolerated if it continues the general process of European integration, in other words if it contributes to pushing Russia out of Europe.

 And, that is why this theory of the occupation of the Baltic States is accepted, much as is the theory of equivalence between Communism and Nazism and as if it was necessarily true. In fact, it is completely untrue, it is a deliberate lie by the Baltic Elites to say that their countries were occupied. They were NOT occupied by the Soviet Union, they were incorporated into the Soviet Union and there is a big difference in international law and in the actual practice on the ground between those two things.

Whether or not you agree with the incorporation into the Soviet Union, some States didn’t agree with it. Some States, some Western States maintained the fiction, that while they had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, they did not recognize the incorporation of the Baltic States. But, even those States never referred to the state of affairs in the Baltic States as occupation. They referred to it as incorporation because that is what it was! Those States were incorporated into the Soviet Union and the difference between incorporation of a territory or annexation of a territory and its occupation is quite simply that the citizens of that territory, if it is incorporated, become citizens of the larger unit. Whereas a territory which is occupied by another State never become, the citizens of that territory, never become citizens of the occupying power. They are precisely subject to a regime of occupation.

So, in the case of the Baltic States, all the citizens of the Baltic States become Soviet citizens. They were equal in law with all other Soviet citizens. The system of government that was imposed on the Baltic States was the same system of government as was imposed on the Russians and on every other people within the Soviet Union. By contrast, in countries where there is “occupation”, the most famous example is obviously in the West Bank, although I only mention it because it’s the famous example. I’m not trying to make a value judgment. I’m just trying to distinguish the two regimes. It is well known that the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza will never be given Israeli citizenship. Because precisely Israel seeks to maintain a regime of occupation and will never have a regime of incorporation of those states for the simple reason that their own demographic balance would then be greatly upset.

So, that’s the difference between the two regimes and it’s a difference which is widely recognized in international law. Any fool can tell the difference and yet the Baltic States have, as I say, maintained this fiction of occupation in order to nourish this myth that there’s a continuity of statehood between 1940 and 1990, but also to present the communist experience, the Soviet experiences a purely Russian imperialist phenomenon.

Thank you very much.