‘Victims of Communism’ group seeks a return to McCarthyism
From its start, the 'Victims of Communism' campaign has been a right-wing affair. Here, President George W. Bush, second right, meets with Rep. Tom Lantos, a Hungarian immigrant, second left, Rep. Dana Rohrabache, far right, and Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation chairman Lee Edwards, left, after the president spoke at the dedication of the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, June 12, 2007. | Charles Dharapak / AP

It begins with a carefully worded “draft” resolution asking for public recognition of any “XYZ” event, memorial, or remembrance. From there, copies are given to friendly elected officials seated within any legislative body. And typically, the resolution is introduced, and the innocuous language is read, re-read, and approved to the fanfare of only a few.

But a case arising from the city of St. Louis is not typical, nor is it one that should go ignored, as it treads on the political liberties afforded to all U.S. citizens.

For now, let’s quickly recap the facts:

On Nov. 6, 2020, the St. Louis Board of Alderman went on the record honoring “victims of communism,” but only after more than an hour of contentious debate. The draft resolution was introduced by Carol Howard, 14th Ward alderman. We should note the resolution was not written by her—she was merely the vessel by which it arrived.

And while some alderman brought in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative think tank and lobbying arm for Republicans, as the party responsible for the resolution, the fact is that they were not the original authors—though they do play a large part in its story.

The resolution was drafted and promoted by the Victims of Communism (VOC) Memorial Foundation.

Who or what is the VOC? It’s a non-profit anti-communist organization founded and authorized by a unanimous Act of Congress in 1993 ostensibly for the purpose of “educating Americans about the ideology, history, and legacy of communism.”

In a nutshell, members of this organization view communism, communists, and communist-led governments as pure evil and make it a point to “commemorate the more than 100 million victims of communism around the world.”

For the record, and as a way to present this case fairly— just sticking to the facts—this reporter will say that yes, there have been victims of oppressive governments, parading under the flag of communism, and those atrocities should be viewed as past examples never to be repeated. Pol Pot in Cambodia comes to mind.

But according to anthropologist Kristen Ghodsee, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation is a conservative anti-communist organization that seeks to equate communism everywhere with murder. The group erects billboards in New York’s Times Square and in other cities declaring “100 years, 100 million killed” and “Communism kills.”

The VOC, along with their European counterpart conservative organizations, seek to institutionalize the “victims of communism” narrative as a double genocide theory—the moral equivalency to the Nazi Holocaust. The history behind their claims goes beyond dubious. The Black Book of Communism used as a reference guide by these organizations has come under historical scrutiny over the years for its overinflation of death statistics, a clear disregard for showing the qualitative difference between Nazism and communism, and the moral comparison between the two—disregarding the sacrifice of 27 million Soviet citizens and millions of Communists from other parts of the world who lost their lives in the fight against Hitler during World War II.

It is a one-sided, politically bent work of history that seeks to damage the public understanding of the complex but often laudable history of global communist movements. In a recent op-ed by the VOC, blame is placed on the Communist-led government of the People’s Republic of China for the worldwide death toll wrought by COVID-19.

Is it wrong to blame governments for their failures when they can be documented and proven? No. Although in this case, the VOC peddles more in supposition than documentation.

Another thing wrong and morally inconsistent with this line of thought is that it totally ignores the world’s worst COVID death toll—that imposed on U.S. citizens at the hands of an inept president and an administration unable to manage a crisis. Blame needs to be shared between all guilty parties where applicable.

As for that pivotal meeting of the St. Louis Board of Alderman at the heart of the case at hand, opponents of the resolution took issue with the wording. Many said they found it dangerous to pass such a statement now, during a time in which extreme partisanship threatens U.S. democracy.

Opponent Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward, said “crimes and atrocities” surely deserve criticism. He said he’d support a resolution aimed at “the heinous nature of totalitarianism and dictatorships” in general, but said “squarely labeling one political ideology as a root cause for all evils” amounts to McCarthyism.

“There’s no intent here to point anyone out other than the evil that comes from communism and that type of government and the oppression that comes through” it, retorted Howard,the resolution’s sponsor, while criticizing what she sees as “hyper-sensitive” opposition.

However, given the state of domestic political affairs, with an incumbent president refusing to accept his loss, blaming “radicals, socialists, and progressives” for his “stolen” election loss, and feeding extremism to his fanbase through conspiracy theories and nationalism, there is enough going to put any free-thinking individual ill at ease.

Are we not guaranteed free speech and political thought under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? Is it not our duty to uphold those tenets—given they do not violate human morals—and preserve that right even for those individuals who disagree politically?

Herein lies the danger we face. It’s a threat the earlier destroyed the lives of many radical democratic activists under McCarthyism. Is it one we would dare repeat?

Here is where we make that earlier connection.

The VOC gets its funding and support from ALEC membership organizations, such as the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank. But it’s not just limited to them. And as an organization that does not directly engage in lobbying, according to their 2018 IRS FORM 990, they rely on conservative organizations like ALEC to do so. The ALEC, VOC, Heritage Foundation, and similar groups all share the same political ideals and principles and are supported by wealthy like-minded individuals—remember the Koch brothers?

So yes, hyper-sensitivity to political suppression on the part of democratic-minded Americans should be expected in this new era of red-baiting being promoted by the right wing from Trump—he delivered a message on the National Day for the Victims of Communism—on down through the concerted efforts of Republican-controlled organizations and officials to disenfranchise opposition voters and paint them as un-American.

Groups like the VOC claim to be preserving “American ideals,” but they are only eroding political freedoms for people who think differently and disregarding their contributions throughout U.S. history.

The VOC is trying to return us to a darker place. It’s place where we have sadly been before, when Cold War hysteria threatened U.S. democracy in the name of fighting communism.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.