On this day, when we traditionally celebrate American independence, I’m a little surprised that I’m having to revisit a post that I wrote in 2017 entitled, “Historical Statues: One Solution“. But yes, indeed, the controversy over whether or not to remove confederate statues has reared its ugly head yet again.
That 2017 blog post describes a brilliant solution that the people of Budapest, Hungary came up with to deal with their brutal communist era statues. It’s really quite fascinating, and I hope it’s an idea that can be adopted here. It would allow the statues to still exist, but in an educational context in a museum-like setting where those who don’t want to see them won’t have to. Please do read it and tell me what you think.
But for those of you who don’t click through, I leave you with a few points to ponder:
Monuments are not history. They’re the glorification thereof.
No child should have to grow up under the shadow of statues of people who thought they should be enslaved.
Removing a statue won’t erase the history, and we can and should still learn from that history. Learn, but not deify.
It really is okay to become older and wiser as a society. I promise. We’ll be okay.
It happened again the other day. I heard someone use “Communism” and “Fascism” interchangeably, like they are the same exact thing. And that thing, in that uneducated person’s mind, seemed simply to be a synonym for “bad”.
I can’t criticize oversimplification. I tend to use that crutch quite a bit in this blog, and could arguably be accused of it in this very post. But I’d like to think that I shy away from utter ignorance and stupidity. Most of the time, anyway.
So to break it down for you into nice bite sized pieces, I’ll start by saying Communism does not equal Fascism. If you have any doubts on this subject, read up on the Spanish Civil War. (But that can get pretty darned complicated in and of itself.)
A big difference in the two ideologies, in OversimplificationLand, is what they worship. Fascists worship a past that never truly existed. They tend to use slogans like Make America Great Again, implying that America used to be just how they want it to be: A lily white land where everyone of “value” is rich and there’s no crime or conflict, and women stay in their places and everyone is heterosexual.
Communists, on the other hand, don’t worship the past. They claim to worship a future that can never truly exist. Their slogans run along the lines of Workers of the World Unite, implying that there’s some magical yet not-too-far-off place where everyone is going to agree on everything and play fair. They think we’ll all work as hard as we possibly can (“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”) and that we’ll equally share in the world’s bounty, as if greed and corruption doesn’t exist.
Indeed, Communism stresses equality in all things, in word if not in deed, as if no one is going to keep score and be resentful of those who they feel are found wanting. Fascists have a slightly more uncomfortable problem, because their unspoken truth is that they stress inequality. They don’t want minorities to have equal rights. They don’t want women to have equal power. They certainly don’t want homosexuals to lead equally comfortable lives. That’s what attracts people to Fascism: the idea that they deserve to be better off than others.
Neither ideology appeals to me. Neither one is realistic. Both require corruption and cruelty and lies to survive. They are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. But we make the mistake of looking at the spectrum as a straight line to our peril. Because they are so similar in their evil intent to control the masses and get what they want and to hell with the common man that they bend that spectrum like a horseshoe. They are at opposite ends, and yet they practically meet up.
(Don’t even get me started on capitalism, here, which is also greedy, corrupt, and attempts to control the masses. Our ideology is complicit, too. What does that do to the shape of this hypothetical spectrum? It boggles the mind. Maybe it’s one big cloverleaf with greed at the intersection.)
Most of us aren’t on any team, and never will be. We won’t even be invited to play. We are cannon fodder. As mentioned in Galaxy Quest, we are the collective redshirt guy a la Star Trek. No one knows his name because he’s only there to die halfway through the episode to prove that s**t just got real. We serve our purposes. It might be fun to get us all riled up every now and again, but in the end, we only have bit parts in this grand power play.
But dammit, Jim, the least we can do is not use Communist and Fascist interchangeably. Yeah, in OversimplificationLand, they can be used as synonyms for bad, as can capitalism, but they’re different kinds of bad. At least get that right.
God, but I love Seattle. And of all the unique neighborhoods that make up this city, my very favorite is Fremont. If houses went for something less than a half million dollars and actually came with parking spaces and decent sized yards, I’d live there. I do believe that this quirky, artsy neighborhood may in fact be the center of the universe, as its residents claim.
And right in the center of that center, so to speak, is a 16-foot communist-era bronze statue of Lenin, straight out of Czechoslovakia. The first time I saw it, I almost drove off the road. (I bet he gets that a lot.)
Needless to say, this statue is more than a little controversial. Lenin was the architect of destruction for millions of people. An indescribable amount of evil was done in his name. This is not a man that should be glorified by anyone. At a time when this nation is struggling with whether to keep or tear down its confederate monuments (Get rid of ‘em, I say. Check out my blog post here.) why would anyone even consider letting a statue of Lenin stand?
Context, I say. Confederate statues are still revered by many in the areas in which they were erected. More and more, they are becoming rallying points for hate rallies. Many of them were put up with an agenda, during the era of Jim Crow. They say, “Never forget who’s boss here, boy.”
Fremont’s Lenin, on the other hand, is mocked. People like to sit on his head during parades. His hands are often painted blood red, which I think should be a permanent change. He’s been dressed in drag during Pride week, and has been known to sport a clown nose. People pose in front of him, making funny faces. If that statue says anything at all, it’s, “Oh, how the mighty have fallen.” And thank goodness for that.
Unfortunately, this statue is a source of pain for some. That does make me sad. I hope the fact that in this case he is depicted in front of flames and guns, and the idea that no sane person looks upon it longing for that point in history, as many of the viewers of the monuments of the confederacy are wont to do, will bring people some level of comfort.
So, as long as the current context remains, I hope that this Lenin will remain standing. Lenin, with a clown nose and a tutu and blood on his hands, has much to teach us about the follies of the past.
It’s been for sale for years, by the way. $250,000, or best offer. So if you’re looking for a 16 foot communist lawn ornament (although I can’t imagine why you would be), there’s one available in Seattle.
At a time when the US seems to be struggling with what to do with its Confederate statues and memorials, I can’t help but remember my trip to Budapest back in 2006. What an amazing city, with a lot of very tragic history. They were occupied by German forces in WWII, forcing them to embrace Fascism even as the Nazis were applying internal terror to control the people. So it’s understandable that the Soviets might have seemed like liberators to them at first.
The Soviet Red Army occupied the city in 1945. During the peace talks, Great Britain and the US basically gave the country over to Stalin. After much torture, spying, interrogations and fear brought down upon the citizenry for years on end, in 1956, a student-inspired revolution took place, and while it relieved some of the societal pressure, it ultimately failed. The control finally started crumbling in 1989, but it wasn’t until 1991 that the last Soviet occupying soldier left Budapest. By then, all the soviet era statues had been joyfully pulled down.
And lo and behold, despite the absence of these statues in the public squares, Hungary’s dark history has not been erased any more than ours would be without Robert E. Lee gazing at us in our city parks. In fact, the people of Budapest handled their statues in a brilliant way. They dragged them all to one location, and turned that into an opportunity to teach about their past oppression in the hopes that it will never, ever happen again. They created Memento Park.
I remember standing among these monuments, and thinking how intimidating they must have been in their heyday. Some of them are 20 feet tall. All of them make the men look strong, the women look hard-working and dedicated, and for the most part, the people all look like anonymous and mindless machines. It must have been terrifying to pass them every day, knowing that’s what your government expected you to see, feel, and believe.
Now, gathered in an educational park, lined up like so many dominoes of long-dead subjugation, they seem rather pathetic and powerless. Children climb on them. People take pictures in front of them while they make funny faces. But mostly, they learn that none of us should go backward, into an era of the exaltation of hate and control.
History shouldn’t be forgotten. That’s what books and teachers are for. Monuments are not history. They are for glorification, and should be removed from our public spaces as our society becomes older and hopefully wiser. Learn from these silent statues, taken down from their shining pedestals. Learn, but don’t deify.
I hope we follow suit in the US. The time is long overdue. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with some photos of me in Memento Park in Budapest.
Very often, I hear people confuse Communism and Socialism and Fascism. They use the terms interchangeably, which makes me realize they really haven’t a clue as to each system’s basic tenets. They have just been taught that they mean “bad” and feel that’s all they need to know. I find this very disheartening, and potentially dangerous. Knowledge is power.
Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
4. Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are wide spread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
5. Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
6. Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
7. Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
8. Religion and Government are Intertwined – Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.
9. Corporate Power is Protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
10. Labor Power is Suppressed – Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
14. Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.