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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Let Communism Rest in Peace

Reading the foreign and domestic press over the past few weeks, you might well have come away with the impression that the politicians, journalists and pundits weren't celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Allies' victory over Nazi Germany in World War II so much as they were debating the pressing questions of whether now-defunct Soviet communism differed from now-defunct Nazism and of whether Russia should repent of the Soviet Union's sins.

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As the buildup to the Victory Day celebrations continued apace, Russia and the rest of the world also marked the 20th anniversary of perestroika. Given this coincidence, it seems strange that no one brought up a rather obvious point. Fascism died a violent death. The anti-Hitler coalition destroyed it by force of arms in 1945. Communism, by contrast, basically committed suicide and, in a parting gesture, managed to right many of the wrongs it had visited on the peoples of the Soviet Union and neighboring countries.

Perestroika was launched by Mikhail Gorbachev, then general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party's Central Committee, with the blessing of the party elite. Its spiritual impetus derived from the push to reject the legacy of Stalin. In politics, the most important achievements of perestroika were the introduction of free elections, the allowance of pluralism and freedom of speech, and the removal from the Soviet Constitution of the provision that established the Communist Party's ruling and guiding role. As for the economy, it was on the communist Gorbachev's watch that private enterprise and the free market made their appearance.

In other words, although communism remained the official ideology and the party retained its hold on power, the original, Leninist-Stalinist core of Soviet communism, which made it fundamentally incompatible with democracy, had been dismantled. The process of liberation within the Soviet Union and throughout the Soviet bloc was hardly a succession of democratic or "velvet" revolutions. After all, only Poland and Afghanistan forced the Soviets to restore their freedom. The Soviet communists essentially granted freedom to the rest.

Gorbachev is surely right when he maintains that had he not pursued perestroika, he would still be general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party to this day, ruling over all 15 Soviet republics and the satellite states in Eastern Europe. And those old communists Algirdas Brazauskas, now prime minister of Lithuania, and Arnold Ruutel, now president of Estonia, would still be singing his praises.

Strange as it may seem, I think that the attempted anti-perestroika putsch in August 1991 was communism's highest form of repentance. When it became clear that victory would require massive bloodshed, the putschists opted to capitulate, unlike the "democrats" in 1993 who had no hesitation in sending tanks against the country's first legislative body elected according to the principle of one man, one vote. The "democrats" continue to rule to this day, one "democratic" president having bequeathed power to the next.

My point here is not to rehabilitate communism. The ideological foundation of communism laid by the early Bolsheviks and Stalin, and the crimes against humanity committed in its name, cannot be justified. But the secularized communism of the late 1980s did not deserve to be the object of the world's hatred as it was in 1991 and remains to this day. Anticommunism has come to be regarded as an indulgence for all manner of sins from the Baltic states to Uzbekistan.

There's no point in demanding repentance from a corpse. The Soviet Union and its ruling Communist Party no longer exist. We would do better simply to bury them. Their detractors alone are to blame for the fact that the corpse continues to stink.

Alexei Pankin is opinion page editor at Izvestia.