Renato Cristin is a professor of hermeneutic philosophy at the University of Trieste, Italy. He is the promoter of a worldwide campaign to conduct a “Nuremberg” trial against communism. This was an idea of Professor Cristin’s friend, the late Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who believed that a trial of communism was necessary if only to confront the world with communism’s many unpunished crimes. Cristin has a unique way of explaining the collapse of communism. It is a collapse, he says, in which the Iron Curtain was replaced with emerging communist movements in every Western country. Now every country is split within itself. In this process, the communists no longer use their old labels as before. He offers us a striking example of anti-communists being marginalized at the end of the Cold War (instead of Marxists being marginalized). Professor Cristin describes the system of the Chinese Communist Party as a mix of communism and capitalism. He does not mention the revolutionary/strategic significance of Lenin’s NEP or Deng Xiaoping’s Four Modernizations. Even so, he recognizes the communist ideology at the heart of the Chinese ruling system. Here is the reason for the ruling party’s many crimes. Cristin’s emphasis on the immoral nature of communism deserves special appreciation. Please read his words with careful attention
NYQUIST: Will your trial of communism be a trial of concepts only?
CRISTIN: I would start from a fact. In the second half of the twentieth century the free world, led by the United States, managed to defeat the Soviet-style communist regimes; but the ideology that had produced those regimes did not disappear with them. In addition to being today a state ideology in China and other countries such as Cuba, Vietnam, Venezuela or more recently Argentina, it has subtly penetrated into the folds of Western societies, where it has established itself in the twenty-first century. It has strengthened itself precisely by virtue of dissimulation and a special alliance. Communism’s criminogenic essence is hidden behind proclamations of peace and liberation. Its alliance with the media-cultural establishment has generated the paradigm of political correctness.
I remember that in an interview you did with Bukovsky in December 2018, he told you that communism was something difficult to understand in the West, because the Western elites, that is, “the forces of ‘peace and progress,’ are socialist. They were never serious about fighting Soviet power.” And beyond that, “most of the conservatives believed it was not so bad in the West.” In short, as you yourself explained in that interview, the West struggles to fully understand the essence of the communist ideology and, due to this reason, does not clearly realize the danger this ideology represents and poses.
From here, therefore, we must start: from the recognition that we have a problem of understanding the totalitarian reality and the criminogenic essence of communism, which is an obstacle we must confront. This obstacle is represented by what I call the New Iron Curtain. The old Iron Curtain cut Europe and the world itself in two (on the one hand the free world, and the communist world on the other), and served to lock up populations subjected to Soviet totalitarianism. The new one, instead, is internal to the West and cuts it into two concepts of society and life, and serves to isolate all those who do not submit to politically correct cultural totalitarianism. In both, the Marxist ideology with all its derivations operates as a factor of division. The old curtain was like a long war front that, after all, made things clear: on the one side the communist regimes, on the other the free democracies. The new curtain, conversely, is an internal front, which brings this enemy of the West right into our institutional, cultural and even our mental world, disrupting us, weakening us, favoring the spread of what I consider the characteristic sign of our time: chaos.
Mind you, I believe that the West has done very well to fight and overthrow the Soviet enemy, but now the West must make a further effort to finish the work on the ideology of the Gulag and its current mutations, in order to limit its spread. In fact, we know how to defeat a totalitarian system. We have a long historical experience and an effective theory that is sufficiently elastic to be valid for very different totalitarian regimes, but we do not yet know how to defeat an elusive and ambiguous totalitarianism that presents itself as the opposite of totalitarianism and which has insinuated itself in society and public opinion throughout the Western world.
But if grasping the essence of a phenomenon, an event or an ideological ensemble allows us to understand its developments and forms, however varied they may be, then by grasping the essence of the communist ideology we will be able to understand its metamorphosis, up to the most recent and ambiguous transfomrations we see today. And since the paradigm of the politically correct is one of the current forms of ideological totalitarianism, it must be faced with all that conceptual and categorical equipment with which the free world, led by the United States, has overthrown numerous totalitarian regimes.
It is necessary to grasp the essence of communism using both the strength of reason and the strength of institutions, avoiding falling into irrational simplifications which almost always produce damage rather than provide solutions; but the New Iron Curtain, the internal one, forces us to precisely readjust our strategy. We must insist on using historical, political and moral concepts rather than juridical concepts in this trial. Therefore, it seems to me difficult in the short term to realize a trial in the strict legal sense, which nevertheless remains as a long-term objective or, possibly, to be carried out on a case-by-case basis and depending on the circumstances. The first objective is both to eliminate from the collective historical conscience the toxins that the communist ideology has scattered everywhere, and to regenerate the moral conscience of the Western world, of that free world that too often, out of laziness or bad faith, hides the truth of communism, hiding the essence of an ideology that is still active and lethal.
To answer your question concretely, today no trial of communism can take place without its crimes being known by a large part of the public, and without some governments and institutions legally condemning communism as has been done with National Socialism in Germany after World War II. From an operational point of view, the “Nuremberg for Communism” project must be developed on three levels: (1) in terms of cultural research which outlines the ideological dimensions of communism, highlighting its current ramifications in the form of governments, parties, movements, groups and associations; (2) a juridical investigation, which makes it possible to identify cases of specific crimes or crimes of genocide; (3) finally, work on the political and institutional field, to be conducted together with both national parliaments that want to pronounce a political and moral condemnation of communism, and the European parliament (in the latter case it would be necessary to complete the parliamentary resolution, approved in September 2019, which historically equates communism with National Socialism).
NYQUIST: So, there is no chance you will be charging communist activists in the West with the crime of treason – of adhering to the enemies of humanity? – of undermining freedom at home and supporting criminals abroad?
CRISTIN: In this case the legal charge is possible only if those activists have committed criminally punishable crimes, as was the case, for example, of the red terrorists in Europe, who were almost all tried by their respective national courts (the Rote Armee Fraktion in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy, GRAPO in Spain, the Fighting Communist Cells in Belgium, the Action Directe in France), or, albeit to a lesser extent, the conviction of terrorist groups in Latin America (including Sendero Luminoso in Peru, the Colombians of FARC, the Sandinista Front in Nicaragua, the Montoneros and the ERP in Argentina, and the Tupamaros in Uruguay) or in the United States (small circumscribed groups and mostly well controlled by the FBI). Accusation and condemnation are also possible for those thugs who today, both in Europe and in the United States, practice violence in street demonstrations, such as the Antifa and the BLM in USA, or the Black Blocks and the Social Centers in Europe, who are prosecuted to the extent that they commit crimes.
But communist or far-left political activists who do not use physical violence are not legally punishable, because freedom of expression is a principle that cannot be broken, and therefore for them the condemnation can only be of a moral or political nature. The situation may be different with regard to the past, in which the red activists worked in favor of the enemies of the West and, in many cases, collaborated with the communist regimes, but even in this case the denunciation can only be moral (as well as historical and political), because too much time has passed, and this prevents us, for various reasons, from proceeding legally against them.
NYQUIST: What about the secret operations of the communists to infiltrate and subvert the Catholic Church, civic organizations, conservative political parties? Have you gathered evidence about these activities?
CRISTIN: At the time of the Cold War, the security services carried out close monitoring of the communist movements in Western countries and their members. The level of secrecy of these operations depended on the size of the threat or on the geopolitical circumstances that could vary over time. I’ll give you an Italian example. In Italy from 1956 until 1990 there was a secret national defense organization whose code name was “Gladio.” It was part of an international network organized by the CIA to prevent and counter a possible Soviet invasion in Europe. The members of Gladio were people from the most diverse social and professional fields, including military and ex-military personnel, who felt the duty to contribute to the defense of their country and freedom (Gladio’s motto was in fact: silendo libertatem servo, in silence I serve freedom) in the face of the danger posed by the Soviet bloc. Anyone who is not a communist would say it was a meritorious organization, defending their homeland and Europe from the communist threat. Curiously, when this organization emerged after 1990, its members suffered a media lynching and political trial, as if they were dangerous subversives in the service of a foreign power (the CIA). Some of them have been charged with the most bizarre crimes, such as “organization of a structure for conditioning national political life.” This is a shame for which both the Italian political leaders of the left and media agents of influence are responsible. These were almost all subservient to the ideological propaganda of the left, closely linked to the Communist Party and, at a minimum, financed by Soviet bloc countries.
Thus, in Europe not only did the communists not have trials, but many anti-communists were tried because they personally fought against the Soviet threat. As you can see, an absurd scene shows us a reality full of contradictions and explains why it is so difficult to condemn communism.
NYQUIST: What about communism’s links to organized crime? Surely, as an Italian, you know the role the Soviet KGB played in forming secret underworld alliances with the various mafias, linking their crimes to those of the communist bloc. Shall these be included?
CRISTIN: In terms of relations with organized crime, searches are even more difficult, because the evidence is mostly circumstantial. But, returning to your previous question, there is concrete evidence of the decades-long activity of the KGB (and satellite intelligence services) to destabilize Western countries. An example: in September 1992, the former director of the central archive of the KGB, Colonel Vasili Mitrokhin, provided MI5, the British Secret Intelligence Service, with a gigantic dossier on these activities. The documentation, known as the “Mitrokhin Dossier” or “Mitrokhin Archive,” was subsequently brought to the attention of Western governments and is now completely public. The facts are known to everybody. Hundreds of cases are recorded and documented involving illegal agents who played a leading role in the clandestine activities of the Soviet spy network in the West.
Certainly these illegal activities were connected with sectors of the various mafias, but above all with Western terrorist groups. In Germany, the secret services of Eastern Europe were implicated in the killing of Hanns-Martin Schleyer by the Rote Armee Fraktion, in 1977. In Italy, the Mitrokhin dossier confirms the involvement of the KGB in the kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro, leader of the Christian Democrat party, which took place in 1978. In the case of Italian red terrorism, in addition to the KGB, there were the secret services of some countries belonging to the Warsaw Pact and, above all, the Palestinian terrorists (the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine has in fact supplied weapons and logistical support to the Red Brigades and communist terrorist groups in Italy, but also, as has been ascertained, to the German Rote Armee Fraktion). Even in the attempt to kill Pope John Paul II in 1981, it seems that secret services from Eastern Europe were involved, especially the Bulgarian services. This is a big chapter in the low-intensity warfare waged by the Communist regimes against the West. As you can see, the Cold War wasn’t all that cold.
NYQUIST: How much of the “trial of communism” is about those imprisoned, tortured and murdered inside the communist bloc? – so that only faceless jailers, prison wardens and policemen will be “imagined” as the guilty parties?
CRISTIN: Here opens one of the most painful chapters of the “Nuremberg project,” because it speaks of the millions of people who, in various forms, have been persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and, in many cases, killed by the various communist regimes. In the countries of Eastern Europe (including Russia, albeit in a non-systematic way) there has been great attention to preserving and enhancing the memory of the victims and the condemnation of the crimes of the regimes. In all countries that have fallen prey to the communist nightmare, we find museums and research centers, foundations and associations, which work not only to preserve the memory but also to fight against the spread of that ideology. It was an extraordinarily valuable work, which testifies to the civil conscience, the spirit of justice and the yearning for freedom of those peoples.
It is my hope that a network will be established among all the museums and memorials that remember the prisons for political prisoners of communism in all countries, not only in Eastern Europe; and I hope that thanks to this network we will arrive at the creation of memorials in all places of detention, even in those (not many, fortunately) not yet classified. There are in fact countries, such as Albania, where this commendable work is still progressing very slowly and is not yet completed, because a part of the state management structure is still in the hands of ex-leaders or activists of the Hoxha regime, which was one of the most brutal communist dictatorships, comparable in some respects to the Cambodian regime of Pol Pot.
NYQUIST: Is there guilt without personal responsibility? What is the meaning of “guilt,” here? Who is really responsible and how does a “trial” in this symbolic sense accomplish anything?
CRISTIN: It is a process which is predominantly political, theoretical and therefore symbolic in nature, with a strong moral content. At the same time it does not completely ignore the crimes, neither does it fail to identify the perpetrators. The trial helps us to articulate on a conceptual level, because in this case theory is not detached from morality. Let me explain: for example, your studies on various aspects of communism, or those of Cliff Kincaid, are an example of historical-political investigation and therefore of theoretical criticism which, however, is closely linked to moral judgment. And the same happens for most of the many researches on communism; but I do not want to make here a list of the countless scholars who have worked on this topic, because inevitably I would omit someone and I do not want to leave anyone out. In fact, all of them have provided an extraordinary contribution, not only to truth but also to historical justice and, therefore, have a moral as well as scientific and cultural value.
And then, the more than two thousand people who from many countries have signed the appeal of Bukovsky and myself (https://appeal.nurembergforcommunism.org/), people connected to numerous institutions and active in various professional, academic and political fields, are a living testimony that there is a profound sense of justice, that moral values guide our conscience so that we can express a moral condemnation that supports and justifies our project.
NYQUIST: Will you be bringing up the crimes of the CCP in China? As this is the largest, most influential and powerful communist regime in the world, shouldn’t it be the focus of your trial?
CRISTIN: China is an unsolved knot in the analysis of the communist question, because unlike the Soviet Union it does not practice a collectivist or socialist economy in the strict sense, but a mixed system, a state capitalism in which communism enters under the form of the ideological (and also practical) interests of the ruling Communist Party. For these reasons, China does not easily allow itself to be classified. It is the positive mentality of its people, which not even Maoism has been able to completely suppress, that generates this socio-economic mixture that makes China the great enigma of the twenty-first century. This gigantic communist-capitalist sphinx is not only difficult to interpret but also contains many contradictory nuances. If nothing, absolutely nothing, could be saved from the Soviet Union or even from Mao’s China, the present-day China presents some few aspects that are not totally in contrast with the spirit and system of the West, while remaining governed and controlled by the Communist Party.
Unlike all the other communist countries, past and present, China does not have a collapsing socio-economic system, on the contrary, it is in full growth and is able to confront the US superpower. For this reason the signs of communism must be sought outside the economic-financial mechanism. We find them, in fact, in the procedures of social control and above all in the practices of repression of opponents and ethnic and religious minorities.
Christians in China are apparently accepted by the regime, which nevertheless arrogates to itself the right to control the cult and the power to express its approval in the appointment of hierarchies. In fact, there is a “regime Church” that is often in contrast with the authentic Church, as evidenced by the oppressions that the Cardinal Emeritus of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen, had to suffer from the government authorities. Currently, Pope Bergoglio has adopted a completely cooperative line with the regime, a fully pro-communist attitude, a line of flattery and sharing of perspective, but this does not mean that the condition of Christians in China has improved; on the contrary, they are today increasingly hostage to the regime and to its ideology, being forced into collaboration by the Vatican summit.
As Cardinal Zen, one who knows Chinese Communists very well, said in a memorable interview with the New York Times, “Pope Francis may have a natural sympathy for Communists, because for him these are the persecuted. He does not know them as the persecutors they become once they reach power, like the Communists in China.” And therefore, said the Cardinal more recently, “to think of making deals with Beijing is crazy. It’s like with the devil, you cannot dialogue with him, you have to be either here or there,” because, he concludes, we cannot forget that in the time of Mao “half the Church ended up in prison and forced labor camps, such as young people, members of the Legio Mariae, who entered the prison as teenagers and remained until they were forty years old, excepting for those who were killed there.”
In the West there are human rights organizations that have focused on these forms of persecution. I mention one, the International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC), which works in collaboration with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, and which investigates abuses by the Chinese authorities on the Uyghur population and the Falung Gong movement. This latter organization, dedicated to the care of individual conscience and therefore adverse to the limitation of freedom implemented by the Chinese regime, is heavily controlled by the authorities at home. It has found strong support and diffusion in the West, especially in the United States, from where it attempts to defend its members and their values; first of all the value of freedom and the principle of truth, in full harmony with the Western spiritual tradition.
NYQUIST: Given the criminal nature of the CCP, will you then place on trial the European businessmen who are cutting deals with the CCP – who are enriching that distant communist regime and filling their own pockets? If not, why not?
CRISTIN: Denouncing the industries that enter into agreements with the CCP would in practice mean putting a large part of the productive and economic apparatus of Western countries on trial. As we can see, it is an initiative that is impossible both legally and economically, although morally and politically possible; but to be effective, a complaint of this type must come from governments and parliaments, which can adopt measures or choose alternative economic options, without however damaging the economic system. Today, in relations with China, the Western world is plagued by two great dilemmas: One is of an economic nature; that is, to give oxygen to our industries by increasing trade with China, or to remove oxygen from the Chinese system, penalizing its industries. The second is of a political nature; that is, the question of whether to condemn without reticence the violations of human rights and the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party risking an all-out conflict that could have disastrous consequences for the West itself, or to compromise on those violations and on that ideology, thus risking losing our soul.
NYQUIST: If the truth is to be told, will you be skimping on that truth or telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth about communism’s continuing growth in our universities and schools? Is there not a crime against intellectual integrity here? – a gross charade, a destruction of intellect itself? – A poisoning that must be answered?
CRISTIN: Here opens an even broader and even more burning discourse, because it concerns the effective action of the neo-communist movements in Western countries, in our societies. For almost a century, there has been a progressive infiltration of agitators and activists, who, as is well known, have received support from the world of culture and the mass media, schools and universities, from the world of journalism and publishing, cinema and entertainment.
An example: the so-called “French Theory” has established itself in Colleges and Universities throughout the West. It is a line of French philosophy that began with Sartre and which subsequently appeared in Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze and Lyotard with a consolidation and a diffusion that Althusser’s Marxism alone could not provide, giving life to a theoretical mixture which, by absorbing and incorporating Marxism, still stands today on the hinges of post-structuralism, postmodernism and deconstructionism. On the basis of these cultural and educational experiences, we have the demonstration that Western countries have lost so many battles against Communist ideology that today it is really difficult to win this long war.
In the West, Lenin did not win, not at least directly, nor, on a pragmatic-operational level, did Marx; but their European analogue, the Italian Antonio Gramsci, who developed an operational strategy applicable everywhere and which in fact was taken up in various countries, from Latin America to Europe up to the United States itself, seems to have won (i.e., Gramsci is one of the authors most studied in American universities). In short, the Gramscian theory holds that a political movement, to be hegemonic (which does not necessarily mean dictatorial) must have consent, and to gain consent it must win the trust of citizens; but to gain this trust it must conquer institutions which govern the state and which contribute to the formation of public opinion. First and foremost, it must conquer the spaces of education and culture: schools and universities, media and artistic-cultural sectors. According to this theory, the party that succeeds in imposing its cultural and social hegemony will therefore win the ideological war.
It can be said that Gramsci’s theory was effective and successful, because it is a sort of extension of the class struggle within the world of culture and education. Most of the subversive movements, both in the United States and in Europe, that are keeping our society in check, pushing it towards a socialist horizon, are heirs, even without knowing it, of Gramscism. Where the Gramscian theory of hegemony has been applied in a precise way, it has always been successful. In fact, throughout the Western world the cultural scene is dominated by the paradigm of the “politically correct,” of which Gramsci’s thought is one of the pillars. Today cultural Marxism has – unfortunately – become a global reality, above all, thanks to Gramscism.
Since we Westerners know this theory well, we could use our knowledge to fight it and to defeat it; but for this purpose we should adopt its main concept: hegemony. In itself, hegemony is a neutral concept, which on the one side becomes negative if, as in the case of Gramscism or Marxism, it leads to the establishment of an inhuman, collectivized, illiberal and totalitarian society; but which, on the other side, can become positive if it leads to a free society respectful of property, attentive to truth and to the values of the Western tradition. We will never be able to defeat cultural Marxism if we fail to impose conservative hegemony; that is, a hegemony of the values of liberty and property – in the world of culture and ethics. The same should be done in all other areas. Conceived in this way, hegemony is not a bad concept, on the contrary, it is the key to victoriously facing communist ideology, even on the electoral ground.
NYQUIST: Thank you, Professor Cristin, for answering these difficult questions. There are no easy answers when it comes to communism.
Quarterly Subscription (voluntary)
Notes for further reading
Igor Shafarevich, The Socialist Phenomenon.
Vladimir Bukovsky, To Choose Freedom.
Vladimir Bukovsky, Judgment in Moscow: Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity.