The Invisible Holocaust of Democracies

Kiefer, Man under a pyramid 1996

[The following is an extract from the Introduction to a Black Dossier of over 100 pages I have compiled. It attempts to document the crimes against humanity, mass murders and atrocities committed by democratically elected regimes since 1942-1945. These crimes amount to an invisible holocaust very few people really know or talk about. They are usually not mentioned in school history lessons. They are the contemporary part of the collective shadow of industrial capitalism, consumerism and affluence that reaches back to the genocides of historical European colonialism that began with Columbus. Sources have again been omitted because WordPress won’t let me cut and paste them in with the text. Painting ‘Man under a Pyramid’ by German artist Anselm Kiefer.]

We now increasingly live, whether we know it or not, in two worlds: in our small, private human-scale worlds and in the non-human-scale world of global Empire, and these are inextricably linked in many complex ways. Perhaps we now need to develop something like a ‘bifocal’ vision that attempts to take in both realities, both worlds, and – more difficult by far – both personally and collectively begin to work out ways to live and act accordingly, without collapsing under the strain.

In the following Black Dossier I have restricted myself largely to the crimes of democratic-capitalist systems since Dresden and Hiroshima, with a particular focus on those of the now dominant US world empire. This is because this is the period, historical experience and social matrix of my own post-war generation, one largely defined both by the ‘golden age’ of an unparalleled long economic boom (1947-73) and by the Cold War (1947-1991) and the latest form of imperial ‘peacetime’, the so-called pax americana.

Nevertheless, like any other historical age, this period cannot be neatly separated off from the previous history in which it is embedded and which it continues. In this, our, period the immense shadows of the previous period, the ‘Age of Catastrophe’ (1914-1945), and of the two World Wars in particular ‒ the experience of our parents and grandparents ‒ still cast their subtle pall over the minds and souls of millions.

The first, more clearly senseless, inter-imperialist (British, French, German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, Ottoman, American) world war, of course cost mainly soldiers’ lives: about 8,400,000 have been estimated and more than 21,000,000 war injuries. Whereas the Second World War – a product of the Hitler regime’s attempt at imperial domination of Europe ‒ is estimated to have cost between 35,000,000 and 60,000,000 lives in total, the significant new historical phenomenon is the extremely large number of civilian casualties, often outweighing those of actual combatants. 7,000,000 of the USSR’s 11,000,000 dead were civilians, 3,200,000 of Poland’s 5,800,000 dead were Jewish civilians, 780,000 of Germany’s 4,280,000 dead, 672,000 of Japan’s 1,972,000 dead, 92,673 of the UK’s 357,116 dead. In fact, in Yugoslavia (1,200,000 civilians to 305, 000 combatants) and China (perhaps up to a staggering 22,000,000 civilians to 1,310,224 just Nationalist combatants) the numbers of civilian dead outweighed those of actual combatants by even higher factors.

Thus one of the 20th century’s many innovative, as well as symbolic, absurdities is the fact that as the century’s wars progressed it became relatively ever safer to be a combatant and ever more lethal to be a civilian. One estimate of the decreasing ratio of military to civilian deaths is the following: 20:1 (World War 1), 1:1 (World War 2), 1:5 (Korea), 1:20 (Vietnam), 1:100 (possible nuclear war guesstimate).

In taking 1945 as our epochal cut-off point then, the massive crimes and atrocities both of pre-world war western formally democratic or semi-democratic systems (e.g. of British, French, Belgian, Dutch or US colonialism and imperialism ) and of militantly anti-democratic fascism (appearing, in Germany at least, as a state terrorist , right-wing militarist-welfarist ‘solution’ to capitalist crisis) do not concern us here.

Neither do the, very considerable, crimes of Communist-Stalinist systems. The latter can be defined ‒ in the very Marxist terms to which these systems only paid ideological lip-service ‒, as state terrorist, totalitarian economies of ‘primary capital accumulation’ or state capitalist industrialization. From the classic Marxist perspective, they thus quite fraudulently called themselves ‘socialist’ systems. They inflicted horrific suffering, work slavery, brutal oppression and death on countless millions of people. The Soviet invasion and imperial occupation of Afghanistan alone may have cost over 200,000 lives between 1979 and 1985.

Its state capitalist work of primary industrialisation accomplished, the Soviet empire then peacefully collapsed in the early 1990s into openly capitalist, formally ‘democratic’ gangster economies. In these an oligarchy of now private capitalists (accurately termed ‘the oligarchs’ in Russia), crime bosses and (now partly elected) apparatchiki simply replaced the previous Leninist-Stalinist oligarchy (‘nomenklatura’) of state capitalists and apparatchiki. Often enough these were the same people privately appropriating the more lucrative elements of the defunct state-owned industries: the repressive authoritarian state apparatus, including the re-branded KGB and corrupt or dependent judiciary, remained largely unchanged.

Under the initial ‘shock therapy’ of ‘free market’ capitalism, these Eastern European countries have of course experienced mass unemployment, mass poverty, rising inequality and a veritable ‘great depression’ in terms of massive 20-40% reductions in GDP in 1989-99. The usual neo-liberal extreme form of class polarization has also occurred: while Russia was said to have 88,000 millionaires (and Moscow alone 33 billionaires) in 2005, it also had over 700,000 (increasing by 20,000 a year) ‘social orphans’, i.e. children falling into the abyss of impoverished broken families and the now indifferent state. Male life expectancy fell from 69 in the late 1950s to 58, making Russia ‘the first country in history to experience such a sharp fall’. A UNICEF study in the nineties estimated the brutal human costs of capitalist ‘reforms’ in Russia to be of the order of an horrendous 500,000 extra deaths a year while suicide rates jumped nearly 50% during the 1990s: around half a million people committed suicide between 1995 and 2003.

A similar economic ‘liberalisation’ and class polarization process is underway in the remaining soi-disant ‘socialist’ system in China, the next global empire. No doubt the day will come when Chinese entrepreneurs will imitate their old Russian models once again and open up the sites of their own gulag prison camps as lucrative tourist destinations. In the meantime, McStalinism, a ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, now of course also means that, as the party boss of the China Reconstruction Bank stated, the best way to put communist principles into practice is by maximising returns for shareholders.

‘Communist’ state capitalist systems are not ‘our’ systems. Thus their very considerable crimes, providing a dark, systemically stabilizing contrast to our supposedly democratic ideals and systems during the Cold War period, are thus, now, also relatively well known (or at least widely intuited).

Our system, in contrast, being designated ‘democratic’, is not, according to the tacit rules of official discourse, educational curricula and media propaganda, supposed to be linked to systematic oppression, atrocities, war crimes and crimes against humanity or international law, either at home or abroad. Our data reveal this as pure myth.

Even a general overview of the total figures would seem to bear this out. Historian M. White estimates that 188 million people were killed due to war and oppression during the 20th century. Of these, he estimates that 92 million deaths were caused by ‘communist’ regimes, 96 million by ‘non-communist’ regimes (which would include both formally democratic and right-wing authoritarian/fascist). Just on these estimates, the scales of horror would seem fairly balanced between so-called ‘left’ and ‘right’.

Of these 96 million victims of non-communist regimes, direct democratic (military and political) atrocities and direct support for atrocities would (on our own research presented below) account for, at least, eight million, and, possibly, even eleven million victims.

(As for the large discrepancy between these latter figures and White’s 96 million estimate, it should simply be remembered that our figures include neither the many millions of victims from 1900 to 1945 nor the infinitely even greater number of ‘economic victims’ since 1945, i.e. victims of hunger and starvation resulting from the ‘structural violence’ of unjust world economic structures and trade patterns centred on the capitalist ‘free market’ that is the other, even more deadly, historical shadow of our democracies.)

All of the huge figures listed above and throughout the Dossier are of course contestable. They should be. The intention of the Dossier is to provoke democratic debate and maturation. It could only benefit from any evidence-based upward or downward corrections. A truly democratic society would probably experience intense debates and controversies over their methodologies and degree of accuracy and veracity. It is a measure of our lack of such a democracy that such debates are completely absent from the public arena. And perhaps, in the end, all this is less a question of accuracy and more one of meaning, significance, resonance:

Statistics don’t have to be accurate; they have to be significant. My theory has always been that figures don’t mean anything if you can’t make them sing. (E.F. Schumacher, Good Work)

Thus, in conclusion, if our figures are resonant, if they have been made to ‘sing’ to any modest degree at all, if they are anywhere near the truth, then their root significance may lie in the following general proposition: democratically elected leaders and formally democratic governments have been responsible or co-responsible for what – in purely quantitative terms ‒ amounts to a ‘second Holocaust’.

The necessary moral corollary of this proposition would be that the order-givers, perpetrators and colluders within our democratic political class (of ALL persuasions) are thus, objectively, mass murderers and genocidal criminals who should stand trial and be brought to justice rather than meekly followed or naively voted for. The fact that this Holocaust has – for most people in the west – remained, largely, a silent, invisible or hidden Holocaust, makes it no less real and morally devastating.

Being a Dossier, this text does not attempt to present any reasons for this invisible holocaust. Suffice to say the reasons are not reducible to the personalities or persuasions of the political perpetrators themselves. The ultimately, in my view, capitalist-systemic and economic reasons for these state atrocities, terrors and crimes ‒ most often committed in the name of ‘national security’, ‘the national interest’ or ‘reasons of state’ ‒ would require a separate treatise. Thankfully, no dry economic or laborious Marxist analysis is needed for a brief indication of such reasons: apologists for Empire are themselves often quite open about the occasional need for military intervention, war and (hopefully) mainly foreign corpses to keep the capitalist ‘free market’ system ticking along, profits increasing, the ‘business community’ happy and western affluence secured. On these (unfortunately rare) occasions, class interest is fairly openly expressed and all pious sentimentality about democratic and humane values is dropped.

Thus for the moment we can restrict ourselves to two quite well-known, marvellously succinct and unusually honest summaries of the ultimate reasons for ‘democratic’ human rights abuses as provided by two influential (and liberal) apologists for imperial capitalist democracy and empire. They span our period well, one coming at the beginning and the other at the dawning end of the pax Americana epoch in which we still live today. The first is from George Kennan, key US geo-strategist of Cold War ‘containment’ in the Truman administration of 1948:

We have 50 per cent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 per cent of its population. In this situation, our real job in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which permit us to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we have to dispense with all sentimentality […] we should cease thinking about human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization.

The second elucidation makes a similarly succinct and systemically honest point fifty one years later. It is by Thomas Friedman, liberal cheer leader for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and chief neo-liberal apologist at the New York Times. The classic liberal theory of the benevolently ‘hidden hand’ of the market is more honestly described as always in fact being based on the ‘hidden’ military fist:

For globalism to work, America cannot be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is (…) The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist – McDonalds cannot flourish without McDonald-Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

The most powerful agent pressuring other countries to open their markets for free trade and free investments is Uncle Sam, and America’s global armed forces keep these markets and sea lanes open for this era of globalization, just as the British navy did for the era of globalization in the nineteenth century.

The Black Dossier was written because, unlike liberal ruling class ideologues like Kennan and Friedman, ordinary citizens of democratic countries, for the most part, do in fact not consciously connect the ‘hidden hand of the market’ with the ‘hidden fist’ of militarism, torture and human rights abuses. They are, in general, unaware of the horrific crimes, suffering and abuses caused, committed or condoned in their names by their own leaders, governments or by their dependent client states.

This fact in itself would seem to provide another telling indication of the extent of our actual lack of democracy and some of its essential social and cultural features. As a basic minimum such a democratic society would, one could argue, have to include: truly free, critical and diverse media, workplace democracy and empowered participatory forums for open public debate at all levels, increased leisure time, material security and freedom from fear for all, a well-funded education system aiding the development of a broadly informed, actively engaged, critical and passionately democratic citizenry and, last but not least, critical, socially engaged and morally responsible writers, artists and intellectuals who are unbeholden to power and Empire.

In such an open and vibrant culture of democracy ‒ yet to be established ‒ we shall finally be able to collectively mourn the Empire’s victims that have been partly documented in this Dossier. The mourning will at some point necessarily include a collective debate on the ways and means of separating democracy from the ongoing social and systemic phenomena preventing it: i.e. imperialism, militarism, capitalism, the over-centralised state. Like Capital, its social antagonist, democracy can ultimately only live by extending itself into ever more areas. If democracy is to be realized, these areas must particularly include the crucial economic decision-making processes that ultimately define the basic structures of society. If the so-called ‘hidden hand’ of the market economy is not socially and democratically controlled, the ‘hidden fist’ of imperial militarism and all its atrocities will also never be. And, at this critical juncture in history, if both are not democratically controlled, it could be argued that the future of the planet and humanity are at grave risk of complete destruction.

Thus we would seem to live in dark times which, however, like the womb of night and the unconscious, are also creative and full of promise. It is well to remember, moreover, that our natural reactions of depression, grief and/or anger to the brutal facts of these times are also indications both of the depth of our concern and caring and of our essential human interconnectedness. In engaged Buddhist Joanna Macy’s words:

Like living cells in a larger body, it is natural that we feel the trauma of our world. So don’t be afraid of the anguish you feel, or the anger or fear, for these responses arise from the depth of your caring and the truth of your interconnectedness with all beings. To suffer with is the literal meaning of compassion.


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on March 4, 2015.

5 Responses to “The Invisible Holocaust of Democracies”

  1. thanx peter…i don’t even know what to say….it’s all so overwhelming…

    • Yes it is, Kristi. It’s painful to take up, even more painful, in the long run, to ignore…methinks. Bit like personal death in general. And remember what Joanna Macy points out at the end of the piece: your feelings of sorrow, despair, anger, overwhelm are the very measure of your concern, compassion, love. Can we have the latter without the former, I wonder? Bit like wanting life and love without death or suffering…Warmest regards to spring in Florida, Peter

  2. I agree Peter. Overwhelming barrage of unfair, unethical, all too human exploitation which seems like a juggernaut , inevitable, almost unstoppable. You’re right about its invisibility, I have grown up since 50’s and never connected the dots much. Hidden hands and fists and fingers on triggers and buttons- mostly misguided, sociopathic, selfish, oppressors. Insane.

    Let’s be hopeful. As Heidegger said “Only a God can save us” in the sense of believing we are custodians, stewards, and we borrow the world and its wonderful (but dwindling) bounty from our descendants.

    • Thanks Nick, and for re-blogging. I’m all for hope too, and that still centre of the turning wheel beyond-hope-fear-desire where all is nowever.

  3. Reblogged this on nickweechblog's Blog and commented:
    Devastating critique from Peter. It’s not for the faint hearted though

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