May 2, 2012
Today is May Day. Since 2007, I have been commemorating this day here at the Volokh Conspiracy as Victims of Communism Day. Various other websites and blogs have promoted the same concept. In time, we hope to make this a worldwide commemoration similar to Holocaust Memorial Day. I explained the rationale for this idea in my very first post on the subject:
May Day began as a holiday for socialists and labor union activists, not just communists. But over time, the date was taken over by the Soviet Union and other communist regimes and used as a propaganda tool to prop up their regimes. I suggest that we instead use it as a day to commemorate those regimes’ millions of victims. The authoritative Black Book of Communism estimates the total at 80 to 100 million dead, greater than that caused by all other twentieth century tyrannies combined. We appropriately have a Holocaust Memorial Day. It is equally appropriate to commemorate the victims of the twentieth century’s other great totalitarian tyranny. And May Day is the most fitting day to do so. I suggest that May Day be turned into Victims of Communism Day….
The main alternative to May 1 is November 7, the anniversary of the communist coup in Russia. However, choosing that date might be interpreted as focusing exclusively on the Soviet Union, while ignoring the equally horrendous communist mass murders in China, Camobodia, and elsewhere. So May 1 is the best choice.
Since I wrote that post, historian Frank Dikotter has unearthed new evidence solidifying China’s status as the communist regime with the most extensive record of mass murder. This makes it all the more preferable to choose an international rather than Russia-centric date for Victims of Communism Day.
Back in 2009, I sought to explain “Why the Neglect of Communist Crimes Matters.” In this post, I discussed the contentious question of whether various Soviet atrocities qualify as genocide. It is likely that only a minority of communist crimes fall under the current legal definition of genocide. The lion’s share are examples of “mere” mass murder. However, for reasons I explain here and here, I don’t think this distinction carries any significant moral weight.