From Aeon by Kristen R. Ghodsee author of Red Hangover: Legacies of 20th Century-Communism and Scott Sehon author of Free Will and Action Explanation: A Non-Causal, Compatibilist Account:
The public memory of 20th-century communism is a battleground. Two ideological armies stare at each other across a chasm of mistrust and misunderstanding. Even though the Cold War ended almost 30 years ago, a struggle to define the truth about the communist past has continued to rage across the United States and Europe.
On the Left stand those with some sympathy for socialist ideals and the popular opinion of hundreds of millions of Russian and east European citizens nostalgic for their state socialist pasts. On the Right stand the committed anti-totalitarians, both east and west, insisting that all experiments with Marxism will always and inevitably end with the gulag. Where one side sees shades of grey, the other views the world in black and white.
Particularly in the US, labour supporters and social liberals who desire an expanded role for the state hope to save the democratic socialist baby from the authoritarian bathwater. Fiscal conservatives and nationalists deploy memories of purges and famines to discredit even the most modest arguments in favour of redistributive politics.
For those wishing to paint 20th-century communism as an unmitigated evil, ongoing ethnographic and survey research in eastern Europe contradicts any simple narrative. Even as early as 1992, the Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulić ‘worried about what would happen to all the good things that we did have under communism – the medical care, the year’s paid maternity leave, free abortion’. As governments dismantled social safety nets and poverty spread throughout the region, ordinary citizens grew increasingly less critical of their state socialist pasts.