We know of right-wing atrocities, but Marxist historian Eugene Genovese famously asked his fellow leftists, “What did you know and when?”

24 Jul

Make no mistake, conservatism has protected and rationalized all sorts of injustices in history. Indeed, the total amount of human suffering that has resulted from a stubborn political and cultural conservatism has perhaps only been eclipsed by the enormous human suffering lying in the wake of radical revolutions marching to the left-wing drums of liberty, equality, fraternity, and scientific progress. Years ago, before a Harvard crowd of left-wing professors, fellow Marxist Eugene Genovese called his colleagues out on it in this scathing speech. In “The Question,” he asks, since right-wing (‘imperial’) injustices are routinely and rightfully castigated, when it comes to the atrocities committed on the left in the name of liberation, equality, and progress, “What did you know and when did you know it?”

Simply a mic-dropping read: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/…/1353953160genovesethequest…


Many of my old comrades and almost all of
those ostensibly independent radicals and
high-minded liberals remain unruffled. After
all, did we not often protest against some
outrage or other in the Soviet Union or China,
signing an indignant petition or open letter? I
know I did. And does not that change
everything? I am afraid not, but I have nothing
to offer as critique other than that which may
be found in Galatians 6:7

Perhaps knowledge of the record of imperialist
atrocities leads our liberal colleagues to
refuse to single us out by asking The Question.
But I am afraid not. After all, they never stop
asking southern whites about their crimes, real
and imagined, against blacks. And let’s face it:
all the combined crimes of white southerners, at least if we restrict ourselves to the period since emancipation, would be worth no more
than a footnote in a casebook that starred us.

A few years ago, there was a successful
effort to get the Organization of American
Historians (OAH) to condemn apartheid in
South Africa. In the OAH and other professional
associations, Professor Wilborne Washburne
resolutely opposed this politicization,
and attempted to expose its hypocrisy by
offering an amendment to condemn the “necklacing”
of black South Africans, including
children, by the militants of the African
National Congress. (For those who have
forgotten, “necklacing” was execution by
burning the victims alive.) The ANC subsequently
repudiated necklacing as not only
wrong but barbarous. The OAH has yet to
endorse that repudiation.
I laughed. Those bloody South African
whites did kill a lot of blacks and ought to
answer for it, but throughout their whole
history they probably never equaled the numbers
we put up in one of our more spirited
month’s work. I laughed even harder when our
liberal colleagues poured out their wrath on the
ghastly racists in South Africa while they
remained silent about the immeasurably greater
slaughters occasioned by the periodic ethnic
cleansing that was—and is—going on in black
Africa and every other part of the globe. The
New York Times recently announced that the
death toll in the latest round of ethnic cleansing
in Burundi has reached 150,000, with the fate
of a half million or so refugees in doubt. The
historical associations have not been heard
from. Nor should anyone expect that they will

No one should be surprised that none of our
leading historical associations have thought it
intellectually challenging to devote sessions at
their enormous annual meetings to frank
discussions of the socialist debacle. We of the
left are regularly invited to give papers on just
about any subject except this one. We are not
asked to assess the achievements as well as the
disasters, the heroism as well as the crimes,
and the lessons we ourselves have learned from
a tragic experience. No one need be surprised
that we have never been called upon to explain
ourselves. The pezzonovanti of our profession
have more important things on their minds.
When they can take time away from their
primary concern (the distribution of jobs,
prizes, and other forms of patronage), they are
immersed in grave condemnations of the
appalling violations of human rights by Christopher
Columbus. I know that it is in bad taste
to laugh, but I laugh anyway. I would rather be
judged boorish than seen throwing up

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