Why is it Never Springtime for Stalin?
A theater in Warsaw, Poland thinks it’s being daring. It’s staging a play based on Adolf Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf... because there's no other subject matter quite as inspiring to them, I guess. The politics behind this production are easy to predict: It’s the theater, and it’s from the left, and let’s face it, we may be slowly approaching the moment where we run out of avant-garde ways to dramatize or satirize the Third Reich. We are moving from banality to insipid.
“We are exploring Mein Kampf to find out to what extent the ideas and proposals committed to paper more than 90 years ago remain relevant today,” the theater wrote in its synopsis of the play online. “Examining Hitler’s language and narrative, we ask ourselves questions about the language used today, including hate speech. We ask how many words had to be said before the Holocaust happened, and how many more words will have to be said for history to repeat itself.”
So why isn't this play about Iran? The ayatollahs read from Mein Kampf over their morning halal cream of wheat.
Funny thing about history repeating itself... Hitler wrote Mein Kampf while he was in prison for trying to overthrow the local government in Munich on November 9, 1923. In that awful book he spelled out what he intended to do once he actually took power. Then just a year later lenient authorities released him from prison. Freed by the government he despised, he soon built a following through a socialist party, took power -- and did exactly what he said he would do in Mein Kampf.
It wasn’t like he didn’t warn anyone what he was up to. He did. Some particularly astute observers, such as renowned American astronomer Edwin Hubble, saw Hitler’s rise and warned the world about him. They were mostly ignored. Hubble spent the years of the war he tried to prevent perfecting American artillery to win that war.
Today we’re seeing a rise in socialism in the United States. One of the top two candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination is Sen. Bernie Sanders, an admitted socialist. The Democrats’ congressional rising star is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is also an admitted socialist. She wants to impose a horrid “Green New Deal” that would effectively enslave the whole country to various government programs, schemes, and behavioral overlords. Those two and a few others are rapidly becoming the ideological leaders of the Democratic Party, and they’re dragging unprincipled dopes like Beto O’Rourke along with them. The Bolshevik crackpots are becoming the Democrats' core constituency.
By now everyone should know what socialism is all about. There’s the nationalist variety Hitler espoused, which led to overpowering government, world war and mass murder. And there’s the internationalist variety articulated by Karl Marx, put into action by Vladimir Lenin and brought to its brutal apex by Josef Stalin. Like its nationalist cousin, communism led to overpowering government, world conflict, and mass murder. It left massive piles of corpses wherever it ruled -- more corpses than Hitler’s Nazis even managed to pile up. Pol Pot in Cambodia killed about two million. Stalin’s famines, gulags, and executions killed about 20 million. Mao in China killed about 20-45 million. Hitler fits right into that rogues gallery -- along with Che and other darlings of today’s left. Only Che rates a T-shirt at your local head shop.
Parody is one weapon the arts have to wield against monsters like Hitler. Mocking them literally turns them into jokes, objects of ridicule, diminishing their power to terrify. Comedy forces light onto darkness which helps to disinfect the culture, and this is the key reason that taboo topics must be joked about. The only hiccup comes when almost the entire entertainment industry is a member of the taboo topic called socialism.
The Polish play is far from the first to take Hitler on. Mel Brooks went after the Nazis in his Springtime for Hitler, the play within the 1967 movie The Producers. The fuhrer was mocked in his lifetime by Charlie Chaplin in his 1940 masterpiece, The Great Dictator. Spike Jones, the wartime band leader, musician and precursor to Weird Al Yankovich, sang “Heil, right in der fuerher’s face” in 1943. The Three Stooges ripped Hitler too, with Moe and his chili bowl haircut standing in for the devil of the Third Reich in “You Natzy Spy!” All of these parodies were produced during Hitler’s reign, and both Chaplin and the Stooges went after him in 1940 -- before America’s entry into the war -- with very direct and effective visual mockery. After that even more heavy hitters joined in, and let’s face it, when you have Bugs Bunny, The Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, and Chaplin after you, you don't stand a chance.
At the same time and in the years before, no major stars took Stalin on. In fact, the most powerful force in the media at that time, the New York Times, was Stalin’s American apologist. Its reporter, Walter Duranty, personally witnessed and reported on the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine. That famine was not a natural event, as Duranty knew at the time. It was Stalin’s way of killing off millions, of turning murder into statistics.
But Duranty never reported the facts. He won a Pulitzer, which the New York Times still accepts, for his ghastly lies. Rather than report on -- let alone parody -- Stalin’s evil, Duranty enabled it and looked the other way.
And today, decades later, the arts still refuse to parody communism with anything like the barbs it aims at Nazism. It’s not like there isn’t ample material to work with. Hitler led just the one regime in one country. Communists have ruled from East Germany clear over to the Pacific coast, through all the old eastern bloc nations of Europe (including Poland, which played a key role in communism’s fall.) From Russia to Cuba.
Cambodia had its Khmer Rouge. Vietnam had its Ho Chi Minh. China is finding communism problematic enough that it’s trying to graft some capitalism onto it. There’s a socialist-communist regime cracking up in Venezuela right now. And then there’s North Korea. All these communist regimes were or are run by totalitarian lunatics, turned into basket cases of one kind or another, and either collapsed or eventually will. And they all tended to start wars and go on killing sprees within their own borders. Just like Hitler. Sometimes it is in the worst possible moments of existence, at times of war, famine, or plagues that humor becomes the only weapon people have left. A joke can act as the last bullet of the defenseless.
Only North Korea seems safe to be mocked. First by South Park geniuses Trey Parker and Matt Stone with Team America, and then by Seth Rogen and James Franco in their film The Interview.
By ignoring or enabling the rise of Bernie and AOC now, as most ignored Hitler’s rise after 1924 or Duranty enabling the communist famine, are we repeating history?
If Hitler is game for so much mockery, why isn’t Mao or Che or Ho?
A great joke really trumps all the rules, but it has to be great. The higher the stakes, the higher the standards for the joke. The victims of Communism deserve the same revenge through ridicule that the victims of Nazism get. So why is it never springtime for Stalin?
A.J. Rice is CEO of Publius PR, a premiere millennial-owned communications firm in Washington D.C. Rice is a brand manager, star-whisperer and auteur media influencer, who has produced or promoted Laura Ingraham, Judge Jeanine Pirro, Monica Crowley, Charles Krauthammer, Steve Hilton, Victor Davis Hanson, Anthony Scaramucci, Kimberly Guilfoyle, and many others. Find out more at publiuspr.com.