Asatar Bair, an assistant professor of economics at Riverside City College, is under fire this week for his praise of one of the most blood-soaked, tyrannical figures in history: Joseph Stalin. Bair is a self-described Marxist but most communists draw a line well clear of Stalin who was responsible for killing millions. As will come as little surprise to many on this blog, I strongly support Bair’s right to espouse his Stalinist views even though I find them utterly absurd and offensive.
In tweets, Bair expressed his support for Stalin as “a very successful revolutionary, a great contributor to Marxist theory” and “one of the great leaders of the 20th [Century].” He added Stalin was also a “great listener and collaborator during discussions.”
He may also have been a great dancer . . . in between sending millions to their deaths, murdering opponents, and destroying any semblance of freedom. Yet, Bair also heaped praise in tweets for the Chinese Communist Party.
His Stalinist support is due to what he sees as tremendous improvements of health care for citizens.
Yet, Bair ignores the millions who were killed. The Stalin health care plan was a bit more lethal for them. Certainly Leon Trotsky found Stalin’s ice-axe remedies less than optimal. He also ignores that there were improvements throughout the industrial world after World War II and that such changes could have occurred without Stalin. Indeed, Stalin is blamed for a series of moronic plans that devastated the Soviet agriculture and economy due to his one-man rule.
Putting aside the millions who were killed or sent to Siberia, consider just the Soviet famine of 1932-33 which killed many millions, including an estimate of 7.5 million in the Ukrainian population alone. Stalin ordered the eradication of the wealthy peasant or “Kulak” class. It wiped out agricultural production. The life expectancies of the millions who died was hardly a victory for the working class or a model of public health policy. He has been accused of mass murder and genocide.
Stalin was also responsible for leaving his country vulnerable to the German invasion after he conspired with Hitler as an ally against other countries. Stalin’s purges included wiping out the officer corp, leaving the Soviet Army without sufficient leadership and experience. When Hitler betrayed him, the Soviet Army effectively collapsed in disarray. Tens of millions were killed by the end of the war.
Stalin relished murder on a grand scale. He famously stated “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” His health care plan was summed up in his declaration that “death is the solution to all problems. No man – no problem.”
Nevertheless, Riverside college district’s Chancellor Wolde-Ab Isaac told Fox News that while Bair’s “statements and ideas may be unpopular or even controversial, his right to express himself is constitutionally protected.” That is absolutely correct.
My only concern, again, is the consistency of universities in protecting controversial speakers on the left as opposed to those on the right. I have defended faculty who have made similarly disturbing comments denouncing police, calling for Republicans to suffer, strangling police officers, celebrating the death of conservatives, calling for the killing of Trump supporters, supporting the murder of conservative protesters and other outrageous statements. These comments were not protested as creating an “unsafe environment” and were largely ignored by universities. However, professors and students are routinely investigated, suspended, and sanctioned for countervailing views.
As we have previously discussed (with an Oregon professor and a Rutgers professor), there remains an uncertain line in what language is protected for teachers in their private lives. The efforts to fire professors who voice dissenting views on various issues including an effort to oust a leading economist from the University of Chicago as well as a leading linguistics professor at Harvard and a literature professor at Penn. Sites like Lawyers, Guns, and Money feature writers like Colorado Law Professor Paul Campos who call for the firing of those with opposing views (including myself). Such campaigns have targeted teachers and students who contest the evidence of systemic racism in the use of lethal force by police or offer other opposing views in current debates over the pandemic, reparations, electoral fraud, or other issues.
A conservative North Carolina professor faced calls for termination over controversial tweets and was pushed to retire. Dr. Mike Adams, a professor of sociology and criminology, had long been a lightning rod of controversy. In 2014, we discussed his prevailing in a lawsuit that alleged discrimination due to his conservative views. He was then targeted again after an inflammatory tweet calling North Carolina a “slave state.” That led to his being pressured to resign with a settlement. He then committed suicide. We are approaching the one year anniversary of his death.
Riverside College should be praised for its support of free speech for Bair. He is part of a diversity of opinion that should be cherished on college campuses. While Stalin was a tyrant to killed those with opposing views, we value such freedoms. The question is whether such tolerance would be shown those on the other end of the political spectrum.