Virginia’s state flag flies in Richmond. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)
Election Day is this week’s marquee event, but Virginia has another little-known day on its November calendar: the Victims of Communism Memorial Day, which the commonwealth has recognized since 2018 on Nov. 7.
“Based on the economic philosophies of Karl Marx, communism has proven incompatible with the ideals of liberty, prosperity, and dignity of human life and has given rise to such infamous totalitarian dictators as Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Ho Chi Minh, and Pol Pot,” declares the joint resolution creating the day, which was passed by both the House of Delegates and state Senate during the 2018 session.
Since then, other states have adopted nearly identical resolutions, following model language crafted by the conservative nonprofit American Legislative Exchange Council later in 2018.
According to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., Virginia was the first state to designate the day. Alabama, Florida, Texas and Utah have also passed such resolutions, with eight others considering them.
Virginia’s resolution was proposed by former Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, and co-patroned by a bipartisan group of lawmakers that included Democratic Dels. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, and Mark Keam, D-Fairfax.
Among the information included in Virginia’s and others’ Victims of Communism Memorial Day resolution is the statement that “communist regimes worldwide have killed more than 100 million people.” The claim stems from the 1997 “Black Book of Communism” and has been criticized by some scholars as inflated or as obscuring deaths linked to capitalism, such as those connected with the Atlantic slave trade.
The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit organization authorized by a unanimous act of Congress in 1993, writes on its website that “positive attitudes toward communism and socialism are at an all-time high in the United States. We have a solemn obligation to expose the lies of Marxism for the naïve who say they are willing to give collectivism another chance.”
The group’s board is chaired by Edwin Feulner, founder and former president of the conservative Heritage Foundation. Jay Katzen, a former Republican Virginia delegate from Fauquier, was the foundation’s president until he died in 2020.
The Charlottesville chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America said in an email that increasingly positive attitudes towards communism and socialism are “not surprising, given the massive increase in wealth inequality in recent years.”
“It is time to look past the blatant demonization of Marx and socialism coming from right-wing organizations like the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation,” the group wrote. “Marx inspired some of the most important humanitarian causes in human history, and followers of his philosophy have contributed incredible things to our society. Marxists inspired the growth of trade unionism in the 19th and 20th centuries, which brought health care, paid leave, eight hour work days and weekends to millions.”
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