Pearsall has noted my quoting of Terry Eagleton's criticism of Polish Catholicism as, amongst other things, particularly anti-Communist, and expresses dismay that anyone would regard Pope John-Paul II's role in the overthrow of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe as anything but a crowning glory of his Papacy. Undoubtedly, John-Paul II did play a relatively significant role in the eventual withdrawal of Soviet support for the Warsaw Pact regimes, by organizing peaceful Catholic resistance to those regimes, and supporting other forms of resistance, most notably Solidarity. I didn't mean to condemn that: the regimes in question were fairly reprehensible, and it is a good thing that they have fallen, even if that goodness is slightly mitigated by the less-than-ideal successor regimes in some cases. Anti-Communism potentially has a wider scope as a description than picking out these acts, though, and the content of that wider description, I think, can be used as a criticism of John-Paul II.
Understood in the context of the kinds of views the Pope held about desirable social, political and economic arrangements and in the context of an increasingly reheated Cold War in the Eighties, anti-Communism becomes the criticism of any proposal for progressive social change, other than the social change of the removal of Communist regimes. It is a kind of Reds-under-the-beds mania, which extends not just to an entirely proper criticism of oppressive Eastern European regimes, but to a denial that Liberation theology picked up on any legitimate concerns of the Latin American poor by associating it with those regimes. This is, I think, what Eagleton means to criticize when he describes the Polish Catholic Church as "ferociously anti-Communist". Anyone who shows any sympathy for vaguely Marxian ideas - of the structural necessity of injustice in a capitalist economy, of class struggle, of the base and the superstructure - is at least a fellow-traveller and crypto-Communist, if not a full-blown supporter of the gulags, show trials, mass starvations and deportations of the USSR in the thirties when one is 'ferociously anti-Communist'.
In a way, my willingness to read this criticism this way, to see it picking out more than merely the criticism of the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe, casts doubt on an argument Slavoj Zizek has made in the LRB, which John Holbo has been criticizing for some time, as part of what seems to be a general campaign against Slavoj Zizek. Zizek argued that liberals - as is often typical of post-modernists, it is far from clear exactly what this is supposed to pick out at all - cannot see an important difference between Fascism and Stalinism, and so tend to regard Stalinism as worse. Zizek's own argument that Stalinism is not as bad as Fascism turns, I think - it is quite hard to tell what he is arguing a lot of the time - on a premise that historical materialism is true when he says that "[c]lass antagonism, unlike racial difference and conflict, is absolutely inherent to and constitutive of the social field; Fascism displaces this essential antagonism". Consequently, liberals, who typically do not believe that 'class antagonism is constitutive of the social field', are unlikely to accept his argument: it begs the question against them, in a quite obvious way.
However, I do think there is an important sense, which is particularly relevant what Zizek is writing about, the remembrance of these regimes, in which Stalinism was less bad than Fascism, in that Stalinism, for all its horror, at least held out the prospect of a progressive emancipation, an achievement of freedom, whereas Fascism is inherently backwards-looking, a true blood and soil ideology, whose end is the subsumption of humans into their ethnicities. Communism is a progressive and utopian system of political thought, and that utopia, were it reached, would be a genuine utopia, whereas Fascism is a form of radical nationalism, steeped in myths of bloody confrontation and martial glory leading only to further bloody confrontation. Insofar as Stalinism is a failed form of Communism, however morally disgusting and grotesque it was, there should be a tinge of regret in our assessments of it because of the emancipatory promise of Communism: there is a sense in which it is sad that Communism is not true, because, were it true, there would be the possibility of achieving the kind of utopia it describes. Fascism utterly lacks this kind of regret, because it has no vision of an end-point, a justification for its horrors, that any right-thinking person could want to embrace. Our collective memory of the two sets of regimes should embrace that difference in regret, I think.
I think that it is also this kind of emancipatory vision which links other left-leaning movements and Communists in anti-Communist's minds: they share the belief in the possibility of a radically better world, often to be achieved by overthrowing or removing existing social, political and economic structures, sometimes by violence but sometimes not. So anti-Communism is, if one thinks that the world could be made better by the removal of some social, political and economic structures, however incrementally and carefully that removal should be done, and if my earlier analysis is correct, a series of claims of which one ought to disapprove: it stands as a criticism of the Pope, I think.
Postscript: John Holbo is having another go at all these obsfucating lit-theory types, specifically at their ill-explained use of the term 'liberalism'.
Postscript II: Pearsall has an interesting take on the 'Communism tinged with regret' line.