by Philip Vander Elst
For at least half a century, nearly every secondary school pupil and university student in Britain has learnt about the evils of Nazism and Fascism, and the crimes of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. One enormously important subject, however, has generally been missing from the education curriculum: namely, the horrendous and universally destructive nature and record of Communism.
Whilst mainstream historical textbooks and political commentary have typically described Stalin’s purges and repressive rule during the 1930s and ’40s, and the post-war Soviet occupation and subjugation of Eastern Europe, their coverage of 20th-century history has tended to downplay the role of Lenin and Trotsky as the original architects of Soviet totalitarianism, rarely emphasising the full extent or scale of the bloodletting for which these two men were responsible during the early years of Communist rule in Russia (1917-1924).
The repressive nature and sanguinary record of Communism in Asia, Africa, and Latin America – in countries like China, Vietnam, Cuba, and Mozambique, to mention only a few examples, has been similarly minimised or ignored. Worst of all, there has usually been little adequate discussion of the totalitarian ideological roots of Communist tyranny – of the fact, for example, that Marx and Engels were quite open and explicit about their hostility to freedom and democracy, and their support for revolutionary violence, the physical extermination of their opponents, and the ruthless suppression of all dissent in their future Socialist State.
Not surprisingly, these failures of omission have helped to produce a lopsided and morally distorted understanding of recent modern history, particularly that of the Cold War. Instead of recognising, from the very beginning, the inherently totalitarian and globally aggressive character of Communist ideology, many on the Left spent decades constructing alibis to excuse Soviet and Chinese despotism, a pattern repeated in relation to other Communist regimes in Cuba, North Vietnam, Nicaragua, and other parts of the Third World.
To counter these misconceptions, we must begin at the beginning, with a brief explanation of the central link between Marxist ideology and Communist totalitarianism.
The overwhelmingly powerful moral case against full-blooded revolutionary socialism, or communism, is based on one very simple truth amply confirmed by experience. And that is, that abolishing private property, nationalising industry, and giving the State control over all housing, employment, education and welfare, necessarily destroys personal independence as well as the economic autonomy of all non-governmental media and social institutions.
The resulting centralisation of all authority, resources and decision-making in the hands of government and its omnipotent bureaucracy renders it inevitable that such a concentration of absolute power in the ruling socialist elite will eventually prove corrupting and end in tyranny. To believe otherwise is to disregard the moral frailty of imperfect and fallible human nature, as well as the lessons of history. Even if the motivation of the ruling socialist revolutionaries in any particular society is purely altruistic, their passionate desire to use the coercive power of the State to remake the world, and create a perfect utopia of social harmony and justice, will always make them intolerant of all disagreement and resistance. And that, of course, brings us back to the historical phenomenon of the Communist Holocaust.
The terrible and neglected truth is that not only is revolutionary socialism an experiment in coercive social engineering that has failed in every continent, but the price in blood and tears of its global failure over the past century has also been colossal, dwarfing by far the combined loss of life incurred in both World Wars. According, for instance, to The Black Book of Communism, the English edition of a scholarly and exhaustively documented country-by-country indictment of Communism written by a group of mainly French historians, some of whom are former Marxists, at least 94 million people have been killed by Communist regimes since 1917, through executions, assassinations, forced labour, man-made famines, and the civil wars and uprisings provoked and bloodily repressed by them.
Other estimates of the human cost of Communism are even higher than this already shocking figure of 94 million. For instance, in his equally exhaustive landmark study, Death by Government, the late Professor R. J. Rummel, political scientist and former Director of the Haiku Peace Research Centre at the University of Hawaii, calculated that the total death toll from Communism was over 105 million, and his detailed estimates did not include the human cost of Communism in most of Eastern Europe, or in Third World countries like Cuba and Mozambique. Even so, his figure is double the total number of casualties (military and civilian) killed on all sides during World War 2.
Another more recent study, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism, by the American historian and political scientist Dr Paul Kengor, offers a particularly powerful, wide-ranging, and well-documented critique of revolutionary socialism, including a damning analysis of its fellow travellers in the West. And it too suggests that the Black Book seriously underestimates the human cost of Communism.
“Take the figure for the Soviet Union, where the Black Book records 20 million dead,” writes Dr Kengor: “Most accounts of the total Soviet death toll exceed 33 million, and some estimates are twice that… Alexander Yakovlev, a high-level Soviet official who became one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s chief reformers and in the 1990s was given the official task of trying to tabulate the victims of Soviet Communism, estimates that Stalin alone ‘annihilated… 60 to 70 million people’… A similar level of bloodshed was wrought solely by China’s Mao Zedong, who was responsible for the deaths of at least 60 million in China, and more likely over 70 million, according to the latest biographical-historical research… Also too conservative is the Black Book’s North Korea number, which does not include the 2 to 3 million who died in the famine of the late 1990s, a famine resulting directly from Communist policies.”
Indeed, to get a full sense of the scale of the devastation and human tragedy of this particular Communist man-made famine, adds Dr Kengor, you need to realise that “Two to three million dead was roughly 10 to 15% of the North Korean population. That percentage of the American population would be 40 million people. (America lost 300,000 dead in all of World War 2).”
All in all, concludes Dr Kengor, and allowing for the fact that the Black Book may have also underestimated the dimensions of the Communist holocaust in Cambodia (Kampuchea), “The total deaths caused by Communism in the twentieth century are closer to 140 million” – a figure more than twice the population of Britain and more than 23 times the total number of Jews murdered by Hitler.
Dreadful though these statistics may be, they obviously cannot convey the full horror of what decades of Communist rule has meant for the populations beneath its iron yoke. Numbers, however impressive, cannot tell the citizens of a free country what it feels like to have to conceal one’s thoughts and opinions daily, for fear of being denounced to the secret police, or what it feels like to be in their prisons awaiting interrogation and torture. They cannot tell you what it feels like to be a slave in the Gulag, or to have to spend a whole day in a queue for the most basic necessities, because shortages of food, medicine and clothing, and other staple products, are endemic within a centrally planned State-controlled economy. Nor, finally, can statistics convey what it must be like to have to ask for official permission to travel, or to change one’s job, or how it feels to be denied freedom of conscience and worship.
To begin to visualise and appreciate something of the suffering endured by different categories of people, as well as whole populations, you have to read the memoirs and listen to the personal testimonies of the victims of Communism. Of this now extensive literature, the most plentiful, for obvious reasons, describe the experience of life under Soviet Communism, notably the writings and speeches of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, particularly his great and partly autobiographical three-volume history of Soviet totalitarianism, The Gulag Archipelago. Less well-known, but equally powerful, is Against All Hope, the prison memoirs of the Cuban poet and human rights activist Armando Valladares, first published in Britain by Hamish Hamilton in 1986 and dedicated “To the memory of my companions tortured and murdered in Fidel Castro’s jails, and to the thousands of prisoners still suffering in them.”
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