“A Communist is someone who reads Marx and Lenin. An Anti-Communist is someone who *understands* Marx and Lenin.” -Ronald Reagan
“One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.” -Joseph Stalin
The differences between Communism and democracy, both as abstract ideas and far more importantly, as systems of social organization, can essentially be reduced, at least for the purposes of our argument, to their different perceptions and understandings of a single word. That word is equality. Both Communism and democracy began their philosophical and political lives as eloquent, idealistic responses to one of the most ancient and most significant dillemas in human history: how close can any society come to being completely fair and just, and how close can individuals, with the help of a particular government, come to being completely equal and conforming to a common standard? These questions, of course, inevitably gave rise to a wide array of new and seemingly even greater concerns: To what extent can society protect- but also control- the individual or a particular group of individuals? Which is more important, and which should be given political priority- equality *between* individuals or freedom for *each* individual?
In democratic, capitalist societies, equality is conceived of as being a starting point; in communist societies, equality is required to be the final outcome. In a democratic, capitalist society, equality takes the form of equal rights- universal suffrage, freedom of speech, expression and religion, equality before the law and basic freedoms shared by all. In the economic sphere, equality of opportunity allows each individual to participate and compete on the free market. Social and economic status, under capitalism, is allowed and even encouraged to fluctuate; it is the choices made by each individual, and not the desires of a particular class or government, that influence and determine the role of that particular individual in society. Hence capitalism and a free market, especially when coupled with democracy, enhance and expand upon the freedom of the individual, increasing exponentially the control people have of their own lives.
Communism, in contrast, actively and systematically reduces the role of the individual both in determining his own fate and in influencing his society as a whole, transforming him/her from an autonomous independent citizen, possessing not only a unique personality but also, presumably, a unique perspective on his government, to a mere appendage of the ruling Party and the state it controls; Mao Tse-Tung, the “great helmsmen” of the Communist Party in China, routinely referred to the very same “masses” he claimed to have liberated as being “another brick, another paving stone” in the construction of a socialist society. It should come as no surprise, then, that such a leader was willing and even eager to sacrifice millions of his country’s own citizens, who perished on his watch in massacres, purges and manmade famines, to the supposedly noble goal of a complete restructuring of society; what sort of architect, afterall, would feel the pangs of his own conscience after wasting a few bricks or a little plaster in the construction of a palace? The violent suppression of individual rights and individual self-expression has been a common characteristic in every Communist state in history. This is not, unfortunately, the result of repeated historical flukes or accidents; it is not, for instance, the tragic result of some misinterpretation or misunderstanding of Marx’s theories. Communism is first and foremost a collectivist ideology; the starting point of all its arguments, the basic assumption it makes, is that society, the collective (specifically, the proletariat) is superior and more important, in a economic, political and historical sense, than the individual or any of his specific desires; the determining factor in human history and hence in all human activity is not, and never can be, the individual, and if forced to choose, politically and socially, between the rights of the individual and the perceived advantage or advancement of the collective as a whole it would be a historical necessity and hence a logical imperative to choose the option which suits the needs of the collective.
The working class, for Marx, was worthy of greater respect and power exclusively as a collective, plural entity; the worker, as an individual, existed only as a temporary automaton, alienated from his labor and from society as a whole by capitalism but also, quite clearly, having emphatically little control over the specific nature and eventual outcome of the revolution. In fact, theoretically, the average individual worker, and even the proletariat as a class, would initially be permitted only a very peripheral role in the revolution; what Marx described, with admirable bluntness, as “the dictatorship of the proletariat” would eventually be rephrased and elaborated upon by Lenin and Ho Chi Minh as “the revolutionary vanguard” which would rule, provisionally, in the name of the entire proletariat; the democratic “soviets”, or workers’ councils, from which the USSR would eventually derive its official name would in fact be repressed almost immediately after the Bolshevik seizure of power. Workers’ rights, in Communist states, would be violently crushed and suppressed; labor unions such as Solidarnosc in Poland, beginning with simple and reasonable demands for better working conditions, would be find themselves in open confrontation with the entire mechanism of the state, with their leaders being arrested and imprisoned and their strikes being broken by armed police.
The rallying cry of the French revolution consisted of what those particularly revolutionaries had come to regard as three equally important demands- “liberty, equality, fraternity.” Communist revolutions, in contrast, have demanded complete equality *instead* and even *at the expense of* liberty. The human cost of such a demand, in little more than a century, has been almost immeasurably high in terms of the sheer number of people it killed.
Individual human beings and the relationships which connect us are not, and never can be, uniform. The uniqueness and distinctness of an individual’s identity, and the natural desire of all people to control their own destinies, makes create complete equality unnatural and contrary to our basic instincts; thus any attempt to create equality in every sphere of life, to impose conformity and sameness on people’s economic and social relationships, can only ever succeed through the violent, brutal use of force. In this sense, Stalin, Pol Pot and Kim Il Sung never once deviated from the theoretical basis of Marxism; on the contrary, they acted in full accordance with the logical conclusions to which it led. Marx himself neither doubted nor even denied that the successful implementation of his theories would require coercion and cruelty; writing in September 1848 in the German newspaper Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Karl Marx, the founding father of Communism in its original purest most theoretical form, whose face would later appear on statues from Havana to Pyongyang, Karl Marx, the inventor of Communism as we know it, claimed that “every provisional political set up following a revolution requires a dictatorship, and an energetic dictatorship at that.” He also wrote, a month later in November 1848, in another editorial in the same German newspaper, that “There is only one way in which…the birth throes of the new society can be shortened…and that way is revolutionary terrorism.” In 1848, these fiery words would’ve probably seemed to his intrigued readers like a literary embellishment, an exageration to fully convey the depth of the author’s feeling. A century later, in 1948, as a “provisional political set-up” led by Kim Il Sung seized power in Korea and “revolutionary terrorism” raged in Soviet-occupied eastern europe, the uninterupted continuum between Communism in theory and in practice, between Communism as an idea and Communism as a system of government, would become painfully clear for all to see.
A theory ceases to be a theory and is objectively deemed a fact if, and only if, it has been confirmed and verified repeatedly; if something happens once or even ten times, it is a coincidence, but if the same thing continues happening, with practically no exceptions or variations, in literally every case, it reveals and confirms the existence of a pattern.
By reading and carefully studying the major writings of Marx and Engels, we could easily devise a theory that Communism- a system of government designed explicitly to create total equality, to completely eliminate class distinctions through any means necessary- will not work, will not succeed and is not even desirable, considering what we observe in our daily lives about human nature and the natural diversity among individuals. By simply reading Marx, we could devise a theory rejecting Marxism.
But such a theory, based as it is on nothing more substantial or than a few disturbing quotations of an 19th-century German philosopher and citing no evidence whatsoever in the actual concrete results of Communism- such a theory, however compelling, would be nothing more than a statement of opinion. In order to be confirmed- or, if necessary, refuted- such a theory would have to be tested in specific situations. The theory I am putting forward is: The goals of Communism, and the means through which those goals must logically be pursued, are inhumane and morally bankrupt. I have already illusterated this, to a certain extent, in reference to Marx’s own words. But writers and philosophers, particularly those as prolific as Marx, can certainly be forgiven for simply making a couple controversial statements. A man who asserts, in the context of a purely theoretical essay, that murder, torture, and terrorism are, in certain extreme cases, justified, has little, if anything, in common with a man who gives the actual orders for an execution. But if after reading, underlining and carefully analyzing such an essay, after deciding, moreover, that the author’s conclusions were indeed correct, a particular individual, in fact dozens and even hundreds of individuals, are inspired, again by the same essay, to lead a rebellion, seize power and order a massacre- if such a scenario unfolds, not only in one country but in dozens of countries around the world, a time will eventually come when we feel compelled to reach certain conclusions and make certain moral judgements about the content of the original essay. And so it is, alas, with Marx’s Communist Manifesto.
Russia, China, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Korea, Ukraine, Angola, Cambodia, Poland- Historically, culturally, linguistically, and even geographically these countries would appear, on the surface, to have very little in common with each other and in many respects to be markedly different. And indeed, until less than a hundred years ago, each of these separate nations was, always had been, and appeared to be remaining completely distinct from each other; each of these nations, furthermore, was developing in completely different ways, in accordance, as one would naturally have expected,with their own particular cultures and traditions, in response to their own particular problems and on their own terms. The probability, then, that countries as different and far apart as Russia, Cambodia, Zimbabwe, and Korea would end up experiencing, at various points in the 20th century, the exact same problems, the same threats and the same tragedies- the probability, in other words, that countries with seemingly so little in common would suddenly be united, by the effects of one particular political philosophy, would’ve been completely dismissed, a century ago, as a sheer absurdity. And yet, in the 20th century, this is precisely what happened. Marxist military dictatorships seized power through coup d’etats, which for the sake of propaganda they were fond of describing as “revolutions”; these same dictatorships, once in power, proceeded immediately to purge both the old government and their own ranks of any opposition. Anyone suspected of not completely conforming to the Party line, anyone known for instance, for advocating peaceful reform instead of violence, gradual social change instead of the complete destruction of capitalism, democratic, free elections instead of military juntas- was executed. Entire social categories and classes- landowners in China, peasants and “kulaks” in the USSR, intellectuals in Cambodia, and of course industrialists and anyone who fit the label ‘bourgeiosie’- were deemed “counter-revolutionary” and “hostile” to the goals of Communism; members of these classes, including entire families, were dispossessed, sent into exile, and even killed. Despite claiming to be “internationalist” and exhorting the “workers of the world” to “unite”, Communist governments in fact developed explicitly racist and ultra-nationalist policies, many of which were every bit as brutal as the policies of Nazism. Ethnic and religious groups perceived as being “reactionary” were subject to collective punishment and in some cases attempted genocide. Jews and Ukrainians in the Soviet Union, Tibetans and Uighurs in China, Muslims in Cambodia and Christians in North Korea would all be subjected by Communist governments to discrimination, repression, and systematic violence. Millions of people around the world, speaking dozens of different languages, holding innumerable different beliefs and convictions, would be sent to their deaths for their class, their race, their family history, their lack of support (either real or perceived) for their country’s government. And all this would happen, paradoxically and indeed quite disturbingly, in what is otherwise regarded as the most advanced, enlightened era in history.
Throughout the 1920s and even for a significant part of the 30s, the political philosophy known as fascism gained increasing popularity, and even a certain amount of respectability, in leading political and intellectual circles throughout europe. Well-respected writers such as Ezra Pound and T.S.Eliot, famous musicians such as Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, groundbreaking artists such as the futurist painter Marinetti and even major political figures such as King Edward V of England, expressed interest in and even open support for Mussolini’s regime; nobel laureates such as Knut Hamsun and Wladyslaw Raymont gained surprising notoriety for their outspoken support of the far right. While widely perceived, from the very beginning, as being antithetical to democracy,fascism was nevertheless regarded, for a substantial part of the early 20th century, as a completely acceptable, if not uncontroversial, ideology; there was a brief but extremely significant period in western political history in which openly being a fascist was no more problematic than openly being a democratic or a republican, a liberal or a conservative.
All this would change dramatically, however, by 1945, as the nature and full extent of Nazi and Fascist crimes became evident, public opinion in both europe and the united states reached an almost universal consensus that not only Hitler as an individual, and not only the Nazis as a particular political organization, but entire ideology of fascism had to strongly condemned. And rightly so. An ideology which had served as the theoretical basis of genocide, which had clearly provided the Nazis with the entire rationale for their atrocities, any ideology which could lead, even indirectly, to the horrors of Auschwitz, had to be recognized and opposed as inherently, irreedemably evil. There was no attempt, in the years following World War II, to reevaluate or rehabilitate Hitler’s “mein kampf”, nor even Mussolini’s “What is fascism?”; it was clearly recognized and almost universally accepted that the crimes for which fascism was responsible and the horrors to which it led made the entire theoretical foundation, the entire ideology, morally bankrupt. Of course, it would’ve been perfectly possible and relatively easy, through the careful use of semantics, to draw a clear distinction between fascism in theory and fascism in practice; between the harmless and even potentially beneficial aspects of fascism in theory (a strong central government; a capable, inspiring, visionary leader; pride in one’s country and a patriotic sense of unity) and the clearly deplorable, negative aspects of “fascism in practice” (concentration camps, firing squads, the blitzkrieg).But no such distinction, of course, was made. And with good reason.
And yet for decades after the Russian revolution, decades after Stalin, decades after the GULag and the red terror became common knowledge, Communism in theory remains distinct, in general public consciousness, from Communism in reality, in practice. Communism, as envisioned by Marx, continues to be regarded as a hopelessly utopian, but essentially idealistic theory, which was destined to fail and collapse, and destined to commit so many atrocities, not because it was inherently evil or founded on inherently evil concepts, but because it was quite simply “not practical.” and hence easily “corrupted.”
And of course, aside from dispossessing millions of peasants and eventually leading to mass starvation, the forced collectivization of agriculture was, in point of fact, extremely impractical. And aside from being a blatant violation of their most basic human rights, aside from constituting an almost unspeakable act of violence, sending millions of political prisoners to their deaths (from starvation, torture, disease, even radiation) in the uranium mines of Siberia was not exactly the most efficiant, pragmatic form of punishment. And yes, in addition to being a callous even heartless policy, spending your country’s entire budget on building nuclear weapons while millions of its citizens face starvation is, to put it nicely, not the most “practical” or ‘effective’ strategy. But the fundamental problem with Communism, the reason it must be opposed, is not its failure, from a pragmatic perspective, but its moral bankruptcy and the suffering and death for which it is responsible.