Ben Sixsmith writes: We must give the Bolsheviks their due. Their success in gaining power was astonishing. A ragtag gang of activists and intellectuals, they seized control of Russia in October, 1917, and defended their rule in a vicious, bloody civil war. No one can deny the force of their conviction, or the scale of their courage, or the keenness of their talents.
But wielding power was a different matter. Revolutionaries dream that crops will grow out of their fire but in most cases it leaves scarred and arid earth instead. Collectivisation, with its monstrous violence and inefficiency, left millions dead in Russia, Ukraine and the Caucasus. Paranoia and persecution, all too evident in Lenin’s “cleansing” of “harmful insects” — landowners, dissidents and priests the Bolsheviks interned, starved, tortured and killed — reached its absurd apotheosis in Stalin’s purges.
Stalin killed so many people in the Great Purge that it is remarkable that anyone was left to do the killing. Former comrades, artists and intellectuals, military officers, clergymen, dissidents, outcasts and normal Russian men and women were slaughtered in a tidal wave of blood. What is striking is not just who Stalin killed but who he spared. While hundreds of thousands of innocents were massacred, Lavrentiy Beria, who was not just a bloody killer but a known rapist, received generous promotion.
Having carved up Eastern Europe with Adolf Hitler, and oppressed its beleaguered inhabitants with such atrocities as the Katyn massacre, where 22,000 men from the Polish officer corps and intelligensia were shot in cold blood, Stalin was himself subjected to invasion. The Red Army fought with startling courage and conviction to prevail, but as the West looked on they became embarrassed. A storm of rape and murder followed the Soviets, carried out by callous and vengeful soldiers. The Nazis in Eastern Europe were replaced with cruel and subservient Stalinist officials. Bierut in Poland, Hoxha in Albania, Rákosi in Hungary and Gottwald in Czechoslovakia kept their people mired in poverty and persecution.
The Soviets inspired others. Mao took power in China and launched a sweeping campaign of modernisation that left millions of expendable victims starved or killed. Juche arose in North Korea, wrapping itself around the country in a chokehold that has persisted to the present day. Pol Pot butchered almost a quarter of Cambodians. Mariam mass-murdered in Ethiopia. Perhaps the most successful of the communist states was Cuba, where, at least, there was not large-scale killing or famine.
As the years dragged on, and Marxists alternately identified with and then disassociated themselves from regimes which took power and promptly used that power to wicked and foolish ends, their search for an impressive Marxist state became a kind of force. The great red hope of the 21st Century was Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez gained popular support and some economic success. Any achievements were undone as the economy shrank, inflation sky-rocketed and violent crime left tens of thousands of people dead. Now, a statue of Chavez has been pulled to the ground as Venezualans, sick of queuing for hours to pay thousands of bolívares for bread and toilet paper, have marched in the streets.
It would be simplistic to blame all of these events on ideology. We live in an imperfect world and those imperfections have been unequally distributed. No conceivable government of Russia, or China, or Venezuela would have left no citizens impoverished or oppressed. Nonetheless, a hundred years of communism has presented us with an intimidating record of catastrophe, in a moral, political, and economic sense. Time and again, ambition has exceeded potential. Time and again, coercion has encouraged conflict. Time and again, violence has perpetuated itself. Time and again, absolute power has hardened into tyranny. Read the rest of this entry »