Communism

November 7 as Victims of Communism Day—2020

While I have long advocated using May 1 for this purpose, November 7 is a worthy alternative candidate, which I am happy to adopt if it can attract a broad consensus.

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Bones of tortured prisoners. Kolyma Gulag, USSR (Nikolai Nikitin, Tass).

 

NOTE: The following post is largely adapted from last year's November 7 post on the same subject, as little has changed on this issue in the interim.

Since 2007, I have advocated designating May 1 as an international Victims of Communism Day. The May 1 date was not my original idea, but I have probably devoted more time and effort to it than any other commentator. In my view, May 1 is the best possible date for this purpose because it is the day that communists themselves used to celebrate their ideology, and because it is associated with communism as a global phenomenon, not with any particular communist regime, such as that of the USSR. However, I have also long recognized that it might make sense to adapt another date for Victims of Communism Day, if it turns out that some other date can attract a broader consensus behind it. The best should not be the enemy of the good.

As detailed in my May 1 post last year, November 7 is probably the best such alternative, and in recent years it has begun to attract considerable support. Unlike May 1, this choice is unlikely to be contested by trade unionists and other devotees of the pre-Communist May 1 holiday. While I remain unpersuaded by their objections on substantive grounds, pragmatic considerations suggest that an alternative date is worth considering, if it can sidestep this debate and thereby attract broader support.

For that reason, I am—for the second year in a row—doing a Victims of Communism Day post on November 7, in addition to the one I do on May 1. If November 7 continues to attract more support, I may eventually switch to that date exclusively. But I reserve the options of returning to an exclusive focus on May 1, doing annual posts on both days, or switching to some third possibility should there be another date that attracts a broader consensus than either May 1 or November 7.

In addition to its growing popularity, November 7 is a worthy alternative because it is the anniversary of the day that the very first communist regime was established in Russia. All subsequent communist regimes were at least in large part inspired by it, and  based many of their institutions and policies on the Soviet model.

The Soviet Union did not have the highest death toll of any communist regime. That dubious distinction belongs to the People's Republic of China. North Korea has probably surpassed the USSR in the sheer extent of totalitarian control over everyday life. Pol Pot's Cambodia may have surpassed it in terms of the degree of sadistic cruelty and torture practiced by the regime, though this is admittedly very difficult to measure. But all of these tyrannies—and more—were at least in large part part variations on the Soviet original.

Having explained why November 7 is worthy of consideration as an alternative date, it only remains to remind readers of the more general case for having a Victims of Communism Day. The following is adopted from this year's May 1 Victims of Communism Day post, and some of its predecessors:

The Black Book of Communism estimates the total number of victims of communist regimes at 80 to 100 million dead, greater than that caused by all other twentieth century tyrannies combined. We appropriately have a Holocaust Memorial Day. It is equally appropriate to commemorate the victims of the twentieth century's other great totalitarian tyranny.

Our comparative neglect of communist crimes has serious costs. Victims of Communism Day can serve the dual purpose of appropriately commemorating the millions of victims, and diminishing the likelihood that such atrocities will recur. Just as Holocaust Memorial Day and other similar events promote awareness of the dangers of racism, anti-Semitism, and radical nationalism, so Victims of Communism Day can increase awareness of the dangers of left-wing forms of totalitarianism, and government domination of the economy and civil society.

While communism is most closely associated with Russia, where the first communist regime was established, it had equally horrendous effects in other nations around the world. The highest death toll for a communist regime was not in Russia, but in China. Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward was likely the biggest episode of mass murder in the entire history of the world.

November 7, 2017 was the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia, which led to the establishment of the first-ever communist regime. On that day, I put up a post outlining some of the lessons to be learned from a century of experience with communism.  The post explains why most of the horrors perpetrated by communist regimes were intrinsic elements of the system. For the most part, they cannot be ascribed to circumstantial factors, such as flawed individual leaders, peculiarities of Russian and Chinese culture, or the absence of democracy. The latter probably did make the situation worse than it might have been otherwise. But, for reasons I explained in the same post, some form of dictatorship or oligarchy is probably inevitable in a socialist economic system in which the government controls all or nearly all of the economy.

While the influence of communist ideology has declined since its mid-twentieth century peak, it is far from dead. Largely unreformed communist regimes remain in power in Cuba and North Korea. In Venezuela, the Marxist government's socialist policies have resulted in political repression, the starvation of children, and a massive refugee crisis—the biggest in the history of the Western hemisphere. The regime continues to hold on to power by means of repression, despite growing international and domestic opposition.

In Russia, the authoritarian regime of former KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin has embarked on a wholesale whitewashing of communism's historical record. In China, the Communist Party remains in power (albeit after having abandoned many of its previous socialist economic policies), and has become less tolerant of criticism of the mass murders of the Mao era (part of a more general turn towards greater repression).

In sum, we need Victims of Communism Day because we have never given sufficient recognition to the victims of the modern world's most murderous ideology or come close to fully appreciating the lessons of this awful era in world history. In addition, that ideology, and variants thereof, still have  a substantial number of adherents in many parts of the world, and still retains considerable intellectual respectability even among many who do not actually endorse it. Just as Holocaust Memorial Day serves as a bulwark against the reemergence of fascism, so this day of observance can help guard against the return to favor of the only ideology with an even greater number of victims.

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  1. “While the influence of communist ideology has declined since its mid-twentieth century peak, it is far from dead.”

    Don’t forget all the academics who self-identify as Marxians, with pride instead of shame. What they think they have to be proud of, I do not know. I do know what they should be ashamed of.

    1. The avowed Marxians whom “mainstream” politicians like Biden can’t quite bring themselves to renounce? As long as we’ve got avowed Marxians in our cultural institutions, like rats in the walls, we’ll have trouble.

      1. I think you are both conflating Marx’s writings with what communism became in the 20th Century. Very much not the same thing. I’m also not really sure why Prof. Somin calls Venezuela’s government “Marxist,” unless he is just using the term interchangeably with “socialist,” which is not correct in my humble opinion. Most of the people who bandy about Marx’s name these days have never actually read Marx.

        1. …conflating Marx’s writings with what communism became in the 20th Century…

          When confronted with the horrific death-toll of communism in the 20th century, leftists respond in one of three ways:
          1. That’s a lie. Your numbers are exaggerated. The Soviet Union was a happy place of equality and fairness.
          2. All the deaths were unfortunate, but the people who caused them weren’t implementing communism correctly. If properly implemented, communism is beautiful.
          3. All the deaths were worth it.

  2. The neo-Marxist COVID lockdown prank dropped the world GDP $4 trillion. As a direct result, 130 million people will die of starvation in a few months.

    This is the biggest mass murder and the quickest in history, and dwarfs the mass murders of the Communists.

    We stood by and did nothing to stop it. My lawsuit against Gov. Murphy’s lockdown has been dismissed with prejudice by a federal judge who was the daughter of two Holocaust survivors.

  3. The Nazis should be counted among the Communists. They believed in really big government.

    1. “Communism is when the government does stuff.”

      – Carl Marks

      1. Mass Death is when the Nation identifies itself as “Socialist”

    2. China just took an extra half century to refine the collectivist ideology to the place the Nazis were.

      They are textbook Fascists now.

  4. some form of dictatorship or oligarchy is probably inevitable in a socialist economic system in which the government controls all or nearly all of the economy

    1. Not just the economy, anything. Thus we see with Fulton v City of Philadelphia, the bigger feet the government grows, the more it treads on the toes of individuals and voluntary associations. The more the government attempts, the more it must dictate.

    2. Communism can also take a half share in National Socialism’s victims too. National Socialism is a heretic form of Marxism, where race takes the place of class. Moreover, Leninism is the particular sect of socialism that worships violence as the first, not the last, resort. That was the aspect of Bolshevism the Fuhrer admired most.

    3. It is not the case, obviously, that Russians, Chinese, Koreans, Cambodians etc are inherently wickeder than everybody else. The same sort of people who happily directed the ploughing of kulak skulls into the earth, and who ran the Third Reich, are to be found in our 21st century bureaucracies. But fortunately with less power.

    The glory of free market capitalism is not that so much that it makes the poor rich (though it does) – but that it places the sort of men who in another time and place would have been Gauleiters, or who would have organised transport to the gulags, as higher level management in large multinational corporations, where their ruthless amorality is much less dangerous.

  5. Congratulations, America!

    Donald Trump will (1) walk out of the White House a civilian on Jan. 20, dissolving his immunity, or (2) he will be escorted out of the White House — perhaps being carried — a civilian on Jan. 20.

    Joe Biden has won, by a margin Donald Trump has already termed “a landslide.” Joe Biden is President-elect. Donald Trump is President-eject. Bigots hardest hit.

    Carry on, clingers. But — as always — solely so far and so long as better Americans permit.

    1. A President is not elected because the state run media “calls” it for any individual. Remember four years ago when we would get finger wagging lectures from the left about this very same subject. Then threats to steal Electors (“Hamilton Electors”). Then endless investigations.

      Difference here is that it looks more evident each day voter fraud was real. This is going to require an investigation of proportions never seen before in this country. We are talking about the potential to uncover a plot of undo the very core of our government. An appropriate response must be made. Investigations held. Until then biden will simply be an illegitimate president.

      1. ” Difference here is that it looks more evident each day voter fraud was real. This is going to require an investigation of proportions never seen before in this country. We are talking about the potential to uncover a plot of undo the very core of our government. ”

        Delusional, bigoted, half-educated, backwater clingers are probably my favorite culture war casualties.

        Whine as much as you want — it has become a fine entertainment.

        1. I’ve got a couple of Biden voting families behind on their rents. COVID protections are over.

          I can’t wait to see them whine when they get their eviction papers.

          If you people can make lists, I can too.

          1. It’s Victims of Communism Day, and my guy’s out here vindicating Mao’s position on landlords. You hate to see it.

    2. Biden’s election was stolen, and has zero legitimacy. Nevertheless, I will enjoy seeing the American people suffer untold agonies and empoverishment under the real President, neo-Marxist, tech billionaire agent, Kamala Harris. Biden will do as she tells him.

    3. Be aware who is doing the “permitting ” if that half of the US population wanted the other half powerless and were willing to abandon civility to accomplish it, they would almost certainly succeed.

      Remember your Mao: political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

  6. An appropriate day for state media to call the rigged election for Joe Biden. How convenient….

  7. I would have choosen Nov 9 to commemorate the fall of the Berlin wall as a way to remember how we defeated Communism instead of commemorating it’s rise. I would rather highlight how we have overcome Communism and point to the dramatic improvements caused by the people of East Germany rising up.

    Similarly, we celebrate V-Day for WWII instead of the invasion of Poland or bombing of Pearl Harbor (there are some for Pearl Harbor in Hawaii).

    1. Also, there are a lot of symbolically powerful photos from the Berlin Wall falling. Powerful symbols are important for commemoration. Funerals have caskets, grave stones, veils, and candles. V-Day has photos of returning soldiers, liberated camps, and signing terms of surender.

      Academics remember statistics. Historians remember the begenings. But, the public remember symbols of progress.

  8. We need a victims of university professors day for people whose lives are taken or shortened or who are otherwise harmed by smug, rich, unaccountable people pushing schemes that regular people pay the price for.

    1. Or just victims of universities days. I wonder how many of the thousands of people with public cases of universities infringing on their rights had life turn out alright. My guess is once the case was settled most had a really difficult time afterward.

    2. All universities should lose their non-profit status and government subsidies after any act of viewpoint discrimination. Education is their tax subsidized purpose, not indoctrination.

  9. Also, there are a lot of symbolically powerful photos from the Berlin Wall falling. Powerful symbols are important for commemoration. Funerals have caskets, grave stones, veils, and candles. V-Day has photos of returning soldiers, liberated camps, and signing terms of surender.

    Academics remember statistics. Historians remember the begenings. But, the public remember symbols of progress.

  10. Communism, that’s like when the government subsidizes private health insurance companies, right? Yeah man, I hate communism.

  11. “using May 1 for this purpose, November 7 is a worthy alternative candidate”

    Why not both? Plenty of victims.

    One for Asian victims, one for European.

  12. Are Mark Tushnet, Duncan Kennedy, and Catharine MacKinnon on board for this “victims of Communism” thing? As I recall, even Ann Althouse thought that anti-Communism is a a thing for stupid old white men (although she has moved right since). The point is, if the best and the brightest (law professors) aren’t on board with Prof. Somin, what hope is there that he could interest the rationally ignorant, who shouldn’t even be allowed to vote, in his crusade?

    1. Imperial wars for resources that kill millions” violent coups, genocidal land theft and slavery…not to mention the impoverishing of the working class….everyday is victims of capitalism day.

  13. Imperial wars for resources that kill millions” violent coups, genocidal land theft and slavery…not to mention the impoverishing of the working class….everyday is victims of capitalism day.

    1. So, are you trying to pass of responsibility for these crimes of communism by saying that capitalism is its cause?

    2. And ZT provides exhibit one of why we need victims of communist day.

  14. Can we call it Atrocities of Communism Day?

    Something about the acronym AOC seems appropriate.

  15. Biden is also substantially more popular than the widely despised Trump has ever been.
    President Trump’s approval numbers are better than Obama’s
    I get the author of the post, is all wound up attempting to use emotions to shore up his illogical rant. But lying from the start disqualifies him as someone who’s opinion matters.

    1. Wrong post, sorry

  16. Professor Somin,

    Did you happen to read Kevin Carson’s reply to your last post about this at the Center for Stateless Society? Linked: https://c4ss.org/content/52864 I’d imagine it’d be ideologically pretty offputting to you, but I’m curious to know your reply. Interesting to me was Chomsky’s argument, which essentially boils down to the idea that if we were to apply the same standards to capitalist societies, we’d have to count deaths that could have been prevented had supplies been divided more equitably.

    Also the Black Book of Communism suffers from some problems which are pointed out in it’s Wikipedia page (as well as repeated in Carson’s article). Particularly striking is this quote from the Wikipedia page (which appears to be well sourced, though I’ve only glanced through the linked sources):

    > Moreover, two of the book’s main contributors (Jean-Louis Margolin and Nicolas Werth) as well as Karel Bartosek[6] publicly disassociated themselves from Stéphane Courtois’ statements in the introduction and criticized his editorial conduct.[29] Margolin and Werth felt that Courtois was “obsessed” with arriving at a total of 100 million killed which resulted in “sloppy and biased scholarship”,[33] faulted him for exaggerating death tolls in specific countries[6][34]:194[35]:123 and rejected the comparison between Communism and Nazism.

    This is not to lessen the crimes of Lenin et. al. I too greatly abhor the tragedies brought upon the world by Marxist-Leninist governments.

    1. “Interesting to me was Chomsky’s argument, which essentially boils down to the idea that if we were to apply the same standards to capitalist societies, we’d have to count deaths that could have been prevented had supplies been divided more equitably.”

      Utopia is not an option. Part of the mass deaths of communism are because supplies were confiscated without concern for equity.

      One cannot logically compare real “capitalism” with some imagined socialist utopia. Chompsky would also include many instances under “capitalism” that were the result of other collectivist ideologies like facism.

  17. Interesting to me was Chomsky’s argument, which essentially boils down to the idea that if we were to apply the same standards to capitalist societies, we’d have to count deaths that could have been prevented had supplies been divided more equitably.

    That’s easy. The answer is zero.

    The point – obviously – is that the effort to divide supplies more equally, results – always – in a huge reduction of the total quantity (and quality and variety) of supplies. With the result that the rich in socialist societies (except for the Supreme Leader and his immediate cronies) are poorer than the middle class in free market societies; and the middle class in socialist societies are poorer than the poor in free market societies.

    https://www.westernjournal.com/soviet-leader-grocery-store/

    Yeltsin reportedly admitted to these thoughts in his own autobiography, writing, “When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people.”

    “That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”

    1. Chomsky’s argument is accompanied by an actual historical argument comparing India to China. He cites the book Hunger and Public Action, which I assume goes into the issue in great detail. Indeed a cursory look at some numbers suggests China’s mortality rate decreased much quicker than India’s during the 60s and 70s.

      But I think the point is not to defend China, whose government is and was pretty terrible, but instead to point out that deaths caused by poor public policy are not limited to Marxist countries (or even “socialist” countries). Indeed, since WWII there have been millions of deaths reasonably attributed at least partially to the poor foreign policy of the U.S.

      1. 1. India’s post war economic policies can hardly be described as free market :

        https://2thepoint.in/economic-policies-growth-nehru-era/

        2. If you want win a competition for cutting your death rate in the 1960s and 1970s, it helps a lot if you can starve thirty or forty million of your citizens to death just before the comparison period begins.

  18. “The Soviet Union did not have the highest death toll of any communist regime. That dubious distinction belongs to the People’s Republic of China. North Korea has probably surpassed the USSR in the sheer extent of totalitarian control over everyday life. Pol Pot’s Cambodia may have surpassed it in terms of the degree of sadistic cruelty and torture practiced by the regime, though this is admittedly very difficult to measure. But all of these tyrannies—and more—were at least in large part part variations on the Soviet original.”

    The spectrum of death and cruelty shows it is incidental rather than a facet of Communism. Plenty of death and cruelty from non Communist states also shows this.

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