Thursday, September 1, 2016

Ideas have consequences

"Under the rule of great Stalin - let's go ahead to communism!"
Comrades, none of us wishes or is able to be right against his Party. The Party in the last analysis is always right, because the Party is the sole historical instrument given the proletariat for the solution of its basic problems. .... I know that one cannot be right against the party. It is only possible to be right with the Party and through the Party for history has not created other ways for the realization of what is right. — Leon Trotsky
From Gary Saul Morson "On the hidden horrors of Soviet life":
Ninety-nine years ago, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, and, after a few months of weak parliamentary rule, the Bolsheviks seized power. We call that seizure the Russian (or October) Revolution, but it might better be designated the Bolshevik coup d’état. A party of 10,000 people gained control of an empire occupying one-sixth of the earth’s land area.

From the start, they made up for their small numbers with outsized violence. If at first their executions of liberals, socialists, workers who showed independence, and peasants from whom grain was seized at gunpoint seemed like a short-term necessity, it soon became evident that the violence would never stop. In fact, it was to grow, with Stalin proclaiming “the intensification of the class struggle” when Bolshevik control had long been total. The Bolsheviks made up for their small numbers with outsized violence.

Eventually some eighteen countries were to fall under Communist rule. ....

...[N]o form of government had ever been so brutal to those it regarded as its own people. Soviet Russia was far crueler than its tsarist predecessor, which had long been proverbial as “the gendarme of Europe.” Between 1825 and 1905, the tsars executed 191 people for political reasons—not for mere “suspicion” as under the Soviets but for actual assassinations, including that of Tsar Alexander II. In The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn remarked that between 1905 and 1908 the regime executed as many as 2,200 people—forty-five a month!—“calling forth tears from Tolstoy and indignation from Korolenko and many, many others.” By comparison, conservative estimates of executions under Lenin and Stalin—say, twenty million from 1917 to 1953—yield an average of over ten thousand per week. That’s a tsarist century every few days.

Western public opinion has never come to terms with the crimes of Communism. Every school child knows about the Holocaust, Apartheid, and American slavery, as they should. But Pol Pot’s murder of a quarter of Cambodia’s population has not dimmed academic enthusiasm for the Marxism his henchmen studied in Paris. Neither the Chinese Cultural Revolution nor the Great Purges seem to have cast a shadow on the leftists who apologized for them. Quite the contrary, university classes typically blame the Cold War on American “paranoia” about communism and still picture Bolsheviks as idealists in too great a hurry. ....

Some figures speak for themselves. The volume’s scholars estimate twenty million deaths in the USSR, sixty-five million in China, two million each in Cambodia and North Korea, 1.7 million in Mengistu’s Ethiopia and other African countries, and so on, to a total of about one hundred million. .... So far as I can tell, these estimates are understatements. For example, the most authoritative study of Stalin’s war against the peasantry in the early 1930s, Robert Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow, arrives at a figure twice the one in this volume. The difference between the two estimates—the margin of error—equals the number of Jews killed by the Nazis.

By contrast, Nazi deaths are estimated at twenty-five million. Of course numbers aren’t everything, but one might imagine that it would be reasonable to compare the two systems. In intellectual circles, however, such comparisons taint not Communists, but the person who makes them. ....

Jörg Baberowski’s new book, Scorched Earth: Stalin’s Reign of Terror, also provides a lot of good material for appreciating Russia under the Great Helmsman, Father of Nations, and Coryphaeus of Science. Delivering a toast on the twentieth anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power, Stalin declared: “We will destroy each and every enemy, even if he was an old Bolshevik; we will destroy all his kin, his family. We will mercilessly destroy anyone who, by his deeds or his thoughts—yes, his thoughts!—threatens the unity of the socialist state. To the complete destruction of all enemies, themselves and their kin!” Even when the tsars imprisoned or executed revolutionaries, they never thought of arresting their spouses, children, grandparents, and cousins as well. And note Stalin’s insistence that not just wrong actions but improper thoughts merit “destruction.” Georgy Arbatov, adviser to five general secretaries of the Soviet Communist Party, observed that “the main code of behavior” was “to be afraid of your own thoughts.”

The goal was to change both nature and human nature. The Marxist “leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom” meant that everything would be subject to human redesign. .... [more]