Salon.com published a truly disgusting article on the supposed myths of communism. There are a lot of problems with it, but I’ll focus on this particularly revolting passage, which might seem literally true if you drop the context of what it suggests:
For one thing, a large number of the people killed under Soviet communism weren’t the kulaks everyone pretends to care about but themselves communists. Stalin, in his paranoid cruelty, not only had Russian revolutionary leaders assassinated and executed, but indeed exterminated entire communist parties. These people weren’t resisting having their property collectivized; they were committed to collectivizing property.
This is misdirection. It’s true that Stalin murdered so many people that in absolute terms “a large number” were communists, but in relative terms, they were a minority of his victims. Of course, Stalin’s murder of communists isn’t any more defensible than any other regime’s murder of communists, and it says something that so many regimes, from Maoist China to Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam, slaughtered communists in sectarian crackdowns on political opponents.
What’s more, Stalin’s murder of party enemies has if anything been overemphasized—most of his victims in the 1930s were national and ethnic enemies, or victims on the periphery of his empire starved to death to create agricultural surplus and thus spur industrialization. In the Holodomor Stalin knowingly starved somewhere around 3.5 million Ukrainians. Those who couldn’t hand over the requisite amounts of grain were punished ultimately by having their livestock seized, meaning certain but torturously slow death. In his fantastic and chilling book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Yale history professor Timothy Snyder recalls in chilling detail the reality of this starvation campaign in a gut-wrenching chapter detailing how families resorted to selling or even eating their own to survive, and how children would sometimes even tear flesh off their own bodies to eat. Snyder stresses that any people would resort to this in the desperation than Stalin forced upon Ukraine. Stalin’s artificial famines also devastated other people, mostly on the outskirts of his domain, such as those in the Northern Caucasus, the Volga Germans, the Kazakhs and those on the edge of Siberia.
Stalin did in fact focus on class enemies—”kulaks,” which basically means relatively wealthy peasants—and later in the 1930s had ethnic Poles and other minorities summarily shot by the hundreds of thousands. The first ethnic-based genocide in mid-20th century Europe was thus inaugurated by the Bolsheviks, not the Nazis.
And then, of course, Stalin teamed up with Hitler to invade Poland. His regime and Hitler’s mirrored each other in their treatment of the Polish leadership and cultural leaders—about a hundred thousand were liquidated on each side. Infamously, the Soviets committed the Katyn massacre, covered up by western allies for many years.
At the end of the war, Stalin unleashed his armies to devastate eastern Europe. This horror included the mass rape of as many as two million German and other women, ranging from little children to the elderly. Some of the Jewish women liberated from German concentration camps recalled this liberation as the worst day of their suffering during World War II, as they were brutally raped by Soviet soldiers. When asked about his troops doing this to civilian women, Stalin shrugged it off as the kind of “fun” that soldiers had to have.
After the dust settled, Stalin ethnically cleansed millions, including ethnic minorities who had lived in the regions under his control for generations. Many died during these forced removals.
The murderousness of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, in particular, along with the totalitarian dictatorships in Vietnam and N Korea, the reigns of terror in Latin America and elsewhere, the imperialism and butchery and total dehumanization inflicted by state communism in the last century, are not good ammunition for progressive talking points to criticize American crony capitalism. Just as lefties don’t like seeing Tea Partiers compare Obama to Hitler, they should be outraged to see such glib comparisons between Stalinism and the Wall Street-US Government economic management, whether we blame that management primarily on the Republicans or Democrats.
The American mixed economy has many problems, and many suffer horribly under it, and we can argue about what the causes are. I see the causes as primarily being caused by government’s role, rather than economic liberty—others disagree, and they can make arguments to that effect if they wish. But pretending as though American-style capitalism, or social democracy, or whatever you want to call it, is in the same league with the horrors of communism, is simply obscene. Only by vastly downplaying the bloodshed and misery unleashed by Marxist totalitarianism can we ever get to that point in discourse where someone looks at the American status quo and say it looks no worse than the Soviet Union at the very height of its belligerence and mass killing.
Cold War conservatives at times exaggerated, and certainly proposed counterproductive and downright oppressive and murderous approaches to battling communism, but the fundamentals in their description of the communists were true. No self-respecting person who loves humanity or wishes for a world of greater equality and justice should have anything to do with whitewashing the slavery and extermination of Marxism-Leninism. In qualitative and quantitative terms, since the days of the Russian Revolution, probably only the Third Reich was in the same league with these monsters.