Emily Skarbek  

Victims of Communism Day

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Yesterday Ilya Somin reminded readers of the Washington Post of his ongoing support for changing May 1st from a celebration of communists, socialists, and labor unions - to a holiday that commemorates the millions who have died because of communist government regimes. Bravo.

Watching from central London, hundreds filled the streets yesterday carrying flags with the hammer and sickle, pictures of Karl Marx, and prints of Che Guevara. Some wore the hats from the Mao Suit. Many chanted "ho, ho, Ho chi minh." These people march in wilful defiance or plain ignorance of the 80 to 100 million dead at the implementation of communism.

If you ask them, they say that the ideas have not been implemented fully, correctly, or that the ideals are important for their own sake. Rubbish.

Peter Boettke has a wonderful saying that sticks with me on this point (he repeats it, I believe, in his discussion on Econtalk about the contributions of Ludwig von Mises): "Humanity did not fall short of the ideals of socialism; socialism fell short of the demands of humanity."

In other words, collective ownership of property cannot live up to the demands of the human species in the extended order of exchange. It's simply not fit for purpose -- if by purpose you mean prosperity and social cooperation under the division of labor. It would be a milestone in social evolution if humanity would learn the appropriate lesson from the terrors and atrocities of past experiments in collectivism.

COMMENTS (13 to date)
Blackbeard writes:

The question that fascinates and baffles me is why do so many people still insist that socialism is a good idea. It has failed abysmally everywhere its been tried and is still failing horribly today in Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. The failures in the USSR, Eastern Europe and pre-Deng China are not ancient history either. And still people, masses of people, refuse to believe the obvious lessons of recent history.

What is the hypnotic allure of socialism ?

Gene writes:

One problem with current discussions of socialism is the typical reference, as this author has made, to collective ownership of property, which is still a working definition in various places around the globe, but doesn't really describe the belief of many people in first-world nations who claim to be socialists.

I'm sympathetic, of course, to the argument that private property that is heavily encumbered by the state isn't really private property.

When I think about socialism I think instead of the proposition that everything about people's lives is somehow the business of the state; that the political process has a right to intrude on anything if someone in power can make a case, however tenuous, to do so. Identity politics offers many easily copied formulations of language to justify such encroachments.

Thank you. I am heartened to see that I have fellow travelers, getting coverage in the Washington Post!! (Albeit under a banner ad to support Hillary's campaign :)

Roger McKinney writes:

I think The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt explains the popularity of socialism. Socialists are morally stunted according to Haidt. The value nothing but equality of wealth. Free marketeers balance equality with respect for justice, property and other values.

Pajser writes:

I think commemorating victims of the advocates of various ideologies is sensible thing to do. The communists, i.e. people who believed in collective property are responsible for many murders. If same criteria is applied, the victims of capitalism, democracy, Christianity and some other ideologies should be commemorated too. Intellectually honest approach should apply consistent criteria.

Attempt for abolishment of International Workers' Day is directed against all who celebrate it. Explanation that it was used, among others, for Soviet propaganda doesn't seem strong. It has as little sense as hypothetical attempt for abolishment of Christmas - because Papal state, responsible for the crimes in the past, possibly used it for propaganda.

The claim that efficient economy cannot be organized on the base of collective property seems false to me. I do not see good theoretical reasons for that claim, but moreover, it appears that Soviet Union was already efficient. In period of 1913-1990, taken as whole, USSR was the most planned economy of the world. In that period it progressed from 90% to 135% of the world average GDP(PPP)/capita. In 1990 it was significantly better than world average by other important criteria as life expectancy, child mortality, Gini, food availability, literacy. Yugoslavia was even better - but it is historically less important example.

The claim that terror and atrocities committed by Soviet regime are caused by their application of collective property doesn't seem justified as well. One could equally claim that terror and atrocities of other well known totalitarian regime is caused by their application of private property. I think the main reason is in both case - belief of the rulers in their own enormous historical importance. They believed that their role is so important that their victory will justify all means. That belief cannot be derived from Marxism - as it is known, Marxists believe that historical victory of communism is inevitable; if Soviet Union failed, someone else would succeed.

I think that main arguments in favor of a communist society are ethical. If made as imagined - or close enough - it would be morally better than capitalist society.

Pajser writes:

Intellectually honest approach should apply consistent criteria.
A challenge which I have sometimes afforded myself it to try to learn the best arguments for a view which I do not hold. Go to the best texts, the source texts, of your opposites and read those texts. Learn the reasoning and the implicit point of view well enough to converse with believers of that view in their own language. You can be sure that you have learned that other point of view only if you can converse freely with them, in their language, and pass in their view as one of them. This is, I propose, a test of true open mindedness, my way of convincing myself that I am not fooling myself by hiding in my worldview.

john hare writes:

What is the hypnotic allure of socialism ?

A very high percentage of people would like to avoid responsibility for their own actions. If the state is responsible, they don't have to think or act on their own. This is my observation from talking to thousands of people over the last several decades on something close to their own terms as Richard suggests.

ilya writes:
The question that fascinates and baffles me is why do so many people still insist that socialism is a good idea.

People who never lived under socialism seem to mostly define it as "tax the rich, support the unions, redistribute to the common man" rather then "shoot the rich, force everyone else to work" (actually happened in the socialist countries).

Blackbeard wrote:

The question that fascinates and baffles me is why do so many people still insist that socialism is a good idea.
One way that I answer this for myself concerns rational ignorance:
Since government exists and has power to do seemingly almost anything it wants, why not use that power to do what obviously needs to be done (feed the poor, create jobs, educate everybody, etc.)? Just vote for the one who promises to make everything right.
Most people are busy and don't (and shouldn't I can argue) spend their time learning other peoples' specialties. Most people do not learn economics.

Nathan W writes:

Maybe being ruled by generals was relevant?

When will the USA start counting civilians who die of disease and hunger in its foreign adventures as deaths at the hands of America?

If a famine strikes in a poor country, do we attribute that the leader of the country murdered those people?

A contrary perspective is sorely needed here.

Jon Murphy writes:

If a famine strikes in a poor country, do we attribute that the leader of the country murdered those people?

Depends. If the famine is deliberately caused by the leader (as the Ukrainian Famine or the Chinese famine), then yes. If it is a natural disaster, then no. Blame them for what they do, not what they have no control over.

Capt. J Parker writes:

To my astonishment Ross Douthat in his NY Times blog actually asked THE question for the hard left::

…if reaction was discredited by Hitler and Bull Connor, by race hatred and Jew hatred, why wasn’t left-wing radicalism discredited by Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot? If this is all about moral credibility and the company you keep, why did so many prominent historians and literary critics get to keep on calling themselves Marxists after every Marxist-Leninist regime committed mass murder on an epic scale?...
Conservatives have been asking these questions for a long time; they’re still good ones.

Disappointingly he only offers these weak apologies:
The most important one is that political reaction’s worst crimes were committed close to home, in the heart of Europe in fact, while the darkest crimes of Communism were perpetrated in (relatively) distant land...
The radical left has many crimes on its conscience, but in America it has been relatively powerless compared to elsewhere in the world.

This seems pretty close to these arguments I personally hear from hard left progressives:
1) Don’t be ridiculous. The US will never be like that. We'll just be like Denmark
2) Slavery, colonialism and native America genocide were worse.

IVV writes:

It's been my understanding that the allure of communism is mainly rooted in the hatred of income inequality. If you don't believe there's a rational reason for someone else to have more than you, then by all means, advocate a system that claims all are equal, and rich people are evil.

A belief in inherent kleptocracy helps. "My life sucks because other people took what I deserve from me," is easier to swallow than "My life sucks because I'm not taking the steps to give myself what I want, nor am I willing to look at my neighbor with anything other than jealousy."

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