Socialism's Prescient Critics

By Elst, Philip Vander | Freeman, July/August 2012 | Go to article overview
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Socialism's Prescient Critics


Elst, Philip Vander, Freeman


There is a good case to be made that the birth and spread of totalitarian socialism defines the twentieth century more than anything else. That is not what most schoolchildren are taught or what most people in the West believe, but it is a justifiable conclusion. Not only was totalitarian socialism directly responsible for provoking the bloodiest war in history; it has also been the biggest single cause of internal repression and mass murder in modern times.

According to The Black Book of Communism (1999), at least 94 million people were slaughtered by communist regimes during the twentieth century. This is a truly colossal figure, yet that's the lowest estimate. Professor R. J. Rummel, in his landmark study, Death by Government (1996), puts the death toll from communism at over 105 million - and his detailed calculations do not include the human cost of communism in most of Eastern Europe or in Third World countries like Cuba and Mozambique. Even so, his figure is double the total number of casualties (military and civilian) killed on all sides during World War II.

The full horror of this totalitarian socialist holocaust cannot, of course, be adequately conveyed by these grim statistics. Behind them lies a desolate landscape of economic collapse, mass poverty, physical and mental torture, and broken lives and communities. In fact nothing illustrates the destructive impact of totalitarian socialism more vividly than the tsunami of refugees it has generated in every continent on which it has taken root. Between 1945 and 1990 over 29 million men, women, and children voted against communism with their feet in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America (For details and sources see my book Idealism Without Illusions: A Foreign Policy for Freedom, 1989). Had it not been for the land mines, border guards, and barbed wire lining their frontiers, the world's communist states would have been emptied of their populations long before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Totalitarian Logic

What provoked this vast tide of 1 human despair? What was it that made life intolerable for most of the inhabitants of these socialist countries? The greatest Russian writer of the last century has given us the answer. To quote Alexander Solzhenitsyn: "Socialism begins by making all men equal in material matters. . . . However the logical progression towards so-called 'ideal' equality inevitably implies the use of force. Furthermore it means that the basic element of personality - those elements which display too much variety in terms of education, ability, thought and feeling - must themselves be leveled out. . . . Let me remind you that 'forced labour' is part of the programme of all prophets of Socialism, including the Communist Manifesto [1848]. There is no need to think of the Gulag Archipelago as an Asiatic distortion of a noble ideal. It is an irrevocable law" (Warning to the Western World).

It was therefore always predictable that by requiring the abolition of private property and the family, and monopolistic State ownership of agriculture and industry, the socialist pursuit of equality would necessarily produce the evil fruit of totalitarianism. One-party rule, the secret police, the imprisonment and torture of dissidents, concentration camps, mass executions, the political indoctrination of the young, the persecution of religious minorities - all these horrors have been the inevitable result ofthat concentration and monopolization of power that invariably corrupts the ruling elites and bureaucracies of all full-blown socialist societies. As an eminent Russian-born political scientist, the late Tibor Szamuely, wrote a generation ago in a pamphlet that should be read by the citizens of every civilized democracy: "How could it be otherwise? . . . How can there be any freedom when one's livelihood from cradle to grave depends totally upon the State, which can with one hand give and with the other take away?" (Socialism and Liberty, 1977).

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