Op-ed: Anti-Communist Clichés are Cold War Anti-History

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By Denis Churilov for FRN 

It is beyond absurd to compare Communism and Socialism to Capitalism and the free market without considering geographical, socio-cultural and historic factors in each particular case.

For instance, everyone laughs at North Korea and their ‘quasi-Communism.’ Yet nobody considers the fact that the country has been under brutal economic sanctions for decades, and that it is geographically situated in a region where you can’t farm anything substantial. And almost no one talks about the regional geopolitical configuration that explains the strictness of the current North Korean regime. And, yet, despite all those unfortunate circumstances, North Koreans still manage to develop submarines, ballistic missile systems and thermonuclear weapons. Can the capitalist and the natural resource rich Democratic Republic of the Congo develop its own missile system and build thermonuclear weapons? Unlikely.

When people attempt to compare Communism/Socialism to Capitalism, they always compare Cuba and Venezuela to the United States and highly developed Western European countries. Nobody compares Cuba to, say, Haiti, which is a fully capitalist country under US influence. How come nobody compares poor and “miserable” socialist Cuba to “rich” and “happy” regional capitalist states such as Colombia? Why aren’t people making comparisons between socialist Venezuela and the capitalist state of Mexico, where there is a huge gap between rich and poor, and where they’ve been having totally capitalist drug cartel wars for over a decade now, with death toll estimates already going above the 100 thousands mark.

Shall we go back in time and compare the 1960s version of quasi-capitalist state of Iraq with, say, the socialist state of the Soviet Union?

You can often see people on the far-right asserting that Socialism is an underachieving system that doesn’t work, a system that “has failed every time it was tried”. Well, that “defective” system managed to defend itself and crush the world’s most advanced war machine in the 1940s and then proceed to develop the world’s leading nuclear and space programs.

Many people in the West are not aware of this nowadays, but during World War II, the Soviet Union wasn’t just fighting the Nazi Germany. It was fighting forces conjured from nearly all of Europe (with a combined population of around 400 million, while the USSR had less than 200 million). About a third of all Third Reich tanks were produced in Czechoslovakia. Most of the occupied countries were providing recourses, working hands and soldiers to Hitler (e. g. there were more French soldiers serving in the Nazi forces in the Eastern Front than there were people in the entire French Resistance). The Soviet Union fought virtually alone until 1944. The Red Army was already advancing through Europe when the Allies finally decided to launch the Normandy Landing. Then the Soviet Army single-handedly defeated the Manchurian army of Imperial Japan (which was a capitalist power too, by the way), kicking them out of mainland Asia in just a few weeks time, at the same time when the US “stopped the war” and “saved lives” by dropping nuclear bombs that instantly killed 200,000 civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And then, after the devastating war, the socialist Soviet Union managed to rebuild everything. Then this “failed” system conducted its first successful nuclear test in 1949. And then it successfully conducted thermonuclear tests in 1953, proving again just how “retarded” and “impotent” it was. Then the “backwards” Soviets did it again when they launched the first manmade space satellite, Sputnik-1, in 1957. Then again, in April 1961, when the “dysfunctional” socialist state sent the first man into space.

Not to mention the USSR’s universal healthcare and the nearly 100% literacy rate, whereas before Socialism, prior to the 1917 October Revolution, about 70% of Russian population was illiterate with an average life expectancy hardly exceeding what is observed in Central Africa nowadays.

So much for “Socialism has failed every time it was tried”.

Those “inefficient” socialists managed to build the world’s second superpower in the second half of the 20th century. To ignore that is to ignore historical reality.

Yes, the Soviet people endured enormous hardship, and they never had all the luxuries enjoyed by the citizens of America, but they still lived better than 80% of the world population, most of whom lived under global capitalism, despite relatively harsh circumstances.

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“Oh, but how did it all end for the USSR?”, people might ask. The Soviet Union collapsed, indeed. Without going into a detailed analysis as to why such cannot be pinned on “objective economic reasons”, it is important to keep in mind that, numerically speaking, there have been more capitalist regimes and empires that ceased to exist in the last 150 years than socialist/communist states.

Oh, and let’s not forget about China! Although far from being strictly socialist nowadays, as China has greatly relaxed its policies and largely hybridised its economy since the late 1980s, it is still officially ruled by the Communist Party whose government exercises control over the economy and has been one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Needless to say that China is now emerging as a global superpower.

“Oh, but what about all those people who died under communist/socialist dictatorships?” What about them? Yes, many people died in socialist countries when the system was forming, but 1) people almost never get the figures right, overestimating the number of victims by tens and even hundreds of times, for ideological and propaganda purposes, and 2) people tend to misattribute and misinterpret the causes from objective historical processes that occur after any regime change by strictly blaming it all on communism/socialism, whereas it was precisely these systems which raised the living standards of hundreds of millions. Anti-socialist clichés also serve the role of discrediting sovereign countries’ alternative development paths in the 20th century. 

Throughout history, whenever there is a revolution or regime change, such has always been accompanied by bloodshed, usually in the form of civil wars and repressions. In this light, we can talk about the horrors of the French Revolution, where they were executing so many people that they had to invent the guillotine to behead people faster (and that was considered humane at the time!). We can always talk about the victims and all the people executed during the land reforms in England and similar processes in Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and everywhere else around the world. If we take each case and compare it to what was happening in the Soviet Union and Communist China in their early years, percentage wise, the figures will be comparable – in fact, the Soviets weren’t as bad as their European counterparts from a century before them.

It’s the genesis of history, history itself that has always been forged in blood, pain, and suffering. Take a look at American history, for instance, to see how many native peoples perished and how many people had to die in America’s own Civil War for the US to form in its current shape.

That brings us to the next point.

If you want to talk about the victims of Communism, you should also talk about the victims of Capitalism. It’s hard to tell when it started exactly, but, for the argument’s sake, let’s go from 1776 (the year in which Adam Smith formally explained the mechanics of capitalism and the free market in his “Wealth of Nations”; although, de facto, capitalism formed centuries before that). We can talk about the Triangular Slave Trade (African slaves were initially used by capitalists to work on their sugar plantations) that resulted in millions of deaths. We had the Chinese Opium wars and the subsequent opium epidemic when British companies forced China to buy drugs; there are some estimates that say that up to 10% of the Chinese population fell victims of opium. We had all the imperial wars, including World War I. We had colonialism and all the colonial wars, the effects of which are still experienced by people in Africa, where civil wars continue to kill thousands every year as a result of national borders being thoughtlessly marked by old European powers who had no regard for organic ethnocultural/tribal configuration of those lands.

If we were to estimate the numbers of victims of the free market and Capitalism, the figures would be, literally, in the hundreds of millions.

So let’s stop perceiving the world and history in black and white, peddling scary tales about “evil communist regimes” and how “Marxism is responsible for over a hundred million deaths”, and other ideological balderdash that tends to replace genuine analysis and understanding. Let’s not put simplistic labels on everything.

I am not advocating Socialism. It would be somewhat foolish and naive to think that the United States, Australia and Western European countries would be able to go full Communism at this stage. It’s just not realistic, given the current socio-economic configuration and the Western mindset (Capitalism isn’t as bad after all; much better than, say, Feudalism, that’s for sure!). Besides, each country/society has its own destiny, and I don’t think that the Western world can or should attempt Communism any time soon (well, there are some intellectuals, such as Anatoly Wasserman, who argue that “Digital Socialism” would be achievable on a global scale through smooth transition and that it will be too good to resist, but such concepts are still within the realm of science fiction and I don’t think it would be possible within the next 20-30 years).

It is necessary to stop viewing history and reality in simplistic clichés that were developed by Goebbels and then consolidated through decades of Cold War propaganda.

Think. Be aware of context. Look for analogies. View things in a wider perspective. Compare everything with everything.

We, as humanity, will never be able to move forward if we don’t start thinking and analysing things holistically. We can never move forward if we don’t see history objectively and understand our past genuinely. Hackneyed, anti-historical propagandistic arguments against actually existing socialist experiences achieve nothing. 

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