Paul Kengor: Death what communism did best
October-November 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the launch of the Bolshevik Revolution that made Russia a bloody communist state that would produce a political-ideological killing spree unlike any other. And yet, communism continues to find supporters.
At a conference on the legacies of communism, one liberal professor complained that no pro -communist speakers were included; I wasn’t surprised. A former student of mine told me about a professor of his (at a college in Pittsburgh) hailing Karl Marx’s “brilliance”; again, no surprise. And a University of Wisconsin student called a talk show I did, insisting that capitalism is just as lethal as communism. That all happened just this past week — and it’s not unusual in my world.
An October 2016 poll by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation found almost one-third of millennials “believe more people were killed under George W. Bush than under Joseph Stalin,” more than 1 in 4 Americans believe Bush was the bigger killer, 75 percent underestimate the number killed by communist regimes, and 68 percent believe Hitler killed more people than Stalin. This begs the question: How many people did these ideological gangsters kill?
“The Black Book of Communism” came up with 100 million for communism’s 20th-century death toll, as did the foundation. But 100 million is actually quite conservative.
“The Black Book” recorded merely 20 million dead for the Soviet Union. Alexander Yakovlev, a high-level Soviet official who became one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s chief reformers and was given the post-Cold War task of trying to tally the victims, estimates Stalin alone “annihilated … 60 to 70 million people.”
China’s Mao Zedong was responsible for at least 60 million deaths, according to “The Black Book” — but more likely over 70 million, according to the latest research. And there were the killing fields of North Korea, Cambodia, Cuba, Ethiopia, Eastern Europe, Africa and more. Communist governments’ 20th-century deaths really were closer to 140 million.
Hitler killed approximately 10 million Jews, Gypsies, mentally disabled people and other “misfits.” The combined death toll from World Wars I and II was 50 million to 60 million. To begin approaching communism’s mass slaughter, combine and then double the two world wars’ tolls.
Ronald Reagan called communism a “disease,” but it’s hard to find a 20th-century disease that killed as many. He put it better when he called communism “evil” and “a form of insanity.” And yet, so much of this evil insanity isn’t known, or being taught, especially in our universities.
James Kirchick of the liberal Daily Beast recently asked, “How many times have you heard some formulation of this viewpoint? ‘Communism is an excellent idea in theory; it just hasn’t worked in practice.’ ” His response: “ OK. How many more millions of people have to die before we get it right? ” Good question.
As communism marks its centennial, remember it for what it did best: death.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His books include “A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century.”