It was Karl Marx who despairingly characterized religion as "the opium of the people." But it is the highbrows’ (or intellectualoids) intoxicated refusal to recognize the crimes and failures of socialism that can best be described as hallucinogenic.
The facts are undisputable. The Black Book of Communism offers a conservative estimate of one hundred million innocent individuals murdered by Marxist socialists in the 20th century. The authors, who were able to research Soviet archives, examine the China of "the Great Helmsman," Kim Il Sung's Korea, Vietnam under "Uncle Ho," Cuba under Castro, Ethiopia under Mengistu, Angola under Neto, and Afghanistan under Najibullah. They also document crimes against national and universal culture, from Stalin's destruction of hundreds of churches in Moscow to Ceausescu's leveling of the historic heart of Bucharest to the wide scale devastation of Chinese culture by Mao's Red Guards.
If we expand the definition we can add the approximate twenty million victims of Hitler’s National Socialists.
All of this to implement economic theories of centralized planning that have proven to be far inferior to the wealth generating capacities of free market economies and that are, in F.A. Hayek’s book title, an inevitable Road to Serfdom.
Yet, despite the horrific crimes of communist history, the highbrows in academic and social circles continue to defend Marxist socialism as the most moral form of government, and condemn capitalism as evil. And, it is not as if these atrocities of communist practice are the exception to the rule or the result of some misguided implementation of socialist theory. They are central to Marxist morality.
As Andrew Bernstein points out in his article The Socialist Holocaust and its American Deniers, Marxist theory is one of unrepentant class warfare where economic groups are held as units of moral assessment. “We have no compassion,” stated Marx. “When our time comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror.”
Whereas capitalist theory disallows the initiation of force and maintains that individuals have inalienable rights to property that the government must protect, socialism maintains that the governmental use of compelling force is justified so long as it redistributes wealth and advances social justice.
For Marxists, the moral imperative is for the working class to revolt against the owning class regardless of the brutality of the methods. Under the Marxist materialist perspective, individuals possess no rights and their only worth is as instruments to the cause. This is the kind of communist morality employed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to murder over two million innocent civilians, and by the Soviets to murder over twenty million. In Lenin’s words, “When we are reproached with cruelty, we wonder how people can forget the most elementary Marxism.”
It is not just, as Professor Bernstein highlights, that Marxist socialists are the most prodigious mass murderers in history, “they are mass murderers as a matter of confirmed moral principle.”
When confronted with this experience the highbrow apologists offer, with incurable tendentiousness, a tortured effort at exculpation where the blame resides not with socialism, but with those opposing it. They find virtuous the communist principle that individuals have no right to their own lives, but must live in service to the state. And they proclaim as evil the capitalist principle that individuals have inalienable rights that the state must protect.
Highbrows ignore communist atrocities or seek to explain them away with a farrago of misinformation. A favorite tactic of highbrows is to misdirect by recalling episodes in American history where we failed to live by our values and engaged in slavery, discriminatory practices, and other injustices. But there is a fundamental difference.
The horrific crimes of communism are central to Marxist morality and are, in fact, required by it. “Given their explicit imperative to annihilate class enemies, socialists perpetrate murderous atrocities as an inalterable result of enacting their fundamental principles.”
In contrast, the moral crimes of American capitalism result, by definition, when we violate our principles of each individual’s inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Communism cannot avoid its brutality without repudiating Marxism and class warfare. Capitalism can correct its injustices, not by changing its principles, but by living by them consistently.
Jose Azel PhD is the author of Reflections on Freedom.