Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Why Communist Dictators Should Not Be Praised

by Jack Ross

There is a trend  at present to praise communist dictators for their ‘excellence’, and the supposed applicability of their ideas to contemporary global problems.  I have also noticed that a poster has been put up on the corridor next to the Economics department, which appears to be idolising several of these dictators (see left). However, I believe that this praise is misguided, as often people idolise these communist leaders, without knowing the full story. Many of these dictators committed atrocities just as bad and sometimes even worse than those of the Nazis, yet they are considered heroes by a large number of people, most notably the far-left. So the aim of this article is to inform you why we should be wary of giving credit to these alleged Marxist heroes, when in fact they should be viewed with disdain.

One idolised communist hero is Joseph Djugashvilli, or, as he is more commonly known, Joseph Stalin - ‘man of steel’. Stalin first gained notoriety in communist Russia for violent bank raids to raise party funds for the Bolsheviks. Stalin became the undisputed leader of the USSR in 1929, five years after previous leader Vladimir Lenin had died. This was against Lenin’s wishes who had stated, ‘Comrade Stalin, having become Secretary General, has unlimited authority in his hands and I am not sure whether he will always be capable of using that authority with sufficient caution’. So how did Stalin manage to lead the USSR? Well Stalin ruthlessly picked off his political rivals one by one, which allowed him to slowly assume more and more power, he did this by expelling his political enemies from the Bolshevik Party, and claiming they were traitors. After Stalin’s enemies were expelled from the party, they were later assassinated or publicly tried and executed to silence them. Leon Trotsky is probably the most famous of Stalin’s political enemies, and when Trotsky realised that Stalin aimed to assassinate him, he fled to Mexico, where on the 21st of August 1940, he was assassinated with an ice pick, by Stalin’s agents. What is important to note at this stage, is that Stalin was never democratically elected, so the man who is seen to represent the people, never actually did.

What is also commonly overlooked concerning Joseph Stalin is the culling of thirty million Russians under his communist regime. These innocent people either died of starvation, in slave labour - for example one hundred thousand people died in the construction of the Belomor Canal - or they were killed by the Soviet state. Millions of people were also killed in Stalin’s Purges. The Purges were designed by Stalin to deal with enemies of the State, or in other words anyone who opposed his regime. These state-sponsored executions officially started in 1934, even though previously in Stalin’s reign, some engineers had been executed on made-up treason charges. The initial excuse for the Purges was the murder of Kirov, the Communist leader of Leningrad; however, historians suspect Stalin had actually arranged for Kirov’s death to justify the killings of his political enemies. Stalin executed leading opposing figures in show trials, such as Bukharin in 1938 (Bukharin is a less known candidate who Stalin fought for power in the 1920’s).

However, Stalin did not just execute leading Party Officials, it is estimated that 500,000 Communist Party members were arrested on charges of ‘anti-Soviet activities’, and as a result were either executed or put in Gulags (Russian forced labour camps).  However, Stalin did not stop there. He also executed 25,000 army officers, including the Supreme Commander of the Red Army, Marshal Tukhachevsky. Stalin even executed ordinary citizens, such as lecturers, engineers, factory managers and miners, on false charges, and it was said that every family in Russia lost someone in the Purges.  Arrests would often be unpredictable and would take place at night, and, if victims did not confess to the fake charges, they were tortured by Stalin’s secret police the NKVD (similar to Hitler’s SS) and if that failed, their families were threatened. The fate of these ‘traitors’ would be execution or deportation to a Gulag. It is said that by 1937 eighteen million people had been transported to labour camps, and ten million had died. In total over thirty million people are believed to have died under Stalin’s Communist Dictatorship. Although the saddest thing about the event is that ordinary Russians did not believe that Stalin was behind the Purges, they believed that he had no knowledge of the occurring atrocities due to the constant (state controlled) media brainwashing they received.

Stalin is often praised by the far-left for the successes of his ‘five year plans’. These were three five-year periods, which aimed to modernise the Russian industry, so that Russia could compete with the West. It could be argued that these plans were actually very successful, but they came at the price of millions of lives. Stalin’s proposed idea of ‘collectivisation’ in 1929 (part of the first Five Year Plan) needed all private agricultural lands owned by Kulaks (peasants who owned land) to be combined to form state owned farms. This was problematic for Stalin as the Kulaks were very hostile due to the fact that they did not want to give up their land, which had been awarded to them under Lenin. So Stalin turned the Russian people against the Kulaks by claiming that they were the sole reason for the famine in Russia, also Stalin deported thousands of Kulaks to Gulags, or he just had them executed by the NKVD. In response many Kulaks burnt their crops and slaughtered their animals, but were often killed as a result of their actions. Stalin was also very happy for his people to starve, as long as Russia was making money, therefore he ordered that flax was to be grown in certain areas instead of grain, and meanwhile most of the grain that was being grown was exported, which caused the famine to worsen in Russia causing millions more to die, and there have even been reports of cannibalism which just shows the desperation of the Russian people under Stalin.

The most unknown atrocity committed by Stalin is his extermination of the German people, during his assault on Germany towards the close of World War II. Stalin printed leaflets that were sent to the Eastern Front, which instructed Soviet soldiers to kill as many Germans as they could, regardless of whether they were in the military or not, whether men or women. There are claims that Russian soldiers sexually assaulted over two million German women during this final phase of the war. Of course, there were Russian soldiers and officers who were appalled by these acts; however, the numbers suggest that a significant number carried out Stalin’s horrific orders. However, to Stalin's credit, he did sign an act in 1945 criminalizing these acts, but this was most likely to preserve the good image of the USSR, and he still did not outlaw the execution of German civilians. These attacks were most likely a response to the German’s horrific treatment of Russian civilians, during Operation Barbarossa, but this does not justify the Russian war crimes, for which Russian politicians and military personnel have still not been held accountable.

Chairman Mao Zedong was another Communist Dictator who is also often praised by the far-left and sympathisers, for liberating China from a dictatorship, and then enslaving the country under his own Marxist regime. Chairman Mao converted to Marxist-Leninism (a form of communism) at university, and became famous after the Autumn Harvest Uprising on the 7th September 1927, where he led an armed band of 1,700 peasants against the landlords of Hunan. This armed assault was defeated, but, as a result of it, Mao united with another armed band of rebellious miners, which allowed him to form his own ‘Red Army’. However, some historians claim that Mao sabotaged his own assault with the peasants, as it allowed him snare a large band of nationalist miners who could have otherwise defected to another communist leader. What is important to note, at this stage, is that Mao came from a wealthy family and was very well educated, and there are theories Mao only started a communist uprising to gain power.

After resuming the Chinese civil war post World War Two (there had been a cease fire as the people had united against Japan), Chairman Mao defeated his rivals the nationalist group Kuomintang, who fled to Taiwan where they are still in power today, and proclaimed the foundation of the People’s Republic of China on 1st October 1949. Mao solidified his power with the ‘psychological victory’ of the Korean War, which in reality was a stalemate, but technically still a defeat for the West. Chairman Mao also solidified his support by resorting to the traditional communist tactics of blaming landowners, entrepreneurs and people who owned successful businesses for all economic problems. Mao classed these people as ‘counter-revolutionaries’. In 1957 Chairman Mao launched ‘The Great Leap Forward’; this was a social and economic campaign which aimed to rapidly change China from an agricultural country into a socialist society through industrialisation and collectivisation. Unlike Stalin's initiatives, this procedure was highly ineffective and China’s economy actually shrunk, but, similarly to Stalin, this economic policy again resulted in a huge loss of life where forty-five to sixty-five million Chinese people starved in the Great Chinese Famine.

The failure of ‘The Great Leap Forward’, forced Mao into a less powerful position and he was marginalised by other communist leaders within his party. This loss of power forced Mao to initiate the ‘Cultural Revolution’ in 1966. The aim of the ‘Cultural Revolution’ was to ensure the salvation of China’s ‘communist identity’, by purging all aspects of capitalism and traditional elements of China from Chinese society, and to ensure that Maoism was the only form of Communism within the Chinese Communist Party. Mao claimed that ‘capitalists’ had infiltrated his government and they aimed to force China into a capitalist state, and the only way of defeating this threat was for a new class struggle. Mao managed to inspire China’s youth, young men and women between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one formed the ‘Red Guard’, a violent group with chapters all over China. Their mission was to eliminate all those who opposed Maoism. ‘Professors were dressed in grotesque clothes and dunce caps, their faces smeared with ink. They were then forced to get down on all fours and bark like dogs. Some were beaten to death, some even eaten – all for the promulgation of Maoism.’ This purging of Mao’s ‘enemies’ also allowed him to have senior officials in the Chinese Communist Party who had side-lined him to be executed. Mao did eventually have to order the Red Guard to disband, as they started to attack regular members of the Chinese Communist Party, but it is estimated they killed one million people before they were finally stopped.

Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ also forcibly moved a large number of the Chinese, ‘privileged’ urban youth to the countryside where they were instructed to learn from farmers how to live a humble life, and were then forced into poverty. Mao also introduced Laogai, a system of one thousand forced-labour camps, which were very similar to the Russian Gulags. Harry Wu a Chinese citizen, who spent nineteen years in a Laogai, has estimated that between 1950-1980 fifty million Chinese people passed through the labour camps, and over twenty million people died as a result of the terrible living conditions and of being forced to work fourteen-hour days. Chairman Mao also ordered the destruction of Chinese historical sites as he opposed imperialism and essentially wished to ‘rewrite the history books’. Mao ended his reign of tyranny with his death in 1976, with the blood of eighty million people on his hands. However, to this day Mao is still a revered hero in China, and amongst the far-left. Mao’s body is frozen and still on display in Tienanmen Square in China.

Now a common argument would be that Stalin and Mao ‘did not truly represent communism’, but what about the most revered communist leader, Lenin? Vladimir Lenin, was the first Russian Communist Dictator, and possibly the most loved far-left ruler, as he is perceived to have been more ‘liberal and tolerant’ than Stalin and Chairman Mao. Lenin initially became a dictator by seizing power with his infamous ‘Red Army’ from the Russian Provisional Government in November 1917. One of the Bolsheviks' (Lenin’s political party) promises was to grant the Russian people free elections, which coincided with Karl Marx’s teachings that the people should choose their leader. However, the Bolsheviks lost this election to the Social Revolutionaries (a peasant based party), but did Lenin relinquish his control in Russia? No, he remained in power and had his Red Army close down the elected Assembly. Lenin then proceeded to lose a large amount of Russian land and people (25% of their total population) to the Germans in 1918, under the Brest-Litovsk Treaty.

Due to Lenin’s appalling handling of Russia, several armies called ‘the Whites’ (a broad term applied to anyone who opposed the Bolsheviks) marched against the Bolshevik regime. This was where Lenin ordered the punishment of anyone who collaborated with the Whites, so as a result there were many shootings, beatings and hangings of anyone who was seen as a ‘collaborator’, and this in itself became to be known as the ‘Red Terror’. Even Tsar Nicholas II, who had fled his Winter Palace, was gunned down while holding his son in his arms, alongside his family in the basement of the house where they were imprisoned. The Tsar’s four daughters Anastasia, Olga, Tatiana and Maria managed to survive the first volley of bullets, but they were then stabbed to death with bayonets. Lenin had ordered the killing of the Tsar and his family as he did not want to risk the Tsar leading the Whites against him.

Lenin also ordered the execution of thousands of priests and nuns, as he believed that religion was not compatible with communism. Lenin managed to justify this atrocity by giving the church’s land to the Russian people, claiming it was for the good of communism. The peasants probably suffered the most at the hands of Lenin, which is ironic as he was meant to be representing them. When Lenin was fighting the Whites he introduced ‘war communism’, which forced peasants to give grain to the Red Army to ensure they were well fed. This resulted in mass famine and due to an ineffective railway system most of the food never reached the Red Army’s fighters and rotted by the side of the tracks. It is estimated seven million people died in this famine as a result of starvation. Lenin eventually called off his policy of war communism after a revolt at the Kronstadt naval base in 1921. This was problematic for Lenin as the Kronstadt sailors were some of his most loyal supporters, who had been a part of the Bolshevik uprising since the start of it. The Red Army put down the revolt, but thousands of the Kronstadt sailors died. After this Lenin introduced his ‘New Economic Policy’, which embraced capitalism and encouraged privatisation, undermining most of what he had previously preached. Although Lenin did not kill as many people as Stalin, he still committed genocide and a vast number of atrocities against his own people.

So having shown the true colours of three ‘Communist heroes’, I hope I have convinced you that Communist dictators are not to be praised for any aspect of their rule. These dictators combined killed well over one hundred million people and the odds are that these dictators have killed more than the figures suggested in the article, as no one really knows the extent of the atrocities they committed. So I urge you, if you have any posters embracing such communist dictators, please take them down, out of respect for the hundred million who died under their regimes. I will end my piece with this question – If we saw a poster on a wall idolising Hitler we would feel disgusted; however, why is it socially acceptable to glorify tyrants who murdered more people than the Nazis?

Modern World History – Ben Walsh

Image referred to in Mrs Worley's comment (see below):

1 comment:

  1. Mrs Worley writes:

    Dear Jack
    I note with some interest that you seem to object to posters of Stalin, Mao, & Lenin being displayed around school. I suppose you refer to the poster displayed in the Economics and Business Studies department by SF5. Published below is a photo of it.
    As you can see this poster depicts Karl Marx, a major Economic theorist of the modern period, whose ideas on society were adopted to a degree and put into practice by the other four. The experiences of the people of Cuba, China, & Russia, among others, provide us with useful insights into the wider impact of Communism in practice.
    Surely you are not suggesting that we should not learn from these social experiments; that we should not alert future generations to the follies of the past? I think this poster mildly mocks, not glorifies their efforts.
    Perhaps you should be turning your attention to the poster on the opposite wall of SF6, also shown below, which captures workmen above New York city in the 1920s when USA was having its own economic experiment with unrestricted free markets, and lack of worker rights. Estimates provided by the federal government put annual deaths and disablements of American workers due to inadequate protection in the work place at around 17,000 per year. I think you’ll find this is well over 1.5 million in the last century in the USA alone. Evidence suggests that the free market as an alternative to communism is not as benign as you may think.
    Glad to have got you thinking…

    Miranda Worley


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