November 7 marks the annual Victims of Communism Memorial Day. But alarming evidence suggests that the American education system is failing to teach students about the horrors committed by communist regimes and the glaring flaws of socialism as a political and economic system.
Although estimates vary widely, somewhere around 100 million people became victims of socialist communist regimes in the 20th century through famine, war, torture, imprisonment, and mass executions. Socialism produced some of the greatest atrocities in all of recorded history and left entire populations broken and on the brink of collapse.
Former Soviet high-ranking official Alexander Yakovlev even told this author that he believes that the Soviet Communist Party killed “many more” than the officially estimated 20 million people. A few former KGB officers who defected to the West shared his belief, including Colonel Oleg Gordievsky.
Despite this grisly record, according to a poll released earlier this year by the Fraser Institute and Leger, a free-market think tank, 43 percent of Americans aged 18 to 34 agreed that socialism was the “ideal” economic system for the United States, and that a transition from capitalism to socialism would improve the economic well-being of the American people.
The poll also found strong support for socialism among respondents in that age group in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. In the U.K., 53 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds said socialism was the ideal economic system.
While the popularity of socialism among young people may not be exactly breaking news (7 in 10 millennials said they would vote for a socialist back in 2019) it should still be a major concern for anyone who cares about individual rights and the future of Western civilization.
The most glaring cause of the rise in support for socialism is the failure of the education system to tell students the ugly truth about socialist regimes and why socialist ideas are inherently flawed.
Professor Robert Conquest, the late eminent historian of the Soviet Union, told this author in 2009 that such an education should begin with two fundamental but neglected truths about the origins of the socialist system and its inevitable outcomes.
First, Professor Conquest explained, students should learn that communist “revolutionaries” are at their core terrorist groups. In Russia, the Communist Party overthrew the nascent Russian democratic government (the Provisional Government) and imposed a socialist system with stolen and smuggled weapons.
“Everything these terror groups that morphed into the Communist Party did over the decades had only one goal – to maintain power,” he explained. Just like terrorist groups in the Middle East today, the Communist Parties of 20th century Europe used fear and violence to maintain control and threatened to export their “revolution” to the rest of the world.
Professor Conquest also emphasized that permanent economic crisis and a pervasive fear are defining characteristics of all socialist regimes. “A quality of poverty was the reality of socialism,” he said.
So how did the image of socialism as a humane and generous governing system emerge in the minds of Western liberal elites and academia?
This is the second neglected truth that Professor Conquest discussed with this author so many years ago. Western schools have intentionally left out how similar the language used by socialists in the Soviet Union and elsewhere was to modern socialist rhetoric.
“Western communists and their fellow travelers called the bogus ‘rights’ in Stalin’s constitution ‘entitlements,’” he explained. “Nobody enjoyed any rights, and those who dared to ask for them suffered severe terror. I wish American academia would begin to teach that socialism is an absolute terror.”
Whittaker Chambers, the famous Soviet defector, similarly emphasized the terror that lies at the heart of socialist regimes in his 1952 book Witness. He stresses that, according to communist laws, execution is the highest measure of social protection. No one could call himself a communist unless he accepts that terror is a chief policy instrument.
Professor Richard Pipes, a renowned Russian scholar, published a collection of 120 secret documents in 1996 entitled The Unknown Lenin which catalogued just how brutal this policy of terror was. According to the documents, Lenin was prepared to “burn Baku [the capital of Azerbaijan] to the ground” and exterminate any inhabitants who defied him.
“Lenin’s contempt for people, or ‘masses’ as he called them, also known from other sources, is corroborated [by the secret documents],” Pipes once said. Yet today, many history textbooks make little mention of Lenin’s brutality and portray him as a liberator of the Russian people.
Professor Pipes also said that it is false to suggest that Lenin’s socialism is fundamentally different from the socialism which some modern liberals now advocate for. He dismissed differences between “rural” communism in Asia and “urban” socialism in the West.
Today, academics tell students that the socialism seen in the Soviet Union was not “real” socialism. But as Margaret Thatcher famously warned, “There is no such thing as ‘safe’ Socialism. If it’s safe, it’s not Socialism. And if it’s Socialism, it’s not safe.”
The failure of young people to understand this is a reflection of the failure of those who lived through the horrors of the Cold War to teach it to them. Indeed, it is one of the great responsibilities of older generations to impart lessons learned to younger ones.
This author witnessed just such a moment at a prominent Western university once. After a lecture, a student challenged former Czech president Vaclav Havel on his comments denouncing communism, claiming that communists promoted “socialist democracy” that would remedy the ills of supposedly corrupt Western democracies. Havel was silent for a moment before asking, “Do you know the difference between ‘democracy’ and ‘people’s socialist democracy?’”
“It is like the difference between a chair and an electrocution chair,” he said.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.
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