When Santayana told us to never ignore the lessons of history lest we repeat its mistakes, he could not have been more correct. And those who do study history see his advice being played out – that is, ignored – all the time: historical mistakes are being replicated constantly for the very reason that we do NOT study history and learn from it.
One of the most frightening examples of this is our historical amnesia when it comes to communism. A century of communism should confirm to everyone that this has been one of the worst, bloodiest and most deplorable political ideologies ever.
Yet plenty of folks who should know better (such as university students, etc) are utterly clueless. Certainly most Western young people seem totally unaware of recent history, and are therefore heading over the cliff in repeating its mistakes.
As but one really sad example, consider this recent poll from the US. It is a shocker:
Nearly half of American millennials (44 percent) would rather live in a socialist society than a capitalist one, according to a report from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) which relied on YouGov polling data. Even so, there’s widespread ignorance among millennials about socialism and communism — only 71 percent of the millennials surveyed could properly identify what communism is and many often conflated the two economic systems.
This ignorance among millennials isn’t surprising, as a 2016 CBS/New York Times survey found that only 16 percent of millennials could accurately define what socialism is. The VOC survey also found that 23 percent of those between the ages of 21-29 said Joseph Stalin was a “hero.” As leader of the Soviet Union, Stalin oversaw the death of millions and the infamous “gulag archipelago” of deathly work camps for political dissenters. An equal number of 20-somethings described North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, who has imprisoned an unknown number of political dissidents in labor camps while thousands of his people starve, as a “hero.”
Wow, if these folks are our future, we are in bad shape. Obviously all this is timely because it was 100 years ago that the Bolshevik Revolution occurred, and we have now had a century of history to see just how communism works in practice.
And it is an ugly picture indeed. I have spoken to this often, and I have often referred to the very vital 1999 volume, The Black Book of Communism (first published in French in 1997). In nearly 900 pages this book carefully documents the true toll of godless communism and how it slaughtered some 100 million people.
Yet millions of people today have no understanding whatsoever as to what this ideology has unleashed in its bloody outworking. Thankfully not everyone is blind to the lessons of history. A number of commentators have recently discussed this century of terror, and a few of them are well worth quoting from here.
Let me begin with the words of Bryan MacDonald:
This Tuesday sees the 100th anniversary of the 1917 “October Revolution” (Russians were on the Julian calendar then). A period where an armed insurrection in St Petersburg (then Petrograd) saw Lenin’s Bolshevik movement overthrow the moderate “provisional government,” which had itself replaced Tsar Nicholas II’s regime only eight months earlier….
And the numbers are staggering. The Russian Civil War – which followed “Red October” – was the most destructive internal conflict in history, with around the deaths of 1.5 million soldiers and some 8 million civilians the result. But, amazingly, the Bolsheviks were only getting started, with either policy failures or forced genocide, or both, creating a disastrous famine that wiped out around 7 million people, most of them in Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, in the early 1930s. This followed the similar Povolzhye famine (1921-22), which had seen in the region of 5 million, almost all Russians, starve to death.
Later, in the middle of the 1930s, Stalin launched the Great Purge, in which hundreds of thousands were executed. And we can’t forget the Gulags, where around a million perished from 1934 to 1953. And this doesn’t include the many lives ruined by forced imprisonment in the camps.
Bradford Richardson opens his piece with a good summary statement:
Over the past 100 years, communism has blazed a trail of dead and broken bodies stretched around the globe in its relentless, benighted march toward the ash heap of history. From the frozen gulags of Siberia to the killing fields of Cambodia and the jungles of Nicaragua, communists have massacred more than 100 million people in service to an ideology that promised freedom and equality but delivered only tyranny and scarcity.
He too refers to the Black Book:
Their tally puts the number at 94 million: 65 million in the People’s Republic of China, 20 million in the Soviet Union, 2 million in Cambodia, 2 million in North Korea, 1.7 million in Ethiopia, 1.5 million in Afghanistan, 1 million in the Eastern Bloc, 1 million in Vietnam, and hundreds of thousands in Latin America. More recent estimates have pushed that figure north of the 100 million mark.
Of course such massive numbers can easily go over our heads. We need to put human faces to these figures. Telling the stories of individuals is therefore of great value as well. Worth quoting in this regard is Ryan Fazio. His tragic tale could be multiplied millions of times over. He writes:
On February 9, 1940, seven-year-old Witold Rybicki and his family awoke in the middle of the night to banging on the door of their home in Lida, Poland (modern Belarus). Outside was an officer of the Soviet secret police, then called the NKVD, who gave his father orders: “Do not run away. Your house is surrounded by soldiers. You have an hour to pack your personal belongings. Do not worry about bringing much. Everything you need will be at your destination.”
The Rybickis were never informed of charges against them, evidence of wrongdoing, a sentence, or their destination. Witold, his parents, and four of his siblings were taken from their home to a train station, where they were loaded into a cattle car about 15 meters long by five meters wide along with about 40 other people. The car was completely bare otherwise, with just a hole in the middle of the floor for a toilet. For nearly a month, the train traversed Eastern Europe and Russia toward Siberia….
A few months later, the Rybickis were moved even farther east, by train to the last city on the tracks, then by foot to another nondescript set of barracks in the middle of the Siberian taiga. It was a new labor settlement, where they would stay for three years.
In the Rybickis’ settlement, able-bodied prisoners above the age of 12 worked felling trees, preparing lumber, and collecting sap in weather that would sometimes fall to 50 below zero degrees Celsius. The laboring prisoners were given a ration of 400g of bread daily, roughly 1,200 calories, while non-working prisoners were given 200g, a measly 600 calories. Sometimes food shipments would get delayed to the camps, and prisoners like the Rybickis would go days without eating.
“We were practically starving to death,” Witold recalls. Some prisoners had “swollen, huge bellies” from hunger. Prisoners were “dying like flies all around” from hunger, disease, or being worked to death. There was a makeshift cemetery by the settlement where “hundreds and hundreds were buried.”
Finally, Srdja Trifkovic writes about a “grim centennial”. He notes the profoundly anti-Christian agenda of the communists. He begins:
Exactly one hundred years ago—in the early hours of November 7, 1917—the Bolsheviks staged a successful coup d’etat in Petrograd…. A massive bloodbath duly followed. One remarkable characteristic of the Bolshevik terror during the Civil War (1918-22) and in the ensuing decades was its morbid anti-Christian zeal. The effect on Europe and the world has been profound. It instilled in generations of leftist Western intellectuals the messianic sense that their lives had meaning, that dialectical materialism had the capacity to transform and redeem a fallen world. At the other end of the spectrum, it prompted the rise of fascism and national socialism….
According to the reliable OUP World Christian Encyclopedia (2001), there have been many more Christian martyrs in the 20th century—over 45 million–than in all of the preceding 19 centuries of Christianity. Of that number, some 32 million were killed by “atheists” and over 9 million by Muslims. “Atheists” indicates, overwhelmingly, Bolsheviks and their disciples, cohorts and satellites.…
There is no doubt that Christians were targeted with particular ferocity for the very reason of their faith. The Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian confessions—notably Eastern Rite Catholics—were subjected to systematic destruction on a titanic scale. In 20 years (1918-38) the number of churches that remained open in Russia was reduced from 54,000 to under 500, to less than one percent of the pre-Bolshevik total. In all some 600 bishops, 40,000 priests, 120,000 monks and nuns, and millions of laypeople were martyred in Russia in the half-century after 1918.
And yet a quarter of American millennials think Stalin was a good guy. God help us all! George Orwell certainly had it right when he said, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”