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Saturday marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx. His work with Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, and Das Kapital inspired communist uprisings in Russia, China, and several other countries. Despite the death and destruction under communist regimes over the past century, some are inexplicably still debating Marx’s legacy leading up to the anniversary of his birth.
A recent survey suggested conducted on behalf of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation found that some, particularly millennials, have a preference for collectivist economic systems -- communism, fascism, and socialism. Each of these systems rest on one central theme: the suppression of the individual.
Marx and Engels put this belief in one simple phrase, writing, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Theory is one thing. In practice, however, the anti-individualism that Marxism represents has resulted in the devaluing of human life and the ownership of people, as well as what they produce, and property by the state.
Estimates may vary, but communism is responsible for the deaths of up to 100 million people, perhaps more. From Josef Stalin’s “Great Purge” and the Holodomor to Mao Zedong’s famines to Pol Pot’s killing fields, the legacy of Marx is one of death. The authors of The Black Book of Communism estimate the deaths by country or region are as follows:
Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1905, Alisa Rosenbaum, who is known by the name of Ayn Rand, experienced the evils of communism first hand. Her family owned a successful pharmacy and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. That changed in 1917 when the Bolsheviks stole her family’s business and property. Rand, who would later write Anthem and Atlas Shrugged, left the Soviet Union in her early 20’s and immigrated to the United States.
Reflecting on her experience with communism and those who defend the ideas put forward by Marx, Rand wrote, “When, at the age of twelve, at the time of the Russian revolution, I first heard the Communist principle that Man must exist for the sake of the State, I perceived that this was the essential issue, that this principle was evil, and that it could lead to nothing but evil, regardless of any methods, details, decrees, policies, promises and pious platitudes. This was the reason for my opposition to Communism then — and it is my reason now.”
“I am still a little astonished, at times, that too many adult Americans do not understand the nature of the fight against Communism as clearly as I understood it at the age of twelve: they continue to believe that only Communist methods are evil, while Communist ideals are noble. All the victories of Communism since the year 1917 are due to that particular belief among the men who are still free,” she added.
Similarly, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said, “I dare hope that all the peoples who have lived through communism will understand that communism is to blame for the bitter pages of their history.” Solzhenitsyn also experienced first hand the brutality of communism. He spent time as a political prisoner in a Soviet gulag and was later expelled from the country.
Sadly, the horrors of communism are a forgotten memory for some. Those who have opined on Marx’s legacy as the 200th anniversary of his birth approaches are glossing over the death and destruction by those who wave the banner of communism.
Writing at The New York Times, Jason Barker, a professor at Kyung Hee University in South Korea, focused on Marx’s critiques of capitalism, paying literally no attention to the skeletons of millions of people who died at the hands of communist oppressors that in Marx’s closet. A piece at The Economist similarly focuses on Marx’s views on capitalism, again whitewashing the deaths under communist regimes.
Today, only five countries are considered communist -- China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. Some of those countries, including China and Vietnam, have taken steps toward at least some market liberalization. Totalitarianism, though, still exists in these countries.
Although few communist countries remain, many still defend communist beliefs. “The Soviet Union didn’t really practice communism,” some would say. It’s the sort of tripe one would read in the comments on a Reddit post. But some really do believe this nonsense.
Others are selling another brand of collectivism: socialism. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has spent his entire career in public office proselytizing for “democratic socialism,” seeking to drive the Democratic Party further to the political left.
Although socialism may be different, the litany of “free” things that the government would provide -- such as “free healthcare” and “free college” -- rests on the notion that the individual works for the state and that you’re entitled to only what the state allows you to keep. It’s still a subversion of the individual, only different branding.
As we approach the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth. We should take time to honor the victims of communism and remember that collectivism, no matter which form it takes, should be rejected, regardless of who is selling it.