American Millennials say they would rather live in a socialist or communist country than a capitalist democracy. Veuer’s Nick Cardona (@nickcardona93) has that story.
It is frustrating to me that many Americans are ignorant of the crimes of socialist and communist movements.
My grandmother grew up in Ukraine, which was then a part of the USSR — the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. After waking each morning, she checked to see if any of her family members died during the night. Many of her compatriots were already dead because Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader, implemented a mass starvation program.
Known as the “Holodomor,” the goal of the policy was to starve Ukrainians into submission. It worked as intended: Stalin murdered perhaps four million Ukrainians. (For this reason and others, Ukrainians are a bit prickly when asked if their accent is Russian.)
My grandmother only escaped this torture when she, along with the Russian man who would become my grandfather, were kidnapped by the Nazis and taken to Germany as slave labor. Thus, they stopped living the Soviet Socialist dream and began experiencing the National Socialist dream, instead.
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I was reminded of all this last month when CNN celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday with a tweet that claimed the civil rights hero “was a socialist before it was cool.” There are two substantial problems with this.
First, The Most Trusted Name in News is on historically dubious ground. Dr. King was a brilliant theologian but not an expert in political economy. His writings on the topic are contradictory. On the one hand, Dr. King wrote, “I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic”; on the other hand, he had a visceral hatred of communism, which he called “fundamentally incompatible” with Christianity in his book Strength to Love.
Second, what exactly is cool about socialism?
After the war, my grandparents understandably resisted going back to the USSR, especially since Stalin had issued Order 270, which declared Soviet prisoners of war “traitors” who should be sent to gulags. Though my grandparents weren’t soldiers, they decided that it would be wise not to find out if the policy applied to civilians. So, they pretended to be Polish and came to America. At the time, the U.S. was gladly accepting refugees from “s—hole countries.”
It is frustrating to me that many Americans are ignorant of this history. While the crimes of the Nazis are well known, the crimes of the Soviets are not.
That explains how (likely a social media intern at) CNN can tweet about how cool socialism is. It also explains how one Buzzfeed editor wished for “full communism” for Christmas, and another Buzzfeed reporter dismissed the victims of communism as a “white nationalist talking point.”
These repulsive sentiments are surprisingly common. Indeed, it is still fashionable for intellectuals — particularly those in the cozy confines of academia who never had to suffer under it — to praise the virtues of socialism. This white-washed version of history is a moral blind spot that is the Left’s equivalent of Holocaust denial.
To be fair, I think those who praise socialism do so more out of ignorance than out of malice. But ignorance is not a good excuse. Those who defend socialism today rely on flawed arguments that don’t stand up to scrutiny.
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The biggest misunderstanding is the notion that socialism (which is good) and communism (which is bad) are not the same thing. That might be true in theory, but it never quite works out that way in practice. It is impossible to separate socialism from communism because the former (an economic system) inevitably leads to the latter (a sociopolitical system). Why? Because centralized economic control only works if citizens have no rights.
In an ideal socialist society, “the people” own the means of production. Everyone’s basic needs are met. Leaders are elected democratically.
When implemented, however, human nature intervenes. Powerful elites take charge. This group, which usually consists of a charismatic individual and his politically loyal kleptocrats, becomes the true owners of the means of production. They exist largely to serve themselves, so voices of opposition must be suppressed. Free speech is abandoned and, eventually, fair elections are too.
Look no further than Venezuela for an example of how an allegedly socialist utopia necessarily leads to a communist crackdown. We are watching history repeat itself. As the socialist system collapses, Maduro implements tyranny. That’s how it works. That’s how it always works.
Another flawed argument is the belief that Europe represents a model socialist society. But European countries do not own the means of production. Companies are owned by entrepreneurs, not “the people” or the government. For better or worse, what Europe has is an immensely regulated capitalist society with a large social safety net funded by very high taxes. Whether Americans love or hate Europe’s “cradle-to-grave” welfare, it is not equivalent to socialism.
These fundamental misunderstandings are why modern proponents of socialism are wrong. And it’s why, if he really was a socialist, Dr. King was wrong too.
My grandmother passed away in 1995 and my grandfather died last month. It is in their honor that I tell their story and on their behalf that I make this plea: Just like with Naziism, we must make it socially unacceptable to express any positive sentiments toward socialism or communism. Its 100 million victims cry out.
Alex Berezow, a PhD microbiologist and Senior Fellow of Biomedical Science at the American Council on Science and Health, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.
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