From the day the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in 1917, dozens of attempts have been made across the globe to establish societies based on Communist principles. Moscow invariably supported these efforts by supplying them with massive amounts of money, weaponry, and tactical/political guidance. But virtually every Communist experiment – including Russia's – ultimately failed. Today Communism survives in just a handful of countries – China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba – and even there it is fraught with enormous problems: the Communists maintain a hold on the reins of power but at the price of making significant concessions to capitalism.
According to historian Richard Pipes, “Marxism, the theoretical foundation of communism, carried within it the seeds of its own destruction.” One of those seeds is the fact that Marxism is founded on the false premise that human acquisitiveness – the desire to acquire and accumulate private property – is a transient historical phenomenon beyond which the human race, if properly educated and coerced, can evolve. Marxism seeks to lead mankind toward that end, in the belief that the abolition of property will, by logical extension, eliminate the economic inequalities that allegedly create class conflict.
But the history of mankind is replete with evidence that acquisitiveness is inborn and has been part of human nature since the dawn of time. In pre-modern epochs, for instance, land, which was a major source of wealth, always (unless monopolized by monarchs) belonged to tribes, families, or individuals. The same was true of such commodities as livestock and the capital that gave rise to commerce. “From this,” writes Pipes, “it follows that private property is … a permanent feature of social life and, as such, indestructible.... Communism ultimately was defeated by its inability to refashion human nature.” Benito Mussolini arrived at that same conclusion in 1920, just three years after the Russian Revolution:
“Lenin is an artist who worked on humans as other artists work on marble or metal. But human beings are harder than granite and less malleable than iron. No masterwork has emerged. The artist has failed. The task has proven beyond his powers.”
Communism is also bound to fail because it is rooted in the false belief that global class allegiances can transcend national borders, as expressed in the slogan “proletarians of all countries unite,” which was launched by the Communist Manifesto of 1848. Such unity has proven to be a figment of the Marxian imagination. Writes Richard Pipes: “Whatever affinities people may feel toward their class, territorial and ethnic loyalties always and everywhere evoke stronger emotions. Whenever they are challenged by foreign powers, classes close ranks.” This would explain the overall ideological compatibility between communism and socialism on the one hand, and fascism on the other -- save for the latter's emphasis on national identity and pride as opposed to international class-based solidarity.
Communism's effects on economies across the globe have been particularly disastrous. By nationalizing productive assets and placing their management into the hands of officials who possess neither the competence nor the motivation to oversee them efficiently, Communism invariably causes productivity to decline precipitously. Moreover, it causes the people at large to view themselves not as self-sufficient individuals but rather as wards of the state, dependent upon government largesse for every aspect of their well-being. The free-market economist Friedrich Hayek has noted that only the prospect of enrichment can motivate people to exert themselves beyond their immediate needs – and that such exertion most often results in collateral benefits to society as a whole. But Communism, by rewarding equally the worker and the slacker, kills those incentives. That is why Communist regimes have traditionally relied on deception, coercion, and force in order to put their ideals into action.
Just as Communism devastates economies, so does it, by necessity, destroy liberty. “Historical evidence,” writes Richard Pipes, “indicates that the liberties of individuals can only be protected when property rights are firmly guaranteed, because these rights constitute the most effective barrier to state encroachments. The recognition by the state of the right of its subjects and its citizens to their belongings is tantamount to acknowledging limits to state power. And in as much as property is a legal concept, enforced by courts, it also signifies acknowledgment that the state is bound by law.” In short, Communism's primary objective, the abolition of property, leads inevitably to the destruction of liberty and legality.
Beyond this, Communism has yet another deleterious effect on the human condition: “The nationalization of productive resources,” Richard Pipes explains, “far from liberating men from enslavement by things, as Marx and Engels had envisioned, converts them into slaves of their rulers and, because of endemic shortages, makes them more materialistic than ever.” Elsewhere, Pipes writes: “if an individual finds that others – be it government or society at large – do not respect his property rights he not only loses regard for their belongings but develops the most rapacious instincts.” This is precisely why the Soviet Union, after the collapse of its Communist regime, struggled so mightily to transition to a genuine market economy, which is founded upon respect for property rights. Counter-intuitively, the philosophy that pledges to rid the world of materialism in fact breeds that very malady.
In their quest to impose total ideological conformity upon the populations they control, Communist regimes historically have exiled, imprisoned, and otherwise silenced those who would not conform. These were often the most talented, insightful, truthful, civic-minded, and enterprising people in the land. By the wholesale elimination of such individuals, the intellectual and moral fibers of the respective populations were degraded immeasurably. Richard Pipes offers one example of this phenomenon:
“In Russia, which experienced Communism the longest, the population has been robbed of self-reliance. Since under the Soviet regime all orders pertaining to nonpersonal affairs had to emanate from above and initiative was treated as a crime, the nation has lost the ability to make decisions in big matters and small. People wait for orders. Communism also killed in them the work ethic and a sense of public responsibility.”
Expanding upon this theme, political commentator Dennis Prager observes that “socialism teaches its citizens to expect everything, even if they contribute nothing”; to believe that “they have a plethora of rights and few corresponding obligations – except to be taxed.” Adds Prager:
“And that is why the citizens of less socialist -- and more religious -- America give more charity per capita and per income than do citizens of socialist countries. That is why Americans volunteer time for the needy so much more than citizens of socialist countries do. That is why citizens of conservative states in America give more charity than citizens of liberal states do. The more Left one identifies oneself on the political spectrum, the more that person is likely to believe that the state, not fellow citizens, should take care of the poor and the needy. Under socialism, one is not only liberated from having to take care of oneself; one is also liberated from having to take care of others.”
Critics of Communism often cite the atrocities of such monsters as Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Castro as evidence of Communism's evil nature. But in response, Communism's defenders are quick to suggest that these figures were merely perverters of a most noble ideology; that by no means must genuine Communism necessarily lead to the horrors which those men engineered; and that there is nothing inherent in Communism that causes such tyrants to rise to power.
But in fact, there is. In order for a Communist government to enforce the economic equality and ideological conformity that it demands, it must compel people to give up their private property and to surrender their private interests to the state. To achieve these objectives, the government must possess boundless authority over all aspects of national life, including the economy. The administration of such authority requires a vast bureaucracy. Consider, for instance, that by the late 1980s the Soviet KGB was staffed by at least 480,000 people, of whom approximately 250,000 – assisted by tens of millions of informants – engaged in domestic counterintelligence and surveillance.
As Communist governments expand their influence over more and more areas of life, their ranks invariably swell with an influx of careerists who covet the security and entitlements that party membership brings. For such people, power and self-preservation soon become ends in themselves. When citizens try to resist or circumvent the bureaucracy, Communist regimes routinely resort to violence, torture, even targeted extermination to terrorize and punish the transgressors as well as their would-be imitators. This willingness to assert power by any means necessary is precisely what Lenin had in mind when he defined the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as “power that is limited by nothing, by no laws, that is restrained by absolutely no rules, that rests directly on coercion.”
The willingness of Communist regimes to use brute force over their subjects is not constrained, as it is in non-Communist societies, by any concern for the civil or human rights of the populace. This is because such concerns are, by definition, contingent upon a bedrock belief that human beings inherently possess a value and a dignity deserving of respectful treatment. In the United States, for example, the nation's founding document – the Declaration of Independence – affirms that all individuals are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” and that “among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This perspective honors the supreme value of each individual, not of any party or collective, and it stipulates specific limitations on the government's power over the individual.
Communist governments, by contrast, are bound by no such limits. They value only the Party and the collective. They have little to no regard for the individual, who is considered nothing more than a tiny, virtually insignificant, and entirely dispensable cog in a gargantuan political machine; the individual's prime duty is to refrain from hindering the operation of that machine. A government with such a worldview does not feel the slightest compulsion to exercise restraint in its treatment of, or its power over, individuals.
In its quest to redeem the collective “humanity,” the Communist regime is prepared to literally sacrifice the lives of millions of individual human beings on the altar of despotism and tyranny. Focusing its gaze intently on its long-range goal of worldwide expansionism, such a government tolerates no dissenters who might act as impediments along the road toward utopian Communism. Under this type of system, the leadership operates from the premise that “the Party is always right.” From there, it is but a short logical leap to the notion that “the Leader of the Party is always right.” Such are the conditions that pave the way for the ascent of Communist tyrants, the bounds of whose power and barbarism are constrained only by the cultural and political traditions amid which they arise.
Many of Communism's destructive effects are quantifiable. Below are some examples:
* Communism's Effect on Healthcare in Cuba:
For example, in the pre-Castro years of the 1950s, the Cuban population as a whole had access to good medical care through association clinics (clinicas mutualistas) which predated the American concept of health maintenance organizations (HMOs) by decades, as well as through private clinics. At that time, the Cuban medical system ranked among the best in the world; its ratio of one physician per 960 patients was rated 10th by the World Health Organization. In addition, Cuba had Latin America's lowest infant-mortality rate, comparable to Canada's and better than those of France, Japan, and Italy.
But today, under the communist regime (with its system of socialized medicine) that Castro first instituted decades ago, hospitals for ordinary Cubans possess a dearth of even the most basic medicines and medical equipment. They have virtually no access to antibiotics, insulin, heart drugs, sphygmomanometers to measure blood pressure, sterile gloves, clean water, syringes, soap, or disinfectants. They typically feature highly unsanitary conditions. Consequently, infectious diseases such an impetigo and hepatitis, and infestations such as scabies, lice and fungal diseases, are commonplace in the Cuban hospital population.
Cuba's healthcare system is a disaster not only for patients but also for physicians. Because of the meager salaries paid to Cuban doctors -- on the average 400 pesos per month (equivalent to $20 U.S.) -- many have quit the profession to seek jobs in the only industry that offers them any degree of economic opportunity: the Cuban tourism industry. Former doctors in Cuba can commonly be found driving dilapidated taxis, acting as tour guides, or even working in family inns as waiters or cooks. Those who choose to remain in the medical profession work long hours in dismal conditions.
* How Communism Devastated North Korea's Economy:
The contrast between the respective economic conditions of Communist North Korea and capitalist South Korea is particularly striking.
North Korea, one of the world's most centrally directed and least open economies, faces chronic economic problems. Industrial capital stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of years of underinvestment, shortages of spare parts, and poor maintenance. Large-scale military spending draws off resources needed for investment and civilian consumption. Industrial and power output have stagnated for years at a fraction of pre-1990 levels. Frequent weather-related crop failures aggravated chronic food shortages caused by on-going systemic problems, including a lack of arable land, collective farming practices, poor soil quality, insufficient fertilization, and persistent shortages of tractors and fuel.
A devastating famine struck North Korea in 1998 and 1999 as a result of decades of economic mismanagement and resource misallocation, poor industrial and agricultural productivity, the disappearance of previously lucrative markets following the Soviet Union's collapse, and the government's massive military expenditures. This famine claimed an estimated 2 to 3 million lives (out of a population of perhaps 22 million) and forced the country to rely heavily on international aid to feed its population while Kim continued to funnel all available funds into the maintenance of his million-man army. To this day, the population continues to suffer from prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions.
Moreover, systematic human rights abuses throughout North Korea have been rampant and well documented during Kim's reign. It is estimated that there are some 200,000 political prisoners in the country today; there have been innumerable reports of torture, slave labor, and forced abortions and infanticides in the prison camps.
By contrast, since the 1960s South Korea has achieved a remarkable record of growth and global integration to become a high-tech industrialized economy. In the 1960s, the country's GDP per capita was comparable with levels in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia. In 2004, South Korea joined the trillion dollar club of world economies, and currently is among the world's 20 largest economies.
* Communism and Pollution:
When the Iron Curtain collapsed in November 1989, the world saw for the first time the immense environmental devastation that decades of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe had wrought. Throughout the region, an emphasis on production -- without regard for its environmental consequences -- had greatly compromised the quality of the air, water, soil, crops, and forestlands. In The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, author Kevin Williamson writes: "By the time the Soviet government collapsed, fully one-sixth of Russia's territory had been rendered uninhabitable because of pollution and other environmental devastation. Water pollution in particular was extreme–far beyond anything in the capitalist world's experience ..." In 2009, Time magazine listed the world's ten most polluted cities. Every one of them was in a country with a socialist government or a formerly socialist government; these countries were China, India, Peru, Russia, Ukraine, Zambia, and Azerbaijan.
(Major Resource for everything prior to the discussion of Communism's effects on Cuban healthcare: Communism: A History, by Richard Pipes, 2003.)