Marxism has caused the death of countless people, and endless suffering for hundreds of millions more. As law professor Ilya Somin noted in the Washington Post,
Collectively, communist states killed as many as 100 million people, more than all other repressive regimes combined [over the last century]. By far the biggest toll arose from communist efforts to collectivize agriculture and eliminate independent property-owning peasants. In China alone, Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward led to a man-made famine in which as many as 45 million people perished – the single biggest episode of mass murder in all of world history. In the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin’s collectivization – which served as a model for similar efforts in China and elsewhere – took some 6 to 10 million lives. Mass famines occurred in many other communist regimes, ranging from North Korea to Ethiopia. In each of these cases, communist rulers were well aware that their policies were causing mass death, and in each they persisted nonetheless, often because they considered the extermination of “Kulak” peasants a feature rather than a bug.
While collectivization was the single biggest killer, communist regimes also engaged in other forms of mass murder on an epic scale. Millions died in slave labor camps, such as the USSR’s Gulag system and its equivalents elsewhere. Many others were killed in more conventional mass executions, such as those of Stalin’s Great Purge, and the “Killing Fields” of Cambodia.
The injustices of communism were not limited to mass murder alone. Even those fortunate enough to survive still were subjected to severe repression, including violations of freedom, of speech, freedom of religion, loss of property rights, and the criminalization of ordinary economic activity. No previous tyranny sought such complete control over nearly every aspect of people’s lives.
Although the communists promised a utopian society in which the working class would enjoy unprecedented prosperity, in reality they engendered massive poverty. Wherever communist and noncommunist states existed in close proximity, it was the communists who used walls and the threat of death to keep their people from fleeing to societies with greater opportunity.
But smug academics and left-leaning political activists sympathize with Marxism anyway. They claim that true Marxism has never been tried, and that Marxists have gotten a bad rap from our reactionary society.
A recent example is a podcast by Aaron Ross Powell, a left-libertarian and the former longtime director of Libertarianism.org. It is called “An Introduction to Marxism for Non-Marxists” with Ian Bennett.” It gives a sympathetic soapbox to a Marxist to make the case for Marxism, and leave with listeners the impression that Marxism has been unjustly maligned.
Remarkably, a number of other left-libertarians seem to agree with Powell — his podcast sympathetic to Marxism was retweeted by Nicholas Sarwark, the chairman of the Libertarian National Committee from 2014-2020, who now seems to be more of a Democrat in his political leanings. Sarwark recently unsuccessfully ran as the Democratic and Libertarian candidate for Hillsborough County Attorney.
In reality, true Marxism has been tried. Russia tried it. The Russian Communist dictator Joseph Stalin, who caused the deaths of at least 20 million people, was a devout Marxist, “intellectual,” and “voracious reader,” who had read tons of Marxist literature as well as the classics, as the Irish Times observes. Stalin was a publicly-acclaimed poet as a teenager, notes the Guardian.
Apologists for Marxism like to suggest that Stalin was somehow a brutal deviation from Marxism. They imply that Stalin was an unlettered, ignorant, uncouth barbarian who didn’t really understand Marxism. But the well-read, highly-intellectual Stalin understood Marxism all too well. And that resulted in countless Russians losing their lives.
The Russian communist party picked Stalin as their leader over competitor Leon Trotsky, partly because Stalin was an exemplary communist, and partly because Stalin was perceived as more practical, and less extreme, than Trotsky. Trotsky would later complain that Stalin was insufficiently “militarized” in his collectivization of agriculture, which included Stalin deliberately starving millions of Ukrainian peasants to break their will in the Holodomor, and sending armed men into the countryside to steal peasants’ food. In short, Trotsky and many other Marxist leaders were as vicious as Stalin. The only way to make an unnatural system like Marxism work is to use violence and coercion, which is why Marxist leaders have done just that.
Yet, Aaron Ross Powell, the longtime director of Libertarianism.Org, pals around with socialists and Marxists. Powell complains that socialists have been unfairly maligned by libertarians, who have taken too negative a view of socialism.
Apologists for Marxism often claim that Russian communism would have been mild if Lenin had not died and been replaced by Stalin. But this is false. Lenin himself caused the deaths of millions of people. When a famine caused by his confiscatory agricultural policies was killing millions, Lenin was not saddened, and saw the famine as a convenient time to loot the churches, knowing the peasants were too weak from hunger to seriously protest. Lenin set out to kill countless people. As The New Yorker notes:
[Lenin’s 1918] Resolution on Red Terror provided for the “safeguarding of the Soviet Republic from class enemies by means of isolating them in concentration camps.” The idea was to separate, suppress, or destroy “categories of individuals” — priests, landowners, and other “enemies of the Revolution” — and to begin creating a pool of slave labor. Construction began in 1919. By the end of 1920, Soviet Russia had eighty-four camps, with around fifty thousand prisoners; within three years, the number of camps had quadrupled.”