The Soviet Union fell officially 25 years ago, on December 25, 1991. Countries continue to experiment with and experience ruin by communism and socialism with Venezuela and Sweden being on the most recent. However it’s worth remembering the first big failure of communism and socialism was the first big failed experiment, the Soviet Union.
Robert Conquest‘s The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties tells the story that 200 million people worldwide may have died as part of the 20th century dream of creating a collectivist “paradise on earth,” which is what the Soviet Union was intended to be. The socialist revolutionary leaders (SRLs)—which were the social justice warriors (SJWs) of their day—understood a new “better world” was taken to mean the extermination, liquidation, and mass murder of all those who the socialist revolutionary leaders declared to be “class enemies,” including the families and even the children of “enemies of the people.” The idea of the SRLs is to make a new Soviet man and a new Soviet society. This required the destruction of everything that had gone before and entailed the forced creation of a new civilization, as conjured up in the minds of those who had appointed themselves the creators of this brave new world.
In the minds of those like Felix Dzerzhinsky, Lenin’s close associate and founder of the Soviet secret police, violence was an act of love. So much did they love the vision of the blissful communist future to come that they were willing to sacrifice all the traditional conceptions of humanity and morality to bring their utopia to fruition. So intense was their socialist commitment that in 1919, the newly formed Soviet secret police, the Cheka (later the NKVD and then the KGB), proclaimed:
We reject the old systems of morality and ‘humanity’ invented by the bourgeoisie to oppress and exploit the ‘lower classes.’ Our morality has no precedent, and our humanity is absolute because it rests on a new ideal. Our aim is to destroy all forms of oppression and violence. To so, everything is permitted, for we are the first to raise the sword not to oppress races and reduce them to slavery, but to liberate humanity from its shackles …
Blood? Let blood flow like water! Let blood stain forever the black pirate’s flag flown by the bourgeoisie, and let our flag be blood-red forever! For only through the death of the old world can we liberate ourselves from the return of those jackals.
Conquest however was only a prelude to The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who had done the on-the-ground reporting and detailed that Conquest could not. The western mind cannot even conceive off such willful social destruction, but Solzhenitsyn helped the west understand the socialist’s mindset:
Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb, too. The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology. Ideology – that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes…. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations…. Without evildoers there would have been no Archipelago.
In country after country besides just the Soviet Union, death, destruction, and privation follow in the wake of socialism’s implementation. Socialism’s history is a story of crushing tyranny and oceans of blood. The question, what is the enduring theoretical appeal of socialism, what is the evidence of its failure, and what causal mechanisms explain its failure. This is a crucial question not just for its victims but for future generations so that they can inoculate themselves against the seductions of socialism. Socialism appears to be the apogee of politics without nationalism—that in fact is its explicitly stated goal—so it is a politics without fellow-feeling between rulers and the ruled, which appears to help explain why countries that implement socialism fail.