Socialism did not kill merely the body—it sought to extinguish the soul and all belief in anything transcendent in the human person. As we celebrate the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is time to remember and reclaim man’s oldest faith, a faith in one Almighty God who make each of us in His glorious image. Only then can we challenge the so-called wisdom of this world.
At the end of Volume I of his magnificently disturbing Gulag, Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote:
Shut your eyes, reader. Do you hear the thundering of wheels? Those are the Stolypin cars rolling on and on. Those are the red cows rolling. Every minute of the day. And every day of the year. And you can hear the water gurgling—those are prisoners’ barges moving on and on. And the motors of the Black Marias roar. They are arresting someone all the time, cramming him in somewhere, moving him about. And what is that hum you hear? The overcrowded cells of the transit prisons. And that cry? The complains of those who have been plundered, raped, beaten to with an inch of their lives. We have reviewed and considered all the methods of delivering prisoners, and we have found that they are all. . . worse. We have examined the transit prisons, but we have not found any that were good. And even the last human hope that there is something better ahead, that it will be better in camp, is a false hope. In camp it will be . . . worse.
Not confined to the Soviets, such bleakness reigned throughout much of the 20th century.
However one chooses to define it—a point that Caldwell made very nicely, noting that many think of socialism as a natural human inclination—national socialism (also known as fascism) and international socialism (also known as communism) are responsible for the largest mass murders in history. Well, “responsible” might not be the best word. Perhaps, responsible for the poor and evil ideas that prompted the largest mass murders in history.
Advocates of communism claim it is the opposite of Nazism, and advocates of Nazism claim it the opposite of communism. Each form of socialism, however, is simply the flip side of the same coin.
Take, for example, the ideas of Josef Goebbels, the infamous Nazi butcherer. His diary from the 1920s is full of expressions of sympathy for Communism. “In the final analysis,” he wrote on October 23, 1925, “it would be better for us to end our existence under Bolshevism than to endure slavery under capitalism.” On January 31, 1926, he told himself in his diary: “I think it is terrible that we [the Nazis] and the Communists are bashing in each other’s heads… Where can we get together sometime with the leading Communists?” It was at this time that he published an open letter to a Communist leader assuring him that Nazism and Communism were really the same thing. “You and I,” he declared, “are fighting one another, but we are not really enemies.”
“If you will not have God (and he is a jealous God), you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin,” wrote T.S. Eliot in 1936. Again, Eliot is worth quoting at length, here from Choruses on the Rock.
But it seems that something has happened that has never happened before:
though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.
Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no god; and this has never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards?
Taken together, these two forms of secularism, atheism, and materialism, national socialism and international socialism, led to the murder (yes, murder is the best term here) of nearly 205 million human beings between 1917 and, circa, 1994, in a variety of gulags, holocaust camps, and killing fields. Those murdered were civilians, usually the citizens and residents of the very countries doing the murdering.
“To NKVD, Frunze. You are charged with the task of exterminating 10,000 enemies of the People. Report results by signal”–read a not atypical Soviet telegram.
“Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds, let them be thousands, let them drown themselves in their own blood,” V.I. Lenin stated. And, again, “We’ll ask the man, where do you stand on the question of the revolution? Are you for it or against it? If he’s against it, we’ll stand him up against the wall.”
“Instead of deluding the proletariat as to the possibility of eradicating all causes of bloodbaths,” Italian Fascist Benito Mussolini argued, “we wish to prepare it and accustom it to war for the day of the ‘greatest bloodbath of all,’ when the two hostile classes with clash in the supreme trial.”
The socialists of all stripes craved blood with nothing less than vampiric lust.
If we add in the number of soldiers—those fighting on the battle fields in uniform—during the same time period (or, a bit broader time period; encompassing the whole of the 20th century), we add an additional 50 million to the list, thus bringing the total to 255 million killed in the twentieth century. Yet, this is worth pondering. After all, governments killed four times the number of persons war did. In other words, the greatest killer of the twentieth century was not war, it was government.
We can break down these governmental killings—what demographer R.J. Rummel has labeled “democide.” Communist China murdered 65 million; Soviet Russia slaughtered 62 million; National Socialist Germany butchered 21 million; and Nationalist China killed another 10 million. Nazi Germany certainly murdered the greatest number in the shortest amount of time, with most of its 21 million deaths taking place between late 1942 and early 1945, a denouement, perhaps, of the life of its wicked and Satanic regime. Cambodia, though, wins when it comes to sheer horror. Between 1975 and 1978, it reduced its own population by nearly fifty percent, with forced de-urbanization and insane re-education camps.
Most historians claim that the “liberation” of various oppressed groups defines the twentieth century. Such a view is pathetically dishonest. From the standpoint of, say, 2200 AD or 2500 AD, however, the twentieth-century will simply be remembered as one hell of a bloody mess. Let’s hope it will be properly viewed as an anomaly rather than as the beginning of a diabolic trend.
An age which advances progressively backwards, indeed.
Yet, it must also be remembered—as Alexander Solzhenitsyn claimed in his Gulag—that socialism did not kill merely the body, it sought to extinguish the soul and all belief in anything transcendent in the human person. In volume one of The Gulag, the great Russian thinker listed ten soul-destroying aspects of socialism.
- “Fear was not always the fear of arrest. There were immediate threats: purges, inspections, the completion of security questionnaires—routine or extraordinary ones—dismissal from work, deprivation of resident permit, expulsion or exile.”
- Internal passports, legal prohibitions on buying, selling, or renting housing stock greatly limited one’s ability to escape, the right to exit was denied.
- Secrecy and Distrust. “This universal mutual mistrust had the effect of deepening the mass-grave pit of slavery. The moment someone began to speak up frankly, everyone stepped back and shunned him: ‘A provocation!’ And therefore anyone who burst out with a sincere protest was predestined to loneliness and alienation.
- Universal Ignorance. Because of number three, no one could trust the information of another, or trust another with information. This resulted in true isolation of the right-thinking person.
- Squealing on one another, further eroding any trust that might exist. Without trust, civilization proved impossible.
- Betrayal, therefore, became a norm. Sons betrayed fathers, daughters betrayed mothers, husband betrayed wives, and supposed best friends betrayed one another.
- Corruption, as a result, became endemic, as the betrayers became professionals, earning positions, status, and wealth for their inside information, true or false. Frequently, one informed on a person simply to acquire something the other person had or had created. The informer then became the owner and the “creator.”
- “The permanent lie becomes the only safe form of existence, in the same way as betrayal. Every wag of the tongue can be overheard by someone, every facial expression observed by someone. Therefore every word, if it does not have to be a direct lie, is nonetheless obliged not to contradict the general, common lie. There exists a collection of ready-made phrases, of labels, a selection of ready-made lies.
- “And where among all the preceding qualities was there any place left for kindheartedness? How could one possibility preserve one’s kindness while pushing away the hands of those who were drowning? Once you have been steeped in blood, you can only become more cruel. . . . And when you add that kindness was ridiculed, that pity was ridiculed, that mercy was ridiculed—you’d never be able to chain all those who were drunk on blood.”
- Slave psychology. The system, ultimately, made men impotent.
It has suddenly become vogue again, especially among the younger generation, to embrace some form of socialism. At its extremes, some even willingly and openly wear Che Guevarra and, horrifically enough, in this very room on Monday night, a pro-communist t-shirt. How many millions had to die for one ignorant man-child fool to parade his idiocy?
And, yet, we must also remember that this November 9th is the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In 1953, 1956, 1968, and 1979, Eastern Europeans rebelled vehemently against their socialist—the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—oppressors, with the United States looking on in willful and convenient ignorance. All of this changed on May 17, 1981, when President Ronald Reagan gave the Commencement address at the University of Notre Dame. “The years ahead are great ones for this country, for the cause of freedom and the spread of civilization,” he said, with utter conviction. “The West won’t contain communism, it will transcend communism. It won’t bother to denounce it, it will dismiss it as some bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.”
Allied with John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, and others, Reagan worked relentlessly to undermine the world’s moral confidence in the Soviet Empire. He knew the struggle was not a materialist one, but a spiritual one, a struggle for the very definition of man.
Though the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution—which the Soviets hoped to celebrate through a series of world-wide parades and festivals—1989 served as the end of the Soviet Empire, with one satellite country after another falling into the glorious decay of freedom, liberty, and dignity. Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland each successfully rebelled against socialist oppression. On November 9, after a series of peaceful protests, East Germany too fell, and 1,000s upon 1,000s of “mere Germans” tore down the symbol of socialist evil, the Berlin Wall.
Socialism, Whitaker Chambers wrote, “is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.” It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man’s relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God. It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world.”
It is time to remember and reclaim man’s oldest faith, a faith in one Almighty God who make each of us—and every other human being—in His glorious image. Only then can we challenge the so-called wisdom of this world.
 Solzhenitsyn, end of Volume 1 of the Gulag.
 T.S. Eliot, “Choruses from the Rock,” in Complete Poems And Play, 1909-1950 (Harcourt, Brace, 1971), 108.
 Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952; Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1980), 9.
Editor’s Note: This essay was delivered as a response to Hillsdale College’s Center for Constructive Alternatives on “Socialism,” on November 6, 2019.
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The featured image is “The Day the Wall Came Down,” by Veryl Goodnight, a 1997 statue depicting horses leaping over actual pieces of the Berlin Wall, courtesy of Wikipedia.