I like to think that when the vast majority of Americans consider Communism, they do not see it in a kind light. They do not think of it as a method to reaching unity and economic equality. Yet for some reason, The New York Times seems to be doing just that.
Officially on February 24, the publication began its “Red Century” series, a collection of essays written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
In Russia 100 years ago, mass corruption, food shortages, and the devastation to the Russians during the ongoing-World War I struggle were enough to instigate the Revolution and the overthrow of the czarist government. It was Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevics that overthrew the Russian czarist regime and implemented its new form of government: Communism.
Interestingly, the Revolution was started by only a quarter of the population. It helped that the Revolution culminated in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), the country’s largest city. Many of those participating in the overthrow were under Lenin’s constant evangelizing of Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto.
Not to kill you with details, but the Revolution eventually led to civil war, Lenin’s authoritarian control, and the assassination of the previous czar Nicholas II, his wife and five children. The civil war, along with the aftermath of the Great War, was followed by a famine (1921-22) that killed between 5 and 10 million people. Shortly after the famine, Lenin died and was succeeded by Joseph Stalin. Under Stalin it is estimated that approximately 20 to 50 million people were killed by democide, which is the murder of people by its government. Most specifically by the use of the Gulag.
A TRULY ‘RED’ CENTURY
The first essay, written by David Priestland, is called “What’s Left of Communism?” To me, it is a rather silly question because we see what is left of Communism. Unfortunately, it is still in several countries, including Cuba, China, and North Korea, with the latter being the most extreme case.
Regarding extreme cases, I remember reading 1984 by George Orwell (written in 1949) a long time ago and thinking how odd and far-fetched it was. But the more I learned about Communism, Russia, and Stalin, the more it turned into a reality. I later realized that 1984 was two things: 1.) a representation of the then-current USSR, and 2.) a cautionary tale for other countries about the results of Communism.
If you have read the book and know anything about North Korea, then you may have already put together that it appears the government of that nation has been built on the ideas of that book. We find North Korea to be an anomaly. Otherworldly. And we should. But it should never be considered an anomaly within the ideology of Communism. Rather, it should be considered a common result to that social and political practice.
It is debated that the full extent of Communism in this past century came at the cost of approximately 85 to 100 million lives (many agree on the higher number). This wasn’t simply because Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, and the Kim Dynasty were ruthless dictators (although they were). Many of these people died needlessly because of the Communist ideals that played a role in their economical and infrastructural decisions, such as Mao’s Great Leap Forward that created a massive famine resulting in more than 20 million deaths.
Yes, the “Red Century” is a play on Communism’s primal color, but it also has, I believe, a stronger double-meaning, which appears to be lost on The New York Times. Individually, or collectively (to continue with the communist theme), when you think about Communism, it should strike you, perhaps not with fear, but definitely with a sense of alarm, because any government leader or leaders can choose or dictate to go the path of Communism. Instead we have an encouragement for experimentation in a theory that has been proven to not work on so many levels and in so many countries.
Priestland asks the question of Communism before he even begins the essay: “Can a phoenix rise from the ash heap of history?” But this ash heap is an ash heap for reasons that extend over the past 100 years. It is an ash heap due to its violent beginning, its violent duration, and its violent fall (within the vast majority of what it once held). The fire was set ablaze by no one other than the leaders and students of its belief system. (Oddly enough, this phrase “ash heap” is also used in the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s website, stating: “Put Communism on the ash heap of history.” It could be perceived that Priestland is simply adding insult to those injuries.)
Part II of this series is now available. Click here to view.