When they went out into the fresh air, the representative of the agricultural department looked at the white huts, at the green orchards, and said: “Once you have removed the corpses, don’t bother to restore all this mess.
Vasily Grossman, Forever Flowing (aftermath of the Ukraine famine)
Throughout the twentieth century Communists launched revolutions around the globe. They toppled governments, wiped out long standing and established social orders, imprisoned and executed opponents and imposed centrally planned economic systems that were highly touted, greatly admired and enthused over.
These revolutions inevitably brought widespread impoverishment and ecological catastrophe. The revolutionaries, having had power and actual records of colossal failure to defend, were then left to defend the indefensible, hence the need for the pervasive and relentless dishonesty. From its practical beginnings Communism has been lethal for those subjected to it: no Communist governments have been able to put the ideas and ideals that are the foundation of the ideology-based convictions into practice without resorting to massive force, then lying on a regular basis to deny the reality of the coercion and the misery and revulsion of those subjected to it. Communism when put into practice has always made liars out of its practitioners.
By the late decades of the twentieth century Communist governments had been in power long enough to demonstrate amply their many shortcomings. The Communist ideology that had dominated political thinking across a large portion of the globe and was hailed by not only by its ruling apparatchiks but by intellectuals and fellow travelers world-wide had failed. Communism’s original famed theoretician and champion of the laboring class was a German philosopher who never saw the inside of a factory, never did a day of physical labor in his life and lived with his family in squalor in the capital of the most industrialized modern country in the world while he avoided fulltime employment.
The man who created the first real Communist-worker state was by training a lawyer, by vocation a subversive, completely alien to the social class he came from and contemptuous of the social class he championed. When finally in power his primary instruments of rule were the firing squad and forced requisition of grain which brought mass starvations. Communist leadership was from its inception largely a resentment laden production of disenchanted intellectuals of middle class origins. Resentment coupled with power turned into mass murder.
When their colossal failures pushed their tottering regimes toward collapse, only the intellectuals would still bitterly cling to their Marxist religion with antipathy for those who were not like them. Martin Amis in Koba the Dread refers to the Communist tetrarchy of famine, terror, slavery and failure. [Martin, Amis, Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million, New York, 2002, 30]
This failure was manifest in the unexpected collapse of the Soviet empire and the repudiation of Communist ruled governments in eastern and central Europe. It had become impossible for the Soviet ruling class to conceal the Soviet Union’s third world status or to ignore or rationalize the pathetic conditions, the dismal daily existence of it citizens – the long lines and the shoddiness of everything made and consumed in comparison with the western capitalist societies. “Communism is regime of compression: long lines, constant waiting, a limited number of extremely crowded places, people jammed in an pressed close to each other, everybody constantly at the same place the overwhelming majority, especially the urban dwellers, work for the same employer: the state.” [Istvan Rev, Retroactive Justice: Prehistory of Post-Communism, Stanford University Press, 2005, 5] “A regime of compression” – Communism as a social and political system did compress people as much as possible attempting an extinction of individual striving and identity.
An East-German citizen had to wait for many years to own a plastic, boxy, two cylinder Trabant, East Germany’s state manufactured automobile – available in three colors – that was pathetic beside anything manufactured in Detroit. “[T]he West and East Asia challenged them [the Soviets] with revolutions in plastics and chemicals, then electronics, then in household durables, and finally in the world of computers—challenges that the Soviets could only incorporate into the Leviathan machinery of the Plan.” [Martin Malia, The Soviet Tragedy: a History of Socialism in Russia, 1917-1991, New York, 1994, 365] Japan’s substantial economic superiority established over the Soviet Union in the 1980s had become obvious and undeniable, and its resurrection from the WWII ruins and devastation as an economic marvel and major capitalist world power made it a glaring source of embarrassment for the Soviets.
Following the death of Chairman Mao in 1976 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) needed to catch the winds of self-preservation and was finally forced to reckon with the vast material waste and human wreckage produced by the insane social experiments that were the signature of his long rule. His successors then began to relax their grip on the centrally planned economy that had ravaged and impoverished the country, though not, and still not even 35 years later, on the party’s monopoly of political power. Mao’s mindless cult of personality, like that of Stalin’s, had invested him with superhuman wisdom and intelligence – moral, scientific, aesthetic and technical – and his whims, delusions and fantasies, elevated to policy and law, were ruthlessly imposed and enforced no matter what the extent of disaster that inevitably seemed to follow their implementation. Once he was safely dead and suitably embalmed, even his Communist party successors could no longer afford to practice the wisdom of the Great Oarsman. Keeping the outside world from knowledge of the full extent of Mao’s wreckage wrought upon the Chinese as well as the Chinese people themselves became one of the ongoing and challenging tasks of Mao’s CCP heirs.