A number of Canadian newspapers recently noted the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. The attention was misplaced and lacked perspective.
In 1917, a small band of fierce, committed and violent extremists seized control of the Tsarist Russian Empire.
They then created the much more oppressive and murderous Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
After the success of that revolution, this nascent communist malignancy spread to encompass all of Eastern Europe, Mongolia, China, North Korea, Indochina and other outposts, such as Afghanistan, Cuba and Ethiopia. An estimated 100 million people died from communist oppression, repression, war and starvation in the 20th century.
Yet the communists still have their western apologists. Support for socialism, communism’s supposedly more benevolent version, has risen in many western nations, abetted by leftist academics and media commentariat. These people have encouraged young people to believe that communism – or its more passable sister, socialism – is superior to free-market capitalism.
A number of assumptions bolster the apologists for socialism, but they all disintegrate upon close examination:
- Socialists claim that equality of income should be a government goal. It’s not clear, however, why everyone should be paid the same when people have varying levels of productivity. It may give people some satisfaction to know that their co-workers earn a living wage, but this idea doesn’t have any obvious societal benefit.
- Socialists say all people are equal. But, in practice, loyal socialist party members have higher salaries and much better lives than others.
- History teaches us that socialism represses most people in socialist countries. Despite what apologists say, all socialist states have secret police spying on common people. They also have few civil liberties, little freedom of expression, and many prisons and labour camps filled with people who don’t toe the party line.
- Socialist countries support the redistribution of goods, through generous welfare and progressive taxation. But giving money to people who haven’t earned it – through their labour, ingenuity or motivation – in fact punishes those who are productive and innovative.
- Contrary to claims, socialist countries don’t provide superior health and education to their citizens. For example, Cubans must bring their own supplies when they’re admitted to hospital. Life expectancy in capitalist countries exceeds life expectancy in socialist countries. And capitalists countries have far less pollution and better working conditions than socialist countries.
Free markets generate superior wealth and higher standards of living than socialist markets. One hundred years ago, before the revolution, Russia’s economy was ranked higher than Brazil’s; today, Brazil is ahead of Russia. North Korea is impoverished while South Korea is rich.
Implicit in much collectivist thought is the idea that profit is wrong, that it’s stealing.
But where there’s progress, there’s profit. The value of what’s produced exceeds the value of what went into that production.
When socialist economies grew, it was because they accidentally generated benefits accruing to the nations. Part of that was in improved plant, equipment and infrastructure, and partly it was in improved living standards. But it wasn’t sustainable.
The superior capitalist system allows individuals to express themselves creatively, imaginatively and productively through their labour and their investment. Individuals create and nurture new endeavours.
In socialist countries, those opportunities are rare. And the rewards, if any, don’t generally go to the people who took the risks and did the work. Consequently, few try, the economy stagnates and those in power repress the discontent that results from the misery they’ve created.
It’s vital to remember the perils of communism on its 100th anniversary.
Ian Madsen is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.