Live Free Or Die: America (and the World) on the Brink (13 page)

BOOK: Live Free Or Die: America (and the World) on the Brink
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Leon Trotsky, Lenin's right-hand man, made clear how pitiless the Bolsheviks' class warfare would be: “There is nothing immoral in the proletariat finishing off the dying class. This is its right. You are indignant… at the petty terror which we direct against our class opponents. But be put on notice that in one month at most this terror will assume more frightful forms, on the model of the great revolutionaries of France. Our enemies will face not prison but the guillotine.”
14

The communists didn't show the peasants any mercy, either. In a bloody operation under Stalin, agriculture was collectivized, meaning government agents seized control of the peasants' land, equipment, and animals, and forced peasants to surrender however much of their harvest the party deemed necessary. An estimated 7 million people died in the resulting famine, mostly in Ukraine
15
—a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. This is the calamity that
New York Times
correspondent and Soviet sympathizer Walter Duranty, reporting from the USSR, famously denied was occurring. In 1990, the
New York
Times
called Duranty's reports on the USSR “some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper”
16
—which is really saying something.

As have socialist regimes everywhere, the USSR subscribed to the cult of planning. The free market—allowing people to freely trade their goods and services with each other and to set prices for them—was viewed as a tool of the rich for exploiting the workers. Trotsky was explicit about the need to totally replace free commerce with government-controlled planning: “The socialist organization of the economy begins with the liquidation of the market, and that means the liquidation of its regulator—namely, the ‘free' play of the laws of supply and demand. The inevitable result—namely, the subordination of production to the needs of society—must be achieved by the unity of the economic plan, which, in principle, covers all the branches of productivity.”
17

But what's left when you abolish the free market? In Marxist theory, under a socialist regime, the workers
as a class
are running the economy for their own benefit. But in practice, party bureaucrats are in charge. They decide where factories will be built, what goods they'll produce, and what price they'll charge. The problem is, it's impossible to efficiently plan a mass industrial economy. There are just too many variables for even the wisest among us—much less some corrupt, power-hungry party hacks—to be able to allocate the correct resources to the right places and to set the proper prices in a modern economy.

In the USSR, the centralized planning mania took the form of five-year plans, which in the late 1920s and the '30s guided the country through a crash industrialization program that fundamentally transformed life in the Soviet empire. Starved and suppressed in the countryside by collectivization, peasants poured into the cities to work in factories. Meanwhile, now that the government directly controlled newly collectivized farms, it could seize the remaining peasants' production and use it to feed the workers to support the industrialization program.

In the end, although the USSR did industrialize quickly, it was achieved at the cost of millions of lives. What's more, socialist planning resulted in severe economic problems that plagued the entire economy
until its collapse in 1991. There were constant shortages of everyday consumer goods, leading to a pervasive black market. Manufactured goods were poorly made, and agriculture was inefficient, as farmers had little motivation to work hard to grow crops to be confiscated by the government at whatever price the party dictated. To paper over the problems, the government manufactured fake economic statistics that were not taken seriously anywhere in the world.

Meanwhile, because the state-guaranteed wages weren't enough to live on, the entire economy worked on bribes. The writer David Remnick, who worked in the USSR in the late 1980s and early '90s as a reporter for the
Washington Post
, told how his son's Russian nanny showed up to work one day “exhausted and depressed,” and then explained what she just had to go through to bury her mother, even though the funeral and burial were supposed to be provided free of charge by the government:

First, Mother's body had to be taken to the morgue. We were told that the morgues were all filled up, and they wouldn't take her. But when we paid two hundred rubles to the attendants, they took her. Then there was the fifty rubles for her shroud. Then the funeral agent said he had no coffins my mother's size and that we could only buy something eight feet long. My mother was five feet tall. For eighty rubles he came up with the right size. Then the gravediggers said they could not dig the grave until two p.m., even though the funeral was set for ten a.m. So that took two bottles of vodka each and twenty-five rubles each. The driver of the funeral bus said he had another funeral that day and couldn't take care of us. But for thirty rubles and a bottle of vodka we could solve the problem. We did. And so on with the gravesite and the flowers and all the rest.
18

Remnick explained that this sort of dishonesty and corruption was everywhere. “[I]n the Soviet Union, no economic transaction was
untainted. It was as if the entire Soviet Union were ruled by a gigantic mob family; virtually all economic relations were, in some form, mafia relations…. No one could avoid at least a certain degree of complicity. That was one of the most degrading facts of Soviet life: it was impossible to be honest.”
19

The system was so corrupt and hopeless that both the USSR and its Eastern European socialist satellites had to ban their citizens from emigrating. If they allowed it, there wouldn't have been anyone left to populate their paradise. The USSR tightly restricted its own citizens' travel to nonsocialist countries—if someone could secure the party's permission to travel abroad, he typically had to leave immediate family members behind in order to increase the odds he would return home.
20
Neither the Soviet Union nor any other communist government wanted a repeat of the embarrassment communist Hungary had suffered in 1956, when
forty-eight
of its Olympians—nearly half its team—defected during the Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
21

Viktor Belenko, a Soviet fighter pilot who escaped to Japan in a MiG-25 jet in 1976 and defected to America, compared leaving the USSR to leaving prison. “After my arrival [in America], the hardest thing for me to understand was freedom of choice,” he said. “When you are in a closed society and the government is making [the] decision where you live, what you do for a living, and even where you die, it is very hard to understand freedom of choice. Those people who spend many years in U.S. in jail have a hard time after their release. But when I discovered the freedom of choice in the U.S. it became the best part of my life today.”
22

SOCIALIST DISASTERS WORLDWIDE

Socialism spread worldwide throughout the twentieth century based on the Soviet model. The USSR actively encouraged socialist revolutions—both because socialist governments tended to become client states of the USSR and because Marxist theory imagines socialism as a
worldwide phenomenon, reflected in Marx's catchphrase “Workers of the world, unite!” The USSR directly funded socialist uprisings, created an international organization—the Comintern, later reestablished as the Cominform—to advance socialist causes, and unleashed a worldwide propaganda campaign touting the joys of socialism and criticizing the free world in general and America in particular. Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev discussed many of these efforts, and the resulting tensions between the United States and USSR, in his memoirs. It is the ultimate irony that, because Khrushchev was overthrown in a coup and largely erased from official Soviet history, he had to smuggle his memoirs to America in order to get them published.
23

The USSR had its first big success spreading socialism in Eastern Europe, mainly thanks to the Soviet Red Army marching through the region on its way to Germany in World War II. In Hungary, Yugoslavia, East Germany, Romania, Poland, Albania, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria, communists seized power and went to work constructing their own socialist paradise. The communists nationalized industries, eviscerated freedom of speech, suppressed churches, set up vast secret police forces, and created one-party authoritarian states featuring ridiculous cults of personality around the leaders.

Eastern Europe became a giant jail imprisoning its own citizens. Occasional rebellions against these oppressive conditions were suppressed with ruthless force, sometimes directly by occupying Soviet troops. A 1953 revolt in Eastern Germany, eventually involving nearly a million people,
24
was particularly embarrassing because it ended with Soviet troops violently suppressing industrial workers in whose name the Soviet regime supposedly acted. A major anticommunist revolution in Hungary three years later was also violently put down by Soviet troops. In 1968, the USSR decided it could not tolerate the Prague Spring—internal reforms in Czechoslovakia designed to allow more freedom within the communist system—and so army units from the USSR and other Eastern Bloc regimes invaded Czechoslovakia and
put an end to it. Claiming they were trying to avoid yet another Soviet intervention, Poland's communist regime declared martial law in 1981 and suppressed workers' protests led by a workers' union called Solidarity.

These rebellions are easy to understand—socialism throughout the Eastern Bloc had created sickening conditions similar to those in the USSR. James Bovard wrote about his experience traveling through Romania as a reporter in 1987. In “The Daily Hell of Life in the Soviet Bloc” he described Romania—which had, prior to World War One, been a top grain exporter—deep in the throes of a food crisis:

Children could not get milk without a doctor's prescription. It was forbidden for foreigners to send food to Romanians. The government responded to food shortages with a publicity campaign on the danger of overeating…. Food shortages became so bad that the lion in the Bucharest Zoo was converted into an involuntary vegetarian and lost his teeth as a result.

The communists destroyed hundreds of square miles of prime farmland to erect factories and open pit mines. Hundreds of villages were razed and the residents corralled into cities and conscripted to work in factories.

Government investment had shifted almost entirely to heavy industry. Romania nevertheless produced poor quality products and industry was “extremely inefficient, consuming up to five times as much energy per unit of output as western factories. The government compensated by cutting off electricity to people's homes for up to six hours during the winter, and permitting only one 25-watt light bulb per room.”

Bovard wrote that the Romanian healthcare system nosedived. The government consistently cut off hospitals' electricity, causing a
staggering number of preventable deaths, and infant mortality was “so high the government refused to register children as being born until they survived their first month.”
25

Closer to home, Cuba was put on the road to socialism in 1959, when Fidel Castro's guerrillas seized power. Much like the Bolsheviks did, Castro took charge promising to hold free elections but quickly broke his promise. He destroyed the free press, cracked down on workers' unions, subjugated churches, and created a massive secret police force. During the 1960s alone, the regime killed between 7,000 and 10,000 people and imprisoned around 30,000 for political crimes.
26
As cited in
The Black Book of Communism
, forced labor camps were established by the Military Unit of Production Assistance (MUPA) to handle the huge load of political prisoners.

The organization, which endured from 1964 to 1967, established concentration camps that incarcerated “socially deviant people” who were considered a danger to society. The group included religious prisoners, pimps, and homosexuals, many of whom were forced to build the camps and “were subjected to military discipline, which quickly degenerated into poor treatment, undernourishment, and isolation. Many detainees mutilated themselves to escape this hell; others emerged psychologically destroyed by their experiences.”
27

One of Castro's most fanatical accomplices was Che Guevara. Nigel Jones of Britain's
Telegraph
summed up his bloody career: “Guevara was jailer and executioner-in-chief of Castro's dictatorship. As boss of the notorious La Cabaña prison in Havana, he supervised the detention, interrogation, summary trials and execution of hundreds of ‘class enemies.' ” Ernest Hemingway, who was then living in Cuba, invited an acquaintance to see the execution of prisoners by Che's tribunals. “They watched as the men were trucked in, unloaded, shot, and taken away.”
28

When it came to executions, Che wasn't worried about little
details like evidence. “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary,” Che declared. “These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.”
29
After Castro was forced to abandon efforts to install Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Che revealed what the regime would have done if the efforts had succeeded: “If the missiles had remained, we would have used them against the very heart of America including New York. We must never establish peaceful coexistence. In this struggle to the death between two systems we must gain the ultimate victory. We must walk the path of liberation even if it costs millions of atomic victims.”
30

And yet Che became an international youth icon, with Che T-shirts becoming popular on college campuses throughout the Western world. Unsurprisingly, Hollywood is a big fan of Che's, though actors don't seem very knowledgeable about him. Benicio Del Toro, who played this psychopath in the hagiography
Che
, excitedly told a reporter what first captured his attention on this subject: “I hear of this guy and he's got a cool name. Che Guevara!” The reporter noted, “Del Toro as good as swoons when he says it. And the appeal does seem as simple as that—groovy name, groovy man, groovy politics.” Del Toro also denounced the execution of Che by soldiers in Bolivia, where Che was raising an army to fight for another socialist revolution. “He was killed like a war criminal, man, and he was not a war criminal. He should have been given a fair trial,”
31
Del Toro said, either not knowing or not caring that Che himself didn't believe that fair trials were groovy at all.

BOOK: Live Free Or Die: America (and the World) on the Brink
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