This is going to be a morbid and gruesome little blog post. I need to write it, though, to redress the balance.
The Monopoly on Mass Killings?
I have a google alert down for the word “socialism” – basically google e-mails me every day with links to every article that mentions the word in its title. The majority are letters to local American newspapers warning that Obama and liberals are bringing socialism to the USA.
When I engage in debate with this type of American I invariably get accused of ignoring “the fact that Marxist regimes killed some one-hundred million people during the twentieth century and the beat goes on in N. Korea.” That figure of 100 million is, of course, stupidly, impossibly high.
Figures such as Leon Trotsky and Che Guevara, who fought wars and killed large numbers of people in the course of those wars, are described as sociopaths, psychopaths, sadists, murderers – charges that the same accusers would never throw at any American general, CIA chief or wartime president with a body-count ten or a hundred times higher.
Blatant lies work when selectivity doesn’t – I recently read an article which said that Lenin killed “millions of people” during his life-long “reign” over… Poland.
Apparently to refute the methods of Marx and the ideas of Socialism, all you need to do is recite lists of X million killed in China, X million killed in Russia… under systems not remotely resembling Socialism or Marxism. Round up tens of millions, never round down, and never, ever engage with actual Marxist ideas.
But let’s allow for the sake of argument that since the Chinese and Russian dictatorships arose out of attempts to build genuine workers’ states, their crimes and disasters do somehow reflect indirectly on Socialism. They don’t but let’s assume that they do just so that we can bring some perspective to the claim that “Communism”/ “Collectivism”/ ”Leftism” have the monopoly on mass killing.
And let’s play this sick little game by the same rules as those who invented it: anyone killed by a capitalist regime or by famine or disease under a capitalist regime goes down on the capitalist score-card. There’s no use protesting that “that was because of dictatorship not because of capitalism” or “those were special circumstances” or “that was an accident” or “they couldn’t have prevented that” – I agree that it’s not fair, but I didn’t write the rulebook here, you did.
I’m reading a very good book at the moment called Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder. It examines the mass killing policies that the two dictators inflicted on a swathe of Eastern Europe from 1933 to 1945. It’s really harrowing and it shows the viciousness and cruelty of both states.
Nazi Germany, of course, was Capitalist. The state played a big role in the economy but the rich remained in control. Anyway, who funded the Nazis and helped them to power? Who benefited from the slave labour of millions of Jews and other prisoners? Fascism, worldwide, is the last resort of the Capitalist class when faced with revolution. Hitler was not only incidentally Capitalist, but essentially Capitalist.
But the Nazis are not the only Capitalist mass killers. I want to see a sequel to Bloodlands. How about Bloodlands: Indochina Between Japan, France and the USA? This book would examine the estimated 1-3 million people killed by the American war
machine in the 1960s and ‘70s as it struggled to prop up a series of horrible dictators in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. It would also look at the occupations by (Capitalist) France and “Capitalist) Japan from the 19th century to 1945. The USA not only committed mass killings, but mass deportations and concentration camps; mass destruction of forests and the poisoning of land for generations through unexploded ordinance and pesticides; and bombing on an unimaginable scale.
How about Bloodlands: South Asia Between Britain and Japan? Britain’s deliberate, man-made famine in Bengal, which killed 3.5 million people in 1943, could be the centrepiece of this work. However it would also examine the notorious atrocities of the Japanese, and the bloodbath of British rule in India. It could conclude with the rape of Indonesia in which Japan and Britain collaborated at the end of the war. Maybe the murder of a million Communists by Suharto twenty years later could round it off.
Bloodlands: Latin America under the USA would be one of the most gruesome. US interventions, direct or indirect, in Panama, Granada, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Guatemala, Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay far outweigh the brutality of the Stalinist repressions in Czechoslovakia (1968) and Hungary (1956). In almost every case all that happened was that the majority of the people chose a government that US big business didn’t like, and as a consequence either US invasion or US support for fascists and crooks meant hundreds of thousands were killed in bloody civil wars.
The death toll continues because US intervention left behind a legacy of violence that continues to kill unbelievable numbers of people every year. This plus poverty, inequality and the cocaine business. And remember the rules of the game: the capitalist client states of the USA in Latin America are presiding over spectacular murder rates, so let’s tack those on to the total. The media like to pretend it’s only happening in Venezuela, and that it’s happening there due to anti-poverty programmes, but no author has yet shown me how literacy and better housing increase murder rates. In any case, the rich in Venezuela actually own a greater share of the economy today than they did in 1998. Venezuela is still Capitalist. Add ’em to the list.
Bloodlands: Africa under Imperialism would be the bloodiest of all. The six million killed in the last 15 years in the Congo in resource wars would be just a drop in the ocean. From the mass-murders of the Belgian Congo to the famines in the Horn of Africa; from the blood diamond wars of West Africa to the German genocides in Angola; from the concentration camps of British South Africa to the disemboweling of Libya in 2011. And the many, many people killed by Gaddafi himself would have to go onto the capitalist scoreboard as well, I’m afraid; the “Great Libyan Arab Jahamariya” redistributed nationalised oil wealth, but remained capitalist.
Those with a taste for gory histories of mass killing and famine have for too long confined their sadism to “Communist” countries. They are missing out on oceans of blood that have been shed under Capitalism. They also confine their researches in time as well as place. Equally big famines took place in Russia and China before the revolutions; equally vicious repressions took place before “Communism”; and in China, an even more vicious and undemocratic state has taken hold since the restoration of Capitalism. Today China, the world’s most successful Capitalist state, is also one of the most oppressive.
Drowning the Debate in Blood
Take a look back over the mass killings and atrocities we’ve just described. If such horrors as happened and happen in those lands had taken place in the USSR, we’d have shelves full of books about them and they would be rightly remembered as an indictment of Stalinism. We’d have hatchet jobs of LBJ, Nixon, Kissinger and Churchill in every bookshop shelf currently occupied by Robert Service’s ludicrously hostile Trotsky. But the fact that human beings starve and fight for resources in countries of plenty and in a world of abundance, while Goldman Sachs makes $300 million gambling on the price of food and driving it up — and on top of this, the complete absence of any solution from the political establishment — well, it doesn’t bat an eyelid or make the learned academics question capitalism.
George Orwell, a revolutionary socialist whose works are so often quoted as if he was a fervent pro-capitalist, made the point that whoever controls the present controls the past. The only reason why Marxist ideas are supposed to have this taint of blood on them, and is contrasted to some idealistic notion of a “liberal democracy” that has never existed, is because Capitalism itself is unchallenged, and gets to set the consensus. In the face of this it is hard to maintain objectivity and a dialectical, all-sided approach.
Next time anyone spouts this nonsense about “Communism”, “Socialism”, “Leftism” and “Collectivism” at you, just think about how unbelievably naive they are. Pity them. And don’t go on the defensive. Attack. How is the blowing-up of entire villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan justified? Why’s it OK that Africa, a continent rich in natural resources, is stuck in worsening poverty, violence and famine because the people don’t own those resources?
Orwell went on to say that whoever controls the past controls the future. I disagree. The future does not belong to those who control the narrative about the past – it’s one weapon in their arsenal, but not an all-powerful one. A new challenge to Capitalism on a global scale is already in its early stages, recovering from twenty years of capitalist hegemony. As we reclaim the political arena, reclaim the workplace, reclaim the streets and reclaim the communities, we will reclaim history too.