Toward the end of the 19th century, the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche described socialism as “a hopeless and sour affair” and noted that in a socialist society, “life negates itself.” Despite its inherent shortcomings, however, Nietzsche predicted that socialism would spread. “The Paris Commune, which has its apologists and advocates in Germany, too, was perhaps no more than a minor indigestion compared to what is coming,” he wrote in “The Will to Power.”
“He predicted [socialism] would be a great source of conflict throughout the 20th century,” said author and historian Dr. Michael Bonner. “The first attempt to establish a Marxist-communist utopia occurred a mere 16 years later, and Nietzsche’s grim prophecy began to be fulfilled.” Bonner was speaking at a forum titled “Communism, China, its Economy and Political Future” held at the University of Toronto on May 5. He and other speakers shone a light on the evils of communist ideology and the damage it has done.
(L-R) Dr. Frank Xie, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina; history scholar Dr. Michael Bonner; Canadian MP and former cabinet minister Peter Kent; retired Canadian senator Consiglio Di Nino; and Sheng Xue, a Chinese-Canadian journalist and activist, take part in a forum on China and communism at the University of Toronto on May 5, 2018. (Omid Ghoreishi/The Epoch Times)
The event also included the launch of the Chinese version of “The Ultimate Goal of Communism,” a new book by The Epoch Times. The English version will be published soon. In giving the audience what he called “a pocket history of communism,” Bonner said that in November 1917, Bolshevik insurgents stormed the Tsar’s winter palace in Saint Petersburg and toppled the first democratic government in Russian history. Thus began the world’s first major socialist regime.
“The ideology of communism began to spread itself throughout the world and, as Nietzsche predicted, it was the most destructive doctrine and political system in human history,” he said. “Communism forced people to live in joyless, oppressive societies without freedom of any kind. Communist policies produced among the worst environmental disasters in human history, such as the destruction of the Aral Sea. And most 20th-century famines occurred in communist countries.”
Under the Soviets, the most prominent examples of brutality include the intentionally engineered famine in Ukraine, estimated to have killed up to 10 million people between 1932 and 1933; Stalin’s campaign of political repression, which claimed about 600,000 lives; and the execution of 100,000 Polish prisoners of war.
Children during a Stalin-era famine in Ukraine. The famine, known as the “Holodomor,” took place between 1932 and 1933. (Public Domain)
At first, the Russian Revolution failed to produce a wave of socialism throughout Europe, Bonner said, but after the stock market crash in 1929 and the rise of fascism in the 1930s, communist central planning “appeared viable alternatives to the supposed failure of capitalism and the advance of the far right.” At that time too, “many intellectuals were prepared to overlook the horrendous atrocities committed by the world’s only communist state,” he said.
“Bertrand Russell had famously criticized the aggression and utopianism of Bolshevism in 1920, but many fellow travellers and apologists were willing to conceal or to excuse the disasters and failings of communism. Stalin’s show trials and murder of millions of people were vigorously defended by George Bernard Shaw, and Walter Duranty of The New York Times had deliberately downplayed the scale of the Soviet-engineered famine in Ukraine.”
In addition, Western powers and the United Nations ignored the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, and some left-wing intellectuals “refused to denounce the invasion on the absurd pretext that doing so would cede the moral high ground.” Such apologism served to enable the acceptance of communism, and although it largely fizzled in the West, its doctrine spread throughout East Asia, Africa, and South America.
China’s Economic Success a Result of Capitalist Reforms
After he established the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong soon adopted Soviet-style collectivization which, like the Soviet Union, would bring about widespread famine and death. “In China, the model of Soviet communism led to a campaign of modernization that left millions of people dead,” said Bonner. It was a similar situation in Cambodia and North Korea.
“Pol Pot imitated the same example in Cambodia and murdered nearly a quarter of its countrymen. In North Korea, a doctrine of self-sufficiency was founded on the same principle and produced a famine which killed as many as 3.5 million people,” he said. “In the 1960s, a new generation of Marxist revolutionaries emerged, and by the year 1980, communism had penetrated North Korea, Cuba, North and South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Angola.”
Mao’s Great Leap Forward led to the deaths of 17 million people, and the horrors of the Cultural Revolution did not end until Mao himself died in 1976. As for China’s astonishing development over the past 30 years, Bonner said a Western visitor to China might conclude that, whereas the USSR failed, Mao’s regime succeeded, given that the country is still under communist rule.
Communist Party cadres hang a placard on the neck of a Chinese man during the Cultural Revolution in 1966. The words on the placard state the man’s name and accuse him of being a member of the “black class.” (Public Domain)
But in actuality, China’s economic success is a direct result of capitalist reforms begun by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. Deng became head of the Communist Party after Mao’s death. “We can credit Deng Xiaoping for transforming China’s collectivist economy into a capitalist force,” he said. “What has succeeded, therefore, is not Mao’s vision of a rigid state-control of the economy, centralization, closed borders, and radical egalitarianism, but rather corporate capitalism and uninhibited entrepreneurs.”
Bonner noted, however, that “the supremacy of the Communist Party remains,” with indoctrination beginning at a young age and the Young Pioneers and the Communist Youth League preparing children, teenagers, and university students for joining the Party—membership of which is essential to finding employment and obtaining promotion. “But fewer and fewer people are willing to join the Party,” he added, noting the success of Tuidang, a grassroots movement that supports people in renouncing their allegiance to the Communist Party.
“In 2004, publication of the so-called ‘Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party’ was, for many in China, their first exposure to the crimes of communism. The Tuidang phenomenon accelerated that, and today 300 million people have renounced the Communist Party,” he said. “Former Polish president Lech Walesa has called the Tuidang movement ‘history’s tsunami’ and a ‘spirit of freedom and truth.’ It is tempting to think we are witnessing the final death throes of Chinese communism.”
Another flashpoint is the “tension created by discontent” simmering just below the surface in China, Bonner said, with about 500 serious outbreaks of unrest almost daily across the country a few years ago. This, along with what some say is a stalling economy, could mean the beginning of the end of communism in China. “No matter how solid and complex any regime may appear, it is actually quite fragile. When public confidence has run out, it may take little to topple it. I’ll leave you with that thought.”