“We learn from history that we learn nothing from history,” said Friedrich Hegel.
Last week in Reno former Soviet economic advisor Yuri Maltsev began a speech with that quote. We appreciated his remarks, although his message is an ominous one.
Yuri related some of his experiences growing up in Soviet Russia as a warning for people who think socialism is great. In his view, Americans are often far too cavalier about praising certain aspects of socialism and similar collectivism while failing to recognize socialism for what it truly is: state slavery.
From his current post as professor of economics at Carthage College in Wisconsin, he interacts with academic faculty from around the country. The prevailing zeitgeist he encounters among them is: “communism is bad, but socialism is good.” People who hold this view understand nothing of socialism nor communism, Yuri says.
Communism was the carrot in Karl Marx’s system that was supposed to give people the gumption to endure barbaric socialism. The communist vision was a utopia centuries into the future in which governments and central control would melt away and everyone would work peacefully, voluntarily and cooperatively toward the collective good.
But since human beings are motivated to work only if their toils produce some benefit in their own lives, Marx believed it was necessary to break and change the fundamental nature of human beings by imposing socialism on them.
Under socialism, everyone and everything is owned and controlled by government that has no limits on its powers. Government leaders decide who gets what, who works where, and sometimes, literally, which groups starve.
As is often the danger with collectivist movements, individuals in Soviet Russia became expendable. Their lives were viewed as worthless and disposable by government leaders, because only the collective mattered. So between 43 and 60 million people perished either through government direct action or neglect. As Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin famously said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
Marx himself was far from a starry-eyed idealist. He understood quite well that this brand of oppression, slavery and even mass murder would be the outcome of his program. As he wrote in 1849, “We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror.”
This aspect of Marx’s vision was also front and center for the early Bolsheviks who laid the foundations of Russian socialism. As Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin wrote at that time, “We would be deceiving both ourselves and the people if we concealed from the masses the necessity of a desperate, bloody war of extermination, as the immediate task of the coming revolutionary action.”
This bloody terror was inflicted on families and individuals across Russia and, following World War II, all of Eastern Europe. People lost all rights as individuals and became slaves to the state. People in the West watched in horror and the United States pledged not to allow the advance of this barbaric totalitarianism into free countries.
As Yuri points out, the socialist bloc was never able to compete economically with the West, because slaves don’t think as creatively or work as diligently as free people.
But socialist terror didn’t end simply because Russian factories never produced iPads.
Yuri credits the policies of glasnost and perestroika as the changes that brought about the collapse of the Soviet government. Glasnost means “openness” and it was final Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempt to create some transparency in government. According to Yuri, glasnost removed fear from a political system that was built entirely on fear. Thus, collapse was inevitable.
After hearing the stark warning of someone who endured the socialist ideal for most of his life before defecting, it’s discouraging to see so many Americans who today speak approvingly of this beastly concept. A recent Gallup poll shows more than one-third of Americans view socialism favorably. Among millennials, the ratio is 55 percent.
Between the Russian bloc, China, and other socialist regimes of the Twentieth Century, hundreds of millions of people lost their lives to this dangerous ideology. Many more saw their opportunities for happiness and productive lives vanquished.
That’s a lesson we should remember.
Ron Knecht is Nevada’s elected controller and Geoffrey Lawrence is assistant controller.