The background information for this paper is taken from the book “The Black Book of Communism”. Written by Stephane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panne, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek and Jean-Louis Margolin.
This book was published in 1999 as an analysis of what happened during Communist regimes around the world. It collects information on crimes committed at both the national level and under specific communist parties’ rule. The idea behind it was to tell what actually happens when Marxists are in control of a country. This includes not only how much brutality is allowed but also why it happens because there are always reasons leading up to it that justify violence.
The people who wrote the book are all historians. Courtois and Bartosek were born in France and decided to study the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe respectively. The other three authors were Russian, Polish and Czechoslovakian and had lived through Communism with their respective countries (Panne was also a historian).
The book starts by explaining that this is not an attempt at reviving old hatreds but putting it out there so nobody will fall for this kind of governments ever again. It goes on to explain why these regimes happen in the first place: when Marx envisioned it happening (he thought violent revolution would be followed by a utopian society), he didn’t take into account human nature and how people can turn nasty, especially if they’re given absolute power over their fellow men.
It then goes on to describe the crimes done by states that called themselves Communist, starting with the Soviet Union (which is described at great length). It also talks about China and Vietnam but without as much detail because they weren’t really Communist regimes until after Lenin (Russia) or Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) had died.
Another thing this book does is talk about why people became Communists in the first place: it wasn’t for the money like some thought and, especially in Russia, it was a way of fighting against their poverty and misery. The Bolsheviks were very popular among workers and peasants who lived terrible lives, had no rights and got little food; back when Martin Latsis was head of the Cheka (the Soviet Union’s first secret police), he told his men not to look for conspiracies because “in almost every worker’s family there are people deserving
of execution.” For peasants, Communism was a place where they could lead happy lives and own their land again, even if it were just small plots of 3-4 hectares. Of course, this idea contrasts with Marx’s view of private property being theft from the proletariat but then again Marx couldn’t have predicted that a Communist regime would decide to let people keep what little they did have.
As for what happened during these regimes, it starts with describing the main character in all of them: Lenin. A father figure so respected by his followers that if he had told them to kill their own children, they probably would have. He was also a man who wanted to see what could be accomplished with absolute power, which is why he welcomed the idea of using terror as an instrument of government.
The book then goes on to describe how Lenin stayed in control after his death by appointing Stalin as leader. Stalin kept most of the policies put in place by Lenin but made sure to keep himself in control. During his time in office, no one else rose to prominence and so there was nobody around who could challenge him when his paranoia started to rise. He ruled through fear, but it wasn’t just about keeping everyone under control; he also killed anyone who challenged him even remotely (including Trotsky, who had been his own supporter, and Bukharin).
While the Soviet Union under Stalin was a terrible place to live in, it was still considered a model of how Communism should be. At least until Mao came along. He wasn’t content with letting things stay as they were and so he started what became known as The Great Leap Forward. It was an attempt at breaking down social classes but because of poor planning it ended up as a huge famine that killed around 30 million people between 1958 and 1962 (out of a population of 650 million). After that, Deng Xiaoping tried to make China into an industrial country by reversing the policies from before Mao’s time: he reopened small businesses, first locally on a larger scale, allowed some private enterprise and basically turned China into a mixed economy.
There’s also something about Vietnam, even if it isn’t as detailed. Ho Chi Minh was another socialist who wanted to fight against the French colonists but rather than Lenin or Mao’s violent methods, he tried to do it through non-violence protests at first (like Gandhi). It didn’t work because the French were too strong but after Stalin provided him with support, he managed to defeat them by 1954. The story then turns to North Vietnam where, following the Soviet model of Communism, social classes were abolished and neo-colonialism was fought against. However this meant lots of purges within North Vietnamese ranks so many politicians either fled or got imprisoned/executed. Another thing the book mentions is the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
The title of this chapter refers to how most people who opposed these regimes and paid the price for it. Most of them were killed but there were others who made an entire career out of making life miserable for their fellow countrymen. Among them was Todor Zhivkov, who after WWII decided that Communism wasn’t such a bad idea and so he took control of Bulgaria by force (thereby abolishing democracy). He spent his time crushing any attempt at liberalization or opposition while imprisoning thousands for no particular reason other than because he could. Another example is Enver Hoxha, who was probably the only true believer in Lenin’s ideas to rule Albania after WWII even though he was a paranoid lunatic. He closed off Albania from the rest of the world, built bunkers all over the country and in true Stalinist style killed thousands for no reason (including old people who couldn’t work anymore). Even when Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s methods, Hoxha still continued following his path by deporting 40,000 to “re-educate” them in labor camps where they died.
Even though these regimes supported each other at first, eventually they started fighting amongst themselves because they simply didn’t agree on how Communism should be run. The Soviet Union became increasingly divided against itself while China’s line was that since Mao had successfully carried out Communist reforms in China (which he had actually done by accident).
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