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More Powerful Than a Bomb

A German friend once remarked that Hitler was only the second most destructive thing his country had unleashed upon the world.  Worse by far, he said, were the ideas of Karl Marx. The notion  an idea could be more destructive than fleets of bombers and Panzer divisions is a large claim but there is evidence in support of it.  John Walters says that in sheer destructiveness Hitler beats Marx only if you add the Kaiser's war.  If you add famine into the equation, Marx beats Hitler, Tojo and the Kaiser put together.

According to a disturbingly pleasant graphic from Information is Beautiful entitled simply 20th Century Death, communism was the leading ideological cause of death between 1900 and 2000. The 94 million that perished in China, the Soviet Union, North Korea, Afghanistan, and Eastern Europe easily (and tragically) trump the 28 million that died under fascist regimes during the same period.

During the century measured, more people died as a result of communism than from homicide (58 million) and genocide (30 million) put together. The combined death tolls of WWI (37 million) and WWII (66 million) exceed communism’s total by only 9 million.

It gets worse when you look at the ... Natural World ... famine (101 million). Curiously, all of the world’s worst famines during the 20th century were in communist countries: China (twice!), the Soviet Union, and North Korea.

Yet despite this unparalleled record of destructiveness Walters notes that Communism retains enormously good press.  "According to a 2011 Rasmussen poll, 11% of Americans think that communism would better serve this country’s needs than our current system."  Its core ideas are popular with Bernie Sanders' followers. Only 3 years ago Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of Britain's Labor Party, expressed satisfaction with the program of the Venezuelan Bolivarian revolutionists.  He tweeted  "thanks Hugo Chavez for showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared. He made massive contributions to Venezuela & a very wide world."  David Sirota writing in Salon at almost the same time as Corbyn's tweet fulsomely praised "Hugo Chavez’s economic miracle." Miracle: for there was no other word for it.

according to data compiled by the UK Guardian, Chavez’s first decade in office saw Venezuelan GDP more than double and both infant mortality and unemployment almost halved. Then there is a remarkable graph from the World Bank that shows that under Chavez’s brand of socialism, poverty in Venezuela plummeted (the Guardian reports that its “extreme poverty” rate fell from 23.4 percent in 1999 to 8.5 percent just a decade later). In all, that left the country with the third lowest poverty rate in Latin America. Additionally, as Weisbrot points out, “college enrollment has more than doubled, millions of people have access to health care for the first time and the number of people eligible for public pensions has quadrupled.”

How this "miracle" crashed down into ruin is something yet to be explained.  Suffice it so say there is unexpectedly no food, no electricity, nor even gasoline in this oil-rich nation. In the ultimate irony "gasoline-making fluid catalytic cracking units ... are currently down ... with critics blaming shortages of spare parts, lack of maintenance, and a shaky electrical grid for outages and unplanned stoppages." Looting is epidemic.  Trucks are being swarmed by mobs on the highway.  Army troops -- crucial for regime survival -- have been reduced to foraging to make up a meal. The Atlantic, hardly a right-wing publication, writes "Venezuela is falling apart".

Even the phrase "falling apart" fails to convey the scale of destruction that has befallen the country. To capture a sense of it one must turn to the vivid prose of Nicholas Casey of the New York Times complemented by the accompanying gruesome photographs. He describes hospitals that are places where patients lie in rotting mattresses or in pools of their own blood. Where doctors amputate the limbs of patients because they have no antibiotics to treat simple infections. Where doctors and nurses take turns operating respirators by hand -- the machinery sometimes broken and without power anyway -- until they simply collapse from exhaustion and helplessly watch their patients die.

Yet this same scene is one which Nicolas Maduro -- like Corbyn and Sirota 3 years earlier -- still has the effrontery to view with satisfaction: “I doubt that anywhere in the world, except in Cuba, there exists a better health system than this one”.  In this phrase all is clear.  There is a greater miracle at work here than the simple Five Year Planning style "accomplishments" that David Sirota reeled off.   The true marvel of Communism, the root of both its power and destructiveness, is the ability to conflate the narrative for the fact, the truth for fiction and policy with PR as exemplified even in America by Ben Rhodes.  It not only aims to control reality.  It is beyond reality.

That quality of fantasy makes Venezuela a place where Maduro aims to solve the shortages by decreeing that the owners of closed factories will be imprisoned until production increases. Where "anyone who wants to halt (production) to sabotage the country should get out, and those who do must be handcuffed and sent to the PGV (Venezuelan General Penitentiary)." Never mind there is no money to import raw materials; none  to pay the workers, except in debased Bolivars; forget there is no power to run the factory machinery, nor any unlooted stores to sell the products.  It has been decreed by by pen and by phone that there will be plenty.  And the government will be obeyed and the Stash released  -- just as Marx promised his disciples.

Of course it will fail and add to the havoc done which could never have been inflicted by the mere round-the-clock bombing of 1,000 B-29s dropping high explosives.  No rain of bombs could have obliterated every store, business, factory, school, hospital and larder with the fine-grained thoroughness achieved by the ideas of the Communist Manifesto.  Only an idea capable of seeping into every nook and cranny can do that. The destructive potential of a squadron of B-2 bombers is trivial compared to the potential inherent in a Sealed Train carrying an agitator or a thousand radical madrassahs preaching murder far into the night.

Explosives can achieve gross destruction.  But it misses things between the craters;  by contrast a mental bomb can destroy civilization itself; its values, institutions, goals and even its grip upon reality.  In the contest between Panzer division and Manifesto, the manifesto appears far the more powerful. The computer revolution has given us the tools to understand why Communism has so much devastating power.  We can now recognize it as history's greatest and most dangerous piece of intellectual malware, whose only true rival is radical Islam.  It tricks the social network into thinking you can get something for nothing; it promises freedom in exchange for enslavement.  It presents a deceptive interface but its inner methods are all destructors. It subverts the operating system and like the computer viruses we are familiar with uses the host's own processing power to spawn more copies of itself.  The more powerful and resource-endowed a host is, the more powerfully the malware can attack it.  In the end it trashes everything and only a complete reinstall and rebuild can fix it.

Ideological malware may be the silent killer of civilizations, all the deadlier because it may leave no trace in the form of invading armies, or great physical cataclysms. The sole clues left by the catastrophe will be cities abandoned for no apparent reason, fields left fallow without explanation, multitudes of workshops with tools discarded where they lay, interspersed with references to strange cults (like the Mystery of the Bathroom with a half-man, half-woman emblem) of bizarre importance that archaeologists will strive in vain to comprehend.  The key to understanding the disaster will be in the cults, but none among the survivors will be able to turn it in the mental lock.

It will at any rate, do Venezuela.  A NASA-funded study suggests that dozens of advanced civilizations may have existed before history; "civilizations that possibly predate the Pre-Inca, Olmec, and Ancient Egyptian civilization, not to mention other advanced ancient civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia". They rose to a great height and then inexplicably vanished.  Where they went is a mystery unless you suppose that having achieved architecture, agriculture, medicine and even electricity in their moment of glory they, like oil-rich Venezuela, then discovered socialism.

Follow Wretchard on Twitter.


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