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.