Bone Tortured Prisoner. Kolyma Gulag, USSR (Nikolai Nikitin, Tass).
NOTE: In this post, the posts of the Day of the Victims of Communism from last year are largely reprinted with relatively minor changes.
Today is May Day. Since 2007 I have campaigned to use this date as the International Day of the Victims of Communism. The reasons for this suggestion (which was not my original idea) I set out in my very first post on the subject:
May 1st began as a holiday for socialists and union activists, not just communists. But over time, the date has been adopted by the Soviet Union and other communist regimes and used as a propaganda tool to shore up theirs [authority]. Instead, I suggest that we use it as a day to commemorate the millions of victims of these regimes. The authoritative Black Book of Communism estimates the total at 80 to 100 million deaths, more than that caused by all other tyrants of the 20th century combined. We appropriately have Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is also appropriate to remember the victims of the other great totalitarian tyranny of the 20th century. And May 1st is the most suitable day for it …
Our comparative neglect of communist crimes has significant costs. Victims of Communism Day can serve the dual purpose of properly commemorating the millions of victims and reducing the likelihood that such atrocities will recur. Just as Holocaust Remembrance Day and other similar events raise awareness of the dangers of racism, anti-Semitism, and radical nationalism, victims of Communism Day can raise awareness of the dangers of leftist forms of totalitarianism and government rule over the economy and civil society .
While communism is most closely linked to Russia, where the first communist regime was established, it had equally dire effects in other countries around the world. The highest death toll for a communist regime was not in Russia but in China. Mao Zedong’s great leap forward was probably the greatest episode of mass murder in all of the history of the world.
November 7, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia, which led to the establishment of the first communist regime. I wrote a post that day outlining some of the lessons learned from a century of communism. The post explains why the lion’s share of the horrors of communist regimes were essential elements of the system. For the most part, they cannot be attributed to factors such as flawed individual leaders, peculiarities of Russian and Chinese cultures, or the lack of democracy. The latter likely made the situation even worse than it otherwise could have been. But for reasons I explained in the same post, in a socialist economic system where government controls all or almost all of the economy, some form of dictatorship or oligarchy is likely to be inevitable.
While the influence of communist ideology has declined since its peak in the mid-20th century, it is far from dead. In Cuba and North Korea, largely unreformed communist regimes remain in power. In Venezuela, the socialist policies of the Marxist government have led to political repression, child hunger and a massive refugee crisis – the largest in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Despite growing international and national opposition, the regime continues to hold on to power through repression.
In Russia, the authoritarian regime of former KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin has embarked on a comprehensive whitewash of the historical record of communism. In China, the Communist Party remains in power (despite abandoning many of its previous socialist economic policies) and has recently become less tolerant of criticism of the Mao-era mass murders (part of a more general move towards greater oppression). .
The Chinese regime’s repressive policies also played an important role in its first attempts to cover up the coronavirus crisis, which likely prevented any chance of containing it before it turned into a massive pandemic. That deserves recognition, even if we should recognize that the pandemic was made worse by the botch of Donald Trump and other Western leaders. Perhaps the worst of all recent atrocities in China is reminiscent of the brutal repression of the Uighur minority, reminiscent of a similar policy under Mao and Stalin, although it has not yet reached the scale of actual mass murder. However, the imprisonment of over 1 million people in horrific concentration camps is more than bad enough. Western nations could begin to demonstrate that they have learned the lessons of communism by postponing or boycotting the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics to be held in China.
In a 2012 post, I explained why May 1st is a better date for victims of communism than available alternatives like November 7th (the anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia) and August 23 (the anniversary of the Nazis). Soviet Pact). I also raised various possible objections to the use of May Day, including a claim that the date should be reserved for the union celebration.
As explained in my post on Communism Victims Day 2013, I would like to support another date if it turns out to be easier to reach consensus on. If another date is chosen, I would prefer November 7th; not out of a desire to diminish the relevance of communist atrocities in other nations, but because it marks the establishment of the very first communist regime. November 7th was actually declared a victim of communism by the Virginia and Utah state legislatures, and similar resolutions were passed by the lower houses of Illinois and Missouri legislators. Then-President Trump made similar statements in 2017 and 2018 (though he had no authority to make it a permanent national holiday through executive action alone).
If this approach spreads further, I would like to move on November 7th, though May 1st would be even more appropriate. For this reason I took over the practice of commemorating the victims of communism on November 7th.
I am also more than willing to endorse almost any other date that could find wide support. Until this happens, May 1st will continue to be a victim of Communism Day in the Volokh conspiracy.