“Forty-five years ago last Sunday, Vietnamese troops seized Phnom Penh and ended Cambodia’s 45-month reign of terror known as the “killing fields.” Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge government implemented policies—forced labor, resettlements, torture, starvation—that led to the death of 1.7-to-3 million people, or at least 20 percent of the nation’s population. The regime destroyed the country, caused untold suffering, and left permanent scars.”
“The Cambodian revolution wasn’t spontaneous. Its leaders honed their philosophy while studying in Paris. And one usually finds intellectuals behind crazy notions. As the saying goes, “Ideas have consequences”—and they’re often tragic.
Cambodia’s leaders sought to create an idyllic and classless agrarian society, one that harkened to the Angkor Empire from the 800s. “They wanted all members of society to be rural agricultural workers rather than educated city dwellers, who the Khmer Rouge believed had been corrupted by western capitalist ideas,” according to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. Their philosophy echoed Mao Zedong, whose efforts to remake China led to unimaginable horrors.”
“In 1999, the “Black Book of Communism” tried to detail the number of civilian deaths caused by the world’s communist regimes—not deaths caused amid wars and civil strife, but direct massacres from the kind of policies so efficiently carried out in Cambodia. The authors came up with a figure of 100 million. These deaths don’t tell the entire story of fear, slavery, and repression. It’s simply unfathomable that any modern American could have a view of communist regimes that were any more favorable than the views most of us hold of Nazism.
Then again, ideological narratives grab hold of people in ways that are hard to understand. So many young leftists are nurtured in a university hothouse that divvies up humanity into fixed groups of “oppressor” and “oppressed.” They learned to have an endless faith in the government’s ability to reorder humanity. They probably haven’t been taught about what happens when officials are given unlimited powers to launch a “Great Leap Forward,” create “Year Zero” or design a “New Soviet Man.”
That’s too bad because the reason we live such free and prosperous lives is because we live within a system that limits the government’s power to take our property, throw us in prison, depopulate cities, execute us, force us onto long marches and put us in re-education camps. History proves that many people—including those who claim to have the best intentions—would do horrific things if they had such powers at their disposal. We can even point to horrors in the history of our own country, of course.”
“If there is a Russian ideology, it’s ethnic nationalism. China’s case is also largely nationalism. In China, nationalism began to displace communism as an ideology in the 1970s, after the Cultural Revolution. It comes from the disappointment of the population with ideological dogma and with the great promise of a communist revolution that never happened. The Chinese Communist Party was facing a legitimacy deficit, and they were looking for things to fill it — so nationalism replaced communist revolution. The same thing happened with the Soviet Union falling apart; the Russian Federation had to reinvent itself on the basis of Russian nationalism.”
“According to Marx, history unfolded in a grand series of stages, each defined by its dominant mode of economic production and each specifically arising to replace the one that preceded it. “In broad outlines,” he wrote in the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, “ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production can be designated as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society.” Capitalism, in other words, was a historically necessary step in human progress.
The great revolutionary forces unleashed by capitalism, Marx thought, would in turn form and shape a self-aware proletariat class that would ultimately lead humanity into a glorious communist future. But that would happen only after capitalism had worked its magic. “No social order ever perishes,” Marx maintained, “before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed.””
“Marx not only welcomed capitalism’s creative destruction of feudalism and slavery; he recognized and even championed capitalism’s essential role in human advancement. With free labor on the march, Marx argued in his 1861 essay “The North American Civil War,” the peculiar institution faced ultimate extinction “according to economic law.””
“we should not judge the eighth and final Soviet leader, who died..at the age of 91, by his base geopolitical desires but rather by the glorious human flourishing that his actions—and especially his inactions—allowed to take place. Gorbachev’s economically desperate late-1980s policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reform) unleashed a whirlwind of freedom-seeking among hundreds of millions of captive peoples, quickly overwhelming any one man’s (or regime’s) ability to control it.
And during most—though definitely not all—key moments of potential armed conflict between dictatorial hardliners and outgunned revolutionaries, Gorby told the generals to stand down. This is an achievement worth lingering on and learning from.”
“The result was that, under the watches of both Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush, November 9, 1989 became the most liberating day of the most liberating month of the most liberating year in human history. Hardly limited to the long-suffering nations of Central Europe, the imperial drawdowns from both sides of the Cold War brought crucial and long-awaited relief to the proxy-war-scarred post-colonialist countries of Africa and South America. The fact that Gorbachev planned for almost none of this should not dull our appreciation for him not getting in the way.”