The tragedy that is Venezuela, a case study in the suffering and lack of freedom woven into the very fabric of Marxist socialism doesn’t receive the attention it deserves at a time when last week’s Gallup poll shows that Democrats view socialism more favorably than capitalism.
Public opinion surveys reveal a stunning ignorance among younger Americans that has led to support for socialism and even Communism as the “solution” to this nation’s perceived problems; views traceable to the fact that few today know much about the history of totalitarianism.
While it’s unlikely that young people are going to go back to the books for a more balanced view of what happens when socialism triumphs as it did when the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia more than a century ago, Venezuela provides a difficult to ignore real-time demonstration of the inevitable consequences of trying to forcibly create a socialist utopia.
Western intellectuals a century ago were dazzled by the superficial promise of the socialist model and took decades to grasp the link between Marxist socialism and Communist totalitarianism. American writers and journalists hustled off to the Soviet Union in the years following the Bolshevik “revolution” to see the future for themselves. Some came back heralding the emergence of a new, more prosperous and humanitarian society, but others sensed a darker future in the Communist insistence that molding a new society required the re-education or elimination of entire classes of people that rejected their leadership.
Then Vladimir Lenin embraced terrorism as a legitimate state function. On his death, Lenin passed the reins to Joseph Stalin, who had their old comrade Leon Trotsky assassinated in Mexico and put the finishing touches on a totalitarian state that embraced torture and concentration camps to maintain control. The world’s understanding of the true nature of Soviet Communism grew as the Soviets staged show trials before executing those who dared disagree with the party.
Apologists then and now excuse Karl Marx and Lenin for what they like to term the “excesses” that defined the USSR as among the most murderous governments in history. These “excesses,” as Nellie Ohr, the wife of the FBI’s Bruce Ohr, described them in her Harvard PhD thesis were Stalin’s fault, but perhaps understandable given conditions in the Soviet Union after the Communists came to power.
Reluctant to surrender their hopes for socialism, Western apologists portrayed Stalin as an aberration, a flawed leader who went a bit overboard in his zeal to remake man in Marx’s image, but even after the collapse of the Soviet Empire they remained convinced that the great Russian experiment could have succeeded had it not gone off the rails and continue to admire those who share the dream.
Blaming it all on Stalin perhaps appealed to a young Bernie Sanders and a future CIA director like young John Brennan, who actually voted for an openly Communist candidate for president, but most analysts and historians concluded that a bloody totalitarianism is an integral part of schemes like those developed by Marx, Lenin, Stalin and their disciples. They watched as China under Mao, Cuba under Castro, and other nations that attempted to remake not just their economies, but the men and women who they governed slid down the same slippery slope that destroyed the old Russia..
Too many young people today ignore history, know little about Communism, and less about the human cost of totalitarianism. Today’s “progressives,” like Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous, want to identify with socialism without being called Socialists lest they alienate older voters who remember too well what socialism entails.
Just two years ago the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s first annual report on U.S. attitudes toward socialism found that fully a third of millennials believed that former U.S. President George W. Bush “killed” more people than Joseph Stalin. Whether such attitudes stem from an ignorance of history, a failed educational system or the ongoing romantic pro-Soviet sympathies of some in academia and the media, seems less relevant than the alarming fact that they exist.
Stalin used the assassination of his friend Sergei Kirov in 1934 to begin rounding up and killing his critics. The bloodthirstiness of the enterprise began to turn Communist sympathizers like John Dos Passos, one of the greatest American novelists of the time, against Communism and socialism. Dos Passos wrote in a letter to American critic Edmund Wilson that it was as if after a would-be assassin tried to shoot Franklin Roosevelt, “the secret service had executed a hundred miscellaneous people.” Once the blood began to flow, it never stopped as millions were rounded up, usually in the middle of the night, and never seen again.
Earlier this month, Venezuela strongman Nicolas Maduro used an alleged drone assassination attempt as an excuse to begin arresting and torturing his adversaries. The news reports out of Venezuela today are eerily reminiscent of what has happened again and again in countries that have begun the slide into totalitarianism.
It’s happened before and it’s happening today. We should pay attention.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large at The Washington Times.
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