Communism’s Death Toll: Bug or Feature?

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In your garden-variety discussions of communism verses everything else, someone generally brings up the 85 to 100 million deaths attributed to communist regimes, and of course someone else responds that this is, as it were, merely a bug; a flaw due to having incorrectly implemented Marx’s ideas.

But after one too many death threats from a self-described Marxist (over, if I recall correctly, whether or not Rachel Dolezal is a terrible racist or was just trying to be helpful,) I thought to myself, “You know, what if the whole killing-all-your-enemies thing is really more of a feature than a bug?”

Of course, “Let’s kill lots of people!” tends not to be the greatest rallying cry for polite society, but it is hardly a secret that a great many political regimes have killed lots of people.

Just talk to anyone whose grandparents happen to be German about WWII, and you’ll probably hear a spiel along the lines of “The Hitler Youth just meant a hot meal in a time when people were hungry. Grandpa didn’t really want to invade Poland or kill all the Jews or any of that stuff.”

It’s as though all of these guys mysteriously disappeared:

Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag, Rede Adolf Hitler  Nürnberg, Reichsparteitag, SA- und SS-Appell

Here’s a theory: most of these people were actually totally on board with the kill-the-enemies agenda.


Now, to be honest, most of the people I know personally who call themselves Communists are really nice people who aren’t interested in killing anyone. But some of them I’m not so sure of, and some I’ve met, I’m quite sure would happily ship their enemies off to Siberia. All the while swearing, of course, that they were just in it for the stew.

Communist Party of Great Britain at London May Day march, 2008
Communist Party of Great Britain at London May Day march, 2008

As for the original communists, the ones advocating “class warfare,” killing their enemies was probably the entire point.

This post wouldn’t be complete without hipster Stalin:




8 thoughts on “Communism’s Death Toll: Bug or Feature?

  1. This piece of writing on why communism failed might interest you:

    Also “Bloodlands” by Timothy Snyder might interest you as it is about the area between Moscow and Berlin from the 30s to the 50s and the atrocities comitted there in. It discusses the motivations of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in order to explain what happened. Basically both were motivated to gain control of the rich agricultural lands in the Ukraine, Stalin by expropriation and Hitler by Invasion.


  2. If there’s any single communist policy that’s consistently led to high death tolls wherever it’s been adopted, I’d suggest the collectivization of land stands out. The Great Leap Forward is the most famous example of such policies backfiring on a truly massive scale, but the Soviet Union and Vietnam also provide harrowing examples to name just a couple more. While the gulags might be attributed to the excesses of individual tyrants, the collectives were prescribed by the ideology of communism itself.


    • I agree; horrible thing, collectivism.
      The operative question is why people would support collectivism; what about collectivism as an ideological principle attracted them to communism in the first place. Obviously resentment against the rich (in many cases, honestly driven by hunger) drove people to advocate land reform; the continued life or death of the rich becomes, at the very least, irrelevant to the peasants.

      The pursuit of collectivist policies even in the face of evidence that they were a very bad idea seems a war of the state against the peasants–the state decided the peasants were its own enemies for not producing enough grain for the factories.


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