Recalling Communism thirty years after the Berlin Wall fell
Thirty years ago, on 9 November 1989, the gates of the Berlin Wall were thrown open by the tottering communist government of East Germany, and thousands of wildly happy East Berliners trooped freely into West Berlin to celebrate, and meet relatives and friends, they had cruelly been kept apart from for decades. The fall of the Wall (it was physically destroyed by the German people over the next two months) was the final nail in Communism’s coffin. Within two years, the Soviet Union collapsed. Of course, we still have the Chinese Communist Party, but the only tenet of Communism it still follows is the ruthless suppression of democratic rights.
After World War II, Berlin was split into two parts—one under the US-led allies and the other, the Soviets. People in the two Berlins led very different lives; indeed, the two cities looked very different—one vibrant, the other grey. On 12 August 1961, a record 2,400 East Germans left for West Germany, totalling three million since 1948. The next morning, East Berlin woke up to find itself cut off from the West by barbed wire fencing. Within days appeared a 103-mile-long wall guarded by 300 watchtowers, “the antifascist bulwark”. Still, over the next 28 years, about 5,000 East Germans managed to escape, using many ingenious methods, and at least 171 perished trying.
At a modest estimate, in the 102 years since the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia in 1917, communist states have directly or indirectly killed 100 million people, more than all other repressive regimes combined during the same period. Collectivization of agriculture, often leading to man-made famines, was the biggest contributor; Stalin wiped out about 10 million, and Mao’s Great Leap Forward was the biggest mass murder in history—45 million. Millions more died in slave labour camps and mass executions, like Stalin’s Great Purge and in Pol Pot’s Cambodia.
Those left alive were deprived of freedom of speech, religion and economic activity. It is stupefying that even today, some people who appear intelligent believe in this ideology, retarded in theory and obscene in practice.
While its final goal was the state “withering away”, Communism dictated that the first step was controlling the production and distribution of virtually all goods in the interests of the people. This, however, necessitated extensive coercion—including mass murder—to force people to give up their property, and do work which the state demanded. That concentrated vast power in the state apparatus and condemned the rest of the population to serfdom.
A popular argument is that communist states could have worked if they were democratic; that is, if there were periodic elections. But communist states cannot, by definition, be democratic. Democracy needs an opposition, which cannot function when all media, and all services—for instance, facilities to hold public rallies—are state-owned. Every communist regime smashed opposition parties after coming to power. That’s no accident.
And, how did Communism so consistently throw up maniacs as leaders, be it in Russia, North Korea, Romania or Ethiopia—very different cultures with only an ideology in common?
Blasphemy time. Communists celebrate their philosophy as “scientific”. It’s anything but. Karl Marx developed his theory first, and then carefully chose facts and statistics to justify it. That is as unscientific as it can get. And many of those facts are lies. For Das Kapital, Marx used a study of British industry by Friedrich Engels, in which he had fudged a lot of data—and Marx surely knew this, because Engels had been exposed in a publication Marx was familiar with. Marx, too, distorted facts, and frequently misquoted texts and people in Das Kapital to make his point (for details, see Intellectuals, Paul Johnson, Phoenix Press, 2000, pages 64-69).
In all his research on poor wages paid to the proletariat in Britain, Marx could not find any case of workers not being paid at all for labour. But such a person existed in his own household. Helen Demuth was the Marx family’s live-in maidservant (I use that word consciously) for 45 years, and was never paid a penny as salary. Marx fathered a son with her, but refused to accept any responsibility. Henry Frederick Demuth was brought up by foster parents.
The father of Communism suffered chronically from boils and carbuncles in his armpits, groin and genitals. In 2007, British dermatologist Sam Shuster did a retrodiagnosis based on Marx’s letters, and concluded that he had hidradenitis suppurativa, a recurring infective condition identified by medical science only in the 1930s. The condition can have strong psychosocial effects. Marx’s letters and contemporary accounts prove that his illness led to constant irritability, fits of rage and depression. Marx was in a particularly bad state while working on Das Kapital, and wrote to Engels: “I hope the bourgeoisie, as long as they exist, will have cause to remember my carbuncles.”
A hundred million deaths, and billions of miserable lives because of some carbuncles? That would surely be the cruellest joke in human history.
Sandipan Deb is former editor of ‘Financial Express’ and founder-editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya ‘ magazines