Armed Bolsheviks seized the Winter Palace in Petrograd—now St. Petersburg—102 years ago and arrested the ministers of Russia’s provisional government. The Bolsheviks began the chain of events that would kill millions and inflict a near-fatal wound on Western civilization.
Communism is a wicked economic-political philosophy founded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the second half of the 19th century. Marx and Engels met in 1844, and discovered that they had similar (but wrong) principles. In 1848 they wrote and published “The Communist Manifesto.” They didn’t understand the basis of and the massive benefits of Capitalism and their ignorance caused them to try to end capitalism feeling that it was the social class system that led to the exploitation of workers. The workers that were exploited would develop class consciousness. Then there would be a fundamental process of class conflict that would be resolved through revolutionary struggle. In this conflict, the proletariat will rise up against the bourgeoisie and establish a communist society. Marx and Engels thought of the proletariat as the individuals with labor power, and the bourgeoisie as those who own the means of production in a capitalist society. The state would pass through a phase, often thought of as a socialism, and eventually settle finally on a pure communist society. In a communist society, all private ownership would be abolished, and the means of production would belong to the entire community. In the communist movement, a popular slogan stated that everyone gave according to their abilities and received according to their needs. Thus, the needs of a society would be put above and beyond the specific needs of an individual. It was and remains one of the most inhuman philosophic economic system. In a word, it is nuts.
Unfortunately it became the dominant political philosophy of many countries across Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and South America. In the late 19th century, communist philosophy began to develop in Russia. That opened the floodgates for the assention to power of human fiends such as Stalin, Mao and Fidel.
May Day began as a holiday for socialists and labor union activists, not just communists. But over time, the date was taken over by the Soviet Union and other communist regimes and used as a propaganda tool to prop up their [authority]. I suggest that we instead use it as a day to commemorate those regimes’ millions of victims. The authoritative Black Book of Communismestimates the total at 80 to 100 million dead, greater than that caused by all other twentieth century tyrannies combined. We appropriately have a Holocaust Memorial Day. It is equally appropriate to commemorate the victims of the twentieth century’s other great totalitarian tyranny. And May Day is the most fitting day to do so….
Our comparative neglect of communist crimes has serious costs. Victims of Communism Day can serve the dual purpose of appropriately commemorating the millions of victims, and diminishing the likelihood that such atrocities will recur. Just as Holocaust Memorial Day and other similar events promote awareness of the dangers of racism, anti-Semitism, and radical nationalism, so Victims of Communism Day can increase awareness of the dangers of left-wing forms of totalitarianism, and government domination of the economy and civil society.
While communism is most closely associated with Russia, where the first communist regime was established, it had equally horrendous effects in other nations 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 likely the biggest episode of mass murder in the entire history of the world.
most of the horrors perpetrated by communist regimes were intrinsic elements of the system. For the most part, they cannot be ascribed to circumstantial factors, such as flawed individual leaders, peculiarities of Russian and Chinese culture, or the absence of democracy. The latter probably did make the situation worse than it might have been otherwise. But, for reasons I explained in the same post, some form of dictatorship or oligarchy is probably inevitable in a socialist economic system in which the government controls all or nearly all of the economy.
In Russia, the authoritarian regime of former KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin has embarked on a wholesale whitewashing of communism’s historical record. In China, the Communist Party remains in power (albeit after having abandoned many of its previous socialist economic polcies), and has recently become less tolerant of criticism of the mass murders of the Mao era (part of a more general turn towards greater repression). In the West, only a small minority advocates communism. But many more tend to downplay its evils, or are simply unaware of them.
In a 2012 post, I explained why May 1 is a better date for Victims of Communism Day than the available alternatives, such as November 7 (the anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia) and August 23 (the anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet Pact). I also addressed various possible objections to using May Day, including claims that the date should be reserved for the celebration of labor unions.
But, as explained in my 2013 Victims of Communism Day post, I would be happy to support a different date if it turns out to be easier to build a consensus around it. If another date is chosen, I would prefer November 7; not out of any desire to diminish the significance of communist atrocities in other nations, but because it marks the establishment of the very first communist regime. November 7 has in fact been declared Victims of Communism Memorial Day by the Virginia and Utah state legislatures, and similar resolutions have been passed by the lower houses of the Illinois and Missouri legislatures. If this approach spreads, I would be happy to switch to November 7, even though May 1 is still more appropriate.
But I am more than willing to endorse almost any other date that could command broad support. Unless and until that happens, however, May 1 will continue to be Victims of Communism Day at the Volokh Conspiracy.