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Lessons from a century of communism




Has the world reckoned with communism’s failure yet? Communism, which came to power 100 years ago this week, ended up killing 100 million people. Yet, the defenders of the idea still insist that communism could work without being oppressive. They’re wrong. Ilya Somin explains why:

To this day, defenders of socialist central planning argue that communism failed for avoidable contingent reasons, rather than ones intrinsic to the nature of the system. Perhaps the most popular claim of this sort is that a planned economy can work well so long as it is democratic. The Soviet Union and other communist states were all dictatorships. But if they had been democratic, perhaps the leaders would have had stronger incentives to make the system work for the benefit of the people. If they failed to do so, the voters could “throw the bastards out” at the next election.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that a communist state could remain democratic for long, even it started out that way. Democracy requires effective opposition parties. And in order to function, such parties need to be able to put out their message and mobilize voters, which in turn requires extensive resources. In an economic system in which all or nearly all valuable resources are controlled by the state, the incumbent government can easily strangle opposition by denying them access to those resources. Under socialism, the opposition cannot function if they are not allowed to spread their message on state-owned media, or use state-owned property for their rallies and meetings. It is no accident that virtually every communist regime suppressed opposition parties soon after coming to power.

Even if a communist state could somehow remain democratic over the long run, it is hard to see how it could solve the twin problems of knowledge and incentives. Whether democratic or not, a socialist economy would still require enormous concentration of power, and extensive coercion. And democratic socialist planners would run into much the same information problems as their authoritarian counterparts. In addition, in a society where the government controls all or most of the economy, it would be virtually impossible for voters to acquire enough knowledge to monitor the state’s many activities. This would greatly exacerbate the already severe problem of voter ignorance that plagues modern democracy. […]

It is equally difficult to credit claims that communism failed only because of defects in the culture of the countries that adopted it. It is indeed true that Russia, the first communist nation, had a long history of corruption, authoritarianism, and oppression. But it is also true that the communists engaged in oppression and mass murder on a far greater scale than previous Russian governments. And communism also failed in many other nations with very different cultures. In the cases of Korea, China, and Germany, people with very similar initial cultural backgrounds endured terrible privation under communism, but were much more successful under market economies.

Overall, the atrocities and failures of communism were the natural outcomes of an effort to establish a socialist economy in which all or nearly all production is controlled by the state. If not always completely unavoidable, the resulting oppression was at least highly likely. [Washington Post]


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  1. Illinois is already a Communist State. Joseph Bolshevik (JB) Pritzker is the head Communist leader of the state and is run staunchly by the Communist Democratic Party. Their rule is high taxes for slave residents and free access to benefits and free voting without ID to criminals and illegals. The rights of free speech and the freedom of religious worship is illegal in this place to maintain a totalitarian social order.