Socialism, communism, and Marxism are all “leftist” beliefs that seem to have had a bad name throughout history. Yet, it is a widespread system of politics that is applied in many Eastern European countries and the rest of the world. This is why, for Orlando Figes, it is also a very interesting subject to get to know.
Understanding Socialism and Marxism
Russia was the first, as well as the biggest, country in the world to apply Marxism on a national level. They did so through by collectivizing all farming land. This meant that crops grown on farmers’ land no longer belonged to the farmers, but rather to the socialist experiment as a whole. The government has full control over the means of production.
In 1932, Josef Stalin implemented socialism with a dictatorship style that resulted in the massacre of virtually every Ukrainian. Millions of kulaks, who were independent farmers, suddenly had to follow the collectivized Soviet scheme of agriculture and abandon their own, proven to be successful methods. Those who resisted were executed using the same tactics as the Red Guards of China’s Mao. Unsurprisingly, little resistance was shown.
Stalin truly was fearsome. Those who resisted were executed by the bullet. However, he quickly found this to be an expensive method. As a result, he starved those who resisted to death instead. Silage, stocks, grains, and farm animals were all confiscated. Whatever food or fuel could still be found had to be handed over. Thousands upon thousands of Ukrainians died as a result of sickness, hunger, and the relentless cold. Indeed, some 80% of people in the Ukraine eventually lost their lives due to Stalin’s policies and the organizational skills of Nikita Khrushchev.
Of course, Stalin and Khrushchev knew that they would not be able to keep these issues hidden. Hence, by 1933, they banned all foreign travel into and out of the Ukraine. The Red Army and the Secret Police tightly guarded the borders until all evidence of genocide had been removed. Malcolm Muggeridge, an English journalist, visited Ukraine after the borders were reopened. He eventually found a few remaining people willing to talk and the true horrors of what had happened became apparent.
The Ukrainian genocide and the various other crimes against humanity that Stalin had engaged in were well known by the Allies. They included Canada, Great Britain, and the United States. They knew that he forced socialism on the Ukrainian people and they knew that there was even some popular sentiment towards socialism. This came from Lenin’s rule, even though even he described sympathizers as “useful idiots”.
By 1991, the Soviets had tested their socialist regime for 74 years. Yet, after yet another “5 year plan”, during which people queued for hours in endless lines for a slice of a stale loaf of bread, it became clear that it wouldn’t work. Just as in Poland, East Germany, and Romania, the people rose up and rejected the socialist experiment once and for all.