The whitewashing of communism since the end of the Cold War is evident in recent polling that shows, alarmingly, that Americans have growing affection for the political theory and form of governance. According to a poll released by the Victims of Communism Memorial Fund, twenty-three percent of American millennials consider Joseph Stalin and Kim Jong Un “heroes” and fifty percent of millennials would rather reside in a socialist or communist nation than in a democratic republic, like the United States.
What’s absent, it appears, is any sort of knowledge of Communism’s death toll, which according to easily-Googled data on the Internet comes in at a horrifying ninety-four million in the last century alone. Reason writer John J. Walters offered this handy comparison to other twentieth-century killers:
During the century measured, more people died as a result of communism than from homicide (58 million) and genocide (30 million) put together. The combined death tolls of WWI (37 million) and WWII (66 million) exceed communism’s total by only 9 million.
It gets worse when you look at the lower right of the chart—The Natural World—which includes animals (7 million), natural disasters (24 million), and famine (101 million). Curiously, all of the world’s worst famines during the 20th century were in communist countries: China (twice!), the Soviet Union, and North Korea.
Communism’s new popularity is no surprise when you consider the abundance of stories extolling the system’s mythical benefits. This was on full display last week in the New York Times, which ran what seemed to be a parody how-to article on parenting in the style of the early Russian revolutionaries.
In “How To Parent Like a Bolshevik,” Yuri Slezkine, a professor of history at UC-Berkeley (natch), provides the perfect amnesiac’s account of the early days of the Russian revolution and seems to suggest that the Bolsheviks were a prototype of today’s Free Range parents.
Too busy reading Goethe, Heine and Tolstoy and torturing and murdering critics of the state when they weren’t busy being tortured and murdered (it was dangerous to be a Bolshie), these Bolshevik parents couldn’t spare a minute to pay attention to their children. But don’t worry, Slezkine writes, the kids thrived! Instead of needing parents and the love, care and nurturing that parents typically provide, these tough toddler comrades simply needed a good Soviet education and the writings of Alexander Pushkin.
Slezkine clearly misunderstands the modern push to give kids more freedom. Unlike the Bolsheviks, devotees of the modern Free Range Kids movement aren’t trying to get out of the responsibilities of child rearing; they’re trying to improve child rearing—for both the child and the parent. Free Range parents worry that today’s kids aren’t being allowed to explore their world and experience the same sorts of challenges and freedoms of previous generations—freedoms that help children develop coping and decision-making skills, good judgment and a greater understanding of their own limits, which will help them develop into independent adults. The Free Range movement was also born out of a concern for parents—who today feel the grinding daily pressure to hover over their children and protect them from a long list of make-believe and remote dangers.
This is a far cry from how the Bolsheviks saw parenting. Instead of free rangers, Bolsheviks surrendered their children to the all-encompassing state. In fact, this is what a good Bolshevik did. In 1922, Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya, the Bolshevik wife of Vladimir Lenin, explained just how the Communist state would work to unburden parents:
These obligations, that is, the support and rearing of children, are slowly being transferred from the shoulders of parents to the shoulders of society. For a proletarian family under capitalism, children were often, too often a heavy and insupportable burden.
Communist society without doubt will hurry to meet parents’ needs and to relieve their difficult burden. Already in Soviet Russia we have Commissariats of Peoples’ Education and Social Welfare which are doing much to lighten the difficult task of the family in raising and supporting children and a family.
Oddly, Slezkine fails to mention two other historical events that might have had a significant impact on Russian kids: The Red Terror, a 1918 Bolshevikian campaign to murder political enemies; and the Russian famine of 1921, a man-made famine caused by Lenin when he ordered Soviet troops to seize the crops that peasants had grown and stored for their own survival as punishment for not sufficiently supporting the war effort. These two significant events in Russian history killed around six million Russians—robbing even more millions of children of their parents.
Perhaps its best not to parent or live like Bolsheviks after all, as history has proven many times over.
Image: Corpses of victims of the winter 1918 Red Terror in Evpatoria, dumped by Bolshevists executers in the Black sea, but washed ashore by tides and waves in summer days of 1918.