The lines of ink of the Communist Manifesto, published 175 years ago today, have led to oceans of blood. Since Karl Marx issued his promise that workers who embrace communism “have nothing to lose but their chains,” regimes inspired by his philosophy have afflicted hundreds of millions of people — including the workers who are supposed to benefit from communism — with things worse than chains: gulags, famines, and firing squads.
Yet defenders of the Communist Manifesto in particular, and communism in general, make excuses for Marx’s harmful ideology. Many of them may be well-meaning but sadly misled by Marx’s vision of a perfect, classless workers’ paradise. This vision clashes so strongly with the reality of communist countries crushing their citizens that Marx’s apologists don’t understand how Marx’s supposedly admirable vision led to such suffering. They insist either that real communism (or socialism, which, in essence, is the same thing) has “never been truly tried,” or that real-life examples of communist brutality don’t constitute “real communism.”
The influential political thinker Noam Chomsky, for example, published a 1986 essay titled “The Soviet Union Versus Socialism,” in which he claimed that the USSR did not have a socialist, but rather, a “state capitalist” system. The Daily Beast has previously claimed that “Cuba Is A Kleptocracy, Not Communist.” And Newsweek, in a 2017 article, cited several thinkers who insisted that North Korea, perhaps the best example of the horrors wrought by Marxism, had “rejected Communism decades ago.”
These excuses are dangerous because they make it seem like communism is a noble philosophy that only gets a bad reputation because of bad people who failed to correctly implement it. But to realize how wrong this approach is, imagine if Marx’s apologists gave such get-out-of-jail-free cards to any other political system: feudalism, for instance.
If we judge a political system purely on its promises rather than its actual consequences, why not give feudalism another shot? Feudal society was animated by beautiful ideas. The Code of Chivalry, a set of life rules for knights, called on Europe’s armored heroes to defend the weak, never lie, and “be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.” According to the legendary Song of Roland, knights also had to “respect the honor of women” and live “by honor and for glory.” Who wouldn’t want knights riding around fighting injustice and evil?
It wasn’t just men with shields and swords who were driven by noble ideals. Medieval society was split into three classes: “those who pray” (clergy), “those who work” (peasants), and “those who fight” (the aforementioned noble knights). As one contemporary medieval scholar described the system, “the farmer labours for our food and the warrior must fight against our enemies and the servant of God must continually pray for us and fight spiritually against the unseen foes.” Sounds perfect, right? Almost too good to be true.
In a utopian society, this system would work because it is based on reciprocity and love for your neighbor: peasants provide food to sustain the clergy and warriors, the clergy take care of the spiritual needs of the peasants and warriors, and the warriors protect the peasants and clergymen from evildoers.
And the fruits of medieval society speak for themselves. We owe great thanks to the Middle Ages for the rich Western cultural heritage we take for granted today (that is, when we’re not trying to destroy it). Our medieval ancestors wrote eloquent and witty poems like “The Canterbury Tales,” safeguarded ancient Greek and Roman literature for future generations to enjoy, and built marvels of architecture like the Chartres Cathedral, the magnificence of which we still appreciate centuries later.
And if the beauties of Middle English poetry aren’t enough to convince you to bring back feudalism, think how cool it would be to have the “Duke of Orange County” or the “Viscount of Virginia” representing you instead of some boring councilman or senator.
Naysayers might grumble: “Sure, this all sounds good in theory, but what about the oppressed peasants who were tied to the land they tilled? What about the lack of freedom of religion or speech? Or the endemic warfare?”
To that we may reply that real feudalism has never been tried.
Issues like war crimes and starvation weren’t problems with the feudal system itself, but with the people who actually lived in feudal society. If knights were simply more knightly and followed the high ideals of the Code of Chivalry, they wouldn’t have burnt down villages and slaughtered innocents in times of armed conflict. If nobles were more noble they wouldn’t have oppressed their peasants. If priests were more Christian they would have sold all their earthly possessions and given the profits to help feed the poor.
Of course, these excuses sound ridiculous because we know the problems with feudal society couldn’t have been solved by “nobles acting nobly.” But the difference between trying to resurrect feudalism and trying to implement communism is that many more people have done the latter, with catastrophic results.
Like feudal ideals, communist philosophy sounds beautiful. Marx envisioned a perfect world where “society regulates the general production,” freeing a man from being tied down to one profession and allowing him to “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, [and] criticise after dinner.” In this socialist paradise, social classes would cease to exist and everyone would be completely equal.
Sounds like heaven on earth — almost too good to be true. The problem is that some people are understandably attached to their private property, which Marx wanted to abolish. After all, who would voluntarily give up the house they toiled for decades to acquire? And if these “selfish” property owners decide not to be charitable with the fruit of their life’s work, well, it is up to the state to steal their stuff, murdering or torturing anyone who resists.
Marx wasn’t shy about recognizing the need for violence against communism’s opponents. He admitted that “there is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror.” If any doubts remain about his sanguinary disposition, he also wrote: “We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror.”
Given Marx’s embrace of terror and the bloody methods required to enact communism, it is clear that the psychopaths responsible for the Soviet gulags, the Cambodian Killing Fields, and the at least 45 million who died under Mao Zedong’s rule were not “betrayers” of communism, but faithful followers of communism and Marx’s highest champions. They followed their master’s blueprint perfectly.
The dangerous idea that communism really just means “sharing is caring” is not just wrong, it is evil. Communism should be viewed with the same disdain we hold for fascism.
Ironically, Americans would be much safer if they lived under Don Quixotes who wanted to make chivalry cool again than they would be under a Marxist regime. Nobody in their right mind would want to return to the politics of the Middle Ages, but if given a choice between enjoying the occasional jousting tournament in Central Park or starving in a communist prison camp, I know what I would choose.