Mark Vakkur, MD

See also: Marx after communism article in the 12/02 Economist

A victim of the Soviet genocide in the Ukraine that killed 7-8 million people, 1932-1933

``The West won't contain Communism. It will transcend Communism. It will dismiss it as some bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.'

- President Ronald Reagan, addressing the University of Notre Dame in 1981.

The final victims of communism in Germany: the last citizens shot dead for attempting to escape their worker's paradise.

When historians look back on the 20th Century, they will probably shudder in horror and ask, "What were they thinking?"   The great -ism's that swept our planet, arising within a decade or two of each other, took different names - fascism, National Socialism, Communism -but were numbingly similiar.  It was almost as though the protagonists were reading from the same bad script.

In some cases they were. Hitler studied Stalin's secret police, after which he modeled the Gestapo.  The first concentration camps were opened in the Soviet Union as early as 1917 by the Chekha, the precursor of the KGB.  They preceded the killing climax at Auschwitz by almost a quarter century. Contemporaries - for a variety of reasons - are confused by the espoused differences of the -isms, but I doubt future historians will be, anymore than we blame solely either the Catholics or the Protestants for the torture, misery, and mass executions of the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, Thirty Years War, and Inquisition.  The narcissism of petty differences was at play as much 500 years ago as it was half a century ago.

Why do I lump communism together with fascism in defiance of the academic dichotomy of right wing- left wing?  Because when you strip away the slight differences in costume, the players are chillingly similar.  Consider the following:

Characteristics of National Socialism and Communism


National Socialism


Chief Visionary

Failed architect

Failing student

Seized power via



Sworn enemy

Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, Marxists, Slavs, anyone remotely viewed as an enemy of the state

The owners of the "means of production" loosely and variously described as intellectuals, Jews, fascists, poets, writers, students, workers, peasants, kulaks, people with glasses, people with education, people with property, children of any of the above, anyone remotely viewed as an enemy of the state

Reaction to contradictory opinion

Suppression, censorship, book burnings

Suppression, censorship, book burnings

Utopian world vision 

the third Reich, a world ruled by Germans

a state-less, class-less, property-less society ruled by the "vanguard of the proletariat" (the Communist Party)

Messianic leader promising to save

the "right" race… 

the "right" class…

… from the perceived great evil:

The evils of an international conspiracy of wealthy capitalistic Jews 

The evils of an international conspiracy of wealthy capitalists

View of terror:

Systematically used to maintain power.

Systematically used to maintain power.

Power structure

Centralized in an unelected, self-declared elite further beholden to a central messianic figure (Hitler) - cult of personality

Centralized in an unelected, self-declared elite further beholden to a central messianic figure (Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot) - cult of personality

Military spending as a percentage of GDP


Very high

Willingness to use military force to crush domestic opposition

Very high

Very high (Krontstadt Rebellion, Prague, Hungary, Budapest, Tiananmen Square)

Economic policy

Socialist: command economy with some cooperation with large, semi-nationalized industrial conglomerates

Socialist: command economy with large industrialized conglomerates headed by Party cronies and apparatchiks with supply determined by fiat

Tolerance of political dissent



Opposition parties

Crushed and forbidden

Crushed and forbidden


Completely controlled; an instrument of the state/Party

Completely controlled; an instrument of the state

Free trade of goods, services, and ideas

Highly regulated and controlled by the state 

Highly regulated, virtually shut down


Stagnant; intense, overt hostility toward "Jewish theories" and "Western" petty bourgeois ideas (as opposed to Eastern, meaning Central-Eastern European)

Stagnant; anti-intellectualism cloaked in a pseudo-scientific, circular logic systems that at its pinnacle resembled religions; persecution of intellectuals intense.

Mass murder

Highly efficient and industrialized; Jews, gypsies, Catholics, Poles, Russians, homosexuals, Marxists, intellectuals, conscientious objectors rounded up with their families in camps and shipped in box cars to death camps

Less efficient but on an enormous scale (geographically and time-wise); less discriminate in the choice of victims but waves of families shipped in box cars to death camps


Over 100 million people died from the communo-fascism, many murdered directly by their government. Many others were killed indirectly through famine created by lunatic economic policies (communism) or as a means of liquidating opposition (fascism, communism), or through military ineptness (communism) or the insanity of propagating world war (National Socialism).


The strange thing about the two forms of government, if indeed they are two distinct forms, is how the West was duped initially by both systems. King Edward VIII and Lindbergh romanticized fascism, as did many Americans until the outbreak of World War II. But more pervasive was the fuzzy warm feeling the collective utopia of Marxism seemed to give Western intellectuals and journalists, who seemed more than willing to overlook the obvious, glaring shortcomings of communist totalitarianism.

How could it be, future historians might ask, that the world could go to war ONLY against Hitler for invading Poland whereas it was Hitler and his ally Stalin who each invaded and divided Poland up for themselves. The Non-Aggression Pact which Stalin freely signed did perhaps more to free Hitler's hand and prolong his grip on power than any other single event. It was a remarkable piece of propagandistic sleight of hand to turn Stalin, who had a body count higher than Hitler's at the outbreak of World War II, into "Uncle Joe" but somehow it happened. Did Western leaders really suspend their disbelief or did they want to believe? The world, after all, was a different and dangerous place in 1942 when Hitler broke the Pact and invaded Russia. Churchill at the time felt any enemy of Hitler's was a friend of the West. Whether the price - the Soviet dominance of Eastern Europe and a long, protracted Cold War - was worth a more reality-based assessment of both dictatorships will never really be known.

Stalin bore direct responsibility for his countrymen's deaths by killing 90% of his superior officers in a spasm of paranoia several years before Operation Barbarossa. He allowed the Germans to conduct joint operation with their Soviet counterparts, giving the Germans tremendous insight into the tactics and doctrine of the Soviet Army. Historians also might marvel at how the "Socialism" in Hitler's name and political/economic philosophy was somehow dropped when the cumbersome "National Socialism" was truncated to "Nazism."

Perhaps the same brutal Realpolitik that allowed Stalin to dupe himself into becoming Hitler's ally at one point may have been why Western intellectuals were so willing to forgive the excesses of communism. Indeed, many became enamored of its ideology. The communal vision of a state-less, class-less society does have a certain appeal, until you look at the results of the ideology. In no case where it was applied did it work. The most successful regimes to date, such as the Chinese, are wise enough to recognize they must abandon most of its central tenets, such as the arrogant idea that a group of enlightened bureaucrats could ever really control something as complex as an economy. Communism failed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, leaving millions dead in its trail, but it lives on in Western elite universities, in the hearts and minds of some of the faculty and students. How ironic that the system that so completely crushed all intellectual dissent took root the supposed last bastion of free speech and tolerant society - the Western university system.

Mass Murder

The death toll from Communo-fascism has been staggering:

Time magazine's words about Pol Pot following his 1998 death, could have been generalized to any of the 20th Century communo-fascist dictators:

Now we will never know why. Yet who can ever fathom the evil that men do. We stand disbelieving before genocide, when women's throats are slit with sharp palm leaves, when children's heads are smashed against tree trunks, when men are slaughtered with the crack of a hoe. These things happened every day in Cambodia for 3 1/2 terrible years, and when the world learned of it, people could only respond with dumb horror.

All Pol Pot ever said was that he was creating a "pure" communist society and whatever he did was done for his country. "My conscience is clear," he told journalist Nate Thayer in a rare interview last October, never admitting his appalling conduct, never regretting the countless executions, the million more dead of starvation and overwork, the living population maimed in body or mind, the entire country reduced to Stone Age survival. Nineteen years after the hated Vietnamese drove him back into the jungle, the evil that he did lives on in Cambodia's traumatized society, poisoned politics, governmental misrule and pitiful piles of bleached-white skulls. When Pol Pot died last week, alone in a small, thatched hut, his passing left only outrage that this man had cheated earthly justice.

"Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!''

- President Ronald Reagan, standing before the Berlin Wall, 1987.

Until the people of Eastern Europe liberated themselves and the Soviet Union essentially went bankrupt, Western intellectuals had a vested interest in making a distinction between National Socialism and the self-described "socialist" governments of the Russian Empire and China. Until then, more than half of the world's governments were overtly Marxist, led by juntas who believed that they could abolish poverty and social injustice through fiat. We were outgunned and outnumbered. Our technology was superior, but it would take would be one intercontinental ballistic missile to wipe out a major Western city.

The anti-communist rhetoric of Kennedy was toned down over the decades; by the time Reagan, who was by some measures no more anti-communist than JFK, came to power, he was mocked by the intelligentsia as retrograde and primitive for calling the Soviet Union an evil empire in 1983. Nobody used words like "evil" anymore, at least not to talk about governments that had nuclear weapons pointed at us. In the words of D'Souza:

Virtually everyone was wrong about the Soviet Union. The doves or appeasers were totally and spectacularly wrong on every point. For example, when Reagan in 1983 called the Soviet Union an ``evil empire,'' Anthony Lewis of the New York Times was so indignant that he searched his repertoire for the appropriate adjective: ``simplistic,'' ``sectarian,'' ``dangerous,'' ``outrageous.'' Finally Lewis settled on ``primitive -- the only word for it.''

Besides, after Stalin's death, the orgy of killing in the Soviet Union seemed to have settled down to a slow trickle of political executions, although millions were to lose their lives in (or trying to escape from) communist countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, or North Korea. It is unclear how many others died indirectly because of poor nutrition or decreased access to modern medicine. The Western intellectuals rationalized that not only was communism a system with which we should live, but perhaps we could even learn something from it. It became chic to espouse Marxist slogans, to embrace the platitudes spouted by those clinging to power in the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Empire. Marxist revisionist historical ideas became the rage on Western campuses, and an industry was created to highlight and revile the evils and excesses of Western culture.

When some Westerners had fallen similarly under the sway of fascist ideas, notably Lindbergh and King Edward VIII of Britain, they were denounced as traitors or collaborators. The intellectuals of the West received no such denunciation when they fell under the sway of Marxist totalitarianism.

Indeed, instead of apologizing, the leftist intellectuals claimed the moral high ground. Not only was what they were doing expedient - allowing them and society to avoid the insanity of a nuclear war - but perhaps it was right. After all, Western society was imperfect, and had problems such as racism and sexism which in the eyes of the intellectual elite were equated with the Gulag or the concentration camp. Since each society was demonstrably imperfect, neither could judge the other. This line of reasoning was the ultimate triumph of moral relativism.

Meanwhile, no one understood - not even the CIA - how badly the Soviet system was rotting from the inside out, how a bankrupt society that produced nothing the world wanted because it simply could not compete could not possibly support the largest military and nuclear arsenal the world had ever seen. All those rubles had to come from somewhere.

Like any badly run business, the Soviet Union did something that no one expected: it went bankrupt. It economically imploded.

Something else happened, too, of course. Somewhere along the line, perhaps when Gorbachev came to power, its leaders lost the will to use terror to stay in power. And since that was the only thing keeping them in power all these years, from 1917 when Lenin's coup subverted what until then had been a people's revolution to the present, they collapsed. When the people of Eastern Europe rose up en masse, this time the Soviets did not send in tanks to machine gun them down. When the Russians did the same thing a few years later, the will to kill was gone.

The Western intellectuals never formally apologized, at least not loudly enough to hear. Even when it became clear after KGB documents were declassified that many of the most graphic accusations about Soviet society once denounced as conservative propaganda were actually true, they simply shifted their focus, shrugged their shoulders, and moved on.

Most kept their Marxist hats out of habit. An entire generation of intellectuals had learned to Marx-speak so well that begged questions infiltrated everyday parlance. Class conscious, bourgeois, and reactionary became well-understood if not widely used adjectives. The idea that a conspiracy of wealthy capitalists - with white Anglos now replacing Hitler's semitic villains - permeates our national culture to the point that it is hard to find a movie or popular book that does not have this theme. And nowhere does anyone challenge the notion that a diversity in income distribution - income inequality - is bad. Instead of attempting to understand the laws of supply and demand and how jobs and prosperity are created, today's students focus on distortions of free markets, such as monopolies, trusts, and wage gaps, but fail to understand or appreciate how markets do many things right. No wonder that the governor of an energy-strapped state looks instinctively toward "price gougers" real or imagined as the scapegoats for a supply-demand imbalance, threatening to litigate his way out of a crisis he helped create.

Recently a faculty member described fostering students to be "good Marxist scholars" (meaning a follower of, not a historian of, Marx). During the Cold War, I might have asked in all innocence whether she also encouraged - in the interest of diversity of political extremist thought - some of her students to be good fascist scholars. Instead, I figured it wasn't worth it, and just smiled inwardly, grateful that for us at least all that silliness is now just a sad chapter in human history.

There are still fringe countries like North Korea, where 250,000 people recently starved to death because of its leaders' rigid insistence on Marxist dogma. But there are just as many countries that are slowly "getting it" such as China, who understand that in order to stay in power, they better grant their people some prosperity. The per capita Chinese income was $500 as recently as 5 years ago, and several million over Chinese starved to death as recently as the late 1960s as a direct result of the Great Leap Forward. The communists there are desperately trying to avoid the fate of the communist leaders of Russia, but the verdict is still out.  Things reportedly have palpably changed in the country since June 4, 1989, when hundreds of demonstrators were killed in Tiananmen Square . With economic freedom comes a desire for political freedom; it will be interesting to see if the communists can retain their grip on power without a demand by the Chinese people to have their interests represented (through opposition parties) and to be granted more human rights.

The historians can make sense of all this. I am profoundly grateful that in the West at least, only harmless literature professors still espouse the platitudes of that bearded German student whose mother once lamented, "I wish Karl would stop writing about capital and go out and earn some."


Becker, Jasper. Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine. A gripping and horrifying account of the state-sponsored terror, cannibalism, torture, and murder during Mao Zedong's "Great Leap Forward" "in which more people died than in Stalin's purges and the Holocaust put together." Has an excellent overview of communist genocide and famine under Stalin in Russia, showing the chilling parallels between what happened in Russia and the Ukraine, and what was to happen in China. Becker served as Beijing Bureau Chief for South China Morning Post and wrote extensively on Chinese affairs for The Guardian, The Economist, and The Spectator.

Brzenzinski, Zbigniew, The Grand Failure, 1989. The author wrote that Stalin murdered perhaps 40 million people, meaning he was "probably the biggest mass murderer in human history, statistically overshadowing even Hitler" (page 27).

Conquest, Robert, The Great Terror, 1968. Conquest, a British historian, estimated that Stalin killed at least 20 million and more likely closer to 40 million people directly.

Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1997 CD edition, for various fact-checking articles on Stalin, Hitler, Lenin, and Mao.

Hitler, Adolph. Mein Kampf.

Johnson, Ben. Modern Times.

Lenin, V.I. State and Revolution

Lenin, V.I. What is To Be Done?

Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto

McCarthy, Terry. "The Butcher of Cambodia," Time magazine, April 27, 1998. Excellent article about Pol Pot.

Medvedev, Let History Judge. Very interesting, thoroughly researched historical volume written by a Soviet historian (pre-perestroika) about Stalin and his terror.

Shipler, David K. Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams. 1983. Provocative look at the Soviet Union written by the New York Times Moscow bureau chief (1977-1979).

Thompson, John M. Revolutionary Russia, 1917, 1981.

D'Souza, Dinesh. "When the Wall Came Tumbling Down: How Reagan Won the Cold War." National Review, November 24, 1997.