Why is communism considered as evil (like fascism and nazism) in the United States?
In this question, a person asks why it's so easy to ban Nazi symbols and so hard to ban communist symbols: Why is banning communism symbols so hard to achieve as opposed to banning of Nazi symbols?
The implication being that communism and Nazism is pretty much the same.
What is the reason for this idea that communism is evil or like Nazism and fascism and aims to kill people?
Is it merely due to the propaganda during the Cold War? I find that doubtful as that was quite a while ago. So why do Americans still commonly have this opinion?
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The answers so far are not answering the question. People are saying why they believe communism is morally wrong, not why Americans believe it is evil.
The simple answer is that America has always been deeply suspicious of foreign ideas, especially those which conflict with values considered quintessentially American (WASP). Manifest Destiny is still an important influence on how Americans think about their country and the world. America is believed to be uniquely special, and foreign ideas can only dilute the country's purity.
As he [JFK] told senator and Vietnam skeptic Mike Mansfield after the Cuban Missile Crisis, "If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have another Red scare on our hands." In July 1963 he is said to have told reporters at an off-the-record news conference: "We don't have a prayer of staying in Vietnam.... But I can't give up a piece of territory like that to the Communists and get the American people to reelect me."
Hostility to communism lingers because of the American character, which hasn't changed much over the last century. America's core values remain religious, and for economic and personal freedom as they understand it.
Americans today are far more religious and individualist than their peers in other developed nations. Consider this analysis by Pew Research. Also consider this data from Gallup. America's most religious states are as religious as Iran, India, Iraq, while America's least religious states are twice as religious as the least religious countries in the world, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Czech Republic, Japan, France.
As a result of all this, Americans are usually hostile to atheists and collectivist ideas. Communism happens to be very atheist and very collectivist.
But this is a distinctly American psychology. Many other cultures value collective responsibility, and regard self-expression with apathy. Japan is perhaps one of the best contrasts, but it's also true to an extent in places like Germany and Scandinavia. In 2009 Der Spiegel published an article which found half of East Germans were sympathetic to the former communist dictatorship.
Today, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 57 percent, or an absolute majority, of eastern Germans defend the former East Germany. "The GDR had more good sides than bad sides. There were some problems, but life was good there," say 49 percent of those polled. Eight percent of eastern Germans flatly oppose all criticism of their former home and agree with the statement: "The GDR had, for the most part, good sides. Life there was happier and better than in reunified Germany today."
Often rejection of communism is post-rationalised ethically. Given the aforementioned, there are common references to a communist state "stealing" from the individual, but this is not a universal belief. Many cultures appreciate communal interdependence; meaning the idea that a collective "steals" from the individual is absurd, as the individual's wealth creation is dependent on the collective working together.
The other issue often brought up is the death toll produced by Communist states. Obviously this is factual, but in the Cold War it was not one sided. The truth is that both the USSR and USA were responsible for mass-murder, committed to enforce their regional influence.
Examples of anti-communist terror are rarely acknowledged. The issue cannot be that communism is evil because it results in murder. Given Suharto's purge of Indonesia in 1965 resulting in a million deaths, or the Dirty War in Argentina resulting in 30,000 "disappeared", or the Vietnam War resulting in two million civilian deaths. Clearly then anti-communism is also evil because it results in murder. If the USSR is evil because it spread communism, the USA must also be evil because it spread anti-communism.
The reason Americans reject communism is elsewhere. It is because of an emotional reaction to ideas which clash with those they have internalised. For most Americans communism is culturally incompatible.
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Historians can perhaps shed more light on these things than political scientists. The fact that the USSR was the way it was and the USA the way it was, had less to do with the political ideologies expressed by the leaders of those countries during the Cold War phase, and more to do with the histories of the two nations and the quite separate paths by which they had each arrived at the twentieth century. Similarly China today is not a function of the Marxism it is still supposed to espouse, as one of the accumulated history of China.
“Examples of anti-communist terror are rarely acknowledged. The issue cannot be that communism is evil because it results in murder.” I think that this answer could be improved if it acknowledged that communism led to *more* murder than anti communism, though, even if you were to include the Holocaust in the latter.
@nick012000 There is far more at play in producing national depredation than the governmental system's ideology of the time being. Pogroms were not unknown under the Tsars. The history of revolution has been as much about continuity as it has about change. The Third Reich did however represent a step-change in governmental violence (provided of course that you exclude the millions who died at the front in WW1)
Fundamental to communist ideology is the common ownership of the means of production and abolishment of social classes and social hierarchy. In practice, that means no (or very few) private property rights, and forced redistribution of wealth from those who are most able to produce to those who are less able or unwilling to do so.
Private property and the exclusive access to the fruits of one's own labor are fundamental human rights under natural law. In order for communism to be moral, it requires everyone to voluntarily cooperate with each other towards a common goal. Unfortunately, people do not work this way. They are different in their ambitions, in their capabilities, and in their values. These differences cause different outcomes, cause some to be more successful than others, and even cause differences by which success is measured in the first place. But communism requires collectivism in order to work. Communism must eliminate those variations of the individual in order to harmonize with the collective good. This is absolutely counterintuitive to everything about human nature.
In order to realize communist goals, private property and the individual's right to their own labor must be seized from them for the sake of the collective. And because this is antithetical to individual freedom, communist governments must also work to eliminate dissent. Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.
In light of the authoritarian oppression of every communist regime in the history of ever, there are those who still make the argument that the idea of communism is good; it's just been "done wrong" by every communist state that has attempted it. However, this is not true. Communism is a fundamentally flawed ideology at its core. Its goals are attractive in principle, but completely unworkable in practice.
Communist governments must necessarily use coercion to achieve the social harmony they promise, depriving the individual of the right to choose their own destiny -- especially if those choices lead to better outcomes for them than for others. This is why every communist state has been a totalitarian nightmare replete with rampant and gross human rights violations. That is the inevitable destiny of any communist regime because it is utterly and completely incompatible with individual freedom and conscience.
Communists would argue that people already do not have full access to the result of their labor (because capitalists own the means of production and thus collect a surplus value from that labor). I also think that you make a pretty big jump from "right to their labor must be seized" (which is already a reach) to "terror" and living in fear. If you make that jump, and would agree that workers currently do not have full access to the result of their labor (which is fair to say), you could also say that people in capitalist societies must live in terror and fear (which is not generally the case).
@tim People living in capitalist societies who do not own 100% of their labor (per your definition) give up the percentage to their employer so that they do not have to own the risk of investing in equipment/office space/etc to be able to perform their labor and the risk of having to actually turn the labor into something someone else is willing to buy. Additionally, everyone is free to try to own 100% of their labor by investing in it and selling it themselves. If anything, the only thing laborers have to fear is that they must sell their labor to someone in order to pay taxes.
@IllusiveBrian Even if you calculate "risk" into the equation, there is still a surplus; it's why large companies end up with billions in revenue. I don't see how say a coal miner could bypass that by "selling it themselves"; it's not a realistic possibility. But my point was that capitalist exploitation is comparable to the "no right to their labor" argument by OP. Both have to be enforced, but saying that it has to be enforced with terror is a reach (anti-communists might argue that it needs to be in communism, and anti-capitalists might argue that the same is true for capitalism).
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This answer is focussing more on why communism is bad (and is an opinion piece regardless of the validity or not of said opinion). Perhaps focussing on _why_ it is viewed in this way instead of stating said view would make this a less controversial answer.
This answer relies on capitalism being "natural", when it is just as manufactured and a product of our current society as Feudalism was before it. Societies change, and communism is one of the proposed future replacements for our current system. It's not required to be violent anymore than our current system is. I'd much rather see an answer that went into the history of attempts at communist states at least understand what these were in reaction to and how they were perceived by the US.
Basically by definition communism is voluntary cooperation. Socialism is the step before communism where a state is supposed to facilitates the transition to communism where there is no state. So communism never existed. If you think it is possible or not is a different matter from its morality
You might find some leads to useful evidence that would bolster your answer even more here. (I +1ed long ago, btw.)
Of course there is always surplus when two parties trade. That doesn't mean that one exploits the other because both sides benefit. A coal miner couldn't bypass cooperation with his employer because it takes more than just raw physical strength to produce coal. In the same way, the employer can't bypass the required physical labor of the coal miner to produce coal even though the employer may have the equipment or knowledge. It's often the case that employer will have more advantage in bargaining than the employee. But that's only because of competition among the coal miners.
TL;DR: because communism did, in fact, kill people. Between 23 million (low estimate) and 100 million (high estimate) of them killed by regimes that collectively self-branded themselves as led by "communist" parties.
The question contains two premises, both 100% false:
That the only reason Communism is seen as evil is "because propaganda" and "because the people with that view are uneducated/stupid".
Contrary to that, as the answer below shows, there's objective evidence leading people to consider Communism evil.
That Communism is universally unpopular in the West, especially USA.
Let's expand on both points:
Is it merely due to the propaganda during the Cold War? I find that doubtful. That was so long ago, and the people who were subject to that propaganda are all old or dead now. So why have Americans and other westerners not smartened up by now and understood what Communism is?
It's a nice theory that is fully contradicted by the fact that among the most anti-communist segments of population are those who know best - immigrants from "communist" (well, socialist) states. People from former USSR, refugees from Castro's Cuba, Venezuelans who escaped Chavez's regime - they are all far more anti-Communist than the average Westerner. Because:
They know exactly what the reality of living in a "communist" society entails.
They know their history. My grandmother was almost repressed because she happened to study genetics when Lysenko was in power. Many members of my extended family were repressed during Stalin's times. She also remembers "Doctor's Plot" (and the fact that Stalin missed out on getting rid most Soviet Jews by a few weeks when he died unexpectedly). Or, for less personalized history lessons:
The editor of the latter book quantifies the answer for why communism should be considered as evil as nazism:
Communist regimes have killed approximately 100 million people in contrast to the approximately 25 million victims of the Nazis
So yes, people who "understood what Communism is" are actually the ones most anti-Communist.
Secondly, Communism is actually pretty popular in the US/West, especially among millennials.
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Communism != Socialism at all. Only 7% of those surveyed would prefer communism, so you passing off the 51% figure as suggesting my generation is uneducated is, quite frankly, insulting. Equally the link to your second source is labelled “millennialls...”. This title implies a majority, when the number is just 1/3rd. I’m surprised this bias is considered acceptable here.
@Tim - I'm actually far more aware of the differences between the two than most millenials... but ironically, Socialist Party of Great Britain actually conflates the two often :) e.g. [here]. As a matter of fact, I'm almost certain that according to at least Leninism, socialism is **inevitably** a society that becomes communist later, but can't find a cite now.
I think it's important to differentiate between Stalin's communism and Marx's. When people discuss the benefits of communism, they are talking Marx. Stalin, however, can be compared to Hitler. The difference is, Fascism is associated to Hitler and Communism is not associated to Stalin. That's no to say Communism isn't dangerous cause we've seen that it can be very much so, but it's not built on separatism the way fascism is. Your left wing argument is just partisan. The left isn't pro communism anymore than the right is pro fascism.
I do not like communism, but there is fallacy in your post. You say immigrants from communist regims are the most anti-communists, which proves communism is evil. But the thing is those immigrants left the country **because** they were against communism. There were also people going from West Europe to USSR, and they were probably more communists than the average guy in the USSR simply because they have chosen communism.
However, you might be on something: americans mostly know USSR by people fleeing it.
@Distic - not quite. I'm saying that immigrants from communist regims are the most anti-communists, which proves ***that dislike of comminism not only doesn't correllate with "being unfamiliar with communism" like the question asserted, but it's the reverse relationship**. The more intimately someone interacted with communism, the more they dislike it - the most ardent supporters of communism in the West are those who never had to actually live under its consequences. I was basically refuting the question, with that particular aside, rather than discussing communism in general.
@Distic - that's actually a correct data point - there were people who chose communism on their free will. Problem is, they were a truly tiny, insignificant minority - I am only aware of may be hundreds, or low thousands of cases. And I don't think more than a literal handful returned to the West and still openly supported Communism after that. The one example I know is the opposite (Koch brothers' father, who became staunchly anti-communist from working in USSR for a while)
@userLTK - Marx was the one who wrote of the benefit of terror and revolution. The only reason more specific bad details aren't associated with Marx is because he simply didn't offer details to criticize. Yet, ***every single time*** someone tried to implement Marxism, they ended up closer to Stalin than to Care Bears. It wasn't **just** Stalin. It was 100% of the experiments that were tried. Stalin. Mao. Kim. Venezuela. Pol Pot. Saddam (BAAS was a socialist party).
@userLTK - when you're doing software development; if after 10th implementation of an interface ALL of them were ruinous, people tend to look at that interface as being a problem (i had a couple of those interfaces designed by me, so this is from practical experience)
@user4012 But communism is still associated with Marx, in addition to the examples of it in action. Unlike Fascism, Communism still stands on a bit of a fence, you can argue the evils of it's implementation, but it still also stands on Marxist ideals - separate from the evil governments. Fascism has a harder time with that. Software programs are purely functional and they lacks the importance of the core idea, so it's really not a good comparison.
@user4012 Not to change the subject, but could you get rid of that misleading and horrible Washington Times article. The Washington Times makes Fox News look like Woodward and Bernstein and the misrepresentation in that article to what you claimed is clear to anyone who reads as far as the title.
@userLTK - not my fault that left wing mass media refuses to cover topics like that which conflict with their views or portray things in ways contradictory to their ideology. Case in point: try to find CNN's article today covering Corrine Brown. I couldn't (using CNN's search bar, or front page, at least).
Why is communism considered as evil (like fascism and nazism) in western countries?
Simple answer is them vs us. This was previously nationality, but cold-war era saw this them vs us line drawn more on economic lines as alliances spanned multiple nations. Them vs us is a 100% with or 100% against perception (no middle ground between two polar opposites) and there is a strong push to equate anything less than 100% capitalist to communism. I'll try to ignore the actuals behind why communism is evil and try to focus more on the perception of why it's remained the big evil within western society.
It should be noted that if you include deaths from sweatshops, activities outlined in 'confessions of an economic hitman', and a handful of wars...capitalism likely has quite the death toll behind it as well, but where do you draw the line between imperial ambitions and capitalism...and if we're willing to draw that line for capitalism, where does that line lay for the communists death toll? Ideal theory vs less than ideal implementation is always a factor in this discussion, usually people have to wear pretty heavy blinders to declare why our system is good and just while their system is corrupt and evil.
Much longer answer, a lot of this is generational. Younger generations are more and more embracing a 'help your neighbor' viewpoint associating capitalism with a 'Individual at the expense of everyone else' ala Martin Shkreli vs a communism 'collective looking out for the good of one another', which seems to have caused a bit of a leftist tilt in the younger generation (probably a bit to do with people get screwed over by capitalism as well and the much greener grass of communism is a dream to address that). Of course, this is entirely a dream world and has little to do with what communism actually is, yet a large number of youths in capitalist nations have somehow come to the conclusion that communism is preferable. Of course, if you actually drill down into the beliefs of these youths, you'll discover they are most likely democratic socialists however they are lumped into communism under the with us (100% capitalist) or against us (100% communist) mantra. End result is youth holding a few socialist views must be shown the communism is evil mantra to get them back into line with 'us'.
Edit from comments : Should be noted that this is in part a 'rebel' youth trend. One can rightly call communism a 'declaration of war' on capitalism (at least partially pending implement) and there are a good number of youth suffering under or seeing the injustices of capitalism and defaulting to 'communism' as the natural counter to it without fully understanding what previous communism setups truly entailed (caught up in the dram version of communism and not the reality). Also to say it, a lot of these youths disputes with capitalism are also misdirected as they pin the crimes of imperialism as crimes of capitalism.
This is greatly exacerbated in the US, which shows a weird mix of misunderstanding and political posturing...we've already got an answer claiming all socialism is communism (same people that use 'liberal' as a curseword), which makes a pretty good example for this. Very much an exercise of reductio ad absurdum in action, suggesting some social support is countered by all social support is communism and therefore evil. Much of the wealthy within the US is generally against using their money to finance social constructs (healthcare is a big one here, but it's used against a pretty wide array of social programs) and a consistent tactic to whip up support is to use the lines "this is socialism, all socialism is communism, communism is evil, therefore "insert hot topic like universal healthcare" is evil. This political posturing is a heavy reason this 'communism is evil!' argument continues in America. Edit to add: American media tends to be consumed internationally which means this argument is very often broadcast around the globe putting this 'socialism = communism = evil' viewpoint across the airways for the world to see.
But with all that said...the key reason why Communism is regarded as evil can be reduced to freedom. "communism = someone else/collective telling us what to do and how to behave" vs "capitalism is the individual choosing what to do and how to behave". People who have had their freedom denied will heavily resist what appears to be taking freedom away.
The catch with capitalism is that it can equally end up being someone else telling us what to do and how to behave. It's not a simple contrast in that regard.
@blip - Agreed entirely, I'm tried to keep my talking points to perception and not the reality...more often than not, perceptions are reduced down to the simplest form.
Indeed, the whole point of communism is that it is supposed to free us from the yoke of capitalism. Here's an example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commons-based_peer_production
@JDoe - You are correct...in many ways the declaration of Communism is war with capitalism (not democracy, but capitalism). Probably in part why the 'youth' mentioned are jumping to pro-communism as they are simply rejecting the existing capitalist structure and not truly communists beyond having a like enemy.
while many great points are made across answers, I think this is by far best aligned with the OP's question...... communist countries were the enemy, and are still considered as such, even if subtly. For example - if just anecdotally - US media coverage of China tends to focus on how government actions relate to reinforcing the power of the (think bad) national government rather than other outcomes. That may be true, but perhaps it is unfairly emphasized.
@xrorox - this answer makes some good points (especially first and last paragraphs). But calling it "neutral" is highly inaccurate - the middle of the answer is rather biased. Then again, it's rare that people notice bias among things they agree with.
@user4012 - I tried to stick to the 'why the perception is there' rather than the 'why its evil' side. The point of the second paragraph (capitalism 'death toll') was to highlight that certain people (such as the youth that this idea flows to) can easily lump in crimes that I'd associate with imperialism into capitalism, giving them a reason to tilt towards communism...people can look at this topic from vastly different viewpoints and come to different conclusions. Or is the bias you see more the american media point? I've updated the answer to be more clear on the youth section at any rate
Tempted to include a portion on the American media here as it's also core to this perception as much of American media is consumed internationally. On topics like healthcare where the majority of the developed world has adopted some form of 'social / universal healthcare', the developed world sees American media decry universal health care as socialism, therefore communism, and therefore evil. Unsure if this reflects what the majority of Americans believe, or simply what news outlets feel like saying they believe, but it becomes the message that gets broadcast worldwide. Worth including?
I disagree with the statement that the youth are leaning toward communism. They are leaning heavily towards social reform, but not communism, specifically, and many are very active in pointing out that socialism =/= communism.
@Aviose - I agree with you there (I'm one of those actively pointing out socialism is not communism), my answer could be more explicit on this point. They are left leaning with socialist tenancies which gets mislabeled as communism by those that promote all socialism is communism, and this results in the communism is evil mantra repeated to them. I should edit and reword that paragraph a bit...I think the reason many of them self-identify to communism follows the line of "I like socialism" "all socialism is communism" "I must be a communist", not because they are in any way communist.
@Aviose - Edit in...am I more clear with that?, please let me know. I think the majority of youth being called communists fit into the 'market socialism' or 'democratic socialism' umbrella.
It does look better, but I disagree with certain general aspects of your answers. Not enough to down-vote you, so take that as you will. Capitalism, for instance, still ends up with someone outside your house dictating your life (your boss), and Communism/Socialism isn't guaranteed to have that impact any more than Capitalism. Incidentally, I feel that neither pure communism, nor pure capitalism is sufficient currently, and both fail for the same reasons, but appropriate social policies can temper capitalism's more egregious problems so long as both sides are kept under some form of control.
@Aviose - This was the challenge in answering this question. Reality (what you have stated here) vs perception (what I've attempted to say a decent portion of people perceive it to be, correctly or otherwise) is hard to differentiate and I'm not 100% pleased with my answers handling of this. It never was my attempt to state that it is, it was my attempt to state thats what it's being perceived as.
I was thinking that perhaps the concept OP is asking about was probably rooted, to a great extent, in the fact that it was the philosophy of the main US rival for world super-power supremacy, as much as anything about the philosophy, itself. If the USSR practiced completely unregulated free-market capitalism, we'd probably have demonized the lack of regulation by the government, instead.
Communism has committed atrocities far greater than the Holocaust.
Holodomor: up to 12 million dead
Khmer Rouge: up to 3 million dead
The Great Leap Forward: up to 55 million dead
Tanzania Experiment: no deaths, only near famine
Death, famine, and genocide are usually considered evil.
I don't particularly see how these reflect negatively on communism as an ideology. Rather, they are examples of failed/inefficient policies by specific authoritarian governments, and in some of the above might have even been politically motivated. If one were to ascribe these failings to any particular form of government, I would personally attribute them to the authoritarian underpinnings of the states in question, not their goals of communism. Moreover, states like the USSR weren't communist in any form (they were socialist, both in the constitution and in practice).
user41281 The parent question asked "why it's so easy to ban Nazi symbols and so hard to ban communist symbols" I thinks it's fair to say many evils have been done under those symbols, it is strange they are seen in a positive light. The symbols represent specific implementations of Communism. I personally think communism as an ideology is destined to lead to tyranny but even if you don't think that's the case they symbols were used by some horrific tyrannies.
@jpmc26 `Their authoritarian attitude was directly related to their desire to implement their communist ideals.` This is abjectly false. Though you can argue that you need a government with strong convictions in order to create a massive governmental revolution that changes the entire nation's economy; that does not mean that communism **caused** the authoritarianism, or that authoritarianism is a must have to be communist. And again, **failure to implement is not the same as inherent impossibility**.
You missed the Gulag (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gulag_Archipelago) in your list of Communist atrocities. That is one that cannot be blamed on 'inefficient policies'. It was a remarkably efficient method of destroying the hope, morality and lives of millions of people. Quite how anyone can be aware of it and not be sickened by the sight of Communist symbols is beyond me.
Er, the British Empire has a similar set of stats. It just doesn't get much publicity because English speaking people wrote the history. And they say the USA has killed 15 million civilians in acts of war since 1945. Why doesn't that get mentioned? Perhaps your answer instead of being so absolute, you can say "And these are the only stats that people are taught"
@DrMcCleod The Gulag was deadly only under Stalin and mostly only under WW II. The Nazis were and are the only ones who have ever built extermination camps.
@gerrit that simply isn't true. The gulag was instigated by Lenin and the murders continued until the 1960's. Furthermore, claiming that it was only the Nazis that built extermination camps is a nonsense, there were dozens of gulag camps in which living people entered and only corpses returned.
@DrMcCleod Only the nazis (and their Croation allies) have ever built extermination camps. They are unique throughout the entire history of mankind. The gulag concentrations camps never had the explicit purpose of extermination. Belzec had a 99.999% death rate. No camp under Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot came anywhere near that. People died in the Gulag. During Stalin and in particular during WW II, people died at a very high rate from exposure and starvation, but there were no gas chambers nor any equivalent industrialised machines for mass murder.
@gerrit Robert Conquest would be so proud to read that. I'm sure that the victims of the Great Terror, the Harvest of Sorrow, the Killing Fields, the Great Leap Forward, and the Gulag would be glad to know that at least they weren't gassed.
@EricBrown None of the victims of those mass-murders were killed in extermination camps. Nor were victims of other genocides such as in Armenia, Rwanda, Balkan, etc. The industrialisation of genocide such as perpetrated by the nazis is unique.
@gerrit this is a pure motte-and-bailey response. Claiming that the Nazis were worse than Communists because they used gas chambers instead of guns is, well, insulting to both me and you.
@EricBrown I have not made a statement about better or worse. I have stated that the Gulag was less deadly than Nazi extermination camps, a statement which is objectively true yet you called this nonsense. Someone entering the Gulag had a good chance of surviving, with mortality rates dropping below 1% after 1950, and rising above 10% only in the same year that a million people starved to death due to the Siege of Leningrad. Nazi extermination camps had >99% mortality rate throughout.
In other words, if you got sent from Leningrad to the Gulag prior to the Siege, that actually increased your chances of survival compared to remaining behind in the German-Finnish siege.
@gerrit You really need to check the sources of your charts, as the linked sources explicitly say that the numbers aren't reliable.
@EricBrown Most estimates are unreliable. They might be higher or lower. Other example. Solzhenitsyn estimated the total number of people who passed through the Gulag as 50 million. Death toll estimates vary from 1 to 10 million. That puts the death rate at anywhere between 2% and 20%, highest during the famine in the early '30s and during World War II. Even with the upper estimate, that is very far from the death tolls of extermination camps, which killed 7 million in <3 years at a >99% death rate.
Why is communism considered as evil (like fascism and nazism) in the United States?
The background necessary to accurately answer your question is complex in both history and culture, but perhaps one short introduction could be:
Due to a series of actions done and promoted by various agents in the USA starting roughly after 1917, following the October Revolution, and continuing to this day (although to a far lesser extent). Important concepts to understand the context behind this (not unique) point of view are Red Scare, HUAC, McCarthyism, Cold War, and Communist Control Act. Although the association of communism with external threats being widespread in popular belief the great majority of the events that motivated this perspective happened inside the US, and were started by Americans.
NOTE: The bold text in the quotes was made by me.
Let's start with some basic definitions from a well known US dictionary:
- a :a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed
- b :a theory advocating elimination of private property
2 (capitalized -> Communism)
- a :a doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism that was the official ideology of the U.S.S.R.
- b :a totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production
- c :a final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably
- d :communist systems collectively
It's probably a bit confusing to see this definition. The different options are antagonistic at best. And explaining "why?" is difficult.
This isn't the beginning (which spreads far out the US) but it's a good starting point:
At the war's end, following the October Revolution, American authorities saw the threat of Communist revolution in the actions of organized labor, including such disparate cases as the Seattle General Strike and the Boston Police Strike and then in the bombing campaign directed by anarchist groups at political and business leaders. Fueled by labor unrest and the anarchist bombings, and then spurred on by United States Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer's attempt to suppress radical organizations, it was characterized by exaggerated rhetoric, illegal search and seizures, unwarranted arrests and detentions, and the deportation of several hundred suspected radicals and anarchists. In addition, the growing anti-immigration nativism movement among Americans viewed increasing immigration from Southern Europe and Eastern Europe as a threat to American political and social stability.
At this point in time a notion such as Organized Labor was somewhat unknown in the US (the same for most of the world). In fact the AFL (American Federation of Labor) had just had quite a few victories with intent on pursuing more. The reaction is likely one of the seeds for the modern point of view that justifies your question:
In 1919, the AFL tried to make their gains permanent and called a series of major strikes in meat, steel, and many other industries. Management counterattacked, claiming that key strikes were run by Communists intent on destroying capitalism. Nearly all the strikes ultimately failed, forcing unions back to positions similar to those around 1910.
It's important to understand that from an external point of view the Russian Red October Revolution was pivotal for it had meant that a popular uprising could overthrown a "modern" (at the time) government. In fact the USA has intervened in the Russia civil war by siding with the Tsar (an autocratic system like Monarchy; even though Woodrow Wilson was known for its idealist, non-interventionist, mindset).
The next few decades would be filled with more of the same, and in some instances it actually prompted decisions typically seen as socialist (see Social Security in the United States), but at the end of 1930s something important to this question happened. The HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) appeared. It was an official committee designed to:
...investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and those organizations suspected of having communist ties.
1940s (after World War 2)
The term refers to U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy and has its origins in the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting roughly from 1947 to 1956 and characterized by heightened political repression as well as a campaign spreading fear of Communist influence on American institutions and of espionage by Soviet agents.
A lot of bad things happened during this time. For some one could argue: with justification; for others not so much. In any case this was the point were Communism first started being a synonym for Soviet Union:
Those who sought to justify McCarthyism did so largely through their characterization of Communism, and American Communists in particular. Proponents of McCarthyism claimed that the CPUSA was so completely under Moscow's control that any American Communist was a puppet of the Soviet and Russian intelligence services. This view is supported by recent documentation from the archives of the KGB as well as post-war decodes of wartime Soviet radio traffic from the Venona Project, showing that Moscow provided financial support to the CPUSA and had significant influence on CPUSA policies. J. Edgar Hoover commented in a 1950 speech, "Communist members, body and soul, are the property of the Party." This attitude was not confined to arch-conservatives. In 1940, the American Civil Liberties Union ejected founding member Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, saying that her membership in the Communist Party was enough to disqualify her as a civil libertarian.
I would also mention the high profile Hollywood Blacklist case:
In 1947, the committee held nine days of hearings into alleged communist propaganda and influence in the Hollywood motion picture industry. After conviction on contempt of Congress charges for refusal to answer some questions posed by committee members, "The Hollywood Ten" were blacklisted by the industry. Eventually, more than 300 artists—including directors, radio commentators, actors and particularly screenwriters—were boycotted by the studios. Some, like Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Paul Robeson and Yip Harburg, left the U.S or went underground to find work. Others wrote under pseudonyms or the names of colleagues.
Evidently it did not help any philosophical Communists in America that others so called Communist regimes were perpetrating violent crimes towards their own and other nations. The difference became nonexistent from a cultural mindset point of view.
Eventually in 1975 the HUAC was formally terminated and with it the majority of the anti-communist propaganda (although it continued mostly by means of culture, at this point a Communist was an Enemy for most Americans).
This was the fall of Soviet Union. Things calmed down a lot, but to this day you'll still often see comments whose nature is consequence of a somewhat ingrained cultural trait in the American psyche. Just to give a very recent example:
It was a scene straight out of the 1950s, but the year was 2017. Travis Allen, a Republican from southern California, took to the floor of the state assembly on 8 May to denounce communism. “To allow subversives and avowed communists to now work for the state of California,” he railed, “is a direct insult to the people of California who pay for that government.”
Allen was speaking out against a move to remove language from the California code that that bars members of the Communist party from holding government jobs in the state.
Anti-communist language remains on the books in several states, and in California, at least, it’s not going anywhere. After facing backlash from Republicans, veterans and the Vietnamese American community, the bill’s sponsor, the Democratic assemblyman Rob Bonta, announced last week that he would not move forward with the bill.
So the answer to your question is not a simple one by any measure. There is plenty that is missing in this answer, but at the very least it should be enough to portrait the social and political circumstances that lead to today average opinion about communism in the US. It's important to consider that most people are not political experts and only a few will be aware of what Communism (as a philosophy) is.
Words such as Socialism and Communism are likely very badly seen due to these circumstances but related movements exist nonetheless. For example terms like Social Justice, Universal Healthcare, or Wealth redistribution are common nowadays even if any association with the left is no recommended. Take a look at a table for the issues the major (big and small) political parties in US defend.
@Xen2050 Just out of curiosity, which one of the answers do you consider to be an actual good answer?
Was influenced by your "There is plenty that is missing in this answer," but it's decent enough, and the question's deceptively broad anyway. I'll del the previous comment, and this one tomorrow too
Informative & pictures, so +1. (Funny superman pic, it's not like the "S" on his chest ever stood for *"S'America"*, changing it to a hammer & sickle seems odd at best)
I think actually, you hit the correct answer by mistake. The answer is propaganda. Why was there so much anti-communist propaganda? Because the people who were at the top in America were the ones who stood to lose the most. Out of their fear of what they had to lose, they needed to scare the rest of the population into rejecting it. Americans fear it because that's what they've been told to do.
Your brilliant answer sheds light upon the unique methods of anti-communist 'defensive' propaganda adopted over the years, which can influence public opinion in deep and unexpected ways through popular culture -- I appreciate and upvote!
I feel like any answer should be downvoted if it doesn't include a) anti-Communist propaganda of the early/mid 20th century and b) corporate slandering of Communism to indirectly fight organized labor a century ago. This answer has both. I feel like the fact that this answer is not the top answer reflects the strong anti-socialist bias on politics.stackexchange. They have been so persuaded by anti-Communist propaganda that they won't acknowledge its influence.
Marx wrote about the inevitability of a paradise of post scarcity once communism is achieved, but very strongly implied that we need to climb over some well dressed corpses to get there. It seems pretty expected that the people currently wearing those clothes aren't going to want that.
Negative news reports weren't that long ago. Whether this is propaganda or not is increasingly hard to say, but:
Two of the countries Americans are most concerned about are still aligned with communism. There are still reports of humans rights violations. Some fairly brutal suppressions happened in the last 40 years, which is withing living memory (not everyone is a millennial no matter what the internet says).
I remember watching The Wall being smashed and a man stopping a tank on TV. And they will live on in the internet, forever counterrevolutionary, with commentary about why they are important. These are events that stick with some people as strongly as One Small Step, I Have A Dream, or a man burning as he falls.
Some of the non-governmental propaganda against communism is still regularly used. 1984 and Animal Farm are fairly hard to avoid in American school and Ayn Rand is surprisingly often mentioned.
+1 but I am rather surprised where you found a single American school mentioning Ayn Rand.
@user4012 it's often required or suggested reading. Less so today, fortunately :)
@blip - nobody in any colleges I'm familiar with even remotely considered it as such. Do you have an example?
@user4012 it's in many school libraries...or at least was. I had it as part of coursework in college. My son had it as a book he could read (suggested, not required) in high school.
@user4012 I wrote about it for extra credit in high school, pretty sure it was just chosen by the teacher and not part of the curriculum at all. In retrospect, just lol at the idea of some dudes managing to tech to infinite energy, create adamantium, and pull off broad-spectrum analog hacking as well as holographic optical camouflage before fucking off to Libertopia where everyone uses gold. Libertarianism has enough real world problems without positing a sci-fi tech base that's already half-way to achieving post-scarcity status.
@user4012 I can attest that the part of the US where I grew up is still requiring Ayn Rand. What really shocked me is that it is required reading before high school.
This isn't evidence of it being widespread in schools, but back in 2007-2009 I remember looking at a scholarship with a substantial award (I vaguely remember the award amount as being 10,000 USD, but I might be mis-remembering) that you could enter where the entry criteria was reading Atlas Shrugged and writing an essay on it, and the winner would be determined based on the quality of the essay (no idea how (un)biased the judging of the essays was).
Looked up Ayn Rand rom wikipedia: "In politics, she condemned the initiation of force as immoral, and opposed collectivism and statism as well as anarchism, and instead supported laissez-faire capitalism, which she defined as the system based on recognizing individual rights". What's so controversial about disliking oppressive regimes and supporting individual rights?
@Shautieh that's a question I'm sure they'd take at literature.se or probably here, but I'd read probably reference our [help/on-topic] while writing it.
@Shautieh - she was a radical individualist in the Locke tradition. Basically, a complete and total heresy and anathema to communitarian thinking that underlies modern progressive left. Same reason why Rand Paul (a mostly-libertarian in Republican skin) is called far right.
@Shautieh She's just a really bad writer from a technical perspective. Her works are huge author tracts, which is fine by itself; however, her plots don't actually serve to advance her "philosophy". One of her character is a genius ubermensch who invented infinite energy; if you're half way to a post scarcity utopia where "work" is a historical footnote, the "free market" is already nonsensical. She also had to inject her rape/cuck fantasies into every sexual relationship she wrote about which was sort of weird.
Ayn Rand isn't actually necessarily all that bad and can be viewed in a positive light that doesn't necessarily validate the worst aspects of capitalism and naively and demagogically appeal to the masses in the way the most upvoted post here does.
Animal Farm is not anticommunist. Animal Farm decries the corruption of the USSR and other communist elites. Orwell was a socialist.
@gerrit I stand by my opinion of the book. If you look at the other answers here "known examples did poorly" is very a popular explanation of why communism isn't popular, the book supports that. If you want a full explanation litature.se should be happy to help.
@notstoreboughtdirt I agree that many people refer to Animal Farm in a discussion opposing socialism or communism, so it's a correct answer in the context of this question, but I do believe those people are wrong and Orwell did not intend it as a critique of socialism or even communism, but rather as a critique of Stalinism. Now whether building socialism or communism is possible on a large scale without falling into Stalin or Mao scale oppression is a valid but probably unanswerable question.
@gerrit - correct. Orwell was an anti-Stalinist (sharply) Communist/Socialist. Ironically, most of UK socialists/communists shunned him for it, IIRC; which rather proves the point being made in a larger sense :)
For the record, neither 1984 or Animal Farm are "propaganda against communism". And Orwell was a socialist (self-described as for "democratic socialism"). He certainly was not a Communist, whatever that means.
What is the reason for this idea that communism is evil or like Nazism and fascism and aims to kill people?
Because the leaders of Communist nations (chiefly Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot) happily slaughtered millions of their own people in the name of revolution, or instituted policies that led to famine and mass death. Per Wikipedia, fully a quarter of Cambodia's population died as a result of Pol Pot's policies.
It's not so much that Communism itself is evil (a form of it was practiced on a small scale by religious communities in North America in the 19th century), but that Communist states tended to wind up as authoritarian and repressive dictatorships.
Unfortunately, I think that's kind of inevitable - any system that requires a centrally planned economy over multiple communities is going to favor a very rigid top-down form of government, which lends itself to authoritarian rule.
So, what's exactly is the difference with USA eliminating its natives and oppressing non-whites?
@OlegV.Volkov: Chief difference is that Manifest Destiny did not result in American *citizens* having their property stolen or being imprisoned or executed by the thousands. Our sins are all about stealing *other people's* land and labor and creating a race-based class system. Lenin and Stalin and Mao were all about stealing land from *their own people* and enforcing a rigid ideological orthodoxy, murdering or imprisoning anyone who didn't conform.
I'm going to posit that nobody really knows the correct answer--and in fact there probably isn't any one answer that's entirely correct. Consider just a few of the possibilities:
Americans have been exposed to a huge amount of anti-communist propaganda, varying all the way from extremely blatant to quite subtle.
There's also quite a bit of objective evidence that at least in practice, governments that claimed to be communist (or working toward communism) simply haven't worked well (and regardless of intent, most have turned into totalitarian dictatorships very quickly).
Of course, Marx was also openly hostile toward beliefs many hold near and dear, such as religion. It might be open to argument whether communism necessarily implies atheism, but quite a few people see it that way, and base their opinions on that belief.
Many have at some time or other seen a child in a grocery store grab some candy and yell "MINE!" at the top of their lungs when their parent tries to take it away. Looking at such a spectacle has certainly convinced some that the notion of private ownership is so innate to (at least most) humans, that a philosophy of collective ownership is directly contrary to human nature. Thus, communism isn't a good idea that's been poorly implemented, but rather an idea that runs so directly contrary to most people's nature that there's no real chance that improved implementation can make it work.
Similarly others have looked at the Marx's writing, and found what they consider fundamental defects in his ideas themselves. For example, almost regardless of what exact set of rules you decide upon, it's essentially unavoidable that some people will break those rules, so you immediately need some who can enforce the rules, and others who are required to adhere to the enforcers' decisions. This immediately leads to a division of people into (at least) two classes. Thus, they see the notion of a classless society in which all are equal as fundamentally broken as a concept. They see the basic foundations of communist thinking as illogical, inconsistent, poorly thought out, etc.
In a similar vein, some have noted that communist leaders are often selected based more upon such factors are purity and devotion to the communist ideal, rather than actual ability to lead. In short, Marx preached against religion, but many of his followers (or at least people who claim to be his followers) basically treat communism itself as a religion, and Marx as essentially a deity. This degree of self-contradiction is seen as an indication that the system itself (or at least its realization) is fundamentally flawed.
Of course, those aren't the only possible reasons. Most people probably don't base their opinions entirely upon one reason either. The reasons are sufficiently numerous and varied that a wide variety of people can find at least a few with which they're comfortable, almost regardless of age, sex, social status, religious beliefs, etc.
While it's hard to argue against anything you wrote (i agree with most points), specific examples - especially of people citing those specific individual reasons - would improve this answer a lot.
@user4012: I'll give *one* citation: I've personally thought most of those things at different times. Most of it. however, comes from personal conversations, especially back in the '70s and '80s when (what at least claimed to be) communism was still widely practiced, so I can't give traceable citations.
Good point: while Marx himself viewed his work as scientific, and it is still used as such, Marxists treat it like a religion, like bible or quran. Science, especiallc "soft" social and economic science, can be erratic, so that findings have to be corrected or entirely abandoned. Marxists, especially communists, refuse to do so. Or they use it as a justification for violence and power abuse, much like ISIS. In fact, Marxism appears to be a secular cult, the biggest in history.
I think it is unusual to not have totalitarian communism (not to be equated with moderate forms of socialism) viewed as an evil.
It's particularly in Europe, where many leading intellectuals harbor sympathy to far-left, even violent and oppressive, political views, or assume that even mass murderous systems, like those of Stalin and Mao, came from "good" intentions.
Communism as tyranny
Communism is not only about redistribution of property, which can also be done by a moderate socialist, or any other, system. Marx expected, with a scientific conviction, that workers, as the ones in charge of technology, would use their knowledge to take over the power. This expectation promises a total grab of power and invites people who are bullies and want to become tyrants. Later Marxism, and, still later, Leninism, sought development of communism through a "dictatorship of the proletariat". Leninism boiled down to a central committee of the communist party defining "absolute truths", which everybody had to believe and follow, very similar to the "infallible" pope in the Catholic Church. Marxism-Leninism became the basis for almost all communist regimes of the 20th century, and various guerillas and terrorist groups.
Communists want absolute power and enforce it with unrestricted violence. They fundamentally reject pluralism, liberalism, elections, parliaments, checks and balances. Although they may use such, when they serve their purpose. This is what almost inevitably leads to tyrannies like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, or North Korea, which is probably a stalinist regime with full, still ongoing brutality. Due to their nature, today's communists rarely worship these historical characters as idols, but instead, want to become the next Stalins and Pol Pots, or at least Brezhnevs.
Today, many people wrongly associate communism with vague leftist or even liberal goals, such as equality, non-discrimination and elimination of racism. Communists often hijack such movements to use them for their purpose, and hide their much less noble intentions behind them. However, communism itself has no such inequalities as mandatory parts of it's ideology.
Another "justification" for communism comes from the rivalry between communists and various "fascist" movements, and post-WW2 Germany: In the 1920s and 30s, communists and fascists were basically rival gangs, fighting in the streets of Europe, overthrowing the civil governments in some places. After WW2, Nazism was a persisting folk devil, and especially in Germany, a semi-religious dogmatism was established, that Nazism was uniquely evil and must not be compared to any other tyranny, belligerent or murderous political system. Communist propaganda attacked then West Germany as the continuation of the 3rd Reich, presenting communism as the only remedy against a recurring fascism. Hiding behind Nazism became a long term strategy of western communists.
Especially when the communist bloc crumbled around 1990, communists, mainly in Germany, but also in former allied countries, used "antifascism" as their lifeboat. Small, but noisy neo-Nazi groups, the violent Skinhead subculture and a number of racist and xenophobic incidents and hate crimes led to formation of the black clad underground militias, known under the short term "Antifa", and a wide tolerance and support for their violent and oppressive behavior against the general public. This violence immediately targeted victims who had little in common with skinhead or neo-nazi thugs, and strongly utilized purely criminal motivation.
Historical nazism and present time hate incidents were used to give them a free ticket, and the totalitarian communists, who had become unpopular even among leftist groups, could come up and disguise their goals and methods as "antifascism". Much of the leftist political establishment, and especially media, supported this.
All this made few footprints in the USA, until 2016, when the election of Trump created fear of a fascist regime there, when internet trolls, using Nazi imagery and language, became a nuisance, and when fascist individuals like Richard Spencer were much overrated in media coverage. Now it seems like some of the leftist establishment in the US want to install Antifa as an underground political militia and thought police, as it has been in Europe for decades. With the events at Charlottesville, it seems like a final dam broke, where many agreed that the far-right must be countered with violence, and that traditional US freedom values are up to debate, when it comes to the "fight against the right".
I have no idea how influential fascist or even neo-Nazi ideas really are in the US, but I wonder why something, that was originally mainly using German nationalism, can spread to former enemy countries and become a kind of international blueprint for ideological patterns. However, when Antifa is established in the US, as it is largely in Europe, it will be the massive return of violent, totalitarian communism, roughly 70 years after the last "red scare". While not everybody supporting an Antifa group is a commie thug, this is the core of it, exploiting an alleged, or even real, fascist threat for it's purpose.