A Holodomor for the New Millennium
In 1928, Joseph Stalin began a "program of agricultural collectivization" which included a mandate that farmers and peasants surrender their lands and livestock and submit to labor upon state-owned communal farms. When Ukrainian farmers opposed this tyrannical affront to the rights of men, Stalin accused them of "bourgeois nationalism," an individualistic identity antithetical to the Communistic rule of the Soviet Union.
In response to their defiance, Stalin raised militias to expropriate and deport the Ukrainians to the Siberian tundra. When production stalled, he enacted decrees to arrest or execute any among the starving peasantry for taking or hiding "as little as a few stalks of wheat or a potato from the field he worked." By 1933, "Ukrainians [were] dying at a rate of 25,000 a day, more than half of which [were] children. In the end, up to 10 million starve[d] to death." This event has come to be known as the Holodomor, which means "death by hunger."
This is far from the only incident of man-made famine the history of the twentieth century provides. Mao Zedong, in 1959, created his own initiative for state-sponsored "agricultural collectivization" known as The Great Leap Forward. It was during this time, as recounted by researcher Nicholas Eberstadt with the American Enterprise Institute, that peasants and farmers were organized into "huge collectives that socialized feeding as well as farming" with the explicit aim to "destroy the family as an institution." The following years saw the failure of Mao's Great Leap, which resulted in "the state's exaction of grain from the communes" and the starvation of those that populated them. Then, "for the crime of being hungry, the peasants were sentenced to political terror." Today, we know that as many as thirty million people died in this period of "excess mortality," a crime against humanity the scope of which Eberstadt likens thusly: "It would be as if the entire population of California had been swept off the face of the earth."
Cambodia experienced a similar scenario of famine as the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot worked industriously to cultivate their own brand of "agricultural collectivism." And in the years leading up to the turn of the millennium, similar practices in North Korea produced a man-made famine that claimed as many as three million lives.
The trend is not obscure. In all of these scenarios, starving populations met their end under the oppression of Communism. One might wonder how the advocate of Marxism would support his position given these far-too-little-known atrocities produced by its principles. He might suggest that the likes of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Kim Il-sung were just bad seeds -- that the ideology did not fail man, but instead evil men failed the ideology.
This, however, is nothing more than a collectivist's fantasy.
The proof of this continues to haunt us in the new millennium. A recent Reuters report offers that "[i]n a pediatric hospital in North Korea's most productive farming province, children lay two to a bed. All showed signs of severe malnutrition: skin infections, patchy hair, listless apathy." This first sentence illuminates more than it might at first seem. Note the phrase "most productive farming province," and consider what this means. It suggests one of two things: either the government is forcefully confiscating the product of the nation's most successful laborers and purposefully starving them and their children, or this limited information given by a secretive North Korea shows only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the current suffering, meant to spur emotions and elicit aid while hiding the epidemic's severity. In either case, we can be certain that once again, the diseased product of Marxist principle is claiming victims in this, the newest "holodomor."
Certainly, each of these men referenced, including Kim Jong-il, is an evil and murderous example, corrupted absolutely by the power given him. But clearly, the more convincing parallel is that the very ideology of collectivism and socialism creates the need for such men. Human nature resists any attempt to seize the product of one's labor beyond what he would offer of his own volition. To function and maintain any semblance of rigidity, any socialistic government must break down this innate quality of the human spirit in its people, to be replaced with a new ideology that wholly conflicts with it. To ensure that this process, commonly known as "re-education," takes hold, force must be used and examples made.
But alas, does any of this evidence really matter in America today? After all, it did not matter in the last century. Even after the Holodomor, the Great Leap, and the Khmer Rouge, advocates of Marxism like Howard Zinn were still able to convince millions that the grand Marxist vision of enslaving human potential is preferable to nurturing it to flourish.
But perhaps today, futile as it might seem, it is more important than ever to be reminded of this correlation between Marxism and the human misery it yields. Certainly, it is prudent for us to recognize the travesty of the orchestrated murder taking place in Kim Jong-il's country. Even before 2008 sanctions, there was ample evidence that he was "diverting donated food" for his own purposes.
But from a practical and domestic standpoint, the dismal situation in North Korea can serve as a reminder of what true suffering is. No, not the kind of suffering that Americans commonly think of when they address the suffering they endure daily. The kind of suffering that prompted thousands of youths and seasoned counterculturalists, Marxists, and Maoists to hit the streets in the Occupy Wall Street movement -- like having to pay a mortgage, or having to pay for the service of health care, or having to pay for higher education, or having to work to earn a living wage, or just the sheer suffering that comes of knowing that someone has it better than they do. No, North Koreans endure real suffering -- fear, starvation, and death at the hands of its ruling class.
And perhaps there is value in reflecting upon and lamenting the intense irony derived from thousands of privileged Americans, supported by prominent Democrats, outspokenly begging for the application of Marxist principles -- while on the other side of the Earth, muted masses are suffering and dying under the weight of that very yoke.
William Sullivan blogs at politicalpalaverblog.blogspot.com