Live Free Or Die: America (and the World) on the Brink (14 page)

BOOK: Live Free Or Die: America (and the World) on the Brink
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If socialism's body count in Cuba was bad, it was just a drop in the ocean compared to China. After Mao Zedong led the communists to power in 1949, the Chinese effort to implement socialism was so catastrophic that it nearly defies belief. Even aside from the typical socialist horrors—the mass murder of political opponents, suppression of all freedoms, unrestrained class warfare—just one element of Mao's
program, “the Great Leap Forward,” was one of the greatest tragedies in world history.

The Great Leap Forward was Mao's attempt to rapidly industrialize China and to collectivize agriculture to make that possible. Based on information from Chinese Communist Party archives, historian Frank Dikköter compiled a devastating account of the Chinese people being systematically robbed of their “work, homes, land, belongings, and livelihoods,” as the government forced peasants onto giant communal farms, seized control of the food supply, and used it as a weapon to impose its will in the ensuing famine. During the campaign, reports Dikköter, “between two and three million victims were tortured to death or summarily killed, often for the slightest infraction. When a boy stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village, local boss Xiong Dechang forced his father to bury him alive. The father died of grief a few days later.” According to Dikköter's study, the Great Leap Forward resulted in at least
45 million
deaths. This makes Mao, in Dikköter's view, “one of the greatest mass murderers in history.”

To understand the true lunacy of these socialist frenzies, let's look at an account of just one aspect of the Great Leap Forward provided by Li Zhisui, who traveled extensively with Mao during this period, serving as Mao's personal doctor. In order to increase steel production, the Communist Party ordered that small furnaces be built in fields and courtyards throughout the country. What was used to fuel these contraptions, which spit out small, useless globs of steel? People's steel household implements—pots and pans, knives, shovels, and doorknobs. What's more, because there wasn't enough coal to fuel the furnaces, families were forced to feed their wooden furniture—tables, chairs, and beds—into them. Meanwhile, because so many peasants were transferred to work with the furnaces, the harvest in many villages was left to rot in the fields, contributing to one of the worst famines in human history. Liu noted, “Mao said that China was not on the
verge of communism, but in fact some absurd form of communism was already in place. Private property
being abolished, because private property was all being given away to feed the voracious steel furnaces.”

In Cambodia, the communist Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot seized power in 1975 and upped the ante on socialist utopianism, declaring they were resetting time to a mythical “year zero” in which Cambodian society and culture would begin completely anew. Suspicious of urban living, they emptied out their own cities, including the capital of Phnom Penh, and forced the residents into the countryside. The Cambodia Tribunal Monitor, which was established to document the later trials of Khmer Rouge leaders, provides a short summary of the regime's bizarre totalitarian rule. In order to bring about a classless society, the Khmer Rouge

abolished money, free markets, normal schooling, private property, foreign clothing styles, religious practices, and traditional Khmer culture. Public schools, pagodas, mosques, churches, universities, shops and government buildings were shut or turned into prisons, stables, reeducation camps and granaries. There was no public or private transportation, no private property, and no non-revolutionary entertainment. Leisure activities were severely restricted. People throughout the country, including the leaders of the CPK, had to wear black costumes, which were their traditional revolutionary clothes.

The government deprived individuals of basic human rights, prohibiting them from congregating in public or leaving their cooperatives. If even three people were to gather to have a discussion, “they could be accused of being enemies and arrested or executed.”

The government also profoundly intruded on personal and
familial relationships: “People were forbidden to show even the slightest affection, humor or pity. The Khmer Rouge asked all Cambodians to believe, obey and respect only Angkar Padevat [the Communist Party leadership], which was to be everyone's ‘mother and father.' ”

The Khmer Rouge was responsible for an estimated 1.2 million–2.8 million deaths—or 13–30 percent of the country's entire population at the time
—from execution, starvation, and other causes. In early 1979 they were overthrown in an invasion by Vietnam, a fellow socialist country. Some of the regime's criminals fled into the jungles of Thailand. Although Pol Pot died in 1998 without facing justice, others were put on trial years later. It's not often that an everyday victim of genocidal socialism gets to confront his tormentors in court, but during the trials some Cambodians got that chance.

One was Bou Meng, who was among just fifteen prisoners who survived Tuol Sleng prison, from where sadistic Khmer Rouge maniacs took at least twelve thousand prisoners to various locations for execution. In 1977, despite being a Khmer Rouge supporter, Bou Meng was arrested with his wife, Ma Yoeun, for no apparent reason. They were taken to Tuol Sleng, where Ma Yoeun, who had worked as a midwife, was quickly executed, a tragedy that still brings tears to Bou Meng's eyes. He was tortured and forced to falsely confess to working for the CIA. His life was spared, though, because the prison chief, a notorious Khmer Rouge operative known as Duch, learned he was an artist and put him to work drawing portraits of Pol Pot and other international communist leaders.

In the 1980s, after the Khmer Rouge were overthrown and the prison was converted into a museum, Bou Meng returned there to search for the photo his captors took of Ma Yoeun when she was processed into the prison. In 2015 he told a BBC reporter that he could still see her standing in front of him, and that he wanted to be able to pray over her grave. His tormentor, Duch, was put on trial in 2009 by a special court established to try Khmer Rouge officials. Bou was given the opportunity to ask Duch one question during the trial, so
he asked where his wife was killed. Duch was unable to answer the question.

A more recent socialist experiment occurred in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, a former military officer who'd been imprisoned for staging a failed coup in 1992. Elected president in 1998, Chavez presided over the “Bolivarian Revolution,” a socialist movement inspired by nineteenth-century Venezuelan revolutionary Simon Bolivar. As president, Chavez centralized power, cracking down on oppositional media outlets and packing the Venezuelan Supreme Court. He realigned his nation's foreign policy and cultivated Castro's Cuba as a close ally while denouncing then-president George W. Bush as “the devil” at the United Nations.

Chavez introduced many programs to fight poverty and assist the poor, including low-income housing projects, literacy programs, free health care, and food subsidies. While those programs were touted by his leftist international supporters, they proved to be utterly unsustainable when his overall socialist economic program wrecked the economy. Forced land transfers, land expropriations, and increasing state control in agriculture led to a 75 percent drop in food production over the following two decades as the Venezuelan population increased 33 percent. A vast program of nationalizing industry spread corruption and dramatically suppressed operations in electricity, water, banks, supermarkets, construction, and other industries.

A core problem was that Chavez never diversified the Venezuelan economy from its dependence on oil. With the price of oil skyrocketing from $20 a barrel when he became president to $110 when he died in office in 2013,
Chavez's social programs survived during his tenure, even though they were piling up an enormous debt load. But Chavez planted the seeds of catastrophe when he included the oil industry in his massive program of seizing and nationalizing businesses. He seized private oil fields and gave them to the national oil company, PDVSA. After the company's employees joined an anti-Chavez general strike
in 2002, he fired nineteen thousand oil workers. Their replacements were Chavez loyalists who lacked the knowledge and experience to competently run the company. Many foreign experts were later chased out of Venezuela when Chavez seized control of oil projects run by ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, and confiscated their assets.
The result was a long, steep decline in Venezuela's oil output that outlasted Chavez's reign, with output falling from 3.5 million barrels per day in 1998, when Chavez was elected, to just 760,000 in February 2020.

Chavez responded to the economic deterioration by socializing the economy even more, implementing price controls and exchange controls that only made the problems worse, creating more shortages and an extensive black market in foreign currencies.

Chavez's successor, Nicolàs Maduro, continued the economic policies of the Bolivarian Revolution, resulting in a shattering economic collapse. Due to food shortages, the average Venezuelan lost twenty-four pounds in 2017, while 90 percent of the population lived in poverty—compared to 33 percent in 2015, the last time the Venezuelan government published poverty statistics.
The health care system has been decimated by a lack of medicine and equipment and the emigration of doctors. Women about to give birth must endure what they call “the roulette”: traveling to multiple hospitals to find one that will accept them. According to the
New York Times
, “They sometimes hitchhike, or walk for miles, or take buses over roads whose ruts and bumps seem designed just to torture them. In rare cases, they are rejected over and over until finally giving birth in the street, on a hospital's steps—or in its lobby.”
The economic meltdown has created a huge outflow of refugees, with around 5 million people
—more than 15 percent of the population—having fled their socialist paradise.

Hyperinflation of the Venezuelan currency, the bolivar, reached epic proportions. Because the Venezuelan government stopped publishing the inflation rate, Bloomberg news service created its own estimate based on the price of a cup of coffee at one bakery. In
January 2018, its gauge measured an annualized inflation rate of 448,025 percent.
In August 2018, a Bloomberg journalist reported paying 20 million bolivars for lunch at Burger King.
The previous month she wrote, “With inflation soaring above 60,000 percent, a top-shelf liter of Scotch can set you back 1 billion bolivars—a sum that a minimum-wage worker would have to toil 16 years to earn.”
The currency has become so worthless that state officials are increasingly demanding that citizens pay them their bribes in dollars.

Bloomberg filed a series of reports from correspondents in the capital city of Caracas that offers a glimpse into the bizarre, hellish landscape of Venezuela's collapse. The dispatches included the following observations:

  • Due to constant water shortages, “Dishes are brushed off and reused, and clothing is not something regularly laundered…. You ask friends whether it's okay to flush. You often do not. We're sweaty and, yes, smelly….”
  • In a report titled “Everyone I Know Is Depressed and Medicated,” a reporter described the explosion of the use of anti-anxiety and depression medications, adding, “Our country has been so short on meds that some people buy drugs made for pets.”
  • Because Venezuela no longer produces auto spare parts, importers have shut down, public transport has “fallen into ruin,” and any public transport that does work is crime ridden, people are forced to hitchhike to work.
  • A correspondent described obstacles to dating in Caracas, including hyperinflation, the closing of bars and restaurants, condom shortages, rampant crime, rolling blackouts, tear-gas smoke, and the constant emigration of possible partners.
  • Starving child beggars have appeared “seemingly everywhere” in Caracas. A reporter described Andrea, a nine-year-old juggling limes on a street corner: “She kept her
    collections in a pink-plastic purse: 24 bolivars, less than a penny, and a packet of strawberry-flavored wafers. By 11 a.m., that was all she'd had to eat.”

Mind you, these are the miserable conditions in the country with
the largest proved oil reserves in the entire world
. It's hard to think of any system of government other than socialism that could accomplish that feat. As I said, the destructive power of socialism is like a force of nature.


As you see, socialists have a long record of promising utopia for the poor and then delivering economic destruction, famine, oppression, forced labor camps, and mass killings. Their horrific record speaks for itself. Yet, as I noted earlier, the popularity of socialism is having a resurgence in America, particularly among young people. Democrats in the current Congress have a high-profile “squad” of socialists whose proposals are quickly entering the mainstream of the Democratic Party, and avowed socialist Bernie Sanders became so popular among the Democratic grassroots that for a time he was the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president.

Socialists have an endless supply of excuses for all the misery that governments have inflicted in their name. As I mentioned earlier, a primary one is to argue that the architects of all the socialist nightmares we've discussed just weren't doing socialism right. In other words, there's nothing wrong with central planning per se, it's just that people keep getting the plan wrong. And if some socialist regime becomes a big enough embarrassment, socialists will simply deny that it was socialist at all. However, leftists inevitably praise these regimes as they're implementing socialism and disown them only years later, once the disastrous consequences have become undeniable.

BOOK: Live Free Or Die: America (and the World) on the Brink
6.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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