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John Stossel: Communism turns 100

| Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, 8:57 p.m.
A sculpture of Vladimir Lenin stands next to a state emblem of the USSR at the Muzeon Park of Arts in Moscow. (AFP | Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images
A sculpture of Vladimir Lenin stands next to a state emblem of the USSR at the Muzeon Park of Arts in Moscow. (AFP | Getty Images)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the worst mistakes ever made: the communist revolution in Russia.

Communist regimes went on to kill about 100 million people. Most died in famines after socialist tyrants forced people to practice inefficient collective farming. Millions of others were executed in political purges.

Yet when the Russian Revolution happened, people both inside and outside Russia were excited. Crowds cheered Vladimir Lenin. No longer would nobles rule; no longer would capitalists exploit workers. Now the people would prosper together.

But you can't have government plan every aspect of people's lives and expect things to go well. Instead, you get bureaucratic planning commissions and secret police.

That won't stop some Americans from celebrating communism's anniversary. I'm sure some protesters will wave hammer-and-sickle flags. Some will wear Che Guevara shirts. A few commentators will call the protesters “idealistic” but impractical. They shouldn't. We should call them supporters of mass murder.

Lenin ordered the hanging of 100 property owners at the very start of the revolution, saying people needed to see the deaths of “landlords, rich men, bloodsuckers.”

Mass murder and starvation rapidly increased the death toll after that.

It wasn't exactly what philosopher Karl Marx had in mind — but it shouldn't have surprised anyone. Marx's writing is filled with comparisons of capitalists to werewolves and other predators who must be destroyed.

Even as the Russian regime killed millions, some journalists and intellectuals covered up the crimes. New York Times writer Walter Duranty saw it himself.

Yet he “covered up Stalin's crimes,” says Tom Palmer of the Atlas Network, a group that promotes free-market ideas around the world. Because Duranty wanted to support “the cause,” he wrote that “report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.”

Duranty “saw the truckloads of bodies,” says Palmer, yet “he wrote on the front page of The New York Times how wonderful everything was.” He even got a Pulitzer Prize for it.

In some ways, times haven't changed that much. This year, The Times ran a series of essays commemorating the anniversary of Russian communism.

At least The New York Times eventually admitted that Duranty's work was “some of the worst reporting in this newspaper.” But the Pulitzer committee never withdrew its prize.

Communism kills wherever it's practiced. But people still people believe.

Making a video on communism's 100th anniversary, I interviewed Lily Tang Williams, who grew up under the regime in China.

“Mao was like a god to me,” she recounts. “In the morning, we were encouraged to chant and to confess to dear Chairman Mao.”

Under Mao, Williams nearly starved. “I was so hungry. My uncle taught me how to trap rats. But the problem is, everybody is trying to catch rats. Rats run out, too.”

She escaped to the United States. Now she says her mission in life is to teach Americans the importance of liberty.

“Big, powerful government, it's very scary,” she warns. “It will keep growing like cancer, will never stop. If you empower government, not the individuals, we're going to lose this free country!”

John Stossel is author of “No They Can't! Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed.”

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