I should have noted this yesterday, as David Kopel did:
December 31, 2005
On this date in 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ceased to exist. As detailed by University of Hawaii political science professor R.J. Rummel on his website “Powerkills“, the 20th century was humanity’s worst century of genocide and democide (the latter including mass killings not based on religion, race, or ethnicity). By far the greatest perpetrators of genocide were Communist regimes. Although a few of the Communist genocide perpetrators eventually developed hostile relations with the U.S.S.R., none of the Communist regimes would ever have come to power without the support of the Evil Empire that arose in October 1917, and which began styling itself as the “U.S.S.R.” in 1922.
A retrospective article on the Heritage Foundation website reminds us how bitterly President Reagan was attacked for his magnificent speech at Westminster in 1982. Reagan was mocked as a deluded idealist by so-called “pragmatists” who thought they knew better. Yet Reagan was right when he declared:
It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history by denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens…
…the march of freedom and democracy…will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history…
The collapse of the Evil Empire came sooner than even Reagan had hoped. The Cuban efforts to impose new dictatorships on Nicaragua and El Salvador failed completely. Solidarity became the elected government of Poland, and later yielded power to another government following a free election. The Warsaw Pact is now nothing more than a scrap of paper, and all the countries which suffered under its jackboots are making their way–some faster than others–towards stable and democratic government.
(Hat tip: Below the Beltway.)
I wonder how many people remember enough about the history and rhetoric of Marxism to recognize that Reagan’s saying that we “will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history” was not merely a rhetorical flourish, but a devilshly clever taunt, turning one of the founding slogans of Marxism against it. As Patrick Ruffini described it:
The phrase was first used by Leon Trotsky who issued this warning to the opponents of the Bolshevik Revolution before the Petrograd Soviet on October 25, 1917: â€œYou are miserable bankrupts, your role is played out: Go where you belongâ€”to the ash heap of history.â€
Well, in 1982 most people who heard Reagan’s speech, even if they recognized the clever turn of phrase, either thought he was being hopelessly idealistic (practical conservatives), trying to seem optimistic for strategic purposes (ideological conservatives), pathetically ignorant of geopolitical realities (pratical liberals), or pathetically ignorant of the “inevitable” leftward march of world history (ideological liberals). The most visible group was the last one. And most of them are still saying that Reagan was an ignorant dolt, rather than a visionary leader who took the world in a direction almost no one else thought it could go — despite the fact that that’s exactly what he did.
In 1982, Communist regimes were, it seemed, riding high and expanding all over the world. By 1991, the movement that had murdered nearly 100 million people was itself dead, having been killed without a single shot being fired, forced to collapse under the weight of its own contraditions — the very same thing that, under Communist theory, was supposed to cause the collapse of “capitalism.”
For more on the death toll of communism, see The Black Book of Communism, by Stephane Courtois, et. al..
For more on the reaction of the “experts” to this and other pronouncements of Ronald Reagan, see Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader, by Dinesh D’Souza.
And, of course, don’t miss Bryan Caplan’s online Museum of Communism.