Many critics like to pick on big government. They say it?s so huge and bureaucratic that it can?t get anything done right. That may be true. But there?s one thing that big government does well: kill people. The blood-soaked 20th century proved that.
Among the most brutal big government killers of that time was the communist Soviet Union. Ten years ago this month it marked the anniversary of its collapse. That remarkable event in 1991 should be remembered as a great victory for liberty. Of course, Russia today is no Eden?it?s still in the early stages of recovery after 74 years of totalitarian self-destruction. But the terror and bleakness of communism no longer dominate every facet of life there.
And the dead? The millions murdered for the State? They are resurfacing, in photographs and documents from Soviet archives, and in countless mass graves being discovered all over the vast Russian land. A cold harvest of corpses.
They should not be forgotten. Tens of millions of people?women, children, fathers, families?were murdered by the biggest big government in history. The nationalized, planned economy?socialism in one country?ran itself on terror. A free market, a laissez faire economy, could not and has not done what the iron fist of the Soviet State did. And we should?we hope?learn from this.
Hitler and the Nazis did not build the first concentration camps of the 20th century. Lenin and Stalin and the Bolsheviks built them. By the 1950s, hundreds of these camps?the Gulag Archipelago?darted the landscape. So-called enemies of the State, including religious (Jews, Catholics, Orthodox), were sent to the camps, along with criminals. There they were literally worked to death. A conservative estimate puts the number of camp deaths at 16 million. Many of the camps were still operating under Mikhail Gorbachev.
In 1919, hundreds of thousands of Cossacks, who had served as cavalrymen in the czarist army, were murdered by the Cheka, the forerunner of the KGB.
In Ukraine in 1932-33, an estimated 5 million peasants were intentionally starved to death because of a grain-quota system crafted by Soviet bureaucrats and Stalin. The people were deliberately killed as part of state planning.
In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt?s administration?riddled with communist sympathizers and agents, as Soviet and U.S. documents now confirm?officially recognized the Soviet government. In the mid- to late-1930s, the infamous Soviet Show Trials began. This launched the Great Terror, in which an estimated one million Russians were killed. Stalin signed execution orders daily. In one, culled from Soviet archives and published in The Black Book of Communism, Stalin signed an order authorizing the death of 6,600 political opponents.
Things got so bad, reported historian Robert Conquest, that sometimes up to 200 people a day were being shot at the Lubyanka prison in Moscow. At the same time, about 6.5 million kulaks?better off peasants opposed to the state policy of collectivization?were murdered by the Cheka, according to historian R.J. Rummel.
In 1939, the Soviets entered into a "non-aggression pact," i.e., treaty, with the Nazis and launched World War II. The German army invaded Poland from the west and the Red army invaded from the east. The national socialist Soviets brutalized Poland. They murdered some 15,000 Polish army officers and buried them in mass graves in the Katyn forest. They also marched more than one million Poles back to Russia and on to the Gulag. Rape was standard Soviet practice for soldiers, and countless Polish women and girls were violated and died from the brutality.
After Hitler turned on Stalin in 1941, President Roosevelt and his administration started to aid "Uncle Joe" and the Soviets. A lot of the military and material aid provided?paid for by American taxpayers?was used to enforce the terror and genocide in the USSR. The aid went to Soviet state officials and departments. It was used to defend and strengthen Stalin and the Soviet government. (Lenin and Stalin had already killed more than 12 million "enemies of the state" before Hitler and the Nazis took power in 1933.)
By the time Stalin died in 1953, about 25-30 million people had died as a result of government policies in the USSR. From the 1950s and through the 1980s, countless Russians continued to suffer because of State policies. "Enemies" were still sent to the Gulag or to psychiatric hospitals for "treatment." And the people, in general, had to endure a near-Third World existence because socialist planning did not work. Even today, potable water is rationed in Moscow.
Neo-socialist critics, many of whom dominate America?s universities and centers of influence, often complain that the invisible hand of capitalism is ruthless?that the less advantaged suffer because of it. But compare a free market, a laissez faire economy and limited government with a Soviet style socialist economy and what does one see?
Unlimited government is the most efficient killer.
Michael Chapman is a writer at the Cato Institute (http://www.cato.org/).