The account of North Korean tyranny described by a former political prisoner in Defector’s Testimony on North Korean Prisons: The Trials of Sun-ok Lee sounds similar in many respects to some of the accounts of the horrors of the Soviet Union in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. Solzhenitsyn’s book is basically a gigantic tome detailing the terrible consequences of maintaining a government founded on revolutionary communism in excruciating detail — not excrutiating because it’s detailed, but because of what those details reveal about the terrible cost of revolutionary communism as the basis for a system of government.
I’m the kind of guy who, when someone says “I tried to read such-and-such a book and had to stop because it was depressing,” tends to laugh it off because I breezed through the book in a couple days and enjoyed it. The sole exception was The Jungle: I seem to recall that I struggled through it for a month, but finally finished it, despite the fact it’s trite crap from end to end. That has nothing to do with the fact it’s “depressing”, though.
Despite that, however — despite the fact that “depressing” books often quite interest me, so long as they’re well-written — the relentless, hellish despair elicited by page after page chronicling the miseries and horrors of Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union eventually built up significant weight to the point that I wasn’t making any real progress. I stopped reading it to take a break and read something else.
I didn’t stop reading it because I decided I didn’t want to finish it. I still want to finish it. It’s interesting, and very clear. I just needed a breather from its relentless, merciless grind through the terrible sociopathy of the Soviet Union.
In Growing Up Without Guns, former Soviet subject Leyla Meyers explicitly ties the horrors of the Soviet Union to its almost-total monopoly on modern tools of lethal force. She does so by way of contrast with what she has come to regard as “normal” after being introduced to a culture of liberty in the United States, and she briefly expresses her confusion at the notion that some US citizens don’t seem to realize that they have a right to the tools of self defense. Her closing statement is a powerful one:
Most people at least once in their life said or heard someone say, “I wish I could bring my childhood back.” I might have said it too. Not now, not anymore. The Second Amendment to me, then, is one guarantee that my past will never become my future.
There’s kind of a chicken and egg problem with explaining away the tyrannical excesses of the Soviet Union, however. There are certainly causes other than the prohibition of the tools of resistance to tyranny — not only tools of physical violence, but those of the free exchange of ideas as well. Restricting the ability to effectively communicate ideas freely and defend oneself against state enacted violence is more a method of ensuring the continued domination of the nation by tyrants than a cause of tyranny, from the most obvious perspective. On the other hand, those restrictions are a significant part of the tyranny itself. On the gripping hand, with the passage of every year that no successful rebellion arises, that one can mark off another few million people who have been hauled off to the gulags, that the insanity of Stalin’s state socialism continues, this can be attributed in large part to the lack of the most effective tools to fight the machinery of tyranny.
The other causes that I gracefully glossed over in the preceding paragraph are subject to some speculation. In the following paragraphs, I’ll try to address that somewhat.
There are those who simplistically attribute it to “communism” or “socialism” without having any clear idea of how such things might contribute to tyranny. These are the opponents of pinko commie sensibilities who fail to differentiate between correlation and causation, seeing that explicitly communist regimes and crushing tyranny appear to go hand in hand and assume that means that tyranny is caused by communism itself, without fail or other contributing factors. They similarly tend to be the same people who fail to make much distinction between “communism” and “socialism”. Of course, while an explicitly communist regime may practice state socialism, the two terms are not strictly synonymous, but don’t let that deter you from treating them as though they are in your desire to simplify the relationships between philosophies and outcomes to the point where only unsubstantiated faith in culturally imbued assumptions holds your understanding of the world together.
There are also those who simplistically assert that the communism and/or socialism (there’s a fair bit of conflation of the two on the leftward side of the philosophical aisle as well) of a state is completely orthogonal to the tyranny of the Soviet Union. They assert there is no causal or contributing relationship between the political and economic philosophy of the nation and its tyrannical character, claiming that the excesses of Stalin’s Soviet Union are purely the result of people manipulating the ideals of communism or socialism to their own ends, undermining them and corrupting them without any reasons related to their intrinsic character at all. Their “proof” for this seems to largely derive from their desire for it to be true.
Ultimately, the problem is not “communism” or “socialism”, nor is it strictly divorced from communism and/or socialism. There is another factor involved that creates a very specific need for a tyrannical regime to arise, and it is common to the biggest explicitly communist regimes to have existed. It is the revolutionary factor.
Revolutionary communism — not communism as a whole, in the generic, but specifically revolutionary communism — simply cannot survive at the level of the state without resorting to a tyrannical domination of the populace. The legitimacy of revolutionary communist leaders is immediately called into question once they are clearly installed as the new status quo. To simply accept that the revolution is over and the communists have won is to assume that perfect equality of the quality of life is the new state of the world, and that true power rests solely with that segment of society that has no leadership capabilities or aspirations. Such an assumption, however, flies in the face of the reality that such equality cannot be had without someone organizing it — and someone organizing it necessarily wields greater power than someone else who simply “benefits” from it. The idea of revolutionary communism ever truly reaching a final state of victory, then, is self evidently paradoxical, unless one assumes that, once a state of perfect egalitarian utopia is reached, it is self-perpetuating without any conscious guidance by any member of that perfect society.
One person plants a crop, another harvests it, another turns it into food, another serves it to people who eat it, another cleans up after dinner, and so on, and it all happens in perfect harmony and order without anyone coördinating these efforts. The efficient dance of interacting contributions of labor spontaneously arises from the purity of revolutionary communist ideals in the minds of society’s participants. Resource management is a matter for mysterious serendipity, without requiring any actual people involved.
This is, of course, a patently ludicrous notion of human society, short of developing a truly universal and egalitarian hive mind.
Lacking such beautiful perfection of spontaneous, coincidental organization, the leaders of revolutionary communism after the bloody part of the revolution has been won must simultaneously ensure they remain its leaders so they can see to the work of keeping society humming along and give people the impression they are not in fact maintaining prominent positions for the purpose of keeping the whole rickety mess from falling apart. To do this, they resort to perpetuating the appearance of a revolution that has not yet been completed. They must justify their positions of power with the (at least implicit) promise that they will surely step down, and relinquish the reins of leadership, the moment the revolution itself has been completely accomplished.
It should be obvious to the thoughtful reader at this point that this necessitates manufacturing enemies. Any regime whose legitimacy depends upon having an enemy to fight must ultimately fall to a real enemy, fall to the admission that there is no longer any significant enemy to fight, or manufacture enemies against which it can fight and win time and time again. Manufacture of enemies, of course, means sacrifice. Such enemies that can trouble a state as powerful as the Soviet Union must be so numerous that the sacrifices required to demonstrate a successful battle against them necessarily achieve the scale of genocide.
Ongoing cycles of pogrom after arbitrary pogrom like this, targeting “enemies” identified through manufactured evidence of their perfidy, on a genocidal scale, simply cannot continue without a true enemy in the form of a counter-revolution that really does threaten the revolutionary communist leadership arising unless the very capacity for revolution is eliminated. This being the case, one should certainly expect that any state founded on revolutionary communism must inescapably either fall to other ideals, collapse when evaporating ideology leaves it without internal supports, or enforce strict prohibition of free expression and exercise of the right to keep and bear arms.
The correlation of revolutionary communism to state violation of the rights enumerated in the 1st and 2nd Amendments of the US Constitution is undeniable and, if the revolutionary communist state is to survive, inescapable. Tyranny itself, in all its despair inducing horror — as revealed through the writings of people like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Sun-ok Lee, and Leyla Myers — is inescapable in a revolutionary communist state.
The oppressive character of other, more sober forms of state socialism and communism, however, is much more banal.