True socialism has killed more than 100 million people. This happens through the necessary actions that are taken to institute a collective economy that would reap the “benefits” that the collective set out to accomplish.
Socialism has good intentions. The goals have always been reasonable. Stalin wanted to eliminate the economic inequality between the upper and lower classes. Hitler wanted to create a nation of strength in military and economic production. Pol Pot wanted to defend against nationalism, another form of totalitarianism. Equality, fighting nationalism, and military strength are all good things – especially in times of war and uncertainty. It was by making these values visible that these leaders were able to organize political parties, which led to the totalitarian ends.
The problem isn’t in setting these goals, it’s in the execution. The means to accomplish these (otherwise noble) ends are what leads to death and suffering. The goals are vague, and the means to accomplish these goals are even more vague. When a political system that is fueled by people that believe in these values, and has the support of the masses to carry out these values, which they believe are in their best interest, it gains the power to accomplish these goals by any means necessary. And the means override individual values, necessarily. Trading one authoritarian policy for another still results in totalitarianism, which inevitably leads to death. Usually, lots of death.
China’s Mao wanted to create a socialist ideal, one that was by-the-book Marxist. To carry this out, he demanded food and resources from the workers. When production slowed down, and resources were gathered without payment, tens of millions of people starved to death. Millions died in similar fashion in North Korea and the Soviet Union. The Great Chinese Famine that occurred under Mao starved over 20 million people to death. Many millions died of starvation in Soviet Russia, Cambodia, and many others instances where socialism was carried out (Cambodia, Korea).
There are three reasons starvation is common in socialist states. The first is that resources are seized by the state. So, those dependent on their own produce are often squeezed thin. Production slows to almost nothing when the incentives of distributed labor are removed from the economy. So much less food is produced. Last, illness takes over, which is harder to defend against without proper nutrition. This leads to outbreaks in disease and premature birth.
The murder of “the enemy” is often killed by socialist regimes. The Bolsheviks killed anyone deemed an “enemy of the people”. Bolshevik leaders determined there were more than one million of these enemies. Mao’s China killed off similar numbers of dissidents. This seems almost reasonable in modern days. If someone believes in hateful ideology, doesn’t that make them hateful, and shouldn’t we do something about that? We should debate their ideas and prevent their spread. We should not force individuals to believe in one doctrine over another. But it is exactly this mindset that leads to the killing off of civilians.
The problem with this is that someone needs to decide who is an enemy and who is not. When a political party determines who is an enemy, then there is lots of room for interpretation and the allowance of bias to come in. For instance, it can be easy to point to a political opponent and say that he is one of the “enemies of the people” instead of competing against him in a fair campaign. This leads to the oppression of individuals, as they are no longer free to carry any (however natural) ideas in their own head and to share and challenge those ideas. You must get in line or die.
Hitler gathered support by promising a booming economy and a strong national image. This was enough to rally his nation during tough economic times that followed the loss of World War I. During the course of his rise to power, he cast goals that the Germans could rally behind. Winning the war was a huge motivator. To rise up from losing the first war to become a global player is a hell of a promise. Even better – blame others instead of the Germans for losing the war and for the tough times that followed (see: Jews during World War II).
This is a recurring theme in all dictatorships and tyrannical societies – they gained the favor of the majority, or at least the loud minority, before turning “evil”. How could people support a system that has led to such destruction? Again, it’s the promises of good things that lead to the destructive means. When equality, national strength, or the suppression of an idea (e.g. nationalism) are prioritized by a political movement, it’s easy to see how destructive policies can result. It’s easy to see because it has happened multiple times and because, theoretically, the means to institute a socialist state lead to oppression and often death.
In summary, the attempts to create true socialism have killed more than 100 million people through:
- The removal of people that disagree with the values of the collective.
- War, which is often a prioritized value that the collective must then value.
- Death by food shortages, rioting, and lacking health care.