…to preserve a tyranny; … keep down those who are of an aspiring disposition, … take off those who will not submit, … guard against everything that gives rise to high spirits or mutual confidence; … and … endeavour by every means possible to keep all the people strangers to each other.
Communism was one of the defining features of the twentieth century. The century’s Communist leaders – Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Kim Il Sung, Pol Pot, and many others – headed regimes dedicated, in theory, to achieving a utopian socialist society. In reality all of these leaders wielded power with extreme cruelty, ignoring the rule of law and ordering the deaths and imprisonment of vast numbers of people. Those unfortunate enough to be living under these regimes, and who had the audacity to question the possibility of attaining communism’s utopian vision, were slaughtered in their millions.
The Black Book of Communism, a study by French scholars published in 1997, is the first attempt to chart communism’s grim global legacy. It details how communism in its various guises – from Lenin’s 1917 Revolution to the Marxist-Leninist regimes of Africa – has been responsible for the deaths of up to 100 million people. Sixty five million people were killed in China alone; another 20 million in the USSR.
Communism’s bloody twentieth century legacy cannot be understood without recognising that humanity is divided between a psychologically normal majority and a ruthless psychologically pathological minority. The discovery of personality disorders, and the way in which psychologically disordered individuals and groups manage to seize and maintain power, allows a true understanding of how communism became such a murderous system. The Communist ideology, with its promise of fairness and equality, provided a powerful vehicle for garnering mass public support. The violent crises that marked its birth provided psychologically disordered groups the opportunity to seize power with the appealing but tragically false promise of a better world. Once in power, the revolutionary leaders ruthlessly brought about the segregation of Communist societies into a pathological elite and a terrorised, traumatised and disarmed psychologically normal majority.
The Soviet Union was the first place in which the conditions were right for a pathological group to seize power under the banner of communism. Having done so in the Revolution of 1917, Lenin immediately ordered the creation of penal colonies, the use of indiscriminate punishment, and the deliberate targeting of innocent people for incarceration. The aim, he said, was to create a culture of terror in which everyone would be afraid and no one would disobey. Lenin’s penal colonies would later grow, under Stalin, into the largest slave system ever seen. The deliberate and systematic use of propaganda to devalue personal feelings of love, and substitute individual desires and aspirations for devotion to the Party, further eased the way to mass murder, torture and slavery.
The Death of Stalin
The night before his death he gathered his colleagues around him. ‘Some of you think that you can rest on your laurels,’ he rasped; ‘but you are mistaken.’ These words struck terror into the hearts of those surrounding him.
The following morning Stalin did not appear. Those caring for him were afraid to enter his room without being summoned and left it the entire day before entering. There they found him lying on the floor, conscious but unable to speak. Immediately they called Beria.
On seeing his leader struck dumb and partially paralysed, Beria rejoiced. He insisted that on no account should doctors be called for and returned home to sleep his most peaceful sleep in memory.
The following morning, having delayed medical help for almost a day since the stroke, and assured of Stalin’s death, Beria finally summoned a doctor. The other potential successors also gathered. Beria, gloating over his impending rise to power, mocked the semi-conscious figure, spewing words of hate at the frail old man. Then suddenly the dying tyrant stirred. Struck with terror, Beria fell to his knees, grasped Stalin’s hand and began kissing it frantically.
A few moments later Stalin’s breathing grew shallow; he gasped for his last breaths, and died. Beria composed himself, stood up, and spat.
Thousands of miles to the east, in the Gulag city of Magadan, a prisoner, on hearing the news of Stalin’s death, greeted a fellow prisoner thus: ‘I wish you great joy on this day of resurrection!’
Continue to Chapter 3 on China here.
Stephane Courtois, Nicolas Werth, Jean-Louis Panne, Andrzej Paczkowski, Karel Bartosek and Jean-Louis Margolin, The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Harvard University Press, 1999