November 7, 2017 marked the 100 year anniversary of one of the most tragic events in human history: the Russian Revolution that brought the totalitarian Bolsheviks (communists), led by Vladimir Lenin, to power, creating the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or Soviet Union).
The Soviet Union was supposed to create a worker’s paradise by replacing the market with government central planning. However, since central planners cannot know the true value of goods and services— as those can only be established in a free-market— central planners would be unable to calculate prices. Therefore central planning would result in widespread poverty and shortages.
The great Ludwig Von Mises realized this and predicted the failure of the Soviet Union. Read his classic article on it here.
The dysfunctional Soviet economy can best be described by a quote attributed to a factory worker: “We pretend to work, they pretend to pay us.”
The Soviet Union combined economic misery with a ruthless police state. Citizens lived in fear of the knock on the door from the “secret police” known as the KGB. Criticisms of the government could result in exile to the Gulag, where prisoners were worked to death in the freezing cold. The Soviets also pioneered the use of psychiatry as a tool of political oppression, labeling dissent from the system as a sign of mental illness— after all only someone with mental problems would criticize the worker's paradise.
While the average citizens lived in poverty, the leaders of the ruling Communist party lived in luxury. The sight of their black limousines roaring through the streets of Moscow served as a constant reminder of the caste system that lay behind the rhetoric of equality. Murray Rothbard once told me that Yuri Maltsev, an Austrian-Libertarian scholar and former advisor to the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, told him that communist party leaders only became interested in reforms when they became unable to get sausages.
But party bosses could not escape the police state. The Soviet ruling class feuded among themselves and losers would suffer mysterious (or not so mysterious) deaths. Party leaders who fell from power were written out of history texts and it was a crime to even write their names. The Soviets even photoshopped pictures to remove former leaders who fell from power. When I visited the Soviet Union as a student in 1986, my group toured many World War Two memorials and museums, yet I only saw one image of Joseph Stalin — a small flag located in the back of a small museum in the Ukraine. To get a sense of that, imagine touring a museum devoted to the horrors of the Iraqi war and seeing no pictures, or hearing any mentions of, George W. Bush.
The communist's triumph in Russia was blowback from World War One and America’s foolish intervention in that conflict. Ironically, following the Second World War, stopping the spread of messianic communism provided the justification for America’s final transformation from a limited constitutional republic into a global “superpower” intent on spreading democracy via bullets, bribes, and bombs.
Fear and loathing of communism also led the right to abandon their support for non-interventionism and become the biggest cheerleaders for militarism. This led to a gross distortion in American politics where it was considered odd to support free-markets and a non-Interventionist foreign policy. Thankfully, a small group— led by Murray Rothbard—continued to work to build a movement based on the unity of peace and free-markets and today, thanks to the Ron Paul rEVOLution— that movement is stronger than ever.
After the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the United States armed Afghan rebels. These rebel groups formed the basis of Al-Qaeda, making today’s war on terror another example of blowback from the Cold War.
As I mentioned above, I visited the Soviet Union in January, 1986 as part of a student group. At the time, they had not yet begun the reforms that would lead to the system’s inevitable demise, so what I saw was the last breath of the full-blown totalitarian system.
One of the the things I remember most about the trip is the feeling of being watched. Everywhere we went there were police or soldiers working to keep the tourists “in line.” If we went out at night, we could not return to our hotel rooms without checking in at the front desk. And when we ventured out at night to meet with black marketers to exchange American products for souvenirs (jeans and corduroy were particularly valuable) we had to be careful to avoid the police.
We were also told by the professors leading the tour to be wary of hotel staff and citizens who frequented the hotel bar, as they likely worked for the KGB.
One night, two black marketers we met wanted to come back to our hotel room. Since Soviet citizens who lacked KGB contacts were not allowed, they had to switch clothes with us and not speak any English to get past the guards. Sadly, the next day my roommate told me that one of the guys tried to speak English to one of the guards and was arrested.
When we were working together in Ron Paul’s Congressional Office, Daniel McAdams once told me that a friend of his who grew up in a communist country once commented that with the growth of government surveillance, the USA was becoming more and more like the USSR.
Another aspect of the Soviet Union that struck me was the extent of statuary. Statues and pictures of Lenin and Karl Marx were everywhere. Lenin’s body was preserved in a tomb in the Kremlin and out on display. The atmosphere around Lenin’s tomb had a distinctly religious feel to it.
The most striking example of state worship I saw was at a wedding our group got to attend. The couple stood in front of a statue of Lenin, in much the same way a Christian couple would stand before an image of Jesus. Cold War era conservatives were mistaken when they spoke of “godless communism.” Communists, like all modern authoritarians, have a god: the total state.
At the time I went on my trip (and returned with illegal contraband- three boxes of Cuban cigars) who would have guessed that in five years the system would collapse and the Soviet Union would dissolve. As Campaign for Liberty Chairman Ron Paul says, the Keynesian welfare-warfare state could collapse in a similarly dramatic manner. Like the Soviet Union, our economic system is unsustainable and we are in the systems final stages.
It is the role of Campaign for Liberty to make sure that when the collapse happens a free society arises in its place and that the transition happens in an orderly manner. Please join our efforts..