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HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN COMMUNIST REGIMES

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HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN COMMUNIST REGIMES

Mensaje por El Compañero el Vie Jun 27, 2008 11:38 am

What were the most significant human rights violations committed by Communist regimes, and who was responsible for them?

All Communist governments have practiced widespread killing of non- combatants. The extermination of the bourgeoisie and wealthy "as a class" has been most loudly proclaimed, although in actual fact peasants have been by far the majority of the victims. In addition, Communist governments have ordered the genocide of numerous ethnic minorities deemed disloyal or anti- Communist. Finally, Communist governments have frequently killed large numbers of rival Communists. In most cases, the official reasons given for mass killings have been economic or political rather than racial, but punishment has rarely been inflicted for individual infractions of the law. Rather, Communist governments would judge "enemies of the people" to be common in one's class, family, or ethnicity, and respond with blanket repression of the entire suspect group. As the democratic socialist historian Carl Landauer notes in his discussion of Stalin's "dekulakization" campaign:

Whether it is more immoral to persecute people because of their opinions than to victimize them because of their former position or their descent may be arguable... But whether a child is made to perish because his parents were Jewish or because his father had a few cows too many and therefore was regarded as a kulak, or whether a man is excluded from jobs because he is a Negro or because he used to be a merchant - in all these cases the victim is penalized for something that has nothing to do with moral guilt and that originated in the past, so that it cannot now be changed. If Communists argued that the incidence of counterrevolutionary designs was greater among kulaks or former bourgeois than among workers, we may remember Hitler's argument that the incidence of some types of crimes was higher among Jews than among non- Jews, and similar arguments of American racists with regard to Negroes or Orientals.(European Socialism: A History of Ideas and Movements)

\Unnatural deaths ordered by Communist regimes fall into three fairly distinct categories: deaths due to extreme hardship conditions in slave labor camps; deaths due to man-made famine, usually closely connected to forced collectivization of agriculture; and lastly, straightforward executions. Later sections of the FAQ discuss the composition and quantity of killings in different nations and time periods, but since similar patterns repeat themselves, here are some general remarks:

Deaths due to extreme hardship conditions in slave labor camps

Slave labor camps, also known as "concentration camps," "forced labor camps," and "re-education camps," have played a vital role in Communist systems from the very beginning. Lenin's secret police, the Cheka, began to set up concentration camps in 1918; the first official admission appears to have been made by Leon Trotsky, who threatened rebellious Czech forces with confinement in concentration camps if they refused to join the Red Army. The number confined during Lenin's reign was by later standards modest, apparently no more than 100,000; but from the outset concentration camps were set up in the unbearable climates of Siberia and northern Russia, and used for extremely demanding tasks such as canal digging, timber cutting, and mining. Such conditions would have tested the endurance of anyone, but they became deadly when combined with the small amounts of food and inadequate clothing issued to prisoners: the annual death rate in Lenin's slave labor camps generally ranged between 10-30% per year. (Thus, the odds of surviving a five- year sentence ranged from 20-60%). Moreover, the high death rate required continuous large-scale arrests merely to keep the prison population stable.

In the early Stalin years, the camp populations were roughly stable, but by 1930 by most estimates the number had skyrocketed to 1,000,000 inmates. But the growth era of the camps was only beginning: by 1940 the concentration camps contained about 10,000,000 souls, while camp conditions grew ever worse. The prison population declined and living conditions improved considerably after Stalin's death, but the slave labor camps persisted into the Gorbachev years.

Some would question whether the deaths in slave labor camps can reasonably be considered "murder." Clearly, if prisoners had been provided with adequate food, clothing, and shelter, the state would have been guilty of slave-driving, but not murder. But this is simply not the case: a conscious decision was made to severely restrict provisions for prisoners while forcing them to perform incredibly demanding work. This methodological standard is not especially high: researchers of Nazi atrocities have routinely and sensibly counted the deaths of slave laborers under inhuman conditions as murder. Mass murderers use a diverse bag of tools, as the testimony of famed Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann reveals:

EICHMANN'S MINUTES FROM THE WANNSEE CONFERENCE PRESENTED AS EVIDENCE AT HIS TRIAL:

"Within the framework of the final solution, Jews will be conscripted for labour in the eastern territories under appropriate leadership. Large labour gangs of those fit for work will be formed, with the sexes separated. They will be made to build roads as they are led into these territories. A large percentage will undoubtedly be eliminated by natural diminution."

PROSECUTOR: What is meant by "natural diminution"?

EICHMANN: That's perfectly normal dying. Of a heart attack or pneumonia, for instance. If I were to drop dead just now, that would be natural diminution.

PROSECUTOR: If man is forced to perform heavy physical labour and not given enough to eat, he grows weaker, and if he gets so weak he has a heart attack...?

EICHMANN: That undoubtedly would have been reported as natural diminution.

Deaths due to man-made famine

While a wide variety of governments in this century have used slave labor camps, mass death due to man-made famine can be fairly described as an original Communist invention. For ideological reasons, Communist governments almost invariably seek to "collectivize" agriculture; i.e., to expropriate peasants' farms. But while Marx thought that Communist revolution would occur only in highly industrialized societies, in actual fact most Communist governments came to power in countries in which "peasants", or farmers, were the large majority of the population. In combination, ideology and objective conditions made Communist states choose between abandoning their theories or waging war on the majority of their own citizens.

Collectivization comes about in a variety of ways, but its essence is the same: getting as much food as possible out of the peasantry while giving them as little as possible in return. During the "War Communism" period, Lenin officially assured peasants that they owned their land, but forced them to sell their entire surplus to the state at a pitifully small price. When peasants chose not to sell, government troops began seizing grain - first surplus grain, then the grain peasants needed to feed their families, and finally the seed grain needed to plant the next crop. The final result was a massive famine in which about 5 million people perished. Under Stalin's forced collectivization program, the peasantry was formally expropriated. Millions of disgruntled peasant families were sentenced to the Siberian slave labor camps. Stalin's collective farmers had to surrender enormous quantities of grain for next to nothing, frequently leading to the seizure of the entire crop. The result was yet another massive famine, made even worse than Lenin's by Stalin's refusal to authorize international relief efforts. The deaths by starvation from this famine were around 7 million; approximately equal numbers of scapegoated peasant families perished in the Siberian concentration camps. This pattern repeated itself in China when Mao collectivized agriculture, and appears at some point in the history of most Communist regimes.

Again, some people would deny that imposing foolish agricultural policies can be considered murder. (Of course, the regimes denied that the policies were foolish, implausibly blaming the famines on the poor weather that always seems to hit at the same time the Party orders the collectivization). But the evidence indicates that the man-made famines were either intentional (under e.g. Stalin) or at least the result of malevolent indifference - both of which are sufficient for a murder conviction. Even Lenin, who pioneered Communist peasant policy and therefore lacked the benefit of experience, realized what he was risking. Barely a month after he seized power, Lenin noted the risk of famine, declaring: "The critical situation of food supply, the threat of famine caused by speculation, the sabotage of capitalists and bureaucrats, as well as the prevailing chaos, make it necessary to take extraordinary revolutionary measures to combat the evil." While Lenin typically blamed everyone but himself, he was quite aware that speculation and sabotage did not cause famine unless combined with anti- peasant policies. When the famine finally threatened to destroy his regime, Lenin dropped requisitioning and price controls - indicating that he knew that these were the cause rather than the cure for hunger. The man-made famines of Communist dictators after Lenin, as shall be seen, were not only foreseen but often used deliberately as a political weapon against recalcitrant peasants.

Executions

Straightforward execution of innocent people has led to far fewer deaths than either slave labor camps or man-made famine. Still, the numbers are impressive. During the Russian Civil War, "class enemies" were executed en masse in the Red Terror. As Zinoviev, a high-ranking Bolshevik put it, "We must carry along with us 90 million out of the 100 million of Soviet Russia's inhabitants. As for the rest, we have nothing to say to them. They must be annihilated." The number executed in this period fell far short of Zinoviev's threat, probably adding up to a few hundred thousand. The executions under Stalin's rule - such as during the Great Terror of 1936-1938 - added up to several million by most counts. Comparable numbers of executions (adjusting for national population) are typical of Communist states.

Needless to say, mass murder was not the only human rights violation found in Communist regimes. As indicated, widespread use of slave labor has been common. The freedom to migrate - even within national borders - has frequently been severely restricted. Freedom of speech, conscience, and religion have been ruthlessly suppressed - although occasional "thaws" during e.g. part of Khrushchev's reign permitted writers such as Solzhenitsyn to expose some of the most egregious of their government's prior human rights violations. Communist regimes rejected on principle the economic freedom to own property, engage in business, or choose one's occupation, although sometimes these have been permitted on pragmatic grounds.

It is safe to say that there is scarcely a single human freedom that Communist regimes have not suppressed as a matter of official policy. While later sections will continue to focus on Communist mass murder and slave labor, the magnitude of the worst atrocities is also a fairly good indicator of the severity of lesser rights violations.

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"Confiamos en que la pureza de nuestra intención nos traiga el favor de Dios para lograr el imperio de la justicia en nuestra patria. Si caemos, que nuestra sangre señale el camino de la libertad. Porque, tenga o no, nuestra acción el éxito que esperamos, la conmoción que originara nos hará adelantar la senda del triunfo."
José Antonio Echevarría : La Habana, 13 de Marzo de 1957.
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