The term Pyrrhic victory comes from Pyrrhus of Epirus, a 3rd Century BC Greek king who fought against Rome. At the Battle of Asculum in 279 BC, he led a coalition army against a Roman army of about equal strength. The battle lasted for two days and in the end Rome was routed, but Pyrrhus lost a huge portion of his own army in the process. After the battle, Pyrrhus is said to have remarked "One more such victory, and we shall be undone". A Pyrrhic victory is a victory won at a cost so high it means the ruin of the victor as well.
I wrote the essay that followed for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In this essay I argue that the West won the Cold War against Communism at the price of becoming Communist ourselves. This essay also argues against the widely held but foolish idea that "Communism in theory" is noble and good and unrelated to the actual experience of 20th Century Communism.
Twenty Years Later: A Pyrrhic Victory?
By Gerry T. Neal
October 20, 2009
This November 9th will mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The significance of that historical event cannot be exaggerated. It marked the beginning of the end of the global conflict that had been raging since the end of World War II between the two superpowers that had emerged from that War to take the place of the great European powers that had been decimated by the World Wars. Two years after the East German guards abandoned the check stops and allowed free access through the gates of the wall the Soviet Union was no more.
Did the end of the Cold War mean that we had won and Communism had lost? Or was the “victory” of the West a Pyrrhic victory? In his 2007 book, Homo Americanus: Child of the Post-Modern Age, Dr. Tomislav Sunic pointed out that in Europe some authors had made the observation that “communism died in the East because it had already been implemented in the West”. Is this in fact the case?
What was or is Communism? It was an ideology and a movement dedicated to bringing about a global revolution on the part of the working class that would establish an egalitarian society. It’s roots lay in the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the 18th Century philosopher whose ideas inspired the French Revolution which became the template for revolutionary movements that popped up all over continental Europe in the early 19th Century. One of those revolutionary organizations, the Communist League, commissioned German economist Karl Marx and his friend Friedrich Engels to write a manifesto outlining the aims of their movement. The Communist Manifesto was published for the first time in London in 1848. Less than a century later a party known as the Bolsheviks, dedicated to the ideology of Communism, seized control of the state in Russia, and turned the old Russian Empire into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Under the leadership of tyrants like Lenin and Joseph Stalin, Communist Russia established a brutal system of totalitarian rule. Freedom to worship was severely curtailed by the officially atheist state. Artificial famines were created to inflict mass starvation and suffering upon the Ukrainians. A class of peasant known as the “kulaks” were made the official scapegoat of the Soviet state and targeted for persecution. Forced labor camps were set up all across the USSR. Long before Hitler came to power in Germany the Bolsheviks had set a record for state cruelty and oppression that the Nazis, brutal as they were, would never be able to top. It would, however, arguably be topped by the Chinese Communists led by Mao Zedong who in 1949 had driven out the Chinese Nationalists and conquered mainland China.
Show trials, Potemkin villages, concentration camps, artificial famines, mass executions of entire classes of people deemed to be enemies of “the people” because of their education, wealth, or religion, these were what Communism looked like in practice wherever it reared its ugly head, whether in Russia under Lenin and Stalin, China under Mao, Cambodia under Pol Pot or Cuba under Castro. The whole time this was going on, smug, ivory-tower, leftist intellectuals in America, Canada, the UK and Europe stuck their noses in the air at anyone who considered Communism to be a serious threat to human freedom and happiness.
These sort of things, we were told by leftist academics and Hollywood actors, are not what Communism is really about. Communism is really about equality and sharing and being fair to people. Only those with unearned wealth and power which they jealously guard for themselves while unfeelingly leaving other people to suffer could possibly be opposed to Communism.
Alright then. Lets look at Communism in theory.
The Communist Manifesto, in which Marx and Engels set forth the ideas and aims of the Communist Party, was a short document. It outlined Marx’s distinct view of history as progressing through a series of conflicts between oppressor classes and oppressed classes and his prediction that the next revolution, on the part of the proletariat (industrial working class), would lead to the abolition of private property (the root of all evil in Marx’s theory) and the establishment of a society where everything is owned in common and people contribute to the best of their ability and in accordance with their needs. In their second chapter, entitled “Proletarians and Communists”, Marx and Engels put forth a 10-point agenda for the Communist movement to achieve its goals.
What is interesting about this agenda is that 3 of the points have been completely accomplished in Western societies. The second point is “A heavy progressive or graduated income tax”, the fifth point is “Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly” and the tenth point is “Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc”.
Note that each of these points is a step towards statism. An income tax is a direct tax on the incomes of people that requires people to give detailed information about their employment and income to the government and which cannot be established apart from an intrusive government tax agency that keeps records on people and has the power to audit people like Revenue Canada or the IRS. When that tax is “progressive or graduated” that means that the government is telling certain people they are making too much money and so the government will take a larger share from them than from others. This tax was established in the United States in 1913 and in Canada in 1917.
A central bank is a tool for the government and bankers working in collusion with the government to confiscate everybody’s wealth without them actually coming up to you and saying “you have saved such-and-such an amount of money over the years, we are now going to take it away from you”. The Federal Reserve System was established in the United States the same year as the income tax and the Bank of Canada was established in the 1934.
Universal public education takes the responsibility for and control of the education of the young away from their parents and places it in the hands of the central state. When schools are paid for and controlled by the central government they become instruments whereby that government can undermine the authority of parents, churches, and other social institutions through state indoctrination. As of late, the public schools seem to be doing far more of that, than teaching kids to read, write, and do math, and imparting to them a basic knowledge of the literature and history of their society and of the world at large.
The other seven points of the Marx/Engels agenda have not been fulfilled so conspicuously and completely but with our estate taxes and government bureaucracies like the CRTC and FCC, and the ministries and departments of transport, it can be said of many of them that they are fulfilled in spirit if not in the letter.
The leftist academics might pipe in at this point and say “See, that proves our point, you can have Marx and Engels without the Gulag, and the killing fields, and the terror famine, and the Great Leap Forward”.
Lets take another look around us then. We don’t have apparatchiks but we do have self-important sycophantic bureaucrats galore. We don’t have yes/no elections on candidates from a single party. We get to chose between various brands of the same party so as to get the policies of Jack Layton under the label of Stephen Harper. We don’t have secret police knocking on our doors in the middle of the night and dragging us away because we have written scurrilous verse about our Leader. We do, however, have Human Rights Commissions, which investigate our actions and words to make sure they measure up to official human rights ideology and which summon us to trials where we are not entitled to legal counsel but where we can face penalties of up to $50 000 and life-time gag orders if we are convicted for just posting words on the internet. There are people in jails across Western Europe whose only crime was to question aspects of the historical account of the Holocaust. Instead of re-education we have “sensitivity training”.
What we don’t seem to have any more are the prescriptive Rights of Englishmen under English Common Law, whereby we are free to do whatever we want if it is not a crime clearly proscribed by law. The Common Law Rights of Englishmen further protected us by insisting that we, if detained by the state, have a right to be immediately presented with the charges against us, to have a judge rule on our detainment, to a trial before a jury of our peers, and if convicted to appeal our case up to Her Majesty herself. Apparently “human rights” trump those rights.
These all seem to have fallen by the wayside as our government has pursued the goals of progress, equality and “human rights”. It looks like Communism, whether in its stark, ugly, naked form in the USSR or Red China, or dressed up to look pretty in Canada and the United States, is simply incompatible with the long-standing British tradition of liberty.
If we value that tradition of liberty, maybe it is time we started asking our politicians to give it back to us, and to get rid of all the Communist innovations they have smuggled in over the last century. Otherwise, the West’s victory over Communism of 20 years ago, is a Pyrrhic victory indeed.
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