Sometimes you have to feel sorry for Herr Hitler. The Fuhrer got a terrible rep as a genocidal tyrant but in terms of 20th century murderous tyrants he is—at best—in the top 3. The same in fact goes for things like ecological and economic mismanagement. Fascism a.k.a. National Socialism may have been inefficient and poor at the creating economic growth its leaders promised and it’s followers demanded but it didn’t totally trash otherwise viable economies. Nor did it create ecological disaster zones big enough to be seen from space.
The ideology that did all this, and also pipped Herr Hitler in genocide stakes is International Socialism a.k.a. Communism.
The meme I started this blog post with contains elements of the flags of three of the most murderous communist regimes, though there is considerable argument about which should come first or indeed whether other regimes, such as North Korea, should not be included. Lets consider why (other than the fact the DPRK flag has different colours—making it hard to combine) these three deserve their places.
On the left we have Hammer and Sickle of the Soviet Union. This was, of course, the first communist nation and thus the father (or grandfather) of the rest. Not only that, but under Stalin it pioneered techniques of murdering its own citizens that had not been so successfully deployed at large scale before. The most impressive loss of life was caused by the Holodomor, that is the deliberately engineered starvation in the Ukraine of 1932/33 that killed about 10 million people (estimates range from 4 million to 14 million). However Soviet mismanagement caused other famines as well as the environmental catastrophe that is the Aral sea (or what remains of it) and also sent thousands (possibly millions) to suffer and die in the Siberian Gulags. About the only positive thing to say of the Soviet Union under Stalin is that it defeated Hitler before he could put his mass genocide of Slavic “Untermenschen” in place.
In the middle we have the People’s Republic of China, which as with the Soviet Union, managed to kill its population in a wide variety ways. The most impressive loss of life was caused by Mao and his “Great Leap Forward“. As a result of that somewhere between 35 and 45 million people died between 1958 and 1962, most from starvation although about 10% were executed and usually tortured first. In addition to the Great Leap Forward, other policies, such as the One Child Policy may have caused a total (including the Great Leap) of some 100m deaths and coerced abortions. This makes Maoist China number 1 in total deaths ever. In fact the People’s Republic of China probably killed more people than lived in the world 2000 years ago and it killed about 1% of the global population in the 1950s/60s.
On the right we have Kampuchea (Cambodia). Under Pol Pot, Kampuchea almost certainly achieved the record for most deaths per capita, wiping out about 20% of the population in the four years of 1975-79. In terms of total deaths, the 1.7-2 million (estimates vary) is relatively small (Herr Hitler has it beaten easily), however in 1975 the entire population was less than 10 million. So far as we know no other regime has come close to killing that many of its own people so quickly.
It is true other communist regimes have been less murderous, though the Vietnamese regime’s forcible integration of former South Vietnam led to millions of refugees (the Vietnamese boat people) and Cuba has also seen a large number of its population attempt to flee to the USA. In Africa it is somewhat unclear how many of the Communist inspired regimes killed people because of communism or because of tribal loyalties and general incompetence. However the famines in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the Horn of Africa took place in Communist Ethiopia and Communist Somalia. The 1983 Ethiopian one is definitely considered to have been partially caused by deliberate policy by the Communist government of Ethiopia and killed between 400,000 and 1 million people. One legacy of African communism is “Do they know it’s Christmas” which is particularly ironic when you realize that it was create to raise money for famine victims in a formerly Christian country that had become communist. All in all Communism seems to lead to economic mismanagement at best, and at worst to megalomaniacs having the ideological justification to starving parts of their citizenry to death.