Is Left better than Right? (1)

It is often posited (and usually accepted without questioning) that “ruthless” right wing political regimes tend to spill more blood than the “caring” lefties. This conjecture goes hand in hand with a popular notion that socialism/communism is all about looking after the citizens through the provision of tax-funded social services – something conservative hardliners would never endorse. A compassionate welfare state would not harm its citizens, right? Read on to find out how this claim stacks up against historical evidence.

I went through school in a socialist Eastern European country in 1970s and was taught that the Romanov dynasty of tsars were a nasty bunch. We learnt how the political dissidents in pre-1917 Russia were routinely spied on, arrested and ruthlessly interrogated. The lucky ones who did not get a death sentence languished for decades in tsar’s prisons. Untold thousands were arbitrarily sent to katorga at the labour camps in Siberia. One example of the cruel tsarist penal system at work was the treatment of the Polish socialist Ludwik Warynski who expired in the Shlisselburg prison 4 years into his 16 year sentence. The details of his agonising death are given in a moving poem “Elegia o smierci Ludwika Warynskiego” penned by the eminent Polish poet Wladyslaw Broniewski. The senseless brutality of the Romanovs was what created social dissatisfaction which led to the Bolshevik Revolution and creation of the Soviet Union – a country which knew how to look after the Russian commoners.

As an adult I did a bit of research and found out that the whole story is a complete fabrication. The Romanovs, who ruled Russia for 90 years, sentenced 6,000 citizens to death for political activities. This included common anarchists (these days we would probably call them terrorists) and oddball wreckers as well as bona fide socialists like Warynski. Around 4,000 of these convicts were executed and the rest had their death sentences commuted and ended up exiled to Siberia. In fact katorga, pre-1917, involved prison and forced labour for a few years after which time the convicts were allowed to leave prison and start families. So the cruel Romanovs despatched their political opponents at an average rate of 45 a year and sent others to Siberia where most ended up living a normal life. In fact even Warynski was initially found guilty and exiled to Switzerland. He then chose to return to Warsaw to carry on with the socialist agitation whereby he got re-arrested and, after a trial, given prison term.

Fast forward to October 1917 when the Bolshevik Revolution handed the power to Lenin’s lot. Firstly it is important to realise that the Bolsheviks did not topple Romanovs. Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated already in February 1917 and the country was run by Kerenski’s Provisional Government so the October Revolution was in fact a coup d’état. Upon gaining political power Bolsheviks started cleansing Russia of all undesirable social elements – royals, aristocrats, land owners, intelligentsia etc. The period which followed is known in history as “Red Terror”. This succinct telegram sent by Lenin himself in 1918 should give you an idea of how it unfolded:

Comrades! The kulak uprising in your five districts must be crushed without pity … You must make example of these people. (1) Hang (I mean hang publicly, so that people see it) at least 100 kulaks, rich bastards, and known bloodsuckers. (2) Publish their names. (3) Seize all their grain. (4) Single out the hostages per my instructions in yesterday’s telegram. Do all this so that for miles around people see it all, understand it, tremble, and tell themselves that we are killing the bloodthirsty kulaks and that we will continue to do so … Yours, Lenin.

120501lenin

But this was just a tame beginning and things got a lot worse as the process gained momentum. The estimates of the total number of killed during the Red Terror period vary between 50,000 and 1,000,000. This is up to 250 times more casualties than the ruthless Romanovs managed to clock up during the 90 years of their rule! Unlike Warynski, these people were not given the dignity of a trial but simply summarily hanged, shot or bludgeoned to death. Ok, but maybe Red Terror was just an aberration and other socialist/communist regimes lived up to their promise of looking after the citizenry? Stay tuned to find out.

Is Left better than Right? (2)

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