is the 1992 introduction to Requiem
a Western fantasy that the man named to be general secretary of
the Communist Party would not be a devoted Communist." Lenin’s
slogan, "Marxism is Almighty Because It Is True," was
displayed practically everywhere in the former Soviet Union. My
first encounter with Karl Marx came in the first grade of elementary
school in the city of Kazan on the banks of the great Volga River.
His picture was printed on the first page of the first textbook
I opened. "Dedushka Marx" (Grandfather Marx), said the
teacher pointing to the picture. I was thrilled, for both of my
grandfathers died in Stalin’s purges in the 1930s. I ran home to
my grandma to tell her she was wrong. "I have a grandpa,"
I said, and with his huge beard and smiling eyes, "he looks
like Father Frost" (the Soviet/atheist version of Santa Claus
or Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of Russia).
in the Soviet Union, such early confusions are soon cleared up,
for studies in Marxism were an unavoidable experience for everyone
irrespective of age, class, social position, or nationality. Even
the convicts in prison, including those on death row, studied the
"Shining Heights" of the "great liberating teacher."
The works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin were published in the USSR
in 173 languages with a total output of 480 million copies. Many
of them were exported. I once met an Indian translator hired by
the Political Publishing House to translate 50 volumes of the Collected
Works of Marx and Engels into Malayalam. He complained the project
was stalled because the Soviet propaganda officers could not find
another Malayalam translator to cross-check his work.
In the Soviet
Union, Marxism was not thought to be just an economic theory. It
pretended to be the universal explanation of nature, life, and society.
It was also a deadly weapon to be wielded against personal enemies.
As in the case of Sergei Vavilov who was starved to death for violating
Marxism because he adhered to the science of genetics, "a false
science invented by the Catholic monk, Mendel." In the name
of Marxism, the death toll reached 100 million; the rivers of blood
flowed from Russia to Kampuchea, from China to Czechoslovakia.
was the chief motivator of the socialist revolutionaries and their
followers. Lenin regarded politics as a branch of pest control;
the aim of his operations was the extermination of cockroaches and
bloodsucking spiders, the myriad persons who stood in the way of
his political ambitions. Yet Western hagiographers have glossed
over this atrocious ruthlessness of Marxists, as historian Richard
Pipes has documented.
One of the
common denominators between Leninists and government interventionists
in the West is the belief that the problems of monopoly are the
problems of ownership: only private monopolies acting out of greed
are harmful. These institutions are suppressing scientific and technical
progress, polluting the environment, and engaging in other conspiracies
against public well-being. Government monopolies, however, were
believed to be ethical and upright; they substituted the "greed"
of the profit motive with a "societal interest." Yet group
bureaucrats who manage and operate the public sector are no less
self-interested than those who manage and operate private business.
One important difference exists, though: unlike private entrepreneurs,
they are not financially responsible for their actions and they
operate without institutional constraints of cost control that private
property and competition induces. The enlightened minds of planners
and technocrats cannot overcome the problem of economic calculation
without market signals.
N. Maltsev [send
him mail] is Professor of Economics at
Carthage College in Wisconsin. Before coming to the U.S. in 1989,
he was a member of a senior team of Soviet economists that worked
on President Gorbachev’s reforms package of perestroika. He is the
author of Requiem