The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism
The Killingest Idea Ever
By Paul Kengor
Regnery Publishing, 2017
256 pages, $21.99
To order: regnery.com
The Politically Incorrect Guides tend to be irreverent, tongue-in-cheek, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny — just like its logo of a grinning pig. P-I-G. Politically Incorrect Guide. Get it?
But Paul Kengor’s guide to communism is not remotely funny. Since he is discussing the most murderous, most destructive political system ever to afflict humankind, humor would be woefully out of place.
Instead, Kengor gives us a lucid overview of the philosophies, the people and the events that shaped communism and shook our world.
Kengor teaches political science at Grove City College. He is also on the college lecture circuit, traveling to schools to give talks to students. During these visits, as well as in his own classroom, Kengor has found that while American students have been taught about the horrors Hitler and his Nazis unleashed on the world, most students know nothing about communism and the horrors it has inflicted and continues to inflict upon countless victims.
He says that whether he’s teaching a class or giving a lecture at another college, students are shocked when he tells of the body count piled up by communist regimes, the show trials, the summary executions, the labor camps and the persecution of religious believers and ethnic minorities. They have never heard this part of world history.
Kengor suspects that the omission may be attributed to the political leaning of so many faculty members — they tend to lean to the left, and some are unabashedly sympathetic to communism. His hunch is often reinforced by the reactions of faculty members who attend his lectures: As he reveals the crimes of the communists, he is on the receiving end of hateful glares, eye-rolling and exaggerated sighs. Typically, these reactions end with the professors getting up and stalking out of the lecture hall.
This book, then, is a primer, an introduction to communism and its works, written specifically for people who know little or nothing about it. This is the place for a neophyte to begin reading before diving into a host of other books about communism (and in every chapter, Kengor recommends titles that focus on various people and events in the history of communism).
I’ll be candid: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism is a chronicle of evil, but it is important to know these things, even if it is hard to read about them. And remember, communist regimes have not vanished. The Soviet Empire may be gone, but China is still a communist nation, and so is Cuba. And especially worrisome is the Kim dynasty that rules North Korea, with their brand of brutality and irrationality that surpasses Josef Stalin on his worst day.
The Politically Incorrect Guides have a standardized format of chapters that are broken down into short sections that run on average three to five pages in length. For example, in this book, Chapter 6 is entitled, The Comintern: Taking the Revolution to the World. This chapter is broken down into three sections: “Communism,” “American-Style, Stalin’s Hollywood Stooges” and “Working for a ‘Soviet America.’” This format works very well for readers, who will find it easy to skip around in the book.
As it happens, this format is well-suited to Kengor, too — he has a gift for packing a lot of information into three or four pages. And his conversational writing style creates the impression that you are listening not to a professor in a classroom, but to a well-spoken talking head on a well-produced documentary.
Essential to this book are the staggering statistics: Stalin was responsible for the deaths of 34 million people, and Mao for the deaths of between 60 and 70 million Chinese. Under Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge slaughtered more than a third of the population of Cambodia. In North Korea under the Kims, it is extremely difficult to get accurate data — the government is not just secretive, it has reduced the country to one massive prison system. The most reliable source, The Black Book of Communism, estimates that 90,000 North Koreans were executed during nine purges of the party, 1.5 million have died in concentration camps, and perhaps 2 million or more perished in the government-manufactured famine in the 1990s. On top of this are the quarter million North Korean men, women and children imprisoned in camps for thought crimes.
Since this is the 100th anniversary month of the Russian Revolution, religious believers will be interested in the stats regarding the Russian Orthodox Church after Vladimir Lenin and his Bolsheviks took over.
In 1917, there were over 40,000 churches across Russia and more than 150,000 priests, monks, deacons and bishops. In Moscow alone, there were 657 churches. The Bolsheviks/communists confiscated them, destroyed or repurposed most of them — often as warehouses or factories. By 1976, between 100 and 150 churches were open in Moscow, but only 46 held services.
After the revolution, tens of thousands of priests and nuns were shipped off to labor camps. In a show trial in 1922, the patriarch, roughly the equivalent of the pope in the Russian Orthodox Church, and 16 other priests and bishops, were found guilty of being counterrevolutionaries. Of the 17 defendants, 11 were sentenced to be shot immediately. The patriarch and the five other survivors were sent to labor camps.
For me, one of the most interesting sections of the book is Kengor stripping away the romantic myths about Fidel Castro’s colleague, Che Guevara. His portrait has become an icon; you can find it on posters, T-shirts and even high-end fashion accessories. And for leftists, that portrait has always been sacred (insofar as communists hold anything sacred).
After meeting Guevara , journalist I.F. Stone declared the revolutionary was the first man he ever met whom he would describe as “beautiful.” Stone went on to say that Guevara reminded him of portraits of Jesus Christ.
Of course, most of the college kids sporting a “Che” T-shirt probably have no clue that the man was not the savior of the Cuban people, but a bloody minded killer who delighted in executing opponents of the revolution. His hatred of the United States ran so deep that he was furious when the Cuban Missile Crisis ended with the Soviets withdrawing their troops and their nuclear weapons from Cuba.
Kengor’s book is an eye-opener even for those of us who lived through the Cold War, the Cultural Revolution, the reign of terror under the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese Boat People fleeing the communists in their homeland. With time, we forget some of the details. Or maybe we have, understandably, deleted these awful memories from our mental hard drive.
For those of us who lived through these events, this book is a refresher course. For the young who never learned this facet of modern history, it is the beginning of an education in the worst political system in human history. I can see this book having a long shelf life.
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of
Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brulee and
This Saint Will Change Your Life.