Seven Quotes about Communism

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Years ago, I pulled together some quotations about Communism that I thought would make good epitaphs for what I believed was a dying ideology. Unfortunately, the ideology has turned out to be far from dead. Vladimir Putin touts it as preaching “freedom, brotherhood, equality” and compares it to the Bible. The Chinese Communist Party recently elevated Xi Jinping to the status of Mao Zedong.

But I still like those quotes a lot. In fact, I think they deserve to be immortal (if only for a while). So today, on the 30th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, I’m dusting them off again.

  • “Consider the Marxist idea of ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’ What an incentive for people to minimize their abilities and maximize their needs. Can you imagine a better formula for destroying society?”  – From the late legal scholar Henry G. Manne, one of the founders of the field of law and economics.
  • ”Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or The New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?”  – Author Susan Sontag at a 1982 town hall rally for the Polish Solidarity movement. The shocked liberal audience nearly booed her off the stage.
  • “To see her in sunlight was to see Marxism die.”  – From a 1973 short story by Harold Brodkey, describing the blond-haired beauty who had captured the narrator’s heart. Does any other single sentence in the English language describe so well love’s triumph over the state’s demand for subservience?
  • “Freedom, it turns out, has a taste, and it has a smell. The taste is that of Bazooka bubble gum, large wads of it stuffed into my mouth until my cheeks jowl out.”   –Former federal appellate Judge Alex Kozinski, discussing how, as an 11-year old, he stuffed his face with previously unavailable gum after his family escaped from Communist Romania.
  • “Some people say that because the Soviet people have to stand in line, it gives them time to reflect and become philosophical.”  – Ralph Nader, commenting on the long queues outside Moscow shops during his 1990 visit. It’s reassuring that Nader misunderstands Communism as badly as he misunderstands capitalism.
  • The late Petr Beckmann, a Czech physicist, fled to the U.S. in 1963, where he became known for his pro-technology and anti-environmentalist writings. In 1991, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, he visited Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) and talked to a young reporter about defending science against the Luddites:

“But what’s wrong with clean air and fresh water?” the reporter asked.

“Nothing,” I answer. “And what is wrong with world peace, brotherhood among the nations, and ending exploitation of man by his fellow man?”

“He looks at me and now his jaw drops. Then I feel something click in this 17-year old brain.”

Had that reporter been American rather than Russian, he probably would have missed Beckmann’s point entirely.

  • “Where the #@% do you get off calling me comrade?” –From my late aunt, Rose Kazman. During World War II her grueling stay in Soviet labor camps saved her from an even worse fate at the hands of the Nazis, but she never lost sight of the true nature of her hosts.

When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, it seemed that was the year when sunlight fell on Brodkey’s blond-haired girl. Here’s to seeing that sunlight again.

(A version of this piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner in 2009.)