Nothing to Celebrate

A century after the Bolshevik revolution, we should remember Communism’s stark legacy—including mass starvation.

A recent YouGov survey found that 19 percent of millennials hold favorable views of Communism, compared with only 4 percent of baby boomers. In its “Red Century” series, the New York Times celebrates Communism’s supposed progressive virtues. “For all its flaws,” said one writer, “the Communist revolution taught Chinese women to dream big.”

One of Communism’s “flaws” is its death toll, which runs in the tens of millions. Political persecutions like those of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union are well known. But many have forgotten the deaths, intended and unintended, from mass starvation. During the twentieth century, approximately 70 million people perished from famine. That most famine deaths happened in Communist regimes is no accident: centrally planned food-procurement systems often fail, leading to food shortages and privation.

To take just one example: between 1959 and 1961, 30 million people died of famine in China. I have analyzed the agricultural and demographic record to explain the causes of this tragedy. Three myths about the event should be discarded.