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Communism may not be knocking at your front door, but it is spying in our backyard. Why, then, are our children not being taught the truth about the deadliest ideology the world has ever known? After all, students deserve the facts about communism, both its brutal history and the ongoing oppression of those still living under such regimes.
Communism emerged in the 19th century as a political, societal and economic ideology. Karl Marx, in his Communist Manifesto, established the goals and measures necessary to achieve communism that included the abolition of private property, abolition of the rights of inheritance, the establishment of a classless society, and the centralization of power in the hands of the state. It also specifically called for the destruction of all aspects of the old system through violence and revolution.
To date, more than 100 million people have been killed by communist regimes around the world in their desire to reach this utopian fantasy.
The first attempt to install communism occurred in Russia in 1917, as Vladimir Lenin’s initial promise of peace, land and bread quickly devolved into terror, collectivization, famine and civil war leading to the deaths of almost 7 million people. Things only got worse under Josef Stalin who killed upward of 20 million Soviets. Those who dissented or stood against this cruel system of rule were sent to the Gulag – a system of forced labor camps – or were executed. Many tried to escape; most were unsuccessful.
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Millions of innocents held captive behind the Iron Curtain at the conclusion of World War II, like their Soviet counterparts, lived secret lives, fearful of being reported by their neighbors and punished by the regimes’ terroristic security services. This everyday fear was compounded by food rationing, poor medical care, and propaganda and indoctrination, as well as a lack of basic necessities.
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but communism did not. Today, one-fifth of humanity still lives under its brutal rule. North Korea threatens nuclear war from a sprawling, 21st-century gulag; Cuba continues to jail, torture and murder dissidents who dare to dream of democracy; Vietnam arrests citizens for simply posting messages critical of the party; and China commits genocide in mass “re-education” camps, separates families, forcibly sterilizes minority women, uses forced and child labor, and harvests organs of political prisoners – all while it crushes liberty in Hong Kong, threatens to invade Taiwan, spies on us at home, and steals billions annually in global intellectual property theft.
By ignoring the continued existence of communism, we are failing to understand the challenges that the United States faces at home and abroad.
Alarmingly, a 2020 VOC poll found that 40 percent of Americans have a favorable view of socialism. That figure rose to 49 percent in Gen Z, with a third of Gen Z supporting the gradual elimination of capitalism in favor of a more socialist system. Even more shocking, 18 percent of Gen Z and 13 percent of millennials reported that communism is a fairer system than capitalism and deserves consideration in America.
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These results are only possible in a generation whose education was devoid of the true history of communist regimes and their deadly ideology. The history and social studies K-12 academic standards in one state failed recently to even mention the Russian revolution, Lenin or the gulags in the entirety of its over 400 pages. Sadly, many other states’ standards are similar.
So, what can be done?
Education is the first and most important step. Unfortunately, some in the media as well as forces on the ground in Virginia and Florida are opposing efforts to teach our children about the enduring legacy of communism. This is a tragic disservice to America’s students and a blatant dismissal of the 1.5 billion people still suffering under communist regimes. It should not be controversial to talk about historic facts and prepare our students for the world as it exists outside the classroom.
This is why the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) applauds the numerous state-led efforts to ensure that the truth about communism is taught in all our schools. But more needs to be done.
To answer this call, VOC opened the United States’ first museum dedicated to the victims of communism. We launched a digital curriculum, as well as an in-person and an online teacher certification program that includes lesson plans and other educational resources. We also offer a witness speaker series that provides the testimony of those who suffered personally under communism. All of this we provide to students and teachers at no cost.
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We ignore history’s warnings at our own peril. The truth about communism is readily available to all through the historic record, but future generations will only learn if they are taught. As the great Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in his famous “Warning to the West“:
“It is astonishing that Communism has been writing about itself in the most open way, in black and white, for 125 years… yet somehow no one wants to understand.”
We must ensure our students understand.
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Ken Pope is CEO of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, an educational, research and human rights nonprofit organization devoted to commemorating the more than 100 million victims killed under communism and more than 1.5 billion people still living under communist regimes.