It’s often been asked why communism killed so many people if the goal was to liberate mankind. In a way, this question answers itself. Any war, crusade, or revolution seeking to change the world is an act of violence. Consider the fact that America was on the ‘good guy’ side of the Good War–WWII–yet killed millions of civilians through aerial bombings and other methods. US even dropped two big ones on Japan. It’s not out of the ordinary to do ‘bad things’ for ‘noble’ ends. There was an element of communism that was indeed war-like. What is a revolution but war waged on Old History to create New History? People were bound to get killed. This has been the case all throughout history. All nations were unified through violence; the ‘higher good’ was achieved through much bloodshed. For example, the rise and spread of Christianity and Islam necessitated war and suppression of peoples, cultures, ideas, and values out of sync or opposed to the New Spiritual Order. In this sense, one may indeed wonder if communism was any worse than other historical movements.
Communism was a totalitarian ideology and movement, and therein lied its danger and power. It was a unified system that purported to have connected all the dots of history, science, arts, spirituality, economics, culture, politics, philosophy, morality, and etc. Communism was a total way of life, a totalistic way of understanding the world–its past, present, and future. It was archaeology, it was sociology, it was prophecy. As such, communists tended to be more fanatical, blind, ruthless, and cocksure in their beliefs and assumptions. They were convinced 200% of their correctness.
Though the Far Left is often associated with Liberalism–not least because both had been allies during the era of the Popular Front–, communism has always been proudly anti-liberal. Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao all saw liberalism as a promise of false freedom, a fiction of freedom procured and projected by bourgeois liberals for the purpose of fooling themselves and the masses that the capitalist order was essentially decent and just. Communists spoke of True Freedom, True Liberation, True Equality, True Truth. Marx–the man, the methodology, and the myth–was so awesome to his adherents that many leftists just took it on faith that he must have been right. Most communists never read Das Kapital and even those who did understood little of it. Most communists were only familiar with communism through the Communist Manifesto, slogans, speeches, marches, posters, and lots of singing. It was a religions movement. Just as illiterate people all over the world were crazy about God and Jesus(or Muhammad), communists were crazy about Marx. Indeed, the very difficulty of works like Das Kapital made Marx’s star rise higher. It was as though the man was so great, wise, and brilliant that most people simply couldn’t understand his divine genius. You just had to take him on faith. Most people understood the ideas in “Communist Manifesto”, but that alone could not have created the religion of Marx. No, it required Das Kapital, the magnum opus that was purported to have demonstrated beyond any doubt that every assertion made in “The Communist Manifesto” was totally true. Just gazing at the thickness of Das Kapital(in three volumes) and being overwhelmed by its dense writing were enough to convince many people that this was godly wisdom.
So, it’s not hard to understand why so many people fell under the spell of communism and why it came to be so dangerous. Communism, like Christianity, had two aspects to it. On the one hand, its core ideas and central tenets were simple enough for a child or an idiot to understand. Even an illiterate could understand slogans such as ‘land, bread, justice, equality, death to oppressors’. That was the populist side of Marxism.
But, there was also an intellectual side as Marx had been a thinker and writer all his life. One could be a scholar in a university and study Marxism and use it as a methodology for economics, literary studies, history, or etc. for the rest of your life.
This dual aspect of Marxism filled its adherents with spiritual meaning in their lives. Ignoramuses felt they’d gained a degree of ‘intellectual’ seriousness by embracing Marxism. Many working class or lower-class people felt more serious, more knowledgeable, and smarter by claiming to be communists. Being a communist meant that one wasn’t just another working class slob but a humble thinker who understood how society really worked. As for the privileged and educated who had no direct connection to The People, Marxist studies meant that they were ideo-spiritually connected to the ‘oppressed’ masses. Marxism also made leftist intellectuals feel that they were leaders of the masses, at least in their own delusional minds. Marxist intellectuals persuaded themselves that a crass and exploitative capitalist structure stood in the way between the people and themselves–the rightful savior-leaders of the masses.
So, Marxism’s appeal was both to the slobs and the snobs. It was an ideology that claimed to resolve the natural tensions and divisions that existed between the two camps. In this sense, Marxism had much in common with Christianity and Islam. Both religions had mass appeal. Anyone could convert instantaneously by accepting Jesus as one’s savior or Muhammad as one’s prophet. Even the dumbest person could learn and understand the core beliefs and values of either religion in a single day. But, both religions also have complex, profound, and extensive texts that could be studied, pondered, and debated by scholars forever. Christianity would have been just a cult if not for the intellectual contents in the New Testament. Though Christianity spread among the impoverished and illiterate masses, it is doubtful that it could have eventually attracted the Roman elite(that came to adopt it as official religion) had it not been for the fact that Jesus and his followers were actually intellectually formidable men who left behind an impressive body of texts. There were many philosophical and spiritual ideas as profound or as deep as Christianity through history, but as they couldn’t be easily understood by the masses, they failed to develop into Great Movements or Schools of Thought. And, there were many cults with great mass appeal, but they faded away because they failed to produce sacred texts that could engage the spiritual and philosophical fascination of the intellectual class.
Other than the appeal of righteous victimhood on the part for the masses and cutting-edge intellectualism for the elite, Marxism had another appeal: that of the dedicated warrior. As Marx said, a philosopher’s duty was not only to understand reality but to change it, or to understand history for the purpose of changing it. A Marxist warrior could be a soldier, a spy, a subversive, or a secret agent. This added an element of excitement, adventure, thrill, and romance to the calling. A Marxist intellectual or academic, as opposed to most kinds of intellectuals, could take pride in being part of Active History. The idea of a philosopher understanding history in order to change it is like the concept of the fusion of mind and body, of the pen and the sword. (One of great appeals of Jesus as a revolutionary spiritual leader is the fact that he united body and soul in his search for higher truth. Buddha is another great spiritual figure but has been less appealing because he was all mind and not much body; he was more like a draft dodger from the troubles from the world. Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t merely seek inner or spiritual peace but put the pedal to the metal in the real world. He was a warrior in that sense and exciting for that reason. As extreme as Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” is, its version of Christ’s journey has a certain legitimacy. The mythic aura of Jesus derived not merely from his moral vision but his physical courage. He took the beatings not because he was weak or a coward but because he was the toughest guy in the world. And, the appeal of Che Guevara has been similar. Considering that most communists have been either paper shuffling bureaucrats, bookish intellectuals, or brutal executioners/soldiers, it was remarkable to many leftists that Che seemed to embody both the mental and physical aspects of Marxism. He wasn’t just a man of ideas but a man of action. He also looked good, which cannot be said of most communists.)
Intellectuals throughout history felt lacking in masculinity. They were ‘geeky’. Marxism offered the intellectual the promise or at least the conceit of being a Real Man. Through Marxism, even a geeky leftwing Jew could flatter himself that he was a tough warrior. It’s no wonder that so many Jews admired Leon Trotsky, who lived most of his life as a writer/thinker/political activist but also played a key role in building up the formidable Red Army during the Russian Civil War. For many leftist intellectuals–especially Jews–, Trotsky was proof that one could be an intellectual AND a badass. And, many Jewish communists were ruthless in their roles as executioners as if to prove that they were not only big thinkers but tough guys.
The element of The Warrior was appealing to the masses as well. Christianity too had a militant/military wing. It had its Warriors for Christ, the Crusades, the Teutonic Knights, and etc. Even so, Christianity aimed its arrows at the enemies of Christendom or against other denominations. But, WITHIN the Christian order, the people were told to submit to and accept the social hierarchy as natural, just, and divinely ordained. In other words, even as Christianity was for The People, they were told to obey the kings and nobles. The people had to be humble and meek. For salvation they were told to look to the Next Life. Christianity was appealing because people were told that Jesus loved them so. But, Marxism had an added appeal. It too was for The People, but it promised happiness and fulfilment in this world. It also promised power in the hands of The People. Marxism didn’t oppose the ethos of Christianity but rejected its spiritual assumptions and its uses by the powers-that-be in exploiting the ignorance of the masses. Marxism told urban workers and landless peasants that they can fight for and attain Justice. During the Russian Civil War, even peasants who knew nothing of communism gravitated toward the Reds because “land and bread” sounded better than God and Tsar. Because of the militant aspect of Marxism the masses of adherents found great excitement in the movement.
For most of human history, the warrior caste or class had been limited to relatively a few people, the nobility. Most of the people had to bow down before the kings, nobles, or emperors. The French Revolution fundamentally changed this notion, especially with its People’s Army made up of millions of ordinary people. Marxism went even further because it challenged the very concept of class altogether. Many ordinary people gravitated toward communism for it gave them arms, uniforms, and warrior pride. Of course, even prior to communism ordinary people had served in the military in all nation-states, especially following the French Revolution. Even as the Revolution and Napoleon were eventually defeated, the Western world was fast changing. Nation-states became the new norm, and masses of people were drafted into huge national armies; and even people of humble background could rise up the ranks to become colonels and generals, especially in the US. Even so, prior to the Marxist concept of Revolution, people fought for the nation, for the king, for their officers, etc. It was Marxism which gave people the notion of fighting for The People or The People’s Future. Outside Marxism, one could be a warrior only IN the military. Within the Marxist sphere, one always felt like a warrior because The Revolution was constantly at war with Old History.
Anyway, let us consider the reason why communism came to kill so many people. There was the radical faith in New Future. There was the arrogance of possessing the highest and truest from of scientific rationalism. There was the warrior cult which said one must not only be a thinker but a soldier willing to shed blood ruthlessly to create a Better World. Also, the nature of communism was monopolistic, which is to say that the state came to own and rule everything. It controlled government, the economy, education, media, and all else. So, there were no checks on government power. Communist ideology justified total control since (1) the government was supposed to be a dictatorship of the proletariat ruled by and for the people and (2) private property was associated with the exploitative bourgeoisie. In the name of the freedom of The People, the freedom of individuals was forbidden or seriously proscribed(lest some individuals grow rich and ‘exploit’ fellow man).
But, that alone doesn’t quite explain the scale of killings by communist nations. Here, we must consider the concept and practice of human sacrifice, especially like the ones carried by the Aztecs and ancient pagan civilizations. This may sound ridiculous since human sacrifice was spiritual and elitist in essence whereas communist killings were carried out in the name of rationalism and egalitarianism. But, observed closely, both human sacrifices and communist killings have something eerily in common. Both sought to placate some higher force, greater truth, grander concept.
Communists didn’t believe in God but they worshiped their conceptualization of History and had total faith in The Future. On the one hand, they CONFIDENTLY believed History was on their side, but on the other, they ANXIOUSLY worried that History might deviate from Marx’s prophecy. (Communists were never sure whether to regard Marx’s vision of the future as a prophecy or blueprint. During the Great Depression of the inter-war years, Marxism seemed prophetic, but in the post-WWII era when communism underperformed vis-a-vis the Free World, it became more a blueprint. In other words, it no longer seemed that History would naturally or inevitably ensure the triumph of Marx’s vision; rather, the future had to be COERCED into the Marxist model. Proletarian-ism turned into Procrustean-ism.) Communism was an ideology and movement of both iron conviction and extreme anxiety. Paradoxically, the two went together. Since communists believed that Marx(and Lenin) were so absolutely correct, they were convinced that History must validate their Great Truths. Communism didn’t just produce belief but inspired faith. Communism wasn’t merely a prediction but a Grand Prophecy. Their whole lives, beliefs, and values were linked with how History turned out. So, they were willing to do anything for the sake of History. They were willing to do everything and then some to show that History-as-God was on their side. In this sense, communist killings were carried out in the name of and to serve the God of History, of which Marx was seen as Moses.
Of course, communists didn’t consciously think this way. They told themselves that they were killing class enemies, kulaks, the evil rich, spies and saboteurs, and other lowlifes. But, on a subconscious level there was something strikingly religious and spiritual about the entire communist enterprise. It was carried out by a men of great conviction and great anxiety. Greater the conviction and confidence, greater the anxiety. Conversely, greater the anxiety, greater the conviction. This was the paradox of the communist mentality.
Imagine a boxer who convinces himself–and is egged on by his fans–that he is the greatest and the most invincible fighter on the planet. This fills him with conviction and confidence. But, because his very worth and essence are now linked to being Champion of the World, he becomes more anxious about his fights since a loss would destroy the mythic grandeur of his greatness. Those who step into giant shoes realize the smallness of their feet. Confidence and anxiety go together.
Titanic wasn’t just another ship, and its sinking wasn’t just another disaster. It was Tragic because the Titanic was regarded as the Ship of Human Ingenuity, Power, Mastery, and Invincibility that could not be sunk. Marxism was supposed to be the Great Locomotive of History. It was supposed to travel the fastest and sweep everything aside. Its hype was such that it didn’t care how many people it mangled or sliced under its wheels. Yet, this confidence also filled it with anxiety and desperation. The communist faith was so total that communists were terribly afraid that the ideology on which they staked everything might prove to be false. To convince of themselves of the Absolute Correctness of communism, they were willing to go to extreme lengths. (We can also see this is the passions of extreme Japanese nationalists in WWII. They were so convinced of the invincibility of the Yamato spirit that they thought they could triumph over the US. But, despite the blind faith and bluster, there was also great fear and anxiety buried in their souls. When it seemed as though Japan may indeed lose the war to the mighty US, many Japanese wished to commit national suicide along with their Emperor than own up to the fact that their gods were on the wrong side of History or non-existent. They were willing to sacrifice the entire nation than admit that their gods had failed.)
If iron conviction inevitably leads to anxiety–since reality never lives up to one’s fantasies or expectations–, anxiety calls upon conviction for renewed confidence and morale.
This is a proto-spiritual trait at the core of man. When early man was faced with grim reality, he often had nothing to rely on but blind faith. So, when communism didn’t work out as it was supposed to in early communist Russia, Bolsheviks hardened their hearts and convictions even further. As they couldn’t find evidence of success in reality, they had to find meaning to carry on within their iron hearts. The nature of radicalism being what it is, most communists were simply not willing to admit that they may have been wrong or accept the fact that History cannot be remade overnight based on set of intellectual theories. Communists had spent their entire lives with the Iron Conviction. Faced with the anxiety of reality, communists only hardened their convictions(though there were interludes such as the New Economic Policy). They couldn’t let their God of History fail, and they were convinced that the God of History would sustain, justify, and ultimately validate them. To serve this God of History and in order to receive its blessings, communists were willing to sacrifice as many people as possible to bring forth the Great Shining Future.
There is a parallel of this in Aztec human sacrifice. The Aztecs needed the regularity of seasons for bountiful harvests. They were also a fiercely warrior-like people and believed that their victories in battle required the blessings or approval of the gods. They were a people of great ruthless conviction and great neurotic anxiety. The combination of conviction and anxiety led to the psychotic practice of mass human sacrifice. The Aztecs dared leave nothing to chance. They wanted to be 100% certain that the gods were on their side; they wanted to make sure that gods were pleased with the utter devotion of Aztecs elites and warriors who were willing to sacrifice any number of people.
In this sense, one could argue there was an element of Human Sacrifice to the whole communist enterprise. And, it may also explain why so many communists were willing to let themselves be sacrificed as well. Though they were proud to be communist-warriors, the God of History was what really mattered most. If individuals–including yourself–had to be sacrificed for the God of History, so be it. It didn’t matter if individuals were personally guilty or innocent–anymore than it mattered if those offered to the Aztec gods were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Even communists who knew that they’d been falsely accused and sentenced to death made peace with their own fates since they believed their God of History would triumph with or without them. In a war, you may be accidentally, wrongfully, or negligently killed by ‘friendly fire’, but you can find comfort in believing that your side may win the war. The WAR is bigger than you, a mere soldier, a cog in the machine; as a soldier, your very essence is to bear any amount of sacrifice in order to win the war; soldiers are, by nature, expendable. Communism was not only the God of History but God of Justice and God of War. However bitter the falsely accused communists may have felt about their fates, many found comfort in the conviction that their comrades and children would eventually see the Revolution to its just and great conclusion. Besides, unlike capitalism which is premised on the idea of individualist self-interest, communism was founded on the notion of collective sacrifice.
Another reason why communism led to so many deaths is due to another paradox. Communism was based on total trust and on total subversion. Communists believed in using whatever subversive means to attain their goals. So, communists believed that the enemy must be weakened from both within and without before the fatal blow could be dealt. There are two ways to weaken your opponent in a fight. You can slip drugs or toxins into his food and drink, whereby he will feel dizzy or sick during the fight. And, if he’s too tough to KO in the early rounds, you weaken him by body blows whereupon his legs grow weary. Once his legs are immobile, you can prepare for the KO blow. The communist strategy was along those lines. Communists knew that it was near impossible to bring on the revolution overnight. So, they had to look for ways to weaken the bourgeois-capitalist-imperialist-feudalist or whatever kind of order. Communists believe in lying, cheating, spying, fooling, and all that stuff. Undercover activity, espionage, and subversion were nothing new in history, but communists took it further than ever before. They felt such contempt for their enemies that all ‘bourgeois’ notions of fair play or honor went out the window.
Christians had also been into subversion, but Christianity also said, ‘love thy enemy’. Communism said the enemy must be totally exterminated. Also, communists rejected traditional morality, notions of honor and respect, and all that crusty ‘bourgeois’ stuff. As far as communists were concerned, there was only Justice and Power. Those who were for Justice deserved to have all the Power. So, communists felt no pangs of guilt whatsoever in lying with a straight face, betraying non-communists who sympathized with them, and even in destroying fellow communists who happened to follow the wrong line. Communism’s strategy for gaining power was right out of the Machiavellian-Mafia handbook. It was essentially subversive, whether the concept was ‘cultural hegemony’ ala Antonio Gramsci or employing tools of capitalism to serve the interests of communist revolution ala Armand Hammer. This even developed into a kind of nihilistic and cold romanticism, an iron-grey knife-in-the-back fetishism. In some cases, there was even an erotic element(though communism itself was puritanical and repressed/repressive) for the duty of the radical subversive was often to SEDUCE the well-meaning, naive, or foolish western bourgeoisie with flattery and sophistication. FDR fell for communists big time! We can see communism’s seductive power in the opening scenes of East/West, the French film about travails of duped French leftists in Stalinist Russia.
But, there was another element to communism. It was also based on profound Trust. Indeed, without trust the whole enterprise was hopeless. Communists needed to trust one another and have total trust in the justness of The Cause and Revolution. Communism couldn’t become a social, national, let alone an world movement without the trust and camaraderie among themselves. The rule of communism said, ‘be totally trusting and supportive of fellow brethren’ and ‘be totally subversive and deceitful to your class enemies.’ This radical paradox in communism was bound to lead to paranoia and bloodshed in almost every case.
Though communism was about creating a New World of Trust, it could only be achieved through deceit and subversion. (We even have variations of it in American Democracy, with Obama having used Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky to become president.) In this sense, every communist activist had to be an expert liar, cheater, and subversive. Though subversion was only supposed to serve as a means to gain power against enemies, the subversive mindset remained intact in the communist order. It’s like those who spend their entire lives lying for the higher good end up habitual liars with no real sense of true or false. Communists sought to make history out of subversion, but subversion made liars out of communists. So, communists couldn’t really trust one another.
Especially as communism is a radical ideology with a clear-cut and unambiguous notion of Truth, there couldn’t be many forms of communism. Deviations or heresies weren’t tolerated–not for long anyway. Everyone eventually had to unite under a single tent, a single interpretation of ideology, and a single strategy. But, the fact is many communists had different ideas as to ‘what must be done’. It was only natural that many communists were tempted to use the very subversive means that brought them to power against rival communists. In the USSR, no one was a bigger master of this than Stalin. The bookish and intellectually vain Trotsky was no match for the Man of Steel whose inner core had been forged through a long personal history of violence, terrorism, and murder. Trotsky was just as ruthless if not more so, but he thought the weight of his ideas and intellect would carry the day. He was very wrong.
Anyway, the Ideal of Total Trust paradoxically led to mass paranoia in the Soviet Union(and other communist countries). Under communism the contradictions among men were supposed to fade away. All men were supposed to be comrades under the Sun. But, distrust remained and even intensified. Communists had come to power through ruthless and deceitful means. Stalin well understood the true nature of communists. For all their highfalutin words about unity and trust, most communists wanted power and to do things their way.
In a perfectionist system, even a blemish can seem like a terrible stain. Communism believed in Perfect Trust among men. Yet, it was led by men of deceit, subversion, power-lust, ruthlessness, and total self-righteousness. Stalin and others couldn’t help but feel that there were other would-be Stalins, would-be Trotskies, would-be Lenins. Each would-be Stalin, Trotsky, or Lenin surely sought power and were willing to use most the devious and ruthless means to attain it. Though much of this paranoia was psychotic, it wasn’t totally unjustified as Stalin was the living proof of the conspiratorial nature of communism. Would Lenin have been paranoid had he purged and executed Stalin and all his associates in the early 20s? Historians today might say Lenin acted out of paranoia, but we know that Stalin was indeed a ruthless radical who’d wanted total power. So, it was natural that Stalin feared other Stalins-in-the-making. More one loves oneself, more one fears others like oneself. (Stalin was always looking the mirror asking, ‘mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the greatest communist of them all?’) In one way, Stalin was killing his enemies and rivals. In another way, Stalin was killing himself in the form of fellow communists who might have wanted to take his place. Stalin had to be the bright Sun that extinguished all the other stars from the sky. He could only tolerate planets revolving around him, not other suns that might challenge his singular authority.
As to the question WHY SO MANY WERE KILLED UNDER COMMUNISM, it must be remembered that the communist order, fearsome and fearful, produced a world of great secrecy. In a democracy, you can easily tell who’s the enemy, who’s the friend. Opponents are not afraid to protest, make trouble, speak out, and give the middle finger. Under a totalitarian system, everyone is fearful. So, even the enemies, rivals, and heretics remain utterly silent and act as though they are with the program. Though communism sought to wipe out all the enemies, its ruthless radicalism paradoxically blurred the line between friend and foe. Well aware of the ruthless and murderous nature of communism, the ‘enemies’ and critics of the state and the rivals within the Party learned the fine art of silence and going along. As a result, Stalin and his cohorts couldn’t really tell who was ‘good’ and who was ‘bad’, who was ‘trustworthy’ and who was ‘untrustworthy’. Everyone was afraid to come right out and say what they believed or felt.
So, there was only one way to make sure that everyone got the message loud and clear that THE STATE IS NOT SOMETHING TO MESS WITH(or something to even think of messing with).
An all-out campaign of Terror which would arbitrarily target entire populations or establish quotas for class enemies to be arrested and shot became the Law of the Land. In the early stages of the Revolution, it was easy to tell who could be trusted and who couldn’t. The Tsar and people around him were bad. The capitalists were bad. The big landowners were bad. The Whites were bad. The Tsarist military was bad. But, when the Revolution triumphed and once the communists won the Civil War through the most ruthless means, Russia became a State of Total Fear. The remaining ‘enemies of the revolution’ all hushed up or joined the system. Stalin could never truly trust these people; in many cases, he didn’t even who ‘they’ were, where they were hiding, or whether they were in the government, military, or other institution. Were ‘they’ truly convinced of the rightness of communism or were ‘they’ cunning opportunists in the new order? Worse, were ‘they’ closet-reactionaries patiently plotting a coup to destroy the Revolution–just like the revolutionaries had destroyed the Old Order–or were they ‘heretical’ communists biding their time to overthrow Stalin?
This explains why Stalin had so many military officers killed in the 1930s. Though they joined the Red Army, Stalin wasn’t sure where their loyalties really were. After all, they were men who’d sworn eternal allegiance to the Tsar yet switched sides to the communists. How could they be trusted?
Stalin was also aware of the fact that he’d only gradually come to consolidate power in the 1920s and early 1930s. It could be argued that Stalin didn’t achieve ABSOLUTE power until 1935 though he was the most powerful man in the Soviet Union by 1929. Though the Communist Party came to regard Stalin as the Supreme Leader, Stalin knew that many in the party had backed Trotsky. He knew that Kirov was more popular than he prior to the assassination.
Think of the American political primaries in 2008. Though the entire Party eventually consolidated around Obama, we know that many Hillary supporters were bitter about what had been done to their candidate. On the GOP side, though McCain eventually won and the Party united around him, we know that many conservatives loathed McCain. Similarly, though the Communist Party united behind Stalin by 1935, he understood quite well that he had not been the preferred leader for many communists. Many had backed Trotsky or others. As powerful as he was, Stalin couldn’t read what was really in the hearts of men, and as the Soviet Union was a state of fear, no one dared to speak out against Stalin once he gained total power. Communism promoted the ideology of Total Trust but ruled by Absolute Fear. Fear among the underlings and populace reflected the fear of the supreme leader who always suspected he didn’t really have the Real Trust of the people. So, he had to rely on Fear–his own and that instilled into the hearts of everyone.
In the mid 50s, Mao would smoke out his ‘enemies’ and critics through the Hundred Flowers Campaign which encouraged the people to speak out against the Communist Party. But, Stalin wasn’t willing to take any such risks. His strategy was to use pervasive, widespread, and random fear among the populace to send a bone-chilling message that YOU COULD BE NEXT. Since anyone could be accused of being the enemy of the state–even the most loyal and ardent among his supporters–anyone who had the slightest doubt about Stalin’s power or wisdom was careful to suppress it completely and pledge total allegiance.
There are surely other reasons for the massive bloodshed that took place in the Soviet Union and other communist states, but those are for another day.