But it is ridiculous. In many ways, it is the mirror image of Rothbardian or Misesian libertarians who blame virtually everything on “socialism.”
One could write a lot about this issue, but let me take just two examples: (1) global warming and (2) imperialism.
How often do you hear the cry:
“Capitalism is responsible for global warming!However, if we accept the current consensus on global warming, there is a terrible problem with this assertion.
Did anyone think of the 20th century communist world’s contribution to greenhouse gases?
The Soviet Union had a great deal of industry, as did other communist states, and had a horrendous record on pollution and environmental degradation. For example, Soviet irrigation programs caused an environmental disaster for the Aral Sea.
Shahgedanova and Burt (1994) even state that the former USSR was our planet’s second largest producer of harmful emissions and in 1988 produced about 79% of the total harmful emissions produced by the US.
Surely communist industrial civilisation deserves a fair share of the blame for global warming too. You can’t just blame it on capitalism.
What is even worse: imagine a world where the Soviet Union had won the Cold War or where the West and developing world had gone communist after World War I. Communism is precisely an ideology obsessed with rapid industrialisation. Wouldn’t mass industrialisation in such a counterfactual Communist world – especially the Third World – have massively increased greenhouse gases and caused even worse problems with global warming than a capitalist world?
So – in light of both these issues – why then do some people on the left want to blame capitalism alone for global warming?
Imperialism existed long before modern capitalism, and if one wants to look at history with an open mind some of the worst, most genocidal imperialism of human history comes not from capitalist societies, but from the eruption of essentially stateless and non-capitalist nomads or semi-settled people from the Eurasian steppe. Sedentary agricultural peoples down through the centuries – in Europe, the Near East and China – have been terrorised by steppe nomads many times in human history: we need only think of the Scythians, Sarmatians, Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Avars, Magyars, Tartars, Cumans, Khazars, Mongols, Mughals and Manchus.
Arguably, in terms of per capita deaths, Mongol imperialism was probably the worst in human history (see also Pinker 2011: 195). The terror, destruction and death was unparalleled and mass extermination was the fate of those who resisted.
It is estimated that some 40 million people died during the Mongol invasions and if the same per capita death rate had happened in the 20th century in some war it would have been the equivalent of some 278 million people dying. Given that the Second World War only killed some 55 million people, we can see how violent Mongol imperialism actually was.
You need only read the history books on the Mongol invasion. They descended on China, the Middle East and Europe and committed mass murder on a scale that is unfathomable. Their imperialism had nothing to do with capitalism.
But let’s turn now to the Communist world of the 20th century. Umm, do people forget Stalin’s takeover of Eastern Europe? What about the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan? What about the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979?
If the Soviet Union had only been much stronger, and the West weaker, who knows what kind of imperialist madness the Soviet Union would have embarked upon?
So there you have it. We have two of the most serious problems the left think is wrong with the world today – global warming and imperialism. The first has to be regarded as just as much the fault of communism. Analysis of the second suggests that the worst and most genocidal imperialists in human history were the Mongols. Either way, we have serious problems with the narrative we hear from some extreme people on the left.
Pinker, Steven. 2011. The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. Viking, New York, NY.
Shahgedanova, Maria and Burt, Timothy P. 1994. “New Data on Air Pollution in the Former Soviet Union,” Global Environmental Change 4.3: 201–227.