Sunday, 8 September 2019

On the death of Cde Robert Mugabe - a reply to @TheOnlyGuru

On the morning of the sixth of September, 2019, the founding father of the Republic of Zimbabwe, comrade Robert Mugabe, died in a hospital in Singapore.

Cde Mugabe's death was met with all sorts of nasty reactions from various internet personalities, condemning him for all sorts of crimes (real or invented), as would make sense for one of the world's most divisive men. It was, however, also met from several quarters with something even worse - resurgent nostalgia from white supremacists for the unrecognised and illegitimate gangster state of Rhodesia, and particularly Rhodesia's PM, Ian Smith.

Rhodesia has long been a touchstone for white supremacists, both British and American - as a state with a white-only government, which unilaterally declared independence from Britain when it became apparent that the British government was no longer going to tolerate openly racist colonial governments ruled by a small minority of white landowners, many white supremacists view Rhodesia as an honourable example of a white government that refused to surrender to black people communists, even in the face of a supposed "betrayal" on the part of the British government. This is, of course, nonsense - Smith and his government were arch-racists whose only aim was to prevent black majority rule in Zimbabwe, and to hold onto their own illegally seized farmland - but it's a pervasive myth, even among those who model themselves as ostensibly progressive in other areas.

This brings us to online poser, self-described "extraordinarily thin woman", unrepentant user of her own invented turn of phrase (think "racist impression of your beany nan"), and, it seems, Rhodesia LARPer, @TheOnlyGuru (or 'Binky'), a Twitter user with nearly 10K followers from our own lovely island of Jersey. Take a look at the absolute state of this:

"autre" seems to mean "other" in this context, but you can
almost never tell with this clown

Ever criticised Ian Smith for heading up an explicitly racist colonial holdout? Opposed lionising the leaders of apartheid-style settler regimes? Hell, ever thought that calling Ian Smith a "great and well liked" guy is - maybe, just maybe - a bit much?

You are now a "person of little knowledge", apparently.


Smith's military record is almost irrelevant here. Yes, he fought in WW2 against the Nazis, and no, he was not a fascist - so? Whatever you think about Robert Mugabe, Smith was an unrepentant racist who fought a brutal war to cling onto his own power, and, with that power, white minority rule in Zimbabwe. He declared independence from Britain because of a demand that the Rhodesian government eliminate qualified franchise - a system under which only property owners (i.e. white people) could vote, because he feared the land of white property-owners would be redistributed to the poor black agricultural workers who were owed that land as their national birthright. His regime was backed by racist regimes in South Africa, Portugal and Israel, and used chemical and biological weapons such as thallium and anthrax to contaminate water supplies. Smith may have been "well liked" by the white landowners whose interests his government represented, but he was hated by the majority of Zimbabweans and opposed by several large revolutionary groups as well as most of the countries surrounding Rhodesia. The fact that the BRITISH EMPIRE thought this guy was too much to stomach should give anyone pause for thought.

Cloak it in silly language and opposition to Mugabe all you like. The fact is that there are only two sorts of people who lionise Ian Smith - the violently racist and the profoundly idiotic.

I wonder which one 'Binky' is?

Friday, 5 July 2019

Sarah Ferguson is an orientalist cretin

Today's rag provided us Jèrriais folk with a headline that has, in various iterations, been seen all across the western media in recent months, amid the increasingly hysterical orientalism that seems to dominate our discourse at the moment. It was, of course, "Politician raises security fears over China link to 5G network", or, in other words, "know-nothing reactionary racist spews orientalist propaganda as fear of new Cold War mounts among western crazies".

Sarah Ferguson, local climate change denier and, somehow, elected senator, has been voicing her 'fears' as of late concerning a deal between JT and Chinese telecommunications megacorp ZTE, relating to the beginning of the rollout of a 5G network in Jersey. In the rag's own words, "Senator Ferguson expressed concern that the integrity and security of the Island’s digital infrastructure might be compromised by the deal with ZTE, and that, as well as being a security risk, this might put off potential clients of financial services companies operating in the Island. ‘If our finance industry and the Government of Jersey connects with the world through equipment which allows access to their records by other governments or companies, how secure will our clients feel?’ she said".

Notwithstanding that anybody's records - indeed, virtually any information about anything or anybody - are already readily available to any moderately serious government intelligence agency or well-organised hacking operation, the root of this kind of scaremongering merits examination. I don't pretend to be able to read Sarah Ferguson's mind, but I seriously doubt that she would be raising similar concerns if this was a European or American company (say, Orange S.A. or Verizon) getting involved in our telecoms network. All of the recent hysteria surrounding this sort of thing has uniformly been directed against Chinese companies - primarily, Huawei and ZTE.

Now, why do you think that is?

This hysteria has been justified in Britain and in the USA on the basis that the government of the People's Republic of China is, somehow, uniquely prone to interference with private companies, and, thus, that handing over our communications infrastructure to Chinese companies means that we're opening the door to the MSS being able to snoop on western internet users at will or shut down our telecommunications system at the drop of a hat. It's worth noting that this is a massive projection exercise on the part of these western governments - collaboration between the American National Security Agency and Silicon Valley companies such as Microsoft and Facebook is an open secret, allowing the U.S. government to spy far beyond its own borders, and it's only a few years since WikiLeaks exposed decades of NSA wiretapping of the German Chancellery's phone lines.

(this is a classic tactic of western imperialism - accuse others of that which you are guilty of yourself).

With that in mind, these governments are in no position to be moralising, as far as snooping goes. Along with that, a lot of the accusations thrown at companies like Huawei and ZTE are simply elementary smears, like the facile accusation a while back that Huawei was not actually employee-owned (later proven to be sheer nonsense, of course).

It's important to realise the influence of orientalism - a way of viewing eastern cultures that exaggerates or outright invents certain caricatures in order to portray Asian or Middle Eastern people as exotic, backward or dangerous - on the current discourse surrounding 5G. There seems to be an implicit assumption that the sneaky Chinese are just around the corner, just waiting to plant listening devices in your settee or hack the chain of texts between you and your ex-girlfriend - that the Chinese are an enemy, and a crafty one at that, and that we, white westerners, have to be on guard against their attempts to quietly seize control of our economy and culture. This is, of course, nonsense - it's driven by the desire of neoconservative foreign policy hawks for a new Cold War against China, feeling, as they do, threatened by the rise of the PRC as a viable competitor to western powers. The fact that the PRC is not a country with an economic system based upon neoliberal dogma upsets the assumption of most western analysts and intellectuals post-1991 that alternatives to liberal-democratic capitalism were dead and buried - it threatens the neoliberal status quo, and, therefore, in the mind of these reactionary crazies, must be opposed.

Or so the story goes.

It is in this context that Ferguson makes her absurd remarks. ZTE is, clearly, no more dangerous than any western telecoms company, but is being unfairly targeted by orientalist cretins because it comes from a country that scares the living daylights out of the leaders of the American empire and its allies in Britain and Europe. Hysterical scaremongering over the supposed threat to our national security posed by perfectly ordinary Chinese telecoms companies fuels the raging fire of racist histrionics directed against the Chinese state - it is hardly worthy of a politician who claims to be a voice of reason (lol).

What on earth does she suppose the MSS would want to steal? The latest gossip surrounding the new hospital?

Monday, 1 July 2019

John Boothman and the "crimes of communism"

Regular readers of the local rag may have noticed that your favourite extremely-online socialist blogger has been receiving some criticism lately, over my (now-closed) petition to erect a commemorative bust, statue or plaque in recognition of the time that Marx and Engels spent in Jersey. Evidently, certain local reactionaries found the idea of commemorating one of the most influential men in recent history to be a bit too much to stomach (as well they might!) - particularly one John Boothman, who has penned one of the best responses I think I've ever had to anything I've written in the paper.

Boothman's letter is essentially four hundred words of him slagging off Marxism by listing off an assortment of supposed "atrocities" committed by Marxists, statistics that he has obviously cut and pasted from Wikipedia and a veritable arsenal of scare words along the lines of "totalitarianism" and suchlike. It would be very easy to write Boothman off as an idiot and not bother debunking the pack of lies he calls a response to my letters, but my exams finished a week ago and I've really not got much else better to do, so let's dig in.

Boothman makes a series of claims about the history of Marxist communism and cites several events which he regards as atrocities that damn Marxism, writing it off as a "totalitarian cult". Almost without fail, Boothman's assertions are misrepresentations or exaggerations of the actual facts, and, in some cases, are just verifiably not true. I'm going to take Boothman's main claims one by one and explain why they're all rubbish. This post is likely going to be extremely long, because I do actual research rather than hysterically running around screaming about "100 million dead".

Claim 1: Marxism is a "cult"

  1. 1.
    a system of religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure or object.

    "the cult of St Olaf"

A couple of months ago, C.K. Ryan wrote an article for online reactionary rag Quillette, which accused Marxism of being a cult. It's a good example of the common arguments that are used by those who describe Marxism as a cult, so I'll lay down the thrust of Ryan's argument and we can examine it.

"I’ll use Christianity and Marxism to illustrate the point, but it holds for other religions and ideologies as well. Jesus steps onto the world stage to bring forth the word of God, before sacrificing himself for the sins of mankind. Marx rises from obscurity after revealing the unfolding logic of history and—by extension—the end point in the social organization of man. The apostles, the closest followers of Christ, dedicate themselves to interpreting and spreading his word. The post-Marx Marxists do the same, although the most revered figures vary depending on geography and personal preference. For some, it’s butchers such as Stalin and Mao; for me, it was Lenin and Trotsky, the architects of the October Revolution of 1917. Perhaps most on the nose: The Czech-Austrian communist theoretician Karl Kautsky, the most well-known follower of Marx and Engels in the immediate aftermath of their deaths, was affectionately called “the pope of Marxism.”
"The Old Testament is replaced by Das Kapital or The Communist Manifesto, and the New Testament by Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, or Mao’s On Guerilla Warfare, or Lenin’s April Theses. Parsing these texts becomes an obsession for generations of true believers. The rapture, that bloody apocalyptic end of days, is replaced with revolution. And like fundamentalist Christians, many Marxists look forward to it, including the death and terror it would bring. Finally, communism marks the manifestation of heaven on earth. Despite the pretension to atheism, Marxism provides a secularized Christian eschatology, rooted in an unconscious Manichaean millenarianism."
In other words - Marx is alleged to be viewed by Marxists as a figure akin to the Messiah, with Marxists writing after Marx's death in the role of Christ's twelve apostles. Marxists treat the works of Marx and other pivotal Marxists such as Lenin and Mao as akin to religious texts, and view socialist revolution as a rapture-like event that forms the end of history and that will lead to heaven on earth. These are the most common arguments used by those who accuse Marxism of having the characteristics of a cult, and they are all completely ridiculous. 
One of the crucial bedrocks of Marxism is what's called the 'materialist conception of history' - the idea that history is not driven by great men and their ideas, but by the development of the productive forces within society (i.e. the development of agriculture, the collapse of the feudal economic system after the Black Death, the industrial revolution etc.). Marxists do not, and have never, viewed Marx and Engels as prophetic figures whose works constitute divine revelation - they were social scientists, 'scientific socialists' who examined the history of society and came to a conclusion that history was driven by changes in production and by the working masses. As Marxists, we assert that this view is scientifically correct - a view Engels outlines in 'Socialism: Utopian and Scientific' - but it isn't a religious view, in the sense that it is not faith-based. I'm a Christian, and my belief that the world will end with the second coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth is a faith-based view - I have no evidence for it, and I wouldn't claim to have any. I believe that it will happen as a matter of faith. By contrast, Marxism is a scientific approach to the question of how society has developed and will continue to develop. There's no faith involved - only hard evidence. One only has to examine something like 'The World Turned Upside Down' by Christopher Hill or 'The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome' by Michael Parenti to realise that this is an entirely legitimate historical methodology that can be applied to real history. 
Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in the Yan'an Soviet in Shanxi, mid-1930s
Because of this view - that history is driven by the development of production and by the working masses - Marx and Engels are not viewed as "great men" or "Messiahs" in any sense, and never have been, because that would be completely antithetical to a Marxist analysis of history. 
Ryan is actually somewhat correct in comparing the works of Mao or Lenin to the New Testament, but not in the way he thinks. Like the New Testament, the works of these two men were calls to mass action to overthrow all existing social relations and build a better society. Christ provided blueprints in his sermons for this process, and so did Lenin and Mao. However, once again, the difference lies in the scientific approach that Lenin and Mao took. Christ is God incarnate - his view cannot be wrong. I hold that that is true as a matter of faith - Lenin and Mao did not rely on such faith. Works such as 'The State and Revolution' and 'On Guerrilla Warfare' are based on the concrete experiences of Lenin and Mao in actually making revolution - they're applications of the lessons that Lenin and Mao have learned, both from their predecessors (the Paris Commune and the 1905 uprising for Lenin, the revolution in Russia for Mao) and their own actual experiences of attempting to overthrow capitalism. Through a dialectical analysis of the successes and failures of various attempts to establish socialism, they come to a conclusion about how best to carry out socialist revolution. This is not cult behavior or religious devotion - it's social science. 
Finally, communism does not constitute, as Ryan puts it, "the manifestation of heaven on earth". Marx himself wrote that "Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence". Communism is not 'heaven on earth' - it is, as Marxists view it, the logical conclusion of human society based on Marx's analysis of human history. You can dispute Marx's analysis - many have - but this is not a religious belief. 
Everything within Marxism which Marx's critics assert are characteristic of a cult is in fact rooted in extremely serious and sober analysis of concrete material conditions in the real world. There is no faith involved whatsoever - and former 'Marxists' who claim that there is an element of faith likely never understood Marxism in the first place. 
Claim 2: Marxism has brought "penury" (extreme poverty) to every country it has been applied in
American-Chinese Marxist and journalist for China Daily and People's World, Ian Goodrum, did an excellent Twitter thread addressing this very topic only a fortnight ago. I feel like Goodrum summarised this better than I ever could, so I'm just going to quote his thread directly, and you can draw your own conclusions. 
*beginning of thread*
Socialism vs. capitalism: Which provides the better quality of life?

A by-the-numbers thread dealing strictly in facts, which I'm told don't care about your feelings.
In 1986, a study was published in the International Journal of Health Services. It purported to compare and contrast the physical quality of life (PQL) of capitalist and socialist countries. It didn't get a lot of attention, for reasons you'll soon see.
Two things make this study interesting:

1. Countries are divided by development level rather than lumping everybody together — a far fairer method.
2. The data is from 1983, a notoriously difficult period for the socialist bloc. Keep this in mind when we get to the numbers.
OK, I lied. Three things. Character limit and all.

3. The authors deliberately ignored heavily propagandized metrics typically used to compare capitalism and socialism, and instead focused on the fulfillment of basic human needs.
Here's how the surveyed countries were divided.

Points of interest:

No socialist country has "high-income" status.
"Recent postrev" category for places with immature systems. Most were attempting socialism.
Norway, Denmark and Sweden are listed as capitalist. Sorry, socdems.
The income categories are determined by per-capita GNP. Here's how it shakes out. I know, GNP isn't a perfect metric. But this works well enough to get an idea of which countries can be fairly compared to one another.
You'll notice per-capita GNP is roughly the same or a little in capitalism's favor in that table. And's the quality of life metrics that matter. So let's look at those.
We start with infant mortality and child death rates and — holy hell, look at those numbers. Recent postrev countries give capitalist nations a run for their money, but fully developed socialist systems are on a whole other level.
Birth rate was lower in socialist countries than capitalist ones. This is kind of a neutral figure; high or low birth rates can mean any number of things. Lower rates in socialism were in all likelihood due to ease and affordability of birth control for women, an obvious plus.
How about life expectancy and crude deaths? Again, no contest. Socialist countries beat out their counterparts in life expectancy and are on par with the rungs above them. Crude death rates are a little more even.
If those numbers are that good, it stands to reason health care figures tell a similar tale. And they do!

Socialist countries boast a staggering doctor-to-patient and nurse-to-patient ratio when put up against their capitalist cohorts.
But nobody gets fed in socialism. At least that's what Charlie Kirk says. And he'd never lie to me, right?

Yeah, of course he would. Socialist countries universally provided 100 percent of recommended nutrition, and mid-upper income socialist countries beat everybody.
So health figures look pretty good. Let's move on to our next dataset, for education and literacy.

You'll never guess who wins, unless you somehow managed to guess "the countries with free cradle-to-grave education."
The study ultimately composites these figures to come up with a Physical Quality of Life Index. All this ends up doing is giving us a nice round number that shows how much better socialism is than capitalism. Thanks, authors!
Skeptics reading this might wonder if the figures provided for the socialist countries are accurate. The authors seem confident in the statistics, and even hint that socialist countries do a better job reporting this information than capitalist ones.
The authors drop a couple more hints about the inequities of health care, education and the like for disadvantaged groups in high-income capitalist countries. The implication seems to be that part of socialism is correcting these injustices, and the numbers suggest success.
What can we take away from this?

First, people who say socialism or communism "doesn't work" have no idea what they're talking about.
Second, even with big welfare states and safety nets, social democracies still fall short of "actually existing socialism" when it comes to QOL.
Socialism works — for the workers, the people, the vast majority of society.

Capitalism also works — but only for the ruling class and its privileged few.

I know which side I'm on. Do you?
Addendum: I mentioned it upthread, but just a reminder this data is from 1983, at the tail end of the Soviet Union's life cycle and part of the era many expats remember as hell on earth. And yet it still beats its richer capitalist counterparts. Really Makes You Think.
Addendum to the Addendum: Imagining how much better the QOL numbers would get if these socialist countries weren't interfered with and were able to reach "high-income" status. Getting very sad about this. Sorry if you're also sad now.
*end of thread*
In other words - get stuffed, John Boothman. The USSR, the socialist country that Boothman seems intent on slagging off more than any other, went from a poverty-stricken, post-feudal, autocratic hellhole that was utterly shattered by the First World War to a nuclear-armed superpower able to compete on both economic and military terms with the USA, and they achieved that in ~40 years - and, when the USSR collapsed, the effects on the Soviet people were nothing short of catastrophic. An article in OpenDemocracy examined this sheer collapse in the standard of living for the Soviet people back in 2014, and the statistics are chilling. Every single post-Soviet state suffered a post-Soviet decline in per capita income of at least 25% - eight post-Soviet countries suffered declines of over 50%. The crude death rate per 1000 people is equally shocking - of the 15 countries, only six of them had a lower CDR in 2012 than in 1990. In several of the countries, it hasn't substantially changed since 1990. To put this in perspective, there is no country in Africa, even a desperately poor nation like DRC, which had a higher CDR in 2012 than in 1990. Between 1990 and 1994, the death rate in Russia went up by 40%. Both male and female life expectancy dropped significantly (six years for men, three years for women) - a peacetime decline in life expectancy that is unprecedented in any industrialised country in modern history - and alcohol-related deaths tripled during the first four years after the collapse. By 1997, the real-terms average income of working-class Russian families was around 30% - 30%! - of what it was in 1990. In the same year, the UN claimed that approximately 100 million Russians were below the poverty line. This catastrophe didn't just occur in Russia, either - in the years following the collapse of the USSR, poverty rates in Belarus spiked by 73%.  This is not an exhaustive list of the many, many, many profoundly awful effects of the collapse of the USSR, but merely some of the most shocking. Similar effects were observed all across the former socialist bloc in eastern Europe.
From this, we can see both that socialism in developed industrial countries delivers a quality of life that is on par with or even superior to industrialised capitalist countries, and that the ripping away of the socialist system was an economic catastrophe of gargantuan proportions that sunk over a hundred million people into the depths of abject poverty and destitution. Boothman's claim that Marxism delivers "penury" is nothing short of a bare-faced lie, unsupported by any meaningful historical evidence. 
Finally, I'm loathe to recommend the Daily Mail to anybody, but I would highly suggest reading an article entitled 'Oppressive and grey? No, growing up under communism was the happiest time of my life' by Zsuzsanna Clark, which outlines her experience as a child growing up in socialist Hungary during the 1970s and 80s and dispels a lot of myths about what life was actually like for ordinary people in the former socialist bloc.
Claim 3: Tens of thousands of people were executed by Red forces in the immediate aftermath of the October Revolution in 1917
The technical veracity of this claim largely rests on what Boothman's definition of the 'immediate aftermath' of the revolution is, but it constitutes a misrepresentation nonetheless. 
There is an awful lot of rubbish that goes around about the conduct of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission (Cheka) - the Bolshevik party's security organization - during the Russian Civil War. It is true that the Cheka and the Red Army carried out executions in the tens of thousands during the civil war, and the same is true of the White forces who fought against the Bolsheviks and other socialist outfits during the civil war. The British government, for their part, planned and carried out multiple attacks using poison gas on various targets in Russia during 1919. A lot of people don't understand, or have never looked into, the sheer scale and brutality of the Russian Civil War - this was a country of nearly 170 million people and almost 23 million square kilometers, torn between tens of competing factions who were all determined to violently enforce their preferred form of government onto Russia. It was almost certainly one of the greatest national catastrophes in European history, and it led to an estimated seven to twelve million deaths. 
This is not an environment into which one steps lightly, and it's certainly not one in which any faction could afford to put liberal niceties over ensuring that troops had food, uniforms and bullets for their guns. The civil war was not a necessary outcome of the revolution. White generals like Denikin and Kolchak made the decision to tip the revolution into civil war precisely because they were afraid of the revolution and of the Russian masses - the disaster of the civil war can be placed squarely at the feet of the Whites, not the Reds.
The point here is that wars are not won by being nice. The Russian Civil War was a disaster in which all sides did undoubtedly terrible things, but with profoundly different intentions. The Whites wanted largely to either restore the semi-feudal dystopia that Russia was before WW1, or to put in place a constitutional "democracy" along the lines of Britain at the time. Both of these groups wanted to see the communist movement in Russia wiped out, and had no qualms about carrying out their own massacres of communists. The Bolsheviks wanted to modernise and equalise Russian society, end the anti-semitism and racism that had plagued Russia for centuries and begin the transition to a new world of liberty, equality and fraternity. The nature of war is that stuff breaks and people die - you can draw your own conclusions as to whether the ends justify the means, but I will not apologise for the Bolsheviks actually attempting to fight back against counter-revolution, and I will certainly not accept Boothman's ridiculous implication that the civil war was some sort of one-sided communist massacre. 
Claim 4: Forced collectivisation in the early 1930s caused a famine which led to five million deaths

"Throughout Russian history famines and droughts have been a common feature, often resulting in humanitarian crises traceable to political or economic instability, poor policy, environmental issues and war. Droughts and famines in Russia and the Soviet Union tended to occur fairly regularly, with famine occurring every 10–13 years and droughts every five to seven years. Golubev and Dronin distinguish three types of drought according to productive areas vulnerable to droughts: Central (the Volga basinNorth Caucasus and the Central Chernozem Region), Southern (Volga and Volga-Vyatka area, the Ural region, and Ukraine), and Eastern (steppe and forest-steppe belts in Western and Eastern Siberia, and Kazakhstan).

- 'Droughts and famines in Russia and the Soviet Union', Wikipedia

"Many people have rightly pointed out that the soviet union, as well as the Russian empire, like any other semi-feudal agrarian country had frequent famines. Basically every time there was bad harvest because of drought, flooding, too cold weather, too hot weather etc. there was a famine in some part of the Russian empire. This happened every 2 or 3 years in the Russian Empire.
This is because agriculture at that point was technologically not developed and based on small scale production which barely made a surplus. (we’re talking The Russian empire and the Soviet Union before collectivization and industrialization of the 1930s). The roads were also extremely bad and communications technology was almost nonexistent so sending aid effectively in response to famines was difficult.
The point I’m trying to make here is that famine was common before the soviets took power and the country started to rapidly industrialize in the 30s. Before that there had been famines in some part of the Russian empire almost every couple of years. There was one in 1901, 1906, 1911, 1917 and so on. In the early Soviet Union this trend continued with the terrible famine of 1921-23 mostly caused by the civil war (possibly the most devastating famine in Russian history) and the grain shortages which began in 1927-28."
- 'Holodomor, myth and reality', ML-Theory/TheFinnishBolshevik
Communism is not a panacea that solves all problems from the moment a socialist government comes to power. In 1922, as the Soviet government consolidated its control over the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, they inherited an agricultural system that was, from top to bottom, centuries out of date. The pre-revolution economy of the Russian Empire had been based mainly on a semi-feudal system of big landowners and peasant farmers, with a nascent industrial base in a few large cities and propped up by foreign (mainly French) financial capital, and it was subject to famines and droughts on a regular basis (the same was true of pre-revolutionary China). This medievalesque agricultural system made efficient farming completely impossible and famines largely inevitable. 
In order to stabilise the economy after the catastrophe of the civil war, in 1921, the Soviet government introduced what was called the New Economic Policy (NEP), replacing the previous policy of 'war communism' - a form of planned economy adapted to the needs of total war. War communism had been successful in that it had won the war for the Bolshevik party (which was its intended purpose), but it had also brought the economy in the USSR to a point of complete breakdown, and so the NEP was introduced. The NEP returned most agricultural land and light industry to private ownership, while the state maintained control of heavy industry, banking, transport and other vital functions. This was, by the Soviet government's own words, a 'state capitalist' system, and led to a repolarising of social relations in the countryside as kulaks (wealthy landowners) and 'NEP men' (small businessmen and managers) grew rich out of the reforms. This, obviously, was not an ideal situation for the Soviet government, and much of the problems of the pre-revolutionary economy plagued the Soviet Union during the years of the NEP - most notably, a chronic shortage of grain. The countryside remained virtually dominated by landowners, often the same landowners as before the revolution, as the Communist Party lacked sufficient organizational strength in the countryside to exert real control.
Stalin and Bukharin together (Far-left and centre), 1928
These issues eventually led to the Soviet grain procurement crisis of 1928. At the Fifteenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), a decision was made to lower grain procurement prices in order to reduce state expenditure. This resulted in kulaks in several important grain-producing areas choosing to hoard grain and wait for prices to rise again. There was debate among different factions in the Soviet government as to how to react to this - a minority faction led by Nikolai Bukharin saw this as proof that the Soviet government should not interfere with agriculture and wished to reverse the government's attacks on the NEP, while a majority faction led by Joseph Stalin argued that the Soviet state should not be cowed by these landowners and that the grain crisis had proved that the NEP wasn't working. Stalin's faction commanded the majority of support on the Politburo and his decision to scrap the NEP and move forward with a programme of crash industrialisation and mass collectivisation was implemented by the Soviet government. 
Contrary to popular belief, there was no mass resistance to collectivisation in most areas of the Soviet Union. By 1932, most Soviet agriculture had been successfully collectivised. The main exception to this rule was parts of the Ukrainian SSR, where kulaks had become extremely strong and were determined to resist the collectivisation programme. Many Ukrainian kulaks set fire to their crops and slaughtered their livestock en masse in an effort to disrupt collectivisation, and clashes broke out between the army and the kulaks as a land war consumed the Ukrainian countryside. At the same time, much of the Soviet Union was struck by droughts, infestations of insects and mice and attacks on crops by fungal diseases. By Autumn 1932, the extent of crop failure - and with that, food shortage - became abundantly clear to the Soviet government. In response to this national crisis, the Soviet government escalated the campaign against the kulaks and began to organise raids on farms that were hoarding and profiteering from excess grain in order to feed the cities. In contrast to the approach of the Tsar - simply letting the poor starve - the Soviet government organised massive grain relief to areas like Ukraine, which was particularly badly hit by the famine, and to the cities, which couldn't produce their own food. 
Millions of people (the exact figure is not clear) did die in the famine of 1932-33, but it is very clear that this famine was not caused by the collectivisation programme. Most peasants accepted the reforms, and the crisis was caused by much the same issues that had caused famines in Russia for centuries - drought and disease - as well as resistance by rich landowners in some areas. Collectivization essentially eliminated this problem of cyclical famine, forever - the only major famine suffered by the Soviet Union after 1933 was the famine of 1946-47, in the devastating aftermath of the destruction of half the country and the death of 27 million Soviet people at the hands of Nazi Germany during the Second World War. 
Main sources:
New Economic Policy, Encyclopedia Britannica
Grain Crisis of 1928,
Claim 5: One million people died during a purge in 1937-8

This is one of those claims that is simply false. One thing about the Soviet state was that, like it or lump it, it was intensely bureaucratic - every transaction, every meeting and, yes, every execution was written down and banked in the Soviet archives. The opening of these archives during the 1990s allowed historians such as J. Arch Getty and Stephen G. Wheatcroft to debunk a lot of hysterically high previous estimates for the number of deaths during the purges of 1937-8, a lot of which originated from a book called 'The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties' by Robert Conquest, published in 1968. Conquest was a former employee of the Information Research Department, a anti-Soviet disinformation unit of the British Foreign Office created by the Attlee government in 1948 to manipulate public opinion and provide resources and funding to anticommunist politicians and trade union officials, and a lot of his work (along with that of fellow staple of anti-Soviet 'history' Alexander Solzhenitsyn) has been roundly discredited since the opening of the Soviet archives and the end of the Cold War.

The official death toll of the purge of 1937-8 was 681,692 people.

Let us be clear - this figure is disgracefully high, and it is most certainly a stain on the Soviet government that things were allowed to get this wildly out of control. However, three things need to be understood in order to view the purge properly.

First of all, the purge was not the work of the Soviet government as a whole, or indeed of Joseph Stalin, per se. The mass executions of hundreds of thousands of people was largely the work of Nikolai Yezhov, the director of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) - in Russian historiography, this period is even known as the Yezhovshchina, or 'Yezhov phenomenon'. Yezhov was a former junior agricultural minister and anti-corruption official within the Soviet government who was appointed to head the NKVD in 1936, after his work on the Sergei Kirov murder case. Kirov, the head of the Communist Party in Leningrad and a close personal friend of Joseph Stalin, was shot dead in 1934 by Leonid Nikolaev, a troublesome (and likely mentally ill) former member of the Communist Party who had been expelled for continual resistance to party discipline and who believed his wife was having an affair with Kirov. Yezhov was an extremely determined man - to all intents and purposes, an extremist - and it was under his oversight that the Soviet government lost all semblance of control over the NKVD. He was executed in 1938 for his crimes during the purge. 

Secondly, the atmosphere of hysteria which Yezhov stepped into was not entirely unjustified. Trotsky had been expelled from the Soviet government seven years before, and he had repeatedly called for the overthrow of the Soviet government through armed insurrection and terrorism. The Trotskyite-Zinovievite United Terrorist Centre, a group of Trotskyists within the Soviet government who were working to undermine the state and assassinate Stalin, were put on trial and executed in 1936, and Trotskyist terrorists had stepped up bomb attacks on Soviet facilities, particularly mines, throughout that year. There were large numbers of people in the Soviet Union who had been engaged in anti-Soviet conspiracy and were involved with plots to sabotage the Soviet economy and overthrow the Soviet state, and Stalin himself did sign a number of death warrants for these people - because, on balance, the evidence showed that they were guilty of crimes against the state. 

Thirdly, the Soviet Union was a massive country, with poor roads and many a heavily isolated village, town or even city. The ability of Yezhov and the rogue elements within the NKVD to carry out their extremist campaign of mass murder was enabled to a major degree by these geographical factors - often, the Soviet government were not aware of, or were unable to stop, the actions of regional NKVD chiefs and of individual units who were gripped by the atmosphere of fear of a Trotskyist uprising that pervaded the USSR during this time period. 

With all this in mind, it simply isn't historically correct for Boothman to lay the excesses of the purge at the feet of 'communism'. The purge was a product of its time, an overreaction to a genuine epidemic of conspiracy and terrorism that the Soviet government quickly lost control of - but, when control was regained, the chief perpetrator was rightly tried and executed for his crimes. 

I'll just make this point here - it's important to remember that the Soviet government, like all governments, was not one unshakable mass which moved in lockstep, but an extremely complicated organization with multiple competing factions, which often did things that the country's paramount leader (in this period, Stalin) did not necessarily approve of, or even know about. No Soviet leader was an omniscient and omnipotent god - they were simply men operating within a given system, often in contradiction with their inferiors in the government hierarchy. 

Claim 6: The Soviet Union was "formally allied" with Nazi Germany for two years before the beginning of the Great Patriotic War

"Papers which were kept secret for almost 70 years show that the Soviet Union proposed sending a powerful military force in an effort to entice Britain and France into an anti-Nazi alliance.
Such an agreement could have changed the course of 20th century history, preventing Hitler's pact with Stalin which gave him free rein to go to war with Germany's other neighbours.
The offer of a military force to help contain Hitler was made by a senior Soviet military delegation at a Kremlin meeting with senior British and French officers, two weeks before war broke out in 1939.
The new documents, copies of which have been seen by The Sunday Telegraph, show the vast numbers of infantry, artillery and airborne forces which Stalin's generals said could be dispatched, if Polish objections to the Red Army crossing its territory could first be overcome.
But the British and French side - briefed by their governments to talk, but not authorised to commit to binding deals - did not respond to the Soviet offer, made on August 15, 1939. Instead, Stalin turned to Germany, signing the notorious non-aggression treaty with Hitler barely a week later."....
..."The Soviet offer - made by war minister Marshall Klementi Voroshilov and Red Army chief of general staff Boris Shaposhnikov - would have put up to 120 infantry divisions (each with some 19,000 troops), 16 cavalry divisions, 5,000 heavy artillery pieces, 9,500 tanks and up to 5,500 fighter aircraft and bombers on Germany's borders in the event of war in the west, declassified minutes of the meeting show."
The myth of a Soviet 'alliance' with Nazi Germany in 1939 is one of the more pervasive anti-Soviet myths, but it's also one of the most ridiculous (I'll keep this one short, because this one is completely crackers and can be debunked very easily). The actual name of the frequently-cited Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the 'Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics' - i.e., a non-aggression pact, not an alliance. For the avoidance of doubt, these are extremely different things. 
Soviet soldiers raise a flag over the Reichstag in the
ruins of Berlin, 1945
A non-aggression pact is a promise between two countries not to go to war with each other. An alliance is a promise between two countries to assist each other in military conflicts against a given third country. The 1939 pact between the USSR and Nazi Germany was that the two countries would not go to war - a pact, I would remind you, that both sides had absolutely no intention of keeping. 
Stalin and the Soviet government knew full well that Hitler had, ever since he sat down and wrote Mein Kampf after the disastrous Munich Putsch, publicly advocated the armed invasion and occupation of eastern Europe and Russia in order to provide living space for German settlers. Hitler had advocated against Slavs and against Marxism and for an invasion of the USSR for two decades - he was never going to keep the non-aggression pact. Stalin responded in kind - secret documents which came to light recently reveal that the Soviets had offered to send a million troops and thousands of tanks, aircraft and heavy guns to support the British and French in the event of a war in the west between the Allies and the Axis. To call a situation where two sides sign a non-aggression pact that neither intends to keep and where both sides advocated the invasion and destruction of the other a 'formal alliance' is nothing short of absurd, and suggests that Boothman either does not know the meaning of the word 'alliance', or, more likely, he simply doesn't know what he's talking about. 

Claim 7: The Soviet Union's invasions of the Baltic states and of Poland were "ruthless unprovoked interventions"

Something that is almost never talked about in the context of the Soviet intervention in Poland in 1939 is a little document called the Peace of Riga, a treaty between Russia, Ukraine and Poland which ended the Polish-Soviet War and established Poland's interwar borders. This will require a bit of context, so I'll briefly outline the background to the treaty and then explain the treaty's stipulations.

The collapse of the Russian Empire into revolution and civil war in 1917, along with the related collapses of Germany and Austria-Hungary in the aftermath of the end of the war, meant that, between 1917 and 1922, virtually every state in central and eastern Europe fell into anarchy. The treaty of Brest-Litovsk - a peace deal between the Soviet government and the Germans - had established (on paper, at least) the Kingdom of Poland, a German puppet state, but an uprising in Poznań and the surrounding areas in December 1918 freed much of Poland from German occupation and convinced the Allies to officially include a new and independent Polish republic as part of the Treaty of Versailles.

The new Polish government was led by a man called Józef Piłsudski. Piłsudski had a vision - the expansion of Poland's borders as far east as possible, the reconquest of the former territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth which had been annexed by Russia during the partitions of Poland and the establishment of 'Intermarium', a Polish-led federation of central and eastern European states which would provide a strong counterbalance to both German and Russian aggression. The Russian SFSR, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, viewed things quite differently - Lenin believed that the Bolsheviks must move "onward to Berlin over the corpse of Poland", in order to secure the Soviet government's western borders, assist the German revolutionaries and, in doing so, gain access to Germany's industrial base to aid the war against the Whites. Piłsudski wanted to move east, and Lenin wanted to move west - this obviously wasn't a sustainable situation for either party, and war inevitably broke out as Piłsudski invaded western Ukraine in February 1919.

Very, very briefly, Poland advanced east with little resistance, establishing a unsustainably long frontline that was undermanned, underequipped and had nearly no fortifications. A major Soviet counter-attack in July 1920 forced Polish forces into full retreat, pushing them all the way back to Warsaw by August. Piłsudski prepared a desperate defense of Warsaw - Trotsky's spies actually intercepted the Polish plan for Warsaw's defense, but it was disregarded as disinformation on the basis that it was too ridiculous to be real. It was, in fact, very real - Polish forces pulled off what was called the "Miracle at the Vistula", routing the Red Army and breaking the Soviet line. Poland was again able to freely advance east, and, soon after, the Soviet government sued for peace.

That brings us to the Peace of Riga. Below is a map of the borders laid down at Riga:

And an ethnic map of the same borders:

As can be seen, the Republic of Poland confirmed by the Peace of Riga was not simply a free and independent Polish state - it was a Polish state that was occupying a significant among of Ukrainian and Belorussian territory, territory that it stole from the USSR after the Polish-Soviet War. These borders did not change during the interwar period - these were the borders the Soviet government was working with when it made the decision to intervene in Poland in 1939.

Here, we have a map of border changes in eastern Europe after the Second World War. Pay close attention to the Polish border:

From these three maps, we can see that the USSR annexed ONLY Polish territories with Ukrainian or Belorussian majorities, in order to include these ethnic groups within their own states - the Ukrainian and Belorussian SSRs. It is NOT true that the USSR attempted to, or even desired to, annex Poland, and it was not an "unprovoked intervention", but a reclamation of rightfully Ukrainian and Belorussian territory from the hands of the Polish military dictatorship.

Speaking of the Polish military dictatorship, let's discuss what kind of state Poland - and the Baltic states, for that matter - were before WW2.

There's an excellent Michael Parenti speech on YouTube called "Reflection on the Overthrow of Communism", in which Parenti briefly discusses this very issue. Below is an extract from that speech - skip to 2:07 for Parenti's discussion of exactly what kind of place, politically speaking, Poland and much of eastern Europe were before WW2.

Quote: "Poland was a right-wing fascist dictatorship under Piłsudski, with concentration camps of its own".

Poland between the wars was not, in any meaningful sense, a democracy. In 1926, Piłsudski and his allies in the military led a coup d'etat that established the 'colonels' regime', a military dictatorship under Piłsudski and his political and military allies. Piłsudski died in 1935, but the regime he had established live on - as did the concentration camp established for enemies of the regime at Bereza Kartuska, where communists, members of rival Polish nationalist parties, as well as Ukrainian and Belorussian nationalists, were interned by the Polish government. It wasn't just Ukrainians and Belorussians who were targeted by the regime, either - the colonels' regime was a bastion of good old pre-Holocaust European overt anti-semitism. In August 1936, the government ordered that all businesses had to display the name of their owner on their business sign, a policy specifically designed to out Jews and which resulted in anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish businesses. In January 1937, restrictions were placed on kosher slaughtering of animals, and districts where Jews were less than 3% of the population were permitted to outlaw kosher meat altogether. In May 1937, Jews were barred from serving as lawyers or doctors by the Polish Medical Association and the Polish Bar Association, and, in 1938, the state restricted the ability of Jews to attain licenses to practice law. In January 1938, the General Assembly of Journalists in Wilno barred Jews from being members of their organization, and, in April, Bank Polski - the largest financial institutions in Poland - adopted provisions to exclude Jews. In March 1938, the Polish government passed a new citizenship law which deprived any Polish citizen who had lived outside Poland for five years and "not maintained contact with the home country" of their Polish citizenship. This rendered tens of thousands of Polish Jews living in neighboring Germany stateless - effectively making them a German problem.

From 1935-37, the Polish government was also involved in negotiations with France regarding the forced deportation of three million Polish Jews to the island of Madagascar - a plan which was revived after the invasion of Poland by the SS.

That was the regime - the wildly anti-Semitic military dictatorship whose ideas inspired the SS - that the Soviet government intervened against in 1939, in order to reclaim territory that was rightfully Soviet in the first place.

Now, onto the Baltic states.

One of my favourite contradictions in the long history of anti-communist mythmaking is that anti-communists will simultaneously assert that Stalin and the upper echelons of the Soviet government were unaware that Hitler intended to break the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and that Stalin did not prepare well enough for WW2, while also condemning the Soviet Union for the decision to intervene in the Baltic states in 1940. Schrödinger's Stalin is actually a fairly common occurrence - Stalin is simultaneously alleged to be an all-powerful dictatorial mastermind who effortlessly personally arranged the deaths of millions of people, while also being characterised as a bumbling oaf who was too stupid to know that Hitler would break the pact and who was incapable of governing without having all his rivals eliminated. It is not an accident that attempts to rationalise Baltic participation in the Holocaust and equate the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany are all the rage in the Baltic states right now - all three Baltic states, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, suffered right-wing nationalists coups d'etat during the interwar period which delivered a series of authoritarian military dictatorships. These were, without a doubt, proto-fascist regimes - not actively fascist, and certainly not Nazi, but displaying the sort of highly conservative and authoritarian ultra-nationalist and militarist tendencies that we've seen in places like Francoist Spain and the military governments in Brazil or Argentina. Given the nature of these governments, the Soviet government justifiably worried about potential collaboration with Nazi Germany in any potential invasion of the USSR, and so pressured these countries to accept Soviet military bases and suchlike. Faced with intransigent Baltic governments, the Soviet government eventually sacked this and directly occupied the Baltic countries.

On the USSR's part, this was simple realpolitik. If the Soviet Union was to survive the war, they had to create as much space between Moscow and the Soviet Union's western border as possible. The occupation of the Baltics both liberated these countries from the proto-fascist military dictatorships they were living under, and brought the Soviets time during the eventual German invasion of the USSR to retreat, rally their forces, counter-attack, and, eventually, destroy fascism. Once again, Boothman's criticism here is as if the Soviet government shouldn't have bothered to defend itself. You cannot defeat Nazism by waving a copy of Das Kapital in a Nazi's face - the Soviets did what was necessary to defeat Nazism, stop the Holocaust and free eastern Europe from fascist tyranny.

Claim 8: "millions" have perished under socialist governments in China and in the DPRK

Distortions about the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea ("North" Korea, DPRK) are so thoroughly ingrained into western culture that I could spend days and days and days writing about the myriad of ways that these two countries are so frequently misrepresented and outright lied about by a western media apparatus that is obsessed with orientalist myth-making. You could power entire continents from the sheer amount of spinning that Edward Said must be doing in his grave right now.

But, a thorough debunking of the allegations of "totalitarianism" or whatever on the part of the Korean and Chinese socialist governments can be left for another day. The question is this - have the governments of China or the DPRK been responsible for the deaths of "millions" of people?

In China's case, the main event that is usually cited as evidence of blood on the hands of the Chinese state is the Great Leap Forward famine of 1959-61 and the "Tiananmen Square massacre" of 1989. We'll deal with these two first, before moving on to discuss the DPRK.

The Great Leap Forward and the famine of 1959-61

"Between 108 BC and 1911 AD there were no fewer than 1,828 recorded famines in China, or nearly one each year.
Since 1962 there should have been in China – if their historical average remained unchanged – 50 serious famines.
Instead there have been zero."
The usual western discourse concerning the Great Leap Foward (GLF) generally amounts to the following - "Mao Zedong's programme of rapid industrialisation caused a famine which led to the deaths of (insert generally made-up number here) millions of people". This is rubbish for a number of reasons - Mao Zedong's policies were not the primary reason, or even one of the primary reasons, for the famine, and the number of deaths is generally made up on the spot by whoever is spinning this particular yarn, because the "estimates" published by various (and often fairly dubious) sources range anywhere from around 15 million to upwards of 45 million (again, highly dubious figures even at the lower end, but we'll get to that later).
As we have established previously, Marxism-Leninism is not a magic wand. Revolutions, especially Marxist ones, tend to take place in poorer, less developed, more food-insecure countries, and, upon the victory of the revolutionaries and the establishment of a revolutionary government, the new government inherits the same issues that plagued the old one. China is a very good example of this dynamic. 
In the century leading up to the communist revolution in China, the country had suffered what's termed the 'Hundred Years of Humiliation' - a century of domination and humiliation by various imperialist powers such as Britain, France, Germany, the USA and Japan. China was forced to fight several wars against these powers, who wished to forcibly open the Chinese market and resolve the trade deficit that the west (and, later, Japan) had developed with the Chinese. Over the course of a couple of decades, China was forced to cede several "treaty ports" such as Hong Kong, Macau and part of Shanghai to various colonial powers, open up other ports to foreign ships and allow them to travel freely down the Yangtze river, allow foreigners to hold property, and legalise the opium trade. Opium addiction was a massive issue - when the People's Liberation Army entered Shanghai in 1949, they found that around 20% of the population, 1.2 million people, were drug addicts. As a result of all this, China was a desperately poor country, one where the vast majority of people lived short and miserable lives as peasant farmers. The average life expectancy was 40 years old. It had incredibly poor infrastructure, and suffered from a fractured semi-feudal, semi-colonial economic setup - this economic setup, along with the ancient centralised agricultural system that China had run on for millennia, was destroyed throughout the revolutionary wars that gripped China from 1911 to 1949, making the situation even worse. 
China is also not, as a country naturally conducive to agriculture. The country is mountainous, and much of the population lives on arable land. Almost all of China's available farmland has to go on crops, because they have to feed a fifth of the world's population with only 6% of the world's arable land. Northern China's relative lack of rainfall versus the south and the annual rain variance of around 30% makes this region extremely famine-prone. Just like in Russia, famine was endemic to China - various famines in 1810, 1811, 1846 and 1849 killed around 45 million people on aggregate, a twenty-three-year-long famine (accompanied by a plague epidemic) from 1850-1873 killed 20-30 million people, and the Great North China Famine of 1876-79 claimed around 9.5-13 million lives. 25 million died in two famines in 1907 and 1911, 3 million died in 1928-30, 5 million from 1936-37 and 3 million again in 1942. This really wasn't an unusual occurrence, but, for some reason, the GLF famine is always treated as an exception to this millennia-long pattern of constant starvation. You'd almost think anti-communist propaganda was a bit dishonest! 
There were, of course, reasons for the famine that went beyond the same environmental factors that had plagued China for many thousands of years. Western free-marketeers often like to argue that what caused the 1959-62 famine was the planned economy that was set up by the Communist Party of China during the GLF. This is a gross misrepresentation which virtually turns reality on its head - the famine was, in part, caused by a lack of centralisation. Economic management was actually decentralised during the GLF. This resulted in local cadres, lacking economic expertise and (like the rest of the country) gripped with revolutionary fervor at the prospect of industrialisation, setting overambitious targets and writing reports which didn't reflect economic reality on the ground. When the harvest actually came, what ensued was bureaucratic chaos as the central government scrambled to rewrite their distribution plans and account for what had actually been produced and what hadn't - an accounting nightmare in a country of hundreds of millions of people, and one which severely disrupted food production and distribution. A highly centralised system of command and control, as opposed to a more localised system, would likely have avoided this over-zealousness. Another factor was the issues caused by the Sino-Soviet split. In 1960, Khrushchev (the Soviet premier at the time) pulled all Soviet technical advisers from China. These advisers not only took the blueprints of the industrial facilities they were helping to build back to the USSR with them - they took their expertise, which had been crucial in the development of China's industrialisation programme. This only caused further chaos as Chinese technicians were left with no blueprints, no advisers and no idea what to do, and significant numbers of industrial projects ground to a screeching halt. 
Soviet KGB Border Troops on Zhenbao Island in 1969. Fierce border
clashes were fought on Zhenbao between Chinese and Soviet forces
at the height of the Sino-Soviet split.

The 'Four Pests' campaign during the GLF eliminated a large number of the predators of locusts, causing an explosion in the locust population and a massive escalation of insect attacks on crops. This was exacerbated by probably the main cause behind the famine - the fact that China was variously struck by serious flooding, terrible storms and a major drought, all within a couple of years (as had happened thousands of times before), which was disastrous for the fragile, rapidly industrialising economic system in China at the time. 
Given this myriad of different factors, laying the deaths during the GLF at the hands of "Marxism" is extremely disingenuous. It also ignores the incredible achievements that did occur during the GLF, which include:
  • Coal production up by 36%
  • Textile production up by 30%
  • Electricity generation up by 26%
  • Fixed national assets up by 40%
  • The construction of 9 of China's 10 biggest dams and reservoirs
China's infrastructure in general benefit massively from the GLF. People will often talk about how China has developed so amazingly since the reforms were introduced in the 1980s - where do these people think that all the infrastructure that underpins that came from? It came from the Great Leap Forward and other infrastructure drives conducted under Mao Zedong. 

We'll just take a quick look at the alleged human cost of all this.

The figure that is usually quoted when the number of deaths during the GLF is discussed usually uses around 42 million people as an upper limit. On the face of it, this figure is, surprisingly, true - approximately 35-42 million people did die during the GLF.

24 million of these were natural deaths.

4 million were directly attributable to the weather (mainly flooding and drought). This leaves a discrepancy of around 7-14 million people, although recent research has even reached a dramatically lower figure of 3.5 million. Much of these deaths weren't even due to starvation, but due to disease that was exacerbated by malnutrition. 

This is the same school of anti-communist nonsense that lists Nazi soldiers killed by the Red Army during WW2 as "victims of communism". China at this time had a population of around 650 million people. 

Taking into consideration the massive amount of disruption faced by the government - the floods, droughts, withdrawal of Soviet aid and sheer bureaucratic chaos - this really isn't an exceptionally terrible result for a country afflicted by cyclical famine. More importantly, there hasn't been a famine in China since 1962. The socialist government, the Communist Party of China, have banished the famines that have afflicted China since time immemorial to the dustbin of history. If that's not a victory for Marxism, I don't know what is. 

To finish off this section, here is a graph of deaths per 100,000 people for China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines from 1950 to 1980. You'll notice that India's rate remains above China in every single iteration of the graph, and Indonesia's is even worse - yet nobody ever decries Jawaharlal Nehru or Sukarno as "mass murderers", "totalitarian dictators", "madmen", or indeed any of the epithets frequently applied to Mao Zedong. I once read somewhere that if you attempted to calculate Nehru's death toll by the same metrics that are frequently used to find Mao's, you would find that Nehru was responsible for around 56 million deaths. Obviously, this is ridiculous - but that's what they do with Mao.

The "Tiananmen Square massacre" myth

"The original story of Chinese troops on the night of 3 and 4 June, 1989 machine-gunning hundreds of innocent student protesters in Beijing’s iconic Tiananmen Square has since been thoroughly discredited by the many witnesses there at the time — among them a Spanish TVE television crew, a Reuters correspondent and protesters themselves, who say that nothing happened other than a military unit entering and asking several hundred of those remaining to leave the Square late that night.
Yet none of this has stopped the massacre from being revived constantly, and believed. All that has happened is that the location has been changed – from the Square itself to the streets leading to the Square." 
Again, this one will likely be shorter than the discourse on the GLF, because Tiananmen is an easily debunked pack of British lies, and even the Daily Telegraph admits it
The facts are these. Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms during the 1980s, although highly beneficial in the long run, were an extremely bitter pill to swallow for many Chinese people. Student radicals, many intent on winning concessions from the government as regards political liberalisation and some determined to overthrow the socialist government, gathered in the center of Beijing and set up barricades throughout the city. For weeks leading up to July 4th, the government was exceedingly patient with the protesters - the Prime Minister met with student leaders live on national TV - but the protesters only viewed this as more evidence that they could bring down the government if they simply kept going (of course, they had full US backing), and senior protest leaders began to openly call for a revolution to bring down the government and restore capitalism in China. Unarmed riot troops entered the square on July 2nd, and were met with violence by the protesters. Student agitation turned to violence across the city - buses were torched by protesters armed with petrol bombs and soldiers were lynched, mutilated and strung up from overpasses or the insides of burnt-out buses.  On one avenue in western Beijing, demonstrators torched an entire military convoy of over 100 vehicles. This had all the hallmarks of a classic western-backed colour revolution. 
Into this chaos was sent the People's Liberation Army (this time with lethal weapons), with the objective of dismantling the barricades, clearing Tiananmen Square and restoring Beijing to government control. This is the point at which people will claim that troops opened fire and massacred the protesters in Tiananmen Square while armored vehicles blocked anyone from leaving the area, but that simply isn't true - not wanting to see the confrontation between the troops and the students in the square devolve into open violence, pop star Hou Dejian negotiated a withdrawal from the square with the government, the government agreed to his timetable, and the protesters duly withdrew from the square at dawn the next morning. For all their revolutionary violence over the previous few days, the students in the square, quite reasonably, backed down when faced with the tanks and automatic weapons of the army of the workers' state. There was no massacre in Tiananmen Square. There was fighting in other districts of the city between troops and armed protesters who violently resisted the dismantling of the barricades using Molotov cocktails and other kinds of improvised explosives, as well as beating up and lynching more government soldiers. Including soldiers murdered by protesters, anywhere between several hundred and around 3,000 people were killed in four days of violence. This was not a one-sided massacre - it was a battle in China's capital city between armed and violent rioters and the army of the country's legitimate government. The "Tiananmen Square massacre" is a myth. 
Now, let's talk about the DPRK!
A lot of the nonsense that gets put out about the DPRK is scarcely even worth talking about - given that an article by infamous Irish satire website Waterford Whispers News claiming that the DPRK had landed a man on the sun got picked up by the Sunday World, while the Guardian has previously claimed that archaeologists in Pyongyang have discovered a unicorn lair, I think we can all be pretty certain that journalistic standards for DPRK stories are almost non-existent. We have at least three cases in the last decade of Korean officials or associates of Kim Jong-un supposedly being executed in all sorts of fantastical ways (the Sun recently claimed that a Korean general was executed by being thrown into a piranha-filled fish tank) miraculously returning to life. Which is more likely - Korean socialist super-science is so advanced as to have discovered the cure for death itself, or - wait for this - the media lies about anti-imperialist countries?
Shocking, I tell you. 
Several more hilarious examples of the racist lies that western media spews about the DPRK can be found at these two sites:

'Anti-DPRK Propaganda War – a Cavalcade of Comedy', Red Youth

I don't really see what Boothman is getting at by asserting that millions have perished under socialism in Korea, to be honest. By every metric, from 1953 to 1994, the DPRK was an absolute model for socialist economic development. As late as the 1970s, the DPRK's GDP per capita was estimated to be similar to or higher than that of the Republic of Korea ("South" Korea, ROK), despite the DPRK being far more mountainous and lacking in arable land. Che Guevara visited the DPRK in 1960 and proclaimed it a model for Cuba to follow - by 1968, all homes had electricity, and by 1972, every child ages 5-16 in the DPRK was enrolled in a school of some sort. Major difficulties arose following the collapse of the USSR, as they did in many other countries, and were exacerbated by a series of floods and droughts (weird how these supposed "famines caused by communism" always seem to coincide with a series of major floods and/or droughts, right? It's almost like they're actually being caused by the weather, rather than some abstract caricature of a given economic system!) which led to the deaths of several hundred thousand people through disease and malnutrition, but, like Cuba, the DPRK has been steadily recovering since (although its recovery has been blunted by US sanctions). Difficulties certainly still exist in the DPRK, but to assert either that millions have died because of the Workers' Party of Korea's policies, or that millions have died at all, is categorically false. 

And don't even get me started on the "camps" rubbish, or how defector testimonies almost always fall apart, or how the media feels able to just tell blatant lies and present opinion as fact when it comes to Korea (like claiming that Koreans think that Kim Jong-un is a god, or other orientalist nonsense). It's really quite racist, to be honest, and it reflects a western tradition of orientalism that runs very deep within western culture. Orientalist myth-making is a western obsession. 

Claim 9: the Khmer Rouge was a Marxist communist organization

The Communist Party of Kampuchea, popularly known as the Khmer Rouge, was an organisation that ruled Cambodia from 1975-79 until it was toppled by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in the Cambodian-Vietnamese War of 1979. The CPK are possibly the most ridiculous of the examples given by anti-communists in order to assert that Marxism doesn't work, or that it leads to violence and genocide, or that it is necessarily dictatorial, or whatever else, and I'll explain why.

The term "not real communism" is often mocked - rightly so - as something that is bandied about by liberal "Marxists" who have little or no knowledge about actually existing socialism and who simply want to avoid talking about the very real excesses and failures of Marxist governments in the past and present. However, when we're talking about the CPK, it really is the only way to accurately label them - any claims of Marxism that the CPK made were contradicted both ideologically and practically by their government as to appear ridiculous.

The cornerstone of the CPK's ideology was the glorification of the rural peasant, juxtaposed with disdain for city-dwellers, industrial workers and intellectuals in general. Pol Pot, the CPK's General Secretary, was heavily influenced by the self-sufficient and communal living style of the mountain tribes of Cambodia, and believed that massive and immediate collectivisation of agriculture (without the slightest regard for Cambodia's material conditions as a bombed-out warzone) could transform Cambodia into a classless society within only a few years. Obviously, this sort of wanton idealism is hardly in tune with Marxism or Leninism - and neither was the way the CPK was organised. The CPK only revealed its existence to the Cambodian people in 1977, two years after taking power - far from being a Marxist-Leninist vanguard of the Cambodian working class (or even of the peasant masses), the CPK was a highly secretive and small group of people who referred to themselves by the name 'Angkar', or 'The Organisation'. Most ordinary CPK boots on the ground had never heard of Marx and Lenin, and many had never even heard of Pol Pot - they were drawn to the cause through the CPK's focus on racist Khmer ultranationalism. The CPK's propaganda presses churned vast amounts of anti-Vietnamese vitriol, and CPK cadres encouraged attacks on Chinese and Vietnamese people. This even extended to the party's leadership - during the latter phase of the Cambodian genocide, senior CPK officials who were not Khmers were removed from their positions and executed, simply due to their race. This racial ideology was also seen in the CPK's glorification of the medieval Angkor Empire.

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Cambodia's closest neighbor, regarded the CPK as a group of revisionist gangsters who had veered away from Marxism entirely. Irritated by persistent Cambodian border raids, the People's Army of Vietnam invaded Cambodia on Christmas Day, 1978 - Pol Pot's regime collapsed in just two weeks, replaced with a Vietnamese-backed, Marxist-Leninist government.

The CPK officially renounced communism entirely in 1981, in order to attract support from the American and British governments for their war against the Vietnamese-backed Cambodian government. They went on to receive direct aid from the American CIA and the British SAS. The below article is very much worth a read:

How Thatcher gave Pol Pot a hand, the New Statesman

'Communist', my foot.

Claim 10: Since 1917, "communist genocides" have caused the deaths of upwards of 100 million people

This is another classic Boothman whopper that is easily deconstructed by anyone who knows anything about the recent history of anti-communist propaganda. The '100 million' figure originated with a book called The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, edited by Stéphane Courtois, a French anti-communist academic and a vocal advocate of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The book has two main theses - that communism and national socialism are highly similar, and that communist governments killed 100 million people during the 20th century.

Just like Mao: The Unknown Story or Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, the book was extremely well-received in the popular press, while being trashed by actual historians, as well as, later on, the book's own contributors. Wikipedia writes:

"Moreover, two of the book's main contributors—Nicolas Werth and Jean-Louis Margolin—as well as Karel Bartosek publicly disassociated themselves from Courtois' statements in the introduction and criticized his editorial conduct. Werth and Margolin felt Courtois was "obsessed" with arriving at a total of 100 million killed which resulted in "sloppy and biased scholarship" and faulted him for exaggerating death tolls in specific countries...  In particular, Margolin, who authored the Black Book's chapter on Vietnam, clarified "that he has never mentioned a million deaths in Vietnam". Historians Jean-Jacques Becker and J. Arch Getty have criticized Courtois for failing to draw a distinction between victims of neglect and famine and victims of "intentional murder"."

A report by the Wiesel Commission famously stated that Courtois' comparison of the gulags with Nazi death camps constitutes an attempt by Courtois to trivialise the Holocaust. 

The Black Book is, like other discredited anti-communist tracts (The Great Terror, The Gulag Archipelago, et cetera) referenced less these days, partially because it's been so roundly disavowed by its own authors. The methods the Black Book uses are, to put it mildly, slightly disingenuous - it counts executed Nazi collaborators from the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists as "victims of communism", along with those who died in the 1921 Russian famine (caused by the destruction of the civil war) and literal Nazi soldiers killed in action by the Red Army during WW2. It asserts that 65 million people - 65 million! - have died as a result of Chinese communism since 1949, an utterly farcical statistic. 

It is a pack of lies from start to finish - and so is the assertion that 'communism has killed 100 million people'. 

A conclusion

To conclude - "a pack of lies from start to finish" is actually quite an apt way of describing Boothman's letter. It may have taken me 11,000+ words, but I think I've adequately demonstrated that fact, and quite well, if I do say so myself.

 I could go into the crimes of capitalism and throw Boothman's argument right back at him, but this post is already incredibly, incredibly long, so I think I'll save that for another day.

Boothman finishes his own letter with a short tirade about Marxism's relationship with democracy and "authoritarianism", so I thought I'd finish with a classic from Engels, concerning the nature of authority:

Why do the anti-authoritarians not confine themselves to crying out against political authority, the state? All Socialists are agreed that the political state, and with it political authority, will disappear as a result of the coming social revolution, that is, that public functions will lose their political character and will be transformed into the simple administrative functions of watching over the true interests of society. But the anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?

Therefore, either one of two things: either the anti-authoritarians don't know what they're talking about, in which case they are creating nothing but confusion; or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the movement of the proletariat. In either case they serve the reaction."

I think it's safe to conclude that Boothman doesn't know what he's talking about.