Teaching the Truth About Communism
For students today, the fall of the Berlin Wall is ancient history, if they know about it at all.
I still remember it like it was yesterday, those famous words spoken by President Ronald Reagan on June 12, 1987 at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” It was a momentous day for Russians, Germans, Americans, and the entire world. We hoped we had seen the last of its kind—both the wall and the regime it represented.
Communism, however, was far from dead; to this day it still holds 1.5 billion people captive in China, Cuba, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam.
On paper, communism is appealing to those unaware of its brutal legacy. During the October Revolution, Lenin’s promise of “Peace, Land, and Bread” sounded like the perfect solution to Russia’s problems. That myth is tragically still prevalent today.
By definition, utopia does not exist, and thinking that we can make communism work “this time” has been shown repeatedly to only generate human suffering, rather than a worker’s paradise. Today’s problems of inequality, division, and strife will never be solved by a political theory responsible for the lives of 100 million people and counting.
Thankfully, our children are born without the Soviet nuclear threat that we experienced during the Cold War. But the clear and present danger of communist ideology still exists, and our students are not learning about its enduring legacy in the classroom. This rising generation deserves to know the truth—communism brings about only suffering and the abuse of human rights.
At the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, our goal is to ensure that all students know about the crimes, and the victims, of communism. Next month, we look forward to hosting teachers from around the nation to discuss the truth about communism. VOC’s eighth annual National Seminar for Middle School and High School Educators will provide teachers with witness testimony, instruction from leading experts, and the newest tools and curriculum resources.
Unfortunately, there is only so much we can do within the classroom. It is up to state governments to lead the way. In 2021, we were honored as Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis signed a historic education bill mandating the teaching of communism’s history in all public schools. In 2022, Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey ushered in a similar piece of legislation. More states are following in their wake.
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When I speak to students at the Victims of Communism Museum, their responses are both alarming and encouraging. As a 2020 VOC poll found, 40 percent of Americans have a positive opinion on socialism. This number increases to 49 percent in Gen Z, with a third even supporting the elimination of capitalism. Even more shocking, 18 percent of Gen Z and 13 percent of millennials believe that communism is a fairer system than capitalism. Yet when students see stories of the victims of communism on the wall in our museum, their visceral rejection is unanimous.
Heroes like Milada Horakova know the real price of communism. Horakova, a Czechoslovak politician and resistance leader, was executed for standing for freedom in Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia. Before her show trial, she wrote a letter to her daughter, urging her to not give up, saying, “Life is hard. It does not pamper anybody, and for every time it strikes you, it gives you ten blows. Become accustomed to that soon. Decide to fight.”
Milada’s tragic story is sadly one of far too many highlighted at the Victims of Communism Museum, but her message rings true. From China’s genocide against the Uyghurs, to the political prisoners in Cuba’s modern-day gulags, this deadly ideology has left a scar across the world. It’s past time that our students learn the truth of communism so we can ensure that history will never repeat itself again.