Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Capitalism vs Socialism - Which Has Killed the Most?

It's often bandied about that one ideology is responsible for more deaths than the other, and this is often used by proponents of both ideologies as a means of justifying the adoption of their chosen ruleset. However, most of the information on the Internet seems to be highly subjective and/or biased. For example, I've read some calculations that attribute all the deaths of both World Wars to capitalism. Really? What about the casualties along the Eastern Front? Russians fighting in support of a Communist regime killing and being killed by Germans fighting in support of a National Socialist (Nazi) regime. How on earth can they be attributed to capitalism?

So I thought I'd try to answer this question, as objectively as possible.

The first stage is define what a death caused by an ideology is. I would argue that the following definition is pretty good:

'A deliberate death caused by a State, or an organisation acting with the support of a State, where the government of that State was following the given ideology or one of its derivatives, and the death arose as a result of action predicated by that ideology alone'.

I've excluded non-civilian deaths caused by the World Wars, as I think these two conflicts were far too complex to simply attribute the deaths to one ideology or an other - both wars were more about establishing the rule of law between nations and enforcing limits on how governments can treat their own people. They were about conflict between nations, but also between the state and the individual. However, I have included figures from the Holocaust, as these were effectively deliberate State-sanctioned murder.

This also excludes death arising as a result of extraneous issues, such as imperialism and colonialism, which transcend both capitalism and socialism. There have been historical examples of capitalist states which have been colonialist/imperialist (i.e. the British Empire and arguably the United States), but it is also fair to say that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were also aggressively imperialist, despite both being socialist states.

Finally, it excludes accidental death by negligence, for example, death by hunger, disease etc. I've tried to include figures where wilful negligence or omission to act has caused deaths.

Socialism was first proposed by Karl Marx in the 1840s, but the first real socialist state was, in effect, the USSR, which was founded in 1917 after the Bolshevik Revolution. I've limited my historical analysis of socialism to that point, covering several major events and governments:

USSR 15million
Nazi Germany 11million
Khmer Rouge 2million
Maoist China 5million

North Korea 2million
Others 600,000

This brings socialism's death toll over the last 97 years to 35.6 million, and it's fair to say these are conservative estimates.

Capitalism obviously goes back a fair way before socialism, with people exchanging goods and services for profit since ancient times. However, for the purposes of this analysis, I've limited my analysis to mercantile capitalism, which was the first to include a significant degree of State involvement. This basically goes back to the Early Modern Era, or Tudor times:

Atlantic Slave Trade 11million
Suppression of Native Americans 2million
British Empire 11million

United States 5million

In the case of the Native Americans, although the colonisation of the Americas resulted in approximately 95% of the indigenous population dying, this was mostly as a result of their lack of immunity to disease. Europeans, having a culture of living very close to other animals, had been exposed to strains of smallpox, typhus and influenza, and thus had developed an immunity to many of these strains. The Native Americans, having a very different culture, had not developed such immunities.

The British Empire figures also include many deaths which occurred from deliberate refusal to act, e.g. famines in Africa and India, as these were driven by profit motive. The figures for the United States mainly comprise deaths accorded by its interventions into South America, which to some degree are imperialistic, but have a clear profit motive in terms of control of narcotics.

Obviously, these are again conservative estimates, but I've tried to apply the same rationale to capitalism as to socialism.

Capitalism's death toll therefore comes in at 29 million, behind socialism. What is interesting is that this rough glance goes back nearly 500 years for capitalism, and only 97 for socialism. Socialism has killed an average of 367,000 people a year, whereas capitalism has killed about 58,000 a year.

It can't be said that capitalism doesn't kill people. But it certainly kills less. Socialism remains the most murderous ideology ever devised. Can we stop pretending it's nice now?