The past ten years have seen a resurgence in the discussion of the communist system of government. The term is typically seen in the political light, especially on debates regarding policies made by politicians that seem to resemble those found in communist governments. Because of the stigma stemming from the Cold War and the Red Scare, people shy away from the topic of communism. Is it truly the big, red, bad guy that has caused so much distress in America? Maybe, but it wasn’t originally. Let’s talk about the origins behind one of the most influential ideologies in world history.

Communism (from the Latin word “communis,” meaning “common, universal”) is a philosophical, social, political and economic ideology that came into mainstream thought in 1848. The principle idea is that the working class of common people need to rise up against an oppressive, ruling capitalist class. In theory, the common people would conduct a heroic revolution against their oppressors, followed by a peaceful worker-led utopia. It was not until 1917, however, that a successful communist revolution took place. Only then did the world get to see the practical results of a system that, on paper, seemed foolproof.

The creation of the Soviet Union following the 1917 Russian revolution created the first major communist society. Immediately following the creation of the new Soviet government, changes swept Russia. First, opposition to the government was rounded up and killed in order to prevent the new government from being disrupted from the inside. Private ownership of land, trading goods and businesses were abolished. The government became central to the everyday life of citizens – propaganda consumption, required loyalty courses and military service all became mandatory. Those who were suspected of having anti-Soviet thoughts, actions or prayers were hunted down and eliminated.

The Soviet Union quickly became known across the world as a nation without regard to basic human rights or morality. Merciless to both to its own citizens and its military enemies, the USSR proved communism was not the peaceful utopia it was designed to be. The combined genocide carried out by the communist regimes of China, Russia and North Korea totals nearly 100 million people. This number represents those who died in forced labor camps, starved in famines or were simply executed due to religious or political differences. The history of communism is stained with the blood of innocent people, lost to a belief system that ultimately proved to be a failure.

To appease the public, the Soviet Union was disbanded in the 1990s and became the Russian Federation. What few communist nations exist in the modern day have transitioned to capitalist economic systems, and as a result, have started to recover from their bloodstained histories, though not entirely. The more these nations abandon the ideas of 1917, the closer they become to humane and peaceful societies. While no system of government is perfect and no nation is free of the stains of the past, it is clear that those who follow in communism’s footsteps are ultimately lost to history.

When you see protesters wave the Soviet flag, remember those who were destroyed by it. When you hear students or even professors talk about the benefits of communism, listen for the pieces of history they neglect to cover. Those who wish to talk about or praise communism have every right to do so. As a people, we are fortunate to live in a country that encourages free expression and speech. For me, though, I find it ironic that people cherish the idea of living in a place that would have jailed them for expressing their opinions.