China, India, and Maoist Apologists
By Bryan Caplan
I do not reply to email from Nazi or Communist apologists. I don’t even write back to say, “I refuse to dignify your email with a response,” because that would be a response. I regard the defenders of totalitarianism as willfully evil and ostracize them. Even friendliness has its limits.
Nevertheless, several Maoist apologists have repeatedly sent me an argument that might trouble honest folk. It goes something like this:
Yes, 20-30 million Chinese perished in Mao’s Great Leap Forward. But in the broad scheme of things, 30 million isn’t so bad. What not? Because year after year, a couple million Indians died of malnutrition and related disease. In China, in contrast, such things virtually never happened in non-famine years. When you sum India’s losses up over the decades, it vastly exceeds whatever Mao did. Capitalist India killed far more than Communist China.
This argument merits three main replies:
1. Suppose we accept all the factual claims in the argument. China’s body count would still be much more morally objectionable than India’s. Letting strangers die from poverty is not morally equivalent to murder. And mass murder is precisely what the Great Leap Forward was. Mao actually forced people into communes at gunpoint, imposed absurd policies that sharply cut agricultural productivity, then seized a large share of the remaining food. The “crime” the Maoist argument attributes to the Indian government, in contrast, is merely allowing the existence of poverty – combined with the ludicrous insinuation that Communism would have solved the problem.
2. The claim that Maoist China suffered no significant mortality from malnutrition and related disease during non-famine years is absurd. Mortality is a continuous probabilistic function of circumstances. People surviving on low-calorie diets are going to have elevated death rates. If official Chinese statistics say otherwise, then we can safely assume that a Communist regime has once again falsified its statistics.
3. During the period of comparison, “capitalist” India was an explicitly socialist country. Maoists aside, almost everyone now recognizes that these socialist policies severely retarded India’s economic growth. It would be overkill to morally equate these policies with Maoist mass murder. But they were deliberate acts of government that prevented economic growth from saving millions of Indian lives.