Saturday, May 08, 2021

Gun Control: Getting History Right

 I recently saw a post on one of my social media feeds which, frankly, annoyed me. The post read "In the 20th Century, China, Russia, and Germany killed over 125,000,000 of their own citizens! All three were Socialist Governments. All three disarmed their citizens FIRST!  Now, considering the Liberal goals of Socialism and Disarmament in the U.S. remember this: "Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it".  The backdrop contained a grinning skull aside the Capitol building, which, I'm sure, was to reinforce the ominous nature of the message.

The obvious intent of the post was to inspire fear that the Left would strip everyone of their guns and usurp the 2nd Amendment, which has long been use by the Far Right to motivate firearm enthusiasts and those interested in self-protection for decades now, as well as push their fundraising drives.

I have no issue with the general nature of the message itself. I'm a strong advocate of the 2nd Amendment, and I have no qualms when it comes to self-defense or protecting my family, friends, or possessions. If someone values my stuff more than their own life or want to inflict harm on someone I care about, they might want to reevaluate their life choices first.

However, as a amateur historian, I do have an issue with the part of the message concerning China, Russia and Germany. First, let's make it crystal clear, I'm no apologist for Communism, Marxism, Socialism, or Nazism. I am, nevertheless, a stickler for getting facts straight and not trying to bend or twist facts to fit a political message (especially one which tells me about not learning from history).

As I said, I am a published amateur historian (and political economist) with many decades of research under my belt. I regularly contribute to popular Q&A website, with emphasis on the two world wars where I've earned "Top Writer" status multiple times with tens of millions of views worldwide. I think that gives me some credibility. So, let's delve into this claim about China, Russia, and Germany being "Socialist" nations and disarming their populations.   

Between China and Russia, only China remains a Communist country. However, from 1917 until 1991, Russia was epicenter of global Communism. Revolution came to Tsarist Russia in February 1917 when a coalition of Left leaning factions forced Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate, leading to the formation of the Provincial Government led by Alexander Kerensky, a moderate Socialist and member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (aka the "SRs").

Kerensky helped form the Russian Constituent Assembly, which was the first democratic government body in Russian history. It's worth noting that the Assembly consisted of numerous political parties, of which the most radical, the Bolsheviks, were a bit player at this point. However, due to various internal and external events (including continued military defeats), Vladimir Lenin and his Bolsheviks were able to successfully mount a putsch or coup (often called the "October Revolution"), which overthrew the Provincial Government and forever dissolved the democratic Assembly.

Previously, Kerensky had ordered all citizens (but not military) to turn in their guns out of fear of a counter revolution, but the possibility of a military led coup by pro-Monarchists and Far Right groups forced him to partially rescinded that order, returning them to the masses. However, those weapons mostly ended up in the hands of Lenin's Bolsheviks who lead an assault on the Winter Palace, thus overthrowing the Kerensky Government and ending Russia's experiment in democracy.  But it wasn't an end of the violence.

After Lenin's seizure of power, a bloody civil war (1917 -1923) ensued between the Bolsheviks and the pro-democracy and pro-Monarchists forces, as well as army units from Japan, Poland, China, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Mongolia, England, France, and the U.S. In addition, there were the "Separatists" of the three Baltic states, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. As a result, weapons were disseminated to anyone willing and able to fight. The result was the death of some 10 million people.  

Following Lenin's death in January 1924, the "Man of Steel", Joseph Stalin began a brutal reign which lasted until his death in 1953. When we think of Communism, what we envision is Stalinism, which was not the same as Lenin's Communism which itself was even further from Marx's and Engel's vision.

Lenin had introduced "NEP" (New Economic Program), a type of limited free enterprise. Stalin eliminated it, along with private ownership of land and replacing it with "Collectivization".  It was disastrous for the Russian People; creating the largest man-made famine up to that point and the deaths of at least seven million people in an attempt to jump start the modernization of the economy and bring it on par with the West.

Simultaneously, Stalin instituted systematic statewide terrorism to "encourage" compliance.  Starting in December 1924, one of its first acts was, naturally, seizing all weapons (most were from the world war, and subsequent civil war). Only those authorized---the military and state security apparatus (like the NKVD---predecessor to the KGB) were permitted weapons. Those caught were sentenced up five years in prison per offense and/or fined.

There were a few exceptions, such as licensed ownership of smooth bore hunting rifles. In 1935, similar restrictions were applied to knives.  Beginning in 1941, citizens were encouraged to turn over all weapons (without question) to the Soviet military to aid in their war against Nazi and Axis forces.

Following Stalin's death in 1953, Soviet authorities began slowly loosening restrictions on firearms, including smooth bore shotguns, although registration was still required. To discourage illegal ownership, prison sentences were lengthened to 14 years. However, voluntary surrender of unregistered weapons carried no fines or punishment.

Communist China, founded in 1949 under Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Zedong), was based on the Stalinist model. Like Soviet Russia, it consisted of a all powerful central government under the direction of the Politburo with an elected chairman, who serves as a virtual dictator.  The system itself was intended to be repressive from the start.

When it came to gun control in China, one has to remember that China had been a autocratic monarchy for centuries until 1912 when the Qing dynasty was overthrown during the Xinhai Revolution. Private ownership was highly restricted. After China became a Republic, albeit a highly corrupt one, interrupted by a period small civil wars led by petty warlords (1916 -1928). It also endured invasion by the Japanese, marking the start of World War II and included a semi-covert civil war with Communist forces led by Mao, which ended in 1949 with Mao's victory. All of which made gun acquisition easier.

Nevertheless, gun ownership has always been restricted regardless of who was in power. There were a few exceptions, such as gamekeepers and licensed hunters. During the various wars and social upheavals, guns did occasionally fall into the hands of the masses, however, due to the strict punishment, most were eventually turned into the government voluntarily.   

Again, there were exceptions, such as Hong Kong, which was under British rule from 1841 until 1997. The same applied to Macau, which fell under Portuguese rule. The Miao people are allowed to own smooth bore muskets, though gunpowder is strictly controlled. Today, China remains highly repressive when it comes to guns---even toy guns---with very few exceptions.

Do you remember "Which of these is not like the other?" children's game? Well, in this case, it would be Nazi Germany. First, despite the official name of the ruling party, the National Socialist German Workers Party, Germany under Hitler wasn't "socialist" per se. Hitler's definition of "socialism" was actually "community". Thus, "National Socialism" actually meant a society or community of Germans by and for Germans.

It's true that under Hitler, Germany implemented a wide range of "social" (not "socialist") programs similar to what Britain, France, the United States and other Western nations did such as unemployment benefits, healthcare, mandated vacations, work safety laws, etc. He also legalized unions, albeit under a state union called "DAF" which stood for German Workers Front. Nevertheless, pre-war German workers did at least as well as their Western counterparts.

Also, unlike Russia and China (and Communist countries ever since) private enterprises remained private and thrived. During the war years, those key to the war effort received preference in terms of resources, contracts, and so forth. The Nazi Government did not, however, eliminate capitalism or seize control of private corporations as happens under Communism or Socialism.

As an aside, actual Socialists, as well as Communists, anarchists, and Social Democrats, were typically sent to detention camps for "reeducation" to use the political euphemism of the time. I suspect they wouldn't have been real fond of libertarians either.

As a point of historical reference, there was a "Left Wing" faction within the National Socialist movement, nominally led by brothers Otto and Gregor Strasser and SA Chief, Ernest Rohm. They wanted the concept of "socialism" to be much more literal than Hitler intended despite repeated warnings. 

However, that came to a quick end late June and early July 1934 during a purge known as "The Night of the Long Knives" in which Hitler and leading Nazis eliminated all non-Right Wing hardliners and political enemies. An estimated 150-200 individuals were murdered and hundreds more arrested; some were tortured and others imprisoned. Thus, ending any Left leaning tendencies within the Nazi Party.

When it came to gun control, one has to remember that following the carnage of WWI, there emerged a global pacifist movement. Everyone was sick and tired of death, bloodshed, and war. As a result, the new Weimar Republic's government, led by the Left Wing Social Democrat Party, instituted a policy of restricted gun ownership (the Weimar Republic was a democratic republic formed in 1919 followed the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II at the end of WWI). It was intended to be a literal attempt to turn "swords into plowshares", and was generally popular with the public.

As with Russia and China, there were exceptions for hunters, gamekeepers, and others with a demonstrable need. However, for the average citizen, gun ownership was curtailed through restrictions, aided by the creation of a gun registry. However, the Weimar Government wasn't long for this world.

 In 1919, Germany was hit with a period of hyperinflation. Unemployment and inflation hit record levels. One person in three was unemployed. In December 1922, a loaf of bread was 160 Marks. By December 1923, it was 20,000,000,000 Marks!  In November 1923, one U.S. Dollar was worth 4,210,500,000,000 Marks. Some used what money they had to stoke fires to keep warm or cook...or as toilet paper. The Depression of 1929 hit Germany the hardest of all industrialized nations, making the situation dire.

Crime, alcoholism, and drug use was rampant. Germany was forced to pay huge reparations despite the loss of its industrial heart--the Ruhr, and most of its commercial shipping and fishing fleet (thanks to the Versailles Treaty). The country survived mainly on borrowed money and in-kind trade. When the Nazis came to power in 1933 as part of a coalition of conservative parties, Hitler repudiated the Versailles Treaty and its reparations, retook the Ruhr, and began a massive rebuilding of the economy. 

When it came to gun control, the Nazis actually removed restrictions with several exceptions. Those exceptions included Communists, Socialists, anarchists, non-citizens, and Jews. Criminals were also forbidden from possessing weapons as well as those of "questionable character", which included prostitutes, drug addicts or dealers, and alcoholics. Later, it applied to anyone deemed "unreliable" by the State.

As for the average German citizen, gun ownership was generally open, provided the guns were registered (preference went to those who were Nazi Party members). The notion that the Nazis took guns away from all its citizens is not entirely accurate (neither is the notion that the Nazis were "socialist" or "Left Wing"). So, the next time you see someone post something like I mentioned earlier or bring it up in conversation, you'll know better. Want to know more? Check out the links below. 


Gun Control in the Soviet Union

Gun Control in China

How the Nazis Used Gun Control

The Nazi gun control argument

German Economy in the 1920s

1 comment:

Frank Jl Cramer said...

I was born in Salzburg Austria 9/1952 where my mom resided after her release from a nazi concentration camp 5/1945. At age 4 months my grandparents took me to live with them in East Germany. Age 6 I moved to West Germany. I lived under both communism and socialism. Socialism is a system that has laws that protect their citizens, and create a level playing field from corporations and the wealthy. It has always amazed me that most Americans don’t know the difference. Thanks for enlightening people. 2 Amendment Forever and Always