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Communism is rice, but dictatorship is caviar

From an interview with Barbara Demwick, author of the new book “Nothing to Envy,” a look at everyday life in North Korea.

It was Kim Il Sung who used to say, “Communism is rice,” meaning the system would succeed by giving the people enough to eat. The famine was caused by mismanagement and the inability to adapt to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic transformation of China.

All that said, Kim Jong Il acted with callous disregard to the suffering of his people. Rather than lose face, the North Koreans denied the food crisis for years and then kept humanitarian aid out of the places it was most needed. The regime executed people who tried to adapt by engaging in private business.

By the way, Kim Jong Il is famous for being one of the biggest foodies in Asia. Throughout the nineteen-eighties and well into the famine, he flew couriers around the world to procure delicacies for his own palate — fresh fish from Tokyo for his sushi, cheese from France, caviar from Uzbekistan and Iran, mangoes and papaya from Thailand.

By Ezra Klein  |  October 29, 2009; 3:11 PM ET
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I don't think there's ever been an actual 'communist' country. Every country the West has dubbed 'communist' never amounted to more than a thinly veiled (or not) dictatorship.

Posted by: Jaycal | October 29, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse


We're not the ones usually doing the dubbing; it's usually a mantle claimed by those nations themselves.

Regardless of the merits of Communism in theory, you can't get there to here, and we have some pretty solid experimental evidence that attempts to do so wind up with dictatorships.

When you try to build a 'dictatorship of the proletariat', you've build a dictatorship. Since nebulous groups are really poor at administering things, you put that power in someone's hands. Then you're off to the races, or the gulags as the case may be.

Posted by: adamiani | October 29, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Totalitarianism is usually achieved with great applause: promises of food and health care are frequently the veils for policies, at first seemingly benign and benevolent, which are later used solely for domination. Everyone always seems to forget that Hitler (as one example) was elected in fair and free elections, that his platform included the German health care policy which morphed into a purportedly benevolent plan of eugenics, and that execution and burial was indeed more cost-effective than maintaining ghettos and prisons. Two parties are usually at fault for totalitarianism: the dictator and his aides are at fault, but so are those who fail to act when they first smell burning flesh.

There are no advantages to totalitarianism.

Posted by: rmgregory | October 29, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

rmgregory, you know who ELSE warned that his country was going to be taken over by a dictatorial cabal that was going to enslave the nation?

Posted by: constans | October 29, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

rmgregory wrote: Hitler's "platform included the German health care policy.."

The German Health Care system dates back to the 19th Century and Bismarck.

As for your claim that Hitler was "elected," he wasn't elected President of Germany, he was appointed Chancellor though his party did not control a majority of seats in the Reichstag. He became Chancellor thanks to the support of... the conservative parties.

Posted by: steveh46 | October 29, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

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