On Sept 25, George Harbison, chief financial officer of Unitek Learning, gave a talk on the “The Victims of Socialism.” The talk was hosted by the Conservative Association (CA) at McGill University in conjunction with The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Though the event title alluded to a discussion of socialist societies, Harbison’s speech actually focused on past communist dictatorships— the terms were used interchangeably throughout the presentation. He touched on the USSR under Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, China under Mao Zedong, and Cambodia under Pol Pot. His presentation included examples of communist propaganda, images of emaciated and dead bodies, and dramatic background music.
“Make no mistake about it, the millions of deaths caused by these three communist regimes were no accident,” Harbison said. “Communism’s goal of achieving a utopian society with absolute and forced equality for all [was] at such odds with human nature that it required an imposition of brutal and total control by the state over every aspect of the lives of those subjected to it.”
One counterargument to Harbison’s ideas about communism is that the damages the modern capitalist state causes, including environmental degradation and income inequality, are far worse than those caused by past communist regimes. Yet Harbison argued that this was untrue.
“We have been presented with numerical comparisons set forth [of] the sheer magnitude of the number of people killed by three communist regimes,” Harbison said. “To deny this, or to invoke the argument [that] capitalism’s [damages are worse], is to engage in abject intellectual dishonesty.”
At the end of his talk, Harbison took questions from the audience. One audience member asked whether it’s possible for a socialist democracy to succeed, to which Harbison responded by reminding the audience of the overthrow of socialist Chilean president Salvador Allende.
“[Salvador] Allende was a socialist [president in Chile], he was overthrown,” Harbison said. “Then [Augusto] Pinochet came in, not a great guy, did some bad stuff, [but he] put in economic reforms, [and by] 1990 Chile was a highly-functioning democracy. It’s actually up near the top of the Economic Freedom Scale.”
The event’s Facebook page provoked discussion between the event’s proponents and critics. An event mockingly titled ‘The Victims of DeVry University’ was created to protest the CA’s decision to invite Harbison, a former CFO of the Medical and Healthcare group of DeVry, a for-profit university. The event page criticized Harbison’s lack of qualifications to speak about socialism.
In an email to The McGill Tribune, the creator of the ‘The Victims of Devry University’ event, Victor Redko, U3 Science, cited several of Harbison’s articles for Forbes.com and RealClearMarkets.com as evidence of a bias against socialism.
“I made the meme event because I was taken by the absurdity of the campus tories inviting someone whose degree is an MBA focusing on finance and accounting and whose career is mostly focused in the for-profit education industry [to] act as an authority on the history of communism,” Redko wrote. “Especially given the fact that the various pieces [that] he has written for various sites make it very clear that he’s […] on the right end of the spectrum and is likely completely unable to speak objectively on the history of communism or its merits in comparison to capitalism.”
While the event served to bring attention to the victims of communist regimes, Arts underclassman Sophia Kopnya felt the presentation took advantage of people who lived in communist regimes.
“[This event] essentially equates victims of these regimes to simple analogies to denounce any sort of left-wing politics,” Kopnya wrote. “The fact that people are using the genocide of my people [Ukrainians] to further the idea that any sort of social welfare or social support is by association evil.”