Fred Halliday writes, as part of a (not unsympathetic) twenty-year retrospective on communism:
… underpinning these three ideas – “state”, “progress”, “revolution” – lay a key component of this legacy: the lack of an independently articulated ethical dimension. True, there was a supposedly ethical dimension – whatever made for progress, crudely defined as winning power for a party leadership, and gaining power for a, mythified, working class – was defended. However, the greatest failure of socialism over its 200 years, especially in its Bolshevik form, was the lack of an ethical dimension in regard to the rights of individuals and citizens in general, indeed in regard to all who were not part of the revolutionary elite, and the lack of any articulated and justifiable criteria applicable to the uses, legitimate and illegitimate, of violence and state coercion. That many of those who continue to uphold revolutionary-socialist ideals, and the potential of Marxist theory, today appear not to have noticed this, that they indeed reject, when not scorn, the concept of “rights”, is an index of how little they have learned, or have noticed the sufferings of others.
There is a difficulty, or at least, so it seems to me, in making this point as part of a diagnosis of what was wrong with the communist movement in particular. It is that the very same disregard for, or scepticism about, the rights of individuals, the same willingness to sacrifice individual lives for valuable goals (or even in the name of “progress” broadly conceived) has usually characterized communism’s enemies and competitors too. Consequentialism was the dominant philosophy of government pretty much everywhere throughout the twentieth century.