Friday, July 10, 2009

Understanding communism

Economist:

Why did communism take root? Given its sorrowful harvest, why did it keep spreading? And what ever enabled it to last so long?

...It is striking that 36 countries at one time or another adopted this system and that five—Cuba, Laos, North Korea, Vietnam and the biggest of them all, China—still pay lip service to it.

Communism and socialism have always concerned themselves with the relationship between employers and employees. If you've ever been employed, then you know how significant this relationship can be. When the relationship is "bad," it makes life that much more difficult, because most of us are dependent on employment for "life" as we know it.

Socialism (of which communism is a subset) has never accepted the premise that one person or group has the right to exclusive ownership of that which others require for survival. This kind of "liberty" for one group only puts everyone else at an extreme disadvantage, prompting them to submit to a kind of relationship they would not otherwise accept. Predictably, this has contributed to the kind of abuse one would expect from such an extreme disparity in power. Socialism's aim has always been to alter this relationship fundamentally, changing the balance of power, as opposed to asking the powerful to "do the right thing" through various incentives.

Apologists for concentrated power will often rebuke the impulse to question unequal relations by asserting some preconceived idea in the very act of questioning. "Communism" has never meant any one thing in practice any more than "feminism" has meant one thing in practice: they are only intended to challenge to an unequal relation in power. Both traditions have always contained widely divergent, often contentious disputes over how best to advance this challenge. In communism's case, those committed to monopoly power within government (Leninist) won out against those opposed to monopoly power anywhere (anarchist) -- these two trends evolved out of a movement aimed ending the monopoly of private, concentrated power.

Naturally, the fact that Leninism was a disaster has since become a rallying point for those who sought to preserve the unequal relations of private enterprise all along; it is held up as proof that such inequality must never be questioned, that the terms set by employers are "as good as it gets" -- and if you don't like it, go bow before another master. Otherwise, you see what good "overthrowing capitalism" will get you.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is one of the most concise descriptions of this topic that I've ever seen. It's especially valuable given all the willful blurring of Soviet Communism and democratic socialism. Huzzah!

I got to your site from IOZ's. In addition to his sharp pen, the man's got an eye for quality.
-- sglover

Graham said...

There's also the question of quite how much of a disaster Leninism really was. Granted, it was at least a bit of a disaster, but it took Russia from being Europe's backward cousin to a superpower which won both world wars and put the first man in space, and now that Russia is capitalist again, it's Europe's backward cousin again. If the Russian public were better off under capitalism, either Tsarist or Oligarchic, then the whole superpower thing would be a triviality, but it's my understanding that, whilst they've never been all that well off, they did do slightly better under Leninism, even whilst the Leninists were wasting billions on various forms of rocket and foreign wars. Accepting the 'failure' of Leninism is itself a form of indoctrination. If we took our political science from Russia and Russia alone, we would believe that whilst Leninism is deeply flawed, it is better in every way than capitalism.

akho said...

Graham, Soviet Russia lost WW1. Despite being on the winning side.

I won't even try to comment on the rest of your bullshit.

Anonymous said...

akho, Soviet Russia was born out of Czarist Russia's F*@k up of WW1, so did not "win" or "lose" it.

I won't even try to comment on the rest of your bullshit.