Archive for November, 2009

23
Nov
09

A Brief History of Communism

It is commonly assumed by the public that Communism (also called “Marxism”) was created by the German philosopher Karl Marx. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, a young Marx joined the already existing Communist movement and, after publishing several works on the subject of Communism and Capitalism (a term he coined), he became such a central figure that the term “Marxist” became synonymous with the term “Communist”. In much the same way Adam Smith did not create Capitalism but rather created the authoritative work on Capitalism (The Wealth of Nations) and yet is still considered the “founder” of Capitalism.

So who did create Communism?

Like most things in life, there is no short and simple answer. Communism, or at least the primitive ancestor of Communism has existed for thousands of years. At the dawn of man, humans lived in tribes, working together for survival. What one man killed was food for everyone, the spear or hammer made by one person could be used by another. The concept of private-property did not evolve until much later in human history- the reason being that selfishness and individualism simply could not mesh with the harsh realities of the time. One human could not survive on his own, the tribe as a whole could not waste time and energy on creating twenty individual hammers for the twenty men of the tribe when one could be shared just as easily. At the same time, the shared property (combined with the need for everyone to pull their own weight) eliminated any chance of a class system evolving. Without any difference in wealth or workload, society was more or less egalitarian.

So what happened?

As humans became more settled and as the barter system emerged (to be discussed in a later post), shared-property died slowly out and the class system arose. While today the vast majority of hunter-gatherer, pastoral, horticulturalist, and nomadic people groups still live in classless, shared-property systems, the majority of the world’s population began moving away from this system after the establishment of permanent agricultural communities. By the fall of the Roman Empire, most of the world’s people groups practiced Capitalism in some form. It was not until 1516 when Thomas Moore, one of Henry VIII’s closest advisers, published his work Utopia that the concepts of shared-property and classlessness were reintroduced into society (albeit merely as subjects of intellectual discussion). Only in the early 1800s were the concepts developed into actual political/economic theories. Henri de Saint-Simon, a member of the French aristocracy, created several works on the subject and while never implementing them in any major way, laid the foundations for what would become known as the Communist movement. It was not until 1848 when two young Prussian authors named Marx and Engels published their collaborated work The Communist Manifesto that Communism (or “Socialism”- at the time the two words were more or less interchangeable) became a concrete theory. Between the two men’s works, the entire Communist philosophy was created, though it was not implemented until 1871, when Parisian Socialists revolted against the imperial French government and established a short-lived attempt at a Communist government until the Commune (revolutionary government) was wiped out by the French military. While Communist philosophy spread across much of the Western world, there were no major attempts at Communism (baring the establishment of Amish, and later, Hutterite, communities- which are closer to the primitive classless/shared-property practices of various tribal societies). There was a brief attempt at Fabianism (a British Socialist movement), however it quickly devolved into a philosophy, rather than a physical attempt at the implementation of Communism. It was in Russia in 1917 that the first major attempt at a Communist revolution (since the 1871 revolution) took place. The Bolsheviks (the Russian Communist party and revolutionary movement), led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Russian monarchy and the feudal system. After Lenin’s death in 1923, a split ensued that left the USSR divided between the followers of Leon Trotsky (creator and commander of the Red Army and Lenin’s second-in-command) and the followers of Joseph Stalin (the General Secretary of the Communist party). Stalin, despite the efforts of Trotsky and his followers, assumed control and eventually exiled Trotsky in 1929. Under the despotism of Stalin, the USSR, while maintaining the facade of Communism, devolved into a semi-Socialist dictatorship (Trotsky referred to it as a “deformed workers’ state). While Trotskyism grew in popularity in the West, the general Communist movement was marred by the atrocities committed by Stalin and the imperialists policies pursued in Eastern Europe after his death. In China, Mao Zedong led what is generally considered to have been a Communist revolution, but the later policies of Mao have caused many other Communists to doubt whether China could be counted as true Communist country since the mid 1950s. While the revolution itself is considered to be beneficial, the vast majority of modern Communists hold that contemporary China is no more a true Marxist country than Stalin’s USSR (this opinion is viciously opposed by Maoist factions of the Communist movement). While Communism was quickly becoming popular in the third-world (due largely to Western neo-colonialism) the next major advancement of Communism occurred in Cuba after Fidel Castro and Che Guevara defeated the dictator Batista. Once again Communists are split on the subject of whether Cuba may be considered a true Marxist government- much like China, there is popular that the revolution was a positive event but the movement is split on whether Cuba did or did not devolve into another deformed workers’ state. Indeed, the same could be said for almost every country where a Communist revolution has taken place (though almostĀ all Communists are united in believed that North Korea is not a true Communist country). While the collapse of the USSR in 1990 has led many to believe that Communism has been defeated, the Communist movement is technically as active as it ever was.

In short, the history of Communism is far from simple. Much of its history can be interpreted depending on your sympathies and opinions.

Then again, the same could be said for any aspect of history.

 

Author’s Note: Since Communism isn’t merely an economic or political or social theory but rather a combination of all three, you can see how describing the theory itself- let alone its history- is a massive undertaking that could easily fill a book. Considering my space and the attention span of the reader is sorely limited, I have been forced so skim over the major events of Communist history. Don’t be ticked off at me if I missed some (though if I have something that might be wrong, please correct me).

17
Nov
09

This Land is Your Land…

There’s an old Native American proverb which states “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” What this means is that land doesn’t belong to any one person, but rather land exists for all people. The concept of land-ownership among the Native Americans existed solely in a territorial sense. That area belongs to (or rather, is being used by) that group, this land is being used by us, and so on. Indeed, this concept is almost universal to all hunter-gatherer, pastoral, nomadic, and horticulturalist people groups.

This all contrasts very sharply with our modern, Capitalist belief in private property- especially in regards to land. For some odd reason, humans enjoy being able to state “this land is my land, it sure aint your land”. We take pride in our ability to put up fences, barbed wire, and “no trespassing” signs.

Now this is a concept I have difficulty grasping. We somehow imagine that we can divide the world up into little plots of land, separate them by borders, and claim that we own them. How on earth (yes, that’s a pun) can we do this? We don’t own land, the land owns us! To pretend that everything within points ABCD is ours and ours alone is ridiculous. Now if we created the land, then the concept might have some (and only some) weight to it. The fact of the matter is, however, that the land was here millions of years before some person got it into his head that these twenty square acres belonged to him and no one else. Yet the vast majority of our planet is sliced up into neat parcels of land which most of the time aren’t even being utilized by the so-called “owner”. If he isn’t living on it, then why shouldn’t you be able to enjoy it? Have angels descended from the heavens and proclaimed that by divine mandate, this mountain exists solely for the use and pleasure of a single man? No. All that happened was one man decided that these twenty-or-so square acres were going to belong to him and that if anyone disagreed, he would fight them.

So how is that right? Carving out a stretch of land by simple superior firepower (which almost always eventually translates into legal justification) for sole purpose of satiating greed (which incidentally, isn’t satiable) – is that ethical? No matter what your politics, you have to come around the belief that this land is as much yours as it is mine. This land was made for you and me!

15
Nov
09

The New Racism

Racism really isn’t as complex of an issue as it is made out to be. Essentially, it’s the idea that certain groups of people are inherently less valuable than others. Now the roots of racism are complex- there’s the issues of ignorance, exposure, generalization, association, history, psychology and a myriad of other factors that go into creating this twisted idea.

 

Now we imagine that we’ve come a long way since the oppressive days of segregation, slavery, and colonization and perhaps, on some level, this is true. Bus seating is equal, there are no more separate water fountains, and a person can eat in a diner no matter what race he is. While there is still racism against minorities (especially against Arabs and Latinos these days), in general people are treated equally no matter what ethnicity they are.

 

What class they are is a different story completely.

 

Classism is the idea that certain groups have value depending on their social status- essentially this is racism (bigotry isn’t strong enough of a word) based not on the color of one’s skin but the size of one’s bank account. While this has several causes, one of the greatest is the idea that people’s social status is proportionate to their intelligence, creativity, and efforts. If this were true (and it isn’t), it would mean that the rich are wealthy because they worked their way to the top and the poor and hunger and filthy because they are lazy. This lie is only reinforced by the fact that crime is higher among lower classes than among the wealthy- one might imagine that the poor are poor because they are criminals, rather than poor are driven to crime because they are poor.

 

The ramifications of classism are many, the most apparent being the way the poor and working class are treated by the middle and upper classes. If you were walking along the street and saw a person running towards you (a person in a suit, carrying a briefcase, and wearing a Rolex watch) you’d probably stop and see what he wanted. Would you do the same thing if the person running at you was dressed in a ragged bathrobe and pushing a shopping cart? I doubt it. You see, it doesn’t matter who the man is or why he’s running at you, the simple appearance of wealth or poverty changes the way you relate to him. You assume the man in the suit is sane and decent and the man in the bathrobe isn’t (showing just how pervasive the idea is that ‘the wealthy are the best of society and the poor are the worst’). The way one dresses (the most obvious indication of class) affects one’s thoughts of, and actions toward, him. In addition, the fact that many minorities are members of the working and poor class tend to reinforce racism already present in society.

 

Of course when you look at the big picture, you can see how none of this makes sense- if a ship is sinks and down in the shark infested waters is a rich man, a middle-class man, and a poor man, should the rich man be saved first? Not at all. Once you strip away the cheap, material things by which we judge each other, we’re all human. The rich man is no more worth saving than the middle-class man, the middle-class man’s live is no less valuable than that of the poor man, yet despite this, we treat each other differently according to wealth. The rich have the best educations and the finest medical care, the working class has the worst.

 

The way I see it, equality isn’t the equal treatment of people in terms of race– equality is the equal treatment of people, no matter what.