Posts Tagged ‘anarchy

13
Jan
12

Arguments for Communism

A while ago, I wrote a post listing brief counterarguments to the claims usually used to “disprove” Communism. To this day, it’s been one of the most read pieces I’ve written, so I thought it might be time to expand it a bit. Written below are the most common arguments people use against Communism, and my responses to them.

 

Communism Has Been “Tried and Failed”:

The problem with this commonly used argument is that more or less everything has been tried and failed. Take democracy for example. Can I argue that democracy is a futile endeavor because it failed not once but multiple times it was tried?

"I propose we write really depressing plays!"

If I recall, democracy didn’t work for the Athenians.

"I propose we totally rip off of the Greeks!"

And the republic didn’t exactly wind up being a lasting facet of Roman society.

Even in America, democratic government needed to be reworked- but despite the many failed attempts at democracy, the idea that anyone today would want anything other than a democracy is laughable. Let’s keep this in perspective before claiming that Communism was tried once and should now be abandoned for all time.

 

Communism is “Great on Paper”:

I’m particularly irked by this argument because most everything is “great on paper”! Now there’s no real response to the whole “Communism is great on paper but doesn’t work in application” because of how broad it is. Really, it’s more of a prefix to an argument (such as the ones below), and any response is going to have to be more specific. Still, if you really do need an immediate response, simply point out that egalitarian, classless societies that shared work and held common property have existed since the beginning of time.

Remember us?

Communism Conflicts with Human Nature:

I’ve found this line of reasoning especially prevalent among religious groups, and while you could debate whether or not humans are basically good or bad till the end of time, there is an argument you can use in defense of Communism even if humans are inherently evil (which, for the record, I myself believe).

 

Now the argument tends to go “If humans were also basically good, Communism would work. But humans are basically bad- that’s why Capitalism works. Capitalism takes humanity’s evil nature into account.”

 

See, this argument is just ridiculous- first, if humans were basically good, we wouldn’t even be having to bring up Communism to begin with. Second, Capitalism doesn’t so much “take humanity’s evil nature into account” at it does reward it. Greed, deception, selfishness, reckless individualism, decadence, and the like- these are all things that Capitalism not only makes excuses for, but encourages! If we’re going to base our economics on the concept that greed is acceptable, should we then base our legal system on the concept that perjury, harassment, and murder are acceptable?

There's actually a big market for furniture made from human skin...

Just because humans are naturally bad doesn’t mean we should base our entire society around the hopes that they’ll act badly.

 

Communism Is Against Religion:

Let’s face facts- Marx was an atheist, as were many prominent Communists. However, to assume that Communism and religion are opposed would be wrong- indeed, if you take a look at what Marx wrote about religion, you’ll find his issues weren’t so much with faith, as the use of religion by the powerful for control, and the use of religion by the powerless as an excuse for not taking action. In reality, even Communists who would describe themselves as “anti-theist” almost universally hold to the belief that what you believe (or don’t believe) is your own business. On the other end of the spectrum, you will in fact find Christian Communism, liberation theology, and social justice movements arguing that it is not Communism but Capitalism that is antithetical to the basic principals of religion.

Totally what Jesus had in mind...

Communism is Against Democracy:

My response to this accusation is two pronged- first, we need to point out that not all Communist leaders seized power, most prominent among Marxists democratically elected to power was Chilean president Salvador Allende, who lost his life in a CIA-backed military coup. Second, while there were dictators who claimed to be Communist, these men were Marxists in about the same way that the propagators of the Spanish Inquisition were Christian. Take a look at the writings of Marx or Engels or Luxembourg and you’ll see the demands for power to be put in the hands of the people, not the party chairman or head of the military. Communism believes in democracy- it is with Capitalism that democracy doesn’t mesh so well. Democracy is meant to be a system in which all have equal power. However, in a system where money is power, any inequality in wealth is going to mean an inequality in influence over government. The wealthy man can hire lobbyists, give campaign contributions, fund advertising, hire people to smear his opponents, and so on (and let’s not forget the straight-up bribe). Is that equality? Let’s take a look at what democracy looks like in the US.

Not exactly faith-inspiring is it?

Planned Economies Aren’t Efficient:

It’s not a common argument, but every once in a while you’ll run into someone with a penchant for economics who’ll take this line of argument. They state “Hey, there’s no way a planned economy will work unless you’re always over producing ______ or trying to catch up to the demand for ______. It’s inefficient.”

 

Now you can probably argue exactly how a planned economy could work- and that’s a debate for another time. The easiest response to this argument is to point out that Capitalism isn’t exactly efficient either. When someone can take natural resources, use them to create a product, and finding that the market for novelty sumo tables doesn’t actually exist, be stuck with a warehouse full of the stuff, you can’t exactly assert Capitalism doesn’t have just as much potential to be wasteful.

All this and more garbage available from SkyMall!

Society Won’t Function Without the Free Market:

Another argument sometimes used by the economically minded is that the only way for society to function is through the natural process of supply and demand. Now my response to this is to use my own conditions- unless you attend a college set in an extremely rural area, I’m geussing you won’t be able to use the exact same points, but hopefully you’ll be able to use the basic logic behind them.

 

Now as I said, I attend a college surrounded by miles of forest and not much else. There is a massive demand for theaters, restaurants, shops, grocery markets, and other diversions, yet nothing happens. See, what the acolytes of the infallible system of supply and demand don’t realize is that supply and demand is like fate- it only works in retrospect. Yes, demand is met (or else, it moves elsewhere), but how long and how much do you have to demand for a product or service before it shows up? There’s no standard, no pattern, no system. Things were either meant to be or not meant to be- all in all, the whole “supply and demand will answer everything” stance taken by some really can’t be held.

Communism is Against My “Right” to Private Property:

You ever see ads for buying a star, or property on the moon? You laugh at it- maybe you’ll think it’s a nice sentiment- but at the end of the day you don’t take it seriously. After all, the moon and stars can’t be bought because they’re not anyone’s to sell. It all makes about as much sense as buying a cubic foot of air from a man named Steve. Steve can’t actually give you a cubic foot of air, can’t prevent you from moving through said cubic foot of air, and has no way of owning a cubic foot of air to begin with.

Yet we view land (and private property, made from resources from land) as a sacred right. Why? Land is just land- land didn’t belong to anyone until some neanderthal took up a club and declared that all dirt between points A, B, C, and D were his and his alone. Yet today if I were to attempt to do the same thing and claim that all within an invisible border belongs to me and no one else, I would be called a thief. That’s the origin of this so-called “right”, someone in the distant past just took it, and because of this, you can “buy” a plot of land, never use it for anything, and yet have every right to keep anyone from living there. That’s just not rational- the world belongs to everyone, and you can only “own” property in as much as you can be the one currently using it.

Communism Is Against Prosperity:

Come one- you don’t have to be a Communist to recognize that we can’t live in decadence and luxury. Communism isn’t against prosperity, but it is against mindless excess. Private jets, whaleskin leather seats for you SUV (look it up), imported caviar with every meal- there’s no way that we can live like this- the planet is having a hard enough time keeping up with current rates of consumption as it is. Further, let’s not imagine for a moment that fast cars and big houses are what make a life worth living. Freedom, dignity, peace, equality- I’d take that over a gold plated BMW any day.

If You’re a Communist, Why Aren’t You Poor?

The inbred cousin of the question of “Why can’t I be stinking rich?” is the question “Why aren’t you desperately poor?”.  Now I’ve touched on this question before, but it comes up a bit and I’ll try to address it here as well. We might not believe in decadence, but we don’t want people to be poor either- that’s not what Communism is about. Equality in wealth will mean the end of millionaires and billionaires, but for countless people across the planet, the standard of living will dramatically increase. We aren’t poor because we’re not supposed to be poor- no one is!

We’re not big fans of either extreme…

Big Government Doesn’t Work:

We couldn’t agree more. Communists don’t believe in big government, we believe in collectives,  communes, and communities working on a local level to address problems and issues unique to them. If they choose to band together for whatever reason, they may of course do so, but at the end of the day, we do not believe in the state. Even Lenin, a Communist who was about as “big government” as Marxists get, called for the abolition of the state. Communism is about power to the people, not the politician.

Communism  Has Killed Millions:

Here’s the big one.

Now if you’ll take a look at the texts of Communism, nowhere will you find anyone say “By the way, you should totally purge entire sections of your population”, yet nevertheless, it cannot be denied that millions are dead at the hands of “Communists”.

That’s “Communists” in quotation marks- you see, mass murder reflects on the ideals of Communism in about the same way that (as I’ve said above) the Spanish Inquisition reflects the ideals of Christianity. Let’s face it, people will use any justification for their actions. The men who killed in the name of Communism only used Communism as a facade for their own agendas. After all…

The Tuskegee Spyhilis experiments did nothing to treat African American farmers the researchers knew were infected, and did so  in the name of science, but exactly how is (secretly) giving someone a disease reflective of the goals of science?

And the reign of terror- was this the product of enlightenment and reason?

And is this democracy?

People kill people- that’s the sad truth. Communism has nothing to do with it.

13
Jul
11

Joining The Party: Kasama Project and the International Socialist Organization (Part VI)

To be perfectly honest, after an hour of research, I’m less sure I know what the Kasama Project is than when I began. The members of the Kasama Project have (if I understand them correctly) attempted to reject conventional labels in order to redefine what it means to be a “Marxist” organization, and while I’m confident there’s some merit to that, describing exactly what the project is all about is something of a nightmare.

From what I can gather, the Kasama Project can be described as an internet-based collective of Maoists (though accepting of most schools of Marxism) who are attempting to completely rethink the goals of Marxism and the structures of revolutionary groups in order to apply them to contemporary times.

It’s a mouthful, I know, but hopefully my pro/con breakdown will help clarify things a bit.

Pros:

  • The Kasama Project seems to be a fairly young and vibrant community, really committed to the study of Marxism, activism, revolutionary tactics, etc. It seems that many Communist organizations have certain tenets which, if questioned, will have you called a reactionary or a subvert or an elitist and so on. Since the Kasama Project seems to be trying to re-imagine every aspect of Communism, it would appear that there’s none of the “do-not-question-this” traditionalism that sometimes pops up in other organizations. In short, these guys seem to have some of the best attitudes towards Marxism I’ve ever seen.
  • The Kasama Project, while largely Maoist and Maoist sympathizing, is open to all schools of Marxism (Trotskyists, Leninists, Anarchists, etc.). The Kasama Project has also been very critical of issues in the RCPUSA (the RCPUSA’s anti-Gay stance has been a recent topic).
  • “Kasama” is a Tagalog for “traveling companions”- and the general atmosphere at their website seems to communicate the idea that all comrades are together in the learning process.

Kasama: Tagalog, (noun). "Traveling companions"

And now for the cons:

  • My principal (indeed, only) problem with the Kasama Project is that it’s not so much a party or an organization as it is a discussion group and network. There’s nothing wrong with is- only I’m looking to join up with an organization that I can really cooperate with and participate in. I certainly intend to look into joining the various Kasama Project discussions, but without any actual structure or goals, I’m afraid that there’s nothing to join- at least, not in the way I’d join a political party.

So all in all, that’s a ‘no’ from me- but I would like to emphasize that my initial reaction towards the Kasama Project is positive.

Now on to the ISO.

Out of all the organizations I’ve discussed so far, I believe I am most familiar with the International Socialist Organization. The ISO has been one of the major sponsors of a number of annual “Socialism Conferences”, and while I have never had the opportunity to attend, I have managed to get my hands on the podcasts of the conference lectures, and I feel that as as result, I have a pretty decent grasp of what the ISO is all about.

I’ll get right into the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • The ISO, while not the oldest leftist organization around, is fairly old, created in the mid-70s as a result of the amalgamation of Trotskyists and leftist factions. While I’m no fan of tradition, the fact that the ISO has been around for at least two generations (with strong ties to its predecessors) means that (1) the organization is fairly flexible and able to handle changing times and (2) has an established reputation and ties to the struggle.
  • The ISO is, while accepting a wide array of Communist and leftist schools of thought, a predominantly Trotskyist organization. As a Trotskyist myself (at least, I try to be), there’s a lot of comfort in knowing that the ISO rejects Stalinism and pseudo-Marxism, demands the establishment of pure democracy, and accepts the use of violence as a means of self-defense.
  • While the ISO does not appear to be actively attempting to influence the political sphere through elections, it is active in supporting boycotts, unionization, protests, and other means of social change.
  • The ISO is a revolutionary party- that is, it maintains that a revolution is the only means of establishing a Marxist society (as opposed to gradual evolution, as some Social-Democrats have argued).
  • The ISO, unlike some other parties, is fairly widespread, with branches in nearly every major city in the US.

And now for the cons:

  • While I understand the ISO’s (seeming) skepticism of using elections to influence the politics in favor of the working class, I feel that elections can, if nothing else, demonstrate the true nature of Marxism as a viciously pro-democratic movement, rather than an authoritarian one. I believe that even minor changes are worth the effort. Again, I should point out that it seems the ISO isn’t active with regards to political elections. I haven’t found anything on their site or in their lectures that indicates otherwise.

So my final verdict on the ISO?

Yep, that’s a ‘yes’ from me on the ISO, joining the SPUSA at the top of my list.

07
May
10

Anarchism and Communsim

Communism is often depicted as a political system in which a faceless, oppressive state exerts almost unlimited control over the lives of the impoverished citizens. This of course isn’t even remotely close the society Marx (and other founders of Communism) called for or the sociopolitical-economic system Communists strive for. Such depictions are a result of generalizing Communism as a whole based on the actions of a certain group (imagine claiming Christianity calls for the ruthless extermination of those of differing religious views based on the participants of the Spanish Inquisition or crusades).

In much the same way Anarchism is commonly considered to be a political system (or lack thereof) in which riots take place in the streets, looters run free, and so forth. In reality Anarchy is a sociopolitical-economic system that attempts to do away with the concept of rulers and the state as a whole. The vilification of Anarchy is a result of propaganda that depicted Anarchists as dangerous maniacs. In reality, both Communism and Anarchism call for similar goals, the creation of a classless, stateless society based around the concepts of public property and community organization. In fact, during the mid 1800s, the terms “Communist” and “Anarchist” were interchangeable! Until 1872 Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin (the leading figures of Communism and Anarchism respectively) worked together.

So what went wrong?

The Communist/Anarchist split occurred as a result of differences in the opinion of which was the greater enemy, Capitalism or the state. The Anarchists argued that the primary goal of the revolution ought to be the abolition of the state, as opposed to the Communist argument that Capitalism was the true oppressor. Now these points of view were (and remain to be) by no means mutually exclusive. Anarchism, like Communism, calls for the institution of private property and community organization- just look at Russian Anarchist Peter Kropotkin who, in essay Economic Views of Anarchism wrote “…The Capitalist exploitation of labor, we must work for its abolition.” Communism, like Anarchism, calls for the abolition of the state- just look at Marx’s essay The Origin of Family, Private Property, and the State in which he claims “…The state… becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class.”

So what’s the big difference?

Well the problem that Baukin and his followers saw with Marx’s theory was that focusing on the abolition of Capitalism may lead to the establishment of a new state in which the leaders of the revolution simply replace the overthrown state. Marx and the communists took issue with the fact that focusing on the abolition of the state would simply allow the wealthy and ruling classes to fill the void the state had left.

So who’s right, the Anarchists or the Communists?

Interestingly enough both sides’ concerns have been proven to have equal merit. Without abolishing the state, the Russian revolution quickly devolved into state-capitalism (what we would today call “Socialism”). Without abolishing private property, Capitalism, and the class system, abolishing the state is pointless- Capitalist oppression remains and may even be strengthened by the lack of a regulatory system.

So what it really comes down to isn’t a question of who’s right and who’s wrong. The Communist/Anarchist split shouldn’t be an either/or choice. Both sides are struggling for the same goal and both sides agree that both Capitalism and the state should be wiped out (though there different opinions about which to target first). Should this be something worth bickering over? Absolutely not. This is an opportunity to ensure that the mistakes of early Communist and Anarchist revolutions are not repeated. We worked together at the Paris Commune, we can work together today.

Long live the revolution.

05
Apr
10

The Political Spectrum

It seems that today whenever a right-wing or conservative pundit wishes to criticize the left they use the buzz word “Socialist”. Socialism is, of course, associated with big government and extensive (and invasive) government control of the general public (à la George Orwell’s 1984). Now the issue of simply calling something one doesn’t like about the political left “Socialist” (whether or not said something is actually Socialist or not) is that people have a basic misunderstanding of the socio-politico-economic spectrum. Just take this video by conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck, for example.

As you can see in the opening of the video, there’s a common misconception about the relationship between Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism. Despite the fact that Communism is often portrayed as a more authoritarian version of Socialism, the reality of the situation is that Communism is as detached from Socialism as it is from Capitalism. While both Socialism and Communism reject the Capitalist tenet of private property, Socialism espouses the concept of state property and Communism calls for the institution of public property. Allow me to illustrate.

In a Capitalist world everything is owned privately. “Item X” belongs to you and only you and cannot be taken away from you unless you give it away or trade for something better (though considering the purpose of Capitalism is to get as much “Item X” as possible, it isn’t very likely that you’d just hand it off). In a Socialist world everything would be owned by the state. “Item X” does not belong to you but to the government and only the government and how much you get of it is purely at the whim of the politicians. In a Communist world nothing belongs to anybody (or rather, everything belongs to everybody). “Item X” belongs to you as much as it does to your neighbors and must therefore be shared equally.

Now to this one might argue that while Socialism may advocate state property and Communism may demand public property, since both wish to bring about massive government control the results are the same. Again, the issue with reducing the political spectrum to a linear graph is that political control and economic control simply aren’t the same thing. You can have massive government and state property (Socialism) or massive government and Capitalism (Fascism) or no state control and Capitalism (Objectivism/Libertarianism/Anarcho-Capitalism/etc.) or not state control and public property (Communism/Anarchism/Anarcho-Communism/etc.) or anything in between.

In short, while making the connection between Socialism and Communism is a common mistake, it has be understood that it’s a mistake nonetheless, and only serves in propagating a false understanding not only of Socialism and Communism, but of Capitalism as well.

24
Jul
09

The Many Faces of Communism

Like Capitalism, Communism is not a single political, socio-economic system but a term used to denote any number of systems based around the abolition of private property and the establishment of a democratic, classless system. Listed below are some of the more major forms of Communism.

Classical Communism/Marxism

A common misconception about Communism is that it was created by Karl Marx. In reality, however, the concept of Communism existed before Marx’s time and it was a young Karl Marx who became Communist, rather than Karl Marx founding Communism. Nevertheless, Marx did for Communism what Adam Smith did for Capitalism. Marx, by writing the first authoritive Communist works (particularly The Communist Manifesto) will be forever credited with establishing the basic principles of Communism (also called Marxism). The fundamentals of Communism, as discussed in previous posts, is that the working class, after ages of exploitation by the upper classes, will revolt and establish a new world order in which all property is shared, the concepts of royalty and nobility are abolished and democracy is instated, and the entire class system is destroyed in place of a single, working class. While this might appear more or less straightforward, the exact details of the Communist society were never stated by Marx, and as a result, many have built off of Classical Communism and combined it with other political and economic theories.

Christian Communism

Perhaps the earliest known Communist society was the primitive Christian Church. According to early records and the Christian bible, the Christian community (though technically the word “Christian” had not yet been created) shared all property and had a government specially created to facilitate the distribution of property. As Christianity grew and became more institutionalized, Christian Communism died out and was not revived until the early 1600s, when religious separatists began colonizing America (the most famous of these groups to instate Christian Communism was the Plymouth colony). Again, as Christianity became more established in the New World and as more and more settlers arrived, Christian Communism withered away again (though some groups, such as the Amish and Hutterites, have kept it alive in certain parts of America). Aside from a brief period in the 1700s when many Catholic Missions cooperated with the local Native American population as isolated Communist societies, the actual practice of Communism has died out among most Christian sects- partly because of the spread of Capitalism and partly because of the religious persecution instated by the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea (motivated by Marx’s rather disparaging attitude towards religion). Nevertheless, many Christians have combined Christianity and Marxism, stating Marx’s anti-religious comments were the result of corruption within the church at the time. Indeed, in many parts of the world Christianity and Marxism have been combined as the basis for anti-Capitalist revolution (take the Palestinian PFLP, or the Catholic “Liberation Theology” for example).

Leninism (Bolshevism)

Leninism is the political/socio-economic plan that was in the process of being instated in post-revolutionary Russia. Pioneered by the revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin, Leninism (sometimes called “Bolshevism” after Lenin’s party) was more or less the same as Classical Marxism with a few added modifications. Firstly, Leninism holds that in order to effectively redistribute property and manage the national workforce, a strong centralized (federal) government was required. Secondly, Leninism focused on industrialism, factory workers, and production- attempting to make industry the backbone of the Communist society (though it should be noted that some hold that the Leninist focus on factory work was a result of Russia’s involvement in WWI, not ideology).

Maoism

While most Communists hold that Mao Zedong was nothing more than a dictator and a narcissistic megalomaniac who used Communism as a Trojan horse to seize control of China, there are a number of those who believe that before Mao came to power he was a genuine believer in Communism. Using Mao’s early actions and teachings, “Maoism” has been developed as a Communist philosophy acting almost as a counter-balance to Leninism. Unlike Leninism, Maoism demands a strong provincial (state, local) government rather than a massive central power. Also, Maoism puts emphasis on peasants, farmers, and agriculture as the foundation of a Communist society (as opposed to the Leninist focus on industry).

Trotskyism

Created by Leon Trotsky after his exile from Russia by Joseph Stalin, Trotskyism is what one might call “the left wing of Communism”. Trotskyism focuses on the revolutionary aspect of Communism. While most other schools of Communism believe that the revolution must occur before the establishment of the Communist society, Trotskyism holds that a Communist society and the revolution will be happen almost simultaneously. Trotskyism is also perhaps the most anarchic form of Communism, focusing heavily on localized government and state/provincial rights (extremely similar to the Jeffersonian of the early US). Another major aspect of Trotskyite Communism is the belief in circular-revolution, the concept (originating in ancient China as the “Mandate of Heaven”) essentially states that all governments- including Communist governments- will become inevitably corrupt over time, therefore it is not the right but the obligation of the public to revolt and instate a new government each time this happens (a principal also found in The Declaration of Independence).

Luxemburgism

Established by Rosa Luxemburg, this form of Communism is perhaps the middle-ground between Leninism and Maoism. Lexemburgism focuses on the importance of ensuring Democracy, and calls for a balance between local and centralized power. Luxemburgism also calls for populism and general abolition of political parties (extremely similar to the philosophy of George Washington and- with the exception of the call for the balance between federalism and provincialism- Andrew Jackson).

Green/Eco/Environmental Communism

Perhaps the youngest form of Communism, Environmental Communism holds that Capitalism is destroying the planet’s ecosystem and devouring its resources and that Communism is the only viable solution. Eco Communism (as it is sometimes also called) focuses on low-consumption levels through shared property, controlled levels of production, and a lack of corporations blamed for damaging the plant. While most Communist contemporary Communist systems espouse some form of ecological protection, Eco Communism differs in that the protection of the environment is the primary goal, rather than establishing a Communist society based on agriculture or religious principles.

Revisionary Communism

The term “Revisionary Communism” does not refer to a specific philosophy or class of Communism but rather an aspect. While Revisionary Communism can be applied to almost any non-Classical Marxist ideology, it is most often used to describe various fringe groups who believe in amending some or all of Marx’s teachings, particularly on the subject of the Proletariat revolution or class system. While technically Communist, these groups are often motivated by the belief that Marx’s revolutionary ideology is too harsh or unnecessary for a Communist society to be implemented.

Pseudo Communism

Technically, this category refers not to Communists but to various groups, individuals, or philosophies claiming to be Communist but in reality functioning as something else. The best example of this would be the post-Leninist Soviet Union, which claimed to be Marxist but in actuality was simply a Socialist dictatorship. “Pseudo Communism” is, of course, a derogatory name most often given to Stalinist and Contemporary-Maoist groups. It is also used by some to mock Revisionary Communism.