Posts Tagged ‘Cuba

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 almost 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).

Advertisements
07
Jul
09

Marx and History

If one were to read the works of Marx, or indeed, any major Communist writer, one would find that large portions of the publications are dedicated to criticizing (or often, lambasting) Capitalism and Capitalists. Even this blog has almost as many anti-Capitalist arguments as it does pro-Communist. This of course leads to issues with the Communist image- Marxists are often perceived as self-righteous, angry, and destructive malcontents bent on ripping apart the fabric of society. Perhaps on some level this is true, however, there is a simple and often overlooked factor that contributes to all this: Marx’s theory of history.

In his works, Marx describes his theory as “Historical Materialism”. Now the term “materialism” is often misinterpreted (particularly by members of the religious community) to mean atheistic, worldly, and Darwinist. As I’ve said, this is a misinterpretation. In this case, “materialism” merely means “pertaining to resources” including capital (money), land, and most importantly, people. While Marx’s description of his theory is more than slightly complex and long winded, it can be broken down and simplified.

According to Marx’s theory, the history of the world is shaped by economics and politics, the pair of which are- as Marx claims- inseparably linked. Humanity once lived in a state where the elite- the aristocracy, nobility, and royalty- controlled their nations and the wealth of their nations. The middle class is almost nonexistent and the remainder of society not fortunate enough to be born to the elite are slaves or feudal serfs and peasants. Eventually, as kingdoms become less warlike and more permanently established, merchants, bankers, etc. will be created, resulting in the middle-class or as Marx called it, the “Bourgeoisie”.

As time progresses, the public will become increasingly dissatisfied with the system of monarchy and aristocracy and revolt, creating a democracy. While the elite class will still exist, due to the fewness of their numbers, the political power they once wielded will be limited, and the wealthy and numerous Bourgeoisie will dominate society. In this new society it is not claims to divine heritage or noble blood that count as power but money. The Bourgeoisie will compete viciously with each other in the attempt to gain as much money as possible, and in the process the proletariat (working class) will be used and exploited by the upper-classes. The proletariat themselves living in a state of “wage-slavery”, bound to work for whatever pay is available in order to survive.

After so long, the proletariat will be unable to take any more exploitation and violently revolt- toppling the class system and establishing a single-class society where all wealth and resources are shared equally: Socialism. The state- which controls the public- will wither away and be replaced with a system of government where the public controls the state. Marx defines this state of egalitarianism, public property, and democracy as “Communism”. Marx states that when Communism is achieved Historical Materialism ends (at least for those living in the Communist system).

So what’s that have to do with anything? How is any of this relevant to why Communists always rant against Capitalism? As we can see from Marx’s view of history, Communism is meant to be the correction of Capitalism. Communism isn’t meant to be a form of government more comfortable or efficient than Capitalism- it’s the replacement of Capitalism. According to Marx and his view of history, Communism is the completion of Historical materialism- as inevitable as the change of the tides or the rotation of the earth. The reason Capitalism is constantly railed against by Communists is because, according to Marxist philosophy, Capitalism is a wall that needs to be knocked down before a door can be put in. Capitalism must be removed in order to be replaced with Communism.

“But what about the flaws in Marx’s reasoning?” one might ask, “The Chinese and Cuban people revolted and yet neither of these Communist countries have had the governments wither away or the class systems disappear.” In answer to that, one must remember that neither of these countries are Communist but rather semi-Socialist dictatorships. “If they’re Socialist, then shouldn’t they be on the brink of Communism?” Not at all. One must also remember that the definition of “Socialism” has changed since Marx’s time. Marx used the word to describe the abolition of private property in favor of public property- today the word “Socialism” refers to an economic system where property is largely controlled by the state, rather than individuals or the public. One might also argue that Marx’s theory of history is flawed due to the existence of various tribal societies that have shared property and no class system. Now this is undeniable- across the globe there are people groups that live without private property or the class system however one must keep in mind that these are societies are not democracies. Granted, many are ruled by general consensus however without a voting system, consensus does not equate democracy. A neighborhood might generally agree to regularly cut their lawns, but this doesn’t make that neighborhood a democracy. “That’s all well and good,” one might state, “but Marx’s predictions still haven’t come true. Capitalism has been in the US for well over two centuries now and there hasn’t been any revolt, any collapse in society!”. This is absolutely correct, though by no fault of Marx. In Marx’s time, each country had it’s own social strata- there was the French elite class, the French Bourgeoisie, and the French Proletariat, the English elite class, the English Bourgeoisie, and so on. Marx predicted that the Proletariat would rise up and overthrow the classes above. The reason this hasn’t happened is because of a sudden shift in the class system. Due to globalization, countries and their economies are no longer independent of each other. What affects the middle-class in France will affect the middle-class in England, Germany, Russia and so on (to varying degrees, according to what the event is and how related the countries are economically, culturally, and politically). With this sudden merge of the nations of the world, classes have merged as well, creating the same three-class system only on an international level. Yes, each country has a working class, but in general the majority of actual mining, fishing, forestry, agriculture, and manufacturing is done by workers in the third world. France no longer looks to the French Proletariat for utensils but to China. England doesn’t hire English miners to gather coltan but to Congolese workers. When an American buys a t-shirt, chances are that the cotton it’s made of was grown in Syria and manufactured in Taiwan. In short, as a result of internationalization, there is an international proletariat (primarily the third world), an international Bourgeoisie (such countries as Bulgaria, Mexico, Estonia, Ireland, etc.), and an international elite-class (Japan, Switzerland, Monaco, Kuwait, etc.). Yes, the “Proletariat” of the US aren’t likely to revolt, but that is because on a global level, the American proletariat are wealthy. Even the poorest person in America, England, or Denmark is well-off compared to the average Sudanese person. Does the class system still exist as Marx knew it? No. Does that make Marx incorrect? Not at all. Marx stated that the proletariat would, once conditions became poor enough, revolt against upper classes. This statement works whether you apply it to 1840s England or the contemporary third world. Does this mean that the third world will eventually invade the Bourgeoisie and elite countries? No, but if the publics of these countries were to seize control of their governments, declare their national debts nil, null, and void, and throw out all foreign industry (as Castro did to the US owned sugar companies in Cuba) then the rest of the world would be thrown into chaos. With the formerly indigent countries no longer willing to work in the fields, mines, or the sweatshops, the rest of the world would have to look to the Bourgeoisie countries to become the new proletariat, started the revolutionary cycle all over again until the global class system disappears and Communism encompasses the globe.

Does this mark the end of history? The beginnings of a global, one-government society where crime, hunger, and war have been eliminated? The answer is a resounding no. Marx claims that this will be the end of Historical Materialism– history as affected by wealth and the class system. History- the unbroken chain of events from the beginning of time to the end of it- marches inexorably on.

25
Jun
09

The Evolution Will Not be Televised

According to the WordPress blog, The Bible and Society, Communism is inherently linked both to Darwinism and to Atheism (odd, considering that whether or not the theory of evolution is true, it can neither prove nor disprove the existence of a higher power). And while the blog does indeed point out certain facts about Marx, Engels, and Lenin’s rather anti-religious stances (a topic to be covered later), it is there that accuracy ends.

One of the best ways to determine whether or not a publication on Communism is dependable is to see what is said about pseudo-Communists such as Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse Tsung. If the article treats them as what they were- socialist tyrants masquerading under the name of Communism- then the article is probably well researched and scholarly. On the other hand, if Stalin and Mao are labeled simply as Communists with no reference to the disparity between their regimes and true Marxism (as is so in this post), then at least one of three scenarios must be assumed: (1) the article is propaganda designed to appeal to the emotions instead of the mind, (2) the article is poorly researched or based on misinformation, or (3) the author- for whatever reason- is biased. Since the days of the Cold War and McCarthyism are long since over, it’s safe to assume that this isn’t propaganda. Since the article lists a number of sources, it is clear that research is not the issue (though were painfully few sources actually by Marx). Therefore, we must conclude that the author has a bias, though exactly why isn’t determinable.

With that in mind, let’s analyze the post.

“The Darwinian Foundation of Communism” (http://lovingword.wordpress.com/2009/06/11/the-darwinian-foundation-of-communism/) by Jerry Bergman begins with the words “Darwinism as a worldview was a critical factor, not only in influencing the development of Nazism, but also in the rise of communism and the communist holocaust…”. As has been previously discussed, the actions of the USSR, Maoist China, North Korea, and Cuba are the actions of semi-Socialist dictatorships- not Communist republics. Because of this, the “holocausts” created by these countries are not as a result of Communism in any way, shape, or form. One can no more blame the devastation created by Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” on Karl Marx than one can blame the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition on Jesus of Nazareth or the Reign of Terror on the ideals of Democracy. A simple, hard fact of life is that wherever we have values, there will be those willing to commit atrocities under the guise of those values. It’s the same with Marxism and for this reason, we must ignore the sections pertaining to Stalin, Mao, and other so-called “Communists” and focus solely on the question of whether true Communism is related to Atheism and Darwinism.

Let’s deal with Atheism firstly.

Now the author cites a number of references speaking on the subject, however, the fact that we have a number of comments referring to Marxism as atheistic does not make them so. After all, one could compile a series of publications claiming the sun to revolve around the earth and it wouldn’t change the fact that Copernicus was right, not Ptolemy. For the truth, we have to look directly at the writings of Marx, Engels, and other founding fathers of Communism.

Now please do not misunderstand- Karl Marx was an Atheist. In his view, God did not exist except as a creation of man for the purposes of placating the exploited proletariat, or working class. However, the fact that Marx was an Atheist does not make Marxism atheistic. After all, one could never argue “Mr. Grey is a Buddhist, Mr. Grey owns a company, therefore that company is Buddhist” or “Titian was a talented painter, Titian was Italian, therefore all Italians are talented painters”. It would be a logic nightmare. Now one could argue “Marx was an Atheist, all Marxists are exactly the same as Karl Marx, therefore all Marxists are Atheists.” Now this would be correct in that it doesn’t create a logical fallacy, however it isn’t actually true that all Marxists are brooding, bearded German philosophers. Now Marx, Engels, and Lenin were very anti-religious in their writing- even to the point where Marx referred to religion as the “opiate of the people”. Now this would appear to clinch Jerry Bergman’s argument, were it not for a literary criticism technique known as “Situational vs Mandatory”. According to this rule, whenever interpreting a text, one must ask the question “does this statement/rule/command/etc. apply only to the time or situation in which it was written, or is it to be considered mandatory for all time”. As ironic as it might seem, this technique is most often used in the study of religious texts, primarialy the Torah, Bible, and Koran. The question must be asked “When Marx called religion the ‘Opiate of the people’, does this imply that all religion for all time is detramental to society, or was this a mere condemnation of the state of religion at the time?”.

To answer that, we have to look that religion Marx’s time. The revivals of the past having subsided, the Christian church (Christianity being the only religion Marx would’ve been directly exposed to) would’ve been more cultural than actually religious, essentially and institution used for prestige and, in some cases, power over the masses. For example, in New York state during this time there was an industrialist who had issues with his workers addiction to alcohol. Their excessive drinking would cause them to show up late to work (if it all, on some days) and generally lowered the level of production. To solve this problem, the industrialist had his workers “converted” to Christianity (Christians generally being biased against alcohol at the time). As a result, the workers stopped drinking and became more productive. Now at first, this might seem like a great thing- after all, the industrialist helped his employees kick and addiction. And while that is true, the fact remains that the employer did not do so out of humanitarianism or moral obligation- he wanted to profit more off of his workers, using religion as a means to an end. This event was by no means isolated- during Marx’s lifetime, religion truly was an opiate to subject the masses to the will of the rulers. Considering this, it’s easy to understand why Marx- and to a lesser extent, Engels and Lenin- would condemn religion in their works. Whether or not religion still is the opiate of the people is a subject hotly debated among Communists, however it is universally agreed that Communism is not necessarily Atheistic (and the argument works backwards as well- to varying degrees, almost every religion mandates some form of Communalism, particularly in Christianity).

Reading Marx and Engels and the like, it is easy to become confused and believe (wrongly) that Communism is inherently linked to Atheism. It’s also easy to overlook this.

Not so with Darwinism.

Exactly how the author arrived at the conclusion of “Marxism and Darwinism are inherently linked” is- quite frankly- hard to grasp. Throughout the article, Bergman makes assertions that “…Darwin and Marx were truly comrades…” and that “Marx believed his own work to be the exact parallel of Darwin’s…”.

To make these statements shows a genuine (and appalling) ignorance of Marxism. Bergman claims that “the communist core idea [is] that violent revolution, in which the strong overthrow the weak, was a natural, inevitable part of the unfolding of history from Darwinist concepts and conclusions.” The strong overthrow the weak? This is the exact opposite of Marx’s argument in The Communist Manifesto. Marx describes the proletariat as exploited victims- the bottom of the social food chain. If anything, Marx’s ideology is linked to the Christian doctrine of the “last becoming the first”. Marx does have some similarities in that he divides up history in periods (as Darwin does), however one would be hard pressed to find a worldview where history is viewed otherwise. Christianity divides time up into periods repeatedly (see the prophet Daniel’s vision of the kingdoms)- yet no one accuses Christianity and Darwinism of being linked. Granted, Marx and Darwin share a belief that the world is shaped through struggle, but again, so do most worldviews- including Christianity (the “war in heaven” and the “…struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world…”). Was the author of this passage a Darwinist? Hardly. Once again, we have a logical fallacy in the article’s argument. One could never argue that “Miss Jones admires Martin Luther King Jr., Miss Jones wrote a book, the book is based on the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr.”- the book might be about Martin Luther King Jr. or it might having nothing to do with him. There might be similarities between Miss Jone’s book and the teachings of MLK, but they might be a result of a shared source (Ghandi’s teachings on non-violent protest, for example). In short, just because there are similarities between Marx and Darwin, or just because Marx admired Darwin does not make Marx’s philosophy in any way based on Darwinism. If anything, Capitalism– not Communism- is based on the ideal of the “survival of the fittest”, rather than Marx’s ideals of cooperation and revolution of the exploited.

All in all, one can forgive misinterpretations of Marx- he’s not always the most coherent author and after all, to err is human. To repeatedly make connections where there none, to associate false-Communists with Marxist philosophy, to twist Marxism and to make it appear to be based on unrelated philosophy, and, above all, hypocritically condemn Marxism for aspects that even Christianity has- this is unacceptable, particularly from a person of Bergman’s education and standing. Bergman might disagree with Marxism- he’d be within his rights to hate it. To lie about Marxism or indeed, any worldview, is unacceptable no matter what the circumstance.

05
Jun
09

Communism Defined

“Communism”.

The word will probably conjure to mind apocalyptic visions of Orwellian police states and brutal suppression of dissidents. Sadly, this was indeed true of the Soviet Union and- to this day- China and North Korea. However, before one judges Communism according to the actions of these countries, let us examine whether or not these countries met what the founding fathers of Communism defined their system as.

Both of these allegedly Communist countries have been known for being dictatorships, yet Marx defines a Communist country as a “dictatorship of the proletariat” (i.e. pure democratic rule). Both of these allegedly Communist countries have had clear social classes, with both the extremely rich and extremely poor. Marx, however, sets down in his Manifesto that a Communist society will be one devoid of any class other than the proletariat (working class). Both of these allegedly Communist countries have had individuals with large amounts of private property, particularly in China, where privatization is rampant. Marx, on the other hand, describes a Communist society as having abolished private property.

And the list goes on, ranging from political issues to economic subjects to questions of personal freedoms and responsibilities, and in almost every aspect, Marx’s description of Communism and the reality of so-called “Communist” countries are diametrically opposed. In short, these countries have merely masqueraded under the facade of Communism, while in reality functioning as semi-socialist dictatorships. For that reason, one could no more blame Communism for the atrocities committed by the Soviet and Maoist regimes than one could blame Christianity for the horrors of the Crusades or Spanish Inquisition. Despite its depiction, Communism was not the USSR. Communism is not contemporary China or Cuba or North Korea.

So what is Communism then?

Marx, in his Communist Manifesto, defines Communism as a society where (1) private property is abolished in favor of public property, (2) the class system is abolished and a single, democratic class system is created instead, and (3) each individual works according to his or her talents for the greater good of the community in exchange for the community taking care of the individual’s needs. No reference to totalitarianism, work-camps, or nuclear weapons, imperialist expansion, or brutal oppression or any of the things commonly associated with Communism is included.

Nevertheless, Communism is still widely feared. For some- those who have experienced the so-called “Communism” of the USSR, China, North Korea, and Cuba- it is quite understandable why they would look down on Communism and its advocates (though as understandable as it is, it still isn’t right).

For others, ignorance is the source of their fear, being unaware of the difference between the Soviets/Maoists/Etc. and Communists. Once again, without knowledge of the difference, their fear is understandable (though not right).

However, there are those who are fully aware of what Communism truly is and yet still fear it. But how can someone who is fully aware that Communism advocates democracy, equality, and the abolition of class and property be afraid? It can only be that these people have something to lose. The dictator loses his power, the wealthy and elite lose their position and luxury.

These people have every right to be afraid of Communism.