Posts Tagged ‘social structure

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).

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06
Aug
09

Working Class Hero

The term “working class” is thrown around a lot these days. It’s applied to everything from Congolese coltan miners to New York City construction workers to cab drivers to anyone employed by a corporation. It’s not easy to define exactly what “Proletariat” is anymore, definitions and conditions have changed since the time of Marx. Do we apply the term to anyone who works for a company? A marketing executive is hardly “working class”. Do we call anyone who works with his hands a member of the working class? Technically a doctor works with his hands. What about mechanics and engineers? Some are down in the pits tinkering with the greasy hearts of machines and some sit behind desks jotting down plans of how to get lever-1 to connect to piston-2. What about the third world? Is a street sweeper in Chiang Mai less or more Proletariat than a janitor in San Diego? Where does the working class end and the middle class begin?

All in all, it isn’t easy to define exactly what “Proletariat” means anymore. For the sake of the arguments used in this post, we will define “proletariat/working class” as follows: The members of society who are employed in such fields that require little or no education and involve physical/manual labor.

So what’s so special about the working class that made Marx hail them as the future of humanity? Well even though we’ve found a definition, let us look at what it is exactly that the Proletariat do.

In Capitalism, society is organized like pillar- or better yet- a pyramid. The base of the pyramid constitutes the largest class, the proletariat or “working class”. The working class supports the entire pyramid, producing the food, mining the hills, hacking down the trees, and generally manufacturing and producing everything consumed by society. Resting on top of the proletariat is a smaller class known as the Bourgeoisie or “middle class”. What separates the Bourgeoisie from the Proletariat is that (1) the middle class is dramatically more wealthy than the working class, (2) smaller, (3) consumes more, and (4) does very little production outside of various “middle-man” jobs. In short, while the Proletariat consist largely of the farmers, the fishers, the miners, the janitors, the construction workers, etc. the Bourgeoisie consists of such people as lawyers, doctors, small business owners, secretaries, non-manual-labor business employees, etc. The Bourgeoisie, however, are in turn forced to support the very top of the pyramid, the Elite or “upper-class”. Just as the Bourgeoisie are considerably more wealthy, smaller (in numbers), and less productive than the Proletariat are, the Elite are vastly more wealthy, smaller in number, and less productive than the Bourgeoisie. The Elite consists primarily of tycoons, multinational corporation owners, bankers, oil barons, actors, etc. For some odd reason this class, which produces and contributes the least, is given the most wealthy and power.

Now in a Capitalist society (which at this point in time is almost every society on the planet), it is impossible to deviate from this social-class pyramid. The size might vary, as well as the slope, but the pyramid is always there. Of course, there have been those who have attempted to deny this. A famous, anonymous anti-Communist quote states that “The communist [sic], seeing the rich man and his fine home, says: ‘No man should have so much.’ The capitalist, seeing the same thing, says: ‘All men should have as much'”. Even a child can see the problem with this logic. If this statement were to be applied, then the lower classes- the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat- would be all crammed into the pinnacle of the pyramid which- having now no lower supports- would come crashing to the ground. The statement should actually read “The Communist, seeing the rich man and his fine home, says: ‘Not all men can have so much!'”. Quite simply, the wealthy can only be wealthy because they are supported by a large middle class and the middle class can only be the middle class because they are supported by the massive working class. As I said- it’s a pyramid. The top can only exist because of the middle, the middle can only exist because of the bottom and the bottom… well, they really don’t need the two layers on top, now do they?

Naturally, some would contest this. Author Ayn Rand, in her famous/notorious novel Atlas Shrugged attempts to convince the reader that it is not the Proletariat but the Elite who support and fuel society. In her book, the mysterious character John Galt essentially leads the wealthy tycoons on a strike, forcing the world to come to a shuddering halt. Of course, the idea that the absence of the least productive members of society would stop the world from turning is laughable. The equivalent would be to claim that losing the decorative fuzzy-dice from a car would keep the car from running. If anything, with the removed weight of the Elite, society would probably run more smoothly. The Elite needs the Proletariat, the Proletariat do not need the Elite.

So what’s the solution to this glorified pyramid scheme we call “society”? Well as we’ve covered before, it’s only a matter of time before the Proletariat are starved, beaten, and oppressed beyond the limits of their endurance and the upper-class’s ability to contain. Revolution, Comrades. The day when the exploiters and enslavers look out of their alabaster windows to see all the Moseses, Toussaint L’ouvertures, Nat Turners, John Browns, Che Geuvaras, and George Habashes of the world bearing down their gilded palaces, howling for justice. By the time the dust settles, there is no more Elite, no more Bourgeoisie- even the old, exploited, “drugged-with-religion-and-sex-and-tv” (as Lennon once said) working class is gone. What exists instead? The new Proletariat.

In Communism, there is but a single class (though Marxism sometimes refer to this as being “classless“). Rather than being the down-trodden support for the Bourgeoisie and the Elite, the new Proletariat combines the best of all classes and purges what was negative. This new working class still is the working class, however, it exists as an individual and independent entity. The wealth that was once funneled to the rich is now equally shared, giving the public a higher standard of living. Everyone has the opportunity to be whatever they are skilled at doing- an opportunity once only attainable by the wealthy. Society is healthier and stronger, since in addition to doing whatever they are talented at doing, the manual labor is shared equally by the public, rather than being forced onto the backs of a single group. With an equal starting point, everyone is able to advance solely by their own merit, rather than by accident of birth and dumb luck.

In the old days, our heroes were god-kings and dragon-slaying aristocrats, today we look up to the Average Joe and the Homer Simpsons, but the future of the world belongs not to nobles and white-collar employees but to those who truly merit praise. Long live the working class hero.