Posts Tagged ‘USSR

19
Dec
10

Films For Communists

In a world where the bearded-Russian “Communist” stereotype is the antagonist in every film made before 1990, I thought it might be time to list a few films where Marxists are (for once) portrayed in good light. Below is a list of mainstream films that deserve to be seen by any Communist:

 

Shadowlands (1993): Despite having only a fleeting reference to Communism near the beginning of the film, it’s refreshing to see a Marxist portrayed with being in the process of torturing some American soldiers or preparing to launch nuclear warheads.

The Edukators/ Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei: While I don’t recall Communism ever being directly addressed in this German film, the movie deals with the various issues and struggles of fighting Capitalism in this era. The film opens with the main characters handing out tracts on sweatshop labor, and follows them as they escalate their responses to social injustice (breaking up the “action” sequences with lively discussions on activism and sequences depicting some of the ills they’re trying to fight against). Again, while Marxism is never directly discussed, it is evident that this is a far-left film.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006): While I don’t believe there are any explicit uses of the terms “Communist” or “Marxist”, the film takes place during the last years of the Spanish Civil War, in a remote part of the country where a Fascist captain is attempting to destroy the “Red” resistance hiding in the nearby mountains. The film is a fairy-tale and never becomes especially political, however the Communist rebels are shown in a very sympathetic light.

Battle in Seattle (2007): Though the film doesn’t deal with Marxism, it does (excellently) show different perspectives on social activism, from a black bloc Anarchist (embracing violence as a means of protest) to a group of non-violent protesters, to a riot policeman, to a simple bystander, to a news crew, to the mayor of Seattle. If nothing else, it’s a discussion starter not merely for Communists, but for anyone.

Defiance (2008): Set during the holocaust, this film follows the story of the Bielski brothers and their followers, a group of Belorussian Jews who formed a resistance to the Nazi occupation of their country. Throughout the film, the Bielski partisans interact with the Soviet resistance, and while the Soviets are portrayed as being generally arrogant and unhelpful, the film does show them (1) fighting the Nazis (a part of Communist history too often forgotten) and (2) makes reference the official Communist policy of ending antisemitism. In addition to this, it is suggested that one of the members of the Bielski group is an active Socialist, and the partisans adopt a communal form of a living.

Quantum of Solace (2008): Now you’d probably think the last place you’d find Communist-sympathies would be in a James Bond film- after all, the man spent a good 80% of his career foiling Soviet plots (the other 20% being unbelievably picky about his drinks- seriously, how will he even know if it’s been shaken or stirred?). Despite this, Quantum of Solace actually is about as left-wing as Bond’s ever been, as the film deals with politics used by the West to dominate third-world countries. In Haiti, there’s a brief discussion between the two villains about how raising the minimum wage angered foreign corporations, and the Quantum’s plot (the “quantum” being the cabal of tuxedoed bad-guys) is to control the majority of drinking water in Bolivia (a clear reference to the attempt to privatize drinking water in Bolivia back in 1999).

The Baader-Meinhof Complex (2008): I’m a bit at a loss to describe this two-and-a-half hour film detailing the roots, rise, and fall of the RAF (Red Army Faction). While certainly sympathetic to the causes of the characters in the films, the story does not shy away from showing the faults of the RAF- honesty that I believe only serves to strengthen the film’s credibility, even with the left-wing slant. While the previous film’s I’ve mentioned have tended to shy away from explicitly dealing with Marxism, this is made up for (and then some) by The Baader-Meinhof Complex, which constantly brings up the issues of politics, economics, revolution, and culture. While it’s an exhausting film to watch (again, nearly three-hours packed with conflict, history, and so on.), it’s well worth seeing.

Che (2008): In all honesty I was slightly disappointed by Che. For being nearly five-hours long (divided into two episodes), the film really didn’t say much about the justification for the actions of perhaps the most iconic Communist of all time. While the film did artfully chronicle Che’s role in the Cuban Revolution, and his expedition to Bolivia, the film leaves out Che’s actions in Cuba after the revolution (baring a sequence of Che’s trip to the United Nations) and his time in Africa. While the film definitely is sympathetic to Guevara, the film really only deals with Guevara- and not the ideals he fought for. It almost feels like I watched the beginning and the end of a documentary on the man. Even so, it’s still a decent film.

The Trotsky (2009): While the film technically doesn’t deal with Communism, considering the main character believes himself to be the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, themes of revolution, unionization, and rebellion are hard to get away from. Again, while the film centers on the issue of youth rebellion (apathy vs boredom), the movie is inundated in Marxist slogans, philosophy, and art. Leon Bronstein (the protagonist), constantly quotes Trotsky and other prominent Marxists. Throughout the film, pictures of Che Guevara, Einstein (yes, he was a Socialist), Lenin, and other revolutionaries can be seen on posters and paintings and t-shirts. Now while I am tempted to go on, I’ll save this film for a more in-depth review later- suffice it say for now that The Trotsky is a great movie for Marxists.

 

Please note that this list is by no means complete- any suggestions are welcomed and I hope to have full reviews of these films out soon.

25
Jun
10

Socialism vs Capitalism vs Communism (and a quick note about the tea-party)

According to some pundits the US is currently locked in a struggle between its so-called Capitalist, free-market heritage and the looming threat of Socialism. Keep in mind that the term ‘Socialism’, while once synonymous with ‘Communism’, is currently used to describe a country where the majority of property lies in the hands of the government. Now as you can see by simply looking at some of the policies being enacted by the current administration that the US isn’t moving towards Capitalism or Socialism. Property isn’t being privatized or nationalized to any major extent. What has happened is that the federal government has been increasing in size and power, leading some elements on the right (namely the “tea-party”) to begin making dire predictions of an oppressive Orwellian future.

Now before I start, I feel that I should comment a bit about the tea-party:

Now I don’t have a problem with people protesting big government. As a Communist, I’m as opposed to a powerful central government as much as the average member of the tea-party, perhaps even more so. The problem is that the tea-party isn’t protesting big government! Where was the tea-party when the Bush administration pushed through the Patriot Act? The simple reality of the tea-party is that it’s not about resisting big government, it’s about resisting Democrat big government (in the same way, many of those who protested the Patriot Act have failed to complain about the increases in Government power under Obama- yeah the rule applies to Democrats too).

Now back to the point.

Despite the typical, melodramatic slap-fight between the Democrat and Republican parties, it can’t be denied that every once in a great while, the issues of privatization versus regulation of the markets comes up. On one hand there are the Libertarians who state that government involvement in all areas of life should be minimized. The markets should be allowed to boom and crash of their own accord and government interference only exacerbates existing issues and prevents natural growth (an argument Adam Smith first came up with). On the other hand, there are Socialists and Progressives who point out that history has shown businesses to be corrupt and dangerous if not regulated.

It seems more and more that the public is seeing this debate as an either/or dilemma- free market Capitalism or government regulation?

The sad truth of the matter is that both options are equally awful. Consider this: if there’s no government regulation of business (or as anarcho-Capitalists and objectivists would have it, no government at all), what’s to stop the meat industry from selling dangerously unclean meat? What keeps the pharmaceutical industry from selling us untested cough medicine, or even flavored sewer water labeled “cough medicine”? It is true that history has shown us, time and again, businesses have only one goal in mind- profit. Child labor, slavery, dangerous working conditions, chemical dumping, pollution- what would the state of our world be in if there were no laws against these things? If there were no regulations or watchdogs?

At the same time, regulating the free market has serious side-effects as well. Corporations will do anything to get around labor laws or environmental regulations and the like, and the government will find itself forced to constantly increase the number of regulatory departments and their power and extent of jurisdiction. The result is an inevitably gargantuan, bureaucratic government. State capitalism- as the USSR has demonstrated- is inefficient and oppressive.

But despite what the proponents of free market Capitalism and regulated Capitalism would have you believe, it’s not an either/or situation! Communism advocates the abolition of both Capitalism and the state, offering instead a system based on public property and public choice.

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).

27
Jul
09

How I Became a Communist

It seems that if you were born before 1990, you were born to one of two worlds, Capitalist and Communist. If you were born in the West, you were supposed to be a Capitalist, inherently opposed to any and all things leftist. If you were born in the so-called Marxist countries, you were raised to believe that the Communism, country, and party came before anything else. Life was simple: if you are A then you are against B, if you are B then you are against A.

I was born after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the stereotype of the Red Menace was trite and the US hadn’t picked Arabs to be the next bogeyman. Communism was dead (or at least, the Soviet Union was) and I was an American so I wasn’t expected to be anything other than Capitalist. While I had never been actually educated on the tenets of either system (most eleven year olds aren’t), I had a basic grasp of the two concepts. Capitalism- everything owned, Communism- everything shared. Again, being an eleven year old I didn’t spend too much time contemplating the subject until I began reading and old children’s book from the 70s. It was called The Girl Who Owned a City and it was, to the best of my knowledge, the event that set my down the path to Marxism. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where a plague has wiped out everyone above the age of thirteen, the hero of the story, a girl named Lisa, manages to keep her town safe from roaming gangs by creating an semi city-state in the local highschool. Throughout the story, the lesser characters complain that they want a say in how the “city” is to be run but Lisa simply states that it is her city, and that everyone else is only allowed to live there in exchange for their services. She makes the argument that eventually, Jill (her medically inclined friend) will be able to operate her hospital which will belong to her and no one else. Of course, the subtle Any-Rand style society that was advocated in the book was only part of the story, but it got me to think. A bad habit of mine is that when I read a story, I’ll go through a few chapters and spend the rest of the day putting myself in the place of the main character and trying to figure out what I would do in his or her place. As I read through the book I couldn’t help but feel that there was a major flaw in the arguments the characters made. “Sure,” I thought, “if Jill wants to be a doctor and there’s an abandoned hospital nearby then she could take it and make it her hospital and that’s all fine and well. But what happens when the hospitals run out? What happens when there isn’t any more canned food to go around? If I were in Lisa’s place, could I believe in this system?”. I would try to argue Lisa’s case from every angle I could imagine but I kept coming back to the same conclusion. In a world where everything is individually owned, there will be eventually a group of those who have everything and a group who have nothing, and the group that has everything will have no reason to give anything to those who have nothing, leaving the nothing-group to starve or turn into brutalized, thieving gangs. No matter what reasoning I applied, what rationale I used I found myself inevitably ariving at the same conclusion: Capitalism doesn’t work- there will always be someone left behind simply because he’s unlucky!

Naturally one can imagine it’s not easy for an eleven year-old to cope with the discovery that a major tenet his worldveiw is seriously flawed. For a breif while I looked for a better system, reading up on monarchies, dictatorships, anarchy, and theocracy (I even tried to create my own political system only to give it up once I found that the name I wanted to use had already been taken). No matter what system I looked at, it seemed that the problem (though I wasn’t sure what the exact problem was) would be either simply moved or exacerbated. I concluded- disappointed- that Capitalism as it existed now was as good as it was going to get. I didn’t give much throught to the subject again for three years.

When I was fourteen, I had my first formal introduction to the Capitalist/Communist conflict. My family was looking after a friend’s house and I, sitting upstairs in the ornate library/study, was bored out of my mind. To pass the time, I pulled to random books off of the shelf, determined to read through both of them before the day was over. Setting both tomes on the table in front of me, I flipped open the covers to see what I had picked: The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and Das Kapital by Karl Marx.

It was probably one of the longest afternoons of my life. I poured over each paragraph, each word, measuring the arguments individualy and against each other. I read the biography’s of the authors in the back of the books, to understand their histories and biases. The Wealth of Nations wasn’t much of a read- I had gotten more or less the same philosophy from The Girl Who Owned a City, but Marx- Marx was enthralling. Whatever preconceptions I had about Communism, whatever images of Stalin’s Russia and dark police states, faded away. Here, I thought, was an actual solution to the problem- which I realized was property and the class system. While I had been becoming a leftist for years, it was on that day I became a Communist.

Naturally my family wasn’t exactly thrilled when I told them, but at the time I believe they thought I would grow out of it. As Otto von Bismarck once said, “Anyone who isn’t a Communist before eighteen has no heart, anyone who is a Communist after eighteen has no mind.” Whenever I told people I was a Communist I got the same condescending nod, the knowing smile, and obnoxious comment “You’ll change your mind when you’re older…”.

Obviously that hasn’t happened.

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.

30
Jun
09

Communism and Religion

A common stereotype of Communism is that it’s an Atheistic political system that advocates the brutal repression of religion. After all, in order to become a member of the Communist Party of China, one must renounce religion and in the former Soviet Union, religious institutions were heavily monitored to the point of being spied upon. Marx himself stated that religion was the “Opiate of the people”.

But is Communism actually irreconcilable with religion? One must remember that the Soviet Union was not a Communist country but a Socialist empire that masqueraded as a Communist democracy. Likewise, China is not an actually Communist but a combination of Socialism and brutal Capitalism. Communism is no more responsible for the actions of these countries than Jesus was for the Spanish Inquisition or Voltaire for the Reign of Terror. As for Marx, one must keep in mind that during Marx’s time, religion was actually used as a method for controlling the working class. Take the example of an early American Industrialist who “converted” his workers to Christianity in order to stop them from drinking alcohol and maximize their productivity.

This has led to one of the greatest controversies among Communists- the issue of religion. According to some, religion remains superstitious nonsense that holds people back. The chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA), Robert Avakian, is the author of the book Away With All Gods!, in which he makes the argument that because of the rampant pain and suffering in the world, a kind and loving God cannot exist and that humanity is better off without religion. On the other hand, such groups as the Communist Party of the USA have attempt to recruit members of the religious community. In a recent article at the CPUSA website (linked here: http://www.cpusa.org/article/articleview/1050/1/27/), the head of the newly created Religion Commission, Tim Yeager, explains that “We want to reach out to religious people and communities, to find ways of improving our coalition work with them, and to welcome people of faith into the party…”.

So which view is the correct one? Does Robert Avakian’s Atheistic stance fit better with Communism, or does the CPUSA’s acceptance of religion mesh to a greater degree?

The answer is simple- we’re not sure. Who knows which view Marx would’ve sided with had he been presented the arguments. Who can say whether or not that decision would’ve been right? After all Marx was only human and fully capable of making all the errors humanity’s prone to. Either way, Marx is dead but Marxism goes on.

And of course, so does the controversy…

28
Jun
09

Communism and Human Nature

As a Communist, I’ve heard many arguments against the Marxism but not quite so common as the “Human-nature-argument”.

Essentially what is argued is that Marxism is a “Utopian” system which can only work if humans were perfect. Since humans are naturally fallible, Communism can never work- indeed, the only system that can work in an imperfect world is Capitalism, which functions on the assumption that humans are naturally greedy and egotistical.

This argument, while popular, is nonetheless flawed due to (1) false assumptions about Communism, and (2) false assumptions about the nature of government, society, and economics.

Firstly, Communism is by no means a Utopian system. There will always be issues with any system, and Communism recognizes this. Where in the works of Marx or Engels is Communism labeled a panacea for humanity’s ailments? Where in Das Kapital or the Communist Manifesto is Marxism promised to solve all of man’s problems? Nowhere. If anything, Marxism promises increased conflict, class warfare, and revolution! Hardly what one would call a “Utopian” system. It is because humans are naturally greedy and self-serving that Marx argues for Communism and against Capitalism. Humans are naturally violent and even murderous- that doesn’t mean we create a legal system that makes allowances for humanity’s shortcomings. As James Madison once put it, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary…”. How then can it be argued that Communism, a form of government, is based on the idea of humanity’s perfection?

Secondly, advocates of Capitalism will point to the fall of the Soviet Union and claim that this is prove that Communism doesn’t work because of human nature. One, the Soviet Union was not Communist (and this cannot be emphasized enough) and two, if the person making this claim would only look at the state of the world, he would realize that nothing works in the long run. According to the laws of physics, everything goes from a state of order to a state of disorder over varying lengths of time. This applies not only to eroding rocks or decomposing meat but to society as well (this is often referred to as “Social entropy”). Every society, regardless of it’s political, economic, or legislative system will, at some point, become corrupted and self-destruct (or become weakened to the point where it is wiped out by another system or force). Is there anything inherently wrong or flawed about democracy? In general, no. Will democratic countries last forever? Absolutely not. Athens, the Roman Republic, pre-WWII Germany were all democracies and they all fell in ruin. Was it the fault of the system? Of course not- it was the fault of humans. As much as we try to halt the advance of disease in our bodies or corruption in our governments, we can only delay the inevitable process. The ancient Chinese were aware of this and rather than attempting to come up with a system of government that could circumnavigate social entropy, they based their political theory on the simple belief that what goes up, must come down. Their system was called the “Mandate of Heaven”, which stated that when a dynasty became corrupt, the people had not the right but the obligation to revolt and instate a new government- a philosophy later echoed by America’s founding father’s in the Declaration of Independence (“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men… That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government…”). Yes, a Communist government would eventually become corrupt and collapse on itself, but so would a Capitalist government. The laws of physics aren’t optional.

In short, since Communism is based on the belief that humans are naturally predisposed to greed, lawlessness, and violence, it is impossible and illogical to argue that Communism relies on the belief that humans are naturally good. Likewise, because a Communism government- like everything else- will at some point self-destruct (though hopefully, only to be replaced with a new Communist government), it is impossible and illogical to argue that Communism is an unattainable Utopia capable of solving the human curse of war, disease, crime, and conflict. And even if, purely for the sake of the argument, Communism is a Utopian cure-all for death, destruction, and decay, aren’t there worse things to struggle for?

26
Jun
09

[R]education

The philosopher Plato once stated that “there shall be compulsory education, as the saying is, of all and sundry, as far this is possible; and the pupils shall be regarded as belonging to the state rather than to their parents…”. Plato makes in interesting point and the underlying principle (good education for everyone) is commendable, Plato makes a serious yet common error when he claims that the student belongs to the state.

Communism demands the reverse.

Granted, the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, and contemporary North Korea have all followed Plato’s ideal of the student (and to varying degrees, the individual) as property of the state. However, as has been repeatedly stated throughout this blog, those countries have merely disguised themselves as Communist states, while in reality functioning as semi-Socialist dictatorships. Communism requires the opposite. The public does not belong to the state- the state belongs to the public. The same goes for the education of students.

Now this might seem like a slightly abstract concept, after all, “public schools” are schools that belong to, and are funded by, the state. What then is the difference between Marxism’s “public education” and our contemporary “public school system”? The answer is simple: the presence of private schools. In the US, we have private property, state property, and public property. The mere presence of public property does not mean that we live in a Marxist system where all property belongs to the public. The same is true for education. Do we have public education? Yes. Does that mean everyone has access to public education? Yes. Do we have private education? Yes. Does everyone have access to private education? Absolutely not.

“So what’s the issue?”, one might wonder, “Everyone has access to a basic level of education no matter what they’re social standing is!”. That’s true, however, one must remember the emphasis on the word basic. Like most things in life, the cheaper something is, the less quality it has. A decent private school can charge and exorbitant fee in exchange for offering an excellent level of education. More money, more profit, more supplies, more (and better) teachers, and so on. Public schools are, quite simply, low quality, and in a world where education determines one’s career, quality is everything. Take the examples of Mr. Hammer and Miss Sickle.

Mr. Hammer is born into a moderately wealthy family. As a child he has the best education private schools have to offer- well funded and well trained athletic teams, a school library excellently stocked, motivated, intelligent teachers, and so on. Coming from such a brilliant school and having high grades (and still wealthy parents), getting into a prestigious (and very expensive) college is easy. After completing college, Mr. Hammer is able to get an exciting and high-paying job (which will eventually make him wealthy and allow him to send his children to a good private school, starting the cycle all over again).

Miss Sickle, however, is born to the lower classes. Her family cannot afford to send her to anything other than public school. She studies hard and does decently and even manages to get herself a few scholarships however she never able to reach her full potential (Miss Sickle being interested in chemistry and the best her school has to offer in that field is a poster of the periodic table and a few vials of ammonium). As a result, Miss Sickle is unable to gain access to any decent college and having never attained a university degree, spends the rest of her life working as waitress in a roach-infested diner.

Did Miss Sickle commit some kind of crime to deserve a life of carrying plates from one side of a room to the other? Was she somehow not as hard of a worker as Mr. Hammer was? Is she somehow to blame for the way her life turned out? Of course not. Miss Sickle was born poor and didn’t happen to be enough of a genius to get into a decent college free. And what about Mr. Hammer? Did he, as a six year old, toil long hours to pay his way through the first grade? Was he somehow a “better” person and more deserving of a higher education? Again, no. Mr. Hammer was born to the wealthy and because of that, managed to get ahead in life. He didn’t work harder than Miss Sickle- if anything, he probably had it easier. Where’s the justice in any of this? Two people work with the same amount of effort and have the same levels of intelligence and yet one becomes a millionaire and the other lives off of tips and minimum wage. Imagine if we applied this system- our education system- to the Olympic games. In a race, all the athletes are lined up side-by-side. The gold goes to the contestant who is- in all simplicity the fastest runner. Now imagine if we had the Olympic games in the same way we have our education system. Some runners would be, at the beginning of the race, hundreds of feet in front of the regular starting line and others would have to start hundreds of feet behind. Those behind are forced to run almost three times as fast as the runners up ahead. Yes, they can run that far- but keep in mind, there are only so many medals. Would that be an event people would watch? Would it be called a fair game? No, people would call it a travesty! Why then do we accept an education system where people don’t lose gold, but the very quality of their lives?

An advocate of Capitalism might argue that life just isn’t fair- that the world’s a jungle where the only fittest survive to pass their genes (or wealth) on. If that’s true, then why would the same people prosecute a thief for stealing someone’s wallet? Surely the thief was more “fit” than the person who lost his wallet- isn’t the thief simply being a good Capitalist by gaining money with little or no cost to himself in time, effort, and resources? This would be as ridiculous as an Olympic race where one contestant wins by shooting his competitors in the knees.

“So what’s the solution?” a person might ask, “Are we to penalize the children of the wealthy by lowering their quality of education until it’s on the same level as the poorest person in the country?”. Of course not. What Marxism calls for is a single system of education where anyone can get the education of his choice, not the choice of his parent’s bank account. Does this mean every school would teach the same things out of the same textbooks? Not at all. If anything, diversity would be encouraged. If one school wishes to take a certain perspective on life and a different school wishes to teach a different view, then they should be allowed it. The student gets to choose which he prefers and, provided he pulls his own weight in society, may study for as long as he chooses. Imagine every individual given an opportunity to have the highest quality education free of charge! Imagine what society would be like if everyone had the option to attain an extra four years of college without having to worry about affording it! Imagine a world where the education system belongs to the students, instead of the students belonging to the education system!

Perhaps Ali Ibn Abu-Talib said it best; “There is no wealth like knowledge; no poverty like ignorance…”

11
Jun
09

Government Motors?

There’s been a lot of talk recently on the government takeover of GM. Some, such as members of the Obama administration, believe that this will save jobs and- eventually- revitalize the company. Others, such as Fox News’s Glen Beck, claim that this is an abomination and an “attack on Capitalism”.

So what is it really? Good? Bad? Apocalyptic? An attack on Capitalism or the US constitution?

From a Communist point of view, it’s hard to say.

We can determine that a government takeover, with the consent of the owners of the company (as is the case with GM, is not a breach of the Constitution. Those who would claim otherwise could technically claim that this is an infringement on the right to free enterprise, but considering that GM was handed over willingly, this would be a hard position to argue from. Apocalyptic? Hardly. Nowhere in any world religion is government ownership of car companies listed as a sign of the end of the world.

That leaves good or bad, and as I’ve said, it’s not easy to tell which is right.

From a Communist perspective, the government takeover has saved thousands of jobs for autoworkers- a good thing. At the same time, this decision was made more or less without the consensus of the public- a bad thing. All in all, we now have a government-owned car company, something that could be either good or bad- predicting which is going to be hard.

On one hand, state-ownership of transport hasn’t proven detrimental for many countries. On the contrary, state-ownership has often been beneficial for countries, providing an inexpensive form of transport for the general public. At the same time, we must keep in mind that this isn’t about taxis, busses, and trains- this is about cars. How will the government (or at least, a company heavily influenced by the government) make private cars? Again, it’s hard to say. Some postulate that a new generation of fuel-efficient “green” cars will be created, others claim that a car created by committees and bureaucrats will be costly and inefficient. All in all, the Communist perspective is more or less neutral, since this is neither an attack on Capitalism or a movement towards Communism.

It does, however, raise an important point in the difference between Communism and Socialism: the difference between public and state property.

Now one must remember that originally, Socialism referred to the socio-political aspect of Marxism (Communism referring to the economic-political aspect). However, like many words, the definition of “Socialism” has changed dramatically. Currently, Socialism is used to refer to a “middle-ground” between Capitalism and Communism. Essentially, Socialism is an economic system where large portions of the economy are owned or controlled by the state. Too often, this is confused with Communism- largely due to the USSR and other pseudo-Communist states replacing private property with state property, rather than public property. Simplified, the differences can best be explained by an example using land. In the US, there are three types of land-ownership, private, state, and public. Private property (in regards to land) is land owned purely by a single person for that person’s own use. State property is property which belongs solely to the state and whatever sub-department the land is run by. Public property is property that belongs to everyone, for whatever (legal) use chosen (streets and roads, for example, are public property). With GM, the US moves towards Socialism not Communism (though since the US government tends to regulate, rather than own, the US remains primarily Capitalist). There are even some who blame the fall of the Soviet Union not on corruption and dictatorship but on the fact the private property was turned into state property, rather than public property, as demanded in Marx’s works.

In short, even if the US is moving towards Socialism (and it still has a long, long way to go before that happens), it is important to keep in mind that this does not mean the US is moving towards Communism.

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.