Had an engaging conversation last night, had a few of those lately, and in it, heard a phrase that gets thrown a lot in Political Theory, and that phrase is:
“Communism is a good idea but bad in theory.”
The quote is as simple as it reads, Communism, in theory, is an ideology that abandons the age of enlightenment ideas that were becoming popular in the 1800s, and yearns for days before money, capital, private property, and other systems that superimposed different levels of class. Marx’s vision was of a world that you were able to give based on your abilities and receive based on your needs, an idea that would be almost universally agreed on as “good.”
The bad part though refers to times in history where it has been “applied.” Stalin, Mao, Hoxha, Pol Pot, to some extent Castro, are some of the figures in history that seized political power in their countries under a Marxist Ideology, and in their resume’s are the combined death toll of millions, some motivated politically and others due to famine. And instead of being an ideology of “community,” it becomes a totalitarian state that stamps out political dissent and economically is forever stagnated.
That is what we lead to believe, in school, in the media, and in our everyday life. I use life, because that is our way of life, Capitalism, we've embraced since our Founding Fathers were sick of paying taxes to the British. In the 1940s, it became us versus them, Capitalism versus Socialism. A battle of Good versus evil, East versus West, Empire vs Empire, the stories wrote themselves, and the average American ate it all up.
But it’s not that simple.
1st of all, the examples that we endlessly here about in this argument, the negatives have to have some context. Communism and the revolutions that are associated with it occurred in these countries because of the political instability of the times. Russia was going through a Civil War, the Tsars who ran the country were on their way out, and their involvement in World War I, a war that no one wanted to be a part of, helped sparked it. Food was scarce, and the times were desperate. The Bolsheviks did seize control of the provisional government after the October Reolution, but that was not the end of the battle. Different factions, from the fascists, the old conservatives, and even different leftist parties fought hard for control of their country.
People were going to die, Famine will occur in a country that goes through political change and instability, no matter what ideology will come through in the end. That is revolution, and Mao would agree 100% with, if you want change, well things are going to change permanently, and that will include body count.
In the United States, even during the early 1900s, the idea of revolution and drastic change is a downright scary concept because the culture is so different. Being an American, you can worry about where you are going to take your vacation, but that is a kind of a non-sequitur when you have to worry about where your next loaf of bread will come from (a la Russia). A man is more likely to kill somebody when life’s necessities are in jeopardy.
While I would never advocate killing as something that should be proactively done, and I’m not making excuses for Stalin or Mao for shooting their guns, because their perspective was, if we aren't the ones shooting the guns, well the capitalists are.
But even Castro said once in an interview, when asked about the treatment of political prisoners in his country. He calmly said something along the lines of.
“When people want to destroy everything you have worked for, well it’s hard to let them run around.”
Again, it is not something that is ethically the right decision, but in the context of Cuba, where God only knows how many times the CIA have tried to assassinate Fidel Castro, how can they take their chances? Look at the amount of countries where the revolutions have failed, see:
France, Germany, Hungary, Germany again, Finland, Afghanistan, and much more . This doesn't count for the persecution that left wing groups and activists had to endure since latter half of the 19th century, in and out of wartime.
How come we never hear about the people killed in those Atrocities? Because the people who control the world, are the ones doing the killing, as the old cliche saying goes.
“History is written by the winners.”
My 2nd point here is that the word Communism gets thrown around to describe North Korea, the former Soviet Union, and even contemporary China, but the one thing they do have in common is that none of them are/were communist states. The original idea was that Communism is the end game goal of society and Socialism is the bridge that will connect us to it. All of these countries are strong examples of State Socialism mixed with whatever cult of personality that was the dominant figure of their party. To say they are communistic is far from the truth, even if that was their intentions in the beginning. They all have been warped and twisted into something else, as just like any theory, it is always different when implemented.
This kind of segways into my 3rd point, because I would like to talk about our current master, or the status quo, Capitalism. If people are going to take the extreme examples of “communism,” and use that as evidence against its re-application in the current political climate, one can simply use the examples of “capitalism” in today's world as something that needs to be changed. Look at Latin America and Africa where fights for resources and the prospect of a developed economy set these poor countries further in debt that is still being felt today. The gap between the richest elite, and poor majority is growing so large that we are going back to discrepancies that could rival the Gilded Age. The over consumption of resources is leading to the end of our planet’s. Earth has a huge laundry list of problems, how come we cannot blame capitalism for it?
Capitalism has had its chance, and I think 99% of people in the world think that there may be something wrong with it. It is about time we should try an alternative.