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"What is Communism, Really? What is anti-Communism, Really?"
What is Communism, Really? What is Anti-Communism, Really?
by David Starr
Monday, 01 July 2013
Years before the Cold War, the "C" word was associated with totalitarianism and repression. But it was during the Cold War, and after, that communism was projected as a worldwide threat.
Anti-communism was of course at the forefront in pushing that association.
Then and now, when one sees or hears the "C" word, there is a knee-jerk reaction, in thought and/or deed, reinforcing that association. But is this association actually, and totally, correct?
What is communism? What is anti-communism? The latter has been characteristically shrill, but also with a tone of calm and sophistication. Either way, there have been/are appeals to fear and hysteria. A shrill example would be the behavior of former U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), as head inquisitor of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the 1950s. Someone like William F. Buckley, a right-wing intellectual, took a more sophisticated approach with the use of "verbal acrobatics."
Then, there is among liberal tendencies an anti-communism as fervent as the right-wing version.
Anti-communist propaganda has had its influential effect (pro-communist propaganda as well). Nowadays, the same attitude exists, but more for the "war on terror," characterized by Arab stereotypes and the accompanying racism. But consider the following examples of disinformative anti-communist slogans over the years:
An ad by the Hearst Newspapapers, 1948, with the title, "Outlaw the Red Fascists!"
A book entitled, "Red Rape: It Can Happen Here [the United States]!" The cover shows a woman in the background strapped to a wall, her back showing bloody whip lashes; and she's half naked. In the foreground a "commie" is shooting a man, the latter with a horrified expression on his face.
A Poster with the heading, "Is This Tomorrow," shows a U.S. city and citizens engulfed in flames with a sub-head, "America Under Communism."
A warning with the heading,"It Walks Among Us," and a sub-head, "Join HUAC now and Help Root Out Commies."
A graphics poster with a semi-close up of Barack Obama's face. In the foreground on the bottom there's the title, "Communist." Above that to the right there's the Obama logo. In its foreground is the hammer and sickle, and above that a red star.
And finally, a close up of Obama with the symbol of the Communist Party USA in the background.
The last two examples in particular show that things haven't really changed, or evolved, since the 1950 HUAC days with anti-communist propaganda.
The following quotes give an example of the sophisticated and sassy, as well as the crude and reactionary:
"Russian Communism is the illegitimate child of Karl Marx and Catherine the Great."
--Clement Attlee, The Observer (1956)
"I thank heaven for a man like Adolph Hitler, who built a front line of defense against the anti-Christ of Communism."
--Frank Buchman, Protestant, Christian, evangelist, Ney York – Telegram (08/25/1936)
There was the Reagan Doctrine, hell-bent on launching a "moral crusade" against world communism, including the use of the crude term, "evil empire," or Soviet Union.
Of course, various denominations of various religions have contributed. For example, believers within Catholicism have been historically anti-communist. Marx's atheism has been condemned as a virtual Satanic conspiracy. And there is the story of priests in Italy telling their "flocks" that Communists ate babies.
From conservatives to Nazis, anti-communism has played a special role on the right side of the political spectrum, with attempts to protect tradition-including the worst aspects of it-such as sexism, racism, homophobia, religious fanaticism, colonialism and imperialism; with excessive greed also included.
Despite its influential role, anti-communism is no more accurate or logical on communism than other sources, the biggest reason being that an emerging and developed communist society hasn't really existed. The word communism itself doesn't have a full meaning. And unfortunately, Stalinism didn't help, since it was done in the name of a deformed version. In fact, Stalinism was just as, if not more, effective than anti-communist propaganda, making it easier to point accusing fingers, using the words, totalitarianism and repression.
The word Communism is derived from the Latin word, communis (common, universal). It has been generally defined as a classless, stateless and moneyless social order, with common ownership of production. In turn, what is produced, including surplus value (capital accumulation from workers' labor, but not credited to them and not for their own use under the rule of capital) is shared on an equal basis; but still with consideration of skills, education, occupation, etc. (How could it be otherwise?)
Marxism has had the biggest association with communist ideals. Marx and his life-long "coconspirator" Frederich Engels gave a "framework" to these ideals through their research using historical materialism (meaning, a study of the root causes of human struggles within history, related to economics and class antagonisms). Simply put, cause and effect.
The most well-known work of Marx and Engels is probably the Communist Manifesto (1848). It was eventually published in several languages from 1872 to 1893 with seven different prefaces for each language edition. The first edition, in German, has the original preference that sets the tone for the subsequent prefaces: In a nutshell, it states that while fundamental principles would stay the same, changes would be nevertheless made according to the changing of political circumstances in different time periods.
There are ten measures vaguely laid out in Section II that would characterize a successful communist, or socialist, revolution (the Marxist structure is, first the establishment of socialism-known as the first stage of communism-which is an intermediary stage between capitalism and fully developed communism). How do they sound in today's times, compared to their meaning in the mid-to-late 19th century?
"1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes."
This has been interpreted as meaning ALL property. But even Marx and Engels must have known that it could not be 100% literal, given the absurdity of it. Specifically, abolition of bourgeois property relations characteristically derived from private monopoly. And rents "to public purposes," which could be interpreted today as housing being a basic right.
"2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax."
Progressive taxation, to one degree or another, has been in existence to the present. However, when seeing how the 1% pay way less than what they're supposed to-and no tax in offshore tax havens-more progress is needed. The 1% is not going to become homeless, starve or go bankrupt if taxes are raised on them appropriately.
"3. Abolition of all right of inheritance."
This is easier said than done. Over generations, wealthy families have had their children inherit the already possessed "family fortune." It is entrenched. But when considering how that wealth was initially, and subsequently attained (no doubt through labor creating it, and the "rags-to-riches" story), it becomes a more focused debate. There have been laws affecting the inheritance of wealth, but not in contributing to diminish and/or stop private monopoly through inheritance.
"4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels."
The idea being to prevent any serious threat of, e.g., a counter revolution against a newly established socialist society. But also, again, to stop private monopoly.
"5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly."
Of course, national banks have existed, and have been stabler in enduring recession, depression, etc., compared to private banks. What about this "exclusive monopoly"? With a national bank, there is the obligation to serve the public interest, while private monopoly serves itself, generally. However, small, local banks would be considered less as private monopoly, if at all.
"6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state."
Perhaps in the beginning, yes, more or less, to stop potential and serious threats against a newly created society. But, there has been the existence of certain major industries being nationalized in many countries (despite threats to it now). That has included communications and transport, one way or another. This gives protection against foreign/local private monopoly, and in turn protecting a country's sovereignty.
"7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and improvement of soil generally in accordance with a common plan."
Being a human creation, and thus imperfect, the state could not control 100% of the economy. Extensions may be reasonable, depending upon circumstances. But, in reinterpreting public ownership, this could comprise a combination of government, state, small business owners and cooperatives, and sole proprietorships. The reinterpretation is with the last three: Workers/owners are the public and are serving the public interest through their labor in whatever enterprise and occupation. On the whole, this is participatory power that should include decision-making and fair distribution of profits in whatever sector (but not privatized).
"8. Equal liability of all labor."
Even equal liability has both B/W and shades of gray. There are healthy people and people not so healthy, mentally and physically, that has to be taken into consideration (and this has been the case in any country). There is consideration of skills, education and occupation. But the idea is to do "one's fair share." ("From each according to one's abilities, to each according to one's needs." But a fair give-and-take.)
"9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction of town and country."
The first part of the statement has been attained with the combining of various sectors contributing to the economy, and with improved technologies over the years. The second part is not 100% possible. There could be more an equaling out between the two, but a total sameness of town and country? No.
"10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production."
All this has been attained one way or another worldwide. But, the gross inequalities still exist. And, currently, there's the threat of austerity and privatization.
Marx and Engels could not have drawn a blueprint for a future, communist society. For an epoch, the saying, "Rome wasn't built in a day," applies.
But how about the following scenario? A communist society based on the further evolving and maturing of humankind; real, mutual trust among individuals, groups and nations (if there are any at the time); peace as a lasting rule; major disarmament such as WMDs, etc.; humanitarian values discarding parasitical and predatory behavior; a more "perfect" equality; fraternal competition. Money? There would still have to be an efficient and convenient method for transactions, only without the worshipping of the "almighty dollar."
There probably won't be a utopia, because humans will probably remain imperfect.
It will be left to future generations to construct the scenario above or a similar one . Meanwhile, there's no harm in working toward such a scenario.
© David Starr 2013