Communism and its Attraction, Merits, and Flaws
The opening words to the preamble of Karl Marx and Friedreich Engles’ Communist Manifesto, first published in 1848, claim: “A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of Communism,” (Communist Manifesto, Engles, 1), pinning Communism as some sort of recent philosophical invention. The mantra of this new, revolutionary organization of economy and society at large would be, in Marx’s own words: “…From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” (Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx). However, the term Communism is merely an organization and naming of a timeless sentiment; a vague idea of the way things should be that had been floating through humanity’s collective head even 18 centuries before the publication of the Manifesto: A perfectly altruistic society with each man acting on behalf of every other. The Bible itself sets forth this notion in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles: “…Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need,” (Acts 4:34-35). It is this idea of reciprocal altruism and equality between members of a society created Communism, attracting the likes of Lenin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Ho Chi Minh to it. However, the implementation of Communism is a difficult and complex endeavor. Communism is an exceedingly powerful and attractive idea that is very difficult in its application.
Communism’s attraction lies in its reason and humanity. Capitalism while effective at producing high quality goods and services efficiently, is inhumane as it divides humanity into classes: those few who control the means of production, and the many who do not. Capital continually moves from the bottom of this social ladder to the top, enriching the few who control the means of productions beyond their needs and reducing the rest to wage slavery that increasingly makes fulfilling basic needs more difficult. It is a system that encourages avarice, reducing human beings to cogs in the industrial machine. It goes against all logic and fellow feeling that resources should be so concentrated in such a way that a small minority can live lavishly while the vast majority struggles to meet their basic needs. Why leave people destitute when there are easily enough resources to go around? To solve this problem, Communism proposes that the means of production should be owned equally by all, eliminating the economic class system entirely. Instead of wage-slavery, where workers do not receive wages equal to the effort applied to their job, every worker would reap the concrete value of whatever is produced. All of the product of the industrial machine would, instead of being distributed according to the whim of the bourgeoisie, be distributed among the entire populace. In such a society the state would disappear “owing to the simple fact that, freed from capitalist slavery, from the untold horrors, savagery, absurdities, and infamies of capitalist exploitation, people will gradually become accustomed to observing the elementary rules of social intercourse…without force, without coercion, without subordination, without the special apparatus for coercion called the state,” (From The State and Revolution, Lenin, 308). Thus, by eliminating the individual ownership of the means of production, one eliminates the socio-economic class system, thereby eliminating all conflict within a society to the point where there is no need for the state. This is indeed a seductive concept.
Communism proved very attractive, inspiring numerous violent revolutions, most notably in Russia, China, and Vietnam. Vladimir Lenin was the first major figure to inspire a successful Communist revolution. He was attracted to communism because of his disdain for tsarist rule in Russia, which he saw as ineffective at handling the basic needs of the people and as catering to the wealthy nobility: “All laws are made and all officials are appointed by the tsar alone, by his personal, unlimited, autocratic authority. But, of course, the tsar cannot even know all Russian laws and all Russian officials. The tsar cannot even know all that goes on in the country. The tsar simply endorses the will of a few score of the richest and most high-born officials,” (To The Rural Poor, Lenin, 292). He saw the first World War as being a war fought for the interests of the rich. This belief instilled in him a great desire for violent revolutionary change, which he saw as the only way to bring about Communism in Russia. This revolution did indeed occur in 1917 when the tsar was overthrown and Lenin was elected Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars by the Russian Soviet Council. Mao Tse-Tung was similarly convinced that Communism was the cure for China’s ills. He saw Communism as the best hope for ensuring the “well-being of the masses”. He saw the survival of the state and the well-being of the masses being inextricably linked, for surely a state could not fail in its war against imperialism if the masses stood behind it in support. His concern for the well-being of the masses is evident in his speech before the Second National Congress of Workers’ and Peasants’ Representatives in January 1934: “I earnestly suggest to this congress that we pay close attention to the well-being of the masses, from the problems of land and labour to those of fuel, rice, cooking oil, and salt…We should convince the masses that we represent their interests, that our lives are intimately bound up with theirs,” (Be Concerned With the Well-Being of the Masses, Mao, 344). In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh saw things much the same way as Lenin and Mao. He also viewed the First World War as the result of “imperialist contradictions” (Appeal Made on the Occasion of the Founding of the Indochinese Communist Party, Ho Chi Minh, 350). Suffering under an exploitive French dominion after the First World War, and seeing the second looming on the horizon, the then-expatriated Ho Chi Minh found himself joining the French Socialist Party because “they showed a sympathy towards me, towards the struggle of the oppressed peoples,” (The Path Which Lead Me To Leninism, Ho Chi Minh, 348). He saw that, after the exploitation of the Vietnamese by the French after the First World War, the country could not survive a second: “World War Two will break out. When it does the French imperialists will certainly drive our people to an even more horrible slaughter. If we let them prepare for this war, oppose the Chinese revolution and attack the Soviet Union, if we allow them to stifle the Vietnamese revolution. This is tantamount to letting them wipe our race off the face of the earth and drown our nation in the Pacific,” (Appeal Made on the Occasion of the Founding of the Indochinese Communist Party, Ho Chi Minh, 351). Thus, all three men were attracted to Communism for the same reason: it seemed the best way to take care of each nation’s people and their interests as a whole.
Communism is an exceedingly strong mobilizing force, as its tenents prove very attractive to the most numerous and willing demographic: the poor, the downtrodden, and the wage laborers. It fairs well against capitalism in terms of being more attractive and in that it appears more philosophically and ethically sound. Where communism fails, however, is in the complexity of its implementation. Whereas capitalism is like a tenacious weed that can take root and grow almost anywhere, a communist state is like a delicate seed that can only prosper if planted in the right soil and tended with expert care. Firstly, a country must already have an industrial infrastructure. Secondly the revolution must successfully seize this industrial infrastructure in a violent revolution. If that happens then there must be a transitional period where the means of production are gradually passed into the hands of the people and a distribution method can be established. This transitional period is the most complicated, and thus, the step at which the progression to a communist state halts or fails. According to Marx and Engles, in a successful communist state the government will disappear entirely; but to accomplish this step a strong, organized government seems essential. The purpose of a communist state is to end oppression of the worker, but to accomplish the transition from capitalism to communism oppression must necessarily occur in order to remain organized and quell resistance. If this transition successfully occurs another problem arises in that the state must give up power when the individuals within it have no incentive to do so. Next one must replace the natural drives of incentive and competition with duty and intelligent resource management if one is to keep the state’s industry efficient. Furthermore, even if that does occur, the long term success of a Communist state cannot be guaranteed unless you can annihilate the very idea of selfishness in the entire population, else the state can never wither because it will be necessary in order to hem in those individuals who would be selfish or neglect the good of the whole. In short the major weakness of Communism is that creating a successful communist society is such a gargantuan task.
In conclusion, Communism is a very powerful and attractive idea. It appeals on a human level in that it satisfies the needs of all in a society. It appeals on a philosophical level in that it exhibits high-minded ideals. It has shown to be exceedingly powerful at inspiring individuals and whole nations of people to violent action. Ideally, Communism would lead to a society with a high quality of life, efficient use of resources, and a spirit of community and fraternity only achieved through universal co-dependence. Unfortunately, the implementation of Communism is complicated in that it requires ideal circumstances, violent revolution, expert administration, and a complete shattering and rebuilding of the status quo. It is possible that a true Communist society can be nothing more than a pipe dream.