Communism: In Practice & In Theory

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Communism was adapted from the philosophy of Marxism by Karl Marx, where the ideal form of government/society was above Communism and Socialism. The basics of Marx's philosophy were that because society had become capitalistic, an inevitable division had occurred between the bourgeoisie (the wealthy managers of land/resources/capital) and the proletariat (those not as well off who worked FOR the bourgeoisie). The inequities between the two groups would result in the growing discontent of the proletariat because their work was done because someone else commanded it, and because what one does defines who one is, the proletariat would suffer from a lack of identity, since they don't choose for themselves how they work.

Ultimately, the the purpose of Marxism was to develop one social class which would eventually own all property collectively, eliminate the capitalists who exploited the working poor, create a society in which everyone's contribution was equal, and equally important for society's overall success. Communism is an adaptation of this philosophy which Marx believed was the only realistic way to create one social class. This utopia would converge to become the ideal "state."

Originally, Marx predicted that a Marxist/Communist revolution would occur in Britain or Germany, because the proletariat was most defined in these countries and also because those countries were the most industrialized- meaning that these people felt the most acutely the loss of identity through their work, and because of industrialization, GB and Germany had more disparities between wealthy and poor socioeconomic classes. Thus, the Russian Revolution of 1917 was completely unexpected, because the revolution marked the end of Tsarist Russia, and in which capitalism wasn't a factor. It cast a wave of doubt on Marxist thought in the academic world, and Marxists turned to the thinking of Lenin.

One of the keystones of Marxist theory was economic determinism. This was based off of the philosopher, Hegel's idea of the dialectic in which there is a thesis (problem) and a synthesis (solution), and this is an ongoing cycle in history. Marx believed that global political events could be understood solely through an economic lens, and final synthesis would be a proletariat revolution. Religious beliefs, therefore, were seen as a tool of upper-class oppression (Marx once said, "Religion is the opium of the masses"). This view profoundly impacted both Russian and Chinese governmental decisions in the 20th century. In the Soviet Union especially, religious beliefs were persecuted. In fact, all those who were religious or capitalists were to be executed, exiled, or imprisoned during the implementation of Communism. In China today, this weariness towards religion (while lessened in the case of Buddhism), still affects the Falun Gong movement. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, religious feelings bloomed yet again.

The deterministic perspective of communism provides much fuel to its fire and increases its incendiary reach; because all proletariats must eventually overthrow all bourgeois, in each state, communism necessarily adopts a global perspective that sees the end of all things as a one-world government ruled by the proletariat. The USSR sought not only to gain territory in descending the iron curtain across eastern Europe, but also to spread the ideology of communism. The same could be argued for expansionary efforts by China, North Vietnam, and other communist nations. Communism is a political theory that has an end in mind for the globe, not just for a nation.

Existing communist governments differ from Marx's original theory in that the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' was meant only to establish the revolution and lead to an essentially governmentless citizen controlled utopian state, as opposed to continuing in the form of figurehead dictators often far removed from the masses. While the term communism usually refers to these existing or formerly existing communist countries such as china or the USSR, it should be noted that there are many communist ideologies very different from what was observed in these countries, such as left communism, council communism, anarcho communism, and religious communism, whom consider themselves to be either more modern and realistic, or more similar to marx's orginal intentions of what a finished communist state should be like.
Example: "Communism needs democracy like the human body needs oxygen." - Leon Trotsky


Leninism - Lenin created a special type of Communism that rushed past the industrial-capitalist stage and went straight to Communism. It depended on a set of professional revolutionaries that brought the Communists to power. Under the Czarist times, he was banished by the government, yet the Germans brought him back to Russia in WWII where he festered, overtook the government, and created the USSR. Similarly, Maoism came about as Mao Zedong created his Communist revolution through the use of peasantry instead of urban workers. It is questionable as to whether Leninism was anything close to the proletariat take over that Marx had envisioned.

Maoism - Mao took Marxist-Leninism Communist thought and twisted it with the idea that a communist revolution should start with rural peasants, and that communism is most beneficial to agrarian societies. This differs greatly from Marxism or Leninism because both Marx and Lenin believed that communism can only occur in industrialized states with high percentages of urban poor wage workers. Mao also spurned the idea of Lenin's vanguard party in theory, preferring his mass line theory instead. Ironically, however, Mao ended up strictly adhering to Lenin's idea of a vanguard party through the governing party structure of the Chinese Communist Party

Communism in the countries we've studied:
The United States: most prominent and publicized during times preceding and following the two World Wards; the Red Scare
Russia: For a long time, the only legal, running party was the Communist Party of the Soviet Union until the coup d'etat in 1991 that opened the doors to a multiparty system. RUSSIA IS NOT RUN BY THE COMMUNIST PARTY. The Communist Party doesn't actually play that important of a role in Russian politics. The current party that is dominating the nation right now is United Russia, which is basically Vladimir Putin's party. The Communist Party may be the second dominant party in Russian politics, but United Russia dominates politics so strongly that it's not that much of a threat.
China: The Communist Party of China is actually the world's largest political party. It's not recognized by the constitution (so on paper, communism does NOT exist in China. But, in reality... ;) ) and is the founding and ruling party of the PRC. After the Cultural Revolution, the CPC was transformed by Xiaoping into a party representing "socialism with chinese characteristics" which is just a nice way of saying the changes we are implementing are small and rather insignificant but changes none the less. It is the most prevalent example of communism of the countries we have studied.
Nigeria: The communist party within Nigeria was banned in 1966 and a more militaristic political system has prevailed
Iran: Although a communist party does exist, it pales horribly in comparison to the religiously based parties that have Iran practically in the palms of their hands today. Interestingly, this party fights against the current Islamic Republic of Iran and claims "to work for freedom, political and social rights...women rights, labor laws and workers' rights." It does not have national or global support or significant recognition.
The UK: Communism in the UK hasn't been a large issue as the monarchy/parliamentary system has maintained its power over the centuries.
Mexico: The communist party here is reasonably insignificant, as it does not meet the 30,000 registered member requirement under Mexican law.

10 Planks of Communism
  1. Abolition of private property and the application of all rent to public purpose.
  2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
  3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
  4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
  5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.
  6. Centralization of the means of communication and transportation in the hands of the State.
  7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State, the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
  8. Equal liability of all to labor.
  9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country by a more equitable distribution of the population over the country
  10. Free education for all children in government schools. Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form.

Communism Vocabulary

All-Union Party Congress - The largest structure of the Communist party organization. In theory, they select from themselves the Central Committee. In reality, the Central Committee selects politicians to be part of the congress, as a type of patron-client relationship. It emerged from the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, under the good ol' Vlad Lenin. During the October Revolution, it overthrew the Russian Provisional Government and formed the worlds FIRST socialist state where it controlled all tiers of governement in the Soviet Union and did not respond fondly to opposition (YIKES!)

Central Advisory Committee: (中央顾问委员会) the informal group of senior Chinese Communist leaders in the 1980s. Provided “political assistance and consultation” to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Its power surpassed that of the Politburo Standing Committee and was nicknamed the sitting committee.

Central Committee is supposedly the most important body in a Communist party; its influence declined as it grew in size and the party needed daily leadership. Elects Politburo in China's Communist Party, but Communist Party leaders approve all nominees

Collectivization- placing the economy under the collective control, i.e. the people as a whole are in charge of all economic decisions. Stalin and Mao did this, and collectivization ended with the death of millions. Very Utopian on paper, very command economy in reality. Often times this happens with farms, but this requires the government to take the farms and create these joint enterprises. The problem arises when the farmers refuse to give up their own land. Arises from Marx's view that the proletariat should own the means od production collectively to prevent abuse by factory owners who 'own' something they have not created.

Command economy - An economy in which government planning dominates the direction of economic activity, and market forces are not allowed to do so to any considerable degree. Socialist and, especially, communist economies are planned economies, whereas capitalist economies are much less so. With a command economy we see that many of the industries in the country are nationalized like for example during the Communist Era in Russia oil, as well agriculture, and the industrial sectors were nationalized. Also with a command economy in Russia real estate was state owned and so government controlled the market in many ways. With a command economy you have nationalization of many sectors of the economy in a free market economy or capitalist economy you have privatization of many industries and sectors of the economy. A central planning committee creates goals and quotas and sets the price of certain goods. Command economies are characterized by having a difficult time moving production from one sector to another (like industrial to consumer goods).

Democratic centralism- Leninist idea that a revolutionary elite leads the proletariat. It is the name given to the principles of internal organization used by Leninist political parties, and the term is sometimes used as a synonym for any Leninist policy inside a political party. The democratic aspect of this organizational method describes the freedom of members of the political party to discuss and debate matters of policy and direction, but once the decision of the party is made by majority vote, all members are expected to uphold that decision. This latter aspect represents the centralism. As Lenin described it, democratic centralism consisted of "freedom of discussion, unity of action. (Wikipedia)

Five-year plan- In the former Soviet Union and other communist countries, the period for which Gosplan developed goals and quotas. In Russia sometimes the production of right shoes fell behind the production of left shoes. (The Gosplan didn't do a good job organizing) The five year plans usually involves a chance in heavy industry of the country.

Marxism-Leninism is the philosophy adopted by ruling communist parties, which combined Marxist analysis with Leninist organizational structures and tactics. It is unique from "Socialism" in that Marx believed that the proletariat, or the working classes, would rise up violently against the bourgeoisie class in industrialized countries. Therefore, Lenin did not believe that Russia was necessarily ready for this proletariat-led reaction, given the huge rural population in Russia pre-1917. It was with this logic that Lenin rationalized his and the Bolsheviks' leadership of the revolution, saying that the proletariat needed middle-class leadership until it could rule itself.

Mass (party) Organizations- means of communist regime to create a civil society in a government that otherwise disapproves of political participation. These included many mobilized participation campaigns such as state organized religion in China and various associations in the Soviet Unions. These organizations generally exchanged loyalty for kickbacks.

Mass Line Theory - A method of leadership that seeks to learn from the masses and immerse the political leadership in the concerns and conditions of the masses; a theory in which ideas flow from the "bottom-up", with the government supposedly eexamining the population and listening to the will of the people and in turn institute policy and select leadership aaccordingly. Mao's regime in China used the Mass Line to attempt to convince the people that decisions were all made from the bottom. In theory, members of higher levels of power such as the Politburo would be selected by members of the lower levels of power. In reality, however, the system operated top down and the leaders selected those serving beneath them.

Means of production- This refers to the Marxist term designating the dominant way goods are created in a given society. (Workers--not owners control the means of production = socialism)

Nomenklatura- List of names who are eligible for the best jobs (i.e. managers / professors.) Not necessarily party members, these job holders remained loyal to the Communist Party in a form of patron-client relations. Although the nomenklatura was created first in Communist states we see that it has also existed in countries like Mexico which never was under Communist rule. So although nomenklatura was a feature of Communist countries it was not limited to only Communist countries as seen in the example of Mexico. Often a characteristic of Interest groups in Authoritarian Governments. Usually the opposite of plurism where mutliple interest groupes compete for power and influence.

Single-Party state- This is a style of government in which the government is dominated by one party, and no other party is allowed to play a role. China would be an example of a Single-Party state. Mexico before electoral reform and oversight is another example of this as vote fraud allowed the PRI to have single party rule until 2000. Russia was a single-party state ruled under the communist party until after Gorbachev'a rule when another party took power.

Politburo- This is a term to label the leadership of communist parties. Supposedly they are selected by the general secretary in a bottom-to-top situation. However, in reality they are the ones who choose the general secretary (top-to-bottom).

Purges-A purge is the systematic removal of people from party, state, or other office, especially common in communist systems. Purges were a common feature of the political environment during Stalin's regime as he was constantly paranoid that party members were conspiring to overthrow him in a coup. This resulted in many Soviet officials being removed and replaced on a regular basis.

Secretariat - Is the generic term used to denote the bureaucratic leaders of a communist party. Secretariat of the CPSU Central Committee was a key body within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and was responsible for the central administration of the party as opposed to drafting government policy which was usually handled by the Politburo.

Standing Committee - Is the subcommittee that runs the Politburo in China. A group (5-9) of usually men that includes the top leaders of the communist party that act as the powerful decision making body in all of China.

Totalitarianism- A political system where a state regulates nearly every aspect of public and private life. State controls the mass-media, which is how the official messages and propaganda are sent and this is how the regime maintains itself.

Radical communism- From what I've read, Radical Communism seems to refer to the oppressive nature of communism where the government takes too much from the people without a necessarily rational return. This could mean extreme ideas like the five-year plans and great leap forwards of Mao that left millions dead; or Stalin's extreme oppressions and massacres of peasants.

Interesting Photos:

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