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Old 07-27-17   #8
Dark Messiah
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So there are several things to address in that question, let me cover a few of the major ones briefly.

First off, what do we mean by communism? We mean a state of society in which the rule is by society; usually this is referred to as stateless in leftist theorizing, but you can call it an omni-state if you want, since it's mostly a semantical difference; not in the sense of there being a separate state that is everywhere, monitoring society, but in the sense that the "state" is de facto made up of everyone in society.

This is understood to mean total political and economic democracy. Meaning not only are laws and rules and general decisions made in a communal fashion, but so are questions around the distribution and share of wealth.

Here a quick demarcation must be made to address a very common complaint and misunderstanding: While one cannot really generalize to all socialists very precisely, the vast majority understand this to mean that there cannot be private property, but not that there cannot be personal property. Or put another way, you can own things for their personal use value; but you cannot own things for their commodity value, and for their ability to produce things for personal use. Hence the phrase, "The means of production." E.g., you can own your shirts, you just can't own a shirt-factory. Another way of thinking of this would be to say that there is some sort of wealth cap, for instance, no one can own more than, oh, $2 million in personal wealth, or a ratio, such as; the richest member of society should not be more than 10x richer than the poorest member of society. These are just examples for framing, and defining the exact lines and where to draw them on this topic is obviously a subjective matter of future implementation, but it's important to note that almost no socialists or communists are going to say that you can't own things for yourself as a blanket rule.

Now, Karl Marx did not invent communism or coin the term, but he was undoubtedly the most influential 19th century thinker on the subject and on economic history; in fact, regardless of political affiliation, historians generally acknowledge Marx as a very important foundational figure in historiography, as basically creating the concept and the framework we still use to analyze economic classes as a historical matter.

Regardless, Marx and Engels and other major 19th century Communists who followed after them tended to eschew thinking too much about what communism should actually look like in the future, being in fact scornful of such efforts; Marx referred to such thinkers as "Utopians" and criticized them as basically having their heads in the clouds. Marx and other 19th century thinkers mostly focused on analyzing the then still new and emerging system of capitalism and industrialized production, and its effects on class society.

If you could generally summarize 19th century communist theory though, it would go roughly like this: The history of mankind is primarily a history of social classes, defined by each class's relations to their mode of material reproduction, i.e., how does a society perpetuate itself and the things in that society? How do people live, materially, and how do they keep getting and making the things that allow for that life?

In this analysis there have only really been three phrases of human history thus far, and only two really important events. There was the agrarian revolution, before which mankind lived in a state of "primitive communism," essentially egalitarian hunter-gatherer tribes where the means of reproduction were very limited and shared. After the agrarian revolution, mankind began the period Marx referred to as feudalism, here meaning not strictly the Medieval caste system in Europe, but basically all post-agrarian societies before the modern era, which shared very similar economic models based around agrarian production, and a class division between serfs and a ruling elite whose power came from control of arable land and people, defined by the rise of patriarchal gender structures, the dominance of patrilineal lines as a means of passing on wealth generationally, the growth of cities and division of labor etc. etc.. And this was the dominant mode of material reproduction for about ten thousand years.

Then there was the industrial revolution, where mankind's productivity grew more quickly in fifty years than it had in the preceding ten thousand. The introduction of the steam engine and subsequent systems for unlocking fossilized energy and machine power created a rapid and total change in the material mode of reproduction and in peoples' relations to those, shifting from an agrarian to an industrial society, and re-aligning, according to Marx, all of society into only two remaining classes; the capitalist class, who owned the machines and access to the machines that could produce wealth, and the labor class, who had to sell their labor to work those machines and make wealth for others in order to continue to eat and live.

The theory of communism wasn't that capitalism is itself intrinsically or particularly bad; Marx certainly saw the flaws in capitalism, but viewed it as a transitory stage, which, as it continued to develop, would basically destroy itself as machines became increasingly efficient, and as the opportunities for expansion, upon which capitalism rests, shrunk.

When this happened, there would of course be social upheaval and violent revolution, but it would end with the adoption of a post-capitalist, post-industrial communist society in which access to machine production was universal.

Enter the late 19th/early 20th century and Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Marxist theory implied that communism would arise first in the most advanced industrial economies, which everyone at the time took to mean probably the US or Germany. Russia by contrast was one of the most backwards of the great powers; hell, they had only abolished Serfdom in the 1860s, and in many ways Russia continued to operate under a feudal caste system, including laws who could wear what clothing. There had been multiple failed revolutions and most of them produced reactionary backlash from the Czars, reversing social reforms that had taken place.

So this should have been terrible ground for a Communist revolution. Lenin, however, had a theory (and likewise, this wasn't his alone, but we'll simplify it to just Lenin here.) Marxist-Leninist theory was basically that you could short-cut through capitalism if the process was controlled, not by a motley of private, competing, irrational and greedy capitalist interests, but by a "vanguard party," a centralized state ruled by an enlightened class of true communists.

Lenin and his Bolshevik party saw their chance during the Russian Revolution. The initial deposition of the Czar was replaced by a social-democratic regime led by a dude named Kerensky, and a coalition that included old school Marxist communists who thought that Russia was far too close to feudalism to be even close to the jump to communism, and basically just wanted to develop the country into a liberal social democracy. Unfortunately for them, they also thought this required keeping up warm relations with the Western nations, which meant keeping Russia in WWI, which is exactly what caused the Czar to get overthrown in the first place. Because, if I didn't mention, Russia was economically backwards, and were getting their asses kicked on the Eastern Front. Like really, they did pathetically against the German troops throughout the First World War, although in fairness they had some victories against the similarly pathetic and backwards Austro-Hungarian Empire. But by 1917 Russia's pitiful industrial sector was struggling and you had soldiers in frozen trenches fighting with newspapers for shoes. The Kerensky regime doubled down in the face of popular backlash, becoming ever more closely aligned with the conservative, reactionary and even remaining royalist factions who wanted to re-instate the Czar. Russia began disintegrating again.

During this time the central social hub of Russian life became the Soviets, a curious social institution that arose first in 1905. The Soviets were basically nothing more or less than communal gatherings in towns and factories and in the army and navy, small scale open parliaments basically where anyone could show up and speak and vote on decisions for whatever the given community was. They were not under the control of the Bolsheviks at the time, who were still a fairly small minority faction even within the revolutionary left, but the Bolsheviks saw an opportunity and began pushing for a second revolution with phrases like "Peace and Bread!" and "All power to the Soviets!"

Of course once in power, they completely depowered and defanged the Soviets, and in some cases repressed them violently (See: Kronstadt, among others.) Other leftists who had other theories were swept out of the way, as the Bolsheviks seized total power to themselves to implement their theories, and this basic form has been the dominant mode of all the subsequent 20th century Communist revolutions, in China and Cuba and so on.

Now, I do not much like Leninist theory and as a leftcom I have a pretty big historical grudge against Leninists since they killed a lot of other leftists in their rise to power. Besides other atrocities of course. Like at one point, Stalin had his loyals in Germany actively collaborating with the Nazi party during their rise to power because he was less concerned with Hitler than with undermining other leftist parties and factions in German politics.

But is it fair to say that it never worked out? That seems kind of spurious. Russia started from an abysmally low spot when the Bolsheviks took over, and then they became strong enough, despite Stalin's Red Army purges of Trotsky loyalists, to basically do 90% of the legwork of defeating the Nazis in WWII. After having struggled against just the Austrians a generation before. Certainly throughout the thirties, forties and fifties Americans, Brits, and other Westerners were scared shitless of the pace of industrial production growth under the Soviet Union.

There were a lot of atrocities and fuckups along the way to be sure, but that's also true of the development of Western nations.

I'm not sure that it's true that Marxist-Leninism was any better than Liberal-Capitalism as a system, but it's not clear that it was very much worse. Certainly, for all that people want to exaggerate the economic problems of the Soviet Union by the late 80s, we can now say that

1) In most of the former Soviet Union, it took at least a decade to return to USSR-era GDP and standards of living, especially outside of those countries that weren't receiving oodles and oodles of EU aid money; and in some parts it still hasn't returned. If you ask older people in these places today, you find plenty of people that are nostalgic for the Soviet era. Granted, old people love being nostalgic about things that weren't actually that great, so eh.

2) Certainly in the past decade or so we've seen liberal-capitalism show its ass plenty in terms of systems with major problems.

So again, that's not really to defend Leninism. I don't agree with Leninist theory and I don't like Leninists in actuality. More than that I think it's irrelevant. Leninism is a theory for what to do in an early-capitalist or late-feudal society. We are in a late-capitalist society. Areas of economic malaise are mostly post-industrial, not pre-. Our problems are exactly the ones Marx foresaw; we are approaching an excess of machine labor efficiency that is rendering human labor obsolete in many ways, which is a real problem when your system is predicated on people having to lease out their labor power to avoid starving. Meanwhile, having propped up false growth for decades with an excessively over-leveraged and indebted consumer class, we're running out of real areas in which capital can continue to expand.

I'm trying to avoid anything resembling a no-true-Scotsman here, as I am not saying that Leninists are not communist. But the Soviet Union was never a communist society. Lenin indeed did not describe this state as such, calling it "state capitalism," although Stalin later did try, laughably, to claim that they had achieved a communist state.

But to answer the question, no, then, communism has never been tried, and the problem is that we do have to figure out how to try it. And I do not contend that this will be easy or painless or that there is one obvious way to do it. But we are running into the ends of where capitalism makes sense as a system; and my great fear is that if we do not begin the transition towards some form of actual communism, socialist economic and political total democracy, that we will wind up going the opposite path, with more and more wealth and power concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer until we wind up with a neo-feudal order.

This is also why I sometimes short-hand people to say that I am more of a Star-Trekist than what they probably imagine by "communist" per se.
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