For many Americans, the word “communism” is synonymous with single party rule, and complete top-down totalitarian government control of society. For these, the Soviet Union was a grand and conclusive experiment in communism - with a devastation that speaks for itself and offers the final say on communism and the Marxist ideology. Following Mao’s efforts in China and the devastation wrought by various “Marxist” third world regimes (e.g. Pol Pot) and estimates of more than 100 million Marxist murders, many conservatives regard communism as morally equivalent to Nazism. They feel profoundly vindicated by the collapse of what they see as “communism” in the 1990s.
For Marxists, however, nothing could be further from the truth - pointing towards the Communist Manifesto itself, where Marx wrote:
In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
Such was one of Marx’s few references to what he envisioned as “communism”, a future state of society in which the coercive power of the State has “withered away”, and a kind of robust and radically democratic civil society has taken on the functions previously performed by “the State”.
From a Marxist point of view, “Marxist Dictator” is a contradiction in terms, and the dictatorial regimes that claimed to be “Marxist” or “communist” were no more Marxist or communist than modern China is a “Republic” of “the People”. The Soviet experiment, they say, faced historical circumstances (WWI, foreign invasion--including American troops, Western-backed counter-revolution, famine, decimation of the working class) that made channeling resources towards the establishment of any truly democratic working class socialist state impossible. Under such war-like and devastatingly unfavorable conditions, they argue, top-down bureaucratic military defense-oriented control (associated with the rise of Stalin) became virtually inevitable, thus preventing the Russian experiment from being a legitimate "test" of Marxism. Marxists argue that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a near complete inversion of democratic Marxist principles, and therefore profoundly anti-Marxist, and anti- “soviet” as well, since “soviet” was supposed to mean “democratically elected council”. The USSR, they would say, was a Stalinist--not a Marxist--State.
In the past, the terms “socialism” and “communism” were often used interchangeably by both critics and advocates. However, due to the profoundly anti-Marxist nature of regimes which claimed to be “communist” (the USSR and China), many Marxists and socialists have given up trying to rehabilitate these terms, and generally settle for the term “democratic socialism”, or use the term “economic democracy”, which they see as more descriptive of their goals.
QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:
-If you are supportive of communism, is there anything about its critics that you agree with?
-If you are critical of communism, is there anything about its vision you resonate with? Is there a type or kind of communism that you think could be positive?
Arthur M. Peña, Michael Strong
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