Archives for posts with tag: communism

Reading this excellent article by James Poulter, BBC Three, I was reminded of Marx. Karl, not Groucho.

“The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.”

 Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848.

The XX-th century had been torn apart by two totalitarian lines of thought. Communism and fascism/nazism.
The communists had backed their claims on Marx’s class struggle while the fascists/nazists had used a plethora of other authors as pretexts. Despite the differences, the results had been the same. Callous spin doctors had used popular discontent to get uncontested possession of the political levers. And kept playing with them until entire countries crumbled under their own weight.

But what was it that made some nations destroy themselves on the left side of the authoritarian spectrum while others have done the same thing but on the right side?

The nature of the popular discontent!

At any given point, the majority of the people living in a country might see itself as being in one of the following three situations:
– Leading a relatively comfortable life and having a decent perspective to improve its lot or at least to maintain its present status.
– Having always led a bad life and finding absolutely no perspective of improvement.
– Having led a relatively good life for a while, lost that status and finding no way to resume it.

According to Marx, the first situation would have necessarily led to the third and, eventually, to communism.
According to history, people living in the second situation had always been manipulated into communism while people struggling in the third have been led into fascism/nazism.

Meanwhile, people living in the first situation have remained there for as long as they maintained their social cohesion. But that will be the subject of another post.

 

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Are you done laughing?

It isn’t funny?

Well, it wasn’t meant to be funny… only illustrative for the way in which some people understand freedom… ‘they’ being free to impose their will upon others while all the rest are free to obey. Or else.

My point being that freedom is nothing more and nothing less than what we make of it.

In order to make myself understood I have to mention that there are two kinds of liberty and that, historically, there have been two only apparently conflicting visions on whether freedom is real or not.

Freedom, like most things human, is both a concept and a reality.
We think about it, hence it is relatively simple to accept ‘freedom as a human concept’.
If you find it hard to accept that liberty is also real… when was the last time you took a dog to a park where you can unleash it? To a meadow where it can run its heart out without you being afraid of the city warden? And no, I’m not thinking about the joy experienced by the dog…

We have ‘internal’ freedom – the manner in which each of us relates, in their heads, with the concept, and ‘social’ freedom – the vectorial sum of all that the members of a certain society put in practice about freedom.
It’s a matter of ‘obvious evidence’ that these two may swirl in two directions.
Form a virtuous circle – the natural evolution of humankind, from slavery to feudalism to democratic capitalism, sometimes interrupted by ‘vicious’ epicycles –  the last two being fascism and communism.

Before discussing whether liberty is real or just an illusion let me poke another wasp nest.
How big is this thing we call ‘freedom’?
How big can this ‘vectorial sum’ be?

Infinite? Nobody can live that long, anyway…

Then where does it stop? At the ‘tip of our collective nose’?
It’s up to us to decide? Through constant negotiation? Always keeping in mind that all ‘imperial’ endeavors have failed, sooner or later? That no human being has ever been able to survive alone for any considerable length of time, let alone to grow up by him/herself?

Communism and fascism being only the last two examples of what happens when too many of us forget the most important lesson history teaches us?

One more thing. I still owe you an explanation about why I consider the conflict between the ‘promoters’ and  ‘deniers’ of liberty to be a false one.
Currently, most people agree – even if most of them only implicitly, about ‘your liberty to swing your fist ending where my nose begins’.
From time to time various ‘hot headed’ individuals have contested this.
Either philosophically – Nietzsche, Marx, or practically – Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Pol-Pot…
The most interesting aspect of all this being that there still are ‘philosophers’ (?!?) who continue to argue one side of the argument against the immense historical evidence which keeps growing. Not only ‘against’ the immense… but also producing fresh pretexts for the ‘willing practitioners’ to try for yet another time. And to continue to increase the mountain of evidence…

‘But what are the arguments marshaled by the ‘freedom deniers’?
What if they are right, after all, only the ‘practitioners’ have not yet been able to ‘do it right’? You, of all others’ – that would be me, ‘should remember that “Critics of early steam-spewing locomotives, for example, thought “that women’s bodies were not designed to go at 50 miles an hour,” and worried that “[female passengers’] uteruses would fly out of [their] bodies as they were accelerated to that speed”!
And, even more importantly, who are you to tell us that freedom is real?’

OK.
As I mentioned before, there are two categories of deniers.
‘Relative’ and ‘absolute’ deniers. The ‘Nietzsche-s’ and the ‘Marx-s’.
The ‘Nietzsche-s’ argue that freedom is up for grabs, that it can – no, actually that it should – be cornered by those having the strongest “will to power”. ‘Finders keepers, losers weepers’.
The ‘Marx-s’ argue that freedom is nothing but an illusion and that everybody must observe the implacable laws which derive from the world being made of nothing else but matter. Hence, according to Marx, the ‘communists’ – those who have understood the ‘scientific’ nature of the world/society, have the duty to take over the society and to take it, forcefully if needed, to its ‘scientifically’ determined destination.
‘Quite a Platonic vision of the world, don’t you think?’
‘Well… I’ve already covered this subject…’
Coming back to the apparent conflict between the promoters and the deniers of freedom, it is now rather simple to observe that ‘Marx’ is nothing but ‘Nietzsche’ dressed up in ‘scientific’ garb – don’t be fooled by the fact that Nietzsche was way younger than Marx, they had been kindred souls, while ‘Nietzsche’ had been a very focused ‘freedom fighter’ – focused exclusively on ‘his’ freedom, that is.

A petty conflict about ‘who has the bigger one’, hidden under pretentious make-up…

‘And were does all this leave us?’

At the conclusion that being free means, before and above anything else, being responsible?
For one’s own fate and for at least some of what’s going to happen in the (near) future?

 

Recent developments have resurrected a Soviet era concept.

Whataboutism.

 “Whataboutism refers to the practice of deflecting criticism by pointing to the misdeeds of others. Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.”
Essentially, it’s an appeal to hypocrisy ― a logical fallacy also known as “tu quoque.” Instead of proving that your opponent’s claim is wrong on its face, whataboutism argues that it’s hypocritical of the opponent to make that claim at all.”

The current bout of whataboutism came about when Trump and his supporters tried to deflect the public condemnation of neo-nazi activism after a young woman had been killed by a white supremacist.

So, which is worse?
Communism or nazism?

I’ll make a small detour here and ask myself ‘what’s wrong with the spell checker? Why insist that nazism should be written with a capital N? Is it a nation? It’s OK for communism to start with a lower case letter, same thing for all other political denominations… what’s so special about nazism?!?’

Back to business.

One way to answer the question would be to asses the damages incurred as a consequence of each of them being put in practice.

Easier said than done. There are a lot of similarities between these two but also a huge difference. Precisely that which makes it very hard to compare the consequences of each of them having been experimented.
Nazism and communism have evolved in totally different social environments and have been fueled by closely related yet different public feelings.

This is why I’m going to change tack.
Why attempt to establish a relative hierarchy on the axis of evil when they can be studied together?
As the left and right wings of the same carrion eating bird which feeds itself on the countless societies ruined by authoritarianism?

After all, any attempt to determine which is worse does nothing but normalizes ‘whataboutism’ itself, doesn’t it?
Regardless of which wing flaps first….

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Theoretically it means “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”.

Practically it looks like this.

famine-in-ucraine

In fact real life communism still is, and always was, about a whole country kow-towing to a dictator who pretends to care for nothing else but for the welfare of the people. His people!

The point being that each resource allocation game needs a referee. Otherwise all rational people would take as much as they could carry from the communal reserve – because it is free – and bring back as little as possible, hence nothing if not coerced to – because it implies some effort.

OK, any reasonable five years old would tell you that the communal reserve would very soon become empty if things would go like this – hence that presumably ‘rational’ behavior would be anything but – only it would be very rational to at least try, wouldn’t it? For how long it would work, no matter how short that interval…

And something else.
You are most likely familiar with ‘bad money drives out good’. There have been a lot of examples to prove this, one of them being Christ driving the money changers out of the Temple.
Some of you might not be familiar with how money worked in those days so here is it.
A coin was a simple ‘slab’ of precious metal, of somewhat constant weight, approximately round, which had been ‘stamped’ with the face of the local ruler. At first, in the minting shop, all coins belonging to the same edition were more or less of the same weight. But, since the edges of the coins were not ridged, ‘smart’ people started to ‘shave’ the coins.
And, after the first guy had started to shave them, each individual who got a coin would have been foolish not to shave it, just a little bit. Maybe the next guy would be foolish enough to accept it, after being shaved. To contest it the recipient would have had to go to the money changers and pay for their expertise. And this is how the coins became smaller and smaller…
Only the priests at the temple didn’t want to be fooled. So they hired some money-changers to vet the coins the believers brought to the Temple. The very money-changers that Christ had driven away. “God doesn’t need this kind of guardians. If we keep them here it would mean that we expect people to cheat. Even here, at the Temple. And if we expect them to cheat, they will surely do so!”

Only some people do cheat. And since some cheat, the rest will have to do something about it. Either make cheating the rule, which would lead nowhere, or make it so hard to cheat as to become impractical. Hence the ridges at the edges of the modern coins. Which can no longer be shaved because the ridges would make it obvious.

Coming back to our ‘communal reserve’ you would have to employ a guardian to make it sure that no one would take any more than they really need and that everyone periodically brings back stuff according to their abilities.
But how would that guardian determine what are the real needs and the real abilities of each of those individual members of the community?
And, even more importantly, what would stop the guardian from taking the whole ‘communal’ reserve into his private possession? As in acting like a communist dictator? Simply because ‘he needs it’?

The only alternative that worked was the free market. That where you sold your abilities and where you could buy things to fulfill your needs. Where prices were set at the meeting point between ask and demand.
But the same principle, bad money drive out the good, acts even here.
‘Smart’ people try to organize ‘monopolies’. Which, basically, is the same thing as they attempting to become the owners of the ‘communal reserve’.

This whole thing looks like an intractable vicious circle?
Take heart, that’s what ‘reeds’ are for.
We invented those, when we realized that we needed them, didn’t we?

reeded-coins

You still wondering what to use in order to transform that vicious circle into a virtuous one?
How about individual freedom coupled with a healthy dose of mutual respect?

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For some time now I’ve been wondering how come so many people who define themselves as being Christians – “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.“, Matt 19:24 – are so passionately defending the very concept of (private)”property”.

Could it be that Marx was right after all: “Private property is the result of alienated labor.” ?!? And so many of us have been wrong for so long?

“The right to private property is the social-political principle that adult human beings may not be prohibited or prevented by anyone from acquiring, holding and trading (with willing parties) valued items not already owned by others. Such a right is, thus, unalienable and, if in fact justified, is supposed to enjoy respect and legal protection in a just human community.”

Trying to understand the source of this dichotomy I adopted a two pronged strategy. First I looked up the word itself and then I tried to deepen my understanding of the entire concept.

It’s absolutely obvious that ‘property’ comes from ‘proper’.
‘Proper’, in its turn, has two basic meanings: ‘fit for use‘ and ‘pertaining to one individual‘. The first one has evolved into ‘propriety’, “the state or quality of being correct and proper” while the second has become ‘property’, “thing owned“.

So, do all these etymological arguments make it any easier for us to accept that respecting each others’ right to private property is what introduced a certain degree of functionality in the human society?

‘But aren’t you contradicting yourself?
At the beginning of your post you suggested that ‘property’ might not be as good as advertised and now you say that the ‘right to private property’ is ‘good for you’?
Will you make up your mind, for Christ’s sake?’

Now, that I’ve reached the conceptual stage of my analyses, I must bring to your attention the fact that a right is nothing but an opportunity while each (piece of) property is a thing – even those  which are not of a ‘substantial’ nature. ‘Intellectual property’, for instance, is a ‘measurable thing’ even if you cannot put your finger on it while the ‘right to intellectual (or any other kind of) property’ is (an infinite) something which patiently waits for (a rightful) somebody to make (proper) use of it.

Maybe this is what Christ tried to tell us in the first place. That it’s not property itself that stands between us and our salvation but our (improper) attitude towards it. That it’s not the object of our property that is the problem but how we make use of our right to private property.
After all Christ told the “young rich man” “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matt 19:21). ‘Go sell, give and THEN follow me’, not ‘come help me ABOLISH the very right to private property’, as Marx used to preach to his followers.

To understand the difference between what Christ and Marx said about this subject let’s see how these two relate to the notion of ‘Man’.

In Christ’s book God took a lump of dirt and ‘made Man in His own image’ while in Marx’s narrow materialistic vision “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness.”

Basically both of them start with the same ‘materiel’ – the mundane ‘star dust’ that Mendeleev distributed throughout his table – but what a difference at the end of the ‘assembly line’!

adamevebefore

Being made ‘in His Own image’ not only means that all Men (and Women) are created equal but also that each of them shares in His Divine Nature. Hence the origin of our free will, of our ability (‘right’, opportunity) to be saved. Compare this to how Marx described the human society:

“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.

The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.

The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer.

They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes. The abolition of existing property relations is not at all a distinctive feature of communism.”

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As somebody who has lived for 30 years under communist rule let me translate this from ‘Newspeak‘ into plain English:
‘History suggests that those who figure out the inner workings of this world  have, from time to time, the opportunity to take over the show. Now is one of those moments. The ‘fat cats’ have been so greedy lately that the regular people are growling under the very heavy yoke that has been placed on their shoulders.  That’s why we have the opportunity to unsettle the ‘old’ from their positions and to plant our fat asses in their comfortable chairs.
And the first thing we must do in order to achieve that goal is to abolish the right to private property. People are so fed up with what was going on lately that they’ll go along. They have grown to hate so much the ‘greedy plutocrats’ that most of them won’t notice that in the (revolutionary) process they’ll lose the very last shrouds of personal autonomy they still have. Without the right to dispose of the results of their own labor they’ll be at our mercy’.

Who was right between the two?

Well… Both, unfortunately.

The communists did run the show, at least for a while. And we all know to which results.
On the other hand it seems that in the longer run miss-using the right to private property is indeed a powerful drawback. The already too long sequence of economic crises caused, ultimately, by nothing else but our own greed has indeed given birth to a generalized state of psychological malaise.

I don’t know about what’s gonna happen in the next world – or if it exists at all – but I’m sure that if we don’t learn, fast, how to use, properly, the right to private property things will become too hot for our own good in this one.

The only one we are sure about.

Further reading.
During my research for this post I found this very interesting take on the same subject:

“Zwolinksi argues that libertarians are right to support private property, but also that private property is more complicated than we sometimes think.”

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