"In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic."
- Look under Marxism.
Earlier this week, the Norwegian crown prince, came to visit our school. All of the things that he was talking about made absolute sense to me. And as I was sitting in the tight and rather hard chair, I thought to myself, “What if there were no rich or poor, and that the people of this earth, lived under the same roof as a big happy family, where no one had more than the other? What if? ”
The scrap written above is taken from one of Karl Marx few writings. It describes a society where the opportunity to become anything that your heart desires, not only is a dream, but an actual reality. The freedom to do something without having it as a job, the freedom to actually have a time off to do something else but work or take care of your family, but to enjoy this time on earth that is so limited. When that is said, can such freedom, equality and justice ever be reached?
I have always been fascinated by the idea of communism, since my grandfather was a communist. As I grew up, I made friends with a distant relative of mine, and we often discussed this subject. What she then told me, kind of puzzled me. She said:” the thing with communism is that it doesn’t work in practice, even though the idea of it is good!”
Why can’t people all over the world have the freedom to choose, the opportunity to choose? Why can’t such righteous thing ever happen?
In order to find the answer to my problem, it is important that we know the basics of what communism is, how the idea arose, and how it gained popularity among people. In many ways Karl Marx counts as the most important authority within communism, his followers belong to its own branch of socialism, called communism or Marxism.
Like many other socialists, Friedrich Engels(1820-1895), alongside his better-known collaborator, Karl Marx(1818-1883), sought an end to capitalism and the system in which they perceived to be responsible for the exploitation of workers. As Engels, Marx took part in the political and philosophical struggle of their time. Together they wrote “ the Communist Manifesto” in 1948, making the foundation of Marxism.
“Marxism holds that a process of class conflict and a revolutionary struggle will result in victory for the lower social class (proletariat) and the establishment of a communist society in which private ownership is abolished over time, and the means of production and subsistence belongs to the community”.
- Look under: “Marxism”.
2. What is communism?
The idea of a classless society has existed as long as there has been a class society. The notion of communism has a history predating Marx and Engels. In early Greece, the idea of communism was connected to a myth about the “Golden Age” of humanity, when society lived in full harmony, before the development of private ownership.
One of the most known works that describes a communist society is “Utopia” of Thomas More. The book was written around 1516, and portrays a society based on common ownership of property.
According to Engels, it was first and foremost Marx that founded the modern scientific socialism. Communism is only a form of socialism, and is therefore limited.
“Generally communism is defined as a social system where class society has been broken down, where the state has vanished, and where people give of capacity and get by needs”.
- Look under: “Kommunisme som samfunnsform”.
Marx described three forms of communism: Primitive communism, the Modern communism’s first phase and the Modern communism’s second phase.
- Primitive communism is a description of the society people originally lived in, before the private ownership was invented, and therefore also before the class society.
- The Modern communism’s first phase, was the phase in which some class differences would remain. This phase was the lower and preliminary phase of socialism. The “first phase” would eventually give way to a “higher phase”, the second phase, in which class differences were eliminated, and the state no longer needed. This would then portray communism as a uniform communist society formation.
A revolution is a drastic change that usually occurs in a relatively short period of time. Marx held that society could not be transformed from a capitalistic society to a communist society all at once, but required a transitional period, a revolution.
“The revolution came to give way to these recent conditions, so that the new class could rise to power. Socialism could not grow to life within capitalism, as capitalism had done within feudalism. The working class, that didn’t possess any of the means of production, had to first conquer the political rule, and then make the most important means of production, the funds, in favour to the society. Without such revolutionary policy, socialism could not be accomplished”.
”prinsipp-program for norges kommunitiske parti”
- Page 17, look under:” En omveltning uten historisk sidestykke”.
In the late 19th century, Marxist theories motivated socialist parties across Europe. In Russia, as the second phase of The Russian Revolution, called The October Revolution, the Bolshevik Party and the worker’s Soviet led by Vladimir Lenin, started a communist revolution, overthrowing the Provisional Government. Lenin developed Marx’s ideas into his own teaching, called Marxism-Leninism. In China, Mao Zedong adapted Marxism-Leninism into the feudalistic Asian culture, called Maoism.
As you can see, the result of the communist revolution in Russia, led to other successors across the globe. These countries were called “communist” by the western media, but none of them actually reached the Modern communism’s second phase, and can therefore not be referred to as communist.
4. Why doesn’t communism work in practise, when it seems like the most fair-minded practise in theory?
- In my attempt of trying to answer the question that is written above, I’m going to use most of the time to discuss and show examples of how communism has been performed in practise. This is definitely a difficult question to answer, not only because this topic can be interpreted differently, but also because there are not enough facts to back up any answers that may be concluded. What my conclusion will end at can only be read with care, because it is my interpretation of all the information I have come across.
4.1 Interview with a communist.
4.2 Communism in Russia.
4.3 Communism in Cuba.
4.4 Cold War: why were the Americans so afraid of communism?
4.5 Problem solving.
4.1 Interview with a communist:
Already in my way of presenting the problem, I go against what communists believe in. Why be a communist, if you don’t believe it could really work in practise?
Nevertheless, I wanted like to get some more depth into my problem solving, so I thought I get an interview with a real communist. In my search, I came across a 62-year-old man. For years, Jostein Hansen has believed in equality and justice, and that may also show in his incredible engagement to communism. Hansen is both leader in Alta NKP (Norwegian Communist Party) and secretary in Finnmark NKP. He also teaches Social studies at Finnmark County College (Høgskolen in Finnmark).
Here are some of the profound answers I was given to my honest questions:
Why cant communism work in practise?
-Well I do believe that communism can work in practise, but it is definitely an interesting question you have brought up. I think that one of the reasons that it didn’t work in, say Soviet, who I think may be one of the reasons communism has been given such foul reputation, is that they had no knowledge about the environment, and were forced to stake on heavy industry as well as the weapon industry. Soviet did also get great resistance from USA. The weapon race between these two superpowers, made Soviet determined to win, and they used enormous resources at conventional weapons, something that marked Soviets economy largely. But as I said earlier, one of the main reasons I think why the outcome of communism in Soviet turned out so badly is that they didn’t care about the society problems, which were pretty severe at that time. This can also be portrayed in China, where economy growth was more important than society issues.
Communism in Soviet and China may not be the best example to back up my answer in why I believe communism can work in practise, but Cuba has definitely shown communism at its better side. It is said that Fidel Castro has never claimed himself as communist, but he did eventually, though not in the beginning.
In the beginning Cuba was very depended on Soviet, and had good deals with the east-block. When the fall of soviet came to reality, Cuba had little to fall back on. Nevertheless, Cuba has now made it good in staking on tourism, sugar and biochemical, which has become the most important incomes. Cuba is also said to be dictatorial, but most of the people that rule in the parliament, is the people, where the biggest populace is represented.
But don’t you think that greed played a part in both Soviet and China? That maybe one of the reasons why communism is doomed to fail now as well, is because people are too greedy?
- I think that people are born nor good or evil. We are what we are raised to be. Greed is something that is developed, but yes, that may also be one of the reasons that it didn’t work in Soviet, because the politicians got too much power, and as they say power grows greed. The whole system in Soviet became corrupt.
4.2 Communism in Russia:
One of the first countries that tried to perform communism in practise, was Russia.
In the beginning, communism seemed to the people of Russia as a utopian ideal. The promises of the elimination of classes, guaranteed employment and a social security that would end the misery of workers once and for all, would finally be brought to life.
Marx believed that socialism and communism could only be build upon foundations laid by the most advanced capitalist development. Russia, however, was one of the countries in Europe with an immensely illiterate peasantry and a minority of industrial workers, so you can say that the starting point of a communist revolution in Russia was at the wrong end from the beginning of.
Under the rule of Lenin, Soviet Union was established in 1917, as the result of the communist revoulution. During this period, Soviet underwent radical changes in economy. The government controlled all the means of production, leading way to Joseph Stalin in 1924, where the oppressive reforms started by Lenin, were continued, and at length became completely totalitarian. As the leader of S.C.P(Soviet Communist Party), Stalin then became the most powerful man in Russia. Having complete control over the political power, Stalin started to execute anyone who was against the communist rule. During this period, people endured great hardship. All private ownership was ended, and a mass program of industrialization was commenced, and the strength of Soviet Military was substantially increased.
In the 80s, thirty years after Stalin’s death, a dramatic drop in Soviet started to emerge. The living standards were impoverished, and several strikes and public outcry against the administration threatened the stability of the Soviet Union. People were angry to the fact that the Communist Party had not lived up to the promises of free healthcare, guaranteed employment and a level of comfort.
Before the 80s, all religions were dismissed and the people went through immense social problems. Alcoholism and crime were the result of the bad living and working conditions. The education system in Soviet was also one of the factors that caused tension, because all students were assigned jobs when graduated, causing stress on them because they had to take jobs they didn’t want. Most hospitals were understaffed and the medical supplies were scarce. Poor standards of sanitation and public hygiene, led to an increased annual death rate and drops of birth rate. All these social problems and years of mismanagement of the countries resources, made the economy slow and the support for the government diminish.
During the communist rule, the Russian economy underwent reforms that only led to disorder. This old style of governing left behind a legacy of corruption, price distortions, inefficient public industries and financial instabilities.
To take a quick recap, we can see that some of the major contributing factors to the fall of communism in Soviet was the dissension of the citizens due to the fact that the government did not live up to the promises of a better life, and the failure of the government to properly deal with social problems.
4.3 Communism in Cuba:
On February 1959, the Cuban constitutional liberalist and nationalist, Fidel Castro, became Prime Minister in Cuba. Castro’s government practised popular measures such as land reforms, nationalisation of the public utilities and a ruthless suppression of corruption, including closing down the gambling industry and evicting the American Mafiosi. Nevertheless, during this Cuban revolution of -59, the government has been accused of numerous violations of certain human rights.
The powerful influence within Castro’s government came from the Argentinean Marxist, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, one of Castro’s closest advisors. Although Castro himself was not believed to a communist, the U.S was aware about the role Guevara had, and the rapid warming of relations between Castro and the Cuban Communist. In May 1961, Castro declared Cuba a Socialist Republic, and himself to be a Marxist-Leninist.
As it was mentioned in the interview with Jostein Hansen, Cuba depended greatly upon the cooperation with Soviet. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba was left with a giant economic blow, but by the late 90s, the situation had stabilized. By then Cuba had more or less normal economic relation with most Latin American countries. Castro’s determination to build his vision upon a socialist society entailed the provision of free healthcare and education for the entire population. Cuba has invested hugely on providing technology to all students at any levels, and has had some of the highest rates in both education and literacy in Latin America.
Castro has been President since the adoption of the current Constitution in 1976. The book Child of the revolution- Growing Up in Castro’s Cuba describes life under the rule of Fidel Castro. Here is a scrap taken from the book, where a Cuban man named Mark, shares his opinions on Cuba’s achievements under Castro’s rule.
“ Cuba deserves a “helluva” lot more respect for its achievements than it gets- all due to the rabid, misinformed and deceitful propaganda spread by the exile community and the U.S state department”
4.4 Cold War: Why were the Americans so afraid of communism?
The origin of the Cold War dates back to the year 1917, and the Communist revolution in Soviet. USA, who was the leading country in capitalism, built the American society based on the principle of freedom for the individual: the freedom to own funds, and the freedom to choose their own government through free elections. Both USA and Soviet thought their own form of governing should count for all countries, and wanted to prevent the other ideology to spread. Especially USA had the fear that communism would triumph throughout the world, and could therefore be a direct threat to the government of the United States. This led to the theory of the “domino effect”, where a communist takeover would lead to a chain reaction, which then again would result in triumph of world communism.
The Cold War denotes the situation that emerged after World War 2 between Soviet and USA. Both countries built up allies all over the world, which involved a series of conflicts and heavy competition. Instead of a real war, the conflicts took form of an arms race, involving nuclear and conventional weapons, networks of military alliance, economic warfare and not least the space race. All this reaches its magnitude in 1962, when a real war was diverted in the last second in what could turn out to be a very critical situation, not only for the countries involved, but for the whole world.
The Cold War cycled through a series of high and low-tension years, ending in the period between 1989-1991.
4.5 Problem solving:
In the attempt of answering my problem, I have been circling around it, giving example of how it went wrong in Russia, to really try to understand it myself why exactly communism just couldn’t work in practise. Many of the smaller questions has been answered, such as why it didn’t work in Russia, but as I dug deeper, new questions started to emerge in the back of my head. For one thing, according to Marx, communism could only succeed in the most advanced capitalistic development, but communism never reached the industrial countries. Based upon this fact, Marxists claims that the requirement for the Modern communism’s second phase never really was present. So no country has never really got to the point of being communist. The first phase, in which many countries have tried to follow up on, is only the preliminary phase, which is defined as socialism. Does this mean, that if communism actually had reached the industrial countries that it probably could work in practise?
Before my meeting with Jostein Hansen, the thought of communism working in practise never even crossed my mind. Not because I didn’t want to believe that it could, but because I was under the impression of this being a fact. After the interview with Hansen, it occurred to me, that I have been looking at this problem from only one angle. So I decided to write about Cuba, as a good example of communism at its better side. What I eventually found out, as my research became more expanded, was that communism has always had great resistance from anti-communists all over the world; an example of this is the fall of Soviet Union and the Cold War. Also in today’s society it is the great world marked that sit with most of the power, and as they say: - Money equals power. To try to get communism into a capitalistic country is not only a difficult task, but also almost an impossible one. The opposition to communism in this world is too big, and the required revolution would only lead to more conflicts. So even if communism could work in practise, I’m sorry to say that it would never gain popularity among people, and therefore no such revolution would ever take place. But before I glorify communism too much, a lot of criticism has been pointed out to communism.
“ Many critics have stated that the form of governing that has been performed in a country where a communist party has been seated with the power, most take responsibility for millions of people being killed. Examples on this, is Soviet, North-Chorea and China. In response to this, communists claims that poverty, destitution and starvation have been reduced, and that the numbers are highly overrated.”
- Look under “ kritikk av kommunisme”
People has also said that Marxism in practise has shown to be an inefficient way to govern a country humanitarian and to the benefit for the equal citizen. According to anti-communists, communists states are believed to be totalitarian by nature, and that in Marxist theories, too much power is given to the state. This power is easily taken advantage of, and the consequences can lead to abuse of power, as it did in Soviet, when Stalin started executing any opponents of communism.
To specify my final conclusion, I guess I have to say that one of the main reasons why communism cant work in practise, is due to the fact that people cant be trusted, no matter how pure of heart. Power grows greed, and already there you’re long gone on the path to corruption and injustice. I think that this question varies from person to person, because if you ask a communist, there is no reason why communism can’t work in practise, but if you ask a capitalist, the list would be long to why it can’t work in practise. So I definitely think it is a personal question.
I once was told that there are always three sides to a story, your side, my side, and the actual truth. And the truth to my biggest and hardest question is still hidden to me, and I don’t feel I really have enough facts to really back up any conclusion.
Even though communism never fully has been performed in practice, there is no doubt in my mind, that at least the idea of it is good. Once in English class, we were asked what were more important, your family or humanity? The first thing that came across my mind was my family. What is life worth living without your family? The answer was wrong. It was humanity that was the most important. Why did I overlook that?
The idea of communism is good, yes, but it in the human nature to hold on to the good things that is delivered on silver platter. Why give half of it away, just so that somebody else could get a future to hold on to, when you yourself have a family to support? What if black years suddenly appeared, wouldn’t it be nice for some backup?
If there is something that I have learned during this project, it is that communism could be performed in practice, if not only everybody had the same way of thinking as me. In a communist society, it is never family first, always humanity and society on top. People need to indulge themselves sometimes, and in our selfishness we let greed get the better part of us. Hell, if Eve did it, why not us? Isn’t it only human?
Information taken from:
What is communism?
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- ”prinsipp-program for norges kommunitiske parti”
Information taken from:
- ”prinsipp-program for norges kommunitiske parti”
Interview with a communist
- Jostein Hansen
Communism in Russia
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Communism in Cuba
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The Cold War: why were the Americans so afraid of communism?
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