Skip to comments.Why you're wrong about communism: 7 huge misconceptions about it (and capitalism)
Posted on 02/04/2014 5:40:41 AM PST by Travis McGee
As the commentary around the recent deaths of Nelson Mandela, Amiri Baraka and Pete Seeger made abundantly clear, most of what Americans think they know about capitalism and communism is arrant nonsense. This is not surprising, given our countrys history of Red Scares designed to impress that anti-capitalism is tantamount to treason. In 2014, though, we are too far removed from the Cold War-era threat of thermonuclear annihilation to continue without taking stock of the hype weve been made, despite Harry Allens famous injunction, to believe. So, here are seven bogus claims people make about communism and capitalism.
1. Only communist economies rely on state violence.
Obviously, no private equity baron worth his weight in leveraged buyouts will ever part willingly with his fortune, and any attempt to achieve economic justice (like taxation) will encounter stiff opposition from the ownership class. But state violence (like taxation) is inherent in every set of property rights a government can conceivably adopt including those that allowed the aforementioned hypothetical baron to amass said fortune.
In capitalism, competing ownership claims are settled by the states willingness to use violence to exclude all but one claimant. If I lay claim to one of David Kochs mansions, libertarian that he is, hes going to rely on big government and its guns to set me right. He owns that mansion because the state says he does and threatens to imprison anyone who disagrees. Where there isnt a state, whoever has the most violent power determines who gets the stuff, be that a warlord, a knight, the mafia or a gang of cowboys in the Wild West. Either by vigilantes or the state, property rights rely on violence.
This is true both of personal possessions and private property, but it is important not to confuse the two. Property implies not a good, but a title deeds, contracts, stocks, bonds, mortgages, &c. When Marxists talk of collectivizing ownership claims on land or the means of production, we are in the realm of property; when Fox Business Channel hosts move to confiscate my tie, we are in the realm of personal possessions. Communism necessarily distributes property universally, but, at least as far as this communist is concerned, can still allow you to keep your smartphone. Deal?
2. Capitalist economies are based on free exchange.
The mirror-image of the oppressive communism myth is the liberatory capitalism one. The idea that were all going around making free choices all the time in an abundant market where everyones needs get met is patently belied by the lived experience of hundreds of millions of people. Most find ourselves constantly stuck between competing pressures and therefore stressed out, exhausted, lonely, and in search of meaning. as though were not in control of our lives.
We arent; the market is. If you dont think so, try and exit the market. The origin of capitalism was depriving British peasants of their access to land (seizure of property, you might call it), and therefore their means of subsistence, making them dependent on the market for their survival. Once propertyless, they were forced to flock to the dreck, drink and disease of slum-ridden cities to sell the only thing they had their capacity to use their brains and muscles to work or die. Just like them, the vast majority of people today are deprived of access to the resources we need to flourish, though they exist in abundant quantities, so as to force us to work for a boss who is trying to get rich by paying us less and working us harder.
Even that boss (the apparent victor in the free exchange) isnt free: the market places imperatives on the ownership class to relentlessly accumulate wealth and develop the forces of production or else fail. Capitalists are compelled to support oppressive regimes and wreck the planet, as a matter of business, even as they protest good personal intentions.
And thats just the principle of the system. The USs particular brand of capitalism required exterminating a continents worth of indigenous people and enslaving millions of kidnapped Africans. And all the capitalist industry was only possible because white women, considered the property of their fathers and husbands, were performing the invisible tasks of child-rearing and housework, without remuneration. Three cheers for free exchange.
3. Communism killed 110 million* people for resisting dispossession.
*The number cited is as consistent as it is rooted in sound research; i.e., not.
Greg Gutfeld, one of the hosts of Fox News The Five and a historical scholar of zero renown, recently advanced the position that only the threat of death can prop up a left-wing dream, because no one in their right mind would volunteer for this crap. Hence, 110 million dead. In declaring this, Gutfeld and his ilk insult the suffering of the millions of people who died under Stalin, Mao, and other 20th Century Communist dictators. Making up a big-sounding number of people and chalking their deaths up to some abstract communism is no way to enact a humanistic commitment to victims of human rights atrocities.
For one thing, a large number of the people killed under Soviet communism werent the kulaks everyone pretends to care about but themselves communists. Stalin, in his paranoid cruelty, not only had Russian revolutionary leaders assassinated and executed, but indeed exterminated entire communist parties. These people werent resisting having their property collectivized; they were committed to collectivizing property. It is also worth remembering that the Soviets had to fight a revolutionary war against, among others, the US which, as the American Revolution is enough to show, doesnt mainly consist of group hugs. They also faced (and heroically defeated) the Nazis, who were not an ocean away, but right on their doorstep.
So much for the USSR. The most horrifying episode in 20th Century official Communism was the Great Chinese Famine, its death toll difficult to identify, but surely in the tens of millions. Several factors evidently contributed to this atrocity, but central to it was Maos Great Leap Forward, a disastrous combination of applied pseudoscience, stat-juking, and political persecution designed to transform China into an industrial superpower in the blink of an eye. The experiments results were extremely grim, but to claim that the victims died because they, in their right minds, would not volunteer for a left-wing dream is ludicrous. Famine is not a uniquely left-wing problem.
4. Capitalist governments dont commit human rights atrocities.
Whatever ones assessment of the crimes committed by Communist leaders, it is unwise for capitalisms cheerleaders to play the body-count game, because if people like me have to account for the gulag and the Great Sparrow campaign, theyll have to account for the slave trade, indigenous extermination, Late Victorian Holocausts and every war, genocide and massacre carried out by the US and its proxies in the effort to defeat communism. Since the pro-capitalist set cares so deeply for the suffering of the Russian and Chinese masses, perhaps theyll even want to account for the millions of deaths resulting from those countries transitions to capitalism.
It should be intuitive that capitalism, which glorifies rapid growth amidst ruthless competition, would produce great acts of violence and deprivation, but somehow its defenders are convinced that it is always and everywhere a force for righteousness and liberation. Let them try to convince the tens of millions of people who die of malnutrition every year because the free market is incapable of engineering a situation in which less than half of the worlds food is thrown away.
The 100 million deaths that are perhaps most important to focus on right now are the ones that international human rights organization DARA projected will die climate-borne deaths between 2012 and 2030. 100 million more will follow those, and they will not take 18 years to die. Famine like the human species has never known is in the offing because the free market does not price carbon and oil-extracting capitalist firms have, since the collapse of the USSR, become sovereigns of their own. The most virulent anti-communists have a very handy, if morally disgraceful, way of treating this mass extinction event: they deny that its happening.
5. 21st Century American communism would resemble 20th century Soviet and Chinese horrors.
Before their revolutions, Russia and China were pre-industrial, agricultural, largely illiterate societies whose masses were peasants spread out over truly vast expanses of land. In the United States today, robots make robots, and less than 2% of population works in agriculture. These two states of affairs are incalculably dissimilar. The simple invocation of the former therefore has no value as an argument about the future of the American economy.
For me, communism is an aspiration, not an immediately achievable state. It, like democracy and libertarianism, is utopian in that it constantly strives toward an ideal, in its case the non-ownership of everything and the treatment of everything including culture, peoples time, the very act of caring, and so forth as dignified and inherently valuable rather than as commodities that can be priced for exchange. Steps towards that state of affairs neednt include anything as scary as the wholesale and immediate abolition of markets (after all, markets predate capitalism by several millennia and communists love a good farmers market). Rather, I contend they can even include reforms with support among broadly ideologically divergent parties.
Given the technological, material, and social advances of the last century, we could expect an approach to communism beginning here and now to be far more open, humane, democratic, participatory and egalitarian than the Russian and Chinese attempts managed. Id even argue it would be easier now than it was then to construct a set of social relations based on fellowship and mutual aid (as distinct from capitalisms, which are characterized by competition and exclusion) such as would be necessary to allow for the eventual withering away of the state that libertarians fetishize, without replaying the Middle Ages (only this time with drones and metadata).
6. Communism fosters uniformity.
Apparently, lots of people are unable to distinguish equality from homogeneity. Perhaps this derives from the tendency of people in capitalist societies to view themselves primarily as consumers: the dystopic fantasy is a supermarket wherein one state-owned brand of food is available for all items, and its all in red packaging with yellow letters.
But people do a lot more than consume. One thing we do a huge amount of is work (or, for millions of unemployed Americans, try to and are not allowed). Communism envisions a time beyond work, when people are free, as Marx wrote, 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 without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. In that way, communism is based on the total opposite of uniformity: tremendous diversity, not just among people, but even with in a single persons occupation.
That so many great artists and writers have been Marxists suggest that the production of culture in such a society would breed tremendous individuality and offer superior avenues for expression. Those artists and writers might have thought of communism as an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all, but you might want to consider it an actual instantiation of universal access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You wont even notice the red packaging with yellow letters!
7. Capitalism fosters individuality.
Instead of allowing all people to follow their entrepreneurial spirit into the endeavors that fulfill them, capitalism applauds the small number of entrepreneurs who capture large portions of mass markets. This requires producing things on a mass scale, which imposes a double-uniformity on society: tons and tons of people all purchase the same products, and tons and tons of people all perform the same labor. Such individuality as flourishes amid this system is often extremely superficial.
Have you seen the suburban residential developments that the housing boom shat out all over this country? Have you seen the grey-paneled cubicles, bathed in fluorescent light, clustered in office parks so indistinct as to be disorienting? Have you seen the strip malls and service areas and sitcoms? Our ability to purchase products from competing capitalist firms has not produced an optimally various and interesting society.
As a matter of fact, most of the greatest art under capitalism has always come from people who are oppressed and alienated (see: the blues, jazz, rock & roll, and hip-hop). Then, thanks to capitalism, it is homogenized, marketed, and milked for all its value by the entrepreneurs sitting at the top of the heap, stroking their satiated flanks in admiration of themselves for getting everyone beneath them to believe that we are free.
(Pro-communist stooges at Salon are reaching out to a new generation of idiots.)
The fruits of socialist indoctrination in our public schools.
All the communists I have known spit and sputter when you ask them to name one (just ONE) communist system that has ever worked.
So much crap in that article...need to call a big honey wagon.
All those horrible things attributed to Communists? Those weren’t the result of the real, pure Communism that our teachers are trying to teach us about. The future Communist societies will be the nice ones Karl Marx wrote about. After all, even Microsoft Windows didn’t get it right the first and second time.
Where does this guy point to all of the successful Communist Nations?
Good to see the folks as Salon have exposed their COMMUNIST IDEALS.
Yes, you Salon fools try and tell this to the Ukrainians.
Captilism relies on freedom.
Communism takes it away.
Wow! Someone has a jumbo koolaid sipper and fills it frequently. A poster boy for cognitive dissonance. How do some Americans get so lost? Or, did he just have a tough daddy he’s still trying to hurt back?
What a novel idea!
salon.com isn’t worth the money they pay yearly to keep the site online.
Well, it is great in concept. Everyone works for the benefit of the other. I sounds great.
Except in groups of more than two it doesn’t work. Because we are inheritly competitive by nature. We strive to survive. My goodness, just watch animal planet and you will see how animals are hard wired.
The typical distortions and twisting to try and convince people that communism and statism are good things. This yob knows nothing about freedom and liberty.
Thinking “is this the best you have?”... Well, this is salon, so yes, maybe this is the best they have.
A liberal friend told my husband, when he mentioned the millions of people who were murdered in the name of communism - “Communism has never been implemented properly.’
Communism is built on child like innocence. The very idea that it is possible to amass vast power without criminals worming their way in makes as much sense as leaving a thousand carcasses to putrify and not expecting buzzards to circle. Communism is always corrupt because it depends upon people addicted to power to do the right thing when they are given absolute power. Government authority is the well spring of corruption.
Socialism is simply the default choice of the stupid. Only a moron unwillingly or unable to look beyond the superficial falls for the idiocy of marxist “thought”.
I was just thinking about that. Communism is supposed to be some sort of science or such. But it “has never been implemented properly”. So, they made all the hypothesis and all the testing and such from... nothing at all. The “never been implemented” bit is enough to make it a fraud.
We have a word for this kind of writing: drivel.
It should also be mentioned if only in passing that each of the misconceptions listed are all ridiculous red herrings. I have never heard anyone make quite these carefully worded assertions.
“For me, communism is an aspiration”
Another one in for a prison sentence when America rises up. The pathway to good intentions is paved with gravestones. This disgusting piece of subhuman garbage is another Stalin waiting to happen.
Looks like FoxNews is to blame for the failure(?) or misunderstanding of communism or something. Just like the “lyin’ king” tried to blame the “bloggers and talking heads” for all the uh, “mis-statements” supposedly attributed to him. With a straight face and video evidence, denial is the only way to go. Guess mr.salon has never seen beneath the surface of communism and probably doesn’t care to. Wonder if he went on a castro approved tour of Cuba where the “handlers” show you how great things are there.
Thanks for posting this article from Salon. It never ceases to amaze me how people intentionally remain so ignorant of reality. The Holodomor in the Ukraine, has for years been touted as a mere accident of collectivization. In fact, it was the intentional genocide of 25% of the Ukrainian population (over 8 million men, women, and children) ordered by Stalin and personally supervised by the “great reformer” Nikita Khrushchev. I challenge anyone to read THE BLACK BOOK OF COMMUNISM, written by former believers in communism...It details the deaths of the over 100 million people exterminated by communist systems beginning with Lenin and extending through the regimes of Mao, Pol-pot, Chiochescu, Ho Chi Min, Castro, and many throughout Eastern Europe, Africa, and Central America. When Reagan called it the Evil Empire, he got it so right.
Even my dyed-in-the-wool whackjob sister doesn’t endorse full-blown communism, and that’s saying something.
Communism, and socialism, what a joke. You can dress them up and make them sound sooo appealing to the uninformed and ill-informed. But at the end of the day everyone that knows anything about history, economics, and government knows that communism and socialism suck. Plain and simple they are demonstrably some of the worst social/economic/government systems for societies to adopt. Perhaps only evil dictatorship and utter chaos are worse.
Great post. Thanks. I’ve only read the great comments.
Individual vs. collective BUMP!
There's a reason for that. In every society, regardless of economic and political structure there's always been a pyramid of wealth roughly described by the Pareto (power-law) distribution. That means that there's always a "1%" and a larger population of the less well-off. Jealousy has always been a powerful emotion, and Communism in its revolutionary stage has been persistent in inflaming it.
Once communism is established, you have a new class with wealth and power, justified by their role as trustees of the proletariat. Look at the Soviet apparatchiks or the Chinese CCP "princelings."
They don't have functional bullshit filters to protect them from teachers and the media.
Aww, Come on, Travis...
Whoopie Goldberg said “some us believe, ya know, communism isn’t all THAT bad...”
It’s just that the right people haven’t been in charge, that’s all!
We’re experiencing “compassionate communism” right now - you know, the way Marx and Engels REALLY REALLY REALLY meant it to be....
...and of course the “/sarc” tag ends my previous... as if I really needed it...
55 million dead from mass shootings, labor camps, forced exile and deliberate famine between 1949 and 1976--the time of Mao Zedong's rule of China--is probably a very conservative estimate, for we may never really know how many Chinese died in this period. And the Cultural Revolution caused enormous harm of China's great historical and cultural heritage.
If Communism is so great, why did they shoot those that tried to leave?
In a very narrow spot on the Danube between Slovakia and Austria, the old building with gun ramps is still there as a memory of soldiers shooting those that tried to swim over to freedom.
Typical communist daydream, “we are all free to be a hunter in the morning”.....nobody is working in this example. So who is producing to provide food and shelter if we are all busy just “being”?
These brilliant dreamers just never think about that part.
Grin, I know you're being sarcastic here. That's one of the traps "modern" self-proclaimed intellectuals fall into. They believe communism and socialism have failed repeatedly (100% failure rate at making happy, prosperous societies) due to mistakes made by the people trying it.
Today's commie intellectual believes (quite falsely) that they themselves are soooo much smarter and wiser than those who have gone before (self-aggrandizing ego trip). They think communism and socialism have only failed because the right people weren't in charge. Of course, they believe themselves to be "the right people" to lead us poor slobs. They honestly think they know what's best for everyone. I know, laughable right? It would be knee-slapping funny if they weren't actually serious about that. They think only they know best.
Article is garbage. Communism and socialism make it acceptable to run over the basic human rights of individuals. Look what our “benevolent” government is doing to individuals and small businesses now. It is criminal. . . and we have not quite gotten to full blown communism yet. IMHO, we are socialist now.
You have to concede one point. With 60 million American’s killed in the womb because one Supreme Court justice found murder to be a privacy issue, the USA will take its place as one of the worst killers of innocent citizens in history.
A liberal friend told my husband, when he mentioned the millions of people who were murdered in the name of communism - Communism has never been implemented properly.
You mean in the future people will give up their freedom, their rights and all the worldy posessions willingly and peacfully all in the name of communism??? The big problem communism has is keeping the communication of the opposition quiet. Even tougher to do now. North Korea imprisons and kills daily in order to remain communist.
It would seem that the fall of the Iron Curtain was a Phyrric victory for the West. We thought we were reintroducing (and in some cases, introducing for the first time) freedom in those parts of the world, but in actuality we were releasing the legacy of Lenin and Stalin from its cage.
Articles of this nature come with a built in fatal flaw.
The flaw is in presenting the notion that capitalism is contrary to communism. Capitalism is present in all forms of government. The difference worthy of comparison is in discovering who owns and controls the capital under the different forms of government.
Nations with Communist governments do not allow private ownership or control of capital.
Americas constitutionally guaranteed Republican form of government protects private ownership of capital.
There are four aspects of ownership necessary for the ownership of property to be full and complete. These four are title, control, use, and the ability to dispose of what a person owns.
In a free market economy, these aspects are unrestrained so long as the owner does not infringe on the legitimate rights and claims of others. True ownership of property and freedom go hand in hand. They always have.
Now lets compare the two systems of capitalism, monopolistic state-controlled capitalism and competitive free enterprise capitalism.
Private ownership and control of capital exist in the competitive free enterprise system. In the monopolistic system, private or state title of ownership to the capital exists but more importantly, the state or the elite few who control the state control all the capital.
Today’s commie intellectual believes (quite falsely) that they themselves are soooo much smarter and wiser than those who have gone before (self-aggrandizing ego trip). They think communism and socialism have only failed because the right people weren’t in charge. Of course, they believe themselves to be “the right people” to lead us poor slobs. They honestly think they know what’s best for everyone. I know, laughable right? It would be knee-slapping funny if they weren’t actually serious about that. They think only they know best.
So did the communist before them. Today’s communist will behave exactly like yesterday’s communist if given the chance. They have to kill and oppress other-wise the strong and enterprising will rise up and kill communism again.
Socialism, fascism and communism are based on the 7 deadly sins.
I suppose he refers to the National Socialist German Workers Party.
I also recommend Gulag by Anne Applebaum. Not worthy for a Pulitzer, and the author did little to amplify the evil of the Gulag system. It does show the utter destruction of the prisoners' souls and humanity.
Add to the reading list MAO, The Unknown Story by Jung Chang. It goes into great detail, not only about Mao's moral depravity, but also his willingness to sacrifice as many Chinese as it took for him to maintain power.
The problem with this Salon author is that in his opinion he excuses all examples of communism as being untrue to Marx, and condemns every problem with capitalism in the next breath. The systems under which we live will never be pure and are subject to the forces of human nature. It takes an exceeding poor understanding of human nature to think that communism will every work, because collectivism doesn't reward hard work. Collectivism rewards just enough work to not get noticed.
“They believe communism and socialism have failed repeatedly (100% failure rate at making happy, prosperous societies) due to mistakes made by the people trying it.”
If that’s what they believe, they believe a theory about society that has no real people on it. Sounds like the old joke about the physicist making a cow produce more milk: “first, we assume a spherical cow”
Sooooo, it wasn’t communism that killed 110 million people and continues to enslave and impoverish them in Cuba?
Wow, I’m so relieved. Let’s be communists then, and be happy.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.