March 5, 2010
On Communism part I

by Veritas Justitia 05.MAR.10

It would be as well in the run-up to our next general election to try to promote some clarity on some of the ideas that are so casually tossed around regarding political systems. It appears that the only acquaintance many people have with the nature of communism is the caricature painted by the US during the years of the Cold War. Few have done any reading on the subject. Fewer still can make the distinction between communism and socialism.{{more}} But in point of fact, the world has moved on – although some people remain stubbornly mired in the past – and even these labels are all but obsolete.

There is nothing inherently repugnant about communism. The main goals of communism are to maximise social justice and reduce social inequities to a minimum. Few sane people can quarrel with those goals. It recognises that these ends can only be achieved through state ownership of the means of production and central planning – that is to say by largely abolishing private ownership. And it is at this point that communism runs afoul of the innate human traits of greed, acquisitiveness and individualism or selfishness.

It should be noted that “communism” refers to an economic system while “democracy” is a political system – a way of administering a polity, a political entity – i.e. a nation or state. In practice, all communist states have been dictatorships or oligarchies (rule by a few). Some as in Cuba do have elections, but these do not change the Head of State.

Communist systems are portrayed as repressive for the simple reason that people will not in general give up what they have in order that their neighbour might be better off. It takes a very firm hand to restrain natural human greed and maintain an egalitarian distribution of wealth. Another very emotive factor has been that communism in Russia and China has been anti-religious or atheistic. However this has never been the case in Cuba, where the church has not been targeted in any way and people have been allowed to worship freely.

Those who have espoused communism have generally been motivated by a revulsion at the poverty, social exclusion and exploitation of the vast majority of people in their societies juxtaposed with the obscene wealth of the very few. To put it another way, capitalism and communism are based on fundamentally different value systems. The values underpinning communism are fairness, justice and equality, while those underpinning capitalism are wealth, greed and every man for himself. In the capitalist system wealth means power and the wealthy wield that power so as to ensure that ever more wealth accrues to themselves (think business tycoons and bankers). This is viewed as the natural order of things. Anyone who believes that “the people” wield ultimate power is seriously deluded.

To be sure, the praxis of communism has diverged from the theory – but this is equally true of the capitalist so-called democracies. The problem has been the attempt to radically transform societies in Europe and Asia along communist lines has in practice resulted in harsh repression and untold hardship and misery for most citizens. On the other hand, there have been equally brutal and repressive regimes (and many more of them) that were capitalistic… frequently in Latin America. The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn is that the important thing is not merely the system but the quality of the leaders.

The fact is that most civilized countries … even the US…are not totally one or the other. Most European countries are democratic socialist. It is only the US which is determined to force a quite artificial and simplistic polarization in this as in other issues. In the 21st century it is past time to look behind the labels to the reality of how we govern ourselves and manage our resources. We can learn a great deal from Cuba.

In the final analysis, it may well be that the requirements of social justice and equity are fundamentally incompatible with untrammeled individual liberty.