March 16, 2005
The fatal flaw in communismBy James Arlandson
Once in a while I hear a student or another sincere thinker assert that communism in its purest form is good, but that no society has yet practiced it purely. If a society were to do so, it would make capitalism look like, well, Soviet and Eastern European communism of only a decade and a half ago.
Conversely, it is also asserted that capitalism is intrinsically bad, but somehow the US by blind luck has managed to pull off a bad system—barely.
Are these two opposite assertions true? No, and here's why.
Capitalism is founded on freedom, with the brakes applied to it only a little, so that it does not run out of control downhill. On the other hand, communism—turned—socialism in the US is founded on control and restriction, with a little of the brakes released, so that it does not do more than crawl downhill.
Communism, which today has morphed into socialism in Europe and the US (except for a few diehards at American universities, though communist Parties are still strong in Europe), is therefore fatally flawed, and the American electorate is currently in a fight, with American socialism in one corner and American capitalism in the other.
We would do well to examine—if only lightly—the claims of original Marxism, found in Marx's Communist Manifesto, published in 1848 in London. To do so is to see clearly the differences between Democrats and Republicans today, though the Democrats should not be considered communists, but rather controllers.
Marx states his goal for the proletariat (workers or the 'little guys') clearly over and against the bourgeoisie (the owners or the powerful):
The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e. the proletariat organized as the ruling class, and to increase total productive force as rapidly as possible.
This excerpt says that the new ruling class—the proletariat—will 'wrest' (read: take by force if necessary) all capital from the rich and powerful, and they will centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, or in themselves. They also want jobs 'as rapidly as possible.'
This policy is riddled with problems. Even though Marx says that this revolution is done 'by degrees' or slowly over time, he says in the next paragraph that the control must be carried out by 'despotic inroads on the rights of property,' in other words, a revolution by despotism. Marx's claim also assumes that the proletariat will do a better job at running the economy. Is this necessarily true? Where is the fatal flaw in this belief?
Marx then lists ten measures that must be implemented in the new economy, but we list only some. A quick analysis follows.
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
Marx would like the State to control all private ownership. Today in America this is untenable, and no Democrat would dare espouse this view. However, the more that the government can control corporations and ownership and hinder new production by heavy taxation, then the results are similar (though not identical). The State gets to keep the 'rents of land' (high taxes) for 'public purposes' (the State redistributes the revenue). Furthermore, today, the leftist environmentalists get to control private ownership, sometimes by merely declaring a new animal as endangered. The landowner is paralyzed. He cannot develop his land, and he cannot sell it. So what is the fatal flaw in this measure? The 'who.' Who 'abolishes' property or 'applies' rents of land? A comrade in a soviet? A bureaucrat? A judge?
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
A graduated tax is not necessarily so bad if it is done equitably, because the wealthy must pay their fair share, and they do in America today—except for Teresa Heinz and other mega—rich grandees who can afford elaborate trusts and other highly structured ownership and income—producing measures. It is the self—made entrepreneurs and professionals who attain affluence that bear the brunt of progressive taxation. However, given the need to confiscate wealth for redistribution (see item #1), the US government must not hamstring the rich, the ones who advance the economy by entrepreneurship. Can the government resist strangling the rich?
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
This means that the rich cannot pass along their wealth, supposedly to prevent the economy remaining in the hands of the few and perpetuating the status quo. But the desire of parents to pass—on a legacy to their children, whether this legacy be values, reputation, religion, or property, is one of the most powerful of humanity's instincts. This measure and its implementation by humans restrict freedom, which is the fatal flaw in communism—turned—socialism.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
If anyone flees the country or disagrees with the government to the point of fomenting a rebellion, then someone—a government bureaucrat—gets to confiscate his land. The measure is dripping with irony, for communism throughout the decades has used confiscation to impoverish dissidents. This is the new despotism, which is untenable here in the US under current conditions, thankfully, though it is not so farfetched, as noted, to see the control of land by hard line environmentalists in cooperation with leftist politicians as an attempt to wrest away ownership of land from the citizenry.
The next three measures, nos. 5, 6, and 7, demand more state control in the nouns 'centralization' (twice) and 'extension.' But who centralizes and extends? The State is an abstraction for humans working in it and forming it by passing laws restricting the economy. Only these specific humans determine destiny. This is the fatal flaw in communism—turned—socialism: people, who are driven by their own self—interest and their private motives.
Finally, measures 8 and 9 speak establishing 'industrial armies' and distributing the 'population over the country.' This is precisely what Stalin did to his people. He established industrial armies and distributed people to new areas to work in factories and farms.
Communism and to a lesser extent socialism are founded on control. And control is exercised by people. And people are flawed. Simple logic tells us so.
(1) All humans are flawed and short—sighted.
We could insert any group in the second premise, the aristocrats, the bourgeoisie, or the bureaucrats, and the problem of controlling the economy does not go away.
On the other hand, Adam Smith, the eighteenth—century economist, speaks of an 'invisible hand' that guides a free economy made up of millions of free individuals who are motivated by enlightened self—interest. Centralization of money and power cannot happen in these conditions. However, since these individuals are also flawed, they must be reined in by laws, in case they do not conduct business in an enlightened way, but follow instead their self—interest alone. But the foundation of this capitalism is freedom, unlike communism—turned—socialism.
Applying this brief analysis to today is not difficult.
Though the Democrats today are far from being communists, they are not so far from being socialists; indeed some of them already are, in the European style. This explains to a large degree why they want as much control over our lives as possible. For example, they want to control the education of children (measure ten in Marx's list) through powerful teachers unions. They want to control property in the name of protecting the environment. They cry incessantly and shrilly about taxing the rich and protecting the worker and the immigrant from the mean entrepreneur. They appeal to the UN, the bastion of leftist politics and philosophy. The far left, more and more representing the Democratic Party (note how Michael Moore sat next to Carter at the Democratic Convention) protest against the Iraq War in the style of the 1960s, and volunteer to become human shields to protect Saddam Hussein; but they withdraw themselves as shields when the Iraqis went to the voting booths to exercise their new freedom. Is freedom to them like kryptonite to Superman?
We are in a tug—o—war in this nation, between the right—of—center and left—of—center, which moves farther to the left each month. Fortunately, economic freedom is winning out, but just barely: 52% in the last election.
Jim Arlandson (PhD) teaches world religions and introductory philosophy at a college in southern California. He has written a book, Women, Class, and Society in Early Christianity (Hendrickson, 1997)