communism


I can say that while teaching in China I am enjoying the process of setting young and active minds on the correct path. To that end, I tell them:

1. The United States is a very strange country, unlike any other. For that reason, they should not generalise from the USA.

2. Europe is a very barbaric place, full of petty tribalisms.

3. Bourgeois (liberal) democracy is a dreadful system, best avoided (actually, they know this already).

4. Australia is neither a Western nor an Eastern country, since it is in the South.

5. Kangaroo meat is very good for you.

Since many of my students will be future government leaders and officials, I hope these items and more will have some effect.

However, I have also learnt a few things from them:

1. Communism is not a rational ideal that you then try to actualise.

2. Communism is not singular but multiple.

3. They work very hard and know much more about the rest of the world than the world knows about China.

4. One’s stomach is the best guide for travelling to different places.

5. Office hours mean I buy them lunch and we talk for more than four hours – about everything.

1. Constantly insist that Marxism is discredited, outdated, and totally dead and buried. Then proceed to build a lucrative career on beating that supposedly ‘dead’ horse for the rest of your working life.

2. Remember, any unnatural death that occurs under a ‘Communist’ regime is not only attributable to the leaders of the state, but also Marxism as an ideology. Ignore deaths that occur for the same reason in non-Communist states.

3. Communism or Marxism is whatever you want it to be. Feel free to label countries, movements, and regimes as ‘Communist’ regardless of things like actual goals, stated ideology, diplomatic relations, economic policy, or property relations.

4. If there was a conflict involving Communists, the conflict and all ensuing deaths can be laid at the feet of Communism. Be careful when applying this to WWII. Fascist movements who fought against the Soviets or Communist partisans are fine, but try not to openly praise Nazi Germany. Save that for private conversations if you must do so.

5. You decide what Marxism ‘really means,’ and who the rightful representatives of Communism were. Feign interest that Trotsky was somehow robbed of power by Stalin, despite the fact that you hate him as well.

6. Constantly talk about George Orwell. Quote from Animal Farm or 1984. Do not worry about the fact that Orwell never set foot in the Soviet Union and both of those books are novels.

7. Quote massive death tolls without regards to demographics or consistency. 3 million famine deaths? 7 million? 10 million? 100 million deaths total? You need not worry about anyone checking your work, which is good for you seeing that you probably haven’t done any.

8. Everyone ever arrested under a Communist regime was most likely innocent of any crime. Communists only arrested harmless poets and political prophets who had a beautiful message to share with the world.

9. Everything Stalin did or didn’t do had some sinister ulterior motive. Everything.

10. Keeping with the spirit of #9, remember that Stalin was an omnipotent being, perhaps an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu, who had full awareness of everything going on in the Soviet Union and total control over every occurrence which took place between 1924 and 1953. Everything that occurred during that time was the will of Stalin. Stalin knew the exact details of every criminal case that took place during that era and out of his boundless cruelty, had tons of innocent people shot for no reason regardless of where they were or their position in life. Being omnipotent, he was not dependent on information passed up from tens of thousands of subordinates.

11. Constantly attack ‘Communist’ regimes for actions that occur in capitalist regimes up to this very day.

12. Claim that Marxism is utopian because of its description of a possible future society. Alternately claim that Marxism failed because it never gave a detailed description of how a Communist society would look. Do not pay attention to the massive contradiction here.

13. Start referring to Marxism as being some kind of religious faith, Messianic, or whatever other spiritualist bullshit you can come up with. When people point out that you can draw similarities between virtually any political ideology and other religions, ignore them.

14. Remember the one-two anti-Communist attack: Attack the post-Stalin system on economic grounds, and claim it just doesn’t work. Since an informed opponent will most likely point out that actual socialist economics did indeed work during the Stalin era, and in fact worked very well, attack that era on human rights grounds.

15. Two words - Human nature. What is human nature? For your purposes, human nature is a quick explanation why political ideas or systems you don’t like are wrong.

16. Bolshevik revolutions were carried out with violence and bloodshed. Bourgeois revolutions were all carried out by democratic referendums, and there was no violence whatsoever.

17. Use words like ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ constantly. Do not accept any challenge to define these terms.

18. Communists can be for or against whatever is popular in your particular area. If you are preaching to a right-wing crowd, Communists are for degeneration and homosexuality. If you are preaching to a more mainstream audience, Communists were homophobic. Essentially, Communists are for moral degeneration and puritanical prudery at the same time. Again, do not notice the contradiction.

19. Constantly flog Stalin over the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, while totally ignoring massive support and collaboration with Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan on the part of America, Britain, and France, long before the war and even after in some ways. As usual, do not allow your opponent to examine the context of the non-aggression pact.

20. Praise the new-found ‘freedom’ of Eastern Europe. Ignore the massive depopulation via migration, plunging birthrates, huge alcohol and drug problems, political instability, civil wars, ethnic cleansing, sex trafficking and child prostitution, organized crime, high suicide rates, unemployment, disease, etc. Who cares about all that when you have freedom of speech?!

21. Constantly talk about the culture of fear in Communist nations, about that ‘knock on the door’ in the middle of the night. Ignore the ‘kick in your door in the middle of the night, stick a shotgun in your back, and haul your ass out of bed etc. because you are suspected of dealing,’ a normal occurrence in the American War on Drugs.

22. Attack Communists for suppression of religion. Attack Islamic fundamentalists for not being secular. What contradiction?!

23. Do not notice the irony that the US is currently fighting an incredibly expensive, losing war against an opponent which it funded, supported, and even handed its first victory in Afghanistan.

24. What should you say when confronted with all the continuing and often worsening problems in the world today, and asked for a solution? FREEDOM!! (Repeat as necessary until your opponent goes away)

25. Nothing from “Communists” can be trusted. Unless it somehow works in your favor, ala Khrushchev’s ‘Secret Speech’ from 1956, or anything Trotsky wrote.

26. Communist leaders were ‘paranoid’ for devoting so much time to security against counter-revolution. Ignore the mountains of evidence, including the restoration of capitalism in the East Bloc, that this threat was indeed real.

27. Communist regimes were never popular. If proof is presented in various cases to show otherwise, claim that the people were brainwashed. Make no effort to consider the budgetary and logistic constraints on such an undertaking.

28. Communist propaganda is crude and primitive. If someone mentions Red Dawn or worse, mentions the J. Edgar Hoover-endorsed comic book series known as The Godless Communists, run away.

29. Praise secularism in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘pluralism’ until faced with a Communist. Then play the religion card.

30. Atrocities and other bad things that happen under non-Communist regimes are the fault of individual ‘bad people’. Anything bad that happens under a ‘Communist’ regime is the fault of the ideology and system. And Stalin.

31. Being an anti-Communist means not having to have any sort of ideological consistency whatsoever. Preach populist left-wing pseudo-socialism 90% of the time, and then compare the capitalist system to ‘Stalin’s Russia’ (if you never really studied the subject, just read 1984 and Animal Farm). Bitch about capitalism 99% of the time, but balk when someone suggests Communism as an alternative. Far right wing Fascist? Constantly bitch about cultural degeneracy under capitalism, while remaining fanatically opposed to Marxism for no discernable reason save for your affinity for historic nationalism.

32. If you’re an anarchist, keep pointing out the ‘failure’ of Marxism while ignoring the fact that your ideology has a 100% failure rate throughout its entire history. Blame those failures on Communists, or stronger military powers. Ignore the fact that the most wonderful society is worthless if it can’t defend itself from reaction.

33. Neo-Nazi? Communism is Jewish!! Debate over.

34. Neo-Hippy? Tibet!

35. Constantly condemn the genocide that allegedly occurred under Mao, while ignoring the US’ relations with China established by Nixon, and the massive role capitalist China has played in the modern US economy. When you want to talk positively about China, it’s a capitalist country. If you need to criticize it, it’s still ‘Communist’.

36. Claim Marxism is not empirical. Neither are neo-liberalism, ‘democracy’, or ‘freedom’, but don’t worry about that.

37. Always insist that despite the location, country, historical era, past experience, and all other factors, Communists must want to recreate a modern-day copy of Stalin’s Russia, and all that entails according to you. Do not notice the inherent idiocy in this concept, such as your particular country being already industrialized, and not having a historical problem of severe backwardness.

38. Learn to use the magic word ‘totalitarian’. This word allows you to link two ideological opposites, Communism and Fascism.

39. Ignore the fact that socialist states experienced more economic problems parallel to the number of market reforms they made.

40. When challenged about numbers or historical context, resort to labels like ‘ruthless tyrant,’ ‘cruel murderer,’ and such. Remember, people like Stalin were mass-murderers because of all the people they killed, and we know they killed all those people because they were mass-murderers. It totally tracks!

originally by J. Slavinski, ht cp.

One of the most derided item in Marx’s works is the idea of primitive communism. To be sure, it has some problems, such as the narrative that moves from undifferentiation to differentiation. But did Marx pinpoint something all the same?

One of the discoveries I made in The Sacred Economy was the crucial role of what may be called the institutional form of subsistence survival in ancient Southwest Asia. Given that 90% of the sparse population was engaged in agriculture, this is the key to ancient economics. How did it operate? Typically, crops were grown via a system of land shares, reallocated every year or two by means of a village council or elders (and with much debate). These were long and non-contiguous strips that were reallocated depending on a range of factors. Animal husbandry focused on flocks of 2/3 sheep and 1/3 goats, regularly milked and culled for meat, fibre, and bone. Bovines were few and far between, since they need massive amounts of fodder and water. They were used for traction and lived until they dropped. In places with more water, pigs also appear. The focus was on optimal rather than maximal use of resources. Above all, there was little sense of private entrepreneurship, and the idea of private property is simply unhelpful. If people tried that, they simply wouldn’t survive. So, it’s not for nothing that Soviet-era Russian scholars of the ancient world called this the ‘village-commune.’

What is most intriguing is that the subsistence survival regime was by far the most stable. Petty potentates might come and go, their estates might drain labour for a time, hated cockroaches (tax collectors-usurers-merchants-diplomats-landlords all rolled into one) might appear for a time. But given half a chance, people would hasten the destruction of unstable little and big kingdoms. They preferred subsistence-survival, the dominant economic form in periods of what is, from the perspective of the ruling class, called economic ‘crisis’. In the politically and economically marginal zone of the Southern Levant, where Israel appeared belatedly on the scene, subsistence survival was the persistent form.

But did this approach end some time in the first millennium BCE? Not at all. It was still present in Russia into the twentieth century, as also in Iraq, Greater Syria and Greece, to name but a few. What about now?  Recently, I was in a village in Transylvania, Romania. Here the capitalist ‘shock therapy’ of the 1990s has led to deindustrialisation and reagriculturalisation. In response, old and trusted methods have returned. My host and I came across a herd of goats and sheep. I inquired about their numbers and was told they were 1/3 goats and 2/3 sheep, with regular culls and an optimal size of about 40. And Christina sent me this link to a story from the Andalusian region in Spain, concerning the village of Marinaleda. Since the 1970s, they too have developed a village-commune, operating in terms of the long history of subsistence survival that I outlined above. Of course, it has been reconfigured in light of wider socio-economic circumstances, but the basic principles remain the same. Nowadays, the villagers call this a version of socialism.

A socialist mural in Marinaleda.

With thanks to Koryo Tours. The first is ‘North Korea in 2 minutes’:

The second is ‘Comrade Kim Goes Flying’:

Comrade Iosef was quite the orthodox socialist, it appears. In his article, ‘Briefly About Disagreements in the Party‘ (1905  - it actually goes on for quite a while), he subscribes to the position laid out in the Erfurt Program of 1891, and then elaborated in Kautsky’s book, The Class Struggle (Erfurt Program). That is, the party is the result of a union between the working class and socialist theory. It’s a position Lenin also followed, especially in What Is To Be Done? But Stalin doesn’t mind the occasional literary flourish, such as this one concerning the ship and its compass:

What is scientific socialism without the working-class movement? — A compass which, if left unused, will only grow rusty and then will have to be thrown overboard.

What is the working-class movement without socialism?—A ship without a compass which will reach the other shore in any case, but would reach it much sooner and with less danger if it had a compass.

Combine the two and you will get a splendid vessel, which will speed straight towards the other shore and reach its haven unharmed.

Combine the working-class movement with socialism and you will get a Social-Democratic movement which will speed straight towards the ‘promised land’ (Collected Works, vol. 1, p. 104).

Belarus is a kick-arse country, usually off the radar for most. What’s so good about it? We arrived on a slow train from Moscow to find a country that is a model for what the Eastern Bloc should have done after 1989. Belarus had the balls to resists the vicious and retributive ‘shock therapy’ imposed by Western Europe and the USA in the 1990s. The result: nearly all industry is state-owned, unemployment is around 0.6 percent, Stalin-era buildings define a city like Minsk, the place is well-maintained and feels great to visit. In short, it is still very much a socialist country. More on Belarus soon, but a few choice morsels.

Lenin stands proudly outside the government buildings in Minsk:

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New constructions boast the USSR, such as this mural from the metro system (there’s plenty more around Minsk):

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The government continues good old soviet propaganda, like this around the construction site for the world ice hockey championships in 2014:

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They still have the KGB! This glorious building – the KGB headquarters – sits right on the main thoroughfare, so you can simply stroll past.

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And in a more reflective moment, you can find yourself at the crossroads between Marx and Lenin:

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If you want to see eastern European communism in the 21st century, get yourself to Belarus. We’ll definitely be back. (ht cp)

Having just arrived in Minsk by slow train from Moscow, I found myself once again thanking God for communism. Apart from the hammer and sickles liberally sprinkled throughout Belarus, you’d never have had this without communism:

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That shaving set is definitely coming home with me.

What should one do in Moscow? Apart from paying your respects to Lenin (done, with a story to come), the next most important thing is to tour Stalin’s seven sisters. There’s plenty of Stalin-era buildings in town, but these are truly magnificent.

Start from the Peking Hotel (yet another item of Stalin Baroque) and head in an anti-clockwise direction. In the distance, you can already see the Kudrinskaya Square Building:

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Closer up, it towers above:

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These are apartments, mind you:

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And they have the type of detail that should be on any decent construction:

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Within walking distance is the Hotel Ukraina:

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It makes some of the later high-rises nearby look like cheap efforts lacking in imagination:

Next and also within walking distance is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs;

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It too has some lovely detail:

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At this point, it’s probably a good idea to take the metro to the fourth sister, Moscow State University:

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Obviously, designers of universities elsewhere in the world forgot to include these necessary items:

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On the metro again for the next sister, the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment, home of communal apartments:

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The last two of the sisters are close by one another, although metro is probably the best way to get to them:

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The whole area is festooned with communist names and buildings. The metro is called Komsomolskaya, the square outside is Leningradskaya, as is the hotel itself:

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And here’s the hotel itself:

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The final sister is known as the Red Gates Building and once housed the Ministry of Construction of Heavy Industry:

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Apart from yet more wonderful detail …

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All in all, not a bad complement to Red Petrograd.

What’s next? Moscow’s communist metro stations perhaps, or Minsk.

Want to see Stalin’s seven sisters in Moscow? Or the well-kept soviet architecture of Minsk? Or even the fascinating Lenin museum in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital? Comtourist is the place to go, dedicated to all things communist, past and present. Add to this the useful worldwide information on train travel with The Man in Seat 61 and you can hardly go wrong.

One of the most enjoyable parts of spending time in former and current communist countries is the way space is produced. I have tried to express this in my piece called “Berlin Epiphany.” Different modes of production and social formations produce space in tellingly distinct ways. Apart from architecture and spatial layout, you also find moments of glorious artwork. For instance, if you walk away from the commercial kitsch of Alexanderplatz in Berlin and look up and around, much of the communist era artwork is still to be found.

The first is a bronze mural depicting breakthroughs in space exploration and the birth of a new humanity:

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In a little more detail:

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Reaching to a new future:

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This one surrounds the Haus des Lehrers, and was designed by Walter Womacka, one of the most outstanding artists of the GDR: 

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Or in detail, where you find celebrations of nature and sensuality:

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Side by side with workers and engineers:

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Atomic research and the dove of peace:

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Children curious about science and nature:

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Around the corner it goes, encircling the building:

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Full of space age research, medicine and telecommunications:

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Art and industry:

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And then the next long side of the building:

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With sport and ethnic diversity:

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Brought together under the red flag:

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One thing …

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… leads to another:

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