This article was written for the Unz Review
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 did mark the end of the longest experiment in Communism in recent history. Many saw this event as the proof that Communism (or Marxism-Leninism, I use these interchangeably here) was not a viable ideology. After all, if in Russia Communism was formally ended in 1991, the Chinese quietly shifted away from it too, replacing it with a uniquely Chinese brand of capitalism. Finally, none of the ex-Soviet “allies” chose to stick to the Communist ideology as soon as they recovered their freedom. Even Chavez’ brand of Communism resulted in a completely bankrupt Venezuela. So what’s there to argue about?
Actually, a great deal, beginning with every single word in the paragraph above.
Communism – the past:
For one thing, the Soviet Union never collapsed. It was dismantled from above by the CPSU party leaders who decided that the Soviet nomenklatura would split up the Soviet “pie” into 15 smaller slices. What happened after that was nothing more than the result of in infighting between these factions. Since nobody ever empowered these gangs of Party apparatchiks to dissolve the USSR or, in fact, to reform it in any way, their actions can only be qualified as a totally illegal coup. All of them, beginning with the Gorbachev and Eltsin gangs were traitors to their Party, to their people and to their country. As for the people, they were only given the right to speak their opinion once, on March 17, 1991, when a whopping 77.85% voted to preserve the “the USSR as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics in which the rights and freedom of an individual of any nationality will be fully guaranteed” (see here for a good discussion of this now long-forgotten vote). There was no collapse. There was a coup or, even more accurately, a series of coups, all executed by traitors from the Party apparatus in total illegality and against the will of the people. Some will object that the fact that the Communist Party was full of traitors. But unless one can explain and prove that Communism systematically and somehow uniquely breeds traitors this accusation has no merit (as of Christians did not betray Christianity, democrats democracy or Fascists Fascism).
Second, is Communism a viable ideology? Well, for one thing, there are two schools of thought on that topic inside Marxists ideology. One says that Communism can be achieved in one country, the other says that no, for Communism to become possible a world revolution is necessary. Let’s first set aside the first school of thought for a while and just look at the second one. This will be tricky anyway since all we have to judge its empirical correctness is a relatively short list of countries. I already hear the objection “what? Ain’t Soviet Russia, Maoist China, PolPot’s Kampuchea and, say, Kim Il-sung’s DPRK not enough?”. Actually, no. For one thing, according to the official Soviet ideology, Communism as such was never achieved in the USSR, only Socialism. This is why the country was called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Communism was seen as a goal, Socialism as an unavoidable, intermediate, transitional phase. To say that Communism failed in the USSR is just about as logical as to say that a half-built building failed to provide a comfortable shelter. China, of course, has not “failed” to begin with, Pol Pot’s Kampuchea as probably a (horrific) attempt at building a truly Communist society almost overnight, but that by itself contradicts the Historical/Dialectical Materialist Theory of Marxism which states the need for a transitional Socialist phase. As for the DPRK, it’s ideology is not Marxism or Communism, but Juche, at most a distant relative. So no, these few examples are hardly representative of anything, if only because the form a sample too small to be relevant and because none of them qualify as “test case”.
Now coming back to “Communism cannot be achieved in one country” argument, let’s look at it from a pure red-white-n-blue kind of Merican ideological position and remember that the proponents of US-style capitalism like to remind us that Reagan’s arms race is what bankrupted the Soviet Union which could not keep up with it. Other proud American patriots also like to say that, well, the USA brought down the price of oil, making it impossible for the Soviets to continue spending and that thois fall in prices is what made the Soviet economy collapse. Personally, I find these arguments both stupid and ignorant, but let’s accept them as self-evidently true. Does that not show that the USSR collapsed due to external factors and not due to some inherent internal flaw?
Modern training (I don’t call it “education”) does not really emphasize logic, so I will rhetorically ask the following question: if we accept that Capitalism defeated Communism prove that Communism was not viable or that Capitalism is superior? To the many (alas) who will answer “yes” I would suggest that if you lock a hyena and a human being in a cage and force them to fight for resources, the human is most unlikely to win. Does that prove that the human is not viable or the hyena “superior”?
Marxism-Leninism clearly states that Capitalism is build on the oppression of the weak and that imperialism highest stage of Capitalism. We don’t have to agree with this argument (though I personally very much do), but neither can it be dismissed simply because we don’t like it. In fact, I would argument that disproving it should be a key element of any serious refutation of Communism. But to keep things short, all I will say is this: any person who has actually traveled in Asia, Africa or South America will attest that the Communists (USSR, China, Cuba) actually sent immense amounts of aid including raw materials, technologies, specialists, doctors, military advisors, agronomists, water-sanitation engineers, etc. In contrast, ask anybody in these continents what Capitalism brings, and you will get the same answer: violence, exploitation and the support for a local Comprador ruling gang. To anybody arguing with this I could only recommend one thing: begin traveling the world.
[Sidebar: So yes, using the hyena as a symbol of Capitalism in my allegory above is fair. As for the ‘cage’ – it is simply our planet. What I do think is wrong is equating Communism with a human being. But that at this point of our conversation is my own private opinion and not an argument at all. I have been an anti-Communist my entire life, and I still remain one, but that is hardly a reason for me to accept logically flawed and counter-factual anti-Communist arguments].
At this point in the conversation my typical Capitalist interlocutor would bombard me with a fully or short slogans like “dude, in every Communist society people vote with their feet, have you forgotten the Boat-People, the Marielitos or the folks jumping over the Berlin Wall?” or “every single country in Eastern Europe rejected Communism as soon as the Soviet tanks left – does that not tell you something about Communism?”. Usually the person delivering these slogans gets a special glee in the eye, a sense of inevitable triumph so it is especially rewarding to observe these before debunking all this nonsense.
Let’s begin with the feet-voting argument. It is utter nonsense. Yes, true, some people did run away from Communist societies. The vast majority did not. And please don’t give me the “their families were held hostage” or “the secret police was everywhere to prevent that”. The truth is much simpler:
On the “push side”: All the famous waves of people emigrating from Communist societies are linked to profound crises inside these countries, crises which have had many causes, including mostly external ones.
On the “pull side”: In each case, a powerful Western propaganda system was used to convince these people to emigrate promising them “milk and honey” if they ran.
I am sorry if I have to burst somebody’s naïve illusions, as somebody who has worked for several years as a interpreter-translator interviewing applicants for the status of political refugee I can attest that the vast majority of political refugees are nothing of the sort: they mostly are economic refugees and a few are social refugees, meaning that some personal circumstances made them decide that emigrating is better than staying. I have interviewed hundred of refugees from the Soviet Union and all their stories of political repression were laughable, especially to a person like me who knew how (the very real) political repression in the Soviet Union actually worked. To those who would claim that, well, Communism inevitably results in economic crises I would just refer to the discussion above about what, if anything, we can conclude from the few examples of Marxist societies in history.
[Sidebar: Unlike 99.99% of the folks reading these words, I actually spent many years of my life as an well-known anti-Soviet activist. I traveled to various ports where Soviet ships were anchored to distribute anti-Soviet literature, I made list of buildings where Soviet diplomats used to live to deliver anti-Soviet documents into their mailboxes, I helped send money to the families of Orthodox Christians jailed in Soviet prisons and labor camps, I arranged illegal contacts with Soviet citizens traveling abroad (truckers, artists, naval engineers, clergy, circuses – you name it). And there are things which I did which I still cannot publicly discuss. And while I never took part in any violent action, but I sure did everything I could in the domain of ideological warfare to bring down Communism in Russia. As a result, the (now-defunct) KGB had me listed as a dangerous provocateur and posted my photo in the offices of specific Soviet offices abroad (like the Sovhispan in Spain) to warn them about me. And let me tell you the truth – most of those Soviet citizens who disliked the Soviet system never even tried to emigrate. The issue here is not hostage families or the “almighty KGB’ but the fact that you love your country even when you hate the regime in power. Worse, most of those who did defect (and I personally helped quite a few of them) were mostly miserable once they came to the West, their illusions shattered in less than a year, and all they were left with was a ever-present nostalgia. For that reason, I personally always advised them not to emigrate. If they insisted, some did, I would help. But I always advised against it. Now, many years later, I still think that I did the right thing].
Finally, as to the Soviet “allies” in Eastern Europe their rejection of Communism is as logical and predictable as their embrace of Capitalism, NATO, the EU and the rest of it. For decades they were told that the West was living in peace and prosperity while they were living in oppression and misery, and that the evil Russians were the cause of all their unhappiness. The fact that, when given the chance, they then rushed to embrace the American Empire was as predictable as it was naïve. Remember, history is written by victors and only time will really tell us what legacy Communism and Capitalism will leave in Eastern Europe. What we do know is that even though the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan resulted in a horrible and vicious war, and even though the people of Afghanistan also appeared to fully embrace the “kind patronage” of the USA and its allies, things are now already beginning to change and that the years of secular rule and even the Soviet occupation are now being re-visited by an increasing number of historians and Afghan commentators who now see it in a much more nuanced way than they would have in the past. Just a simple comparison of the daily life of Afghans before and after the Soviet invasion or a comparative list of what the Soviets and the Americans actually built in the country tells a very different story (even the Americans today are still using Soviet-built facilities, including the now infamous Bagram air base). Careful for the logically-challenged here: I am not making an apology for the Soviet invasion here, all I am saying that the wisdom of “embracing the other side” cannot be judged in the immediate aftermath of a “switch” in allegiance – sometimes several decades or more are needed to make an balanced assessment of what really took place.
My point in all of the above is simple: the official imperial propaganda machine (aka “the media” and “the educational system”) has tried to present a simple narrative about Communism when, in reality, even a small dig a tad deeper than the superficial slogans immediately shows that things are much, much, more complicated than the crude and comprehensibly false narrative we are being presented with.
Communism – the future:
Here I will immediately lay down my cards on the table and state that I believe, and even hope, that Communism is not dead and that, in fact, I think that it still have a long and most interesting future. Here are a few reasons why.
First, the Communist ideology, as such, has never been comprehensibly defeated, if only because no other ideology comparable in scope and depth has emerged to challenge, nevermind refute or replace, Communism. For one thing, Communism is a *huge* intellectual building and just destroying some of its “top floors” hardly bring the entire edifice down. Let’s take a simple example: the Marxist slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. Marx did not really invent it, he just popularized it. Some sources say that the original author was August Becker in 1844, Louis Blanc in 1851 or Étienne-Gabriel Morelly 1775. Other say that it was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon but with slightly different version “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work”. This was the version accepted in the USSR as being applicable to the socialist transitional phase on the path to the full realization of Communism. Then, of course, there is the famous New Testament quote by Saint Paul “if any would not work, neither should he eat” (Thess 3:10) and the words of Christ Himself about “to every man according to his ability” (Matt 25:15). This all gets very complex very fast, but yet this is hardly an excuse to ignore what is one of the basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism. And there are many such key tenets because Communism cannot be understood, nevermind evaluated, outside a much broader discussion of Dialectical Materialism, itself an adaptation of Hegelian dialectics to historiography, all of which serve as a foundation for Historical Materialism which, in turn, offers a comprehensive critique of the nature of Capitalism. There is a reason why a good library on Marxism-Leninism could easily include a full floor dedicated solely to the teaching and criticism of Marxism-Leninism: this body of teaching is huge, and incorporates history, sociology, economics, philosophy and many other disciplines. Just Materialism itself includes a huge corpus of writings ranging from the Pre-Socratic philosophers to Nietzsche’s “God is dead” to, alas, Dawkins sophomoric writings. If we honestly look carefully inside Marxism-Leninism we will see that there are such philosophical pearls (or challenges, depending on how you look at them) on most levels of the Marxist-Leninist building. Before we can declare that “Communism is dead” we have to deal with every “floor” of the Marxist-Leninist building and bring down at the very least all the crucial ones least we be (justly) accused of willful ignorance.
Second, the Communist ideology offers us the most comprehensive critique of the globalist-capitalist society we live in today. Considering that by now only the most deliberately blind person could still continue to deny that our society is undergoing a deep crisis, possibly leading to what is often referred to as “TEOTWAWKI” (The end of the world as we know it) I would question the wisdom of declaring Communism dead and forgetting about it. After all, informing ourselves about the Communist critique of Capitalism does not imply the adoption of the Communist solutions to the ills of Capitalism any more than pay attention to a doctor’s diagnosis implies a consent to one single course of treatment. And yet what our society has done is to completely reject the diagnosis on the basis that the treatment has failed in several cases. How stupid is that?
Third, the corpus of Communist and Marxist-Leninist teachings is not only immense, it is also very diverse. Leninism itself is, by the way, a further development of Marxist ideas. It would be simply illogical to only focus on the founding fathers of this ideology and ignore or, worse, dismiss their modern followers. Let’s take a simple example: religion.
It is a well-known fact that Marx declared that “religion is the opium of the people”. And it is true that Lenin and Trotsky engaged in what can only be described as a genocidal and satanic amok run against religion in general, and Orthodox Christianity especially, while they were in power. For decades rabid atheism was a cornerstone of the Marxist-Leninist ideology. And yet, if you look at the various Marxist regimes in Latin America (including Cuba and Venezuela) you rapidly see that they replaced that rabid atheism with an endorsement of a specific type of Christianity one could loosely describe as “Liberation Theology”. Now, for a hardcore Orthodox traditionalist like myself, Liberation Theology is not exactly my cup of tea (full disclosure: politically, I would describe myself as an “People’s Monarchist” (народный монархист) in the tradition of Lev Tikhomirov, Feodor Dostoevsky, Ivan Solonevich and Ivan Ilyin). But the point here are not the inherent qualities of the Liberation Theology (or lack thereof) but the fact that Latin American Marxists have clearly ditched atheism. And whether they did that out of a deep sense of spiritual rebirth and renewal or out of cynical power politics consideratons is irrelevant: even if they had to cave under pressure, they still did something which their predecessors would never have done under any circumstances. So now instead of denouncing religion as reactionary, we have leaders like Hugo Chavez declaring that “Jesus Christ was an authentic Communist, anti-imperialist and enemy of the oligarchy”. Sincere? Possibly. Important? Most definitely. I submit that if such a central, crucial, tenet as militant atheism could be dropped by modern Marxists they are probably willing to drop any other of its part they would conclude are wrong (for whatever reason). To conflate 21st century Communists with their 19th century predecessors is unforgivably stupid and ignorant.
Fourth, modern Communism comes in many original and even surprising flavors. One of the most interesting one would be the in the form of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Of course, modern Iran is hardly a copy of the old German Democratic Republic. Ramin Mazaheri, the Paris correspondent for Press TV put it best when he wrote “Europe came to socialism through industrialization, theory and war, but Iran came to socialism through its religious and moral beliefs”. And make no mistake, when Mazaheri compliments Iran on its “socialist” achievements, he does not oppose the notion of socialism to the one of communism (Mazaheri is a proud and self-avowed Communist) nor does he refer to the “caviar Socialism” of the French Left. Instead he refers to “socialism” as a set of underlying values and principles common the the Marxist and Islamic worldviews. It is often forgotten that one of the main ideologues of the Iranian Revolution, Ali Shariati, was clearly influenced by Socialist and even Marxist ideas.
Iran, by the way, is not unique in the Muslim world. For example, the writings of Sayyid Qutb 1906-1966 contain plenty of ideas which one could describe as Marxist. I would even argue that Islam, Christianity and Confucianism all include strong elements of both universalism and collectivism which are typically associated with Marxist idea, especially in contrast to the kind of bloated hyper-individualism underlying the Capitalist worldview (which I personally call “the worldview of me, myself and I”). Sure, the modern doxa wants to label all forms of Islam as retrograde, medieval and otherwise reactionary, but in truth it would be far more fair to describe Islam as revolutionary, social and progressive. But let’s not confuse the nonsense spewed by the Zionist propaganda machine at those poor folks still paying attention to it with reality, shall we? Surely we can agree that the worst possible way to try to learn anything about Islam would be to pay attention to the US Ziomedia!
Communism – the challenge:
It is not really surprising that the Americans, who have not defeated anybody or anything in a very long time, might be strongly inclined to adopt the notion of having won the Cold War and/or having defeated Communism. In a country were adult and presumably educated people can declare with a serious face that Obama is a Socialist (or even a Communist) such nonsense will very rarely be challenged. This is a reflection of the poor state of education of a nation which fancies itself as “indispensable”, but which has no real interest in understanding the rest of the world, nevermind its history. We can now make fun of the putatively dumb Commies, their “scientific Communism” and their university chairs of Marxism and Leninism, but it remains undeniable that in order to understand the Communist propaganda you needed to have a minimal level of education and that this propaganda exposes you to topics which are now practically dead in western societies (such as philosophy or history). When I see the kind of nonsense nowadays which passes for political science or philosophy I can only conclude that the once proud western world now lacks the basic level of education needed to understand, nevermind refute, Marxist ideologues. And that is a crying shame because I also believe that Marxism and Communism are inherently both very attractive and very toxic ideologies which must be challenged and refuted.
[Sidebar: What I personally think about Marxism is not really the topic today, so I will limit myself to saying that like all utopian ideologies, Marxism promises a future which cannot ever happen. True, this is hardly a sin unique to Marxism. Amongst modern ideologues Hitler should be commended for his relative modesty – he “only” promised a 1000 year long Reich. In contrast Francis Fukuyama promised a communism-like “end of history”. This is all par for the course coming from atheists who are trying to simultaneously reject God while (unsuccessfully) imitating Him: a utopian society is what Satan offered to Christ during the temptation of Christ in the desert (Matt 4:1-11) and also the reason why some Jews rejected Him for offering them a spiritual kingdom rather than then worldly kingdom they were hoping for. Right there there is plenty enough, at least for me, to reject this and any other ideology promising some kind of “heaven on earth”. In my opinion all utopian ideologies are inherently and by definition Satanic].
Can the huge corpus of the Marxist/Communist ideological building be convincingly refuted? I think that it can and, assuming mankind does not destroy itself in the near future, that it eventually will. But that will require an effort of a completely different nature and magnitude then the collection of primitive slogans which are currently hurled at Marxism today. In fact, I also believe that Orthodox Christianity already has refuted Marxism by preemption, many centuries before the birth of Karl Marx, by denouncing all its underlying assumptions in the Scripture, the writings of the Church Fathers, the sayings of the Desert Fathers, the Lives of the Saints, its liturgical texts and icons, but in our post-Chrstian society that refutation is accessible only to the tiny minority of those who are exposed to it and who are educated enough to understand it (a good example of such a person would be Fedor Dostoevskii).
For the foreseeable future Communism has a very bright and long future, especially with the ongoing collapse of the Anglo-Zionist Empire and the subsequent debate on the causes of this collapse. Living in the United States one might be forgiven for not seeing much of a future for Communism, but from Southeast Asia to the Indian subcontinent and from Africa to Latin America the ideals, values and arguments of Communism continue to have an immense appeal on millions of people. When Donald Trump, during his recent UN speech, presumed to have the authority to lecture the world on Socialism he really only showed that ignorance is no impediment to arrogance and that they really usually go hand in hand. If his intention was to speak to the domestic audience, then he probably made a few folks feel good about themselves and the political system they live in. If he truly was addressing a foreign audience, then the only thing he achieved was to reinforce the worst anti-American clichés.
For the time being, the the spectre of Communism will continue to haunt much of our planet, especially in those parts were education and poverty are high. In the basically illiterate but wealthy world Communism will remain pretty much as it is today: universally ignored and therefore unknown. But when the grand edifice of Capitalism finally comes tumbling down and its victims rediscover the difference between propaganda and education – then a credible modern challenge to the Communist ideology will possibly arise. But for the time being and the foreseeable future Communism will remain not only alive, but also quite undefeated.