Thursday, January 13, 2011

Utopia: What Is Communism?

Only one of these men was really a communist. Clue: he's throwing the horns!
Last week, I began my 'Utopia' series with an idea about how communism would cure the common cold. Basically, anyone could stay in bed instead of working if they felt ill, so there would be less opportunities for the virus to spread. But that's such a big leap from the capitalist way of thinking, I thought I'd better take a breath, and tell you what I think this communism thing is anyway.

Firstly, there's a lot of misinformation about, so here's what it's not. For the right wing US Republicans amongst you, it's not Barack Obama. If you're struggling to get your head around that, look at the way that he keeps helping Wall Street oligarchs and cutting working class living standards. For the Trotskyists, Stalinists, Maoists, Castroists, and whatever other twentieth century dictator-ists, I'm afraid it's not your guy either. Each of your heroes advocated and organised top-down state control of production and distribution, which has nothing to do with communism, and has only dragged its name through the mud. For the rest of you...read on!

Though most paper dictionaries get it wrong, Wiktionary has it right. Communism is:
  1. Any political philosophy or ideology advocating holding the production of resources collectively.
  2. Any political social system that implements a communist political philosophy.
  3. The international socialist society where classes and the state no longer exist.
In short, communism is a form of society where production of resources is organised collectively; where everyone has free access to goods and services, and political decisions are taken democratically - i.e. there are no politicians, because everyone has an equal say. It is a society of material abundance, where our current alienation from our work, from the products of our work, from our own impulses, and from each other, is replaced by a world "in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all."

I support The Commune group's platform, which declares that:
"We are communists: we fight for a new self-managed society based on collective ownership of the means of production and distribution and an economy organised not for value production but for the well-being of humanity and in harmony with our natural environment. Communism will abolish the system of wage-labour so that our ability to work will cease to be a commodity to be sold to an employer; it will be a truly classless society; there will be no state, no managers or organisations superior to those of workers’ self-management."
Of course, you could have many different objections to this. The most common one is that while this all sounds very nice 'on paper' (or on your computer screen), it would never work in practice, because it is 'against human nature'. The Russian anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin wrote a lot about why this isn't actually the case, and in fact mutual aid is a very significant factor in evolution. But you don't have to take his word for it.

Look at all the people who do voluntary work even in a capitalist society, where there are strong disincentives. Look at how people don't fight for a seat on the bus if there are plenty to go around. But even more than that, look at the real experiences of communism working in the Paris Commune of 1871, Ukraine after the Russian revolution of 1917, Catalonia and Aragon during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, and the Zapatista municipalities in Chiapas, Mexico today. Also, look at our human ancestors, who practiced communism when the 'property' that existed was held in common within the tribes.

Sure, achieving international communism is no easy matter, and how we get there is still very much open to debate, some of which I make my own contribution to. But I hope I have shown that the (historically) necessary struggle will be well worth it, come the glorious day.
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