The Patient Anarchist

I: Introduction

With the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik takeover of the Russian government having just passed, I would like to share my thoughts on the relationship between the state, capitalism, and communism. There is a lot of propaganda floating around that treats the state and capitalism as mutually-exclusive opposites, and on the other hand, that treats the state and communism (and/or socialism in general) as so synonymous that they would seem indistinguishable.

I hope to cut through all this propaganda, and to explain the true relationship between these three, one that neither dichotomizes nor identifies any of the three in an absolute sense. Rather, capitalism is entirely enclosed within the state (contrary to the fantasies of the right-libertarians), that is to say, the bourgeois state; and there is some overlap between other aspects of the state (i.e., the proletarian state) and the socialist transition from capitalism to full communism, which involves–through the complete annihilation of capitalism–the replacement of class differences with the notion, “from each according to his (or her) ability, to each according to his or her need”, the withering away of the state, and the replacement of money with a gift economy.

What I’m saying now does not contradict what I’ve said elsewhere about the state and capitalism always being together; rather, what I’m saying now clarifies and refines what I said before. For me, the ultimate goal is still anarcho-communism, but I have grown more patient in my wish for all the world to achieve this goal.

II: Getting from A to Z

I still regard the transitional phase between capitalism and stateless communism to be the state capitalism complained about by George Orwell and Milovan Djilas; I just consider state capitalism to be necessary, and thus a good thing (or at least a necessary evil), an unavoidable part of the transition between today’s neoliberal nightmare and the socialist dream. To get from hell to heaven, one must pass through purgatory.

Anarchists typically complain of the ‘back-stabbing’ of Bolsheviks during such difficult times as the Kronstadt Rebellion, Lenin’s turning against Makhno, and Stalin’s meagre helping of the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. Many anarchists fail to grasp that, for the revolution to succeed, it must be global, not just local; at the same time, local victories must be defended in the most organized way possible, and not have their defence diluted in the name of disorganized and weak ‘permanent revolutions’.

Revolution can’t and won’t be achieved all in one fell swoop; there will be many small revolutions whose gains must be protected while other revolutions are attempted elsewhere. And the danger of counter-revolution mustn’t be trivialized: much, if not most, of the ‘oppression’ of the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s can be attributed to the difficulties and pressures caused during the aftermath of the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921, rather than to Lenin’s supposed ambition.

It is not only wrong-headed, but absurd, to think that we can go from A, a neoliberal capitalism led by an idiot man-child in the Oval Office, to B, full communism, with every business fully collectivized, no more money, and no more state. To achieve our goals, we can’t just go from A to B, but from A to Z, with every intermediate step of B, C, D, etc., fully considered, planned, and worked through. The B of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP), openly acknowledged by him as ‘state capitalism’ (as stated in ‘On Cooperation’, Tucker, pp. 707-713), or the B of China’s “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics“, must be acknowledged. (I just wish the CPC would move on to C, D, and E some time soon [contrary to those leftists who think it has moved on]: even Job’s patience had limits.)

In the cases of such socialist states as the USSR and Cuba, though, that movement to C, D, E, F, and quite a few steps beyond, definitely happened. In the 1930s, Stalin moved past the NEP and collectivized agriculture, which, granted, was fraught with such problems  as the selfish hoarding of the kulaks (and selfishness is regarded with bizarre admiration by right-libertarians), especially troublesome during bad harvests (a peasant resistance that was from a much smaller part of the population than is usually assumed), forcing the Stalinist regime to suppress them as ruthlessly as it did. In industrializing the Soviet Union, however, and protecting it from such counter-revolutionaries as the Nazis (whom his Red Army defeated, and thus he deserves the lion’s share of praise for saving the world from fascism), as well as building a nuclear arsenal to defend the USSR against that other genocidal monster, the US war machine, he transformed Russia from a backward, agrarian society into a superpower in a matter of a few decades–no mean feat.

The USSR and Cuba created free healthcare, free education, and other social services. They also aided national liberation movements in Third World countries around the world. Similar benefits could be found in other socialist states, such as those in the Eastern Bloc, North Korea, and China during Mao’s rule. We may see states in these countries, and a not-yet-fully developed communism, but by any reasonable measure, their efforts showed remarkable progress towards Z.

Cuba, a Third World country with a US-imposed economic embargo stifling its growth for over fifty years, has almost 100% literacy and superbly-trained doctors that often go to other poor countries to help the sick there. Impressive.

Contrast these achievements with the truly backward movement of the US over the past thirty years. Reagan (as well as Thatcher in the UK) started our neoliberal nightmare with union-busting, deregulation, and tax cuts to the rich. Bill Clinton gave some crippling blows with the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, which essentially took away the social safety net; and his repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act is believed by many to have lead to the 2008 financial crisis, in the aftermath of which George W. Bush and Obama helped only the super-rich.

Today, consider all of Trump’s cuts to education (and poor quality US education/student performance is nothing new), the arts, etc., while the already bloated US military budget got a further bloating, thanks to support not only from the GOP, but the Democrats, too! Then there’s Trump’s brilliant (<<<sarcasm) idea to have, for every one new regulation, deregulation of two things…not that it’s a particularly workable idea, of course.

As if the situation weren’t bad enough, we have right-libertarians who delude themselves that our current neoliberal mess is somehow not at all capitalist, merely because of the existence of a state and some regulations; therefore, the solution is apparently to deregulate all the more! These right-wing ideologues fail to see how the “free market” creates the monopolies that result in the very crony capitalism they imagine to be the opposite of ‘true’ capitalism; thus capitalism can enlarge the state, rather than exist as its antithesis. They achieve this ideological sleight-of-hand by imagining that the state exists more or less in one form–some variation on socialism–rather than acknowledge how the state can serve the rich, or serve the people.

III: The Bourgeois State vs. the Proletarian State

In The State and Revolution, which opened my eyes and my mind to Leninism in ways nothing else could, Lenin clearly distinguished two kinds of government, either of which involves one class dominating the other. The wealthy and powerful will use the state to rule over the workers, or vice versa. The wealthy will never annihilate the workers, because they need workers to provide their wealth; but the workers could eventually obliterate the bourgeoisie, which would result in the withering away of the state. Anarchists must be patient in waiting for this end result.

Only a worker’s state is a socialist one: all others are properly understood to be variations on the bourgeois state. The neoliberal American state, as well as all those countries that bow to US interests (including Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, the countries of the EU, the UK, and the puppet governments in Brazil, etc.), are all bourgeois states. The social democrat states of the Nordic model are market economies with some concessions to the people (i.e., strong unions, welfare, free education, and universal healthcare), but are still bourgeois. And fascist, or quasi-fascist, states like Italy under Mussolini, Nazi Germany, Francoist Spain, and Chile under Pinochet, were bourgeois, not socialist.

What must be emphasized is not whether there is a state or not, but rather whose interests are served by that state: the rich, or the people? Countries with free healthcare and education, near 100% employment and nearly 0% homeless are clearly head and shoulders above countries whose states contribute to wealth inequality, and finance war and corporate welfare instead of healthcare, education, and a social safety net for the poor.

When the poor are oppressed, I feel every sympathy for them; when capitalists in socialist states are taxed appropriately, so the poor are provided for, I feel no sympathy for the ‘poor rich’. The issue of taxation is the next point I need to address.

IV: Two Needful Considerations Regarding Taxes

We often hear right-libertarians complain, “Taxation is theft!”, while giving no consideration to how the overworking and underpaying of workers, imperialism’s rape of other countries’ land and resources, and underfunding of taxpayers’ needed social services are all theft.

The petite bourgeoisie screams as loudly as does the moyenne/grande/haute bourgeoisie about lowering taxes, but it’s the latter who largely benefit from those tax cuts. It never occurs to those lower-to-middle class right-wingers that they get a return on their taxes through those social programs…provided they’re provided.

Whether taxes are a good or a bad thing depends on two important considerations: who is being taxed, the lower, or upper classes; and how is the tax revenue being spent. If there’s progressive taxation, taxing the wealthiest the most, the middle classes far less, and the lower middle to working classes hardly at all to not at all, you have a valid case for taxes. If the tax revenue is spent on such things as education, free healthcare, and unemployment insurance, even those in the middle classes get a return on their taxes, for they may benefit from those social services as well as the poor.

Contrast this validation of taxes against the system in the US. The middle classes pay a moderate level of taxes, and the moderately rich pay high taxes, while the super-rich pay far less in taxes than they should pay. (While the US’s taxation is kind-of-sort-of progressive, with the huge, egregious exception of the super-rich as pointed out above, in the UK, the tax system is the inverse opposite of progressive. On top of that, consider the income tax evasion of the super-rich worldwide, as well as their non-declaring of income.)

To make matters worse, way too much of US tax revenue goes into the military, while healthcare, education, and other social services are left in a totally ineffectual state. Obamacare was portrayed as ‘socialism’ in the mainstream media, when it was anything but. The neoliberal cuts to such vital things as welfare and social services that started with Reagan continued from Clinton to Bush (whose tax cuts for the rich hardly created jobs or boosted the economy), to Obama, and finally to Trump; at the same time, the military budget increased and increased, up till the gargantuan increase supported by both Republicans and Democrats. Such insanely high military spending, hardly a good use of tax revenue,  does result in a bloating of the state, but it’s a bloating of the bourgeois state, not the proletarian state.

Taxation in a workers’ state would be the opposite of the US way of doing things. The only qualification to this contrast would be a sizeable amount of tax revenue going to the military (in defence against counter-revolution, as North Korea has been doing, not for the sake of imperialism), and even this budget would be Lilliputian compared to the US military budget. This need to defend against counter-revolution is part of the justification for a temporary, transitional state, something anarchists must be patient about, and this leads me to my next point.

V: The Dictatorship of the Proletariat

One cannot establish socialism without a plan. All efforts to establish communism in one fell swoop have resulted ultimately in failure. As thrilling as the Paris Commune was, it lasted a mere two months’ time before it was brutally suppressed. Theorists like Marx and Lenin discussed what they thought were the fatal errors made by the Communards (not seizing control of the bank, not taking the fight to Versailles to secure their gains–Marx/Lenin, p. 97), and proposed ways to improve on future revolutions.

This learning from one’s mistakes, developing newer and better theory to raise the chances of success in future revolutions, is the basis of scientific socialism. There is often a poverty of theory in anarchism that results in sloppy acts of rebellion (e.g., Black Bloc members randomly destroying property in protest at G8 or G20 summits, etc.) instead of planning effectively.

We want direct action that brings results, not adolescent acts of defiance that ultimately do nothing to change the system. Was Makhno’s anarcho-capitalist experiment a valid one, or was it an exercise in thuggish banditry, one that ironically had all the authoritarianism it claimed to be opposed to? Is this latter possibility the real reason Leninist authoritarianism suppressed Makhno? Whichever is the correct interpretation of events, his anarchist experiment didn’t last–that we know for sure.

Anarchist Catalonia was another thrilling experiment during the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939; but even Madrid’s socialist government wasn’t strong enough to fight off Franco’s fascists. I wish Stalin had given more help to the Spanish Republicans instead of fretting over the anarchists, or whether Trotskyists were, among them. Franco’s victory assuredly encouraged Hitler and Mussolini (who’d helped the Spanish Nationalists) to carry on their warmongering…and we all know what that led to.

But let’s contrast these failures with the successes of the 70-year existence of the USSR, with Cuba, with the Eastern Bloc, and with North Korea. The Soviet Union fought off a counter-revolution from 1918-1921, then fought off internal, treasonous dangers during the 1930s (revisionism that continued to exist right to the dissolution of the USSR), and finally did the lion’s share of fighting off and defeating the Nazis. Cuba foiled the Bay of Pigs invasion, and has successfully dealt with an embargo for over fifty years. The CIA and Cuban exiles tried to kill Castro over 600 times. The Eastern Bloc, gained after the defeat of fascism, lasted roughly forty-five years, in spite of all the West’s attempts to thwart it at the time. And North Korea, having been bombed to the Stone Age during the Korean War, lost 20% of their population, and been traumatized to this day, rose from the ashes, is, relatively speaking, a thriving country (in spite of how Western propaganda portrays it as a basket case), and has created a nuclear deterrent to make the US think twice before ever bombing it again.

While the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc ultimately crumbled, they made the anarchist attempts look like still births in comparison. These are clear examples of how to bring about and protect a socialist revolution, Cuba and North Korea even more so. Consider also North Vietnam’s humbling of the US, while the latter’s cowardly napalm campaign only proves what murderers their army were and are.

Only a well-protected revolution can guarantee that transitional process of going from A (capitalism in its most brutal, naked form–i.e., today’s) to Z (full communism, with the withering away of the state, production to provide for everyone instead of just for profit, and the end of the use of money). The withering away of the state requires a temporary, transitional workers’ state to make the dream of socialist anarchy possible. Dialectics: a) an unregulated (or minimally-regulated) capitalist state, as we have over most of the world today, b) a regulated workers’ state, and c) stateless communism.

To bring about the final resolution of present-day contradictions, anarchists must be patient. Mao Zedong, who in his youth had anarchist tendencies (i.e., he’d been influenced by the ideas of Peter Kropotkin) before embracing Marxism-Leninism, said that the Chinese dictatorship of the proletariat would take one hundred years before the state finally withered away: now that is patient anarchism. (Marx and Engels were also patient anarchists; so were even Lenin and Stalin, properly understood. These four theoreticians simply accepted the exigencies of the time, namely, that a protracted period of class struggle to wipe out all traces of capitalism had to come first before full anarchist communism could come into being.)

One hopes that the current Chinese dictatorship would switch to that of the proletariat sooner rather than later, though, especially with the prediction that the hegemony of the American empire will have crumbled by the 2030s, and that China will be among those superpowers, like Russia, that supplant it (or at least they will all coexist), and that leaders like Xi Jinping will do more than just talk the Marxist talk. Then, who knows? Maybe…just maybe, the Chinese state really will wither away by 2049.

VI: The Aftermath of the USSR’s Catastrophic Collapse

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the Western media portrayed it as a triumph of liberal democracy over totalitarianism. The Cold War was over! No more need to worry about nuclear war, because Russia and Eastern Europe were to join the capitalist world. It was seen as the “end of history”. Communism was seen as discredited.

The invalidating of communism was seen as further proved when we saw the economic turmoil Russia had been plunged into, for the Soviet planned economy was blamed for the debacle of the 1990s; but a more careful analysis will show that matters were more complicated…and more sinister…than met the eye.

Oligarchs rose up in Russia, buying up state property and assets under Boris Yeltsin’s incompetent, alcoholic leadership, and causing terrible wealth inequality, while the socialist safety net of the USSR was no longer there for the unfortunate to fall back on. Capitalism, not socialism, is what ruined Russia.

George Soros helped with this switch-around, and while he has been a vocal critic of the excesses of “free market” capitalism, his ‘left-leaning’ should be taken with a generous dose of salt: he’s a billionaire, so you should consider where his real class loyalties lie.

When the USSR collapsed, along with the end of the Warsaw Pact and the reunification of Germany, Moscow was promised that NATO would not expand or move eastward. Anyone who has been following politics for the past 25 years knows what a broken promise (translation–blatant lie) that was: NATO troops are currently lined up along the Russian border, after unsubstantiated stories of ‘Russian threats to the Baltic region’ started popping up in the media during the 2016 US election campaign. It should be clear who the real aggressors are.

The first signs of the US/NATO’s broken promise came with the Balkanization of the former Yugoslavia. The Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, etc. lived there in relative peace under the Titoist system. After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, though, the IMF, the World Bank, Germany, the US, and NATO worked to undermine Slobodan Milošević’s efforts to maintain socialism by stirring up the old ethnic hatreds and blaming the killing on him, fabricating a charge of genocide (of which he was exonerated by the ICTY). Then came the US/NATO ‘humanitarian war’.

After NATO claimed the former Yugoslavia for US imperialism, they went after most of the other former Warsaw Pact members. An attempt was made to include Georgia (which was encouraged by the US to fight with South Ossetia, a country friendly with Russia) in NATO back in 2008, angering Russia and leading ultimately to the Russo-Georgian War. US imperialism interfered in the democratic process in Ukraine, getting rid of pro-Russia Viktor Yanukovych and replacing him with a government that includes neo-Nazis! In Russia herself, the US interfered with the democratic process by manipulating the 1996 Russian election to re-elect the hugely unpopular Yeltsin against what would have been a shoo-in re-election of the Communist Party.

…and US politicians complain about supposed Russian interference in the 2016 US election, an accusation they have never been able to prove.

What must be borne in mind is that the Soviet system, for all its flaws, was an effective counterweight against the depredations of Western imperialism. The Western welfare state of the prosperous 1945-1973 world was influenced by socialism, and was an attempt to stave off the ‘communist threat’. The USSR was frequently involved in helping national liberation movements in the Third World. With the Soviets gone, the US/NATO knows there’s been nobody significant standing in their way…at least not until Vladimir Putin pulled Russia out of the abyss Yeltsin helped put her in, and not until China began rising as a major global economic power.

Small wonder the US has been so hostile to these two countries lately!

Throughout her history, the US has been a warmongering nation, starting with the Revolutionary War, then the massacres of Native Americans, the taking of a huge chunk of Mexican territory, her imperialist bullying of the Philippines, the needless nuking of Japan, and the bombing of North Korea. But the so-called War on Terror takes the cake: look at what US imperialism has done to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Niger. Iran, North Korea, Russia, and even China are next on the list.

With all this killing in mind, we need to explore all the killing that communists have been accused of.

VII: A Re-examining of the Communist Death Count

Communists, admittedly, aren’t innocent of excesses when it comes to bloodshed. Millions died under their watch…but how many millions was it, really? And is there a context behind this killing that must be scrutinized to get at the real meaning behind it?

Mainstream sources tend to give figures of around 100 million dead due to communist repressions. But where do they get these gargantuan figures from?

While there is lots of documented evidence, including mass graves, photographs, etc., of the victims of the Holocaust (with six million Jews and five million non-Jews murdered by the SS), nothing in the Soviet archives indicates tens of millions killed during Stalin’s purges; actually, about 800,000 people were executed between 1921 and 1953. At worst, about 2-3 million died in the Gulag, while 20-40% of Gulag prisoners were released each year from the 1920s to the 1950s.

As for the ‘tens of millions’ supposedly killed under Mao’s initially problem-laden (i.e., bad harvests), but eventually successful Great Leap Forward, those exaggerated statistics are based on manipulations of censuses and death-rate figures from the 1953-1964 period. Right-wing writers like Robert ConquestJung Chang and Jon Halliday (authors of Mao: The Unknown Story), and Stéphane Courtois, editor of The Black Book of Communism, who seemed obsessed with arriving at a total of 100 million killed by Communists, are all responsible for these error-laden, anti-communist smears. (Of course, Deng Xiaoping helped with the anti-Mao slanders in order to further his reactionary agenda of reintroducing the market in the 1980s.)

Among this demonization is the nonsense surrounding the Holodomor, which was really little more than a famine in the Ukraine; but the political right insists on portraying the tragedy as a ‘communist Holocaust’, a supposedly deliberate murder of Ukrainians. (The same largely goes for the Great Leap Forward.)

Linked to this kind of anti-Soviet propaganda is how the ‘Forest Brothers’, an Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian anti-Soviet resistance guerrilla movement linked to Nazi Germany back in the mid-1940s, are being celebrated as heroes in a short film (as contemporary anti-Russian propaganda) published and promoted by none other than NATO! Only that puppet of US imperialism would be low enough to vilify Communists while lionizing pro-fascist Jew killers.

The far-left is often more or less equated with the far-right in the horseshoe theory, something I once believed in years ago, but now realize is hopelessly wrong. The points of comparison between fascism and Communism are, at best, superficial: their authoritarianism, collectivism, and propensity to resort to violence all serve totally different objectives. Fascists use these three to strengthen their respective nations at the expense of other nations, races, or ethnic groups; Communists use the three to emancipate the global proletariat from capitalism, of which fascism is an aggravated version.

One group commonly associated with Communism, but who would more accurately be described as a kind of Asian nationalism, were the Khmer Rouge. The atrocities perpetrated under Pol Pot‘s rule of Cambodia are, contrary to popular opinion, not to be associated with Communism.

The Khmer Rouge’s ideology had, at best, a mere smattering of Marxism; deserving of far more focus was their xenophobia and ultra-nationalism. Rarely was Marxism-Leninism discussed among them, according to Nate Thayer; only Nuon Chea referred to the ideology, once, as a guiding party principle, of all the senior or other party members of the CPK, in all the interviews Thayer had with them from the 1980s to the 1990s.

They were opposed to modernization, something so crucial to socialists–as the one true way of ensuring the productive forces can provide for everyone–that even critics of Communism like Milovan Djilas acknowledged the need for industrialization in socialist states (see Djilas, The New Class, pages 15-18). Pol Pot’s ideal, in contrast, was ‘primitive communism’; this, combined with the US bombings of Cambodia, which caused a frantic desperation to produce food directly, meant that urban dwellers were forced into farming in the rural areas, which led to famine and starvation.

The Khmer Rouge, far from being the comrades of socialist Vietnam, fought them. Normally, there is at least a reasonable level of solidarity between socialist states. If the Khmer Rouge were Communists, they were pretty strange ones.

Most importantly, though, to come back to a discussion of the genuine Communists, the deaths under Stalin and Mao must be understood within the context of class war, or the aggravation of class struggle under socialism. There was, and is, always the fear of re-establishing capitalism within socialist states (consider what Maduro’s and Kim Jong-un’s governments have been going through to see my point); and the neoliberal nightmare of today, with the exacerbated state of imperialism and neocolonialism rampant in the Third World, shows how justified those socialist fears are of the “free market” insidiously creeping back into our world.

Stalin inherited from Lenin a USSR that had not so long ago fought off the White Army in the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921. Added to that, Russia was an agrarian society, backward and lacking in modern industrialization. He also knew of the threat of the capitalists around the world (including revisionists within his own country!) were looming like a shadow over everything he’d tried to build.

Speaking of threats, several years into the implementation of his three Five-Year Plans to industrialize the USSR, Stalin had to deal with an especially formidable foe: Hitler, who hated Communists and considered them a Jewish conspiracy. And the Nazis weren’t across the ocean, but right next door to Russia. Stalin had no choice but to speed up the industrialization of the Soviet Union, including working the Gulag labourers like slaves, in time to be ready to withstand a Nazi invasion. Attempts were made to stall Hitler, such as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, to buy time until the Red Army would be ready to face the SS.

Nazi Germany invaded in June 1941, and such battles as that of Stalingrad were among the bloodiest in military history. Far too few people in the West appreciate the huge sacrifice the Soviet Union made to rid the world of the Nazi menace: between 20-30 million Soviet Russians died, including 3.3 million POWs who were brutalized, given inadequate (if any) clothing–including in winter, and starved in Nazi concentration camps. We always hear of the heroism of the US and the UK who fought for our freedom in WWII, but their sacrifice was dwarfed by that of socialist Eastern Europe. The Red Army, who fought their way right into Berlin, making Hitler put a gun to his head, were the real heroes of WWII.

The Great Patriotic War was one of those few times one could truly speak of soldiers fighting for our freedoms. So many other wars have been thus rationalized, but usually they have only been imperialist competitions for land and resources, as WWI was. It is truly nauseating to hear anyone try to justify the current “War on Terror” as a fight for freedom, when the exact opposite has been fought for.

If there’s any one thing that shows Stalin as being in no way comparable to Hitler, it is his defeat of Nazi Germany. It is obscene how people, right-wingers in particular, try either to equate these two men, or to make Stalin seem worse, typically by basing their dubious assessment on not only grotesquely bloated statistics of those who died under Stalin (a ‘dictator’ who tried to resign multiple times, but couldn’t, because his people loved him too much to let him go [many Russians still love him, by the way]), but also minimized statistics of the victims of Nazi murder.

The SS brutalized and killed Jews, Roma, gay men, and the mentally and physically disabled because they hated them. Communists killed their political enemies, as did Nazis, of course, but consider the nature of those respective political enemies. Those who opposed Nazism were people of conscience, those who cared about the human rights of Jews, Roma, gays, women, and the mentally and physically disabled; many of these people of conscience were leftists, the first ones put in Nazi concentration camps. Communists’ political enemies were capitalists and traitors (those executed) and those leftists with otherwise reactionary views, the impatient leftists (typically those just put in the Gulag and then released).

All these political enemies of Communism were a danger to a political and economic system dedicated to human rights, equality, and anti-imperialism. Enemies of Nazi Germany were enemies of racism and imperialism. It shouldn’t be necessary to re-educate people on these matters, but fascist tendencies have been rising lately.

There is no denying that there were excesses during the Stalin era, some impatient leftists who suffered a far worse fate than the punishment they deserved; but Stalin’s wrongs were far fewer than those of Hitler. Part of the false moral equivalency of these two men is the fault of groups like the Alt-right; part of it is the fault of neoliberal capitalists who are doing everyone in their power to prevent a resurgence of socialism.

If there is any moral equivalence to be made with Hitler, it’s the kind of people who financed him…capitalists, who have been responsible for the deaths of far greater numbers than even the highest estimates given of those killed under Communism.

VIII: Conclusion

We leftists have a lot of work to do in fixing what is wrong with our world today; but fixing those problems won’t come about by dreaming of utopia without planning and doing the hard work of going from A to Z. In a transitional socialist state, do you fear state terror, surveillance, militarized police, prison slave-labour, an all-powerful oligarchy? Do we not already have all those things right now? If you fear things going wrong in a Marxist-Leninist system, I must ask you: do you think things could be any worse than they are now?

Now here’s a question that needs some kind of answer: have I, one who has called himself an ‘anarcho-communist’, and a ‘libertarian Marxist,’ become a tankie? I hesitate to label myself with that term, if for no other reason than because I find any such labels limiting (and the same goes for ‘anarcho-communist’ and ‘libertarian Marxist’, to be fair.)

I’ve done a number of ‘political compass’ tests, with slightly differing results, but here’s one I did for the sake of this article: take it however you will. Here’s another:

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 5.12.14 AM

In any case, I consider myself, however contradictory this may sound, to be a libertarian-leaning Marxist with moderate ‘tank’ sympathies. I very much believe in the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and I see the need for some kind of vanguard to lead and educate the working class, though I’m not sure I’d define such concepts in as particular a way as the average Marxist-Leninist would. I prefer at least some elasticity in their application.

For me, anarchy is an aspiration, though, not an immediately realizable state (pardon the pun). So, to make the kind of progress towards a point when the state will no longer be needed, because no class war will exist anymore, we’ll have to be patient anarchists.

Robert C. Tucker, The Lenin Anthology, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 1975

Milovan Djilas, The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System, Harvest/HBJ Book, New York, 1957

Karl Marx & V. I. Lenin, The Civil War in France: The Paris Commune, International Publishers, New York, 2008

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The ‘Right’ Definition of Socialism?

[NOTE TO READER: Though I personally am an anarchist, the following is a defence of socialism in general.  In particular, while I mention social democracy and anarchism, my focus is on defending communism against right-wing bias.  My criticisms are mostly of neoliberalism, but in general I am writing here against all forms of capitalism.]

Introduction

Several months before the time of this writing, on a Facebook page for debates, a question was asked: what is the definition of socialism?  The answer I gave was that the means of production are to be put into the hands of the workers, as opposed to being owned privately or by the state.  I felt that this was about as objective a definition as one could come up with: I still do.

Then I started getting trolled by someone who is obviously stridently anti-socialist.  (For the sake of discretion, I’ll refrain from revealing his name.)  So much for objectivity in the discussion.  The usual straw-man arguments were used, including the use of force to try to realize the unrealizable: utopia ‘at the point of a gun’.

Apparently, the anti-socialist troll wasn’t aware of the existence of democratic socialism, let alone its remarkable success in such places as Scandinavia (in Sweden, they’re actually experimenting with the idea of a six-hour workday).  Still, imagine his response had I brought that up.  He would probably have responded by saying the capitalists there are being ‘forced’ into paying high taxes–a kind of government robbery.  The notion that overworked, underpaid workers are being robbed of the full fruits of their labour presumably doesn’t exist as a concept to him, nor that the taxes just give back what was taken from the poor.

Anyway, I responded to his cliche critiques by sharing a YouTube video called Why You’re Wrong About Communism.  Perhaps this video, with its rather brief, seven-minute defence of what’s considered a more extreme form of socialism, wasn’t the best choice for a rejoinder.  [The communist speaker, Jesse Myerson, gives a fuller treatment of his argument in this Salon article, Why you’re wrong about communism: 7 huge misconceptions about it (and capitalism).]  Still, to anyone who is reasonably knowledgeable about labour issues, the video was a fair response.

This was my troll friend’s word-for-word response to the video:

First there is a difference between capitalism as it is today and free market capitalism.
The capitalism that we have today is a top down government directed sort, which moves money and power to the elite, same as communism. The proletariat are merely the worker bees for the elite.
“THE TYRANNY OF WORK”, What an ass. You don’t work you don’t eat. If enough people stop working how there will be enough of anything for anybody. They can fire you, you can also quit, I don’t hear anyone raising arms to protect the employer about that.
What a stupid, stupid man, such a dreamer, how do you make it function so that there is enough supply for everyone. Answer a top down, government controlled police state. Orwell was right, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face…FOREVER.
His demeanor belies his belief is nothing more than a dream.
Communism is the dream the eventually becomes the nightmare.

The ironic thing about what the troll said is that, as recent as about two years ago, I would have eagerly agreed with him, more or less 100%.  I have, however, since learned more about labour issues and therefore now understand that whatever is ‘impressive’ about his argument is only superficially so.  Looked at with greater scrutiny, his response shows appalling straw-manning and ignorance, to say nothing of its callousness toward the plight of the poor.

My response to his argument, given below point for point, was not posted on the Facebook page for him to read (nor do I wish it to be) for several reasons: first, it is too long, and would read like a rant (for indeed, there are so many weaknesses in his logic that such a lengthy response is unavoidable); second, he is obviously so biased against my position that he’ll never listen or open his mind to it (right-wing propaganda will do that); and finally, his kind of opinionated, obnoxious attitude (“what an ass…What a stupid, stupid man…”) is something I have little patience for, and what follows below would assuredly just be answered with more of his aggressive, closed-minded rudeness and straw-man arguments.  Thus, I write this response for those willing to listen and open their minds.

My Response:

I–The Free Market

By contrasting “free market” capitalism against “capitalism as it is today”, namely, “a top down government directed sort”, he is suggesting a number of utterly absurd ideas: the free market isn’t a top-down sort of capitalism, it doesn’t involve government at all (or involves only a minimal amount of government intervention), and what we have today isn’t laissez-faire capitalism.

He also, fantastically, more or less equates the crony capitalism of the Obama administration with communism, showing his obvious ignorance of even the most basic of Marxist ideas (it’s always amusing to know that those most hostile to socialism are those totally ignorant of its most elementary ideas).  Socialist governments do not redistribute wealth and power to the rich, unless they’re so corrupt as no longer to deserve to be called socialist; they redistribute it to the poor–the point should be obvious.  What we have today in America is the exact opposite of communism, in almost every conceivable way.  More on that later.

Communism is a system involving a classless, stateless, and money-less society; socialism, according to the definition given by Marxist theory, is the transition between capitalism and communism, using a socialist state (the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat‘) to effect that transition.  This transition is what socialist states like the USSR and China under Mao tried to achieve.  Anarcho-communists like me, on the other hand, want full communism immediately after the proletarian revolution, with no transitional state in between.

This stateless preference is, as I see it, for two reasons: first, because the state capitalism of socialist states tends to be self-perpetuating rather than effecting a real transition to full communism (the state becomes the new capitalists); either this self-perpetuation occurs, or we have a relapse into capitalism (i.e., Russia in the 1990s, or China from Deng Xiaoping onward).  The second reason for preferring no transitional state is to avoid the kind of totalitarianism my trolling friend is so terrified of, but can’t imagine existing in the free market, which I must examine now.

The so-called ‘free market’ is something fetishized by many Americans (including my American troll friend), more than a few British, and sporadically others (i.e., Stefan Molyneux in Canada), people who either allow themselves to be taken in by right-wing propaganda, or try to con others with it.  These people imagine that an unregulated, or at least minimally regulated, economy will result in prosperity for all.  In their world (as well as that of the conspiracy theorists), government is apparently the only evil to be vanquished.  Capitalism, on the other hand, is perfectly OK and should be left alone.  Minimized taxation, ‘freedom’ to pay lower wages, and reduced benefits for workers will result in maximized profits (of course!), which will in turn result in maximized reinvestment, creating more jobs.  The wealth of the rich will therefore ‘trickle down’ to the poor. (Notice how, apparently, ‘trickle down‘ economics is in no way connected to a “top down” sort of capitalism.)

This idea is not merely ridiculously untrue; it is an outright lie.  Wealth inequality is now reaching levels comparable in many ways to those of the 19th century, largely because of neoliberal policies advocated in the 1970s and begun during the Reagan and Thatcher years.  We aren’t lacking in laissez-faire capitalism: we’ve been drowning in it for over thirty years now.  Only readers of right-wing propaganda would have missed that fact.  I once did, because I used to read conservative agit-prop; I, indeed, was once a right-libertarian, much like my troll friend seems to be–but like Will Moyer, I’m not anymore.

[NOTE TO READER: My use below of a book by economist Ha-Joon Chang–who advocates a ‘reformed’ capitalist economy with extensive government regulation of a sort essentially like the kind advocated by mainstream liberals or social democrats–must not be misconstrued as an endorsement of such suggestions for a solution to our present economic woes.  I want absolutely no compromises with capitalism.  I use Chang’s book only to show the hopeless flaws of free market capitalism, for his book gives a devastating critique of it.  He himself considers capitalism to be “the worst economic system except for all the others.” (his emphasis)  So, like Keynes, who allegedly once said capitalism is, “the astonishing belief that the nastiest motives of the nastiest men somehow or other work for the best results in the best of all possible worlds,” Chang can be seen as an example of how even some capitalists admit that capitalism is a terrible system.]

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, by Ha-Joon Chang (Penguin Books, 2010), is a timely book that thoroughly examines how the free market is not only responsible for all the appalling wealth inequality we’ve been suffering, but is also ineffective in improving the economy–the one rationale for adopting laissez-faire.  The one virtue it supposedly has, which its advocates claim will compensate for wealth inequality, even that virtue is lacking.

To keep the economy going, people need to have money to buy things; they can’t do that if the vast majority are so poor that they can barely subsist.  During the mid-twentieth century, the so-called ‘Golden Age of Capitalism’ (between 1950 and 1973), when the economy enjoyed the highest-ever growth rates in most of the rich capitalist countries (Chang, page 142), unions were strong, there was rapid growth in progressive taxation and social welfare spending, and wages were higher.  The free market had nothing to do with this prosperity.

What Chang’s book shows (page 145) is how, with the rise of neoliberalism from the 80s to the present, economic growth in the top capitalist economies has actually slowed.  The free market is clearly bad for the economy, and bad all around.  It is clear to all thinking people that laissez faire benefits the rich, and only the rich.  It’s also easy to see that free market advocates, who routinely dupe ‘anarcho’-capitalists with their anti-government (and only anti-government) rhetoric, are not only wrong, they’re outright lying.

It is so sad to know that many people are still deceived by these lies, to this day, even after the 2008 economic crisis (which prompted Chang’s book).  To say that a freer market, or a non-governmental, absolutely free market (of the sort that the ‘anarcho’-capitalists propose), is the solution to the world’s ills makes as much sense as saying that Naziism would have benefitted the world had it been allowed to run its course, with no resistance at all!

There are, of course, some examples of badly planned economies in socialist countries: for example, the Soviet-type planned economy, with its systemic undersupply, anti-innovation bias, and low quality of goods, among many other problems; and the disastrous Great Leap Forward of Maoist China.  Social Democrats in northern European countries, however, have proven much more capable (see Chang, pages 104-105, to learn how Norway, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, and Sweden all had higher per capita incomes, in US dollars, than the US in 2007.  Remember that these countries are largely social democratic).

Just as there are different kinds of capitalism, there are also different kinds of socialism, as opposed to the troll’s straw-man characterization of them by painting them all with the same brush.  Now, which ideology’s differences are more significant, and which more negligible–those of socialism, or those of capitalism?  These differences we will now explore.

The troll’s notion of a “top down government directed sort” of capitalism is crony capitalism, or ‘corporatism’, where certain big, powerful corporations are given preferential treatment over other businesses, such as Mom and Pop ones–in other words, favouritism through government regulation.  I assume he imagines that the ‘free market’ will result in a level playing field in which all businesses compete equally.  Then happiness and harmony will reign.  Speaking of utopian dreaming…

Since capitalism requires a state to protect private property, and since capitalism’s driving motive is always gain–no matter who among the poor gets hurt, then it is easy to see how capitalism quickly degenerates into cronyism.  If the state can benefit certain companies against others–for a price–by regulating in the formers’ favour, then those richer companies will gladly forsake fairness to make even greater profits.  With capitalism, the key word is profit, not freedom.

Also, as Chang explains in his book, there is no such thing as an objectively defined ‘free market’ (pages 1-10).  What some consider necessary regulations, others consider hindrances to the free market.  Some regulations are ‘invisible’, as it were, and taken for granted, but are absolutely necessary to hold a capitalist society together.

Capitalism requires state protection of private property just to exist (I’m sorry to disillusion the ‘anarcho’-capitalists, but if they had their way, the capitalists would become the state, more or less immediately), and where there’s a state, there will always be regulations of one kind or another.  That is part of the state’s raison d’être.

So the question shouldn’t be whether there should be government regulation at all, or none at all, but rather how much–or how little–regulation there should be.  Put another way, how far shall we take deregulation, if government–and government alone–is such an evil bogeyman?  Shall we, for example, legalize child labour, or even child pornography, just for the sake of the free market?  What about slavery, when human trafficking already exists in a huge way, if illegally?  Won’t decriminalizing those moral monstrosities maximize profits and boost the economy?  It is ‘job creation’, after all, isn’t it?

Just to give you an idea of how scary some ‘anarcho’-capitalists envision a stateless capitalist society, remarks were made on a page called ‘AnCap 101’ on Reddit.com: on the comments page answering the questions of ‘Left Anarchist here, can somebody give me some answers?’.  Scroll down to where it says “Are laws different from town to town?”  Thanks to SLANCAP for bringing this to my attention:

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Here we see how the free market is a dream that eventually turns into a nightmare.

When free market advocates promote deregulation, they aren’t talking about ending government oppression (quite the opposite, as we’ll see): they just want to hog as much money to their avaricious selves as they can.  They wish to annihilate only those aspects of government that they find inconvenient, i.e., socialism.

II–The Tyranny of Work

The next thing my free marketeer friend took issue with was the notion of “the tyranny of work”, as described by Jesse Myerson in the YouTube video.  The quintessential trolling tactic for stifling dissent and ‘winning’ an argument cheaply–through rudeness and emotion instead of through a carefully constructed counter-argument–is epitomized in this cocky retort: “What an ass…what a stupid, stupid man, such a dreamer…”

What can I say, but that I love the smell of ad hominem attacks in the morning.  To the troll, I suppose it smells like victory.

When Myerson spoke of involuntary employment and involuntary unemployment, and of the need to liberate ourselves from that, he wasn’t advocating a world where people don’t have to work at all.  He spoke of coupling the idea of a guaranteed minimal income with guaranteed work, so under socialism we wouldn’t have droves of people living in total idleness, while everything is being produced for them like magic.  Myerson’s idea could be compared to what is being experimented with in Sweden, with the six-hour work-day.

Myerson was advocating a more flexible lifestyle where, of course, people work, but they don’t have to find themselves so chained to their job that they can’t even leave it alone on weekends (e.g. the boss calling you on your smartphone over and over again when you’re trying to enjoy a relaxing weekend with your family).

No socialist in his or her right mind imagines that communism will create a perfect society where we never have any problems.  The way I’ve heard some right-libertarians [i.e., Molyneux] speak, on the other hand, of how free market competition–free of government interference–will naturally cause us [via ‘the invisible hand’] to drift away from buying the products of any companies that we suspect are, for example, racist or exploitative, sounds a lot more utopian…and stupid…to me.

As Myerson says in his Salon article: “For me, communism is an aspiration, not an immediately achievable state.”  Most socialists and communists agree that our ideal is ultimately something far off in the future, when better conditions (i.e., better technology, a post-scarcity economy) will finally be available for the society we want.

The troll imagines that if one doesn’t like one’s job, one can simply quit; and since no one is “raising arms to protect the employer about that”, the bosses are presumably the ones to be pitied in such a situation.

Given the miserable state of the economy over the past six years since the 2008 economic crisis, out of which the world is still only slowly crawling, and may crawl back into if we’re unlucky, the troll’s cockiness–about workers simply quitting undesirable jobs–is bizarre in the extreme.  Is he not aware of how difficult it is to find decent work right now…in his own country, America?

One does not simply quit one’s job during a bad economy, when replacement jobs are scarce.  Even during a strong economy, if one has a limited skill set, quitting a job exposes one to the risk of not finding an adequate replacement, and therefore to the risk of homelessness and starvation.  Socialists knew this reality during the 19th century; socialists know this now; we’ve always known this.

Millions of people in such G8 countries as the US, the UK, and Russia–where the free market is in full swing–are living on subsistence wages; if they even can make ends meet (which they frequently can’t), they can only barely eke it out.  These are people, real people, not just “worker bees for the elite”.

These people do not just work eight-hour, five-day-a-week shifts; they are frequently over-worked and underpaid.  Those working for the current sorry excuse for a minimum wage, far below what they need to earn to survive, are forced to take on extra jobs just to make ends meet.  Then there are those working in sweatshops in the Third World, a world I suspect my troll friend doesn’t know even exists.

Many people in the world work ten or twelve-hour days, if not more, and often on weekends, too–without compensation.  I see engineers in Taiwan, where I’ve lived for almost two decades now, who are experiencing this ongoing problem.  Quitting at best leads to another such miserable job; at worst, quitting leads to starvation, homelessness, and death.

My free marketeer friend is probably thinking about straightforward jobs in the First World, like working in a bookstore; he probably never thinks of how the smartphone or computer he uses to type his anti-socialist rants was put together by overworked, underpaid Chinese, or southeast Asians, in sweatshops, those “worker bees” who barely make enough money to feed their families, and are terrified of being fired.

No one rushes to protect the rights of the employer who must replace workers who quit because, often enough, there are others from the reserve army of labour, eager to take the quitters’ place (an eagerness that comes only out of desperation to find a job).  My parents owned a pancake restaurant back in the 80s, and whenever an employee quit (which was not infrequent), getting a replacement was admittedly a pain.  But to compare that inconvenience to the plight of workers under capitalism is a sick joke.

That plight, as I described above, is essentially what Myerson meant by “the tyranny of work”, or what other socialists call wage slavery.  Capitalists like the troll only scoff at that tyranny, though: they care more about the tyranny of Stalinism and Maoism (more accurately, they gleefully point it out to make straw man arguments and generalizations about all socialism, in order to invalidate it).  Now I must come to my next point.

III–The Sins of State Socialism

Anyone who has done at least a cursory learning of the history of communism has read about the atrocities of the various socialist governments, especially those of Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot.  Estimates of the total death toll range from 85 million to 100 million, as the political right portrays it.

It is beyond the scope of this article to do a detailed analysis of what happened during, for example, the collectivization of the USSR during the late 20s and early 30s, and such events as the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the Killing Fields.  For Maoist and Stalinist perspectives on these events (largely not my views), you can look at Raymond Lotta Takes on Lies about Mao’s Great Leap Forward.  Also, you can read this article in the Monthly Review: Did Mao Really Kill Millions in the Great Leap Forward?  A video by Jason Unruhe (Maoist Rebel News) deals with Stalinism: On The Alleged Deaths in Stalin’s USSR.  Here’s Unruhe’s perspective on the Cultural Revolution.  Here’s more on the Cultural Revolution.  Finally, there’s Unruhe’s video, Truth about Pol Pot and Maoism.

Back to my main argument.

It is not at all my wish to whitewash, trivialize, or rationalize away the deaths that did occur during the above-mentioned regimes, which make up the bulk of the death toll attributed to communism.  For me, socialism is about human rights and justice, the opposite of totalitarianism. Still, there was a lot of ugliness that occurred during those years.

Victims were executed, overworked in labour camps (a chilling irony for a movement dedicated to ending the tyranny of work), or starved to death (though generally as a result of unintended consequences).  These sad chapters in the history of socialism will always embarrass the Left, with the added feature of right-wing propaganda and its Schadenfreude over that embarrassment.

While admitting that terrible things happened, we must nonetheless put these tragedies in perspective, not to excuse them in the least, but to give them a context for better understanding what happened and knowing the world they came from.  Such an understanding will not only show that such evil is neither exclusive nor essential to socialism, it will also, I believe, improve our chances of not repeating those horrors.

First, we must consider the perpetrators; let’s start with Stalin.  He was hardly a garden variety communist: he was a paranoid psychopath, not much different from the despots who preceded him in feudal history.  Many of his victims, by the way, were dedicated communists; Stalin had whole communist parties executed during the Great Purge.  A lack of psychopathy in him would have been a huge improvement, undoubtedly.

Stalin grew up in a Russia inured to tsarist tyranny; autocratic authoritarianism was a norm against which there was hardly an egalitarian alternative to emulate.  Knowing this, we shouldn’t be too surprised that his rule would be gripped with the same fear of losing power as the tsars of the past had.  Any suspicion of treason or counter-revolution would thus inevitably lead to many killings.  The problem is that Stalin, in killing communists as well as wealthy kulaks, took his suspicions way too far.

Furthermore, he deviated from Marxism/Leninism in such striking ways that, in the opinion of many on the Left, he wasn’t a real communist.  (In anticipation of being accused of the ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy, I will say that yes, I do believe real socialism did exist at one time at least: among the Catalonian anarcho-syndicalists of the Spanish Revolution of 1936; incidentally, Stalin–in his paranoia of the spread of Trotskyism, as well as in his belief that Spain had first to go through a capitalist phase before embracing socialism–betrayed the Spanish communists, hence their defeat by Franco and the forces of Fascism.)

Among the non-communist elements of Stalinism were his use of American private enterprises (such as the Ford Motor Company) to industrialize Russia, under strict state supervision; once the firms had finished their stints, they left, and the USSR took over.  In the opinion of many on the Left, what Stalin and, earlier, Lenin were doing wasn’t real communism–it was a kind of state capitalism.

The most notably non-communist element of Stalinism, however, was the notion of ‘Socialism in One Country‘.  This idea–involving focusing on socialism only in the Soviet Union, while the rest of the world had first to be industrialized and subjected to a capitalist phase before embracing socialism–runs totally against the socialist idea of promoting proletarian revolutions around the world.

Small wonder that the much more genuinely communist Leon Trotsky (the lesser of the Bolshevik evils, in my opinion)–with his notion of ‘Permanent Revolution’ contrasting with Stalinism, as well as Trotskyism’s somewhat more democratic nature–was defeated and even murdered with a blow to the head from an ice ax, held in the hand of a Soviet agent.

Whether Stalinism is genuinely communist or not is a major point of contention among the various factions of the Left: what is of little doubt is that psychopaths’ jealous love of power, a Machiavellian trait, is far from being an exclusively socialist vice.

It is interesting to note that, despite Hitler’s fanatical hatred of communists, he considered the Stalinist Russia of the 1930s to be strikingly similar to the Nazi way of doing things (thanks in no small part to Stalin’s purging the Communist Party of Jews like Trotsky, of course).  Mussolini, too, spoke well of Stalin’s ‘Slavic Fascism’.  The similarity to Naziism is not hard to see: totalitarianism, state capitalism, focusing on one’s own country rather than on internationalism, and the purging of political dissidents and Jews were all hallmarks of Naziism.

Contrary to what some right-libertarians like to believe, though, Naziism and Fascism were not socialist–certainly not in practice.  (Years back, I read Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism, and even then wasn’t convinced of his arguments, back when I was sympathetic to conservative ideas.)  The National Socialist German Workers Party may have had left-leaning members in Joseph Goebbels, Ernst Roehm, and Otto and Gregor Strasser, but all left-wing elements were purged from the Nazi Party as soon as Hitler came to power.  With the backing of big business in Germany, Hitler naturally moved the Nazis to the far right; indeed, the first people to be put in the concentration camps were communists, social democrats, anarchists, and other leftists.  National Socialism was capitalist in practice, and that’s what really matters.  Indeed, capitalists on many occasions in history have used Fascism to further their agenda.

And who played a crucial role in defeating Nazi Germany at the end of World War II, thus ending the rising death toll in the concentration camps (which included the deaths of 3.3 million Soviet POWs)?  Stalin’s Red Army, strengthened by the rapid industrialization of his three Five Year Plans!

This leads us to another indispensable point: the good that Stalin did.  His modernization of Russia helped bring the country from a backward, agrarian one to a superpower in a matter of decades (so much for the stereotype of communists who never work).  America, in contrast, took much longer to grow as strong as it did.  Naziism similarly strengthened Germany economically, industrially, and even environmentally, but Hitler’s reckless pursuit of lebensraum, which caused WWII, made this strengthening so short-lived as to be negligible in the face of Nazi atrocities.  Stalin’s successes offset his evils far better, if imperfectly.

As for Chairman Mao, much of the failures and deaths that resulted from his rule can be explained by bad harvests in the late 1950s and early 60s, and by power struggles between his leftist faction and the rightist faction led by Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, who made the implementation of Mao’s plans very difficult to say the least.  The death toll, though probably exaggerated by right-wing propaganda, was surely in the tens of millions at least.  That said, we must ask: were the catastrophes of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution the fault of communism per se, or of the particular rule of one idealistic but failed leader?

Regardless of whether one chooses to judge these failures as harshly as the Right does, or to mitigate them as many on the Left do, one thing cannot, and must not, be denied (though conservatives always deny it): capitalism’s death toll, by the most conservative of estimates, is at least ten times higher than the highest estimates of the communist death toll.

Now for some real perspective.

IV–Capitalist Crimes

If socialist governments have caused famines, so has capitalism–ultimately, on a much larger scale, in spite of what Steven Rosefielde, author of Red Holocaust, thinks.  An important aspect of capitalism is imperialism; Lenin pointed this out in his essay, “Imperialism: the Final Stage of Capitalism”, as well as in his efforts to get socialists to oppose WWI.  In order to find fresh, new markets, the capitalist must go out to other countries, plunder their resources, and exploit local labour.  America has always done this, as did the British and other European empires in the last few centuries.

In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis shows how laissez faire and Malthusianism exacerbated food shortages caused by El Nino in the Third World, resulting in famines that killed 30 million to 60 million locals in such countries as India, China, Brazil, Ethiopia, Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines, back in the late 19th century.  Capitalists gave food only to those with money.  Here’s the free market: a dream for the rich, which turned into a nightmare for the poor.

Also, there was the Bengal Famine of 1943, in which 1.5 to 4 million people died of starvation, malnutrition, or disease.  This happened during the last years of the British Raj, when British authorities refused to help, assuming hoarding was the cause.  Churchill had food diverted from the locals to British troops and Greek civilians.

On top of these and other famines caused by imperialism, millions die of starvation every year, when enough food can be produced to feed the whole world.  This starvation is preventable, and has been preventable, for decades at least; yet food producers don’t want to reduce profits, so the food goes only to people with money.  Ergo, capitalism causes starvation.

(It has been noted in several online sources that there’s enough food produced to feed the whole world, but instead it just gets wasted in the First World.  Here is a Wikipedia source: scroll down to where it says ‘Starvation Statistics’; here’s another source; as I said, there are many other online sources confirming this fact.  This should answer my troll’s question of how it is possible to provide for everybody.  He thinks socialism will result in scarcity, through people living in idleness; but it’s actually capitalism, with its private property, that creates an artificial scarcity.  He says, “You don’t work you don’t eat”, but many work, or try to work, and still don’t eat…or don’t eat enough, anyway.  He may think only a government controlled socialist police state can provide for everybody, and that, apparently, only socialist governments are police states; but many of us on the Left realize that many laissez faire governments have been authoritarian police states: the Pinochet government, the Franco regime, and the US under Bush [with his tax cuts for the rich], and Obama, who may have talked the socialist talk, but is anything but a socialist.  Anyone who thinks Obama is a communist or socialist is clearly, visibly stupid.)

If one calculated the preventable deaths of starvation of the past twenty or thirty years alone, one would already have a death toll much higher than the highest estimates of those who died under communist rule, be they of famine or of execution.  According to this site, over 7.5 million people died of hunger in 2013.  The total number of hungry people gets lower year by year, so in other words, the total number of deaths would have only been higher before 2013.  Check this link (scroll to the bottom) to see how many children have died of hunger over the 1990s.

These are not, however, the only deaths directly or indirectly attributable to capitalism.

We have to consider the many imperialist wars fought over the years, wars exploited by capitalists through various forms of war profiteering.  These profiteers include international arms dealers, scientific researchers (corporations and the state profit from the demand for military technology modernization), commodity dealers (who take advantage of shortages, thereby setting higher prices and getting higher revenues), politicians (who take bribes from corporations involved with war production), civilian contractors (think of Bechtel, KBR, Blackwater, and Haliburton, who’ve supplied coalition forces in the Iraq War and were accused of overcharging for their services), and black marketeers, among others.

Indeed, in his book War Is a Racket (1935), Major General Smedley D. Butler drew on his experiences as a career military officer to explain how business interests commercially benefit from war through war profiteering.  This problem is an old one that’s lasted for decades and decades, thus indicting capitalism further.

With that knowledge, let’s look at some more statistics.  In World War Two, 50 million to 85 million people died.  The number of Iraqi deaths due to the 2003 US invasion are over 1.4 million.  Add to these all the other capitalist imperialist wars after the Russian Revolution, as well as all the deaths from starvation mentioned above, and you already have a much higher total than the 100 million estimate for the victims of communism.

Let’s add to this all the deaths from tobacco; according to the WHO, 100 million people died of tobacco over the course of the 20th century, and 5.4 million deaths in 2004.  Also, according to the Surgeon General’s report of 2014, 20 million people died of smoking over the past 50 years.  This is after a clear link was made between smoking and cancer in 1950 in the UK.  Unfortunately, the tobacco industry seems to think too much about its own profits to care about those addicted to their products.

In other health-related news, since the creation of anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS, the drugs have been denied to millions of AIDS sufferers in Africa, because Big Pharma cares more about profits than people.  10 million Africans died between 1997 and 2003 because they did not get the needed drugs.

We must also consider the cost of capitalism on the environment, something for which there are sources all over the internet and in volumes of books to back up this dire fact (and remember the consensus in the scientific community on global warming); but alas, capitalists experience nothing but cognitive dissonance and denial about these facts.  Despicable.

If executions disturb my troll friend’s sense of morality, he might want to consider how the CIA-backed Suharto regime killed 500,000 to 1 million communists in the mid 1960s.

Now these are only a selection of the many millions of deaths attributable either directly or indirectly to capitalism.  There are also millions more, prior to the 20th century.  I’ve already mentioned the ‘Late Victorian Holocausts’.  There was also the Atlantic slave trade, in which about 10 million blacks died over the course of four centuries; they died of disease on the boat ride across the ocean.  This was all so the plantation owners of the South could profit off of blacks’ totally unpaid, backbreaking labour.

Then there was the killing off (through disease or massacres) of as many as 100 million aboriginals due to European settlement of North and South America between 1492 and 1900.  Capitalism has to expand in order to develop new markets.  Anyone who gets in the way, dies.

Finally, there have been all the strikers and unionists who have suffered violence and deaths over the years (remember how strong unions strengthen productivity, a fact the free marketeers ignore).  One example was the Banana Massacre of 1928 in Colombia, in which 2,000 to 3,000 workers were killed.  Anti-union violence in general can be read about here.   Here we see capitalism growing out of the barrel of a gun.  If socialism uses force, capitalism does so even more.

(Now, any capitalist reading this may doubt whether these deaths I’ve described can justifiably be all attributed solely to capitalism, as opposed to other factors.  Such critics may want to remember that while they can make excuses for these deaths, and in attributing non-capitalist factors to many of the deaths, they can thus reduce the total, Leftists can play the exact same reduction game with the 85 million to 100 million death count blamed on communism.)

V–Ignorance Is Strength

Of course, no anti-socialist diatribe can be complete without quoting George Orwell out of context.  (It is indeed nauseating how the Right misuses Orwell to advance their agenda.)  Since the anti-socialist troll wasn’t letter perfect in his quote, I’ll correct it here: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever.”

Yes, I’ve read Nineteen Eighty-four, too (twice, actually; I’ve even lectured on the novel).  I’ve read (and lectured on) Animal Farm more than once, too.  I’ve also read another of Orwell’s works: Homage to Catalonia.  In that non-fiction book, Orwell recounts his experiences fighting against the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War.  When he got to Spain, he was quite impressed by what he saw–a town where socialism was being practiced:

“It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle.  Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists…Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivized…There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.”

When Orwell wrote Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four, he wasn’t attacking socialism per se, which he ardently supported.  He was attacking Stalinism, Fascism, and totalitarianism in general, which he had just experienced in a big way not only during the Spanish Civil War (see above for Stalin’s betrayal of the Spanish leftists), but also saw during World War Two, with the onslaught of Nazi Germany.  Orwell was a believer in democratic socialism, which has always existed alongside communism.  Yes, my free marketeer friends, there actually is something called democratic socialism.  Now I’m no supporter of social democracy any more than I am of state communism; but the very existence of social democracy should ultimately show how wrong-headed my right-wing friend’s understanding of socialist ‘totalitarianism’ is.

Furthermore, if it’s government that is the real evil, and if that troll insists that socialism always equals government, then I have one word to say to him: anarchism.  This form of socialism is the one I espouse, and like Orwell, I too am impressed with the anarcho-syndicalist socialism I’ve read about during the Spanish Revolution.

As an anarchist, I’m opposed to all forms of authoritarianism.  I oppose the authoritarianism of government (the tyrannical sort, or the pampering sort social democrats offer, often at the expense of the Third World).  I oppose the authority of vanguardism (hence, even if the Right is correct to damn Stalinist and Maoist communism as harshly as they do, it makes little difference to me).  I oppose the illegitimate authority of one sex or racial group over another, and that of any privileged group over another, especially that of bosses!

I believe that the means of production should be held firmly in the hands of the workers, neither in those of private owners, nor in those of the state.  And that brings me back to my definition of socialism: it isn’t totalitarian tyranny, it isn’t about extensive government intrusion in our lives, and it isn’t any more about forcing one’s agenda on the populace than capitalism is.  It’s about social justice.  It’s about sharing.  It isn’t the right-wing definition of socialism, but it is, by any reasonable standard of objectivity, the right definition of socialism.

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