I used to call myself a Marxist, to distance myself from “those communists.” Now I know better. I’d be a card-carrying communist, if they issued cards.*
We’ve been lied to about communism. So much, and so emphatically, that anti-communism is more like religious fundamentalism than serious political inquiry.
Over and over, for more than 150 years, we’ve been told the Big Lie about communism. There are a lot of little lies that shore up the big lie. The big lie is that communism is always and everywhere a form of tyranny that will take away your freedom, property, and dignity, leaving you in poverty and slavery.
All the while, the rich are robbing you blind, making democracy a sham by buying politicians, ruining the environment, supporting dictatorships all over the world, degrading your working conditions when they aren’t shipping your job elsewhere, charging you more for health care and medications, keeping you in wage slavery, ravaging the environment … The list goes on.
They lie to you about communism because they want to maintain the system they have. This system is enormously, unbelievably rewarding to a very few at the top, much less so to those in the middle, and absolutely punishing to the many at the bottom.
This state of affairs is called capitalism. In capitalism, everything – where you live, where you work, what kind of work you do and how you get compensated, what happens when you’re sick, what happens if you’re a person of color, what happens if you are female, what happens if you are LGBTQ, what happens if you belong to an indigenous people, what you eat, drink or breathe – it’s all subordinated to profit.
Profit is a technical term in economics for what most of us call greed. Profit is what makes the handful of people at the top of the current social structure so incredibly rich and powerful. Profit is why one person has billions of dollars, while billions of people live on less than two dollars a day.
Let’s look at some examples of how this works.
For instance, how do capitalists benefit from racism? Several ways. One, it helps them make more money to have a sector of the work force that is kept in poverty, who will be more willing to take crummy jobs for low pay, and keep their mouths shut about working conditions because they can’t afford to lose even a lousy job. Second, it helps keep people in line. If white workers blame black or Hispanic workers for their own miserable jobs or unemployment, then they won’t blame the bosses. Very handy – if you’re a boss.
Same thing with gender. If you pay a woman 69% of what you’d pay a man for the same job, you get to keep more money for yourself. And if the dominant culture allows or even encourages men to take out their frustrations on women, then men won’t see the need to struggle to change the system that keeps everyone – not just women – locked into low pay, substandard living conditions, the cycle of debt, second-rate schools, and all that. (These are not the only ways racism and gender discrimination affect our working class brothers and sisters, just a few brief examples.)
It’s even more obvious why capitalists exploit the environment. If they can take oil, or coal, or wheat, or trees, or any natural resource without having to worry about safety, pollution, or sustainability, then it’s more money in their pockets. If there’s an oil spill and they have to spend $50 million to clean it up, why, it’s just the cost of doing business. If cancer causing chemicals are killing people and they have to pay large settlements, even $500 million bucks is nothing compared to the billions of dollars they’ve kept for themselves.
By using money and power (including violence), the ruling class keeps the laws in their favor. In America, this is done through a two-party system. Both parties are run by the ruling class. This powerful elite is not always in agreement about the best way to run things; this is why they have two parties.
The Republicans think they can stay if they get most of the money and lots of people, and the Democrats think they can win if they get most of the people and lots of money. If the Republicans win, then they have to please the people with the money – the plutocrats or 1% – and enough of the voting public to stay in. If the Democrats win, they have to please the voting public and enough of the plutes.
So, while the Republicans are more likely to favor the rich people who are all about money, and the Democrats are more likely to favor the rich who want to do something to help “the less fortunate,” both favor the rich one way or the other and keep them in the driver’s seat.
Either way, the billionaire class is less than 1% of the population, so their power is enormously out of proportion to the power of the voting public. This is why both parties cater to the billionaires, the real ruling class. (The 20 wealthiest people in the US own more than half of the total US population. Does “ruling class” sound like an exaggeration to you?)
Both parties will use diplomacy and military intervention as needed to keep America in political and economic power over the rest of the world. Lyndon Johnson was as big a hawk as Ronald Reagan, and did far more damage in Vietnam than Reagan did in Central America. Barack Obama has been more restrained than his predecessor George W. Bush, but expanded the use of drones for assassination, and has bombed extensively in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria, countries with which we are not technically at war.
The alternative to capitalism is socialism. Socialism values the good of society as a whole over personal gain. Everybody would own their own home, clothes, TV, whatever. This is called personal property, and it will still be there for your personal use. You would still be paid for the work you do.
What would change is that one tiny group of people wouldn’t own all the places where we work, people who do none of the work yet reap the wealth that we create.
Under socialism, some of your compensation would not need to be given to you individually. If we all have health care, you don’t need money to pay for a separate insurance policy. If child care is freely available, we don’t need to earn enough money to pay for that. If higher education is free, you don’t have to go into debt to go to college.
Under socialism, some jobs will be valued more by society, so people who have them will earn more. Teachers might be paid more than taxi drivers, because we value our kids’ education so much and we want good teachers. But vast inequalities in wealth and income would no longer exist as they do today under capitalism. Everybody would be working class.
There are varieties of socialism. The best known is based on the work of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.
Some people who agree with Marx just call themselves socialists. Okay by me. Some call themselves Marxists. Some call themselves communists. Marx, who wrote “The Communist Manifesto,” considered himself a communist. I’m told he once said that he was not a Marxist. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Since Bernie Sanders mounted such a fine campaign for President, the term “socialism” has once more become an acceptable part of our political conversation in the US. Socialism has never been the dirty word in many other countries that it has been here. Many countries have active communist parties with widespread public support. Some of those communist parties can be described as democratic socialist. This is true of the Communist Party of the USA, with its “Bill of Rights Socialism.”
Communists have done a lot of good in the world. In the US, for instance, communists were crucial in the gains made for working people by the labor movement in the 20th century. They were involved early on in the fight for gender and racial justice. In Asia, Africa, and South America communists have fought for economic equality and an end to colonial domination. Socialists on every continent have established educational programs and affordable medical care for people who had been kept in illiteracy and illness by their capitalist bosses.
The African National Congress, which spearheaded the fight against apartheid, has been allied with the South African Communist Party (SANC) since 1955, and is itself a member of the Socialist International. Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela was a member of the SANC for a time, and was greatly influenced by the anti-imperialist views of Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Other famous communists include: novelist Simone de Beauvoir; professor Angela Davis; poet Amiri Baraka; screenwriter Dalton Trumbo; scholar and NAACP co-founder W.E.B. DuBois; president of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta; author Albert Camus; folk singer Woody Guthrie; nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer; actor and singer Paul Robeson; journalist John Reed; philosopher and playwright Jean Paul Sartre; novelist Howard Fast; labor leader Elizabeth Gurley Flynn; painter Diego Rivera; and many more.
Capitalists, and their minions, stooges and patsies demonize communism so you won’t even consider it as an option. They’ve been doing this since communism first appeared. They have used jail, violence, black-listing, character assassination, and more to scare people away.
There’s no question that some who call themselves communists, such as Stalin and Mao, have committed unspeakable violations of human rights. Remember earlier when I said there are different models of communism? Some of those models have failed atrociously. Such abhorrent crimes cannot be explained away. But remember this: in that insane calculus in which deaths caused by communists are abominable but those caused by capitalists are merely “unfortunate”, there is neither justice nor integrity.
“But right now, as bad as we may be, as many atrocities as we may commit, we are not as bad as Russia. I mean in America, at least the police don’t shoot you — unless, of course, they do.” (Jordy Cummings)
Criticisms of socialist societies by those whose wealth was built on slavery and Jim Crow, who support the butchery of Augusto Pinochet and the mass incarceration of African Americans, who talk about the dangerous Soviet police state while making excuses for the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray and so many others, rings more than hollow. It’s just not believable, so we have to ask what motivates such a fraud? Support of the status quo, that’s what.
For many years, I believed those lies. I’d been raised on them, and didn’t have the knowledge to refute them. Now I do. The truth is not hard to find if you try, and it’s worth looking for. Unless you are one of the 1%, who wouldn’t want a world where people mattered more than greed?
*(Update – they do now. Just got mine.)
(On a personal note: I know some who know me will read this and make assumptions. You can’t assume that I believe X because I said Y. In some ways, I’m rather conservative. In other ways, I might look like a libertarian. At times, I’ve held positions that I later decided were wrong, sometimes regrettably so. But always, since taking a hard left turn in 1967, I’ve had a Marxist take on society. It’s why I’m the kind of social worker that I am. It’s why, as a Christian, I study Liberation Theology.)