Posts Tagged ‘Class Struggle’

Friedrich Engels on the Difference between Socialism and Communism

June 19, 2016

Engels Communism Pamphlet

This morning I posted up a few extracts from Friedrich Engels’ Principles of Communism, published by Pluto Press. The Principles of Communism was the first draft of the Communist Manifesto. Unlike the Manifesto, it’s short – only about 20 pages or so, laying out the essence of Communism in the form of a catechism – short answers to particular questions.

Florence, one of the great commenters on this site, posted this remark in response to the piece:

Not having a copy of the Engels text to hand, I think many would be interested in his thoughts on how socialism and communism differ. It is at the heart of many misunderstandings at the moment!

This is a really big issue, and whole books have been written about the topic. Here’s what Engels says in the pamphlet:

24 How do Communists differ from Socialists?
The so-called Socialists are divided into three categories.

The first category consists of adherents of a feudal and patriarchal society which has already been destroyed, and is still daily being destroyed, by big industry and world trade and their creation, bourgeois society. This category concludes from the evils of existing society that feudal and patriarchal society must be restored because it was free of such evils. In one way or another all their proposals are directed to this end. This category of reactionary socialists, for all their seeming partisanship and their scalding tears for the misery of the proletariat, is nevertheless energetically opposed by the Communists for the following reasons:
(I) It strives for something which is entirely impossible.
(II) It seeks to establish the rule of the aristocracy, the guildmasters, the small producers, and their retinue of absolute or feudal monarchs, officials, soldiers and priests – a society which was, to be sure, free of the evils of present day society but which brought with it at least as many evils without even offering to the oppressed workers the prospect of liberation through a Communist revolution.
(III) As soon as the proletariat becomes revolutionary and Communist, these reactionary Socialists show their true colours by immediately making common cause with the bourgeoisie against the proletarians.

The second category consists of adherents of present-day society who have been frightened for its future by the evils to which it necessarily gives rise. What they want, therefore, is to maintain this society while getting rid of the evils which are an inherent part of it. To this end, some propose mere welfare measures while others come forward with grandiose systems of reform which under the pretence of reorganising society are in fact intended to preserve the foundations, and hence the life, of existing society. Communists must unremittingly struggle against these bourgeois socialists, because they work for the enemies of Communists and protect the society which Communists aim to overthrow.

Finally, the third category consists of democratic socialists who favour some of the same measures the Communists advocate, as described in question 18, not as part of the transition to Communism, however, but rather as measures which they believe will be sufficient to abolish the misery and the evils of present-day society. These democratic socialists are either proletarians who are not yet sufficiently clear about the conditions of the liberation of their class, or they are representatives of the petty bourgeoisie, a class which, prior to the achievement of democracy and the socialist measures to which it gives rise, has many interests in common with the proletariat. It follows that in moments of action the Communists will have to come to an understanding with these democratic Socialists, and in general to follow as far as possible a common policy with them, provided that these Socialists do not enter into the service of the ruling bourgeoisie and attack the Communists. It is clear that this form of co-operation in action does not exclude the discussion of differences.

From what I learned at College, there are a number of differences between Communism and Socialism, and there are a number of different forms of Socialism.
The main difference, which split the Socialist parties off from the Communists at the end of the 19th century, was over the question of whether a revolution was needed to bring about the power of the workers. Marx and Engels were part of the European revolutionary tradition, though they did not oppose fighting elections and in part of their writings looked forward to a peaceful transition to Socialism.

Reformist Socialists, such as Eduard Bernstein in the German Social Democrats, pointed out that instead of getting poorer as Marx and Engels had predicted, the European working class seemed to be becoming better off. He therefore recommended that the SPD should concentrate on fighting elections and promoting the interests of the workers that way, rather than on trying to bring down the system through revolution.

Communism also differs from Socialism generally in that it sees the essence of history as the struggle between succeeding classes. It sees the motor of history as being economic relationships, in which each classes creates in turn the class that eventually is destined to overthrow it. Thus feudalism and the rule of the aristocracy gave rise to bourgeois capitalism. This cleared away aristocratic rule and set about instituting democracy instead. The bourgeoisie in their turn created, through mechanisation and big business, the working class, who do not own the means of production, but merely work at the big machines owned by the factory masters. The working class are therefore the last class to be created by the process of Dialectal Materialism, and will overthrow the bourgeoisie and private property.

There’s also an exclusive emphasis on the role of the working class in the struggle to create a Socialist system. The working class are seen as the only genuinely progressive or revolutionary class, as opposed to the lower middle class or the peasants. This has been modified. For example, Mao based his revolution on the Chinese peasantry, and so significantly modified Marxism in this respect. As did the Russian revolutionaries, who brought about a Communist state in the Soviet Union, when most of the population were still peasants and the working class only constituted a small minority. Marx and Engels expected the first Socialist states to be in the industrialised nations of Western Europe, and were very doubtful about a Socialist revolution succeeding in the Russian Empire.

Marxists also believe in the transvaluation of values. That is, there is no objective, eternal set of moral values. Each society develops a system of morality appropriate for its time, based on the economic foundations of that society. Thus, while Marx is scathing about the exploitation of the poor, nowhere in his writing is there a moral condemnation of that exploitation.

His attitude is in marked contrast to other Socialists, who came to Socialism through religion and ethical considerations, such as some of the Fabians. Lenin and the Russian Communists were extremely sniffy about them, as Marxism considers that it gives an objective account of the origins of society and social change, in contrast to the subjective analysis based on morality of other forms of Socialism.

Communism also differs from other forms of Socialism in that it regards Socialism as merely a transitory period during which people will get so used to sharing, that eventually the state will wither away and something like anarchism will emerge instead.

Finally, Communism in practice has largely consisted in nearly total nationalisation and a one-party state, although China is now one of the major capitalist nations, and reforming, dissident Communists like Imre Nagy in Hungary and Anton Dubcek in Czechoslovakia, and also Mikhail Gorbachev, wished to replace the coercive Communist system of Stalinism with ‘Communism with a human face’, in which other parties would be permitted and the Communist party would have to fight elections like everyone else.

Seumas Milne on the Dangers of Conservative Propaganda in the History of Communism

May 11, 2014

speaker_seumasmilne

One of the most provocative articles in Seumas Milne’s book The Revenge of History: The Battle for the 21st Century (London: Verso 2013) is the piece ‘Communism May Be Dead, But Clearly Not Dead Enough’. The book is a collection of Milne’s articles for the Guardian. In this piece, Milne comments on the demands by the Swedish Conservative MP, Goran Lindblad, that the EU launch an anti-Communist campaign to remind people of the horrors of the Communist regimes across Europe. Milne sees the campaign less as a genuine attack on Communism as Conservative propaganda to deter any radical questioning of European liberal capitalism by presenting the Communist tyrannies of eastern Europe as its outcome. He also notes the connection between colonialism and Nazism, showing that the genocidal policies the Nazis adopted towards the Jews were first used in Africa against its indigenous peoples. The Belgian rule in the Congo similarly resulted in the deaths of millions, while up to a million Algerians were killed by the French in their war for independence. Milne’s piece goes as follows:

Fifteen years after communism was officially pronounced dead, its spectre seems once again to be haunting Europe. Last month, the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly voted to condemn the ‘crimes of totalitarian communist regimes’, linking them with Nazism and complaining that Communist parties are still ‘legal and active in some countries’. Now Goran Lindblad, the conservative Swedish MP behind the resolution, wants to go further. Demands that European ministers launch a continent-wide anti-communist campaign – including school textbook revisions, official memorial days and museums – only narrowly missed the necessary two-thirds majority. Yesterday, declaring himself delighted at the first international condemnation of this ‘evil ideology’, Lindblad pledged to bring the wider plans back to the Council of Europe in the coming months.

He has chosen a good year for his ideological offensive: this is the fiftieth anniversary of Khrushchev’s denunciation of the cult of Stalin and the subsequent Hungarian uprising, which will doubtless be the cue for further excoriation of the communist record. The ground has been well laid by a determined rewriting of history since the collapse of the Soviet Union that has sought to portray twentieth-century communist leaders as monsters equal to or surpassing Hitler in their depravity – and communism and fascism as the two greatest evils of history’s bloodiest era. The latest contribution was last year’s bestselling biography of Mao by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, keenly endorsed by George Bush and dismissed by China specialists as ‘bad history’ and ‘misleading’.

Paradoxically, given that there is no communist government left in Europe outside Moldova, the attacks have if anything become more extreme as time has gone on. A clue as to why that might be can be found in the rambling report by Lindblad that led to the Council of Europe declaration. Blaming class struggle and public ownership, he explained that ‘different elements of communist ideology such as equality or social justice still seduce many’ and ‘a sort of nostalgia for communism is still alive’. Perhaps the real problem for Lindblad and his right-wing allies in eastern Europe is that communism is not dead enough – and they will only be content when they have driven a stake through its heart and buried it at the crossroads at midnight.

The fashionable attempt to equate communism and Nazism is in reality a moral and historical nonsense. Despite the cruelties of the Stalin terror, there was no Soviet Sobibor or Treblinka, no death camps built to murder millions. And while Hitler launched the most devastating war in history at a cost of more than fifty million lives, the Soviet Union played the decisive role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Lindblad and the Council of Europe adopt as fact the wildest estimates of those ‘killed by communist regimes’ (mostly in famines) from the fiercely contested Black Book of Communism, which also underplays the number of deaths attributable to Hitler. The real records of repression now available from the Soviet archives are horrendous enough (799,455 people were reported to have been executed between 1921 and 1953, and the labour camp population reached 2.5 million at its peak) without engaging in an ideologically fuelled inflation game.

But in any case, none of this explains why anyone might be nostalgic in former communist states, now enjoying the delights of capitalist restoration. The dominant account gives no sense of how communist regimes renewed themselves after 1956, or why Western leaders feared they might overtake the capitalist world well into the 1960s. For its brutalities and failures, communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality. It encompassed genuine idealism and commitment, captured even by critical films and books of the post-Stalin era such as Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble and Anatoli Rybakov’s Children of the Arbat. Its existence helped to drive up welfare standards in the West, boosted the anti-colonial movement and provided a powerful counterweight to Western global domination.

It would be easier to take the Council of Europe’s condemnation of communist state crimes seriously if it had also seen fit to denounce the far bloodier record of European colonialism – which only finally came to an end in the 1970s. This was a system of racist despotism, which dominated the globe in Stalin’s time. And while there is precious little connection between the ideas of fascism and communism, there is an intimate link between colonialism and Nazism. The terms Lebensraum and Konzentrationslager were both first used by the German colonial regime in South West Africa (now Namibia), which committed genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples and bequeathed its ideas and personnel directly to the Nazi party.

Around 10 million Congolese died as a result of Belgian forced labour and mass murder in the early twentieth century; tens of millions perished in avoidable or regime-enforced famines in British-ruled Indian; up to a million Algerians died in their war for independence, while controversy now rages in France about a new law requiring teachers to put a positive spin on colonial history. Comparable atrocities were carried out by all European colonialists, but not a word of condemnation from the Council of Europe – nor over the impact of European intervention in the third world since decolonisation. Presumably, European lives count for more.

No major modern political tradition is without blood on its hands, but conflicts over history are more about the future than the past. Part of the current enthusiasm in official Western circles for dancing on the grave of communism is no doubt about relations with today’s Russia and China. But it also reflects a determination to prove there is no alternative to the new capitalist order – and that any attempt to find one is bound to lead to suffering and bloodshed. With the new imperialism now being resisted in both the Muslim world and Latin America, growing international demands for social justice and escalating doubts about whether the environmental crisis can be solved within the existing economic system, the pressure for political and social alternative will increase. The particular form of society developed by twentieth-century communist parties will never be replicated. But there are lessons to be learned from its successes as well as its failures. (pp. 89-90).

I’ve no problems equating the evils of Stalinist Communism with Nazi Germany. It didn’t launch a policy of deliberate extermination, but the millions it murder through forced labour, artificial famine and the deportation of whole nations to Siberia are terrible enough. About 30 million are believed to have been killed by Stalin, though victims’ groups have criticised this, and the true number may be much higher, about 45 million. Occasionally you hear the argument that Communism was worse than the Nazis, as they only murdered 11 1/2 – 12 million people in the concentration camps, of which the largest single group were six million Jews. This again may be an underestimate. I’ve seen on transatlantic Conservative blogs the argument that recent research suggests that 20 million Jews may have been murdered under the Third Reich, including those massacred by Nazi sympathizers and collaborators in occupied Eastern Europe. It also ignores the fact that if the Nazis had won, they planned on working to death the Slavonic peoples of the occupied territories, exterminating Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Belo-Russians, Czech and Slovaks.

The actual numbers of indigenous peoples killed during European colonialism is still very controversial because of the way it directly touches on the questions of anti-racism, pluralism, racial equality and national pride in European countries today. Salman Rushdie once said that the British really didn’t know about their history, because so much of it happened abroad. He’s right. Few Brits really understand British imperial history, its achievements and atrocities, because it so far away on other continents. Moreover, those involved managed to cover up and hide many – but not all by any means – atrocities. It has only been in the last year or two that the state documents on the Mao Mao rebellion have been declassified. And until the publication a few years ago of Victorian Holocausts, I doubt many people realised that the British imperial government at the end of the 19th century had engineered – or refused to act against – famines in India and across the Empire as part of a deliberate ideological campaign to create an international system of free trade. This all needs to be taken into account, as well as the horrors of the Communist regimes. But his point that Conservatives are demanding the particular memorialisation of the victims and horrors of the Communist regimes in order to prevent radical campaigns against the current Neoliberal capitalist order is also certainly true. Some of the groups that are most vociferous in their condemnation of the Communist regimes are Conservatives, for whom any attack on free market capitalism is tantamount to Communism. They have to be criticised and combatted in order for a juster economic and social order, which gives the poor more freedom, can be created.