Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Is Communism inherently violent? (Part 1)

A common defense of Communism is to assert the specific instances which resulted in mass murder and tyranny were the consequences of  historical and economic conditions, and not inherent within Communism itself.

Terry Eagleton in his "Why Marx was Right" for example notes :

The Bolshevik revolution soon found itself besieged by imperial Western armies, as well as threatened by counterrevolution, urban famine and a bloody civil war. It was marooned in an ocean of largely hostile peasants reluctant to hand over their hard-earned surplus at gunpoint to the starving towns. With a narrow capitalist base, disastrously low levels of material production, scant traces of civil institutions, a decimated, exhausted working class, peasant revolts and a swollen bureaucracy to rival the Tsar’s, the revolution was in deep trouble almost from the outset. In the end, the Bolsheviks were to march their starving, despondent, war-weary people into modernity at the point of a gun.


The historian Isaac Deutscher depicts the situation with his usual matchless eloquence. The situation in Russia at the time ‘‘meant that the first and so far the only attempt to build socialism would have to be undertaken in the worst possible conditions, without the advantages of an intensive international division of labour, without the fertilizing influence of old and complex cultural traditions, in an environment of such staggering material and cultural poverty, primitiveness, and crudity as would tend to mar or warp the very striving for socialism.’’. It takes an unusually bold-faced critic of Marxism to claim that none of this is relevant since Marxism is an authoritarian creed in any case.

It is a point that Larry, the Barefoot Bum has reiterated several times in his posts on Communism, the latest as a brief footnote:

The Soviet Union and China also developed communism in a social and cultural environment very different from that which we are used to in the West; because of this deep cultural difference, we must expect them to do things that we find absurd, incomprehensible, or repugnant, and would never be countenanced in the West. (I'm sure they find many of our practices absurd, incomprehensible, or repugnant.) Communism does not entail becoming Russian or Chinese. [link]

However there is a strong counter argument that the type of terror practiced by Lenin cannot be explained by Russian traditions or by the material conditions at the time the Bolshevik regime came into power. I will outline this argument in the next post (because I notice people refuse to read non-short  blog posts).


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