Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Marx's Skeleton

In my last post I mentioned how the Communism deformed politics and discussions of religion. I'd like to expand on that here.

There is not and never has been such a thing as a Communist system. Marxist ethics are derived from Christianity, which came to him through his father's own conversion, Christian influences in Hegel, and from other young Hegelians, most notably Feuerbach. The slogan "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" is almost a paraphrase of the arrangement under which the apostles lived in Acts 2:44, 45. Charity lies at the root of Marx's critique of Capitalism. But Marx never actually proposed any means to bring people to embrace charity as a way of life. He simply criticised the existing system, called for its abolishment, and hoped that something better would replace it. In this sense, Communism is a true castle in the sky: beautiful, noble, desirable, but with no road to reach it. It was a pipe dream. Marx had no stomach for the real struggle, which takes place in the individual human soul, without which all other struggles are doomed to failure.

Enter Dostoyevsky's 'Demons', the Nihilists and revolutionaries, and their successors, the Bolsheviks. They too, wanted to destroy the system, but with no idea of what to replace it with. For the Nihilists, destruction itself was the goal. But underlying this goal was the desire to invoke chaos and, out of the ashes of the world, create a new order--with the revolutionaries as the masters of this new order. The goal was not improvement, but power. Still, no one is going to give you power just because you ask for it. In order to gain support and thereby claim power, you must do so, or at least appear to do so, in the name of a higher principle. Religion in Russia was already controlled by the Russian Orthodox Church, so a new religion was needed. Communism was a perfect fit--it stole all the moral thunder of the church, while undermining its authority. It too called for the destruction of the current order, but left the field clear afterwards. There was no plan. The plan could therefore be provided by the Bolsheviks themselves, tailored to suit their ambitions.

Some of the Bolsheviks were probably idealists, but the idealists lost. Stalin, murderer of the Czar, became the new Czar in all but name. A former seminary student, Stalin was well versed in how to cloak raw ambition and ruthless dictatorship in the guise of benevolent moral language. Stalin's body counts exceeded those of Hitler. In the name of prosperity and plenty he devastated the economy, making the rich poorer without making the poor richer. He took the Ukraine, the bread basket of Eastern Europe, and imposed draconian collective farming methods which turned surplus into drastic shortages, causing a famine which killed 30 million people. In the name of charity he robbed everyone blind, while he and his cadre of party bosses lived in luxury. While he spoke of brotherhood, and everyone called each other comrade, he instigated a system of denunciation that set all against all, till neighbours and family members denounced each other to the Gulag or firing squad for minor personal gain. Behind the window dressing of Communist ideology, he ruled with a despotic power that Ivan the Terrible would have envied. Communism itself was but a mirage to hide this.

And yet, everyone fell for it, friend and foe. Leftists in Europe continued to defend Stalin and his thugs, but worse, his enemies fell for the bait. Stalin and his successors waved the red flag like a bullfighter's cape, and the Anti-Communists, like Senator Joe McCarthy, were all bull. They bought the Stalinist message, hook, party line, and sinker. Thus distracted, they moved towards building their own Stalinist state, beginning with denunciations and the castration of popular culture. The real enemy was Stalinism, and there was no more fervent Stalinist in America than McCarthy himself. But what continues to haunt us is that the Anti-Communists allowed the Communists to define the terms of the argument. If the despotic Stalinists were socialists, then freedom meant capitalism. If Communism was spreading by the creation of puppet dictatorships, then the solution was puppet dictatorships friendly to capitalism. Democracy became a mere invocation, sacred, but inconvenient in practice. The Americans were even seduced by the pseudo-scientific fantasies of the Stalinists, drunk on vodka and power and lies. The pursued their own mind control programs (MK Ultra), attempted to establish bizarre occult operations involving astral projection and remote viewing, telepathy and telekinesis. All of it was nonsense, but these illustrate how completely the Stalinists had duped their enemies.

Yet in misunderstanding their enemy, the Anti-Communists also forgot themselves and their own strengths. Capitalism works because it can provide the broadest level of cooperation of any system. Stalinism, contrary to the Communist propaganda, created a society of total competition. In Capitalism, competition governs only rare and distant social relationships--between those of competing companies. The tightest and most common relationships, between co-workers, between employee and employer, and between business and clients, must be cooperative in order for the business to succeed. Efficiency is increased by eliminating competition as much as possible. A football game may be entertaining to watch, but if your society's goal is to move the ball, you want all the teams running the same way. Competition between businesses serves this by discouraging cooperation within cartels which benefit a small portion of society at the expense of greater number. This ensures that individual businesses must work with the customer, rather than acting as a group against them. Since the business-client relationship is far more common, this establishes broader cooperation within the society. Capitalism, however, must be managed and corrected continously by government. And Democracy is a means of enforcing cooperation between the government and the governed.

This understanding of Capitalism and Democracy was one of the first casualties of the cold war, and the loss of it continues to haunt us today. As a result of the Stalinist myth of Communism, unregulated capitalism has come to be seen as a pure good. In fact, the very right of property only exists through government enforcement, and bad policy can permit Capitalism to deteriorate through greed, exploitation, and massive disparity. The very survival of Capitalism requires that businesses have markets for their goods, which can only happen if the working and middle classes have a disposable income. Otherwise the economic system deteriorates into a giant casino, with the very rich placing bets on properties, stocks, and securities, while the poor go unemployed. The most successful businesses are also those that give their employees a major stake in the success of the business. Exploitation is not just immoral, it is bad management. It is also essential that the rich, who derive the greatest benefit from citizenship and the powers of government through law enforcement, utilities, courts, and regulations, pay a proportionally greater share for its upkeep. This is simply fair market value for services received.

Most of all, we must take Marx's skeleton out of the closet and bury it. The values of charity, cooperation, equality, and rationality were never the property of the Communists. They were appropriated by liars and thieves, but they have always belonged to our entire civilization. It is time to stop chasing shadows and reclaim them.