Thursday, October 19, 2017

Socialism for Pedestrians

and communism ad nauseam. Here comes the blog announced earlier containing what I learned on the bus ride to Zürich about socialism and communism.

Karl Marx did not invent socialism, a word that most Americans abhor. Socialist ideas were articulated much earlier by the 1848/49 revolutionaries among others. Here is the translation of the decisive paragraph of an article published in Der Festungs-Bote No 10. It was the last newspaper printed in besieged Fort Rastatt towards the end of the Baden Revolution crushed by Prussian troops on July 18, 1849:

What is social democracy and what is its aim?

Democracy alone will give us neither jobs nor bread, it will not pay the interest on our debts, it will not liberate us from sorrows and sufferings, for when trying to bring the people to power it always stumbles against the disproportion of property, of possession. Socialism tries to solve this disproportion by creating equality ... According to the socialists, the distribution of goods shall depend on work. Thereby the best possible equality among people shall be achieved. Each hardworking, decent, industrious man shall have the opportunity to acquire sufficient property to assure him a reasonable enjoyment of life...

This is the gist of modern socialism, whereas Karl Marx in his main work Das Kapital instead tried to give a scientific basis to communism. While in socialism people should have the opportunity to acquire sufficient property to assure them a reasonable enjoyment of life, in communism private property is limited to a few personal belongings.

Marx among his books (©Andreas Höfert)
According to Marx’s theory man*, is a working social being. Man should find his personal fulfillment in his work, but he becomes alienated because the product of his work does not belong to him. So he regards work as a burden. Although man is the brother of his fellow men, he becomes estranged to them mostly because of the private property he owns.
* For the sake of political correctness replace man by woman, he by she, himself by herself etc.

In communism private property does not exist and all people are supposed to be equal. So man will eventually recognize himself as a human being. While in capitalism a minority dominates a majority, in communism a dictatorship of the proletariat will rule, a situation that Lenin called full democracy*. Communism will give peace, work, freedom, equality, and happiness to the world.
*In countries of the communist block after 1945 the term Volksdemokratie (people’s democracy) was coined.

During the revolutionary uprisings in Europe in March 1848, Marx lived in Vienna as a correspondent of the Cologne-based radical newspaper Rheinische Zeitung (Rhineland News). The working class living in the suburbs of the Austrian capital was the driving force of the uprising, in contrast to the revolution led by the bourgeoisie in other German regions and cities. Marx, who together with his sponsor Friedrich Engels had published the Communist Manifesto in February 1848, was all excited, imagining that the predicted proletarian revolution had come. However, it turned out that in Vienna the national guard and militia were fighting side by side against the enraged workers, protecting the private property of the bourgeoisie.

Marx was disappointed. Living in exile in London near the end of his life, he nevertheless had high hopes that Britain’s industrial workers would try the proletarian uprising. Marx, however, had not reckoned with reforming governments and clever factory owners. They appeased social tensions, agreeing with trade unions on increases in wages and reductions in working hours that in Marx's opinion were only peanuts. A good example is Bismarck's social legislation in the 1880s.

Lenin, in exile in Zürich, was well aware of this and concluded that the proletariat will not start a revolution. Is the working class just sluggish, lulled by their trade unions, or are workers even dumb?

When Lenin arrived in Petrograd in April 1917, he used his Bolshevik party to point the way for the working class, i.e., forced them to their happiness. Note that the Russian population at that time counted only 5% industrial workers but 80% peasants, so the proletariat was the serfs, not the workers. Without hesitation Lenin used the oppressed peasantry as auxiliaires of the revolution, pushing his April Theses:

All power to the Soviets,
Immediate peace with Austria and Germany
All land belongs to the peasants
All factories are controlled by the workers
Banks are nationalized
Creation of a Soviet Republic
Foundation of a revolutionary Internationale
Agitation and enlightenment of the masses and winning of a Bolshevik majority

From now on the slogan is peace, freedom, land, and bread.

Lenin usurped the bourgeois revolution of February 1917 and organized the October putsch against the provisional Russian government, a putsch that later became glorified as the October Revolution. The resulting war between the Bolshevik Red Army and the opposing White Army lasted until October 1922, when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was eventually formed.

During the Russian civil war no side took any prisoners. At the end more than eight million people were dead. Lenin did not live out his dream, for he died already in 1924 when Stalin took over.

So far all attempts at communist rule have suffered from the discrepancy between promises and “really existing socialism”. Human nature will always result in a nomenklatura, where some people are more equal than others.

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